Wayne Clarke : Favela Sweep

I'm a street sweeper. That does not mean I brush down the gutter, no I'm a "Nurse," as we're also called. NURS, the National Urban Re-settlement Scheme, is my employer. We're sent into the favs or shantytowns if you prefer, to crack down on drugs, black-market electronics, foreign tobacco, firearms, illegal immigrants and suspected disease carriers. NURS is an AU government branch much like, ATF, or FBI. Unlike those groups however, we spend 80% of our lives behind prehistoric oak desks in dimly lit rooms, but spend 98% of our lives wading through wet trenches full of shit, trash and cardboard houses. The other 2% is our life, the time we have allocated to ourselves, well it doesn't in fact say that anywhere but that's my humble calculation. Sweeping the favs is not an easy job, it means no social life, and although neither a police or military operation, you do live your life as if you are fighting a war. It tends to change you as a person, my wife left me because I was not the man she said she married, she said I've become violent. Well it would do that. I mean imagine going to work every morning, and while secretaries stand beside photocopiers and bosses look at their legs, while the stock exchange people say "It's murder today", while everyone complains about how bad their jobs are, teachers say that the classroom was like a warzone; I AM in a warzone. Everyday, I'm in a warzone. Everyday I risk life and limb. I could have been killed yesterday, I could be killed today. Everyone works at their little jobs not knowing about the mountainous bodycount of social undesirables that lie only a few kilometres from them, about the areas of their city that have been cordoned off and declared suburban warzones Everyone of course, knows all about the millions of so-called refugees flooding our state, and that 90% of them are coming to the state that is responsible for their persecution, but they are nowhere near as bad as the residents. The citizens, those who have been born in poverty and whose lifestyle has dropped even lower with each day. Or those who have lost their jobs due to the depression or due to being replaced by cheap refugee labour. The refugees are relatively easy to kill/disperse, the "homeboys" aren't. Refugees are tough little bastards, but they use crude, sometimes prehistoric guerrilla tactics, clever, dangerous, hard to detect but mild in comparison to the homeboys. The homeboys have their own "turf" to protect, they guard their women and children, they are in highly organised and disciplined gangs, trained in firearms and hand-to-hand combat by their "main man". They are also armed to the teeth. The main man is never himself the leader, (he is in fact more valuable) he is a teacher and administrator. He decides who goes into the "posse" (or "crew", smaller than a posse) not the leader. That is their tradition. Alliances are never forged, each posse has their own turf, if it is invaded it will mean bloodshed, that is universally known. The various posses never try to either help or hinder each other, they co-exist in relative peace. There is only one time when in fact they ever meet. When they know a sweep is imminent. And they do know, they never meet unless they know. All posses have spies, we are talking about large territory being held, sometimes entire inner-city areas being held by a single gang, so their power and influence is not to be underestimated. If this information is received, (the larger posses have their own closed nets) an emissary is sent. A dove. Always female, always Caucasian, always light white ish blonde and always extremely attractive. These women are known as doves, and are trained from an early age. They must offer themselves as a gift to the gang leader, and pleasure him to prove her reasons for coming are legitimate. And then they "seal the deal". Itis sealed with a "white flag". A white flag is a STANdard identity program much akin to a Kaybee seal. All the possies have one. It identifies the person as a member of a certain posse, and their intention. The feds have been trying to forge white flags for years but they are changed regularly and at random times, and use some real curious encryption, more complex than those of many countries The gangs are more often than not racial. LA gangs are mostly black, BC gangs Oriental, Miami gangs (not including Rocko B of course) Latin/Caribbean. The majority of them are small-fry but there are notorious exceptions. The North Canadian Triad, the big LA posses, the Tex/Mex. border is another serious hot spot, Chicago and New York are still mostly old school mob, and there is the ever-reaching tentacles of Peruvian and Colombian drug-lords up into the American heartland. Plus there are the Kaybees, or Killer Bees. More an anarchic terrorist organisation than a gang but with deep-rooted posse affiliations. Security cameras in the favs don't last longer than three seconds; they are placed on the perimeter and vandalised as soon as they're operational. The satellites can monitor the favs also but can be blinded by clouds. A cloud is a satellite-jamming signal. NURS technical manuals are suspiciously vague to say the least but from what I know myself Iill try my best to explain. Far as I know they were invented for the Sandstorm, the result of bizarre ionospheric experiments conducted in a government research facility someplace in Alaska. Clouds not only block out visual data, but all sensory equipment with dense blankets of electrostatic noise The posses usually use one to blank out a few blocks of their turf to keep business private. The power requirements for anything larger are massive, growing exponentially with each hectare. However, a massive cloud has covered a fairly substantial sector of LA for three days now, starting the day following the scareO For the past month we've been gentle. Patrolling the borders, keeping the peace, escorting medical teams into the area, and bringing in feeble food supplies to bribe info from immigrants. We've been playing our presence down. But not tomorrow. There's a D-day scale sweep scheduled for tomorrow with the aid of internal operatives. It sounds like real, major military shit; classified. We got our briefing via the enclosed NURS-net at 06:30 sharp. It was all shrouded in intrigue: Brazilian by birth Vagos once worked as an AU boss for a major Peruvian drug cartel. Peru was a shambles. The Japs had invested in the country heavily, from the biggest corps to the Yax and even the family of Ultranationalist Party leader President Suzuki. Their presence was unwelcome in many quarters. These anti-Jap sentiments can be traced right back to the late 20th Century. And it was this xenophobia that Vagos capitalised on to help him rise to power. Corruption was par for the course with the previous government. They loved Japs, who in turn loved the cheap labour and fat kickbacks of Third World government. Then it went too far. Vagosi coup was bloody and merciless. It is no secret where Vagosi wealth came from. For many years he has fought the