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These tiny islands couldn't base a single plane, yet Jap fighter squadrons were using them. How was it being done?



Without Benefit of Surprise...

THIS is the story of four men who were lucky, and others who weren’t. It begins with a carrier that was part of a task force on its way west from the Gilbert Islands.

Because this was an attack day, reveille sounded for the Air Department at 0330. The night was still dark and cool. It was an hour before the rest of the carrier would waken, but already the darkened catwalks and ladders rang quietly with the tread of pilots, radiomen, gunners and flight deck crews hurrying to breakfast. The Air Department always lost an hour’s sleep on attack days.

There’d been a time when Jim Boland wouldn’t have missed that hour’s sleep. In the beginning, when he was new to Bombing 22, he’d probably have been lying awake in the darkness long before reveille, swapping small talk with his two bunkmates. Later, when he’d learned how to sleep, chances were he’d retired early. It was only recently that sleep had become inadequate when it was not elusive.

This was one of the tired days. If they hadn’t waked Boland an hour early, he wouldn’t have remembered it was also one of the attack days.

Cigarette smoke in the wardroom was thick enough for visibility zero when Boland got there. He said a few good mornings and sat down to breakfast. It was an attack day breakfast. The rolls were hot, the coffee steamed with fragrance, and there were bacon and eggs and massive steaks, but Boland felt nothing of the ravenous morning appetite it had taken months of combat flying to develop. He poured himself water and used it to swallow a benzedrine tablet. Across the table, a pilot named Wilson caught the slight action and gestured at him with a fork.

Headache, Jimbo?”

“Not much,” Boland said. “Aspirin’ll kill it."

He poured coffee and drank it black. Then he lit a cigarette and listened to the talk around him. The talk never changed. Only some of the voices were new, the voices charged with tension and eagerness, asking questions about the attack. The room and its sounds were slowly receding from him.

He wondered if he was ill, but the attendant thought of going on report made it impossible for him to answer the question honestly. The flight surgeon had been sharply solicitous on the last check; he would probably like nothing better than to have Boland show up at sick bay. Besides, there was no time now.

The smoke didn’t help. It was the smoke, the lack of ventilation because the hatches were battened down for action. And he hadn’t slept well. No nightmares—nothing like that, though now and then he’d think of friends he would never see again, or remember some of the things that had happened to him, seeing again, as if on a screen, the moments of past battles flash on and off in the darkness. Natural enough. Maybe he could have used ten days at Pearl, but it could wait. Hell, anyone could use ten days at Pearl, anytime. He’d been around too long to be a fool about combat fatigue. There was nothing wrong with him a little benzedrine couldn’t fix for a few days, and then he’d be all right again.

He poured more coffee. It had an ascetic, comforting bitterness. Not that he wasn’t all right now. The benzedrine meant nothing. One developed a tolerance for it—the damn stuff didn’t seem to have any effect on him anymore. He got out another tablet, broke it in half under the table. This time Wilson didn’t see him take it, and after he finished his coffee he went up to Ready Five.

Final briefing was careful, detailed. They’d known for a few days their target was Nauru. The outline of the oval island danced on the chart before Boland, but he could close his eyes and see it clearly, see it as it had appeared under his plane on another morning. It seemed a long long time ago. The teletype chattered: possibility of enemy interception and attack, large Jap carrier force believed to be in these waters, wind direction, speed, position of ship, nearest friendly land, time of surface bombardments, and on and on. Before it was over, Boland pulled on his Mae West and cloth helmet, then gathered his flight board, gloves, gun and asheathed six-inch blade, and waited for the chaplain’s prayer to come over the squawk box.

Then the prayer was over and the squawk box said, “Pilots, man your planes.”

BOLAND started up the companionway to the flight deck. The sky was a dark, depthless blue. Along the eastern horizon a slender red line showed dawn coming. Boland met his gunner and chatted absently with him as they hurried across the bustling flight deck to their plane. The gunner was a big, laughing redhead named Ray Stone. He’d been with Boland five months and he was Boland’s third gunner.

Just as they reached the first of the SB2C’s, plane handlers came running down the deck, waving their arms and trying to shout above the roaring Hellcat motors up forward. Suddenly the roaring began to diminish. The attack was off.

Ten minutes later the Captain addressed all hands. The Jap carriers had been sighted and the two forces were maneuvering for an imminent attack. The ship remained at General Quarters and the Anti-Sub patrol was doubled.

In Ready Five, Boland got a corner chair and tried to doze off, but the benzedrine had hit him and he was jittering. His hands trembled unless he kept them tightly clasped. He tried to read but his eyes were burning and the words blurred. He forced himself to close his eyes and sat there listening to the blood pound in his ears, listening to the room rock with too loud talk and laughter, to the teletype hammering on and on.

Someone near him said, “Look at Jimbo, will you?”

“Sleeping like a baby.”

“Hasn’t that guy got any nerves anymore?”

“Nah—he had them shot away at Rabaul.”

“Boy, it takes something to be able to sleep at a time like this.”

After awhile Boland gave up. He opened his eyes and lit a cigarette, listening to the talk. Every time the door opened cigarette smoke blew out and the latest scuttlebutt blew in. The Japs had three battleships and six carriers. Two Jap forces were converging. The Japs were trying to get the American force between their fleet and Nauru, so they shuttled their attack. It wasn’t long before someone pulled Boland into the game. He really had no opinions but he had to do something to relieve his ever-tightening nerves, so he talked, and at least as loud as the others.

BOLAND generally didn’t take much part in ready room bull sessions anymore, but when he did they listened. And not only because he was Exec. He had two Purple Hearts, a Navy Cross, a DFC, two unit citations. He had been with the Big E, and at Midway with the Hornet when she went down at Santa Cruz. He was, as his gunner, Ray Stone said after Life had run a picture of Boland among top Navy aces, “a figure of note.” The plane he flew had twenty-six tiny bombs and six Jap flags on its fuselage, and it should have had a row of little desks for the times he had successfully fought assignment to non-flying duty. It was generally agreed that when Jimbo Boland left Bombing 22, it would be as the flying CO of his own squadron.

So they listened to him until he began to feel self-conscious, certain he was behaving oddly. Gradually he withdrew again and sat with an open magazine in his lap.

The Captain addressed them at 0825 and again at 1020 but nothing happened and they were still at battle stations at 1300. The supply officer managed to get hot sandwiches to the ready rooms and Boland ate. He was relaxing slowly and he wondered whether he would be able to sleep a little, but at 1425 there was another briefing. The attack was going to be made, without benefit of surprise.

Weariness surged through Boland. He went to the water cooler and swallowed two tablets of benzedrine. By 1450, when the order came to man planes, he was beginning to come alive again. He went up to the flight deck swiftly, as if he couldn’t wait to get to his plane. It was true, but it was because he didn’t want anyone to see the way his mouth kept twitching.


START Engines had been given. The carrier swung into the wind. She was moving at top speed now. The Air Officer’s red flag came down, the white Commence Launching went up.

Fly Two, the Launching Officer, sent the Hellcats rolling down the deck. Half the TBF’s followed. Then Fly One signalled the dive bombers. Boland’s Helldiver was the third the yellow-jerseyed traffic men guided to the starting line.

The folding wings came down, locked into position. Fly Two made small circles over his head with his checkered wand and Boland’s hands danced to gun the engine full. Every movement of his hands was precise and light and dancing, because they couldn’t be still for an instant. His eyes burned as he watched Fly Two. Then the wand came down across Fly Two’s chest and pointed to the end of the flight deck.

Boland released the brakes, started rolling, picked up speed and swept off the end of the deck. He banked sharply to port, pulled up his wheels and went into a long circling climb.

The three other carriers were launching their air groups. By 1530, when they started for Nauru, there were almost two hundred planes in the sky. The dive bombers flew between the fighter planes above and the Avenger torpedoes below. They climbed steadily in a sky that was pure sun-drenched azure. The sea stretched endlessly in every direction and the motors settled into a drone.

“Mr. Boland.”

“Yes, Ray?” Boland said over the interphone.

“Did you want some gum?”

“Yes, thanks.”

It’s in the message chute.”

Chewing gum helped. His jaws ground together savagely. When the gum had lost its taste he lit a cigarette, then another, and a third before his pack was empty, and then he asked Stone for some of his. He felt razor-sharp and impatient for action. His fingers kept clenching and opening and his breathing was rapid.

“Mr. Boland.”

“What is it, Ray?”

“Sir, do you think the Jap carriers left?”

“Don’t know, Ray. It looks that way.”

“Maybe this attack’ll bring them back.”

“We’ll see.”

Boland couldn’t tell whether he was trembling with cold or jittering. They were flying at 10,000 feet. A high layer of cumulus hung suspended in the east. The western sky was beginning to take on an orange glow, and the lead planes were black, paper-thin silhouettes against it. Then, far far ahead, just as radio silence broke, little groups of dots appeared.

Enemy planes—one o’clock! This is Jake.”

BOLAND came out of his dream. He drew his division in closer to the one ahead and scanned the formation to see how tight it was. His lips were drawn together but the corners of his mouth twitched. The Japs were coming on and there were a lot of them, fifty or more. From upstairs Hellcats and F4U’s were diving to take them on. The Hellcats were dropping their belly tanks now.

The squadron skipper’s voice crackled over the radio. “All right, you Helldivers, get set for ’em and stay in the goddamned formation! Got it, Jimbo?”

“Yessir, boss Jake,” said Boland.

Ray Stone asked over the interphone: “Mr. Boland, you s’pose I can open the hatch now?”

“Hell, yes.”

“Enemy planes—three o’clock! ”

A group of Zekes had broken away momentarily from the Hellcats and they were coming in at the bombers. Their sleek brown and red bodies rolled over slowly and beautifully as they made their runs, and death came in red-orange flashes from their wing cannon. From each of the bombers’ folded turtlebacks a pair of twin thirties followed the Japs as they came into range. The radio kept up a running line of calls and warnings. A crippled Helldiver was dropping out of formation and two Hellcats were circling it as it started down. A voice yelled, “Got him! Got the sonofabitch!” and a Zeke plummeted by, trailing a funnel of black smoke.

More Japs closed in. There were Oscars among the Zekes. They looped and rolled and swung their tails seductively, but the bombers held formation. Boland’s starboard wing man began trading lead with an Oscar. The Oscar rolled lazily as it came in. Suddenly it blew apart with such violence that its wing tips were hundreds of feet apart before they were visible again. A Hellcat came swooping down crazily through the bomber formations. Its tail assembly was hanging by a few wires as it vanished.

“Mr. Boland, pair of bogies at five o’clock!”

“Watch ’em.”

From out of nowhere a Zeke appeared a point to Boland’s starboard, coming straight on. His wing cannon began firing. Boland kept waiting, felt the plane jump, kept his eyes on the Jap a few instants longer and let go his fifties.

Stone called: “What’s that, Mr. Boland?”

“Friend of mine,” said Boland. “Mind your business.”

Boland’s tracers ploughed into the Zeke, but it kept coming. Its cannon had stopped. Suddenly it swerved, wobbled a bit, righted itself and nosed over into a precipitous dive that sent it under the bomber formation. Following it for an instant, Boland realized that the TBF’s had gone on ahead. He looked at the port wing. The leading edge was shattered for five feet halfway down the wing. There was no noticeable loss of speed and the controls seemed intact.

Stone called: “Mr. Boland!”


“Your friend’s on fire! He’s going! Boy, there he goes!”

Suddenly the radio said: “Target ahead!”

THE sky ahead was rapidly filling with black puffballs. Two waves of fighters had gone in already and the TBF’s were dropping bombs down the center of the runways. The island seemed covered with huge mushrooming clouds of dust and debris.

The radio said, “All right, Jimbo—take it away!”

Boland called to his division: “Open bomb bay doors.”

The wind began tearing at the open bays and its moaning and whistling echoed through the plane. Boland cracked his dive flaps and started down fast and steep. They were at ten thousand feet then.

“Let’s go, Helldivers!”

From far down below the Jap ack-ack muzzles blinked at him and followed him with a shortening line of ugly black bursts. Boland was taking short painful breaths but he felt no sense of danger; there was no time now for danger. Nor did there appear to be any danger from below. The northern end of the island, where it was still untouched, was a brilliant tropical green. A slender white ribbon of beach circled it and stood against gentle combers from the blue sea. The coral reefs were unbelievably beautiful masses of crimson and ivory and deep ochre and magenta. And the Jap AA guns were orange flashes in a world of splendid color.

Two runways, locked almost end to end, were on the southern side of the island. Just north of the westernmost runway there was a cluster of buildings. There was a radio tower just beyond, and a bit south was a phosphate plant. Streams of tracers and ack-ack came up as if from hoses. A division of Hellcats came in again to strafe AA positions just behind the runways.

Boland was at three thousand feet and still going. He was thinking about the heavy ack-ack and machine gun fire and remembering that the revised attack plans had omitted the naval bombardment that had figured conspicuously in the schedule for the cancelled dawn strike. Boland knew that somewhere there was a reason for it, but it didn’t make the attack any easier. He glimpsed what might have been a few Betty’s on fire near the west runway. Almost no planes had been caught on the ground. Natural enough if the attack was expected, but where had so many Jap planes come from?

At two thousand Boland sighted carefully, held off, then let the heavy bomb go from fourteen hundred. He started pulling out and all at once the plane staggered. The next instant the radio tower blew up and a blast of air roared up to hit the bomber as it continued down, struggling to break the dive. Another black cloud burst just before the Helldiver’s nose and the cockpit became a buzzing, blistering mass of sound and heat.

Boland's left arm had felt two jabs, but he couldn’t look at anything, couldn’t think of anything now. The few seconds that would mean the difference between pulling out and failure —those few seconds had split into thousands of fragments, and Boland could measure his success from one to another. Time had become an eternity. He had done all he could. The plane was beginning to level off. There was nothing to do now but wait. He sat there watching the earth come rushing up, the horizon turning green and brown everywhere, hemming him in. His mouth hung open and his eyes stared straight down. He had long ago stopped feeling anything. Only his mind kept going, and he wasn’t to remember what he thought for some time yet.

THE bomber was twenty feet above ground when it came out of its dive and headed for the sea.

The motor was snarling furiously. Ack-ack had wrecked the pitch control mechanism and the prop wouldn’t come out of high pitch.

“Ray, are you all right?”

“Yessir! This Boland Stone gathered moss that time, sir.”

That was a funny thing to say, Boland thought. It would be a funny thing to repeat later on, after they’d made it back to the carrier. He knew he meant if they made it back to the carrier. There was another large hole in the port wing and the starboard wing was badly shredded. The ailerons were partly shot away. The rudder reacted sluggishly.

“Ray, what happened to the rudder?”

“Mr. Boland, what happened to the half we still have shouldn’t happen to a dog.”

It was strange, that note of buoyancy in Stone’s voice. The buoyancy of just being alive—as if for Stone being alive had not become a question that outlived attacks. That was one of the best ways Stone and he made a team; they’d always been able to count on each other’s responses. That was why, in the privacy of their plane, Boland called him Ray, and waited for the sirs and misters to wither. Boland’s first gunner had been killed at Santa Cruz; his second was still hospitalized. Stone was his responsibility. Stone was twenty-six. Boland was three years younger, and quite old.

“Mr. Boland, three bogies at seven o’clock.”

Boland kicked the rudder pedals. This was what the Japs had been waiting for—the bombers coming out of their dives, unprotected by their formations. The twin thirties began hammering.

It wasn’t time yet to rendezvous with his division. Most of the bombers were running around over the island, strafing everything in sight. The sky was swarming with Hellcats and F4U’s and Zekes and Oscars. The ack-ack had stopped to let the Japs come in. There were a hell of a lot of them.

“Goddamit!” he shouted. “Why didn’t ACI know about this?”

Stone called: “Bogie diving under us!”

Instinctively, remembering the Japs had come in from seven o’clock, Boland kicked the rudder until the plane swung to starboard, then dipped its nose just as the Jap rolled into his sights. He let go his fifties and watched the tracers stretch a dozen white strings from him to the Jap. The Jap paused halfway through a roll, hung a moment, then suddenly exploded.

An instant of exhaltation burst over him and was gone, leaving him spent and breathless and soaked in perspiration.

“You got him, Mr, Boland!”

WEARINESS rolled over him in vast, soothing waves. There was so much to think about, and he was tired. His hands were trembling and the thought flashed through his mind and vanished. “No, no,” he said very softly, to himself, but he knew it was true and he fought to drive it out of his mind. Then the other thought came back again, stinging with fierce immediacy.

“Ray,” he called, “was it one of their carrier Jacks?”

“Kee-rect! Here come the other two from both sides!”

Stone’s guns were going again. The nightmare began.

When he woke, the instrument panel was a mass of savagely twisted cables and shattered glass. Blood was drip from both his wrists to dark, scattered pools on the floor. The bomber was pitching and rolling, trying again and again to end its agony by dropping into the sea. It was riddled in a dozen places, its wings were torn fragments of metal, its hydraulic systems were smashed, but it flew because something in Boland fought it as it had fought ' the bomber’s enemies until the Hellcats had come. He remembered, without at the moment remembering why he had done it, turning on the Japs, fighting them with his wing guns—fighting them, not as they supposed, in a final death stand but to go on living, determined to survive, forcing the bomber into maneuvers that slowly broke her and her spirit, so that she had only Boland’s to go on with.

Slowly, the nightmare lifted. Three Hellcats had dropped out of a pink twilight sky and swept off in pursuit of the Japs. Their calls had come through to him before the radio was gone, and he had tried to answer them but no sound had come from his lips.

“Ray,” he said on the intercom “Ray, how is it?”

The answer came slowly. “Not... so bad... sir.”

“We’ll be down soon, Ray.”

“I know.”

He was five miles from his carrier, circling the dark, smudged area of her AA fire. She was under attack from Jap planes. She sped through a greengray sea that was an inferno of smoke and fire, destroying her enemies. She twisted and spun majestically, and every gun was a defiant, deadly voice. Behind her the blood-red sky was dotted with black in a wide protective circle around her. Jap Vais and Kates kept dropping into the circle, letting go their explosives and darting out again to be chased by fighters.

He kept circling her, as close as he dared. He had to land. He was close to exhaustion. Everything had become Temote again. As if from far off he could hear the wind tearing through the shattered plane, and dimly, the motor’s insane fury, but the rest of the world was silent and receding.

