Title page

THE
GREEN
BERET

 

 

By TOM PURDOM

It's not so much the decisions a man does make that mark him as a Man—but the ones he refrains from making. Like the decision "I've had enough!"

 

Illustrated by Schoenherr


R

ead locked the door and drew his pistol. Sergeant Rashid handed Premier Umluana the warrant.

"We're from the UN Inspector Corps," Sergeant Rashid said. "I'm very sorry, but we have to arrest you and bring you in for trial by the World Court."

If Umluana noticed Read's gun, he didn't show it. He read the warrant carefully. When he finished, he said something in Dutch.

"I don't know your language," Rashid said.

"Then I'll speak English." Umluana was a small man with wrinkled brow, glasses and a mustache. His skin was a shade lighter than Read's. "The Inspector General doesn't have the power to arrest a head of state—especially the Premier of Belderkan. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must return to my party."

In the other room people laughed and talked. Glasses clinked in the late afternoon. Read knew two armed men stood just outside the door. "If you leave, Premier, I'll have to shoot you."

"I don't think so," Umluana said. "No, if you kill me, all Africa will rise against the world. You don't want me dead. You want me in court."

Read clicked off the safety.

"Corporal Read is very young," Rashid said, "but he's a crack shot. That's why I brought him with me. I think he likes to shoot, too."

Umluana turned back to Rashid a second too soon. He saw the sergeant's upraised hand before it collided with his neck.

"Help! Kidnap."

Rashid judo chopped him and swung the inert body over his shoulders. Read pulled a flat grenade from his vest pocket. He dropped it and yellow psycho gas hissed from the valve.

"Let's be off," Rashid said.

The door lock snapped as they went out the window. Two men with rifles plunged into the gas; sighing, they fell to the floor in a catatonic trance.

A little car skimmed across the lawn. Bearing the Scourge of Africa, Rashid struggled toward it. Read walked backward, covering their retreat.

The car stopped, whirling blades holding it a few inches off the lawn. They climbed in.

"How did it go?" The driver and another inspector occupied the front seat.

"They'll be after us in half a minute."

The other inspector carried a light machine gun and a box of grenades. "I better cover," he said.

"Thanks," Rashid said.

The inspector slid out of the car and ran to a clump of bushes. The driver pushed in the accelerator. As they swerved toward the south, Read saw a dozen armed men run out of the house. A grenade arced from the bushes and the pursuers recoiled from the cloud that rose before them.

"Is he all right?" the driver asked.

"I don't think I hurt him." Rashid took a syrette from his vest pocket. "Well, Read, it looks like we're in for a fight. In a few minutes Miaka Station will know we're coming. And God knows what will happen at the Game Preserve."

Read wanted to jump out of the car. He could die any minute. But he had set his life on a well-oiled track and he couldn't get off until they reached Geneva.

"They don't know who's coming," he said. "They don't make them tough enough to stop this boy."

Staring straight ahead, he didn't see the sergeant smile.


Two types of recruits are accepted by the UN Inspector Corps: those with a fanatic loyalty to the ideals of peace and world order, and those who are loyal to nothing but themselves. Read was the second type.

A tall, lanky Negro he had spent his school days in one of the drab suburbs that ring every prosperous American city. It was the home of factory workers, clerks, semiskilled technicians, all who do the drudge work of civilization and know they will never do more. The adults spent their days with television, alcohol and drugs; the young spent their days with gangs, sex, television and alcohol. What else was there? Those who could have told him neither studied nor taught at his schools. What he saw on the concrete fields between the tall apartment houses marked the limits of life's possibilities.

He had belonged to a gang called The Golden Spacemen. "Nobody fools with me," he bragged. "When Harry Read's out, there's a tiger running loose." No one knew how many times he nearly ran from other clubs, how carefully he picked the safest spot on the battle line.

"A man ought to be a man," he once told a girl. "He ought to do a man's work. Did you ever notice how our fathers look, how they sleep so much? I don't want to be like that. I want to be something proud."

He joined the UN Inspector Corps at eighteen, in 1978. The international cops wore green berets, high buttonless boots, bush jackets. They were very special men.

For the first time in his life, his father said something about his ambitions.

"Don't you like America, Harry? Do you want to be without a country? This is the best country in the world. All my life I've made a good living. Haven't you had everything you ever wanted? I've been a king compared to people overseas. Why, you stay here and go to trade school and in two years you'll be living just like me."

"I don't want that," Read said.