Colombians for control of the West Coast. Meanwhile the Triads have been fighting a gruesome war to keep back the advancing Russian mob from the East. Vagos set up a meeting with Sung, his Taiwanese counterpart. A treaty was made. The North West Coast was to be Triad, and the South West Coast was for Vagos. Together they would muscle out both Colombians and other South American gangs in the South and the now weakened Mafia. The Triad has undoubtedly become the strongest and farthest reaching underground organisation on the planet. After Korean reunification and the fall of Chinese Communism, numerous Chinese syndicates battled for supremacy until only one remained. And now, their powerbase eclipses that of the Russians, the Cosa Nostra Exiles and the Yakusa all together. Triad members are highly secretive, proud, efficient and well covered in legal terms. They are as strong as they are proud, and despite their often dirty deals they keep their word. The Triad work by an arcane and ancient code of honour. To break a promise is tantamount to death. Such an alliance would benefit Vagos, but there was a price. Peruis scars are still raw, it's government in tatters, it's military deplorable. Before Vagos took over, the country was trying its best to shape up for AU inclusion, cutting throats and corners every step of the way. It was also, from an intelligence point of view dangerously unsupervised. Now the news had broken out of the "loss" of a full kilo of weapons grade plutonium. It didnit take long for the intelligence community to put 2 and 2 together. The CIA have countless files on the Triad. They are skilled at making small atomic devices, their favourite being small, lightweight aerial robotics and theyive often used them to neutralise small hornet's nests in the Pacific. It is estimated that they are now concentrating their assaults on continental Russian strongholds. This revelation could seriously jeopardise relations with both Japan and Chinese economic allies Korea, the major economic neighbours of the AU. The erratic, barbarous Peruvian army may also learn to use these devices, perhaps even against the Japanese, with horrible results, toppling the precarious diplomacy of the AU and humiliating it in front of whole world. The Japs were waiting for Vagosi next move, heis just made it. Placing our nationis balls in a vicegrip. And possibly involving us in a deadly war. I donned my gear, bulletproof jacket, visor, strapped on my breathing apparatus, holstered my relic of a revolver and scrambled into the van. The first wave had already gone through. Undercover feds, shakedown experts. We were the next wave. Footsoldiers; grunts. Next came the heavy artillery, tanks, choppers, army intervention. And for the next month we would be up to our necks in it again. Riot duty, crowd control, tear gas, water cannons, Mack truck paddy-wagons. Dispersal, we can't hold 'em, where we could put 'em? Just drop 'em somewhere else, they always land on their feet. The team I was to command were unknown to me, except for my partner of sorts, Flynn. Flynn was a meat-bag rookie, graduated from some obscure upstate med.-school. He was one of those typical wet-behind-the-ears types who think they can change the world. He was put under my charge, but refused to bow to my cynical point of view. He believed that we should be trying our best to sanitise the areas, not to act like some modern day SS. The UN is always quick to denounce ethnic cleansing, he once said, but here there is economic cleansing. He would've tried his best to feed, clothe and inoculate every single person in the favs. He was a humanitarian, and though his sentiments are, in isolation, admirable, in the favs they're suicidal. The carriers dropped us off at the outskirts of Bruno Baxter's (rumour has it his real name was Ashley and he changed at the age of 14) turf. Bruno was one of the ruffest niggaz in California, a dark prince of black alchemy. He ran crack mostly, and he hated the Peruvians. Palpitations of apprehension became visible in his crew as the Peruvian underground oozed their way up into LA and 'Frisco. He had secret meetings with undercover agents and agreed not so much to aid the attack but neither to hinder. Giving them safe but covert passage through the territory. These were old neighbourhoods, decades of decay. They had long since declined into combat zones that police could never infiltrate. So they developed their own laws and enforced them with steel. We proceeded silently through the squalid streets and the dark morning mist, us on foot, flanking the vehicles. Silence but for the odd chopper in the distance, beams on, scouring the ghetto. Our attack was not broadcast, but the streets were deserted. It was like a ghost-town in an old Western flick. Doors were locked and windows were boarded. And instead of tumbleweed, the wind blew garbage and dirt. It was indeed a squalid affair. The 'hood was heavy under the weight of litter, crime and inner-city austerity. Every building shabby, decaying, riddled with bullet-holes. Cautiously we weaved through a vipers-nest of alleyways and backstreets. Past shameful tenements, crack-shakes, brothels and ramshackle liquor stores, sprayed with a colourful exhibition of tags from the multitude of graph-writers. The smell got worse as we proceeded well beyond Baxter's turf and into No Man's Land, the unwanted buffer zone between different turf. Inner city structures tapered off into a metropolitan miasma, a dilapidated gutter-level skyline of rags and cardboard under a Swiss-cheese canopy of galvanised steel. The stench was rotten. The heat was sweltering. Humidity was high; mosquitoes- ubiquitous. We were passed under the cloud now, and no longer capable of radio contact. Drainage was non-existent, trash piled up in erratic mounds in the street. And more and more the streets gave way to malignant mires. Here were people of all ages, and all races. They paid us no attention as we passed through them like ghosts, but their bright, brown-eyed stares bore through me, standing out against their dirt-encrusted faces. Adults cooked rice, they could have been 70, they could have been 17. Girls hung washing on wooden frames. Boys played soccer barefoot in the dust. Children ran amok, half-naked, unfazed; they giggled as we passed. One would be forgiven for thinking the favs were benign. Our course is Southeast, along the banks of the sinkholes inland to the desert. Decades ago, newly-built overspill towns once sprung up all over California and many other states. Urban sprawl had long since grinded many cities to a halt. LA and 'Frisco were like two greasy fingers pushing either side of a zit, which eventually popped, and from this gunge came the foundations of the sinkholes. Canals were cut into the desert, feeding seawater along a network of dams and reservoirs. Half-assed attempts at sewage, sanitation and desalinisation systems were botched up and crippled by the routine deluge of seismic activity. This, added with global warming and rising ocean levels turned many coastal towns