THEN there was a lull and he turned and made a run for the carrier, but he was hardly close when more Japs appeared and he was waved off. He heard himself shouting at the top of his voice, until the muscles of his neck were so tight that he choked for breath, but he swung away and began to circle the carrier again. He listened to the blood pounding in his ears and heard himself whispering over and over, “No, no,” telling himself that it didn’t matter now, that he had to hold on to what was left of him, that if only he could bring the plane in safely, it would all be over. But for the first time now he realized that he was faced with such fear that he was swiftly becoming helpless against it. It was taking possession of him. He could feel its presence in the plane. He began to shout again.

He didn’t know how long the attack had been over. He could see planes dropping to the carrier, losing them for a moment in the darkness between the flaming horizon and the deck. He found himself in the landing circle, and other planes ahead of him were making way, letting his ravaged plane go in.

Then he was banking, straightening for the approach, and he was filled with an unutterable gratitude. It was over. He saw the yellow-jerseyed LSO bring his arms up over his head as if to form the U that meant he was coming in too high. His eyes blurred for an instant as he dropped the plane’s nose. Suddenly the LSO was back in focus. He was waving him off frantically. For a split instant longer, Boland was too overwhelmed with sudden confusion to react. He kept coming and the LSO jumped from his tiny platform to the net below, and the plane flashed by and swung crazily off to port. Then fear returned and began talking to him swiftly.

They weren’t going to let him land. The bomber was too badly damaged to be allowed a landing attempt. Even now they were trying to get through to him over the dead radio, telling him to let down in the water near one of the destroyers. His flaps were so smashed that the LSO thought they weren’t down. His wheels wouldn’t come down. Thoughts went racing through his brain too swiftly to be stopped, and when he caught one, the others behind it kept piling on until it was lost. The arresting-gear hook had been shot away. He couldn’t throttle the plane down enough and he would keep coming in too fast. He couldn’t control her well enough to avoid slant.

They waved him off again. Amplifiers on the island shouted in a giant’s voice at him, but he couldn’t unscramble the words. What did they want? He couldn’t bring her down in water. Ray Stone was badly wounded and he was trapped in the smashed fuselage.

They had to understand that. They’d understand if he came around again. He could land. This once more, he could land, somehow, maybe against the barrier, but he would walk away from it and they would be able to take Ray Stone out. They knew he could land. He wouldn’t crash and pile up the deck. He would have waited to be the last, but he couldn’t wait any more. They would understand.

When he came down again in a deepening dusk, the little lights that outlined the flight deck were on. The LSO was using long neon wands instead of paddles. He began crossing his arms over his head in a wave-off just as Boland settled into his approach. The wands vanished in darkness and the deck lights went out.

On the nightbound eastern horizon, yellow lightning flashed where escort destroyers were firing. They were being attacked again. There would be no landings until it was over.


HE HAD been lost a long time now. For awhile he’d been able to follow their gun flashes, until a destroyer’s sudden flares had shown him to the enemy planes, and after he’d run and lost them he couldn’t find the task force again. He was drained of all emotion at last. He’d cried silently, more from the release of tension than anything else, but now his cheeks were dry and cold, and his body was cold and his mind was still, and he gave himself up to exhaustion. Every decision but one had been made. It was only necessary to choose the moment when he would start letting down to find the sea. It had to be done before the last auxiliary tank was empty, chances of surviving would be much greater in a power landing.

Survival. The word stirred the ashes of old thoughts and somewhere there was a spark. Did he still think of survival? The spark was gone. No thought but one could live in his frozen brain. No thought but one. He had long since stopped saying no to it, and as soon as he stopped it flooded his consciousness and then froze in him. Now it was all he knew.

He’d been afraid of flying for so long. How much easier it was now that he knew. How much easier everything could have been if only he’d known sooner. But this had been such a strange kind of fear, like nothing he had known before—not a fear of cracking up or being hit or dying—not anything tangible, the way he sweated when ack-ack was getting the range, or when the enemy spun down from the sky in pursuit, or the flight deck pitched in a heavy sea. This fear had been nameless and unrecognizable, but now Boland knew that had he been able to land on the carrier, he would have walked away from the plane forever.

He had used up all his chances long ago and kept going on free passes. It worked until the day he overdid it, when he found out there was no raincheck with a pass.

“Ray,” he called. “Ray, can you hear me?”

There was no answer; there hadn’t been any for awhile now. The way things had worked out, maybe it was better that Ray had died before the plane hit water. Once they touched, Boland wouldn’t have been able to do a thing for him. He’d killed Ray. He’d kept going on passes, but Ray had had to pay.

There were a million stars in the sky and a thin fingernail of moon. Night stretched away to endless silent reaches. Below, the dark sea swirled with magic phosphorescence, waiting for him.

The bomber went into its descent.

Flight of The Ice-Cream Freezer

SHORTLY before noon, the Honolulu-Brisbane Cannonball took off from the lagoon and the atoll settled down to its full share of sunshine and boredoom. Two rafts in the lagoon were completely covered with naked brown-bodied soldiers who lay without moving except to kick away a few late-zomers who tried to climb on. In a clearing near the new PX, some ten soldiers in shorts and long-visored caps were playing softball, and dozens of others watched them from the shade. There was a cargo vessel in the part of the lagoon that had been dredged, but Negro stevedores had unloaded it long before, and now even that small activity was over.

There was something doing near the end of one of the airstrips, where a jeep had stopped near a Douglas C-47. The plane’s sentry was lying on a cot in the shade of the wings. He sat up and talked to the men in the jeep.

The airstrip was a pale brown streak across the bright coral sand. Across the strip from the plane there were sandy hills with irregular patches of green standing against a blue sky. One of these tiny hills held a grove of palms. Four men were in a group at the edge of the grove, three of them lying stretched out, the fourth sitting with his back against a palm tree, looking at the Douglas and smoking a long, thin cigar.

“He’s talking to the guys in the jeep,” he said, exhaling an invisibly thin stream of smoke.

Springer’s eyelids fluttered open and very gently closed again. "Evelyn, Evelyn, where are you?” he murmured.

Beside him, Delaney said, '“Here I am, sweet man.”

Cornish said, “Don’t change the subject, Sergeant.”

The sergeant—he was a staff sergeant—was named Sam Peck. He kept watching the sentry and smoked his cigar. He was in his middle twenties, like the other three, and he wore the same wrinkled, sweat-stained tans with long trousers that generally differentiated visitors from the atoll’s bare-torsoed, shorts-clad garrison. The difference among them, if one looked hard enough, was this: Captain Cornish was a captain and Springer and Delaney first lieutenants in the Army Air Transport Command, and Peck wore a shoulder patch that said Yank on it. Peck also had his shoes on.

The jeep rolled away. The sentry took a swallow from his canteen, stretched lazily, transferred his rifle from where the sun had reached it to stand against his cot in the shade, waved toward the palm grove and lay down again.

“He’s gone back to sleep,” said Peck.

“Good,” said Springer.

ED CORNISH said, “Nobody rides free with Cornish. Especially one of you characters, Sergeant. Deal’s off unless there’s a write-up in it.”

“Yeah,” said Springer. “And no crap about us doing a vital job with no glamor. We want some glamorous crap.” He yawned and shifted a little. “Crap I can send home to my girl,” he said sadly and yawned and sighed, “Evelyn.”

“Harvey, darling, how thoughtful,” Delaney whispered.

“Oh, Evelyn,” Springer sighed.

“Listen sex-mad,” said Cornish, “why don’t you help me instead of interrupting all the time?”

“Nuts,” said Delaney.

“Who said that?” said Cornish.

“I did,” said Springer.

“Nuts what?”

“Nuts, sir,” said Springer.

“That’s better,” said Cornish. “Put that in the write-up, Sergeant. Say: ‘In spite of his mild manner, Captain Cornish’s steel-blue eyes could flash with sudden danger when one of his subordinates forgot his military courtesy.’ How’s that?”

“He didn’t say it—I said it,” said Delaney.

“Why?” said Cornish.

“Because I’m brave,” said Delaney. “Put that in it too: ‘Cornish’s copilot, Delaney, a foolhardy wretch from sunny California—’”

“What’s so brave about letting me take the rap?” said Springer.

“God, that cigar stinks,” said Cornish.

“Doesn’t it?” said Peck. “I got it on Funafuti.”

“That’s nice, he’s talking again,” said Delaney.

“No kidding, Sergeant—what about that write-up?” said Cornish. “It would be nice getting noticed in this damned war.”

“It would be nice getting into the war,” said Springer. “What the hell can he write about us? That he thumbed a ride on a freight on his way to the war? They didn’t send him out here to check on bills of lading.”

“Maybe they should have,” said Peck. “I think I’d have liked that assignment. Not that it hasn’t been done before—we’ve had some artists and writers in places like this—but years are going by, and the war keeps moving farther away. Maybe I’ve begun to get a slant on what it’s like.”

“You’re not talking about bills of lading,” said Delaney.

PECK inhaled smoke, rolled it around on his tongue and let it out, "Yes, I am, Lieutenant. Only these bills don't say: ‘Shoes—leather, inverted soles, rubber—pairs, fifty.’ These bills say: ‘Radio Repair Men—human, young, bored, sick of palm trees and atabrine tablets—tens of thousands.’ These bills of lading have lists of radio repair men, mechanics, tractor drivers, anti-aircraft men, medics, M.P.’s, waist gunners, pilots, navigators. They’ve been transported to Island X and there they are. The war’s gone by and now they do their work and then they’re through and there’s nothing to do. They drink cokes at the PX or stage fights once a week or go swimming, and three nights a week they see white women in the movies. They’ve stopped gambling because money doesn’t mean anything, and there’s nothing left to talk about, and reading seems pointless. They read their V-mail and sit down to answer it.”

“Then somebody posts an order,” said Cornish, “and they roll out a freight, gas her up and tell her to take so many pounds of such from Island X to Y. The co-pilot, navigator and radioman go to sleep until the plane lands again, then they take turns sleeping on a cot near the freight until another order is posted.”

“The pilot sleeps, not the co-pilot,” said Delaney.

“The navigator dreams of Evelyn,” said Springer.

“They all dream of Evelyn,” said Delaney.

“Not my Evelyn,” said Springer.

“Your Evelyn or anybody else’s— what’s the difference?” said Delaney. “When is she sending that picture she took in the grass skirt you sent her?”

“Her mother tore them up,” said Springer.

“Why?” asked Cornish.

“She didn’t have anything else on,” said Springer.

“She can take new ones, can't she?" said Delaney.

“She will” said Springer. “Oh, Evelyn, Evelyn.”

“Yes, lover?” Delaney sighed.

Cornish said, “You said some good things, Sergeant. Why don’t you write a story like that?”

“Maybe I will,” said Peck. “It depends on how it’s written, I guess, or else it’s just another war is a bore piece. Even then it sometimes sounds like heaven to those front-line doughfoots in their two by six slit trenches with water seeping in up to their cans.”

“Beer cans?” said Delaney. “God, for some ice cold beer.”

“Soon, soon,” said Springer. “All too soon.”

“Been on the other side, Sergeant?” asked Cornish.

“Some,” said Peck. “Algiers, then Cairo, then Italy.”

“No Pacif?” said Cornish. “Then this is all new to you?”

“I was in Calcutta a year and a half ago,” said Peck, “before I sweated out this Yank deal. I was Signal then.”

“No action?” said Cornish.

“Some,” said Peck. “Around Mitchinaw.”

“Around where?”

“It’s spelled M-y-e-d-g-i-n-a,” said Peck, “or some such, but everyone said Mitchinaw. We were all mixed up. We had Gurkas and Chindits in the lines with us and we shot so many of them they had to sew big red squares on them.”

“YOU shot them?” said Cornish.

“They looked like Japs even from a few feet away,” said Peck. “You walked along with a carbine and up popped a Gurka and you shot the poor bastard before you recognized him.” He took the cigar out of his mouth, regarded it judiciously and threw it away. “I’d forgotten how it was until I stopped in the Islands on my way here. Had to take that jungle refresher course they give on Oahu. A whole week of it, correspondent or no correspondent. What a laugh.”

“How do you say what time is it in Hindustani?” said Delaney.

“Kitna budga hai,” said Peck.

'“How do you say, kiss me, my darling?” said Springer.

“I never found out,” said Peck.

“But you’ve been in the States recently?” said Cornish.

“Yeah,” said Peck. “Twenty-one days.”

“How was it?”

“Nice. Plenty of everything. I spent one afternoon between noon and six just sitting in the plaza at Radio City, looking at all the women. They’re beautiful, those New York women. Some day I’m going to get me a few and come out to a place like this with them, and I won’t worry about V-mail catching up with me.”

Delaney said, “I’m going to pick mine off the UCLA campus.”

“No,” said Peck. “New York women, at noon on Fifth Avenue.”

“You come from New York?” said Cornish.

Peck hesitated, then said, “Well, yes and no, Captain.”

“Oh, my God,” said Cornish. “Don’t tell me.”

“Yes Brooklyn,” said Peck. “Just like in the movies. Some day we’re going to get tired of it all and set up our own empire. I really like Brooklyn.”

“Why?” said Cornish.

Peck smiled and didn’t answer, and then for a long while no one spoke. Presently another jeep stopped at the C-47 and the sentry sent it to the palm grove. The four men crowded in back to back, legs hanging over the sides, and the jeep drove off to one of the administration buildings. When they returned, crews had the big Douglas almost ready. The last crates were being transferred from trucks and Ed Cornish signed the bills of lading.

Peck said, ‘'Sir, may I ask what we’re carrying?”

Cornish smiled sadly. "Big deal. An ice cream freezer sent here by mistake some brass hat is yelling his head off for; a new Rita Hayworth in technicolor; medical supplies, and spare parts for radar equipment. Think it’s a story?”

"It’s just that I’m methodical,” said Peck.

Soon afterwards the C-47 roared down the airstrip and took off. Here and there some one looked up at the plane for a moment. The others went on drinking their cokes, swimming in the lagoon, and lying quietly in the shade, waiting for mail call. From the East a Lib was coming in from a long patrol.


FAR below the plane’s shadow sped over a blue glassy sea, and the horizons were empty. The afternoon sun was a vast haze of blinding white fire. The motors droned on endlessly.

Sergeant Peck was standing in the doorway to the pilot’s compartment, talking to Lieutenant Delaney. Delaney was nominally at the controls but the gyro was doing the flying. In the chair next to him, Cornish sat slumped over with his chin on his chest, letting out an occasional snore. Delaney had moved his radio headset to his temples. He looked at Cornish through his dark glasses and grinned.

“See how it is?” he said, "Constant excitement.”

Peck returned the grin. "Better than none at all, sir.”

"Maybe,” said Delaney. "Maybe, but I’d like to change off just to compare.” He sat there musing, then looked up at Peck. “I told you to bring along a book, didn’t I?”

"I don’t feel like reading,” said Peck, “I tried to get me some sleep, but I can’t seem to make it.”

“You’d never last in the ATC,” said Delaney. “Off we go into a mild blue slumber.” He grinned suddenly. "Want to hear a story you can maybe use about us?”


"Well, this was a few months ago, at Midway. We’d gone up to check some of the instruments, particularly the altimeter. It had been acting a little wild. Well, we’d been flying maybe half an hour when Cornish turned the ship over to me and went to sleep, maybe from force of habit. I took her down slowly and the altimeter began to lose its mind. When we were about five hundred feet over the water, the damn thing read forty feet. At four hundred feet it touched sea level, and I was still going down. I poked Cornish and said, ‘Ed, take a look at the altimeter.’ He stirred a little and mumbled, ‘Why? I said, ‘if it’s right, we’re sixty feet under water.’ He settled back again and said, ‘Up periscope,’ and went on sleeping.

Peck laughed. "It’s still a good story, Lieutenant."

Delaney looked disappointed. "Heard it before, huh?”

“The last time from a B-26 pilot in Italy.”

“I didn’t know they slept much in B-26’s.”

"It was supposed to have happened during training, over the Gulf of Mexico. That version, anyway. I wonder if it ever did happen.” Delaney shrugged and was silent. After a few moments Peck left him and made his way aft to where Springer sat' in the navigator’s compartment, a whiff of cigarette smoke told him Springer was awake. He smiled at Peck.

“Cornish asleep?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” said Peck. “Lieutenant Delaney just told me the up periscope story.”

SPRINGER laughed and passed a cigarette to Peck. “You won’t get even a funny story this trip, Sergeant. I don’t say that’s true for the whole ATC—there are plenty of hot runs— but out here life is something you detect only when it yawns.”

“That’s a nice phrase, sir. Mind if I use it sometime?”

“It’s yours. Sarge, you’re with the wrong outfit and you’re a little late. You should have been with the Navy just around here about five weeks ago.”

“Really? Is that where we are now?”

“Somewhere in this area, I guess. I mean where ,the first carrier force was attacked—not the one that ambushed the Japs. We’re supposed to keep some kind of watch for possible survivors.” Springer stifled a yawn. “So I’m watching.”

“Ever find anyone?”

“Once, but a couple of PBY’s had beat us to it.”

They talked until Peck finished his cigarette, then Peck wept farther aft to Jack Rosen. Rosen was a tech sergeant, and he had been the plane’s sentry Peck had seen sleeping. He had stood the cot up among the lashed crates and boxes and he was stretched prone on it, his chin elevated on a rolled-up suede windjacket. The starboard loading hatch was partly open and he was staring through it at a never-changing rectangle of blue water.

When he saw Peck coming toward him he sat up and made room on the cot. “Park it here, brother,” he said. “I got a deck.”

“I’m broke,” Peck said.

“Money? What’s money?"

“Is it that bad?”

“It’s bad, said Rosen. “Sometimes it’s worse. That’s when it’s very bad. Sometimes it even gets very very bad, and nobody knows how they stand it.” He looked out through the hatch. “But they stand it. It amazes me.”

“What happens when they don’t?”

“When they really don’t, you mean? Happy Valley? Practically never hear of it.” He grinned at Peck. “You think this could drive a guy crazy? Balls. Know what the answer is? Dreams, brother, dreams—all you do is just learn how. There’s a knack to it and it takes a lot of practice, but once you get it—just rest your sleepy head, close your eyes, name it and it’s yours.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, smiled slowly and made a satisfied noise in his throat. “That was a quick one,” he said. “Three guesses who.”

