Authors: Yuri Hamaganov
Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic | Vampires
Dedicated to Maria
The silence. Absolute silence.
The silence reigned for nine months, six thousand, five hundred and seventy-seven hours from the moment when the boosters stopped, completing the acceleration maneuver.
There was no wind or waves, no stretching road or stern wake, nothing that confirms the fact of movement. No evidence that Prometheus moves rather than hanging motionless in the void, except a blue star straight ahead, very slowly growing in size, and electronics, every second counting the eleven kilometers of traveled distance.
But even the void has to end, and now, six thousand, five hundred and seventy-seven hours later the end was about to come. The tiny blue star now took up half the world; the electronics counted down the remaining seconds, and the engine prepared for the last spurt, which would complete the long journey.
SYSTEM FAILURE. UNMANAGED DECAYED. APPROXIMATE POINT OF LANDING FOLLOWING COORDINATES…
“Thirty degrees left side, there it goes down!”
The parachute was visible from afar in a cloudless sky; bright black, red and white stripes did everything possible to facilitate the work of the search teams.
“What's under it? Is this a man?”
“I can’t see.”
Jorge passed the binoculars to the first mate and took the old spyglass, that his father had taken to sea. This spyglass could see farther than any pair of binoculars on his schooner. He took another look.
“No, that is clearly not a man.”
“Then what is it, Cap?”
“God knows. A huge ball, perhaps made of metal.”
“What if it's a bomb? Or a naval mine?”
“And who would want to bomb us? Who needs this old piece of junk? And where did it come from – we didn’t see the plane.”
Jorge was right. None of his crew had seen or heard any aircraft or helicopter in the empty sky, which could have produced this striped parachute - it appeared in the sky as if out of nowhere.
“Soon it will land.”
“So, if this thing doesn’t explode after the landing, and doesn’t sink, then we will go to it by boat.”
“Cap, do you think it's worth it?”
“I want to get this parachute – the fabric is very good and expensive. And then we can see about the ball.”
It splashed down two minutes later – the braking engine threw out a short burst of flame and then it was buried in the foamy crests of the Pacific Ocean waves. No explosion.
“So, it isn’t going to sink. Get a boat!”
Jorge took an AK-47 wrapped in sailcloth just in case and plunged into a small inflatable boat. First they used the engine, but then Cap ordered them to stop, and use the oars. What if it's the acoustic mine?
The parachute stretched out on the waves, like a sail after a shipwreck. The lines would not let it drift away, so Jorge soon stopped thinking about it, focusing instead on the mysterious ball. The ball was sticking out of water about halfway, supported by bright red inflatable balloons. Around the ball was a large blurred green spot, like spilled oil paints.
“What is that green stuff?”
“A marker, to make it easier to see from the air. Let’s get closer.”
Apparently, the ball was once white, but now little of the white coat is left; Jorge thought that it seemed scorched, like a pig's skin.
“I think it’s a satellite. I saw in a movie that they burn when they fall,” said the first mate, with his hand on the rough, parched surface.
“Only this one didn’t fall, it landed. Which means someone will find it, so this thing is expensive. OK, I’ve decided to pick it up. Tell the guys to come closer, the winch is needed.”
One of the fragments on the surface of the ball hadn’t been damaged by fire. It was a hexagonal bolted metal plate, with large black stencil letters: USAF. Lower down he could see: Property of… Whose property it was impossible to say, since the text was missing - in its place was a gaping hole with torn edges. It was not a bullet hole.
“Water is pouring in that hole – the ball will drown. Faster!”
“Coordinates of the splashdown confirmed.”
“The brake system worked normally; overload and heating was within normal limits. But the lander was damaged long before entering the atmosphere. The electronics were incapacitated, and the cargo condition is unknown. We only know the place is landed, and that it hasn’t sunk.”
“Catch it immediately until the cargo missing!”
“We have a problem – the lander has already been fished out of the water. Some local fishermen were very close and got to it first.”
“Fuck. Have they contacted anyone?”
“We listened to the radio, but they have been silent. I think that they don’t want to attract attention. Obviously, they intend to bring the lander to shore and then sell it.”
“That can’t be allowed. They can’t get the lander to a foreign port, is that clear?!”
“I've already ordered the arrival of the Special Combat Group to the base; they will be in place within five hours. Until the SCG arrive, we can solve this problem using private contractors. For a fee, the people of the Cartel will do everything necessary, no questions asked. Lately there has been a spate of piracy, and if the fishing schooner is lost with the crew off from coast, it wouldn’t be a surprise. They fit like…”
“Spare me the details and get our cargo back quickly without witnesses!”
4. Assault and capture
“Shut down the engine, and get ready for inspection!”
The second warning didn’t work as well as first - the schooner continued moving away.
“Should we give a warning shot, or just shoot at the cabin?” asked the boy in blue uniform standing at the heavy machine gun.
“Wait,” said the boss, and again raised his loudspeaker.
“Shut off the engine immediately, or we’ll open fire!”
There was no answer. The sun had gone down and it was rapidly getting dark. The crew on the patrol boat peered at the small schooner, but didn’t see anyone on board.
“Shoot in front of them.”
A short burst rippled the water, but to no effect – the old ship continued to move. The boss lost his temper. This operation had gone wrong even before it began. According to the plan, they were to come up to the fishermen on the police boat, climb aboard in police uniforms under the pretext of a smuggling inspection, then neutralize the crew, pick up the cargo and sink the old ship. And now it would all have to change.