into Atlantian marshes contrasting grossly with the Eastern Dustbowl. Sewage and plumbing systems failed, {much as they did in to Florida's festering swimming pools after the Big Spill, where a now noxious urine-shaded Everglades has swallowed, submerged and grown around neighbouring 7-elevens and Texaco stations} swamping and swirling around the population. And nobody, ironically enough, has been more effected by the ecological turmoil than man. Most other creatures show remarkable resilience. Sharks are one such animal. Many a tale has been told of hungry bleached-white sharks scavenging for scraps in the caustic soup of the sinkholes, then swimming right up to the villages devouring livestock, pets and small children. But that is rare. The real killer here is malaria; it kills more people in the coastal regions than HIV and every other disease put together. And the sinkholes continue to grow, submerged concrete marshes- unattended, without proper sanitation or inoculation. Thousands of people toil daily here in glow-in-the-dark paddy fields. Here, where rats have gills and 'gators are farmed then barbecued over burning oil drums. The residents, adhering to some perversion of Darwinism, have developed many sickening survival techniques. One such stomach-churning fact of life is that they won't drink water unless it's a healthy shade of green- other wise it's highly toxic. Unlike such nasties as pesticide, algae, salt and sewage can be boiled or filtered out. Not that it makes any difference however. The children are gaunt, puss-eyed deformed wretches with a lemming's life-span. Typhoid kills, dysentery kills, diarrhoea kills, dehydration kills; in this vile Venice just about everything kills- the Grim Reaper doesn't use a scythe out here, but a more efficient chainsaw. The Amphibians as they're known, are mercilessly plagued by a rogue's gallery of worms, parasites, bacteria and tropical diseases. Smothered by methane and carbon monoxide, tortured by malnutrition, baked by sunstroke. You can see them as they pass, waiting just waiting; waiting to die. Horrid and filthy souls, yellow eyes, fearsome faces like charcoal gargoyles. They wrap themselves in cloth rags blackened by outboard fumes, scrawny sinuous limbs folded across their skeletal frames like wings. They wait and watch, perched high above on stilted grassy huts. Scores of nests of gangrenous pterodactyls and perhaps the odd machine gun emplacement. Far below through the trenches of yellow/brown sludge rubber dingys paddle like upside down cockroaches alongside small canoes and kayaks. Then the enormous superrafts; houses, streets and marketplaces, all floating. Thousands of small rafts fastened together fashioned by whatever junk manages to sail by. Decades of flotsam, factory trash; drums of paint, industrial solvents and other such chemicals. Sealed soda and detergent bottles, pieces of driftwood and patchwork mended inner tires. All lashed together with chains, rope, even vines; held together by tar, epoxy and blind faith. Gradually, however the land eventually starts to dry off into gulches and puddles. Vegetation surrenders its tenuous foothold and the sand takes over, until it becomes all one can see. Perhaps one might see a patch of cacti, a darting lizard, a venomous Gila monster basking upon a rock or hear the raucous squawking of orbiting vultures. The unit is silent, like sidewinders they crawl on miserably- morale is dangerously low. The heat out here can make one delirious. Dry heat- hotter that Hell itself. When night falls it'll be a different story, we'll all be shivering, icey cold. In school I learned how desert sand is made, the extremes of heat and cold cause rocks to expand and contract, until they crack themselves into dust over millions of years. I give it another hour before we crack, and that's being optimistic. The sun is at it's highest now, nailed to the pale-blue cloudless sky, a blood-red punishing orb. It's atomic intensity is worsened by the visor, I feel like my face is inside a greenhouse, but if I remove it for more than a second I risk at least a fortnight in quarantine; without pay. The uniform doesn't help either, pitch black for night camouflage. A great help out here. The weight of perspiration bogs me down. I'm developing a rash between my legs and shorts from damp friction. But I'm in charge of these woeful troops and I march on regardless. Regardless of the agony in my legs, blisters on my feet, the shoulder straps cutting into my skin, the dehydration, hunger, fatigue, and mosquito bites on me like the Rocky Mountains. I'm sweating so much I'm afraid I'll pass out. No time to stop and drink however, not 'till we reach our next port of call. Then it's time to break out the water rations, salt/glucose capsules and foilpacks of food marginally less dehydrated than we are. I notice a small, tiger-coloured scorpion mutation trying to crawl into the boot on my left leg. I take out my stun-gun and zap him. He curls up into a ball as I continue to fry him until all that's left is a tiny blackened, smouldering morsel- Little bastard! We had been walking for hours, covered at least 20 klicks. We stopped inside the gates and had much needed rest, food and water before proceeding. Still deeper, beyond the outer regions, toward the depths, darkness. Our watches are linked to GMT-Sat, and won't work. Daylight is minimal. With the foreboding blanket of smog, and lack of juice, the favs are plunged into an eternal, dour dungeon of dusk. It's hard to tell time in the favs, perhaps because time never exists. Some of these areas are well over a century old, like here, but this place is special. It's floodlit with magnesium streetlamps and trimmed with neon refraction. This is "Towel-town", mostly Arabic, like the Tower of Babel had been toppled on its side and the bricks used to build a new medieval micropolis. A white shining pearl. An oasis of wealth in the desert of poverty. Satellite dishes and propane tanks sit on the flattened roofs of whitewashed Legobricks. Every house an air-conditioned palace. Generators purr, and water-pumps hammer and clunk. Bustling bazaars, bartering, busking, chattering, domestic animals screeching, spicey aromas and fragrant oils. An extravagant blur, of colour, of language, of every scent. Lost in time. A spectrum of sound, a tapestry of tone. Meshing into one. They've even got their own pirate radio station. Bedouin Crash music thunders out the massive Boss subs of titanic Low-riders. Giant nomadic sound-systems wrestling the spiritual sonority of Muslim chant. There were hundreds, lurching, jerking, cruising through the gleaming streets. Marble smooth paintwork, luscious silken interiors woven like magic carpets, dune-buggy tires, and ornate handcrafted rims; decorated like Ben Hur's chariot. Here, it is relatively civilised, if a little eccentric, and indeed many agents have been able to survive and bring back useful intelligence. Its "parliament" is really a gangster-democracy with the frills of a monarchical masquerade. Somehow they manage to generate electricity