“Brother, you’re really wild,” said Peck.

“BEEN wilder,” said Rosen. “I used to be with a wild outfit—a first and two seconds. We were running over the Hump. They’d get five inch firecrackers in China and give each other hotfoots, and Japs out in swarms. The two seconds started writing each other’s girl on the sly and ended by switching a few months later. They made me wild too, but it was fun.”

“What happened?”

“They were shot down. I was in the hosp with a touch of the shakes and after my sick furlough I was reassigned. Maybe they walked out—lots of them do. I’ve written all three but so far no answers have caught up with me.”

“Rough,” said Peck.

“And tough,” said Rosen. “They were great guys. Sometimes I wonder if they were sorry they changed girls.” He took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one when Peck said he didn’t want any. “Not that I’m unhappy with this bunch. They’re fine when they’re awake. Easygoing, considerate, intel- ligent—they’re fine.” “But they’re not the old bunch.” “No,” said Rosen, “they’re not.” After awhile Peck lay down on some blankets and thumbed through an old New Yorker Rosen had given him until he fell asleep.

“WAKE up, Sarge! Want to miss this or what?”

Peck sat up suddenly and said, “Huh?” but Delaney had left him as soon as he stirred. Peck scrambled to his feet and saw Rosen standing next to Springer’s little compartment. Delaney returned from the pilot’s compartment and joined Rosen just as Peck got there. They all looked greatly excited.

“What’s keeping you?” Delaney said to Springer.

Springer said, “Shaddap,” without looking up from the chart he was working over with his calipers.

“What’s up?” Peck asked.

Delaney said, “Rosen, open that hatch and get the stuff ready. I’ll send our position as soon as lover-man figures it out.” Rosen nodded and went aft and Delaney told Peck: “Go up forward, Sarge. You’ll see him better.”

“See who?”

“Who? The guy down there in the rubber boat!”

“What?” said Peck. “That’s wonderful!” He went quickly to the pilot’s compartment and Captain Cornish turned to him for a moment and flashed a joyous smile, then pointed to thq water with his right hand as the plane began to bank to starboard.

The plane was a good deal closer to the water than the last time Peck had looked, and it was still going down. Peck sat down in Delaney’s seat and looked out. He saw nothing but water that had turned a deeper blue and a late afternoon sky filled with vast motionless formations of incredibly beautiful clouds that were gold and pink and almost transparent violet. Then the plane banked again and Peck saw the tiny orange oval of a two-man rubber raft and the figure of a man in it. The man was waving to them.

“That’s wonderful!” Peck cried.

“What?” Cornish asked. He had his headset on again.

“I said wonderful.”

Cornish nodded emphatically. “I certainly am! The rest of them just sleep. Not me!”

PECK looked down as they passed almost directly over the raft. The man had stopped waving, but Peck could see him shading his eyes as he followed the plane. The water all around him for hundreds of yards was dyed a much deeper blue-green.

“What’s that, Harv?” said Cornish. He was speaking on the interphone. “Yes, the atolls first. We’ll drop the stuff the next time over. Good, tell Lee okay then.”

“Hey!” Peck shouted.

“What’s wrong?” Cornish asked.

“Look out there!” He pointed straight ahead, then toward the left as the plane kept circling, toward what he had thought for an instant, and then knew, was land—and then in the same instant he realized that the others also knew, that that was what Cornish had meant when he said something about the atolls first. Before Cornish could answer, Peck asked, “Does he know?”

“All depends who he is and where he came from,” said Delaney, in the doorway. “That’s all right, Sarge, you sit there. We want you to get a good view of this, so you’ll know just what to write. Boy, is this a break for us!”

Cornish laughed. “For us!” he cried. “What about him?" They were quite low now. “Listen, Lee,” Cornish said, “write a couple of notes that we’ll head straight toward the atolls when we leave him, so he won’t have to worry too much about direction. Maybe he can make it by morning. Here he comes!”

“Right!” said Delaney and he ran aft.

The raft was rushing toward them about a hundred feet below and several hundred yards to starboard. Cornish waited a moment then called on the interphone: “Bombs away!”

The raft passed almost under them and was gone. The plane got a little altitude, banked, and Peck saw several crates bobbing in the sea not far from the raft. The man kept looking after them, then slowly began to paddle toward the crates.

“He looks pretty far gone,” said Peck.

“Christ, he may have been out here for days,” said Cornish. “I can’t imagine where the hell he’s from. There wasn’t anything special on the board today.”

“Maybe he’s from that carrier force battle last month?”

“Wow! Wouldn’t that be something! It’s a miracle we saw him at all.” He said on the interphone: “Nice going, Harv. Listen, add that we’ll circle the atolls and get set again.”

“What a welcome sight we must be,” Peck said.


Peck shook his head and smiled. The plane was coming down once more, its speed cut. It banked slowly, levelled off and the raft shot by underneath. The plane banked again and headed in a straight line for the atolls the distance peck watched half a dozen yellow cans hit the water, then got up as Delaney returned.

“Climb up so he doesn’t lose us," said Delaney. “He can’t know about those atolls.”

“Why not?” asked Cornish. “They brief ’em on those things.”

“They didn’t brief us,” Delaney said and laughed.

“What’s the joke?”

“You’ll find out when I start sending our position.”

CORNISH regarded Delaney quizzically, scowled and joined him in laughing. “That’s just great,” he said. “How far off are we?”

“Not too far,” said Delaney. “A lousy forty miles.”

“Great,” said Cornish. “The hero of this rescue at sen turns out to be not the alert, keen-eyed pilot but a GFU navigator. He’ll put us down on Fujiyama one of these days.” He stopped laughing. “Hey—how much does Harv know about those atolls, anyway? They might be full of Nips!”

“And you might be full of something else,” Springer said from the doorway, standing next to Peck. “What would Nips be doing on those atolls? They get a one line mention in the book—a string of islands so small a gooney bird couldn’t take off from ’em, and pretty deep in our territory, don’t you think?”

“Think?” said Cornish. “I don’t even know where we are.”

Peck asked: “Are they inhabited?” “We’ll find out right now,” said Springer.

They had reached the. first of the atolls by then. Cornish went into a wide, gentle circle around them from about fifteen hundred feet. There were between twenty and thirty islands, some no more than a hundred feet across in their larger dimension. Viewed from above they formed a curving, lop-sided U. Most of them were thickly overgrown, especially the larger islands, of which there were five. The largest of all, at the head of one of the sides of the U, was a few hundred yards long and not quite as wide. The plane climbed as it circled.

“Not a sign of life,” said Peck.

“Go down and buzz ’em,” said Delaney.

“What for?” said Cornish.

“Buzz the big one, anyway,” said Springer. “Let’s just see.”

The plane started down and made another complete tour from two hundred feet. The islands lay still and calm and nothing moved on them except the tops of palms as prop wash caught them.

“Funny, their being so damn deserted,” said Delaney.

“Why?” Peck asked.

“Because he feels that way,” said Cornish. “He’s hunting an island he can settle down on after the war, but he wants it with dancing girls. Listen, Harv, how far off are we?”

Springer grinned. “Far enough. Let Lee take over.”

“Soon’s I’ve sent our position,” said Delaney.

“That's a great story, isn’t it Sarge?” Cornish asked.

“I don’t know, sir,” said Peck.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” said Springer.

“Well, sir, it’s a big kick for us and for that guy on the raft, but it may not be much from a more objective point of view. After all, these rescues at sea must be fairly common.”

“What do you want—blood?” said Cornish.

“I don’t want anything, sir. From—” “What’s that?” said Springer. “Up there, Ed—look!”

HE POINTED past Cornish to the darkening eastern sky. A speck was moving across the clouds. The C-47 was at three thousand feet and climbing, and the speck was miles away and considerably higher. They saw it for a moment or two and then it disappeared.

“What was it?” Cornish asked, looking perplexed.

Delaney held up a hand for silence. His expression had suddenly changed and he adjusted his headset. He turned slightly and looked at the others, then shook his head as if he was confused.

“Could’ve sworn I heard something,” he said. “Sounded like Japs.”

“Don’t kid around,” said Cornish. “The Sarge isn’t that—”

“I just heard it again,” said Delaney, rather quietly.

“Talking?” Springer asked.

“Just a word or two,” said Delaney. “It wasn’t English.”

Cornish stared at him for a moment, then all at once he pointed toward the east. The speck had re-appeared. It was coming towards them so fast that in the instant it took Peck to locate it, the speck had become well defined. It was a small, barrel-shaped fighter and it was diving down at them with fantastic speed.

Cornish’s features tightened. The four men stared at the oncoming plane. It was just a few thousand feet over them when it went into a slow roll. For an instant one of the wing tips caught a splash of sunlight that revealed a red circle against the mottled gray-green of its wings.

“Dump the stuff!” Cornish shouted at Springer and Peck.

The two men ran aft. Rosen was already opening the port hatch and he motioned towards the largest of the lashed crates. Peck and Springer went to work on it and Rosen joined them. “It better be a Jap before we chuck this,” he breathed, a pale smile on his face. “It’s the ice cream freezer.”

“It’s a Jap, all right,” said Peck.

It felt as if the plane had run into a wall. The port wing dipped sharply and the Plane staggered. Rosen tried to move aside but the crate slid after him and Pinned him against the side and hung half-way out of the hatch as the Plane righted. Springer and Peck pushed the heavy crate out of the Plane. The moment it was clear the Plane leaped and then leaped again and there was a hole in the fuselage between them and the nose. A thousand invisible bits of metal whirred inside the plane and made buzzing, pinging sounds.

Rosen’s left hand was bleeding but he shook his head. Springer said, “I think—” and sat down heavily on a crate just as the plane took another jump. Peck grabbed him, half-carried him back toward the tail and opened Springer's leather jacket. The whole upper part of Springer’s right shoulder looked chewed up.

“I'm all right,” said Springer. “Just the shock. Go back.”

PECK went back to Rosen. Rosen had thrown out some of the larger crates. He was opening a long green metal case and he took out a rifle and motioned to Peck to take another. Peck shook his head and took another crate, and Rosen knocked it out of his hands.

“It won’t help!” he shouted. “Let’s fight the bastard!”

Peck stood there for a moment, watching Rosen in confusion as Rosen slid the port hatch three-fourths closed, then opened the starboard hatch about a fourth. He grabbed one of the rifles and began putting in a clip, and Peck d his example.

Up forward, Cornish watched the Jap fighter circling as it got Set for another attack. It had made two passes, and each time its four wing cannon had ripped the big Douglas. Both wings were riddled and the fuseage had a huge hole in it, but the plane was flying and still trying to climb. The Jap jockeyed around as if he was perplexed to find his defenseless prey still very much alive, and this time he meant to do the job right. He had enormous speed, and he had swept around the big C-47 like a mosquito buzzing at a lazy mastiff.

"Careful back there, you guys," Cornish said on the interphone. "I'm going to dive when he comes in again."

Delaney peered down the back and said to Cornish. "They're not listening. Rosen and the guy from Yank have rifles.

"What's Harv doing?"

I don't see him. Ed, he's coming!"

The Jap had started a slow dive from their starboard. He came in quite slowly, as if he was picking his spot, then as the big plane suddenly dived he swept in after it and his wing cannon fired. A shell exploded on one of the motors and it began to splutter and trail smoke. The Jap pulled up short, rolled over still above the plane and made a tight loop that let him dive again. He was five hundred feet away when Cornish went into a bank that was half a side-slip and the water below the big plane shot up in four, thin white-topped geysers.

"Good! Good!" cried Delaney. "Keep it up, Ed!"

Cornish nodded grimly. "Think he'll run out of ammo?"

"Or gas—if we last!"

We can't last. One motor's gone and she won't handle. Tell those stupid bastards to dump the rest of the stuff!"

"Right after this," said Delaney, watching the Jap come in.

Rosen appeared at the doorway. "Lieutenant, hold off just a little, will you, sir? He doesn't seem to know we're firing at him."

"Are you nuts?" Cornish shouted. "Dump the stuff, damn it!"

"But, sir—"

“Rosen, get out of here!” Delaney cried.

ROSEN got back to Peck just as Peck sat down on the floor and poked his rifle through the starboard hatch. The Jap was in view again a thousand feet off. He had stopped bothering to roll over when he made his attacks and he had cut his speed a little. He began edging toward the big plane again. Rosen watched Springer crawling toward the hatch, then bent over and pulled him back.

“That won’t help anyone, Lieutenant,” he said. Springer cursed him and tried to fight, then sank back and Rosen picked up his rifle and stood over Peck and took aim.

The Douglas was losing altitude fast. The Jap inclined his nose a little, swung in closer, then suddenly turned and came in. The two rifles cracked at him as he made his pass, but on he came. He fired his cannon from three hundred feet away and the Douglas leaped and swung toward him in a mad slashing uncontrolled maneuver and the Jap looped out of the way.

Rosen looked forward. The starboard wing was hanging by a hair and the pilot’s compartment was a shambles. Delaney was lying on the floor, clawing at his face. Rosen ran to him just as Peck spun around and followed the Jap from the port hatch.

Delaney had stopped moving by the time Rosen reached him. He was beyond anyone’s help. His blood was spilling over the floor and his face was half gone. Cornish was shouting something and tears rolled down his face across several jagged cuts. An eternity went by before Rosen understood what Cornish was saying, and he went back to Peck to tell him they were going to have to bail out.

But the Jap was back again and Peck looked up at Rosen with a strange look on his face, then turned away and sighted at the fighter as it closed in. For one crazed moment, Rosen looked around in the dim interior of the plane without finding Springer, then he saw him farther back toward the tail. He had Rosen’s rifle and he was firing at the Jap through a hole in the plane. Rosen went to him, took the rifle and lay down beside him.

The Jap was less than four hundred feet away. The stubby, barrel-like plane was profiled for a moment and Peck began to fire. Rosen held off until the fighter went into a tight bank and started coming in head on, then he fired once, waited again and fired again. The Jap came on, presenting an almost stationary target that needed no leading. He seemed to be intent on ramming them, and when he had closed half the remaining distance between the two planes they could see the Jap pilot leaning forward in his greenhouse.

Then it happened, so slowly that it seemed unreal. The Jap’s motor shot out a streak of black smoke and then it flew away from the plane, as if it could go on by itself. The prop was still spinning at full speed when it began to fall. The fighter seemed to hang in mid-air for a long moment, then a sheet of orange flame1 enveloped it and it nosed over and plummeted straight down.

Only when the Jap plunged into the sea did Peck realize that they were less than a thousand feet above the suddenly foam-flecked surface and still going down. He turned to call Rosen and saw him swiftly preparing for. the crash that was minutes away.


THE last remaining streaks of daylight were fading when the big C-47 sank. Cornish had nursed her to the last, bringing her down so gently that she touched the calm sea only when she could no longer move forward. The plane dropped to the water without a tremor and rested on the surface like a great, weary bird, and she might have stayed afloat a long while if the sea had not come pouring in through her myriad wounds to drag her down. She lasted almost three minutes before she quietly, unprotestingly started down to the bottom, and with her she took the body of Lee Delaney.

A little distance away, two men sat silently in each of two rafts that floated side by side, watching the plane until she went down and they were alone on the sea.

One Jap Dead, One Coming Up ...

DARKNESS was almost complete when Jim Boland sighted the nearest of the atolls. He had kept paddling until he saw the dim, feathery outlines of the tops of palm trees and he straightened his body and kept staring until it was too dark to see them anymore. Then he rested for a long time, and when he had stopped trembling he bent over and began to paddle again.

Boland had been thirty-eight days on his raft when the C-47 saw him, but long before he had lost track of the days. Time had stopped for Boland just as almost everything else had stopped for him—everything but the primitive faculties he had needed for survival, as if he’d had no room on the raft for thought or emotion or volition. He had lived in an empty world of alternating light and darkness, and water. There was a reason for it somewhere, he knew, but it was difficult to remember and it wasn’t important.

Nothing was important but survival, and that was something he’d had done for him by an animal that lived in him. The animal had had cunning and independence enough from him to manage to keep him alive, because Boland himself could never have done it. It was exactly like having someone else in the raft with him—an odd, vaguely familiar being with whom he could not communicate, though he had tried once oi twice at the beginning. When he gave up trying to talk to the animal, because it either didn’t understand him or wouldn’t answer, he had heard himself making sounds that had no conscious reference to thought, sounds that were rudimentary reactions to simple stimuli, then that too had stopped. One by one the attributes of the human being were shed, and the animal seemed content to have exchanged thought and memory for the weapons of instinct.

Boland had been a passenger in the raft from then on. It had been a simple bargain: he offered no Interference and in exchange he was kept alive.

When the C-47 began to circle and drop toward him, for a few brief moments he remembered things. It was like the great screen on which other fragments of memories had once flashed for him during those last nights before he had found himself living on the raft, but these had been scarcely defined and they had vanished more swiftly. Before, he could seize the impression of some sight or sound it was gone, and from long habit he didn’t try at all to bring them back. Even the plane had had little validity. There had been other planes before it, some far off and some very close, but none had seen him, and they too had come to have an almost orderly part in the strange pattern of his existence. He had felt nothing seeing them come because that was the onlyway he could feel nothing when they were gone. That was part of what he’d gotten in exchange for his surrender to the animal—when he relinquished hope, he was freed from despair.

BUT this plane had come down. The animal had heard it, scanned the sky and found it, dropped dye overboard, signalled with a mirror, and then it had gathered the cans and packages that were dropped to the raft, and it had the instructions and followed the plane as it went off to circle somewhere at the edge of the horizon.

The memories flashed and were gone, and then later he saw the palm trees and the memories returned again. That was when he had trembled—the first time he could remember interfering with the animal. And that was because the animal was no longer needed, because its work was done. The memories came again and fear had come with them. It didn’t matter that he didn’t understand the fear, neither what come. The return of fear was his only measure of the time he had been on the raft. Fear Was the symbol of his release.

Now too the memories were released. They came whirling in wild disorder, unrelated and without apparent meaning.

The merciless heat of the days and the wet windswept nights of freezing, A fifty foot sperm whale that followed him all afternoon. It rolled on the surface, submerged, roared back out of the depths to roll and blow on the surface again. The silk mask he had cut from his parachute to protect himself from the sun. The twenty-foot high swells that tossed him about and half the parachute trailing the raft, lashed to it with shroud lines and acting as a sea anchor. Nights of moonlight and the churning silver sea. Pemmican.

