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Authors: Stuart Parker

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Hurt World One and the Zombie Rats (20 page)

BOOK: Hurt World One and the Zombie Rats
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Scope grabbed the towel on the pier at his
feet and wiped the sweat off his forehead. ‘I’ve moved on. Now I
extract crocodiles, not people.’

‘And from what I hear, business is good. Not
that I’ve been hearing it from you.’

‘The distance I’ve been keeping is only
because I’ve been hoping to delay this moment for as long as
possible.’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ snapped McRaven.
‘You’re out here wrestling crocodiles, so don’t tell me you’ve lost
your nerve.’

‘Don’t confuse getting low down and dirty
with reptiles in mangroves as being in any way war-ready.’

‘I haven’t come all this way to nag. Some
mercenaries quit for good and some merely take a break. Here’s your
chance to tell me which kind you are.’

Scope threw down his towel onto the ground,
which looked to McRaven very much like an act of surrender.

‘Must be a special job to have you come all
this way not to beg,’ said Scope.

‘Asylum City. The target is classified.’

‘You’d better unclassify it if you want me
involved.’

‘The Meltman. We’re going to have a bead on
him.’

‘I didn’t think he ever came above
ground.’

McRaven smirked. ‘He doesn’t.’

‘So that’s why you’re here.’

‘One of our biggest targets ever and we could
certainly use you. But the rest of the details really are
classified. If you want in, we’re going into Standby One mode above
Asylum City. We’re taking the Mach 99 Ultra Speed Jet.’

‘How did you come here? I didn’t hear a
thing.’

‘Magno-chopper. I landed out of earshot in
case you had some ducks I might scare.’

‘You mean because I might have shot you
down.’

‘Is it going to be like that?’

Scope stood up to be head and shoulders over
McRaven. ‘No, it isn’t going to be like that. The gators in these
parts live up to a hundred years old, so they can wait while I go
clean the Asylum City swamp of the greatest reptile of them all. If
he’s the target, then I’m in.’

McRaven nodded. ‘I shouldn’t have waited
before you agreed to admit we haven’t had done to do our usual
preparation for a job as big as this. We’re not even being paid all
that much by the source.’

‘Is it the CIA again?’ queried Scope
warily.

‘No, the United Nations. More specifically,
the Hurt World Agency.’

Scope shrugged. ‘Okay, I don’t think I mind
them.’

‘The job comes from Renaissance herself. She
seems to think it’s the biggest thing they’ve done in years.’

‘Which level is it?’

One.’

‘The animal section? The Meltman has killed a
lot of people in his time but I didn’t think he even owned a
pet.’

‘Renaissance didn’t take the time to explain
it to me. Before this job, she had a team working on a poacher and
a signature dog. But that didn’t come to anything and I can’t see
any connection there.’

‘If the poacher is bad news, there might be a
connection. Speaking of poachers, are there any international laws
against turning gators into boots? I wouldn’t want to add myself to
the arrest sheet for lack of asking.’

McRaven laughed. ‘Fair question. The perk of
working for the Hurt World is that we get diplomatic immunity, even
if we are not being particularly diplomatic in our methods.’

‘In that case – ' Scope pulled from under the
weights bench a pair of boots, the gator skin glistening in the
mid-afternoon sunshine. ‘It’s what’s left of the first gator I ever
had a moment with.’

‘Lucky boots?

‘Not to mention comfortable as damned
heck.’

‘That’s the reason I’ve got to have you
along. Mad as a rabid fruit bat.’

‘Fine. Now shut up while I put my boots
on.’

It didn’t take long – the runners were off
and the boots were on. ‘Alright,’ said Scope. ‘I’m ready.’

‘Isn’t there someone you want to say goodbye
to first?’ queried McRaven grimly. ‘I ain’t pretending this is just
another day on the job.’

‘You mean I mightn’t come back?’ snapped
Scope sardonically. ‘Then you’re right, there are some folks I
should say goodbye to.’ He strode to the edge of the pier and
screamed out across the bayou, ‘So long, you damned gators! Thanks
for the boots!’ He turned back to McRaven. ‘I don’t think they’re
going to miss me.’

