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Chapter 9



Rabun County, GA, United States 0f America, Sol III
1023 EDT June 17
th, 2004 ad


"Okay, honey, now turn the cam a quarter twist, carefully, while making sure the pin don't come out."

"Like this?" asked Cally, her forehead wrinkling in concentration.

"Just right. Now, can you feel any resistance to the pin?" asked Papa O'Neal, watching the exercise from the shade of a tree. The heat of Georgia's summer enveloped them here at the edge of the fields and every little scrap of shade was appreciated. He worked the massive wad of Redman in one cheek then moved it to the other side.

"No," she said, licking a drop of sweat off her lip. "There's no resistance at all," she confirmed, barely moving the cotter pin.

"Okay, pull it out, carefully. Don't move the trip wire and for dang sure if you feel any resistance, stop."

Cally was taking to demolitions like a duck to water. She had incredible hand-eye coordination for an eight-year-old, and took infinite pains. It only took Papa O'Neal blowing up one cow for her to decide she wanted to be real careful. This was the most advanced technique yet: a claymore directional mine on a trip wire, with the trip wire booby-trapped. Okay, so it was not a real claymore, yet. It was, however, a real blasting cap.

"Okay," he said, continuing the lesson, "so you're walking along a trail . . ."

"No, I'm not, 'cause trail is spelled D-E-A . . . T-H . . . uh . . . T-R-A-P," she contradicted.

"Okay, you're having a bad day."

" 'Pay more attention if you're having a bad day, you make more mistakes, not less,' " she recited pedantically.

"Okay, your target is walking along a trail," said O'Neal with a shake of his head. He took a pull from the Gatorade at his side and nodded at her canteen.

"Posleen or human?" she asked, taking a large swig of water. Papa O'Neal's house had the best water in the entire world.

"Well, human this time."

"Okay," she agreed with equanimity. Humans were generally smarter than Posleen according to both Papa O'Neal and her daddy, who ought to know. If you trained to kill humans you were bound to be better at killing Posleen.

"And he's smart . . ." continued Mike Senior, turning slightly to the side to spit. The stream of brown juice nailed a grasshopper as it slumbered on a grass stem.

"No, he's not," she disagreed, putting away her canteen. "He's on a trail."

"Sometimes you gotta use the trails," said Papa O'Neal.

"Not me, I'm in the trees."

"Okay, a target is walking along the trail, a not-very-smart human target."

"Okay," she agreed.

"And he's smart enough to be looking for trip wires."

"Dogs?"

"Feelers."

"Okay."

"And he spots the trip wire . . ."

"Feels."

"Right. And what does he do?

"Not-very-smart?"

"Right."

" 'Always assume your target is smarter than you.' "

"Would you stop throwing my statements back in my face and go with the exercise!" He worked the Redman back over to the other side and spat again. A beetle started to burrow, thinking it was raining.

"Okay," she agreed. If that was how he wanted to do it, fine.

"Okay, what does mister not-so-smart do?"

"Cuts the wire."

"Go ahead."

"No way!" she disagreed. "You cut the wire. I'm not taking your word on that being a practice claymore!"

"Okay, pull the blasting cap, then cut the wire."

"Okay." She crept over to the camouflaged claymore, sweeping carefully ahead of her with a long piece of grass; you never knew when Papa O'Neal was going to booby-trap his exercises. Then, with a glance over her shoulder to make certain that Grandpa was not going to mess with the detonator, she pulled the blasting cap out.

There was a series of sharp retorts behind her as the training claymores that were hooked to the booby trap on the blasting cap went off in a daisy chain sequence. If all of the claymores had been real, a hundred-meter swath of the edge of the fields would have erupted in fire.

"And the moral of today's lesson?" asked Papa O'Neal dryly. The wad of chewing tobacco distended his grin.

"You are an obnoxious prick, Grandpa!" she retorted.

"And I'm teaching you bad language."

"Hey!" she shouted indignantly, holding up the blasting cap. "This isn't even real!"

"Like I'm going to let you handle a live cap hooked to a trip wire," said the old man. "Get real. I promised to return you in one piece."

"You pull caps all the time," she said, puzzled.

"Not once I've set an antitamper device on it. If I can't blow it in place, I go around. Handling live traps is for fools and damn fools. Which kind are you?"

"Oh, okay. Enough demo for today?"

"Enough for today, except I want you to repeat after me. I will not . . ."

"I will not . . ."

"Attempt to disable . . . " Spit.

"Attempt to disable . . ."

"Any demo . . ."

"Any demo . . ."

"So help me, God."

"So help me, God."

"Amen." Spit.

"Amen."

"Let's go bust some caps," he said with a smile. Cally was good at demo but shooting pistols was her real love.

"Okay, but I want a five-point handicap this time," she said, checking the Walther in the skeleton holster at her back.

"No way. I'm getting old, my hands are all palsied," he quavered, holding out a shaking left hand. "I think I should have a handicap."

"You do have a handicap, Grandpa; you're getting senile. Remember last week? Fourteen points ahead on the twenty-meter range? You know what they say: short-term memory . . ."

"Are you sure you're eight?" he asked. A moment later an ant was smashed to its knees by a descending mass of mucus and vegetable matter. After a moment it shook its head and looked around in ant wonder at the largess from the sky.





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