The raft turning over and his violent kicking in the water to keep the sharks away. The sharks circling the raft for three days and three nights, their black dorsal fins like deadly, graceful cleavers in the feathering water. The shark turning its belly up and lashing its tail as it attacked the raft. The green glass sea turning to molten gold in the morning, and the heat, the heat.

Him sitting in the raft, wearing his suit, helmet, shoes, even his gloves to fight the searing sun and his brown hair bleaching under the helmet and his beard bleaching behind the mask. Half the parachute in the raft rolled up by day, a blanket by night, soaked and heavy but keeping the sea from breaking on him, and the wind like millions of tiny daggers stabbing him with cold. Tablets of malted milk, of vitamins, of chocolate and both canteens empty for three days. The shark’s curving mouth and beady eyes and the sea running black with its blood when the .45 slug it was based on nor from where it had hit it.

The benign morphine syrettes in his emergency kit, cooling the sun, warming the wind, shutting out the light, illuminating the darkness. The merciful morphine and the sharks diving to follow a sinking trail of blood. The unending shock of waves pounding the raft. The minnows in his seine of mosquito netting, eaten alive. Shooting the long-necked booby birds, eating their livers, drinking their blood, eating the half-digested fish from their stomachs. Nights of rain and pressure sores on bis body. Greasing the .45 with fat from the intestines of the birds, stripping and cleaning it every day and B1 tablets and the whale making a sound like breakers on a beach.

The waves' beating against the raft and the morphine syrettes as long as they lasted and the planes sometimes very near and not seeing him and the Catalina’s shadow crossing the raft and the endless heat and cold and wet and water—and no time, no thought and no fear.

The fear was back, but he had survived.

A SOUND like breakers on a beach, Boland thought again, then sat up sharply and listened. After a moment he swung the raft more to the right and paddled again, making almost no sound. The note they had tossed him from the plane said they didn’t know whether or not the atolls were inhabited. The thing was to be careful until he found out. Now that he knew his position it still meant nothing to him, except that the islands were fairly deep in what was considered American waters. That meant no Japs, but if there were natives it could still be tricky going if he startled them before they could identify him as American.

If they were friendly to Americans. All islanders were. Well, these could be exceptions. Suppose there weren’t any islanders, but the Army or the Marines had an outpost there. They’d shoot first and have a look at his dog tags later. Tomorrow sometime there , would be a Navy plane to pick him up. It would be nice if the G.I.’s stationed there brought his body to the plane and explained they’d shot him by mistake the night before.

He was trembling again. Those weren’t breakers—it was the whale again, louder and louder. He’d imagined the whole thing. There was another cold night coming and he would S it on the raft. He would be on the raft forever and the morphine was gone. But they’d had morphine in the stuff the plane dropped. The whale was closer. Sure there’d been a plane. Where else did all this stuff in the raft come from? He could touch it, open it. Chocolate, raisins, C and K rations, lemon drops, canteens of water. He was shivering, but if it was cold why was he sweating?

The night was clear and star-studded and the air was fresh with the smell of trees and grass and land. He peered ahead, straining his eyes to be sure. It was land and those were waves he heard. He could see the white combers gliding through darkness to a faint white strip of land ahead. That was a beach.

He said aloud, but quietly: “Hold on, boy. Hold, boy.” If it was cold why was he sweating? “Shut up,” he said. “Let’s work this—”

What was that sound? The wind had changed for an instant and he had heard it, whatever it was, like a motor a long way off. The beach was easily visible now. Feel your way in with the paddles now or you’ll hit a razor-edged reef and goodbye raft and every damn thing on it and then maybe there won’t be a plane for a couple of days. Palm trees meant coconuts, though. Careful the natives don’t stick a spear through you, or the Army shoot you. What in hell was that sound he had heard? How could he hear anything with that noise in his ears? His head was throbbing. The white sand gleamed ahead. Easy over these damn reefs, Here’s where the breakers begin.

CAREFULLY he rolled over the inflated rubber gunwale, held on and lowered himself into the water. Four feet down his shoes crunched on the coral bottom. The impact of touching something solid underfoot sent a shock t rough him that almost stopped his heart. He gripped the raft as much for support as to push it through the water ahead of him. A wave broke just behind him, drenched him to the skin, sent him running toward the beach.

Then the raft was beached and he was walking on dry land and running the crystal sand through his hands and listening to the welcome sound of the palm trees stopping the wind—but all the time listening also for the sound he thought he had heard.

He didn’t seem to be able to catch his breath.

“It’s all right now,” he said. “Everything’s all right.”

Among the things the plane had dropped to him there was a small waterproof flashlight. But there was always the chance it would be dangerous to use it, and he really didn’t need it; he could tell by the feel of the package. He fumbled for a moment among the boxes still in the raft. His hands were shaking as he administered the syrette, but he felt better almost immediately. He always knew when he’d be feeling better because his vision would blur a little and then he’d see tiny dancing diamonds of light. "He saw them now, incredibly beautiful in the velvet darkness. “It’s all right now,” he told himself again and he breathed in deeply and easily and suddenly held it when he heard the voice.

It was just a word or two, the voice raised as if in command, coming from perhaps a hundred yards away. There it was again—a single word, in a language he didn’t understand. It seemed closer now, coming from a thick grove of palms deeper inland.

Boland crouched down beside the rubber raft, found his .45 and strapped the holster on with swift, feverish movements. The brilliant pinpoints of light made it difficult for him to see, and the morphine had heightened his sensitivity to sound. It seemed to him that he was drinking clearly and quickly, but he knew the morphine was completely untrustworthy when it came to subjective judgments. The knife—he’d forgotten the knife.' There it was again, the slowed response, the inability to think and the treacherously coupled certainty that he was able to think better than ever.

He found the knife, stuck the sheath into his belt. Get away from the raft. They could see the raft easily from some distance and it would betray him. He began to crawl along the coral sand to where a green thicket met the beach. He crawled in under the broad leaves and kept staring down the beach. His pulse was going like a hammer, and his whole body jumped when he heard the voice again.

IT WAS closer but the direction had altered. Whoever it was had been heading for the shore and now the voice was coming from somewhere farther down the beach. The sand seemed to be glowing with a ghostly white phosphorescence and the yellow raft was a huge flat shadow against it, darker than the pitch-black night.

“Hi!” the voice called gaily, sharply and something came whizzing through the air and fell to the beach. The next moment a long dark shadow came bounding after it and stopped not twenty feet from where Boland crouched tensely.

It was a large dog, like a Belgian or German shepherd, and it had come chasing a stick someone had thrown. But it had seen the dark mass of the raft and it forgot the stick it had been sent to fetch. It kept looking at the dark mass, waiting for some movement from it, and when there was none it slowly advanced to the raft. It stopped again and raised its head and seemed to scan the darkness, and for an instant when it looked in Boland’s direction its eyes shone with a dull amber glow and a low growl issued from its throat, then it turned its attention to the raft again and went up to it and bent down to sniff it.

“Hi!” the voice called again. It was no closer. The dog’s master was evidently waiting for the animal farther down the beach.

The dog raised its head and turned toward the direction from which the across the ten or fifteen yards that separated it front where Boland crouched. It barked again and began to come towards him, slowly at first, then suddenly bounding.

It came to a halt about five feet away and stared at him, and this time its bark was sharp and loud, and when it stopped barking there was a savage ferocity in its growl. Perhaps a full minute had gone by wince it had first become aware of the man lying in the thicket, and the man had neither stirred not made a sound. But now, as the dog took a tentative step forward, there was a slight movement under the leaves. It was all the dog needed to decide it. It took another quick step, snarled and sprang.

Boland sprang so soon afterward that he met the dog almost halfway in midair, just outside the thicket. The palm of his left hand smashed into its muzzle and slid off, and the impact of his weight pushed the dog aside. As it fell to the beach, Boland fell on top of it, then rebounded, pushing himself up just high enough to hammer the squirming savage animal down again with both hands. The knife in bis right hand had struck bone in the dog’s shoulder. It flashed up and plunged down again and sank to the hilt in the dog's throat. He twisted is and made a double slash, feeling the hot gush of blood soak his hands and armed as he pulled himself away.

THE whole thing had taken three or four seconds, and the voice had called again, coming closer. He seized the dog’s hind legs and pulled it in thicket and crouched beside it.

The voice called again and the figure of a man appeared on the beach. He was small and wearing a square-peaked cap and there was a long rifle slung on his shoulders. As he came closer he kept raising his voice and looking around, and then he saw the raft and stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around, slowly, no longer calling, and he unslung his rifle. After a moment he walked slowly into the raft, bent to touch it and a tiny guarded light flickered in his hand and the dark mass of the raft turned bright yellow where the light hit it for the instant it was on. He straightened up quickly, scanned the darkness and stood staring directly toward Borland.

Borland knew what he was looking at. The dog's blood had made a long irregular shadow in the white sand. The man was cautiously coming toward it, the rifle low in his hands. He stopped and looked at the thicket, then crouched down and took a few more steps, until he was able to reach out and touch the blood-muddied coral sand. He felt it in his fingers to get up when he saw the dark form come hurtling toward him.

It was over in an instant. Boland slid in past the rifle and his left arm hooked around the man’s head with such savagery that it made an audible snap, and he pressed the man close to his chest. The knife went deep into the small of the man’s back and he went limp and the rifle dropped to the beach and his sagged against Borland's shoulder. Borland held him and stabbed him three or four more and then he just backed away and let him drop.

He bent down over the dead man and searched his pockets. The lower pockets held half a dozen grenades of a Jap make he had seen several times before and knew how to use. He took them, took the Jap’s knife, his flashlight, a box of matches, cigarettes and a wallet. Then he pulled the Jap into the thicket beside the dog’s carcass and ran down the beach to the raft.

He started pulling the raft back to the water and suddenly he stopped and listened. He had heard voices whispering, more than one, and then he heard laughter and everything was quiet again. He could see nothing but he stopped pulling the raft. Every minute was incalculably precious now, but he had to think, to weigh his chances and act with all of his cunning. The night was still his shield.

He knew there were other islands in the group. He had seen the palms stretching off into the distance, and the island he was on was at one end of what was apparently a chain. If there were Japs on one there would be Japs on others. He could either get back in the raft and paddle as far away from them as he could until morning, or he could stay. If he left there was still a good chance the searching planes would find him the next day, because he couldn’t get too far away. If he—

There was no sense thinking about that. He wasn’t going back to the raft and the sea—not even for one night, not for anything, except maybe to get to one of the other islands in the groups. That was his choice, and the risk was apparent and deadly: he might be running to , an island that would be infinitely worse. The one thing that seemed to be true about the island he was on was that it was an isolated outpost of whatever Jap force was on the atolls. The patrol of a single soldier and a dog indicated that. There couldn’t be much numerical enemy strength around, in spite of the other voices he’d heard. No one seemed to be looking for the Jap he’d killed. A day or two might go by before he would be missed. Those other voices could easily be natives of these islands; only natives whispered around Japs', and Japs weren’t given to laughing' much.

IT ADDED up. If he could last a little while, until the search planes came looking for him, he’d tear the parachute into strips and make panels and tell the story quickly, and if they were Catalinas they could cover him long enough to— ?

Never mind the details. He’d work that out later. The thing was to stay where he was and find cover. He’d have to bury the raft and the Jap and the dog. No one knew there was an American flyer around, and if the Japs kept coming at him singly he could kill an army before morning. A strange feeling of strength and exhilaration swept through him and he felt every nerve in his body tingling. He was a ghost, a deadly killer, a match and more than a match for all of them and all their— Shut up! Shut up! He didn’t know what he was thinking. He couldn’t think. The morphine had him. The morphine was shaping his thoughts, making him believe these things, dictating insane courage. It was all wrong, all of it.

Then suddenly he let his breath out, and he realized he had gone through all those thoughts and made decision# and revisions, all in the time it had taken him to draw a single breath. His mind was working swiftly. He was thinking well, thinking beautifully, thinking better than he’d ever thought. The thing was to stick to the decision he first made, to stay.

Meanwhile, in the fraction of an instant that had elapsed since he had exhaled that single decisive breath, and while he was deciding to decide, and then deciding to stick to the decision He was out of his mind! He couldn't get away from that word decide, and he was incapable of decision! No, but that wasn’t true either, because meanwhile—in that fraction of an instant—? he had been pulling the raft back toward the thicket. Meanwhile he had already done it.

Now he would—

Three men had walked into his limited range of vision and stopped. They were standing on the beach, halfway between the water and the dark line where grass began. If they were talking he couldn’t hear them. The one nearest him was holding a rifle. He was profiled, facing the other two, and the rifle was outlined against the lighter sand behind him. The two that were together started walking away and in a moment they had vanished into the darkness that was dancing with those lovely microscopic stars of light. Dancing and blurring his vision again as the exhilaration returned—and that was because the one who had been left behind was now coming toward him.

Coming to where Boland, Jimbo Boland, would kill him. It was all working out. He couldn’t miss. It was just as he had planned when he made his decision. Coming to him to be killed, and halfway there by now. Wonderful, marvelous, wonderful. If they kept it up, he would end up with a whole goddamned Jap cemetery back under the trees. He’d kill every Jap on the island and then maybe he’d go on to the next and the one after that, and by the time the search planes showed up, he’d have a whole mountain of dead Japs to stand on and wave to them. Coming to be killed, and here he was just ten feet away. Now he comes up to me and takes a look around and maybe he doesn’t like the way it looks, and then he’s dead before he’s made his decision!

BUT the fool Jap had already reached a point abreast of Boland, and instead of turning toward the thicket to get killed, he was walking straight ahead. Walking with rather long, wary steps, not turning his head much but keeping an eye on everything, holding the rifle loosely in his right hand. Bigger than the first one and maybe smarter, but the fool was going to walk past without turning.

Then he stopped. He took a step back, then another, and he was looking down at the beach. He bent over and turned his head just a bit from side to side, and keeping his head inclined, looking down at the beach, he walked down to the water. Then he came back, still following the smooth broad track that Boland had left when he pulled the burdened raft into the thicket. Boland had forgotten to erase the track, but it was a stroke of luck. The Jap would follow it, find the raft, bend down to have a look at it and then do a graceful flop into it with a knife in his back.

The man was already almost too close when Boland remembered to get away from the raft. Silently, knife in hand, he slithered over to one side, judged the distance and crouched for the leap.

The man had slowed down as he reached the thicket. Now he was there. He reached out with both hands and parted the tall grass and looked down over the hedge. He took a step forward, another, and he was past the first line of underbrush and clearly visible in spite of the ten million dancing stars. He saw the raft. He bent over until his back was as low as the horizontal line of his rifle had been when he was standing erect. He was eight feet away.

Boland sprang. He was in mid-air when the man turned and saw him coming. There wasn’t time enough for the man to do what he did, but he just dropped and flattened out. Boland flew past and over him and when he dropped his knees landed on the man’s back—or where his back would have been if he hadn’t rolled. In the same instant that the man hit the ground he rolled in the direction from which Boland had sprung, so that by the time Boland landed, they were five feet apart. But in either the dropping or rolling, the man had let go of his rifle, and his hands were empty as he got up on one knee and lowered his head to meet Boland’s second leap.

Instead of meeting it, the man fell to one side, and this time when Boland hit the ground on all fours, arms and legs stretched out like a frog—this time the man twisted back, still on one knee, curled an arm around the back of Boland’s head, brought his forearm up under Boland’s jaw, brought the other knee up into Boland’s side, did it a second time, a third time, and when Boland flattened out face down on the ground, the man reached over and smashed a fist down on Boland’s right hand with such force that the knife fell from jus numbed fingers and he was lost.

HE HAD several seconds to live before the knife would get into him, but several seconds was a long, long time and a lot could be done in it. A lot had to be done in it. He had to fight, to make sure the Jap wouldn’t get a chance to decide to make Boland a prisoner. So he tossed and rolled and pitched and clawed. That was the thing he had on the Jap even then it was he, Boland, Jimbo Boland, who was making the decision. Decisions were his meat. He made them in a twinkling, like a ghost, a deadly killer, Jimbo Boland who was more than a match for all of them. Seconds to live and the decision already made and acted on in true killer fashion!

But it was wrong, and he said so. Somehow it hadn’t worked out the way he planned it, and there was enough time in those seconds to come right out and say so. Say so? He yelled and screamed them! Jimbo wasn’t leaving without letting them know what was wrong, and there was plenty wrong. The Jap was hitting him over the mouth, choking him, but Boland let him know that his plans about this fight had gone wrong.

And other things too, while he was at it. They wouldn’t let a man sleep on those carriers! He said so. They never let him get enough sleep and they made him take benzedrine and they wouldn’t let him forget all the friends he would never see again. He said so! Said? Shouted! They forced him to keep flying when he was afraid of it, and they made him kill Ray Stone, and they changed their plans for attacks so that the Japs could anticipate them and attack themselves, and when he realized they had been fools they wouldn’t let him land on the carrier, so he had to sit on a raft and come to an island to be killed, where no one would ever know it, no one but he, and he had just those seconds to live. But in those seconds he let them know about those things and other things—like the Jap and the dog he had killed, and he said that even now he wouldn’t be going to die if it wasn’t for the morphine. They’d done so much to him that all he could do was take morphine, and the morphine had fooled him, destroyed his balance, his judgment, his reason, and that was why the Jap was killing him and why everything was all wrong—and he said so. He screamed it.

Finally it was over.

THE man rose unsteadily and stared down at Boland’s inert body. His hands were still trembling with unspent violence and his breathing was shallow and difficult. From farther down the beach he heard a voice calling in swift approach and he shouted an answer. A moment later, one of the two men who had been with him earlier came running into the heavy underbrush.

“Peck! What the hell’s been—” Jack Rosen broke off as he saw Boland’s prostrate form near the raft. He reached out to support Peck as he stood there swaying on his feet. “You’re hurt,” Rosen said. “My God, what happened here?”

Before Peck could answer, Harvey Springer’s voice called from the beach. Rosen cried out to direct him. Springer ran into the thicket, a .45 in his hand, breathing heavily. His right shoulder was swathed in bandages that gleamed darkly white in the darkness, and there was pain and alarm, and finally astonishment, on his features as he quickly took in the scene.

“Who’s that? What happened?”

Peck shook his head, stared down at the sprawling figure. “It must be the guy we spotted on the raft this afternoon. He jumped me and I had to conk him.”

