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The Weapon: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Tuesday, June 7, 2005 19:32 EDT



    Commander Naumann of 3rd MOB, mentioned previously, was exactly the type of thinker I was, and one of my role models. Dyson clearly had him pegged to get experience, move up, and take command of major units. He was barely twenty (thirty Earth years), but was in command of a regiment and heading up fast. He was a sheer genius at accomplishing outrageous feats with small forces and minimal gear. He knew his history, philosophy, weapons, tactics, and even his art and music. He would have made a marvelous Napoleonic Era colonel, except that he had no regard for fair play whatsoever. Imagine the Duke of Wellington crossed with a Viking marauder and you'll get the idea. He was a sociopathic killer who could masquerade as a gentleman when needed. It was much later I learned to hate his dispassion.

    I knew him slightly from service, respected him, and was flattered when he decided I was perfect for a mission he dreamed up. He was forever thinking up missions and training people for them. Then when SHTF, someone would beg for a solution, he'd lay out the plan, it would be executed, and they'd stop bugging him about operating beyond his authority for a month or so.

    He had a thing about terrorists. He was convinced we faced a threat, remote and detached as our system was. Many thought he was nuts, and ignored his obsession with a shake of the head. "Madman Naumann," they called him. But he requested that Captain Erson maintain and improve our capabilities in that direction. Erson relayed that request to me, along with instructions to Special Projects to put a team at my disposal and ask none of the wrong type of questions. I got my people cracking on scenarios and languages and accents and everything else I could think of. Technically, I had more than a squad under my orders, and was thus a platoon leader.

    Now, I hate terrorists. To me, anyone who attacks civilians in lieu of soldiers (collateral casualties do happen, but aren't an excuse to be abused) is a gutless turd. I don't care what the historians have to say about Lenin, the "Irish Republican Army" (which was neither Irish, Republican, nor an army), Hamas, al Qaeda, the Covenant of God, Free Canada, or any other group of thugs in history, or those running around now. They attack civilians to create terror, to force a government to yield. They do not attack politicians directly, or soldiers or cops. They attack civilians "because they have no choice" (and because their penises are too small for real fights and they lack the intelligence to stage real revolutions), and were and are, in fact, human fucking shit to be scooped up and flushed. I don't care how "noble" the cause is, how oppressed you feel you are, how "romantic" or "elegant" it is to shoot kids, blow up offices, destroy marketplaces, you will get naught but a bullet from me. If you want a fight, call me. That's why I'm here.



    With that in mind, let me tell you about the mission we took against the Fruits of God. Yes, that's how their name translates. Feel free to snicker at the name. Don't snicker at their operations, because they like to throw big tantrums and blow people up. This is never their fault, of course. It's the fault of anyone who won't give them money, agree with their brand of extremism, and worship God in their fashion. Aren't you ashamed of yourself for causing so much anguish? No?

    I was called in to Erson's office one morning, he said, "Hi, Ken, read this," and lit a screen without any further preamble. It was a report on the Francolin, a small liner registered out of Piedmonte and in service mostly between there and Novaja Rossia. It had been making an approach to orbit around Piedmonte when Fruit terrorists had jumped out of the passengers and seized it.

    "I heard about this," I said. "What's our involvement?" It was tragic and disgusting but not in our area.

    "Keep reading," he said shortly but not rudely.

    I read. Further down were details that weren't yet on the news. It got uglier. According to witnesses, one of the passengers had begged Ali Muhammad Ghassan, their chief turd, to allow his daughter to be put off in a rescue ball. The passenger offered to stay voluntarily and give no resistance, if only they'd let his daughter off before initiating this plot.

    Ghassan shot the daughter and stuffed her out the airlock. She was five years old by our reckoning. Then he shot the father and four other passengers. Jenny Marlin. Remember her. She was a young girl with a promising life ahead.

    His point in doing this was that he didn't like the "infidel" influence that various nations (us among them, though we weren't named) had on the Ramadan system. Apparently, trade and exchange of ideas might lead true believers from the Path of Righteousness. I've always felt that if one is secure in one's ethics and morals, there's no threat from other philosophies. If one is not secure, one should seek out other ideas for consideration. Apparently, I lack the proper view to be a religious fanatic. Thank God, Goddess, Allah, Jehovah, Yaweh, Jave, Nature, Science or whatever.

    Shortly after the incident, after much ranting and posturing, the politicians in Nuova Agrigento (the capital of Piedmonte) offered him free transit and freed the rest of his people. In exchange, he agreed to keep his activities elsewhere. In other words, they gave him a base.

