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When Diplomacy Fails: Chapter Five
Last updated: Friday, June 29, 2012 21:12 EDT
Jason was glad to have been on the advance. He had a grasp of local conditions, or as much grasp as one could have from outside the insane clannishness and religious freakery that went on here. He'd made introductions, knew the rough lay of the base and the units, and had their billets set. Highland had choice quarters in the official VIP/diplomat/government section of the base. They had decent quarters a floor down. The rooms were spare and small, but they were private, and they had a roomy common area they'd convert into a ready room. It was better than most of the troops here would get. He idly wondered if any of those troops had been in Celadon on Salin when they were there.
They also had a floor reserved at a nearby hotel, for them and their principal, and she had official quarters at the UN Colonial Liaison compound across town, where he'd staked out the adjoining suite using her credentials, to the annoyance of the local lodging manager.
He led the way to their quarters and pointed to indicate rooms.
"Aramis, Elke, Shaman, Bart, Jason, me. Kitchen. Had only vegetarian stuff when we arrived. Default to avoid upsetting people with dietary restrictions. However, it upset me, so I fixed that. Beer is very limited. We have one each to unwind from today, and I'll purchase more on a very limited basis. That's per me, Alex, Corporate and the base commander."
Aramis said, "I wasn't going to argue the point, but Bart might."
"I will be fine," Bart said. "Business is business."
"You see the vault there." It was more a large cabinet than a real vault, but it would suffice. "I did encourage and assist both the Security Directorate and ACAMS—their electronic contractor—in wiring it. We can bypass it if need be. It will log and monitor all activity inside and immediately in front. There is no audio. I've already placed audio scramblers to make sure. I advised that we might discuss personal details of Ms Highland, and certainly technical matters regarding her security and travel, and that any discovered leaks would lead to serious conspiracy investigations if something happened to her. They were reluctant even to give us the monitoring we have, so we should be safe."
Elke said, "Ah, there is the paranoia I'd missed so much when on Earth. It is so good to be normal again."
"Indeed. Everyone stow your personals, we'll take a tour and discuss security. Beer when we're back."
"Uniform up. We'll blend in better."
In ten minutes they were ready, as a gaggle who presented as military while looking nothing like a formation. It would be obvious to any troop with experience they were "Security contractors," and high-placing ones. They had a company combat uniform that would make them look like any one of dozens of regional or national contingents.
They went out the foot gate of their compound and onto the broad base itself. There were islands of palm trees, a few flowerbeds, both maintained by bored, off-duty troops, and the usual block billets, portable concessionaires and heavy impact barriers around all important buildings.
A squad of troops went past in an open-backed Grumbly, heading for what appeared to be guardmount at the nearest Entry Control Point. But…
Aramis gaped. "What in the name of every god there is is that?"
Jason said, “That’s the new camo.”
Alex asked, “What in the hell were they thinking?” They sounded as incredulous as Jason had felt when he first saw it.
“It’s supposed to fool the eye.”
"It’s bloody pink and orange with purple highlights,” Alex repeated.
“Yes, the theory is that the colors are designed for optical interference. They’re as far from anything natural as possible, which throws the brain off for a moment. The contrast between them disrupts outlines, and the blotches are computer designed to create artificial depth. Their lab tests say it takes about point four seconds for any response, plus normal reaction time. It makes them harder to hit. In addition, tactical lighting or flares create similar illusions.”
“It’s bloody pink and orange.”
Elke said, “With a reflective belt.” She sounded amused.
Aramis said, “That’s for safety in the dark. Regulations.”
“It’s a war zone and it’s daylight.”
“You’re expecting logic?” Jason asked.
Alex said, “No, but I’d hope that someone with a clue and a spine and some brass would at some point in the process say, ‘This is fucking stupid,’ and put a stop to it.”
Jason said, “Yeah, I wondered about that too. Just as I think it can’t possibly get stupider, it does.”
Bart said, “At a guess, I can locate that three kilometres away, without optics.”
