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       Congo, p.7

           Michael Crichton
 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Chapter 5

  DAY 5: MORUTI

  June 17,1979

  1. Zaire

  FIVE HOURS OUT OF RAWAMAGENA, THE LANDSCAPE changed. Once past Goma, near the Zaire border, they found themselves flying over the easternmost fingers of the Congo rain forest. Elliot stared out the window, fascinated.

  Here and there in the pale morning light, a few fragile wisps of fog clung like cotton to the canopy of trees. And occasionally they passed the dark snaking curve of a muddy river, or the straight deep red gash of a road. But for the most part they looked down upon an unbroken expanse of dense forest, extending away into the distance as far as the eye could see.

  The view was boring, and simultaneously frightening - it was frightening to be confronted by what Stanley had called "the indifferent immensity of the natural world. " As one sat in the air-conditioned comfort of an airplane seat, it was impossible not to recognize that this vast, monotonous forest was a giant creation of nature, utterly dwarfing in scale the greatest cities or other creations of mankind. Each individual green puff of a tree had a trunk forty feet in diameter, soaring two hundred feet into the air; a space the size of a Gothic cathedral was concealed beneath its billowing foliage. And Elliot knew that the forest extended to the west for nearly two thousand miles, until it finally stopped at the Atlantic Ocean, on the west coast of Zaire.

  Elliot had been anticipating Amy's reaction to this first view of the jungle, her natural environment. She looked out the window with a fixed stare. She signed Here jungle with the same emotional neutrality that she named color cards, or objects spread out on her trailer floor in San Francisco. She was identifying the jungle, giving a name to what she saw, but he sensed no deeper recognition.

  Elliot said to her, "Amy like jungle?"

  Jungle here, she signed. Jungle is.

  He persisted, probing for the emotional context that he was sure must be there. Amy like jungle?

  Jungle here. Jungle is. Jungle place here Amy see jungle here.

  He tried another approach. "Amy live jungle here?"

  No. Expressionless.

  "Where Amy live?"

  Amy live Amy house. Referring to her trailer in San Francisco.

  Elliot watched her loosen her seat belt, cup her chin on her hand as she stared lazily out the window. She signed, Amy want cigarette.

  She had noticed Munro smoking.

  "Later, Amy," Elliot said.

  At seven in the morning, they flew over the shimmering metal roofs of the tin and tantalum mining complex at Mas?isi. Munro, Kahega, and the other porters went to the back of the plane, where they worked on the equipment, chattering excitedly in Swahili.

  Amy, seeing them go, signed, They worried.

  "Worried about what, Amy?"

  They worried men worry they worried problems. After a while, Elliot moved to the rear of the plane to find Munro's men half buried under great heaps of straw, stuffing equipment into oblong torpedo-shaped muslin containers, then packing straw around the supplies. Elliot pointed to the muslin torpedoes. "What are these?"

  "They're called Crosslin containers," Munro said. "Very reliable. "

  "I've never seen equipment packed this way," Elliot said, watching the men work. "They seem to be protecting our supplies very carefully. "

  "That's the idea," Munro said. And he moved up the aircraft to the cockpit, to confer with the pilot.

  Amy signed, Nosehair man lie Peter. "Nosehair man" was her term for Munro, but Elliot ignored her. He turned to Kahega. "How far to the airfield?"

  Kahega glanced up. "Airfield?"

  "At Mukenko. "

  Kahega paused, thinking it over. "Two hours," he said. And then he giggled. He said something in Swahili and all his brothers laughed, too.

  "What's funny?" Elliot said.

  "Oh, Doctor," Kahega said, slapping him on the back. "You are humorous by your nature. "

  The airplane banked, making a slow wide circle in the air. Kahega and his brothers peered out the windows, and Elliot joined them. He saw only unbroken jungle - and then a column of green jeeps, moving down a muddy track far below. It looked like a military formation. He heard the word "Muguru" repeated several times.

  "What's the matter?" Elliot said. "Is this Muguru?"

  Kahega shook his head vigorously. "No hell. This damn pilot, I warn Captain Munro, this damn pilot lost. "

  "Lost?" Elliot repeated. Even the word was chilling.

  Kahega laughed. "Captain Munro set him right, give him dickens. "

  The airplane now flew east, away from the jungle toward a wooded highland area, rolling hills and stands of deciduous trees. Kahega's brothers chattered excitedly, and laughed and slapped one another; they seemed to be having a fine time.

  Then Ross came back, moving quickly down the aisle, her face tense. She unpacked cardboard boxes, withdrawing several basketball-sized spheres of tightly wrapped metal foil.

  The foil reminded him of Christmas-tree tinsel. "What's that for?" Elliot asked.

  And then he heard the first explosion, and the Fokker shuddered in the air.

  Running to the window, he saw a straight thin white vapor trail terminating in a black smoke cloud off to their right. The Fokker was banking, tilting toward the jungle. As he watched, a second trail streaked up toward them from the green forest below.

  It was a missile, he realized. A guided missile.

  "Ross!" Munro shouted.

  "Ready!" Ross shouted back.

