Part 14: Session 012: Baron
Going into this session we have a slightly different lineup thanks to the corrupt saves. The empty slot left by Pitch has gone to iamsmike, who was the first merc in the queue. iamsmike was carrying an H&K USP when he was hired. This is exactly the same pistol that ScotchDK had when he was hired, except that this one does not have a barrel threaded to accept a suppressor. iamsmike is a solid shooter/gunfighter so we'll give him one of the M14s we got from the bandit raid.
Since the latest good save we had was before Deadmeat joined the group, the cruel gods of randomness spoke and declared that she would not appear in Olvidad when we finally did reach there. Her slot has gone to the other queued mercenary, Pip. The old man apparently had a rare Gyrojet pistol from the 1960s in a shoebox somewhere in his house. These quirky weapons consist of only 22 parts and actually fire tiny 13mm rockets. An interesting conversation or museum piece, but not so hot for actual fighting-the reload time is glacial and the pistol can only hold six rounds, not to mention that 20-round box of ultra-rare ammo takes up four squares of inventory space. Pip will be getting the Benelli to replace it. Pip's dedicated himself to Medicine and Engineering so we'll be loading him down with our best first-aid kits and explosives.
Also, I can now demonstrate taping magazines together! It's pretty simple, just have two magazines and a roll of tape in a merc's inventory...
Drag one magazine onto another of the same kind...
And presto, a double magazine! In the case of this double M14 magazine, you can still only fire 20 rounds before reloading, but the reloading action to make the second 20 rounds available takes almost no time at all! In true 7.62mm fashion, however, there is a penalty to using double magazines: reloading from a double magazine to another magazine takes a little more time. However, this is a good way to save inventory space. Just about any rifle or submachine gun with a protruding box magazine can be taped into a double magazine, but super-long magazines like the ones used by the MAC-10 can't. We'll go ahead and tape together our Thompson and M14 magazines.
Session 012: Baron
Day 10, 1440
"All right, gentlemen, load up," I said after the last box of ammunition had been put into the GAZ. "Let's get down to Artrigo, get this stuff sold, and see what else we can do for the minister aside from throw people at the rebel camp."
After everyone was in, I closed the tailgate and walked around to the driver's compartment. Through the canvas I heard iastudent.
"It was a splitting headache because I split his head with a knife, you see?"
We drove out of Olvidad, leaving the corpses of the bandits for the town militia to stack and burn.
Day 10, 1650
While visiting with the minister I left the GAZ with iamsmike to see what he could get for everything we'd taken off the bandits that we had no use for. I figured he was better with money than anybody else. He grumbled something about wanting to crunch skulls rather than numbers, but agreed to get what he could for the stuff.
The surplus from the bandit raid netted us about $23,000. Our band of mercs are starting to look the part of true professionals now.
"I have something to show you," said the minister as he recognized me. He pulled a videotape from his desk drawer and held it out to his guard, who took it and put it into the VCR of the TV across the room. I turned and watched.
The video was shot on a handheld camera. There were thatched huts in the background and jungle beyond that. Faces swung into view, all completely masked in black except for the eyes. They were wearing the gray camouflage uniforms of the rebels we'd killed our first time leaving the protected zone. One particularly intense pair of green eyes spoke to the camera with a woman's voice.
It was all in Spanish, and she was speaking much too quickly for my horrible translation skills, but I did catch "your friends become our friends" and "everyone you send will die." The camera then panned over to two men. One had the entire left side of his head bandaged, the bandages soaked through with blood in several places. He had dark, unkempt hair and didn't look like a native. In fact, it was Pitch! The other man I wasn't familiar with, but he was wearing the uniform of an Algeyran military officer. I guessed that it was the man Caderas had wanted us to rescue.
