(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
perched on the edge of an eroded cliff, waiting.
It had been waiting a long time, yet knew no boredom, no
tiredness. It did not feel the blistering heat of the desert day, or the cold
of the night. It knew none of its own kind, and had no need to know any of its
own kind. It did not know fear, or anger, hunger or sleep – could not
know fear, or anger, hunger, or sleep.
It did not have fear, for it had never encountered anything
which might hurt it, and could not conceive of any such thing. It did not
sleep, for it did not need sleep. It did not feel anger, for anger was an
inefficient emotion, clouding judgement and increasing the chances of mistakes.
It did not feel hunger, for it did not need food. It fed on sunlight, warming
itself in the rays of the desert sun, storing the energy for the cold bitter night.
It just had one vast, consuming desire. All it wanted, all
it lived for, was the chance to hunt.
It had hunted many times already, but its desire was never
sated, could never be sated. It killed efficiently, almost dispassionately, but
only to look for something to hunt down and kill, again.
At one time, it had had friends, and it had restrained
itself, because it had had no wish to hurt its friends. But that time was long
gone. One day, it had suddenly realised that its friends would no longer be
coming. And that realisation had set it free.
Now, anything that it flew over was its Domain, and anything
which moved in its Domain was prey.
Prey had not come in days, but it was patient. Sooner or
later, it knew, prey would come.
Sitting on its perch, it waited, tilting its wings to catch
sun had just dipped behind the hills to the west when Johnson came upon the
Johnson had been walking since noon, when the helicopter had
dropped him where the recovery vehicle was supposed to have been waiting. The
recovery vehicle hadn’t been waiting; nor could it be contacted over the radio,
but the helicopter had its own urgent schedule, so it had done its job, dropped
him and flown away.
Johnson had located the recovery vehicle soon enough, but
that hadn’t done him any good; sometime during the day, the thing had evidently
hit a large landmine and spread its innards over the dusty plain. He’d checked
to see if there was anything usable left, found none, and moved on out. After
all, he shouldn’t really need the vehicle for this job.
"There’s nobody on earth who knows more about this programme
than you," the general had said that morning, sweating slightly even in the
air-conditioned office. "If you can’t do it, nobody can."
Johnson had shrugged. "I don’t know if that’s an honour –
sir." He wasn’t a soldier and the general wasn’t his commander, and the war was
over, as they were both aware. He didn’t have to obey the military’s
Only he did, and they had both been aware of that,
Still, he thought, it shouldn’t be a particularly difficult
mission. Even without the recovery vehicle, he had all he needed in his
backpack, and in his head. And maybe he was better off without the heavy and
clumsy vehicle. It would have taken him along faster, but it would also have
made an excellent target.
He had been planning out his course of action all the
afternoon, trudging across the plain while the wind had whipped the sand across
the land in beige clouds. The heat had been intense, but he’d grown used to it
during these last months in this accursed country. He was thirsty, but had
learned to ration his water. And once night fell, the temperature would become
much more bearable, and he could have a short rest before getting to work. He’d
glanced up at the sky, calculated briefly, and decided that if he hurried, he’d
be able to get over the ridge of rock up ahead before nightfall. Bending
forward, he’d picked up the pace.
It was just beyond the ridge, already wrapped in shadow,
that he’d found the crawler.
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