"What do you mean, you don't want that?"

"You could join the American Army," his mother said. "That's as good as a trade school. If you have to be a soldier."

"I want to be a UN man. I've already enlisted. I'm in! What do you care what I do?"

The UN Inspector Corps had been founded to enforce the Nuclear Disarmament Treaty of 1966. Through the years it had acquired other jobs. UN men no longer went unarmed. Trained to use small arms and gas weapons, they guarded certain borders, bodyguarded diplomats and UN officials, even put down riots that threatened international peace. As the UN evolved into a strong world government, the UN Inspector Corps steadily acquired new powers.

Read went through six months training on Madagascar.

Twice he nearly got expelled for picking fights with smaller men. Rather than resign, he accepted punishment which assigned him to weeks of dull, filthy extra labor. He hated the restrictions and the iron fence of regulations. He hated boredom, loneliness and isolation.

And yet he responded with enthusiasm. They had given him a job. A job many people considered important.

He took his turn guarding the still disputed borders of Korea. He served on the rescue teams that patrol the busy Polar routes. He mounted guard at the 1980 World's Fair in Rangoon.

"I liked Rangoon," he even told a friend. "I even liked Korea. But I think I liked the Pole job best. You sit around playing cards and shooting the bull and then there's a plane crash or something and you go out and win a medal. That's great for me. I'm lazy and I like excitement."


One power implied in the UN Charter no Secretary General or Inspector General had ever tried to use. The power to arrest any head of state whose country violated international law. Could the World Court try and imprison a politician who had conspired to attack another nation?

For years Africa had been called "The South America of the Old World." Revolution followed revolution. Colonies became democracies. Democracies became dictatorships or dissolved in civil war. Men planted bases on the moon and in four years, 1978-82, ringed the world with matter transmitters; but the black population of Africa still struggled toward political equality.

Umluana took control of Belderkan in 1979. The tiny, former Dutch colony, had been a tottering democracy for ten years. The very day he took control the new dictator and his African party began to build up the Belderkan Army. For years he had preached a new Africa, united, free of white masters, the home of a vigorous and perfect Negro society. His critics called him a hypocritical racist, an opportunist using the desires of the African people to build himself an empire.

He began a propaganda war against neighboring South Africa, promising the liberation of that strife-torn land. Most Negro leaders, having just won representation in the South African Parliament, told him to liberate his own country. They believed they could use their first small voice in the government to win true freedom for their people.

But the radio assault and the arms buildup continued. Early in 1982, South Africa claimed the Belderkan Army exceeded the size agreed to in the Disarmament Treaty. The European countries and some African nations joined in the accusation. China called the uproar a vicious slur on a new African nation. The United States and Russia, trying not to get entangled, asked for more investigation by the UN.

But the evidence was clear. Umluana was defying world law. If he got away with it, some larger and more dangerous nation might follow his precedent. And the arms race would begin again.

The Inspector General decided. They would enter Belderkan, arrest Umluana and try him by due process before the World Court. If the plan succeeded, mankind would be a long step farther from nuclear war.

Read didn't know much about the complicated political reasons for the arrest. He liked the Corp and he liked being in the Corp. He went where they sent him and did what they told him to do.


The car skimmed above the tree-tops. The driver and his two passengers scanned the sky.

A plane would have been a faster way to get out of the country. But then they would have spent hours flying over Africa, with Belderkan fighters in hot pursuit, other nations joining the chase and the world uproar gaining volume. By transmitter, if all went well, they could have Umluana in Geneva in an hour.

They were racing toward Miaka, a branch transmitter station. From Miaka they would transmit to the Belderkan Preserve, a famous tourist attraction whose station could transmit to any point on the globe. Even now a dozen inspectors were taking over the Game Preserve station and manning its controls.

They had made no plans to take over Miaka. They planned to get there before it could be defended.

"There's no military base near Miaka," Rashid said. "We might get there before the Belderkans."

"Here comes our escort," Read said.

A big car rose from the jungle. This one had a recoilless rifle mounted on the roof. The driver and the gunner waved and fell in behind them.

"One thing," Read said, "I don't think they'll shoot at us while he's in the car."

"Don't be certain, corporal. All these strong-arm movements are alike. I'll bet Umluana's lieutenants are hoping he'll become a dead legend. Then they can become live conquerors."

Sergeant Rashid came from Cairo. He had degrees in science and history from Cambridge but only the Corp gave him work that satisfied his conscience. He hated war. It was that simple.

