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The Long Way Home

By Roslyn Bane

©2017 Roslyn Bane

ISBN-(book) 9781942976516

ISBN-(epub) 9781942976523

ISBN (pdf) 9781942976530

This is a work of fiction - names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Desert Palm Press

1961 Main St, Suite 220

Watsonville, CA 95076


Editor: Mary Hettel

Cover Design: eebooWORX

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition—July 2017


Major Samantha Davies is a warrior. After being abandoned by her father and raised in a foster home, she has made the Marine Corps her life. As a helicopter pilot she has excelled under the demands of her career. Always a fierce competitor, she now faces her toughest challenge...living with a disability that threatens her career and dealing with survivor’s guilt that threatens her emotional stability.

Lieutenant Commander Kristine Matthews is a highly skilled, combat experienced Navy Surgeon well accustomed to handling the worst destruction war can do to a person.

One fateful afternoon their paths cross and their lives change forever.

In a world where independence and strength are as valued as teamwork, and these two women struggle through rehabilitation, will they heal enough to live again and find happiness? Or will their shared experience destroy them?


This book would not have been possible without assistance from others. Thanks for your support and ideas. Thank you to my beta readers; Brenda, Judy C., Danielle Z., and Anya. Your feedback was invaluable.

Special thanks to: Sarah W. at Ability Prosthetics, Linda at Drayer Physical Therapy, Adam H. at Wellspan Physical Therapy, Heather H. and ‘Doc’ Morales at Wellspan Orthopedics. Your knowledge is incredible and you serve your patients well. It was a pleasure to work with you.

To the instructors at the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) Writing Academy, my classmates, and mentor Catherine, thanks for an incredible year of guidance and fellowship.

Thank you to Jan who took infinite care and skill, to help refine this story. Thanks for taking on what Sister Mary Joseph gave up on.

Thanks to Mary, my editor at Desert Palm Press, who helped polish it, and Michelle Brodeur for the cover. Thanks Lee for taking a chance with this book.

Thank you to the folks at Wounded Warrior Project who help our wounded veterans and their families on their journey of healing and to the many wounded veterans who shared their stories with me, this book could not have been written without your input. Thank you for your service.

Finally, to my family; thank you for your support. Bonum possit venire de rerum mutatione.


To Female Veterans who have served their country with honor, and integrity.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-four

Chapter Forty-five

Chapter Forty-six

Chapter Forty-seven

Chapter Forty-eight

Chapter Forty-nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-one

Chapter Fifty-two

Chapter Fifty-three

Chapter Fifty-four

Chapter Fifty-five

Chapter Fifty-six

Chapter Fifty-seven

Chapter Fifty-eight

Chapter Fifty-nine

Chapter Sixty

Chapter Sixty-one

Chapter Sixty-two

Chapter Sixty-three

Chapter Sixty-four

About Roslyn Bane

Chapter One

“KEEP YOUR LOOKOUT SHARP, there’s been fighting on that second ridge all morning.” Major Samantha “Sam” Davies interrupted the easy conversation of her flight crew to redirect their attention to the mountains outside their helicopter.

“Roger that, Major. Heads up, guys. Watch your sectors. Let’s get this bird back in time for some hot chow today.”

As the crew chief called out instructions to the young Marines manning the guns, Sam provided coordinates to her copilot. Alternating her scan from the instrument panel to the terrain outside, she watched for unfriendlies and other hazards to her team. They had just finished a resupply mission to a forward operating base and were heading back to camp. The weather was typical for Afghanistan, hot and dry. There had been no rain for weeks, and the wind blew up clouds of dust that could quickly cause brownout conditions. Sam licked her cracked lips, her eyes constantly in motion, watching as the copilot, a young first lieutenant, handled the big helo. Did he realize it was easy for the enemy to hide behind the craggy rocks, and in deep ravines? That they popped up like woodchucks but weren’t nearly as friendly. Here, in this god-forsaken land, death bloomed. Death thrived. And Death was always hungry. Her gaze swept across the instrument cluster and noticed the altitude. “Bring us up, Lieutenant. Remember your scan pattern, outside and inside. With all this brownout here and with so few trees, you’ll start to lose some of your depth perception.”

“Yes, Major.”

Over the intercom, the crew chief shouted, “Got something. Two o’clock.” A loud bang on the airframe behind her head and the high-pitched squeal of metal tearing overpowered the noise of the rotors. Her stomach lurched, and sweat dripped down her back. Adrenalin kicked in and her vision sharpened, and reflexes tuned to precision, she started calling out instructions.

Sam shouted “Left,” even as she took the controls and pushed the helo left. “Chief, what have we got?”

“They’re on the ridge,” the chief shouted as she continued to bank the big helicopter to the left, moving them away from the gunfire.

The helo echoed with the distinct bwap, bwap, bwap, bwap as her crew unleashed bursts of gunfire. The smell of gunpowder tinged the air. Her crew shouted to each other.

“I saw a flash.”

“Three o’clock.”

“I got one at four o’clock.”

“Shit! They’ve got something big! It’s going high, down, Major, down!”

Sam lowered the collective to bring the helo lower, and the chopper dropped two hundred feet and continued to bank left.

“Muzzle flash, oh shit! It’s coming right for us.” The shriek of metal tearing, the instant beeping and buzzing of multiple alarms, filled her ears. Warning lights flashed on the instrument panel, and circuit breakers popped in the cockpit. “We’re hit! We’re hit!” the crew chief yelled.

The helicopter started a slow spin, and Sam shouted over the intercom, “We lost the tail rotor. Hang on. We’re going to land it. It’s going to be fast.” She lowered the collective all the way down and pushed on the right rudder pedal to adjust for the loss of torque.

The first lieutenant was on the radio. “Mayday! Mayday! This is sierra foxtrot two four seven we’re going down, grid five four seven two Echo. Mayday! Mayday this is sierra foxtrot two four seven.”

The crew chief yelled over the shouts of the crewmen to hook their restraints. The console was an array of flashing lights, alerting Sam to catastrophic failure. Buzzers and beeps, the engine winding down and the wind all combined to form layers of sound. Get away from the ridge, find a clearing. It’s gonna be tight, watch the boulders. She spotted a potential landing zone.

