Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 2

The train ride, such as it was, left Mark and Rowena more than enough time to settle into the situation, discarding their jump gear along the way in small increments, checking their equipment and even getting bits and pieces of sleep along the way. They exchanged their thermal suits for nondescript jungle fatigues and readied their weapons; then, Rowena set about attaching tracking bugs to the missiles while Mark stood - well, crouched - guard. That done, they waited for the train to take a turn and jumped off into the bush. It was still an hour before sunrise; Mark unpacked a satellite phone from the backpack while Rowena listened to the sounds of the jungle. They slowly made their way away from the tracks and deeper into the jungle until Mark was certain that they wouldn'tbe spotted from the air - which coincided nicely with the phone establishing a scrambled channel to the comm satellite.

"We're live," Mark spoke into the handset. "Can you see them?"
"Tracers are coming in clear, Paladin," Molly's voice replied. "But you're not gonna like the next part."
"I'm listening."
"Your signal isn't moving, so I guess you jumped from the train, right?"
"Like you told me to."
"We've had new orders come in. We need you to follow the missiles."
"Yes, I know, tough cookies. Nevermind, we're sending a pickup. How's your Spanish?"
"The Agency wants to insert a buyer, you're right there and you fit their ID. The kid's your...personal assistant. Go in, identify the buyers, make sure the missiles don't leave."
"Roger that, Clio. Paladin out."

He stashed the satellite phone, but not without thinking about smashing it against the next rock.

"That didn't sound like we'll be home for dinner," Rowena said, looking through the sights of her G36K while she swept the jungle for movement.
"Change of plan. We're going after the missiles."
"Fuck me."
"Maybe when you're legal."

She didn't slap him, because she was too busy doing her job of watching the surroundings. Yay for professionalism, Mark thought, then reminded himself to stop trying to piss off the people around him - even if it was funny. Especially when it was funny.

"Do you speak Spanish?" he asked.
"Of course I do, icho de puta."
"I'll take that as a 'Yes'."


Never let it be said that Mark was inflexible; thirty minutes later, he was riding in the back of a surplus jeep intently studying his new Brazillian passport. Aaron Taylor, it read. The identity had been used by some other Agency operatives, establishing him as an international mercenary noted for both his physical bulk and his pragmatism. Some gunrunning here, some security consulting there, plus a couple of blood diamonds smuggled from the blackest parts of Africa. Just the guy you'd want to hire to represent your interests in an arms deal, provided that you had something of gravity to ensure his loyalty.

Rowena's cover was less elaborate (or plausible); a fake British ID and some accounts on the Cayman's. Sophie Carter, teenage math prodigy gone runaway gone accountant; hey, it happened.

There was a winding path ahead, and to call it road would have done that word a great injustice; the most civilized aspect of it were the traces of gravel, but otherwise it looked to be a section of the jungle that was marginally less overgrown through the sheer persistance of vehicles driving through it; a no man's land in the war between humans and nature, constantly under attack from vines yet never completely gone. Mark hoped that the guerillas would, one day, use their ill-gotten funds on some asphalt.

"What about the guns?" Rowena asked.
"Well, what about them?"
"Aren't we a bit...overdressed?"
"We're bidding on nuclear warheads, we can afford the good stuff."
"Right, right, but couldn't we also afford a security detail?"
"We're competent and paranoid."
"Makes sense. Have you done this before?"
"What, jungle or deep cover?"
"I grew up in a forest. West Virginia. I know my way around the green stuff...mostly. Deep cover? Well, I lie to people all the time, how hard can it be?"
"This is going to be a barrel of laughs," she said, checking the magazine in her carbine. "Right before they kill us."

Mark couldn't help but think that she was right.


The people of Vietnam had never made the acquaintance of Mark Simmons, what with him being unavailable for the draft; this was generally held to be a good thing by everyone involved, but right there Mark began to think that maybe he'd missed out on something. He'd been a city slicker for decades now, and the jungle around him felt icky and dirty in ways that made him more uncomfortable than any dark alley where he might've shared the night with a few homeless people. There was something reassuring, he felt, about the solidity of concrete and stone under you, the firm reminder that mankind had prevailed in a place and left nature in a permanent, distant second place. Here, the war was going much more in Gaia's favor, and if there was one thing Mark hated, it was a fair fight.

Worse, it was a fair fight he wasn't prepared for, which made it as close to even as anyone was likely to get in a duel with him.

The jeep finally pulled onto a large clearing, and Mark had to revise his opinion of guerilla camps a few notches upwards. Far from a tent city, there were actual buildings on the site, flanked by wire fences, sandbags and regular patrols. Of particular interest was the large array of concrete, which answered Mark's question as to where that material had gone to - the airstrip housed a large cargo aircraft that Mark couldn't place, but it looked vaguely Russian with its gargantuan engine cowlings and stocky build. The cyrillic markings on the side merely added to that impression.

The jeep came to a stop just outside the main gate and flashed its front beams; in response, several soldiers moved from the guardhouse and checked their IDs. After a short hassle over Mark's selection of knives, Rowena and he were inside the compound, taking in the vastness from within.

"Not very covert, is it," Rowena said.
"Daddy's probably watching," Mark replied, and Rowena's eyes shot up towards the sky. "Best behaviour, kid," he said, then wandered off.
"Where are you going?"
"I need some creature comforts. You just...take a look around, right?"

Rowena set course for a different direction; there was a large hall built over the tracks leading into the camp, and she easily passed through the front door. Inside, industrious soldiers were setting the air ablaze with the sparks of welding and cutting, assembling new structures within as they went. A large crane heaved the missiles from the flatbed railcar one by one and deposited them on custom-made braces while the neon lights flickered every time the heavy electric motors whined to life.

There was a polite cough behind her; Rowena turned around to see a 30-ish man with immaculate short hair and a tasteful suit hold out his right hand.

"Hello there. I don't think we've met."

She took his hand and shook it.

"Krueger," he said.

1 comment:

Valentina said...

Mark hoped that the guerillas would, one day, use their ill-gotten funds on some asphalt.

Bahahahaha. City boy. ;D
You wouldn't like Siberia either, I bet. =]