Book Three of The Legend of Garison Fitch
Jason Kerrigan and Brownwyn Dalmouth are pilots with the Republic of Texas Army Air Corps. A world war is going on and bombs have just brought an end to Crockett Air Field in south Texas. Jason and Bronwyn, though, are called away from the battle to be test pilots for a new aircraft that-they’re told-will bring the war to an end. The experimental craft lives up to expectations in early tests, but then it lands them somewhere it never should have sent them. Another place? Another time? Another dimension? Somehow, they’ve taken a trip to the future and changed the past. Or did they? The answer to their change of reality may be known to a Justice of the Peace in Colorado named Garison Fitch. To figure it out, though, Garison may have to team up with his least favorite person: Bat Garrett.
When he woke up he was laying face down in the dirt and couldn’t remember how he got there. There was a horrible pounding sound in his ears that was more than just a headache from having been knocked to the ground, but he couldn’t recognize it right off.
He couldn’t recognize anything, he almost realized. The truth was that even when he woke up, he wasn’t really awake. While he might not have a concussion, he was certainly disoriented.
He had enough sense to know that laying down in the dirt wasn’t what he normally did, so he decided to change things a bit. He positioned his hands underneath himself and realized he was pushing gravel. Gravel on tarmac, actually. So he raised himself to his knees and looked around.
What he saw was chaos.
Where once had been buildings, there were smoking ruins. On a military base that had been governed by rules of order and decorum he saw only disorder and panic. The few living people still inhabiting the base were trying their best to walk, crawl or drag themselves to a place that was safe from the bombs. None of these people were visible to him at the moment, though, because of the smoke from the bombs and the fire from the buildings.
That’s what he was hearing, he suddenly realized. The pounding in his ears wasn’t just from the headache (though that was undoubtedly part of it) it was from the bombs.
Overhead, through the fog of dust and smoke that threatened to choke what little life was left, he could see the shadows of the planes. He counted at least three big ones and maybe a dozen fighter planes. It was hard to be sure, though, as they were moving so fast and the visibility was so bad.
He put his hands to his ears not so much to see if they could deaden the sound–he knew that was too much to hope for–but to see if his ears were bleeding. Between the sounds of the explosion, the roar of the low-flying planes, and the whistle-scream of the bombs as they fell, his ears were hurting. He was not only surprised that his hands came away blood free, he was a little surprised that they came away without actual pieces of his ear-drum.
He tried to get to his feet but the concussion of another bomb knocked him back down. He realized quickly that it must not have been too close, for he was still alive. So he raised himself again to his knees, and then his feet. Making a cursory check of his body to see if any bones were broken, he satisfied himself that he was suffering only from a few scratches and a lot of dirt. An attempt to brush himself off (in retrospect he couldn’t imagine why he cared how dirty he was), he brushed his hand across a piece of glass that had been embedded in his uniform and received his first real injury of the day. Fishing out a handkerchief, he wrapped his hand as best he could, ignoring the tableau of standing by himself in the middle of a bomb zone taking so much trouble to treat something so relatively innocuous.
Crockett Army Air Base, his home for the last sixteen months, was being bombed out of existence.
The day had begun ordinarily enough for Captain Jason Kerrigan. Early morning run with the enlisted men, cold shower, then breakfast in the officer’s mess. He had eaten quickly because he had a meeting with General Wright at 0800 and, while Wright was a notoriously lenient commanding officer, Jason wasn’t about to be late for this meeting.
Jason Kerrigan was twenty-six years old, just over six foot tall, and had jet black hair. He was somewhat dark complected, though not overly so, and his build was strong if not imposing. He was a handsome man if not possessing of movie star good looks. In all, he was a pleasant-looking man who one instantly liked but could almost as quickly forget.
Sergeant Carol LeMans had saluted him at the door and told the general by intercom that the captain had arrived. So he stood at ease, feeling like a little kid who had bent sent to the principal’s office, and waited. He looked around at the cinder block walls out of something that couldn’t quite be called interest. The walls were of the standard military color euphemistically known as “olive” and were decorated with a few plaques commemorating the base and the obligatory picture of Sam Houston. It seemed like he was waiting a long time (it was just moments) before the general called him in.
The two officers saluted, then shook hands as the door closed behind them. Jason could tell by the look on the general’s face that the news he was about to receive wasn’t good news. He almost blurted out something to convey his disgust, but remembered where he was and who he was with and kept his peace.
“Won’t you have a seat?” General William Wright had offered. The General was a young man, younger than Kerrigan, even, but he had received a battlefield promotion to Captain two years ago at the Battle of Matamoros, then a jump to Colonel six months after that when he had single-handedly turned the enemy attack at a battle near Thibadeaux. Four months later he had been given command of Crockett Army Air Base and a Generalship to go along with it. He was an excellent officer and bright young man who also owed a large portion of his placement to the fact that the world was at war and fighting men–especially intelligent fighting men–were hard to come by. He was easy-going and lenient, but he knew exactly what he wanted and how to convey it at all times for all that. He also knew that at any other time in history he could have risen no higher than captain in such a short time and meant to do all he could to take advantage of the “blessing” of the war that went on around him.
