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THE GUERRILLA ENCAMPMENT WAS SET UP IN THE REMAINS OF AN old village. The mud and cinderblock huts, the remains of a bombed-out church—even a pottery shop, wares still baking in the summer heat—all seemed to huddle, forlorn, dying, bullet-torn things.
Tony Wah Chong Leonetti wiped at the sweat on his forehead as he parked the ancient jeep beneath a sagging thatched overhang. "Looks the same . . . Why do they always look the same?" he mumbled.
"Why do what always look the same?" Mike Donovan shifted his camera to his shoulder and panned it quickly around the camp, his alert green eyes searching for the best angles, the most telling shots.
"Guerrilla hideouts. No matter what country—Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam—they all manage to look the same. Guess people on the run are basically alike, never mind their nationality." He rummaged in the backseat, dragged out a bag containing his sound equipment. Mumbling softly to himself, he tested the mike, listened to the playback in his earphones, finally nodding in satisfaction. Donovan, meanwhile, had climbed out of the jeep to meet a dark-haired woman who was approaching, her AK-47 not quite pointing at them.
Her voice was hard, her eyes reddened with dust and exhaustion. "You are Donovan?" she asked in broken English. "Juan told us you would be coming."
"Carlos is not here right now. You must wait."
Donovan looked doubtfully at the dusty camp. "How long?"
"I do not know. Wait." Purposefully she turned on her heel and left.
Donovan looked back at Tony. "Hope he’s on his way. I’m starved, and the prospects for chow don’t look very promising, do they?"
Tony sighed. "I suppose we could always grab one of those chickens over there."
Donovan grinned, looking suddenly much younger. "Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?"
"No—" Leonetti turned. "Did I hear an engine?"
"You sure did." Donovan began checking the settings on his camera.
A truck, heavily laden with armed guerrillas, trundled bumpily into camp. Groans from the wounded mixed with shouts of greeting broke the hot silence as other fighters emerged from the broken buildings and ran toward the vehicle. Donovan and Leonetti followed, stepping aside as men and women carrying stretchers passed them.
"Looks like they weren’t so lucky, wherever they’ve been," Tony observed, listening to the babble of rapid Spanish and the moans of the injured. Some of the forms handed down from the truck didn’t stir.
Donovan trained his camera on a bloody face, feeling, not for the first time, like a ghoul—living off the suffering and death of others—then thought, as he always did, that suffering and death served no useful purpose at all if nobody knew of them. His job was to see that people knew what was happening.
One man was shouting orders above the din. Tony glanced over. "Carlos?"
Mike Donovan nodded. "Must be." Raising his voice, he called, "Excuse me, are you Carlos? Juan said you would talk to us about the attack last night. How bad was it? How about your losses?"
The man swung down from the truck. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, and he might have been handsome if not for the sweat and blood streaking his face. He brushed irritably at a wound by his left eye, causing fresh red to well and drip. At Donovan’s hail, he turned, glared at them. "Of course we suffered losses, man. You don’t go up against a force like theirs without expecting losses!" Angrily he turned, striding past the truck. The sleepy camp was now a welter of activity, as men and women struggled to load gear into trucks and jeeps.
Leonetti moved his microphone in a circle, picking up the sounds of the camp—the running feet, the squawk of frightened chickens, the heavy thumps as the fighters loaded the trucks. He glanced over at Donovan. "Looks like they’re moving out, Mike. Think we should take the hint?"
Donovan, intent on a shot, nodded abstractedly, then focused on the leader. He was shouting:
"¡Saquen primero los camiones de municiones!"
Tony shook his head. "What’d he say?"
Donovan started after Carlos. " ‘Get the ammunition trucks out first.’"
"Oh, shit," Tony mumbled. "They must be expecting trouble."
Donovan was already out of earshot. Catching up to the guerrilla commander, he shouted, "How many losses?"
The man’s mouth twisted into an ugly line. "Seven men and women killed. A dozen wounded." Looking back at his fighters, he shouted, "Jesus—¡muebe el jeep! ¡Lo ¡está tapando todo!"
Donovan looked over at the offending vehicle to make sure Carlos wasn’t referring to the old wreck he and Tony had finagled, was reassured that it was another. He took a close shot of the man’s face as he directed the evacuation. "You’re wounded too."
As if realizing for the first time that he was on camera, that what he said would be relayed to millions of television viewers, Carlos looked directly into the lens, his words biting: "These wounds are nothing compared to the wounds they’ve inflicted on my country." One of the medics approached, tried to dab at his eye, but Carlos brushed him aside to continue. "But we’re gonna fight them. Till we win, man. You got that? Fight till El Salvador is free! Nothin’s going to stop us! You got that?"
"Yeah," Donovan said, "I got that."
A sudden shriek tore the air behind them. Donovan and the guerrilla leader whirled to see an army helicopter roaring toward them, nearly skimming the tops of the trees surrounding the camp. Machine guns spattered bullets like deadly raindrops as the gunship began a strafing run straight down the dusty middle of the camp. Several people went down with the first blasts, and their screams battled the thunderous roar of the chopper, the staccato bursts of the guns.
