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Title: A Soldier's Home Is Battle
Author: Stone, Lowell
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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              Jerry watched from his gun post as the city
           vanished in a cloud of atomic smoke. His thoughts
          were of his wife and son, but duty demanded that--

                      A Soldier's Home Is Battle

                            By Lowell Stone

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                              March 1954
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


By the time the radar signal caught their eye it was too late to do
anything. Planes traveling faster than sound were already inside the
defense zone of the city.

Private First Class Jerry Conlon glanced from the radar screen to
the other five members of his Atomic Gun Post team on the outer
perimeter of the city. The look in their eyes was one of dazed alarm.
Automatically he joined them in zipping shut radiation suits, and then
they went for the gun controls, knowing it was too late.

A flash of intolerable brightness faded out the sun. One of the
boys--Conlon saw him still struggling with his radiation suit--didn't
make it in time. He paid for his slowness with his life.

In that instant of death before his eyes, Jerry thought of his wife
and baby son. It was all he had time for. Just the image in his mind.
An image of fear, because he wondered about them--were they dying even
now?

With the great flash Jerry dropped into the prone position that he'd
been taught. He was protected because the Gun Post had been holed into
the ground and re-enforced with steel-mesh concrete all around. If you
see the flash, it's too late, he'd been told. Well, he'd seen the flash
all right. When he dropped to the concrete base, the floor rose to meet
him halfway. A few seconds later, the suction raised him off the floor
and set him down next to the big gun.

Jerry crawled back to the protection of the bulwark. He had a hazy
glimpse of movement around him, but he couldn't see well enough out of
his blinded eyes to make out what the others were doing. Things were
beginning to rain down out of the sky now, and it continued to rain for
what seemed to Jerry like five or ten minutes. It was fantastic how
high some of the debris must have been blasted into the air, and he
was afraid to move for a long time lest a rock or bit of metal should
suddenly streak down.

It was mostly just the smaller pieces that got as far as the Post. The
biggest chunks had either been completely disintegrated or splattered
along the ground in all directions from the target area. It had been
a direct hit. It only took one blast, but that didn't mean it was the
only one in the country. When the attack came, every big city had
probably been marked for destruction.

Every big city! The thought struck him with sickening force. His wife
and little boy--Mildred and Billy! How about them? Had the blasts gone
inland?

"Conlon, are you all right?"

The sound of the voice stabbed at Jerry. He studied the wavering dark
form in front of his eyes, and recognition of the voice came slowly.
The white blob of the face must belong to Lieutenant Blake. Ordinarily
Jerry would have snapped to attention and saluted, but at the moment
the formality seemed ridiculous.

"I guess I'm all right, sir."

"Good!" That was all Blake said as he passed from Jerry's view.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Jerry's earphones it sounded like a strong wind was blowing. It
could be the roar of a fleet of rocket planes. Was this the follow-up
attack? Why wasn't the order given to man the gun? He groped forward
and sprawled over a pile of debris. Where was everybody? Where was
Blake? He called out.

"Take it easy, Conlon," a voice said beside him.

"Who--who is it?" Jerry asked, trying to determine the source of the
voice.

"It's me--Adam Peterman. You'll be all right after awhile. What'd you
do--look into the flash?"

"I saw the flash. Good God! Am I going blind?"

"I once looked at a test blast with a radiation suit on. They still
haven't perfected these lenses to shut out all the glare. You'll be
like that for a couple of hours."

"How many of the boys did the blast get?"

Here he was, Jerry thought, asking about the six men in the gun crew
when there must have been thousands--maybe millions--dead in the city,
or what must be left of it.

"There's just three of us alive so far," Peterman said. "The
Lieutenant found Kroger, but he'd been crushed. The rest are either
buried or blown away."

"How about you? I still can't see where you are," Jerry said. "Are you
hurt?"

"My legs got messed up. I'm sitting on the ground. That's why you can't
see me."

"What about the city? What's left of it?"

"From where I'm sitting I should be able to see the tops of some of the
taller buildings over the concrete, but there's nothing there. I hate
to think about it."

"If there is anything left, the rocket planes will bring 'em down."

"What rocket planes?"

"Can't you hear 'em? That roar in the air. It almost drowns out the
geiger meter on my suit."

"Naw, Conlon, that isn't what you think! You're still hearing the sound
of the blast."

"After this long?"

"It doesn't die out for a long time."

Jerry thought about Mildred and Billy. It was this bad even in a
radiation suit with special lenses to protect the eyes; special braces
to minimize the shock wave effects; special material perfected during
the latter part of the century to deflect ultra-radiation. How would
Mildred and Billy fare back home where they were unprotected? They
might even be dead. But no! They couldn't be! They were all he had
left in life. They just had to be alive!

