Episode 29: Wow, I Didn’t See That Coming!
Doc Freeman’s whole ‘business party’ is held for ransom except for underage (crazy) Nip, and Randy Shugart III is now denounced as the killer of Judge Ibrahim Sisoko (and spawn of the ‘Murderer of Mogadishu’). I guess one person’s hero is another’s villain. Kyle and Cat get more than they bargained for and are branded ‘Heroes of the Islamic Revolution’, and Roger and Natasha become Daniela’s friends. Strange alliances are made. Bombings and jail breaks are committed. The Team must now not only save Ernest but also themselves!
Half of the Team races for the border of Mauretania to meet up with their C-23 transport to jump ahead of the convoy carrying Doc Freeman’s party and the group’s ‘paycheck’: Ernest Krieger. If the Azawad Islamic forces ransom the young heir back to his grandfather before they can ‘rescue’ him, then it’s no money for the Team! Since the group has spent almost 150,000 euro on the job already, that would be a disaster. Alliances are made. Duplicity is uncovered. Sides are changed. People are maimed. The ending is unexpected.
Abdou: A Tuareg rebel leader and officer in the Azawad National Liberation Front (AFLN).
Dong Chen: A Chinese engineer in town to redesign the city power grid.
Daniela Gaspard: The 16 yo girlfriend of Ernest Krieger and daughter of two imprisoned Europe 3000 terrorists. She has run off with the young heir.
Ernest Krieger: The 17 yo grandson of Otto Krieger and target of the Team’s search. He has a history of mental problems and is off his meds. The young man has run away with his girlfriend, Daniela Gaspard.
Gretchen Von Freiburg: Ernest’s maternal great aunt.
Hakim Shihab: An Indonesian Islamist fighter with the AFLN.
Hassan Brazid: An Egyptian Islamist fighter with the AFLN.
Judge Ibrahim Sisoko: He is a tall thin man and chief judge of the civil courts in Timbuktu, Mali.
Karim Samake: A man in his late twenties, and a veteran of Mali’s 33rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. He is Daniela Gaspard’s cousin.
Iman Dr. Malik Samake: Currently teaching at the Islamic Center of Trinidad and is Daniela Gaspard’s great, great uncle.
Kemo Sohna: An attorney in The Gambia.
Lt. Colonel Daouda Sisoko: A jovial, heavy set man and commander of Mali’s 5th Military District.
Magda Berchtold: The 38 yo third wife of aging patriarch, Otto Krieger and sister of Count Johan Berchtold, the Hungarian Foreign Minister and one of that country’s wealthiest men.
Major Bangizwe Van Dorn: A South African mercenary officer in the employ of Nicole “Nikki” Alexander.
Nafissa Kieta: A Muslim women of Timbuktu who works with the local court.
Nicole “Nikki” Alexander: Publically, an extremely wealthy South African business woman and philanthropist. Privately, a world class jewel thief and cold-blooded assassin who has risen to membership in the Consortium. She is that group’s “hit dog”.
Otto Krieger: Our client is the 82 yo President and CEO of the Vienna Credit Bank, a major Euro investment banking house.
Paul Blaize: A French painter working in Mali. His family is rich.
Paul de Fleurs: An import/export agent from Bamako and a member of the French Secret Service (DSGE).
Robert Simmons: a US trade attaché and C.I.A. agent.
Robert & Margret Gilford: A Petrochem executive and his wife here with their three children: Johnny (17), Leslie (15), and Sally (11).
Salif Toure: A lawyer from Timbuktu, Mali experienced in both civil and Sharia law.
Sergeant Jato Mendy: A police constable from The Gambia.
Shannon Wilson: A 20 yo American student and budding journalist.
Senator Thomas “Roy” de Chartier: Senior US Senator from Norcal and member of the Consortium.
Wednesday, 23 November 2044:
Cat and Kyle spend the early hours of the morning preparing for their “Jihad”. The Tuareg warriors are not at all pleased that a woman is going to be fighting with them. When Kyle leaves the room to talk with Abdou, a couple of the Tuaregs and Hakim Shihab, one of the “foreign fighters” from Indonesia, approach Cat. One speaks kind words while Hakim starts to play with her sandy blonde hair. Hassan Brazid, an Egyptian and another of the “foreign fighters” comes to Cat’s defense. It seems for a minute that there might be violence, but Kyle returns and all the situation relaxes a bit.
A few of the waiting Tuareg start to duel with their Tabokas — a sword used across the Western Sahara and among ethnic groups such as the Tuareg. It usually measures about one meter. Takoba blades have several notable features, including three or more hand-ground fuller grooves and a rounded point. Since the Tuareg have an aversion to touching iron, the Takoba’s handle, like many iron implements, is covered in bronze or other material. It is very similar to the blade that Kyle normally wields. Perhaps it is one of the swordsman’s form that makes Kyle’s face grimace as he watches two of the warriors spar, but it is noticed and the Tuareg warrior turns to Kyle angrily and says, “One who is not a warrior has nothing to say to one who is!”
“Is that a challenge?” asks Kyle.
A Taboka is given to Kyle and the two square off.
“Shall this be to first blood or to the death?” Kyle inquires.
“First blood,” Abdou adds quickly before the other warrior can speak.
Kyle defends himself as he takes the measure of his opponent. The man is good, but only that. Kyle disarms him. He lets him retrieve his weapon. Kyle allows the man one attack. Then he quickly cuts him on the cheek and disarms him again. Two more Tuareg warriors leap into the area. This insult to their cousin cannot be borne. Kyle quickly does the same to them both. No one else challenges Kyle. In fact, the murmur of approval sweeps through the assembled Tuaregs.
Everything settles down, and soon an old woman comes up and asks Kyle, “Are you imúšaɣ?”
It seems that Kyle’s Tuareg +3 chip does not help him with this word. He turns to Abdou.
“She is asking if you are truly a warrior,” says Abdou.
“Yes,” Kyle responds, “Among my own people.”
The old woman nods and shuffles away, but soon comes back with an object wrapped in cloth. She speaks, “My family has lived in the Sahara for as long as the sand has blown. We have fought for what is right and good since before the words of the Prophet brought us out of darkness. Allah, in his mercy, threw down from Heaven this sword to my ancestors to help the weak and punish the wicked. Now only I am left. When I die there will be no one. This despair has gnawed at my soul till now. Allah has sent you. I ask you if you will take this sword, defend the helpless and bring justice to this world.”
“I will,” replies Kyle. Abdou directs the others and they surround Kyle. As some chant, they wrap a blue tagelmust reverently around Kyle’s head. He repeats words he barely understands until Abdou stands next to him and asks if another will stand with him.
The first man that Kyle “marked” now steps forward and replies, “I will stand with my brother.”
The old woman smiles and places the scabbard around Kyle’s waist. He draws the blade. It is surprisingly light yet strong. The old woman gives him a sharpening stone and says, “Keep the blade sharp with this and it will never fail you.”
Most objections to Kyle and Cat’s presence melt away. Before dawn everyone moves out to their appointed positions. The diversionary attack on the airport draws off the reaction force which is soon crushed by the Islamist’s M-60 tanks. Those tanks reinforced by APCs strike at the government’s military fort at the edge of the city. That is the signal for the assault on the government house.
Kyle, Cat and the rest of the assault force open fire on the troops defending the government house. Abdou and a number of warriors notice Cat firing only single rounds, but each one hits its target square in the forehead. Abdou smiles, perhaps Allah has indeed sent her? Finally, fire from the government house ceases and the Tuareg sweep forward with the cry, “Allah Akbar!” on their lips. Kyle and Cat charge with the rest.
Hakim, the Indonesian, bursts through the main door first. As he starts across the front hall he is knocked to the ground. A Malian policeman with a baton stands over him, but Hakim has a pistol hidden on his person and his hand is now wrapped around the grip. The policeman is hit from behind by Cat with the butt of her now empty M-16 and it is the officer who now hits the floor. Cat yanks out a Colt Model 1911 and kills Hakim’s assailant. Moving inside, Kyle pulls his sword and goes hand to hand with some of the defenders. His tagelmust comes off as he has not yet mastered wearing it. It gives the media who is with the Islamic fighters a face to put to this action. Kyle cuts down a couple of more defenders hand to hand. The scene of Goren and Ivanka (Kyle and Cat) arm in arm with sword and rifle raised shouting glory to Allah in the now captured government house surrounded by celebrating Islamic warriors is flashed round a startled and incredulous world.
Zahra, Allison and Nip are brought to the city jail and put in a large holding cell with four other white women and three native Malians. One woman has her arms around two girls who are obviously her daughters. They look about 11 and 15 years old. The children are frightened. Another woman appears to be in her early twenties and seems more curious than scared. As they look at the three local women, they realize one of them is Daniela.
Zahra decides it’s time to get to know Daniela, but doesn’t want to be too obvious so she starts with, “Oh my god, did you see all of those tanks?”
That elicits no response from Daniela, but the two young girls whimper. Her mother comforts them. Zahra apologizes for frightening them.
“It’s all right honey,” the woman responds with a Texas drawl. “I am Margret Gilford and these are my daughters Leslie and Sally. I am here with my husband.”
“What is he doing here?” asks Zahra.