“We’re dropping fast. This is going to be rough. Brace for impact!” The helo spun faster and faster. Sam pulled the cyclic backward to raise the nose, adding more right rudder. Her stomach lifted with the negative g-forces as the helo dropped. She focused on the landing zone as the chopper spiraled down faster and faster. Her vision narrowed as she fought against the blurring. She checked the altimeter, and pulled the collective up hard to slow the speed of descent and pulled the cyclic aft. The nose came up, as the wheels impacted the ground, even as the spin continued. Screams filled the air as the main rotor blades struck several large boulders on the side of the mountain, splintering on impact. The chopper rolled to the left flipping several times. The deafening sound of metal twisting and glass popping filled the air and darkness descended.


Sharp daggers of pain penetrated her legs, and her head throbbed. Sam became aware of a faint beeping and her name being called from behind and below her. Dry, hot wind blew against her face, and the smell of jet fuel was thick on the air. She struggled to open her eyes and shook her head to clear it. Knifelike pain sliced through her ribs and she gasped. She wiped a gloved hand over her eyes and bewildered, looked at the blood on her glove. Her vision blurred and she wiped again. Sam heard her name again, and she tried to speak. She tasted blood and grit in her mouth. Turning her head to the left, she realized the helicopter was leaning to its left side.

“Major, wake up. Come on we’ve got to get out of here.” It was Martinez, her gunner. “Let’s go.”

She looked at him, and then beyond to where the lieutenant sat motionless, crumpled against the airframe his head at an unusual angle, blood trickling from his mouth and from under his helmet. His eyes were open, dark and unfocused. Oh God, he’s dead. Martinez’ face was covered with dirt and sweat, his nose was angled to the side, and a jagged cut ran the length of his jaw.

As Sam reached for her harness, pain ripped through her side, and she hissed in agony. Staring at her legs, she watched as blood slowly spread across her flight suit. She pulled her legs back and groaned as pain ripped through her right leg. “Fuck.” Her stomach clenched tight, Oh shit, it’s stuck. Get it out, get it out. She leaned forward to push on the console and pain exploded again.

“Wait, let me see.” Martinez crawled over to her. “It’s stuck. I’m gonna push, you’re going to have to pull it out. Ready? Go.”

Sam braced her left foot on the deck and pushed down. Bones shifted, their ends grinding past each other making a sound like dry wood splintering and cracking. White hot bolts of pain shot deep within her and waves of nausea roiled through her gut. An animal-like howl escaped from deep within her, and her focus dimmed. Oh fuck. Sweat poured down her face, and she squeezed her eyes tight against the pain. With her pulse pounding in her ears she pulled again, using her hands to yank at her thigh.

“Stop, Major.” Martinez reached his hand down into the small gap, and she shuddered as his hand gripped her leg. She flinched as his fingers sank into her flesh. He jerked and pulled his hand back. It was covered in blood. “I’ll get a tourney on, Major.” He reached up to his left shoulder and pulled off the combat application tourniquet from his shoulder strap. “Hold on.”

Heart racing, she gritted her teeth as he positioned the tourniquet mid-calf and started to tighten the windlass. She groaned as the band squeezed tighter around her leg. Leaning her head back, Sam clenched her teeth and held her breath against the pain until the lifeless body of the lieutenant burst free in a huge gasp. “That’s good. Stop! Uh, it’s tight.” She grabbed his hand, restricting his movement.

He reached down to her leg again, ran his fingers along it, before pulling back his hand. “It’s not bleeding now. Major, you don’t look too good.”

She panted against the intense pain. “Corpsman?” she grunted.

Martinez shook his head. “I’ll get his stuff. He’s got morphine. I’ll be back.”

Sam gripped the cyclic between her knees and stared blankly at the instrument panel, and the cracked and buckled gauges. Licking her lips, she panted out small breaths to minimize her chest movement. Her vision narrowed, and nausea returned. She focused on the sound of Martinez as he cursed and threw gear to the side. It thudded heavily onto the floor, echoing in the metal frame. Gotta get help. Radio. A prick in her thigh caused her to look down, and she saw Martinez pull back with the auto injector in his hand.

“It’s the morphine, Major. It’ll help.”

Sam clutched at his arm. “Who’s here?”

“Mitchell’s gone, Roberts too. The LT. Jakes is outside with a gun.” Sam closed her eyes tightly as heaviness settled into her chest. She shook her head slightly and swallowed against the sudden thickness in her throat. Damn. Three of my men. And I’m sitting here stuck. She ground her teeth and pulled her leg again, her vision fading with the effort.

“Major, I gotta get outside and get the radio going.”

Sam let go of his arm and wiped the sweat from her face. Stomach clenching, she stared at the lifeless body of the lieutenant. A few moments later she recognized Martinez’ voice as he called over the radio. Her brain was fuzzy, and her pain subsided, as thick gray fog replaced the desert brown. Silence descended.


Sam awakened slowly to the sound of gunfire. Where is it? How many? She couldn’t make sense of it. Everything was heavy and slow moving. After several more minutes of sporadic gunfire, it grew quiet. Her hair stood on end as boots scraped along the floor behind her. Someone crawled through the chopper toward her, their breath harsh in the silence. Who is it? Who's left? Don’t let them take you. Not like this. Hell no. Her breathing slowed, her muscles tightened, a drop of sweat fell into her eyes and was blinked away. Barely breathing she slowly and quietly drew her sidearm from the holster on her chest. Can’t miss from here. Soon as they come around the corner.

“Major, it’s me, Martinez.”

She lowered the handgun onto her lap, and let out a huff of air. Martinez looked at her, “Good, you’re awake. And you’ve got your weapon. We got ‘em, Major. I don’t know how long it will be till more come. You stay quiet in here. Stay still. Don’t let them know you’re alive. Save your ammo.”

“Radio?” She shook her head to clear the fuzziness, but the pounding in her head intensified.

“Radio’s busted. Jakes is trying to fix his comms.”

“Outside…keep watch.” She gasped as breathing became more difficult.

“Roger that.”

