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Orange Glory
The Zoomins Must Die
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-213-3
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 261 Pages
Published: January 2015
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Total Readers: 2

From inside the flap

Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, in the heart of the Cold War against the Ruskies and the Chi Coms, well-meaning but amoral officials in U.S. intelligence greatly feared Russian advances in the development of paranormal capabilities in humans. In response to this threat to national security, they covertly started up a number of projects to develop U.S. proto-types of ‘super-humans.’ The most ambitious of their edgy reaches into the unknown was code-named PROJECT ORANGE GLORY, and it concerned spraying human subjects with the disintegrating sub-particles radiating from cyclotron impact zones. Nucleonic science was in its infancy, and nearly all the subjects died. However, the few dozen who survived displayed almost incomprehensible behavior. They couldn’t understand it, but they realized it was unpredictable and dangerous on a global scale. Project Orange Glory was deemed a failure, and Charley Birch, who had spearheaded the project from the first, was blamed and given the job of disposing of the remaining subjects. But he soon found the victims (he refers to them as ‘Zoomins’) were nearly impossible to kill. He rounded up as many as he could and imprisoned them on a remote island. As our story opens, Charley is out to kill or capture one particular Zoomin, Kate Twillinger, the daughter of one of his original subjects, who is unknowing of the secret experiments that have been performed on her, and is living on a family orange grove in a remote section of Central Florida.

Orange Glory (Excerpt)


ONE - The late 1950's and some years later

Jesus is talking again. "Pull the trigger, Kate," he says in that softly persuasive way of his. "Pull the trigger."

Kate is out of options. She is over two months pregnant, courtesy of her grandmother, more precisely, thanks to Grandma Lulubird Twillinger's crusty old lover, and now she has been held down and sexually assaulted again, this time by a brutal biker gang. The common opinion in those parts may be the bitch should be used to it by now, but the truth is, she isn't.

The work shed spins around her. She has lost too much blood. She staggers back against the big red-painted gas tank. Granma Lu's crew uses it to fill the tractors and the orange tree picker-crane. Kate doesn't have the strength to crawl into town for help. And yes, Jesus, the man-the myth-the legend, is still standing right there. He is watching over her with his warmly encouraging smile and flowing robes, for all the good that does anybody. He cannot possibly mean actually pull the trigger, can he? What, shoot herself? What trigger?

But there is no gun. Then what does he mean? She puzzles it out. decides that the crazy fool Savior probably means do something, anything. She grimaces and pushes back against her pain. She picks up an empty beer bottle from the floor, and then another. She carefully fills them halfway with gasoline, wads dirty rags in the top. She gives each one a little shake, The cold liquid stings her fingers. The pickers store plenty of matches in the bathroom. Fuck Jesu Christi, she's going to have to do this one by herself, just like always.

Charley Birch touched the cute little blond girl's nose with the tip of his Rambo knife. He told himself he was not torturing her or anything like that; it was just to get a reaction. There was no response, of course, and he dutifully scribbled No Reaction on his note pad. No answer was an answer. It just was not the one he wanted. His mind was swarming with questions. He felt like a dull dunce in fifth grade. The girl had extraordinary pale skin and blue eyes. She was a porcelain doll, not really a human, at least not to him. Nothing made sense. The experiments were failures, all of them. Little dollie here was just one more example. Kill them all, the directive said, and he finally had to admit they were right. But if there was a way to kill them, he had yet to find it. The millisecond any of them realized they were in danger they went thin like this one. It wasn't right or precise, but thin was the only way he could describe it.

In a sudden fit of exasperation he jammed the Rambo blade through her left eye. It easily slid in and exited from the back of her skull, shiny steel appearing abruptly between her golden hair. But there was no reaction, no death-jerk, and no blood. And when he pulled the knife out, her skin moved back to its unwounded wholeness like water in a pond. The girl was there, right there in her flesh in front of him, silent as a statue. He could see her, feel her, stab her. And yet she wasn't there. The only way to explain it made no sense: Little dollie was half way in their dimension and half way somewhere else.