Read looked back. He saw three spots of sunlight about two hundred feet up and a good mile behind.

"Here they come, Sarge."

Rashid turned his head. He waved frantically. The two men in the other car waved back.

"Shall I duck under the trees?" the driver asked.

"Not yet. Not until we have to."

Read fingered the machine gun he had picked up when he got in the car. He had never been shot at. Twice he had faced an unarmed mob, but a few shots had sent them running.

Birds flew screaming from their nests. Monkeys screeched and threw things at the noisy, speeding cars. A little cloud of birds surrounded each vehicle.

The escort car made a sharp turn and charged their pursuers. The big rifle fired twice. Read saw the Belderkan cars scatter. Suddenly machine-gun bullets cracked and whined beside him.

"Evade," Rashid said. "Don't go down."

Without losing any forward speed, the driver took them straight up. Read's stomach bounced.

A shell exploded above them. The car rocked. He raised his eyes and saw a long crack in the roof.

"Hit the floor," Rashid said.

They knelt on the cramped floor. Rashid put on his gas mask and Read copied him. Umluana breathed like a furnace, still unconscious from the injection Rashid had given him.

I can't do anything, Read thought. They're too far away to shoot back. All we can do is run.

The sky was clear and blue. The jungle was a noisy bazaar of color. In the distance guns crashed. He listened to shells whistle by and the whipcrack of machine-gun bullets. The car roller-coastered up and down. Every time a shell passed, he crawled in waves down his own back.

Another explosion, this time very loud.

Rashid raised his eyes above the seat and looked out the rear window. "Two left. Keep down, Read."

"Can't we go down?" Read said.

"They'll get to Miaka before us."

He shut his eyes when he heard another loud explosion.

Sergeant Rashid looked out the window again. He swore bitterly in English and Egyptian. Read raised his head. The two cars behind them weren't fighting each other. A long way back the tree-tops burned.

"How much farther?" Rashid said. The masks muffled their voices.

"There it is now. Shall I take us right in?"

"I think you'd better."


The station was a glass diamond in a small clearing. The driver slowed down, then crashed through the glass walls and hovered by the transmitter booth.

Rashid opened the door and threw out two grenades. Read jumped out and the two of them struggled toward the booth with Umluana. The driver, pistol in hand, ran for the control panel.

There were three technicians in the station and no passengers. All three panicked when the psycho gas enveloped them. They ran howling for the jungle.

Through the window of his mask, Read saw their pursuers land in the clearing. Machine-gun bullets raked the building. They got Umluana in the booth and hit the floor. Read took aim and opened fire on the largest car.

"Now, I can shoot back," he said. "Now we'll see what they do."

"Are you ready, Rashid?" yelled the driver.

"Man, get us out of here!"

The booth door shut. When it opened, they were at the Game Preserve.

The station jutted from the side of a hill. A glass-walled waiting room surrounded the bank of transmitter booths. Read looked out the door and saw his first battlefield.

Directly in front of him, his head shattered by a bullet, a dead inspector lay behind an overturned couch.

Read had seen dozens of training films taken during actual battles or after atomic attacks. He had laughed when other recruits complained. "That's the way this world is. You people with the weak stomachs better get used to it."

Now he slid against the rear wall of the transmitter booth.

A wounded inspector crawled across the floor to the booth. Read couldn't see his wound, only the pain scratched on his face and the blood he deposited on the floor.

"Did you get Umluana?" he asked Sergeant Rashid.

"He's in the booth. What's going on?" Rashid's Middle East Oxford seemed more clipped than ever.

"They hit us with two companies of troops a few minutes ago. I think half our men are wounded."

"Can we get out of here?"

"They machine-gunned the controls."

Rashid swore. "You heard him, Read! Get out there and help those men."

He heard the screams of the wounded, the crack of rifles and machine guns, all the terrifying noise of war. But since his eighteenth year he had done everything his superiors told him to do.

He started crawling toward an easy-chair that looked like good cover. A bullet cracked above his head, so close he felt the shock wave. He got up, ran panicky, crouched, and dove behind the chair.

An inspector cracked the valve on a smoke grenade. A white fog spread through the building. They could see anyone who tried to rush them but the besiegers couldn't pick out targets.

Above the noise, he heard Rashid.

"I'm calling South Africa Station for a copter. It's the only way out of here. Until it comes, we've got to hold them back."