As he retreated, she pushed with her left foot against the metal again, her attempts intensifying her pain. Her hands trembled as her right leg still wouldn’t budge.


A few minutes, or was it hours later, she heard someone approach. “Major, listen to me,” Martinez said. “We got five unfriendlies coming up the ridge. We gotta let them get in close so we can get them. Stay quiet in here. I’ll be behind. Jakes is in front.” He pressed her weapon into her hand. “Don’t shoot unless someone comes inside. Do you understand?”

She nodded, or she thought she did, and heard Martinez move away. The wind through the shattered windscreen blew grit across her face, and sweat and blood ran down her neck and back. The heat in the chopper intensified as the sun continued to bake down. Every breath hurt, but she stayed quiet. The sound of gunfire erupted around her and pinged against the helicopter. Heart racing she remained still. Her eyes were heavy, so she closed them and listened closely. Someone’s out there, watching. Waiting. Looking. Uneasiness washed over her, and she opened her eyes. Her stomach tightened in surprise as a shadow crossed to the left in front of the chopper. The figure ignored her and crept along moving slowly forward. She shifted her eyes and saw that Jakes was looking the opposite way. Jakes, turn around. Turn around. Hell no, not one more. Raising her weapon, she aimed at the shadowy figure, fired and missed. The man spun to face her, their eyes locked, and they both raised their weapons. A sharp crack sounded, and the man dropped suddenly as Jakes turned and fired. After several seconds it was quiet.

Sam turned her head to the side as Jakes crawled up next to her, his huge muscular body barely fitting into the narrow space. “Thanks, Major.” He looked down at her leg. “Let me try to move this.” He pushed with his arms against the console. Unable to shift it he flipped onto his back, lay across the bent floor, and pushed with his legs. The metal moved only a fraction of an inch. Sam bit down on her lip trying to remain quiet as the pain intensified with his push. Do it. Push harder. Come on. She groaned softly, and the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth.

When he could push no longer, he got up. “Shit. Fuck, Major! It’s been two hours. I’m giving you another hit. Martinez is keeping watch. I’m going to try to call out again. I don’t know if we’re getting through.” He reached into his kit, pulled out a morphine injector and released it into her thigh.


Lieutenant Commander Kristine Matthews pulled off her gown and gloves, rolled them together and dropped them into the medical waste bin in the operating room. Her mask quickly followed, and then she rubbed her hands across her lower back, hoping to ease the ache. After seconds of futile effort, she bent forward and touched her toes, sighing as the stretch eased some of the kinks out of her back. She straightened up and twisted side to side, smiling at the nurse who was placing the surgical instruments into the racks. “Thanks for your help. It went well today. The team was on top of things.”

“We’re a well-oiled machine, Commander.”

“That we are. Is there anyone left?”

“That’s it for you. David…ah, Dr. Williams is here, and Dr. Lewis is on call. You’re off unless the shit hits the fan.”

Kris yawned and stretched her arms overhead. “I’m beat.”

“I bet. I heard some good news. The Afghan kids we shipped out yesterday are doing okay.”

She shook her head, trying to clear the images of the children who had arrived in a decrepit bus with burns and multiple fractures after their school was intentionally firebombed for teaching girls. “That’s good to know. They were so young. I don’t understand how anyone can do that to children. There’s just no way to make sense of it.” Kris took a deep breath and released it slowly while raising her hands overhead and stretching. “I never will understand.”

“It’s been a long week, Doc, get some sleep.”

“I’m going to try.” Kris stepped outside for a breath of air. A layer of reddish brown dust hung on the horizon. She wiped at the sweat on her brow and hoped that the AC in her quarters was working. Maybe if it was cool, she could get a few hours sleep, if she could get the images of the older school girls who had been beaten and raped out of her mind. She swallowed hard against the rage that bubbled up like a geyser inside her.

Kris turned at the sound of a woman wailing. The woman struggled with a guard and pulled free. She clung tightly to a package and ran toward Kris. Horrified, Kris watched a guard raise his rifle and aim at the woman. “Stop! Don’t shoot!” Kris screamed as she ran toward the familiar woman waving her arms frantically. “Don’t shoot.” She grabbed at the woman. “Waseema, what’s wrong?”

Waseema thrust the bundle into her arms, and Kris’ heart stuttered as tears flowed down Waseema’s face. Her breath caught in her throat as she pulled the wrappings back and whimpered as she looked at the familiar toddler’s lifeless body, already rigid and cold. Oh, dear God. No. No. Not Yagana. The dark hair was matted with blood and dirt. Seconds passed until Kris could breathe again. “Waseema, come inside with me.” She took her by the hand and led her inside to the coolness of the hospital. “I’m sorry. It’s too late. There is nothing I can do.” She wiped sticky blood from the toddler's face with the blanket and closed the lifeless dark brown eyes. After several agonizing minutes Kris handed the child to a nurse. She spoke calmly to Waseema trying to console her until an interpreter arrived. “Let them take her, so she can be cleansed. You’ll be taken to her soon.” She stayed thirty more minutes, whispering softly and holding the hands of her friend until she calmed and was led away.

Kris walked away, her stomach tight and her mind numb. She wiped a tear from her cheek and hoped she could make it to her bunk before she broke down. She walked through the crowded hallway as nurses and corpsmen moved about the small hospital making their rounds, checking on the injured marines, and resupplying, getting ready for the next emergency. Numb, she went into a changing area and put on her camouflage uniform and boots. Loud voices caught her attention, and she hurried down the hallway. As she neared a small workstation, she realized that Dr. David Williams, the lead surgeon, and a senior chief, were listening to a Marine Colonel as he spoke, his gruff voice booming down the halls. “They’ve been taking fire. The pilot’s leg is trapped, a tourniquet’s on. Their corpsman is dead. A sergeant’s been doing what he can, but there’s been sporadic fighting. They’ve been able to defend. There’s no sign of activity in the area now. We need them out of there quick.”

“I’ll go,” Kris interrupted. “We’re not busy now.” Kris started running down the hall. “Get me a corpsman, I’ll grab a jump bag.” She pulled several medications from drug supply and loaded them quickly. She didn’t stop when she heard a voice behind her.

“Are you sure?” David said.

