I came awake instantly. Crashing roars, with distant but shaking explosions, moved me out from the cleft down along the side of a mud wall I’d been sitting up against. I blinked my eyes in fear and nervousness. I was in a cave. I was in the cave. The cave made by the overhang of the concrete runway, routed out by floodwaters as the Bong Song moved about like a living snake in the bottom of the A Shau Valley. My brain fought to take in the dusky damp smell of rotting jungle earth, the shaking pieces of mud and debris falling from the underside of the pavement that had obviously been laid down atop a badly cleared and poorly graded surface. Even in the gloom, barely illuminated through the gaping wound of its opening facing out toward the river, I could see I was alone. Where was Fusner?
I was Junior, the company commander. I climbed to my knees. I didn’t know how long I’d been out, but out I had certainly been. The gloomy sun outside was leaving a shadow stretching along the broken bottom of the cave floor, like the saw-tooth edge of an old woodcutting blade. It had to be afternoon. I got myself together and came to my knees. The cave roof wasn’t high enough to allow me to stand, and I wasn’t sure I was stable enough to manage it anyway. I realized that I’d just thought of myself as Junior. I wasn’t Junior. They called me Junior. I’d never be Junior again if I made it back to the world, which wasn’t likely, as it dawned on me where I really was and what the situation was. I was at the bottom of the life-sucking A Shau Valley, a place nobody back home had heard of, or would ever likely hear about. I pulled my helmet to me, and quickly checked the handle of my .45 without taking it out. The Colt and I counted on each other. I knew it would work when I needed it, and I somehow had come to believe it knew I’d know when that time was right. The Colt being there made me breathe easier. I was okay.