and keep their people from starvation with the spoils of arms dealing throughout the rest of the favs. They too, are keeping out of our hair. This place was once a nest of extremist anti-AU terrorism, however, that has all changed under current rule. The area has been living under the pretence that it is a republic. The AU unofficially granted it this and other concessions, in return for mutual diplomatic co-operation. And co-operate they do. Much of the weaponry they receive comes from decommissioned army stock unofficially. And they usually have no qualms in using them against us. Or the savage hoard beyond their gates. The desert has long since been used as landfill. Everything from domestic garbage to old-world US Army shit to the mummified corpses of old mobster enemies- all buried in this septic sarcophagus. This is home to tribes of nomadic lobster-coloured hunchbacks toiling in the stinging piercing winds. They move eerily yet deliberately from one dune to the next. The trick is to follow the crows. They taste marginally better than the buzzards, lizards and rattlers. They're also an airborne compass for water and scavenging sites. These spots are often forgotten then unearthed by the whipping winds. Petrified in the dry sand, many things remain in mint condition. And anything can be "recycled." Paper, plastic, glass, aluminium cans- collect enough and you can get yourself a meal. Scrap-metal, auto parts, old tires- even better! Take 'em all out in a wheelbarrow or an antique shopping cart. Agricultural waste and other organic matter can be resold as fertiliser to the vineyards of the Northwest. Discarded hypodermics, fossilised cheeseburgers- all hard currency here. Everything finds a purpose- into netted bags or tied to multibanded straps and belts. They cover the debris like a blanket of flies. Wading barefooted on the mountainous piles of broken glass, sharp metal and decaying filth in a frantic competition to pocket anything they deem valuable. That what would seem worthless to others. But despite their unsavoury lifestyle they are a proud people. They take their appearance quite seriously. Colour, and lots of it! They dye their clothes and hair, braiding it with rainbows of wool and twine and such. Decorating themselves lavishly, painting extravagant designs and patterns on their scarlet, sunburnt, blistery bodies. They love indulging themselves in magpie accessories, grafting ringpulls and bottlecaps to their ears and nipples, anything shiney cheap toy-store jewellery is just as precious as silver, gold and diamonds. And life is only as precious as tinpots and rusty bedsprings. Silence but for the whistling wind, the crackling of gravel under caterpillar tires, and the gentle sighing of the hovercraftis rotors. We proceeded on our course, past the raven-ridden landfills of the North into the area known as Eastwood's Cemetery. An arid wasteland as far as the eye could see, with a straight black serpent stretching out to meet the horizon. Heat-scorched sand surrounding the black, cracked tar of an abandoned, lonely highway. Nearby, a small town, it's only inhabitants, the legions of tumbleweed and the sunbleached bones of cattle. The monochrome HUD on my riot visor detects no poisons or bio toxins in the air. The Geiger counter in my hand is silent. We roll on, forward, into the unknown. The scene growing increasingly desolate. No people here- why? A Coca-Cola billboard- a dustbowl mirage. An unintelligible sign still in metric- the name of the town eroded by acid rain. Population 150. A ghost-town- ashes to ashes. A few little wooden houses, a general store, a gas station, a gun shop and an ol' fashioned diner. This must've been a truck stop. Cross country rigs and hillbilly pick-ups parked while their drivers sat at Formica counters drinking re-heated coffee, munching on big juicy burgers and wholesome, homemade pie. A burnt out laryengetic waitress surveys the scene, smoking a cigarette and swatting flies. In the background the tinny sound of AM radio playing identical sounding Country. The twanging three chord tricks, lazy, sliding guitars, and whiney, warbling yodels of country gals, pining for their loved one. Silenced now, forever. Deadly Silence. A sonic black hole stalking us like some predatory beast. Once this was a pretty riverside resort. Litter-free streets lined with Ferraris, limos, palm trees and technicolor bloom. Every luxury afforded to those who could afford it- swimming pools, spas, tennis courts and golf courses. The truly elite casinos and nightclubs, five-star hotels, condos, villas. A playboy paradise. But then the water dried out, as did the money- the crash hit these folk badly and the place deteriorated rapidly. Until the last of the inhabitants were chased away by redneck punks. The streets were then reduced to dirt-tracks. The only indications of transport are rusty, burnt-out, post Molotov pick-ups and station wagons, or piles of shit along the main street mules and camels no doubt. The buildings are boarded-up wooden shacks or mounds of crumbling rubble and plaster. To my left a mural exhaulting the KKK, every wall smeared in graph and the bloodlike stain of red Swastikas. A tall church dominates the skyline. The words, "Jesus Saves" appear on a sign beside the doorway caked in dust and cobwebs. He didn't save this town. Now? Now it's a ghetto run by a hardcore, white-trash Skinhead gang. A Swastika banner hangs from the tower of the church itself- inside it lurks a sentry. On seeing us he rings the bell. Immediately we're attacked by a hail of missiles- rocks, bricks, rotten vegetables and bottles are showered on us from above. They whoop and holler at us as we pass nervously. They yell obscenities from windows and rooftops, brandishing baseball bats, iron bars and chains, swinging them at thin air with menace. Their feral faces; murderous masks all shaven and scarred, cruel bloodthirsty fire in their eyes. And still we continue to bake beneath the daily, solar supernova. Spots are developing before my eyes, a sunbeam penetrates through the visor, splitting three mini-spectrums in a diagonal line, blinding me, but I dare not lift it, for the projectiles are still raining down. We are hopelessly outnumbered, and it's always hard to know what kind of firepower these hillbillies pack. Flynn is ghostly pale, he grips his rifle for dear life, praying to some nameless god. Out of nowhere a camel charges from behind a termite-ridden shed. Before Flynn even sees what it is he's squeezed off a shot and grazed its leg. The beast bellows in pain stampeding along the dusty main street as the shot echoes ripple around each building- and each ear. The air becomes heavy with tension and anxiety for one pivotal, apocalyptic instant. The silence became unbearable, I curled my clammy finger around the trigger, waiting- so wet inside those sealed surgical gloves that my fingers had wrinkled up like prunes. Flynn gripped the rifle even tighter. I glanced at him, he looked visibly shaken. And in that instant a shot rang out and I heard him scream as a splatter of blood hit his visor, and watched some wiseguy rookie in front crumple on the dust sans-visage. More shots, more shouts; they're packin' peashooters- pistols, sawn-offs, hunting rifles and the like- slow and sluggish. One man on a rooftop squeezes off two rounds from a crude pumpaction as he reloads the shack detonates into splinters. Ah!