“Gentleman,” a chief of T section said sharply, cutting into a misty morning.
The chief, a lean, cardigan-wearing man named Bulick, assumed a college professor’s learned disaffection. He was speaking softly, but authoritatively — as if he could not conceive of being interrupted.
“I give you,” he continued with a short pause intended for minor dramatic effect, “the trebuchet.”
Indeed, Bulick would not be interrupted; he was addressing a peculiar assembly. About a dozen human forms dotted the wet grass at his feet. These were uniformly nude, lathered in a kind of clear oil and bound tightly with plastic straps into the standard, summer-fun-time, diving-board cannonball position: legs bent, knees beneath chins, arms wrapped around the whole.
Most were upright, but a few were tipped on their sides. Only a few were actually awake, though Bulick’s curt announcement had the effect of rousing the rest. As their eyes blinked open, and adjusted to the gauzy light, they seemed to display equal measures of confusion and fright.
Above them loomed a trebuchet, a piece of medieval military equipment — a siege engine, the wonks would call it. Imagine a magnificent, mechanical brontosaurus, wrought in reinforced steel, with great rubber tires instead of feet and a huge sling of black nylon drooping from its polished head.
The trebuchet was, in its time, used to hurl heavy projectiles at an enemy, typically when the enemy was hunkered down in a fortified place. But there are few practical limitations on its use, as would soon be obvious.