Without realizing how he’d gotten there, Donovan found himself belly-down behind a broken wall, camera still perched on his shoulder. He began following the path of the attack chopper, panning the camera carefully as the helicopter turned and came back for another run. He was dimly aware of a blur beside him—a blur that resolved itself into Tony, sweating and covered with dust, but still gamely clutching his sound gear.
He could barely hear his partner’s voice over the chaos. "This don’t look so good, Mike."
Donovan couldn’t believe the shot he was getting of the gunship, guns blazing, as it roared back through the village. His voice grated from the dust he’d swallowed, but his tone was jubilant. "You kidding, man? It’s great!"
Across the camp a truck exploded as the gas tank was hit—and at almost the same moment the woman who had first spoken to them doubled up with a shriek. Several people ran to help her; others began firing back at the enemy. Bullets kicked up dirt only feet away, and Tony Leonetti grabbed Donovan’s arm. "Come on—the hell with the great shots!"
They ran, weaving and dodging, hampered by their gear. Yet it was so much a part of them that neither newsman thought of abandoning the equipment. They dodged behind another wall, closer to a building, huddled against a new assault from the chopper.
Tony flinched as a bullet whanged past him. "Donovan—you’re gonna get me killed this time, I swear to God!"
Donovan turned and grinned, his teeth flashing in his dirty face. "Hell, Tony, you’re going to get another Emmy!"
"I’m gonna get a bullet in my earphone!" Leonetti shouted back, grimly keeping his sound equipment operating. "Tell my wife my last thoughts were of—"
"Look!" Donovan’s shout cut through Tony’s words. "Look at him!"
Carlos had run to a downed comrade just as the helicopter turned, bearing down on him. Bullets began peppering the ground before them. The guerrilla leader stood, his .45 automatic pistol in both hands, coolly sighting along the barrel at the approaching chopper. As it came within range, swooping even lower for the kill, he squeezed off several rounds, aiming for the pi lot, clearly visible behind the glass bubble of the cockpit.
Just as it seemed that the next burst of machine-gun fire would destroy the leader, the gunship pilot sagged limply in his seat. The helicopter wavered, dipped, then slipped over the treetops, losing altitude with every second. The ground shook with the force of the explosion, and Donovan could feel a puff of warm air against his face, even at this distance. "Unbelievable! I don’t believe it! Did you see that?"
Tony nodded vigorously, grabbing his arm. "What’s really unbelievable is that we’re still alive, chum! Come on!"
Donovan was still shooting as his companion dragged him into their beat-up vehicle, which was still, amazingly, intact. Leonetti gunned the motor, hearing the beating thunder of another helicopter closing on the camp, now blazing with gunfire and flames from exploded vehicles. Letting out the clutch with a jerk, he sent the jeep fishtailing through the camp, heading back toward the road they’d traveled earlier that morning. He glanced over at the cameraman, then grinned half in admiration, half in exasperation. Donovan was training his camera back the way they’d come, leaning backward to catch a shot of the helicopter as it followed them.
"I wish we had a Tyler mount!" he shouted as the camera bounced on his shoulder.
Tony Leonetti sighed. "I wish we had a tank." But Donovan, still shooting, didn’t hear him. The jeep careened along the road, crossed a creek, raising a spray of water. Suddenly the vehicle lurched sickeningly as a rocket exploded near them, sluicing water over the jeep and its occupants.
Donovan’s voice reached Tony dimly, though the soundman knew his friend must be shouting at the top of his lungs. "Hang in there, Tony! This isn’t any worse than Cambodia!"
The Asian man laughed, shaking his head. "At least if you bought it there, I could’a passed for one of them! Where the hell did that chopper go?"
The question was answered as they topped a small rise in the road. The chopper was hanging a few feet above the ground, waiting for them.
Tony turned the wheel quickly, but not before the copter fired a burst. The jeep swerved again as Leonetti gasped, grabbing at his arm. Donovan quickly reached for the wheel, steadying the careening vehicle as the chopper lifted off overhead. Glancing quickly at his partner’s arm, the cameraman saw a new blotch of scarlet staining Tony’s hibiscus-flowered shirt. "You okay?" he shouted, as his partner took over the driving again.
"You kidding?" The wind whipped Tony’s black hair back from his sweatband. "I’m loving every minute of this!"
Suddenly another rocket went off directly in their path. The jeep, already overbalanced, slipped sideways, overturning in the ditch beside the road. Overhead they could hear the thunder of the chopper as it homed in on them.
Donovan was thrown atop his partner, out of the overturned jeep, but the soft dirt of the roadside kept them from being more than shaken up. All of the cameraman’s instincts reacted to the beat-beat of the helicopter blades. They had to reach the shelter of the trees!
Donovan scrambled up, camera still clutched firmly. Turning, he pulled the soundman to his feet, noting with part of his mind that the gas line had ruptured and that flames were licking along the splattered fuel.
He was alarmed by Tony’s pallor beneath his tan. "Can you run?"
Tony turned to see the fire. "I have a choice?"
