Chan, young boy in “The Golden Triangle”
I’m not actually Burmese. My name isn’t even Chan. I was born in Boston, for chrissake. The whole thing is complicated, which is why I don’t really like to talk about it, but… my parents were friends with General Narai. There was a fraternity, Dad had some drug connections. When Dad suddenly decided he wanted to go state’s against the cartel, Mom didn’t think it was a good idea, and she went and talked with the General’s wife about it, and, well. Dad disappeared for a while, and when he came back he just twitched all the time. One day some of the General’s men showed up and said I had to go with them. They stuck a bag over my head, next I know it’s like a billion degrees, and I’m in a jungle village full of extras out of a Chuck Norris movie. We had to work in the poppy fields. It was Wizard of Oz, only instead of munchkins there were assholes with guns. Then MacMullet falls out of the sky, gives me a baseball cap and tells me how awesome America is. He wants everybody to fight back. All the villagers, they get real excited, liked it meant something? I figured I should play along. The guy pulls together this amazing crazy guerrilla shit, with booby traps and explosions and he even hangs from a helicopter, which was cool. The bad guys lose, the villagers go free, and three months later I’m sent home in a a duffel bag. Both my parents were dead, ‘cause Narai was just this low-level creep. MacMullet doesn’t so much as send me a Christmas card. Screw that guy.
Dr. Charles Alden, scientist in “Trumbo’s World”
When we die, we linger until the crisis that cost us our lives is resolved. If your skull was crushed in a car crash, you remain in spirit, unseen, until the insurance is settled and every scrap of metal is cleared from the road. The war dead pile on top of each other, second guessing commanders; victims of hurricanes scream at deaf loved ones to flee while there’s still time. I had it easy. I was eaten alive by soldier ants. I was a biologist, and I was passionate about insects; I was also overweight and clumsy. I called Mac to help me investigate some animal disturbances in the Amazon jungle, and we met a plantation owner named Lucien Trumbo. We followed him down the river, and he told us of the marabunta, a massive colony of Camponotus cutting a swathe through the land. We stopped to investigate, and I fell into a ditch and got eaten alive. It was very painful. Afterwards, I remained, and I watched. Mac pushed the ants back, using fire and water and skill. Some natives died and joined me, but we did not share a language and they kept to themselves. Then Mac won, Trumbo was saved, and I waited for the two men to mourn their dead. Mac would call my family and I would be able to see them one last time. But Mac just smiled, and the tendrils holding me to the earth vanished. As I slid down a tunnel into the Great Beyond, all I could think was: that bastard.
Pete Torgut, other guy in “Hellfire”
Cooper knew Mac, not me. Oh, I’d met him before a few times, but we weren’t what you’d call friends. I came in on the oil rig before Mac did. I was there from the start with Cooper, and Laura, and I put up with their bickering for, god, years. Out there in a shack in the middle of nowhere, stinking like diesel fuel, terrified whenever anybody makes a spark. I told my parents I was in grad school. It was for love, really. To stand next to the man you dream of while oil spouts from the earth, both of you grinning like idiots—that’s special. He said he was married because his parents were Roman Catholic. I believed him, and Laura didn’t ask questions. But then Coop says, “Hey, do you remember-” and the next thing I know, Mac shows up with his haircut and his flannel, and then the fire starts. Oh, I never saw anything, but I knew I was done for. The way Coop would defer to Mac all the time. The eye contact I wasn’t supposed to notice. Mac had all these clever plans, and clever plans mean clever hands, my grandmother used to say. God knows where it went. After the well was up and running, the two went on a “fishing trip,” and Laura and I just sat around not talking to each other. Coop came back, but it wasn’t like before. Eventually I had to get on with my life. Oh, now I’m crying again. Try and fix that with a gum wrapper, you son of a bitch.