Saturday, April 28, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 16 - Benzin

With a few final gestures, Krueger - hunkered down out of sight at the entrance to the pen's command center - armed the charge he'd attached to the center's heavy steel entrance seconds before. His Hand fatigue shirt was now open, exposing the sparse personal gear he'd smuggled into the base with him. Trinity was on overwatch, holding a secret weapon, so to speak - Krueger had managed to disarm the IFF attachment on the Hand USP she was carrying, and she fully intended to make the most out of that little surprise. Krueger crawled up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder; without turning around, she opened a channel to Algernon's cochlear implant.

"Trinity to CHANCE, ready when you are."
"I rigged some barrels of petrol. They should make for a nice little fireball."
"Anything else?"

She could hear Algernon's smirk through the commlink.

"Cover your ears, love. This will be loud."

Seconds later, Trinity had to acknowledge that, in some cases, "loud" could constitute an euphemism.




In comparison, the Krueger's door charge was a mere whimper, outclassed and well aware of that; it still blew right through the door lock, slamming the heavy slab of metal open. Trinity didn't wait for the dust to settle; with the entry successfully seduced, she was in like Flynn, filling the three officers inside with a whole magazine from her USP. However, she spotted a different uniform inside the smoke, and in that moment of hesitation, the last Hand officer in the room had the speed to set up a stand-off. Trinity kept her gun on the officer's head, but the presence of a human shield was complicating matters - unless...

"Don't shoot him," Krueger said, rushing in beside Trinity with his custom S&W 500 revolver. "Hello, Gregor."
"Krueger!" Gregor - the human shield - shouted, before the Hand officer discouraged further communication with his USP.
"A stalemate, no?" the Hand Officer said, a weird hybrid of an Argentinian-German accent seeping through his English.
"The door, Trinity. Cover the door," Krueger said; after a moment of hesitation, Trinity slipped a new magazine into her handgun and turned around, standing back to back with Krueger.
"Can you hear them?" the officer asked, listening to the gunfire as if it was a Bach masterpiece. "My men. They will deal with the other intruder...and then they will be here. You will not survive."
"We're not going to surrender," Trinity barked.
"I'm not talking to you, woman. You, on the other hand - you are Dr. Krueger, yes?"
"I am. And?"
"How would you like to work for us? You are...resourceful, I believe, is the word."

A second passed with nothing but the firefight outside.

"How much do you offer?" Krueger said.
"Bastard," Trinity said; Krueger's voice was cold and steady when he replied.
"I'm a mercenary, Trinity. That's what I do, I look at the offers and take my pick."
"If I wasn't watching the door, you'd be dead."
"Probably, which would be why I have you covering the door. Now, how much, Herr Hauptmann?"
"I believe the going rate is 20,000 US Dollars per month..."


The Hand officer crumbled to the floor, with a neat entry wound between his eyes and the back of his head split open like a post-Gallagher melon. Gregor - that is, Vice-Admiral Gregor Orban - crumbled against the next wall, his neat Russian uniform now holding the Hand officer's innermost thoughts in the form of scattered neural tissue. Trinity didn't budge from her position, but her tone was quizzical when she found the strength to speak again.

"What took you so long?"
"Had to line up the shot."
"Did you consider it?"
"Of course. But I have standards."
"No Nazis?"
"50 grand."

Well, at least something to rely on, Trinity mused.

It was probably good that Gregor Orban was still trying to come to terms with 3.5 kilojoules of kinetic energy screaming past his head, because Krueger busied himself with the computer system in the command room; after a few keystrokes, he managed to override the counter-insurgency cache's security, opening a wall panel with un-IFF-ed weapons. Trinity took the opportunity to holster her USP and upgrade to an MG4 Squad Automatic Weapon.

"Now, Admiral...what was that about the missiles?" Krueger asked, still hacking his way into the main system.
"What...what do you mean, Krueger?"
"Don't play with me. You sold me the missiles, then you subcontracted with these assholes to bring them back."
"That's not..."
"And then they double-crossed you, took your boat and the missiles, and now we have to kill a lot of people to fix your mistakes." External counter-insurgency measures? "For shame," Krueger added, activating the cryptic command - and with it, several automated machine gun turrets around the command post that began to engage all IFF tags outside. "I rather like how these Hand of Glory commanders think," the good Doctor said. "So afraid of mutiny that they make sure everyone in the command post can fend one off. Well, of course, it's horrible for the soldiers, but it does make our job considerably easier."

As if in response, Trinity's MG4 started barking.

"They're ditching the tags!" she shouted over the racket of her gun; in response, Krueger intensified his attempts to get into the main systems control.
"Where's the crew?" he asked; the Admiral straightened the tie of his bloody uniform. "In the boat. But they disarmed us, and there's no way out."
"Let me worry about the dock gates." Krueger looked up briefly, and met the Admiral's glance. For a moment, there passed a glimmer of something between them - mutual respect, warrior's camaraderie, however you wish to call it. When it passed, the Admiral knew what to do; he stepped up to the intercom microphone and switched the external loudspeakers on.