I blinked, and for a moment I thought I was going to watch them both get executed, but then something interesting happened. The woman speaking nodded in their direction, then I saw Pitch let out a breath and turn to the other prisoner. Pitch raised his arms, and I saw that he was holding a revolver. He put the gun to the officer's head and blew it apart with a single .357 round. He lowered the gun steadily, looking back at the woman nervously. The woman nodded her approval and turned to address the camera again, this time in heavily-accented English.
"The men you hire, Caderas, they are loyal to money, not to you. The rule is 'Do not ask questions.' We understand this." Then the picture on the TV screen went to static. The guard turned the TV off.
"So Captain Halpmio is dead, and you have lost a man to the rebels," said the minister. "I of course cannot pay you for services not performed, but I have other tasks for you."
I nodded. "I'm listening."
He slid a parcel and an envelope across the desk to me.
"Deliver these two items to Emiliano Josa in Fuerte Josa. It is west of here, out where my men cannot go. I will phone ahead to ensure he is expecting you."
"What about Fakirov?"
Minister Caderas shrugged, looking back down at his work. "I know little of him. Speak to our Operations Minister or the head of our Special Bureau. They are in the building, look for their placards."
I gathered up the correspondence and left without saying goodbye.
The Algeyran Minister of Operations was named Amaranta Felicidad. After introductions, I told her who I was and why I was here.
Now I had two reasons to visit this Josa guy, but while I was here I decided to see what else I could find out. I asked Ms. Felicidad to direct me to the office of the Special Bureau chief.
Mr. Palacio's office was actually upstairs, right next door to the president's office. As with Ms. Felicidad, I cut straight to the chase. Luckily, Palacio had more information for me.
Apparently even the rebels wanted nothing to do with the man. Perhaps they would know more about him.
Palacio leaned in to me. "While you are out there, I have more advice for you. There is a man sniffing around, goes by the name Cyrus Lloyd, though this is almost certainly an alias.
I thought about who I had met by that name.
It had been a rather quiet man in the bar at Las Vacaciones my first day here. He had looked to be a foreigner like me, but I hadn't paid him much mind. Hopefully that had been mutual; the CIA hired for dirty work just like any other organization, but they were a jealous employer. Very jealous. Once you did something for the Agency, you were theirs for life... however long that turned out to be.
I was smiling, though, as I left the government building to find my team waiting for me by the GAZ.
"You're lookin' like the cat what ate the canary, sonny. Good news?" asked Pip.
"Pitch is alive, and the rebels are willing to give us work," I said. "Also, I found out more about the man I'm after. It wasn't much, but it's a lead at least."
"My little buddy's alive? Fuck!" Torpedo shouted, punching the air. "I knew that dude wouldn't die so easy!"
"How do you know that the rebels want to work with us?" asked Scotch.
I opened the driver's side door and threw my rifle onto the seat. "Minister Caderas showed me a videotape of Pitch popping the guy we were supposed to rescue. There was a bunch of Spanish beforehand, but after he was done, the leader-I guess it's a lady-spoke again, switching to English to give a code. First she reminds the viewer that mercenaries work for money, not for politics, and then she gave the first rule of merc work: do not ask questions. She couldn't come right out and say it because she knew the government would be watching the video first, but basically she was saying 'We know you only came here to do a job, but we understand you, and we are willing to hire you too.'"
"So we'll be working for them now?" asked iamsmike.
"We can at least see what they have to offer, plus we can get Pitch back," I said. "Mount up. We're heading south again."
Before we head down to the rebel camp, let's locate Fuerte Josa on the map. It's purple, which means it belongs to another faction we've yet to deal with. What faction that is will become apparent a little later, but for now it would be a spoiler.
Day 10, 2210
It was the dead dark of night when we pulled up to the rebel camp. Before getting out, I instructed everyone to act cool and not behave in a manner that could be construed as threatening in any way. At this, iastudent looked like he was about to explode, but they all understood.
We had weapons trained on us from the moment we dismounted. We were escorted down into the small valley where the rebels had their huts. The jungle canopy was thick, shielding the camp from aerial surveillance but also moonlight, making it difficult to see. The rebels probably preferred it that way.
