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Northwestern Vietnam, near the border with China
The sneeze rushed him out of the dream, squeezing away the black shadows he'd been running through. It didn't quite wake Josh MacArthur up, however— the second sneeze did that, shaking his body so violently that he knocked over the small radio near his sleeping bag. He rolled over and slipped to the edge of the mattress before the third sneeze, trying to bury his face in his arm to muf.e the noise. This was only partly successful, and Josh, worried that he would wake the rest of the team, grabbed the cover of his sleeping bag and sti.ed the next sneeze, and the next.
When he was .nally able to take a good breath without sneezing, Josh rose to his knees and crawled to the side of the tent, looking for the small plastic box with his antihistamines. After a bit of patting around he found it, but it was too dark inside the tent to sort through the pills— he carried two types, of similar sizes but different strengths. He wanted the one more powerful at nighttime, not caring that it would make him drowsy.
His .ashlight had rolled away somewhere when he knocked over the radio, and he couldn't see it. Finally he decided to go outside and walk to the clearing, where the moonlight might be strong enough for him to tell the difference between the blue and green pills; it would also give him a chance to relieve himself. He grabbed his jeans from the edge of the cot and pulled them on. Remembering the snakes he'd seen during the day, he shook out his boots before putting them on, then took his sweatshirt from the base of his camp bed and went outside.
The moist mountain air provoked another sneeze.
Josh cursed his sinuses silently and walked over to the open area where they'd made a .re the previous eve ning. It was reduced to dead ashes now, but there was enough open space for the moon to shine full; he could see not only his hands but the cuts across his palm. He opened the pillbox and sorted through its contents, worried he would sneeze again and spill them in the dirt, where they might be lost forever. Finally he found one he was convinced was green—one of the strong ones— and popped it into his mouth.
He swallowed, grimacing at the bitter taste the pill left in his throat. Then he moved toward the bushes and trees a few yards away to .nd a place to pee.
Northwestern Vietnam was not the best place for a man with allergies, but MacArthur hadn't considered his body's foibles when he decided on his career as a weather scientist, nor had he thought about it much when he chose his doctoral thesis topic, the impact of rapid climate change on Asian mammals. Vietnam was not only a good place to study his subject; there was actually money available to fund the research, since few scientists wanted to go to such a distant place when there were ample topics in the developed world. These days, one could study the effects of climate change and still sleep in a hotel bed at night.
But Vietnam, snakes and all, offered other consolations. The mountains and valleys of the north were breathtakingly spectacular. And while they had been greatly affected by the rapid changes in the world's weather that had occurred over the last .ve years, the changes were much more benign, and even bene.cial, than those elsewhere.
One of the changes meant it was slightly wetter and warmer in February than it ordinarily would have been just .ve years before. But warmth was relative— MacArthur pulled on his sweatshirt and rubbed his hands together, trying to ward off the chill as he looked for a suitable place to relieve himself.
The young scientist had just found a large rock when he heard something pushing through the scrub to his right. He froze with fear.
Ordinarily they didn't range quite this far west, but they too had suffered the consequences of climate change, and were expanding their range.
What was he supposed to do? Crouch? Freeze? Run? What had he been told during orientation?
Before his mind could supply an answer, he heard another sound, this one farther away. There were two, no three animals moving through the brush.
They couldn't be tigers. The cats didn't hunt in packs.
But this realization didn't comfort him. Something was de.nitely there, moving through the vegetation toward the camp.
Someone shouted. MacArthur spoke very rudimentary Viet namese, and what he heard didn't match with the words he knew.
There was another shout, and then a very loud and strange popping noise, a bang that seemed unworldly. The whole mountain shuddered, then .ashed oddly white.
Then came a noise he did recognize, one he'd heard long ago as a child, a sound that had .lled his nightmares ever since—an automatic weapon began rattling behind him, its sound the steady, quick stutter of death. Another joined in, then another and another.
Without thinking, without even looking where he was going, Josh MacArthur took off running in the opposite direction, dodging through the thick brush in the moonlight.
Excerpted from larry bond's red dragon rising by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice.
Copyright © 2009 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice.
Published in November 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.