“Robert works for Petrochem. He was looking for that Black Gold, Texas Tea,” the older woman laughs, “but there is nothing here but sand and salt. What are you doing here, dear?”
“Oh, I am a bodyguard for Doc Freeman,” Zahra replies.
“Dr. Gordon Freeman?” Margret asks with a hint of worry in her voice.
“Why yes,” says Zahra.
“Oh,” Margret responds flatly. She has obviously heard of the Doc.
“Wow, you work for the infamous Doc Freeman?” the other young American woman asks brightly.
“Well, I don’t know about infamous,” says Zahra.
Margret lets loose a short sigh.
“Not infamous!” the girl continues excitedly. “They say he carried on experiments with Romanian death row prisoners while perfecting his cyberbrain. He kept them in cages like animals in the basement of his building in Bucharest. They say you could hear their screams and moans from the lobby there and he turned their brains to crystal while they lived!”
“Please!” whispers Margret. The two look at the woman and see that her two daughters are now even more terrified than before.
“Sorry,” the young woman says.
“So, who are you?” asks Zahra.
“Oh, my name is Shannon Wilson,” the girl begins. “I was going to school for journalism, but my parents ran out of money. We have a friend of the family, Uncle George, who works for NET 54 and he got me this assignment to do a piece on the Tuareg people here and that should make me enough money to finish college, and then I want…”
And on and on she talks for forty-five minutes without a stop. By the time she reaches the end everyone in the cell who could understand English knew more about Shannon Wilson than they ever wanted to.
There follow a few minutes of blessed silence. The three Malian women had not responded to anything Shannon said so Zahra decided to try French. She catches their eye and says, “Bad Luck.”
Two of the women nod.
“So what have you been charged with?” Zahra asks.
The first woman gestures to her companion and says, “They say we are prostitutes.”
Daniela says nothing.
Zahra turns to Daniela, “Are you here alone?”
Daniela answers suspiciously, “Why do you ask?”
“Just curious,” is Zahra’s reply.
“No,” answers Daniela curtly.
Zahra then turns to Shannon and asks about the Tuareg people. As the Jamaican expected, Shannon began to talk a blue streak about everything Tuareg. During this monologue, the guards come and take two of the local women out of the cell. They do not return. Finally the guards come for Nip.
The young girl is vibrating with fear as she is brought into a room with three women. The male guards try to loiter, but they are driven out by the three there. One of the women turns to Nip, smiles and says, “Are you a virgin, my dear?”
“What?” replies Nip. The woman repeats the question. “Oh, yeah, I guess,” says Nip.
The three women talk among themselves and then the spokeswoman asks, “I am afraid we will have to examine you. Please lie down here.”
Nip does but her eyes narrow as she says, “If I feel anything I don’t like, I’m going to kick.”
The woman smiles and tells her, “As well you should.”
Nip relaxes as the woman’s touch is gentle and her voice reassuring. Yes, Nip is a virgin. The woman talks to her and translates the other women’s questions. The woman tells Nip her name is Nafissa Kieta and she works for the courts here. They talk with her for a while and Nip thoroughly confuses them, but Nafissa takes a shine to her. Then they all go into the court room.
Nip cannot follow what is going on, and soon she is led away. Nafissa tells her that everything is fine and the new government has promised to contact her family and arrange for her return to her mother in America. Until then she is released into Nafissa’s care. Nip will go home and stay with Nafissa’s family until then. For now Nip is put in a room and given something to eat. Nafissa insists that Nip not be put back in a cell. In the evening after court, she takes Nip back to the hotel to get her things. The young girl’s clothes, tools and her beloved cyberdeck are there. Nafissa takes Nip to her home where she meets the other children. No, they cannot understand a word each other says, but the kids see the deck and the games. They pull out their own electronic games (antiques as far as Nip is concerned, but fun nonetheless). They begin to play and, as young people generally do, they find common ground to have fun.
Back at the women’s cell, the guards come for Daniela, and the girl is taken away. She does not return. Soon, they come for Allison. She is brought into a room and is asked the question, “Are you a virgin?”
All the talk of stonings and heads being cut off proves too much for Allison. She melts down in a puddle of tears. No, she is not a virgin. She confesses she was raped by her uncle a few years ago. Up to this time Allison had never been able to talk about it, not even to her best friend, Cat. The truth has a way of shining through sometimes. The three women questioning her move to console her. Still, she is brought before the judge. Allison sits there not being able to understand as a man and the three women argue in front of the judge. The judge asks a few questions of the man, who seems to be acting like a prosecutor. The judge then upbraids him. Another man says something to the judge and the jurist dismisses everyone.
Allison asks Nafissa what just happened. Nafissa replies, “The judge has found you innocent of ‘Dina’, and in fact he has ordered all of the foreign women they have brought in be declared not guilty. These rebels think they can use the law for their own ends. Sharia is the law of Allah, the just and merciful, not a tool to be twisted for political ends!”
“Then I am going to be released?” asks Allison.
“No,” Nafissa replies, “I think the new government is going to ransom you back to the people you work for.”
“Oh,” says a disappointed Allison. She is then returned to her cell.
William, Randy and Doc Freeman are brought to a male holding cell. Inside is a middle aged white man, with a teenaged boy whom he shares a familial resemblance with, a white man in his early thirties, two local men, an Asian looking man and Ernest Krieger. The middle-aged man
introduces himself with his Texas twang. He is Robert Guilford from Petrochem and the young man is his son, 17 yo Johnny.
The guards come in and take the two local men away.
The thirty-something looking man introduces himself as Paul Blaize, he is a Frenchman. He is an artist who came to paint in the solitude of the Sahara. Now, he supposes he will be ransomed back to his (rich) parents.
A few of them jump as the report of a firing squad is heard outside.
The oriental man introduces himself as Dong Chen. He is, or rather was, here to redesign the city lighting grid.
Ernest gives his name (his real one), but little else.
The Team members decide they have little to lose at this point. So they go over and introduce themselves to Ernest. When he hears Doc Freeman’s name spoken, the young man’s eyes widen a little in fear. Obviously he has heard of him.
Doc Freeman extends his hand to Ernest, who takes it, and says, “I’ve enjoyed reading all of your medical and psychiatric reports.”
Ernest tries to jerk his hand back but Doc grips it tight with his cybernetically enhanced strength for a few more pumps before releasing him.
Randy then lays out the entire Team mission to Ernest. The young man is astonished and more than a little afraid.
“Dr. Morin had a lot of bad things to say about you,” adds Doc Freeman, “But Dr. Bagvarti thinks you’re actually OK.”
“Look, Ernest,” continues Randy, “We actually think this whole thing is a set up by your step grandmother, Magda.”
At the mention of her name, Ernest’s eyes flare. “That lying bitch is behind all of our family’s trouble. My grandfather hasn’t been the same since he started seeing her,” rants Ernest. “She hit on my grandfather at my father’s own funeral. I couldn’t believe she even had the nerve to show up after my father died scuba diving off that damn boat of theirs.”
“The Admiral Miklos Horthy?” asks William.
“Yes,” Ernest spits out.
“Well,” Randy says, “they have hired people to kill us and lied right from the start. As far as I am concerned our contract is null and void.” He looks right into Ernest’s eyes. “She isn’t going to get her hands on you or Daniela.”
At this point an important looking official enters the cell with a group of burly guards.
The official speaks, “Where is Randall Shugart III?”
Randy steps forward.
“Spawn of the Murderer of Mogadishu; you are under arrest for murder of Judge Ibrahim Sisoko!” the Tuareg cries, “Take him.” Randy is led away
William asks Ernest if he found the book he was looking for in the library. Ernest says yes and proceeds to tell William about the holy man Adama Samake and the cave he found to the north. He also explains the Greek writing found there and the old man’s suspicion that there was a cave behind the wall. The information is interesting, but getting to know Ernest is the true prize.
Randy is brought to the “secure wing” and thrown in a cell.
The ex-Delta Force sniper spits on the floor of his cell and demands, “Can I see the charges?”
The official answers, “Of course, at your trial, which is right before your execution.” The man starts to leave, but stops and turns around with his own question. “Now that you have been charged, would you like to see someone from your embassy?”
“Yes, I would,” says Randy.
“Well, he is right in the cell over there!” The man laughs as he leaves.
In the other cell is the man that Doc Freeman’s group thought was following them in Bamako.
“So you killed a judge?” asks the man.
“No, and who the hell are you?” demands Randy.
“I am Robert Simmons, the trade attaché with the American embassy in Bamako,”
Randy rolls his eyes. “A trade attaché, of course.”
(GM Note: Robert Simmons, a C.I.A. agent, was sent to find Kyle Vaduva and see what he was up to since the ex-spy is a “known associate” of Doc Freeman and his party.)
The banter is broken up by the sound of arguing outside in French. Eventually, a man of mixed race is brought in with a bag over his head and put in the cell next to Robert. After the bag is pulled off, he complains loudly he is only a businessman. As they are left alone he and Robert Simmons look at each other and laugh. The two obviously know each other.
“Well, well, Paul,” Simmons says, “Who would have thought we would be sharing a cell together?”