The shadowy blob which was Lieutenant Blake, moved into Jerry's line
of vision. Blake's form seemed to be getting smaller now; the haziness
around the edges seemed to be dwindling.

"How are you Peterman?" Blake asked the man with the wounded legs.

"I'll make it all right, Lieutenant. I might even be able to sight the
gun if you lift me into the seat."

"Good man, Peterman!" Blake turned to Jerry, "Well, Conlon, it looks
like you and I are the only ones on our feet. That means we've got work
to do."

"My eyes are bad, but I think they're clearing up now," Jerry said.

"Things are pretty rough," Blake said. "From what I've been able to
determine, the whole nation's been blasted."

"Lieutenant--no!" Jerry cried. He moved forward toward the Lieutenant
and clutched Blake by the shoulders. "I've got a wife and kid back
home!"

"We all have relatives back home, Conlon. You're no different than
anybody else. And it's just as bad for us as it is for you. You've got
to get a grip on yourself. There's nothing you can do for them one way
or the other."

"The hell there isn't! I'm going back to 'em!"

The Lieutenant's covered hand whipped out and slapped the front of
Jerry's helmet below the vision lens. Jerry went backwards and dropped
to the concrete floor.

"Sorry, Conlon," Blake clipped. "I didn't do that in anger. I merely
wanted to snap you back to your senses! You're still in the Army, and
I'm still your commanding officer. As far as the Army is concerned,
none of us have any relatives."

Jerry got to his feet. There was no question that the Lieutenant was
right. The Army was the big boss, and soldiers were not supposed to
have personal feelings. There were several million soldiers protecting
many millions of people and the only way that Mildred and Billy could
be protected was through the combined and strategic effort of these
soldiers. There were soldiers in the interior risking their lives to
protect people like Mildred and Billy--soldiers with relatives in the
city that Jerry was supposed to protect. It would be a sorry plight if,
at the first sign of trouble, all the men would run home to their own
little families.

It all seemed like a crazy nightmare to Jerry. No matter how big the
catastrophe, human beings still worried about the little problems
along with the big. It was a strange feeling to look over the top of
the bulwark and see nothing but the dirty gray sky where the forms of
big buildings should be. The shock was less horrible to him because
by the time his sight returned, he was accepting the awful scene of
destruction as an unchangeable fact.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was several hours later before a small contingent of radiation
clothed soldiers arrived in several jeeps. A Colonel of the Army
stepped out. Blake and Conlon stood at attention as the officers
introduced themselves. The Colonel's name was Harrison.

"I'm trying to find out what we have to work with. Not much, I'm
afraid," the Colonel said. "The Government's gone. Communication is
disrupted."

"Did you say there was no more government, Colonel?" Jerry asked.

The Colonel nodded. "That's what I said."

"Then there's no hope--nothing left to fight for any more?"

"Nothing to fight for?" the Colonel snorted. "Soldier, as long as we
have our hills and valleys we'll have something to fight for!"

Lieutenant Blake said, "Private Conlon, no more of that defeatist talk!
Please excuse him, Colonel."

"That's all right," the Colonel shrugged. "It's been a shock to all of
us. Now, tell me, how are you fixed?"

"Two able, counting myself. One bad casualty. One dead. Three missing,"
Blake said.

"You'll have one man replacement."

"But, Colonel, that isn't enough to man the gun!"

"Apparently you don't realize what's happened to the country,
Lieutenant! We're not attempting to hold back the enemy. When they come
they're going to flow right over us as though we aren't here."

"Then what's the point of--"

"The point is this. We have not received an order to surrender. We
probably never will."

Blake said, "We'll do the best we can, Colonel."

The Colonel gave an order and one man crawled out of a jeep and strode
toward them. The soldier saluted.

"He is your replacement, Lieutenant," the Colonel said. Then he shook
hands with Blake. "Goodbye, and good luck!"

The jeeps growled into life. It was strange hearing them, Jerry
thought. Usually there was the hum of the city in the background, a
sort of whispering that made you realize a throbbing community was
nearby. Now it was only the silence broken by the raucous sound of jeep
motors. Eventually even this sound disappeared.

"All right, men, start clearing up this mess," Blake snapped. "The
gun has to have free traverse. After that, stay at your posts. It's
going to be tough to handle this assignment short-handed, and when the
secondary attack comes it's going to roll in like a tidal wave."

The replacement was hardly more than a kid. Jerry thought he looked
as though he could be pushed over with a heavy breath. Not much of a
replacement, but he pitched into work earnestly.

Jerry edged close to Peterman as he worked. The wounded man sat propped
against a pile with his legs stretched out uselessly in front.

"They didn't even offer to give you medical aid, Peterman," Jerry said.

"I didn't expect it at a time like this," Peterman said. "The men that
are left have their hands full."

