An old oriental Inn “The Flying Pig”, 23:31:21, Guangzhou province, China (P.R.C.)
The ninja master turned back to the far wall. His eyes locked on it.
“It is finally time for the realisation of my plans.”
He glanced up at the far wall again, this time caught by a disturbance he felt but did not feel. The fiery nature of the channel that had just opened, the wall was at once alight with a line of burning fire. It stuck to the wall, forming a circle. The circle was crisscrossed with a pentagram. The lines of the pentagram pulsed in time to the universe.
A dream like scene materialised in much the same manner upon the pentagram. The nature of the dream was one of chase. Two bears, one larger than the other, raced through a thick forest. Behind them the hordes of darkness followed. Ahead lay a fortress, already under siege.
Next the dream shifted, to a bucolic field where a wizened old man in a black monks robe stood silently. The master knew what would happen next. He braced himself.
Suddenly the old man, who had been enjoying the sunny day out in the field looked right through the dream at the master. It was a frightening moment, even for the ninja master. He felt the others gaze on him. Felt the stare of eyes no longer bright red, but incandescent purple, washing over his body into reality from the dream.
Suppressing your fear is useless, experience it, don’t let me get you that way again, apprentice.
Did you see the previous dream apprentice?
Yes Master, our old enemies from Australia have returned perhaps through some unknown passage in the great forest.
So. Apprentice. There are still places you have not been shown by your spirit guide? Muawhawhahahaw. Good. The only way they could be on the way back, from there, is if someone helped them find one of the ancient outback trails. Even then it is not a sure thing. There are powerful entities of power guarding the trails. The ones whose sole purpose is keeping the dead from walking amongst the living; they were amongst the strongest of their kind, ever.
This is what I don’t understand old master, you say I saw the realms of the dead‽ How is that even possible?
We should never have been able to see that outback trail to begin with. Indeed the only reason we could was because you had another “moment of great power”. You’re mind is like a circuit board that can handle more than normal. It’s how you managed to get from adept to master so fast. So do you know what you must do now?
Yes Master, I must seek out these two and slay them. To fail is to die.
No! You will take the Toaken Sword and use it to cut down this Davis Lockyer. He is at the centre of our plans, and must be eliminated. Those other two will be both weak and impotent.
But Master‽ Surely you saw how powerful these bears can be? You saw them coming “back from the Shi Guo”!
No one has returned from the dead in more than 500 years. The last to do it, a monk from France, was in almost total paralysis for over two years. Since then the remaining pathways back from the land of the dead have narrowed. The life force that flows from there is extremely weak. No, you don’t have to worry about those two; they are only dangerous if they link with their protégé Davis. He may be powerful but it seems there are large holes in his knowledge.
As you say Master. Yet surely if he is still a learner in the arts, it would be worth using a circle to kill him in his dreams?
I would if could! The boys dreams are incredibly well shielded, creating a similar layer of protection in anyone within a kilometre of him. Spying in the land of dreams is impossible. He has been well trained in dreaming. No you must kill him in the land of Samsara [the waking world;reality]. By your hand he must die.
I will take the Toaken Sword and kill him Master!
Good. Once he is dead the two bears will not even be a fly worthy of swatting. In any case I will order the two adepts you requested earlier to track down these bears and kill them. They will take with them one of the clan’s star crystals. The extra power will be more than enough to kill both bears so long as they set a well planned ambush.
With one last glace the old man cut a withering look over his apprentice. Invisible Ice crystals of moist tangible fear ran down the ninja master’s back. It was despite himself, that he momentarily dropped his gaze then raised it again straight away.
He couldn’t be sure but he thought he saw his master half-smiling to himself. He is still stronger than me, if I tried to usurp him now I would be defeated. Worse he thought, as a lesson to the rest of the clan, the old man would no doubt contact a public torture and interrogation. The pain would be intolerable, but at his level, the ninja master could all but completely block out the nerve impulses. No the truly intolerable thing would be to see the eyes of all his minions looking down at him.
Still they longed for the high tech sophistication that made their SAS brethren like cyber 007s. Right now the three were conferring, odd in itself because they eye text simple messages. Still faster complex language was still faster vocally.
“Equipment dump just up ahead. Prepare for rope descent.” Said the only officer of the three, a Captain.
“I didn’t know we were maintaining recon dumps inside of Somalia, Captain?”
“We don’t. My corporal has rerouted drones from the USS “Pride & Fury”, hum ha ha. You navy boys... Too much really. Anyway chaps, as it turns out, the local militia, they were only too happy to help us secure two utes, food and water for the journey... “
“We now have twenty seconds to descent” came a friendly computerised voice.