“Jumped you?”

“He didn’t know what he was doing. He figured me for a Jap, I think. You heard the way he screamed. I couldn’t... couldn’t...”

Rosen said: “He’s hurt, Lieutenant.”

“I’m all right,” Peck said and shook his head again. “He hit me a few. He’s full of morphine. I couldn’t make him stop fighting- He kept yelling about morphine and a Jap and a dog and not wanting to fly—all kinds of things...”

"What did he say about Japs?”

"I'm not sure. Something about killing a Jap and a dog and my being the Jap who’d been sent to kill him. He’d have cut me apart if I’d let him.”

Springer frowned. “You think he meant there were Japs here?”

‘I don’t know,” Peck said wearily. “He just babbled.”

“Hey!” Rosen cried and leaped a foot into the air. He’d taken a step back and felt something at once strange and oddly familiar underfoot. The crunch of bones told him what it was even before he whirled and flicked on his flashlight. The white beam revealed a limp, bloodstained brown hand stretching out from under a bush. Rosen moved the light along the body of a dead Jap. Lying underneath, half hidden by the Jap’s body, was a dog’s carcass. Both were badly mutilated and the soil under them was drenched with blood.

“Put that light out,” Springer said quietly. “Whoever this guy is, be wasn’t just babbling. There must be other Japs around. Jack, go get Cornish— fast. Don’t bother—”

Listen!” said Peck, holding a hand up.

The three men stood very still.

It was Cornish. His form took shape against the white sand as he came staggering along the beach, stopping occasionally to call out in guarded tones. Rosen stepped out to the edge of the beach, returned the call softly, and as Cornish swerved toward the thicket he stumbled and half fell into Rosen’s arms.

Cornish was exhausted and he was breathing in great, hoarse gulps, trying to speak. “Japs... three of ’em..." he gasped. By then he had made out the raft and the bodies lying almost at his feet. "... Got dogs... with em... Heard you... headed... this way..."

The four men spun around together as the first sound roared out across the lagoon. They stood there listening as if petrified, and as the instants sped by their confusion mounted. The first crackling roar of an airplane motor had swelled to full volume before it was joined by another, then a third, and there were still more, until so many motors were merged in continuous thunder that rose from the dark lagoon that they could no longer be counted.

Their pitch was changing, then the sound waves began to change direction. The roaring grew incisive as propellers bit into air and the unmistakable sounds of planes being airborne came to them. One was coming closer and in a moment tiny lights flashed by overhead on their way up to circle the atolls. Another followed it, so low that it barely cleared the trees, silhouetted in black against the stars, then a third a little farther out. The three joined to form a triangle and there were other triangles forming, climbing as they circled, their lights blinking in signals.

A dog barked sharply from very close.

Planes . . . But No Place to Land

CORNISH said: “It’s the Japs. They’re here.”

The Japs were close enough to be seen, and evidently they had been standing there for some moments. They stood on the beach, close to the water’s edge, heads thrown back as they followed the flashing colored lights overhead, rifles hanging easy in their hands. One of their two dogs stood close to them, watching the other trot up and back along the beach, its head turning sharply from side to side.

The second dog was halfway between the Japs and the thicket as it barked again. The motors all but drowned tire sound. One of the Japs raised a hand to point to the sky, but when the dog kept barking and started slowly but directly toward the thicket, the three Japs turned and watched it. Then one of them moved and brought his rifle up to his chest. He took a step or two forward, stopped, and the other two Japs started moving away to either side of him, spreading out. They all had their rifles at ready now. The dog that had remained with them started bounding to the other one.

In the moment during which these separate but joined actions began, a group of six planes roared over the island in formation as they continued to climb and circle. Before these actions had crystallized, and while the three Japs were still fairly close together and just beginning to move, Peck acted. He bent to pick up his rifle, crawled on hands and knees to the outer boundary of the underbrush, sat up on one knee, clicked back the safety and fired. He rocked back, worked the bolt, fired again, rocked back, fired a third time. The second shot sent the Jap farthest to the left flying back into the surf as if he had been kicked in the belly; by the third shot Rosen had plumped down beside Peck and started firing his carbine. The middle Jap spun around and went down. The one on the right flattened on the beach, started to get his rifle up to his shoulder and stopped with a shriek. He leaped up, holding his face, took two steps and tumbled down. The dog farther back had started running down the beach. Rosen followed it and cut it down with three swift shots. The other dog had frozen in its tracks when the firing began. Now it barked savagely and bounded forward. It covered less than ten feet before a bullet half tore its head off.

The action had begun with the planes coming over. It was concluded before the covering thunder of motors had started to flatten with distance. The lights flew on and joined others. The roaring diminished to a drone and finally became a steadily fading hum. The planes were lost in the night sky.

A deathly silence lay over the atolls. Peck said to Rosen: “Back in a minute.”

Crouching, Peck ran down the beach to where the Japs lay. He knelt over each briefly and tried moving their arms. When he returned, he found the others gathered around Boland, near the raft. They were talking about the planes they had heard.

“But maybe these aren’t those islands,” said Cornish.

“They must be,” said Springer. “They were the only ones within hundreds of miles from where we were. We headed for them and found them just where we expected to find them. And here’s this Navy flyer who got here with our directions.”

‘But where could those planes have taken off from?”

Rosen said, “Maybe they were seaplanes.”

“No,” said Cornish. “They would have sounded differently—it was land planes we heard.” He turned and saw Peck. “That was fast and damn good thinking, Peck. How do you figure those planes out?”

PECK said: “To hell with the planes. Let’s figure out how to stay alive. That Jap patrol we wiped out’ll be missed after awhile and I want to know where we’ll be when that happens.”

“You’re right, Peck. What do you suggest?”

“You’re in charge, Captain.”

“Don’t pull rank on me, Peck. You seem to know your way around with Japs. Anything we decide we’ll decide together.”

“All right,” said Peck. “This is how I see it. We don’t know how much of a message Delaney sent before we were attacked, or whether any of it was received, but we’ve got to get back in our rafts and get as far away from here as possible before morning—”

“It’ll be morning in less than an hour,” said Springer.

“That doesn’t give us enough time. We’ll have to bury the Japs and their dogs and cover our traces.”


“Because they’ve got planes here— whatever kind of planes they are—and if we leave these bodies around, they’ll hunt us until they find us.” Peck paused a moment, then resumed. “It’s just as well. You and Lieutenant Springer are wounded and this guy’s in no condition for a ride on a raft, so we’ll stay—try to stay, anyway—until tomorrow night.”

“Stay? On this island?”

“Yes, sir, unless you know a better one.”

“You said they’d miss the patrol, didn’t you?”

“Let ’em miss it. They don’t know we’re here. We’ll hide and there won’t be a sign of their patrol. There’re plenty of islands here they could’ve disappeared on.”

‘Or between,” said Springer. “How’d they get here?”

“They rowed across the lagoon,” said Cornish. “I heard them beaching their boat. They must’ve been a roving patrol and this one was the sentry.”

“It’s a hell of a small island if it only had one sentry,” said Springer. “How do we know we can hide here at all?”

“Let’s just spend the rest of the night talking,” said Peck.

Look here, Peck—” Cornish began, then broke off and said to Rosen:

“What do you say, Rosie? Got any ideas?”

“Just one, sir. I’m with Sergeant Peck.”

Cornish nodded. “All right, Peck. Take over.”

Peck said: “Thank you, sir.”


THE first pallid rays of morning stretched thin across the sky before an hour had gone by, and that hour had been spent in feverish and unceasing work. Peck had chosen a spot deeper inland, in a palm grove, and there the men had dug a shallow pit with baling cans and their hands in the soft rich soil. The Japs and the dogs had been buried together. The rowboat the Jap patrol had used was found; it was weighted with some heavy stones, its bottom was pierced several times, and it was sunk on a coral reef far from where it had been beached. The rafts, Boland’s included, were buried in a flat, six-inch deep trench, and close by went most of their food and water. Whatever else of their gear that was not needed immediately was buried with it. They retained only their sidearms, two carbines, grenades they had found on Boland and taken from the other Japs, boxes of ammunition, and small articles like knives and signalling mirrors.

Harvey Springer had been left with Boland. When the others returned from their last task, they found Boland tossing and moaning in soft, broken syllables. Springer had been talking to him, but Boland was far away, lost in pain and new nightmares.

They carried him into the palm grove and hid him in tall grass while they dug a final trench for themselves and camouflaged it with banana leaves and dead palm fronds. Then they sat down and ate some of the rations they’d kept out and washed it down with milk from green coconuts and a little of their precious water. They didn’t talk much; mostly they listened to Boland mumbling and they waited. There was a whole day of waiting to come.

The sky was turning red when Peck and Rosen went off to make a careful tour of the island. They carried carbines and grenades and walked along the sheltered edge of the island, well back from the shoreline but following its contours.

The island turned out to be about five hundred yards long and three hundred yards across at its widest point, shaped roughly like an elongated kidney. At its northernmost point, dimly they made out islands to the northeast and northwest, and beyond them others stretched off in dark parallel lines. The nearest island to the northeast was already touched with light. It was some thousand yards away. The nearest one to the northwest was somewhat farther off.

Not a sound marred the absolute silence.

Rosen stared out across the red and gold glinted water and he shook his head. “I can’t figure it,” he said. “Every way I try to add up something I get nothing.”

“You mean those planes?”

“Don't they bother you?”

Peck nodded. “Some of these islands must be full of Japs.”

“And nobody seems to know they’re here,” said Rosen.

“Nobody but us.”

“Where did those planes come from? Where did they go?”

Peck said nothing and they kept walking.

PRESENTLY Rosen said, “What do A you think our chances are?”

Peck looked at him, half smiled and shrugged. “What makes me the man with the answers?” he said. "Why should I know?”

“Have you ever been in a tough spot before?”


“As though as this?”

“Nope. Not nearly.”

“But you’re confident?”

Peck shook his head. “The hell I am. Why should I be confident? The Navy guy is out of his head and from the looks of him he was on that raft too long to last without expert care. Springer and Cornish are hurt and they’ll know it as soon as the excitement wears off and the morphine stops holding them. We don’t know if our message got through, or if it did, what good it’ll do us. There aren’t supposed to be any Japs here, and from what we saw from the air they’re well camouflaged and damn careful to stay out of sight during the daytime, but they’re up to something here and we’re right in the middle of whatever it is. Why should I be confident?”

Rosen said, “If they keep hidden in the daytime, maybe they’ll stay away from here until tonight and we’ll pull out.”

“That’s an if and a maybe.”

“It’s enough for me. Isn’t it enough for you?”

“If it wasn’t,” said Peck, “I’d have cut my throat long ago.”

They had completed three-fourths of a circuit of the island by then and they were headed south along the island’s east coast when they heard the distant drone of planes. They stopped walking and searched the sky. Far off to the east, high above the horizon’s first golden haze of light a speck appeared, then others all around it. It took only a few instants for the specks to assume the shapes of planes flying in two V’s of nine planes each, and they were still a long way off and high overhead when the V’s began to distintegrate and the planes fell into a long line.

They came closer and the first plane winged over lazily and swept down in a long gliding dive. It flew west until it had passed the islands, then banked to the north, made a more abrupt turn and dived down among the islands to the northwest. A second plane had followed it and it too vanished among the islands less than a minute after the first. The third and fourth were coming down and the rest of the line roared on over the islands and then slowly swung north and the fifth plane started down, then a sixth.

Rosen was staring toward the northwest. He turned to Peck, his face a mask of incredulity. “They’re landing somewhere in these islands, but how? How can they land?”

Peck frowned and shook his head. “Come on,” he said.

THEY cut across the island and ran the rest of the way to where they had left the others. Cornish and Springer were standing at the far end of the palm grove, watching the last of the planes go down. Boland was sitting propped up against a palm, a burning cigarette dangling from his lips, his eyes closed.

Cornish grabbed Peck’s arm. “Did you see where they’re landing up there?” he demanded. His eyes were unnaturally wide and bloodshot and the fresh scars on his face were livid against his pallor. “How can they land?” he asked, his voice rising.

“Sit down, Captain,” said Peck. “You’re not feeling well.”

“Where are they landing?” Cornish demanded hoarsely.

Boland’s eyes flickered open. He studied Peck and Rosen for a few seconds and then cried out in fright. Springer turned toward him wearily and sank down beside him, talking quietly, telling him that Peck and Rosen were friends. Presently Boland’s eyes closed again and he dragged on the cigarette.

Cornish turned back to Peck. His mouth was open as if to speak but his forehead wrinkled and he shook his head as if he couldn’t remember what he wanted to say. Rosen took the Captain’s arms and gently he pulled the Captain down and made him comfortable against a tree. Peck looked at the three sitting men, from Cornish to Springer to Boland and then he looked up and his eyes met Rosen’s.

Springer said tiredly, “What are you looking at each other for?”

“What are you... what are you ..." Cornish had started to echo the word but their meaning was lost to him and he gave up. He looked up at Peck with glazed eyes.

“God,” Peck said softly to himself. He stood there for a moment and the muscles in his jaw grew tight and then he let his breath out and wet his dry lips. “Rosen,” he said, “get all the morphine and put it out of reach. From now on no one gets any unless I say so. I’ll be responsible.”

Springer said, “I gave it to him. He’s all cut up.” His eyes shone with hatred. “He’s got chunks of metal and glass in him,” he said.

Peck said, “He’ll have to stand it if he wants to come out of this alive. We’ve got to know what we’re doing— all of us.”

Springer said, “Rosen, you’ll take orders from me.”

“No, sir,” Rosen said. “Sergeant Peck is in command here.”

Cornish said, “How can they land in these islands?”

Rosen picked up the case of morphine syrettes and went farther back into the grove with it. He returned presently, took out a pack of cigarettes, gave one to Peck. The two men sat down so that they faced the other three and smoked silently.

There hadn’t been a sound since shortly after the last of the planes had vanished among the islands. There was none now. Cornish had slumped down and fallen asleep. Springer sat beside Boland and looked at Peck and Rosen. Boland suddenly took a deep breath, opened his eyes and took the cigarette from his lips. He regarded it, then slowly pushed the lighted end into the ground.

“I feel better,” he said in a strained soft voice.

“Good,” said Peck.

“I’ll sleep now,” said Boland.

“Good,” said Peck.

Boland went to sleep.


THE hours passed slowly and uneventfully. The sun rose in a cloudless blue sky and drenched the sea and the island with heat and the men lay sweltering through the long afternoon. Every hour the two sergeants took turns at making a short circuit of the island and at two o’clock they and Springer ate. Cornish slept on but Boland drank some watered coconut milk and ate half a box of raisins and went back to his restful, unmoving slumber.

At half past three Peck got up to make a patrol. He slung the carbine over his shoulder, gathered up some lengths of shroud line he had cut from Boland’s parachute, took some cigarettes from Rosen and was on his way.

When he reached the northernmost part of the Island he surveyed the nearest trees and chose the second tallest because it grew at a slight angle. Then he tied the shroud lines to his ankles with twelve inches of slack between them and climbed up the sloping palm tree using the lines to get purchase.

He reached the top and seated himself comfortably on the sturdiest branch. Then he took out a stubby pencil and some folded sheets of paper and began to draw what he saw.

Having seen the atolls from the air, he knew they formed a wide U. The island he was on was in the trough of the U, and as he had seen that morning, the two arms stretched north in fairly parallel lines. What he hadn’t seen were two extremely small islands, bare outcroppings without a single tree on either, that lay between his island and the nearest one to the northwest. From where he was, Peck made out fifteen distinct islands, but there were others too far off to count accurately. He numbered them, starting with his own island as 1, going northeast to the limits of his vision to number 7, then coming down the northwest arm from 8 to 15. He sketched everything and made notes about the estimated distances involved.

Presently, when he looked up from the paper, he saw something moving on the surface of the water far to the northwest. He stared at it until tears blurred his eyes and it was lost. Ten minutes later he saw it again, closer. It was closer because it was a boat moving down the west arm from island 8 to island 9. Peck marked it and noted the time: 1605.

At 1620 the boat left island 9 and disappeared along the shore of island 10. It seemed to be a power boat though he heard no motor. At 1635 it appeared off island 10 again and went on to island 11. He saw it stop and some men stood up in the boat. He thought there were four men, but others came out of the interior of island 11 and stood on the shore near the boat and he couldn’t be sure. It seemed to him he could see dogs in the boat but of this too he was uncertain. At 1655 the boat started toward island 12, and now, as a vagrant breeze shifted he heard the purr of its motor.

That left only island 13 between the boat and Peck’s island—islands 14 and 15 were too small to count. Peck estimated that the boat would get to his island—island 1—in about half an hour. He started climbing down the tree, and halfway down he saw Rosen walking along the inner border of the beach. Rosen saw him a moment later and came running, carbine in hand.

“WHAT were you doing up there?” Rosen asked. “I got worried.” “You got plenty to worry about. There’s a Jap patrol in a motorboat making the rounds of the islands and I figure they’ll be here in half an hour.”

“Yeah?” Rosen said quietly, falling into step with Peck.

“Yeah. Now what? Anything new with them?”

Rosen nodded absently. “This Boland’s all right, I think. He and Springer’ve been talking—he’s got some ideas about those planes.”

“What about Cornish?”

“Groggy, but he’s coming to.”

“Think they’ll be able to sit in water UP to their necks for an hour if they have to?”

“What for?”

“We’re going to get off this island and hide in the water until that patrol’s finished here. We’ve got a few minutes to check and see that everything’s really buried out of sight. They’ve got dogs with them and maybe these aren’t as stupid as the others. They had some German-trained dogs in Burma that knew their business.”

Rosen kept nodding. “We’ll make out if we—what’s that?”

“Must be their motorboat. I heard it before.”

“No, listen,” said Rosen. He took Peck’s arm and the two men stopped walking. “That’s a plane,” said Rosen. He turned his head very slowly from side to side. “Sure as hell that’s a plane.” He stepped out from under the trees and searched the sky.

Peck joined him and put on his dark glasses. The droning was irregular and very distant but it kept coming back. Then it was gone.

“It was a plane,” said Peck.

They started walking again and they were in sight of the palm grove when the wind shifted and the droning returned. It was louder this time. It was coming closer. Rosen ran out to the beach again and scanned the sky, then silently he pointed up. Peck looked to the west and saw it. It was a large plane and it was headed toward the atolls. In a moment its silhouette was apparent—the long graceful body and the upper wing well back, and the floats on the wing-ends and the twin motors in nacelles on either side of the body.