(GM Note: Paul de Fleur, also a member of the French Secret Service (DSGE), is the man Roger and Natasha saw on the boat trip down the Niger River to Timbuktu, who seemed to be interested in the couple’s doings. He was actually looking for Goren Kovac and Ivanka Balalov and thought that Richard Stone and Irina (Rokovic) Stone (Roger and Natasha) might be those two. Good thing Roger didn’t waylay him and lock him in the closet!)
“I should not be in here with you. I must find a better class of jail next time,” Paul muses. The Frenchman then looks at Randy and says, “What are you in here for?”
By now Randy is in no mood and says, “Paul, I hope they shoot you first!”
Both Bob and Paul laugh. The three sit quietly for a while.
Finally Randy speaks, “I’d sure like to know where the rebels got all these American weapons.”
“Well,” Bob responds, “It was the French, to frame us.”
Paul glares at Bob, who finally admits, “Oh come on, I’m just kidding.”
Again the three sit in silence, but something is clearly bothering Paul. Finally he blurts out, “If you and your government hadn’t supplied these Islamist rebels we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
Robert Simmons gives Paul a long look and finally says, “Yeah? Then why am I here in jail with you?”
After a moment, Paul replies, “Good point.”
Outside in the hall the three hear a group of people coming. Randy and his fellow prisoners have visitors. It is four of the “foreign fighters”: Hakim Shihab, the Indonesian, Hassan Brazid, the Egyptian, Ivanka Balakov, the Bulgarian, and Goren Kovac, the Bosnian. The three feel like animals on display at the zoo. The four fighters speak in broken Arabic. It seems they are looking forward to the three’s executions. As they start to leave, Ivanka approaches Randy’s cell and says, “He doesn’t look too tough.”
Randy, not recognizing her, moves to the front of his cell. He is calculating how much time he would need to snap her neck. Ivanka spits in his face. As Randy spits back, he feels a small object hit his leg. The sandy blonde haired girl easily side-steps his spittle. He recognizes the move and is glad he didn’t get the chance to break her neck. Ivanka laughs in his face as she tells him in broken Arabic, “I shall look forward to attending your execution.” The “zoo visitors” then leave.
“Amore,” Paul muses. He looks at Randy and says, “I think she is in love with you, mon ami.”
Randy waits a few minutes, then looks on the floor and sees one of the Team’s ear buds. He slips it on, but there is no one on the air. Randy waits.
Kyle and Cat are given rooms along with the other foreign Islamist fighters at the Hotel Bouctou. The press wants to see them, especially the dashing Bosnian with the sword and the young and beautiful Bulgarian girl with the deadly eye. The two are quickly becoming the “media’s darlings” much to Hakim’s growing displeasure. Cat asks for and receives a camera and starts to play the “tourist”. Abdou comes up to the four and says, “You have all done well. Now, think on whether you want to do more. There is much to be done and you should choose the path you would like next. May Allah guide you.”
Meanwhile, in the Hotel Bouctou’s dining room, Roger and Natasha settle down for a good meal. To their surprise they see Daniela and her cousin, Karim, also having dinner at the hotel. The Brit and Russian go over to her table to talk. The two are curious why she was released.
“Oh,” Daniela replies, “Ernest and I were married a couple of months ago in a Muslim ceremony in Europe. I showed them our marriage certificate and that was that. They wouldn’t let Ernest go however. I think they plan to ransom him back to his grandfather.”
Both Roger and Natasha immediately know what that means. If the grandfather ransoms the boy, then it is NO payday for the Team. Roger looks at Daniela and says, “We will do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Daniela is relieved and starts to look with even greater favor on the two. Of course, Roger doesn’t mean exactly what she thinks he means.
Roger continues, “We need to talk privately. Can we go to your room?”
Daniela says, “I don’t think that would be proper. We should meet in Karim’s room, say a half hour after we finish dinner?”
They all agree and finish their meal together talking on other subjects. This will give Roger time to go pick up the hidden ear bud that was left for him so his group can open communications with the rest of the Team.
Kyle and Cat return to their room and Cat dives into the shattered and almost abandoned Timbuktu NET. There she finds Nip wandering around. The young girl is ecstatic to see her friend. Nip has already put her ear bud in and is monitoring it in the NET. She hears Randy say, “Hello, anyone there?”
Through Nip, all three can now communicate. Soon, Roger’s voice is heard.
Roger quickly informs them of the upcoming meeting with Daniela and Karim. Cat tells him that she and Kyle will be there and Nip can attend via radio. Cat drops out of the NET and informs Kyle. Karim’s room is just down the hall from them. The two decide to risk the short walk and activate their cybernetic “disguise feature”. Over the next minute or so, their faces slowly shift to their own. They do not change back anything else. The process for the face is painful enough.
Roger and Natasha arrive in Karim’s room first. Roger tells Daniela that the Team was originally hired by Otto Krieger to bring Ernest home. Karim’s wired reflexes spring into action and Roger is staring down the business end of a semi-automatic pistol.
“Look,” Roger says, “We are not bad people.” Roger thinks for a moment and adds, “Most of the time anyway.” Roger and Natasha have been talking since dinner and are both slowly coming around to realizing that their contract with Otto Krieger is a bust anyway they look at it.
Soon all gather in Karim’s room either in person or by radio. They sweep the room for bugs (finding none of the electronic type). It is not lost on Daniela that this Team has offered to break their contract and help her and Ernest. Well, that is what Roger implied, but he is actually lying. He still intends to hand Ernest over for the payday, but even he is having second thoughts.
Daniela tells them, “We don’t have any real money, but soon Ernest will come into his inheritance and I know he will make this up to you.
On the radio Nip’s voice comes through, “See, Roger, it pays to be the good guys.”
All agree that they must leave Timbuktu as quickly as possible. Daniela insists on coming with them. Karim it seems had spent ten years in the Army of Mali and is an experienced soldier. He is also half Tuareg (on his mother’s side) and spent years in the desert. His help will be invaluable. They decide to procure a vehicle (Cat & Kyle have been asked what they want by the rebels and they will now request a vehicle to take the fight to the enemies with), and a radio (and hopefully a satellite uplink). Tomorrow night, they will enter the prison, break out the Team (and Ernest). Then they will run for the border with Mauretania. The Team will call in their C-23, which will fly in and pick them up.
“I can go around tomorrow and gather some local clothing for everyone else,” offers Daniela. “I don’t know everyone’s size so I’ll get more than we need just in case.”
“Getting in the prison shall be easy,” observes Karim. “Getting out will be the problem.”
Cat smiles and tells them not to worry. She has acquired a quantity of the old C-4 and some detonator equipment. She and Roger can take care of breaching the wall of the secure wing of the prison. There should even be enough left for some “distraction” bombs.
Everyone returns to their rooms. Kyle and Cat again resume the faces of Goren and Ivanka. That night Cat makes some bombs, and Roger makes the “wall buster” to break out of the “secure wing” of the prison. The two realize they have no way to coordinate the explosions. There were radio detonators with the gear, but no radio with the proper channels to set them off.
Nip asks, “Do they show up in the NET as remotes?” Why yes, it seems they do. “Well, I am less than 350 meters from the prison. I will stay on the radio and in the NET. I can blow them from here if you can set them up right.”
Kyle comes in and uses his “crosswire skill” to rig the detonators. This should work — once anyways and once is good enough. Tomorrow will be a busy day!
Thursday, November 24, 2044:
In the morning, Cat and Kyle go to see Abdou and ask to be able to lead a vehicle patrol. He brings them past all the working vehicles to a BTR-40 that was knocked out at the airport yesterday. He tells them, “If you can fix it, you can use it.”
Cat gets right on it. The front wheel assembly is slightly damaged. She works till noon when an airstrike hits the military fort. Kyle sees the bombs hit the fort and rushes back to see if Cat is all right. She is, and things begin to go their way. The rebels want to move the vehicles and Cat
talks them into moving her BTR-40 to the jail area. She gets it parked right near the outside wall of the secure detention area. Kyle walks around and casually plants some of the bombs Cat made the previous night around the jail building.
About 1 pm Cat and Kyle must attend a meeting at the hotel with the other two foreign fighters who took part in the attack on the government house. They get there to find themselves the center of a major news conference. The four stand there as the new Islamic Republic of Azawad declares Timbuktu as its capital. However, the world press wants to know everything about Goren
Kovac and Ivanka Balakov.
Hakim Shihab is not pleased. The Islamist media that captured the assault on government house also shot Cat/Ivanka killing the policeman who had knocked the Indonesian down. Hakim has a high opinion of himself and is quick to let others know it. The Tuareg here had heard altogether too much from him about his skill and deeds as a warrior of the Jihad. Apparently no one had told Hakim about the sin of pride. Now the Islamist Tuareg warriors tease him unmercifully about being saved by a woman. Hakim begins to feel that his own contribution is not well appreciated, and he wants something else here as well. Hakim must regain control and erase this ‘stain’ on his honor. Cat catches him staring at her. She has seen a man look at her like that before, and it makes her nervous.
A reception follows. Kyle and Cat listen for any news. The two find out that Doc Freeman’s group along with Ernest and the others have been moved by truck to the salt mining oasis of Taoudenni and the cave system they have up there. The column will arrive tomorrow evening. This puts a snag in their rescue plans.