"This is Admiral Orban speaking. Prepare for launch!"


Half man, half shadow, Lothario Algernon raged through the submarine pen, dodging gunfire and shifting from place to place in the blink of an eye. He had never pushed himself quite this hard; selectively bending the Fringe to his will was sending ripples through the realm, calling all spirits even vaguely nearby to him - but he could deal with that. With another shift, he dissolved into smoke as another Hand soldier let loose a burst from his rifle. Instantly, Algernon appeared behind him, stabbed him through the neck with his trench knife and faded back into nothingness just in time for the bullets of other soldiers to riddle their former comrade with lead. All said, it wasn't a very effective way to kill a lot of soldiers: although he'd racked up a solid five in the minute since the explosion, more were pouring out of the barracks by the second. Soon enough, there'd be so many bullets aimed at him that one would find its mark.

Then, the automatic machine guns opened up. Algernon used another shift to fade into the shadows, then shifted back out, trusting his dark clothing and the general confusion to keep him hidden for the moment. He wondered briefly how the turrets could track their targets so accurately - because he could've ended up as one of the targets -, then saw several of the Hand soldiers throw away their IFF pendants, leading the turrets to destroy the tags. Clever, really, but Algernon quickly realized that this was, at best, an ill-considered move - now that the soldiers were no longer tagged, they were valid targets for their own weapons.

It didn't take long for Algernon to show the assembled Hand soldiers that - considering the trouble he'd given them with just a knife and a Colt - he was even worse equipped with an assault rifle. As if that wasn't enough, the Hand soldiers realized a bit too late that, without the IFF system, their flamboyant close-range attacks were quickly turning into a deadly crossfire. The soldiers relied too much on their guns cutting out when aimed at a comrade.

Now, the soldiers couldn't, and the guns didn't.

A vicious hurricane of lead raged throughout the submarine pen as Algernon continued his fringewalking dance; for every soldier he killed himself, two more succumbed to friendly fire. As if that wasn't bad enough, Trinity had also dialed in her shots, sending short controlled bursts through the hall and cutting down those few that sought to escape the melee. Finally, it was done - Algernon and Trinity ran out of targets, and Algernon stopped his whirling dance to take a look around. He was standing in a pile of bloody corpses and hot brass; the steady stream of reinforcements from the barracks had ceased after the slaughter. He felt numb for a moment, then raised the rifle in his hands one last time and emptied it into the door controls, locking down the major access way from the base proper. His last shots spent, he dropped the gun; out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Trinity, Krueger and a man in a uniform approaching and merely sighed to himself. Everything was up to him now.

As the others rushed past, he closed his eyes, listening to the banging on the blast doors. More soldiers. Something in him wanted to this.

For what it's worth, nobody felt like arguing the point or his decision; Trinity, Krueger and the Admiral merely rushed past him, heading for the stairs that led downward and into the submarine. There had been another slaughter here, overshadowed by the struggles of our heroes; the Hand guards were dead, pummeled and stabbed by the Russian seamen. To judge from the injured and dead being carried into the bowels of the submarine, the Russians had lost three of their own for every Hand soldier. Several officers rushed to the ladder to help Admiral Orban down; they extended the same courtesy to Trinity and Krueger, but the XO had already snatched the Admiral away for a private status report when the psionic amazon and the gunrunner hit the floor grating.

"Take them to the bridge," the Admiral said, and that was that; the Russians looked dangerous, especially with the blood on their hands, and nobody felt like belaboring the point. The walk took a minute, taking them down twisted little corridors, built for people who weren't as tall as Trinity; but she managed, though her and Krueger's Hand uniform did raise some eyebrows - and improvised weapons. They were here at the request of the Admiral, no doubt - and it was keeping them alive.

On the bridge, Krueger couldn't help but take a few steps around to get the full impression. He'd never missed his digital camera quite that much.

"Prepare to dive!" the Admiral said as he stepped onto the bridge; after a few quiet moments, he was back in control and gave Krueger a knowing smirk.

My ride is bigger.

"Ready to dive!"
"Take us down to 20 meters, 5 knots ahead."
"Da, Admiral!"
"Now we'll see how good you are, Doctor."

The submarine was flying blind, so to speak; with the entire pen clad in sound-absorbing material, sonar was effectively useless for the moment of truth. All they could do was pray and wait and pray again, threading the needle in total darkness. Every breath was their last one, every blink of a signal light the hull breach warning that hadn't reached the klaxons yet.

They waited.
And waited.
And made it.

It's not like in the movies, where the brilliant execution of clever orders yields a ship-wide cheer for the commanding officer; instead, there were sighs of relief, held breaths expelled and a few drops of sweat wiped off brows, but the crew soldiered on as the sonar came alive.

