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Manchek kept hearing that brief communication, in hismind, over and over. Each time, it sounded more bizarre andterrifying.He looked out the window at the cliffs. The sun wassetting now, and only the tops of the cliffs were lighted byfading reddish sunlight; the valleys lay in darkness. Helooked ahead at the other limousine, raising a small dustcloud as it carried the rest of the team to the crash site."I used to love westerns," somebody said. "They were allshot out here. Beautiful country."Manchek frowned. It was astonishing to him how peoplecould spend so much time on irrelevancies. Or perhaps it wasjust denial, the unwillingness to face reality.The reality was cold enough: the Phantom had strayedinto Area WF, going quite deep for a matter of six minutesbefore 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, "Youmean the germ people?""Yes.""They've been told," somebody else said. "It went out onthe scrambler an hour ago."
Then, thought Manchek, there would certainly be areaction from Wildfire. They could not afford to ignore this.Unless they weren't reading their cables. It had neveroccurred to him before, but perhaps it was possible-- theyweren't reading the cables. They were so absorbed in theirwork, 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, themess, the destructive force of a large metal object strikingthe earth at thousands of miles an hour. He always expected aneat, tight little clump of metal, but it was never that way.The wreckage of the Phantom was scattered over twosquare miles of desert. Standing next to the charred remnantsof the left wing, he could barely see the others, on thehorizon, near the right wing. Everywhere he looked, therewere bits of twisted metal, blackened, paint peeling. He sawone with a small portion of a sign still intact, thestenciled letters clear: DO NOT. The rest was gone.It was impossible to make anything of the remnants. Thefuselage, the cockpit, the canopy were all shattered into amillion fragments, and the fires had disfigured everything.As the sun faded, he found himself standing near theremains of the tail section, where the metal still radiatedheat from the smoldering fire. Half-buried in the sand he sawa bit of bone; he picked it up and realized with horror thatit was human. Long, and broken, and charred at one end, ithad obviously come from an arm or a leg. But it was oddlyclean-- there was no flesh remaining, only smooth bone.