Cat returns to work and has the BTR-40 up and running by 6 pm. During this time two more airstrikes by some of Mali’s MiG- 21s hit the city with uncanny accuracy. These Malian pilots are good. (Well, they are French pilots actually, but that is hard to tell from the ground.) Just before 6pm the fuel
supply at the airport is hit. The fireball can be seen from the city.
The breakout plan is simple. Cat will stay close to their vehicle by the outside wall of the secure jail area while Natasha stands guard keeping watch that no one enters that area from the outside. At 8 pm Kyle and Roger will enter the jail, go to the secure wing and release Randy. Nip will set off the distraction explosions. Roger will set off the ‘wall buster’ charge and blow the back wall of the jail. Then they will all jump in the BTR-40, drive through the city to pick up Nip and head to the hotel. As they near the hotel, they will pick up Daniela and Karim, then veer away from the city and head to Mauretania.
All proceeds according to plan; Cat makes a final check of their vehicle’s front axle assembly as the sounds of bombs hit the outskirts of the city. Cat hears Natasha (or someone she thinks is Natasha)
approach the BTR-40 as explosions rumble across the city. Cat feels someone grab her leg and yank her out from under the BTR-40. A body lands on top of her, and pins her right leg under her painfully. There in her face is Hakim. He came through the prison and avoided Natasha. He whispers in Ivanka’s ear, “Now, no one is around, little girl. Humiliate me, will you? No, there are only two things women are good for. Raising a family like a good Muslim woman should, or comforting a man’s needs.”
She feels the cold sharp edge of a knife against her throat. His other hand pulls open her afetek (a loose shirt worn by women in Mali). Cat closes her eyes and fights back the visions from her stay in the Russian prison. She tells herself she must not panic. As Hakim paws at her body, she removes
the heel of her shoe and withdraws the steel-hard plastic blade she keeps there. Hakim’s hands have worked their way down to her skirt. He needs both hands now. Confident in his control he tosses his knife aside, but a few seconds later, his smile of triumph disappears from his face. He coughs twice and blood spurts out. Cat twists the blade in his neck cutting both bone and tissue. She watches as the light in his eyes fades out, and then pushes his still body off her.
Cat pulls her afetek around her and trembles in the desert night air. She fights back the howlin demons of her past. The body of Hakim laying there snaps her out of her dark mindscape. The biogen pulls the corpse over to a crate by the vehicle that had contained parts to fix the BTR-40. The crate is small but Cat’s rage finds an outlet as she uses her enhanced cyber strength to break her attacker’s bones. She makes him fit! Now the crate becomes Hakim’s coffin. She quietly throws sand over the large blood stain and cleans herself up as best she can. Soon Natasha, dressed as a Tuareg warrior, comes to her.
“We are good so far. I checked the perimeter and no one is out back here with us,” Natasha reports. At the sound of Natasha’s Russian accent, Cat turns to her with fear written on her face. The Russian looks at Cat and asks, “Are you all right?”
Cat seems to snap out of it and replies, “Yes, of course, the vehicle is ready. Let’s load the tools aboard in case we need to make repairs on the road.” From inside the vehicle, Cat pulls out a couple of flak vests she acquired from the rebel supply room. She puts on one under her clothes and gives Natasha the other.
At the front door of the jail, two men dressed as Tuareg warriors enter. Speaking the day’s password, they are not challenged. Kyle and Roger then proceed to the secure wing. Outside the door, there is only one guard. There is no need for more. Scores of soldiers are between here and the closest exit. The guard says to the two approaching him, “I am sorry, my brothers, but it is forbidden to be here.”
Kyle responds with, “I know.” In a flash, his blade is out and he plunges it deep in the man’s heart The guard has no key, so Kyle picks the lock. They drag the corpse into the cell area. Roger goes right to the outside wall and begins to set the charges. Randy, Bob and Paul see two Tuareg warriors enter. One goes to the outside wall and another stands by Randy’s cell.
“Get up, you lazy bastard,” Kyle says. “This is a jailbreak!”
Robert Simmons is on his feet. “Randy, you can’t leave us here.”
“I really do like Americans,” Paul adds.
Randy turns to Kyle. “We have two more to go.”
Kyle shrugs, makes sure his tagelmust is covering his face and opens the cells of the other two.
Roger comes back from the wall where he just set his charge and takes cover. The others follow suit. “Nip, are you ready for round one?”
“Yuppers!” Nip responds over the radio.
“OK, let her rip!” Roger tells her.
“Durka, durka, Mohammad, Jihad!” shouts Nip. Over the next ten seconds, three explosions rock the neighborhood.
“Fire in the hole,” says Roger and the back wall of the cell area is blown out. “Round two, Nip,” Roger calls out.
The next explosion goes off right by the front door of the jail and the last explodes near the side door that the prison guards use. By now though, the prisoners are out the hole and dive into the back of the BTR-40. Cat hits the gas and the APC roars towards the gate. Confusion reigns everywhere.
Most believe the prison is under air assault so the gate guards wave the vehicle right through. They speed down a side street and then stop. Nip runs out of an alley in all her colorful cybergoth freakiness and is pulled into the APC. They then head off again.
Nip looks at the two startled spies and with a big smile says, “Hi!”
The Team then races for the city’s edge. The two agents see where they are heading and ask, “Are you leaving the city?”
The Team looks at them like they have three heads or something. “Yes!” is the universal reply.
“Let us off here then, we can’t leave,” says Robert. Paul nods in assent.
Roger pounds on the cab and Cat comes screeching to halt. The two, now dressed in native garb that Daniela had acquired, get out. Cat calls to them to wait. She gets out and gives each a Colt Model 1911 with an extra clip and two grenades. The two thank the Team and melt into the night.
At the city’s edge, the APC is waved right through a checkpoint and heads to the Hotel Bouctou. They stop a hundred meters short of that building where Daniela and Karim are waiting for them. As the two climb in, everyone sees a large cruise missile come flying across the desert and hit the hotel. One whole wing of that structure is engulfed in a fireball. The shockwave rocks the team’s vehicle.
Cat, who is driving, looks at the carnage and turns to Kyle sitting next to her. “That hit our room!” she says. Kyle looks again and yes, their rooms and that of the other “foreign fighters” are no more. They continue around the city and head north on the road there.
About a half hour north of the city, Cat sees a figure appear on a dune close to the road and fire a rifle-mounted 40mm grenade at the vehicle. A second gunner whom she didn’t see fires another grenade on her right flank. She swerves violently — but the first grenade strikes the lower front of her APC. The blast jerks the vehicle to the right and off the road. The second grenade flies over the top of the BTR and hits a dune on the left side of the road. The APC comes to a stop.
Natasha is at the 12.7 mm machine gun on the pintle mount and keeps her footing. She sees her assailant on top of the dune and cuts him in half with her weapon. Nip pops up to fire and William, Roger and Randy jump out of the back. A SAW opens up from their rear and sprays the area at the top of the vehicle. Nip is hit and drops down. The other three escape injury and take cover. Natasha takes a couple of hits in the back and is glad she put on the flak vest!
William, Roger and Randy return fire and hit, but their shots roll off the armor of their assailants. Cat bails out of the driver side and the SAW fires on her. The arm hit is painful, but her flak vest absorbs most of the two torso hits. She levels her M-16 at her shadowy attacker and puts a shot right between his eyes. The attacker on the right side fires at Randy and hits him hard. The ex-Delta Force sniper turns on his endorphin/surge chip to keep on his feet. Natasha jumps out of the back onto the hood. She keeps one hand on the machinegun and as her feet hit the hood, she grasps the other handle. The 12.7mm roars and shoots the last attacker down.
Cat looks at the damage to the front wheel assembly; it is easily fixable. Natasha bandages up the wounded. Kyle goes up the dunes on the right and looks out across the desert. Randy goes up and checks the dunes on the left. They turn over the bodies of their attackers. They bear the patches of the Reconnaissance & Support Company of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. Oh great!
Randy sees something else. It seems the 40mm grenade fired from their right flank hit a member of the Legion stationed on their left. He looks at the remains. There is a French FR-F6 sniper rifle lying in the sand. Randy has always wanted one, so he picks it up. On the right flank, Kyle sees four figures coming across the dunes towards them a couple of hundred meters out. He tells the Team and lies down. Randy heads there and looks over the dune. A bullet strikes the sand at his feet. The advancing soldiers drop out of sight. By now Cat has the wheel fixed and the two sprint for the APC. The advancing legionnaires see nothing but a cloud of dust on the horizon when they reach the ambush point. The Team takes their vehicle off road and heads due west. By early morning, they should be in Mauretania.
Friday, November 25, 2044
As the Team’s BTR-40 approaches the border with Mauretania, Cat uses the vehicle’s radio to call the C-23 Sherpa in Dakar. She sends them a coded message and coordinates. On a stretch of hard pack desert, the plane lands and the Team is picked up at 4 am. The air crew is surprised when they are told to fly north.
For the first time in days, everyone gets to hear unfiltered news from the outside world. It seems someone has smacked a beehive. In brief, this is what they hear.