“It’s the best camouflage ever devised. Their official reports say so.”
“Uh huh.” Alex looked meaningfully at the Catafract pattern they wore. Jason tried to. This stuff was near impossible to focus on, with its lines fading in and out of the surface, the texture shifts and the treatment that reflected nearby coloring from its neutral gray areas between the colors.
Jason said, “Yeah, they were offered this and refused.”
"I can't wait to find out why."
"Officially, it's not as good, per their tests. Unofficially, I suspect a combination of not-invented-here and production cost. This stuff is expensive, but it does work."
"While I guarantee that doesn't." He pointed in the general direction of the troops.
"The people in the Army Field Research Center say it does."
Shaman said, "Let's put one of them in it and find out."
"Believe me, you are not the first person to suggest that."
Alex waited for the reply from his boss. He had a local legal contact now, to respond to the issues that were certainly going to arise, including this one. Highland's stupid stunt was worthy of cancelling the contract on the spot and leaving her hanging, and he'd like nothing better. No one else could be on station in less than two weeks, no one was as good, and the administration apparently wasn't going to give her official escort.
The message chimed in, and he sat up. First, it had to be downloaded to his secure stick. That got transferred to the closed system, checked for security, then decrypted.
He waved the file open and read.
"Proceed as ordered. Principal will be extremely difficult. Invoice will reflect this. We're playing our own game as part of this, and need to maintain at least peripheral involvement for the future. Make all efforts to cooperate as far as your judgment indicates. There is potential long term benefit regardless of how the election turns out."
Well, that was that. The boss knew she was an insane client, and wanted to proceed. So, those were his orders. He didn't have to like them. It did, however, color how he was to respond.
Elke really needed those explosives. She always asked for more than she needed, and she used them as often as she could, but they did keep the clients alive. Without them, she was just one more suited goon. With them, she was a logarithmic force exponentiator.
As to lethal force, they always had used it, and Highland had to know that. They didn't unless necessary, but the two key rules of executive protection were to stop the threat and evacuate the area. If one didn't want to evacuate, stopping the threat was more critical. If one was agreeable to it, and had good police support, the threat could be ignored. Ripple Creek got hired for events where the feasibility for both was reduced, which meant applying their own force—killing the threat. This was understood, historically observable fact.
With that in mind, Highland was not stupid, so she was self-obsessed. She really thought that her opinion would change their MO. Likely, she was very used to getting her way. That did fit her background.
His office chair was comfortable but he was nonetheless tense. This was going to be an aggravating mission.
He wiped the file, randomized the stick, and removed it.
Elke thought the Security Directorate building was reasonably secure. It had a gated fence inside crash barriers, a double translucite overhead with a sloped and surface-hardened roof. They were locked in through three sets of doors, ID checked, scanned, their personal weapons hand-checked and returned. Elke reluctantly surrendered her glasses because of the built in cameras. Then they were inside and in a much smaller function space.
"Good thickness," she said.
Jason said, "It is, and layered. They won't give details, but I think they're safe enough. Now here's where it gets confusing." He waved them into a small conference room, and followed.
"Team, this is Captain Jason Das. For obvious reasons, we will call him Captain or Das, not Jason. Sir, this is the team."
Elke nodded as she was introduced. Das sounded Canadian. He wore the older style uniform, not the pink sračku.
He shook hands all around, then said, "I'm tasked with liaising with you. Given your principal, I'd have expected one of the majors to take it, or even the colonel himself, but they're already multiply booked."
She wondered if they'd found a way to be too busy. The principal was a bitch even by Elke's standards.
Jason, their Jason, said, "He'll provide us with whatever intel security comes down, which of course comes from Intelligence first, then to here, then to us."
Das said, "I'll be as quick with it as I can, but it does have to be processed, and cleared for release. I can clear some of it, but the General has various subjects, which I can't discuss I'm afraid," he looked embarrassed, "that he wants a tight hold on. So the higher ups have to approve those items. Of course, no one wants to risk Minister Highland unnecessarily, but military operations do have their role, and the General will give those equal priority."
