Eater

Part 7

Chain Border

Bring me others.

No, thought Kramer. "We've got to get to the bird," he told Wittenberg.

"That was Fisektsis," Wittenberg shot back. "He's still alive."

"Yeah, sure," Harbin said. "Wishful thinking, Wittenberg."

"We shouldn't give up on Fisektsis," Williams countered.

Wittenberg pulled off his camera and handed it to Kramer. "You, Harbin and Williams wait with the chopper,"

Harbin's tone softened. "We shouldn't split up."

"I'll go with you," Williams offered.

"No," Wittenberg answered. He kept his cold blue eyes on Kramer as he calmly told the others, "That's an order."

Yes.

Kramer strapped the camera around his neck. "Okay," he said. "Okay. Stay chilly."

Wittenberg nodded resignedly.

Yes. Yes.

Fuck you, thought Kramer.

You are next.

Wittenberg disappeared into the bush.

Kramer wiped his sweaty palm on his thigh, replaced his hand on the pistol grip of his M-16 and turned to Harbin and Williams. "Let's move out."

They emerged slowly and cautiously, and approached the aircraft.

The fuselage near the door had been washed with blood. Kramer saw thin, deeply embedded grooves in the fuselage, scattered about the reddish brown stain. The soil was caked with dried gore.

"Fuck me!"

Kramer turned to see Harbin peering into the cockpit. Kramer looked at the console. The umbilicus indicator light was off.

"Lord save us," Williams breathed.

Kramer and Harbin saw him staring at something on the ground between them and the tree line beyond, and the three approached the spot. They found scraps of ripped fabric and flesh in a circle of bloodstained grass.

Williams looked at Harbin. "Most discouraging."

"We'll wait inside the. . . ." Kramer began. He stopped and stared into space, listening.

The others had also heard the gunshots. "That's close," Harbin said.

A shrill, agonized scream followed - Wittenberg, Kramer thought - and then more gunshots, and more screams.

The three bolted toward the western tree line and were halfway there when Wittenberg stumbled out of the bush and into the clearing. He limped slowly, painfully. Blood from his right thigh soaked the material of his pants. His right arm swung impotently by his side, blood seeping from where it had been torn off halfway to the elbow. He staggered several steps and then fell to his knees.

By the time the others reached him, Harbin had his M-16 slung and his belt off. He knelt beside Wittenberg and started to tightly bind his right biceps with the belt. Wittenberg's eyes rolled. His face was ashen. Harbin felt his forehead. It was cold and damp. He turned to Kramer. "He's going into shock. We're losing him fast."

"Got Fisektsis," Wittenberg gasped. "Came for me. . . ."

"Let's get him into the chopper," Harbin said, scanning the trees. "Nomads can't be far behind."

"There're no fucking nomads," Kramer said calmly.

Wittenberg looked at Kramer through half-closed eyelids. "Before, you said you heard a voice."

"Yeah, I heard it. I talked to it, and it answered. In my mind. I thought it was the DTs."

"What?" Harbin asked.

"Fucking monster," Wittenberg breathed.

"The triffid farmers," Williams said.

"No," Kramer responded coldly. "Not the farmers. Something else."

They heard rustling, yards away, in the woods. "Help Harbin with Wittenberg," Kramer told Williams.

Harbin hooked his arms beneath Wittenberg's armpits, Williams grabbed his ankles, and the four started toward the Huey.

"Well," Harbin turned to Kramer, nodding toward the Huey, "think you can learn to fly a chopper in thirty seconds or less?"'

"Negative," Kramer answered. "The rescue team should be here any minute, anyway," he added. "We'll be okay."

Harbin shook his head. "Don't count on it, man. The umbilicus was disengaged. Ask yourself why."

"There must've been an accident."

"Maybe. Or maybe security's not as tight as Wittenberg says it is. A Russian mole in Lakehurst could've sabotaged the mission." Harbin shifted Wittenberg's weight in his arms. "Or maybe we're meant to die here. Maybe History's not letting itself be changed. Remember Hitchcock and Kripps?"

Kramer did not want to. If what his friend supposed were true, it meant that he would never get home, never get the chance to tell Peg and Vinnie how sorry he was. Robert Kramer would be ancient dust and bones in the Siberian soil while Vinnie grew up hating him. "Bullshit," he argued. "I'm telling you, we're going to be okay."

They were halfway back to the Huey when the rustling sounds in the bush grew more pronounced. They stopped. Harbin and Williams set Wittenberg down and drew their weapons.

Kramer eyed the tree line.

Your turn.

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