  There was a bursting red explosion, and his view through the windows was obscured by dense smoke, The airplane shook with the blast, but continued the turn. Elliot couldn't believe it: someone was shooting missiles at them.

  "Radar!" Munro shouted. "Not optical! Radar!"

  Ross gathered up the silver basketballs in her arms and moved back down the aisle. Kahega was opening the rear door, the wind whipping through the compartment.

  "What the hell's happening?" Elliot said.

  "Don't worry," Ross said over her shoulder. "We'll make up the time. " There was a loud whoosh, followed by a third explosion. With the airplane still banked steeply, Ross tore the wrappings from the basketballs and threw them out into the open sky.

  Engines roaring, the Fokker swung eight miles to the south and climbed to twelve thousand feet, then circled the forest in a holding pattern. With each revolution, Elliot could see the foil strips hanging in the air like a glinting metallic cloud. Two more rockets exploded within the cloud. Even from a distance, the noise and the shock waves disturbed Amy; she was rocking back and forth in her seat, grunting softly.

  "That's chaff," Ross explained, sitting in front of her portable computer console, pushing keys. "It confuses radar weapons systems. Those radar-guided SAMs read us as somewhere in the cloud. "

  Elliot heard her words slowly, as if in a dream. It made no sense to him. "But who's shooting at us?"

  "Probably the FZA," Munro said. "Forces Zairoises Ar?moises - the Zaire army. "

  "The Zaire army? Why?"

  "It's a mistake," Ross said, still punching buttons, not looking up.

  "A mistake? They're shooting surface-to-air missiles at us and it's a mistake? Don't you think you'd better call them and tell them it's a mistake?"

  "Can't," Ross said.

  "Why not?"

  "Because," Munro said, "we didn't want to file a flight plan in Rawamagena. That means we are technically in violation of Zaire airspace. "

  "Jesus Christ," Elliot said.

  Ross said nothing. She continued to work at the computer console, trying to get the static to resolve on the screen, pressing one key after another.

  "When I agreed to join this expedition," Elliot said, beginning to shout, "I didn't expect to get into a shooting war. "

  "Neither did I," Ross said. "It looks as if we both got more than we bargained for. "

  Before Elliot could reply, Munro put an arm around his shoulder and t
ook him aside. "It's going to be all right," he told Elliot. "They're outdated sixties SAMs and most of them are blowing up because the solid propellant's cracked with age. We're in no danger. Just look after Amy, she needs your help now. Let me work with Ross. "

  Ross was under intense pressure. With the airplane circling eight miles from the chaff cloud, she had to make a decision quickly. But she had just been dealt a devastating - and wholly unexpected - setback.

  The Euro-Japanese consortium had been ahead of them from the very start, by approximately eighteen hours and twenty minutes. On the ground in Nairobi, Munro had worked out a plan with Ross which would erase that difference and put the ERTS expedition on-site forty hours ahead of the consortium team. This plan - which for obvious reasons she had not told Elliot - called for them to parachute onto the barren southern slopes of Mount Mukenko.

  From Mukenko, Munro estimated it was thirty-six hours to the ruined city; Ross expected to jump at two o'clock that afternoon. Depending on cloud cover over Mukenko and the specific drop zone, they might reach the city as early as noon on June 19.

  The plan was extremely hazardous. They would be jumping untrained personnel into a wilderness area, more than three days' walk from the nearest large town. If anyone suffered a serious injury, the chances of survival were slight. There was also a question about the equipment: at altitudes of 8,000 - 10,000 feet on the volcanic slopes, air resistance was reduced, and the Crosslin packets might not provide enough protection.

  Initially Ross had rejected Munro's plan as too risky, but he convinced her it was feasible. He pointed out that the parafoils were equipped with automated altimeter-release devices; that the upper volcanic scree was as yielding as a sandy beach; that the Crosslin containers could be over-packed; and that he could carry Amy down himself.

  Ross had double-checked outcome probabilities from the Houston computer, and the results were unequivocal. The probability of a successful jump was . 7980, meaning there was one chance in five that someone would be badly hurt. However, given a successful jump, the probability of expedition success was . 9934, making it virtually certain they would beat the consortium to the site.

  No alternate plan scored so high. She had looked at the data and said, "I guess we jump. "

  "I think we do," Munro had said.

  The jump solved many problems, for the geopolitical updates were increasingly unfavorable. The Kigani were now in full rebellion; the pygmies were unstable; the Zaire army had sent armored units into the eastern border area to put down the Kigani - and African field armies were notoriously trigger-happy. By jumping onto Mukenko, they expected to bypass all these hazards.

  But that was before the Zaire army SAMs began exploding all around them. They were still eighty miles south of the intended drop zone, circling over Kigani territory, wasting time and fuel. It looked as if their daring plan, so carefully worked out and confirmed by computer, was suddenly irrelevant.

  And to add to her difficulties, she could not confer with Houston; the computer refused to link up by satellite. She spent fifteen minutes working with the portable unit, boosting power and switching scrambler codes, until she finally realized that her transmission was being electronically jammed.

  For the first time in her memory, Karen Ross wanted to cry.