NET 54 World News
The EU is accusing the United States of supplying weapons to the Islamist rebels in Mali. France, who considers this region to be its exclusive sphere of influence, is particularly incensed. A number of outspoken Islamists in France have been detained and the Muslim community there has charged that the government is using this crisis to stifle the legitimate protests of those who feel the French government has been systematically oppressing its Muslim citizens. The EU has sent naval forces to the area backed by a French carrier battle group. The US, which vehemently denies any involvement, has responded by accusing France of directly intervening in the conflict with night time air strikes, which the French deny.
Every world government has rejected the Islamic Republic of Azawad’s declaration of independence. Many have condemned it for its attempt to ransom a dozen wealthy westerners that were in the city of Timbuktu at the time of the revolt. A joint statement by the EU and a number of other Foreign Ministers have declared that there will be no negotiations with this new polis until the “Timbuktu 12” as they have become known are released unconditionally.
Kyle sighs, “I’ll probably be blamed for this too.”
“Cheer up,” responds the pilot. “Your passport says you were in Dakar at the time.”
The flight engineer adds, “Yeah, we were all at the beach, drinking beer and chasing girls.” He then looks at Cat with a slightly worried expression. “OK, maybe not chasing girls.”
For the Team, it is back to business. They shed their local clothes and put on their combat gear. Cat gets on the com to her contacts and requests some satellite time. Suddenly Cat cuts the com line and starts screaming and swearing.
“Those fucking goddamn money grubbing asshole dimwits!” she yells. The Team is startled by her outburst. “They want cash in advance! They know I am on a plane flying across the Sahara trying to save my Team and they think my credit is too thin!”
“We have the money, right?” asks Roger.
“Oh, yes, but I don’t have a credit transfer device on me at the moment, do you?” Cat replies.
“Just give them a bank routing number,” suggests Kyle.
“No,” says Cat. “They want it by NET device transfer only. There is less chance of having it traced that way.”
The Team sits and stews for a few minutes. Then Nip perks up. “Wasn’t there a credit transfer device attached to one of the e-books we took off the Baker’s Dozen in Venezuela?”
Yes, indeed, there was and they open the compartment where they had hidden that loot. Sure enough, there was one just as Nip remembered. Kyle crosswires it into the communications system and Cat attempts the transfer. Nothing.
Nip takes the device, pulls out her tech scanner and examines the transfer device. Not only is it working, but the e-book itself is also in perfect condition. Still, it does not work. Others examine and try it, but still it will not function. For fifteen minutes they try, but nothing seems to work. Finally, Nip jacks in and decides to check the operating program of the transfer attachment itself. She is confused. This isn’t really a program that runs the device.
The young NET runner examines the code, but it doesn’t make sense. She finally displays it on a monitor. Kyle and Cat recognize this as a ledger — complete financial records of the Baker’s Dozen, the Serbian hit team that dogged this investigation from the start. Most of the accounts were empty. It seems that Dragoslav Cesic, that Team’s leader, had just made a large purchase: a 194 foot luxury yacht. Technically, the ship was owned by a shell corporation, and all the information to prove ownership of that company was here in the e-book. Even following this purchase, the accounts held slightly over 70 thousand euro.
Daniela looks at the captured gear, picks up a small box and opens it. “These look like back up chips, I think,” she says. Yes, they are, and a backup operating chip for the credit transfer device is in there.
Kyle is perusing the ledger and asks Nip to bring up the last major payment to the Baker’s Dozen. There is a large transfer from the Budapest office of the Vienna Credit Bank!
“Well, that looks like a smoking gun to me,” says Randy.
“OK, that’s it,” snaps Kyle. “They lied to us from the beginning, they double booked the job and they tried to have us killed. These people are going down!”
The whole team murmurs in agreement. Even for Roger this is no longer about money, mostly.
Finally Cat says, “Well, let’s let the Baker’s Dozen pay for our satellite time.”
The transfer device is fired up and seven hours of surveillance is booked for tomorrow afternoon and early evening. During that time, the convoy bearing Ernest and the rest of the Team should reach the area just south of the salt mining center of Taoudenni.
Cat plots out a route over the border with the pilot and they plan for a low level jump just before dawn. Karim comes to her and says, “I will go with you.”
Cat looks at him and replies, “We are going to parachute into the desert, do a forced march of about 15 miles and fight.”
Karim stares right back at her. “I served ten years in the Army of Mali, eight years of it in the 33rd Parachute Regiment. I spent years living in this region. You may speak a little Tuareg, but none of you are much good with it. It is the language of my people, and you will fool no one.”
Cat studies him for a second and tosses the ex-soldier a parachute. They dig up some combat gear for him (William’s) and get him a radio.
Roger hands him a rifle and starts to say, “This is….”
“A British Royal Enfield Ordinance twin magazine, 7.5mm, variable velocity, liquid propellant assault rifle,” continues Karim as he examines the magazines. “It carries 90 rounds in two 45 round clips. Ah, reaper rounds, very good.”
“Right,” replies Roger. “Well, you know your weapons.”
At about 6:15 am, the back doors of the C-23 open and they prepare for a low altitude jump. Randy is only on his feet due to his endorphin/surge chip. Kyle, Randy, Roger, Cat, Natasha, Nip and Karim jump into Mali about 14 miles west from the track to Taoudenni. It is a seven hour march to that track. Nip launches the Bumblebee remote every so often to check the way ahead. A few hours after noon they see a road block with an M-60 tank, an M-113 APC (both under cammo netting but with weapons free), a small communications tent and about 17 men on guard. The Team hunkers down to observe.
The guards are not too watchful. No one passes through this checkpoint all day. Finally satellite surveillance informs the Team that a convoy matching the description they gave is about an hour south of their position moving north. There is no other activity in the area. The Team deploys. Randy takes aim at the sole man on top of the turret. Cat moves up close to the rear of the tank where the rest of the crew is lounging around. Kyle slips up to the communications tent and lines up his shot so he will not damage the radio equipment. Roger and Natasha set up crossfire on the camp site where most of the Tuareg soldiers are lounging about. Karim aims at the two on the flimsy barrier that lies across the road. Nip refuels the Bumblebee and flies high cover.
Nip finishes checking the surrounding area for more enemies (none), and then the Team attacks. A brief firefight ensues. The Team quickly moves in and cleans up the mess. Nip sends her remote to check on the convoy; between her and the satellite they get the following picture. The convoy is led by a BTR-40 with soldiers in the back. The second vehicle is a deuce and a half with its canvas flaps up and filled with soldiers. Six more of these trucks follow with their flaps down. Of these six other trucks, numbers two and three each have eight thermo signatures in the back. The team believes these vehicles hold the hostages. Behind the sixth is a fuel truck, and at the rear is another deuce and a half with its canvas up filled with soldiers. The Team makes its plans.
Karim and Kyle dress as Tuaregs and man the barrier. They have donned the least damaged clothes. Natasha wraps herself up and tries to hide the bloodstains as she sets up on the .50 cal of the M-113. Roger picks a spot and half buries himself in the sand roughly where the trucks with the hostages will stop. Randy positions himself hidden on a dune overlooking the rear of the column. He has the Team’s 2 light LAWs and his M-21 EBR. Cat settles down in the gunner’s position in the tank, points the barrel to where she feels the first truck containing the troops will stop, and loads a 105mm HE round.
Soon the convoy comes into sight and pulls up to the barrier. Karim walks forward with an M-16 slung casually. Smiling and talking, he walks up to the driver of the BTR-40 who opens his side armor flap to speak. Still smiling, Karim pulls his semi-automatic pistol and shoots the driver and his partner. His other hand lobs a grenade in the back of that vehicle as he hits the ground. When Karim touches down, Cat fires the 105mm gun and the truck carrying the troops disintegrates. Randy fires his first LAW and the last truck in line explodes. He then tosses the empty tube aside, picks up the other and fires on the fuel truck. The fireball destroys that vehicle and the trucks both in front and behind it.
Inside two of the trucks is the “Timbuktu 12”. The men are shackled to the truck, but the women are not. The two guarding the men are cut down by Roger as he comes out of the sand like some desert Jinn dealing death to the unwary. In the women’ truck, Zahra sees the guards look out the back. She strikes immediately. They are armed with M-16s. She has only herself and a good knowledge of Arasaka-Te. Zahra keeps in close so they can’t use their weapons on her. She disarms each of them, and takes one down. Roger comes and finishes off the other. The remaining Tuareg who jump from the vehicles are met by fire from Natasha on the .50 cal. Those who escape that are shot down by Nip as she swoops in for the kill with her SMG armed Bumblebee. Randy does the surgical work with his M-21 EBR. It is over in less than a minute.
Karim immediately looks for Ernest. The two embrace and Ernest asks about Daniela. Karim assures him she is safe and these people can be trusted. The hostages are released and very grateful, but there is little time for celebration. The explosion of the fuel truck was certainly heard in Taoudenni. Robert Gilford gets out of his truck and blinks like some blinded owl. His gaze finally sees the M-60.
“Damn, an M-60A3, I haven’t seen one of them since the Nomad – Texas Border War,” he remarks.
The Team looks at each other. “Can you drive it?” asks Cat.
“Hell yes, pretty lady,” Gilford replies.
“Want a job?” adds Kyle.
The Texan smiles, goes over and settles down in the driver’s compartment.
Roger looks at all the others and says, “What do we do with all these people?”