- the Crow and Maxwell ASR-50! Laser sights, compatible with virtually all HUD software including our visor display, can switch to infa-red mode if needed, you can easily set the RPS {rounds per second} or toggle to grenade launcher mode. Here it can fire a tiny explosive pellet only a millimeter in diameter, but its destructive power is awesome. And many others have also found this out the hard way. The skinheads jump up and down screeching like frantic chimpanzees. Another shot and they retreat rapidly from their posts howling like rabid dogs. And again, that silence. But they'll be back, you can bet on it. I advise the unit to pick up the pace, but then again, I knew that this was only the tip of the iceberg. The sun is now a fiery globe, inside an ultra-white crescent shape, it seems to be rotating at great speed. The sky itself is stained like the crimson sheet of some galactic matador. The first of the stars are out, or they appear to be stars, they are in fact our planetary neighbours; Venus and Mars I guess, the gods of love and war- all's fair in both they say. But nothing is fair out here. There is little love, life is more a drowsy holocaust than war, and we march into its core, blindly. From here on in it gets only worse. Into the centre of savagery and inhuman deviance. We're not moving without purpose, but instead following a breadcrumb Geiger trail converging on the hotspot of radioactive activity. The digital Geiger is a highly sensitive piece of equipment. It can differentiate between natural radiation and atypical readings, picking up the slightest pocket of anomalous activity in a radius of many kilometers. My only hope is that the Peruvians didn't install decoys someplace. But the truth is it's quite possible, quite a depressing thought but then there are worse things to think about- it'll be dark soon. Night-time arrives with the stealth of a ninja; unnoticed under the shroud of smog. We're approaching the heartless heartlands, the superghettoes, the twilight of reason, the inner sanctum of the malignant mind. Sacrificial altars of primal, soul-devouring evil. Sex, pain, pimps, porn. Needles, knives, guns and fire. The struggle for supremacy, survival and sanity. The junkie jungle. Vaginal Voodoo. The dregs of humanity, cannibalistic depravity. The apex of desperation. Here is where you see how low a man can go, just to prolong his existence. As the sun sets the children hide, and like vivacious vampires, the grown-ups come out to playO Boogieland; a crackheads' paradise, a carnival of carnality. We watched from a hilltop at the perverse spectacle. Multi-storey treehouse discotheques, twinkley Christmas lights, and strobes climb like luminous ivy weaved into wooden frames and scaffolding. Mirrorballs, moonshine stills, heroin and sleaze. It's drugs and sex here, for sale or trade. An automobile safari has gathered for the nightly "Ho-down." A drive in auction for hookers and "wives." The MC is dressed like an S&M Santa Claus. He stands, holding a megaphone on a platform in the square in front of a big screen. The Mojo {MJ- mini-op jockey} stands above on a balcony projecting a blend of hardcore images onto it feeding a collage of sound out of gigantic speaker stacks. Samba, Latino-licks, congas, bongos, clangey Gamelan, industrial porno and twentieth Century Phunk-Reviv-ill; wah guitars, subbass, cheesy, weedy synths, farting hissy electronic percussion, and video arcade melodies. A bloated biker in a black leather bondage masks drags a tanned, emasculated teenage waif in manacles before the MC. He gets her to turn around while jolly St. Nic fondles her breasts and kneads her buttocks, her ribs protruding slightly. He gargles a distorted rap into the megaphone and the bidding begins. The men sit in/on their vehicles honking their horns and flashing their headlights to bid. At the end she's sold to a half-breed Red Indian greaseball for fifty dollars cash and ten in hard currency- i.e. hard drugs. The nefarious Megapimp market of Boogieland has been around for decades without any prospect of being halted by the authorities. As far as they're concerned who cares? At least they're not car-jacking or stealing from the rich. They're not of any danger to real society, not damaging anything important. As long as they remain where they are everything's ok. Bedrock- the valley of primeval skum. They hide between the dunes, mountains and hills eclipsed from civilisation. This whole area is one parched, prehistoric nightmare. An isolated wilderness cut-up into the tiny-turfs of monsters; more Gengis Khans than gangstas. Lilliputian war criminals that rule their turf without a shred of moral decency. And, for Vagos, an irresistible, impregnable hiding place. We circumnavigated the perimeter, following the Geiger's hopeful crackles and blips. We were trying, if possible, to do so without attracting much attention. It was my personal folly to awaken a dormant perimeter defense system. I foolishly blundered into an optical tripwire web, and set it off. A phosphorescent flash- and I watched in horror as a column of men was sawn in half by a Thermo-beam. They stood with the horrified, knowing look of imminent death on their faces until their eyeballs popped, their eardrums ruptured and their brains liquidised. They shuddered violently screaming a soul-wrenching shriek as their bodies heated up to approx. 500 degrees. Then finally they exploded, in a pinkish/red gush of fire, blood and goey entrails. Thermo-beams were developed in what was then Communist China some thirty years ago. Geneva banned them for being perhaps the cruellest, deadliest and most gruesome manner of execution on the planet. Apparently the searing heat in your skull cavity causes time to slow down and every millisecond before you die becomes a lifetime. I toggled to the visoris tactical HUD projection, a red three dimensional grid mapped itself across the landscape. As I moved my head tiny numbers in the corner of my sight counted upwards rapidly until I heard the high pitched sine wave signifying I was locked in. I relayed the data fed to my ASR 50, which helped me extrapolate the correct angle and velocity of my shot, to correspond to the approximate trajectory of the beam. Whoosh- KABOOM! We came near the site some four kilometres on; a mangled robotic tripod high above upon a toppled mountain of crushed cars. Beside it a barbecued pit-bull, lying on the blackened earth. The tires were still smoking, glowing redO That last episode provoked me. A horrifying thought entered my head; all this time I wished for an awkward wild goose chase, but this ain't Bedrock hardware. Bedrock likes to use mines and tripwires, sawn-offs and grenades, spotlights and snipers. And