"I am in deep shit here," Charley muttered. He was talking to himself a lot these days. "I don't know how deep, but it is most certainly shit all the way."

Standing to one side, a man in military fatigues shifted uneasily. Charley knew it had nothing to do with the girl, who was simply test subject #7641f, the 'f' standing for female. The fellow was recruited from Argentina, an ex-German technician who could be trusted, in fact was trusted with a Z clearance. That was the one that meant if you even look funny at us, we kill you. It was lunch time, and the fellow was hungry.

"Send her to the island," Charley said. He gave a brief nod at the motionless blond doll. "Get her started on her way. Then you can head for the mess."

Charley made his own way past the enlisted men's mess hall to the executive's dining room. The food was marginally better, and they piped in music. Ike's man showed up for lunch as planned, eager to know where all their money was going. He wore a baggy blue suit and a pair of the thick tortoise shell plastic rim glasses, a bookish look that was the rage in DC because it hinted at intellectual pursuits, here's a man who wore out his eyes reading weighty tomes. Charley wrapped an arm around the man's thin shoulders and led him into the project projection room, where the unit cook had laid out a feast of ham-and-cheese sandwiches with crunchy pickles, a basket bicycled over from the local deli.

They sat on uncomfortable metal chairs pulled up to a folding metal table. Charley snapped his fingers and a young fellow wearing a short crew cut, summer fatigues and the rank of a corporal clicked the lights off and started a short silent film. It was crude black-and-white 35 millimeter footage. The projector clacked and an image of a heavily bearded man appeared on the screen. He was wearing nothing but a pair of white army white briefs and he ]was standing motionless as a statue. They had other footage of women, young boys and cute little girls, but Charley had thought this out carefully. Better to stay on point.

"That a real person?" Ike's man asked with a note of disbelief. "That's a manikin, right?"

"No. That is a real person."

"He isn't moving."

That's test subject #3228. They're all like that when they get in their state."

"What state is that?"

"Like that," Charley said, pointing at the screen. He did not want to have to say he didn't know.

The footage pulled back to reveal two soldiers with M-1 rifles. They pointed the rifles at the fellow wearing the white shorts. Ike's man gasped, but before he could protest, the soldiers fired point blank at the man.

"NO!" But nothing happened. Ike's man blew out a breath of relief. "Looks like they missed."

"No, they didn't miss," Charley said. "Watch now. We had a Mitchell Hi-Speed running at the same time.

The next footage was a close-up of the man's abdomen. The frame just showed the top of the white briefs he was wearing. Two bullets moved in slow motion toward fragile skin. They penetrated the man's body. The flesh made way and closed up behind the smoking projectiles like pale peach jello, a moment later making their exit from his back.

"What the hell just happened there?"

"Nothing. Bullets can't kill them. Or grenades. Or bayonets."

"In-CRED-ible! Our dream of the unstoppable warrior! The President must see this!"

Under ordinary circumstances, the reaction would have delighted Charley, but had other problems.

"I don't think we're ready for that.

"What?! This is fabulous! We've got Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia ready to tumble like dominos, and the Chi Coms have a million soldiers ready to take over the Philippines... and after that Hawaii and next thing you know, the California Coast."

"I know the urgency."

"Well then, what's the problem here?"

"We don't know exactly how this works... "

Charley let his words trail off into silence. He did not how to get past the fact that nobody on the project could explain what was happening - the test subjects had other characteristics that made them anything but ideal soldiers. If they did not want to do anything, they simply ignored the command. Give them a direct order they did not want to follow and they turned dumb as rocks. You could yell, curse, whip them, and the reaction was all the same.

Someone other than this bureaucratic pencil-pusher from DC might have been alerted by Charley's response. But Ike's man was an appointee, not a man of science.

