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Authors: Stuart Parker

Tags: #thriller, #future adventure, #grime crime, #adveneture mystery

Hurt World One and the Zombie Rats (2 page)

BOOK: Hurt World One and the Zombie Rats
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Mas dropped down through the jungle canopy to
its muddy floor where her feet touched ground with an easy step.
She immediately removed her backpack and zipped it open; a large
brown and white Wedge Tailed eagle jumped up from it onto Mas’s arm
and unfurled its broad, elegant wings. ‘Sorry about the bumpy ride,
Zelda,’ Mas murmured. ‘There was too much lightning for you to do
it by yourself.’ She attached to one of its talons a small black
metallic capsule that was shaped like a hand grenade. Once the
capsule was secure, Mas launched the eagle into the air. She paused
a moment to be sure it had taken to flight before breaking into a
hard run, following the 3D direction arrows on her goggles’
navigation display. She was a natural runner and even in the midst
of dense jungle struck a bounding rhythm that she could hold for
mile after mile. Her bodysuit was coming into its own then. The
soft, ultra-light material was a hundred times stronger than skin
and would protect her from the worst of what the jungle had to
offer – that was apart from bullets or Belizean fireflies.

The pounding rain was intensifying still. It
was a good night to remain in shelter and most the jungle’s
creatures seemed to be doing just that, the usual howls, cries and
rhythms all but absent. There did, however, emerge a sound other
than that generated by the storm: a low-pitched humming noise, just
barely detectable at first but quickly growing louder, approaching
from the south. There was something ominously familiar about it,
perhaps not the sound, but the feeling of danger that accompanied
it. Mas flung herself to the ground and froze. A swarm of Killer
Belizean Fireflies streaked by overhead, an organism of a thousand
tiny lights, effortlessly weaving in and out of the vegetation. It
was a chillingly beautiful sight that could have easily been Mas’s
last. The rain and her bodysuit must have conspired to conceal her
scent; there was no other explanation a swarm would come so close
without striking. Mas was enthralled, stealing a glance at what had
been the death-view for so many countless thousands. And it was
likely to become millions if the swarms ever migrated out of the
jungles. The eerie lights of this particular swarm tailed away
inland on its relentless quest, a tentacle with a thousand
spears.

Mas held her position a moment longer before
picking herself up and recommencing her pursuit of pointing arrows
through the jungle. It wasn’t lost on her that the fireflies had
her running towards a destination of extreme danger as though it
were some kind of sanctuary. The first scent of the sea was quickly
overpowered by a noxious, sickly sweet chemical odour that
resembled a cheap, stale perfume applied to an armpit. It marked
her arrival at her coordinates. Mas’s weapon of choice was a
laser-acid gun nestled in a holster against the small of her back
and it slipped neatly to hand as she moved forward into a clearing.
Visibility was poor, her goggles struggling to focus on anything.
But then they locked onto the shapes of people: all eight that had
been detected in free fall were there, sitting around a campfire
under a fluttering canopy. Also under the canopy were racks laden
with fishing rods, tackle and nets and some of the fruits of their
labour were being grilled. The smells were mouthwatering, strong
enough even to break through the chemical stench being emitted from
the canisters on all four corners of the camp.

‘Do you take reservations?’ Mas said,
removing her goggles and stepping in under the canopy.

All heads turned. Icy cold expressions.

Mas held her gun up threateningly. ‘Be
careful,’ she warned. ‘It’s rude to point at strangers. Especially
when it’s a gun.’

There was a gruff chuckle from the man
sitting on the log closest to the fire. He had piercing black eyes
and a long brown beard that completely hid his mouth even when he
was laughing. ‘And yet you are content to point a gun at us,’ he
said.

‘True, but only because you are not strangers
to me’

‘Is that so?’

‘You go by the name of Dragon Tay, the
captain of this sorry looking pirate crew.’

The eyes narrowed murderously. ‘Am I?’

‘Maybe she’s come to arrest us for our
dinner,’ said one of the crew flippantly, leaning forward on his
log. ‘It’s a twenty year sentence these days for catching and
consuming tuna.’

‘That would be a difficult arrest,’ said Tay
menacingly. ‘The nearest prison is a long way from here.’

‘I didn’t say anything about being a cop,’
muttered Mas. ‘In fact, I’m not dissimilar to you.’