“Take them with us,” Randy replies. The Team murmurs its assent.
The former “Timbuktu 12” get their things out of the trucks. Shannon Wilson puts on some glasses and plugs them into her neck plugs. Roger walks up to her and knocks her out cold with a single punch. Everybody jumps up.
“Hey, she might have a camera in those glasses and take our picture,” explains Roger.
“Heaven forbid that someone might identify us as the ‘heroes’ who rescued the ‘Timbuktu 12’,” Doc Freeman mutters under his breath.
The glasses are examined and yes, they are smartgoggle mirror shades. They contain anti-dazzle and image enhancement. A now angry Shannon is revived and gets no apology (or her glasses back) from Roger. The Brit will soon learn the wrath of an angry media.
“We need to move out now,” Kyle says. They clean the bodies out of the BTR-40 and get it ready to move. “We will take the tank, the M-113 and the BTR-40,” declares Cat.
“Wait,” says William, “We should take a working deuce and a half. We can use it for a diversion if necessary and load it with spare fuel in any case.”
“Do we have enough drivers?” Natasha asks.
“I’ll drive the truck,” declares William.
Dong Chen pipes up, “I can drive the M-113.”
“The BTR-40 is a piece of cake,” Kyle says.
The Team’s makeshift armored column rides off into the west and the Mauritanian border. In the lead is Robert Gilford driving the M-60 with Cat in the gunner’s chair, teaching Roger the loading procedures and former lieutenant Natasha Kerensky of the Spetznaz riding in the open hatch of the cupola. Dong Chen drives the M-113, and inside rides Nip (patched into her remote), the rest of the Gilford family, Shannon Wilson, Zahra Baudin, Allison Cole, Ernest and Daniela. Doc Freeman rides on top behind the .50 cal. Kyle takes the wheel of the BTR-40 with Karim at the 12.7mm machine gun and Randy on lookout. William brings up the rear (at a good distance) with the fuel laden truck.
There is a pursuit, but the team still has satellite time and that lets them avoid the hue and cry that follows. They drive until they cross the unmarked border before they rest just after midnight.
Saturday, November 26, 2044:
A little after 1 am, the column stops to rest and refuel. They post a watch and everyone gets to stretch their legs. Shannon is everywhere talking to everyone — everyone except Roger that is. Most everyone talks with her. William speaks but says little. Kyle is polite and makes sure she spells his name right. A little good publicity attached to his name always helps. Cat avoids her like the plague and goes to check out the vehicles. Doc Freeman grants her an interview and tries to set her straight on his research.
Nip also wants to have her name spelled correctly. “Do you have my name right?” she asks Shannon.
“Let’s see, hit me with it,” Shannon replies.
“It’s Vodka Nip Duchess Fairbanks Nefertiti Pontiac Alexandra Wal-Mart Frank Kerosene Nenopopulse Lacey,” Nip says matter of factly.
“Got it!” the media replies.
Surprisingly, Shannon and Nip bond instantly. The two seem to speak the same language and that is slightly frightening. Leslie and Sally Gilford open up as the various people relax. Ernest and Daniela are back together and it is clear that they love each other very much. Ernest is well-spoken and intelligent. He is not at all what they were led to expect.
Allison also found someone to amuse her. Paul Blaize the artist starts to draw her sitting on the sand dunes in the moonlight. She finds his French accent so very appealing. Now here is a man worth committing “Dina” with!
Cat finishes checking out the front wheel assembly of the deuce and a half. The brakes needs to be cleaned and adjusted so she takes it out and sits in her combat pants and t-shirt on a long rock. Suddenly Johnny Gilford sits down beside her and says, “Hi!”
Cat just stares at him for a second and resumes cleaning.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“Fixing the brakes,” she replies.
Johnny looks at the part and says, “That rubber gasket is out of alignment.”
“Where?” demands Cat.
“There.” The young man leans in towards her and points.
Cat looks closely, then says, “Hey, you’re right.” She turns to him and finds that he is very close to her face now. She pulls her head back and asks, “Are you hitting on me?”
“No,” Johnny says quickly, but adds, “Well, maybe…if that’s all right?”
Cat beams a smile at him. “Oh, this is so cute.”
A short distance away, Kyle and Bob Gilford watch the scene.
“That Cat is a mighty fine looking young lady,” Bob observes. “Those two would make a cute couple. Is she your daughter?”
“No,” replies Kyle. “She is my girlfriend.”
“Oh!” responds Bob. “Johnny! Time you get to bed, boy!”
By 2:30 am, the C-23 had been called and the column was on the move again. They meet the plane at 7 am, by 7:30 they are airborne. Randy shuts off his endorphin surge chip and passes right out. He will be unconscious for almost the next two days. Again they get to listen to the latest news and it is not good.
NET 54 World News
Today France acknowledged it is intervening in the conflict and Mali at the request of that country’s government. The United States Ambassador to Mali has been expelled. France announced that the 1st and 4th companies of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (Foreign Legion) have jumped into the City of Gao to reinforce hard pressed Malian troops. They also have begun round the clock airstrikes from its carrier off the coast of Senegal. France and Mali make a joint announcement that troops of the 5th Military Region backed by Compagnie d’Eclairage et d’Appui (CEA) (Reconnaissance & Support Company) of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment have taken the fort blockading the Niger River. They have destroyed the gun there and opened the river that morning. By afternoon they report the retaking of the town of Kabara, the river port serving Timbuktu.
As they begin their flight, the Team sits with Ernest and comes completely clean on why they are there. Needless to say, the young man is a bit shaken. Kyle looks at the nervous Ernest and tells him, “There is no way in hell we are turning you over to them. This is no longer about the money.”
Even Roger nods in agreement. It is unanimous; the Team decides to “screw the contract”. They tell the pilot that he must change course at the last minute and divert to Banjul International Airport in the Republic of the Gambia instead of landing at Dakar.
Ernest and Daniela look at the Team in amazement. Ernest thinks for a moment before speaking. “Look, I have no money now, but soon the bank will be mine. I promise you that I will pay you ten times what my grandfather and Magda promised. One year after I get control of the bank, I will pay your Team 1,000,000 eb a year for five years.”
The surprised Team members look at each other.
William produces a pen and asks, “Anyone have a piece of paper?”
The pilot sends back a scrap piece of paper and William jots down the terms. He then asks Ernest, “Do you have any money at all on you?”
Ernest thinks for a moment and then pulls a small folded bill out of his sock. He hands it to William and says, “Make the total 5,000,020 eb,” as he hands the 20 eb note to William.
William signs the “contract” and hands it to Ernest, who signs also.
“There,” William comments, “Now it is all official.”
This “contract” will never stand up in court, but the Team believes (correctly) that Ernest will honor it anyway.
Cat says to the group, “The Berchtolds will try to crush us. We need friends, powerful friends who can play on their level.”
William says, “I may know someone like that.” William goes to the rear of the plane and makes a call. He has the private number of Senator “Roy” de Chartier, the senior US Senator from Norcal and a member of the Consortium.
The senator answers the phone with, “This had better be good.” A plaintive female voice in the background is asking where he is going.
“Yes, sir, I believe this is, and it can’t wait,” replies William. He then goes into the tale of Ernest, his grandfather, Magda and the Berchtolds. When he finishes there is a brief silence.
“You were right to call,” says the Senator. “I have to make a few myself now. I will have something by the time you touch down in The Gambia.”
A little after 12:30 pm, the C-23 comes into Banjul International Airport in The Gambia. They taxi towards a private hanger. The plane stops outside and the flight engineer opens the rear door ramp. William steps down the ramp; his foot finally touches the tarmac. Suddenly, a dozen troops pour out from behind vehicles and surround the plane. The Team grabs their arms. Kyle, Cat and Karim walk out in full combat gear and stand around the casually dressed William. They recognize these people immediately. It is the marine detachment from the Horthy! Their commander steps forward.
“Good job, everyone,” he says. “We’ll take him from here.”
“Ernest isn’t going anywhere with you,” Kyle responds.
The Hungarian commander laughs. “Please, you have already lost your fee with this little treason. Don’t lose your lives and those of everyone in the plane too.”
Now, from around the corner of the hanger, a small black man in a blue uniform with a blue beret runs up between the two groups with a pistol drawn.
“All right! Everybody put down your guns, you are all under arrest!” he shouts.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” the Hungarian asks.
“I am Sergeant Jato Mendy of the Gambian police service and you are all my prisoners,” the little man shouts. William starts to put his weapon down and Kyle, Karim and Cat (the only Team members outside the aircraft) slowly follow suit.
The Hungarian rolls his eyes and shoots Sergeant Mendy right in the heart. The marine officer’s head explodes before the police officer hits the ground. His second in command turns his rifle towards the roof sniper, but before he can shoot a half dozen 7.62 rounds tear through his body. Besides the sniper, there are three more Gambian police officers each armed with a FN-FAL assault rifle. Behind the Hungarians, a truck screeches to a halt and soldiers bubble out the back. The Hungarians put down their weapon (along with the rest of the Team). The sounds of multiple sirens are heard approaching in the distance.