"Nonsense! We've made our big breakthrough!"

Charley nodded, going along with the flow. Feed the fool his treats, take the funding and run with it. Maybe they could fix things, claw their way out of the shit pit. He ran the footage again.

"I call them 'zoomins' I don't think we can really look at them as ordinary human people any more. They look like humans, but they really are something else."

"And nobody can kill them?"

Charley nodded. He stared at the ice cubes floating in his tea glass.

"They are nearly impossible to kill. We hope to get one or two in at Ground Zero out in Nevada, but I'm pretty sure even that won't affect them."

Ike's man proved to be smarter than he looked.

"Nearly impossible?"

"Well... a couple of them have died. We're researching that."

Actually, hundreds of zoomins had gone missing, but their disappearances were random. And, as none of them had shown up, it was assumed they were dead.

"You're not sure why?"

"That's right," Charley said. "We're not sure why."

Of the eight thousand and some few hundred unsuspecting subjects from all over the world who had been quietly culled from the herd and folded into the project, only a few hundred had survived. Of these, several dozen were physically and mentally warped into something vaguely prehistoric. Ninety percent of the rest were like the blond dolly girl and the man in the white shorts, unkillable but also unreachable. It was as if they were floating in a dreamlike state in never-never land. They were no longer of this world, not in this dimension, not really.

"Regardless, your progress is outstanding! The Russians are outclassing us in the Cold War. We need this! How soon can we arrange a meeting with the White House?"

"Well, let's go to my office and look over the calendar."

They set up a firm date, and Charley would have had to do a big dog-and-pony show but the thin man in the baggy blue suit and the tortoise shell glasses's was driving his rented two-tone DeSoto sedan to the Orlando airport when it was struck by a garbage truck.

The name zoomins stuck. But in the years that followed Charley's meetings with the string of new men Ike sent to replace the thin man, the project had not figured out what made their remaining subjects tick.

Among the many unknowns they displayed was the real reason Charley called them Zoomins. He named them that because they had the ability to move with lightning speed. One moment a subject would be right there, standing in front of him, and then they would zoom out of sight, and then reappear somewhere else in the room, that is, if they chose to show up at all. Nobody could figure out how they did it. And it was a special ability the zoomins themselves were not able to control. If they ever did gain mastery over that particular talent, look out!

As costs mounted and there was no progress, enthusiasm dwindled. The goal of creating a team of super warriors was as far away as ever, and the people in Washington decided to cut their losses. After that, the project objectives transitioned to cleanup and containment. An ongoing attempt was made to capture the subjects and detain them on a remote island off the coast of California. As his punishment, Charley was put more or less in charge, in a position of responsibility-without-authority. Years passed and yet the few remaining zoomins were as difficult to corral as a herd of scorpions.

One of their most promising subjects, a young teenager named Kate Twillinger, was being triangulated for elimination. She was special to Charley, for he believed her to be a relative. He had no affection for the girl, just the vague irritation there was yet one more loose end to tie up. And this one was a more slippery knot than most. Charley had more experience than anyone left on the project, and he was absolutely certain they would not be able to take her out.

This was in late August, pushing toward September. Their mission was to drive to rural Central Florida, to the sleepy village named Orange Glory. Yes, Orange Glory, where the project had originally gotten its name.

It was rural country village, dozens of miles from the ocean one way and from the gulf the other, and isolated from Orlando by patches of suburban development that thinned away to miles of flat farmlands, citrus orchards and undeveloped low swamplands.

Avoiding the highways, they chugged along back roads in one of the project's troop carriers disguised as a garbage truck. Morning moved on to become a sultry afternoon. As they approached Orange Glory, moody nature warned of their approach; an uneasy silence settled over the town like a bad memory. Birds and the usual scatter of small wildlife slipped into quiet hiding. The sky overhead was a hypnotizing deep blue. A bank of towering white clouds hung over the southern horizon, creeping in so slowly it seemed stationary as a far away snow-crested mountain.

