Masterson was tired. For that matter, he was hungry, cold, and wet. If it was an unpleasant sensation, he was feeling it at the moment. He had been traipsing through Kakadu, the northern rain forest regions Australia for what had felt like months but was really two weeks. Not that it was easy to keep track up here, he thought. No calendars. No clocks. He'd even left his watch back at the Organisation's local office.
He was their best, of course. When one of their own went rogue he was always sent after the agent in question. A natural born predator, he was proud of what he was. A hunter. This time they had sent him after an agent who had sent plans for their experimental microfarms to the local government's science agency, the CSIRO. He had broken the rules. Now he would pay, just as all those before him had payed. In fact, Masterson had already decided that he would pay even more than the others. He would have to suffer just a little longer for dragging him out here into this jungle.
During his military days, Masterson had shown himself to be exemplary in his ability to kill and ambush his opponents. He was a resourceful man with many ideas on how to catch his prey in almost any environment, with the exception of rain forests. Urban, desert, even arctic warfare was no problem for him. He could blend in anywhere but here. There was too much noise, too much movement, too much damn life around him to be truly at peace and comfortable in his mission. Not that this would stop him. It never had before. He had been sitting calmly eating from one of the ration packs he had brought with him to this place. His thoughts were as cold as the rock on which he sat. Perhaps it was a necessary result of all the death he had seen, all the death he had caused in the past. He had killed more men in his life than any sane man could without losing some sense of reality.
Masterson heard the twig snap and every nerve within him went taut. He knew it wasn't an animal or a falling branch. That impeccable instinct of his told him it was a human, nearly fifty metres north of him. He continued eating. From the outside, it would have been impossible to detect any sign that he had heard the noise at all. He knew that in a place as big as this any agent of the Organisation who had a Hunter after him was this close by design, not accident. The hunter was being hunted. He wasn't sure why, but he began to feel doubts. Why would the target get this close when he knew he was a target? What was he thinking, did he believe he could take out an Organisation Hunter? Masterson felt a small bead of sweat run down the left side of his face. He brushed at it absently, using the movement to glance towards the north. His fears dissipated. He spotted the target instantly. He was impressed by this target, he was now only twenty metres away. To get that far making as little noise as this one had done was no mean feat, not out here at least. By the look of him, Masterson doubted that the target was here to hunt him outright. He was probably here to try and talk his way out of this. Masterson decided to let him try. After all he wouldn't be the first.
"Hunter, put your hands up where I can see them." The target had a high calibre pistol pointing at him. He did not feign surprise, just sat and raised his hands as if he had known he was there all along. It was a calculated move on his part, and the look in the target's eyes told him it had been effective.
"Well, you have me. Why don't you get this over with?" Masterson put on his most arrogant demeanor.
"I'm not here to kill you, not unless I have to." Masterson smiled inside. He'd been right. The target wanted to explain himself. The target spoke once more. "How long have you been a hunter for the Organisation?"
"What business is that of yours?" the target raised his pistol a fraction by way of response. Masterson decided to play along. "Okay, Okay. Seven years or so. Ever since I got turfed from the Marines in the 'States."
"How many targets have you eliminated?" The target made no secret of his distaste for the jargon employed by the Hunter Division.
Masterson smiled. "I've killed more men than you've probably seen in the last seven years working in that isolated laboratory of yours." Masterson noticed the target blanch at this. He decided he might be able to do this without weapons. These science types could be taken out with fear alone if this one was an example. "Why are we discussing me?"
"You mean you don't see it? You don't know what you're doing is wrong? What's my crime?"
"How can you be disloyal to an organisation acting with no loyalty to the human race? These microfarms can revolutionise the way we see our planet. They can feed millions with the output from an acre of ground. Why the hell does the Organisation want to bury this technology?"
"That's not my concern." Masterson was uncomfortable with these questions. He was maintaining his freon visage but inside he found himself asking questions to which he really didn't want answers. "My only concern is betrayal. I have to bring one of the Organisation's traitors to justice."
The target laughed. "Justice? Me? I'm a scientist for Christ's sake. Is killing me really going to make a difference to the Organisation?"
"Yes." Masterson replied calmly. It was time to bring this to a close. There was nothing this scientist was telling him that a hundred others hadn't told him before. "Right now, the Organisation has a problem. One of its agents has betrayed it and has been seen to get away with it. I'm here to change that. If your death stops one more agent from betraying them, then it's worth it, whatever you think."