Read thought of the green beret he had stuffed in his pocket that morning. He stuck it on his head and cocked it. He didn't need plain clothes anymore and he wanted to wear at least a part of his uniform.

Bullets had completely shattered the wall in front of him. He stared through the murk, across the broken glass. He was Corporal Harry Read, UN Inspector Corps—a very special man. If he didn't do a good job here, he wasn't the man he claimed to be. This might be the only real test he would ever face.


He heard a shout in rapid French. He turned to his right. Men in red loincloths ran zigzagging toward the station. They carried light automatic rifles. Half of them wore gas masks.

"Shoot the masks," he yelled. "Aim for the masks."

The machine gun kicked and chattered on his shoulder. He picked a target and squeezed off a burst. Tensely, he hunted for another mask. Three grenades arced through the air and yellow gas spread across the battlefield. The attackers ran through it. A few yards beyond the gas, some of them turned and ran for their own lines. In a moment only half a dozen masked men still advanced. The inspectors fired a long, noisy volley. When they stopped only four attackers remained on their feet. And they were running for cover.

The attackers had come straight up a road that led from the Game Preserve to the station. They had not expected any resistance. The UN men had already taken over the station, chased out the passengers and technicians and taken up defense positions; they had met the Belderkans with a dozen grenades and sent them scurrying for cover. The fight so far had been vicious but disorganized. But the Belderkans had a few hundred men and knew they had wrecked the transmitter controls.

The first direct attack had been repulsed. They could attack many more times and continue to spray the building with bullets. They could also try to go around the hill and attack the station from above; if they did, the inspectors had a good view of the hill and should see them going up.

The inspectors had taken up good defensive positions. In spite of their losses, they still had enough firepower to cover the area surrounding the station.

Read surveyed his sector of fire. About two hundred yards to his left, he saw the top of a small ditch. Using the ditch for cover, the Belderkans could sneak to the top of the hill.

Gas grenades are only three inches long. They hold cubic yards of gas under high pressure. Read unclipped a telescoping rod from his vest pocket. He opened it and a pair of sights flipped up. A thin track ran down one side.

He had about a dozen grenades left, three self-propelling. He slid an SP grenade into the rod's track and estimated windage and range. Sighting carefully, not breathing, muscles relaxed, the rod rock steady, he fired and lobbed the little grenade into the ditch. He dropped another grenade beside it.

The heavy gas would lie there for hours.

Sergeant Rashid ran crouched from man to man. He did what he could to shield the wounded.

"Well, corporal, how are you?"

"Not too bad, sergeant. See that ditch out there? I put a little gas in it."

"Good work. How's your ammunition?"

"A dozen grenades. Half a barrel of shells."

"The copter will be here in half an hour. We'll put Umluana on, then try to save ourselves. Once he's gone, I think we ought to surrender."

"How do you think they'll treat us?"

"That we'll have to see."

An occasional bullet cracked and whined through the misty room. Near him a man gasped frantically for air. On the sunny field a wounded man screamed for help.

"There's a garage downstairs," Rashid said. "In case the copter doesn't get here on time, I've got a man filling wine bottles with gasoline."

"We'll stop them, Sarge. Don't worry."


Rashid ran off. Read stared across the green land and listened to the pound of his heart. What were the Belderkans planning? A mass frontal attack? To sneak in over the top of the hill?

He didn't think, anymore than a rabbit thinks when it lies hiding from the fox or a panther thinks when it crouches on a branch above the trail. His skin tightened and relaxed on his body.

"Listen," said a German.

Far down the hill he heard the deep-throated rumble of a big motor.

"Armor," the German said.

The earth shook. The tank rounded the bend. Read watched the squat, angular monster until its stubby gun pointed at the station. It stopped less than two hundred yards away.

A loud-speaker blared.

ATTENTION UN SOLDIERS.
ATTENTION UN SOLDIERS.
YOU MAY THINK US SAVAGES
BUT WE HAVE MODERN WEAPONS.
WE HAVE ATOMIC WARHEADS,
ALL GASES, ROCKETS
AND FLAME THROWERS. IF
YOU DO NOT SURRENDER
OUR PREMIER, WE WILL DESTROY YOU.

"They know we don't have any big weapons," Read said. "They know we have only gas grenades and small arms."

He looked nervously from side to side. They couldn't bring the copter in with that thing squatting out there.