At the local general store, a rusty dial on the paint-flaked red Coca-Cola barometer plummeted unnoticed into the red zone. Buck Owens wailed The sun's gonna shine in my life once more. An Orlando disk jockey interrupted with a static-impeded report warning of heavy rain moving up from the Keys. Oh yes, hurricane weather, but this was Florida and it was, after all, the season of the wet, so nobody was paying any real attention.

At this time the old Twillinger home still stood, having endured for decades in the harsh tropical climate. It was set down square in the middle of Twill Grove, the generations-old family owned orange grove. The original settler, Great-Great-Grandaddy Eban Twillinger had chased off the devil-thieving itinerant Seminoles who were camping on his property and had personally planted the first little citrus saplings he'd stolen from a local Catholic priest's property after the holy padre died of old age or something else. Eban's first wife used to bring baskets of food to the wandering redskins, but, after the devils stole the wife and his first-born daughter and sold them as white whores in the Caribbean slave trade, his practice became get out Ol' Betsy and shoot on sight, although his attitude righted itself considerably when his new wife turned out to be a whole lot softer and more cuddly than the old one.

A tattered ghost of forgotten dreams, this house itself had been built in the 1880's by Eban's son, Great-Granddaddy Hubber Twillinger. Those were the flush days as Hubber sold off about two square miles of property, including the entire present day town of Orange Glory. Daddy Eban had got there first, not counting the devil-thief Indian savages, so of course all of it was his by right. The home Hubber built was splendid for its time and place, but the years and the humid, buggy climate had worn it down some considerable. By the time the project had scheduled Kate for elimination, it was a shabby two story, paint-peeling, broken-lace Victorian octogenarian, as out of place in that rural area of shacks and trailers as a aging church chapel in honkytonk pork town city.

Worse, the old homestead house suffered the indignity of a brace of what the locals referred to as them damn gov'ment 'lectrical intrusions. These wires draped uncomfortably close over the front porch. The encroachment of the electrical wires was an old story, though it had not spread beyond local legend, and that for reasons as vague and undecipherable as that damn gov'ment bid'ness.

Back in the day, the Twillingers had fought hard that nothing of that sort should cross their property. But nobody in memory had ever won out against gov'ment bid'ness, so there they remained, galdanged heavy strings of wires on their strutting steel legs, all the way from the coal burning Itchimoli power plant, thick-buzzing interfering metal ropes that swung down low without so much as an excuse me before snapping on east in the general direction of Orlando.

Any hour of the night or day, the wires overhead might think to give off a brief high-pitched hum. This time when it happened, Granny Lulubird Twillinger snapped without warning. Granny Lu had been inside the summer kitchen, hunched over the old Formica topped table. She'd been busily sipping her cold coffee and digesting the obits from a two week old Sunday Sentinel. But then she jerked upright and pitched her heavy coffee mug across the room at her granddaughter Kate.

The mug-fling was unpremeditated, or it might have struck the intended target, the soft side of Kate's skull above her ear. To the original Orange Glory Project way of thinking, this would have been an absurd waste of resources, but of course it would have solved their current mission to eliminate her. The suppressed documents showed Mrs Lulubird Twillinger always had been as unpredictable as they come, not that any of that mattered once the entire adventure was tagged, bagged and burned so no trace remained of what it was, how it got out of control, or what it did to the world.

August, in the summer of 1964, about the time when the first cracks began to appear in the known universe. Few of the agency's cogni scenti suspected anything so astoundingly absurd might trace back to Charley's project. In those days, nobody was trying to connect the dots; nobody had any idea of the changes to come. The world was complicated enough, what with the devious communist menace, the godless love bead children, the black people's discontent and Elvis running around in full hip gyration like some lewd tight-pants clown.

