I moved across the surface of the mud, with what was left of my scout team just ahead. Fusner and Nguyen trailed just behind. We crawled low, the light of the day beginning to die and provide some sort of camouflage, if not cover. The Ontos lay ahead, sitting like a  big solid Sphinx of a thing it so didn’t resemble, but could be imagined to be in the bad light. The Gunny was already there, as I came around the side of the Ontos’s right track edge. I noted immediately that the six recoilless rifles of the armored machine were directed off at an angle back toward where the jungle was heaviest on our side of the river. The river’s rush blocked out what sound might have otherwise penetrated the area, only the overpowering beat and thunder of Skyraider propellers got through. But they were on their last run with the coming of the night, I knew. The Skyraiders were not equipped to fight effectively in the dark, at least not to provide the kind of pinpoint support an infantry company like our own had to have.

The mist had converted itself back into a hard rain, and the leech population had approved. I realized I’d picked up some more ‘friends’ when the pain of the previous wounds on my torso lessened. The new leeches were leaking a deadener into my damaged skin surfaces, acting more like symbiotes than the parasites they truly were. It was a bad deal, I thought grimly, trying to adjust myself to some position of partial comfort on the mudflat. I was uncomfortable but it was okay for the time being.

I crawled forward, sloughing my way through the top layer of watery mud, swirling loosely atop the deeper harder mud base of the river’s wide-flattened edge. The rain was ceaseless, and beat down upon my helmet like God was playing me as some sort of weird percussion instrument. I slithered around the back edge of the Ontos’s right track and then along the distance of its right side. The Ontos was facing the river directly and it took a few labored seconds to get all the way to the front of the track. The mechanical beast vibrated its dangerous existence through the mud, to let me know it was alive and idling, waiting to deliver whatever kind of awful death needed to be delivered.