More police and a couple of men in suits arrive quickly. The police go over to Sergeant Mendy and help him sit up. They pull a damaged flak vest out from under his baggy police shirt. He is bruised but still alive. The Hungarians and all of the Team that is dressed in cammo (including Karim Samake) and William are on their knees with their hands behind their heads.
One of the suits looks around and asks, “Where is William Eller?”
“That would be me,” says William, rising.
“Ah, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Kemo Sohna, your attorney,” the man says. The lawyer turns to the police captain and asks, “Why are my clients under arrest?”
“They shot a police officer and are carrying illegal weapons,” the captain responds.
Now that he has his wind back, Sergeant Mendy tells his captain that it was not the Team that shot him but the other group. “These people here (the Team) put down their weapons when ordered.”
“Oh,” the captain replies, “Well, there is still the matter of the illegal weapons.”
“We have permits,” adds William, “and corporate immunity granted in the Commonwealth of Nations.” William produces his paperwork. In fact, the Team has all their permits on the plane. They are quickly released while the Hungarians are led away in handcuffs.
“A villa on the beach in Bakau is ready for you,” continues Kemo Sohna. “We have a court date this coming Monday, so we have much work to do to prepare. For tonight, however, you must rest.”
“Wait,” Roger says, “On the beach? The Horthy is off the coast; they’ll fire on the house or send in their marines.”
Kyle looks at the trucks carrying the Hungarians to jail. “No,” he says, “I think their marines will be a little busy.”
One of the military officers standing by adds, “We are well aware of the position of the Horthy. One of our fast attack naval vessels is being dispatched to shadow it. They have been warned.”
“We have a few others we brought out with us,” says William.
Kemo Sohna looks at the parade of people exiting the plane. “Who are they?”
“The Timbuktu 12,” replies William.
“The Timbuktu 12 here!” asks the police commander excitedly. “I must notify my superiors and the press.”
“The press!” Shannon cries. “Yes, I am with the press and I have a story to file!”
The “Timbuktu 12” are offered rooms in the finest hotel in Banjul. There will be a news conference there. The Team, Ernest, Daniela and Karim just want to go to their villa and sleep. When they get there, William looks and finds an armored panic room in the basement. He sets it up as a “honeymoon suite” for Ernest and Daniela. The police post some officers at the gate to keep away the curious. The Team settles down for a well-deserved sleep.
Sunday, November 27, 2044:
For the first time in four days, the Team gets a peaceful night’s rest. By 10 am, Kemo Sohna, their new attorney, arrives with his assistants to prepare for the hearing tomorrow. He, Ernest and Doc Freeman closet themselves in the study and look through the mountain of evidence they have on Ernest’s supposed mental illness. The Doc conducts an “official” psychological interview and prepares documentation for the court. Early in the afternoon, the sound of multiple trucks pulling up outside is heard. Over a hundred heavily armed combat troops pour out of the vehicles and surround the house.
Kyle watches them fan out, but his initial fears pass as he recognizes that they are not positioning themselves to assault the house, but rather to defend it. The fact that the four policemen at the gate are not concerned confirms that this is not an attack. The troop commander, a tall, ramrod straight, ebony skinned officer comes to the front door and asks, “I am looking for a William Eller.”
William walks up to him and says, “I am William Eller.”
The officer snaps him a crisp salute and replies, “I am Major Bangizwe Van Dorn. Ms. Nicole Alexander sends her compliments. We will be taking over your security for the local police.”
“Thank you, Major,” relies William. “Please carry on.”
Karim is looking at the uniforms and says to William, “It seems you do have powerful friends. These South African mercenaries are feared throughout this land.”
The Team watches as the mercs deploy around the grounds. A large prime mover pulls a trailer onto the back lawn facing the sea. Its drive wheels tear up the ground. Well, there goes the deposit! The trailer is unhitched and the side panels taken off to reveal a radar controlled 20mm Vulcan gun. It is quickly brought on line and pointed out to sea. William had been quite thorough in his report on the S.S. Admiral Horthy’s capabilities.
Randy finally awakes and finds himself in a soft bed with an ocean breeze blowing through the open window. Natasha checks his bandages and catches him up on the events of the past two days. The ex-Delta Force sniper relaxes. With the South Africans covering security, he feels he can concentrate on recovering from his wounds. Finally, the Team has a quiet day to rest. Tomorrow will be another story.
Monday, November 28, 2044:
The Team heads to the courthouse in the morning under the watchful eye of their new mercenary protectors. Gambian officials insist that the troops return to the seaside villa, but may come back at the end of the day to escort Ernest and the Team back home. Otto Krieger, his wife Magda and two burly bodyguards are there. The two glare at Ernest and the Team. Yes, they have made some powerful enemies here. An older European lady with her bodyguard enters just before the session begins. If Otto and Magda displayed any dislike of the Team that is nothing to the frosty hostile glare they give this woman. That attitude is returned in full measure to the two. Ernest turns and sees the woman. He breaks out in a huge smile. That woman turns and sees Ernest. The anger in her face relaxes as she beams back at Ernest. The affection in her eyes for the young man is easy to see even for the most cybered up of the Team. This is Gretchen Von Freiburg, Ernest’s great aunt. Shortly after the proceedings begin, Iman Dr. Malik Samake, Daniela Gaspard’s great, great uncle arrives with Dr. Mohan Bagvarti. Dr. Bagvarti goes to the attorney tables and hands Kemo Sohna a thick file. A look of worry briefly crosses Magda’s face.
The proceedings are generally pretty boring as most legal confrontations are. As the morning wears on, Doc Freeman keeps looking at Otto Krieger. He has studied that man’s medical file very thoroughly. The Doc watches his breathing motion, his posture, eyes and skin tone. More and more he feels something is not right. It has been bothering him ever since he first read the file and told the party that he was amazed the old man was even alive. As noon approaches, he realizes that Otto Krieger is a borg! The more he looks, the more sure he is. The Doc quietly turns and tells Kyle who is sitting next to him. Slowly the Team passes this bit of information among themselves. Unfortunately there is no way to get near him with his two very watchful bodyguards.
Kyle catches Cat slowly removing the heel of her shoe. Yes, he knows about the non-metallic blade she carries there. The biogen turns to Zahra sitting next to her and says, “When we break for lunch, keep your eye on me. When I nod, you scream.” Zahra agrees.
The court session breaks for lunch and Cat moves towards the door. As Otto and his party get near, she nods to Zahra who lets loose a bloodcurdling scream. That distracts one bodyguard, but the other immediately turns to Cat. These men are experienced and nobody’s fool. Unfortunately for the bodyguard, he is not prepared for her enhanced biogenetic reflexes. She strikes at Otto Krieger’s head with a slashing attack and hits!
The courtroom explodes in an uproar. Cat immediately drops the knife, drops to her knees with her hands raised just in time to get slammed to the floor by the bodyguard. By now no one is really looking at Cat. A large strip of pseudo flesh is hanging from Otto’s face and a few sparks flare off his exposed metallic and plastic head.
Someone exclaims, “Oh my God, he is a cyborg!”
“My grandfather isn’t a cyborg!” shouts Ernest.
Even his own bodyguards are looking at ‘Otto’ in amazement. It is obvious even they didn’t know. William watches Magda during all of this. He reads her initial reaction well, which is basically, “Oh, shit, we’re busted!” It only lasts a brief second and then she is acting all surprised like everyone else.
The Judge is on his feet, pointing at “Otto” and shouting, “Bailiff, detain that thing!”
At first it seems like the cyborg will let himself be taken, but when the bailiff gets close he hits the officer in the head with his fist, killing him instantly. Like a shot “Otto” is off and runs straight for and through the large second story window. The Team tries to follow, but the mayhem in the court blocks them. About ten seconds after “Otto” goes through the window, the mixed sounds of automatic and heavy weapon weapons fire is heard from the plaza outside the courtroom building. When the Team reaches a window, they see the “Otto” borg down and surrounded by an MI-5 Strike Team!
(GM Note: The borg would have gotten away, but Kyle back in Episode 27 used his Trinidad police and MI-5 connections to tie together the murder of Dr. Elsa Warren, the attempted abduction of Iman Dr. Malik Samake, and the shoot outs in Guyana. As Roger Blackmore was told at the airport interrogation in Bucharest, Romania (Episode 28) by an MI-6 operative, this mission had attracted the attention of Commonwealth Military Intelligence, which put their own team on this case.)
Magda tries to leave with her bodyguards, but is stopped by the Gambian police. The judge finds that Ernest is sane and orders Magda Berchtold detained. The judge also makes a temporary appointment of Gretchen Von Freiburg as Ernest’s guardian and turns the whole affair over to Interpol and the Austrian authorities.
By 5pm Magda posts a 1,000,000 eb bond and flees to the Horthy with the now released marines aboard that ship’s AV-11 (which is how the marines beat the Team’s slow and pokey C-23 to the Gambia). Ernest, his family, the Team and their new friends hold a celebration at the seaside villa. When they arrive back there, they find Major Bangizwe Van Dorn talking with a beautiful blonde thirty-something woman. Her fame or rather infamy, precede her. It is Nicole “Nikki” Alexander. Her warm engaging smile covers up her ruthless and dangerous personality. In the Edgerunner world she is known to be as fiercely loyal to those who work for her as she is cruel and brutal to her enemies. Kyle fades into the background upon seeing her. He had been involved in a C.I.A. operation a few years ago that had almost frustrated one of her operations. He is not exactly sure which list of hers he is on. William goes right up to see her and she greets him warmly.