Kris stole a quick look into his steel grey eyes. “Yes. We can’t send a corpsman in alone. The pilot needs more advanced care.”

Her stomach tightened as she reached for a power saw and blades. As she grabbed for battery packs, a hand closed over hers. She turned and saw David’s brow furrow and the deep lines at the corners of his eyes. “Be safe.” Kris swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry, and nodded. She loaded the batteries in the bag and tightened the straps. Before she could speak, she heard a familiar voice behind her.

“Doc, I’m your medic. Let’s do this.”

Kris almost smiled as she realized one of their most experienced corpsmen was coming too. “Let’s go, Morales.” With the jump bags slung over their shoulders, they ran out the door to a chopper just touching down. A moment after they lifted off, a dangerous looking marine handed them body armor and told them to put it on. The chopper raced forward into the desert.

Chapter Two

“HURRY, COMMANDER, SHE’S IN here. You’ve got five minutes! Ten at best. We’ve been taking fire for a few hours. We get a few bastards at a time taking shots. Sometimes they actually try to move in.”

Jumping from their chopper, Kris and Morales ran to the downed helicopter. Someone survived this? It was leaning precariously to the left, pinned against the boulders. Mangled metal and aircraft parts lay across the field. The main rotor was completely destroyed, its blades shattered. The tail was bent in half.

Kris' feet rolled and slid across rock as she ran. The sound of brass chattering as she kicked up spent rounds was almost musical. She tossed her bag into the helicopter and climbed up. Creeping over the crumpled seats and bags, she gripped the mangled wall for balance. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light as she picked her way forward. Twisted metal blocked easy access to the front cabin, and she dropped her gear and crawled into the cockpit.

The windscreen was gone, and the smell of fuel, oil, dirt and sweat mingled together. Through it all came the overpowering stench of blood and bowel. The air was thick with it. It took Kris a mere second to realize the copilot was dead. His body had released his fluids sometime after death. She reached forward and closed his eyes, and turned her attention to the remaining pilot. Blood and dirt caked the major’s face. Kris’ breath hitched as she realized she was looking at the delicate features of a woman whose eyes were nearly swollen shut. A ribbon of dried blood from under her helmet tracked past split and swollen lips and disappeared under the collar of her flight suit.

“Major? Can you hear me?” Kris shouted to be heard over the noise of the waiting helicopter. She reached for the pilot's neck and found a pulse, slow, weak, but steady. Relief surged through her, but faded when she noticed the pilot’s leg disappear into the middle of a tangle of twisted metal. Blood covered the legs of her flight suit.

“She’s had two doses of morphine. It’s been over three hours. Our corpsman’s dead. I got the tourney on right away. I didn’t know what else to do. We tried to get her out, but couldn’t shift the metal. Her leg is stuck. I tried to push and, at first, she was trying to pull it free. Not anymore.”

Kris continued her assessment as the sergeant spoke. “It’s okay. You did well.” Kris moved closer to her patient. “Major? Answer me, Major. Sergeant, what’s her name?”

Martinez shouted over the noise of the helicopter on watch overhead. “Major Davies.”

“Major Davies, look at me!” The pilot’s left eye opened suddenly and Kris jolted. The deep green of her eye was obscured by brilliant red, filling the white of her eye completely. The red glared in stark contrast to her pale dirty face. “Tell me what you feel.”

She panted. “Pain. Head hurts, leg…bad, stuck.”

“I am going to take a look. I am getting you out of here.” Kris moved her hands down across the pilot’s arms, the top of her chest. Ribs broken, arms good.

“No. Stuck. Shoot me.”

It took Kris a moment to comprehend the garbled words. She shook her head vigorously “What? No!”

“Taliban. Come back. Leave. Shoot me.”

Kris looked at her in disbelief and finally saw the pistol in her lap. “No! No way.” She carefully removed the gun from the major’s lap.

“Sergeant! Take this gun. Give me my bag.”

She ran her hands down the pilot’s leg feeling the stickiness of drying blood. Unable to find any fresh bleeding she relaxed marginally. Reaching further down, she encountered metal and snaked her hand through a gap in the wreckage, ignoring the scrapes of metal across her hands. Narrowing her eyes, she concentrated, and her hand closed on tattered, soft gobs of flesh and jagged pieces of bone as the contour of the leg changed abruptly. Shattered, muscles torn, bones exposed, contaminated, no fresh bleeding. She withdrew her hand, now stained with sticky blood and pulled scissors from her gear bag. She cut through the bloody pants removing them down to where the tourniquet held tight. She cut the fabric below the tourniquet and tugged it free. Lying across the console, she tried to reach around the metal to free the leg. “It won’t move.” She heard someone come up from behind her.

“Doc, what do you need?”

“Give me another tourniquet and betadine.”

Morales handed her a tourniquet and Kris attached it two inches above the other. She grabbed the antiseptic and doused the leg with it. Gunfire sounded behind her and she jerked her head up.

Morales shoved her head down. “Stay down! Commander, you gotta hurry.”

“Start an IV, saline.” Morales squeezed into the opening between the seats, pulled one of the major’s arms down to her side, quickly inserted the IV, and started the fluid running. Kris pulled on new gloves and readied her equipment.

“Get the Versed. Push it.” Morales grabbed the medicine and administered it quickly; the major sighed out a long breath as her head fell forward.


He handed her the scalpel. “Jesus, you’re not really going to—”

“Give her some morphine, hold her down.” She looked at the major, considered what she was about to do and worried how much the woman would feel. “Major, this is going to hurt,” she warned even though the major appeared unresponsive.

Her jaw set, Kris took a deep breath and moved with precision. She sliced quickly across the leg, moving the blade from right to left. She cut deep getting down to the bone and narrowly avoided getting kneed in the jaw as the major jumped and screamed.

“Hold her steady,” Kris ordered.