that's about as sophisticated as it gets- right down to concealed leg-nooses or covered-up pits with sharpened sticks at the bottom. I wasn't prepared for this level of high-tech severity. No, how could I see such a thing coming. Because in the briefing I didn't quite engage the idea, the nature of this work de-sensitises you, you shrug it all off. Now I know this is serious, this isn't a drill, this isn't some meddling military bullshit, this is real. I was on the right track, and I knew then that fateful deathray could only belong to Vagos' mercenaries. Kemuri Harbor, reeks of fish and felony, a cottage industry as it were. Reputed to be, i.e. it is, sponsored by a renegade Yakusa underling named Kimura. He's the major heroin supplier of the entire region. Here the opium is farmed and processed, then gets shipped out along the canal that runs through the mountains and eventually joins up to a major canal clear to his distributors in San Francisco. It's a nice operation, he manages to outfox the coastguard that way. And very few have the guts to penetrate the outlying regions to his layer. Nobody has a car here, only rickshaws and bicycles except for the balloon maintenance crew. They have autogyros, simple open-air, one-man choppers made of silk and carbonex. They've created a devious, if crude microclimate. The water that isn't evaporated gets drained through pipes and gullies into underground reservoirs where it's filtered and pumped back up for drinking water and crop irrigation. They also have a simple sprinkler system; suspended rubber hoses with tiny holes criss-crossing the streets and misting down on the inhabitants. High above, in the lower atmosphere, tethered to the ground by giant chains and cables, are hundreds of solar powered airships (everything is solar here). They pull against each other and fan out the corners of the impressive, meteorological kite known as the "Umbrella." The umbrella consists of two square kilometres of a micro-thin, transparent sheet made of some super-strong, lightweight, space-age material. During the day it acts as a greenhouse and captures evaporating moisture. Then, when the cold desert night arrives it cools and clouds the town in supernatural precipitation. Sometimes it rains snails, they farm them too. A special type of snail that slimes along, over and under the sheet keeping it clean, much like those used in fish-tanks. Due to this exotic atmosphere the people here tend to live a hectic, heaving nocturnal life it being an impossible furnace at daytime. The harbour itself is a hazey, humid mess like a cross between Kevin Kingsley's blockbuster, "Jack the Ripper", and those lame, Shanghai, "Cyber-Samurai" flicks. Incandescent paper lanterns and neon Oriental symbols cut through the misty moor-like air, twisted into kaleidoscopic blobs, dancing like dragon-fire on the damp sidewalks. The sodden streets were thronged like an open-air sauna. Vaporous clouds; the sickly-sweet smell of incense and hashish. Scores of smokey, sushi stalls; men drinking beer and sake. They grunt and guffaw unwittingly developing mercury poisoning. Everything on sale, from beautifully ornate ricebowls to knock off electronics. All manner of street-entertainment, gambling, cock fights, hookers. Nearby the theatres and peepshows featuring spritely young teen girls in knee socks, school uniforms and all manner of battery-operated adventures. They all ignored us, much as one ignores the commercials between their favourite show. But they saw us; oh yeah they saw us- only they didn't bother moving, as they knew in their hearts we were only a temporary inconvenience- and that a brutal catharsis was on the cards. Kimura, AKA Goldfinger, an ugly, fat SOB, and equally mean. Cold, swift, precise manipulative. A satanic sumo, a cantankerous barrel, full to the brim with Japanese arrogance. One has to die with honour, but to live with honour never enters the equation, nor does to kill with honour. Women, children- he'll butcher them all if for no other reason than to make an example of them with the expected level of Jap efficiency. His name isnit exactly accurate, theyire actually silver. Artfully sculpted, hand-crafted electro-conductive, razor-sharp talons wired straight to his nerves by rather crude shanty cybernetic welding. Theyire to replace the ones he lost- both of his middle and index fingers. His original ones were claimed by top Hawaiiis top oyabun (master or Don) Toshiro Watanabe, who had been disgraced by Kimurais psychotic actions. Kimura had brutally slaughtered and diced up the family of a rather prominent businessman when merely instructed to give him a warning. This was the final straw for Toshiro who expelled him from the organisation and is rumoured to have a price on his head for anyone foolish enough to desire it. Mankind does have a dormant psychic power that comes to the fore in times of extreme necessity. Our location had all the charm of a ticking timebomb. Without seeing or hearing anything that might indicate danger we somehow knew we were in trouble. We knew the spies were there. It was only a matter of time. That feeling of dread, like a fly trespassing on the invisible silken threads of a carefully woven web, and the slightest tingle has vibrated, setting off silent alarms. Soon the stealthful spider will methodically make its way from the centre to deliver its venom. We had fifty men this morning; we were down to 34 33-32Othe countdown continued. These ongoing Houdini acts were making me panic. Reeeallly scared. Through the droves, send out a man on point; then find him disembowelled ten seconds later. See that handsome, smiley, chirpey kid Fernandez. Turn my head for a second and he's swallowed up by the milling crowd. A crossbow arrow here, a poison dart thereO A kid walks up to us smiling, bright eyes, grubby knees, and some computer game character on his T-shirt. Fhit- Fhit- Fhit! Three shots from a silenced pistol. Twenty-six of fifty remaining-tic-tic-tic-tic!!! The kid scampers off, we pursue him down the impossibly crowded streets, around a corner down a dead-end alleyway. He was gone; in his place stood a man with nunchucks. He swung them around his head lightning fast. Clockwise, switching to anti-clockwise, up, down, behind his back. The men gaped at the mesmerising blur, a few trained their rifles on him. Then from behind along comes a truck, it tows an articulated trailer that blocks the exit- an ambush. Our Galipoli. Kar-rut-tut-tut-tut! ASR-10's thundering from unseen perches. The nunchuk-man flickered in the wake of a flame-thrower blast, a hologram- Stupid! The flame licked along the ground engulfing three men, they screamed and flailed their arms. One tried to roll on the damp ground to quench the flames- he got shredded by gunfire for his ingenuity. The two tanks are taken out from above by Shuriken missiles, possibly fired from one of the airships. The rookies tried to extrapolate the trajectory, no chance, too slow- Kar-rut-tut-tut-tut! My stomach felt queasy, my throat sore, tears were welling up behind a