    I don't think words exist to express my loathing. No life form I could compare him to is disgusting enough to make my point. I won't even discuss the gutless slime who gave him more than the bullet in the neck he deserved.

    Then I saw the key part: "Mister Marlin and his family were residents of the Freehold of Grainne." That made it our business.

    "We're responding, then?" I asked.

    "That depends," he replied. "Can you get to him without getting IDed? Can we decide on a message that will convince them to leave us out of their squabbles?"

    I'd have to think about that. "Probably," I said.

    "Decide soon," he said, putting me on the spot. Could I handle the mission? Or should I be replaced with someone who could? Was the whole exercise pointless and counterterror operations not something we should bother with? It all came down to me.

    "Yes, then," I said. "I'll need more intel, of course."

    "You'll get it," he said.

    It was felt among our Citizens that not responding would send the message that Freeholders could be treated like that in future incidents. The Citizen's Council spoke to Marshal Dyson. The Marshal spoke to the General Staff. They decided to contact Commander Naumann (as the pet thug and former Operative they could talk to at their level), and Naumann admitted that some exploratory operations toward combating terror had been made, outside the normal chain of command. He was cautioned again about exceeding his authority, the caution accompanied by a wink. Naumann expressed his guilt over the matter, then spoke to Erson and me. Then I spoke to the General Staff and the Marshal. That was a first for me.

    I stood before those august ladies and men and gave my professional opinion that my "platoon" could find them, and express our extreme displeasure with their choice of targets. Captain Erson agreed that I was competent, even ideal to do this, and recommended me as the tool of our vengeance. It was decided that killing Ghassan would only strengthen the ardor of his followers. I agreed. I suggested that I would keep him alive, but had my own theories on how he should be handled, and would discuss them with Naumann and Erson so as to keep things official, but not involve the GS and the Marshal in case it was necessary to deny the incident. I said it quite casually, now that I look back on it. I didn't realize just how much I was leaving myself open for.

    They all agreed, after some pointed inquiries that I didn't want to answer, and didn't. They hemmed and hawed and relented. I told Naumann and the Captain what I had planned. They agreed, chuckling. I was told to go forth and be a violent bastard, deliver a stern message, but not to kill the target. It was official, and I was to handle the operation from start to finish on my authority as commander of a roving unit. Heady stuff.



    The first problem was how to infiltrate a squad (plus one team of Special Projects) into Nuova Agrigento without being IDed. The second was how to exfiltrate afterwards. The third was how to dispose of all evidence. The fourth and smallest detail was the hit itself. Killing isn't difficult. Not getting caught doing so is the hard part. We were at peace with Piedmonte and officially neutral and thus could not get caught assassinating anyone, no matter how badly they deserved it.

    Special Projects provided each of us with three IDs. They were a mixed bag of legitimate and faked passports and visas from several different nations, all well-worn documents or rams so as to look old and used. We booked hotels ahead of time in various locations, and would plan to cancel some, use some and get new ones. It's expensive, but it makes it harder for the other side to plant bugs. Weapons we'd get on-site. Every embassy detail gets regular shipments of weapons under diplomatic pass. Freeholders are simply better at hiding them in transit and caching them insystem, if you recall. We would make a note, to be submitted after the fact, to replace the ones we'd use.

    Some societies can get away with assassinations. It's a case of "We want you to know we did it as long as you can't prove it." It sends a message. Ours had to be better hidden. We needed the surviving terrorists (such a tragedy, that) to tell everyone how vicious we were, but not a hint that any government could even suspect against us, except for hearsay from the terrorists. We as a society had a political position to maintain.

    I went in as a visiting political science major, made up in my best chair-warming, screen-watching getup. I actually have the ideal build for an Operative. Depending on dress and presentation, I can look like a skinny, wiry laborer; a slim academic; a lean, handsome businessman; a career military officer or administrator or a shaggy college punk. Huge vid show muscles and chiseled features are unnecessary and a hindrance. The sniveling geeks will be the death of you.

    We took a week to trickle in from five different directions under various covers while the intel gophers and Operatives in the embassy kept tabs as they could. They knew something was planned, but had no idea what. Nor would they ask. Just as I'd had some odd inquiries while working on Caledonia. I don't know what for to this day and will never ask. I know I performed the tasks in a satisfactory fashion, because there was no political fallout. It's all part of how we defend freedom, ensure peace, etc, etc. There were two other squads that were attached to the mission as decoys, an identical team heading in a totally different direction to play games with the Novaja Rossian army, and the rest flew in and out along our route, confusing people as to how many of us there were and what exactly we were doing.

