Major Gibson and Nengghi pulled out of the small settlement
town of Setan, which lay somewhat inland from the Java Sea on the East Coast of
Kalimantan. The router Gibson had chosen was standard Australian Army issue
that had been modified for intelligence use. It was in civilian colors, had no
government markings and was distressed to appear heavily used. Australian
civilians and other people were in and out of the area regularly, so it was
unlikely his presence would attract attention. The router was moderately armed
and had a good communications suite, the latter of which Gibson had no
intention of using. Once he headed off into the bush, it would be easy to get
out of sight and away from prying questions.
trundled along the local roads at high speed, Nengghi leaned back and dosed
while Gibson thought more about his plans for this mission. It was more like an
unofficial visit; he was going to meet one of his opposites in the Selangor
Intelligence Service, and he was doing so without reporting it to his
Australian superiors. At least he would not report until after he found out why
Keng wanted to meet in person. He had decided to trust that the message Nengghi
brought back from Singapore was genuine and not a trap. He was betting his life
on it, and possibly Nengghis too, but he felt it was a wise risk. Gibson
had a gut feeling that he knew who or more accurately what this
Keng fellow was. If true, then he was more than just a member of Selangor
intelligence. Either way they would soon find out.
cleared the eastern hills, Kalimantans largest valley lay before them.
The broad savannah was dotted by trees and small clumps of forest that went
almost to the horizon. Far in the distance they could see a hazy dark line that
marked the central mountains. The router followed a series of twisting roads
crossed by the many shallow streams that meandered down from the highlands. Not
much dust kicked up behind the vehicle, far less than would happen with regular
civilian transport. Rarely, and surprisingly, they passed distant clusters of
small buildings. Gibson knew the area was sparsely populated, but seeing it was
different. These people really lived out in the middle of nowhere. As a
precaution, Gibson reached up to punch the hard connect that would authorize
the routers on-board system to link with his ES assistant.
had a chance to do anything, the router suddenly decelerated as it rounded a
curve. Slowing to a halt, it stopped just short of a large herd of goats
crossing the road. Out beyond the goats stood several tall men; one of them was
wearing a large, gaudy necklace that tagged him as belonging to the Tara Cult
this was not their normal area. Noticing that the router was stopped in
a possible ambush zone, Gibson punched the activation button and quickly
rattled off his access code aloud. Now was not the time to worry about what
Nengghi did or did not hear. She was wide awake now, looking with inquisitive
concern at Gibson.
unfastened his harness and popped the top hatch of the router.
afternoon brother." the man called out. Gibson was immediately worried.
replied, gritting his teeth slightly, "How goes it?"
sorry about this mess, we're getting these animals off to market and they seem
to be in your way." the man said disturbingly. The ruse was pretty transparent,
there was no market. Gibsons ES assistant was already screaming proximity
alarms at him as he dropped back down inside. Fortunately Nengghi was still
strapped in, but as the router slammed into reverse, Gibson clipped his head at
the edge of the hatch. He dropped into his seat and nearly blacked out. The
router whose on-board systems knew no front or back roared
straight back the way it had come. At the same moment several kinetic rounds
blew through the vehicles side.
milliseconds Gibsons ES assistant used the routers onboard system
to map out numerous combat vehicles and humans scattered behind the east side
of the embankment. It instantly spat out volley after volley of defensive fire;
the ordnance crashed home with near perfect accuracy Gibsons
enemies were relatively primitive and had no countermeasures against the latest
in Australian weaponry. Explosions and screaming erupted from the line of heavy
brush as the router continued its retrograde dash.
could only hang on. She couldnt even tell what was shooting at them. The
router spun out into a field and sped west away from the attackers. Several
smart rounds screamed past. One of them circled, came back from straight ahead
and crashed through the front fairing to explode by Gibsons leg,
peppering Nengghis calf with shrapnel. This snapped Gibson the rest of
the way out of his daze with a scream as two more rounds crashed into the rear
of the router. It developed a nasty slamming motion in the rear suspension and
spun out to a halt. The loyal vehicle fired off the last of its defensive
ordnance at the attackers. It had given a good accounting of itself; most of
the human attackers at the ambush site were down, and all of their unmanned
vehicles were knocked out to varying degrees, mostly chewed up from the inside
out by MGVs. They knew they had run in to something formidable, which made the
Australian technology all the more lucrative to the surviving cult members.