"I’m going to draw their fire. You haul ass over to those trees. They’ll give you a little protection." He cast a quick glance upward at the helicopter, which had turned and was heading back for them. He threw himself forward. "Go, Tony!"
"No, Mike! We go together—"
Donovan was already running. "Get your can in gear! Go!" Behind him he could hear Tony heading for the trees.
Donovan zigged across the mud flat, hearing the bullets beginning to spang almost on his heels. Even as he increased his speed, he realized that there was nothing ahead of him except another bend of the creek—broad, shallow, but nearly impossible to run in. Rusting in the middle of it was the hulk of a once-orange pickup, Swiss-cheesed with hundreds of bullet holes.
Hide in the shelter of that? he wondered, thinking that the truck would provide little cover from the bullets. But there was no place else to run.
He turned, cradling the camera, only to see the chopper settle down to within a few feet of the water as delicately as a broody hen arranging herself on her nest. Shit, he thought, this is it. In sheer defiance—with a wild thought that perhaps the chopper didn’t realize he was a newsman—Donovan raised the camera and began shooting directly at the faces of the two men in the helicopter. His eye narrowed on the viewfinder of the camera as the chopper moved even closer and Donovan peered sharply at the man sitting next to the pilot.
It can’t be! Ham Tyler—what the hell is he doing here? The former CIA agent was now part of a highly secret branch of covert U.S. security operations. He had dogged Donovan’s heels before—in Laos. Donovan had heard rumors that the right-wing "patriot" (his term, not Donovan’s) was responsible for some of the more notorious mop-ups of guerrilla forces here in El Salvador, but hadn’t been able to verify them.
But even as Mike Donovan recognized the man in the copilot’s seat, the helicopter abruptly lifted, turned, and went zipping away. Huh? Now why the hell—
Donovan turned to see if by some miracle a tank had rolled up behind him (in total silence?! Don’t be foolish, Mike . . . ) and nearly dropped his precious camera. Even as he heard the low, pulsing hum, his startled eyes took in the huge shape drifting toward him over the distant mountains, dwarfing even their vastness.
Donovan felt his jaw sag; his mind screamed that he must’ve bought it—he couldn’t still be alive and seeing this. Automatically his finger tightened on the shooting button, and he heard the camera record the incredible vision.
An oblate spheroid, just as he’d heard it described in those UFO stories, but it was so big! His fuddled mind tried to absorb the enormity of the ship, but as it loomed closer and closer, his sense of proportion simply gave out. A mile in diameter? More. Two miles? More—Big—
Finally it stopped, hanging in mid air like an impossible dream. Donovan heard Tony shouting behind him, and turned to wave reassuringly at the soundman. As he slogged through the water toward his friend, one thought ran through Donovan’s head like a broken record: How many people in history have been saved from having their asses shot off by a flying saucer?
THE WHITE MOUSE SAT UP ON HIS HIND LEGS, WHISKERS TWITCHing, as he heard the cage door rattle. Food time? But his stomach told him no, it was not food time. Instead he felt a hand grasp him gently, lift him carefully, then turn him over. He recognized the scent, the voice that spoke, and did not struggle. "Come on, Algernon. Show Doctor Metz your tummy." "Remarkable!" Doctor Rudolph Metz leaned over to scrutinize the mouse’s furry belly, then picked up a magnifying glass to inspect it more closely. "The lesion’s nearly healed!"
The blonde young woman in the lab coat smiled, pleased by Metz’s reaction. "Yes. In a few more days it should be completely normal." She stroked the mouse’s head with one finger, then gently put him back in the cage.
Doctor Metz raised bushy salt-and-pepper brows, regarding her as intently as he had the mouse. "You know how long my research staff has been searching for that formula, Juliet?"
Juliet Parrish smiled, but shook her head. "It wasn’t all my doing. Ruth helped a lot."
Ruth Barnes looked up from a microscope across the lab. "I heard that, and don’t you believe it, Rudolph. She did it all."
"Well, I was very lucky." The fourth-year medical student carefully examined the latch on the mouse cage, not meeting the older man’s eyes.
Metz nodded. "Luck happens in science, but usually only when accompanied by hard work and inspiration. The truth here, Juliet, is that you are very, very gifted. Research comes naturally to you."
Coming from Doctor Metz, this was an extraordinary compliment, and Juliet couldn’t stop the flush of plea sure that warmed her face. Glancing over at Ruth, she saw the older woman give her a "thumbs up" sign of approval.
Metz watched the mouse as he frisked around his cage. "And furthermore, I warn you that Ruth and I are going to try and steal you from the med school. If you could devote your full time to biochemistry, you might—"
The laboratory door slammed back against the wall with a bang, making them all jump. Silhouetted in the doorway was a breathless young black man. "Have you heard about them?"
"Heard about what, Ben?" Doctor Metz was puzzled.
Doctor Benjamin Taylor flipped on the television set that sat high on a shelf in the lab. The small portable’s face filled with Dan Rather’s well-known countenance—at this moment, a very grave countenance:
Excerpted from V: The Original Miniseries by Kenneth Johnson and A. C. Crispin.
Copyright 2008 by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Published in November 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.