Manchek kept hearing that brief communication in his mind over and over Each

Manchek kept hearing that brief communication in his

This preview shows page 182 - 184 out of 268 pages.

Manchek kept hearing that brief communication, in his mind, over and over. Each time, it sounded more bizarre and terrifying. He looked out the window at the cliffs. The sun was setting now, and only the tops of the cliffs were lighted by fading reddish sunlight; the valleys lay in darkness. He looked ahead at the other limousine, raising a small dust cloud as it carried the rest of the team to the crash site. "I used to love westerns," somebody said. "They were all shot out here. Beautiful country." Manchek frowned. It was astonishing to him how people could spend so much time on irrelevancies. Or perhaps it was just denial, the unwillingness to face reality. The reality was cold enough: the Phantom had strayed into Area WF, going quite deep for a matter of six minutes before the pilot realized the error and pulled north again. However, once in WF, the plane had begun to lose stability. And it had finally crashed. He said, "Has Wildfire been informed?" A member of the group, a psychiatrist with a crew cut-- all post teams had at least one psychiatrist-- said, "You mean the germ people?" "Yes." "They've been told," somebody else said. "It went out on the scrambler an hour ago."
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Then, thought Manchek, there would certainly be a reaction from Wildfire. They could not afford to ignore this. Unless they weren't reading their cables. It had never occurred to him before, but perhaps it was possible-- they weren't reading the cables. They were so absorbed in their work, they just weren't bothering. "There's the wreck," somebody said. "Up ahead." *** Each time Manchek saw a wreck, he was astonished. Somehow, one never got used to the idea of the sprawl, the mess, the destructive force of a large metal object striking the earth at thousands of miles an hour. He always expected a neat, tight little clump of metal, but it was never that way. The wreckage of the Phantom was scattered over two square miles of desert. Standing next to the charred remnants of the left wing, he could barely see the others, on the horizon, near the right wing. Everywhere he looked, there were bits of twisted metal, blackened, paint peeling. He saw one with a small portion of a sign still intact, the stenciled letters clear: DO NOT. The rest was gone. It was impossible to make anything of the remnants. The fuselage, the cockpit, the canopy were all shattered into a million fragments, and the fires had disfigured everything. As the sun faded, he found himself standing near the remains of the tail section, where the metal still radiated heat from the smoldering fire. Half-buried in the sand he saw a bit of bone; he picked it up and realized with horror that it was human. Long, and broken, and charred at one end, it had obviously come from an arm or a leg. But it was oddly clean-- there was no flesh remaining, only smooth bone.
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