“Thank you, sir,” Jason said as he sat down. The chairs were big, comfortable, leather chairs and completely incongruous with Crockett. But he guessed they were congruous with a general’s office (and very heavy) so they stayed in place even with the general changed.
Knowing his face had already given away the news, General Wright said, “Your request for a transfer to the front has been denied, Jason.”
“Any reason why?”
General Wright looked like he was about to say something else, then sighed and replied, “The same reason they always give. You’re a crack pilot and we’re going to need you if–”
“If this God-forsaken stretch of desert ever becomes the hotbed of frontline activity they expect it to become.” Jason wasn’t in the habit of interrupting his superior officers, but the frustration had welled up and canceled out his good sense.
“You seem to have this memorized,” Wright smiled.
“Unfortunately. Sir. You’re the third commanding general I’ve heard it from so far.”
“I’m really sorry, Jason. I put all the influence behind this request that I could.”
“Yessir, I’m sure you did.” Jason believed the young general, but he was afraid his voice gave away the fact that this was the third time he had heard that from a commander, too. He looked out the window absently for a moment, watching the fighter planes take off, and said, “Don’t they know you’ve already got two full squadrons of crack pilots wasting away down here?”
Wright stood up and walked over to the window, motioning for Kerrigan to join him. “There goes the 187th now,” he said.
“And I’m better than every one of them,” Jason mumbled. At the General’s glance–which contained a bit of a smile–Jason emphasized, “I am. I mean it, General. They’re all good pilots. I’d fly with any one of them. I have flown with most of them. I’d take any one of them in the 27th with me. And I’m rated on almost every fighter plane we’ve got, from the little scrubs to the big hawks. And you know full well I can outfly any one of them and ought to be somewhere where my skills can be put to use!”
General Wright pointed at the last fighter plane to take off and said, “What about her? Think you could outfly Lieutenant Dalmouth?”
“Yessir. Without a doubt.” Venting his frustration again, Jason said, “And that’s another thing. If we’re so short on pilots that we’re having to rewrite the laws and allow women into combat, then how come they won’t send me where I’m needed? I’m tired of training these new pilots. I want to be out there where I can do something.” Kerrigan watched the last plane soar up into the air and spat, “She’ll probably be sent to the front before I am!”
“Technically, this is the front, Captain.”
“It’s the back of the front, General, and you know it. I’m sorry, sir. I know I shouldn’t talk that way, but–” Jason straightened up all of a sudden and asked, “Permission to be excused, sir?”
“Granted,” the general replied as he returned the salute. As Kerrigan was reaching for the doorknob, though, he said, “Jason?”
“I know I’ve told you this before, but I’ve seen the front. And I know how you wish you were out there. I know it sounds glorious when you hear people like me talking about it. The battles, the heroism. But, well, I remember watching one of my best friends–known each other since high school–get literally cut in two by a bomb. The only thing that saved my life was his. I still see that at night.” He sighed, then said, “But I wish I were back out there, too, sometimes. I’ll keep trying to get you there.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jason said as he left.
General Wright turned back to his window and watched at Kerrigan crossed the tarmac, heading towards the hangers. That was Kerrigan. A day off after forty-eight hours on, someone else patrolling the skies, yet there he went to check out his plane and hope against hope he’d have a reason to fly it that day. Wright sighed, knowing no one ever had a reason to do an emergency take-off at Crockett, and turned away from the window.
He never heard the bomb that took out the command center.
Her hair pulled back tightly into a ponytail and tucked into her collar so that she could get the leather helmet and radio-phones over her head, Lieutenant Bronwyn Dalmouth pulled back on the stick and launched herself into the sky. She loved that feeling. There was nothing like it. And even on a day like this, that promised nothing but another patrol around lifeless skies over an almost lifeless desert, she was thrilled.
She loved the feel of the plane around her. With her hands on the throttle and the steering mechanism, she could feel every little wind current, every little wisp of a cloud. She loved the response of the airplane and was confident she could set a gliding record in it if she had to just because she knew it so well. Even her instructors had said it was as if she were one with the airplane.
She pulled up next to her wingman and looked to her right, lifting her hand to give him a thumbs up. Her eyes focused on his smiling face in the cockpit as he was just about to return the signal when his head exploded in a rush of blood and gore against the cowling. Her mind didn’t even have a chance to react to the horrific sight before his plane began to billow smoke and begin its death dive into the countryside below.
Rather than doing what almost anyone else would have done when operating on sheer reflex, she pushed forward and went into a dive herself. Going under the enemy fighter’s guns, she looped around behind him and put about twice as much lead into his fuselage as was needed. As the enemy went into a death dive, she followed to make sure he died, then pulled up at the last second to rejoin the battle above her that was already all but over.
Captain Jason Kerrigan didn’t know how long he had been out but it was long enough for Crockett Army Air Base to be virtually wiped off the map. He looked at his wrist, but his watch was gone. It was probably nearby, he thought, but he didn’t want to look for it. The hangers were burning masses of twisted metal. The airplanes that had been parked out on the flight line looked like a giant child’s uncompleted model kit and a brief glance told Jason there wasn’t a one of them that was flyable or even repairable.