psychological dam. Take cover, me in a doorway. Flynn behind some trashcans. A few more here and there. But where? Where are the shots coming from? How can we take cover if we don't even know the angle of attack? Kar-rut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tuttut! Oh my God! I spy the jeep, Kar-rut-tut-tut-tut! Perhaps our salvation, unharmed due to its proximity to the trailer. Krrr-rut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tuh! Another shot lit up the night sky; the two drivers are minced by bullets. Get a fix on the attack with the rifle, line it up parallel with the crosshair on the visor. Only ASR 50's have the dual action shot- possibly our only advantage. I let loose an explosive round. The resulting dazzling light and smoke give me a chance to move. I wave the nine survivors to run my way as I cover them with a stream of bullets- Kar-rut-tut-tut-tut-tut! Kar-rut-tut-tut-tut! I try get a fix on the balloon, the sky is too dark, so I take a leap of faith (fate). Then a miracle, I fire two more grenade rounds as a deterrent but somehow manage to hit something. Another flash illuminates the darkness, we see silhouettes above and unleash a frenzy of fire as we back off, as one, toward the jeep. A lead sprinkler system, flashes from the nozzles, my fingers shaking, I open the jeep door and kick out the corpses. Everyone piles in as I grind it into gear, swinging round toward the dead end then pull the handbrake and screech in a jolting arc, temporarily oblivious to the backseat shootout. I floor the accelerator with a sickening squelchy noise. The floor is a goey mess of brains, blood and bone. I nod at Grant, the tall sullen black kid, as I point at the trailer. He gets the message and squeezes off a grenade. The truck detonates and I bawl right toward the mushroom of yellow flame and black oily smoke. The tires catch fire but the gas tanks don't; we managed to survive. The people got out of our way this time, right through, parting the sea of bodies, all the way to the bridge and across. They won't follow us beyond the limits of their turf. Intruders are eliminated immediately in the favs- it's seen as an act of war. They failed to kill us, but they conclude that their ghastly neighbours will finish the job. The junkies and jackals around the harbour are perhaps the most vile creatures on this Earth. Shit-huts as far as the eye could see. We managed to get two kilometres before the jeep kicked it- somehow I knew it would. We had no choice but to go it on foot, we sensed armies of invisible eyes watching us with flagitious intent. Right in the diseased heart of Bedrock. Nine scared, lethargic men against a legion of barbarians. Walking cautiously through a multistory scrapyard. Frames of scaffolding and netting, barbed wire and steel mesh, like that found in chicken coups. Stitched into this metallic frippery were machine parts and such, hubcaps, pots and pans, mirrors and animal skulls- goats mostly. Their devil like horns to ward off intruders, real caveman shit going on, but it was working. We were frightened beyond mortal rationality. Blacker than night itselfO I've always said that what we needed was a special self-polarising/night vision visor like the feds have. But I never get my say, budget cuts, always budget cuts- yeah, think about those confounded budget cuts. Damn them! Rifle-mounted flashlight beams and red lazer sights cut through the grey veil of smoke and steam. I can just make out the pervasive spidery scrawls splattered on every wall in blood-red spraypaint- "KING FAHUK." I've just noticed the Geiger; the LED's are twinkling. It's gone crazy, like a spasmodic disco. It's HERE! The plutonium is hereO The place smells of rotten flesh, death and decay. A constant hum of flies and the odd heart-stopping rustle. A curse upon those budget cuts! If I live to see another budget cutO We step cautiously along, visors up, breath clouding. The ground beneath me crackles; they may be needles, they may be bones. If it's here thenO Cold sweats. I felt faint. Owhat kind of guard is it under? A repulsive, one-eyed cat ran out from in front of me. A second later I got my answer- KKKRRRRrrrrreeeeEEEEEE!!!!! That inhuman torturous shriek of agony. A second Thermo-beam. Now it was just me, Grant and Flynn left. We ran for cover into a doorway. Flynn shot off the padlock and we shuffled in panting. My heart beat faster and louder- like the pistons of an Indycar engine. Outside muted marching and shouting. The building, or at least the swaying heap of jumble-sale architecture, appears to be some kind of, multi-story drug-den. The floor is sticky, smells of urine and the walls seem to be smeared in faeces, along with the most obscene graffiti- bloody rape scenes and gruesome, grinding chainsaw bondage. We decide to climb upward, along rickedy rope-ladders and suspended beams. On the second level the platform is uneven. We looked down at what we first thought to be a corpse laid out on a filthy blanket- then it moved. A young female, I finally realised, her arms cut and gashed with needle tracks, her bottom lip bleeding and her body looked like it was whipped. Her eyes were glassed over, her pupils were dilated. She musta been trippin' hard. Flynn approached her and she hopped to her feet, backing away then tripped over a crate of some kind. With her ghostly pale skin, jet black hair and tattered Tarzan attire she had the appearance of a syphilitic Betty Rubble. Flynn gets closer, as she shuffles backwards like a crab. A look of sheer terror welded on her face, hissing and snarling in some alien language; it may have been English- some mutant strain, shanty dialect. "Sssh!" Flynn tries to comfort her as she presses her back to the wall, teary eyed and trembling. He holds out his hand to her as one would to a dog to let it sniff you and familiarise itself. "It's okO" he whispered. She started to jabber again, faster, louder, higher in pitch. "Relax- I'm not going to hurt youO" He gets closer and she starts screaming, "Ssssh!" he held out his palms to her and smiles. She locks eyes with him, and held him there for a second, she seemed to quieten down. He turned his head back to us with an angelic smile, then a shocked, emotionally wounded whimper as he gets a neighbourly syringe plunged into his left thigh for the effort. He looks down at his leg in pained disbelief giving her a chance to flee in a white blur, before she's enveloped by shadow. Flynn jerks the needle out, wincing, and looks at us sheepishly. Then- the sound of shattering glass and heavy footsteps, getting louder. We run up again, higher. All that went through my mind at that point was why? I'd seen too many movies to know that you never, ever, run upstairs. I pondered this as we clambered upward. I was fast becoming mentally detached. Halfway to the top we found a hammock-like bridge to the adjoining structure and scampered across, my mind racing. KKKRRRRrrrrreeeeEEEEEE!!!!! The beam severed the bridge as we were about halfway along it. We were swung across, smacked off the other building, suspended about a meter and a half from a fire-escape type ledge. We dropped down, one by one, and I tried to knock out the beam projector. Theeeouuw! Missed! Theeeouuw! - BOOOFfff! 