Eater

Part 2

By Reinaldo E. Grandal

Satan rules here.

Kramer wondered why a thought like that would occur to him and then suddenly remembered the conversation he had stumbled into when Williams had first introduced him to Fisektsis in the staff cafeteria in Langley.

Williams, who was normally dry and dispassionate, was also a devout Presbyterian. On that particular day he had been proselytizing across the table to Fisektsis, who was a staunch atheist, with calm, methodical, and yet uncharacteristic zeal.

"Fisektsis," Williams had begun to explain as Kramer had taken a seat, "is inflexible in his opinion that God does not exist."

Fisektsis had trim, sandy brown hair and a massive V-shape. Kramer had watched as the pilot had crossed his bulky arms across his chest, leaned back in his seat and peered down his nose at Williams with apathetic brown eyes. "Right," he had responded simply.

"You think all this - you, me, the universe, existence - is an accident, yes?"

"Affirmative."

"And this building?"

"What do you mean?"

Kramer often thought that Williams had a greater sense of power than he was able to express, but he also knew that Williams was well aware of being at his best when dealing with logic and endless details. Kramer had now found himself admiring Williams' baiting tactics.

"I mean this building, CIA Headquarters. The foundation, the walls, the roof, the plumbing, the electrical system, the phones. Was all this an accident, did it all come together as a result of a freak explosion or a random chemical reaction?"

"Of course not."

"No, of course not. It was designed and created."

Fisektsis, knowing that he had been trapped, had remained apprehensively silent.

"So then," Williams had continued, almost shyly, "how do you explain the origin of something infinitely more complex in structure and function, such as the universe, or the DNA molecule?"

Williams had assailed a deeply hidden inner pride, and now Fisektsis had become antsy. "You think that there's no hope for anyone who doesn't believe in God, that we're all damned."

"We all sin, friend, even Christians. We can't help it. This is a natural world we live in. Satan rules the natural world. We all need saving."

Fisektsis had gotten up, relaxed a little, smiled and calmly said, "Maybe other people. Not me. I don't need any God or any forgiveness. I don't owe anyone any apologies for my life."

"We all need forgiveness," Williams had responded, humbly, patiently . . . .

We all need forgiveness, Kramer now thought.

"LZ coming up rikky-tik," Wittenberg yelled back. "Look sharp!"

Fisektsis shook his head as he brought the aircraft closer to the trees. "Some landing zone your people picked, Wittenberg. I don't see any . . . wait a minute. Yeah. Down there, by the river."

"Right," Wittenberg said, peering through the windscreen.

The helicopter banked gently in descent. Kramer craned his neck, gazing through the hatch window to see the open patch of riverbank where Fisektsis had chosen to land the Huey. This part of the Nadym was slow, winding and swollen from the spring thaw. He looked north, past the forest zone, at the tundra that in twelve hundred years would be known as Yamal-Nenets.

As Fisektsis brought the Huey down gracefully and cut the engines, Wittenberg pocketed his map and gripped the camera hanging from his neck. "Got the coordinates?" he asked the pilot.

"Roger," Fisektsis nodded.

Wittenberg glanced momentarily, almost reverently, at an unwavering amber light on the Huey's console. "Maintain radio silence, understood?" He pointed at the light. "And keep an eye on the umbilicus indicator," he added. "That's our lifeline back home."

"I know that, sir."

"We'll confirm the site, and meet you back here. Should be no problem, God willing."

"No such person," Fisektsis retorted quietly.

As Kramer listened to the dialogue, he turned to see Williams wincing faintly.

"Regardless, wiseass, if there is, I'll radio for evac. Got it?"

"Affirmative."

Wittenberg turned back to the agents behind him. "Let's go," he snapped.

Kramer let Wittenberg and the others go before him, approached Fisektsis and placed his hand on the pilot's right shoulder. "You going to be okay?"

Fisektsis gave him the "thumbs-up." "Don't worry about me. I like being on my own."

"Okay," Kramer acknowledged. He hopped out of the transport, crouching under the slowing rotors.

Once past the breeze and dust, Kramer felt the cool, damp morning air envelope him. He hiked up his belt and felt a slight stab of pain between his lower right rib and potbelly. He shivered. The Historical Staff had told them that the summer of 761 A.D. in western Siberia had been short and hot, and so he had simply donned camos, as had the others, and had not worn a field jacket. Now he wished that he had.

He noticed as Williams scanned the area around them. Williams was tall, thin and wiry, with a scrawny face and big blue eyes. Honest eyes, Kramer thought, receptive eyes. Kramer watched Williams study the surroundings as he imagined an astronomer would correlate data from a star chart, collecting facts, digesting them.

"This way," Wittenberg told them, pointing northeast and leading them toward the conifers that lined the edge of the clearing.

"Now, girls," he said, "Harbin's pessimistic predisposition has engendered in me an overwhelming desire to reinforce your briefing, and so I shall." As they entered the tree line, Wittenberg continued his dissertation. "As you esteemed gentlemen know, Intelligence tells us that Soviet troops and engineers have been sent here to prepare a site for stockpiling some of the new SS-Eighteens they don't want us to know about. They picked a nice, easy spot on the northern edge of the taiga to build their nest, but our satellite cameras can't pin them through this front," he said, pointing up at the clouds.

"Now, the Russians don't know we have time travel; they don't even realize that we know they have it. Our security's watertight, which means that we cannot afford to be spotted; this much, at least, is clear-cut, Mr. Harbin. We're here to confirm, photograph what the satellite can't and get the fuck out, and that's all. We don't want them to know we were ever here, lest they beef up their security and stockpile weapons all over God's creation that we'll never find. And we definitely do not want to start a war. So, Mr. Harbin, have faith in the fact that there will be no engagement," he said, glaring at Harbin with piercing blue eyes, "because I say there won't be."

Harbin said nothing.

The group continued on silently, and Kramer listened to the leaves on the forest floor mash softly beneath his boots. Wittenberg kept them close to the river when he could, leading them around pines and spruces. The air grew warmer, and beads of sweat popped up on Kramer's pockmarked face. The light, faraway buzzing of insects and the chirps and squeals of birds and small mammals produced a pleasant background din. Kramer's thoughts wandered away from the march, away from eighth-century Siberia . . .

. . . and Bobby Kramer was having a hard time finding the apartment door key . . .