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Authors: Harry Turtledove

Two Fronts

BOOK: Two Fronts
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The War That Came Early: Two Fronts
is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013 by Harry Turtledove

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, New York, A Penguin Random House Company.

DEL REY is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Turtledove, Harry.

Two fronts : the war that came early / Harry Turtledove.

pages    cm

eISBN: 978-0-345-52470-6

1. World War, 1939–1945—Fiction. 2. Alternative histories (Fiction) I. Title.

PS3570.U76T96 2013

813′.54—dc23

2013010229

www.delreybooks.com

Jacket design: Carlos Beltrán

Jacket art: Mike Bryan

v3.1

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Other Books by This Author

About the Author

Marine Sergeant Pete McGill lay in the
Ranger
’s sick bay. He had a cut from bomb shrapnel along one rib and another in the side of his neck. A couple of inches there and he would have been nothing but a snack for the shark that had circled him after he got blown off the
Boise
’s deck and into the tropical Pacific.

He knew he was lucky to be alive. A lot of good men hadn’t made it off the light cruiser before she sank. The bomb from a Jap Val that flung him overboard broke her back, and she went down fast.

That blast also flung him clear of the fuel oil from her shattered bunkers. You swallowed some of that crap, you were history even if they did fish you out of the drink. And, even though his cuts must have been bleeding like billy-be-damned, the dorsal went away instead of slicing in for the kill. Maybe he was an off brand.

He’d managed to stay afloat, then, till the
Ranger
came over and started picking up survivors. That must have been a couple of hours. By the time he got rescued, he’d kicked off all his clothes so he could tread water better. And every square inch of him that had been above the surface for even a little while was sunburned to a fare-thee-well. The sunburn would have troubled him worse than his little wounds if they hadn’t had to put about a dozen stitches in the one on his ribcage. They’d used novocaine when they sewed him up, but it had long since worn off.

The Japs had dive-bombed the
Ranger
, too, but the carrier, unlike the poor damned
Boise
, must have carried a rabbit’s foot in her back pocket: all the bombs the Vals dropped missed, though none missed by much. She had some sprung seams, and blast and fragments had swept men from her flight deck. But she could still make full speed, and she still answered her helm. What more did you want—egg in your beer?

From what the other wounded men in the sick bay said, right this minute the
Ranger
was making full speed back toward Hawaii. The little task force of which she’d been the centerpiece had aimed to make life miserable for the Japs on some of the Pacific islands they held. What you aimed for and what you got, though, unfortunately weren’t always the same critter.

A pharmacist’s mate came through. Some of the guys in there were a lot worse off than Pete. Two or three of them, he feared, would go into the ocean shrouded in canvas, with a chunk of iron at their feet to make sure they didn’t come up again.

“How you doing, uh, McGrill?” the pharmacist’s mate asked.

“Hurts,” Pete said matter-of-factly. He knew more about pain than he’d ever wanted to learn. On that scale, this wasn’t so much of a much. But it
did
hurt. Without rancor, he added, “And it’s McGill.”

“Sorry.” The Navy file sounded more harassed than sorry, and who could blame him? He went on, “I’ll slather some more zinc oxide goop on where you cooked. You want a couple of codeine pills?”

“I’ll take ’em.” Pete knew they’d help a little, and also knew they’d help only a little. As he had experience with pain, so he also had experience with pain medicine. He wasn’t bad enough off to need morphine: nowhere near. They’d want to save what they had for the poor, sorry bastards who really did need it.

“Here you go, then. Can you sit up some?”

Pete could, though moving made him hurt worse. He swallowed the pills, gulping all the water in the glass the pharmacist’s mate handed him. He felt as if the salt water of the Pacific had sucked the moisture right out of him.

Whatever was in the ointment besides zinc oxide, it smelled medicinal and vaguely noxious. It soothed the skin on his cheeks and neck and shoulders and the top of his back. “I wish you could rub it in my hair, too,” Pete said. That was, of course, cut leatherneck short, so he had himself a sunburned scalp.

“I will if you want me to,” the pharmacist’s mate said.

“Nah. It’d be too messy,” Pete decided after a moment’s thought. He asked, “Can your scalp peel?”

“Fuckin’ A it can,” the Navy man said. “I’ve seen some bald guys who toasted their domes. It ain’t pretty, man. Like dandruff, only more so.”