The major slumped forward, held up by her seat restraint. Kris reached her hand up. “Clamp.” There was a quick thwack of the instrument as Morales placed it in her hand. She wiggled the clamp under the bone, prying it beneath the muscle. “LAP.” The sponge was instantly pressed into her hands. Gunfire sounded again, and she flinched but kept her head down. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and then everything became strangely quiet. She grabbed the lap sponge with the clamp and tried to wiggle it back and forth under the bone. “Damn, I need a few more inches. I can’t get enough force. Take this.” She tugged the quick release of her body armor and lay across the console. Closer now, she grabbed the sponge and pulled it rapidly back and forth until she could grab both ends. She pulled on the ends and lifted the bone toward her. “Give me the saw.”


“The saw! It looks like—”

“I got it.” He thrust the heavy piece into her hands.

Dear God, let her not feel this. With steady hands, she turned the saw on and using her left hand, aligned it the best she could in the cramped space and pressed it to the bone. The scream lasted only a second, but she knew she would remember it for the rest of her life. Kris pulled harder with the sponge, using it as a retractor to lift the bone further as the cut through the tibia deepened. Chips of bone and marrow flew up. There was a jerk as the saw cleared the tibia and she turned it quickly on the fibula. She finished the cut through the bone, flicked the switch off, and thrust the saw back toward Morales. Without asking he handed her the scalpel again and she quickly used it to cut through the remaining muscle and skin. Kris took a deep breath, her shoulders dropping momentarily. She glanced up at the major, her mouth open as she hung unconscious in her harness. Breathing shallow. Needs oxygen, fluids. Antibiotics. Get her sedated.

Gunfire bounced off the sides of the helicopter. Someone hollered into the wreckage, “We gotta go!”

“Get her out.” Kris pushed her hands up against the pilot’s shoulders as Morales unhooked the harness, and the Major collapsed onto her, still mercifully unconscious. She supported the pilot’s chest, and felt ribs shift, while Morales and the sergeant wrestled the major out of her seat. They pulled her back into the belly of the chopper and onto a stretcher. Climbing over the console, Kris scrambled back to them. She grabbed two Kelly clamps, clamping two vessels oozing blood.

“Doc, now!”

“I need a few seconds.” She grabbed some sponges and applied a pressure dressing. “Go, go, go!”

They moved as fast as they could toward the back of the downed chopper. She grabbed the jump bag and one side of the stretcher. The four of them ran toward the Evac helicopter as it was touching down a hundred yards away. Gunfire sounded all around them. Where are they? Where’s it coming from…where’s air cover? Dirt flew up at their feet. Suddenly fire erupted in her chest, and her hands stung with the bite of rocks cutting into them.

Morales screamed, “Fuck, doc’s hit, doc’s hit.”

Before Kris could roll over, strong arms lifted her, and she realized she was hanging upside down over Morales’ shoulder. Pain pounded through her with each step Morales took. Moments later she felt more arms grabbing her, as she was wrestled inside the chopper. She had a momentary feeling of weightlessness and realized they were airborne.

“Doc, talk to me.”

“Oh my God! How…how bad is it?” She panted, already breathless. “Where is it?” Her hands grabbed at her chest, she felt blood on her hands. She licked at her lips and gulped for air, as white-hot pain flashed through her body. She tried to sit up, but he held her down.

“Move your hands, let me see. Lie still.”

Everything ceased to exist except for Morales and her pain. Her mind scrambled trying to keep up with what he was doing. He worked quickly, cutting through her shirts and exposing her chest. She heard him mutter “Fuck” as he looked at the wound.


“Stay down.” She watched as Morales reached into his bag, ripped open a package and pulled out an occlusive dressing. His firm hands pressed down onto her chest where she knew the air was rushing out. He grabbed gauze and applied a pressure dressing to her shoulder. “You’ll be all right, doc, I’ve got you. You’ll feel less pressure in your chest now.”

Kris nodded and whispered, “Help her.”

“She can wait.”

The sergeant had come over “She doesn’t look good. Geeezus Christ.”

“Shut up! Be quiet,” Morales hollered. “Ignore him, doc.” He grabbed a stethoscope, and she watched as he closed his eyes, his head cocked to the side. “Breathe, doc, breathe.” He put the stethoscope down and looked at her wound, “You’re still bleeding a little. I’m going to clamp it. Doc, look at me. Stay focused on me.” It was quiet for several seconds as he studied the wound. He muttered, “There has to be another bleeder. I gotta find it.”

Kris hissed as his fingers probed into her, she reached for his hand. “Hurts.” Something sprayed across her face. Oh, Fuck.

“There it is. It’s a little one, near your shoulder.” He sprinkled quick clot on the wound and covered it with gauze. “You’re doing good, doc. Stay with me.”

Kris looked over at the major. She tugged on Morales’ sleeve. “Fluid.” She pointed a finger at the major, shuddering between gasps. “Give her fluid.” Hearing gagging, she turned her head and watched as the Sergeant vomited in the back of the helicopter.

Kris heard the gunner groan, “Holy mother of God, her tit is gone.”

“I got it, doc. Stay still. I got you both.” His voice was reassuring and calming. She felt a prick of pain in her arm, and she knew he had started an IV. Her vision grayed. “Up, can’t breathe, up.” Jakes propped her up slightly as Morales moved over to the major. Kris watched as he hung another bag of fluid above the major and checked her dressing.

“No blood?” she muttered.

“No. Keep your eyes open. Doc, look at me.” He placed an oxygen mask on her, and the cool air flowed across her face. “Keep breathing, doc. Come on. Breathe with me. Watch me.”

From far away she heard someone call out “How much longer?”

“Three minutes to wheels down. They need an update.”

Kris saw his mouth move but heard nothing. She bit down against the pain and closed her eyes. Jostling awakened her and she grabbed the hand that pulled back the bandage. Through blurred vision she recognized David. He looked at her, and she saw the alarm in his eyes.

“Kris, you’ll be all right. I’ll take care of you.”

She shook her head. “Pilot.”

“We’ve got it.” She opened her mouth to speak. He looked down. “Quiet, I know what to do.”

Then it was dark.


Sam became aware of sound, a steady beep in time with her heartbeat, a squeaking wheel as it moved by, the sound of footsteps on the floor. Where am I? My head hurts. Hell, everything aches. I need water. She remained quiet. Everything was dark, subdued, like she was looking through a thick fog. She tried to remember. What had happened? She tried to speak but nothing came out. Someone lifted her arm, warm fingers pressed along her wrist. She tried to turn but pain flashed bright into her head. The quick prick along the inside of her elbow was virtually painless. More footsteps and muffled voices. Finally, she heard a voice close by. “How is she doing?”