“It’s one of ours,” Rosen said very softly. “It’s a PBY.”

“Come on!” Peck cried.

They ran to the palm grove and found Boland and Springer standing in a little clearing. They had glimpsed the plane and they were trembling with excitement. Springer was trying to catch the sun at an angle in his mirror and Peck knocked it out of his hands.

“Stop that!” he said. “We mustn’t—”

Springer shouted, “Are you crazy or what? That’s one of ours!”

“I know what it is but we can’t signal it! If it spots us and comes down it’ll give us away to the Japs'—and they’re one or two islands away from here in a motorboat!”

“To hell with the motorboat!” Springer cried, bending over to pick up the mirror. “That plane’s armed—we’ll be out of here before they know what—”

Peck stepped on the metal mirror and ground it into the soil. Springer straightened up and lashed out at Peck with his good left arm. Peck ducked under the swing, caught the arm at the elbow and stiffened it, then pushed Springer back.

THE PBY’s motors were a full-throated roaring by now.

“Listen to me!” said Peck. “The Japs have fighter planes here—planes just like the one that shot us down! If that PBY comes down it’ll be a dead duck! If they’re searching for us there’ll be others, tomorrow, the next day—and they’ll find us—but we must let this one go!”

Springer opened the holster flap of his .45 and pulled the gun out. He pointed it at Peck with a hand that shook violently. His eyes were blazing as he came toward Peck.

“Give me that mirror,” he said in a choked voice.

Peck took a step back, dug the mirror up with a toe and kicked it toward Springer. As Springer stopped to pick it up, Rosen, who was standing between Springer and Boland, still holding his carbine—Rosen suddenly swung the carbine. The stock cracked against the revolver and knocked it out of Springer’s hand. Rosen lunged for the revolver but Boland was already coming at him. He stuck a foot out and Rosen sprawled short of his mark. Peck came in, pushed Boland’s feeble punch aside and kicked Springer’s hand just as he got the gun again. The gun dropped back to the ground and Peck fell on it. He clutched it close to his body and rolled over on his back. His free hand rammed Springer’s face, his legs folded at the knee and then kicked out and caught Boland full in the belly, catapulting him backward and into Rosen who was coming up behind Boland. Both men hit the ground in a tangled heap as Peck got to his feet.

He picked up the mirror and put it into a pocket and stood back a little, holding the revolver and sucking in his breath. Rosen freed himself and got up beside Peck, and something in his eyes made Peck turn around swiftly. Cornish was up on one knee, and holding on to the tree he was struggling to rise. His glazed eyes met Peck’s, he mumbled something and sank down again. Peck backed up to where he could keep his eyes on all of them. Springer was sitting quietly, his face drawn in agony. Boland lay prone, his head up, features expressionless, watching Peck with a strange intentness. Cornish stared toward the sea through half closed lids. Rosen was the only , one who looked up at the sky, but they were, all listening—listening to the unwavering, patient motors of the PBY as it circled the atolls.

Once again the roaring grew louder, then louder still, until it seemed that the plane was upon them. A huge dark pattern flashed across the clearing and a shadow followed it and flitted so lightly through the silent grove that it might have been only the blinking of an eye. Then the sound began to grow faint. The roar became a throbbing. After a while that too died away.

PECK said, “There’s a Jap patrol on its way here, but I won’t give you any weapons unless you give me your word..." His voice faded and he stood there silently for a long moment, then he tossed the .45 to Springer. It hit the ground inches away from Springer. He picked it up and held it in his palm.

A slow smile spread over Cornish’s face. “Shoot him, Harvey," he said in a voice that was just above a whisper. “Shoot the bastard,” he said and nodded his head.

Rosen said, “You know Peck was right, Lieutenant.”

“I’ll shoot him myself,” said Cornish, closing his eyes.

Springer looked up from the gun to Peck and said nothing.

Peck said, “I figure our best chance is to hide in the water offshore. We’ll hide everything else first. There isn’t much time now, and I’ll be back as soon as I’ve had another look.”

“All right, Sergeant,” Springer said quietly.

Peck picked up his carbine, tightened the web sling and found the shroud lines where he had dropped them. He took a few steps, turned around and began to say, “I just wanted...” but he left it unfinished and walked away quickly.

To Solve a Mystery . . .

FOR a few minutes after Peck was gone, Ed Cornish lay against the palm tree without stirring. Presently he let his eyes open and he watched Rosen and Springer gathering the remaining few tilings that were to buried. His brain was spinning. If closed his eyes he could feel suspended in midair. If he opened his mouth to speak he was sure he would begin to scream. More than anything he wanted to scream. The hell of it was that he knew just what was going on. He wondered if the Navy flyer, what was his name—Boland! He wondered if Boland had been similarly aware that something had influenced all his thoughts, even the awareness itself. Compare notes. Why not? They all knew. If they had not known, Springer had told them, so now they all knew. What they didn't know was that he had opened some of his wounds last night when he'd had to run to find them before the Japs did. The pain had been bad by morning but the morphine was a blessing. Trouble was, they thought he was being weak, not knowing his wounds were open. The morphine made it possible to keep up with them, to save them another worry. Oh, but he’d known he wouldn't be able to keep up. Springer and Rosen were busy with the plan but he wasn't going to be able to do it. Hide in the water was what Peck had said. How would he tell them he was utterly incapable of moving from this spot?

Two thoughts all day, just two: What about the Jap planes? Where had Rosen hidden the syrettes? Back, back, back all day, all the time. Same two thoughts. Back again.

Funny about the planes. You ask yourself what are they doing here instead of how in hell can they even be here at all when there's no place here they could take off from or land on. Makes you not want to believe the whole thing, but you had to. A mystery. Answer one, get the other free. A mystery of great importance. Springer said he'd made out landing gears on one or two of them just before they disappeared. You didn’t even see the flaps and you're 20/20 on both. What the hell else? You think those barrel bellies could make a landing on water or what? This, this Boland had told Springer they sounded like Jap navy Jacks to him. Same kind against him on the Nauru attack and the carrier force action later. Queer the way Boland thought they’d been ambushed when it was the other way around. Didn't know, apparently, but a queer assumption to make, not knowing. The raft, maybe. Been alone on a raft a long time, he had; maybe everything got cockeyed after a while. Seemed to be all right and then suddenly jumped Peck. Weak as a mouse, too, but acted like a lion. Probably remembered how strong he was last night when he got the Jap sentry—must have been surprised the way Peck just shoved him aside. Still, Peck got him last night too. So they were Jap navy Jacks? One of them got you too. Got suspicious when we circled the atolls to give Boland a bearing. Listening in on our radio and had a plane after us in no time, give him the okay to attack—meaning no message had gone through yet, safe to knock us off. Bastard must be amazed to find himself dead. Correspondent hitching on a freight downs Jap fighter with rifle. Did they let that PBY get away? Didn’t hear any planes taking off after it, did you? But what if that’s not the answer? A mystery, all right. The PBY could have been an accident. How much did pool Delaney manage to send? Maybe PBY’s and such always make routine checks here for castaways and that was why the Japs ignored it.

The answers were important, very important.

HE ROSE to his feet slowly.

Springer said, “Why don’t you take it easy, Ed? Sit down, huh?"

Cornish was amused to hear himself say, “Can you beat it?—a minute ago I was sure I couldn’t budge an inch.” He grinned. “I feel better standing— clears my head.”

Springer studied him and nodded. “Don’t overdo it.”

Trouble was your telling Springer to shoot Peck. There’s something you’ll never, never be able to explain, even to yourself, because there is no explanation. Shoot the bastard, I’ll shoot him myself—just something I thought of saying and out it came. Had a humorous ring in it somewhere, Sounded like the tag to a joke: “Madam, Either You shoot the bastard or I’ll shoot him myself.” Nothing more than that, not even irresponsible, not dangerous certainly. Must have been close enough to doing it anyway; never saw Springer so worked up. We’re all worked up; see the complaint department. Madam. What if he had? My God, what it he had shot Peck? Aside from everything else, we’d be lost without that soldier. Soldier, all right, and that's high praise and meant to be. He’d be coming back pretty soon.

Cornish took a few steps around the grove and when he saw that Springer was watching him, he said, “Apparently I can walk too, Harv—I’ll be back in a few minutes."

“Where you going?”

Are you kidding?” said Cornish.

He walked away slowly. Perfect answer, that, and perfectly delivered. Delicate mixture of humor, slight defensive chagrin, a touch of impatience and the merest suggestion of offense. The haphazard direction he’d chosen was good too. Not toward where Rosen had gone when he hid the morphine, and not directly opposite either. He had a few minutes now to find the morphine and a whole island to search. Damn island was pockmarked with caches by now; everything that came to the island got buried on it. Including... Where would Rosen hide the morphine? Or anything else. Naturally, with the rest of the stuff. Fine, that wasn’t far off...

IT SEEMED perfectly natural to Cornish that he should find the morphine in the first crate he dug up. He took three syrettes, replaced the crate and started back to the grove. On the way he stopped to administer one of the syrettes to himself; the other two he wrapped in a handkerchief and hid among the roots of a palm tree he was confident he would remember.

Pain had become so constant with him that relief brought with it an extraordinary sense of well being. The drug had hit him before he reached the grove and he had to remember to guard against betraying the swift change. Peck had returned just before him. He said there was no sign of the motorboat patrol and he thought it probably wouldn’t venture out again until it was dark. Meanwhile there was time to dig up some chow and plan the details Of their hiding.

Cornish was pleased. His mind seemed to be working exceptionally well and he wanted a little time with it. He sat quietly against a tree trunk and thought about the Jap planes.


TWILIGHT was falling and they were ready to move out. Peck Was talking to Springer when Cornish joined them. He said quietly, “I won’t be able to go with you, Sergeant. I wouldn’t last long in the water once the salt got into some of my cuts. I’ll take a chance on hiding out here on the island.”

Springer said, “Stuff that idea, Ed. We can’t leave you here.”

“Why not?”

“Because we won’t,” said Springer.

Peck said, “A decision like that involves all of us.”

“That’s true,” said Cornish, “but what if the Japs had caught Boland? Would they expect from that to find others? If they get me, all they have is me, and I won't talk because I’ll use a bullet on myself if I'm caught. Everything else stays just as it was.”

“No, sir,” said Peck. “Even if we agreed with you, it would be an added hazard for the group, just on the theoretical chance that you might be taken alive.”

“In that case I can only offer to shoot myself now.”

Springer said, “Ed, what in hell’s gotten into you?”

Cornish said, “I remember Rosen had to stop you from diving out of the plane when you were hit. This is my dive.”

“That was different. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“Then let’s say I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Springer regarded Cornish appraisingly and said dryly, “That’ll be the day. What are you up to? What do you want? Morphine?”

Peck said, “I don’t think the Captain wants or needs morphine right now, Lieutenant. Maybe the Captain has an alternative plan?”

“What kind of plan? Paint yourselves green and make a noise like a lime tree? Either we get off the island or make a reception committee for the Japs.”

“That last isn’t a bad idea,” said Cornish thoughtfully.

“Fight the patrol off?” Springer asked. “Do you—”

“Not fight them—just take them,” said Cornish. “They don’t know we’re here and we know they’re coming. They’re just searching for a missing patrol. AH right, we-prepare something and then they’re also missing. Gives us another night and maybe we can work out an angle to steer them away from here.”

“And how are we going to ‘take’ them? Got that worked out too?”

“Well, I’ve got an idea or two. Care to hear? You, Peck?”

“I don’t see what else we can do, sir, but let’s hurry.”

Good head, that Peck, Cornish thought. Saw through me, but he couldn’t do anything; can’t force a man to hide in water if you want to be sure he’ll come up again. Had to do it my way, but he added a neat fillip or two; seems to know Japs. Not a bad idea either, if you don’t mind a fight particularly, and no one seemed bothered by it. Maybe Boland. No worse than being shot at when you’re trying to hide on a coral reef, and maybe a big payoff if it went well.

Maybe a big payoff... if it went well....


SHORTLY after dark, they heard the motorboat coming toward the island. A faint veil of light, thinner than haze, lingered after the dying day and made it possible to see perhaps thirty feet ahead. There would be no sign of the boat unless it passed very close or made a landing in the immediate area—and this last Cornish was prepared to accomplish. The boat’s powerful motors were muffled but they were coming closer. Four men took their places and Cornish slowly walked out to the beach at the northwestern point of the island.

His clothes were badly tattered, his shirt in ribbons, his trousers cut off at the knee, and dirty, bloody bandages covered his right arm and shoulder. He carried the arm in a sling and his head was so bandaged that one of his eyes was covered. In his free hand he carried a flashlight. He flicked it on and pointed the beam of light across the dark water toward the sound of the approaching boat, then began slowly moving the light in irregular circles as he sank to one knee.

There was an immediate reaction. The motors’ volume swelled and seemed to turn toward the light. From its direction a tiny red beam flashed once, then twice again. Cornish began gyrating his flashlight more wildly. The boat came closer and the red eye winked its one-two in the darkness, much closer again. Cornish dropped the flashlight, moved it around on the sand, raised it and let it drop again, then stood up with it and began to wave it in circles again.

All at once the motorboat was visible. It came, out of the soft blue-blackness and throttled its motor down as it swung broadside to the island twenty-five feet offshore. Cornish made out three or four Jap soldiers in helmets. Two of them manned a machine-gun at the stem that had pivoted to cover the beach, a third stood beside a large searchlight also trained on the beach, and other figures seemed to be moving about athwartships. The boat was moving very slowly parallel to the shore and Cornish heard low-pitched fast-talking Jap voices.

Hoarsely, Cornish called: “Help!”

He tottered and fell. The flashlight rolled out of his hand in such a way that it shone down the beach, stretching a triangular path of white sand to the water. A Jap voice rose over the others. A double splash followed, then silence. The half arc of light at the water’s edge glistened blue-green in the iridescent surf and caught two Jap soldiers wading ashore. They stopped with their knees still in water and their faces were left in darkness. They held automatic rifles pointed at Cornish.

The boat had passed beyond Cornish’s range of vision, but he heard its motors stop not far away.

Suddenly the boat’s searchlight went on. It wore a long round hood that aimed a thick shaft of light like a shell from a cannon and it was hardly visible except full on. The light moved, touched the beach, found Cornish trying to sit up, left him to dart here and there along the sandy shore, behind it to a thickly wooded palm grove, returned to find Cornish up on one knee, then went out.

THE boat was anchored a few feet offshore, seventy-five feet away. Jap voices were still audible from it. A moment later three Japs were coming toward Cornish. They wore helmets and carried sub-machine guns. One of them called out a single sharp syllable, and the two soldiers who had been waiting in the surf started to come out. The five men advanced with quick but halting steps, stopped once and crouched In listening attitudes and heard only Cornish calling weakly for help, then came the rest of the way. One of the Japs from the boat stood over Cornish, the other in a semi-circle seven or eight feet away, their backs to the water.

The one closest to Cornish picked up the flashlight, pointed it at Cornish, held it, switched it off. Cornish looked at the Jap’s face, at the skin stretched tight across cheekbones, at the full heavy lips, at the dark tufted moustache and little beard, at the large square teeth as the Jap spoke.

“You American fryer?”

Cornish had been moaning softly, fluttering to himself, raising his voice now and then to cry for help, giving no sign—even now—that he was aware of the Japs around him. He started at the Words as he had when the flashlight was turned on him, then moaned and stared at the Jap’s face.

“Where others?”

Cornish muttered and tried to get up on his other knee. The Jap kicked his chest with the point of his shoe and Cornish’s back thudded against the beach. The Jap walked in, kicked his ribs, kicked his face, his neck. Cornish whimpered and gasped with each kick and finally raised his hands to defend himself. The Jap squatted beside him, pulled him up to a sitting position by the hair left uncovered by the bandage, shook him by holding his shirt front.

“Where others?”

The Jap laid his weapon down and used the free hand to smash Cornish’s face. Cornish’s deep cries of agony followed the sound of flesh hitting flesh.

“Where others? Where other Americans?”

Cornish whispered, “All sick... wounded... help....”

Where others?”

Cornish raised a hand feebly, reached into a trousers pocket and brought out a crumpled, folded sheaf of papers. The Jap seized them immediately, opened them and held the flashlight close, switched it on and scanned the papers. Cornish watched his features, watched the moustache and the little beard move as the heavy lips moved, watched the dark eyes shift slowly over the paper. Cornish could hear Peck saying, “... a scrap of paper, printed stuff... something official-looking, something that might look important... just to switch their train of thought and maybe give them ideas of their own maybe get them hot enough to drop their guard a little... Springer had had a mimeographed navigational bulletin marked: Secret. The Jap was reading it now. Maybe he was getting ideas. The flashlight went out.

Cornish whispered, “The general ... wounded... general..."

Where? You show?”

“Yes... yes... help... please help...”

THE Jap rose quickly and gave a quiet order. The two riflemen pulled Cornish to his feet. They tried to get under his arms but the sling prevented them and Cornish shook them off and stood there swaying, balancing himself with his weight. Then he looked around, turned back to stare at the Japs and exhaustedly waved his free arm toward the palm grove at the end of the sloping beach.

“Please... help...”

Yes help, yes help! You show! Where others? You show!”

Cornish moaned and shook his head loosely, and losing his balance he regained it by lurching forward a step, then another. Then slowly he staggered on toward the palm grove and the Japs followed him in their spread-out semi-circle. Up the slope he climbed, clutched a tree and leaned on it until he caught his breath, then went on into the grove by passing himself from tree to tree. The Japs were closer together now, flanking and behind him. He changed direction slightly two or three times, zig-zagging toward the far end of the grove. The trees were closer and the Japs on his flanks fell back and joined the others behind him. He turned again and started down into a depression. Four palms made a narrow path through shoulder-high grass and hedges. Cornish went between the first two palms, went on to the next two, took a few more steps and turned around unsteadily. The Japs were strung out in single file behind him. The last one had just passed the first two palms when Cornish held up the line by turning around.

There was hardly a sound. To either side of the palms the tall grass parted with a sigh and three men fell on the last three Japs just as Cornish pulled his right arm and a knife out of his sling.