“We call that parrot, Super Siri” laughed the other corporal on his Captains left.
“Yup”, chimed the other one, “Because it’s never wrong.”
“Gear up people, the drones have now returned, and the militia have returned more rapidly than we predicted. We’re going to do a fly by once first to see what you guys can do from the side of a chopper. “
“Woot!” yelled Easy-E, “This is what I was fucken born for.”
So saying he marched boldly off into the rolling pitch of a twenty degree deck, as everyone else was hanging onto their seats. He was already in position, crouched as the helicopter came down from its high arc into view of the highest dune in the surrounding desert.
From above the sands, came the approaching hoards. Behind them and below, lay the prize. The pilot eased the chopper forward getting it to move diagonally across the field of pursuit, as Easy locked on. Small moving circles zoomed around his digi-glasses until they locked on to a target. When they did a thermal profile appeared to give instant confirmation of kills.
Right now though he was seconds from squeezing the trigger, not on the lead vehicle but at the sand below the tall dune’s neck. The sand was rapidly pummelled as he used maximum output from all four silver guns to dig away at the front surface of the dune.
Where there should have been an easy downward slope for the cars coming over the dune’s mound into the desert below, now there was a fearsome drop already beginning to crumble.
The lead cars didn’t have a chance, landing engine head first, engine blocks destroyed as they are rammed up into the cabins. There is carnage at the top as the rest of the pack swoop on the lead cars. They are too close for starters, and now it’s clear why. The other cars have no chance to brake, there are cars behind ramming them forward.
The chopper levelled out over the top of the dune, looking back Aimee scouted total destruction of the column.
“What kind of intelligence did we have to justify that type of extra judicial killing Captain?” Aimee turned again on him.
“Please watch this ma’am.” Said the Captain kindly.
So saying a small projector on his chest popped open and began projecting onto a open space half a metre in front of him. The video displayed was a little blurry at times and had random “streaks” of black, but was otherwise easy to watch. Clearly though the technology had not been perfected.
The images were of the previously engaged column moving through the Somalian desert. The column was approaching a small tribe that appeared to be busily involved with collecting some much needed water from a tiny water hole.
The lead car veered heavily and pushed forward towards the tribe. As it approached the lead passenger climbed out onto the windowsill, aiming his AK47 at the tribes members. His opening volley cut through the camels side causing it to fall back on an older male. Two females took head shots from errant fire. The tribe fled. Running up the sides of a the water hole against fast moving enemy with a height advantage was always going to be a one side battle.
Two cars pulled up as gangsters climbed out of the cars and formed up along a line on the slopes edge. Looking down, some smoking ciggies in the cool afternoon breeze they looked down dully at those below. Then they opened fire, it was a slaughter. Worse than inhuman, was the murder.
The image flickered and died as the Captain killed the video feed.
“Now do you see Blackbear?”
“I see that sometimes tough decisions are required in war.”
Aimee paused, reflecting on the young Captain in front of her, cocky and full of righteous arrogance.
“However in future, you will not break the chain of command, and will defer to me before ordering them, do you understand?” Aimee’s tone was like ice, her demeanour unchanged.
“Yes, ma’am.” The Captain was still the same affable cyber bond.
“Good” Aimee said shortly, “We will go back and get the cars and proceed as planned to reccy the enemy stronghold.”
After a moment’s pause, Tim said, “Good luck Aimee.”
He seemed out of place. He looked left and right, then back at Aimee. Then he really looked at her, and smiled brightly.
Hitting the sand as a unit they had the two cars commandeered in record time. The US team split up between the backseats of both cars to give the team the maximum spread of firepower in a confrontation.
Driving off towards the deserts that exited onto a road near Mogadishu, Sarge was heard to comment,
“Here we go Easy, into the breach once more.”
The scientist looked over at the laser cutter he’d helped modify for that buffoon. He was still horrified by the terror it had unleashed. We truly were in a new world of mass horrors, he pondered. That wall could have easily have been a thousand.
He did a double take at the cutting machine with disgust. Even though he had been an ideologue of many fundamentalist causes, some of which were entrenched in war. Even still, he didn’t feel endeared to humanity for figuring out how to reverse engineer an industrial laser cutter and then modifying it to use the lattice uranium.
The cause was just. After fighting through countless pitched battles, surviving near death cave ins and explosions, the scientist was finally ready to take his place amongst his people. It had come to him in a dream six months back. Allah wanted him to return to his people and lead them from abject poverty back into the mighty civilisation they had once been. Allah had even been specific saying he would be needed for his skills and that an opportunity would come.