“Vitals are stable. She’s had another unit of blood. Fluids are running now.”

“Awake yet?”

“Not yet.”

I am awake. I am here. Don’t you see? I’m right here. Look at me.

“Well, let’s take a look.”

Someone pried open her eyelid, shined a light in it, and allowed the lid to flick closed. The other lid was subjected to the same sequence. Someone was pushing on her legs. Yanking them around. Damn, were they hitting them with hammers? She tried to pull away. Unfamiliar voices sounded confident but urgent, and she tried in vain to follow their conversation.

“The bandages are off.”

“Okay, let’s see what we have. Hmm. Okay. Let’s take her in. Get this cleaned up. Get another dose of antibiotics on board. When’s the next flight?”

“In six hours.”

“Good, let’s get her out. Where’s Kris?”

“She’s in the OR already.”

The voices became softer as footsteps moved away. What the hell is going on? Someone is still here. “Hey, Major. You might be able to hear me. I’m going to give you antibiotics and some more pain medicine. You’re heading home.” The female voice was calm, and Sam sighed. Warmth spread through her arm and the fog thickened until all was silent.


Sam awakened with a jerk, and had the feeling that a long time had passed. Where was she? Damn this fog. Her throat hurt. She tried to call for help, but nothing happened. Although she tried again, no sound came out. Something held her down as she tried to sit up. Voices were clearer now, loud, fast, yet not chaotic. English. Many people were moving around. I’m being carried. Footsteps on metal. Straps were placed down over her and pulled snug. Something soft and warm covered her. A blanket?

“Chief, this is Major Samantha Davies, thirty-one-year-old female, no allergies. Blood type A positive. Right below knee amputation, concussion, fractured ribs, right, four through eight, no pneumothorax. Pain medication on board. Light sedation. Foley is in.”

Cool air flowed through the mask snugged to her face. More movement surged around her, snaps and clicks, multiple voices, and many conversations. There was the sound of a large door moving, and darkness enveloped her. She recognized the distinctive high-pitched squeal of an aircraft engine starting. There was a deep rumbling around her and then movement. I’m going somewhere.

Chapter Three

Landstuhl, Germany

SAM WOKE GRADUALLY, A deep ache in her legs. She tried to open her eyes, but they felt gritty. Finally, one eye popped open, and she saw a shadowy figure in dark blue clothing moving nearby. The air held a peculiar odor, and she tried to recall the smell. It took several seconds, and a feeling of unease rippled through her as she recognized the smell of a hospital. The subtle odor of disinfectant lingered. Sam glanced at the brightly lit monitors, their screens filled with numbers which constantly changed. A door stood ajar, and she recognized the sounds of English and German being spoken nearby. The figure moved closer. She was a woman with blonde hair tied up in a bun and wore a single silver bar signifying her rank as a first lieutenant.

The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “Hi, Major, it’s good to see you awake. I’m one of your nurses, Lieutenant James. You can call me Emily if you like.”

“Where am I?” Sam’s words came out raspy, her throat was dry.

“You’re at Landstuhl, Major.”

Germany. “How long have I been here?” Sam fidgeted under the blanket, trying to get comfortable. Her ribs hurt and it was painful to draw a deep breath. She had a headache that was getting worse by the minute and trying to outrace the crushing molten lava pain in her legs. She kicked trying to get more comfortable. The pain eased up in her left, but her right foot continued to throb and was becoming excruciating. She wiggled her legs, felt the sheet rub across her feet, irritating them more.

“Almost two days, ma’am. You will be heading back to the States tomorrow.”

Two days? “Back to the States? Why?”

A warm hand picked up hers and pressed into her wrist. A soothing voice, spoke softly to her, “You were injured, ma’am. You’re on your way home. Can you see me all right?”

“Little blurry. What happened?” Before the nurse could answer, the door opened, and a lanky, dark-skinned man dressed in scrubs arrived. His bald head reflected the light, distracting her momentarily. “Good morning, Major. It’s nice to see you’re awake.”

“Morning, sir.” She croaked out, her voice gravelly.

He pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down. “I wanted to talk to you about your injuries. Can I bring the bed up some?”

Sam nodded and groaned quietly as the bed moved her into a semi-reclined position.

“How’s your pain level?”

She bit down hard, struggling to swallow against the dryness in her mouth. “It’s bad.”

“Major, let me tell you the rules here.” His eyes that were so dark brown they nearly concealed his pupils. Subtle wrinkles marked the corners of his eyes. “When you’re in pain you say something so you get the right amount of medicine. You will recover faster if your pain is controlled. You won’t be completely pain-free, but our goal is to keep the level manageable.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where do you hurt?”

“Head, neck, ribs. Legs hurt. Bad. Hurt like hell.” She bit her lip and grimaced against the pain that continued to expand like a balloon filling with air.

“Major, do you remember what happened?”

“Helo crashed. Leg is busted.” She stared at the wall trying to remember. “I was trapped.” She stared at him for several seconds, her heart started to thud, and she squeezed her eyes tight against sudden tears. “Some of my crew didn’t make it.”

“That’s right. You lost some of your crew. Do you remember anything else?”

Sam sat quietly for a few moments trying to recall the events. “There was an attack. Jakes, Martinez. Two, maybe three times.” Her heart started to race, and the beep of a monitor momentarily distracted her. Sweat rose on her neck and back. She rubbed her palms on the blanket and looked down at her legs. She closed her eyes, picturing the helicopter.

“That’s right, there were some skirmishes, and you were trapped. How did you get out?”

Sam stared at the wall and shook her head. “I don’t know.”

He placed his hand over hers and lowered his voice. “Your helicopter crashed and you were seriously injured. Your right leg was trapped and injured.”

Her stomach tightened. “I broke it. It hurt too much to move it.”

He picked up her hand and gave it a squeeze. “There was severe bleeding, extensive tissue damage. I’m sorry, but you lost your leg.”