  "Easy now," Munro said quietly, lifting her hand away from the keyboard. "One thing at a time, no point in getting upset. " Ross had been pressing the keys over and over again, unaware of what she was doing.

  Munro was conscious of the deteriorating situation with both Elliot and Ross. He had seen it happen on expeditions before, particularly when scientists and technical people were involved. Scientists worked all day in laboratories where conditions could be rigorously regulated and monitored. Sooner or later, scientists came to believe that the outside world was just as controllable as their laboratories. Even though they knew better, the shock of discovering that the natural world followed its own rules and was indifferent to them represented a harsh psychic blow. Munro could read the signs.

  "But this," Ross said, "is obviously a non-military aircraft, how can they do it?"

  Munro stared at her. In the Congolese civil war, civilian aircraft had been routinely shot down by all sides. "These things happen," he said.

  "And the jamming? Those bastards haven't got the capability to jam us. We're being jammed between our transmitter and our satellite transponder. To do that requires another satellite somewhere, and - " She broke off, frowning.

  "You didn't expect the consortium to Sit by idly," Munro said. "The question is, can you fix it? Have you got countermeasures?"

  "Sure, I've got countermeasures," Ross said. "I can encode a burst bounce, I can transmit optically on an IR carrier, I can link a ground-base cable - but there's nothing I can put together in the next few minutes, and we need information now. Our plan is shot. "

  "One thing at a time," Munro repeated quietly. He saw the tension in her features, and he knew she was not thinking clearly. He also knew he could not do her thinking for her; he had to get her calm again.

  In Munro's judgment, the ERTS expedition was already finished - they could not possibly beat the consortium to the Congo site. But he had no intention of quitting; he had led expeditions long enough to know that anything could happen, so he said, "We can still make up the lost time. "

  "Make it up? How?"

  Munro said the first thing that came to mind: "We'll take the Ragora north. Very fast river, no problem. "

  "The Ragora's too dangerous. "

  "We'll have to see," Munro said, although he knew that she was right. The Ragora was much too dangerous, particularly in June. Yet he kept his voice calm, soothing, reassuring. "Shall I tell the others?" he asked finally.

  "Yes," Ross said. In the distance, they heard another rocket explosion. "Let's get out of here. "

  Munro moved swiftly to the rear of the Fokker and said to Kahega, "Prepare the men. "

  "Yes, boss," Kahega said. A bottle of whiskey was passed around, and each of the men took a long swallow.

  Elliot said, "What the hell is this?"

  "The men are getting prepared," Munro said.

  "Prepared for what?" Elliot asked.

  At that moment, Ross came back, looking grim. "From here on, we'll continue on foot," she said.

  Elliot looked out the window. "Where's the airfield?"

  "There is no airfield," Ross said.

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean there is no airfield. "

  "Is the plane going to put down in the fields?" Elliot asked.

  "No," Ross said. "The plane is not going to put down at all. "

  "Then how do we get down?" Elliot asked, but even as he asked the question, his stomach sank, because he knew the answer.

  "Amy will be fine," Munro said cheerfully, cinching Elliot's straps tightly around his chest. "I gave her a shot of your Thoralen tranquilizer, and she'll be quite calm. No problem at all, I'll keep a good grip on her. "

  "Keep a good grip on her?" Elliot asked.

  "She's too small to fit a harness," Munro said. "I'll have to carry her down. " Amy snored loudly, and drooled on Munro's shoulder. He set Amy on the floor; she lay limply on her back, still snoring.

  "Now, then," Munro said. "Your parafoil opens automatically. You'll find you have lines in both hands, left and right. Pull left to go left, right to go right, and - "

  "What happens to her?" Elliot asked, pointing to Amy.

  "I'll take her. Pay attention now. If anything goes wrong, your reserve chute is here, on your chest. " He tapped a cloth bundle with a small black digital box, which read 4757. "That's your rate-of-fall altimeter. Automatically pops your reserve chute if you hit thirty-six hundred feet and are still falling faster than two feet per second. Nothing to worry about; whole thing's automatic. "

  Elliot was chilled, drenched in sweat. "What about landing?"

  "Nothing t
o it," Munro grinned. "You'll land automatically too. Stay loose and relax, take the shock in the legs. Equivalent of jumping off a ten-foot ledge. You've done it a thousand times. "

  Behind him Elliot saw the open door, bright sunlight glac?ing into the plane. The wind whipped and howled. Kahega's men jumped in quick succession, one after another. He glanced at Ross, who was ashen, her lower lip trembling as she gripped the doorway.

  "Karen, you're not going to go along with - "

  She jumped, disappearing into the sunlight. Munro said, "You're next. "

  "I've never jumped before," Elliot said.

  "That's the best way. You won't be frightened. "

  "But I am frightened. "

  "I can help you with that," Munro said, and he pushed Elliot out of the plane.