 

17 Wildlife preserve

 

Electro-copters had been relegated to museum
pieces in most of the world, but in the Congo at least they were
still being flown for real. Kaptu gazed out the cockpit window at
the vast tracts of dull brown savannah. Coming from Asylum City
with its strictly enforced no-fly zones, any kind of flying was
still a novelty. But this was certainly the first time Kaptu had
experienced a contest between machine and gravity in which the
outcome seemed no better than fifty-fifty. His hands were gripping
the seat tightly.

The pilot was Lieutenant Sandra Clorvine of
the Congolese National Rangers. She was thirty years old and
attractive with silky brown skin and long hair streaked with yellow
and red. Her uniform was dull green brightened by gold badges and
insignias. Her inherent calmness gave Kaptu the impression he was
in good hands as the electro-copter bucked and kicked through the
hot grey cloud.

‘There is a lot of clear sky out there if you
care to look for it,’ Kaptu murmured as he bounced in his seat.

‘We’re entering La Pack’s swath of Africa now
and I’d rather she didn’t know about it,’ replied Clorvine in her
broad Swahili twang.

‘Is she that dangerous?’

‘She’s rich, successful and legitimate, which
in the Congo means she’s the type that will kill you in a
heartbeat.’

Kaptu gazed through Xray-real binoculars at
the grasslands that were like nothing he had ever seen before -
Europe had been big but Africa was vast. The Africans he knew in
Asylum City were without fail quick to act and fast when they did,
so he knew there must be something about this land to be reckoned
with. The first evidence of a human presence for many miles was a
tall, barbed wire fence and beyond that were steel cages of varying
sizes. Some of the cages were empty but most contained animals. The
giraffes were easiest to see as they were peering over the top of
theirs. In other cages there were monkeys, gazelles, lions and
cheetahs.’

‘It looks like a zoo?’ murmured Kaptu.
‘Perhaps we can just buy a ticket.’

‘Its official title is the La Pack Private
Wildlife Preserve. It supplies zoos around the world. That is the
legitimate face of it. Unfortunately people have paid with their
lives trying to gain entry, so I don’t think buying a ticket is
going to be an option.’ Clorvine worked the joystick, gaining
height and hovered just outside its airspace. ‘This is as far as we
go.’

‘Okay, fair enough for now. But I eventually
need to go all the way in.’

‘Then you better know how they died.’

‘I was just about to ask.’

‘Mauling and snake bites. Never any
witnesses, just bodies in the jungle.’

‘Any direct connections with La Pack?’

‘No. She is too clever for that. And besides,
in these parts a natural death is easy to accommodate. Still, such
occurrences are relatively infrequent. It helps that the surviving
inspectors no longer question her quota requests or demand access
to her facilities. It has become a very harmonious arrangement, for
they are well paid not to do those things.’ There was a change in
her voice. ‘I suspect some of that harmony is about to end.’

Kaptu realised she was glaring at him. He
wondered if he could really trust her. He was too far removed from
Hurt World HQ to know how closely they screened their liaison
people. He glanced at his wrist communicator to see the face was
still glowing red. When it turned green that would be Natalie’s
signal she had marked the Meltman and he would have to leave Africa
without delay. So, he would have to take his chances.

‘Snake bites, you say?’ he queried. ‘Does she
have a breeding licence?’

‘Sure. Zoos love snakes. And if they’re not
big, they better be poisonous. I bet there’s a whole pit teeming
with them somewhere down there.’

‘So who gets her animals for her?
Professional hunters?’

‘There would be a list on file
somewhere.’

‘With one of those very cooperative
inspectors?’

‘Is there someone in particular you are
interested in?’

‘A poacher named Mas.

‘I knew it,’ barked Clorvine. ‘Your people
were here a couple of years ago looking for her - a Hurt World One
technician just like you. Said he was in charge of Africa. It
seemed a big statement.’

‘Did he look at the La Pack ranch in
particular?’

‘He looked everywhere and nowhere. If you ask
me, it was mostly nowhere. Still, he wasn’t the only one looking
for her back then. The reward money was still fresh and people
hadn’t yet realised the occupation was just another way to die
young in Africa. Perhaps you should talk to him yourself. I hear he
is living in Zimbabwe, though no longer as a Hurt World technician.
Lost a leg in a bombing and that’s against company rules.’

Kaptu returned to his binoculars, carefully
surveying the wildlife preserve’s layout, starting with the
security towers and tracing a path through the cages to the main
building, which was a grey fibrocarbon-panelled dome on stilts.

‘Alright,’ he said, ‘let’s go back.’