“Hot damn,” Pete said resignedly. “So I’ve got something to look forward to, huh?”

“ ’Fraid so, McGrill.” No, the pharmacist’s mate hadn’t been listening. And how big a surprise was that? He had bigger things to worry about than Pete’s name. Off he went, briskly, to the guy in the next bed, who’d lost a sizable chunk of meat from one buttock, and who’d sleep on his stomach—if he slept at all—for the foreseeable future.

They got Pete out of the sick-bay bed a day later. Since he’d come aboard the
Ranger
with not even the clothes on his back, they had to give him everything from skivvies on out. Nothing fit real well, and his shirt chafed his tender hide. But clothes make the man. Once he had on even these hand-me-downs, he felt like a Marine again.

Ranger
’s Marine detachment figured he was a leatherneck, too. They’d lost a few men to the Japs’ near misses, and had several others worse off than Pete. He got to be low man on the five-inch-gun totem pole again, for the same reason as before: he was a new guy, and had no established place of his own. He didn’t fret over it the way a more reflective man might have. It was useful duty, and duty he knew he could do.

His gun chief was a tobacco-chewing Okie sergeant named Bob Cullum. He had a narrow, ferrety face, cold blue eyes that seemed to look every which way at once, and hands with slim, almost unnaturally long fingers: a surgeon’s fingers, or a fiddler’s. He guided the dual-purpose gun with a delicacy and precision Joe Orsatti would have envied. Unless some other ship had plucked Joe out of the Pacific, he was dead. Pete hoped for the best there, but expected the worst.

Cullum’s long, slim fingers had another talent, too. He could make a deck of cards sit up and beg. Since Pete came into the
Ranger
naked as the day he was born, that didn’t matter much to him. Cullum said, “Hey, if you want to play I can front you. If you end up losing it, pay me back when we get in to Pearl.”

“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Pete said. “Never been much of a gambler, and I don’t want to do it on borrowed money.” That wasn’t strictly true. He didn’t add that Cullum seemed a little too eager, though. Anybody who could set the cards jitterbugging like that could probably make them behave in all kinds of interesting—and profitable—ways.

He must have sounded sincere, because the other sergeant didn’t get mad. “Well, maybe you ain’t as dumb as you look, then,” he said. His drawl and Pete’s adenoidal Bronx accent were halfway toward being foreign languages to each other.

“Up yours, too, Mac,” Pete said. He didn’t sound—and wasn’t—especially pissed off. But if Cullum wanted to make something of it, he was ready. Sometimes you had to go through crap like that when you found yourself in a new place. He figured Bob Cullum was faster than he was, but he had two inches and at least twenty pounds on the other leatherneck. Things evened out.

Cullum thought it over. Pete must have said it the right way, because he seemed willing to let it alone. “And the horse you rode in on,” he replied, also mildly. He eyed Pete. “You look kinda like a raggedy-ass scarecrow, you know?”

“Only things that fit are my shoes,” Pete agreed. He spread his hands. “Shit, what can you do, though?”

“Let me work on it,” Cullum said. “I’ve been on the
Ranger
since she was commissioned, and if I ain’t the best scrounger aboard I dunno who the hell would be.”

“Okay,” Pete said, which committed him to nothing.

But Bob Cullum proved as good as his word. By the time the carrier did get to Hawaii, Pete had clothes that fit better than approximately. He had a wallet with five dollars in it. He had an obligation, too, and he knew it. When he and Cullum got some liberty, he’d be doing the buying.

He didn’t mind. The other sergeant was plainly a guy with an eye for the main chance. If Cullum figured Pete might be connected to the main chance one way or another … 
What am I supposed to do?
Pete thought.
Hope the son of a bitch is wrong?

HANS-ULRICH RUDEL’S FLYING
suit was made from fur and leather. No matter where you took off from, up above 5,000 meters the air was not only thin but far below freezing cold. In Russian winter, that flying suit came in handy when you were still down on
terra firma
. Rudel all but lived in it from first snowfall to spring’s grudging arrival months later.

He sat in the cockpit of his Ju-87 at the end of a runway made by flattening out a long, narrow strip of wheatfield. The fall rains and the thick, gluey mud they brought were over. The ground under the Stuka’s landing gear was frozen as hard as Stalin’s heart.

BOOK: Two Fronts
9.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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