  Munro watched him fall away, his grin instantly gone. Munro had adopted his hearty demeanor only for Elliot's benefit. "If a man has to do something dangerous," he said later, 'it helps to be angry. It's for his own protection, really. Better he should hate someone than fall apart. I wanted Elliot to hate me all the way down. "

  Munro understood the risks, The minute they left the aircraft, they also left civilization, and all the unquestioned assumptions of civilization. They were jumping not only through the air, but through time, backward into a more primitive and dangerous way of life - the eternal realities of the Congo, which had existed for centuries before them. "Those were the facts of life," Munro said, "but I didn't see any reason to worry the others before they jumped. My job was to get those people into the Congo, not scare them to death. There was plenty of time for that. "

  Elliot fell, scared to death.

  His stomach jumped into his throat, and he tasted bile; the wind screamed around his ears and tugged at his hair; and the air was so cold - he was instantly chilled and shivering. Below him the Barawana Forest lay spread across rolling hills. He felt no appreciation for the beauty before him, and in fact he closed his eyes, for he was plummeting at hideous speed toward the ground. But with his eyes shut he was more aware of the screaming wind.

  Too much time had passed. Obviously the parafoil (whatever the hell that was) was not going to open. His life now depended on the parachute attached to his chest. He clutched it, a small tight bundle near his churning stomach. Then he pulled his hands away: he didn't want to interfere with its opening. He dimly remembered that people had died that way, when they interfered with the opening of their parachute.

  The screaming wind continued; his body rushed sickeningly downward. Nothing was happening. He felt the fierce wind tugging at his feet, whipping his trousers, flapping his

  shirt against his arms. Nothing was happening. It had been at least three minutes since he'd jumped from the plane. He dared not open his eyes, for fear of seeing the trees rushing up close as his body crashed downward toward them in his final seconds of conscious life.

  He was going to throw up.

  Bile dribbled from his mouth, but since he was falling head downward, the liquid ran up his chin to his neck and then inside his shirt. It was freezing cold. His shivering was becoming uncontrollable.

  He snapped upright with a bone-twisting jolt.

  For an instant he thought he had hit the ground, and then he realized that he was still descending through the air, but more slowly. He opened his eyes and stared at pale blue sky.

  He looked down, and was shocked to see that he was still thousands of feet from the earth. Obviously he had only been falling a few seconds from the airplane above him - Looking up, he could not see the plane. Directly overhead was a giant rectangular shape, with brilliant red, white, and blue stripes: the parafoil. Finding it easier to look up than down, he studied the parafoil intently. The leading edge was curved and puffy; the rear edge thin, fluttering in the breeze. The parafoil looked very much like an airplane wing, with cords running down to his body.

  He took a deep breath and looked down. He was still very high over the landscape. There was some comfort in the slowness with which he was descending. It was really rather peaceful.

  And then he noticed he wasn't moving down; he was moving sideways. He could see the other parafoils below, Kahega and his men and Ross; he tried to count them, and thought there were six, but he had difficulty concentrating. He appeared to be moving laterally away from them.

  He tugged on the lines in his left hand, and he felt his body twist as the parafoil moved, taking him to the left.

  Not bad, he thought.

  He pulled harder on the left cords, ignoring the fact that this seemed to make him move faster. He tried to stay near the rectangles descending beneath him. He heard the scream of the wind in his ears. He looked up, hoping to see Munro, but all he could see was the stripes of his own parafoil.

  He looked back down, and was astonished to find that the ground was a great deal closer. In fact, it seemed to be rushing up to him at brutal speed. He wondered where he had got the idea that he was drifting gently downward. There was nothing gentle about his descent at all. He saw the first of the parafoils crumple gently as Kahega touched ground, then the second, and the third.

  It wouldn't be long before he landed. He was approaching the level of the trees, but his lateral movement was very fast. He realized that his left hand was rigidly pulling on the cords. He released his grip, and his lateral movement ceased. He drifted forward.

  Two more parafoils crumpled on impact. He looked back to see Kahega and his men, already down, gathering up the cloth. They were all right; that was encouraging.

  He was sliding right into a dense clump of trees. He pulled his cords and twisted to the right, his whole body tilting. He was moving very fast now. The trees could not be avoided. He was going to smash into them. The branches seemed to reach up like fingers, grasping for him.

  He closed his eyes, and felt the branches scratching at his face and body as he crashed down, knowing that any second he was going to hit, that he was going to hit the ground and roll - He never hit.

  Everything became silent. He felt himself bobbing up and down. He opened his eyes and saw that he was swinging four feet above the ground. His parafoil had caught in the trees.

  He fumbled with his harness buckles, and fell out onto the earth. As he picked himself up, Kahega and Ross came running over to ask if he was all right.

  "I'm fine," Elliot said, and indeed he felt extraordinarily fine, more alive than he could ever remember feeling. The next instant he fell over on rubber legs and promptly threw up.

  Kahega laughed. "Welcome to the Congo," he said.

  Elliot wiped his chin and said, "Where is Amy?"

  A moment later Munro landed, with a bleeding ear where Amy had bitten him in terror. But Amy was not the worse for the experience, and came running on her knuckles over to Elliot, making sure that he was all right, and then signing, Amy fly no like.

  "Look out!"

  The first of the torpedo-shaped Crosslin packets smashed down, exploding like a bomb when it hit the ground, spraying equipment and straw in all directions.

  "There's the second one!"