    First thing we had to do upon landing was find this anal pus pocket. We had an idea as to where to begin, but it still took quite a few days of surveillance and travel to find him. We had a basic profile, and added to it by the second, electronically and with human intelligence.

    I loved Nuova Agrigento, or at least what I saw of it. It seemed to cascade off steep hills into a deep harbor. It was on a peninsula that turned into a mountain range inland, so was compact and crowded. Maybe "cozy" rather than "crowded." Snug little blocks of houses with small lots and deep terraces of flowers. They loved flowers here, and had colors found nowhere else, blues and purples predominating.

    But further back were steep streets and narrow alleys around lifter landing pads. This was the industrial zone. It even had a railway, which will likely surprise some, but made sense with the size of the widening peninsula and tech base. It was an efficient way to transport materiel through hills. And around the pads, the railway and the truck accesses, were apartments, restaurants and warehouses where terrorists and regular, decent thugs and murderers could hide and stash weapons and loot. They spoke an Italian dialect predominantly, with some Greek and Romansch, but other languages were used around the docks, the lifter pads and the ports, as anywhere.

    One of our disreputable embassy people was tracking an arms shipment. It wasn't really a surprise; we'd set it up ourselves. Since the Freehold allows any goods to be sold without silly inquiries, we're a popular source for dark elements. They never seem to catch on that just because we allow such sales doesn't mean we don't track such sales, so as to know who has what capabilities. This particular shipment was meeting a suspicious bunch of characters who wanted lots of Mobile Assault surplus gear that was ideal for penetrating ships and no questions asked about the sale. Not asked verbally, anyway. As I said, we generally knew who bought the stuff.

    So Ghassan actually paid us a fair price for the equipment we used to track him, that we would recapture or destroy after we shoved a nuke up the asshole's rectum. Irony is sweet.

    He was almost good, I'll give him that. Good at being a weasel. His safehouse wasn't where we first thought; that one was a decoy. It was an apartment above a warehouse. He would stop by there often, but I sent Gary, one of our best sneaks, in to do a recon while the guards played cards at night, and he reported it was just a cover. There was a shower, a bedroom and all the basics, but largely unused. "Dusty," he said. "And musty. I don't think that bed has been used in a month or more."

    Ghassan was arriving, then departing out the back as a teamster on a cargo floater. Three kilometers away, it would stop at a traffic signal and he'd swing off, just like a cargo handler getting a ride home.

    We didn't attack at once. What we wanted was a nice gathering of turds we could flush all at once, hopefully to clog the plumbing. At the same time, we needed to hit before things cooled down. It had to be an obvious response to that incident, in the minds of our targets. We'd eaten up most of a month already and we had to hit soon.

    We got lucky. I'd picked a day by which we would attack even if no one else were present. Three days before that, we hit the jackpot. Something else was apparently in the works, as we'd deduced from the hardware he was buying, and it seemed he was doing an initial mass briefing. All day long, people trickled into this little house behind a strip of restaurants and bars.

    I put the word out, and we kept it in view on all sides. Second Team watched outwards, looking for arrivals and security. That's a hell of a task, scanning the crowds with binox, comparing every face, sweating over the faces you can't see, straining to see who goes where without blowing your concealment, lying on rooftops in weather, which in this case was cold and wet. I didn't envy them that task, and had taken the easy one myself so as not to be worrying about it. I'd be worrying about it anyway, it was just easier from a distance and an intellectual basis rather than from the front.

    We counted as they arrived, and knew this was the day to do it, assuming Flaming Asshole showed up. I sent people out for food and the rest of our gear and we eased closer, as leopards ease up on gazelles. By eight local at night (22-hour clock, 62 minutes per hour), I was in a building across the alley, that was abandoned and filthy and filled with cobwebs. It was perfect, I thought, as I brushed grit and sticky spider goo from my hair. By eleven, I was atop our target, having slipped over on a thin but strong board we use for bridging crevasses; it works on alleys, too. I had Team One with me, which included experienced elements of Team Two. I had the new kids watching for trouble outward as the rest of Team Two, and Team Three (nominally Weapons), moderately experienced, roving around, pretending to drink beer, eating pies and watching. My salty people were in close, and Eliot's replacement—Johnny the Squidboy, and don't ask about his nickname, as it involves a busty young lady, a squirt bottle of henna and a bar bet—was in with us to get experience.

    Finally, there were twenty-three of them in the house. Now, most terrorists operate in small cells, so this was a bonanza. My team was utterly silent, and I was incredibly proud of them. This was a tricky op.

