Knife Edge (2004)

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Authors: Douglas Reeman
Tags: Navel/Fiction
it all.
    He moved closer to the chart, another voice speaking in his mind.
    It’s what we are. What we do.
    He glanced at his hand and the scars where the broken wire stay had ripped the skin. They were healing well, and he was surprised to see that the hand was completely steady. Relaxed. Like seeing some one else.
    It was true, then. He
was
ready.

CHAPTER FOUR
    Ross Blackwood raised himself carefully on his elbows and waited for his breathing to recover. He felt the hard, uneven ground digging into his body; it was like being on another exercise, except that this was the real thing. He could still feel the tossing discomfort of the little boat which had brought their party ashore in darkness, minds dazed by the sickening motion and a continuous rain.
    He peered at the sky. The rain had stopped, and even the sounds of sea and wind were silent, as if a giant door had been slammed.
    He pictured the chart and the hand-drawn maps, which they had studied and discussed until every one had run out of questions. Or choices. There were none left.
    In total darkness,
Taunton
had closed with this island and waited offshore while the marines and their weapons were landed, at any second expecting an alarm, or a challenge, even a burst of gunfire. They could have had the place to themselves. Some one had found breath enough, after scrambling through the shallows and flopping down to cover the rest of the landing party, to suggest they might find themselves completely alone when daylight found them.
    Ross did not pull down his glove to look at his watch. It would be dawn within the hour. But the sky was stillhidden in cloud; not even a star had shown itself since they had cast off from
Taunton
, no margin between land and sky.
    Hard to accept that so much had happened in so short a time. The marines had crowded into the ship’s main messdeck while Irwin and
Taunton
’s skipper explained the layout and the approaches to this gaunt little island, Raven’s, one of many scattered across the South China Sea. Barren and uninhabited for the most part, except by fishermen or local craft sheltering from bad weather, they were not a safe or wise refuge if the wind rose to storm force. This island took its English name not from a bird but the master of a passenger vessel which had caught fire and been driven aground in the twenties. The master, one Daniel Raven, had used every trick and no little courage to save nearly all his passengers. He had died shortly afterwards, but his name lived on.
    Ross wiped his mouth with the glove. The intelligence which had brought them here must have been good.
Taunton
’s skipper was the last person he could imagine who would want to share Raven’s fate.
    Only today, while the hands were being piped to breakfast, they had passed another patrol vessel,
Yelverton
,
Taunton
’s exact twin to all but those who served in either. A brief blink of signals, no alteration of course to exchange greetings or gossip; it had been an ordinary crossing of patrol areas, had any one been watching.
    He thought of the faces around him as Irwin had listed the risks. Young and eager for the most part. No sign of anxiety, or the fear he would recognize. Only the more experienced showed any uncertainty, and there had been a question or two, a few nods in confirmation.
    Even the marine who had fallen and injured his leg had been present, ignoring the jokes thrown in his direction byhis mates, and openly distraught at the prospect of being left behind.
    So where do I stand?
He had seen Steve Blackwood pointing out something on one of the maps.
    Irwin had said, “Of course, you were in the Malayan flare-up before, weren’t you? Well, we don’t want that happening again just yet. Big Brother over the border would see it as open provocation, and the United Nations would say we were still trying to cling to the days of Empire!”
    The sergeant had said, “We had a few battalions of Gurkhas to back us up at the time.”
    He must have

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