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The long-range helicopter was experimental, it tended to shake and shudder when a crosswind hit its tail rotor. The occupants were spooked, not because of a little shake, but because the power plant was fueled by hydrogen. The intakes sucked in damp air and extracted the hydrogen in enough quantity to keep the internal combustion engine combusting and the rotors spinning. The air of the tropics suited this system well. Although, if there were a problem, water tanks stored on board would kick in, with the assist of three pressurized hydrogen tanks strapped next to the passengers. The tanks and the occasional bullets, fired by miscreants, ringing off the helio's plates gave pause to the passengers. As each rider heard the pings, all eyes went to the exposed tanks strapped to the bulkhead.
The skipper turned and hollered that they would be over the landing site in three minutes. He turned to look at his instruments just as a missile flew by the cockpit window.
"Damn, this sucks…Its going to be rough… lots of shooters …don't like these fucking dirty animals." He screamed over the whine of the rotors."I'm going to swing around to the east and come in against that cliff face. I saw a good size shelf …your team down and I'm out of here."
Jene nodded and gave him thumbs up. He looked at his team; James Smith was thirty pounds lighter, tireless, and a master with a knife and hand to hand technique. Marion Stow was a surprise. They had trained hard and the woman excelled in every discipline. She was mean, lean, and decidedly ruthless under pressure. An expert in small arms, explosives and she could kick the shit out of any one who dared cross her path. She was, however, still meek in manner and soft-spoken. Jene had confidence in them both. All three were accomplished in firearms, knifes, sword, staff, crossbow, mace and spear. There wouldn't be anyone they needed to fear, in a straight up fight. The stray bullet, or accident, was something to which there was no control - nature, to prove the point, provided a deluge. It began to rain a solid wall of water. They put on their packs and shouldered their automatic pistols.
"Coming in…be ready. "The skipper warned.
James tossed the ropes over the threshold, all three snapped on the slide grip, and positioned themselves for the elevator ride to the ledge. Bullets sprayed around them, with bright flashes, as they came to the drop site. The pilot swung the water-tortured helicopter parallel to the cliff and managed to position the craft to act as a shield against the barrage. The three dropped to the outcropping and released. The ropes fell away as the copter lifted into the cloud-filled sky. The team adjusted themselves and started their descent the rest of the way down the cliff face. They were drenched, exposed, and at risk. A huge explosion shook the mountain somewhere above them and hot metal rained down on the slipping and sliding team. Jene looked up and could see the fireball still burning in the sky.
Apparently a stinger missile had found the helicopter. James hollered to Jene that he had found a cave. They climbed in, settled out of the rain, and checked their gear.
"I believe we're we are 100 miles east of New Denver. There is a river canyon to the east…. a wide valley …open and treed to the west. A sniffer caught Cassandra going south on the tree line. Samson is still a question." Marion briefed.
"Sir…we should get to the lab - something maybe there to help. I don't like that Samson is off scope …dangerous. Cassandra will more than likely travel alone …no social training."
James spoke, while he checked his weapons.
"Samson will often take on several jobs at once, he always has his own agenda… always, he could pop up anywhere…that parts right. Don't trust what you think you know about Samson, or Cassandra. Throw out the briefings and work on your instincts …we will live longer. Let's rest and eat something. We'll go after dark."
Something crossed Marion's eyes - like a shadow. Jene saw it and asked.
"What is it Number Two?
“I hesitate to speak…Sir."
"You both will think me superstitious and that will jeopardize the mission."
James turned to Marion. "We all got religion now, Number two…if you got something, then it's an asset to us. I don't care if you're a fucking witch. Stir the pot and give it to us.”
Jene nodded in agreement and some amount of pride at the quality of his team.
"I saw the devil…in my face…when we were repelling down."
"The devil … what?… like a vision?" James spun around.
Marion stared at Jene as if she had seen a ghost.
Jene saw their fear. "Keep nothing from me …both of you… feelings, visions, hunches I want everything. Got it?"
Both nodded sheepishly.
"Number Two …go on."
"We are chasing both the female side and the male side of the same entity. The Devil is walking on earth. We will not be able to kill them while they are apart."
Thank you Number Two. If it’s a help to you… the metaphor is accurate. These two are the most dangerous humans on the planet. That is why they are so valuable. The rub is - we are not meant to succeed. We were sent here to die and test the metal of our quarry. That pig of a man, Adams and all his kind are never to be trusted."
Both Two and Three swore.
"Yep… were you thinking that you had a religious experience…did you? You didn't - you were shown the truth…your instincts don't fail you."
Number Three stood and walked to the edge of the cave looking at the forest below. "So we die?"
"Look down…there is a six inch snake, a huge fucking cat with a liking for human meat, and a poisonous crab-spider the size of a garbage can lid - all more likely to kill you than the two we chase."
"The way I see it…" Number Two stood."…They are up on us a day or two. The lab isn't going to help…the lab was what the fat bastards would want."
"Yeah…Boss! She's right. We get the data…" Number Three pointed to his data portal on the side of his head…we die… they retrieve the data."
"Boss? The fucks aren't after the freaks, they want us to get the data and then they build another Cassandra in New Moscow." Number Two bursts as she spins in disgust. "If we got Cassandra and Samson, they are ahead …if we die, they still win."
"Leverage…my comrades in arms." Jene smiled.
"Christ wept…what do we do, Boss?" Number Three walked up to Jene.
Number Two turned awaiting the answer from their boss.
"Here is what it all means…we now have no leverage. We must get leverage. We don't know, now, how to get it. All our preconceived notions are out the window and here we are, in the wilderness, in an environment in which we are not attuned. We must get attuned. We look like posh swells at a beggars banquet. By Moscow’s standards we are skeletal, but not here."
"That’s an apt analogy." Number Two smiled.
"Right…well. I mean we have to blend in, learn this dangerous place, and we can - because we are dangerous. We are now Boss, Hawk and Snake…you forget and slip I will kill you and then you won't have anything to worry about. Just remember we are smarter, deadlier, and meaner than any thing we will encounter in this place. If anything pisses you off, Number Three, or makes you uncomfortable, Number Two…kill it. Those bastards in the glass towers don't know what they have wrought. We will betray them and leverage ourselves into an august and secure position.
"How will we do that?" Hawk asked with decidedly more venom.
"Good!" Jene noted the change, "I know that Cassandra is heading to New Moscow and Samson double-dealt his employers. They are both trying to get to Mars. Cassandra, because she thinks she can rule that new world and Samson, because he can't help but follow. And there are other players, Geeks and the unexpected freejackers- all common place in the wild world."
"How did you…" Both people, in Jene's army, sputtered.
"I have resources – I spend time here, on my vacations…why do you think I stay so embarrassingly fit?" And why do you think I was chosen for this cluster fuck?”
Hawk and Snake looked on their Boss with admiration. Both felt like they could survive this little vacation, after all. Whatever the Boss had in mind, it was impolite and dangerous to ask. Their job now was to keep him, and themselves, alive - until their boss could play his hand. All was now good in the world and they could rest to the sound of friendly rain.
"Sleep now …tonight we take the water course a bit south … we'll come up on an old trellis and a Keep…a settlement of blood thirsty religious fanatics… but I know the Sheriff. From there we'll go over mountain and continue south, equipped, and looking more like the denizens of this part of the world. Get some rest."
Why is doing what you love the hardest thing to do? Is it because failing what you thought defined you would be too devastating a thing from which to recover? If so, we stay where mere accident has left us.