"You're a fanatic."
"No, just a loyalist." Masterson's move was a blur to the target. The empty tin he had been eating from moments ago was striking the target's head before his reflexes had kicked in. The blow was not enough to harm him, but it distracted him just long enough. Masterson had him disarmed and pinned within seconds. He stared into the target's eyes and watched as he came to the realisation of what had just occurred, of what his fate would now be. The fear always fascinated Masterson. He could watch it with that detached interest of his for hours. He even had once. This time was different. There was something extra held within those eyes. The target was staring back. Masterson felt his stomach turn within him. There was a chill in the eyes staring back at him. "There's evil in you."
The target erupted in laughter. Masterson didn't understand. He was going to kill him, the target knew that, but here he was laughing? He released the target, walked over and picked up the pistol, pocketing it. The target was still lying there beside the rock on which he had sat, laughing hysterically. "You think there's evil in me?" The target obviously saw a humorous side to this statement he'd missed. "Here you are, a man who admits to killing more men than I've seen in my adult life. You're about to kill me, a scientist for heaven's sake, and you think I'm the evil one?"
Masterson had to admit he had a point. "There was something in your eyes before." Masterson felt uncomfortable talking about it.
The target calmed himself. "How many scientists have you been assigned to hunt?"
"You're the first."
"It shows." The target seemed to have lost all sense of fear now. He was relaxed. "What you saw was not evil. It's the same thing people see in your eyes. The thing that brought me here to talk to you instead of running. Intelligence."
This had Masterson curious. "Are you saying that intelligence looks evil to most people?"
"Of course it does. Every time I look at someone outside my IQ bracket, they shrink from me. They think I look like I'm sizing them up for lunch. They don't understand what I am, or what's going on in my mind. They know it's something they don't understand and it scares them. I had one person tell me once that I was looking at him like he was a bug."
"A bug? Not far from it, actually. A real nasty piece of work, he was. He'd made some deliveries to the storage module of the lab. I was there looking for something I was supposed to pick up and our paths crossed. The thing was you could see that there was not much going on in his mind. He was looking ahead to his next meal and his next lay. Nothing else. No big picture stuff. What I saw scared me. From what I observed, what he saw had the same effect on him."
"My point is that they sent you after me for a reason. You are a smart man. I saw that straight off. They had to send someone with high intelligence otherwise I could outfox the hunter, especially here. You see, they know that intelligence is the strongest force of the human race. They sent intelligence to beat intelligence, but this time it might work against them."
"You want me to betray the Organisation?"
"No, I want you to listen. Do you know why I sent the microfarm plans to the CSIRO? It wasn't for greed, it wasn't for power, it was for us. It was for the human race. The Organisation wants to bury this technology, but without it we'll become extinct. They're already too many of us for the earth to support, but instead of giving the world a solution, they want to bury it to serve their own interests. They don't understand, you see. Without this technology they'll have no interests because they'll have no-one over which they can hold that power. We'll all be dead."
"Nice speech, although I'm wondering where I fit in to all this."
"This world could use people like you. The governments, the corporations, even the Organisation have trained you to be one of their best. The world could use your skills if applied for good. Don't you think that if you used your abilities for honourable pursuits your job satisfaction would go through the roof?"
"Probably," Masterson admitted, "but I seriously doubt I could take the cut in pay." With a cobra's speed he whipped the pistol out and shot the target through the heart.
The report from the pistol caused an eruption of creatures eager to remove themselves to more peaceful surrounds. Masterson sat back on the rock and rummaged through his ration pack while he waited for the fuss to die down. He started eating a small tub of fruit and thinking about what the target had said. In some ways it made sense but he had been dead wrong (he smiled inside at the pun) about intelligence being the strongest force amongst humans. Once that may have been true but it wasn't true now. As far as he could determine it had not been true for any of his life time. What mattered most to men now was power. Control. Wealth. The real things in life. Still, he realised he should be thankful to the target, after all he showed him why his stares were so effective. With a little practice, he could have all his targets coming to him. It would have to be better than eating rations beside a corpse in a hell hole like this, he thought. He tossed the container aside and prepared to dispose of the body. The target had been right about something else as well. The human race didn't have long to go. Masterson decided not to sit around waiting. He had to earn his money while there were still people from whom to earn it.
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