1-2-3-4-5Oautomatic fire clanked above my head, ricocheting off a suspended radiator grill. The firefight lasted about 30 seconds. Four khaki-clad men, in similar visors fired at us, but we had height advantage. Grant, rather than dwell on the peculiar nature of it, took cover in a rusty bathtub-Theeeouuw! BOOOFfff! We scrambled down to ground level again. Flynn was wheezing like an asthmatic with a Castro cigar. He bent over on his hands and knees hyperventilating. He hacked, he choked and he vomited up oceans of blood almost drowning in it. Then he fell to his knees convulsing- "What's going on?" he squeaked, gripping his stomach, tears in his bloodshot eyes. I knew what it was, his kidneys, liver, lungs, everything, they were all about to burst. A superpathogen- lethal bio engineered viri, nasty as shit. But he must've known that too, with his medical background an' all, and I wondered if his question was a deeper one. I watched him wheeze his last then looked back at a shivering Grant. His eyes were wide, white saucers. And then I noticed it, didn't see the person, just the knife glistening in the dim starlight. A curved, rusty scimitar, held at his throat. He held his breath, and then at that instant so did I- CLICK! It seemed to reverberate around the entire universe. I placed my hands in the air. As we were marched forward I saw a reflection in the disjoined grill of a Chevy what it was; a .44 Magnum, elongated barrel, silver finish. An antiquited, classical cannon. I also saw my last ever image of Flynn. Some formless, brown hooded demon was dragging his body inside, along the gravel. Poor Flynn, he wanted to help the masses, now he was going to feed them. Perhaps it's the movie buff in me, as we approached King Fahuk's layer I half expected a flash of lightning to stab across the horizon on queue. What I did see however were severed heads impaled on pikes; it's becoming bitterly apparent that this King Fahuk doesn't make idle threats, and his Insanity is a raging, sadistic inferno. The fortress, if you can call it that, was nothing more than a converted grain-silo. None the less, it dominated the horizon with a cruel, dark demeanour. Fahuk's men were a strange, intimidating bunch. A ferocious array of warriors, whose armour they must've have plundered down through the ages. Pirate-punks, Viking-bikers, Centurion-gangstas. They spat and snarled at us as we were dragged through the windey, wooden corridors. Until finally we were thrown to our knees on the dusty concrete, before a scowling King Fahuk. The room was lit with candles and paraffin torches. Painted on the wall behind him was a giant black Pentagram. Two anorexic girls flanked him; they wore veils over their faces and couldn't be more than fourteen. They also bore Pentagram symbols tattooed on their enormous breasts- grafted silicone a Boogietown butcher job no doubt. Fahuk himself was perhaps the most hideous, deformed, monster I had ever seen. Leather-clad, bald and bare-chested. His face was half covered in purple birthmark, scar tissue from above his left eye to his neck, the right eye was under a patch. The Moby Dick of the underworld, sitting on his bone-throne like the Anti-Buddha. A mountain of obesity- his gut spilling out all over. He held his sceptre in his left hand- little more than a carbonex wheel axle, with a baby goat-skull on the top. Grant raised his head too high and got kicked in the ribs- hard. Fahuk started barking at us. What language he spoke I couldn't understand, but I got the message, we were in deep shit. His flabby jowls jiggling as he croaked out an order at the two guards. They placed two baskets under our heads, I heard the shink of scraping metal, the sound of the blade whistling through the air and I cowered with fearO PICK-OOooooF! PICK-OOooooF!- shickshick! PUCK-OOOOuuuuu!!!! I couldn't see what transpired, I was blacking out. I could only hear. It sounded like a pumpaction. When I gathered the strength to raise my head I saw that the chamber was flickering. And I smelled smoke. Grant had passed out. Fahuk and his guards were lying decapitated, grey matter sprayed around the room. A hand lifted me up, onto my unsteady wavering legs. I thought it was a mercenary, but it wasn't. A silver android-like figure illuminated by the beams of a passing chopper. The cavalry had arrived in radioactive protection suits. Fahuk's men and the mercenaries were battling outside; and loosing. And as I crawled back to reality I heard explosions, gunfire, riotous yelling. And muffled speech from under the suitsO Hey Frankie we got two survivors 'ere! Get me a medical team pronto! ONo shit?! Quick ged 'em outa 'ere, we got a chopper waitin'OHoly shit it looks like a freekin' a Psycho-Clerk movie in here! -get the stretcher, he's unconscious, the other one's suffering from shock; he don't seem to know where he is. -God knows what these two puh bas-ids bin tru in the pas' twenny-foh owas! Whuda-Whuda-Whuda-Whuda-Whuda-Whuda-Whuda! OGet 'em inta choppa' quick! Tut-tut- Tut-tut- Tut-tut- Tut-tut- Tut-tut- Tut-tut- Tut-tut- Tut-tut! ODayam! I 'ope I neva 'ave tu see a fuckin' Dyyve like that fuckin' place ageihn! -Well imagine fu'd tu live there! -Naw man, 'sno way mothafuckas live down there, 's-justa a terroris' base! -Well it's sure as hell won't be there in the mornin', just a big hole in the ground. -That's awl ih ihz anaway! Jussa bii-ig hole-inna-groun', plutonium ma ayas! Should juss let the motherfuckas nuke 'um-seylves!O Ohey hol' up I think ma brotha's comin' raind! They administered drugs, set me up with about seven IV drips. Sedatives mostly, antibiotics, glucose, whatever. They gave me water and salt, tried to keep me warm under disinfected disposable blankets. The blankets had that sickly, chemical, hospital-smell that made me gag. I was taken back for quarantine, where I was scrubbed, disinfected, washed, shaved and checked thoroughly for chemical, biological and radioactive poisoning. Then followed two weeks of de briefing/counseling sessions, all that our funding will allow. After which I'm firstly to be medically examined, then the mission is to be investigated, to see if it was poor leadership and incompetence on my part that brought forty-eight young men to early graves. And a hearing to see if I am fit to return to work. Caroline, my ex-wife, she nursed me back to health. I don't know what I'd've done without her, she supported and strengthened me, helped me stand on my own two feet again. But she said, "either I come back or you go back," that she could not face every day wondering if her husband had been killed. She could never take the pressure and pain of that lifestyle. But I have to go back, to face my demons, I won't sleep otherwise, plagued by bloody, gruesome nightmares, waking up sweating and crying into her arms. And I know they shall forever haunt me, unless I return; once again- into the darkness.