A week later some Chinese gangsters had made contact, arranging for his escape from a prison in western Syria into North Africa. However what had impressed the scientist the most was a plan so bold and cunning that the scientist had been taken aback at first. Surely the Chinese did not have the technology of which they mentioned, otherwise why was America still the world’s only superpower? This lattice uranium had sounded like a fairytale, until they had produced it seven days later.
By the time it arrived, wrapped in Bedouin cloth of all things, the scientist had the laser cutting machine ready. That was stage one, prepare a weapon that would awe the locals into uniting. Give them their brother-ship through fear and the terrible destruction that would surely follow. In his world it had always been so. The strongest ruled, everyone else followed; his people had always looked towards strong leaders to rule them.
He realised now that what his people really needed though was survival. Abject corruption in government had lead to abject poverty. The rebellion had simply crystallised the discontent, the capital providing a convenient field of battle. It had also destroyed the Somalia’s main marketplace and distribution point. Now there were ideologically driven rebels, given free reign out in the countryside. The famine that had followed was amongst the worst on record. Certainly if it continued it had the potential to wipe out the country. Millions of people scurrying towards the capital looking for salvation. From a slow death to a quick one, the only difference was their servitude to pain.
He had his own plans to work on. While they had him developing the platform that would allow the use of the lattice structure inside a bomb, he worked hard on his own intended use. The interface was the same for both devices. That was what made it interesting. Once the interface design was completed the lattice could be fitted to a wide range of different devices, since it was stable storage device of energy. Even without fusion the device emitted enough energy to be used in low yield devices.
The scientist had been given a great gift from god. He just hoped it would be enough to save some of his people from destruction.
The remains of the central marketplace, 8:00:03, Central Mogadishu, Somalia
Ali Barba was in his element. He loved nothing more than to be amongst the people as he went about his morning work. Eating breakfast and drinking coffee seemed so relaxing. The people he met always filled his heart with warmth in a way that made this more fun than work. He likened it to following a stream downriver. It felt to him as though he was following the curves and the bends in the conversation, leading him on to his next contact.
This time the target was the group that had the taken possession of the lattice uranium crystal. They were known to be north of what had been the central business district, just west of the old palace. It hadn’t been hard to find them. They weren’t exactly disguising their presence. A steady stream of supplicants had been brought in days earlier from the other clans and outlying tribes. The people he spoke to seemed amazed at the way life enemies had walked side by side on the way out. Surely they said something had put the fear of Allah in to these people to make them forget their bloody grievances.
Ali Barba took a left into a street vendor’s hut that was setup for selling carpets. The carpets were draped all over the front of the shop and its sides. Inside they painted an amazing mosque that seemed to shine like the desert outside.
“God is great. It is my old friend Ali, I can say that you have not aged a day my dear friend.”
It was really his old friend Al Shemza that seemed not to have changed at all. His ageless face smiled back in appreciation at Ali Barba.
“We have so much time to catch up on my friend. How many years has it been?” said Al Shemza.
“Ah but the years they are only now as long the night was young when we first met.” Ali Barba replied.
“When god is willing the time will come. All things have their time.” It had always been this way between the two men. Each a philosopher, locked within a warriors body. Al Shemza had instantly become attached to the younger man in those days fifteen years ago. He saw at once a kindred spirit, a friend along the path, one to be helped and guided.
Indeed it was Al Shemza’s words that had carried with a young Ali Barba throughout much of his adult life. Upon first meeting Al Shemza on his first tour of duty as a grunt, he had told Ali Barba, “You are the man whose destiny is still to come, born an age early but a decade late. Seize life before it destroys you.”
Like old friends they broke bread and shared tea. Later they smoked some of Al Shemza’s aromatic tobacco. Ali Barba had the distinct feeling Sarge was gonna make him run all day tomorrow. Mindful of it, he bum puffed what he could. Feeling a bit high he had the distinct feeling that ol’ Shemmy had mulled up something else in the mix.
They discussed matters of family and life, and then at some point the conversation turned as it did with all his contacts to matters of espionage. Al Shemza could generally be relied upon to have some very useful intelligence. The recent movement of the various clans and government forces had not gone unnoticed. Central to current power sharing arrangement were two things; the intractability of the clans, and the recent demonstration of shock and awe by one of their number. However weary of being out manoeuvred on their home turf the government forces had started shifting a massive concentration of artillery into shelling range of the supposed location of the facility locating the laser. Things appeared to be at somewhat of a stalemate, although perhaps only until the civil war resumed in earnest.