They struck from behind and the impetus of their attack sent the Jap column reeling forward. The Jap who had kicked Cornish was at the head of the column. As he pushed ahead, Cornish lunged and met him more than halfway. The knife curved up and sank into the Jap’s abdomen and continued up until it struck the sternum and pulled out. The Jap fell away from the knife and tumbled back against the second man, who in his instant’s freedom had almost succeeded in bringing his gun up. Before he could twist away, two men crashed down on him and they all went down together.

For a few moments more there was savage movement among the tangle of bodies, then everything was still. The three attackers rose to their feet. Springer spoke and Rosen answered, and Cornish’s head cleared and sound returned to him with a rush.


THE world had been completely silent for Cornish during the few minutes of the attack. It had grown quieter as Cornish went deeper into the grove, and the last thing he had heard was the tall grass being pushed aside. From then on until Springer spoke there was only a vast urgency, a vast desperation, that filled the single dimension in which he existed—the dimension where everything was action. Now the sudden release brought all the sounds back, as if like water they had piled up behind the dam of his single purpose, and now broke and poured over him. He heard the Japs shouting, the horrified scream that had accompanied the slash of his knife, the muffled cries and pounding of flailing arms and legs, the last unfinished breath, then SPringer asking what had happened to Boland and Rosen saying he had run away.

“Where did he run?" Peck was saying. “Which way did he go?”

“I don’t know,” Rosen said. “He just disappeared.”

“Scatter,” said Peck. “We’ve got to find him—he's scared enough to do something foolish!”

They scattered and Cornish found himself alone. Alone. Better than he had dared hope. The answers were important, more important than anything else....

He ran through the grove, to the beach, found the motorboat and plunged into the surf to his thighs. Rosen called his name as he pulled himself over the gunwale, yanked up the hook. He climbed into the bow where a shielded red glow lit a bank of dials, sat down at the wheel and tried one knob, then another. The motors exploded and came alive. He heard Rosen again, closer this time, and he threw in the gear and let out the clutch. The powerful boat moved through the water. He swung it north as Rosen dropped down on the leather seat beside him.

“Captain Cornish! Stop the boat! You’ve got—”

“Get out, Rosen!”

“No—I won’t! Stop the boat—I won’t get out!”

“Then shut up!”

“What are you doing? Captain—”

“Shut up! You’ll see what I’m doing!”

The boat was speeding through the water. It had swung around the north end of the island and started up the lagoon between the two rows of atolls. He eased the throttle, turned to Rosen and spoke in low exultant tones. “We’re going to find out about the Jap planes! ” His lips hung open and he panted for breath.

“Captain, you’re ruining everything! Don’t you see?”

“No. Rosen, no! We’ll have time to get back, to use this boat and be dozens of miles away before light! But first we’ll find out—”

He swerved suddenly as he made out thin white lines of breaking water. A red light winked after him. The boat sped on past other atolls and more red lights winked, some behind, some ahead. The night seemed luminous and filled with odd fragments of sound. He swung northwest and eased the throttle still further.

“Rosen, climb up and turn on that searchlight!”

“What? No, sir, I won’t—you—”

"Then hold this damned wheel steady!”

Cornish clambored amidships to the searchlight and ‘swung it on its pivot so that it faced the bow, felt around for the switch and found it. He clicked it and the searchlight hummed and shivered and suddenly fired a beam of light through its tubular hood, then jumped down and returned to take the wheel from Rosen.

The light fell on water far ahead, swung left with the boat and suddenly found an atoll and made its trees a blazing green. Cornish let out the throttle and the boat leaped ahead. The light raked the atoll, retiirned for a second, closer inspection, caught two figures and went back to the water.

Cornish shouted, “Rosen, turn the light off! Stay there and turn it on when I tell you! Listen, you fool!—do you want them to shoot at us?”

ROSEN climbed back and turned off the light, then hung on to the platform. The boat roared on in darkness, swinging erratically from one direction to another until it turned left abruptly and dashed straight ahead. “On!” Cornish shouted back. The light shot over him to hit another atoll and swept over it as the boat slowly veering right, and Cornish called: “Off!" and the light was out again. Other lights, red and white, blinked on and off all through the atolls. The boat made a third approach and search, a fourth, and on its fifth there was scattered rifle fire directed at the blazing searchlight, but the sixth island was dotted with many moving, tiny lights, and after a wide sweep across the lagoon, the boat went for it.

There was a sound of other motors, and still another that was a deep, far off droning. Cornish shouted for the searchlight went on. It caught a group of japs running along the shore under a strange thick canopy of green, overtook others running to high ground and more strange sheltering recesses in the foliage. Then the light found a heavy framework of oily glistening steel that jutted out over the water from the high ground—beyond that, two more such structures, but these both had small barrel-shaped planes mounted on them -then a fourth that was vacant again. The light started to return, and as it swung bask it ran over two motorboats coming head on, both heavily manned.

Cornish shunted, waited for Rosen to kill the light, whipped around in a suicidal turn and ran north.

The two boats swerved and followed by sound before one of their searchlights went on. It went off almost immediately. Cornish saw the beam flash on and off and turned instinctively, and then he didn’t hear the other boats anymore. What he did hear was the deep droning that had been distant before. He eased off, listened, then cut the motors dead and turned broadside as he coasted, trying to see by starlight.

There was silence except for the droning, which was much louder now and unmistakably a plane. The lagoon was dark and still; not one of the many lights that had blinked at Cornish was visible now. The plane was very close. Cornish thought it was coming down from the east and losing altitude quickly. It was-a single engine job and its powerful roar was unfamiliar to Cornish.

Moments went by and the plane was overhead. It cut across the lagoon from east to west and a thousand feet up a parachute flare burst into brilliant white light and floated down. It had been launched too far beyond the atolls to reveal them. A mile to the west another flare dropped to an empty sea.

Cornish heard the two motorboats come to life. Their motors were throttled down and grew faint and were gone. The plane was turning and it dropped two more flares, both well south of the lagoon.

Suddenly there was a red streak against the black star-studded sky. From somewhere south and to Cornish’s right, a Very pistol fired again. The plane grew louder and the Very pistol shot up a third red ball. The plane came in, dropped two flares over the lagoon. The first came down dead center and revealed several atolls. The second floated clown very close to the island Cornish had last searched, but the steel frameworks and the planes and the hidden recesses had vanished—nor was there any sign of the boats that had pursued Cornish. The flares blazed on the water. The plane circled and kept descending.

FOR the first time in many minutes, Rosen spoke, his voice unsteady and urgent. “Please, sir, let’s take off before the plane drops one that’ll give us away.”

“It won't drop any more—not from that altitude. But its going to land and that’s something I’ve got to see.” Cornish listened to the plane as it turned south and into the wind again. “They didn’t use flares or Very Signals yesterday, did they, Rosen?”

“No, sir—that’s why I think we’re the reason—”

Cornish cried out, “Look! My God, it’s one of ours!”

The plane had roared by a hundred feet overhead as it dropped to land in the lagoon near the centered flare. It was a Navy Vought Kingfisher. Its long Sleek pontoon feathered the water and it turned to silver where the flare touched it as it taxied to a stop.

Cornish and Rosen were petrified with horror. The plane was more than half a mile away, half silhouetted by the light, its engine idling A dark figure climbed out of the cockpit and stood on one wing and waved toward one of the atolls. A ragged volley of rifle fire rang out and the figure spun around and pitched into the water. A motorboat raced down the lagoon toward the plane. It stopped to put out the two ?ares and darkness returned with a fierce impact. Then Cornish heard another motorboat and he came out of it. He started his boat and turned north once again.

A few miles out he lost his pursuer and switched his motors off. He had lost all sense of direction as well and decided to wait for dawn.

The night wore on slowly. The after effects of the morphine left Cornish ill an exhausted stupor. The bitter night chill penetrated the tarpaulins Rosen wrapped around him, and the blood that oozed from his wounds was cold against his cold body. Hours later, when the rolling thunder of plane engines made it apparent that the Japs were sending their fighters up again, Cornish revived enough to talk to himself, to say over and over that he had to see them land.

But when the first streak of morning light indicated where the atolls lay, Cornish was too far gone. He could hardly give Rosen the few simple directions for running the boat. Rosen headed south several miles past the southernmost island, where they had left the others, and then approached it from the south. He had almost reached the island when the Jap planes returned.

He watched them circle and come down to disappear among the islands farthest northwest—all but one. One Jap fighter left the line and headed straight for the boat. It buzzed them twice and went on to land, and Rosen crawled out from under the tarpaulin he’d thrown over Cornish and himself and saw what had happened to the boat. It was fast on a broad shelving reef.

Then he saw Sergeant Peck running down the beach to him and he shook Cornish a little but Cornish hardly stirred.

A Long Swim-For Bullets!

LESS than ten minutes later the five men waded into the water and started for Island 15 on Peck’s chart—one of the two tiny barren coral outcroppings to the northwest. They carried an ancient log with them. The log had two large bundles tied to it and wrapped in rubber that had once been a raft. There were also shroud lines lashed to the log which the men tied around themselves and used as grips. When they finally pushed off, only their heads were visible.

They were more than halfway to the atoll when two motorboats came roaring down the center of the lagoon. Jap soldiers crowded the gunwales. When they reached the island the five men had just quitted, they separated around it. One sped on along the east shore, but the one on the west shore stopped' its soldiers leaped out waist-high in the surf, charged the beach and vanished inland.

Sam Peck was swimming number one on the log. Behind him was Boland, who had regained more strength but was apparently frozen with a strange, profound fear; then Springer, using his one good arm; Cornish, crying with pain before the morphine Peck had just given him took effect and lulled him; finally, Rosen, exhausted but battling. They circled around and approached their destination from due west. In half an hour they were close enough to stand, and there they remained for another half hour, until one of the Jap boats returned north up the lagoon. Then they came ashore with their log, crawled to the nearest large clump of grass and lay there. They were on the sea side of the atolls.

Springer and Peck talked for a few minutes, then Peck crawled back to the water and started swimming to the next island north.

He made it in twenty minutes, rested ten and went on. He was forty-five minutes getting to it and he swam in to shore with extreme caution, going underwater most of the way. The breakers were difficult but the lagoon was too dangerous. He rested for an hour and went back to the water. He rested again on Island 11 and on Island 9, and then something happened that changed his plans—a Jap plane went up and began to buzz the islands.

Peck tried to figure it. He kept thinking of everything at once because he didn’t want to forget anything, and his mind seemed to be spinning in a vast jumble of half-guesses and ideas and half-plans, all except one idea... just one, and he knew then how it had been with Cornish. But he had to remember everything.

It was about ten o’clock then. The second Jap motorboat had returned north an hour earlier. From the glimpse he had caught of it, it seemed that some of the Japs were missing. They were having trouble getting their third boat off the reef. Or had it been damaged too badly to use immediately? From their past actions, the Japs would never allow that boat to remain where it was clearly visible to any chance plane. They’d either pulled it ashore or scuttled it. Whichever it was, there were Japs on that island now, and had been for some hours. That was the answer, to the Jap plane.

THE island now held nine dead Japs in shallow graves, and cached guns and rafts and supplies, and Peck had long decided that somewhere the Japs—once they went looking—would find Signs of the Americans’ occupancy.

The measure of the Japs’ determination and alarm was the plane they had sent up in daylight to search their islands. They would scour the atolls with fanatic thoroughness now. But that would still take time, and with luck....

It would have been easier if Peck could have kept on believing in luck. He had believed in it until he became too afraid to, because if you believed in it you knew you had to become reconciled to luck running out too, and now things had changed so much that he could no longer be reconciled—as he had been at first—to the possibility of dying there. What Rosen had told him, what Boland conjectured—that made the difference. In a way it was funny that one should fight harder to live for a relatively impersonal reason, but that was what mattered and that was the one idea—somehow they had to get out the information on what the Japs were up to.

With luck, then, but remembering everything. How sure were the Japs that the Americans were still in the islands? No one had seen them or heard them, no one alive anyway. No one knew how many there were. They couldn’t even be certain who had been in their boat the night before, if—it was a big if—they hadn’t yet discovered any telltale signs. But that threw everything into a jumble again. If only he knew how much hope he could allow himself. Was there more than a nebulous certainty that the Navy Kingfisher had radioed its location and intent before it landed? Then there would be planes again, not attracted by a distantly glimpsed searchlight, not brought there by the fantastic combination of an American plane’s proximity and a half-mad act of desperation. But now be knew how it had been with Cornish.

Time was the key. He knew it was running short.

Peck swam in from the sea side and crossed the inner lagoon at a point between Islands 9 and 8. He was then on Island 7, the farthest one he had been able to see of the easterly chain. It was a small, fiat island, lying very quiet in the blazing sun.

He crawled ashore at its northernmost point and got to its nearest trees. The Jap plane was farther south, flying in low, easy circles. Using his shroud lines he climbed a tree. He saw the rest of the atolls clearly; the northern ones were much closer together than those to the south. He searched the islands with his eyes but there wasn’t a thing to see.

TEN minutes later the Jap plane climbed a little, turned north and turned back again. Peck watched it come in and then his eyes were attracted by movement among the trees on one of the northwest islands. The trees were moving. That island was the largest of all, and there was high ground in its center. He couldn’t be sure exactly what directions the trees moved in, but he saw them plainly and he understood what they were doing.

They were moving apart to form an alley on the high ground, no wider than a small carrier’s flight deck and not half as long.

The plane came in with flaps and wheels down and dipped below treetop level as it reached the high ground. Before it disappeared Peck saw the hook under its tail. There would be a hard smooth airstrip like a deck for the wheels, but they wouldn’t roll much because there would be an arresting gear to catch the hook.

The plane’s motor turned over a few times and stopped, then the trees moved back into place.

There was movement on the east shore, where a stretch of high ground hung precipitately thirty feet above the water. The area was thickly wooded and overgrown. Japs appeared among the tangled vines, brown bodies almost lost against the riotous green, their white loincloths bright dots in the sunlight. They formed two close groups and jumped from the cliff to the lagoon below, descending so slowly that they hit the water with hardly a splash. They were still holding the .ropes they’d pulled down with them, and Peck, seeing what happened, realized they were acting as counterweights.

The cliff—underbrush and all— seemed to split in two, and both sections slid apart horizontally until they were separated by the dark cavernous interior of the sundered cliff. A heavy steel framework for an airplane catapult thrust into sight from within the apparently hollow cliff. Farther back on the catapult the newly landed Jap plane appeared, coming forward until it locked into its launching position. Then framework and plane receded and the Japs let the ropes go, and the carefully engineered cliff slid together again. The Japs swam in groups to find a less formidable shore. When they were gone, the island lay serene and silent once again.

Peck climbed down and crawled back into the water.

HE WAS halfway across the lagoon and swimming south when the angry clatter of a machine-gun seemed to run across the islands. It was alternately flat and sharp as a breeze caught it. There was a long burst and then two short ones, then a second gun answered in a different voice, and still another, and for a few moments they were all going together.

When they stopped there was an instant of tense, unnatural silence and then a murmur seemed to sweep the atolls. From where he lay in the water, Peck saw Japs appear on the shores of several islands. He was then fairly close to the island directly south of the one on which the Jap plane had landed. A tree-lined inlet gave off the lagoon, and deeper inland, apparently along its banks, Peck saw Japs moving among dark, deep green shadows that were camouflaged structures. The shadows moved and Peck glimpsed something that gleamed darkly silver, then Japs ran by with ropes and the bow of a motorboat glided into sight after them and was lost again.

Another moment went by and suddenly there was a roar of motors and the motorboat came shooting out of the inlet. Peck sucked in a weak breath and sank underwater just as the boat turned toward him. He went down until the pressure on his ears was painful then the water twisted and turned him around violently for a few seconds, and when it grew more calm he rose to the surface, gasping for air. The boat had passed close by on its way south toward the sounds of the machine-guns. But the guns were stilled and presently the boat could no longer be heard.

Peck swam on to the next island and rested. He was lying on his back in a clump of weeds when he heard the drone of a plane, and he looked up to see a PBY high over the atolls. It started coming down as it banked, then straightened out, regained altitude and flew east. Peck went on to the next island.

By two o’clock, as close as Peck calculated, he returned to the island where he had left the others that morning. He circled to the sea side and crawled ashore. The log was gone and there was no sign of the four men. As he crawled toward the center of the atoll, he found a long curving furrow in the hard barren earth. Tracing its course, and the course of the furrows beyond it, Peck began to spell out the letters that had been dug in the soil with a knife. He counted ten letters and had the message.

It said: DANGER — JAPS

It was meant to be read from the air.

Peck crawled to a patch of grass nearer the lagoon. Hunger had gnawed in him for hours and his mouth was parched. He lay exhausted, feeling the white-hot sun stiffen the brine-soaked clothes and shoes he had kept on against sawgrass and jagged coral. His brain was numb but he kept trying to think.



Sam Peck rolled over and lay rigid, gripping his automatic.

“It’s me—Jack,” the voice whispered. After a pause there was a slight scraping and Rosen crept into the tall grass beside Peck. The hand with which he touched Peck was still wet. “We had to pull out. I came back for you. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. What happened?”

“Everything. They sent patrols in rowboats all through these islands. They stayed away from here but once they passed close and just fired a burst in our general direction, and Boland grabbed one of our guns and let go with it and I had to join in. They couldn’t see us but we saw them. We sank their boat and killed two of them, but I think one got away. We took the log out to sea and went around to one of the islands on the other side, and that’s where we were when that PBY came by. I heard their motorboats but didn’t see them, and I—”

“They sent out only one, didn’t they?”

“No, two. One was nosing around on the sea side all morning and the other came out after the shooting. I don’t know what happened to either of them.”

“Who carved out that warning to the PBY?”

“What warning?”

“Don’t you know about it? It says, ‘Danger, Japs’.”

“No, but it could have been Boland. He’s been scared crazy all day and getting worse.”

“What about the others?”

“Cornish is dying. He’s kept going on dope, but when that runs out...." Rosen let his whisper trail off, then asked, “How did you make out? Did you see the catapults?”

“One of them. Most of the high ground is either hollowed out or phony, but the camouflage is terrific. And I saw how their planes land; Boland hit it—they’re using some kind of arresting gear and the planes have hooks. The two big islands up there’re full of planes and Japs and they’ve got that Kingfisher hidden away.”

Rosen said, "And now they know we’re here.”

"They saw you?”