We were stopped in front of a thin woman wearing a red bandana through her straight jet-black hair. Her intense gaze was the same as the one I'd seen in the video.
She said nothing. My team wisely did the same. The ice, however, needed to be broken.
"I got your message," I said. "The video."
She nodded, not smiling. "You were a fool to work for Defensa's bootlicks, but not so much of a fool to miss opportunities, I see," she said. "I will be brief. My name is Tanya Tormens, and I mean to bring down the government of Alvaro Defensa, or at least struggle until my breath is gone."
Tormens. This must have been a relative of the deposed president of Palinero. It looked like the country's main export was now revolution, and her neighbor to the north had been the first recipient. I tried not to think about Palinero, about how close to that country I was.
"If you are here, then you wish for a job, else you would not have gone out of your way," she said simply, holding her hand out to the side. Her aide-de-camp placed an envelope in her hand, which she then handed to me. "Take this to Baron Josa. His house is in the highlands far northwest of here. Speak this password to the guards: 'The sun that bears down.' It is dangerously close to the dictator's territory, but nobody should bother independents like you."
"All right," I said, "but where's Pitch? Also, I need help finding a man named Ippolit Fakirov."
"The man we took? We gave him some medical attention and released him at the border north of here. From there, it is not my concern where he went. Go. We tolerate your presence but you are not yet a friend of the revolution. Continue helping us and perhaps this will change. Then we will talk about me helping you find your man."
The guards crowded us and I took the hint. We went.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same, looks like," said Pip from the passenger seat as the GAZ bounced along the unimproved road towards Ciudad de Oro.
"What means this poetry, old man?" inquired iastudent from the back.
"What it means is these're the same kinda people what kept the shit stirred up back in Cuba," he said as he tried to keep his glasses on straight. "Remember the missile crisis? Bay of Pigs? Naw, of course you don't, you're just some dumb kid. But anyway, what I'm gettin' at izzat some people just gotta be fightin' their whole lives or they ain't happy."
"Ah ha! It becomes clear!" said iastudent, puffing out his chest. "I am such a man! I study the way of the warriors, that I might take my place among my fa-"
"Kid, ya don't even know bo-diddly 'bout livin' yet, why're you in such a hurry to die already?"
"Sometimes you just need a fresh start, a new way of looking at things," offered iamsmike. "I did, and I haven't looked back yet."
Day 11, 0140
Ciudad de Oro was quiet-even the crickets seemed to have taken the night off. Everyone hopped out to stretch their legs and I decided to sniff around the bar and see what was up.
There was a young man in there. He was short, but had a confident look, and stared me down as soon as I entered. Accepting the challenge, I walked up to him.
"Something I can help you with?"
I was not prepared for the voice that came from his throat. "You a killer?"
It was like his voice was permanently stuck in mid-crack. I winced but continued on.
"If that's the job, yeah," I said. "How about you?"
"I've shot up my fair share of places," he said. "I saw the civil war on the news and figured I'd come down and share the love. When I would light up a place, I'd put my calling card into a wall. I'd do a Z with bulletholes, kind of like Zorro but... with bulletholes. Now it's like I'm back in the game in a new place. The sequel. Z2." He nodded in satisfaction with what he said, mostly to himself.
"You could be of use to me, ZeeToo," I said. "The pay's good. Come on out and meet the others."
As it turned out, there wasn't enough room in the GAZ for seven, but Torpedo wanted to take off to go look for his buddy Pitch back in the main cities anyway. He told me he could be found in Sagrada, where we'd first met.
"Stay frosty," he told us. "I heard that in a movie once." He grinned and walked into the bar ZeeToo and I had just left.