“Does anyone honestly believe that the weapon is really housed in that building?” asked Ali Barba.
“It must be Ali”, Al Shemza paused puffing on the coil, pulling a deep lungful of the white smoke, “My eyes are everywhere, what is left of them, and we protect each other you see? They tell me that crates of electronics have gone into that building, while nothing except humans has ever come out. The only exception was that on one occasion the laser was taken by truck outside the city and then returned. We are sure it was the laser because we followed and saw. But they did not want to hide what they did Ali. They made sure that word spread like wildfire.”
The calming rush of warmth transpired throughout his body. He was completely relaxed, friendship, a full belly and warm evening breeze. It was what his friend said next that completely changed the mood.
“There is a scientist in their Ali. He is a man without a name. We barely even know that he is African, save that a son of mine who has eyes like a hawk, saw his left wrist bared, for a half a second as he climbed the stairs to the building. He made that mistake once in three months of daily observation Ali. Now something that will whet your appetite my friend. This scientist hasn’t left in over two weeks. There are regular arrivals of food, and container loads of electronic parts. Including a turbine and at least four large electrical generators. Most recently, possibly thinking they went unobserved; a ninja was seen slipping into the building. Things are afoot my friend, I know not what they do, but it is a serious undertaking. The building is huge, and has at least 3 sub levels. It is the old power station for the city before the war made it dysfunctional. Alas they forgot to seal one of the tunnels.”
Ali Barba smiled a cunning smile. His old friend was good, always saving the best Intel for last. He stood up abruptly, flexing his chest and arms. Looking down Al Shemza he pulled a large wad of US one hundred dollar bills in a grimy yellow envelope from underneath his belt. He handed it nonchalantly to the seated man, and strolled from the shop.
The Refugee camp, outskirts of Mogadishu, 10:00:01, 35 km West of Mogadishu
Tim really missed Aimee. Having worked with her for a considerable part of his recent history, and having just worked out how to let her know that he liked her, he was feeling like most men throughout history in such a situation; incredibly uncomfortable. Women were so much more pragmatic; instead he stewed over how he should say what he wanted to say to her. The one time having a suburb analytical mind was a burden. He wished he had Davis’s alpha male instinct. The guy was subliminal when it came to knowing what women wanted.
It wasn’t that he said much, most of the time Davis said very little to them. As much as knew what not to say Tim reflected, Davis was also supremely talented at making each woman like him. It was only now that Tim realised it was because Davis didn’t care about what happened, and because he cared so much about them, that he probably never thought things through. Why would he? He just did things that worked. Davis loved to give him advice, but on women he had always given very little despite Tim’s constant begging. Tim, you just gotta keep trying, mate. You got a way to player status before any o’my pro tips’ll make a diff.
It was hard not thinking about Aimee, but he had to, needed the focus, had to stay on task. Too many things were happening to rapidly, and it was critical to stay on top of the information. They first thing he was going to do was figure out where the leak had come from and who else had the knowledge to use the lattice uranium.
To that end he had been deployed along with an elite team of Australian SAS soldiers, drawn from the urban terrorism team specifically for this mission, in a refugee camp. The Americans had wanted to deploy S.E.A.L. team 6, but the in the end a tense standoff had been avoided by diplomatic wrangling between the Prime Minster and the President. The S.A.S. would guard Tim, and provide a personal assault force. The US would provide monitoring and onsite surveillance.
Where better to hide than in plain view thought Tim, although it helped that the refugee camp was staffed with several N.G.O. organisations that doubled as military outposts. Ostensibly to keep an eye on the western aid workers, the true purpose of these secret outposts was to provide monitoring and detection of potential terrorist cells. One thing Afghanistan had taught the west was that war was a breeding ground for fundamentalist ideologies.
Each day Tim got up early, and, while the SAS boys were doing morning exercises by going for a “light” 6km run with full pack, would wander seemingly at random amongst the tents of the refugees. He was always accompanied by one of the SAS, the “Mr short straw”, who would act like a bodyguard, sidearm unseen standing at a constant ten metres to his rear. SAS were trained for urban insertion and the one he took with him always looked more like a local than a soldier.
After a couple of days he found a family that he would pass by each time, finding the need to learn more about the personal tragedy of this war and the damage to its people, he felt he needed to check in with them to bring them some small measure of comfort. Most of the refugees were natives of Somalia fleeing their ancestral lands in the wake of the ultra strict groups that were controlling much of the country.