  Elliot dived for safety. The second bomb hit just a few yards away; he was pelted with foil containers of food and rice. Overhead, he heard the drone of the circling Fokker airplane. He got to his feet in time to see the final two Cross?lin containers crash down, and Kahega's men running for safety, with Ross shouting, "Careful, those have the lasers!"

  It was like being in the middle of a blitz, but as swiftly as it had begun it was over. The Fokker above them flew off, and the sky was silent; the men began repacking the equipment and burying the parafoils, while Munro barked instructions in Swahili.

  Twenty minutes later, they were moving single-file through the forest, starting a two-hundred-mile trek that would lead them into the unexplored eastern reaches of the Congo, to a fabulous reward.

  If they could reach it in time.

  2. Kigani

  ONCE PAST
THE INITIAL SHOCK OF HIS JUMP, ELLIOT enjoyed the walk through the Barawana Forest. Monkeys chattered in the trees, and birds called in the cool air; the Kikuyu porters were strung out behind them, smoking cigarettes and joking with one another iii an exotic tongue. Elliot found all his emotions agreeable - the sense of freedom from a crass civilization; the sense of adventure, of unexpected events that might occur at any future moment; and finally the sense of romance, of a quest for the poignant past while omnipresent danger kept sensation at a peak of intense feeling. It was in this heightened mood that he listened to the forest animals around him, viewed the play of sunlight and shadow, felt the springy ground beneath his boots, and looked over at Karen Ross, whom he found beautiful and graceful in an utterly unexpected way.

  Karen Ross did not look back at him.

  As she walked, she twisted knobs on one of her black electronic boxes, trying to establish a signal. A second electronic box hung from a shoulder strap, and since she did not turn to look at him, he had time to notice that there was already a dark stain of sweat at her shoulder, and 'another running down the back of her shirt. Her dark blonde hair was damp, clinging unattractively to the back of her head. And he noticed that her trousers were wrinkled, streaked with dirt from the fall. She still did not look back.

  "Enjoy the forest," Munro advised him. "This is the last time you'll feel cool and dry for quite a while. "

  Elliot agreed that the forest was pleasant.

  "Yes, very pleasant. " Munro nodded, with an odd expression on his face.

  The Barawana Forest was not virginal. From time to time, they passed cleared fields and other signs of human habitation, although they never saw farmers. When Elliot mentioned that fact, Munro just shook his head. As they moved deeper into the forest Munro turned self-absorbed, unwilling to talk. Yet he showed an interest in the fauna, frequently pausing to listen intently to bird cries before signaling the expedition to continue on.

  During these pauses, Elliot would look back down the line of porters with loads balanced on their heads, and feel acutely his kinship with Livingstone and Stanley and the other explorers who had ventured through Africa a century before. And in this, his romantic associations were accurate. Central African life was little changed since Stanley explored the Congo in the 1870s, and neither was the basic nature of expeditions to that region. Serious exploration was still carried out on foot; porters were still necessary; expenses were still daunting - and so were the dangers.

  By midday, Elliot's boots had begun to hurt his feet, and he found that he was exceedingly tired. Apparently the porters were tired too, because they had fallen silent, no longer smoking cigarettes and shouting jokes to one another up and down the line. The expedition proceeded in silence until Elliot asked Munro if they were going to stop for lunch.

  "No," Munro said.

  "Good," Karen Ross said, glancing at her watch.

  Shortly after one o'clock, they heard the thumping of helicopters. The reaction of Munro and the porters was immediate - they dived under a stand of large trees and waited, looking upwards. Moments later, two large green helicopters passed overhead; Elliot clearly read white stenciling: "FZA. "

  Munro squinted at the departing craft. They were American-made Hueys; he had not been able to see the armament. "It's the army," he said. "They're looking for Ki?gani. "

  An hour later, they arrived at a clearing where manioc was being grown. A crude wooden farmhouse stood in the center, with pale smoke issuing from a chimney and laundry on a wash line flapping in the gentle breeze. But they saw no inhabitants.

  The expedition had circled around previous farm clearings, but this time Munro raised his hand to call for a halt. The porters dropped their loads and sat in the grass, not speaking.

  The atmosphere was tense, although Elliot could not understand why. Munro squatted with Kahega at the edge of the clearing, watching the farmhouse and the surrounding fields. After twenty minutes, when there was still no sign of movement, Ross, who was crouched near Munro, became impatient. "I don't see why we are - "

  Munro clapped his hand over her mouth. He pointed to the clearing, and mouthed one word: Kigani.

  Ross's eyes went wide. Munro took his hand away.

  They all stared at the farmhouse. Still there was no sign of life. Ross made a circular movement with her arm, suggesting that they circle around the clearing and move on. Munro shook his head, and pointed to the ground, indicating that she should sit. Munro looked questioningly at Elliot, and pointed to Amy, who foraged in the tall grass off to one side. He seemed to be concerned that Amy would make noise. Elliot signed to Amy to be quiet, but it was not necessary. Amy had sensed the general tension, and glanced warily from time to time toward the farmhouse.

  Nothing happened for several more minutes; they listened to the buzz of the cicadas in the hot midday sun, and they waited. They watched the laundry flutter in the breeze.