It was no secret in town, either, that Granny Lu liked slapping her granddaughter around; let's just call it her own private exploration into the unknown. Granny had tried to explain her seemingly cruel behavior to her friends; her fond hope, she said, was that maybe a couple of hard knocks on the kid would bear interesting fruit of the whacko-bird tree, that is, bring out some of the witchy unpredictability that had been so much a part of her own daughter, Crazy Tillie's, unpredictable persona. Tillie was Matilda Twillinger, Granny Lu's own daughter and Kate's mother, and she had been quite mad even before she went missing with the numbers and the passwords to the Twillinger off-shore accounts locked up tight as a drum. Where had the Twillinger genes run so amuck? Grandma Lu swore it couldn't be her fault. No way! Could not be!

Other than the rock solid conviction it had to be Crazy Tillie's failure, withered and dried up old Granny Lu wasn't exactly sure why she herself was so hell-bent on smacking her granddaughter upside the head. Them damn gov'ment wires would get to buzzing overhead and the old lady find herself at the end of her patience and the only thing to do was smack the annoying little whelp.

Maybe the truth of it was the way the old woman from time to time confessed at church prayer meetings: It was demonic pure evil Satan - or more likely, demons disguised as outer space aliens who had imprinted bad notions in her brain. But no, that had to be just crazy talk, there warn't no such thing as aliens from outer space, was there?

Clatching over coffee and butter rolls with her pal Berta Mae, Lu took comfort in the belief none of it was her fault.

"I dearly believe that girl expresses things normal folk do not.

"Like what, Lulubird?"

"She com-municates with the poison swamp lilys and talks with the pythons - I done seen her do it!"

Bertha Mae crossed herself over her massive bosom.

"Lord of mercy! My own sweet Mamma tol' me she once seen your daughter talkin' with the pictures in the family scrapbook like they was right there in the flesh." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Folks in town whisper Tillie would lie down in the warm dust between the orange trees and ask a favor or two of the saints and beasts of burden."

"That shame is on my own family name."

"Now Lulubird, you know that ain't your fault. None of it."

"Well, I tell you, if I catch the little bitch in any of them odd wonderments, I'll praise the Lord for small favors."

"Why be that?"

"I catch her in perverted notions and she'll be in a brown straight jacket and a padded cell faster than she can blink."

Bertha Mae nodded sympathetically. The whole town knew that then Granny could then petition the state of Florida and hopefully find a way to unlock the family trust, until then as out of reach as the last juicers high on the tree because of Tillie's devious cunning.

Everybody in Orange Glory Junction could see it bothered Granny Lu no end that Kate was still alive, though the kid looked barely a teenager and from the drift of things was not destined for a long or fruitful life.

"Lord knows, Bertha Mae, I done my best to get rid of the problem. Twixt the two of us, I once tried to pawn the kid off to a Jamaican crop duster who claimed to was descended of the same sex slave traders who done whisked away my ancestors."

"That would have solve your problems right there."

"Yes, it would have. But that damn skinny little teen bitch slipped off into one of her secret swampy places and did not come out of hiding until the islander's rotten wing old biplane took off for Georgia."

Granny Lu wasn't about to reveal it even to her best pal, but she had once tried a little arsenic powder, left over from spraying the trees. But that day Kate said she wasn't hungry, even though she angrily warned the kinky redhead that was all she was getting to eat until come tomorrow. It was a sour experience and a sore memory. After Granny Lu realized her ploy had failed, them damn wires started buzzing overhead and she got onto a fit of temper and threw the oat meal out the back door and it killed two of her dogs who fought nearly to the death over it before it killed them.

Kate's naturally curly hair was bowl-clipped almost short as a boy's, the strawberry blond by-product of an angry semi-annual ritual, the scissors snipping like shark bites, Granny Lulubird's claw-like hands, arthritic with the plucking of countless Florida oranges, hip-hopping about the young girl's face without regard for eyes or nose, her high-pitched, rackety old voice warning, "You don't want to get mite-fleas, girly-girl!"