‘How?’

I’m a poacher.’

Tay was not cheered by the revelation. At
least police had some concept of rules and protocols. There was
nothing wilder than a poacher. Living long stretches in wilderness,
they were usually just as wild as the animals they hunted. Nothing
better than undomesticated gangsters. Capable of anything. ‘What’s
your specialty?’ he queried.

‘Elephants a lucrative market this year. I
had a wedding in Delhi that took twenty of them. That job alone
paid fifty thousand New Dollars. Finding twenty elephants these
days though isn’t easy. We had to break into zoos to fulfil the
order. A bloody business but profitable enough.’

‘I am just a humble smuggler,’ said Jay, ‘but
I have worked with my share of poachers – when cages have needed
filling. I do not believe I have worked with you but I may have
heard of you. Tell me who you are.’

‘I grew up in places as remote as this and my
name is not on the System. And that’s the way it’s going to stay.
So we’re not going to get too chatty.’

‘I know who she is,’ said one of the two
women in the group. ‘Her name is Mas. She is dangerous. She’ll kill
us all without a second thought.’

If Tay was concerned, he didn’t show it. He
leaned over the fire to tend to the tuna with a sharp metal prod.
He gave Mas a half-glance and murmured, ‘I wonder what animals
could bring you to these parts. There is nothing but those damned
fireflies. Or are you hiding like us? If it is that then you are
welcome to sit by our fire. You’ll find that the CO10 gas keeps the
fireflies at bay alright.’

Mas screwed up her face. ‘It also brings on
hallucinations and rather unpleasant seizures. Unpleasant in the
sense that bones have been known to break. Ribs, I am led to
believe, can make quite a crack.’

Tay frowned. ‘Rum seems to keep people nice
and steady and we’ve got plenty of that. Sure it’s not a likely way
to live forever, but there isn’t anyone here who has been making
plans for that. And I dare say you are not too. Running through
firefly infested jungles in weather like this is not the mindset of
a long, healthy career.’

‘Well, I’m not here to sit by your fire and
it’s not one of the creatures in this forest lame after.’

‘Then what?’

Mas eyed him coldly. ‘Your boat.’

‘The Zopez?’

‘Two years ago you traded for it with Indian
gold on the black market in Tangiers.’

Tay spat with anger. ‘What’s it to you?’

‘You are a living, breathing example of the
dangers of doing business on the black market. You see, before the
vessel was rebranded the Zopez, it had another name: the
Kudos.’

‘So?’

‘It was a smuggling vessel back then as well.
Mostly around the Mediterranean. It was carrying weapons and
diamonds bound for Russia when it was attacked by pirates. It
disappeared without a trace. That was fifty years ago. Did your
purchase come with the skeletons thrown in? The crew was never
found.’

Tay’s voice darkened. ‘How do you know such
things?’

‘Because your boat is just what I’m looking
for. I want to hire it along with your crew.’

‘That’s why you came all this way? And on a
night like this?’

‘You’ll be paid well. A million New Dollars
for the crew. And a million for the Kudos.’

‘It’s the Zopez. And we would never take on a
job that pays that well.’

‘Wouldn’t we?’ said one of the crew.

‘No, we wouldn’t, because when it comes to
pay up, eight bullets may seem too good a value to pass up. Anyway,
we have orders to fill. Tigers for a school in Dubai. Horses for a
carnival in Palermo.’

‘And more nights with toxic gas while
unfriendly fireflies circle?’ queried Mas.

‘We have other hiding places.’

‘Your life will be the death of you, I
guarantee it - unless you break away, make a fresh start. My job
doesn’t involve tigers or horses. Nothing better than a colony of a
few thousand giant rats. But the money is real, enough to retire
on.’

‘Did you say a colony of rats?’ Tay chuckled
disparagingly. ‘Well, you’ve come to the right place, at least. I
saw giant rat ran under that log just a moment ago.’ As he
distracted Mas with a pointing finger, he pulled a gun from his
boot. The movement was fast and masked within the flickering
shadows of the campfire. Mas was only just sensing the assault with
the gun already pointing at her. A gunshot rang out from the fringe
of the camp, sounding little different from the numerous claps of
thunder - the thud at the end of it, however, was grotesquely
unique, the sound of a human head exploding. The gun fell out of
Tay’s hand and what was left of his body crumpled down off the log.
The crew around him sprung to their feet in horror.

