Saturday, June 09, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 20 - Barracuda

Despite Mark's prior escapades, he was surprised to find the area quiet when he walked out of the pharmacy. Accepting a tiny bit of karmic payback, he heaved the shotgun over his shoulder and started walking toward the haphazardly-parked car. As he took his first step onto the street, high-beams flooded the area with harsh xenon light, casting a long shadow behind Mark and briefly upsetting his vision.

That old, familiar feeling...

The cop was, admittedly, not very smart, because he didn't open fire right there; rather, he stepped on it and accelerated the car toward Mark, perhaps intending to run him over for the perceived slight of not paying enough attention to the prior chase. For his part, the Enforcer didn't think to consider this a game of chicken; even if the situation was - to use a strictly scientific term - scary, he was far beyond caring about trivia like a mass of kinetic energy barreling toward him. He lifted the shotgun off his shoulder with his right arm, took aim and let loose from both barrels, shredding the cop car's front tire. The car might have kept going straight had the driver not panicked; as it was, the lawman barely managed to bail after yanking the wheel, sending the car into a sideways slide down the street and finally rolling it over. Mark stood his ground, unimpressed by the car and its course. His sense of kinetics served him well once more - the car slid past him, rolled again and landed on its tires, snapping the axles and finally killing its momentum. He heard the set of wheels come to a groaning stop behind him; without batting an eye, he popped the spent shells out of the gun, loaded a new pair and snapped the shotgun's action shut with a flick of his wrist.

The universe briefly conspired to impart its wisdom on the policeman - he offered no further aggression, instead heading back into the streets of Rio. Mark simply snarled, shouldered the shotgun and walked back to his Mercedes. He dumped the shotgun onto the passenger's seat and drove off, heading back for the safe house.


Rowena didn't regain consciousness in anything approaching a reasonable way: her eyes flew open to be blinded by glaring fluorescent lighting above her, and the first thing she saw clearly was anauto-injector stuck in her chest. She tried to scream and remove it, but only managed the first: her wrists and ankles were shackled to the bed, though her sudden movement briefly startled the woman with the surgeon's mask and scalpel looming over her.

"It'll be okay, Rowena," John Done said; her eyes darted to the right, finding the burly mercenary holding her hand and trying to look positive. "Everything's under control."

Rowena didn't feel reassured.

"You listen," the woman said; Rowena's head shot back around, only to have a better rubber chew toy inserted into her gaping mouth. "Can't risk to give you painkillers. You feel bad, you bite on this. Try to lie still."

Rowena wanted to object, really, she did; about how she needed to catch her breath, and how she would very much like to risk painkillers, and what the hell was going on here anyway, somebody fill her in because that shit was crazy.

Senhora Cirurgia had no time for such trivia; Rowena dimly recalled singing along to a song with a line like "the first cut is the deepest", and it definitely applied here. Biting into the rubber didn't make the pain go away, but it was a very convenient object to channel the violent reaction of her body. There's something deeply unsettling about being cut open and dug around in, being reduced to a broken-down car that's getting a hole in its fenderbondo-ed. The doctor moved through muscles and tissue, eliciting more pain: Rowena did her best to focus the spastic motion of her body onto her head, but all that did was twist her face into a sharp, alien mask of suffering. When she briefly reopened her eyes and caught a glimpse of Done, his complexion was chalky.

That has to look terrifying, she thought, before idly reminding herself that it was every bit as bad as it looked.

After what seemed like hours, Rowena felt movement in her body, raising her feeling of alienation even further - then it stopped, she opened her eyes and saw the grin of the surgeon peeking through her face mask. She held a bullet in her tweezers as if she'd just dug a diamond out of Rowena's shoulder.

"You are very lucky. Bullet did not damage joint. Hardly deformed, either."

Call it a gunslinger's eye or being around soldiers all her life, but even in her condition, Rowena could tell that it was a .45 bullet. That and the absence of Mark from the scenario posed several highly interesting questions, but Rowena's brain decided that this little trip into lucidity had gone far enough and killed the lights again, letting her faint on the table. For her part, the surgeon appeared to be unimpressed.

"They always wait for the bullet," she said.

John Done felt the distinct need to punch something; the roar of an engine outside distracted him until the feeling was gone. A minute later, Mark stumbled in, his shoulder wound freshly dressed but already leaking blood again. "I come bearing gifts!" he shouted, dumped the basket of medical supplies onto an empty table and threw the shotgun to Done.

"Gee, thanks," Done said, inspecting the weapon with some disdain. "Did you rob a museum?"

Wordlessly, Mark passed the box of shotgun shells to Done, then turned to the surgeon.

"Where are your weapons?"
"There are...some," she said, stitching up Rowena's wound. "In the storage room. But not many."
"Push comes to shove," Done added, "you can use these." He opened his jacket, revealing the hastily stashed Five-seveNs; Mark considered this for a second, then stalked off toward the storage room.

As a rule of thumb, tossing a room for important items tends to leave behind quite a mess. Adding in Mark's rather slobbish approach, it was clear that the storage room never had a chance. Mark cheerfully hurled bandages, prepackaged food and various expensive surveillance equipment out of the way to get to the weaponlockbox . He managed to find a Colt Delta Elite (presenting Mark with that rarest of experiences: identifying a gun by label), an M16 clone of indeterminable manufacture and aHydroar flamethrower.

In a rare moment of wisdom, Mark decided to leave that last one behind.


Occasionally, we have to acknowledge our limitations. Mark, for example, was not quite paranoid enough - while his drive back to the safe house had been sprinkled with enough twists and turns to shake any ground-based pursuers, he made little effort to conceal his ride from airborne pursuers. Indeed, the thought that someone up there might follow him never occurred to him. In his dealings with a technologically advanced enemy, this was a clear drawback - and a weakness worth exploiting. As such things went, Mark had been tailed by a whole team of airborne spies - Rheinmetall "KZO " unmanned aerial vehicles, little prop-driven scouts passing off his location to each other and their controllers. It took the Hand of Glory three minutes to have a team in position near the safe house, another minute to confirm that it was, indeed, an Archer facility, and ten seconds to make a strategic decision - call in the big guns.

That being an unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

Sleek and sexy in its sharp angles and composite contours, the Barracuda drone screamed over Rio, barely below the speed of sound. It was large enough to dwarf Mark's car, yet slipped through the Brazilian air control radar as if it didn't exist. Preprogrammed with a rough GPS fix on the target, the Barracuda slowed down to just a few knots above stall to acquire its target; it was a bit smarter than its payload, so it had the unenviable task of sorting through the chaos of an urban landscape for a barely visible laser dot - but find it the Barracuda did. Then it sent a picture of the target to its weapon subsystem, circled around (and sent a request for weapon authorisation to its handlers, which resulted in a green light), re-vectored its flight path for another approach and released the Trigat air-to-surface missile from its payload bay before fading back into the night.

The Trigat, then, wasn't a very stealthy missile. Its solid fuel booster started screaming just two seconds after it had left the Barracuda; the missile shot straight over Rio, always mindful of its target, then found the place where it was supposed to go. Entering a terminal dive, the missile armed its warhead and hoped for the best.

And then there was the boom.

Mission accomplished, unfeeling missile guidance logic. Well done.

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