By Reinaldo E. Grandal
It sensed the vermin's presence. Hunger returned, and
The vermin's brain was damaged and weak. It could hear
the vermin's thoughts, and the vermin could hear its own. It would try to sway
the vermin, trick it. It had done so with other vermin before. It would do so
It needed no persuasion. Its makers had built into it a
single-minded and unbounded resolve. It would perform its duties and grant no
It would eat.
The UH-1 winked into existence above the taiga, shook and
quickly rose as displaced air caught the spinning rotors and momentarily lifted
the aircraft toward the gray cloud ceiling.
Robert Kramer felt ill. He looked about as he and the others
shook off the combined effects of the SupLuc jump and the sudden ascent.
Fisektsis stabilized the transport. "Everybody alright?"
There were several affirmative mumbles.
"All right," Wittenberg barked to Fisektsis from the
co-pilot's seat. He pointed to a circle on the exposed quarter of a folded map.
"We're here." He pointed to a second circle. "DDI says the Russians'll set up
here." He then pointed to a third circle, tapping it twice. "LZ," he said
"Five-by-five," Fisektsis responded. He shifted the joystick
and the Huey bolted toward the hidden dawn sun.
Kramer looked at Wittenberg, studied the back of his beefy
neck and blond crew cut. Wittenberg always barked. In fact, Kramer thought,
"Wittenberg" should be the name of a dog, like "Rottweiler." When Wittenberg
didn't bark, he growled, preferably in words of one syllable, unless he was
"engendered with an overwhelming desire" to hear himself talk.
Kramer shifted the weight of his M-16 in his arms, looked
out at the forest beneath them, closed his eyes and turned away. He wanted a
When he opened his eyes again, he turned to Harbin. His
friend was taut, powerful; even the muscles in Harbin's chiseled brown face
were well defined. Kramer looked from his short flattop crew cut to his
perpetually pessimistic eyes. The look in them told him: Rat fuck. From the
Kramer smiled weakly, and then his smile faded as he looked
back at the landscape below. He thought of Peg ("I'll leave, Bobby, I swear . .
. ") and Vinnie ("You're a no-good, lousy, stinkin' drunk!") and swallowed
hard. "Hell," he shouted to Harbin, "it's better than the District."
"At least back home you know what you're dealing with."
Harbin's voice was deeper and less nasal than Kramer's and resonated more
easily over the chop of the rotors. "There are rules to the game. No rules
here. Anything goes."
Kramer turned again to look at Wittenberg. Kramer had seven
years in the Agency, and had signed up for several missions over which
Wittenberg had happily accepted authority. Kramer liked him. Wittenberg was
old-school Agency, an idealist who was convinced that with the right
combination of prudence and action he and others in the Agency like him (who
very often thought that they were the only ones who knew what was good for
everyone else) could change the world. He was expedient, ambitious. Nothing
stopped him. If necessary, he worked alone. Some thought him cold, ruthless and
calculating, but Kramer knew that Wittenberg had a strong sense of purpose and
Kramer turned again to Harbin. "Fuck it," he said. "You
heard what Wittenberg told us. 'No engagement.' A piece of cake."
"You hope," Harbin retorted. His smirk was vague, elusive.
"Nothing's ever that clear-cut. If we're spotted, the Russians'll react, and so
will we." He nodded toward Wittenberg, certain he could not be heard. "I don't
have any more faith in him than I do in 'Ivan'," he said, "or anyone else, for
Kramer knew that he could not reason with Harbin when he was
in this state of mind. Harbin was at the mercy of his moods, psychically
absorbing any atmosphere around him without realizing it. Right now the
atmosphere was tense, and Harbin was feeling reactionary.
Williams' fair complexion grew slightly flushed with quiet
irritation as he studied the terrain. He brushed his red hair away from his
forehead. "Crude, very crude." His voice was thin, reedy. "Most
Harbin turned to Williams and smiled. "God's green earth.
The beauty and grandeur of nature."
Williams smirked, nodding in enthusiastic pessimism.
Kramer looked down again at the trees.
Even with its crippled brain, dissected and reshaped by
its masters to function as they had seen fit, it remembered how its makers had
thought that the planet was inhabited only by the vermin and other dumb beasts
and had happily begun to settle here, planting the first crops.
It alone had sensed their host, the master of this
It felt a kinship with its host. Both had been created by
other beings. Both were grotesque perversions of their makers' images, one by
design, the other by choice.
Though it had done so out of mindless hunger and a
relentless sense of duty, whereas its host had done so out of fearful pride and
ambition, both had rebelled.
And both were cunning.