“Maybe the one that got away.” Rosen took out a waterproof pouch, fished ? out cigarettes and matches. He lit both from one match and broke up the smoke as he exhaled. "What do you think happened to their motorboats?”

"I don’t know,” Peck said.

“What about that PBY and the warning?”

"I don’t know.”

“What are we going to do now?”

"Nothing. Let me rest. Give me an hour.”

“Sure. Don’t worry, I’ll stay awake.”


PECK’S eyes fluttered open the moment Rosen touched him. Peck nodded, stretched his cramped limbs wearily and followed Rosen into the water. They began to swim, staying a few yards apart, only their heads visible above water. The sun was slowly sinking.

It took them more than an hour to cross the lagoon, at its widest here, to the island Peck had marked 3 on his chart. Several smaller bits of land fringed the island’s west shore, and Rosen led the way to one that was less than fifty yards long and half as wide. Springer and Cornish were lying on their sides in water, the log between them and the tiny islet. Rosen called a soft warning as he and Peck drew close, and Boland’s head showed on the other side of the log.

Peck ate dried beef and chocolate and drank water slowly as he spoke Cornish’s swollen eyelids opened narrowly and he stared at Peck with remote thoughtfulness, listening to Peck’s descriptions of what he had seen, his conjectures about Jap patrols and the PBY, and his questions about the warning message that had been gouged in the earth of the tiny island. Springer and Boland said they knew nothing about the warning and no one asked Cornish.

Then Springer said: “Sergeant, how do you add it up as of now?”

Peck thought a minute before he answered. His voice was very quiet and his face was graven. “They’ve got us pretty well located now in these southern islands, probably even in this chain. Maybe that’s why they’re keeping their boats in this area. The PBY postponed the showdown until it gets dark enough. It’ll be dark soon and we’ll have to outguess them again—and there are no guesses left. Whatever hope there is for us, we’ve got to leave these islands.”

"How?” said Rosen.

“We’ll go back to where we buried the rafts and supplies—two of us. Maybe they didn’t find them. Maybe we can get ashore and get the stuff. That island’ll be the last place they’d expect us, and if we hit the right spot on the south shore we might get a chance. I know that’s a long string of maybes. If it doesn’t work out, the ones who are left will have to push off with the log.”

Springer said: “What if they get here before you’re back?”

Rosen said: "They’re sure to. We’ll both be waiting for dark to start, and while they’re coming through these islands in motorboats, we’ll have to swim there, get the stuff and bring it back. It’ll never work, Peck.”

Springer said: “We’ll have to stick together.”

“No,” said Peck.

Springer’s voice was puzzled. “Last night—”

PECK broke in: “Last night we didn’t know what we know tonight. And last night Captain Cornish was right— no matter how he went about it—and I was wrong, because we had to find out what the Japs were doing here. As long as we didn’t know, the most important thing was our collective survival. Now the most important thing is what we know. We may have stumbled on something vital and we’ve got to pass it on. If we stay together we parlay our luck—if we separate we have five chances to get through.”

“Make it four,” said Boland, looking at Cornish.

Peck said, “Then make it four,” very quietly and he too looked at Cornish, and he was about to add something when Cornish stopped him by shaking his head very slightly.

“What if we can’t get the rafts?” asked Rosen.

“We’ll find logs for each of us.”

Springer said: “All this before the Japs find us here?”

“Then let’s change that. We’ll get the logs first. We’ll go out together a few hundred yards, then Rosen and I’ll leave. For one reason or another we might not come back—we might even get the rafts and not be able to find you again. If something like that happens, at one point you’ll have to decide we’re not coming, and you three’ll have to separate. If you postpone the decision too long, you won’t be scattered or far enough away by morning.”

“How long do you think we’d last with logs?” asked Springer.

“Longer than if the Japs get us,” said Peck. He was silent for a moment, then he said, “That’s why even going to look for the rafts is relatively sane. Our chances are so slight now that we can afford any gamble—as long as we separate, if and when we lose, or if and when we win—but we must separate.”

“No,” said Cornish softly. He kept shaking his head.

“Why?” said Peck.

Cornish spoke with an audible effort. “I scratched that warning message before we left the island. You didn’t find all of it... there were two more words: Return Tonight. The PBY that came later must have seen it... that’s why it left and why there weren’t other planes searching for the Kingfisher... but it’ll come back tonight, and maybe others with it...."

“They’ll be shot down,” said Peck.

CORNISH nodded weakly. “Maybe ... but you’re fighting time here too. We’ve seen the Japs progress from ignoring planes to shooting them down to getting the Kingfisher down intact... even though it meant the plane might radio home what it was doing and where. By now the Japs know they’ll be discovered, so what do they hope to gain? Only time... time during which the things they’re doing here continue to be unknown. They’re gambling for time and you’ve got to gamble not to let them have it... because it might not matter even if all of you survived... if none of you was found in time...” He shook his head for Peck not to interrupt, and after he had gathered his strength he went on.

“Play to win,” he said softly. “Stick together... you’re strong together. Go to the island, and when you hear the plane, get what you can, get the rafts, above all get flares. Fight your way through them... surprise is on your side and you’re heavily armed. Together you may be able to stand them off in the dark... and maybe one of you’ll be able to get to the plane if it lands..."

“And if we fail?” asked Peck.

Cornish asked: “Do you agree about time?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Cornish said: “Then if you fail, go out with a bang they’ll hear in Pearl, If you fail loud enough you’ll be succeeding anyway.” He nodded to himself and closed his eyes. “Don’t drift away one by one,” he whispered. “Stick together and make a bang.”

Peck looked from Cornish to Springer and Springer nodded, then Rosen nodded. Boland met Peck’s gaze but he said and did nothing.

Peck said, “We’ll do it your way, Captain.”


THEY were ready when twilight started falling. They had eaten again and rested and Peck had sneaked ashore with their covered weapons— two carbines and three Jap tommy-guns—and oiled and loaded them, then they made their way south and then east around the island, clinging to the log. There they Waited and Peck administered a morphine syrette to Cornish. The sun was a dull orange half circle when they swam out to the sea side of the lagoon.

They passed beyond the barrier reefs and turned south again. The first early chill of evening had settled when the wind brought the sudden staccato thunder of airplane engines. They roared together then changed pitch and timbre, and three different changes could be heard one after another. There was still enough light to make out the three Jap fighters as they rose over the atolls, then formed a triangle and flew east, still climbing.

Twenty minutes later, in darkness, their motors droned by from far away' and after another like interval they could be heard momentarily again. But there was no sound of the motorboats.

The planes had come by a third time when Peck turned the log west, and he used their next return to start north. He had miscalculated sufficiently to feel coral underfoot only five minutes later, and there he stopped, left the others to cross the reef and returned presently to whisper they had hit their target. They pulled the log ashore with them and hid.

An hour went by. The Jap planes stayed up and patrolled, and once they heard voices not far away. The five men lay waiting silently, counting the Jap planes’ circuits.

Then they heard the drone of other planes. They sounded as if there were many of them, but as they drew closer and began to descend their engines thinned out and Boland whispered to Peck that two PBY’s were coming down. Peck tapped the others—all but Cornish—and they took their guns and began crawling inland.

Then Peck quietly told Cornish: “Wait for us here, sir.”

“Oh, I’ll wait,” Cornish whispered. His whole frame trembled.

Peck crouched and went ahead. He could hear the PBY’s coming down. The sky began to pale where it showed through the trees, and when Peck looked back he saw flares dropping well south of the island. They came closer and closer until the radius of one of the flares touched the island and they dropped half a dozen at once. One of the PBY’s swept down for a landing. Its motors throttled and its huge form seemed to be suspended against the flarelight, but at the last moment it lifted again and joined the second PBY in its circling. Then it came down once more—this time apparently much farther north up the lagoon, and the second kept circling.

PECK came on Springer, touched him firmly and passed him, then he found Boland sitting with his back against a tree. Boland was holding his hands over his face and breathing in short, sharp agonized gasps that was soundless crying. He didn’t see or hear Peck pass.

There was no sign of Rosen, who had gone in first. Peck started to veer left, toward the cache of rafts and flares, but he heard voices ahead and stopped. He counted three, but it seemed to him there were more, perhaps many more, talking only occasionally and softly. He moved toward the voices and suddenly there were no more trees ahead and he knew where he was. This was the bay of the kidney-shaped island, but within that gentle concavity there were several ragged inlets. He was now facing across one of those inlets to the Japs he had heard. He settled down against a tree, brought up the tommy-gun and waited.

The PBY that was aloft was coming around again. Peck let go. The gun Spat white-pointed fat blobs of light and bullets smashed through wood and metal and flesh. The wood splintered, the metal rang and tore, the flesh screamed and shouted and groaned. Another gun opened up on his left, raking the mad convulsion of sound across the inlet, and then all at once the whole island exploded with a vast, blinding blaze of white light.

Peck clutched his eyes and staggered behind a tree. He realized that Rosen. had touched off a set of flares. He could hear other sounds now... other voices shouting farther north on the island... the PBY aloft returning swiftly... the taxiing motors of the other PBY... then, very close, a motorboat....

He opened his eyes and saw one of the Jap motorboats directly opposite him, twenty feet away. It was beginning to move out of the inlet. Dead men hung over its gunwales and sprawled on its deck. One Jap began swiveling the aft machine-gun and the gun on Peck’s left opened up again and cut him down and went to seek the driver. Peck sprayed the windshield and the forward seat. The boat took a wild right turn and ploughed into the bank almost at Peck’s feet. Both guns stopped shooting but there was scattered fire from the far left.

The white blaze began to flicker and huge, distorted shadows danced over the island. Through them, through the trees, Peck caught a glimpse of Rosen running toward him and the blaze died and went out. As darkness returned there was a sudden hush and a brittle, wracked instant of silence held. In that instant they could hear the three Jap fighters come shrieking down to kill, then Rosen’s tommy-gun hammered and Peck heard the churning screws of the motorboat and realized he had never stopped hearing them. Then it seemed to him he could hear shooting from everywhere, moving through the sky, sweeping south down the lagoon, behind him and to his left, and it stopped having any meaning.

SPRINGER was beside him, then Rosen joined them. He started to gasp, “Couldn’t find ... the rafts—that PBY...” and he heard the motorboat, stared at it and cried, “Get Boland and Cornish! We’ll use the boat!” and he sprang toward it and clambored over the side.

Peck and Springer ran back from the inlet. They found Cornish where Peck had last seen Boland, and he was still sitting there with his hands over his face. Springer pulled him to his feet and he remained standing, oblivious to everything. Peck lifted Cornish to his shoulder gently and carried him.

The sounds of the planes were gone and the island was still, but beyond that core of quiet the atolls hummed with an indescribable intensity that was a compound of wind and snatches of distant, meaningless sounds. The hum seemed to swell until it enveloped them, and their footfalls and labored breathing mingled with the sounds that seemed to come from the darkness itself.

Rosen heard them as they reached the inlet and he called out very quietly. The boat had already been backed off tile bank and its motors were silent. Peck lifted Cornish over the side, climbed up and pulled Boland and Springer into the boat in turn. Rosen had disappeared forward and Peck called to him.

The boat’s motors turned over and rose in volume swiftly. The island instantly filled with shouts and cries and there were voices and suddenly gunfire from beyond the inlet. The boat started moving and the firing lit a score of tiny thrusting orange flames in the dark. Several bullets hit the boat, and then just as it turned out of the inlet to head south, a burst from a tommy-gun went through the boat’s sides and hit both Peck and Cornish. It tore Peck’s upper left thigh open and it hit Cornish in the abdomen.

Cornish hardly felt anything but he knew he had been hit. He didn’t react sharply when the bullet ripped into him and Peck was too busy with himself to notice, so Cornish said nothing.

Then the boat was free. It headed south and there was only the night and the sea ahead. Rosen throttled the motor, gave the wheel to Springer and came aft. He helped Peck with a tourniquet and kept talking of what he had seen.

“The Japs had the Kingfisher out in the lagoon with flares all around... using it for bait! The PBY didn’t land until they lit up the flares and then their motorboats came out... I could see their searchlights on the PBY and it tried to rev up again, but they had it...”

CORNISH grabbed Rosen’s arm. “Were both... were both of their boats there?”

“Yes, Captain.”

Cornish transferred his hold to Peck. “Sergeant,” he breathed, “turn around... go back to the lagoon. Maybe you can still get at that Kingfisher... the Japs won’t know about this boat or us until they go to that island...”

Peck said shortly: “No, sir, that would be insane.”

Cornish shook his head. “Play to win,” he said. “They’ll find you as soon as there’s light... as soon..." He coughed weakly and blood oozed from his mouth. He shook Peck off. “Nothing... cut my cheek. You haven’t done anything yet... neither plane... neither got away. You’ll be dead by morning... and we’ll never get...” He coughed again and whispered, “Play to win, Sergeant...”

After a moment Peck asked, “Who’ll fly us?”

Cornish gestured toward Boland. “Yes... yes... he will... just get him into that... plane..."

“Will it carry five?”

Cornish nodded.

Peck remained silent, then said to Rosen: “Do you think you can get into the lagoon from the side, close enough to get at the Kingfisher if it’s still there?” and Rosen nodded and went forward.

When they swung northeast there was a faint flickering haze of light in the sky. As the boat sped diagonally away from the atolls, the light became stronger. In a few minutes they were far enough north to see diagonally through the intervening islands to the inner lagoon. The PBY rested on the lagoon at the bottom of an ever-climbing pyramid of fire. A wing crumpled and fell to the water and added its flame to the fire spreading along the fuselage. Treetops from nearby islands showed in the light, then as the boat went on they saw the Kingfisher afloat two hundred yards farther up the lagoon, and a motorboat passed it on its way south.

They turned due west then. Rosen eased the throttle and waited as they slowed down approaching a pass between two islands. The flaming PBY was lost from view for a moment and just as it reappeared it exploded. There was a single yellow-edged white blast. The night grew dark again and blazing fragments whirled heavenward through it. The air rushed by the boat with the impact of a blow. The fragments were tumbling down and burning dimly even after they hit the lagoon, and the darkness was filled with thousands .of ascending sparks.

ROSEN shot the boat forward with a leap, gunned it quickly and then switched off the motors. The boat sped on with no sound except the bow knifing through water. Rosen felt his back grow wet, and when he put his hand there it came away wet and sticky with blood. He turned and saw Cornish squatting above and behind him, watching him operate the boat. He saw that the blood was coming from Cornish, but before he said anything, Cornish shook his head and stopped him.

"Go back and help Peck,” he said. “I can run this boat.”

The boat was passing between the islands. They could hear Peck talking quietly, insistently to Boland and Boland sobbing.

“See if you can find flares aboard,” said Cornish. “He won’t be able to take off...” he coughed violently, “... in this darkness. I can run the boat. Find... flares... I said.”

He slid down into the seat and Rosen gave him the wheel and climbed aft. Cornish guided the boat into the inner lagoon and it swept north toward the Kingfisher. The plane was still faintly visible in the light of the few remaining flames and scattered embers, and there was no sound but the boat through water and Boland weeping.

The boat slid alongside of the plane and touched its long silver pontoon easily.

Moving swiftly now, Rosen went over the side on to the pontoon, took Boland and boosted him up to the wing. Peck followed and pushed Boland into the cockpit. Springer stepped to the pontoon and Rosen took a step to return to the boat for Cornish, but suddenly Cornish pushed against the pontoon with all his strength. The boat moved away from the pontoon and Cornish waved.

There were shouts from the nearest island now, but they could hear Cornish’s whisper. “Fast... fast,” he said, then he switched on the motors and turned the boat slowly south.

They called to him until a volley of scattered shots whistled around the plane, then suddenly the Kingfisher’s motor wheezed and began, to explode. The prop starting turning. The plane moved forward a bit and began to come about, then it stopped.

Cornish took out his cigarette lighter, flicked it on and thrust it into a pile of cotton waste he had gathered minutes before. He tossed the waste aft to rolls of canvas and they smouldered and caught. In a moment the boat, from midship to stern, was blazing, and as it began to gather speed the wind shot back long streamers of flame that shone in the lagoon like red and yellow jewels.

Peck was the last one to squeeze into the cockpit. He waved once in farewell and leaned over Boland. Boland was handling- the controls and crying, but he began to follow the boat. The lagoon was clear for a hundred yards ahead as the boat roared on, then the plane had its airspeed and slowdy, so slowly began to lift.

A minute later, far behind them, they saw the motorboat speeding past the last of the islands, heading out to sea like a flame-tipped arrow. They might have meant to follow it, but they heard the roar of other planes come up from the lagoon.

“They’re sending planes up after us,” Peck said quietly to Boland. “Think we can lose ’em in the dark?” Boland said nothing but he had stopped groaning.

Hero's Reward

SERGEANT PECK asked the soldier in the next bed: “Why do they say the last chapter is always a happy one? Maybe you know why?”

“No,” said the soldier. He had fractured an ankle at K.P.

“Neither do I,” said Peck. “Care to read these?”


“All right,” said Peck. He let the handful of clippings and letters fall to the floor. A passing nurse stopped and glared at him. “Sorry, ma’am,” Peck said and put them on his bedside table.

The clippings were from several newspapers. They were all very short and to the point, much like the one from the Honolulu Times. That one said that four men had recently proved that a Navy Kingfisher was able to carry them all hundreds of miles to safety. It said that the story itself was interesting, but that it could not be told for some time yet. There were other routine press releases about a recent naval victory that had outwitted Jap planes lying in wait at several secret bases deep in American territory. The Jap technique was also something to be expounded later.

One of the letters was from Yank. It said it was a follow-up on a telegram, and that the writer was sorry but he could get absolutely no authorization for Peck to write one word of it for print.

Peck picked it up and looked at it again, and he thought of Cornish asking for a story. He tore the letter into tiny pieces and let them fly over his head and he cursed every piece of paper.

The man in the next bed looked at Peck with new interest. “Hey, Sarge,” he asked, “you maybe lookin’ for a Section Eight?” and he winked in a slyly friendly fashion.


IMPRESSED by the qualities and regular working of the electric motor which had been used experimentally from time to time, Albert and Gaston Tissandier built, in 1883, a dirigible airship driven by an electric motor. The dirigible was not able to go against the wind, but was able to complete numerous evolutions to the right or left of the direction if the latter. The Tissandier balloon was the first dirigible driven by electricity.-Gale Stevens.