  Then the thin wisp of blue smoke from the chimney stopped.

  Munro and Kahega exchanged glances. Kahega slipped back to where the porters sat, opened one load, and brought out a machine gun. He covered the safety with his hand, muffling the click as he released it. It was incredibly quiet in the clearing. Kahega resumed his place next to Munro and handed him the gun. Munro checked the safety, then set the gun on the ground. They waited several minutes more. Elliot looked at Ross but she was not looking at him.

  There was a soft creak as the farmhouse door opened. Munro picked up the machine gun.

  No one came out. They all stared at the open door, waiting. And then finally the Kigani stepped into the sunlight.

  Elliot counted twelve tall muscular men armed with bows and arrows, and carrying long pangas in their hands. Their legs and chests were streaked with white, and their faces were solid white, which gave their heads a menacing, skull like appearance. As the Kigani moved off through the tall manioc, only their white heads were visible, looking around tensely.

  Even after they were gone, Munro remained watching the silent clearing for another ten minutes. Finally he stood and sighed. When he spoke, his voice seemed incredibly loud. "Those were Kigani," Munro said.

  "What were they doing?" Ross said.

  "Eating," Munro said. "They killed the family in that house, and then ate them. Most farmers have left, because the Kigani are on the rampage. "

  He signaled Kahega to get the men moving again, and they set off, skirting around the clearing. Elliot kept looking at the farmhouse, wondering what he would see if he went inside. Munro's statement had been so casual; They killed the family. . . and then ate them.

  "I suppose," Ross said, looking over her shoulder, "that we should consider ourselves lucky. We're probably among the last people in the world to see these things. "

  Munro shook his head. "I doubt it," he said. "Old habits die hard. "

  During the Congolese civil war in the 1960s, reports of widespread cannibalism and other atrocities shocked the Western world. But in fact cannibalism had always been openly practiced in central Africa.

  In 1897, Sidney Hinde wrote that "nearly all the tribes in the Congo Basin either are, or have been, cannibals; and among some of them the practice is on the increase. " Hinde was impressed by the undisguised nature of Congolese cannibalism: "The captains of steamers have often assured me that whenever they try to buy goats from the natives, slaves are demanded in exchange; the natives often come aboard with tusks of ivory with the intention of buying a slave, complaining that meat is now scarce in their neighborhood. "

  In the Congo, cannibalism was not associated with ritual or religion or war; it was a simple dietary preference. The Reverend Holman Bentley, who spent twenty years in the region, quoted a native as saying, "You white men consider pork to be the tastiest of meat, but pork is not to be compared with human flesh. " Bentley felt that the natives "could not understand the objections raised to the practice. 'You eat fowls and goats, and we eat men; why not? What is the
difference?'

  This frank altitude astonished observers, and led to bizarre customs. In 1910, Herbert Ward wrote of markets where slaves were sold "piecemeal whilst still alive, incredible as it may appear, captives are led from place to place in order that individuals may have the opportunity of indicating, by external marks on the body, the portion they desire to acquire. The distinguishing marks are generally made by means of coloured clay or strips of grass tied in a peculiar fashion. The astounding stoicism of the victims, who thus witness the bargaining for their limbs piecemeal, is only equaled by the callousness with which they walk forward to meet their fate. "

  Such reports cannot be dismissed as late-Victorian hysteria, for all observers found the cannibals likable and sympathetic. Ward wrote that "the cannibals are not schemers and they are not mean. In direct opposition to all natural conjectures, they are among the best types of men. " Bentley described them as "merry, manly fellows, very friendly in conversation and quite demonstrative in their affection. "

  Under Belgian colonial administration, cannibalism became much rarer - by the 1950s, there were even a few graveyards to be found - but no one seriously thought it had been eradicated. In 1956, H. C. Engert wrote, "Cannibalism is far from being dead in Africa. . . . I myself once lived in a cannibal village for a time, and found some The natives. . . were pleasant enough people. It was just an old custom which dies hard. "

  Munro considered the 1979 Kigani uprising a political insurrection. The tribesmen were rebelling against the demand by the Zaire government that the Kigani change from hunting to farming, as if that were a simple matter. The Kigani were a poor and backward people; their knowledge of hygiene was rudimentary, their diet lacked proteins and vitamins, and they were prey to malaria, hookworm, bilharzia, and African sleeping sickness. One child in four died at birth, and few Kigani adults lived past the age of twenty-five. The hardships of their life required explanation, supplied by Angawa, or sorcerers. The Kigani believed that most deaths were supernatural: either the victim was under a sorcerer's spell, had broken some taboo, or was killed by vengeful spirits from the dead. Hunting also had a supernatural aspect: game was strongly influenced by the spirit world. In fact, the Kigani considered the supernatural world far more real than the day-to-day world, which they felt to be a "waking dream," and they attempted to control the supernatural through magical spells and potions, provided by the Angawa. They also carried out ritual body alterations, such as painting the face and hands white, to render an individual more powerful in battle. The Kigani believed that magic also resided in the bodies of their adversaries, and so to overcome spells cast by other Angawa they ate the bodies of their enemies. The magical power invested in the enemy thus became their own, frustrating enemy sorcerers.