“Shoot to kill!”
There was a thunderous roar of machine gun fire, and the boss watched through binoculars as the wooden cabin boat shattered into splinters.
“Climb aboard,” the boss shouted, bringing the boat close alongside. “Go!”
The assault team rushed forward, acting in accordance with the rules of maritime robbery. Guns, however, weren’t needed on this occasion – there was no one on deck to put up any resistance.
“Boss, there’s no one here! We can’t see the cargo either.”
“Stop the engine and check the hold, it must be there!”
They opened the hatch into the hold and threw in stun grenades, and then a couple of fighters went down. There was a moment of silence, and then a short burst of machine gun.
“What is it?!”
“I had to calm down one of the crew, the bastard attacked me.”
“Where are the others?”
“All here, dead before us.”
“Boss, I found the cargo!”
Climbing aboard the captured ship, the boss didn’t linger in his inspection. He immediately went to the hold, where a burnt metal ball was waiting for him, next to a rolled parachute.
“This must be what we were looking for. What is this thing, boss? The ball is very heavy.”
“None of your business.”
The boss didn’t know where the ball had come from, how it came to be in the hands of the fishermen, or why it was necessary for his boss to have it - he had tried asking about it before going to the sea and got the same answer.
“None of your business.”
So be it. More importantly, the work was done – he had captured the schooner, the cargo was safe, and there were no witnesses. But what about the crew?
“How many men were there?”
“Eight, boss. Seven had already been killed, and the eighth lunged at me when I went down and scratched my cheek, like a cat. Look.”
The bandit showed his boss an AK47, lying at the corpse’s feet.
“There are bullet holes everywhere, they killed each other. I wonder why?”
“Most likely because they argued over the shared future reward for the cargo. Well, thanks to them, they have simplified our job. Get the winch here; we’ll get the ball onto our ship! And I’ll set the charge.”
5. Business trip
If the city once had traffic rules, those days were long gone, and now everyone drove as they pleased, Mike thought, turning the steering wheel of his army ATV.
“Fuck off the road, you bastards!”
In permanent chaos on narrow streets is still present some system, and local transport gives way to his car - it allows Mike to feel master of the situation. Local drivers were not afraid of him, Mike had no doubt about that, but he knew exactly who they were afraid of. They were afraid of local rulers – the Cartel – who kept control over the city and the surrounding areas. The Cartel - the only real power in this land, and not the cowardly federal government, who didn’t dare stick their corrupt noses in the operation of the city.
Guys from the basewer
regular customers in bars, bordellos and casinos owned by the Cartel, stable buyers of snow and marijuana. Serving as a driver at the headquarters, Mike was naturally aware about contacts between the parties, he knew about the lively trade between those in the city and his superiors - many times he’d delivered cargo to the base without inspection or signature on the waybill.
He can only guess how many millions his commanders made each year in addition to their salary, and he was regularly receiving envelopes filled with notes for doing his work without any questions. In addition to those envelopes, he had a benefit in the form of ally status with the city owners, which reliably protected him on local streets and forced everybody to get out of his way. A small thing, but still nice.
He made another turn and here they were in the central block, the Cartel birthplace. The misery of poor neighborhoods is left behind as though an invisible force barrier Star Trek style. It’s clean and spacious here, and the cost of the vehicles on the road and in parking lots numbers in the hundred thousands. Lexus and Mercedes, Ferrari and Maynbah – the cream of the global automotive industry stood in outdoor parking, but there would be no one foolish enough to try and steal them. The residents of these neighborhoods appreciated order and security, allowing them to do business easily. Expensive houses were hidden behind high concrete fences, with heavily spiraled barbed wire, and the eyes of dozens of cameras looking at him from pillars.
He passed a checkpoint, where there stood a Russian UAZ with a heavy machine gun in the back, and entered the port area. There were more cameras and barbed wire, to which were added strong tattooed guys with AK47s, on duty at warehouse entrances. His destination was the main warehouse.
“Here we are,” he said to his passengers. Their presence irritated him. Mike always came here alone, and only at night, and now there were five passengers with him, of whom he only knew one. Sitting next to him was a staff officer. He was a trusty man, who knew what is happening, and Mike could rely on him. About the four others Mike was not so sure. They had arrived at the base on a cargo plane an hour ago, and immediately, on the runway, got into his car, never saying a word for the whole trip.
In spite of the uniform, for some reason they didn’t seem to be military, which was strange for these passengers. Why had they come, and why would they come here, to the main Cartel base, without waiting for dark? It was not luck that had put him on duty today.
The guard at the entrance knew Mike, and waved his hand as usual – the passengers didn’t pay any attention to it. The barrier rose, thick metal dragon's teeth, sticking out of concrete slabs, sink into niches, Mike touches car forward, driven through open gate and stay on his usual place at number five, next to a brand new trip bus. Around the bus the local manager was already waiting for him, although Mike soon realized he was not waiting for him but for his passengers. This pleased him; today he didn’t want to conduct any business, he just wanted to sit behind the wheel and wait.
The five passengers unloaded from the car, and the staff officer said something to the manager, who pointed to the far door. The other guests once again didn’t utter a word. Mike spent some time sitting idle, and then got a porn magazine out of the glove compartment and immersed himself in careful study. He probably had nothing to worry about – his passengers would certainly know who they were visiting and where they were going. He was intrigued by why they needed such a big car. Were they going to pick something up?