Whoever had planned the bombing raid had known exactly what they were doing, that was for sure. The runway and the flight line were crater-filled and basically useless. The command center was a smoldering ruin, as was every other building on the desert base. Even the infirmary, which had been marked on its roof with a nice big red cross in a white circle, was leveled. It was as if . . .
His steps suddenly got a sense of purpose as he realized that this wasn’t just an “inflict damage on the enemy” bombing run. This was a “wipe them out so completely they can’t even call for help” bombing campaign. Such a campaign would most likely mean that something–something like invasion–was to follow. This was a long way from the sources of power, but that might be just the reason it had been chosen.
And now the sound of the bombs was dying out for there was nothing left to bomb. And the secondary sound he had barely acknowledged–that of the bombers and their accompanying fighters–was dwindling off into the distance. They were heading back to the south, their mission accomplished.
It suddenly occurred to him to wonder what had happened to the 187th. He looked up into the skies and could see the smoke trails of airplanes that had been heading for the ground in an unplanned landing. They must have been caught completely by surprise, he thought. He hoped at least some of them had been able to eject and would be even now trying to make their way back to Crockett.
What would he do with them or for them if they got there? he wondered. Even what little medical skills he had been given as an officer required some sort of implements and bandages. He had nothing but his clothes, which he supposed he would soon be ripping into bandages.
He also thought to hope that someone of the 187th –one, even–had gotten away and was able to get to somewhere to radio for help. If a ground attack were massing on the other side of the river, just waiting for Crockett to be out of the way, he wondered if reinforcement enough could be supplied in time. Whatever he could do, then, needed to be done quickly.
He saw movement through the smoke towards where the motor pool had once stood and started walking in that direction. Whoever was over there had apparently seen him at the same time and was walking towards him. At fifty feet, they were finally able to make each other out. The form in the smoke said, “Captain Kerrigan? Is that you?”
“Corporal Luis?” Jason returned.
As they got closer, Jason asked, “Have you seen anybody else, Corporal?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing, sir. But no, I haven’t seen anyone.”
Jason stopped and looked around, hands on his hips. “Do you have any idea how long ago this happened? I woke up on the ground with my watch missing.”
Corporal Montoya “Junior” Luis, a wiry, dark-skinned young man with perfect teeth, looked at his own watch and said, “At least half an hour ago, sir. Not much more than that, though.”
“Where were you when it happened? How’d you survive?”
Corporal Luis looked embarrassed as he said, “I was in the head, sir. You know, that one on the back of the motor pool. One of the blasts blew a bunch of stuff up against the door but didn’t break the window, somehow. Took me the better part of fifteen minutes to break out that tiny window then squeeze through. When I saw what was going on, I just took cover under a wall that I think used to belong to the enlisted mess and waited for a chance to start looking for another survivor. You’re the first I’ve found, sir.” He quickly added, “But I haven’t looked much, yet.”
Jason looked down with his own embarrassment and said, “I somehow survived a walk across the flight line then slept through the rest. I was just walking towards my plane and then–boom–next thing I know I’m waking up face down on the tarmac. There were bomb craters all around me and pieces of blown up airplanes that had to have passed right over me after I fell. Don’t know why I’m not dead.”
“What do we do now, Captain?”
“First priority is survivors. You head that way, along the west side of the flight line, and I’ll take the east side. Any survivors that can walk, start them towards the motor pool. Any that can’t walk, leave them where you find them until we can try to round up someone with medical experience. Unless we have no choice, we’ll try not to move them until we’ve at least got someone with corpsman training to help.” He started to walk off, then said, “And Corporal, if you spot any kind of communications equipment, see if you can call for some help. Let someone know what happened here.”
“What about the 187th? Surely they’ve gone for help.”
“If any of them survived, yes. But right now, as far as we know, Corporal, you and I are the only two people alive in this part of the world.”
“Except the enemy, sir.”
“Yeah, there’s them. But I think they’ve left . . . for now.”
“Finally got you on the run!” she announced triumphantly.
But then the adrenaline began to wear off just a little and rational thought began to creep back in and she knew they weren’t running. Not from her. Not a whole squadron of bombers and half a dozen zeroes. They weren’t running from her or anyone else.
They were going home. They were going home because they were done with what they had come to do and there wasn’t any reason to stick around. She was just a whispering gnat of an annoyance that wasn’t even worth expending the fuel or lead on.
She thought about chasing at least one of them down and making him sorry for turning his back on her, but she knew they were already out of range. Especially if she had any hope at all of making it back to Marathon or anywhere else. She could no-power further than anyone in a Comal 38, but not that far.
With tears in her eyes, she turned around and started west. Maybe, she told herself, she could catch some sign if anyone else had made it. She was pretty sure all the planes were gone, but she had seen at least two chutes and possibly a third, though she hadn’t been able to tell whether it were one of her friends or not. Maybe she could mark their spots for ‘em and hasten the job of the rescue teams.