The Green Beret

by Tom Purdom

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: 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!"

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

Read 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.

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