  These beliefs were very old, and the Kigani had long since settled on a pattern of response to threat, which was to eat other human beings. In 1890, they went on the rampage in the north, following the first visits by foreigners bearing firearms, which had frightened off the game. During the civil war in 1961, starving, they attacked and ate other tribes.

  "And why are they eating people now?" Elliot asked Munro.

  "They want their right to hunt," Munro said. "Despite the Kinshasa bureaucrats. "

  In the early afternoon, the expedition mounted a hill from which they could overlook the valleys behind them to the south. In the distance they saw great billowing clouds of smoke and licking flames; there were the muffled explosions of air-to-ground rockets, and the helicopters wheeling like mechanical vultures over a kill.

  "Those are Kigani villages," Munro said, looking back, shaking his head. "They haven't a prayer, especially since the men in those helicopters and the troops on the ground are all from the Abawe tribe, the traditional enemy of the Kigani. "

  The twentieth-century world did not accommodate man-eating beliefs; indeed, the government in Kinshasa, two thousand miles away, had already decided to "expunge the embarrassment" of cannibals within its borders. In June, the Zaire government dispatched five thousand armed troops, six rocket-armed American UH-2 helicopters, and ten armored personnel carriers to put down the Kigani rebellion. The military leader in charge, General Ngo Muguru, had no illusions about his directive. Muguru knew that Kinshasa wanted him to eliminate the Kigani as a tribe. And he intended to do exactly that.

  During the rest of the day, they heard distant explosions of mortar and rockets. It was impossible not to contrast the modernity of this equipment with the bows and arrows of the Kigani they had seen. Ross said it was sad, but Munro replied that it was inevitable.

  "The purpose of life," Munro said, "is to stay alive. Watch any animal in nature - all it tries to do is stay alive, it doesn't care about beliefs or philosophy. Whenever any animal's behavior puts it out of touch with the realities of its existence, it becomes extinct. The Kigani haven't seen that times have changed and their beliefs don't work. And they're going to be extinct. "

  "Maybe there is a higher truth than merely staying alive," Ross said.

  "There isn't," Munro said.

  They saw several other parties of Kigani, usually from a distance of many miles. At the end of the day, after they had crossed the swaying wooden bridge over the Moruti Gorge, Munro announced that they were now beyond the Kigani territory and, at least for the time being, safe.

  3. Moruti Camp

  IN A HIGH CLEARING ABOVE MORUTI, THE "PLACE of soft winds," Munro shouted Swahili instructions and Kahega's porters began to unpack their loads. Karen Ross looked at her watch. "Are we stopping?"

  "Yes," Munro said.

  "But it's only five o'clock. There's still two hours of light left. "

  "We stop here," Munro said. Moruti was located at 1,500 feet; another two hours' walking would put them down in the rain forest below. "It's much cooler and more pleasant here. "

  Ross said that she did not care about pleasantness.

  "You will," Munro said.

  To make the best time, Munro intended to keep out of the rain forest wherever possible. Progress in the jungle was slow and uncomfortable; they would have more than enough experience with mud and leeches and fevers.

  Kahega called to him in Swahili; Munro turned to Ross and said, "Kahega wants to know how to pitch the tents. "

  Kahega was holding a crumpled silver ball of fabric in his outstretched hand; the other porters were just as confused, rummaging through their loads, looking for familiar tent poles or stakes, finding none.

  The ERTS camp had been designed under contract by a NASA team in 1977, based on the recognition that wilderness expedition equipment was fundamentally unchanged since the eighteenth century. "Designs for modern exploration are long overdue," ERTS said, and asked for state-of? the-an improvements in lightness, comfort, and efficiency of expedition gear. NASA had redesigned everything, from clothing and boots to tents and cooking gear, food and menus, first-aid kits, and communications systems for ERTS wilderness parties.

  The redesigned tents were typical of the' NASA approach. NASA had determined that tent weight consisted chiefly of the structural supports. In addition, single-ply tents were poorly insulated. If tents could be properly insulated, clothing and sleeping-bag weight could be reduced, as could the daily caloric requirements of expedition members. Since air was an excellent insulator, the obvious solution was an unsupported, pneumatic tent: NASA designed one that weighed six ounces.

  Using a little hissing foot pump, Ross inflated the first tent. It was made from double-layer silvered Mylar, and looked like a gleaming ribbed Quonset hut. The porters clapped their hands with delight; Munro shook his head, amused; Kahega produced a small silver unit, the size of a shoebox. "And this, Doctor? What is this?"

  "We won't need that tonight. That's an air conditioner," Ross said.

  "Never go anywhere without one," Munro said, still amused.

  Ross glared at him. "Studies show," she said, "that the single greatest factor limiting work efficie
ncy is ambient temperature, with sleep deprivation as the second factor. "

  "Really. "

  Munro laughed and looked to Elliot, but Elliot was studiously examining the view of the rain forest in the evening sun. Amy came up and tugged at his sleeve.

  Woman and nosehair man fight, she signed.