And our first true merc rotation takes place! Like Pitch and Deadmeat, Torpedo isn't in the team anymore, but can be rehired at the spot we found them (provided the game randomly selects them to be there when we enter the city). With a Throwing skill of 100, ZeeToo is our new grenade-hucker, letting iastudent focus even more on stabbing. A good thing, too, because ZeeToo enters the group with no gun, but five M67 grenades. Shooting skill is excellent as well, so he'll be getting the M1A Torpedo used to have.
After everyone had gotten a break, we cut through the jungle and drove on past dawn towards Fuerte Josa.
Mr. Josa's palatial hacienda was more like a fortress, which is why I guess it had the name "Fort Josa." It made me reflect on what sorts of businesses a man could have in a banana republic that would allow him to afford such an estate... and require such security.
The list was a short one.
"This is an impressive home," said Scotch, fulfilling our understatement quota yet again.
"If only I coulda retired in a place like this!" commented Pip.
"Twelve point four million dollars US, by my estimation," said iamsmike. "Not counting the value of the land, of course."
I looked over at him. "How do you know how much this place cost?"
He shrugged, smiling a secret smile under his mustache. "Moving money. It's... what I used to do."
I sighed. "Well, let's go ring the doorbell."
"Stop there!" shouted the guard, signaling for the overwatch to draw down on us. "What business do you have here?"
"We're just humble postal workers," I said with a smile. "We have some deliveries for Mr. Josa."
The guard looked at me for a moment and nodded. "Caderas called and gave a description matching you. Go in, but be respectful to Mr. Josa." The guard eyed my team, and said to them "Do not misbehave while on Mr. Josa's property. It is easy for us to mop up the blood we spill."
I looked back at them. Nobody seemed to be too put out by this request.
It's pretty easy to find your way around a drug baron's home. There is always a courtyard, and the offices are always on the second floor, especially places the baron himself frequents. This prevents raids from being able to secure the center of the compound without a lot of incoming fire from elevated positions. The stairwells are also exposed-the whole idea behind the place is to make it as difficult for attackers to lock down as possible. This affords the baron the best chances he has to get to one of his avenues of escape. And there is always an avenue of escape.
I found Mr. Josa lounging in his den, drinking a mojito and listening to a crackly pirate radio station. I held up my delivery and he stood, walking over to me with the waddling gait of a man who eats well while the others around him do not.
"The government and the rebels both send their regards," I said, placing the envelopes into his meaty hands. "You seem to be a popular man."
"You work for both?" His eyes twinkled with amusement. "Ah, you are mercenario, of course you work for both! You work for money!" He reached into his red Hawaiian shirt pocket and produced a bill worth 1,000 eldos, which he put into my hand with a handshake. "I do too, I do too. Too many people get caught up in politics or ideas. Why should a man try to change the world when he can enjoy what is in it now, eh? I thank you much for these items, I have been waiting for them."
"I have another job," I said. "I am searching for a man named Ippolit Fakirov. The government thinks he may have passed under your nose recently."
"Heh, they're the ones who sent me to you, Mr. Josa."
He shrugged his flabby shoulders. "He was a houseguest, and a bad business contact. That truly is all I know of the man. But yes, he is around here somewhere, in Algeyra. You are perhaps closer than you think. I can only recommend you get in better with the idealists-I am afraid I am just a simple businessman."
He gave a coy smile and I wished him a good day. I wondered if the coke baron was just trying to be funny or if he'd really deluded himself into believing it yet. All it really takes is time.
I found my team admiring Josa's whirlybird. It was a UH-1, probably purchased from the US back in the days when they didn't look too closely at the people they did business with (they do now, they just choose to ignore what they find) at a price that would make a modern collector weep with jealousy.
"Jesus Christ, being a peddler of human dependence and misery sure does have its upside," I heard ZeeToo say as I walked up behind them.
"Always wanted to go up in onna them," added Pip quietly.
"We're done here, time to go collect our pay," I said. "Get a good look, because there's no way we'll be getting one of our own anytime soon."
Artrigo was the nearest city with a payday waiting for us. I decided to go there first.