‘Back to base or have you gotten smart enough
to be referring to the airport?’

‘Base. And I’ll be going in tonight. If
you’ve got any ideas on how to breach security, I’ll be happy to
hear them.’

Clorvine maneuvered the electro-copter into a
fast turn back towards the mountain range from which they had just
come. ‘My main piece of advice is don’t ask anyone else in this
country that question. It is very hard to know who is actively
saving for an early retirement. The fact that I have not been
approached with bribes only indicates that enough people who matter
already have.’

‘Perhaps Renaissance knows something of what
you’re talking about. She has only told you about my purpose
here.’

‘And she’s not above a little bribery of her
own. She’s offering me a bonus if you’re still alive at the end of
the operation.’

‘That’s nice of her.’

‘Unfortunately for you, I can’t be
bought.’

Kaptu slid open the side window and tossed
out a small metallic tracking device. ‘I’ll make my entry from
here. I’ll go in at midnight and be back at dawn.’

‘Go in to do what? That hasn’t been explained
to me yet.’

‘My dog is to have a sniff around. And I may
not return alone. It depends on what kinds of scents get
sniffed.’

‘Who might you bring back?’

‘La Pack.’

Clorvine clutched both hands onto the
joystick and stared at him. ‘That bonus is suddenly looking a lot
less likely. But Renaissance gave me the impression you would be
staying on a few days at least. So there is no need to rush into
this. With tonight’s full moon, it really isn’t a wise time to
go.’

‘Why not? We all feel a little crazy with a
full moon.’

‘Crazy is the word. It will be too light.
They’ll see you.’

‘Your concern is touching, especially as you
say it’s not related to the money on the line. But there simply
isn’t the time Renaissance may think there is. La Pack is
relatively harmless compared to what else is out there in the big
bad world.’

Clorvine smile derisively. ‘Are you
underestimating the dark forces of Africa? I’ve just explained to
you that everyone who has crossed La Pack has ended up eaten by
lions or riddled in snake bites. What kind of person could be worse
than that?’

Kaptu pulled out his laser-blade thousand
round pistol and set about adjusting the settings to the high
intensity levels. ‘I agree it takes a special someone. But they
exist.’

 

18 Homecoming

 

Shally Nirajo knew sunlamps were dangerous,
but she refused to look like she spent her whole life underground.
She, however, had over-compensated to the extent that she more
resembled a castaway on a desert island. It had aged her a good ten
years, but she didn’t care. She enjoyed the contrast between
herself and her pasty skinned bodyguards and it helped her feel
removed from the dark places that she found herself in. As excited
as she was to know her daughters was on her way, this room was
certainly one of the darker to be had in the bowels of Asylum City.
And the fact that her daughter was about to emerge from a sewage
pipe did not bring any comfort either.

Mario, her senior lieutenant, was standing
closest to the pipe, listening intently to the security updates
coming in through his earpiece.

‘She is about three minutes away,’ he passed
on to Nirajo.

‘Any Breaches?’ Nirajo fired back.

‘No, ma’am. Escape routes all clear.’

‘I’m talking about from the sewage works as
well. I don’t want my daughter drowning in an avalanche of
shit.’

‘The sewage workers know that will be their
fate exactly if anything goes wrong.’

The pipe began to vibrate. Mario felt it and
nodded. ‘That’s her now.’

‘Good.’ Nirajo understood the details of it
intimately, like she did so many aspects of the Meltman operation.
The small one-seater capsule would be travelling at one hundred
kilometres per hour and it would be a fifty eight minutes and
thirty seconds journey from the no man’s land staging post out in
the Arizona wastelands. By the time of arrival in the converted
pumping station, the outer skin’s lubricant would be heated to five
hundred degrees Celsius and the capsule occupant would more often
than not be lubricated in their own mess - in the case of her hard
living daughter, that would not be a completely unusual sight.

The capsule’s approach was becoming a roar.
Nirajo stepped to the hatch from which her daughter would soon be
emerging. Her heart was pounding and that was something she
couldn’t quite so easily quantify. Her daughter had made it to
Europe, one of the very select few to escape Asylum City, and yet
completely out of the blue she was returning. Nirajo recalled the
complete joy and relief in her face on the day of her departure and
shuddered at the thought of what would have prompted her to return.
But what consumed her most was the similar look on the Meltman’s
face when he was informed of her return.

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