  Amy had liked Munro from the beginning, and the feeling was mutual. Instead of patting her on the head and treating her like a child, as most people did, Munro instinctively treated her like a female. Then, too, he had been around enough gorillas to have a feeling for their behavior. Although he didn't know ASL, when Amy raised her arms, he understood that she wanted to be tickled, and would oblige her for a few moments, while she rolled grunting with pleasure on the ground.

  But Amy was always distressed by conflict, and she was frowning now. "They're just talking," Elliot assured her.

  She signed, Amy want eat.

  "In a minute. " Turning back, he saw Ross setting up the transmitting equipment; this would be a daily ritual during the rest of the expedition, and one which never failed to fascinate Amy. Altogether, the equipment to send a transmission ten thousand miles by satellite weighed six pounds, and the electronic countermeasures, or ECM devices, weighed an additional three pounds.

  First, Ross popped open the collapsed umbrella of the silver dish antenna, five feet in diameter. (Amy particularly liked this; as each day progressed, she would ask Ross when she would "open metal flower. ") Then Ross attached the transmitter box, plugging in the krylon-cadmium fuel cells. Next she linked the anti-jamming modules, and finally she hooked up the miniaturized computer terminal with its tiny keyboard and three-inch video screen.

  This miniature equipment was highly sophisticated. Ross's computer had a 189K memory and all circuitry was redundant; housings were hermetically sealed and shockproof; even the keyboard was impedance-operated, so there were no moving parts to get gummed up, or admit water or dust.

  And it was incredibly rugged. Ross remembered their "field tests. " In the ERTS parking lot, technicians would throw new equipment against the wall, kick it across the concrete, and leave it in a bucket of muddy water overnight. Anything found working the next day was certified as field-worthy.

  Now, in the sunset at Moruti, she punched in code coordinates to lock the transmission to Houston, checked signal strength, and waited the six minutes until the transponders matched up. But the little screen continued to show only gray static, with intermittent pulses of color. That meant someone was jamming them with a "symphony. "

  In ERTS slang, the simplest level of electronic jamming was called "tuba. " Like a kid next door practicing his tuba, this jamming was merely annoying; it occurred within limited frequencies, and was often random or accidental, but transmissions could generally pass through it. At the next level was "string quartet," where multiple frequencies were jammed in an orderly fashion; next was "big band," where the electronic music covered a wider frequency range; and finally "symphony," where virtually the full transmission range was blocked.

  Ross was now getting hit by a "symphony. " To break through demanded coordination with Houston - which she was unable to arrange - but ERTS had several prearranged routines. She tried them one after another and finally broke the jamming with a technique called interstitial coding. (Interstitial coding utilized the fact that even dense music had periods of silence, or interstices, lasting microseconds. It was possible to monitor the jamming signals, identify regularities in the interstices, and then transmit in bursts during the silences. )

  Ross was gratified to see the little screen glow in a multicolored image - a map of their position in the Congo. She punched in the field position lock, and a light blinked on the screen. Words appeared in "shortline," the compressed language devised for small-screen imagery. F I L D TME-POSITN CHEK; PLS CONFRM LOCL TME 18:04 H 6/17/79. She confirmed that it was indeed just after 6 P. M. at their location. Immediately, overlaid lines produced a scrambled pattern as their Field Time - Position was measured against the computer simulation run in Houston before their departure.

  Ross was prepared for bad news. According to her mental calculations, they had fallen some seventy-odd hours behind their projected timeline, and some twenty-odd hours behind the consortium.

  Their original plan had called for them to jump onto the slopes of Mukenko at 2 P. M. on June 17, arriving at Zinj approximately thirty-six hours later, around midday of June 19. This would have put them onsite nearly two days before the consortium.

  However, the SAM attack forced them to jump eighty miles south of their intended drop zone. The jungle terrain before them was varied, and they could expect to pick up time rafting on rivers, but it would still take a minimum of three days to go eighty miles.

  That meant that they could no longer expect to beat the consortium to the site. Instead of arriving forty-eight hours ahead, they would be lucky if they arrived only twenty-four hours too late.

  To her surprise, the screen blinked: FILD TME - POSITN CHEK : - 09 : 04 H WEL DUN. They were only nine hours off their simulation timeline.

  "What does that mean?" Munro asked, looking at the screen.

  There was only one possible conclusion. "Something has slowed the consortium," Ross said.

  On the screen they read EURO/NIP0N C0NSRTIM LEGL TRUBL GOMA AIRPRT ZAIR THEIR AIRCRFT FOUND RA-DIOACTIVE TUF LUK FOR THEM.

  "Travis has been working back in Houston," Ross said. She could imagine what it must have cost ERTS to put in the fix at the rural airport in Goma. "But it means we can still do it, if we can make up the nine hours. "

  "We can do it," Munro said.

  In the light of the setting equatorial sun, Moruti camp gleamed like a cluster of dazzling jewels - a silver dish antenna, and five silver-domed tents, all reflecting the fiery sun. Peter Elliot sat on the hilltop with Amy and stared at the rain forest spread out below them. As night fell, the first hazy strands of mist appeared; and as the darkness deepened and water vapor condensed in the cooling air, the forest became shrouded in dense, darkening fog.

 
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