Instinct: A Chess Team Adventure

PROLOGUE

The Annamite Mountains—Vietnam, 1995

THREE MONTHS HAD gone by since Dr. Anthony Weston began his search for the elusive creatures, and now that he’d found them, they were going to kill him.

A cascade of sweat followed a path of crisscrossing wrinkles down his forehead and dripped into his wide eyes. The salty, dirty sweat stung and brought forth a welling of tears, blurring his vision. He couldn’t see the creatures clearly, nor the ground on which he ran, but he could hear them all around, calling out to each other.

The sheer volume of their booming hoots and hollers filled him with a kind of primeval dread that quickened his pace and made his heart pound painfully in his chest. He feared a heart attack for a moment, but the crunch of dry leaves all around signaled that his life was fleeting, heart problem or not.

Weston rounded a bend on the overgrown path that wound its way through the jungle and eventually up into the mountains. He picked up speed as the trail straightened out. If not for the assistance of gravity and the steep grade, the beasts would most assuredly have already overtaken him, but as it was, Weston found himself running much more quickly than on level ground. Even still, the task of outrunning the savage tribe was taking a grim toll on his body. With each labored breath, his ruddy brown beard and mustache, which had grown long and ungainly during his months in the bush, were sucked in and pushed out of his mouth. His light blue eyes sparkled with wetness, and his hands, which held off approaching tree limbs and bushes, shook violently, smearing the blood drawn from his fresh wounds.

Brush exploded to his right as one of the creatures toppled through it. They were tumbling and tripping as they barreled clumsily in pursuit, focused more on their quarry than their surroundings. They were single-minded hunters. He knew this from watching them take down yellow pigs and the antelope-like saola—even that fine creature’s keen horns couldn’t fight off the savages when they were hungry.

And they were hungry now.

Weston first knew something was wrong when, that morning, the creatures began sniffing vigorously at the air. He’d been watching them from a distance, higher up on the mountain, for an entire week. He’d observed them hunting, grooming, sleeping, and playing. But it hadn’t been enough. Seeing through binoculars and hearing only distant calls could not quench his thirst for discovery. So, the previous night, he’d worked his way carefully, silently, down the mountainside until he was a mere fifty yards above with a clear view of the glade and mountain cave that served as their home. After carefully concealing himself with brush and debris, he waited eagerly for daybreak.

As the morning sun burned off the previous night’s fog, the group emerged from their cave, stretching and yawning. Typically, grooming would come next, but a new smell had caught their nose—Weston. As a cool breeze tickled the back of his neck, he realized the winds were rolling down the mountainside from above, and since he was so close, the odor of his unbathed body was fresh in the air.

He’d only just begun debating what he should do next when the group started jumping up and down, slapping the earth. A moment later, each and every one of them, forty-three in all, charged up the mountain. Their brown hair stood on end, bouncing madly as they ascended. For a moment, he sat still, stunned by the display, but as the creatures made eye contact with him and began their wild hoots, he