‘I warned him not to point anything at me,’
said Mas. ‘Now he knows why.’

‘We get the message,’ said one of the crew
members. ‘And we would love to be your crew.’

‘But why do you need us?’ bravely called out
another. ‘You obviously aren’t alone.’

‘A poacher is always alone,’ replied Mas. She
held out her arm and Zelda swooped down from the tree branch it had
been perched on.

All eyes moved from the Wedge Tail eagle to
the deadly smoking capsule bound to its talon. Mas fed the eagle
some seed from a pocket. ‘I do have a pet though.’

The woman who had recognised Mas stepped
boldly forward. ‘There is no longer the slightest doubt you are who
I said. I am Titov, the First Mate.’ She bowed formally. ‘I am
sorry Captain Tay got himself killed. But I always feared he would
one day get us killed as well. As you came to see, there was
recklessness in his actions.’

‘Yes, Captain Titov, there was.’

Titov smirked, liking the sound of her new
title. ‘I dare say it is better for you he is dead. He was a proud
man and unlikely to take orders. A blade at your throat while you
slept would have been a distinct possibility.’

‘I am a light sleeper.’

‘I do not doubt it. If any of the rumours I
have heard about you are true, you will be a leader worth
following. I assume you are still interested in hiring a crew.’

‘That’s right’ Mas looked amongst the crew
for any signs of dissent. ‘Is the boat fueled and ready for
departure?’

‘Yes,’ replied Titov. ‘We always have the
Zopez ready for a quick departure.’

‘Good because that is exactly what I
want.’

One of the crew knelt urgently by the fire,
poking the tuna with his prongs. ‘But dinner is almost ready.’

The eyes of the crew were imploring. Mas
wondered how long since they had last eaten. ‘Very well,’ she said.
‘If you think you will be able to hold it down in rough seas.’ She
shook Zelda back into flight and it returned to watch over her from
its perch within the trees. Mas looked around for a place to sit;
the only free log was the one Tay had been pointing at. Mas stepped
that way but hesitated. ‘Is there really a rat under there?’

 

3 Cold comfort in the sauna

 

Haddad Caixa caught up with the Minister for
Risk and Acquisition in the executive sauna. For a moment, he was
not quite sure it was her, for she was looking much younger with
her makeup off and her hair down, and what skin was visible beyond
the white wraparound towel was far more supple and alluring than
her stiff, sharply tailored suits gave her credit for. Indeed, for
just one moment, standing in the doorway of the sauna, Caixa
pondered what it would have been like to have an affair with her,
but he quickly banished the thought from mind: an affair with the
Minister for Risk and Acquisition would simply be too ridiculous to
ever live down.

‘Jalanti, may I join you?’ he asked, breaking
protocol by using her first name.

The Minister for Risk and Acquisition was
momentarily caught off guard, having been lost in a daydream. She
sat up on her bench and tested that the towel around her body was
secure. ‘You may,’ she said.

Caixa was wearing only a towel as well, but
to Jalanti’s unease he was not quite so vigilant with its knots.
She looked away awkwardly as he took position on a white marble
block close to her. Caixa inhaled a deep lungful of the warm steamy
air and nodded his head approvingly. ‘There is a lemon infusion, is
there not?

‘Yes,’ Jalanti said, ‘And I added lavender as
well.’

‘I would recommend a dash of Chemical 5. It
is not necessarily legal but wonderfully refreshing.’

‘You are a connoisseur of the senses,’
Jalanti murmured, overcoming her reluctance and locking eyes onto
him.

‘Yes, I suppose I am. In this business, it is
certainly an asset. So, tell me how you think your briefing to the
board was received.’

Jalanti pondered this question a moment. ‘I
sensed enthusiasm. I could see in their eyes that they wanted to
know more.’

‘And they will ask you for more; they will
make it sound vital that you tell them more. You must resist them
no matter what.’

‘Because you think we will fail?’

‘This is not the first time there has been a
move inside Savage Alliance for the Big 10 Index. And as you are
aware we haven’t made it yet.’

‘What brought failure to the plans in the
past?’

Caixa shrugged. ‘There were
complications.’

‘My plan is not complicated. It is simple and
clean and there is nothing I can see that will interfere with
it.’

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