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Authors: Stuart Parker

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

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BOOK: Hurt World One and the Zombie Rats
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His last opponent had taken up a stubborn
position behind a support pylon. Although concealed, Hopital was
sure it was Olienga. She had been a Chicago cop and no doubt had
plenty of experience in staying alive. But Hopital suspected that
Olienga was a little too conventional in her ways and that it just
might prove a weakness in a gunfight in a crashing chopper. He
maintained the centre of the floor, ignoring the instincts
screaming at him. A gun emerged from behind the pylon, aimed his
way; a lurch of the chopper to the side revealed more of the
shooter than just the gun and Hopital fired. Another scream and a
body fell. A splash of long black hair confirmed that it was
Olienga. The limbs were just as limp and lifeless.

Hopital rushed to his prize, the two
jetpacks. He ripped the newest looking one from the dead Eblane’s
hand and inspected thoroughly its technicals screen: despite low
battery cells, the pack was functionable.

‘What’s all this?’ cried the pilot from the
cockpit entrance as she gawked at the battle scene. ‘I told you I
would land us.’

She was starting to wilt. There was a thick
patch of scarlet around her shoulder. A stray bullet must have
breached the cockpit. Hopital turned his gun on her and fired,
ending her without even skipping a breath. He didn’t need the
magno-chopper to land now; in fact, he preferred it if it crashed
big.

He strapped on the jetpack and leaned out the
chopper. He needed the engine fully firing to get him away from the
rotor blades. The ground beneath the magno-chopper was coming on
quick, a deceptively smooth looking carpet of Guatemalan jungle.
Hopital let the thrusters build to eighty percent maximum before
trying to the voice activation function on the controls: when
nothing happened, he reverted to the manual controls. The jetpack
shot away from the chopper, narrowly avoiding the rotor blades as
the magno-chopper pitched to one side. The jetpack responded well
to Hopital’s direction, enabling him to move into clear sky where
he could steady himself and watch over the impending crash.

The magno-chopper’s trajectory was not as
sharp as it had seemed being aboard; still, it clearly did not have
the height to reach the tall cliff face ahead. Hopital rued the
fact, for having it explode in a fireball upon it would have solved
many problems. He, however, knew well that people didn’t last long
relying on wishes coming true and so he set himself to consider his
predicament. The question he asked himself was if shooting five
colleagues might be deemed legal. He knew international law well
enough to be confident it was given the particular circumstances;
he decided, therefore, to put his faith in the justice system.

‘SOS, emergency, emergency,’ he said over the
emergency frequency. ‘Magno-chopper down at these coordinates.’

The despatcher’s voice came quickly into his
earphone. ‘Are there casualties?’

‘Yes.’

‘Injured?’

Hopital thought back to the shootout and how
cleanly the bullets had hit their targets. ‘Deceased,’ he said.

There was a pause. ‘How many?’

‘Five, but there may be more to come. I am
claiming the crash site on behalf of Stamford Transaction
Facilitators Inc. and reserve the right to use lethal force to
protect it from looters. Which means your people had better attend
the scene quickly if you would like to avoid a bloodbath.’

The despatcher was replaced by a harder edged
voice. ‘This is Colonel Dandridier of the Guatemalan Air Force. We
are scrambling two Interceptor Fighters at this very moment. They
will be upon the scene in approximately four minutes. Is there a
fire or smoke at the crash site?’

‘No, but the vessel hasn’t actually crashed
yet.’

Another pause. ‘Not yet crashed but there are
five deceased?’

‘I’ll explain when you get here.’ Hopital
ended the call there. He was keen not to get into any lengthy
descriptions about what had transpired inside the
magno-chopper.

The vessel had reached the jungle canopy at
last. Hopital hovered in a good position to view the impact though
it proved disappointingly unspectacular. Trees flattened and deep
skid marks gorged into the earth was all there was - whether it be
from missile impact or crash, the magno-chopper simply refused to
explode. Hopital supposed he couldn’t be too aggrieved. Having the
magno-chopper intact was going to make it easier to report back to
the Stamford TF board, which was what he needed to do next.