Sam jolted in bed, trying to sit up as her body went on alert. Her heart pounded, and blood rushed to her head. The light brightened in the room as her pulse throbbed in her ears. Her skin was damp with sweat. “No!” She tried to sit up, but collapsed with the effort. She looked at the blanket covering her legs. “Broken that’s all.” She was light-headed, and the room started to spin.

He squeezed her hand firmly. “No, Major. It was badly damaged and trapped. You’ve had three surgeries. The first was at the field hospital, and you’ve had two more here. We’ve been cleaning out the wounds, taking out the damaged tissue. You’re heading home tomorrow. You’ll be going to Bethesda. It’s possible you’ll need more surgery there.”

“No. You’re wrong. I can feel them! My feet are there. Right there.” She pointed at her legs and kicked. But the blanket only moved a little. She deliberately wiggled her left foot, watching the blanket move. She repeated the action with the right foot but nothing happened. Pain exploded in her right foot, but the blanket didn’t move. Nausea roiled up, as her gut clenched. She shook her head in denial. “It hurts. I can feel it.”

“Major, I am going to lower the blanket so you can see. What you’re experiencing is phantom pain. The nerves are firing, and your brain is trying to figure out what is going on. It’s normal for you to experience this.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s there.”

The doctor spoke calmly, “Major, you have a below knee amputation. You’ve lost your leg at about mid-shin.”

Her headache exploded as she violently shook her head. “No.”

“Your leg is bandaged. Do you want to see?”

Staring at the wall, she tried to push up, and gasped as pain exploded in her chest.

“Careful. You have four broken ribs.”

“Up.” Her voice was too high. “Up, let me up.”

“You want the bed up more? Let me help you. Are you ready?”

Sam looked at him and realized he was serious. With her heart pounding in her chest so hard it hurt, she took a deep breath that caused the pain in her chest to flare. She let it out slowly, stared into his dark brown eyes for several seconds and nodded. She looked down. Holy fuck. No, no, no. Her thigh was swollen, and heavily wrapped with bandages that spiraled down over her knee, before stopping abruptly. There was nothing left. Her leg ended at the shin. Her right foot throbbed, pulsing with pain, like some crazy, sick magic trick even though her foot and lower half of her shin were gone.

She looked up in a panic, opened her mouth to say something and started to dry heave. Her upper body shook as contractions racked her body. Sweat beaded on her skin and trickled down her face in front of her ears. Oh fuck. What am I going to do? What? How? Oh, my God. I can’t walk. Or drive. The doctor’s voice carried through the chaos of her thoughts but didn’t register. After several minutes, she became aware of him still speaking calmly, “We’re going to keep you here another day. Tomorrow you head for Bethesda. You’re going home, Major.”

She lay motionless, staring at the wall as the doctor and nurse got her situated under the covers. “I’m going to give you something else for the pain. Get some rest. I’ll be back later, and we can talk some more. Your family has been notified, and they have been getting updates daily. Perhaps later, after we meet again, you would like to call your family. I’m sure they would love to hear your voice.”

Sam watched as the nurse mixed the medicine into her IV line. Almost instantly darkness closed in.


Kris awakened slowly, her eyes heavy, the room was blurry. The smells and sounds of a hospital were similar but somehow different. The room was modern and brightly lit. It wasn’t an open bay like the field hospital. She watched a monitor as it recorded the vital signs. Heart rate and breathing were a little slow. Blood pressure slightly elevated. Temperature good. Distractedly she looked for the patient, but she saw no bed or patient. This isn’t right. Think, think. Kris shook her head from side to side and grimaced. Her vision wasn’t clear. Lifting her arm to rub her eyes, pain flew into her chest, and she hissed against the discomfort. Oh God! I am the patient! Where am I? What happened?

Voices around her, “Doctor Matthews, Kris, you’re waking up. You’re in Landstuhl. Can you hear me?”

One voice among several was familiar. Who? Landstuhl? Struggling to focus she squeezed her eyes shut several times. There was pain. Pain everywhere, gnawing, creeping around the edges of awareness. “Kris, do you hear me? Look at me.”

She looked toward the voice, struggled to focus, and recognized her old roommate from medical school and her first lover. “Vicki?” Her voice was weak and scratchy. Her mouth and throat were dry. “Where?”

“You’re in Germany, Kris. At Landstuhl. You’ve been here for four days.”

“Ger…? Why?” Kris shook her head slightly. Afghanistan. Field hospital. “How?”

“Kris, you were hurt. You took a hit to your shoulder and chest. Do you understand me?”

“Chest…hurts,” she gasped. She tried to reach for her chest, but her arm didn’t move.

“Kris, listen to me. You had a chest injury. Your lung collapsed. There’s a wet seal in. You have a wound vac on too.”

She bit at her lip and stared at Vicki silently. Wet seal? Wound vac? Germany?

“Kris, do you understand?”

She shook her head and whispered, “No.”

“You have a wet seal in. You are going to need the chest tube and suction for a few more days. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Kris lay still, wincing against the pain, after a few seconds she nodded as she envisioned the two tubes leading into her chest and pulling out blood and fluids. “Why?”

“You were hit.” The bed was moved into a sitting position, and the nurse helped Kris sit up. Kris gasped with the pain. “Easy, let us support you.” The cool stethoscope pressed against her side and back and she did her best to breathe despite the pain in her chest. Deep and stabbing, it tugged painfully all the way to her shoulder.

“Your lungs sound good. How is your pain level? Do you need something for pain?”

Kris nodded and tried to swallow. “Yes. Thirsty.”

Vicki adjusted the medication running through the IV. “Here is a little more. Try to relax.” She turned slightly and spoke to the nurse. “Lieutenant, can you bring some water in?” She motioned for the nurse to go and waited until the door closed. “Your parents were notified. And Shelly. They haven’t been updated since yesterday. Do you want me to call them and update them personally or do you want the official call through the command?”

“You. They trust you.” Kris reached for her chest. “What happened?”

“Tell me what you remember.”