    They had a woman. It was an important datum. Here they were, insisting that women should be veiled, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, speak only when spoken to by men and not interfere in affairs of state, business, etc. Yet they had one here. We'd had her on file, but only as a ladyfriend and cover. She was talking about techniques for smuggling explosives aboard ship. Clearly, she wasn't along as mere cover and sexual service, as their "beliefs" seemed to suggest she should be. I made note of it. We'd upgrade her threat level accordingly. As to their hypocrisy, it was likely that the rules didn't apply to them, being revolutionaries and all.

    We were wearing assault armor, which is heavy ballistic padding with reinforcement and shields to prevent splinters and shrapnel. Our weapons were shotguns, loaded with special ammo that was a combination of impact stunners with neural shock cartridges, and coated with a substance that would act as a sedative also. You can never have too many backups.

    It seemed like a good time to start. More might arrive, but we could deal with that. I clicked a code to my immediate flankers, Squidboy and Barto, to detain any new arrivals, double-clicked that we were starting, and hopped. I brought my feet together off the joists and fell through the ceiling.

    Naturally, I dinged my shoulder on the polymer beam on the way down. It hurt, I ignored it. There were two of them in front of me, looking shocked and reaching for weapons. I double-tapped both and rolled on the ratty carpet, turning, getting the one behind me. I stood fast and cleared the room visually, behind the couch, a shot through a closet door before I swiped it open, and a quick poke into a hallway until I saw Frank and Barto in other rooms. Throughout the building, I could hear similar sounds, then descrambled bursts announced, "Bottom alpha clear," "Middle delta clear," "Middle beta clear," and through the entire building. The last two were "Out rear clear," and "Attic clear." They were last, to confirm both our safety and that all others had reported.

    We dragged the limp forms into the kitchen of the restaurant, closed at this hour and for their own cover, and weren't any too gentle about it. Hey, these fuckers blew up civilians. They weren't soldiers, the conventions didn't apply, and I wanted them to remember that.

    The kitchen was full of black polymer and polished metal tools that looked mean. I picked out the garbage separator by eye. Oh, to stuff them in piece by piece to be turned into industrial hydrocarbons. But no, at least a few pieces had to stay intact.

    Ghassan wasn't hard to spot. I jabbed him with the antidote—yes, an old-fashioned needle. No sterility and not gentle about it, either. The stim hit him and he puked all over himself.

    "Greetings, dogfucker," I said. He glowered at me and tried to get up. I smashed him back down with a kick to the knee. He screamed. "Tell me," I continued, "why you hijacked the Francolin."

    "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied. "Who the fu—"

    Sigh. He insisted on the ritual. Very well. I used the weapon butt to smash his right hand into jelly, blood oozing under his nails and across the scarred white floor. He passed out, and we repeated the stim and the vomiting. His stomach had to be sore by now.

    "Talk, or hurt. It doesn't matter to me," I said.

    He tried to squirm, and I shattered his wrist. We did the stim one more time, and nothing came of his retching. He was crying in agony. I could empathize. Not sympathize. There wasn't enough suffering in the universe for this piece of filth.

    "Why?" I asked.

    "To . . . to show the infidel dogs that they cannot oppress the true people of God!" he muttered through his tears. Or something like that. Canned, unthinking hatred.

    "So, to show disapproval of a government, you blew up a shipful of civilians and shot a little girl?"

    "I didn't like it," he said. Sure he didn't. "But sacrifices are necessary in war. They died for a greater—" I shut him up with a shotgun butt to the jaw. He sprawled back, blood and a tooth flying from his mouth.

    I'd expected this, but had hoped he'd be a little better than any other terrorist. No, he was just a piece of shit. It pissed me off, and I got angry. I shouldn't have, but it wasn't going to change the outcome much. I was furious, self-righteous, and at the time I enjoyed every moment of it.

    "There were other children aboard the Francolin," I told him, as I dragged him up by the hair and slapped tape over his mouth. "Some of the civilians . . . and the children . . . came from the Freehold of Grainne, including Jenny Marlin. So they sent me to deliver a message."

    All his people were now awake, and my boys and girls had them on their knees, cuffed, pistols at their heads, as these scum so delighted in doing to their captives. The difference was, we weren't doing it to compensate for lack of courage and small penises. We were doing it to scare the shit out of them. My nose told me it was working in at least one case. Gutless weasels.

    I got to work on Ghassan. First, I pulled on heavy gloves. I didn't want my skin polluted with his blood, and this was definitely going to be bloody. I handed back the shotgun, and Tyler took it. I was going to use bare hands as there was a point to be made here. Actually, several points. I stuck him with another needle, this one full of shock stabilizer and another stimulant. We wanted him awake to appreciate this. I boosted for additional strength.