He hovered beside the thin line of smoke
still emanating from the magno-chopper’s main engine. He took to
hand the jetpack’s accompanying rapid-fire automatic pistol and
cleared his throat, wanting for it sound at its most
professional.

‘Priority call to HQ,’ he commanded of the
jetpack’s communication system. Waiting to see if it worked, he
noticed movement on the jungle floor below and almost opened fire
on pure reflex. He almost opened fire again when he realized it was
some kind of animal - perhaps, it was a wolf already on the scent
of fresh meat. But it seemed too small. It was hobbling, following
its tail in circles, dazed and disorientated.

A flash of recognition suddenly struck
Hopital. The black fur, the small lean body, he descended for a
closer look and the dog looked up: it was the signature dog, Blast.
She had survived the crash. The emergency doors must have opened
automatically upon coming to rest, allowing it to flee the
magno-chopper. But it was plainly injured.

‘This is HQ,’ came a voice into his
earpiece.

‘There is a situation with Team STF910,’ said
Hopital. ‘Developments are still fluid. Stand by.’

He cut the call and drove the jetpack into a
sharp descent; his pistol pointed more intently than before: Blast
had to be protected at all cost, from humans and from beasts. She
had the scent of that poacher in its memory. It meant Mas could be
tracked down and made to pay for her attack. Stamford Transaction
Facilitators would require redress. Its reputation depended on such
acts of defiance being dealt with in a timely and ruthless manner.
For attacks such as this, death was the only suitable recourse.
Hopital could only hope he was given the mission himself: with
Blast still alive, the poacher’s fate was already sealed.

 

5 Backroom deals in the centre of the
world

 

One measure of a company’s strength was the
number of executives it could afford to support. Executives were
the company’s elite; removed from the day to day runnings, they
lived lavish lifestyles and jet-setted the world as they moved
within the narrow exclusive circle afforded to them alone. The Big
Ten companies could have as many as five executives whereas for a
much smaller company such as Stamford TF, having just one was all
the prestige it could manage. And being the company it was,
Stamford needed one who was a slick talker, morally ambivalent and
supremely well connected. Lacy Tiber was all of those things. She
had grown up in Hungary of Egyptian parents and had first made a
name for herself as the curator of the largest commercial museum in
Europe: Amsterdam’s the Tragedy Museum. She had been recruited by
Xiuan Qang, the Stamford TF president, as an executive when she had
just turned thirty, which made her one of the youngest in Europe.
From the very first day she found the lifestyle very much to her
liking. Playing polo with royalty, box seats at the raw-opera and
late dinners at Michelin Six restaurants. And on this particular
day, she had managed to fit them all in, or at least she had gotten
as far as the Trifles Le Crème main course when the call came.
Executives were rarely called on to perform specific tasks for
their companies, and if they did it usually entailed lobbying for
favours from one government or another, but with this task there
was an air of urgency that she found appealing, the Stamford TF
President taking the time herself to explain the situation on the
high security wrist-piece she wore day and night. A detailed
briefing, during which Tiber excused herself from the dinner party
and rushed to a terrestrial transport capsule, directing it for
United Nations Central. The transport capsule buzzed through New
York on the priority level of the citizen road grid, which
executives shared access to with emergency services and other
dignitaries - including those with money enough to call themselves
dignitaries. It afforded rapids speeds, intersection pass-throughs
and access to restricted roads like the one that took her into the
heart of the United Nations Central complex.

‘Emergency,’ she told the United Nations
automated navigation system upon request.

The transport capsule promptly surged into
the tunnel network that webbed out from the main junction. The
capsule remained underground for a series of turns before rising
out on glass tracks in a rapid sweep across a compound of shiny
black glass and metal buildings set around an impressive oriental
garden resplendent with a red footbridge traversing a small
perfectly circularly turquoise lake.