“William,” she says, “It is good to see you again. Everything worked out well in court, I hear?”
“Yes, thank you,” he replies. Then Nikki notices Gretchen Von Freiburg and the two smile at each other.
“Gretchen!” Nikki exclaims, “It is so good to see you again.”
“Nikki,” she responds, “Thank you so much for coming. I want you to meet my grandnephew, Ernest, and his wife, Daniela.”
“I would love to,” Nikki replies, “But then we have just a little business to discuss before we celebrate this lovely family reunion.”
“Of course,” says Gretchen.
The two women chat pleasantly as they walk away. The Team watches the two women as they leave, but the vision of two great white sharks circling and eyeing each other comes to their minds. Paul Blaize, Robert Gilford and his family come to the fete along with Shannon Wilson. Several Gambian officials and military officers are in attendance with their wives. The festivities are bright and gay until about 8 pm. Then a siren starts to wail. The crowd turns as the Vulcan gun activates and scans the skies. The mercenary guards shout that everyone take cover as the gun locks and begins to fire at a fiery light approaching the villa quickly from the sea. The Horthy’s missile is destroyed before it can strike, but some shrapnel hits the grounds of the villa. Fortunately, no one is injured. A few of the Gambian military men are on their cell phones instantly. Gretchen and Nikki quickly start to calm everyone down, and the party continues. Still, some keep their eyes seaward.
Towards the end of the evening, Nikki asks to speak to the Team. All come except Kyle and Cat, who can’t be found and Allison, who has taken a long walk on the beach with Paul Blaize, the artist.
“You all gave up your fee to save the life of this young man and his wife,” she begins. “That is very unusual in this world and speaks well of you. They say ‘Virtue is its Own Reward’, but I have rarely found that to be true. However, I do believe that ‘character’ is very important and that should be rewarded. You will find that 500,000 eb has been deposited to your Team’s account. Call it a token of my thanks and appreciation.”
The evening ends. The Team learns that the villa is theirs for the week and their C-23 Sherpa’s airport fees are covered. Ernest, Daniela, Karim and the Team part company. Soon they are all heading home to a well-deserved rest.
Over the next few months, the following things happen. Otto Krieger’s body is found in his Austrian country house. He died of natural causes just before his blow up with Ernest in Paris. Magda Berchtold is ordered arrested, but flees to Croatia and is given political asylum. The Austrian courts ratify the Gambian judge’s decision to appoint Gretchen Von Freiburg as not only Ernest’s guardian but also of his sister, Eva. Gretchen appoints Nicole Alexander CEO of the Vienna Credit Bank and the South African immediately brings Ernest in on its operations. She starts to fund some of his “special projects” (along with a few of her own). The new CEO has the bank run an audit and finds a number of questionable loans made to the Berchtold Family. More than a few of these are already in default, but not acted on. Nikki has the bank call the loans immediately. Count Berchtold has to sell his yacht, the S.S. Admiral Miklos Horthy. The ensuing scandal forces him to resign as Foreign Minister. It is not enough. Two months after that, the Austrian government falls and is forced to call new elections. At first Gretchen is not overly pleased with Daniela as her grandnephew’s wife, but the girl soon wins her over. Two months after the Team returns from Africa they are informed that Ernest and Daniela are expecting their first child.
In Mali, the French discard all pretenses and commit the 2nd Foreign (Legion) Parachute Regiment in toto, their carrier battle group and support and transport services. Malian troops rally and the two armies shatter the forces of the “new” Islamic Republic of Azawad. The Islamic rebels are driven back into the northern deserts and their newly acquired armor forces are destroyed. Most of the pilots of Mali’s air force that were poisoned at the Annual Air Force Banquet on the night of Tuesday, November 22 recover. (William had commented the following day about where the Malian Air Force was as the Islamists took over Timbuktu.) Suspicion first fell on Mariata Sisoko, the hostess of the dinner, but she was found dead of the same poison the very next day. The commander of the 5th Military Region, Lt. Colonel Daouda Sisoko, is found dead in his crashed command helicopter. All the bodies are badly burned and identification has to be done by dental records. In Timbuktu, Paul de Fleurs, import/export agent from Bamako (and member of the DSGE, French Secret Service) along with US trade attaché (and C.I.A. agent), Robert Simmons, work together to help Malian and French forces drive the rebels from Timbuktu. Their cooperation mollifies the French government and the already bad relations with the United States do not get any worse over this.
Cat puts together all the information they collected about the Azawad rebels and their allies, the serial numbers of the American equipment that was there, all the pictures Ivanka took and puts them in a file. She sends it all to “Uncle” Nathan, her father’s best friend and the deputy director of Clandestine Services for the C.I.A. She also drops one of the M-16s off at the American Embassy in the Gambia to be sent to Nathan. It is discovered that all these arms were part of a shipment destined for Israel back in 1984. The vessel was “lost at sea” and no trace of the weapons was ever found until now.
Roger Blackmore and Natasha Kerensky take their pay and the promise of Ernest’s reward and leave the Team. Their trip on the Niger as a couple has blossomed into a real relationship. They want to move on and seek their fortune together. This Team’s unwillingness to take on any wet work they consider a “missed opportunity” for money!
Shannon Wilson turns out to be a talented and insightful media. Her stories on the “Timbuktu 12” and the Team’s adventure in Mali are picked up around the world (with a +1 Reputation for everyone). Almost every member of the Team is painted in a heroic light. The one notable exception is Roger Blackmore. Hell hath no fury like a media punched in the face! The Brit was wrong about a camera in her smart goggles; it was in her cybereye. She had a modified chipware socket that did not hold skill chips, but did hold hours and hours of digital memory for her cameras. Shannon also turns out to be a fairly competent researcher. Roger comes across as a cyberpsycho, weapons dealing criminal! Well, even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all!
And the world continues to spin!
Time marches on in our Campaign World and international tensions continue to grow between the United States, the EU and the Republic of Mars. The mystery of how the 1980’s American arms shipment of weapons bound for Israel that was “lost at sea” ended up sixty years later in the hands of Islamic rebels is a plot thread that will become important later.
So without further ado, here is our latest World News:
World News Service – Flash!
VICTORIOUS EU FLEET ARRIVES BACK IN EARTH ORBIT
Friday, February 10, 2045
Today the EU Fleet completed its orbital maneuver, officially ending its first successful military action. The carrier flagship, EUS Charlemagne, escorted by the cruisers EUS Aachen and EUS Madrid and the civilian transport ships, Barcelona and Zweiker were greeted personally by EU President Claude Fountaine, the man who saw them off from three and a half years ago. The official celebration was marred by a cyber-terrorist attack by Europe 3000 as their netrunners seized control of the large video screen behind the podium just as President Fountaine began his remarks. The terrorists showed videos purporting to be from the colony on Mercury just after the explosion that, according to official EU sources, had caused only minor damage. Although the pirate broadcast only lasted twenty seven seconds, the scenes of destruction were extensive and horrific. In the few scenes that were shown reporters counted at least 37 bodies, which is more than five times the number reported killed by the government.
The EU President announced the expedition commander’s promotion to the rank of full Admiral. Admiral Rolf was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Pour le Mérite by the Presidents of France and Germany. At least a dozen of the command officers also received high ranking decorations. The scheduled news conference was abruptly cancelled without explanation ten before it was scheduled to begin. Both the European and world press cried foul at this sudden change of plans. Instead, Admiral Rolf was interviewed by Heinz Keitel, the press secretary for the European Space Agency. The admiral did confirm that the EUS Orleans will leave for Mercury within three months along with an unnamed civilian transport ship to relieve the EUS Madrid which remained in Mercury orbit. All requests to interview Admiral Rolf or his staff have been refused explaining that the men and women deserved a rest and also of security concerns.
Demonstrations broke out in several European capitals condemning the entire expedition and the enormous expense of building and maintaining the fleet. A spokeswoman for the EU military dismissed the objections of the protestors with the statement, “As long as the illegal government on Mars and the hooligan administration of the United States continue in their plans to dominate the solar system, we must maintain a strong and vigilant presence in the dark.”
At a Pentagon press conference today Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Pershing, dismissed the celebrations as mere political propaganda with the statement: “I see no reason to celebrate or even acknowledge a victory over four civilian shuttles with hastily improvised weapons by the largest space armada ever assembled. But the EU has never had any luck in fighting any kind of legitimate warship.”
When asked about the EU’s overwhelming superiority in space, General Pershing replied the new United States warship, U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, scheduled for launch late this summer, will put his country on a more equal footing with the Euros. The giant American warship will be larger than the European Charlemagne class carriers and will rival the new Chinese space carrier, Long March, which is scheduled for completion two years from now. Discontent in the United States has been growing over the enormous expenditure for this giant vessel. The government has dismissed its critics as just tools of the EU cabal that is trying to dominate the high ground.
In related news, the Martian Space Navy denied that its ship the M.S.S. Deimos will be diverted to the planet Mercury. They report it is on final approach to their home planet where it is scheduled for a major overhaul this year.