Sunday, February 18, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 7

John Done watched from the hotel balcony as Krueger, Gray and Abbot walked over to the rollfield, caught up in polite conversation. The day was slowly coming to an end, with the sinking sun casting long, tangerine shadows over the base and the jungle around it. The horizon pulsed with the day's last struggle for heat, as if the air was hungry for every bit of sunshine it could still soak up. The noise from the woods grew louder; the animals were waking up. He heard Trinity's footsteps behind him - it was her rhythm, her smell, the tingling in the back of his head that he got whenever she was close to him. She draped her arms over his shoulders; it made him realize how cold his own skin was. Come to think of it, he'd rarely touched someone with cold skin (besides bodies) - was it something in the human experience that everyone thought everyone else was somehow warmer, or was that just one of his pecularities?

"You worry too much," she whispered in his ear.
"How do you figure?"
"You're tense."
"Mmh-hm. What's your plan?"
"Oh, I'd say start at the shoulders, massage the back, then some zone therapy on your feet..."
"About the missiles."

Trinity sighed.

"You know, I hated doing this, not letting you in..."
"Simmons asked me to."
"And you listened to him?"
"Then, Rowena asked me to."
"Sounds like I was overruled, then. But you're talking past tense."
"So you are paying attention to me," she purred, "and not thinking about how you can get us on that plane."
"Both, actually..."
"We have the plane thing covered. You see, we're just going to walk aboard."
"Hm. You'd have to know the plan."
"Which you were about to tell me, right?"

She drew him into a light hug.

"I suppose I could..."


"If you would follow me..." Krueger said, leading Gray and Abbot into his container slash office. After going through the standard security precautions, he offered them a drink and was met with (less than) polite denial.

"Finalize the transaction," Abbot said; Krueger raised an eyebrow, but did not reply and sat down at his computer. There followed some hacking on the keyboard, fingerprint scans and other security measures, none of which mattered except for the result: Krueger raised his other eyebrow.

"I'm afraid there may be a problem," he said cautiously.
"Yes?" Gray said, annoyed at the delay.
"It appears that I can't gain access to your account."
"Let me see that," Gray responded; Krueger made an annoyed face, but swiveled the laptop towards the Shop leader and let him try to enter the passwords.

Account suspended

"Is there something you want to tell me?" Krueger asked.
"The money is there."
"I've no doubt. However, there is the matter of getting it from your account to my account."
"This is a trick."
"Mr. Gray," Krueger began, in the manner of a patient teacher, "when I asked you - and everyone else - to deposit the money at an account with the Schweizer Nationalbank, it was not a polite suggestion. I'm satisfied that they match my criteria for discreetness and diligence. Now they tell me that your account is under investigation. I don't know what you were trying to do here, but I kindly suggest that we shake hands and you leave my office within the next five minutes."

Abbot's eyes flared up, but Gray made an almost imperceptible move with his hand.

"I understand," he began. "We're both businessmen. You have no reason to trust me. But I do have other accounts..."
"I don't make exceptions, Mr. Gray. The protocol exists for list of reasons, and I don't want you to become the next item on it. You see, I've made some bad experiences in the past. Mistakes that had to be corrected at a considerable cost and effort to myself. It's better for everyone involved if I don't sell to you. A good day to you, Mr. Gray, Ms. Abbot."
"I could..." Abbot began, but Gray saw Krueger reach for his panic button and stopped her again.
"No. Dr. Krueger is right," he said. "I'm sorry for the trouble. Goodbye, Doctor."

Gray turned on his heel, then marched out of the container with Abbot in tow. Krueger let out a deep sigh, then grabbed his cellphone and dialed.


In the plane's cargo hold, Mark's hand traced the outlines of the missile skin, feeling every small bump, weld and bolt in the metal as he slowly walked the length of one weapon. Even for someone with a broad background in firearms, being this close to a weapon of mass destruction - no, owning it - was a special moment, and he didn't want it sullied by any words, debates or arguments. He wanted to be alone with the projectile, imagine the roar of its mighty engines - and yet still know that it would never fly. They would be dismantled, made unuseable, destroyed. He didn't know how to feel about that, so he felt nothing.

Outside, Krueger was leaning against one of his utility vehicles, lighting up a herbal cigarette with an SAS-engraved zippo. He took a few puffs, the acrid taste of smoke biting his throat but still, eventually, going down, filling his lungs. There were a great many people in the world who wanted to quit smoking; Krueger intended to start, but his first tries had been less than pleasant. He was slowly building up a tolerance to the idea of smoking with these "not quite" cigs, but at his rate of progress, he'd be ready to try a real cigarette again in some unspecified future time, aeons past our understanding of the universe - a time when nicotiana tabacum would be long extinct. A time, perhaps, where one could observe a sharp decline in humanity's energy consumption by sheer virtue of the universe's heat death.

In a way, he thought, it was reassuring that there was something on this Earth he couldn't just pick up and make work for himself.

He saw Rowena closing in, wearing her original set of fatigues; with just a nod, she stopped next to him and leaned against the truck's fender.

"Can I have one?" she asked; Krueger reached into his pocket, grabbed the box and shook one lose. "For 160, I'll even give you a light."
"Thanks," she replied, then held the cigarette to his lighter and took a deep breath through it. "Mmh...cherry-favored?"
"Of course."

Rowena blew a ring of smoke.

"I don't like normal cigarettes, either," she said.
"We shouldn't be smoking," Krueger replied. "Since we're both not enjoying it."
"Oh, I like smoking. I just hate tobacco."
"It's a weird habit."
"I don't think so. It's one of those things I can imagine happening, like you're a caveman and you throw some tobacco leaves into the fire to get it going..."
"...and you've invented passive smoking."
"I'm just saying that cavemen were smarter than we think."
"And that humans have been looking for better ways to get high since then."

Rowena took another puff.

"You don't look the type to go SAS," she said.
"I'm not. Never was," Krueger replied, and that was that.
"Oh. I thought you had like, some Doctorate in one of those cliche soldier thingies, like...killogy."
"That's not a word."
"Of course it is. Look it up."
"I would, but my Webster's...up there in the plane. And I'm lazy. All good engineers are. So, you win."
"Yay for defaults. So what's the Doctor?"
"Computer Engineering. Studied the theoretical background of von Neumann probes."
"I'm not familiar with that."
"It's the future of unmanned space exploration, in 100 years or so." He stared at the horizon, watching the last bit of sun disappear behind the horizon. "I've expanded my repertoire since then. Flexibility is good."

Rowena nodded sagely.

"Thanks for the smoke, Doctor."

She took one last puff, then walked off, her figure slowly fading into the creeping darkness. Krueger readied another cigarette, then gazed up towards the heavens. He could almost make out the faint light of several stars, like brilliant diamonds hanging from a sheet of black velvet. The cigarette smoke dispersed into the air, eventually becoming one with the dark blue clouds hanging over the camp.

What a lovely night.

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