Kate survived through the long seasons and dangerous times by practicing invisibility. She grew alert, and clever at slipping out of range. But this time, in the afternoon of the day in late August of 1964, she was too slow, and when Granny's favored cracked ceramic mug glanced off her shoulder before it shattered against the wall, somebody had to pay.

Kate nearly made it to the back screen door before Grams lurched from her chair and caught her a good one on the side of her head with the heavy end of her knob-gnarled cane. Not her head! Not again!

At that moment the kitchen timer dinged, alerting Granny Lu it was nearly time to take the citrus pies out of the oven. Granny was distracted from her crazed desire to beat Kate's brains out long enough to reach for the shelf over the sink and screw another ten minutes on the timer.

Kate, lying helpless on the floor, focused on the stubby white finger on the timer. She heard the steady beat of the seconds, loud as a hammer in her ear. And then there was a pause when she seemed to blank out and she heard and saw nothing. And then - impossibly - the ticking increased and Granny's movements seemed to slow down until she was barely moving at all. This was a gift from the angels, as Granny had been moving in to deliver a killing blow. Regardless where it came from, Kate snapped to her feet and bounded out the door before her astounded grandmother could move a muscle.

"Oh no," Granny Lu moaned, settling back down at the table with her head between her hands. "That little bitch done learned to twitch like her momma."

Just as an aside, you should know that, up to that time the very heart of the Orange Glory project had demanded cranial impact to their subject's heads on as regular a basis as might be instigated, with a schedule matched as closely as possible to the electro-magnetic treatments from the power lines and the spray of particles from the big grey box that the power and light representatives had assured the local yokels were step-down transformers. Mental transforming, more obfuscation, you see, the truth wrapped in a convenient code word. The military, as you probably know, loves riddles and word games. But that is the other side of the story, unimportant for the moment, and, as Granny's furious outbursts had never been controllable, aside from this narrative all future military historians would have to go by might be a series of unverifiable local events and their unintended consequences.

Regardless, Kate was moving too fast for her own good. The door frame loomed up and smacked her on her left ear and she tasted blood in the back of her mouth. She darted out the rusty old screen door and skittered from the back of the house like a dizzy colt, wearing only her underwear. She thought nobody would see her. That, of course, was a mistake, but understandable in her panic, and young supra-humans are far from perfect. Due to ill-luck, fate, the predetermined course of the universe or the next spin of the cosmic prayer-wheel, the army was watching.

An army specialist with the rank of Private First Class was the first to spot her blurred image. He was the driver, little more than a low class vehicle-handler trained to get behind the steering wheel of medium-to-heavy weight trucks. He had been cleared to drive the MGT387, a ten wheeled vehicle disguised to look like a big garbage truck because it was a part of the Orange Glory project. He was short and had a round, generally blank face, bristly blond crew cut hair and the embarrassing habit of idly reaching his right hand down to readjust his balls in public.

His name was Fritz Harper, and he was promoted to driver because he had failed at every other task they gave him. They stamped a clearance code at the top of his file because if he became an embarrassment, which was likely because of his surly disposition and presumed low I.Q., it would be easier to dispose of him. As it turned out, he did screw up a lot and they did keep track of all that, but sometimes a demotion or reassignment is just easier than burn-body & bury, and, beyond that, the actual truth they were all trying to ignore was they had tried to kill him a dozen times and nothing had worked, and that, of course, meant either that their specialists were not all that accomplished or, unthinkably, Fritz was actually one of the supra-humans. This last notion was the least likely, they believed, because Fritzy-boy was so damn stupid he was one step removed from Neanderthal, while the zoomins were quietly, frighteningly superior in dozens of unexpected ways.