Elke hoped it was higher priority, really, even if it increased their risk on the ground. Highland was one person, and there were a lot of troops involved.
He seemed to pause for questions, so she asked, "Captain Das, through which channel should I inquire about my explosive? The weapons are here, my demolition gear is not."
He looked a bit surprised. "I wasn't told of any. I can check with logistics, customs and with the cargo office. It's probably there somewhere. Inter-agency communication has not been good, which is going to affect you. Sorry."
Aramis asked, "What AARs do you need from us?"
"Anything you can release that isn't restricted by State is intel for us, and useful for us. We'll gauge general and specific threats and weapons availability. Most of the active extremist groups here are dangerous by volume, not by intent. Of course, most of the residents are peaceful civilians with no intent to do harm." His eyes almost rolled when he said it. She assumed it was an officially mandated speech for political reasons. The SecGen's parents had lived here as teachers while he was young, too, which had to affect something.
She believed Captain Das was honest. She also believed someone had deliberately held up her material out of some kind of ridiculous worry about it. She'd have Alex contact Corporate as well. The blbci always thought of big explosions hurting bystanders, not as expertly placed and controlled tools.
In the meantime, this was a big base, they certainly had a Munitions Disposal element, and she had a bit of a reputation. She'd find something. The nice thing about explosive was it was consumed in use, and very hard to track.
She couldn't wait for this meeting to end.
After the briefing, back at their digs, Horace did a mental assessment of his teammates so far. Alex was very disturbed by the obvious leak and complication JessieM presented, with good reason. Jason seemed more relaxed than usual. He must like what he'd found so far. Horace himself felt comfortable enough. He had nerves, but the religious fruitcakes were at least monotheistic and not the insane butchers the animists in Cameroun had been. There wouldn't be any eating of eyeballs, just death. Elke had that twitch. She'd be off to find explosive as soon as she could, licitly or not. Bart was taciturn and calm, and not just his exterior. Aramis seemed to alternate between brooding and cheerful. That first must be something to do with Caron. The man was playing with acid in that relationship. The balance for them all was the clear but reasonably common threat. Straight combat with amateurs. They'd done that before, and had lots of weapons, and the backup didn't seem hostile.
Otherwise it was warmish and pleasant here, though the planet had short seasons and it would chill soon. If only every war zone could have a climate like Hawaii…but in that case, few people would be inclined to fight.
As to their principals, since they'd involuntarily picked up the spare, there was tension between the two, but it seemed to be up from JessieM and not down from Highland. Doting worship? Romantic? It wasn’t really relevant, as JessieM only mattered as an aside. Highland was sociopathic and narcissistic, which was not at all healthy, but common enough at her level of power, and meant little would bother her unless her worldview got shaken down. If they did wind up in the brush in a tent, she'd possibly fall apart, or act even more regal and demanding. She'd largely disregard anyone else until she felt they were controlling her, then he'd need a lot of tranquilizers. He had four types that overlapped in effect.
He sighed inside. On the one hand, he'd so much prefer to back on the Big Island in his comfortable home, watching the lava. On the other, this not only paid for that, but led to personal growth. As lovely as Hawaii was, it was too pleasant to offer any challenge.
As to the team, they were healthy enough and would become their effective gestalt with some renewed association. He would recommend another bout of training after this. Real missions actually took the edge off, rather than honing it, much like using a scalpel dulled it.
Getting back to the present, he called the base clinic.
"Outpost Freedom Medical Facility, this is not a secure contact, how may I help you?"
"Yes, this is Doctor Mbuto. I am with the BuState element and need to talk to the administrator."
"Stand by, please, I will connect you to two four seven."
In only a moment, a pleasant female answered. Middle aged, likely Portuguese.
"This is Doctor Caoila."