"Increase speed to 15 knots," the Admiral ordered, then turned to Krueger and Trinity. "I suppose you want a refund now, or?"
"Well..." Krueger began. "I would insist, but as timing would have it, I am not the rightful owner of those missiles anymore. You'll have to ask my friend here."
(Friend, huh?) Trinity whispered.
(Why not?) Krueger replied.
"You must understand," the Admiral said, "that we were desperate. We haven't heard anything from THESEUS since..."
"Sec," Trinity said, interrupting. "THESEUS?"
"Of course."
(What is it?) Krueger whispered.
(He's family.)
('Oh' indeed.)
" harm, no foul," Trinity said. "All I really wanted was to make sure the missiles are destroyed, really."
"Speaking of which, what's taking Algernon so long?"


The soldiers did, eventually, break through the blast door; they found Algernon meditating in the middle of the pen, somewhat removed from the slaughter. His legs were folded and his eyes closed; he was at peace, unconcerned with the bodies or the fire that still ravaged the remains of the fuel depot. There were six of them, five soldiers and one officer - all decked out in Stormtrooper gear, and the only ones who had stayed behind to secure the base instead of evacuating. With utter professionalism, they lined up before Algernon's calm form, an impromptu firing squad should he try anything.

"Ganz ruhig, Arschloch! Keine Bewegung!"
"I'm afraid I don't speak German," Algernon replied, not moving a bit.
"I said don't move!"
"No problem."
"Where are your friends?"
"Where to?"
"I don't know. But if you hurry, you might still catch them."

The officer stepped forward and slapped Algernon in the face with his pistol. The fringewalker tumbled to the ground, rubbing his jaw; finally, he opened his eyes and gave the Hand soldiers a derisive glance.

"Now get up!"

He got up.

"Any last words?"
"Are you familiar with the Zen koan of the Strawberry?"
"There was once a man who was being chased by a ferocious tiger across a field. At the edge of the field there was a cliff. In order to escape the jaws of the tiger, the man caught hold of a vine and swung himself over the edge of the cliff. Dangling down, he saw, to his dismay, there were more tigers on the ground below him! And, furthermore, two little mice were gnawing on the vine to which he clung. He knew that at any moment he would fall to certain death. That's when he noticed a wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. Clutching the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other and put it in his mouth. He never before realized how sweet a strawberry could taste."
"So you want a snack, then?" the officer shouted; his men laughed. Algernon returned the smile.
"No, I want you to enjoy this moment."

It was a gesture, nothing more, but in the flash of an eye, six mercury blades found their way into the soldier's hearts, passing through their heavy armor like butter. The Hand team crumbled to the ground, sputtering their last; Algernon looked up to find six lingering spirits before him, brandishing their blades and eyeing him with a strange malice.

"A deal's a deal," he said; with another gesture, he called the Fringe to him, turning both the vivid blood and the gray concrete around him into stark black and white. Shadows spilled out from his coat as his full power found release. One by one, the spirits faded away until Algernon was alone once more; he bowed down to the still conscious Hand officer and whispered in his ear.

"Your main fuel tank took the small explosion...but I don't think it'll survive the fire."

And with that, Algernon was gone.


The tense atmosphere on the bridge was almost unbearable - it had been five minutes now, five minutes of staring at the screen that showed the periscope view of the Hand base. Five minutes of nothing, potential never quite being released. The air was thick with failure.

"Somehow," Krueger began, "I don't think Dr. Algernon is a demolitions expert."
"And you are?" Trinity replied.
"Name a pyrotechnics license. I have it."
"Forget I asked."
"I'm just saying, maybe we need to go back, make sure..."
"He'll manage. And we can't go back."
"We can't hold this position, either," Krueger shot back. "We've got places to be, right, Admiral?"
"The boat has, anyway," the Admiral gave back. "Fyodor, do we have a Viyuga ready for launch?"
"...Admiral?" the XO said.
"Please prepare one, Fyodor."

Krueger gave the Admiral a strange look, prompting the inevitable question from Trinity.

(What's Viyuga?)
(Cruise missile. I hope to God he's not using the nuclear warhead...)
"Nuclear!?" Trinity shouted; after drawing a few strange looks, the Admiral shook his head.
"Bunker buster. The side effects will be minimal..."

To everyone's relief, the question of which warhead to load became purely academic at just that moment.




"!" Trinity said; the rest of the bridge crew agreed.
"Problem solved," Krueger said with just the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. "One less hill in Brazil."
"I think it was a mountain."
"Did you measure it?" Trinity glared; Krueger shrugged. "Also, it rhymed."

Deciding not to bother fighting against that kind of logic, Trinity simply turned to the Admiral.

"Now, where do we stop?"
"We can't surface until we hit her home port."
"Which would be?"
"Let me ask you a question," the Admiral said with a smile. "Have you ever thought about visiting Vladivostok?"

No comments: