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K21 - Substantial Illusions

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This article is a part of the K21 Squared timeline.

This article belongs to Khalael and Lither. Please do not edit this article without their permission.

SUBSTANTIALILLUSIONS1


TBASubstantialIllusions
Grieg - In the Hall of the Mountain King02:42

Grieg - In the Hall of the Mountain King

New theme tune. Better fitting.

A quintessential tale of honest intentions drawn in blood and ink that details the circumstances that lead to Vamana Uldericks meeting the infamous Claude Lasi-Faité once more.

Cast
K21LOGOV2.2
WARNING
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE, GORE, DRUGS REFERENCES AND SEXUAL REFERENCES


Prologue

"This is Europe Today!" were the words that seeped out from a set of nanofibre speakers as a liquid crystal display slate sprang to life on the side of a charcoal coloured wall, "Breaking news as the Ildano Corporation Headquarters have been targeted by terrorists."

A young man with chalk white hair sighed as he heard the news. It was yet another attack that the political sector had suffered in recent months. All of them seemed to have been targeted at the hapless rulers of the Euro Zone. Life had been pretty miserable since the abolition of the constitutional monarchy and the dissolution of the democratically elected government it had freely endorsed. Due to their war profiteering during the World Justice Uprising, the Ildano Corporation had somehow managed to take full control of Europe and shift the heart of power from France to Spain.

This move had not been particularly popular with the populace, but the suspension of civil liberties had made protest extremely difficult. Of course, such an oppressive response to dissension had only served to be rewarded with more extreme forms of protest being adopted, namely a large spate of terrorist attacks. What first started as the occasional car bombing and controlled demolition of abandoned buildings had recently escalated into the targeted destruction of key Ildano Corporation sites.

In recent months, Vamana Uldericks had recorded: twenty five destroyed shipping freighters; eighteen raids upon Ildano Corporation factories; four attacks upon distribution facilities and the destruction of a major port. Today seemed to serve as the icing on the cake, as their actual headquarters had apparently been hit. The albino man laughed as he realised that the only thing left to be eliminated was the Ildano Corporation sponsored European Governmental Assembly. The most frustrating thing for the young man was that he could not discern exactly who had been responsible for all of these attacks.

While they constantly referred to themselves as agents of the League for the Decentralisation of Nations, Vamana had been incredibly suspicious of that claim, primarily because terrorism through these means had never been their modus operandi. Resources had always been thin for the organisation and a prolonged bombing campaign did not seem like something could actually be capable of.

He was also quite certain that the organisation he worked for wouldn't be responsible, as their terrorist activities were entirely focused upon foreign powers while they aimed to safeguard their own interests. Furthermore, he was sure that if they had been the ones conducting the attacks then he would have found out due to his involvement with several Vallarie Administration funded terrorist cells.

The Guardians of GHOST had been cited as the ones responsible on several occasions, although the Eurowolf Broadcasting Group always came to shout down these claims as nothing but lies and hearsay.GHOST’s interests also seemed to only be focused around Northern Africa and the Middle East, while they would have little to gain from taking over the elementally tolerant Euro Zone. They were also reputed as being a relatively peaceful organisation.

The lunatics that had been responsible for the World Justice Uprising, Project Earth Reborn, remained a prominent scapegoat. Several news corporations across the globe were more than happy to label them as the ones responsible as they had maintained a continued presence as a guerrilla faction since the end of the conflict. Notably, they had attacked the Panama Canal and incited a revolution in Cuba in recent years. Thus, attacking the Euro Zone, particularly as the Sector had been a key player in eradicating the forces of the PER, seemed to make sense. Vamana was not so convinced, as he had personally conducted investigations into a PER presence within the European Commonwealth and had taken measures to eliminate them thoroughly.

The television continued to drone on about the details of the attack as Vamana racked his brains over the possible culprits. It was unnerving for him not to know when he had been so intensely involved in Vallarie Administration surveillance of the Euro Zone. There was always the chance that it had been the fault of one of the major European drug lords.

It was then that his eyes became drawn towards the plexiglass LCD screen that adorned his small apartment wall, a man wearing a full black dinner suit and a red trimmed fedora.

"A drug lord," were the words that left the news reporter’s lips, "has claimed responsibility for the attack upon the Ildano Corporation Headquarters. This man, calling himself Claude Lasi-Faite, has sent the Eurowolf Broadcasting Group exclusive footage of his confession and alleged claims of future attacks against the Euro Zone being planned."

After all these years he was still alive. Vamana was left open mouthed as he saw a man who assumed must have been a ghost. It had been fourteen years since he’d last heard that name in an alleyway in Quebec. Back then it had been shouted by police as they had attempted to apprehend the man he saw upon the LCD screen. In all those years he hadn't changed. The memory of that night remained as clear as crystal in Vamana Ulderick's mind. For months he had been looking for a sign to leave the Vallarie Administation and strike out a chord of his own.

Now it seemed to be the perfect time to take that final leap towards independence.

Chapter 1 - Chance Encounter

Location: Toulouse

Date: 11 MAR 2110

Local time: 1536

Four days.

It had been four long days since that bastard's name had reappeared. It had been out of the blue, with no warning.

Claude Lasi-Faité.

It was quite remarkable that the common criminal I had bore witness to all those years ago was now at the heart of a drug dealing enterprise that outstripped even that of my previous employers. While the Vallarie Administration were capable of manufacturing and distributing narcotic substances, the slippery Claude had always outdone them. He apparently always found ways of stealing from them and made obscene profits in the process. Curiously, my sources had indicated that both he and the Vallarie Administration had their eyes upon the field of politics. The Euro Zone in particular. Odd that two rival factions desired for the same thing. Personally, while aiding the VA would have provided me with a stable job, Claude just seemed like he could offer me more.

How drole. It seemed only natural that I would be lead back to finding this mysterious man.

That is, had he not been damn near impossible to locate.

So far it had been 96 hours since I had last slept. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation that had lead to my irritable mood. Perhaps it was the frustration of finding a dead end after every single "lead" I had found.

Whoever this "Claude" was, he clearly was not keen on being found. Which was, given my current situation, mildly annoying to say the least. Actually, it was incredibly annoying. And no amount of Mozart was going to improve my temperament now.

I would like to admit I was very close to giving up my search altogether. It had been four days of failed research with multiple avenues already exhausted. While I needed a benefactor, such lengths were beyond my normal modus operandi. Had I never encountered this fellow in my youth, I plaintively doubt I would have been so fixated with finding him.

I guess I couldn't help my curiosity. I wanted to understand how one could go from being a petty criminal to one of the most successful drug lords in the history of man. I wished to know his secret. I needed not only his financial aid, but his counsel.

And that was when the phone rang. Naturally I answered it of course.

A voice emanated from the microphone. One I sometimes wish I had never had to hear, knowing the torment it brought upon me since.

"Mr. Vamana Uldericks," it carefully pronounced, "I do believe you have been trying to make my acquaintance."

*

Location: Montreal

Date: 13 MAR 2110

Local time: 1207

The man had been quite clear in his instructions.

We were to meet face to face in a café in Montreal, Quebec. I'm not sure if Claude was just being a sentimental bastard for my sake or actually trying to make a point. Either way I didn't really I care. All that mattered was meeting him in the flesh once more.

As I supped a cup of black coffee my attention was drawn to the writhing masses of people. Their lives were so pitiful and meaningless. All slaves to the corporate bourgeoisie who controlled the American Zone.

Such thoughts were deemed treasonous but only a fool would believe that, in the harsh reality of the 22nd Century, America was the land of the free. They slaved and toiled for capitalist pig-dogs, not a freely elected government. And what was their reward? A mere pittance. Districts such as Nouveway were a testament to the conditions these people were forced to exist in.

Upon the horizon I could see the towering, gleaming skyscrapers that marked the edge of the Nouveway District. In the midday sun the slum actually looked mildly appealing.

A factor the government had clearly wished for. Only someone unfortunate enough to have lived in the hell I had once called home, knew the true horror those buildings concealed.

Squalid dens of inequity and excess. Cramped living quarters that were not fit for animal habitation, let alone humans. It was disgusting. The filthy product of governmental control and oppression.

Keeping humans like cattle. Inhumanity was the mainstay of the American Confederate government.

If only I could increase the size of my organisation. If only I had the means to get it off of the ground. Then I would be able to challenge these hypocrites on their own playing field.

I checked my watch. 12.12.

The bastard was already 2 hours and 12 minutes late. So much for meeting up for a morning coffee and breakfast.

As I sighed at the futility of today's exercise and realised the annoying prick was unlikely to actually show, I decided to avert my gaze from the window. I cast my eyes over the interior of the café. It was a rather classy establishment and the staff were well dressed. The neat light blue blouses that the waitresses wore were rather appealing. The colours seemed to marry well with their white knee length skirts.

Of course, I could hardly use such a bright colour scheme for my own organisation. That would just be ludicrous. As formal wear it could be pulled off rather effectively, but there was no need for such occasion in the IWU. I chortled to myself ever so slightly as I tried to imagine a serious military organisation using it as their official colours. How drole indeed.

It was then that something elicited my curiosity quite suddenly. It was a framed photograph of a young woman with raven black hair and a rather warm smile. Beneath the picture frame was a plaque.

In Loving Memory of Sandra Mai
2075 - 2096

The name sounded vaguely familiar. Yet, I couldn't quite place it.

The year had significance. I could never forget it. For that was when I had first lay eyes upon the elusive Claude.

I went to take another sup from my coffee cup before realising it was now empty. I checked my wallet. I couldn't afford to waste any more money on drinks while waiting for this joker. My mind began to wander, as I contemplated the finer points of life and what mankind was truly capable of.

Sadly I was jostled back to reality when a waitress came over to check on me.

"Would you like another drink, sir?" she asked rather sweetly.

She had an endearing look upon her face and I was convinced she was infatuated with me. It was rather distasteful to think of it. The woman had been pestering me all day since I had arrived and just didn't get the message I was not one bit interested.

"No thank you, may I have the bill?"

"Oh, of course, dear," she smiled while dancing the words lightly over her tongue.

As she walked away the name of the woman in the photgraph struck me. Sandra Mai.

I knew exactly who the woman in the photograph was. She had been reported on the news as one of those killed in a series of murders committed by a serial killer. A serial killer later identified as Claude Lasi-Faité. My brain raced as I tried to work out the significance behind this connection.

All that did was just make me wonder even more why he would want to bring me here. It was a thought that troubled me somewhat. Was he trying to emphasise some sort of mysterious point? Was it all just a cosmic coincidence. Or was he trying to unnerve me.

I placed my hands on my chin and rested my elbows on the table. This was not a situation I wanted to be in. Claude was unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst. The fact he had failed to show up so far was enough to elicit a certain degree of paranoia in me.

What if he was just going to kill me. What if he'd brought me out to some far flung land just to bring me to my death.

I instinctively shot my right hand to my gun. It was fine. So long as I was armed, I had a chance. A chance to avoid him killing me.

I brought my gaze back to the window and stared intently at the crowds of human beings. And for an instant, a brief second I could swear I saw him walk by.

I was sure I had seen a man resplendent a fedora, black shades and a suit walked by. I swear the son of a bitch was playing mind games with me.

"Sir, as you requested, your bill," a voice emanated from behind me.

I jumped somewhat, before regaining my composure. It was just the girl who had been serving me coffee.

"Oh yes, why thank you, I hope cash is alright. I forgot my cards," I feigned a smile.

As I looked at the bill I noticed a phone number had been scrawled on it. I sighed. Stupid girl. She clearly lacked any ability to discern the difference between disinterest and flirting.

It was just tedious when this sort of thing happened. I took out my wallet. Paid the twenty-three dollars I owed the establishment. The waitress winked at me suggestively and I just returned the gesture with a cold stare as I shoved the receipt in my pocket and collected up my belongings.

This had been a complete waste of time. I glanced at my watch again. 13.00. 3 hours late was just unacceptable.

It was as I was leaving that my mobile phone rang.

I tapped my ear and I heard an all too familiar voice.

"Mr Uldericks, I must apologise for being unable to meet your acquintance on this fine day, but I've been tied up with important affairs in the Central American Zone. You know how work can be. I'd be fine for you to come and meet up with me there. Just meet me in Mexico City tomorrow afternoon. We'll discuss business then. Try to get to Buenavista Station, to catch the 12.00pm train, it would be much appreciated."

The line then suddenly went dead. The bastard. Now I'd have to waste even more precious funds travelling to goddamn Mexico.

*

Location: Mexico City

Date: 14 MAR 2110

Local time: 1155

As I entered the carriage of the Interrail Alta Velocidad Rocket Train bound for Panama I knew I was in for a long trip. Even with the advanced transportation system, it would take about four hours to reach our destination.

Provided of course Claude actually managed to show up this time. Otherwise It would just result in me being forced several hundred miles out of position. I swear, if the bastard didn't show this time, I'd hunt him down and force him to parlé.

I walked slowly down the interior of the gleaming carriages. Unlike the rest of the political zone, it seemed at the very least the Central American "government" had done a rather tremendous job of revitalizing their infrastructure to a certain degree.

I couldn't help but smirk at the idea that poverty and disease was rampant amongst the anarchic state, but at least the wealthy could afford to travel in luxury.

Yet, despite the rather sleek, fashionable and modernist interiors of the regular carriages. Claude had still insisted upon travelling first class. I was just thankful that he had already paid for the cost of the tickets.

As I entered the singular first class carriage the rocket train possessed, I noticed it was laid out in individual booths. My heart sank when I looked at the booth that corresponded with my ticket and noticed a gruff Hispanic man sitting opposite the seat I was supposed to have.

I opened the door to the compartment and feigned a less hostile mood.

While carefully examining this foreign specimen I started to sit down. I stared at him for a fairly lengthy period of time before the man suddenly opened his mouth to speak.

"Balls! Have I got something on my face?" he inquired in a rather panicked manner.

"Why no, sorry, I'd just zoned out for a bit," I quickly lied.

"No harm done then, mate," he sighed with relief.

I couldn't help but remain on edge. I noticed a police badge affixed to his civilian clothes and blanched. Fucking Claude. He'd set me up to be captured.

I had two choices. Sit on the train and pretend nothing was up. Or leave now and aim to get as far away from this godforsaken sector as possible.

As I attempted to enact my second option, the train started to move. The rapid acceleration of the Rocket Train threw me violently agaisnt the wall before I haphazardly slumped into my seat as the afterburners screeched into operation.

"Not a frequent flyer are we?" the Hispanic gentleman shouted at me, as I tried to bring my hands up to my ears, "don't worry, you'll get used to this bastard thing eventually. It's bloody expensive and is damn uncomfortable to travel in, but it gets you across the country damn fast. That said, it's still a bloody waste of money if you ask me?"

"Then why all did you elect to travel first class in this fucking death trap?" I couldn't help myself from roaring.

"Well first, it's covered by my expenses. Secondly, it may be balls, but its ten times better than any of the alternatives. Can't stand airports and the roads are just a nightmare," he spouted out, "bloody shame when the government is happy to waste all this money on a mode of transport that can only be afforded to officials, than actually bother improving the rest of the failing infrastructure of the goddamn Sector."

"Talk a lot, don't you?" I replied tongue and cheek, it was somewhat amazing how much his opinions mirrored my own. That said, I'm not sure hearing my own opinions preached at me would be a productive use of my time, thus I decided to question him "so you said the government payed for your ticket?"

"That is correct, my funny little friend," he laughed for some reason, "was only going to be standard class but apparently they managed to get this seat at a vast discount. Previous holder had returned it. I'm not that bothered but, balls, they decide how I travel."

I restrained a grimace, I knew it, the bastard had gone and fucked off instead of managing to meet with me, "So just what all do you work as?" I barely managed to ask. Still furious at Claude.

"Oh that, thought you may have noticed the badge", the man briefly pointed at it, smiling warmly, "I work for the Sector's balls law enforcement. Guess that makes me a bloody hypocrite, but I'd say any other job out there is worse than this."

"I am curious. Is there much that doesn't annoy you?" I queried, more intrigued by this rather odd fellow.

"People with the balls to stand up for what they believe in and challenge the status quo. I'm sick of all the corruption. All of the lies. But most of all," he paused, taking a newspaper out of an inner coat pocket, "the blatant hypocritical idiocy."

He unfurled it and showed me the headline.

CENTRAL AMERICAN ARMED FORCES SIGNS ARMS DEAL WITH VALLARIE ADMINISTRATION

"Sorry, I may be missing something here," I casually spoke, rather confused that my old employers were making front page news out in the Americas.

"The government claims to despise foreign intervention and looks towards internal industry, but they seem more than happy to cosy up to a foreign business for our balls security. I mean, they're just as crooked as any organisation you'd find here but I'd prefer to deal with the devil I knew instead of some oversees pricks."

"May I see that article, sir," I asked politely.

"Sure thing, mate. I'm just amazed you're listening to all this and not denouncing me as some ballsy cynical lunatic," he smiled, while handing over the newspaper, "the name's Bruce Somoron."

He motioned to shake my hand, I couldn't avoid reciprocating.

"Alejandro Sanders," I replied, using an old alias.

"Well, nice to meet you Alejandro, but if you don't mind me I need to catch up on some lost sleep. Mind watching my back?" Somoron asked, extremely relaxed.

I dropped my own guard somewhat, clearly Claude hadn't set up this man to capture me. It was all just a coincidence I was sitting opposite an officer of the law.

I smirked at the absurdity of the whole situation and started to read.

My, my, it seemed the Vallarie Administration had been very busy indeed.

*

CENTRAL AMERICAN ARMED FORCES SIGNS ARMS DEAL WITH VALLARIE ADMINISTRATION

In an unprecedented shake up from the usual state of affairs, the Central American Government signed a contract with Director Stephanie Vallarie Christelle (head of the eponymous Vallarie Adminstration) last night. While the main focus has been on the radical move made by the Central American Military to begin revolutionising their technology, the real story lies with the startling expansion of the VA.

Controversial to say the least, the VA has gained notoriety for drugs trafficking, arms dealing and funding international espionage. Their expansion into these more morally dubious fields of enterprise is what has lead an enterprise that started out as a benign manufacturing group to quickly grow into a corporate monster.

In the last two months alone, the VA has demonstrated a sharp rise in contracts with various Sectors, including both our own and the financially crippled Euro Zone. Rumours have been spreading that the VA are raising funds with the intention of bailing out the European Commonwealth, with the possible future of the political state uncertain. With increased hostilities being shown from Russia, and several land grabs already underway, the Pan-Russian Zone would suffer greatly if Europe was united under a company as wealthy (and not to mention influential) as the VA.

The menace of the Pan-Russian Zone must be stopped, as they already threaten the economic stability of the world. I believe that the Vallarie Administration may be exactly what is needed to curb the threat of fascism. A strong capitalist Sector would stand as a bulwark against them, especially one that was as well armed by the Vallarie Administration as our own.

This latest arms deal has allowed our nation to field more advanced super-weapons than ever before. Advancements in reinforced vehicles, laser weaponry and life preservation systems will revolutionise our military standing in the world. With infantry capable of destroying both enemy soldiers and armoured vehicles with ease, we will now be able to afford to challenge any hostile actions made against our sector.

Similarly, the VA has provided our government with research that may allow for advanced repulsion rocket drives. These would potentially allow for armoured vehicles and weapons with VTOL capabilities. The dilapidated Central American Navy also seems set to be revitalized in the next ten years, with sources indicating an increase in research for more compact nuclear reactors that would allow for the entire navy to end its reliance on foreign biofuels.

Ending our dependence upon foreign corporations such as the omnipresent Calypso Industries will hopefully bring more prosperity to the Sector. And, while the Vallarie Administration would be a welcome addition to the world stage as an opponent to fascism, ending their presence upon Central American soil would be more beneficial to both our industry and international reputation.

Particularly in light of the numerous VA funded terrorist attacks that have been erupting in recent days against the Greater Russian Federation, Democratic Republic of Africa and the Republic of Australia. For while their hostile actions against fascism are admirable, it would be detrimental to our own political standing to be associated with an organisation that endorses such violent methods.

The European Commonwealth has also been thrown into turmoil by political infighting and Vallarie Administration representatives have been making an increased presence in government. Statesman Petra Alamani has already called for compliance in allowing the VA to help with the situation in the Euro Zone and he has been endorsing their support. While the people of this earth live in such interesting times, with the World Justice Uprising ingrained in recent memory, one can only hope some good will come of all of this.

Juan Iral, Foreign Correspondant.

Chapter 2 - End of the Line

Location: Nicaragua

Date: 14 MAR 2110

Local time: 1504

I had pawed through the newspaper tirelessly, reading each and every article. It was fascinating to say the least. It lacked the vacuous celebrity articles that were commonplace amongst both my actual homeland and my adopted one. Instead, all of them were pieces concerned with world affairs.

Of course, I could tell straight away most of it had a propaganda slant to paint the United Central American Republic in a good light, but even these pieces of journalistic nonsense shed a great deal of insight into the state of the Sector. Overall, it didn't look good. So-called "Wonderweapons" and "technological marvels" were the fixation of governmental spending while the less jingoistic articles detailed some of the vastly detrimental effects this was having on the Central American Zone.

Poverty was rife, energy prices were soaring and even food was becoming a rare commodity. All the while the government was fixated with "advancing the future of Central America's security".

Somoron was right. They were happy to waste billions on gold-plated options such as the Trenrayocohete Rocket Train instead of fixing what they already have. Standard railways were still in operation but many parts of the major routes were now unsafe. Similarly, the government had poured millions into constructing "Superways", that were wider and sturdier than regular Highways, while completely neglecting their old road system.

Many airports remained unequipped to deal with the increased demands of air travel, while funding was poured into developing new floating island airports as well as advancing aeronautical research into supersonic commercial airliners. New private hospitals with advanced equipment were built while the conventional public ones were left to suffer.

It was the epitome of consumerist capitalism gone mad. Just buy something new instead of trying to fix the problem you had. Clearly this did not work at all in practice, for Central America had become a prime example of the problems it presented.

As I placed down the newspaper I noticed my new acquaintance was beginning to rouse from his slumber.

"How long was I out for, mate?" he asked bleary eyed, "I'm pretty sure we haven't reached the border yet."

"About three hours," I replied before wondering about the statement he had made after the question, "and just how can you be sure of that?"

"Trust me, you'll see what I mean when we get there," he sighed.

"Can you just tell me?" I inquired, more intrigued this time.

"Wow, you really are new to travelling by Trenrayocohete? You get on the damned thing with a ticket to Panama and you really don't know what to expect from this bollocks ride?" Somoron, queried back rhetorically before taking a more sinister tone, "just what's your game, kid? I'm not used to such ignorant outsiders taking this train. Particularly ones who don't have any idea about what such a journey entails."

I gulped, "J-just what exactly do you mean?"

"What are you? A ballsy spy? Here to sneak into Panama and sell secrets to the fascists?" Bruce questioned me, more intensely than before.

"Look, a friend bought me the ticket. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was the original holder of yours. I'm just a serviceman trying to seeing a bit of the world before my next assignment. Clearly my comrade wasn't able to make it," I panicked, spouting the truth for some reason.

"How do I know I can believe you? Huh, you must have quite a set of balls on you if you think coming to Central America is a nice idea for a holiday," he retorted, a hint of friendly sarcasm in his voice, "who'd you serve with?"

I was starting to get the feeling he was taking the piss, but answered his question regardless.

"European Military," I lied, reluctant to admit I had actually worked for the Vallarie Administration, "I was assigned to the border to hold of the Russians."

"Is that so, mate?" he laughed, "well an enemy of the Ruskies is a friend in my book. And given how genuinely clueless and scared you are, I strongly doubt you're a spy."

"Why. Uh. Yes, I guess a spy would know everything before he set off to an unfamiliar Sector. Sadly, I'm just a dumb tourist who was harshly tricked by a so-called friend," I waffled on.

"That balls friend of yours must have one cruel sense of humour bringing you here without telling you a thing about this balls country. Panama's a pretty nasty place," he continued.

"Oh yes, it seems like a real tourist hot spot," I joked.

The old man chuckled, "Well, it sure is popular with foreigners! Insurgents are always keen on giving the security a run for its money."

"Aye, so I've heard. I remember you had a bit of trouble with the Project Earth Reborn lot a couple of years back."

"Don't go bloody reminding me!" Somoron chuckled, "Whole thing was a complete joke. I'm pretty sure those wankers would have been balls well successful if it hadn't been for foreign intervention."

"For a serviceman, you don't seem to have much faith in your own soldiers."

"Oh, I have faith in my fellow soldiers, son. It's the government that I wouldn't trust to pack a paper bag let alone run an entire country."

"Then why not move?"

"Stubbornness. Mostly."

At that I couldn't help but to laugh.

"Although I've always thought it would be nice to retire in Spain," he continued, marginally deflated, "where the folks speak the language but aren't crooked bastards."

"Oh yes, it's quite nice back in the Old Country. I used to live in Barcelona," I said.

"I was about to say! With a name like Alejandro, I was thinking you must have been Spanish. Although the accent sounds rather French."

"I've spent more time in Paris than I'd have liked."

We both laughed at that point. Bruce Somoron seemed to have a sense of humour not too dissimilar from my own.

"Well, seeing as you interrogated me to find out my reasons for travelling to Panama, tell me, what brings you to such a charming place?" I inquired, honestly very curious.

"Oh that. Chasing down another bollocks mad police officer. I need to take him in for psychological evaluation. Man's a nutjob," Somoron replied, "thinks he can see into the future and keeps calling himself a Time Elemental."

"Time Elemental!?" I burst out with disbelief, "how ridiculous! The mere thought of it is absurd. Scientists claim such a being is technically possible but none have ever been recorded!"

"Yes, well as much as I share that opinion, I need to stop him before he causes any harm," Bruce continued, "and please never say that about 'not being recorded' to him because then he just goes off on one about a balls conspiracy about Time Elementals removing all traces of their existence."

"Utter lunatic," I chipped in.

"Absolutely agreed," Somoron guffawed.

*

Location: Costa Rica (Border with Panama)

Date: 14 MAR 2110

Local time: 1546

Suddenly the Trenrayocohete began to rapidly decelerate before gliding to a gentle stop. For the first time since I had entered the train I looked out of the windows. What I saw was a platform. Upon it were several armed soldiers.

I panicked slightly before turning to Somoron.

"So this is what you mean about bloody Panama?" I exclaimed.

"Welcome to the safest place in the world," he laughed, "provided we can get past security and actually make it in to the damned country. I take it you have your ticket and a valid form ID?"

I blanched. If I used my real passport in front of this guy, he'd become even more suspicious. All I had on me were Identification Cards that had the name "Vamana Uldericks" printed upon them. I was in a pickle and I needed to think fast.

"Son of a bitch," I spoke under my breath.

"What was that?" Somoron's ears pricked up.

"Nothing. Just cursing my fucking friend," I improvised as I started patting my pockets.

"Why is that?" he inquired, a hint of concern in his voice.

"Because I don't have any fucking ID on me. I think I must have left my passport back at the hotel! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" I managed to feign panicked tone. I looked at my exit strategies. There were none. On one side was a platform of armed guards and on the other was an electrified monorail. Followed by a fifty metre drop. If I were to get up now that would just make Somoron even more suspicious. I had a feeling he'd arrest me as a spy if I acted rashly.

"Relax," Bruce smiled, much to my surprise, in a surprisingly confident manner, "I'll vouch for you when those jobsworth pricks board the train and I'll be sure to give the little scrotes a piece of my mind."

"I hope that works!" I exclaimed again, genuinely panicked, "just why the hell are they stopping us?"

"Oh you know, the usual. Checking for spies, dissidents and people who refused to pay for their ticket. Typical paranoia really. Once again, its all to do with that bloody canal," Somoron happily went on, "they stop the train so they can open the tunnels and use the intermediate time to make all of the passengers' day slightly more miserable. Ever since that little debacle with the PER."

"Just relax, though. I never show them my ID, because for some reason I don't feel obliged to stroke the balls of some lowly jobsworth who doesn't outrank my station," he continued, withdrawing his handgun, "I'll just shout at them like I normally do. Might throw my badge at them if they get pissy."

The doors of our carriage opened and a pair of young privates stepped aboard. One had a pistol drawn while the other carried a ticket punch and an ID card scanner. They systematically moved down the first class carriage.

Somoron kept his eyes fixed upon both of them with a stare that seemed to indicate he was more than ready to rip their balls off if they caused any trouble.

I turned my attention to the platform. I saw some unlucky sod being dragged from the train at gunpoint.

Poor young woman. Either she didn't have her ticket or she didn't have ID. I could hear her muffled screams through the double glazed windows. It was rather harrowing to watch, as one soldier bound her mouth with a gag while another tied her arms behind her back. Her legs were also forced together with rope and she was dragged away screaming by two smug looking officers.

Somoron turned around to speak to me, "Damn shame. Poor girl's going to be treated even worse because she's a pretty one. I doubt she'll be in the ground anytime soon. "

His voice had become very grave at that point, and I knew exactly what he meant. Humans were despicable creatures.

As the two privates marched down towards us, my gaze was once again caught by another unlucky soul who had been forced off of the train. An old man in his late sixties. He was kicked to the ground and beaten by three junior officers. A sergeant stood smoking a cigar. His pistol aimed at the man's head.

I heard the gunshot through the reinforced glass. The old man lay lifeless on the ground. I was panicking even more. That was exactly what these bastards were going to do to me.

In a fair fight I could take the two privates with ease. I was likely far better trained and I was armed to boot. But, I couldn't risk it with all of those soldiers standing there on the platform. All I had was a black handgun and a silencer. Those bastards had rifles and machine guns. I didn't stand a chance.

"Bruce, are you sure this little plan of yours is actually going to work? I don't exactly want both of us to wind up like that unlucky bastard," I spoke in a hushed voice. At this point I was considering taking him as a hostage and bargaining my way out of here. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to act fast enough with those privates in the aisle.

The two soldiers were marching closer. So far there had been no trouble from the other people in first class. I was strongly hoping that we would not be the ones to cause any.

I watched as they examined the tickets and ID of the passengers sitting across the aisle from us. It was then that they turned their attentions towards us.

"Tickets," demanded the man holding the ticket punch.

Somoron and I both presented ours. The soldier with the ticket punch stamped both.

"Identification," barked the one holding the gun.

At this point Somoron aimed his own firearm directly at the armed soldier and tore off his police badge.

"Now look here. Me and my friend don't take orders from little scrote jobsworths like you or your buddy over there. I don't carry any goddamn ID because I'm a federal officer of our bollocks law. We both outrank you both militarily and professionally. So you will move the fuck along or I'll drag you both by the balls to my superior officer. There, we will have a very short meeting to decide which one of us castrates you with a rusty spoon," Bruce spoke with an amazingly astute constrained rage, "you will accept that Lieutenant Somoron is your superior officer who has served his Sector in both the Great Defensive War and the Panama Incursion. And, to this bollocks day continues to serve justice so that we can maintain some goddamn sense of order in this goddamn political zone."

"Th-that will be all, sir" the young man stammered, "I don't need to see either of your identification."

"And if I so as much hear that either one of you spoke to your own superior officers about ANY incident on this fine day, I will see you are sent to court martial before I personally sling your pulped carcass out onto the gang ridden slums of Mexico City," Somoron glared at both of the privates before holstering his gun, "now, I hope you both have a lovely day and don't end up in any more trouble."

The two soldiers promptly left our booth and moved on to the next one.

"I must say, that was a fine performance Mr. Somoron," I spoke, extremely relieved, "I'm amazed that your ruse worked."

"I didn't have to act at all, I hate those bloody morons more than I hate most criminals," Bruce continued.

"Somoron, is there anything you don't hate?" I queried.

"You know what I don't hate? I don't hate vests." he glibly replied.

I turned my attention to the aisle and realised that all of the soldiers exited the Trenrayocohete and signaled an all clear.

Those who had attempted to subvert the course of justice had already been punished. Save for the two of us, of course.

I found my body pressed against my seat as the Trenrayocohete started to rapidly accelerate once more before entering a tunnel that had been constructed through a large stone fortifications.

As we descended into the darkness and the internal lights of the train buzzed to life, I decided to take another look at the paper and realised there was still one article that I had missed.

*

WONDERWEAPONS SECURE THE FUTURE OF CENTRAL AMERICA ON THE WORLD STAGE

Recent advancements in technology seem set to secure the future of our proud Sector amongst the rest of the world. While generally regarded as a weak member of the Geneva Alliance by other nations, we have proven time and time again that we have the power to protect our nation in times of conflict. The World Justice Uprising has provided ample opportunity for our nation to test out new weapons of war against the evil Survival Colonies that seek to wreck havoc throughout the globe.

When they attempted to seize control of our precious canal, our Special Forces Teams responded admirably, pushing off the Project Earth Reborn terrorists away from our glorious soil. Foreign aid was not required, despite the paltry deployment of under-trained, under-equipped and under-disciplined Euro Zone soldiers. They lacked the poise and determination of our chaps to be any use.

"Utter bullshit," I said under my breath, "those damned bastards did nothing but get in the way of your useful military forces while making the counter-terrorist operation even more difficult."

"Did you say something, Sanders?" Somoron queried.

"It's nothing, just the blatant lies printed here," I remarked, before showing him the article.

"Why, I see what ruffled your feathers so much. And I have to agree with you. I found the European Commandos were a much bigger help than those bumbling bastards. Waste of money, the lot of them. I'd take one of them over ten of those idiots day," he laughed, a certain fondness in his voice, "this is why I don't read anything with Wonderweapon or Preguntoarma in the title. It just always finds a new way of making my blood boil."

I smirked at the statement, before deciding to subjugate myself to some more mental torture.

The brave heroes of our Special Forces Teams fought like invincible lions, gunning down the enemy when they attempted to make any moves against our glorious Panama. When the PER scum resorted to subversive tactics of espionage and sabotage in order to place heavy artillery in startegic locations, our brave men destroyed the enemy emplacements while allowing the conventional forces of the Central American Army to eliminate the terrorists.

"Right, I'm done here. I'm shoving this paper down. The amount of invention here is just too damn high," I exclaimed. Utter lies the lot of it. The Vallarie Administration Commandos had been the ones who eliminated the terrorists before they could place explosives, allowing the men to take some very easy shots at unmanned artillery guns.

"You've already started, mate," Bruce piped up, "you may as well see it through. Just accept it for what it is. Utter bollocks with the occasional grain of insight buried deep beneath the shit."

This has not been the only time our Preguntoarma have proven to be vital to the Central American Zone's security. Deployment of a Transporteaéreocosa above Mexico City was enough to quell a rebellion that had been incited by a worker's strike. The mere threat of the aerial fortress was enough to force the strikers to abandon their cause out of the fear of seeing their homes leveled.

Similarly, Cazadelidiotas have demonstrated that they have been a worthwhile investment, as the deployment of a single vehicle was enough to break the fortified mansion that Project Earth Reborn terrorists had become holed up in. No civilians were harmed and all of the dissidents were reduced to a more tasteful pink pulp.

These successes are only the beginning, for if an active war ever makes it to our soil again, these weapons will be allowed to operate at their full potential, ensuring the security of Central America for generations to come.

Santiago Diaz, Military Correspondent

*

Location: Panama City

Date: 14 MAR 2110

Local time: 1700

As we pulled into the underground Panama City Station, at the end of our four hour journey, I could sense an air of ambient hostility permeated the building. I saw another Relámpagotren was ready to depart. As we edged up beside it, I noticed it was largely filled with military personnel.

The platforms were also lined with soldiers. Some seemingly off-duty, with shirts hanging loose and jackets tied around their waste. Others were fully kitted up, a rifle slung over their shoulder.

Somoron slapped me on the back as I got out of my seat, "Welcome to Fort Panama, mate."

"Just where the hell are we?" I exclaimed, noticing that no daylight permeated this locale.

"About one kilometer underground. The Trenrayocohete makes a steep decline after crossing the border," he went on.

"Bloody hell, you weren't joking about it being the safest place in the world," I muttered.

"Damn right, and the Relámpagotren we came in on is merely one of the ones for the civvies to use," Bruce continued, "with the extremely decadent above ground routes. That one we've just pulled up next to won't be using any official routes to get where it's going. It'll be using ones located down at these depths."

"But why go to all this bother?" I asked, stepping out on to the platform.

"Well, we could survive a nuclear attack down here! Entire station's reinforced in case such an event occurs. Most of Panama City is situated underground. The civilian parts least."

"Bloody hell, talk about paranoid!"

"Well, they have reason to be. You fought to defend that bloody reason," Somoron smiled.

"All because of that bloody canal."

"Precisely," he spoke with a sense of joviality, "it always comes down to the bollocks canal."

At that he sighed slightly as we wandered towards the lifts that would take us to the surface.

Chapter 3 - Deception

DRUGS AND DECAPITATIONS: THE FATE OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Over the last twenty years not much has changed with how government endorsed gangs treat foreigners who gain access to the country through illegal means. Refugees from Asia and desperate migrants from South America all fall prey to a corrupt system that favours only the amoral.

Age defines what happens to these unfortunate souls, and the police do nothing to intervene. This is due to a suspicious article of law that states that within Central America, individuals who are not citizens of our sector or holders of a valid visa, are not legally considered to be humans.

As a result, those unlucky enough to end up in Central America through illicit means are subjugated to a living hell. Children are frequently rounded up to be used as slaves, with castration a certainty amongst males (in order to increase docility). Children of both sexes are regularly used as free labour to package drugs, assemble clothing and smuggle weapons, while the less fortunate ones are forced to commit heinous acts at the pleasure of their cruel masters. These children can then expect to either be disposed of when they become to costly to feed or join the array of adult slaves that are forced to remain within the Central American Zone.

Here, role is defined more by gender. Men are typically tasked with drug running, drug dealing and security. Few are tasked to become rent-boys, forced to indulge the perverted side of their bosses. Women are always forced into prostitution and encouraged to take drugs. Once they're hooked, the drug lords of Central America exploit their whores for all their worth. They take on a secondary role of trying to get their clients hooked on drugs as well, so to expand the customer base of these criminals.

Older men and women are also treated harshly, but tend to be exploited more as slave labour in manufacturing. All the while the police refuse to intervene as no laws are being violated. The life of an illegal immigrant is meaningless, and the view is that if they have to be disposed of then there will always be new ones to take their place. This is a land of no second chances. For to disobey one's master is to ask for death.

In the Central American Zone, one could never wish to be anyone but a legitimate civilian. Otherwise you must always live in fear of the drugs. Live in fear of the consequences for disobedience. To lose one's head at the hands of a merciless enforcer, by the blade of a machete. For drugs and decapitation are all that lie in wait for any foolish enough to try and make a new start in our land of the free.

I feel it is now time for a change. I feel that, in the 22nd Century, we should be attempting to end this pathetic fallacy of gang violence. We need to retake the streets and take pride in our nation. While Panama remains the safest place in the world, the rest of our sector screams out in fear at the injustices it regularly endures. As human beings are forced to suffer at the hands of these monsters. It should be our fundamental imperative to help these people and end the lives of these pathetic criminals once and for all. We need to stop wasting our money on weapons of war and seek to spend money on improving the lives of human beings.

We need to force the government to see the error if its ways in allowing criminals free reign of our beloved Sector. Even if it provides them with money, it is immoral. They should have a moral imperative to protect us, not the criminals. Therefore I implore you, I call upon all of you, to fight back against these lawless beasts, take back the streets with the power of the people and throw them out of our great nation forever.

Michael Hernandez, Columnist for Mexico City

*

Location: Panama City

Date: 14 MAR 2110

Local time: 1715

As we reached daylight the reality of how fortified the city was started to sink in. Most buildings were no more than two stories high, were reinforced with plate armour and were outfitted with a weapon of some form on the roof. Weapons varied from missile launchers, flak cannons and some rather exotic looking pieces of equipment that I can only imagine were laser projectors.

The windows of all of the buildings were blacked out, street lamps pointed down with a blackout cone placed over them to provide limited emission of light. Piles of sandbags were placed around the entrances to buildings in a defensive manner and there were even machine gun emplacements on the streets.

It seemed that the Panama Incursion had been a wake up call. None of this had been present in the city beforehand. Only the canal had been militarised at that point. I remember the lines of tank traps, ditches, walls, barbed wire and fences. It was a nightmare for anyone to even get close to the canal. I remember it was, and likely still is, a federal offence to view the canal through visual enhancement devices. It was a rather amusing level of paranoia, but I couldn't help but feel they had gone a stage too far with deciding to fortify the entire goddamn country.

"God, I see what you mean about this bloody place," I whispered to Somoron, "seems it's a bloody nightmare."

"Aye, mate, sometimes I wonder where the capital of this bollocks Sector really is," the man spoke in a hushed voice as well, "Mexico City? Aye, bloody, right! Not when almost all government funding is poured into fortifying this place."

I nooded in agreement, as we walked down the militarised roads. Strangely there was almost no traffic. Only the occasional military vehicle rolled by.

As I looked around the streets and couldn't help but feel both myself and my comrade looked a little out of place. I'm pretty sure we were the only two people not in uniform. It was like a reflection of the train station. An eclectic mixture of off-duty soldiers still in kit, wandering around freely, and officers, who were out on patrol, outfitted with semi-automatic rifles. Occasionally we'd see a nurse in full dress, chatting with some of the soldiers, or a police officer in full blue uniform. These rare indivudals seemed to provide the only colour amongst the sea of khaki.

"So where you headed then?" Somoron suddenly asked me.

"Not sure. Probably home. Seems I wasted a lot of time and money coming here. I'd say the only redeeming feature of this whole trip was your ballsy company," I spoke in jest, although I was still quite bitter about Claude abandoning me here. And the chance of death still soured my temperament to a certain degree. Somehow, no thanks to that Quebcois piece of shit, I'd managed to survive my ordeal.

I guess it was luck that I managed to be placed next to such an opinionated man. One who actually carried a fair amount of power.

"Understandable, mate," he spoke solemnly, "I can imagine after the day you've had, you'd rather see the back of this goddamn Sector."

"Well, I guess this is it then," I stated plainly, holding out my hand to him.

He shook it firmly before smiling a rather broad grin, "Well, not quite yet, my friend. I'll get us a bite to eat and then I'll take you to the airport. I don't actually need to sign in to the Police Department here until the morning."

"Cheers, mate," I replied, with genuine gratitude.

We wandered down the street for a bit and found what looked like a restaurant. Unsurprisingly it was filled with servicemen.

I decided to let Somoron order the food, as he told me he knew which stuff was actually edible and which stuff was vile.

In the end we settled for a large meal of chicken, bacon and pasta. After a long day of travelling, I'll admit that I was rather hungry and, I was more than eager to tuck in to the plentiful platefuls of food when it finally arrived.

*

Location: Panama City (Airport)

Date: 14 MAR 2110

Local time: 1847

As the police car pulled in to the drop off point at the Nuevo Panama City Airport, I remained contently full of delicious food. Somoron had ordered well and I was glad that I had eaten before my flight.

As I exited the police car I noticed that Somoron had not immediately followed suit.

"Well, my Spanish friend, it would appear this is the end," he smiled warmly.

"I guess it is," I lamented slightly. I could sense the journey home would be a lot more dull without his amusing company.

"Just a sec'," Bruce exhaled, as he struggled out of his seat. He took another deep breath before standing up.

"Well?" I asked, rather bemused, with a hint of ironic sarcasm on my voice, "this isn't the point where you tell me you may as well accompany me on the flight home as well."

"Ha, ha!" he exclaimed in response, "if only. No, I just felt it would be more proper to say adieu in a less impersonal manner."

"Fair enough, comrade."

"Well then. It was a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Alejandro," the man spoke affectionately.

"Same to you, Bruce," I replied, "and thank you very much for the lift."

"No problem. I hope in the same situation you'd have had the balls to do the same thing for me," Somoron laughed.

It dawned on me that I likely would have. A careless error to make as an employee of the Vallarie Administration, but I guess I couldn't say no to such a genuinely friendly bloke. The fact he shared many of the same views as me just made things all the more amusing.

"Well, ever find yourself in Barcelona, I'll be on the look out," I lied as we shook hands. It would have been too unprofessional to have broken cover at this point.

"Safe travels my friend, and I hope you find the bollocks comrade of yours who sent you here," Bruce waved at me as he walked back to his car, "so that you can be sure to give him a good kick in the nuts from me."

I laughed at the notion. For right now I strongly desired to kick Claude so hard he'd never be able to father children.

Somoron entered the police car and slowly pulled away. It was rather sad to see him go. Regardless, I had more important things to attend to. Namely, getting home and catching up on several hours of missed sleep. Then, in the morning, aim to find an alternative benefactor.

That was the plan at least. But if there was anything my little escapade had taught me so far, was that I should expect massive divergences to any plans I make.

I walked up to the Euro Aeronautic desk and looked at the flights available.

Not a single goddamn plane was headed for Toulouse. The next available flights were all ones billeted for Paris.

I sighed. It would mean I would be forced to go to the capital and make my way home the long way. Either that, or waste even more money on a connecting flight to Toulouse.

It was annoying. I'd have to sacrifice time or money. At this stage, I didn't want to give up either. Being forced to fly to Paris was an extreme inconvenience.

Still, with no other options I sucked it up and walked up to the booking desk and bought my ticket.

Fifteen hundred US Dollars just for a single short notice flight. It was a bloody rip-off. This just provided another unwelcome expense that I noted down in my journal. Under the heading of "Money Claude Owes Me".

Quebecois son of a bitch.

Luckily the next flight was in 30 minutes, and I didn't need to check in any luggage. I wandered through the check-in gates, presented my ticket and was air-side in no time at all.

Customs were even more relaxed outgoing than they were when I entered the country. They stamped my passport without even checking my name. Frankly, I think they just didn't care.

Like the rest of Panama, I noticed that the Nuevo Panama City Airport was reinforced with armour plating, while conspicuously also serving as a military airbase. I noticed a few large aerial monstrosities on the horizon of the expansive airfields. If I were not mistaken, they were the great lumbering "wonderweapons" known as the Transporteaéreocosa. It was ridiculous to actually see them in the flesh.

Sadly, I couldn't stay long enough to observe them more thoroughly, as I had a flight to catch.

I wandered past the dynamic array of shops and restaurants that were spread along the air-side promenade like it was a bloody shopping mall. Capitalism out of hand once more. I sighed. It was starting to get tedious. More and more I couldn't wait to see the back of this awful land.

I approached the entrance to the gates and found the one my flight was due to depart from very quickly. I reached it 5 minutes before it was due to take-off. I'll admit, even for me, this was cutting things fine.

I boarded the plane with no hassle, handing over my ticket to be registered. It was a fairly standard Supersonic Jetliner, with reasonable seating arrangements. I found it was a relatively quiet plane. Which is not that surprising given the distinct lack of tourist opportunities Panama City offered. All I could see were businessmen and women, who all looked like they belonged to the governments of other Sectors. Many were likely high level diplomats and military advisors. I'm not entirely sure. I could only make an educated guess.

As I found my seat, I noticed the adjacent one was unoccupied. It felt somewhat empty without Somoron filling it. I took out my journal and started to write down the events that had befallen me this very tiring day. Waiting for the aircraft to take-off.

*

Location: Paris (International Airport)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 0230

The flight had been incredibly dull. After filling the journal I hadn't had much else to do. I was too paranoid to sleep without a familiar acquaintance watching my back.

Customs had proven to be uneventful. They checked by ID and I was on my way. Still, in time I would be back to my old job and my days international travel would soon be behind me. From now on it would be only be European, government endorsed criminality that I would indulge in. For I couldn't see how I was going to get the IWU off the ground at this rate. The VA seemed like the only option I had.

Rather depressed by the whole affair, I decided I could do with a drink. I noticed a rather nice bar and made my way to order a pint of real ale. Thankfully, this establishment served a large variety from Administrative Vallariale (which had a drunken hawk as the logo) to Euronation IPA' (which had the tagline of "trust us, it's not pish"). I was just glad they didn't serve Farceters. A cheap Australian beer that was sadly a common import amongst the Euro Zone. Ghastly stuff.

As I settled for a tall glass of Erdinger Weissbier, I decided to consider my options. The next available train was not until 0300. It would take me into the heart of Paris, where I would then need to get a train from there to Toulouse. My ETA would be almost 0600 after waiting for all of the services. I was sorely tempted to find a hotel and sleep on it.

It was then that a young man sat down next to me and asked me a question.

"What would you recommend, mate?" he asked in a strong East-Coast American accent, "I’ve never really got the point of these fancy European beers. A cold one’s a cold one, am I right?"

From the look of him he was in his late teens. I'd place that at about eighteen. It seemed rather odd that an American youth would be hanging around Paris International Airport at half two in the morning. His presence intrigued me.

"Try a pint of Vallariale," I replied amicably, "it's pretty decent stuff."

"Right, one Vallariale it is! Thanks for the tip, fella," he remarked, before calling over the bartender.

As he handed over his money and took the drink, he turned to face me with a bemused look on his face.

"That accent of yours. Sounds familiar, mate," he said, trying to strike up idle conversation, he took a sip from his beer, "and good shout on the pint. This stuff’s not bad."

"Well I’m pretty sure a French accent in France would sound pretty familiar, mate,"

"Nah, I mean you sound Quebecois. I should know; I have to deal with you buggers quite often. Have plenty of work here as well," he continued, "and believe you me, them Frenchies get really annoyed when I try talking to them in Quebecois."

"Very well placed. I take it you are from the East-Coast? Accent sounds rather distinguished. Maine, perhaps?" I asked, unwilling to be shown up by his own deduction.

"Wow, spot on, mate. So what brings you out to the capital of a failed state?" he joked.

"I work here," I glibly replied. I wasn't going to rise to the bait of my adopted homeland being called a failed state, no matter how true the allegations were.

"Mind me asking what you work in?" he asked, drinking down more of the pint.

"You ask a lot of questions, don't you?" I retorted.

"Well you see," he said, "in the kind of job I'm in, you don't ask enough questions; you could end up dead."

"Well the job I'm in tends to see nosy little piglets ending up on the wrong side of the butcher’s knife."

"Wow, easy there," he changed to a very defensive tone.

"Tell me. What exactly brings an eighteen year old high-school graduate, from Maine, to 'the capital of a failed state'?" I suddenly took a more sinister track in my questioning.

"Well, I, uh," he stumbled, "I'm just here on business."

"And What kind of business would that be, eh? Because there is one thing you should not take me for, and that is a fool," I spoke quickly in a hushed voice, putting down my drink before withdrawing my handgun and pressing it against the man's flank, "So don't you dare think for a second here, that I didn't see the piece you've got stashed under your shirt."

"E-easy there, mate. I'm j-just an honest mercenary trying to make a living," he whispered to me, "I just wanted a drink, that's all."

The barman gave me a funny look, as me and this other gentleman had leaned in rather close.

"What's wrong, you never seen two gay men flirting before?" I improvised. The barman suddenly turned his head away in shock.

I withdrew my gun and holstered it.

"Jesus Christ!" he quietly exclaimed, "never thought I'd wind up next to a bloody pro when I just wanted to get a cold one to tide me over. Jesus."

"It's nothing personal," I spoke calmly, "but I have a fair few enemies out there. I can never be too careful. Now, if you don't want to be leaving this airport in a body bag, I suggest you tell me who you are."

"Mitch Ochoa," the young man gulped, before downing the rest of his pint very quickly, "pleased to meet you."

Chapter 4 - Challenge

Location: Paris (International Airport)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 0240

"Okay, then, Mitch," I pondered, "please elaborate upon who you work for."

"U-uh, " he stammered, shakily placing down the empty pint glass, "that depends on the assignment."

"Well, I'll make this a little clearer for you," I barely managed through grated teeth," I would like you to detail all of the organisations you have worked assignments for over the last 12 months."

"U-understood," Ochoa replied meekly, "but I can't remember any. I'm just payed to deliver items and kill the occasional stiff."

"You're a kid in a man's game. Play it wrong, and you fuck up, you die," I spoke slowly again, before grabbing the gun from under the American teenager's shirt, in a swift, clean grab. I clicked the safety off and pressed the barrel against his flesh, "and if you don't start giving me names then we're going to find you've fucked up quite majorly."

Mitch gulped again, this was starting to become quite fun. I was inventing every warning and threat as I went a long, improvising as the situation demanded. Grabbing his own gun was just a logical choice.

"Event Horizon Security Cartel!" he shouted in a rather alarming manner, drawing the attention of a couple of other customers in the bar, "that's the security firm I work with."

"If you speak that loudly again, I'll give them a far more dramatic spectacle to gawk at," I spoke clearly as I applied more pressure to the gun.

"GHOST. U-um, Calypso Industries. Uh-uh. Ildano Corporation, Rhombus Corporation, " he spoke rapidly, "those are all of the ones I can remember."

"Good, now we are getting somewhere," I slyly pronounced, "I'm most curious about the first one you listed."

Of all the organisations he had listed, GHOST was the most intriguing. Trying to seek financial aid from the extremely capitalist Calypso Industries was just stupid. Ildano and Rhombus were both out. Failing companies that didn't seem to have much life left in them.

On the contrary, GHOST was a powerful globally recognised organisation. They had influential ties to several businesses, including Calypso Industries. Each of there members were enhanced by an unknown force that bestowed upon them elemental powers beyond even my own wildest imagination. As an institution reputed for being the "defenders of humanity", they were by far the most logical choice. I would ask them for help in recognising my vision of the future. A future free of classes, where the people would serve to protect one and other from society's ills.

"I've work for them a few times on field missions. Acquisition of people, weapons and resources. Whenever they feel more firepower is required," Mitch rattled off.

"Excellent, I do so wish to meet them," I replied, jovially, withdrawing the gun. I clicked on the safety and shoved it into a jacket pocket, "you can get your toy back after you've made that happen."

"B-but, I'm still waiting to be given an assignment by my superiors," he mumbled.

I scoffed at the thought, and laughed allowed, "A self-proclaimed mercenary with superiors? You're more contemptible than I thought."

"Well. I. but. " Ochoa stammered

"Nothing!" I interjected, slamming my fist on the counter, before speaking in a more hushed voice, "I am a client seeking to employ your services. I may have been a little aggressive in our negotiations, but I am prepared to pay you a handsome sum for aiding me."

"Well, when you put it that way, " Mitch smiled, looking a lot more relaxed.

"And the fact I am willing to return your firearm. Just see that as an added incentive," I mused. Having such power and control over the young man was exhilarating.

"I'll bring you to them. My fee is 50,000 dollars for these things, but for you, I'd give you a 10% discount," Ochoa now spoke more officiously, more like a businessman than a scared child.

"Actually, I'll pay you a solid million if you can pull this off without a hitch," I slyly remarked, "provided I leave our destination in exactly the same condition I entered it."

"So you want full security in and out of the country?" he coolly replied, "I think I can manage that."

I motioned to shake his hand, "then I believe we have a deal."

He reciprocated the gesture, just be before we exited the bar. Having left the establishment, we headed towards the booking desks.

Annoyingly, at this point, we were approached by a group of rabid peddlers. They were all dressed in red t-shirts and shorts, a bundle of pamphlets in each hand.

"Fuck," I said under my breath.

"Don't worry about it, I've got this covered," Mitch slyly smiled before walking up to them in an aggressive fashion.

He pulled out an ID card. I only managed a brief glimpsed but it looked very similar to the one carried by European Commonwealth law enforcement.

"I am here to inform you I am a Security Marshal of Paris International Airport," he spoke very confidently, "I must ask you to cease and desist your illegal protesting on European soil."

They suddenly looked genuinely panicked and fled rather quickly, particularly when he moved his hand down towards his leg. Even without his gun, this guy knew his act well.

I hate to say it, but I was rather impressed. He may have been a novice, but he sure had a fine set of balls on him. With obvious training and resources to boot.

"Now that's been settled, we should see about booking a flight to Cairo," Ochoa approached me, suspiciously friendly.

I started to wonder if the way he had behaved, before I mentioned I was an interested client, was just an act. One designed to make him look more vulnerable than he actually was, in order to throw people off guard. I guess it was a good thing I don't sympathise with those who act afraid. And, while his performance had been good, it was extremely sloppy of him to drop his guard so much that I was able to disarm him.

The kid definitely had potential, but I felt he still had a lot to learn.

"Yeah, I guess we should," I replied in a saccharin sweet manner, before picking up one of the pamphlets that had been dropped by the gang of peddlers.

THE FINAL PATRIOTIC OFFENSIVE!

I briefly glanced at the image upon the cover of the leaflet. A vibrant yellow star juxtaposed against a crimson red background. It was rather basic, probably as a means of keeping down printing costs.

Mitch signaled me over to the booking desk.

"So, that's two tickets to Cairo," he spoke jovially with the young woman, "I'll let my friend settle up and then we can see about getting a drink."

Ochoa winked at her suggestively and she giggled.

I sighed. More unprofessional conduct. I had a feeling that enduring this young man's company would be a great test of my patience and willpower.

I handed over the sixteen hundred I owed for the tickets.

I looked at the time of the flight he'd booked us and cursed. The bastard had put off our departure just to try it on with this dumb girl. Had I been a more impulsive, less reasonable, man I would have just shot the pair of them in the head, and left on my own.

Sadly I needed this joker's help. That, and I was well aware that drawing such attention to myself would be grossly careless of me. Regardless of the consequences, it was still incredibly tempting. I found myself subconsciously reaching for my gun at this point.

"Right, I'll catch up with you when we need to check-in, mate," Mitch smiled, as the young woman from the desk walked over to where he was standing, "If you need me, I'll be back at the bar."

I growled slightly, as the insufferable young man winked at me. I glared at him, as he waltzed off with his impressionable piece of eye-candy, I grabbed a copy of a free Euro Zone newspaper in disgust.

*

L'INFLUENCE DE L'ADMINISTRATION VALLARIE

Ces derniers temps, l'Administration Vallarie a mis plus de pression sur le gouvernement pour agir sur l'agression étrangère. Les Russe ont frappé profondément en territoire européen, ces derniers mois, avec des attaques contre les Pays-Bas et la Turquie. Ces deux pays ont depuis chuté dans le secteur II règle, en raison de l'inefficacité militaire la puissance de notre patrie.

Par conséquent, il est évident que dans ces moments difficiles nous avons besoin d'un leadership plus fort. Le meilleur candidat pour ce poste serait la VA, ce qui pourrait fournir le financement nécessaire et les ressources tactiques pour nos forces armées. Si notre gouvernement ne renforce pas dans les prochaines semaines, il semblerait tout espoir pour notre secteur est perdu. Nous moi aussi commencer à agiter des drapeaux de Russe et bienvenue dans notre nouvelle dictature suzerain, comme notre propre président est trop faible pour nous défendre contre la colère de tryants.

Stephanie Christelle et l'organisation sont beaucoup plus capable de gouverner un Sector.Unlike les imbéciles incompotent de la Corporation Ildano. Si elle est capable de prendre en charge, je peux le voir devenir un rempart contre le fascisme. Pourvu qu'elle peut injecter de l'argent dans notre économie et notre entraînement du bras militaire désespérée de désespérer.

Par conséquent, je crois que leur influence gouvernement est non seulement favorable mais nécessaire. Sans eux, nous allons beaucoup souffrir aux mains de la menace de Russe. L'Administration Vallarie peut nous offrir une protection et des armes. Avec eux, comme notre gouvernement, nous serions en mesure de reprendre notre place légitime en tant que superpuissance mondiale.

Je vous en conjure, les gens, à féliciter les actions de la VA. Si vous croyez en la force de notre zone de grande politique, alors vous devez monter à l'appui de l'organisation. Car, à ce moment même nous regarder dans les portes de l'oubli, et si aucune action n'est prennent alors nous sommes destinés à subir la colère de l'enfer.

Comme le VA prendre le pouvoir, il ne faut pas le considérer comme un coup d'Etat militaire, mais comme le début d'une nouvelle ère de liberté pour notre patrie glorieuse. Ne les craignez pas, accepter le fait qu'ils sont destinés à nous gouverner. Pour cette organisation sont la véritable élite du secteur IV, et ils cherchent à nous ramener dans la lumière divine des dieux.

L'aube d'une nouvelle ère est sur nous. Bientôt, les chaînes de l'oppression fasciste serai parti. Seule la vérité divine unique du capitalisme débridé attend pour notre peuple. Lorsque nous embrassons l'objectivisme il va permettre à notre économie de prospérer, une fois de plus. La fabrication de drogues, d'armes et de logiciels va créer de nouveaux emplois au prolétariat.

Seul bon ne peut venir de l'influence de la VA, car ils cherchent à construire une Europe unie qui peuvent opposer les nations agressives du monde et de reprendre tout ce qui nous revient de droit. Bien que nous puissions ne pas approuver de leurs actions immorales, sûrement il serait stupide de nous de ne pas profiter de la richesse monétaire qu'ils peuvent fournir pour notre secteur en difficulté. Ils ont le pouvoir de sauver cet état a échoué et rendre la nation la plus puissante la planète ait jamais vu.

Jaques Sauvageot, Analyste Politique

*

Location: Cairo (International Airport)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 0940

"I'm tellin' ya, the chick sure was worth it!" Mitch spoke with a light tone to his voice, as we left the arrivals lounge, "Just wow. That body. "

"Mr Ochoa, you have repeated this sentiment at least twenty-eight times already," I growled.

"Jeeze, lighten up, I've not gone on about it," he spoke with a slight amount of irritation in his voice.

"Actually, that is exactly what you have done. From when I rendezvoused with you at the check-in desk, an extremely smug grin on your face, and throughout that bloody flight, you've hardly mentioned anything else," I snapped.

"Well, wait. No, I definitely remember something about GHOST," Ochoa replied, slightly disorientated.

"Oh yes, I recall you mentioned them once when I was trying to read my newspaper. It started off well, as you explained how you had come into their employ, but it quickly descended into your obsession with the Guardian of Water's physique. In particular her legs and her breasts," I sighed.

"Well, come on, Olia Silveira is a total babe," the young man continued.

"I'm sorry, but I just don't understand your fixation," I interjected.

He looked at me, slight annoyed and spoke, "Seriously, man, it's just banter. Lighten up."

"I'll lighten up the moment you stop acting so goddamn unprofessionally. Perhaps, if you could just keep your cock in your trousers while on official duty, I would be in a slightly better mood with you," I turned to face him as we reached the exit, "Right now I'm tired and easily irritable. Thinking with your penis caused me a four hour delay in getting here. In that time I could have just gone home and gone to sleep."

"Well, look, mate. " Mitch suddenly looked very remorseful, "I didn't know. I'm sorry if I've caused you any trouble."

"You need to remember exactly who your fucking employer is." I spoke sharply and quickly, "because if you balls this up I'll make sure you pay in blood."

He gulped slightly, before making a smart-arsed quip "Ugh. Listen. One thing I don't get. If you found me so insufferable why did you not just go home?"

I glared at him and grabbed him by the arm, forcing him out of the building.

"I'm putting up with your nonsense because I thought I'd found a professional who could get the job done. Not some insolent little boy who'll likely be dead before the end of the month," I spoke very calmly and quietly, as a I withdrew a knife and placed it against his torso, "I've seen real war. I've tortured more than my fair share of soldiers. And I know how to kill men in some of the most sadistic ways imaginable. So, if you continue to make mistakes, you may find I'm the reason you don't see the sunset."

"Right. O-of course, sir." he stammered, clearly quite shaken.

At that point I quickly withdrew the tactical knife and sheathed it, before slapping him on the back, "Nah, I'm just messin' with you, mate! All's fun in a bit of banter."

I laughed like a jackal at the sheer look of terror on his face.

Mitch just stood there in a stunned silence. His mouth hanging open in disbelief.

"I-I."

"Yes?"

"Y-you utter bastard!" the kid shouted

"I thought you wanted some banter," I smiled, "anyway, now that's behind us I'm curious about how long you've been out on the field."

"I-Uh. Wait. What?" Mitch questioned, still looking quite shaken.

"You heard me. How long have you been working as a hired gun?" I smirked.

"About three months," he confessed.

"I figured. While your training's solid, you definitely lack proper field discipline and experience," I blathered on, "quite evident by: dropping your guard too much that you were able to be disarmed; being pressured into disclosing classified information; sexual conquest of a woman while on duty; postponing an assignment to pursue said conquest; and lastly, being easily frightened by fabricated threats."

"Well. I am. Wait, are you critically evaluating my performance?" Ochoa looked at me with a puzzled expression as we walked down the street.

"Of course I am, I need to be sure you're worth the money I am investing in you. So far you have been fairly sub-par. I'm thinking about only giving you 100,000 at the moment. While charging you for expenses," I smugly remarked.

"Hold on a minute. I gave up a 200,000 dollar assignment for this," he protested insolently, like a child deprived of their reward.

"That isn't my problem," I bluntly stated, "I was employing the man who had connections to multiple organisations, was able to impersonate security staff and who knew how to get weapons past customs. Not a little boy who wanted to play dangerous spy so that he could impress the ladies and get laid."

"So this is all because I went off to have sex?" Mitch sighed.

"I'm glad you've finally realised that," I smiled.

"Fuck's sake, this is just because you're jealous? Yeah?" he tried to argue.

I laughed at the personal slight he'd attempted to make.

"Please, oh God, please," I barely managed, "my sides. I can hardly breathe."

"What's so fucking funny?"

"The idea of me, of all people, being jealous," I laughed again.

"Wait. What are you? Gay or something?" Mitch became very defensive.

"Far from it my friend, let's just leave it at that" I grinned, "Anyway, I'm growing tired of winding you up, so let's just agree that I'll pay you in full if you promise to stop being such an insolent little prat."

"I can see that as being beneficial to both of us," he coolly replied, in the businesslike fashion he'd previously demonstrated back in Paris.

"Now, I do believe GHOST Headquarters isn't far from here. So I guess we should get a move on," I teased, before slapping him on the back again.

*

Location: Cairo (GHOST Headquarters)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 1015

"So, how are we going to go about this?" I gleefully asked allowed, hiding the anxiety that had built up after seeing the fortified nature of the building ahead of us. GHOST's Guardian Tower.

"Well, it's fairly early in the day. " Mitch mused, "so I reckon we should just make an appointment at reception."

"You make it sound so easy," I scoffed, "and I take it those armed guards will just let us waltz through? Un-bloody-likely."

"Please, sir. Could you relax," Ochoa calmly stated, "I’ve got this."

He withdrew the small rectangular piece of plastic and handed it to me.

Mitch Ochoa  GHOST Informant

I panicked suddenly. And he clearly picked up on the fear that had spread across my face, "God you’re a jumpy one. It’s only a cover. I provide fuck all reliable information and I would never sell out an employer."

"So you’re just going to try and bluff your way through this?" I asked.

"Yeah, something like that," he said, "just follow my lead and we should be fine."

I glanced at him before he motioned for us to walk up to the doorway of GHOST Headquarters. The magnificent white metal building gleamed in the African sun.

Two armed guards walked up to us. Each one wore standard issue GHOST Uniforms. Grey and red rank slides were visible on their shoulders.

"Identification, please." the smaller of the two men asked.

"I am Mitch Ochoa, an Agent of GHOST employ," my associate spoke brazenly, displaying his card, "and this is my charge, Thomas McKenzie, who has vital information related to the Euro Zone that must be relayed to the Commander of GHOST directly."

The other guard snatched up the ID card and scanned it with a device attached to his wrist. It beeped before displaying a green light.

"Everything looks in order," the taller soldier remarked, "but I must inform you that Commander Anderson is indisposed at this time."

"That is not a problem, I'm sure he'll feel much better when he sees an old friend," Mitch continued, finishing the sentence with a smile.

We walked through the doors and into the grand building. It was absolutely massive on the inside. It appeared as though the place was largely dead. The entire hall was completely empty, including the circular reception desk that was positioned directly in the centre.

"Just what the fuck is a Thomas McKenzie supposed to be?" I hissed after the sliding doors closed.

"Well you look like a Thomas," my compatriot whispered, "and my grandpa’s Irish."

I started laughing at the thought of it, "You really are something else Mitch, you know that?"

"Well you could have just told me your name instead of putting me on the spot like that."

"I’m Thomas McKenzie," I said, "as far as you are concerned anyway."

"Fine, be that way. Thomas," he smirked.

"So where’s this grand welcome I was promised, eh?" I quipped.

"We could always come back later," Mitch said.

"No, it has to be now. I'm on a very tight schedule."

The pair of us wandered around aimlessly; taking note of the positions of each of the CCTV cameras doted around the structure, before seeing a lift.

"As far as I can remember, the command room is located on the top floor and the armoury on level 2."

"So I take it we're going straight to the armoury?" I asked.

"Oh yes, of course! That's far more logical than going to the command room."

"Well, they could be involved in recreational activities. I mean, it's a Saturday and this is a very large building. I'm sure we'll need to be more thorough," I considered.

"It would be a tad awkward if they were all away for the day, " Mitch trailed off before checking his watch, "well, it's half-ten and there is usually a briefing at eleven o'clock in the morning. So the command room is probably our best bet. Or are you so impatient that you can't wait thirty minutes?"

"Well, better than nothing," I spoke, rather deflated, "may as well check out the command room."

We entered the lift and pressed the button for the top floor.

"Never been here on a Saturday before," Mitch remarked.

"Really?"

"My assignments for GHOST always take place on weekdays. Normally I get the weekend off."

"Is that so? Well I'm sorry that one million dollars doesn't cover the cost of your precious free time."

"That's not what I mean, Mr. McKenzie. I just felt the need to break the silence."

"Oh for the love of God, we're having small talk in a lift."

"It would seem that way."

"Then the apocalypse is already here."

Thankfully, at that moment, the lift doors opened and we stepped out onto the top floor. The roof was made of glass and the morning sun struck it in a majestic manner. It was surprisingly cool for what should have been as hot as a glasshouse.

From up hear the sounds of the city were dimmed; which is why both of us found our attention drawn almost instantly to a peculiar moaning sound that could only be emanating from this floor. It sounded like someone was in pain. Concerned, we moved down the hall to where Mitch had discerned the command room was located. The outbursts grew even louder as we made our approach and I raised my gun.

"Command room?" I questioned, looking at my employee with the utmost suspicion, "sounds more like a bloody torture chamber."

"Bloody hell," Mitch squeaked, clearly distressed by the thought.

"Are you sure this is the right floor?" I glared at him.

"Positive, unless GHOST have branched out into torture in my absence," he tried to joke, but an undertone of fear remained within his voice.

There was an extremely vocal outburst from the other end of the corridor followed by an even more intense scream that permeated the air.

"Right, we've got to intervene," I spoke rationally, "we can't let people be tortured like this."

Mitch nodded.

However, as we approached the doorway we found a GHOST Officer blocking our path.

"I'm sorry, but there is to be no unauthorised access to the Command Room," he clearly stated, "for the Commander is currently indisposed."

"Indisposed!" I yelled, my gun pointed at the man's kneecaps "sounds to me like he's bloody well dying!"

"Please, sir, we can't have you entering this room," he spoke defensively, "if you put down the gun now then we will pretend this never happened."

Like Hell, that was happening. I unloaded a shot into his right kneecap and he fell to the ground.

Mitch ran up to the door and kicked it down before stopping in stunned silence.

I slowly, cautiously, entered before seeing a sight that would haunt me for the rest of my life.

A young woman who was holding her body upon the briefing table with both palms, arms outstretched, legs splayed apart and mini-skirt forced up to her stomach. At a second glance I realised that she was also topless.

Standing behind her, hastily tucking his shirt into his pants was a very angry looking man with a semi-automatic handgun in his left hand. My eyes were drawn to the coat that lay upon the floor, in particular the grey and blue rank bars affixed to the shoulders.

Chapter 5 - Litany

Location: Cairo (GHOST Headquarters)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 1200

"Are you an animal?" Mitch questioned.

"No," I sighed.

"Are you a person?" he asked again.

"Yes," I replied.

"Are you a massive dick who locked us up for spurious reasons?" Ochoa laughed.

"Yes," I smirked

"Got it! Must be Admint Toll," he exclaimed.

We both suddenly laughed . The guard watching the cell just looked at us with an extremely confused expression.

We'd been playing this game for the best part of an hour, partly to pass the time but mostly to mess with the poor fellow tasked with keeping watch over us in the holding cell. It had been particularly amusing when we managed to convince the corporal that Mitch had smuggled a gun past security and that it was currently sitting comfortably up his anus.

The proceeding strip search was hysterical, particularly when Mitch started crying out (extremely loudly) that he was being molested. I hated to admit it, but Mitch was actually fairly good company when the alternative was deathly boredom.

He suddenly started talking very loudly again, "Do they realise we could easily use our powers to escape?"

We'd been playing this line quite often, claiming to possess various elements. I was unsure if Ochoa was serious or not about possessing a power. I knew I had avoided claiming to be a Light Elemental on purpose.

"I don't think they do," I spoke at a considerably high volume, "good thing they don't know that we're both Time Elementals."

"I know, right?" Mitch laughed, "if they realised that then they would be more careful about our holding conditions."

"Precisely, we've already escaped numerous times and systematically killed the loved ones of every single GHOST member."

"It would be terrible if they realised that."

The guard looked slightly panicked.

"It was so satisfying to strangle the children to death, as they begged for their daddy to come home," I menacingly stared at the Guard.

"RIGHT! THAT'S QUITE ENOUGH! BOTH OF YOU CAN SHUT THE FU-" suddenly he stopped making a sound. His mouth kept moving but I couldn't hear anything.

"Don't be so rude," Mitch spoke patronisingly, "men are talking here. I'm sorry, but your speaking privileges have been suspended until you can learn not to interrupt your betters."

The man reached for his gun, mouthing threats at us that were not audible.

"Mitch, he looks rather angry," I whispered, "I'm not sure goading him this severely is a good idea."

At that point, Mitch casually stretched his hand out in front of them. There was an incredibly loud bang before the man fell back, knocked off balance by an invisible force.

"Pretty simple really," Ochoa chortled, "a nice sonic boom to knock him off his feet."

"Bloody hell!" I exclaimed, "for a moment there, I thought you'd been shot."

At that moment, the door leading to the cells burst open. Six individuals stepped out from the entrance way. Each one was holding a handgun.

A blonde man, grey and pale green rank slides upon his shoulder, moved over to the guard that Mitch had toppled. He helped the guard to his feet, as Mitch and I raised our arms into the air.

"Dismissed, corporal," the blonde man spoke officiously.

"Yes, Deputy Commander Lysander," he stated, before marching out of the room, his dignity long since departed.

I assumed the six people glaring at me were the current Guardians of GHOST.

"Wearing clothes suits you, Miss Silveira," Mitch laughed, giving a short, ironic bow.

Almost immediately after finishing his gesture, a bullet flew past his shoulder. The shot had originated from the young woman I had seen earlier in the day. Her long brown hair was now tied back, instead of flowing freely over her face, and she wore full military dress. She stared at Mitch with piercing brown eyes, "I don't miss twice," were the words that left her scarlet lips.

I quickly changed my demeanour, and straightened my jacket.

"Commander Anderson, Guardian of Earth, sir," I spoke carefully, "I must apologise for the earlier intrusion. All of my actions were undertaken in good faith."

"So I have come to understand," Damien narrowed his eyes as he talked, "Captain Dalton has reviewed the CCTV footage extensively and reconstructed your vocal patterns."

The commander was handed a data slate by a bald African man, who I could only assume was Dalton, "Apparently, you genuinely believed I was in distress and were acting to save me from torture."

"Yes," I nodded.

"Apparently," he glared again.

"We honestly didn't know what was going on," Mitch added, "normally I have people here to meet me."

"That's because this is a bloody SATURDAY, Ochoa," Damien yelled, "I NEVER have to deal with you during the weekends."

"Sir, Mitch Ochoa has been acting under good faith since he found me," I improvised, "he brought me here to relay vital information pertaining to the whereabouts of wanted terrorist Claude Lasi-Faité and the threat he poses to my homeland."

"Lieutenant Dejanović!" Damien shouted, "cuff them and force the prisoners onto their knees."

"Yes, sir," the tall, muscular, Serbian, responded. He opened the door to the holding cell before moving over to where I was standing, dragged my arms behind my back and slapped a pair of rigid handcuffs onto my wrists. After completing the action, he kicked me to the ground.

I noticed Mitch had already knelt down and has his arms prepared to be restrained. Notably, the Serbian still kicked the mercenary to the ground before spitting on him.

"Now that's just plain rude," Mitch protested, "this suit is dry clean only."

The black haired man stared at him, before igniting the air around his hand. He prepared to punch my American comrade.

"That's enough, Zalmon!" the other female member of the group protested, "I order you to stop."

He ignored the order and completed his strike against Mitch's stomach. I winced as I saw heard my comrade scream in agony.

"Do as Major Engel commands!" the Deputy Commander bellowed, "Ochoa is no use to us dead."

The Serbian extinguished his flames before walking towards the rest of the Guardians.

Anderson and the blonde haired man walked towards us. Damien knelt down so that he was eye-level with me.

"You will tell me everything you know about Claude," Damien spoke very calmly, "or I'll see to it that you are both thrown from the top of this building."

"He contacted me four days ago," I confessed, "and tried to arrange a meeting with me."

"So you're working for him, eh?" the Commander questioned, before bringing his hand to my throat.

"No!" I exclaimed, "the terrorist just seems to have a fixation with me."

"Of course, that's exactly what I'd expect to hear from one of Claude's spies," he spoke gravely, tightening his grip.

"You've got to believe me, both times he arranged to meet up he never showed," I rapidly spoke, fearing for my life, "he dragged me out to Quebec before leading me on a wild goose chase through Central America."

"Is that so?" the well built, African-American, man spoke. The New Yorker twang in his voice sounding more pronounced.

"I fear he's up to something big," I continued to bullshit, "that's why I came to you. I may have a solution."

Damien just started laughing.

"Why would I believe a word you said?" Anderson scoffed.

"Because with my help we, you. All of us will be more powerful than before," I invented.

"Help from a child and his dog, I don't buy any of this," the Commander laughed again, "and even if I were to believe you, I would have no use for such vague intelligence."

"But I could help you trap him!" I protested.

"That is in fact a possibility," the one identified as Dalton spoke, "this man could provide a means."

"Excellent point, Mathieu," Damien spoke, a sinister tone to his voice, "Major Engel, get Mitch out of here. The boy's done no real harm and we can usually find use for his services. Captain Dalton, you can escort her as additional security."

"Understood, Commander," the older of the two women answered.

Engel walked into the cell and grabbed Ochoa by his handcuffs, "up you get," she spoke in a soft, caring voice.

Mitch growled slightly before standing up from his kneeling position.

Damien locked eyes with him as he was marched out of the holding cells by the two senior Guardians, "If you want to keep your job, never appear in our headquarters ever again!"

Ochoa nodded, looking utterly deflated. He brought his fist to his chest and slammed it against it, before winking at me. A brief smile brought itself to my lips.

"Please do tell me what you find so amusing, Mr?" Lysander queried, "McKenzie was it? If that's your real name, of course."

"Nothing," I snapped, "and as far as you are concerned my name is Agent 01."

It had been a quick decision. I had to play hardball or I'd never get the right opportunity to strike.

Damien came over and punched me in the face.

"You're making a mistake!" I roared, "together we could have saved the world, but this rift will only serve to destroy it!"

*

Location: Cairo (GHOST Headquarters)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 1300

"Now, I'm going to ask you again. This time I want to hear the right answer," Damien spoke calmly, "Where is Claude Lasi-Faité?"

I struggled to manage another response. My face was in agony. My right arm was burnt in several places and my left arm been frozen so frequently it was now numb to the touch. Worst of all, my hands had been perforated by shards of rock as I'd been forced to the ground. Blood seeped from the spikes that now rooted me to the ground.

"I don't know!" I scarcely breathed, fighting back the pain.

Zalmon approached me again and kicked me in the stomach.

"Please, Mr McKenzie," the smug Guardian of Fire spoke venomously, a cigarette in his mouth, "just tell us the last known location of Claude and we'll let you be on your way."

"I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!" I screamed in a mix of frustration and agony, "I KEEP TELLING YOU THIS, BUT YOU DON'T SEEM TO BE LISTENING!"

"Wrong answer," Olia Silveira spat on me, before kicking me in the face.

"I TOLD YOU! THE LAST PLACES HE COULD HAVE BEEN WERE CANADA AND MEXICO! BOTH OF THOSE COUNTRIES ARE FUCKING MASSIVE!" I yelled, overcome with a pain induced rage.

"Kenneth, hit him again with another burst, this time make sure it leaves a permanent scar," Damien sighed.

"Why of course," the Guardian of Ice sadistically smiled.

Suddenly the door burst open. And there stood a sight I never thought I'd wish to see.

Mitch Ochoa, head to toe in combat gear. Armed with two sub-machine guns, a multitude of firearms strapped to his body, and a katana affixed to his back.

"Hands in the air, motherfuckers," he ordered, before spitting on the ground.

At this statement I decided now was the opportunity to escape. I focused my powers and burst free from the handcuffs, propelling myself off of the ground with a blast of concentrated light that emanated from my palms.

"Light Elemental!" Damien roared.

"Here in the flesh," I crowed, before punching the bastard in the face, "I'll be sure you pay for the grievous insult you have brought upon me and-"

"THOMAS! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET MOVING!" Mitch shouted, before throwing me one of the machine guns.

I barely managed to catch the weapon before I broke out into a sprint. My hands were in agony and the cold metal of the firearm stung against the wounds on my palms.

Thankfully, I made it to the door, just before Mitch slammed it shut. As I took a moment to catch my breath he discharged several rounds into what looked like a keypad.

"Well don't just stand there," he rapidly spoke, "RUN!"

I forced myself into another sprint, my hands now burning with sensation. Mainly pain.

"Ju-st. How. Did. You. Man-age. This?" I spluttered.

"Don't you remember? Armoury's on the 2nd Floor!" Ochoa exclaimed, as we ran down the corridor, "after I was escorted out into the main foyer, it was a simple affair of exuding a deafening sound before running off to arm myself."

"I seeeeee, ah fuck!" I winced, as blood met the icy metallic surface, "why, why did you come back?"

"One thing the army taught me was that I should never leave a man behind," Mitch beamed at me, before finishing the sentiment on a slightly more materialistic note, "and I didn't want to botch my first million dollar job, now did I?"

He gave a rather cheeky wink after closing his mouth. If I had had the energy to laugh, I would have. Sadly I was too preoccupied with running away from my potential allies turned captors.

As we reached the fork in the corridor that lead to the lifts and the stairs, a pair of armed guards appeared by the doors. Before I could even pull the trigger, Mitch had already shot them dead with short bursts from his sub-machine gun. Their lifeless corpses slumping to the floor in an ungraceful manner.

"We can pay our respects for the dead later, we need to get to the stairs! Lift is no longer a viable option," he shouted, pointing his gun at the flashing red lights above the doors that lead to the lift.

"Just. Where. The. Hell. Are. We?"

"Basement, so we're going to have to keep sprinting."

At that moment I heard a loud bang behind us.

"Quickly," Mitch bellowed, "get into cover."

The four Guardians had clearly broken free from their impromptu prison and seemed to be out for blood.

As we dived into the doors leading to the stairwell, I could hear them discharging a vast quantity of bullets down the hallway. In particular it was the sound they made as they ricocheted off of the walls that drew my attention.

Mitch withdrew the katana strapped to his back and shoved it through the handles of the doors.

"That should buy us a bit more time," he panted, "but we still need to keep running."

"Oh, for the love of... " I trailed off, before dropping my gun. I couldn't physically carry it anymore as my hands were soaked in blood and the pain was too unbearable. However, I tried to pick it up again, as I didn't want to be unarmed.

"Come on!" Ochoa ordered in a slightly petulant tone, "just leave the goddamn gun."

I leaped up once more before managing another burst of speed towards the stairs. We sprinted up the spiral staircase as quickly as our bodies would allow, exiting it in the same hallway we had previously arrived through.

However, unlike how it had been several hours beforehand, the place was packed with civilians and guards.

"Fuck!" Mitch exclaimed, "I didn't factor this in."

"At least the alarms haven't been triggered."

"True," he quipped, before looking for an exit strategy.

"We're just going to need to act cool," I suggested, tucking my bloodied hands into my worn trousers, "so you'll need to drop the guns."

"But then I'll be unarmed," he protested, before considering for a brief moment the fact that both of our lives were at steak, "fine, but I'm keeping us a pair of pistols."

The American dropped the firearms out in the stairwell, before tucking two black handguns into his trousers.

"Now, we need to get a move on, walking slowly but purposefully," I told him, "and whatever you do, for the love of God, don't look back."

We left the relative safety of the stairwell before entering the large swathes of people. Both of us split up, taking separate to a shared destination. We made sure to keep our heads at eye level, while striding purposefully towards our goal. Except for the occasional stare or gasp, the writhing masses didn't seem to care enough about our apparel to alert security.

To my relief, we managed reach the exit of the building unchallenged. Yet, I could hear screams suddenly emerge from the foyer just before we reached the doorway we had entered more than three hours ago.

Ignoring the actions of our pursuers, we kept walking, until the two guards we had encountered on our journey in forced themselves in front of us.

Mitch was about to fire only a fraction of a second before I targeted them both with extremely concentrated beams of light energy. The laser like qualities of my elemental beam burned through flesh and bone alike, punching a clear hole through both of their chest. I collapsed suddenly after the outburst, the blood loss likely more severe than I had anticipated.

At that moment Mitch offered me a hand and dragged me up.

"Not on my watch," he remarked, before pulling me out of the building.

As we left the building, almost blinded by the afternoon sun, I knew that would not be the last I saw of this 'GHOST'. I would form my own organisation prioritised with the military application of powerful elementals. And then I would crush those who would dare subject me to such torturous humiliation.

Mitch dragged me along to the road, where he immediately pulled a gun upon the first car to stop.

"Get out of the fucking car or your brains will find themselves decorating it," he aggressively threatened.

The poor Arab man leaped out of the vehicle, clearly scared for his life, before Mitch forced me into the passenger seat.

He ran round to the other side and took the wheel of the car, just as the Guardians exited their Headquarters.

"DRIVE! DRIVE! DRIVE!" I yelled, failing to realise that we were already pulling away off into the urban sprawl of Cairo.

*

Location: Cairo (International Airport)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 1400

"Stop struggling," Mitch ordered, "just let me do my job."

"I could do this myself," I moaned.

"Not with both of your hands mangled like that," he glared at me.

"It's not that bad, I can still grip things quite tightly," I winced.

"That may be so, but there would be a greater chance of infection," Ochoa spoke sternly, "and I had months of practice doing this in the army."

"I just feel like it's a job I should be doing on my own, without someone helping me," I grunted as the sensation was rather distressing.

"You can't risk it, no matter how skilled you may be," he countered.

"Ah!" I exclaimed, "doesn't half sting though."

"For fuck's sake, Mr. McKenzie, I'm trying to carefully apply these bandages," Mitch snapped, slightly annoyed, "stop protesting."

"B-but, doctor," I feebly coughed, "this could be a matter of life or death."

"Very funny, mate," he smirked, "but I need to fix these in place. Just give me a second."

I looked out of the window of the car and examined the underground car park we had come to be situated in. It was rather dull and squalid.

"Fuck!" I exclaimed, suddenly.

"Sorry, mate," Mitch apologised, "but I needed to apply more pressure. Your hands need to be well dressed if they're going to heal properly."

"Look, it's fine," I argued back, "I'll be fine once I get back to my homeland. I can have specialist doctors treat this."

"If I hadn't been careful, it could have become infected before you even made it back," he spoke authoritatively, in a manner that reminded me of my old Vallarian Sergeant

"Yes," I admitted, "I was only messing with you, mate, I appreciate everything you have done."

"How are the dressings on your arms holding up?" he inquired.

"They seem rather good," I spoke clearly, "no complaints. Just where the hell did you learn this stuff? You mentioned the army, yeah?"

"What's it to you?" Mitch responded, suddenly rather hostile, "I'm just a dumb high school graduate from Maine, yeah."

"The tattoo on your neck," I mused, having narrowed my eyes towards my acquaintance, "old American Alliance logo. The very same one used by the United States Military. "

"So, what of it. Lot's of people have tattoos," he snapped again, before placing down my bandaged hands, "you don't know me and don't ever think to pretend you can."

"Look mate, I know what it's like," I told him in hushed whispers, before showing him a small tattoo of my own that I had on my shoulder. That of a small bird of prey, "I've seen war. I know what it does to people."

"Holy fuck!" Ochoa exclaimed, "you're bloody VA!"

"I did the same as you," I confessed, trying to reassure the young man as I knew he was no use to me in this state, "enlisted young."

"Fucking hell," Ochoa gasped open mouthed, "but as VA, surely you've seen the worst war can offer. Bloody PER insurgents. Chinese espionage. Not to mention, the Russians."

"I'll admit there were times when I looked upon our race with disgust," I spoke solemnly, "as I watched misguided fools commit terrible deeds in the name of an even more deplorable cause."

"How an earth do you cope?" he asked, with genuine curiosity.

"By trying to envisage a better future, one where the people are the voice of power and reason, not the corporations that rule the world," I zealously pronounced, "whether it be a sixteen year old boy forced to fight for the freedom of America or a brainwashed slave of the Dictator, I hope that one day we can end such exploitation."

"I'd support a guy with such vision," Mitch spoke rather proudly, more confident than he had been before my little speech, "I can only wish you well in those endeavours. However, we need to get going before GHOST figure out we were headed to the airport."

"Good point," I replied.

"Here, take this," he demanded, before passing over a peculiar jacket, "I took from the armoury."

"A GHOST jacket?" I exclaimed, rather confused by the gift.

"Well, I was going to keep it for impersonating GHOST officials, but looking at the state of your arms, " he trailed off, "I felt it would be useful for drawing less attention to them."

"Okay, then?" I was still puzzled.

"Plus, you can use it to impersonate GHOST and possibly even get a free flight out of it," Mitch rattled on.

"Oh, yes, I see."

"Now, we best be going."

The pair of us exited the car and Mitch locked it.

While the walk to the terminal building was uneventful as we decided to remain silent so that we could remain more alert, I was in constant pain the whole time.

However, what we found at the terminal building made my heart sank. A full detachment of GHOST soldiers. Headed up by none other than Damien Anderson.

Thankfully, they had not spotted us.

"I have a plan," were the first thing I heard Mitch say in response to evaluating the situation, "but it means we'll need to split up."

"What is it?"

"It basically involves you making your way to the terminal while I act as live bait to aid your escape. I promised I'd get you out of the Sector and I don't get paid if I fail to uphold that part of our agreement," he rabbited on, seemingly quite terrified, as he gave me a phone and a piece of card with a contact number on it, "and this is probably the biggest gamble of my life. And I swear to God, if you fail to pay me after this, I'll hunt you down and kill you myself."

"Don't worry, Mitch," I tried to reassure him, "I'll wire you the cash as soon as I get back home!"

Mitch walked back towards the car park and I waited with baited breath as I tried to anticipate what he'd do next. Part of me expected him to just ditch me if he deemed this situation above his pay grade. A mercenary can only be trusted to be loyal to his money. I kept my head down and prayed to Zoroaster that I was wrong.

What happened next blew my expectations out of the water. The car we had stolen moved into view as Mitch drove up the road that ran perpendicular to the terminal entrance. It suddenly started accelerating as it approached the GHOST personnel. They all dove out of the way and angry shouting filled the air. I watched in disbelief as the entire detachment gave chase. Damien Anderson included.

That magnificent bastard had kept his word. I made a mental note to recruit Mitch Ochoa at the nearest available convenience.

I'd like to say my efforts in leaving the country beyond this point were fraught with peril, but in reality it was all fairly routine as I booked the next available flight. I felt it would have been unwise to stick around and wait for a direct flight to Paris while a paramilitary organisation was after my head and thus settled on taking a detour to New Delhi. Check-in was mildly annoying but I managed to bribe my way past a thorough security checkpoint in order to hasten along the process. In hindsight this was probably a bad idea but at the time I was just trying to put as much distance between me and the crazed commander of GHOST.

By the time I sat down in the comfy first class chair of the jetliner I decided it was time for some well earned rest and I guess I must have fallen asleep.

*

CALYPSO INDUSTRIES: AN EMPIRE OF OIL

A key sight amongst the global market is a massive corporate nightmare, known commonly to us all by the name of Calypso Industries. The expansive corporation has it's pincers nipping at every corner of the planet, wearing down local businesses and replacing them with their own puppet organisations. If one were to fight against Calypso Industries, it would not be trying to fend of invaders but more akin attempting to remove an ingrained occupation force from one's Sector.

Here, in the Democratic Republic of Africa, we of course have no chance in hell of them being removed, unless asteroids systematically levelled the homes of every bloody board member who ran the company before managing to destroy their headquarters in Cairo. I doubt the great behemoth would even suffer that greatly from such an event occurring, losing a few legs maybe so that the grip it had on foreign powers lessened, but they would eventually regenerate.

As long as they remain the world's primary manufacturer of Biofuels, with an exclusive monopoly over the market, then they will never be destroyed. Foreign dependence allows them to set the rules however they see fit, essentially acting as the world's drug dealer. We're addicted to convenient fuels, and our benevolent Calypso Industries are more than happy to ease that addiction at a premium.

While lazy scientists seem to occasionally make the odd breakthrough in compact fission generators and harnessing natural energy becomes slightly more feasible, there is a greater chance of man walking on the sun than there is the internal combustion engine being left for scrap. We just can't help it. Stupid, lazy, uninspired humans who spend all day working meaningless jobs, having meaningless sex and spawning more unwanted children, don't want to make lifestyle changes that would prevent Calypso Industries from wielding such power.

Of course, what do these idiots then do? They moan and complain about biofuel prices, whinging about how their government should aim to please Calypso Industries more. All this in the hope that they can get a marginal discount that would possibly allow them to buy one more meal a year. This is exactly why Calypso Industries maintains a stable position of power. Not a single Sector lives free from their influence as they cannot manufacture fuel on the same level.

Some, more creative nations, have tried to solve the problem by using less Biofuel. While Russia may maintain control of several oil wells, even they are forced to subsidize it with with Biofuel, which means Calypso Industries have started to struggle politically within the region. Yet, while Russia continues to use Biofuels at all, they will forever remain clamped by the scorpion's claw.

Only a fool would believe that each country within a Sector is independent, yet many still live under the great delusion that each Sector is a legitimate sovereign state. While Calypso Industries are calling the shots, this is no more true than the notion that a man could cut off his own head and still remain alive. People need to realise that Calypso Industries are the true masters of the human race and that not a single oppressive corporation, such as the ones that rule the other eleven sectors of the world, can afford to stand up to them.

Jonathon Kilev, International Affairs

Chapter 6 - In Light Of Day

Location: New Delhi (International Airport)

Date: 15 MAR 2110

Local time: 2121

I jolted upright as I found myself waking up. A newspaper was laying over me, almost like a cover. The first thing I did was check my person for valuables.

Phone. Passport. Wallet.

"Fuck," I sighed under my breath, I realised my knife was missing. Then I remembered it had been confiscated by GHOST when they detained me. That was when I realised I was still wearing a GHOST jacket. I smiled briefly before my hands met something that was solidly wedged into my waistband.

Gun.

"Holy shit!" I squeaked slightly, I'd forgotten I still had this thing. I must have still had it on me as I bribed my way past security. I turned my attention towards the newspaper and folded it up, before realising that a stewardess had appeared.

"Sir, is everything okay?" the young Caucasian woman queried, "the aircraft is safe to leave now."

"Oh," I spoke apologetically, "it was nothing. Just realised I'd lost my keys."

"I am sorry to hear that."

"It's fine, must have left them in Egypt. It's not a big deal, I'll just need to get a new set cut."

"Well then, it would seem best for you to disembark from the aircraft now, sir."

At that, I unbuckled my seat-belt and got up out of the chair, tucking the newspaper under my arm in the process. From there, I walked down the aisle way, out of the rear doorway and through the connecting tunnel that lead to the terminal. From the gate I made my way to the departures area. I realised that I would have to face customs soon and that I was at this time armed.

I needed to dispose of the weapon.

Thankfully, due to the fact I had been the last to leave the aircraft, I found that there was a long line of people ahead of me. At the very least I had time to think.

I looked around the interior of the lobby in which I was situated. It was a rather well kept place, with art deco fittings a prominent feature. Straight lines and minimalist colours. It seemed like a replication of the future that our ancestors had imagined, which I couldn't help but feel was rather ominous. Something just didn't sit right. From the glass box lights to the fonts used on the signs. Notably, it was applied to both the English and Hindi letters.

From what I could see, there was one visible security camera watching my position. Given the extremely secretive nature of this reclusive Sector, there would undoubtedly be a few, smaller, hidden ones tucked away into various subtle locations.

However, they would be the least of my worries. Since several armed Event Horizon Security Cartel staff were on duty, watching those entering the country with an evaluative eye.

It was odd that fate had lead me to the homeland of Mitch Ochoa's employers. Well, considering what he had done to save my life, there was a good chance they were now his ex-employers.

Of course, while this coincidence was rather quaint, so far it seemed like I was well and truly fucked. I now really wished my American comrade hadn't had the common decency to give me a weapon. Since these suspicious bastards would notice it in a flash.

To my utter astonishment I was hit by an idea. It was a stupid idea. A very stupid and reckless one, but I didn't have much more choice. If I got caught in the act, I'd be even more fucked.

I decided looking around again would just arouse suspicion so I kept my eyes straight forwards as I moved to join the line. In front of me was a young woman carrying a handbag. This was my only opportunity.

First, I took out my cloth handkerchief and carefully stroked the handle of the weapon with it. My fingerprints needed to be loosely wiped from it if I was to stand a chance.

The queue moved forwards slightly, as another hapless sap was processed by security. This gave me the time to walk into the young woman briefly, before using slight of hand to quickly withdraw the gun from my jacket pocket and slip it into her handbag.

"Oh, terribly sorry," I apologised, "I've been awfully clumsy these past few days."

I tactically showed her my bandaged hands and her eyes glanced upwards to my scarred face.

"Oh that's quite all right, I can see you're in quite a state" the young lady spoke in an American accent, a hint of pity on her voice, "what on earth happened?"

"I-I can't quite remember, I believe I blacked out and fell down upon some broken glass," I acted out impeccably, trying to seem as meek and confused as I could. The queue moved forwards ever so slightly as she lightly grasped my hands.

"Oh you poor thing," was all she could manage with an incredibly sweet tone of voice.

I held my breath and waited. The queue moved onwards once more. There was no response from the guards. I had been careful to make sure the transition of weapon to handbag was obscured from view.

"You needn't worry yourself about me, I think I'll be fine," I muttered, my voice faint.

This was the clincher as the line moved forwards once again, she'd now return to not caring and venture onward further along the line.

"I must insist that I take you to the hospital and find you a safe place to stay," she, suddenly, warmly spoke, with a kindness I had not factored in to the plan, "perhaps a nice hotel?"

Fuck. My whole act relied on this woman being a frigid bitch who only took light pity upon me. Yet here she was, acting sickeningly friendly. I felt a horrible sensation in my gut. One of utter guilt. It pained me to use her in this cruel way. The line of people moved another step closer to customs.

"I-I'll be fine, the wounds have already been treated," I stuttered, trying to add on to the act, "a-and, I'm sure I'll find a place to stay."

At that point she grabbed on to my hands again and gently started to massage them.

"Dear, I can't let a poor young man such as yourself be left alone in such a place," she smiled again as the queue progressed once more.

This was starting to wear on my morality. I just couldn't do it now. It would be terrible. I had no idea how the authorities would react to her being found with a gun on her person. I could only assume it would be bad. We were nearing the customs desk and security scanners.

"I'm not sure, how can I be certain I can trust you?" I started to feign suspicion, "I-I've heard stories of abductions."

At that point she suddenly hugged me.

"I don't know what you've been through, but it must have been terrible to have made you so uncertain and suspicious," the young woman cooed, "but I promise to look after you. Mr?"

She stared in to my eyes and I could tell that she was sincere.

"Uldericks," I was forced to confess. Lying would have only aroused more suspicion. I didn't want to know hers. It would just make me feel even worse. Unfortunately, I had to. It was the only way I could keep up the act, "a-and yours, my kind lady?"

"You can call me Cat," she gently pronounced, with a friendly smile on her face, before stroking my shoulder, "short for Catriona."

Goddamn it. Why couldn't she just be a bad person who really deserved to be set up like this. I usually have to tolerate petty thugs while regularly encountering morally corrupt individuals in every aspect of society. Why on earth did she have to be one of the increasingly rare number of nice people.

The queue moved forwards again. She was next in line to be processed. I wanted to scream out at her, warn her of the folly I had set her up for. Yet, I couldn't. I had placed my own self-preservation over the livelihood of kind, idealistic, young woman. I was selfish.

She smiled at me, "Just meet me at the arrivals gate, and then we can see about getting dinner."

I couldn't bare to watch, but I had to. Or suspicion would come to lie upon me.

And so I watched the ruination of this poor young woman unravel before my eyes.

"Do you have anything to declare?" asked a stern, muscular, man from behind bulletproof glass.

"I do not," she politely stated.

"Passport," the man gruffly queried.

She handed it over. I noticed the design upon it. A bald eagle. The man looked over it thoroughly before scanning it through an peculiar looking device. He then stamped it and handed it back to her.

"If you'd like to make your way to the scanner," he commanded, pointing his finger towards the device.

A security attendant moved over to her and issued his commands.

"Please place your handbag upon the conveyor belt and walk through the scanner."

She obeyed, and placed the bag upon a small conveyor belt.

I wanted to scream at her to run.

Self-preservation overwhelmed me once more. I couldn't break cover now.

She walked through unhindered. The scanner didn't beep at all. I clenched my teeth together, while attempting to keep a resolute poker face.

Suddenly the security official approached her once more.

"Ma'am, did you pack your own bag?" he asked.

"Why yes," she responded plainly and innocently.

"Then it would appear that we have a problem," the man glibly stated, "guards, please restrain this fugitive."

She started to protest, "sir, w-what's going on?"

"You know fine well what's going on," he snarled, "attempted smuggling of firearms."

"I have done nothing of the sort!" she squealed as two brutish men grabbed on to her.

"You are to be detained for this criminal act," the security official proclaimed, withdrawing the gun from Catriona's handbag and showing it to her.

"Please, you've got to believe me that it's not mine!" she shouted, suddenly very distressed.

I had to remain cool and focused. I could feel my heart slow. I felt numb.

"You have just confessed that you packed this bag," the security guard viciously reminded her, "that is all the evidence we need."

"You're making a mistake, I'm a charity wor-" Cat was suddenly winded by a blow to the stomach by one of the guards. She started to splutter and sob.

"Crying's not going to save you where you're going," one of the men that was holding on to her spoke with a sickening venom in his voice.

"U-Ulder-" she tried to say my name before being silenced again by another punch. She started coughing even more, tears streaming down her face.

"Throw her in to the containment tank with the others," the security guard spat, "and take her personal belongings down to the storage room."

The two security officials nodded, before dragging the winded young woman away. I could hear her cries echo down the corridor as she was dragged away to some unknown fate.

"Bloody smugglers," was all I heard from the man behind the desk.

I walked up to him to arrange my own entrance in to the country.

"Do you have anything to declare?" the man repeated the same sentiment from before.

"No, sir" I feebly said. The remorse of my selfish actions was sinking in.

"Passport," he asked plainly.

I handed my official Euro Zone passport to him silently. He scanned it and checked it over.

"Frequent flyer are we?" he laughed, before stamping my passport, "no wonder you look so damn tired."

"I-I guess it's my own fault," I muttered, "can't find a decent place to live."

"Chin up mate, he spoke," he said, handing me it back, "you'll find no Sector friendlier than ours."

I wasn't sure if he was being serious or if he was trying to make a joke. I just faked a smile before moving towards the security scanners. As I hadn't brought any hand luggage I just needed to walk straight through. It didn't beep. I was free. I was safe.

"J-just what will happen to that young woman?" I queried.

"Given over to the EHSC as volunteer labour," the security attendant officiously stated, "likely as use as a state companion."

"A-a what?" I questioned, confused by the terminology and panicked by my own guilt.

"Prostitute!" the man behind the booth exclaimed with a magnanimous laugh.

"Good thing we caught her while we did," the attendant pronounced carefully, "seemed she was softening you up as a potential gun runner. Especially when you're in as fine a pathetic state as you are now!"

"Well, I must thank you for your duty of care," I blatantly lied.

"Just doing our job," the man stated, before narrowing his eyes slightly, "now please be off. The next flight is due to land."

At that I left the customs area and made my way to the arrivals gate. After suffering that ordeal I decided I was in need of a drink.

I made my way to the first establishment I could find. A rather nice looking restaurant with a bar was the fist thing that caught my eye. Perfect. I walked over to it and sat down before ordering a drink. A nice frosty pint of Indian Pale Ale was what I was met with. I was thankful to be served this glorious ambrosia.

However, as I supped on my pint of ale, I found I was unable to focus my mind on the next step in my plan. All I could think about was the poor young woman I had sent off to a horrific fate. Forced into slave labour, her body destined to be treated as a mere commodity. I was utterly disgusted at what I had done.

Yet, I mean. She must have done something wrong to deserve such a cruel act to befall her. She couldn't really have been a charity worker. That just had to have been a front. The guards were right, she was probably a smuggler trying to soften me up because I looked vulnerable. Perhaps she was even smuggling drugs in to the country. So by putting a gun in her handbag I had aided justice in bringing a criminal to face retribution.

It wasn't genuine kindness. That would be absurd. Clearly she had an ulterior motive for helping me. Perhaps she was going to sell me into slavery. Thus, her fate was only a fitting one. Hell, Catriona probably wasn't even her real name. Even if it matched the one on her passport, it could have easily been a fake identity.

I sipped my pint and sighed. These scenarios just seemed too unlikely. I had done a terrible thing and selfishly ruined her life. I just couldn't focus on anything. The guilt was unbearable.

That was when I noticed my phone had started ringing. I smiled. It had to be Mitch. He was safe. He was alive. He'd actually escaped.

And then it dawned on me. I now owed him a full one million dollars.

"Well fuck," I muttered, before sheepishly withdrawing it from my pocket and answering.

"So I have the pleasure of conversing with you once more," I heard an insufferably smug voice emanating from the device. I sighed. It wasn't Mitch. It was someone far, far, more annoying.

"It would appear so," I forced myself to speak through clenched teeth.

"Ah, Mr. Uldericks, it is you," he redundantly stated.

I decided to interrupt his dickery, "just get to fucking point or I'm hanging up,"

"Mes informateurs m'ont dit que tu allé courir à GHOST de l'aide," he suddenly started speaking unnecessarily in French. I sighed. My patience was wearing thin, "et il est absolument essentiel que nous conversons dans notre langue maternelle, car cette information est hautement classifié."

I was tempted to hang up, but annoyingly I had a feeling that he wasn't lying about it being sensitive information.

"Je suis à l'écoute," I responded, noting that I was paying attention.

"Ensuite, vous devez savoir que le recours à GHOST de l'aide a été incroyablement stupide de vous," he ranted about how stupid it had been of me to turn to the Guardians for help. Yes, I had sort of picked up on that myself, but clearly this arrogant prick felt he needed to remind me.

"Eh bien oui, je suis au courant de cela maintenant," I protested, annoyed at the fact he had seemingly just phoned to tell me off.

"Cependant, je suis un homme miséricordieux et je peux vous pardonner pour se tourner vers de faux espoirs," the stuck up bastard proclaimed like I was a stupid schoolboy.

"Vous m'avez pardonné? Tu es celui qui m'a envoyé sur une sanglante chasse oie sauvage autour du Secteur XI!" I exclaimed, irate at his behaviour, "Je mérite des excuses, pas vous, vous merde balourd."

"Quoi qu'il en soit, je suis prêt à vous rencontrer au Népal," he stated, completely ignoring my vitriol, "Johimath, on the Nanda Devi Bioshphere Reserve?"

"Fine!" I shouted down the phone, "mais il vaut mieux se présenter."

"Tres bien!" the annoying prick exclaimed, "vous avez besoin d'être là pour 0600."

That was the last thing I heard before he hung up. I sighed, and tried to think of the cheapest means of getting there. I didn't even want to know how he'd obtained my number. The best bet was just to turn up. If he didn't show up? Then I'd simply dedicate my life to hunting him down and killing him.

*

Location: India (Specific Location Unknown)

Date: 16 MAR 2110

Local time: 0347

"Mujhe mahodaya bahana," I heard an Indian accent rouse me from an unexpected nap.

"Huh?" I groaned, weary from the long journey.

"Could I have the seat next to you?" the voice asked politely, this time in plain English.

I looked up and realised that there was a bedraggled old man standing in the aisle way of the coach. He was clad in orange robes that wound their way around his body, forming a makeshift hood by his head.

"Oh yes, sure," I obliged, as I finally realised that the bus had stopped somewhere on the route. I couldn't tell where exactly, for when I looked out the window, all of the signs were in Hindi. I checked my watch and tried to deduce my location based on the time elapsed, but I was far too tired for such strenuous calculations.

The old man carefully sat down upon the seat next to me.

"Most thank you, good sir," he graciously said to me.

"No problem, mate," I replied, "your English is rather good. Slightly broken, but the pronunciation is perfect... "

I was quite suspicious to hear it spoken by someone this far from New Delhi.

"Why thanking you," he replied again.

"I suspect that affectation is put on," I narrowed my eyes.

He stared at me and whispered, "to an extent, old chap, but it'd be even more suspicious for an old sage to speak in an accent like this."

Suddenly he sounded more, well, English. He was definitely of Indo-Aryan decent, but that accent was so archaic. I couldn't quite place it. Maybe his parents were British immigrants.

"I would imagine so," I retorted.

"You have no idea how odd it is for me to encounter an English speaker on this journey," he replied, "well, one who is a native speaker."

"Why? Isn't Nepal quite the tourist destination?" I joked as I felt the bus pull out of the small bus station it had stopped at.

"Indeed. Yet, where this bus is headed, it is not. I assume you are making your way to the Reserve?" he queried.

"What's it to you?"

"Not that many foreigners bother," he stated, "that's all. No need to be so defensive."

"Just who do you think you are?"

"I am but a simple sage," he replied with a sad voice, "who seeks to return to my homeland to set eyes upon my son for the first time in many a moon."

"Your name?" I asked, slightly annoyed.

"It is of no concern to you," he smiled vacuously.

"Tell me it," I spoke gravely, as I reached for my gun.

"That would be unwise, my friend," he spoke with a more sinister tone, "I am well versed in the martial arts."

That was when I realised I wasn't armed. Shit. The sleep deprivation was getting to me. I'd forgotten that I'd ditched the weapon at customs. When I'd ruined that poor girl's life. I tried to repress the memory of her being dragged away by security.

"Damn, thought you'd be scared by my pretend gun," I improvised.

"Oh, a joker, are we?" he laughed sincerely.

"I guess so," I smirked, "I was hoping my 'secret agent' act would fool you."

"Really?" the old man grinned, "I wasn't born yesterday, old chap."

"So I could tell," I quipped.

"Very funny," he stared at me, "but I used to be a little trouble maker like you."

"Oi, who're you calling little?" I feigned.

"Ah yes, you seem more the type to be a big trouble maker," the man's tone changed again before he started whispering, "Secret lover? Escaping the law? Just what is your business here in India?"

"Business meeting, actually," I honestly replied, "my associate is quite the joker mind. Always insists on meeting in obscure locations."

"Seems like the kind of man who doesn't want to be found," he kept speaking in a low tone.

"I guess so," I started to think about why he may have cancelled in the past, "doesn't want to be tied down anywhere. Montreal. Mexico City. Nepal."

"He missed a trick by choosing another city that began with 'M'," the old man joked, "But I guess someone this unpredictable wouldn't want to leave a pattern."

"How true," I mused.

"This associate of yours sounds like quite the character," he burst out laughing, "what's he in?"

"Works with couriers and large scale deliveries," I twisted the truth ever so slightly.

"Ah, he's in the trade industry, lucky sod," he replied, "that's where all the money is now. In the era where capitalism has gone mad."

"How cynical of you," I joked.

"It's not cynicism, just the truth," the old man sighed, his voice suddenly very melancholy, "if only the people had a voice. If only we could fight back. If I were a younger man I'd have joined the League for the Decentralisation of Nations."

I scoffed at the thought, "The LDN are a band of idealistic fools. They lack proper organisation or purpose. Added to that, their actions in he World Justice Uprising were contemptible."

"Oh, a critical historian are we?" he smiled vacuously, clearly stung by my rather harsh words, "but I doubt anyone could do better. With Project Earth Reborn now nothing less than hypocritical monsters, the only resistance movement we have left to leave our hope in is the LDN."

I hated seeing this old man look so low, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"It's okay," he lamented, "only a stupid old fool could believe in the LDN now."

"Don't lose hope so readily," I said, "for I predict we are to live in interesting times. I foresee a union of workers that will stand against the world."

"An international worker's union?" he replied, a twang of hope in his voice.

"Precisely," I triumphantly pronounced.

"How. How, interesting," he said.

"That is what lies in store for the future. Capitalism and fascism cannot continue to roam rampantly. Unpunished. Unchecked."

"That is very true," the old Indian man dryly said, an air of tired sadness in his voice "I have been a victim of both."

"Then I hope that you will be avenged. For, when the people rise, such cruelty shall end," I spoke as reassuringly as I could manage.

At that, I realised the old man had closed his eyelids and had sighed deeply. Deducing that he likely wished to sleep, I elected to stop myself from going off on a long political rant.

Sadly I was too well rested now to get back to sleep and, Without someone to talk to, I envisaged the rest of the journey would be rather dull. That's when I noticed I still had the newspaper I'd been given on the flight. I found an article that was vaguely relevant to my situation, even if it was likely going to be more Upper African cynicism, and began to read.

*

INDIA'S EXPANDING HORIZONS

While we all remain enraptured by the dying embers of the World Justice Uprising and the people of Earth concern themselves with the politics of gargantuan superpowers, one Sector seems to forever elude attention. It is one from which we rarely hear from, read about or even see. Unless you are amongst the few who regularly travel, then I could imagine it being rather surprising to be even aware of the Indian Zone's existence. This is seems to be a result of the Sector, on the whole, being rather quite unremarkable.

On the off chance that you are concerned with the trivial matters of war and the various foreign powers constantly assailing your borders then one may have heard of the even more mysterious Event Horizon Security Cartel. This paramilitary organisation seems to have set themselves up as an army for hire, while their own nation seems to largely avoid finding itself embroiled in war. Yet, the extent of the EHSC appears to penetrate all echelons of society.

When one visits the Indian Zone, one finds that the EHSC are everywhere. Somehow, they are completely omnipresent within the Indian Zone. Their police force, their medical care, their fire brigade, their coastguards and even their charity organisations all appear to be run by the EHSC. All state broadcasting is unsurprisingly, directed by the EHSC. They are literally everywhere, and as a foreigner, you get the feeling that they are always watching you. Unlike in other Sectors, the presence of Calypso Industries is not even noticeable. Only the Event Horizon Security Cartel.

Politically, the Republic of India is suspiciously stable. They have never suffered from financial crisis nor failed to keep their immense population fed. Natural disasters seem to have been accounted for in advanced 99% of the time. It seems to be an impossible nation. Many suspect that the CEO of EHSC is an advanced supercomputer, capable of almost predicting the future. Yet, the nearly anarchic nature of how the Sector is run would suggest that this could not be the case as the CEO of Event Horizon does not appear to retain an organised control over the entire populace. In fact, it's arguable if any control exists at all while the Sector's citizens are treated to a level of human life that is almost desirable.

Yet, while their citizens live luxuriously, the high profit margins of the EHSC are known to be a result of slave labour. All illegal immigrants are forced to work for no pay, housed in cages, fed protein slop and disposed of when they become useless. It is suspected that slaves are actually fed the remains of other slaves in an endless cycle of cannibalism. Similarly, the Sector's sex industry has been boosted greatly by the state companions who are forced to indulge the desires of the rich and powerful. These unfortunate men and women are kept housed in large inner city compounds, where they can be hired, bought and sold like vehicles.

With such a high demand for slaves, one would wonder where they would manage to get the adequate number of illegal immigrants in the first place. The answer lies in the definition of the term and foreign ties to other Sectors. The state definition of an "Illegal Immigrant" in India, is a foreign national who has committed a crime within the political zone. Trespassing is deemed to be one of these crimes, which is the category those attempting to immigrate into the country through illegitimate means fall in to. However, if a foreign national is caught stealing, buying illegal drugs or even going bankrupt within the political zone, their human rights are revoked and they become classed as an "Illegal Immigrant". This allows for many unsuspecting travelers to be picked up by the authorities and taken into slavery.

Purchasing slaves from other countries is the other main avenue of acquisition of forced labour. While the other eleven sectors of the world have officially outlawed slavery, many Sectors are ridden with gangs and organisations who act against the will of these legitimate governments. Most notable of these areas is Central America, which is home to several extremely large criminal organisations that appear to actually be endorsed by the Sector, despite them being illegal under state law. Central American gangs are suspected to have multiple trade links with the Indian Zone, selling people at an average going rate of 5000 USD a head. It's a horrible thought to harbour, that human life is being reduced to a mere commodity.

Many other organised crime syndicates from other countries appear to be in on this sick game. Arranging what appear to be package holidays to the Sector, managing to find full compliments of a flight, before sending them off (en masse) to the Indian Zone with false visas. It is suspected that the pilots of these flights are actually EHSC middle-men who arrange the illegal purchase of foreign nationals as slaves. The United States of America has been a common target of these inhumane scams, with untold thousands being shipped into the country every week.

In a world where the Indian Zone provides a haven for inhumanity and slavery, one must always remain afraid. To live a day not in fear of their subtle global tyranny is a day where you could end up in India. Worst of all, they only continue to grow as they feed on the lives of the innocent. The ESCH and their mysterious master cast a constant shadow over the planet, as they only serve to spread more misery while working towards an unfathomably unclear goal.

Jeoffery DeMandra, Indian Correspondent

*

Location: India (Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve)

Date: 16 MAR 2110

Local time: 0607

"Well, it was great to speak with you," the old man said to me, "I pray that we will see that future you envisioned."

"We can only hope," I amicably spoke, "safe travels, my friend."

"Good luck with your endeavours," he bowed slightly, before hobbling away.

I could tell the limp was fake. His entire act seemed fake. I guess he was aiming to be underestimated. Perhaps I had told him too much. I relaxed when I remembered he did not know my name. Conversely, I didn't know his either.

I frowned at the thought of being had. The branded tattoo was genuine. That was all I could tell. Everything else was fake. He may have been Indian, but he was no sage. I kept an eye on him as he kept hobbling away towards a group of people at the other end of the coach park. I assumed this was part of a wider act, and not just for my own benefit. It was a tad unnerving to say the least.

"Vamana Uldericks?" a little caucasian girl with blonde hair and grey eyes queried softly in a french accent.

I blanched at the thought of someone knowing my name and did a bit of a double take. Just what the fuck was going on.

"Y-yes... " I nervously replied.

"My daddy asked me to give you this," she spoke sweetly, handing me an envelope.

"Wait, what?" I spoke in disbelief.

"Now I need to get back to mummy before she knows I'm gone," she cheekily giggled, before blowing me a kiss.

Just as suddenly as she had appeared, she started to skip off out of the bus park. As she headed towards a large tour group and I noticed her run up to hug a young woman with blonde hair. The woman looked familiar, but I couldn't place where I knew her from.

This curious set of events lead me to deciding I should follow the little girl. However, before following up on a rash decision, it seemed best for me to check my watch in order to make sure I had time. 06.11. I didn't.

"Fuck!" I swore quietly, "Now I'm late."

I walked into the only building visible, a tourist centre with an ATM attached, and looked for a restaurant.

Unfortunately. There was no sign of him anywhere.

"Goddamnit!" I exclaimed, "I must have missed him."

I walked over to a table that had yet to be cleared, and noticed a very large tip placed upon the receipt for a bill.

Kind regards, Claude Lasi-Faité x was written on it.

"Oh come on," I moaned, "I literally just missed him."

I sat down at the table and sighed. He'd actually turned up and I had been too late because of that stupid old man. Not to mention that annoying little girl handing me a goddamn letter.

I relaxed into the chair and decided to fish out the letter from my jacket pocket. I felt it and noticed there was an object within. Upon opening it I realised it contained a set of keys.

How curious.

I unfolded the letter and began to read.

Dear Mr. Uldericks

If you are reading this, then our meeting was unable to take place due to death, dismemberment or lateness. In either case, I would like to request you to obtain a small Kasturi Kamal flower for me, from the summit of Mount Kailash. I have enclosed a photograph of flower in question in order to aid you on your mission.

I would also be most grateful if you could provide me with photographic documentation of any known Chinese military outposts within the area.

I have provided you with the means to travel to the mountain, weapons, warm clothes, supplies and transportation. All I require from you is the completion of the mission. The set of keys include one that opens a locker within this building and one that is required for the operation of a quad bike. Good hunting.

Kind regards, Claude

I stood open mouthed in disbelief. I had to climb a fucking mountain because I turned up late. Wait no. I had to climb a fucking mountain that was located in goddamn China because I turned up late.

Then I remembered the words of the little girl. She must have been his daughter.

"That French-Canadian bastard... " I seethed, as I started to feel like I had been well and truly set up.

My head was spinning with a mix of rage, confusion and elation. I ran out of the building looking for the little girl. Yet, the tour group was nowhere to be seen.

I looked at the keys with a mix of revulsion and delight. I had the means to unlock my future in the palm of my hands.

Or I could just call it a day and go home.

I liked that plan more. But first, I would take advantage of the situation and acquire everything this annoying man had prepared for me. Then, with weapons and supplies, I'd venture back home. Possibly by going through Greater Israel.

I looked at the number on the set of keys. 41.

I then made my way back inside and towards the reception desk.

"Do you have any lockers?" I asked

The Event Horizon Security Cartel warden, stationed at the desk, replied, "Why yes, they're down the hallway."

Instead of turning left in to the restaurant, I continued down past the reception desk in to what looked like changing rooms. I guess it was designed as a staging post for climbers. I found a series of large lockers and made my way to number 41. I put the key in the lock and opened it. Within it was a large rucksack (that took up most of the space of the locker), a silenced semi-automatic assault rifle and a map.

I took out the weapon and placed it upon the floor before I pocketed the map. I realised that the rucksack was about half the size of me, and knew it would take a fair amount of effort to withdraw it from the locker. I grabbed on to the front of it and pulled as hard as I could. It broke free and landed outside of it's container, on to the ground beside the rifle.

I lugged the backpack on to my back and picked up the gun in my bandaged right hand before retracing my steps out of the building. I recieved a startled look from the EHSC staff member as I walked by.

I then moved towards the ATM attached to the side of the building and inserted my card in to the device. A hologram of a female face appeared.

"Language Setting" the device barked at me in a cold, mechanical voice.

"English," I replied.

"Language Setting," the device repeated, seemingly having failed to understand me the first time.

"I said English," I shouted.

"Language Setting," the device repeated yet again.

"English," I tried to speak more clearly.

"Language Setting," the device droned on, completely ignoring the fact I had given a response.

"English," I decided to feign a bad Indian accent.

"Service Required" the device repeated.

"Cash," I responded in the same fake Indian accent.

"Amount?"

"10000 rupees," I stated.

"Error Card Rejected." the device moaned before spitting my card out at me.

"You cannot escape your assignment, Agent 01," it droned on, "All assets have been suspended until further notice. Have a good day."

At that I punched the ATM in it's holographic face. I hit it so hard that it fractured the screen. My knuckles started to bleed slightly.

Annoyed, I decided to open fire on it with my assault rifle.

Suddenly an alarm sounded.

"Fuck!" I yelled.

I decided it was best not to stick around and ran around to the back of the building. There, to my delight, I saw a grey quad bike and helmet. I affixed the helmet on to my head and jumped onto the vehicle before inserting the key with my left hand, assault rifle in the other.

I shoved the gun behind my back between the straps of my backpack, and placed both hands on the handlebars. The vehicle roared in to life and I hit the accelerator as two wardens ran over to my position. I raced off towards the stunning mountains of the Himalayas, further into the Reserve.

When I had decided I was far enough away I decided to check my map. It turned out it was in fact an interactive smart-paper data-slate that provided me with my exact location. I found Mount Kailash and set a course for the mountain.

Chapter 7 - Dishonour Before Death

Location: Himalayas (Nepal)

Date: 16 MAR 2110

Local time: 1251

"Well fuck me," I sighed.

For in front of me, all I could see was terrain I could no longer traverse with the quad bike. Until this point things had gone exceptionally well. So far it had only taken me six hours to traverse more than fifty miles. I was more than satisfied with my progress.

Unfortunately I now needed to go over a low point on the Himalayas if I wished to continue onward to my goal. I then elected to check my map once more and zoomed in. It appeared that the entire Chinese-Nepalese border was fortified. I drew the image closer to my own position before realising something quite astonishing.

It was in fact an augmented reality top down view of my position. I could actually find myself as a person, not just a transmitting dot, moving around.

"So Claude's given me my own satellite to mess around with, " I laughed slightly at the notion, "that's almost impressive."

I sighed slightly as I realised that I did not have any companion to share the sentiment with. I could immediately tell that being forced to walk to Mount Kailash would be exceptionally dull.

However, before I fully resigned myself to my fate of travelling by foot, I decided to examine the quad bike more carefully.

What I found was that it was just a highly efficient quad bike with a small fission reactor situated where a fuel tank would usually be found. I noticed that it was Vallarie Administration make. Which was strangely puzzling, for as far as I was aware, my former employers were just a paramilitary organisation that manufactured drugs, weapons and computer hacking software. I had had no idea that they had progressed into the field of alternative power sources and civilian vehicle design.

What was even more bewildering was how Claude had somehow managed to procure something that looked like it was still in the prototype stage of development.

I decided to check my rucksack for items before discerning my next course of action.

Attached to the left side was what appeared to be a tent. Upon the right was something I could discern as being a roll mat. Within the main body of the rucksack I found: a fleecy jacket; a full tuxedo (white jacket, white trousers, white shirt and red tie); reinforced gloves, hiking boots, a 2 litre water bottle (filled); ration packs of instant food; cooking pot, handgun (with suppressor and holster); sheathed hunting knife, large torch, compact wire cutters and a sleeping bag (right at the bottom).

I laughed at the idea of being given formal wear for a hike across the Himalayas. Clearly this Claude fellow had quite the sense of humour. At the same time it provided me with unnecessary weight, although I assumed they would come in useful as a change of clothes if something were to happen to my current set.

With all of the contents laid out across the quad bike and upon the floor, I decided to investigate the multitude of pockets. I managed to retrieve a rifle scope and telescopic monopod from one of the pockets. A compass, analogue watch and lighter was placed in another. Two pockets seemed to have been given over to storing clips of ammunition. I found a total of five pairs of socks and underwear in a bizarre array of colours (ranging from black to neon pink).

It looked as though I had been given everything I needed to survive in the wilderness. No wonder it had been so heavy.

Lastly I noticed, what I had at first assumed to be part of the bag, a large length of rope and clips that had been wrapped around the rucksack.

I guess that was in case I got so fed up of the trek that I felt like hanging myself.

As I shoved that thought to the back of my mind, I decided to repack my backpack in a more efficient manner. Carefully trying to utilise the least amount of space possible while putting more essential items closer to the top. I decided to keep the handgun and knife on my person, before attaching the watch to my wrist. The compass seemed unnecessary when I had my own satellite guided map, so I placed it down by the bottom of the bag.

The torch also seemed pointless when my own natural talents allowed me to conjure light, but I felt I may as well hold on to it just in case. I decided to pocket the monopod and scope, so that I could easily equip them on to my rifle.

It took me about ten minutes to re-pack the rest of the items adequately.

After putting on the warm jacket and affixing my rucksack to my back, I grabbed hold of the rifle. Before setting off, I paused for a moment to take in the breathtaking scenery that lay ahead of me. Colossal mountains that reached in to the clouds, with small valleys separating them. It was one of these low points that I was aiming to use as my passage into China.

As I walked down down the rugged valley towards my destination, I noticed small patches of snow that dotted the barren rubble that was strewn across the landscape like clouds upon a night sky. It was quite humbling to realise that I was but an insignificant dot amongst these gargantuan mountains. That here, the extent of humanities domain could not be felt.

These were the last natural wilds of a world consumed by unrestrained urbanisation. I guess the only reason that no attempts had been made here was down to practicality. The cost to colonise these disparate wastes would be too high while other easier to reach places remained more viable.

I walked through this impressive valley for close on one hour before seeing what looked like a row of posts from afar. Sadly, I knew I differently. Each post was in fact a sentry tower and there would be a barbed wire fence strewn between each part. I decided that it would be more tactically sensible to climb up one of the steep slopes that surrounded me on both sides and attempt to find a safe position that I could use to observe any hostile targets.

The climb up the left side was rather arduous, but after finding a spot that I had deduced to be above the level of the sentry towers, I placed my backpack in front of me. After doing this, I retrieved the monopod and scope from my pockets in order to affix them to my rifle. After making sure everything was secured in place I lay myself down and rested the monopod just in front of the rucksack, allowing the barrel and silencer to be rested upon the fabric.

I brought my right eye to the scope and placed my right finger next to the trigger, while using my left hand to adjust focus the visual enhancement device. As one of the towers came in to focus my heart sank. I could see four soldiers of the People's Defence Corps, members of China's military forces, postioned upon the structure. Three of them were armed with assault rifles and one of them was stationed next to a large gatling gun. I brought my sights over to the next tower and saw the same set up. I was curious to if they were guarding something and noticed that there was in fact a gateway built between the two towers. Through the barbed wire fence I could see several heavy duty tents and prefabricated structures. I could only assume that it was a makeshift army barracks.

Clearly the easy way was not an option. Hopeful that the rest of the fence network was less heavily guarded I scanned my rifle across the left side until it found another tower. Only two PDC guards with machine guns.

Perhaps this was slightly more feasible. I scanned as much as my field of vision would allow and noticed six more towers. Each one manned by two guards that only possessed machine guns. I decided to set up camp where I was situated and prepare to sneak in to the country at night.

I grabbed the rucksack, slung it over my right shoulder, and made my way higher up the side of the valley, hoping to find a safer spot that I could pitch my tent. Just as my watch read two o'clock, I found a relatively flat spot, that was out of site of the Chinese border, and set the backpack down.

I removed the clips before picking up the tent. From the size it was wrapped up, I had the feeling that it was fairly large. As I unfolded it, I realised that it was at the very least a six man tent. I sighed at Claude's utter stupidity and lack of consideration for heat preservation. Of course, I was hardly surprised. The very same man had clearly deemed a full tuxedo as appropriate clothing for an expedition in the Himalayas.

I looked at the instructions and then grabbed the bag of pegs before carefully laying out the inner sheet. I had to go back over to the tent bag to grab a mallet that seemed to have been at the bottom of it. I returned to the inner sheet and carefully inserted a peg into one of the corners. I then moved over to the next fabric extension of the inner layer and repeated my previous endeavour. This continued for a good five minutes before I was happy everything was secure.

Satisfied with my work, I went over to fetch the tent poles. I carefully withdrew the five poles and popped together the end of a red pole to the next part of the device. I then carefully attached another part of the pole, onto the piece I had already constructed, forcing the metal tube onto the receptor part of the other parts of the construct. I had to repeat laborious procedure, each time fighting against elasticated rope that ran through the inside of the tubes.

After making sure that the entire pole had been constructed, I fetched the second pole. It was a similar design to the first one, except this one had a gold finish instead of a red one. Of course, it essentially functioned in a manner that was comparable to the former. I slowly put it together, piece by piece, until it reached its fully erect length. Like the previous pole, it was bendy and flexible. I fetched the other gold pole and repeated the same process before doing the same with the second red one.

It was now that the tricky part of the task arose. I slotted the end of the first gold tent pole into a small tab that was located upon one of the loops required for pegging a corner in place. I then brought the pole over to the corresponding tab on the other side of the octagonal inner tent, bending it profusely as I did, before snapping it into place. I then brought up the inner clips to meet the pole and the tent gradually started to take shape. I repeated this with the other gold tent pole, and a squared section of the tent was now a distinguishing feature. It had finally started to actually resemble the diagram outlined on the instructions.

After making sure it was all secure, I fetched the gold poles and started to form the tent into more of an octagonal shape. In order to do so, I had to bend the pole round the side of the tent from one tab around to the other. It was hard work bending it before I managed to clip it all together. After doing the same with the other red pole, I stood back and admired my handiwork.

The outer sheet was still weighted down by my rucksack, so I had to remove it before collecting the material. After making sure I had it the right way round and with the clips facing inwards, I slowly started clipping it onto the four different tent poles. This took about five minutes to complete. I then had to fetch the fifth pole, that was black and had a slightly different design (with a bent piece that was at a 100 degree angle situated in the middle of the pole). I assembled this black construct before using it to create a covered entrance way that led into the inner sanctum of the tent. I then made sure to secure the cover sheet to all eight tabs that were home to both pegs and the end of tent poles before affixing every single guyline from the tent to their corresponding peg (which I then hammered into the ground).

After finalizing the entrance way into the large tent, I dragged my rucksack inside and started to get undressed. My clothes were rather worn, and I realised I hadn't changed them in the last five days, with the exception of the GHOST jacket becoming an improvised replacement for my old grey one. The light grey buttoned up shirt I had been wearing was still bloodied from my rather less than amicable encounter with the Guardians. As I slowly removed my gloves I saw that the bandages Mitch had affixed to me were starting become frayed. Thankfully they were cushioned enough that I hadn't experience much pain while putting up the tent.

Using the reflective metal surface of the lighter as a mirror, I realised that my white hair was rather stained and straw-like, while my usually fair complexion was complemented by a series of bruises. I was starting to think it had been quite a miracle that I had survived. Of course, it was all thorough planning and Mitch's dedication to his assignment that had actually ensured my continued survival, but I had come to resent the amount of sheer dumb luck that had also played into the whole affair.

I decided to check over my topless body to make sure I was well aware of where any damage had been done. My stomach had a light bruise formed upon in and I realised there were some scratch marks as well. I shuddered at the thought of Olia Silviera's claw like nails. The bloody talons had stung like a bitch as she drew them across my flesh. I could only assume I had similar marks on my back, as well as a multitude of burns. Unfortunately I couldn't quite see them with the lighter, but I could sure as hell feel them.

Satisfied that I had discerned the location of my other injuries, I withdrew the shirt from the tuxedo and put it on, realising that I'd need at least a layer for warmth. I detached the roll mat and unfurled it before bringing out the sleeping bag and unfolding it to it's full length over the sleeping mat. I then unzipped the latter sufficiently enough that I could squeeze my body into it. Only afterwards did I realise this was rather pointless as it was a fairly large four seasons sleeping bag that seemed twice the length I was. I sighed. Another oversight of the impossible Claude. I was just happy he hadn't given me a one season sleeping bag. That would just have been intolerable.

After munching on some of the food that had been provided, and satisfied that I was relatively safe, I finally decided I should try and get some much deserved sleep as my watch read four o'clock.

*

Location: Himalayas (Nepal-China Border)

Date: 17 MAR 2110

Local time: 0327

I awoke to darkness. I was unsure exactly what time it was, but at least I knew it was night. It was now time for me to enact my plan of sneaking into China.

The first thing I noticed, when I began to lower my sleeping bag, was the bitter chill that permeated the tent. Despite the cold, I still managed an annoyed sigh. I had foreseen this flaw in Claude's choice of portable habitation and, sadly, I had been proven right.

Unable to see otherwise, I elected to make use of my natural elemental ability. A slight glow began to emanate from my right hand as I tried to discern what time it was. I brought my right hand over to my left wrist so that I could see what time was displayed on my analogue watch. I was quite relieved to find it was 0327. This would mean that I had a reasonable amount of darkness to work with.

After I slipped myself out of the sleeping bag I immediately grabbed the charcoal and light grey GHOST jacket that I had been wearing the night before. Instantly I felt the biting cold of the tent eased off my skin. I was reluctant to remove the grey trousers I had slept in. However, I did realise that I had been wearing them for the best part of five days now and that they were stained beyond belief.

I considered wearing the tuxedo trousers for a brief second but decided there was no point in it. Clean white would do nothing but draw attention if it was glimpsed by a flashlight. The stained light grey would blend into the rocky landscape far better.

Continuing to use my hand as a light source, I shuffled over to my rucksack. I retrieved the torch that I had repackaged to be at the top of the bag and grabbed it with my right hand. After turning it on I stopped using my ability and started to search through the bag for equipment I would require for the mission ahead. I grabbed the water bottle and took a large gulp before replacing the cap.

The next items on my agenda were the food packets and cooking pot. I retrieved them before grabbing the set of wire cutters I had been gifted. Hastily, I shoved them into a jacket pocket before I tended to putting on a pair of woolly black socks. Satisfied that they were a comfortable fit, I grabbed my boots and forced my feet into them. After tying them, I decided I should make food. Instant soup seemed like a nice option.

After pouring a quarter litre of water into the portable cooking pot I poured in the contents of the sachet. Knowing that it would be incredibly stupid to use the lighter inside a tent, I decided I would use my abilities again. This time I placed both hands upon the pot and focused my energy into my palms. Slowly the water started to heat up. I had to keep it at a steady temperature while making sure I didn't accidentally disintegrate the metal. As it started to bubble I decided that the pot was hot enough. I gently took the container up to my lips and started to drink from it.

As the hot liquid stung my tongue, I bared it in order to gulp down the nutritional value of the soup. I could feel my gullet became pained by a similar sensation before the soup finally made it's way into to my stomach. It warmed up my insides pleasantly and I finally put the pot down after finishing its entire contents. I then lightly soaked a pink sock before using it to clean the pot. Satisfied that it was relatively clean, I threw away the sock into the snowy Himalayan landscape before zipping up the tent and putting the pot back into the rucksack.

I grabbed the warm coat I had been using as a pillow and pulled it on. After zipping it up I decided I should grab the torch and get my stuff together so that i would be ready to my way across the border. It didn't take long to roll up the sleeping bag and pack it. Having taken care of securing all of my items in the rucksack I affixed the roll mat to the side of it.

Fully wrapped up, well at least to the extent I could manage with my limited gear, I left the tent. I considered briefly the idea of taking it with me and was damn tempted to leave it behind. Sadly I knew that the journey to Mount Kailash would take at least another day. Travelling without one, while technically possible, could prove to be disastrous if I was caught in the wrong weather conditions.

In the end I decided to endure the thankless task of having to pack the damn thing up. It took just as long as it had to put it up in the first place, with the poor lighting conditions not helping. Even with my elemental power, it was incredibly wearing.

As my watch read 4 o'clock, I had finally managed to pack everything into the tent bag. With it now affixed to the main rucksack, and the assault rifle tucked under my armpit, I started walking up the mountainside until I could find a good strategic point to assassinate the border guards.

After five minutes of walking towards the border I found where I needed to be. I placed the rucksack down in front of me and retrieved the gun. The scope and monopod were still attached from yesterday so I quickly came to settle my body against the jagged stones that littered the piece of land I was on.

After activating the infrared night-vision setting on the scope I brought the sight over to where I was planning to cross. I was about eleven sentry towers away from the left gate. Hopefully any fatalities wouldn't be noticed here. I pivoted the monopod until I had both of the tower guards directly in my site. After centering in on one of their heads I pulled the trigger. He slumped down almost immediately and I quickly reloaded. The second guard motioned to what appeared to be a communications device. I shot him in the chest. As I watched him slide down the wall, I could only hope that he had not managed to call any reinforcements yet.

One tower down. I moved my sight over to the twelfth tower left of the gates. I could see that the two occupants were reclined against the sides of the tower. They looked rather bored. Luckily for them, I would be relieving them of that condition. I set the rifle so that it would emit a shot burst and quickly took both of them out in a single action. Each soldier collapsed beneath my field of vision.

Having completed my first objective, I grabbed my equipment and made my way towards the fence.

After four minutes of navigating around the mountain and down the northern slope I found myself by the border. I withdrew the wire cutters and got to work. I clipped out a hole large enough to fit the rucksack and pushed it through the gap. With the bag safely on the other side, I slunk through as well. I then made an effort to disguise the hole in the fence by securing the piece I had cut out back onto it.

I then did what any sane person would do in my situation and promptly grabbed the rucksack before sprinting as fast as I could away from the border. I kept running for close on an hour before I elected to have a break. According to the map I had covered about seven miles in the process. However, as my watch came to read 5.06, I was utterly knackered and doubted I could keep up this pace all the way to Mount Kailash.

I could only assume that the commanders stationed at the border had not sent people after me as I was still breathing, albeit more heavily than I would have desired.

After all of this running and drinking the remainder of my water supply, I realised I needed to relieve myself. Aware that no-one else was around, I undid my fly and let nature take its natural course.

I then zipped my trousers back up and proceeded onwards on my journey. I could see nothing but darkness. It was going to be a long trip.

In a way, I wandered aimlessly, only following a notional route through the bewildering landscape by an apparently nameless stream. In a way I wish I could have seen it, but the darkness added an unmistakable air of mysterious allure to the locale. It also had the beneficial upshot of making it harder for any Chinese military patrols to find me.

I ventured onward at the fast pace I had initially utilised after crossing the border as I was not keen to be caught due to any lack of haste. At this current rate, I was likely covering eight miles every hour. However, it was having a rather detrimental effect on my body.

As I walked towards the rising eastern sun and the hour hand on my watch was firmly resting on the eighth digit that the display featured, I elected to slacken off my pace and enjoy a slight break. I had expended a large amount of energy in the last four hours. Unsurprisingly, I was ravenously hungry as a result.

I found a slightly sheltered outcrop that was approximately, according to my satellite map, thirty miles from the Nepalese border and decided I was far enough away from danger to enjoy an actual meal. Unfortunately, that was when I realised that I had drunk the last of my water after the last rest-stop I had taken. I immediately had to prioritise finding water. I withdrew the water bottle from the bag and resealed the backpack.

Thankfully I was following the path of a river since crossing the border, so I was able to refill the bottle with water that flowed closer to my destination. I decided to walk back to the outcrop and quickly filled it before deciding that I deserved a meal. I took the pot out again and half filled it with water. Having had a nice look through the various instant meals I had been given, I settled on a beef stew.

It didn't take long to prepare as I used my natural elemental gifts to warm it up and I elected to just drink it like a soup. The re-hydrated meat didn't taste too awful and was almost palatable. Although, I did find that it's artificial taste had to be washed down with more water.

Finally feeling moderately well fed, I packed up my gear and continued on towards my objective. According to the map I would be encountering a road in the next ten miles. By my estimates, I had only a mere forty-five miles to go before I reached my destination. However, my body was now rather weary from travel and I was starting to doubt that I'd make it there by the end of the day. Regardless, I enshrined it as my ultimate objective.

It was better to overextend than waste precious time cutting my journey short early. I was already rather fatigued from the distance I had been forced to traverse by foot so far. I definitely did not look forward to having to actually climb the mountain.

Trudging onwards, I found the road at half past ten. My pace had deteriorated quite significantly. However, I knew that I would be passing between two lakes before my journey came to a close. I genuinely considered a visit before deciding that my primary objective was much more important. Thus, I turned northwards to follow this quiet and unerringly empty road as I silently contemplated the wider significance of the world.

By midday I found myself wanting of sustenance yet again. I was almost tempted to just set up camp for the night twenty-nine miles south from my destination. Yet, I was far too determined for that. After preparing a light meal and cleaning up after myself, I elected to continue down the dusty road. Perhaps this journey would actually be meaningful, I briefly pondered before I reassured myself that there was almost no way in hell that such a thing was possible. I guessed that Claude was likely toying with me for no good reason.

I must have been walking for hours by the time I saw the sun make it's way to the peaks of mountains in the distance. The majestic golden orb slowly sunk westwards as I realised I had failed to reach my goal of making it to the base of the mountain by sunset. I think I must have only been a mile off when I stumbled across what appeared to be an ancient Buddhist monastery and decided it would be best to rest.

As I opened the doors to the sacred building, I was greeted by a distasteful musk of putrefaction. I assumed that it must have been abandoned and grabbed my torch so that I could investigate it more thoroughly.

Lavish, yet slightly deteriorated, murals adorned the sides of the hallway and I was very impressed by architecture of the building. It must have been many hundreds of years old. I breathed a sigh of relief as I assured myself that, given the current Central Asian Zone oppression of the region, this place would have been cleared of any religious residents. Just left to be abandoned.

Just as I thought I had found a nice room to sleep in I collided with a peculiar object. Well, upon further inspection it turned out to be about the same height as myself. As any sane person would do I jumped back and exclaimed allowed my discontent.

"HOLY FUCK!"

As I took a second glance I could see that the mysterious presence I had walked into was in fact a fully dressed monk, a look of despondency upon his face. I assumed this was likely due to my apparel as well as the fact I was visibly armed. Of course, I don't imagine blindly walking into him had done much to improve his temperament.

I then did a bit of a double take again when, instead of greeting me in Chinese, the bald man just muttered the words "Bloody Americans".

*

THE FINAL PATRIOTIC OFFENSIVE!

It was the last great push... chance to take back the... fields of glory as the fight for... deaths of the oppressor...

That was all I could read before it essentially turned to mush. Clearly my antics of rolling around in the snow while scoping out my targets, shooting soldiers and sliding under fences hadn't done this little pamphlet much good. The colours had run all over the place and it now had a peculiar purplish hue, as the ink blended with the red card it had been printed upon.

...arassed by the enemy... ...odies were torn assunde...

It did seem, for all intents and purposes to be a lost cause trying to read this bloody thing now. Which was, to say the least, mildly frustrating as I aimed to take my mind off of the fact this monastery still an occupant. A rather bossy and miserable one. I remember how he had sulked as he lead me to this room and told me to "Get some rest."

I did not like not being in control. The idea that this man had somehow evaded a military sweep by the People's Defence Corps was somewhat alarming. I shifted the position of my sleeping bag and illuminated my hand once more. I hoped that at least something substantial could still be discerned from the ruined pamphlet.

...a penetrating hit to the... ...impacted upon the rear... ...shock waves reverberated up the body of... ...her struggle...

Since I couldn't read much, I finally decided to give up. There was absolutely nothing worthwhile that I could actually glean from this pro-communist leaflet. I put the leaflet down and started to look at my bandaged hands. I could still vividly remember the pain that had shot through my palms as they were penetrated by shards of rock.

I winced slightly at the mental image before looking through my pockets for something else to take my mind off of the situation I was in. And, preferably, to distract me from the horrible images that plagued my mind. I found a soggy train ticket. I smiled as I looked at the departure location. Mexico City.

It had been a long time since I'd set out on this bloody journey. It seemed like an age since I'd been sharing a laugh with that ballsy Central American Police Officer. His company was something I had come to miss as the days went on. I was even starting to miss Mitch, the poor bastard. He was probably dead. Hadn't heard from him despite assurances that he'd let me know when he had got to safety.

Perhaps if I had just played along with Claude's stupid game then I would have found him by now. Maybe going off to find GHOST had been a mistake. Yet, at the time I didn't have any other options. Well, I guess I did, but I needed to find other like minded people who held reasonable positions of power. The Guardians seemed like the logical choice. Yet, all they turned out to be were sadistic sycophants who tortured me for the spurious reason that I had been in contact with Claude.

Hell, I was willing to sell out the annoying bastard to this organisation. Instead, their ignorant and, might I add, morally decayed leader beats the crap out of me. Every member of GHOST proved to be more evil than I could ever hope to be. As I finally felt like sleeping my eyes cast over the tattered remains of the pamphlet. I could make out nothing more than three words.

Viva la resistance!

*

Location: Tibet (China)

Date: 18 MAR 2110

Local time: 0600

After having endured a wonderful night's rest I was rather rudely awoken gently by the tongue of a dog that was either overly friendly or was intent on devouring my face. As I blindly swatted about in the darkness, I heard a small yowl. I opened my drool covered eyelids to see a very scruffy looking canine panting besides me. As I went to pat it I heard a familiar Berliner voice, "Get up, it is time for meditation."

I could only assume that it must have been the monk. Unless of course he had a twin brother or, for some inexplicable reason, there was a small family from Berlin living in a remote Tibetan monastery and they had all decided to make it their business to make my life slightly less bearable.

As I dragged myself out of my cocoon-like sleeping bag, I realised that he was standing right over me with the same condescending stare he had been wearing the night before.

"Up, now," he barked, in a manner that was akin to the way my old superior officers used to shout at me.

I sighed, and grabbed my tattered GHOST jacket.

"NO!" he stated again, "you must be more respectful."

He then, quite rudely, opened up my rucksack and started rummaging through it. To crown off this rather invasive investigation into my personal belongings he started taking everything out while tutting repeatedly. I saw everything I had carefully packed end up thrown on the floor.

"Huh," he exclaimed, taking out one of my ration packs, "I wouldn't even feed this awful stuff to Montague."

"WHAT!?" I exclaimed, rather befuddled.

"My ravenous companion," he glibly stated, pointing at the creature that had woken me up.

The monk went back to digging through my bag.

"Aha!" the man suddenly exclaimed again, before looking down at his dog and saying, "this is more like it. At least his choice of attire isn't something to be sniffed at. Even if it is a little ridiculous to bring such clothes to this place."

He brought out the full suit and shirt I had been carrying around and examined it thoroughly.

"What about morning meditation?" I decided to inquire.

"Once you are washed and appropriately dressed," the monk said as he stroked his beard. Suddenly I found the tuxedo thrown at me like he expected me to wear it. As I put it back into the rucksack he started with his incessant tutting again. I gathered that it would just be easier to eat the wear the bloody thing than try arguing with him.

At that, the odd man left the room, the one that I had been allocated to last night, with his dog promptly following suit. Once more, I exhaled out of despair. While I had been instructed to wash, this odd German monk had not bothered to tell me if the building possessed a wash room. Or, for that matter, if it even had running water.

Thus, I decided I may as well have a small look around to discern if this place had a place I could bathe. To my utter astonishment I found that there was in fact a wonderfully crafted pool that seemed to be for washing purposes. It seemed to be connected to an artificially redirected stream, as I saw clay tubes carrying water into it and I could only assume that there must have been an underwater outlet as well.

My fears that it was some sort of religious fountain were finally abated when I saw several white bricks that smelled and looked, quite unmistakably, like lemon soap. After easing off my stained clothing I looked for a clean part of the floor to put the tuxedo onto. To my astonishment, while observing the general vicinity of the stone flooring, I found what looked like a small hook upon the wall. I assumed this must have been for robes and decided it may as well house my tuxedo jacket. Thankfully Claude had at least provided me with a coat hanger.

Satisfied that it was secured, I walked towards the water and eased myself in. Which was something that I immediately regretted. It was absolutely perishing. I started to wish that I had suddenly entered it instead, so that I would have experienced the initial shock in a single instance. Not wanting to waste any time, I grabbed the soap and started to scrub away. As the bandages on my hands hit the water, I realised that they were now very loose and frayed. After I took them off I was met by two garish holes in my palms. Thankfully the perforations had missed any vital tissue. I guess that Damien Anderson had been very precise as he drove pieces of stone through them.

I cursed the name of the sadistic bastard, vowing that one day vengeance would be mine. I felt the water sting my newly exposed wounds and winced slightly as the icy liquid poured through.

"How dare you bathe in the sacred river!" was the exclamation that rung out through the room. I jumped back with fright, "do you have no shame, traveler."

I looked up to see the monk was standing in the doorway with what appeared to be a cup of tea. Clearly the pool in which I was bathing wasn't the only water supply this place had.

"I-I," I stuttered out of a mixture of embarrassment and rage.

"Nah, I'm only messing with you," the monk replied back with a smug grin on his face, "that's the right place to cleanse one's body."

Following this remark he promptly left the bathing room. At this point, I must confess, I was now seething with rage.

I decided I had had enough bathing for now and promptly left. I saw that a piece of cloth had been left by the doorway. It seemed like I should use it to dry myself off. I rubbed it down my slender body, from my neck to my feet, and the water seemed to just evaporate off. In no time at all I was dry. I then inspected the piece of cloth more closely. It appeared that it was in fact a nanofiber towel. It seemed to be a very odd thing for a monk to have.

Regardless, I acquired all of the parts of my tuxedo and put them on. Now resplendent in pure white, I hunted for the monk. When I finally found him again, he was sitting reclined within a rather lavish chair and supping tea. I noticed that his canine companion was doubling as a foot cushion.

"Ah, much better," he exclaimed, "now we can begin the journey of enlightenment."

He then did as I was expecting. The man frowned again.

"We'll need to bandage your hands once more, for the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash will be a dangerous one."

I suddenly had to vocalise my suspicions, "Just who the hell are you? Huh? Claude? One of his agents? His goddamn uncle?"

"WHAT!?" he suddenly retorted, "just what on earth are you thinking?"

"How do you know of my quest?" I blurted out while projecting my hand out in a defensive manner.

"Why else would a foreigner travel here?" he exclaimed, sounding rather genuinely affronted, "it's the only goddamn reason I came to this place for it is a holy journey. Problem was that I became stranded when the temple was ransacked."

The lament in his voice sounded incredibly real.

"Sorry to hear that," I feigned some sympathy, "but just who are you? You gave me shelter but never did once give your name. And I just keep calling you monk."

"Well, I never did tell you mine for you had no courtesy to reveal your own. Nor, might I add, did you ever thank me for giving you a place to rest."

"My name is Vamana Uldericks," I accidentally gave my true name and not an alias. I cursed my own stupidity, "looking for closure on what appears to be a never ending quest. I am most grateful for your friendly hospitality, your holiness."

It seemed better to be respectful and play his little game than make a fuss over it. Thus I also gave a small bow.

"I am Bhikkhu Ries Meissner," he responded astutely, "and, it would appear, the last of my order."

At that, he stood up from his seat and shook my hand.I immediately regretted reciprocating the action as pain shot through hand. I visibly flinched with pain.

"So you said you had bandages?" I asked, still reeling from the pain as I showed him my palms.

"Yes. I can also treat them with natural leaves and oils," Meissner stated, as he grabbed my right hand again and started pawing over it, before bluntly saying "but until then why not try some opium. It will help you meditate while easing the pain."

While I was normally averse to taking harmful chemical substances, smoking opium seemed like a good idea right now. I desperately wanted the pain to go away.

"Well, if you have some, I would be extremely grateful," I admitted.

Almost immediately he pulled out a pipe from behind his chair and handed it to me. I was about to ask for a lighter, when his hand became engulfed in flame. He carefully brought his finger down to end of the pipe and lit it. I inhaled deeply and instantly felt more relaxed. Had I been able to think more clearly, then perhaps I would have been more alarmed at the fact this man was fire elemental.

"You don't seem to be a very dutiful monk," I joked.

"I wasn't a very dutiful soldier either," he laughed as he started looking around the room.

"What?" I exhaled, before taking another draw from the pipe and sitting down on the floor.

"And from the looks of things, mate, you're a pretty bad one as well," he laughed as he found what looked like a roll of bandages. Or it could have been sheets of candyfloss. I don't know. I was too happy to care.

The pain was already easing and for the first time since I had set out on my journey, I felt completely relaxed. No worries. No nothing. All the while I just kept considering just how bizarre I must have looked. Smoking an opium pipe while resplendent in a fully white tuxedo.

I don't know how much time elapsed as I contemplated surreal concepts of existence. I honestly didn't care either. Why I was here. What I was doing. Something about a flower and a mountain. Or was it a mountainous flower. Maybe I just didn't need to care as I found myself supping tea with bandaged hands while a large hairy dog was panting beside me.

"Excellent," Ries remarked, "I don't think you felt a thing."

"Uh, what?" I dreamily replied, still quite disillusioned about being returned to some semblance of reality.

"When I brutally sodomised you," he glibly stated.

"Yeah, uh, just what the hell?" I could barely manage. I went to take another draw from my pipe but it was apparently no longer lit.

"Yes, I am glad that you don't remember the trauma I bestowed upon your anus," the monk said with an alarmingly straight face, "I mean, one does get lonely in these mountains and I had natural urges that needed to be satisfied."

"Oh God. Just. Seriously, what the fuck, man!?" I blurted out, still fairly delirious.

"Yes, you were completely unaware of the fact I was breaking in your rear," Meissner slyly said. He licked his lips in a distressing manner.

Suddenly I felt sick. Then I started to think it through. I looked at my hands. They were bandaged again. I then started to bring my hand down towards my rectum.

The monk then started laughing, "You actually genuinely believed that it had happened!"

"You utter wanker!" I retorted, feeling quite affronted by a joke that had been at my own expense. That wasn't fair. I was supposed to be the one who did that to other people.

"Now, come on young Uldericks, we have much more to achieve this day," he firmly stated before dragging me off of the ground and onto my feet. Still dazed from the opiates I had inhaled, it took me a bit of time to feel that I was properly stable as the canine flanked my left side.

After normality had been achieved, I suddenly found myself walking barefoot in the snow, basking in the midday sun.

Chapter 8 - Final Curtain

Location: Tibet (China)

Date: 18 MAR 2110

Local time: 1207

"Now we can bring Vamana to the mountain," the monk proclaimed, "for I do not think the mountain will come to him."

As my feet met the icy ground once more and the effects of the opium were now no more, I voiced my concern, "what about shoes?"

At that, Ries produced a pair of wooden sandals. Terrific. Now I'd look even more surreal. White tuxedo and sandals in the snow. I didn't even bother complaining as it was probably for some kind of religious reason that the monk would then lecture me on. Thus, I just took them and put them on while Ries kept smirking the entire time.

"Now, can we finally begin little princess?" he teased in a fashion that made me want to punch him.

"Very funny," I gritted through my teeth, "but perhaps it would be a trifle wiser to arm ourselves."

The monk then did what was clearly an exaggerated gasp before ranting, "Are you a mad man!?"

I sighed.

"That would be of the greatest disrespect!" Ries dramatically roared in a theatrical manner, "you must relinquish violence on the quest to the mountain."

I wasn't sure if he was being serious or taking the piss. Regardless, I decided that killing him at the first opportunity would likely be a satisfying outcome.

"Climbing gear?" I asked in vain.

At that he gave me an even queerer look, "By the Fires of Heaven, are you a bloody moron? Or do you find some sick enjoyment in constantly harassing me by continuously asking stupid questions."

"Okay!" I snapped, "enough of the fucking bullshit! I came here to climb that motherfucking mountain. That is the test. IS THAT NOT THE FUCKING PILGRIMAGE!?"

Ries' face then contorted itself into one of genuinely contemptuous pity. From the expression he was displaying, I assumed he thought of me as a brain dead monkey with little grasp on reality.

"Alas, my child," the monk lamented, "for your quest is in vain. Mount Kailash is unclimbable and it would be a great disrespect to even try."

"THAT FUCKING QUEBECOIS WANKER!" I screeched, quite possibly out of my more than mild annoyance with a certain drug lord who commonly went by the name of "Claude".

"Wait, what?" Ries asked out of what could have been concern.

"Oh, never mind," I muttered, "you wouldn't care anyway. I may as well just grab my stuff and go."

I then received a punch to the face.

"Oh for the love of Buddha, man the fuck up," Ries stated.

"You what, mate?" I replied, "Are you fucking kidding me. I could wreck you.."

At that, I went to reciprocate the blow and aimed for his nose.

"Oh, a fair fight? One on one," the monk laughed, "this will be the fight of your life."

To my surprise, he skillfully deflected it using parrying technique. I assumed it must have been from some sort of martial art. I decided to respond by going to punch again before doing a sharp knee kick to his groin.

The second punch was also deflected, but my momentum had allowed me to get close enough to make knee-to-balls contact. I laughed as he winced in pain and fell over. I then kicked him again for good measure. Little punk ass bitch telling me to 'man the fuck up' like that.

Next thing I then realised was that I was plummeting to the floor. The bastard had grabbed my leg and forcefully yanked it. I fell onto the ground and the scarlet blood from my lips splattered against the pure white snow. I tried to roll myself over as fast as I could, narrowly dodging another grab.

Ries' hand impacted upon the snow, but I instantly realised that I wasn't safe yet as I was struck by a blow from his elbow. I retaliated with a punch to the bicep that belonged to the same arm as the elbow that had impacted upon my arm. The monk struggled as I tried to move into a domineering position over him.

I reeled in pain as a felt my testicles impacted upon by a most distressing force. That bastard had had the gall to knee me in the balls before punching me in the face as I crumpled on top of him. I thrust his arms upwards, to push me off, before nudging me to the side.

Despite the extreme pain I was suffering, I decided to put mind over matter in order to get revenge upon this insolent monk. I redoubled my efforts as I started punching the shit out of Ries before he suddenly burst our laughing. Was he mocking me? Was he laughing at my efforts?

Needless to say, all it did was increase my ferocity as I lay punch after punch upon Meissner, who just kept laughing. He then somehow managed to fling me off once more and forced himself to stand. A look of mirth still upon his face as he came to tower over me, I went to kick him down to my level but found it intercepted by a firm hand.

The monk stared at me a little more seriously this time, before cracking up into rapturous laughter once more, "ah, that's exactly what I wanted to see, young Uldericks."

"What?" I spat into the dirt.

"That you can actually man the fuck up and try to face your problems," he crowed, before seemingly offering some form of what he could consider to be wisdom, "yet while the potential is there, you are but an uncut diamond. Let me take you to the mountain and you shall be fashioned into the jewel you truly are."

At that, he offered me his hand and pulled me up to stand by his side. As I brushed myself off, I realised that my tuxedo was now dirty and torn after the fight, with blood stains littering my apparel.

Thus we started walking towards the mountain as I grumbled about the stupid flower under my breath.

"What was that?" Ries piqued up, as we marched through the snow dotted landscape.

"I need to bring back a bloody flower from the mountain," I snapped.

"Oh really?" the monk laughed. This was starting to become annoying. The clear contempt and disregard he showed for my frustration.

"Kasturi Kamal," I sighed.

"Ah, that is most fortunate, I know the plant well," Meissener smirked, "it is useful as a natural bandage."

"Good. Then you can help me get one," was all I could say without shouting.

"Perhaps," the monk smoothly spoke, "but first you need to find inner peace."

"Why the fuck do I need to do that?" I queried with a fair amount of rage in my voice.

"Are you aware of your namesake?" he enigmatically smiled.

"Vamana?" I rhetorically answered, "why but of course."

"Then perhaps you may understand why even a religious man, such as myself, would see some form of significance in a man of your name venturing to this forsaken land?" he suddenly started to act more serious.

"It may have crossed my mind," I spoke plainly, "but I am not one to believe in such falsehoods as religion."

"What of coincidence?" Ries asked, "what of the absurdity of your very presence here? It may be a Hindu concept, yes, but the fact that you have ventured to a mountain sacred to so many religions? Into a country that does not take kindly to the outsider?"

"This was but an assignment I was tasked with completing. It is my duty to see it through. No matter the odds," I honestly answered.

"What of the one who assigned this task to you?" his question was emphasised by an upwards inflexion.

"He is an impossible man. Unreasonable. Irrational."

"Curious," the monk spoke, as the peak of the mountain came in to full view, "it just makes this whole thing even more random."

"How much further do we wander?" I asked, wishing to change the subject of a silly religious conception held by the monk, "since I cannot climb it as I had so desired."

"We are almost at the shrine, Vamana," Meissner stated, "and perhaps there we can learn the true meaning of your presence here.

"Possibly," I retorted as a small statue came into view.

As we got closer, I realised that it was in fact a Buddha statue. When we finally arrived at the site, Ries motioned for me to sit.

"We shall meditate once more," he spoke, "this time without the effects of the opiates."

I nodded and sat down by the shrine. My companion did the same as his dog trotted into the vicinity of the shrine. I watched as the dog wandered up to the base of the statue and curled up into a ball beside it. At that, the monk forced himself into the lotus position and urged me to do the same.

I decided against it and merely crossed my legs as we both took deep breaths.

Slowly I relaxed and started to empty my thoughts. Placing everything aside as I focused on the future.

*

Location: Mount Kailash (China)

Date: 18 MAR 2110

Local time: 1600

It had been many hours since we had reached the base of Mount Kailash. During that time I had seen a myriad of inspiring visions flood in to my mind. Whether they were of some supernatural origin or just the unlocked wisdom from my subconscious, I honestly could not tell.

Nevertheless, it was incredible to say the least. The ideas for the future that I had been able to devise. A world united under my name. I was to be a king. A ruler of men. I could only wonder what the monk had seen that was making him so sombre.

"I must take you to the lake," Ries just blankly said, "now, before it is too late."

"What?" I genuinely asked, clueless to what he meant.

"I believe you are to do great things," he coldly spoke.

"Then why are you acting so serious?" I joked.

"Because you must be absolved of all misdeeds," Meissner was enigmatic in his response, "or there will be no redemption for the deeds which you will commit."

I stared blankly at him for a moment before deciding to get up from my cross legged position. A man who looked so startled could clearly only be saying such thing out of fear.

"Why are you so afraid of my future?" I laughed, "you can't possibly believe anything you have seen while meditating."

"Do not be so quick to mock. I have seen more than you might care to know," he trailed off "now come. We must drink from the waters pure."

"Why do I need to do this? It's just a silly dream, old man," I interjected, dubious to his claims.

"This is not a joking matter, Vamana Uldericks!" Ries shouted, "come with me! Now!"

Startled by his sudden change of mood, I elected to follow. We walked back from the way we had traveled to reach the shrine, towards the monastery. It was getting quite late and I imagined that we would stop at his home to gather sustenance, but he continued a silent march onward to where he believed we needed to go.

The road taken looked familiar. It seemed we were heading the same way I had journeyed while I was still under the impression that I could climb Mount Kailash. It seemed like days since I had trod this path. I finally deduced where he was taking me. To one of the lakes I had passed.

We took a turning on our left, taking a south-eastern bearing, through desert plains until we were at the water's edge. I looked at my watch. It now had a crack upon the glass from when I had been fighting my Buddhist associate. It read twenty-one minutes past nine. It had taken us more than three hours to walk from Mount Kailash. It was dark now, although faint moonlight illuminated the lake.

The monk produced a chalice from under his robes and offered it to me. I took a sniff on it and could detect the scent of stale red wine upon it.

"No thanks, mate," I said.

"Take this and drink from the waters of this blessed lake," Meissner commanded, "the Manasarovar, mightiest of lakes."

"Why must I do that?" I queried.

"So that you can be cleansed of all sins," Ries rather dramatically pronounced, "in this life and in the next."

At that statement I decided I may as well take a drink. It couldn't hurt to be forever purified of my sins, when I was quite intent on committing many more. I felt the ice cold water trickle down my throat and genuinely come to feel that my being was just that bit more saintly. I was surprised that I couldn't taste the musky aftertaste of stale wine as I gulped it. Perhaps it was due to the chemical compounds dissolved in the water.

"So I am now incapable of doing no wrong?" I asked, a slight smile making its way on to my face, despite the fact I was trying to subdue it.

At that point, Ries' dog started barking furiously for some reason.

"That is correct," Ries ominously stated, "for you are of a divine nature. In death you shall go to Abode of Lord Shiva."

My mind raced at the possible options I could now take. I could kill him. I could kill his stupid dog. The entire world now lay at my feet. Now all I needed to do was get out of this goddamn country.

The dog was now whining in distress. I was starting to be unnerved by it. I looked at the monk. He was bending down to pick up a flower.

"What's that then?" I snapped, now on edge.

"It is what you seek, the last part of your journey, the Kasturi Kamal," were the words that left Meissner's lips as he bequeathed the flower to me. I hastily shoved it into my trouser pocket.

"Thank you," I sneered.

"But now we must run!" he yelled.

I jumped as I noticed that the dog was barking even more frantically. It was bleeding for some reason. It looked like it had been hit by a bullet.

I panicked and turned to face the monk who had already started running.

We were too exposed here, of course the People's Defence Force would have found us.

The shaggy canine whimpered before being struck again, falling dead. I ran. Feeling a bullet impact upon my arm. I winced but knew I could not falter.

Not far ahead I could see a ruined monastery. It wasn't the one I had been staying in, but it would do for now as refuge.

I did not know were Ries was. I did not care. I just had to survive. I dove behind the cover of a ruined wall as I heard shouting in a foreign tongue. I could only assume it was Chinese. I reclined against the wall and turned my attention to my struck arm. Thankfully the bullet had only grazed it.

I cursed at the fact that the monk had forced me not to take any weapons with me. It was ridiculous. I knew we would have needed them in case the Chinese found us.

I could hear the voices coming closer. Yet, suddenly, they were turning in to screams. I looked above me and could see a faint orange glow. It must have been emanating from the other side of the wall.

Perhaps they were using flamethrowers, I decided to take a quick look from where I was hiding. To my surprise, it was not the PDC wielding the flames. It was my German comrade. Possessed with a mad fury that was almost frightening. The entire goddamn area seemed to be on fire.

Ries was now completely nude. Fire emanating from every part of his body. From his spindly legs to his rather sculpted torso. Even his nether regions and his manhood was ablaze. I suddenly realised why this particular monk was completely bald.

"BY BUDDHA'S NAME!" he was screeching like a zealous lunatic, "ALL SHALL BE PURIFIED BY THE FLAMES!

The small detachment of Chinese soldiers who had found us were now scattering like frightened mice. I watched with morbid fascination as I saw them consumed by balls of fire as they attempted to escape. One was trying to run to towards the ruined monastery. I wasn't going to allow this. I stood up and waited. I kept waiting until she appeared next to the wall I had taken cover behind.

As the poor sod tried to escape the madness of this hellish situation, I leaped on to her and brought her to the ground. I quickly grabbed her knife from her belt and lodged it into the woman's throat. Crimson fluid spurted forth as I watched the life leave her body. I stabbed her repeatedly as her body writhed and I tasted drops of blood fall upon my lips. I cackled like a madman as I looked upon my work.

I was an artist. An artisan in blood.

The ablaze monk gave chase to the last two stragglers. I watched with sick delight as the shorter of the caught fire from a fireball that struck his head. It would have been quick, but painful nonetheless. The more amusing kill was the one Ries managed upon the last soldier. I could not discern the gender from this distance, but this soul was particularly unfortunate as their entire body ended up consumed by the fire. I watched for almost a minute until they stopped twitching.

Darkness fell once more as the monk extinguished his flames. My eyes were suddenly maladjusted to the light and I could barely see anything. I called out to my comrade as I used my powers to conjure up a light source. My left hand was now cloaked with light.

"Ries!" I yelled, panicked by the unfamiliarity of the situation.

"I'm down here, you bloody fool," he shouted back.

"Come towards the light," was all that I could think of.

"Very funny," he bellowed, "just come here and bring me some goddamn clothes."

At that, I decided I may as well obey. Killing the monk would have to wait for another time and the damn PDC had robbed me of my right to kill his bastard mutt. I started to strip the corpse of the young woman I had slain. I started by removing her belt and the holster that was affixed to it. After placing it to one side, I removed the young woman's boots. Unlacing them before forcing them off of her feet. It was a fair bit of a challenge, but I broke her bones in order to allow for it to happen. I then peeled off her trousers, taking them down from her waist until they were completely free from her person. I folded them up and placed them beside me.

Realising that I required a makeshift bandage for my wounded arm, I removed her underwear as well. Forcing them down in the most efficient manner possible, by placing my hand either side of her pelvis and dragging downwards. I stuffed the pair of knickers into my pocket for later. I then turned my attentions to the torso. A jacket and shirt. The coat was easy to remove, as I unbuttoned it and took it from her body. It would have been enough to give Ries this for warmth, but I did not think there was much point in wasting the material of the shirt. I unfastened its buttons as well, before dragging it off of the dead soldier's corpse. The young woman now lay there, naked and exposed to the elements, save for nothing but a bra and her socks. It was then that I realised that my feet were cold from wearing nothing but sandals. I quickly stripped them from her body.

I stood up and admired my handiwork, all of the clothing was efficiently removed. I turned to try and find Ries but noticed that he was already walking towards me.

"I've got you clothes," I warmly announced, "fresh off the rack!"

"Excellent, mate," he reciprocated.

"Don't mind if they're a bit bloodied?" I retorted.

"They'll do just fine, just let me take a look," he jovially spoke. "Oh, if it isn't my lucky day, aye?"

"How ever so?" I asked, suspicious to his motives.

"Well a man has urges and I'm already dressed the part," Meissner laughed, "it wouldn't hurt if I did."

He positioned himself over the young woman's lifeless body.

"I do think that would be rather disrespectful," was all I could muster.

"Ah, but I too have drunk the sacred water of the lake," his tone darkened, "So I can do no wrong... "

*

Location: Lake Manasarovar (China)

Date: 18 MAR 2110

Local time: 2357

As we withdrew from the shores of Lake Manasarovar, after Ries had finished getting loosely dressed in the young woman's clothes, I noticed just how warm my feet now were while wrapped in thick military socks. My german associate looked very tired and worn out after his previous engagement, as he slowly followed me in my footsteps.

I could tell that he was extremely relieved that I had killed the young woman and saved her from being incinerated as a result. For now he was needs had been sated as he was sufficiently clothed to withstand the cool night air.

The route back to the monastery would be dangerous in the dark. I was weary of using my natural powers to illuminate the way forwards as the chance of PDC soldiers lurking in the plains was extremely high. I jumped at even the quietest of noises that I reached my ears. As we slowly walked through the desolate sands, I started to become aware of the daunting fact that the night was dark and full of terrors.

Ries was deathly silent. I tried to expunge his actions from my mind and the image of his naked body ablaze with light. Much to my dismay, it seemed branded into my memory. I turned my mind back to when he took his chalice down to the water's edge once more. After clothing himself in the uniform of the dead woman he insisted that he drunk from the lake. I was actually quite surprised that the cup had survived his immolation in a relatively intact state. Of course, its metallic composition had clearly allowed it to survive. Still, surely gold would have melted at such temperatures. That's when it hit me, of course it wasn't made of actual gold. Such a fraud of a monk would have likely procured a cheap knock off from a Chinese counterfeit market. I could only assume it was in fact a gold plated steel chalice. It had been horrendously discoloured, from the rapid oxidisation, when Ries had taken his drink of water from Lake Manasarovar.

The adrenaline was definitely pumping as I followed Meissner back to his humble abode. I cannot tell when we finally made it back to the little monastery. I was exhausted from the journey and wanted to sleep. However, the crazed inflammable monk seemed to have other ideas of what our next course of action was going to be.

"Get your kit, we're moving out," the madman's words grated against my ears.

"What?" I protested, "we clearly need rest. I'm still fucking bleeding and you're bloody well half-cooked!"

"Rest is for the dead," he shouted as he tore off the clothes I had procured for him, "and for the love of Nirvana, get the fuck out of that tuxedo!"

"Why the hell are we in such a rush!?" I yelled.

"The PDC have already found us once," he panted, "which means they'll now be actively looking for us. So shut that fucking mouth of yours and sort out your bloody kit!"

At that, I decided it was best to obey his impolite orders and sort out my rucksack. I ran through to the room I had bathed in the day before and found my stuff was still there. After changing into my GHOST jacket and dark grey trousers, I hastily packed up the rest of my equipment and grabbed the assault rife, affixing a suppressor to the nozzle as quickly as I could. Having taken all I could, I slung the bag over my shoulder and ran to the last place I had seen Ries.

When I returned I saw a rather astonishing sight. The man was wearing pitch black apparel. Balaclava, reinforced jacket, gloves and trousers. Both of his hands were holding silenced submachine guns.

"What the fuck is this?" I exclaimed, as I pointed my gun at him.

"Simply put, the path of the Bhikkhu is not the only one I have followed throughout my life," he blatantly stated. Yes, it was quite clear to me that there was something else to Ries, bloody, Meissner, "now drop that fucking bag, it'll only compromise our movements."

"This fucking rucksack has saved my goddamn life, I'm not leaving it now," I objected.

"LEAVE THE FUCKING RUCKSACK OR I'LL SHOOT YOU NOW AND LEAVE YOU TO DIE!" Ries roared, as both of his own weapons found themselves trained on my torso.

I undid the straps of my bag and let it fall to the floor. Now was not the time for a confrontation. Ries did not speak, he merely indicated a direction for me to follow. One that I could only assume lead out of the building.

As I stared at his outstretched arms, I couldn't help but glimpse a patch of yellow material underneath the black jacket.

As I exited the small monastery, I noticed that the stars were no longer obscured. The sight amazed me somewhat. In the bustling urban sprawls I had once called home, you could not see them. Only the glow of a sleepless city and the faint light of the moon could be spied from such expansive metropolises. But here, the night was pitch dotted with pinpricks of light.

"Move," I heard a gruff voice behind me. I quickly complied and started walking forwards.

"Where are we headed?" I asked.

"To the border," Ries stated, "we need to get the hell out of this Sector."

"That will take days," I argued.

"True," he agreed.

"Then why did we not take supplies?" I queried.

"Essentially, if we are discovered, excess equipment would be the death of us," he coldly snapped, "we require maximum mobility."

At that, I decided to keep my mouth shut. I didn't like heading off in the dark yet again. Limited vision was not fun to navigate by. However, the longer we wandered for, the lighter it became. This only served to worry me even more. Surely we would be more visible in the light. Regardless, we marched on in silence. Prepared to kill anyone who might come between us and the border.

To be honest, I wasn't even sure if we were heading in the right direction. I was aware from the position of the sun that we were heading southwards. How far south we were heading, I was not completely certain. Initially, we needed to go around Lake Rakshastal in order to avoid retracing our steps. Ries seemed to reckon that had we gone back the way we had come, then we would have been discovered and killed. I couldn't help but agree.

My legs were sore from the excessive amounts of walking I had undertaken. I had come to feel a sharp sensation in my right shoulder blade as well, where the strap from my assault rifle had kept digging itself in. Both of my hands were still painful to the touch, as the perforations in the appendages remained rather prominent, with the bandages barely cushioning the damaged tissue from any impacts they felt. Overall I was extremely uncomfortable and wished for an end to this tedious quest.

That was when I saw a sight that made my heart sink. A helicopter flying overhead the Himalayan terrain. There was no cover. Nowhere for us to run. I would have to resort to something drastic in order for us to survive. I concentrated my powers into the palms of my hands and expelled a large beam of light energy at the aircraft.

I felt my flesh singe as the bandages immolated. My wounds became exposed to the elements in an extremely painful fashion. I winced from the pain as I heard Ries shout at me, "FUCKING IDIOT!"

Rage overcame me. I was trying to do something helpful. I noticed that the helicopter was now moving towards us. Clearly guided by the shot I had loosed off at it. I forced myself to ignore the pain and fired off another blast. Again it missed. The helicopter was coming closer.

I could tell it was armed. I was panicking and I realised that Ries was running away from me, "YOU'VE KILLED US BOTH YOU STUPID TWAT!"

No. I hadn't killed us. We would have been dead anyway. I fought through the pain and aimed my hands at the helicopter again. The beam missed but I think it had blinded the pilots, as the vehicle veered off slightly. Now that it was compromised, I focused my powers again and unleashed the most powerful blast I could manage.

The laser cut through the front of the helicopter. I can only imagine that the pilots had been incinerated. Next thing I knew was that the aircraft had impacted upon the earth as flames lit up the landscape.

"OH YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" I heard, "YOU'VE JUST LIT A FUCKING BEACON FOR THEM!"

I didn't care. I had a plan of my own. I would head towards where that bastard helicopter had come from. I'd find the fucking airfield and kill everyone there. I was out for blood.

"FOLLOW ME!" I yelled back, "I HAVE AN IDEA!"

"YOU FUCKING CRAZY CANADIAN WANKER!" was the response I got, "THAT'S HEADING AWAY FROM THE BORDER!"

"I DON'T FUCKING CARE!" I bellowed, "I HAVE A FUCKING PLAN!"

"WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO FUCK AROUND!" he yelled.

"IF WE GO TO THE BORDER THEY'LL BE WAITING FOR US!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, "THIS ENTIRE FUCKING AREA IS A FORTIFIED COMPOUND!"

"Relax, mate," the insufferable German monk spoke in an infuriatingly calm manner, "I was just pulling your leg. Let me hear your plan."

I swear, at this point, I was very close to just grabbing my rifle and shooting him in his callous face.

"Well, " I seethed, "considering that I have undergone basic flight training, I was thinking that acquiring some aerial transport would be most beneficial to our chances of escaping."

My teeth grated together as I spoke.

"Seems like a pretty good idea, mate," Ries laughed, "but we're going to have a damn time stealing one. All of the military installations in this area are heavily defended."

"And just how the hell would you know that?" I nearly howled.

"You didn't think I just spend my entire time meditating and smoking opium, did you?" he smugly smiled.

Honestly, I was quite surprised that such an imbecile had taken an interest in scouting out Chinese military installations. Although, I guess he needed to in order to avoid being killed by the PDC.

"As a matter of fact," I gritted my teeth together.

I put my hand in to my left pocket. I sighed with relief as I found my flexi-glass interactive map was still rolled up inside. I unfurled it and zoomed in on the location directly ahead of the flaming wreckage of the downed helicopter.

"Well, go on mate, lead on," Meissner sneered in a condescending manner.

*

Location: Tibetan Military Airstrip (China)

Date: 19 MAR 2110

Local time: 1148

It had taken us almost three hours to find where the helicopter had originated from. A small area of fenced off land that was home to a multitude of steel buildings, ten VTOL jet interceptors, five large aircraft that seemed to be outfitted for troop deployment, a plethora of helicopters that I had been unable to fully count and a relatively long runway.

My main worry was the large number of people in military uniform that I had spied as well.

"So what's the target, chief?" Ries chirruped up, "cause I don't fancy a fight with the People's Defence Corps when they out number us fifty to one."

"A jet interceptor," I muttered, before instantly realising that Meissner would make a clever remark about it.

"That actually seems like a fairly good idea," he plainly stated, after putting down his binoculars, "it'd be bloody risky, mind, but I think one of them is a two seated trainer."

He passed me the binoculars and pointed to a sleek black jet fighter that was not situated within one of the hangars. It had a slightly larger cockpit than the other fighters. I scanned the outline of vehicle as well as its surroundings. Next to the wedge shaped fin-tips was a couple of maintenance crew wearing high visibility jackets. As my eyes followed the contours of the swooped back wings, I noticed a fuel truck in my peripheral vision.

Upon closer inspection the stationery aircraft, it looked very similar to a Vallarian fighter jet that I had conducted my basic flight training in. In fact, if it hadn't been for the significantly wider wingspan and only a single enlarged engine instead of two, it could have been the exact same one. I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the was the result of Chinese industrial espionage. The rotating jet thrusters were located exactly where they were on a Vallarian Mk. III Dachshund Interceptor.

"Ries, I think I may actually be able to properly fly that thing as well," I commented, "damn thing looks like a knock-off of the jet I trained in."

"Well, that's pretty damn lucky for us," Ries joked, "and here was me thinking people only consider stealing aircraft a good idea if they don't have a clue how to fly one."

I honestly couldn't tell if he meant what he said in a mocking or amicable fashion.

"I'm just not sure how we'll be able to get close enough to actually hijack it," I confessed.

"From what I can see right now, we have several options on how we could proceed," Ries stated in a relatively serious manner, "personally I think our only sure fire way of escaping would be to eliminate every single soldier here."

"Which is of course not very feasible for only two men," I spoke.

"Precisely, so we're going to have to find some form of a compromise. We also can't spend too much time waiting, otherwise our ticket out of here could end up being flown out of the airbase," Meissner blankly stared at me, "time is of the essence."

As he said that, a sinister idea formed in my mind.

"So, what sort of flight training do you have?" I queried.

"None," he glibly stated, "my organisation never had the resources for such a luxury. So you better be a damn good pilot."

At that, I saw a slight nervous twitch. For once, the sardonic bastard didn't have the advantage. Without me he'd be stuck here, out of position and far from his desired destination of the Chinese border.

From our current location, I estimated it would take about five minutes to reach the perimeter of the fence. For a second I wondered how I would actually manage to get in through said fence, until I realised that my jacket still contained a small pair of wire cutters. Unfortunately I did not have the rest of my useful survival gear due to the insistence of a deluded maniac.

The pair of us walked around the outskitrs of the airbase, keeping a low profile, before sliding down the other side of the high ground we had positioned ourselves upon, my rifle firmly grasped in my fingers. Ries quickly followed suit and we found ourselves level with the aircraft hanagars.

We crept up to the side of a large metallic building and checked to see if the coast was clear.

"Nothing on my side," reported Ries in an informative manner.

"One hostile," I quietly said, "moving up to the edge of the fence."

"Well you better bloody well take care of that," Ries hissed, "we'll need a distraction if we're going to get in to this bloody place."

I kept my body pressed up beside the cold steel wall of the dark green building that met the edge of the fence and brought the scope of my rifle up to my eye. As the soldier moved along the edge of the perimeter I unloaded three shots in to the base of their neck.

"Target eliminated," I spoke softly, "two more hostiles approaching on foot."

I waited until they were in my sight and opened fire. One of them managed to call out before he died.

At that, Ries and I sprinted in the opposite direction as fast as we could, hoping that the confusion caused by the recent deaths would give us a window of opportunity to avoid detection.

We held our breath as we found ourselves beside another large aircraft hanagar.

"I think this is the one," I scarcely breathed.

"I think you're right," Ries quietly agreed.

I heard the sound of boots impacting against the concrete ground of the airbase as more personnel arrived to investigate the the commotion I had inadvertent caused. Thankfully this also meant that their attention was elsewhere as I cut through the fence. Once we were safely inside, Ries and I ran towards the aircraft we had targeted. From the look of things it had yet to be completely refueled as two maintenance crew were still pumping kerosene into the sleek fighter jet.

Ries callously shot the pair of the dead with his suppressed automatic weapons and their bodies impacted upon the frame of the state of the art war machine. There was not much distance between us and our ticket out of the country. Escape was in our grasp when gunfire tore through the jet interceptor.

I became filled with dread as our distraction had not lasted long enough. The shouting of Chinese voices increased with fervor at each passing second. My heart sank as I saw the fuel line spray the inflammable fuel it was harbouring all over the vehicle.

Our only means of survival now lead in the opposite direction, towards the other hangars. It was do or die. Instinct took over when I grabbed my lighter from my pocket, flicked it open and hurled it in the direction the gun shots were coming from.

As I turned around I saw Ries shouting at me as a mortified look spread across his face. He turned to join me in the action of sprinting as the flames rapidly grew. My senses were dulled to the world as the adrenaline pumped through me. I ran as fast as I could away from the hangar as it was engulfed in fire. I heard a loud explosion as my wearied legs propelled my body further and further away from the raging inferno that I had left in my wake.

I fell to the ground as a blast of air knocked me off of my feet. My rifle fell from my bandaged hands as they flailed out in front of me in a vain effort to cushion the fall. As they crunched against the ground I was quite distressed by the fact I couldn't feel any pain despite the impact reverberating throughout my body. I felt my face slowly hit the ground soon after and it seemed that this would be the end. There was no way back now. We were as good as dead.

I don't know why I did what I did. The will to survive was far greater than I had previously thought possible. I forced myself to grab my rifle with a burst of energy I didn't think I had left in me. I grasped it firmly in my hands as I used it to force myself from the concrete. As I rose from the ashes I felt my lungs wracked by the thick smoke that was bellowing from the remains of the hangar. I coughed and spluttered as I tried to survey the area, but thick black smoke obscured my field of vision. After finally getting myself into a standing position, I saw Ries' body on the floor in front of me. I wanted to bring him with me. I wanted to check. But I just didn't have the time.

My own survival was paramount. I had to get out of here as quickly as possible. Just to be sure I seemed to think it was necessary to shoot Ries in the leg. I was rather horrified when I heard a loud yelp emanate from his semi-conscious body. I should have helped him instead of condemning him, but I was a trained pilot and there were other aircraft that I could steal. If he had been able to escape, he'd have done the same thing to me.

The sound of blaring sirens reached my ears as I gradually regained my hearing. Shouting and screaming melded into a nightmarish cacophony of noise as the airbase was ablaze. To my relief there were no gunshots. I guess they must have been more concerned with extinguishing the flames than apprehending the culprits. I struggled towards a fighter jet that had been undamaged by the explosion and dragged over a step ladder to where I assumed the cockpit was located.

I thanked Zoroaster when I found that it hadn't been locked. Unfortunately, I very quickly found the reason for the canopy not being secured: there was still a pilot inside. He seemed rather irate with my presence and attempted to fend me off. Sadly for him, I had an assault rifle that I rather gratuitously unloaded into his stomach. I tore the helmet from his body before affixing it to my own head. At this point, I had no idea whether I would actually live to see my plan reach fruition. The smoke was noticebly thinner now and the shouting voices no longer seemed as distant. All the while sirens kept blaring repeatedly in the background.

The pilot's body slumped out of the cockpit, leaving a red smear as it fell, before I installed myself in his place. Content that I was linked up to the aircraft's oxygen supply, I set about finding the ignition. That was when, to my horror that I realised that the set up of this jet interceptor was different to the European model I had trained in. I desperately clawed vaguely familiar looking internal switches, including one that that forced the glass canopy of the cockpit to shut over my head.

While I was relieved to be in a more secure location, I must admit that I screamed exceptionally loudly when I somehow managed to switch on the vertical engines and found myself hurtling skywards through an ash cloud. I sighed with relief shortly afterwards that I had at least avoided igniting the primary engine beforehand.

Chapter 9 - Cat And Mouse

Altitude: 12000 米

Date: 19 MAR 2110

Cruising speed: 1000 km/h

As my body forced itself to relax within the confines of the pilot's seat, the full reality of the situation finally struck me. I was now several thousand feet off of the ground within an aircraft that I had no safe means of piloting. I was loathe to touch anything as I felt myself continually rising towards the stratosphere.

I craned my neck to stare at the glowing control panel in front of me. There were a few buttons dotted around the edges of a vast glowing display panel. I touched it and suddenly realised that it had reacted to the presence of my hand. Multiple displays popped up including a star with several Chinese characters strung around it like a ribbon.

I saw what I thought was an altimeter, judging by the measurements displayed and the fact it was rapidly rising. It displayed that it had just past 12000 indiscernible units. Was it feet? No, that couldn't be right. I seemed to be much higher up than that. I saw another indicator that I could tell was displaying the vertical and horizontal speeds of the aircraft. This was quite obvious from the fact it was identical to the displays used in the Vallarian Dachshund Interceptor and that there was the designation of kilometers per hour. If it was like the European models, I assumed it would be able to display it as nautical miles per hour as well.

The altimeter was flashing repeatedly, as was what seemed to be a barometer that was continually giving me pressure readings. Another pressure gauge, likely related to the oil pressure in the vehicle was also changing colour to red quite frequently. Clearly I hadn't started the vehicle in a manner it was accustomed to. My first priority was trying to find a means of setting the aircraft on a stable horizontal flight trajectory.

My second priority would be to deal with the flashing lights and warning messages that were littering the touch-screen display. I did what seemed to be the most logical thing and put my hands on the centre stick and bringing the aircraft to gently move forwards while it was still accelerating. Thankfully, as on the Dachshund, the switch for turning on the primary engine was located in the same place. Even if the rest of the display had been completely changed to serve the purposes of Chinese pilots, the rest of this aircraft seemed to follow the Vallarian designs.

I was pressed against the back of my seat as I felt acceleration from the initiation of the main engine force itself against my body. I must have been pulling a g-force of at least two. There should have been a display indicating the value, but it was not obvious amongst the flashing warning messages. The horizontal speed rapidly changed as the interceptor forced itself on a flight path parallel to the Earth instead of perpendicular to it. When the display read 1000 km/h I disengaged the vertical engines and started the more taxing task of dealing with the foreign control system. It was all well and good being able to cruise at this speed, but I needed to determine how much fuel I had left then find a safe way of landing it while discerning if there were any possible threats in my immediate vicinity.

I glanced over the digital control panel. This wasn't going to be easy. I could barely discern what each meter and gauge was supposed to indicate. I reluctantly brought my hand to the screen and touched it again. Suddenly the message disappeared and was replaced with something vaguely reminiscent of an advanced radar display. I scanned over it and my heart sank. Three dots were in pursuit. Likely surviving aircraft from the airfield that had been scrambled to hunt me down. I guess the PDC were aiming to apprehend me for the crimes I had committed against their country. I then thought about my apparel. If they'd caught any footage of me, then this would have appeared to have been a declaration of war against People's Republic of Asia by the GHOST Team. I laughed briefly before turning back to the task at hand.

Three enemy fighters were closing in behind me. I instinctively brought my right hand to the throttle and decreased the speed of the jet interceptor. My left hand found its way to the weapon systems. I wasn't just going to escape Chinese airspace. I had to teach these guys who they were dealing with. Vamana Uldericks, Blessed of Mansarovar. I could do no wrong.

I brought the flaps into an upwards position, causing the aircraft to rapidly break while deciding to embark on a risky maneuver that involved activating the ailerons to bring the jet into a nice curving arc. Much to my surprise this Chinese version of the Dachshund Interceptor did not suddenly plummet to the ground. I guessed that this was probably due to the fact that the Chinese had actually managed to design the aircraft in the manner that it should have been: with proper sized wings that allowed it to have more maneuverability than an intercontinental ballistic missile. My screen suddenly indicated three hollow squares over the dots on my radar and my helmet brought up an augmented reality display that indicated the positioning of the three fighter jets. I assumed that such an aircraft would be outfitted with guided missiles, so I pressed my thumb on the switch to launch two missiles. Amazingly, they actually launched without fail and within seconds there was only one aircraft left in the air. As the front on attack hadn't given the pilots enough time to attack.

However, my victory was short lived as suddenly the last aircraft disappeared off of my radar just as the augmented reality started to refuse to recognise it despite the fact that I had visual conformation of the target. It appeared that it had some sort of stealth system that the pilot had activated. With my software blinded, it meant that I would be forced to fight using manual controls. The problem was, I was completely unfamiliar with these manual controls. Not wanting to be at a disadvantage, I frantically looked for a means of activating my own aircraft's stealth capabilities.

At that moment I accidentally pressed a switch that turned off the electric features and left me with the bare minimum I required. The touch screen went dark it revealed that it was in fact a see-through plexiglass pane that allowed me to see a display panel I was more familiar with. Except it then turned out I wasn't as familiar with it as I would have hoped as all of the various mechanical meters and gauges were in the wrong place. It didn't help that they had Chinese annotations as well. This meant that I could no longer tell my altitude or speed properly. Things were clearly not looking in my favour anymore as it finally hit me that I was essentially stuck in a flying coffin. At the very least the Chinese hadn't rectified that delightful Dachshund trait I had come to so fondly love.

My eyes switched back to the skies in an instant as I attempted to locate my last pursuer. I noticed that the enemy bandit was headed towards thick clouds. From previous experience, introducing a Dachshund Interceptor to clouds was a death sentence that regularly resulted in the landing gear falling off. However, perhaps these Chinese versions were better equipped for the Himalayan terrain. I decided it was better to take the risk than remain as easy pickings for my foe. I pulled the stick upwards while turning it slightly, allowing me to gently curve upwards into the cloud cover, a maneuver that was not feasible in a Dachshund. For once I was able to do proper flying in an aircraft that was not determined to my life. As I entered the clouds I was forced to rely on the incomprehensible Chinese control deck. I think I finally found something that must have been the altitude as it had a similar marking next to it as the digital display had and it displayed a reading of 12800. At this height, I was surprised that an aircraft based on the Dachshund could actually still operate, let alone manage it at supersonic speeds.

I could see another number steadily increasing as well, this time reaching 700. I assumed this must have been the speedometer. The artificial horizon and compass were thankfully easy to discern amongst the array of other equipment. Which was refreshing, as the virtual display had covered them while not presenting them in a useful format (ie. one that I could actually read). My familiarity with the controls started to readjust to the new layout and I became more comfortable in this atmosphere. It was just like I'd done in training. Only this time I was in an bird I could rely on. It was time to stalk my prey and take him out.

I brought the jet interceptor down to just below the cloud level and began a sweep of the area. No sign of the enemy bandit. The bastard was probably still lurking in the clouds. Now here, I reasoned, I had two options. I could try my luck at flying on and attempt an escape through the clouds, over a mountainous region, or I could continue my hunt. I checked what seemed to be a fuel gauge. It looked like the needle was sitting around the halfway line to me. Deciding that I'd rather be safe than sorry, so I went to lurk in the clouds once more, dragging back on my stick. I stroked it gently to the right, as the aircraft came to follow the contours of my intended direction. I looked at my watch and timed sixty seconds.

At the end of the duration I reappeared from the cloud layer to make another sweep. This time I saw what I was looking for. The bastard had made a sweep that was too low. Or, he was trying to outfox me and get a clearer view of me by giving himself a wider field of vision. I had to act fast and ask questions later. Either way, the opportunity was mine for the taking. I eased the throttle and leaned forwards on to my stick as it resisted against my force. As I came screaming out of the heavens I pushed the centre button on the control stick and unleashed my load upon my unsuspecting victim.

Too my horror, the missile that I had launched was a lot larger than the air-to-air missiles I had used earlier. I did not look forward to what the result would be. It hurtled towards the target before he made a quick dodge that meant that it missed entirely. I pulled back on the controls and headed for the clouds just as a fire ball erupted in my peripheral vision. I strongly hoped that this explosion would be enough to make the pilot eject as his plane would now essentially be bust, but instead the bastard seemed intent of taking me out. I suddenly found that he had activated his VTOL booster engines and was attempting to rise in order to find me. However, I still had speed on my side.

I darted past like a dragonfly and brought myself into a better position that put me at a far greater distance from the damaged enemy aircraft. The determined fighter pilot had now given me a static target. I brought myself in on an arcing attack run and let another missile fly. I startled as I realised that he'd retaliated with a missile of his own. I had to take evasive maneuvers that led me crashing towards the mountains in order to avoid it. The explosion above me was enormous and I felt the shock wave impact upon the cockpit. Warning lights were flashing once more but I was loathe to reactivate the digital systems. The only problem facing me now was the rather major one of my bird was now falling out of the sky.

I was at a crossroads. If I bailed, I could die in the Himalayas. If I stuck with it, I could die failing to come out of this situation alive. That was when it hit me. I still had the VTOL engines. I frantically shoved them on and the hurtling motion started to ease out. I'm not sure how close I actually came to the mountains. I'm not sure how close to death I really was. But I was damn well enraged when I felt a buzzing sensation in my pocket. It was my phone.

For some ungodly reason, at this altitude, I had a bloody signal.

I struggled through the harness of the ejector seat to find this infernal device. After forcing it out from my blasted trouser pockets. I hurriedly brought it to my face before thinking of how the damn thing could interfere with the autopilot I had only just managed to switch on and leave in a steady position. I elected not to remove my helmet as I was currently dependent on the internal oxygen supply.

Mr Uldericks, I'll be ready to receive you shortly was the words I saw printed on the screen of the mobile device. Please be at Paris Orly Airport by 12 o'clock, sharpish. I have some important matters to discuss with you in Versailles.

"Oh for fuck's sake," I muttered to myself, "I'll fucking see you when the sun freezes and the rivers run dry you useless piece of dog shit."

At that I turned off the phone and slipped it back in to my pocket. I was feeling quite smug that I was now free of Claude's idiocy, until it dawned on me that I didn't actually have anything better to do with my time and I had a limited range in this vehicle.

*

Location: Paris-Orly Airport

Date: 19 MAR 2110

Local time: 1148

After an uneventful stop over in Cyprus to refuel my stolen Gourou J-109A Dual Role Nuclear Fighter, my journey took me to the very heart of the Euro Zone. My approach into French airspace was met by four Dachshund Mk.IIIs, which I assumed I could have easily destroyed with little incidence, had my remaining weapons not been limited to a single air launched cruise missile.

Deciding that I may as well continue my bluff, I threatened the interceptor pilots in French with my intentions to launch this weapon if they did not comply with my demands to escort me to Paris Orly Airport. Initially the pilots seemed extremely confused that I spoke their native tongue and that I was somehow armed with nuclear devices. Thankfully, they had more sense than bravado and gave in to my demands soon after a brief demonstration of my aircraft's superior specifications in relation to theirs, by disappearing off of their radar and subsequently evading them for a good ten minutes until they reopened dialogue.

Sometimes I think it would have been more fun to follow through with locking on to one of the enemy jet interceptors and launching a tactical nuclear missile at them in order to see what kind of damage it would do, but it so happened that I was not in a completely genocidal mood. Nor, would it happen, did I wish to put my own life at risk. To my relief, the escorts I had gained kept any other aircraft from intervening. I was quite surprised by this, as normal protocol dictated a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and attempting to eliminate them instead. Allowing them to actually land on European soil was always treated as a last resort.

As I cruised over Toulouse, I noticed that there was a significantly large number of people gathered on the streets. This, to me, looked like a vast infestation of ants that had spilled out of their nest and into an unfamiliar wilderness. As well as the gargantuan collective of miniature human beings, I would occasionally spot the smoke from fires obscuring the view of the populated areas significantly. Clearly, something rather major had occurred within my adopted homeland as the whole damn Sector seemed to have degraded into chaos. Thus, it was rather fortunate that there was so much upheaval in the Euro Zone that their military did not want to risk the detonation of nuclear weapons over its territory.

Nevertheless, my actual landing at Paris Orly did not go very smoothly either. While my plan of landing at an airbase in Cyprus was entirely to deploy the landing gear and pray I didn't hit crash into the sand on the nice long runway that seemed designed to accommodate large freighters. When I finally landed, I was surprised just how well my use of nuclear warhead endorsed blackmail went down with the locals who were happy to refuel my stealth capable jet fighter so long as I "got the hell out of Cyprus and never came back." I'm quite sure that this bluff only worked because it was fortunately a fairly abandoned looking military airstrip.

When my bird finally met tarmac in Paris-Orly, I must say it was a jarring experience. While I had some desire to land properly, the Gourou had other ideas. Such as not wanting to descend on my terms. In the end, I found myself impacting against some grass at the end of the runway, a couple of feet shy of a busy road. Still, at least I could walk away from this landing relatively unscathed. Of course, just as I exited the aircraft and stepped out onto the left wing, I was immediately met by armed security forces. Ones that looked remarkably familiar, with a certain hawk logo printed on their vests. I wasn't aware that the Vallarie Administration were now playing at being the Euro Zone's military in an official capacity.

"Corporal Uldericks," a young woman with platinum blonde hair, clad head-to-toe in Vallarian combat fatigues, exclaimed, "I'm glad to see you arrived on schedule."

"Director Christelle," I saluted, after removing my helmet, "I'd never have expected to see you here."

"Well, my associate was very keen on making sure you were safely delivered to him," she spoke very carefully.

I blanched slightly as I realised what she was implying and it suddenly dawned on me that my former boss was somehow connected with the very man I was trying to find.

"I'm blessed that the one to finally bring me to him would be someone as fine as yourself," I decided to flatter her ego, "I guess only the best does for a man of his status."

I was still slightly on edge as six soldiers still had their weapons trained on me.

"People of our status have refined tastes," Christelle spoke softly, her jade eyes fixated upon me, "so perhaps you would like to resume this conversation in a more suitable environment?"

"Just what would you have in mind, commander?" I joked.

At that she tapped her ear and muttered something that was inaudible due to the sound of the jet aircraft that were continuing to make use of the airport during the warm midday sun. I waited, nervously fiddling and checking my person for whatever left over equipment I still had. That was when I remembered the suppressed assault rifle that was still located in the cockpit of the Gourou J-109A. I attempted to move backwards upon the wing. This was promptly met by a synchronised clicking noise as everyone brought their barrels to be aimed at my head.

It would seem I would just need to go along with the status quo unless I wanted an express funeral courtesy of my former employers.

Just as my watch told me that it was exactly midday, a black limousine pulled up at the end of the runway.

"Would you like to come with me, Mr. Uldericks?" Christelle asked, as she walked towards the door and opened it.

With six machine guns still trained on my body, which was something I couldn't help but feel that it was unnecessary, I stepped down from the wing of the jet fighter and onto the lush green grass. I walked slowly and purposefully towards the vehicle. I expected that Claude would be inside waiting for me, after all this was the time and the place.

When I entered, much to my dismay, all I found was Stephanie Christelle sitting inside the rear end of the vehicle. Indicating for me sit beside her. I sighed, of course it would be too much to bloody hope for to see Claude appear when he said he would. The bastard was probably still toying with me. I brought my hand to my left pocket and eased off when I realised that the flower was still there.

Doing as the lady wished, I moved in to the back of the expensive car and brought myself to be sat next to her. One of the Vallarie Administration soldiers who had been keeping their gun trained on me closed the door behind me. Obviously they didn't trust me next to a nuclear armed aircraft but they were quite happy for me to be left alone with their boss.

"I like what you've done with the place," I remarked, "I didn't know we were now flaunting out power in Europe so publicly? What happened to playing it safe by false flag operations?"

"We live in interesting times now, Vamana," the blonde haired woman spoke, "our time in the shadows is over. We need a show of force in light of recent events."

"What events would those happen to be?" I queried, "something to do with those wonderful riots I saw as I flew over Europe?"

"Your personnel reports always indicated that you were an observant man," she smiled in a manner that was almost appealing, "the Euro Zone has finally been fully destabilised. It would appear that terrorists exploited the turbulent status of the country and eliminated the government."

"Appear so, yes, but I figure it has something to do with a mutual friend of ours?" I slyly spoke.

"Of course not, it was an unpreventable tragic event carried out by the vicious LDN," Christelle cooly spoke as the car started to accelerate, "but the Vallarie Administration are on hand to aid with the establishment of a new government. Besides, I'm sure you've already worked out what has really happened."

"True, but I do like to hear some conformation," my lips ended in a slight smile.

"All I can say is that a new system of ruling this Sector may be established very shortly," the young woman enigmatically stated, "with a coronation being scheduled for tomorrow."

"Ah, I see, a return to the monarchy. Marcus Christelle will surely be pleased, I'm sure the position of King is something he'd quite like to have back," I teased.

"Well, maybe you should have a look at his opinion on the matter," Christelle said lightly, as she handed me a french newspaper.

*

LIQUIDATION DU GOUVERNEMENT EUROPÉEN

Eurowolf Broadcasting Group ont reçu le mot que le Secteur IV Assemblée Gouvernementale a été éliminé par un groupe de terroristes se réclamant d'être affilié à la Ligue pour la Décentralisation des Nations. Un chef auto-proclamé de la LDN, lui-même George Maloy appel, a déclaré que "la zone euro est désormais libre de la tyrannie de Ildano Corporation et leur gouvernement oppressif". En lieu et place du vide du pouvoir, la société française l'Administration Vallarie ont proposé d'intervenir pour superviser la gouvernance du secteur IV jusqu'à ce que l'ordre est rétabli.

Des tentatives sont faites pour établir s'il y avait des membres restants du gouvernement européen encore en vie. Jusqu'ici, il a été noté que le ministre de l'Agriculture, Petra Alamani, n'a pas été trouvé parmi les morts. Sa situation actuelle est inconnue et les militaires réclament son retour immédiat à Madrid afin qu'il puisse être assermenté comme Président par Intérim de l'Union Européenne des Nations. Eurowolf ont également consacré d'importantes ressources pour aider les efforts de recherche de Monseiur Alamani."

Le jeune chef du conglomérat technologique, Stephanie Christelle, a appelé au calme en ces temps difficiles et elle promet qu'aucune dépense ne sera épargné assurer la sécurité de la Zone Euro. Sous sa directive, les militaires ont été déployés pour protéger les bâtiments gouvernementaux clés tandis que le personnel armé appartenant à l'Administration Vallarie ont été vus exploitation aux côtés de l'armée comme ils supervisent les célébrations massives qui ont éclaté dans plusieurs grandes villes européennes.

La réaction générale du public à cette révolution a été positive car ils ont pris les paroles des terroristes à cœur. Beaucoup croient qu'ils sont maintenant libres de la dictature que le Ildano Corporation avait imposé sur le Secteur IV après l'abolition de la monarchie constitutionnelle précédent et le système gouvernemental démocratique. Cependant, de nombreux citoyens sont aussi inquiets que l'élimination de leurs dirigeants mènera à l'Europe fracturation de nouveau dans les pays indépendants qui seraient une proie facile pour les conglomérats plus importants tels que la Zone de Russe et de la Zone Afircan Supérieur qui ont déjà commencé à entraver les territoires européens.

Nos journalistes ont constaté que tandis que beaucoup célèbrent, il ya beaucoup plus qui craignent pour leur vie et ont cruellement besoin d'un leader fort de se poser sur les cendres de ce coup d'Etat. Royalistes fervents appellent à l'actuel PDG de l'EBG, Marcus Christelle, pour reprendre sa position en tant que Roi de l'Europe. Jusqu'ici, il a refusé de commenter l'affaire et a plutôt émis un communiqué que "Eurowolf Broadcasting Group soutiendra intégralement toute actions menées par l'Administration Vallarie."

Un des principaux problèmes que la population souhaite voir résolu par un nouveau régime est celui de l'effondrement économique que la Zone Euro a souffert ces dernières années. Le Ildano Corporation s'est élevé innombrables dettes en raison de la poursuite des hostilités avec les autres secteurs et leur refus d'utiliser des armes nucléaires pour mettre rapidement fin à ces conflits. Le financement pour reconstruire l'économie devrait provenir d'une organisation fiable qui pourrait fournir à la fois une aide financière et militaire substantielle.

En ces temps bouleversant, nos pensées restent avec les amis et les familles des victimes de cet acte tragique de la barbarie. Nous implorons de vous assurer que les vies prises n'ont pas été faits en vain. C'est la volonté du peuple de s'en sortir à la lumière de ces événements, de test, d'augmenter encore plus fort et plus fort. Espérons que le droit divin de nos citoyens est réalisé dans un proche avenir afin que notre secteur sera encore une fois l'apogée de la civilisation. Nous devons réaliser notre destin et embrasser l'avenir à bras ouverts comme grand changement viendra dans la foulée de ces événements.

Marcus Christelle, rédacteur en chef de Eurowolf Broadcasting Group

*

Location: 48.8044° N, 2.1232° E

Date: 19 MAR 2110

Local time: 1215

"Ah yes, that newspaper was very informative," I said to the young woman who was in my company, "and it was refreshing to read something in my native tongue again."

"I hope you now fully appreciate what we are intending to do then?" Stephanie Christelle asked me plainly.

"Yes, it's all very clever of you," I remarked, "I was just wondering how you'd keep the ones involved in the false-flag operation quiet? Must have taken a hell of a lot to pay them off."

"Dead bodies don't do much talking," was the blunt, dismissive response that met my ears.

"Ah, such an excellent way to repay blind loyalty," I cynically replied, "I'll be sure to exercise that school of thought when I get my own organisation off the ground."

"Oh, you have plans of your own?" Director Christelle queried, her tone of voice ending on a higher note by the end of the question, "since our plans involved installing you as our company's Director of Order."

"That almost sounds like a job offer," I adopted a more serious tone, "I'd have to consider how practical it would be for me to take it and run my own business."

"It's already yours," Christelle said as I noticed that the car was coming to a gentle stop. At that I quickly moved towards her and slipped my hand down her thigh. She squealed slightly as I grabbed her handgun and quickly retrieved it. There was no way I was confronting Claude unarmed.

"I'll consider it," I coldly spoke, as a slight look of embarrassment overcame her face. I shoved the handgun into my waistband and made sure to readjust my appearance.

The door suddenly opened and I saw a site that was breathtaking to behold, for the limousine had driven right up to the front of a truly magnificent building as I stepped out in front of the Palace of Versailles.

I was astounded by its immense grandeur and intricately designed central building. The yellow hue of the structure was illuminated by the intense midday sun. It was almost dazzling to my sensitive eyes as I tried to compute the entire scale of the grandiose palace.

I found myself looking over the many arches and columns that made up the side of the building I could see. It seemed that it was the absolute pinnacle of architectural decadence that was designed to fully flaunt the wealth and power of the elite. It was hardly surprising that this is where I would finally meet someone as extravagant as the elusive Claude. A café in Quebec just was not refined enough. A first class Trenrayocohete journey through Central America was not decadent enough. A restaurant in the Himalayas was just not exclusive enough. Only something as magnificent as this could hope to fully illustrate the ego of such an eccentric psychopath.

The last thing that caught my eye was the armed guards standing to attention. Notably, all of them were wearing the traditional Euro Zone military uniform. There was of course one slight difference that, to a casual observer, would not have been immediately available. A small detail of a miniature stylised hawk sewn in place underneath the twelve stars of the former European Union. It seemed that the Vallarie Administration was fully determined to enact their plan of taking full control of the political sector.

I was given a full salute as I walked by. Clearly Stephanie was serious about appointing me as her Director of Order. I was quite surprised that she hadn't joined me as well. In fact, I was even more surprised that she hadn't ordered the soldier to shoot me for assaulting her in such a brazen manner.

Everything just seemed a little too easy for my liking. I was being handed Claude on a fine silver plate without any catches. Still, I was yet to actually enter the colossal Palace of Versailles. There could be far worse waiting in store for me on the inside. For all I knew, Claude could have prepared an ambush to eliminate me at the last moment. This entire thing may have been little more than a sick game to him as he was clearly more concerned in the affairs of a political sector than he was a single determined individual.

I strode as deliberately as I could imagine, hoping to exude an air of confidence. Of course, on the inside, I was insanely paranoid. These soldiers could turn on me at any moment and all I was armed with was a single handgun. I felt as though I was a sentenced man being forced to march towards his executioner.

Since forwards was the only direction I seemed to be allowed to walk, I was forced to go straight towards what appeared to be a direct entrance way. As I approached palace, two guards opened the glass doors for me. I felt as though I was forced to enter the grand construct as the soldiers glared at me. I found myself immediately within the hall of mirrors. Unlike the outside of the building, it was completely devoid of soldiers. This made me instantly suspicious.

Just how on earth was I supposed to find Claude if I had not been given the exact room he was currently located in. I then considered just how egotistical Claude was and guessed that he was likely occupying the throne room and enjoying the midday sun. I withdrew my weapon from my waistband and made sure it was loaded. Placing both hands on it, I started to cautiously examine the Hall of Mirrors and advance towards my quarry. Honestly, I would have been more surprised if I didn't encounter some form of hostile resistance at this point.

I wandered down the end of the long corridor and was suddenly confronted by a guard.

"Halt in the name of the Vallarie Administration," he commanded, "orders are to shoot all albinos on sight."

"Oh you have got to be kidding me!" I exclaimed as the man brought his weapon up to my chest level.

I dived to the ground as he initiated a burst of fire. From my lower position I opened fire at his legs. My bullets hit both of them and forced him to crumple to the floor. The man started screaming out in agony. This wasn't good, as the noise could potentially draw in more armed personnel.

Speed was of the essence, so I forced myself up from the floor and ran towards the soldier I had shot. I knelt down quickly and reassured the man not to struggle as I gently put my hands upon his head. It was a rather quick and jarring motion that I then had to complete in order to end his suffering.

I heard the shouting of voices and immediately turned back to the task at hand. I took the soldier's machine gun from his cold dead hands and checked the ammunition. It would do.

Clipping the safety on my other weapon, I shoved it into the waistband at the back of my trousers. Last thing I wanted was to find myself suddenly unarmed if this weapon was to run out of bullets.

I realised how ridiculous I must have looked wearing a GHOST jacket and grey trousers. The bandaged hands and beaten face probably didn't lend much to improve my appearance.

I backed up in to one of the many archway windows that spanned the entire Hall of Mirrors. A statue ensured that I was obscured from view. Two more guards appeared. These ones were merely had handguns drawn. Easy pickings if I timed my assault correctly. I watched intently as one of them bent down on one knee to check on their fallen comrade. The other had taken a defensive stance over the other with his pistol kept at low angle.

"What happened to him?" I heard one of the mutter.

"Spinal cord was damaged and his neck appears to be broken," the other said, a hint of worry in his voice.

The other man dropped his guard to check upon the dead man to see for himself. That was a rookie mistake to make. I slowly sloped out of cover and casually opened fire on them. It was just like shooting fish in a barrel. The one who had first checked the body fell forwards as the bullets came to dot his back. The one who had abandoned his post of protecting his fellow soldier was felled by sustained fire at his chest.

I could have been more accurate if I had tried, but I wanted to be sure I had got them. Neither of them had time to react and I watched with sick delight as they ended up in crumpled heaps. Annoyingly they were both complaining rather loudly. I withdrew my handgun and performed the coup de grâce on both of them with a loud bang.

I waited about two minutes before I decided that no more soldiers were likely to play. Satisfied that it was safe to advance, I put the handgun back in my trousers. Although, I have to admit, I was not enjoying what ever sick game Claude was playing with me. It was incredibly distressing, to say the least.

Since I did not know my way around the Palace of Versailles, I was forced to follow signs pointing the way to the throne room that had clearly been designed for tourists. All the while, I kept my guard up in case there was some kind of ambush planned.

I advanced through the grand building, following the directions given to me. Eventually I found what I was looking for. Unfortunately there was a man with a ceremonial rifle standing outside of it. I stepped back in to the corridor that I had come round from. The Royal Court was within my grasp. I knew who was lying in wait for me. But one more mortal stood in my way.

I checked round and saw that the guard had not changed stance. Clearly he had not detected my presence yet. I decided that I would finish him off with the machine gun I had procured. I quietly crept round the corner and pulled the trigger. However, nothing was ejected from the barrel of the gun. Even worse, the guard had now noticed my presence and stood to face me.

Instincts took hold once more and I resolved to project a blast of light from my right hand after ejecting the defunct machine gun. The poor young man collapsed violently as the life left his body in an instant. I was finally there. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I took my gun in the same hand I had used to end the life of the soldier.

Satisfied that I was adequately armed, I walked towards the Royal Court, the Throne Room of the Palace of Versailles and spied a suited gentleman sitting in a regal chair.

Epilogue

"I've been expecting you for quite some time!" a voice rang out from the Throne Room, "I must admit, I am impressed you made it so far."

A white haired young man stood upon a red carpet, with a black handgun hanging loosely from his right arm. He wore a grey and black jacket, similar to the one worn by GHOST agents. His trousers were matte grey, with clear mud stains marring the fabric.

The young man doubled over slightly, as he was panting profusely, before righting himself and opening his mouth to speak.

"I can tell you made things difficult on purpose." the man said through gritted teeth.

"I had other matters to attend to. Far more important ones than dealing with the likes of you." the voice crowed, "yet, I must admit your resilience is quite astounding!"

"Then why did you phone me?" the white haired man said, "Why did you lead me to the ends of the Earth on a bloody wild goose chase?"

"Oh, did I call you?" the voice mocked, "you're talking as if you have already tried to make my acquintance."

"Four times. Four fucking times. Claude. And I've tried to do things by the book but clearly that wasn't enough for you," the albino said as his left hand began to emanate a brilliant white light. The entire room was illuminated, revealing the full glory of the Throne Room. Upon the throne sat a well dressed man casually eating a blood red apple.

"Sorry, am I supposed to care?" the suited man casually responded before taking a bite out of the piece of fruit.

Claude glanced at the white haired man and flicked his fringe to the side.

"Care!? You wished to meet me. You invited me here. Except what was I left to find? A series of armed guards who seemingly had orders to 'shoot albinos on sight'," the pallid skinned man shouted, clearly quite frustrated about the whole affair, "it almost seems like you were just trying to kill me!"

"It's character building, right?" Claude sarcastically mused.

"Oh, very funny! Because there just haven't been enough people trying to kill me over the last forty-eight hours," the albino spoke through heavy breath.

"Well most people tend to drop their guard when they think an ordeal is over," Claude spoke, looking at the apple in an endearing manner before taking another bite out of it, "I don't have any use for those sorts."

"So why exactly did you summon me here?" Vamana quickly queried, "if you are so keen to claim you had more important things to attend to."

The seated individual chewed on the pieces of apple, waving his hand in a repetitive circular motion. He made sure to prolong this action as long as possible before swallowing.

"Oh, to show off, I guess, test your mettle and perhaps offer you the opportunity of a lifetime. Not necessarily in that order," he yawned, quickly retrieving a gun from his suit pocket before he closed his mouth.

"So that's how it's going to be then?" Vamana responded, raising his gun so that it was aimed directly at Claude's head.

"Just hand over the flower and there is no need for things to get ugly," the suited individual stated as he rose from the throne he had previously reclined in and brought his firearm to be level with Vamana's gut.

"Oh for fuck's sake, just have the damn thing, it's been more trouble than it was worth," Vamana ranted, his arm shaking slightly as he struggled to resist the urge to shoot. The room darkened slightly as he placed his left hand into his pocket and withdrew a battered looking plant. It seemed a lot less healthier than it had been the last time he'd cast eyes upon it by the banks of Lake Manasarovar.

"Ah, excellent," the smug grey haired gentleman in the stylish suit proclaimed as he walked towards Vamana. The albino's hand still maintained an outstretched position with the weapon it bore aimed at Claude's head.

The white haired man held it out in his left palm and the suited gentleman took it, immediately dropping his weapon in the process, "I trust the journey up the mountain went well?"

"Oh ha, fucking, ha," Vamana snapped, "you know fine well it has never been scaled before."

"Of course it hasn't, but I had hoped you'd have done it for me. I just wanted to see if I could find someone driven enough to attempt it," Claude laughed, "well, at least you brought me the flower. It's been a curious obsession of mine for quite some time but I had never found the opportunity to obtain it. I must say I am quite impressed, until this day I still hadn't had someone successfully accomplish the task of bringing me one."

"So there have been others?" Vamana queried with a hint of trepidation in his voice, the righteous conviction he once had almost exhumed from his very being, "their lives callously cast aside for your own amusement!"

"What can I say? I'm a popular guy. People are always trying to impress me," the Claude laughed maniacally, "I can't help it if they get hurt."

"Is this all just some kind of a sick game to you!?" the red eyed man shouted.

"Essentially, " Claude paused to take another bite out of his apple, "Yes."

Notes

Writer's Notes

  • The original script called for more sex appeal, including many scenes that included Vamana and Mitch but a lot had to be removed for legal reasons. A more explicit version of events from the perspective of Olia Silveira was written for the finale of Chapter 4, but it had to be removed to avoid breaking Wikia policy.
  • Regrettably had to dramatically shorten Vamana's shirtless scene and leave out his self-exploration sequence.
  • Once again, a lengthy scene depicting a shirtless Vamana had to be cut due to word limit constraints. While he was completely nude this time, and a full text-document describing his bathing scene does exist, it could not be posted to the site. Contractual obligations with the director prevented a yaoi sequence from being added instead.

Director's Notes

  • The fact that Claude constantly comes off as a trollish character caused him to be dropped from the lead role.
  • Keeping in the detailed description of putting up a tent was highly necessary. Sadly, Cal made it shorter than I had originally planned.
  • I can assure you that there is nothing significant about Vamana Uldericks' name. No matter how much Cal seems to be implying there is.
  • "It's a literary masterpiece." - Lither's unbiased review of the novel.
K21LOGOpunk
Chronology
K21 - Dusty Blinds · K21 - I'm With You · K21 - Prayer · K21 - Kindred · K21 - Degenerate · ...
Prequels & Stand Alone Stories
Vallarian Trilogy · Ortus Continuity · Antecedence Double Trilogy · Artificial Elemental Trilogy · K21 - Broken Faith · K21 - Substantial Illusions · K21 - Judgement In Duty · K21 - Aces High · K21 - Limitless Sun · K21 - Distorted Closure · K21 - Loose Ends · K21 - Attache Case

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