"Yes, ma'am, I am Horace Mbuto, surgeon and medical contact for Ripple Creek Security. Our element is providing security for Ms Highland."
"Yes, Doctor. Your mister Vaughn spoke to me a few days ago."
"Excellent. I hope that we will not have need of your services."
"As do I. Mister Vaughn briefed me that in an emergency you will probably not identify a casualty, nor any details, but simply state what equipment you need on arrival."
"Correct. Neither the patient's name nor status is revealed as far as possible, much as with military OPSEC."
"I understand, and we are set up for similar events. I presume there is a relevant BuState clearance code similar to the military ones?"
"I'm positive there is, but I do not know it. I can have our Agent in Charge contact you regarding that."
"That would be appreciated. At some point, the admin details must be completed or someone will grind their teeth."
"Of course. Also, if there is a mass casualty event and we are not out on escort, it's possible I can be available to assist. Mister Vaughn is also an experienced paramedic, so you may call us both. Please understand that we must place Ms Highland's safety above anyone else's."
"That must be aggravating for you professionally, but I understand and appreciate it."
"I hope our encounters are all this relaxed. Good day."
"Thank you, Doctor."
He could only hope it really did work that smoothly, if needed. There were usually frictions between them and local authority, and between departments. Though Highland's obvious status might help, since any emergency might reasonably be assumed to involve her.
It would likely be interesting, which is why he got paid.
Jason was quite glad to be back with the team. He'd been a complete pariah upon arrival, though he'd made most of the connections he needed to. Now all the planning got gutted by reality.
He, Alex and Elke sat in his room, since he could most easily clear this one against intrusion, and had done so twice today. So far, there were no signs of eavesdropping, but in this society, there would be sooner or later. Everyone wanted some kind of hold.
Alex still looked pissed from the fake attack earlier. If that's how this bitch was going to play things, Jason didn't blame him. He wondered if part of the reason they were hired was because BuState security had either had enough of antics like that, nixed the idea of using fake attacks for publicity, or if it was a combination of using Ripple Creek as a whipping bitch while playing for publicity at the same time.
Amusingly, if they pulled this off, they'd look even better.
However, Alex was talking and he should follow that.
Alex said, "The next problem is JessieM. Jason, we need to find a way to squelch that signal. If she won't stop, we may have to cut it off."
"She'll suspect after the second time at most. I've already done it once."
Elke said, "As have I."
Alex said, "Hopefully, it won't take more than that. If we wind up in real shit, I'm hoping it'll be a wakeup call."
Jason said, "Also, we're guarding her as well. She's a pain in the ass, not covered by contract, but I don't see any way to argue the point."
Alex replied, "Nope. We'll just have to cover both. She's secondary, though. Worst case, I suspect the b…principal will benefit from danger factor in the news."
Jason grinned. "Are we old enough to be that cynical?"
Aramis asked, "Are we young enough to deal with the repercussions if the flaky little sidekick gets iced?"
Alex said, "We shout for Corporate and hold up the contract. I suspect she'll be a hero of the Revolution, or whatever, we take our usual flogging in the press, and move on. Also, I don't trust them not to be spying on us. You and Elke need to run regular checks on our commo, our encryption, and our quarters."
"Yeah, they'd love dirt for PR, blackmail or politics."
Elke smiled. "You said the same thing three times." She continued, "I will keep things clear here, and will ensure we have full monitoring of our principal, for safety's sake."
And for intel for blackmail's sake, he thought. They understood each other.
"Okay, break and get to it. I'll have more in a bit."
Jason ushered them out of the room, because it was his room at least for now, and he felt responsible for it, liked his privacy, and wanted to ensure it stayed private. That was why he'd hand-removed the vid terminal, and used only his own gear to interface with the nodes. It wasn't that he didn't trust his own people. He just didn't trust anyone, and if he was to be accountable he wanted as much control as possible. Professional distrust ran in all directions.
He turned toward what constituted their armory. He had weapons to prep. That, at least, was enjoyable.
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