A few feet away, sprawled behind a barricade of tables, lay a man in advanced shock. His deadly white skin shone like ivory. They wouldn't even look like that. One nuclear shell from that gun and they'd be vaporized. Or perhaps the tank had sonic projectors; then the skin would peel off their bones. Or they might be burned, or cut up by shrapnel, or gassed with some new mist their masks couldn't filter.

Read shut his eyes. All around him he heard heavy breathing, mumbled comments, curses. Clothes rustled as men moved restlessly.

But already the voice of Sergeant Rashid resounded in the murky room.

"We've got to knock that thing out before the copter comes. Otherwise, he can't land. I have six Molotov cocktails here. Who wants to go hunting with me?"

For two years Read had served under Sergeant Rashid. To him, the sergeant was everything a UN inspector should be. Rashid's devotion to peace had no limits.

Read's psych tests said pride alone drove him on. That was good enough for the UN; they only rejected men whose loyalties might conflict with their duties. But an assault on the tank required something more than a hunger for self-respect.

Read had seen the inspector who covered their getaway. He had watched their escort charge three-to-one odds. He had seen another inspector stay behind at Miaka Station. And here, in this building, lay battered men and dead men.

All UN inspectors. All part of his life.

And he was part of their life. Their blood, their sacrifice, and pain, had become a part of him.

"I'll take a cocktail, Sarge."

"Is that Read?"

"Who else did you expect?"

"Nobody. Anybody else?"

"I'll go," the Frenchman said. "Three should be enough. Give us a good smoke screen."


Rashid snapped orders. He put the German inspector in charge of Umluana. Read, the Frenchman and himself, he stationed at thirty-foot intervals along the floor.

"Remember," Rashid said. "We have to knock out that gun."

Read had given away his machine gun. He held a gas-filled bottle in each hand. His automatic nestled in its shoulder holster.

Rashid whistled.

Dozens of smoke grenades tumbled through the air. Thick mist engulfed the tank. Read stood up and ran forward. He crouched but didn't zigzag. Speed counted most here.

Gunfire shook the hill. The Belderkans couldn't see them but they knew what was going on and they fired systematically into the smoke.

Bullets ploughed the ground beside him. He raised his head and found the dim silhouette of the tank. He tried not to think about bullets ploughing through his flesh.

A bullet slammed into his hip. He fell on his back, screaming. "Sarge. Sarge."

"I'm hit, too," Rashid said. "Don't stop if you can move."

Listen to him. What's he got, a sprained ankle?

But he didn't feel any pain. He closed his eyes and threw himself onto his stomach. And nearly fainted from pain. He screamed and quivered. The pain stopped. He stretched out his hands, gripping the wine bottles, and inched forward. Pain stabbed him from stomach to knee.

"I can't move, Sarge."

"Read, you've got to. I think you're the only—"

"What?"

Guns clattered. Bullets cracked.

"Sergeant Rashid! Answer me."

He heard nothing but the lonely passage of the bullets in the mist.

"I'm a UN man," he mumbled. "You people up there know what a UN man is? You know what happens when you meet one?"

When he reached the tank, he had another bullet in his right arm. But they didn't know he was coming and when you get within ten feet of a tank, the men inside can't see you.

He just had to stand up and drop the bottle down the gun barrel. That was all—with a broken hip and a wounded right arm.

He knew they would see him when he stood up but he didn't think about that. He didn't think about Sergeant Rashid, about the complicated politics of Africa, about crowded market streets. He had to kill the tank. That was all he thought about. He had decided something in the world was more important than himself, but he didn't know it or realize the psychologists would be surprised to see him do this. He had made many decisions in the last few minutes. He had ceased to think about them or anything else.

With his cigarette lighter, he lit the rag stuffed in the end of the bottle.

Biting his tongue, he pulled himself up the front of the tank. His long arm stretched for the muzzle of the gun. He tossed the bottle down the dark throat.

As he fell, the machine-gun bullets hit him in the chest, then in the neck. He didn't feel them. He had fainted the moment he felt the bottle leave his hand.

The copter landed ten minutes later. Umluana left in a shower of bullets. A Russian private, the ranking man alive in the station, surrendered the survivors to the Belderkans.


His mother hung the Global Medal above the television set.

"He must have been brave," she said. "We had a fine son."

"He was our only son," her husband said. "What did he volunteer for? Couldn't somebody else have done it?"

His wife started to cry. Awkwardly, he embraced her. He wondered what his son had wanted that he couldn't get at home.

THE END


Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Analog, January 1961.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.