"For what? You heard what the Colonel said, the Government is
gone--possibly the whole country! What we're doing isn't even a
delaying action. We're hardly going to harass the Enemy! What's the
good of hanging on? Why doesn't the Army turn us loose? I've got to
find out how my wife and kid are doing! Staying here only means one
thing--one foolish, stupid thing!"

"You've got a point, Conlon," Peterman said through his pain. "I've got
a family too. I'd be tempted to take off myself, if I had legs."

"Duty! Allegiance! What does it all mean now?" Jerry said bitterly.

"Not much I suppose, when they pull the curtain in front of you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jerry was breathing hard inside his radiation suit. "Peterman, I've got
a notion to make a break!"

"That decision you've got to make yourself, Conlon. Only remember, that
leaving your post gives the Lieutenant the right to shoot you in the
back!"

"I'll take that chance. I've got to see Mildred and Billy. You think
you'd do the same thing, Peterman, if you had legs? Would you?"

"I might. I don't know. I'm in no position to give it much thought."

"But don't you think this is stupid to wait for certain death when
there's no hope--when I've got the chance to see the ones I love, maybe
for the last time?"

"It's stupid all right I guess."

"You've got loved ones, haven't you, Peterman? You know how much it
means?" Peterman clammed and refused to talk.

Jerry went to the storage which was built into the side of the
concrete wall, opened the door, and brought out his rifle. He examined
the automatic weapon and found it undamaged. He looked around.
Lieutenant Blake was out of sight inside the dugout where he was still
trying to pick up messages. The replacement was mechanically heaving
debris away from the traverse frame of the big gun.

"Conlon." It was Peterman calling.

"What do you want?"

"There's only one thing I'd like you to do before you leave. You and
the replacement lift me to the gunner's seat, will you? I have a bad
dose of radiation on top of everything else. I don't know how long I
can hold out, but I might as well be doing some good for the time I
have left."

Jerry put the rifle down, called to the replacement. Together they
hoisted Peterman into the seat. Lieutenant Blake came out just as they
finished the job.

"That's what he wanted, sir," Jerry said. "You're so short-handed we
didn't think you'd object."

Blake said, "Peterman, you should be keeping yourself quiet."

Peterman failed to answer for a long moment. Finally he said, "Damn the
Enemy! Why don't they hurry up and get it over with?"

Jerry walked over to where he had stacked his automatic rifle. He swung
it under his arm and turned to face the Lieutenant.

"I'm leaving, sir. Don't try to stop me! What we're doing here is plain
stupid. I've got a wife and kid that I've got to see before I die! I'm
leaving, and I'll shoot to kill if anybody tries to stop me! Got that,
Lieutenant?"

"I'm not going to stop you, Conlon," Blake said quietly.

"I hope the rest of you can manage the gun while I'm gone!" Jerry cried.

"We'll manage all right until you get back."

A faint far-away roar sounded in Jerry's earphones. The sound became
rapidly louder. "No sense in me coming back, Lieutenant, because from
the sound of things, you won't be around much longer."

Jerry backed toward the concrete steps that would take him to ground
level. He climbed up, kicking away litter so that he would have places
for his feet. He kept the rifle pointed at the motionless, watching
men. The roar became louder.

Lieutenant Blake called up to him. "You're from the inland area, aren't
you, Conlon? I think the chances for your family were pretty good.
Emergency stations are starting to come through from the interior. The
guided missiles had a lot of near-misses."

Out of the corners of Jerry's eyes he detected a strange looking dark
cloud appearing along the horizon. From the west, not the east! That
was odd. The dark cloud spread across the horizon, coming closer.
Rocket planes! Hundreds of them!

Jerry was at ground level now. Up here there would be no protection. A
blast and shock wave could sweep across the flat ground unhindered. The
roar became deafening. Now he could recognize the ships. They were Army
Comets!

He wanted to leap with joy. His spine tingled with excitement. The
cloud was roaring overhead now. The Comets flashed onward, bent on a
purpose, a death-dealing, earth-shaking purpose! That's the way the
Enemy had wanted it. The Enemy had chosen its weapon, and the Army was
on its way to blow the Enemy so sky-high that its own attack on Jerry's
homeland would seem insignificant by comparison.

Jerry tossed his rifle over the edge of the bulwark. The thunder
overhead snuffed out the clatter of the rifle when it struck the
concrete below. Jerry went down the steps holding his hands over
his head. It was a full minute before he stumbled back to where he
had started. "I changed my mind about leaving, Lieutenant!" Jerry
shouted. He might as well have been trying to shout above the roar of a
hurricane.

The Lieutenant waved Jerry's arms down, and Jerry was close enough to
detect a smile inside the Lieutenant's helmet. Blake turned and walked
away in the direction of the dugout as though nothing had happened.

Jerry pointed skyward, and the men wagged their heads understandingly.

"Hell," Jerry cried, "this war isn't over yet!"



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