It was strange how this lady, Gal Dejibrie’s story came out. One day while giving her two sons some food and just sitting with them as he had each day from the beginning, she had begun in good English,
“Thank you for the things you bring Mr?”
“Tim. And really it is nothing. I wish I had enough extra to feed everyone here. It is so terrible to see so many people still suffering...”
he had looked down then suddenly aware of the raw emotion burning in her, silently yelling at him, You Have No Idea What Your Talking About.
“I thank you for things you bring. My life... is a misery.” So saying she signalled the two boys off to play.
They ran past her to a small area outside the next tent, kicking a small stone between them.
“These children have one tiny hope.” she continued, “Before I left the village and came here we were a family.”
Her voice starting to choke with emotion was caught in a single high note of pride at that last word. Immediately upon continuing however it descended once more to a dead flat sound.
“The Islamists came to our village in the first month. They talked with the men of the village and told them all would be well under their protection. The men said they believed them, but some left. We stayed; my husband said all would be well. At the end of the second month, they came back and demanded money.”
Now she paused, and turning her head away from Tim began to cry. Not really knowing what he should do, Tim threw an arm gently over the lady. She seemed to take small comfort, and digging deeply continued to recall.
“The famine had already been in force for several years. Being so close to the water the pirate gangs had taken many of our young men into their crews. We had no money. We had already started to eat day by day. Even our land was basically worthless.”
She turned back to Tim, her eyes now dry, face a serene cool mask. She challenged him with her look, and he flinched away looking toward his shoes. He dropped his head in his arms there, laying forward. She looked around now conscious of if anyone might be listening, and lowered her voice.
“They shouted at the men, calling them devils for not honouring Allah. They said the men must atone and organised prayers for them. Many of them went with the men as they were marched off in front of us we saw that there was one next to each husband or father. Later they told us, as they were raping us, that they had shot each of our men in the back of the head.”
She looked straight into Tim’s eyes now, and he didn’t flinch, he recoiled. He felt for a moment, terrible loss, humiliation and pain. He felt trapped, wanting to help, yet having no idea how.
“It went on for days. In the end perhaps those pigs gave up I do not know or care. We fled there after that, the village was no longer safe. It was a place haunted by the dead. We tried to come north at first, but then we ran into road blocks. The last time we were with the others we fled, but they tracked us down with utes and dogs. They found us and dragged away some of the remaining boys. My boys were only spared because I left the main group at the start of the first attack. I thought Allah had blessed us by guiding us here, but this city is worse than the country we came from.”
Tim choked back his own tears, reeling in the knowledge that this lady had shared with him. He said simply,
“I am so sorry to hear of your tale, truly I am. How is it that you came to speak such good English, if I may ask?”
Now Gal looked at him with real pride, a feeling that cut across all the pain and crap that had been thrown her way. Suddenly the future looked brighter.
“My grandfather taught it to me when I was a little girl. My mother always scolded me for being too nosey and asking lots questions, but my grandfather always said it was because I was smart. He knew English and taught it to me. Now both my boys are learning it every day. They will learn it and we will use it God willing to escape this hell.”
Tim smiled back at Gal. He was struck by an appreciation of how extremely small every single one of his problems were compared to a single second of her life. For all the vaulted achievements that he had made in this life, he would give them all up to erase the suffering this women had had to endure. It was terrible, and it was but one story in a tent city that was reaching into the hundreds of thousands. It was just despicable. Treating other humans like garbage, dehumanising the population.
All his university days he had been mildly apathetic to his friends concerns for Ethiopia, Eritrea or the various Balkan wars. People were dying in massive numbers, yet he had no way to relate to the human element, in his head were numbers of a different kind. Equations of the highest order, learning to process physics models for things that only existed on a theoretical level.
Now though he saw differently. So many of these lives were held down for no reason other than famine and war. They were good people that wanted to go on about their lives in the place they loved, but any chance of that had been scorched away.
He looked over at the SAS soldier standing nearby, then he quietly wished Gal well, and left her with her boys. On the way back they swung by the mess area and both picked up two heavy bags of rice. They carried them back in silence to Gal’s tent and hid them under old rugs that they had brought with them. Gal smiled at them on the way out, gathering her boys to shake hands with each of them.
“I thank you so much Tim, from the bottom of my heart. I hope your path is a blessing for Somalia.” She said it with a smile, looking west, patting the eldest of her boys on the head. The two of them walked off back towards the NGO area, the SAS soldier looking straight ahead lost for once in thought, Tim looking at each tent as they walked by a worried look creasing his face. He felt nothing. He just wanted, so badly, for her little family not to die.