Cover of Eagle (Eyewitness Guides)
For a brief moment EAGLE contemplated the kill team sent to destroy him.
It consisted of a large force of vultures, each carrying a snake in its talons. It was highly unusual to see vultures at all this far north, and similarly the snakes were of a species that normally spoke with a southern accent and chewed tobacco. They were copperheads. Notorious killers.
This was a classic out-of-state hit. His investigators would find him dead, and the killers would be long gone.
Whoever was behind this was deadly serious about his demise. Vultures had the mindset to be – and were - notorious assassins; and they didn’t come cheap. As for incorporating snakes into the team, this looked, on the face it, like an ingenious concept, because it allowed for simultaneous assaults both on land and from the air.
Effective, if their target was grounded, meditating in Thinking Rock, thought EAGLE. Perhaps not so clever if he encountered them in the air.
Which he had; and it didn’t appear that they had seen him. The cloud had blocked their view as he had turned. They hadn’t needed to keep him in sight because they had surmised where he was going. Now, just because of feelings of unease, he had the advantages of height, and having the sun at his back. Nonetheless, he – ‘they’ if he factored in his four eagle escort - were definitely outnumbered.
There were twenty-four vultures lumbering along in three columns of eight; and twenty-four snakes. Somehow, he doubted that the snakes would be particularly experienced at aerial combat. But, though they couldn’t fly, they could certainly bite so he would have to attack from above and be very, very, fast. Then again, he was always very, very, fast. Speed is life, he breathed.
By the spirits, the vultures were ugly beasts. The hostility between eagles and vultures was legendary. Some thought there was a certain similarity in appearance though it was universally conceded that eagles were remarkably distinguished looking, whereas vultures looked as if they were put together out of spare parts; which, in a way, they were. But the real differences concerned their natures. Eagles were high-minded, loyal, and brave. Vultures were sneaky lowlifes. Nonetheless, they were very strong, and extremely dangerous.
The kill team didn’t seem concerned that he, EAGLE, was out of view. There didn’t seem to be any scouts out. Evidently, the plan was to attack him in massive strength at Thinking Rock, and the killers were fighting the plan, not the enemy.
“A plan is a common basis for change,” an Israeli general had once said, and EAGLE had never forgotten the implications of that remark. Planning was absolutely necessary, but once events started to move, you had to focus on the enemy, not the plan, because “he had a vote too.”
Senior U.S. Army officers loved to say things like that while sitting on their folding-stools in the Mojave Desert practicing war. If there wasn’t a convenient rock handy, his Screaming Eagles always set up a perch for him a couple of feet above stool height so he tended to tower over the assembled officers. The troopers rather liked that. He wasn’t just EAGLE. He was their EAGLE. He had learned a lot in the Mohave, including how to lead.
A vote? Hopefully not today, thought EAGLE. He wasn’t feeling in a particularly democratic mood.
EAGLE focused his mind. “EAGLE ESCORT,” he said. “Bandits ahead. State position.”
“Five hundred feet above you, and to the rear,” replied Escort One. “We have you and the bandits in plain sight; and we note the snakes.”
“Close in on me,” said EAGLE. “We’re going to attack. I’ll take the center file. You guys take the flanks. We’ll rake from the top. Watch out for those bloody snakes.”
“Roger that,” said Escort One, his calm voice still betraying a hint of the excitement that was pounding through him.
Seconds later, EAGLE had company. Five against twenty-four. For a brief moment he felt a pang of regret that hadn’t kept his Air Commando together instead of splitting them up to eliminate the local snake population. He put a call out just in case there were any in the vicinity.
A reply came back immediately, and the signal was very strong. But then there was no time to think about it, because one of the tail-end vultures looked around, screamed, and dropped his snake.
The wretched thing writhed and wriggled in desperation as it fell ever faster towards the rocks far, far,below. Never trust a vulture.
“Attack! Attack! Attack!” said EAGLE; and dived.
The five eagles screamed towards their target at astonishing speed.
EAGLE raked the center column of vultures with his talons; and decapitated three on his first pass. Two others were mortally wounded and spiraled towards the ground streaming blood, feathers and swearwords.
The air was filled with vulture heads, pieces of vulture flesh, large quantities of vulture blood, feathers from both eagles and vultures, the occasional vulture eye, and more very unhappy snakes. They didn’t writhe and wriggle at all after they had smashed into the ground. They lay there very still; leaking whatever snakes leaked; and agreeably dead.
And then EAGLE’S complete Air Commando showed up; and the remaining vultures, and their snakes, did not have a happy day.