    I put the boot in for several seconds, hard, augmented and accurately. I aimed for ribs, joints, nerve points. He was shrieking under the tape, and trying to shove it away with his tongue. Then I clicked open my knife.

    I waved it centimeters from his eyes. He was still conscious, the pain having gone beyond the threshold of comprehension. He stared at the glittering tip and wet his pants.

    The human body can take a lot of damage. He was hyped on stabilizers and stims. I was trained for trauma medicine. Suffice it to say that, in fifteen minutes, he resembled nothing so much as a butchered hog. All it took was the knife and some creative posing. He was still alive. Isn't modern medical technology wonderful?

    He shrieked and screamed and passed out again. Several of his underlings spewed and choked, or simply fainted. Heck, even Tyler looked a bit queasy when I was done, and she knew what was coming and had once helped deal with a parachute drop gone bad.

    I had promised he'd stay alive. He was a much better warning that way. A corpse is forgotten soon. A mutilated survivor is horrifying again and again. So I was very careful not to cut any major blood vessels that I didn't seal at once. But that wasn't much of a limit. People don't bleed out nearly as fast as vid would have one think.

    Finally, I stood. He was a ruin underneath me. One trauma medic had taken him apart, others would have to put him back together.

    "Here's the message from God, My Children," I said as I looked at his lackeys. They were the most terrified, bedraggled looking bunch of punks I had ever seen, with good reason. Most of them had pissed and shit themselves and were showing signs of shock from sheer sensory overload. I peeled off the gloves and dropped them into a bag to take with us. No evidence we could carry would be left behind. Sprayed nanos would destroy most of our pheromones and any stray biological material after we departed. "If you ever fuck with a Freehold registry ship, or a foreign flag vessel with Freeholders on it, we can find you, we will find you and the results will be even less pleasant than this. You do not want to see me pissed off.

    "Now," I added, "your grunting sodomite here is still alive, and will stay alive long enough for a trauma team to get to him." Squid held a phone up to one thug's ear and dialed. "Call for help," he ordered as he ripped off the gag.

    The punk stuttered and jabbered but finally got across that a terrible accident had happened, and help was needed right now! We disconnected, and I strode along the line of them as John retaped his mouth.

    "We can find all of you any time we like. This is a small sample of how we deal with our enemies. Given good skeletal surgeons and several years of anguish in regen, he'll eventually resemble something that might look like a human being in bad light. With no balls. Of course, he never had any to start with, if he kills children." Yes, I'd castrated him. It was symbolic, and brutal, and of great impression to the young men with him. Frequently, they fear that more than death.

    I nodded, and in seconds, every right hand in the place was mashed into stew. As they tried to scream through their gags, we vanished.

    Revolting? Why, yes, they were.

    Oh, you mean us?

    These people killed innocent children to show disapproval of a government. They couldn't even justify it as collateral damage, as the government officials in question weren't near their targets. Aiming for a politician would risk their own hides, and that was something Ghassan just didn't have the stomach for. Not until the doctors finished rebuilding him, anyway.

    How do I justify it? Well, since then, no Freehold registry vessel has ever been targeted by terrorists. No foreign flag vessel frequented by Freeholders has been attacked by the Fruits, and the total number of such vessels targeted has dropped 85%. I stand by my results. As to his torture and suffering, he was entitled to no protection under the conventions, not being a soldier and not choosing military targets. Besides, as Ghassan told me, sacrifices are necessary in war. His suffering was for a greater good.

    I hate terrorists.

    Did it disturb me, you wonder? After all, I'd taken such glee in doing it.

    I wake up at night sweating, hands itching until I get up and scrub them thoroughly. I can't look at a person confined medically, or a person in a regen tank, without thinking about the pain and fear that got them there, and how it might be inflicted, stroke by stroke, by me. I can't watch a cut up horror vid, although I never liked them before anyway, but now they make me sick. I have this compulsion to jump on a person with the slightest injury, do everything I can, take them to the hospital, assist in their therapy and follow them around for years. I can't do that, so I dwell on it in my thoughts, for every little injury I see. I even bandage birds' wings.

    No, it doesn't affect me at all. And there is such a thing as a stupid question.

    But I do take pride in the results. Terrorists then, entire armies now, quiver in fear at the repercussions of attacking the Freehold. No one dares mess with us, and I personally am a large part of the reason why. Others speak of their lives as "the ultimate price" for their homes. I figured years ago my life was forfeit for the training. If my home is at stake, I'll sacrifice my soul. Any Operative will. That's why we win. That's why we did win.

    But we do have to live with ourselves afterwards.

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