Even for someone as well lived as Tiber, the
journey was impressive. She gazed attentively out the window and
felt a pang of disappointment when the capsule peeled off for one
buildings - her passage across United Nations Central was coming to
an end. She took a moment to slow her breathing, to run through her
mind the situation Xiuan Qang had laid out for her and the exact
purpose of her visit to what many considered the very heart of not
only New York but the entire civilised world. She was keenly aware
that the reputations of executives were forged in moments such as
this: their endless days of fun and frivolity could only be
justified in those rare occasions they were required to be
serious.

The capsule entered the building halfway up,
rolled into an elevator and rose another ten floors. To complete
its journey, it moved down a wide brown and white striped
passageway and its door opened to a warmly lit office with a man in
uniform waiting to greet Tiber.

‘Good evening,’ he said. ‘My name is Sunil
and I am the Incident Response Officer on duty. You have something
you wish to report?’ He smiled calmly and pointed an ushering hand
towards his desk in the centre of the office. ‘This way,
please.’

Tiber almost hit her head on the top of the
capsule doorframe as she climbed out, for she was intently looking
Sunil over. He was tall and young and quite good looking, but it
was his assuredness that sparked her interest. Indeed, he moved
with all the calmness and freshness of an expert practitioner of
transcendental meditation. Tiber, however, knew this was no monk
she was dealing with. He would have been wearing a brain regulator
cap in order to keep his brain alpha waves at their optimum level,
so that his faculties would be fully honed for any world crises
that might break out on his watch.

Tiber was wearing a light green cocktail
dress nice and tight and she walked across the room making sure
Sunil saw it. She was a society girl and she would get those alpha
waves flowing again. After all, she had a crisis to sell.

‘Take a seat and we’ll talk,’ Sunil said.

Tiber did so without a word. She knew that
all the cameras and sensors the room was no doubt riddled with
would be busily turning her inside out, retrieving and
crosschecking data from since her birth to this very moment - they
would not find any real truth but what mattered was that they
didn’t preclude her from being truthful. She waited for Sunil to
take his position on the other side of the polished steel desk
before beginning her pitch.

‘There is a situation in Guatemala. It
requires urgent attention.’

Sunil was not excited by this. He was just
another machine taking readings. He barely even blinked.

‘Stamford Transaction Facilitators, I’m
afraid to say, has a checkered history as far as the United Nations
is concerned. Shady dealings in many parts of the world. Trading in
weapons, industrial secrets and unapproved medications.’

‘Unapproved but not illegal,’ said Tiber.
‘And we are not the sellers. We bear no responsibility for the
products.’ Her voice perhaps came off sounding hard. Never mind,
the machine was going to inform him of her dislike anyway.

‘I assure you we’ll not be taking
responsibility for the situation that has brought you here this
evening.’ Sunil was losing his cool already. Tiber almost felt like
offering to go get his brain regulator cap for him. He was going to
need it.

‘We are taking responsibility for our offer,’
she said pointedly.

Sunil smirked icily. ‘I see. You’ve come to
the United Nations Crisis Office with an offer.’

‘Our client is name Dr Gustav Fall, and the
transaction went bad. The purchaser fired a missile into our
magno-chopper. There was a survivor and he is currently being held
in a Guatemalan prison. He is facing charges.’

‘For being the only survivor of an aircraft
shot down by missile? I do not know any country that has a law
against that.’

‘He killed the rest of the crew. That’s why
he’s the only survivor.’

Sunil double-blinked ‘Why would he do
that?’

‘There weren’t enough jetpacks to evacuate
the chopper. Our lawyers inform us it is a legitimate form of
self-defense. The murder charges will not be sustained.’

‘I’m happy for you, but it does not explain
why you are here.’

‘Although Dr Fall’s transaction was
successfully processed, there are two things that must be done to
ensure that Stamford’s good reputation is maintained.’

‘Being in a company in which employees are
killing each other, I suppose reputation is a sensitive
concern.’

‘The first thing,’ said Tiber, ‘is to keep
Hopital from trial. Although Stamford respects the law, we would
prefer to have nothing to do with it.’

‘And the other thing?’

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