This couldn't have been more than a few seconds after Granny Lu had flung her coffee mug at Kate, on that muggy afternoon with the crystal blue sky and sno-cone clouds moving up from the south. Fritz, short at five foot seven with his chunky worker bee body and stiff blond buzz cut fortified with a max load of Brill Cream, was driving the militarized garbage truck through the actual swampy little backwash town in Central Florida that had given the project its name, Operation Orange Glory.

Charley Birch was there, too. Charley, who had personally fronted the project in its glory days, now saddled with the dishonor of dismantling it. He tried his best to ignore Fritz as he looked out through the grey one way glass, both of them morosely eyeing the endless groomed rows of citrus trees as they stood at attention like parade soldiers. Charley Birch, nearsighted, middle aged, balding and pot-bellied, gone to seed as he'd slipped out of the service and turned civilian in a quietly desperate attempt to escape at least some few of the consequences of his failure.

Charley picked at his McDonald's scrambled eggs and pan cakes from Orlando, now rewarmed a second time in the MGT's portable toaster oven. A third passenger was jammed in the close interior of the vehicle. General Filbert Redelak had invited himself along. He was a prissy, thin-lipped twin star from the agency. The General was clearly not impressed with any of their preparations for the subject elimination, and, after the latest bits of messy mischief involving the missing squadron of fighter planes and the unfortunate mess on board the Philadelphia Experiment, Charley was sure the General had shown up to shut him down again, only for good this time. Jesus H. Christ, the Philadelphia Experiment! Though there were some similarities in the disastrous results, Charley had nothing to do with that, and he could prove it!

The fourth man onboard was a sniper, a specialist named Ollie Krell. Ollie was a thin Nordic with cancerous, pockmarked yellowish skin stretched over a skull head of a face. Charley Birch had asked he come along simply to prove the point that even a top kill specialist couldn't take down a zoomin.

"How did this craziness start in the first place?" the General asked in his whispery-thin voice. He had finished his own sausage-and-eggs meal and was slurping the last of a giant Diet Lime Coke.

Charley tried to toss it off to post-war innocence, pretty much the way he always did. "Well, you know, we had the girly troopers doing the DC bars and they ran into some very interesting dudes from the USSR who didn't know how to keep their mouths shut while their trousers were down around their ankles."

But Redelak knew Charley too well to hum along with that old tune.

"Birch, quit blathering; get to the heart of it. Anybody who has read the files knows it started in Chicagoland."

The General's quiet but holier-than-thou act annoyed Charley no end. In referring to the specially designed particle accelerators in their grey metal boxes, General Redeldak thought he was cutting to the chase, but to Charley he was acting more like an accountant than an agency man. Hadn't he even read the confidential grade briefings?

"Sure, looking back it is easy to dismiss Sexual Intercept as some sort of spy game of little consequence, but what you dismiss as a rude exchange of fluids for info was once at the heart of our intelligence gathering. That was the late 1950's, not all that long ago... "

"Right, except 'heart' is the wrong organ."

"You can snigger and sneer all you want, but the information we got proved conclusively the Russians were making big progress developing superhuman intelligence."

"Right. Conclusively," the General's tone showed his disbelief. "Only somewhere along the way they lost it again."

Charley's face reddened and his tight lips betrayed his anger, "You blame me, but I had the go ahead for Orange Glory from the highest levels. Nobody can pin this on me."

"I'm not forgetting and nobody's blaming you, Mister Birch."

"They better not try."

Charley knew how hollow his words sounded, but he had no choice other than to hopelessly argue his case. "The Ruskies had been, so the story went, creating wonders through an exotic blend of chemicals, electro-magnetic brain cell warping on levels assumed to be sub-atomic, and the fairly rough physical damaging and re-healing of those cells. Charley and his defected Russian assistant had thought to do them one better with their heavy grey box accelerators.

"Comic book stuff," Redelak sniffed.

"Yes, but theoretically possible."

"You never did have more than a vague notion what you were doing."

Charley shrugged,"That's what research is."

"And you still don't to this day."