“I left the hospital, going to my quarters. Woke up here.” Kris saw concern pass over her friend’s face. “What hap…”

She quieted as the nurse returned with a water pitcher, and watched as the nurse poured water into a pink plastic tumbler and soaked sponge swabs in the water. The nurse placed one in her mouth so she could suck the water out. Cool, fresh water spread over her dry tongue and mouth. It vanished before hitting the back of her throat, and she reached for more. “Take it easy. Nice and slow. Let’s see how you do.” She accepted the swab sticks, sucking greedily for the few drops of water.

“What happened?” But even as Vicki started to talk Kris’ eyes grew heavy, and she drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Four

Bethesda, Maryland

SAM LOOKED AROUND THE unfamiliar surroundings. The room was sparsely decorated, with a two-drawer cabinet, a chair, a stool, and on the far wall hung a television. The second hand on a face clock ticked audibly. Several monitors and an IV pole were nearby, standing guard. A soft, steady beep, kept time with the rhythm of her heart. There was a surprising amount of open floor space. A door stood open which led to a bathroom. Hospital. I was going home. Lifting her arm, she followed the tubing down from the largest bag of fluid, until it joined with an orange topped needle and disappeared into her hand.

The bed rails were pulled up, keeping her from rolling out of bed. She read the buttons and raised the head of the bed, pain grabbing at her ribs. Stopping the bed movement, she pulled the blanket down and peaked inside her gown. Deep purple and blue ran along her ribcage and around her side as far as she could see. “Damn, I’m glad that doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks. They didn’t send me home for that. Did they?” She let her gown drop back into place, “Something’s not right.”

She sat quietly trying to remember something, anything. Think Sam. What are you forgetting? Why does my foot keep itching? She reached down to scratch her leg and remembered. My God. My leg, part of my leg is gone. Her chest tightened and sweat formed on her forehead. Her muscles tensed until air burst from her lungs. Shaking uncontrollably, she jerked up to a sitting position, ignoring the grinding in her side, and tried to lower the rails. An alarm sounded, something tugged at her chest, and pulled at her skin.

The door burst open, and Sam looked up in surprise. “Stop. Major, get back in bed. Come on, lean back. Let me get you settled.” Warm hands gently pressed her back until she was lying down.

“I want to sit. Let me up.” She panted.

“Shh. It’s okay. You’ll be all right. Relax, slow down your breathing. Look at me, Major. Breathe in slow, through your nose. Hold it. Out through your mouth and nose. A little slower. Come on, with me.”

Her muscles slowly relaxed and the beeping grew slower. Sam swallowed hard before croaking out, “Where am I?”

“Bethesda, ma’am.” The nurse looked at the EKG monitor, pressed a button silencing the alarm. “Let me look, Major, I think you pulled off one of your leads.” Sam sat still as the nurse opened her gown. “You did. Two of them are loose, let me put new pads on.”

She ignored the tugging on her skin as the adhesive was peeled off the rest of the way, and two cold pads were placed along her ribs. “What day is it?”

“It’s Wednesday, a little after eight in the morning. You arrived late last night. How are you feeling?’

“Confused. My ribs hurt, and you’re a little blurry. My leg is gone. It’s not a dream. Why can’t I remember?”

“I’m sorry, Major. It’s not a dream. You’re in good hands here. Your confusion is due in part to your concussion. You have a lot going on right now, so feeling confused is normal. I’ll let the doctors know that you’re awake. Would you like some water? You’ve been given the okay for that.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

The nurse finished reconnecting the leads prior to writing a few notes on her chart. “Your vitals look good. I’ll go speak with your medical team and get some water for you. Are you hungry?”


“Someone will be back in with the water soon. Here’s your call bell, and the TV remote. The phone is here if you want to call your family.” She pulled the phone over, and placed it on a stand, moving it next to the bed. “Ring the bell if you need anything.”


Landstuhl, Germany

“Kris, how are you feeling?”

“Vicki? What are you doing here?”

“I arrived a few months back. You don’t remember talking to me yesterday?”

“I thought maybe I dreamed it. Yesterday is pretty blurry.”

“You are in Landstuhl. Do you understand what happened to you? How you were hurt?”

“Landstuhl? How long have I been here?”

“This is day five.”

“Five? What happened? Why am I here?”

“Do you remember anything?”

Kris was silent for several moments and then spoke hesitantly. “I remember finishing up in the operating room.” She closed her eyes thinking back. “We did a turnover, I grabbed my gear and went back to my quarters to get some sleep.”

“Hmm. Okay. What about your injuries? Do you understand what happened?”

Kris shook her head. “I don’t.” She was quiet for several seconds, as she stared intently at the wall, “You said I was hit, and my arm was hurt. And that my lung collapsed. I don’t understand how that could happen. Everything is a little confusing.”

“That would be the pain medications. How is your pain level today?”

“If I don’t move it’s a seven. Vicki, what’s going on?”

“You were hit by shrapnel in your left shoulder and chest. You have severe chest trauma. You had a collapsed lung. The shoulder damage was surprisingly mostly superficial. You had some penetration there, but overall the nerves and muscles did well. No bone injury either.”

“You’re not telling me something.”

Vicki reached over and took her right hand. Kris looked down at their joined hands. “You have a wound vac on now, trying to help pull the skin edges closer, and the chest seal, drawing out fluid from the chest wound and your lung.”

“A wound vac?” Kris reached up and felt the plastic bandage across her chest, touched the tubing, and followed it with her hand until it disappeared over the edge of the bed. Tracing the tubing back up, she ran her hands over the plastic again and laid her hand flat on it. “Oh, my God” She jerked in bed trying to sit up but was easily pushed back down by Vicki. “My breast, it’s gone! It’s gone?”

“Shh. Kris, calm down. You had a blast injury. One piece of metal made it all the way into your lung and collapsed it. That was removed and your lung re-inflated quickly. But the rest, you had fifteen shards, removed from the chest muscles and your breast tissue. You’ve had four surgeries here, and one at the field hospital. It’s been almost a week since you were hurt. They were able to repair the major blood vessels under your arm, that’s why you’re in the sling. To let that rest and heal. You almost bled out. Kris, your corpsman, saved your life. He kept you going until the medevac returned.”

“What? Why was I in a medevac? I work at the hospital. Were we attacked? Was there another suicide bomber?”

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