Gibsons ES assistant showed three humans approaching, all carrying small
arms. Damn. Gibson thought, Their vehicles must all be down,
otherwise they wouldnt come up like this. From where he sat, he had
no line of sight to the approaching threat. He looked over at Nengghi who was
watching him wide eyed. He reached behind her seat and pulled out the only
sidearm they had Australian army vehicles typically didnt need
guns for their passengers and were not liberally supplied with them.
had already been activated by Gibsons ES assistant and was fully powered.
He immediately transferred control of it to Nengghi and ordered open its small
maintenance door. Out the rear of the stock popped a small panel from which
Gibson peeled a control patch. He reached over to Nengghi and pressed it onto
her skin just behind the ear; within seconds she had nearly all the same
controls over the weapon as Gibson. Simultaneously he assigned targeting
priorities to its system, which helped make sure she didnt accidentally
shoot him. Not that it matters now. he thought to himself as he
winced in dull pain. He handed the gun to her and ordered her safety harness
look Nengghi. he said, I need you to do exactly as I say,
okay? She nodded, unaware that she held the only personal weapon
Were both going to open the doors and jump out at the same time. I
want you to fall out the side and roll over behind those rocks next to us. If
anyone gets near you, shoot them. All you have to do is point it in the right
direction and use your display to shoot, the gun will take care of the rest,
okay? She nodded her headed again. By now the patch had tied-in to her
display, confirmed by the fact that she was looking around into the open space
in front of her. Good. Gibson thought to himself, Shell
know what to do. He could feel blood pouring out of his thigh, and quite
a bit of internal bleeding too. One of the kinetic rounds had passed through
his seat, his guts felt like puree. Damn, Im a goner. he
thought. I hope they think of something. Well, its out of my hands
defensive screen from the router was clearing and the attackers were only 200
meters away. He reached over, patted Nengghi on the cheek, rubbed his thumb
over her chin and gave her a momentary sad look. He then nodded his head and
rolled onto the ground on the left side of the router. To buy Nengghi a few
precious moments he stumbled toward the obviously unattainable cover of an old
log. Small arms fire snapped around him as he crashed to the ground. Rolling
onto his side, he pulled himself up against the log as two of the men walked up
to him. The third walked around to the vehicle.
about the other one? the leader asked.
man walked cautiously around the front of the router. Behind the rocks next to
the vehicles open passenger hatch was a girl, small and frail, propping
herself up on one arm. The other was held up in a defensive posture, her hand
was covered with blood and missing most of its fingers. Actually both her hands
Nothing. he said, Its a girl. Her hands are blown off.
She looks pretty bad.
back over here and cover this guy while I check the vehicle. yelled the
leader. The third man rejoined his fellow cult members, so he never saw Nengghi
take up a firing position beneath the router.
guys done for. one of them said.
but just watch him until Ive had a chance to check this thing out.
said their leader as he turned admiringly toward the Australian vehicle.
halfway to the router then stopped. Turning to his men he blurted out;
Wait, hes probably still controlling this, you better shoot him
both of the other men started to level their weapons at the doomed Gibson when
a deafening burst of small arms fire erupted around the three attackers. All of
them went down in a hail of guided microshrapnel as their feet and ankles
disappeared in clouds of bloody spray. Screaming, they all rolled to the
ground. Another staccato burst from beneath the router and the two men nearest
to Nengghis position jerked a few times as the rounds chopped through
them like a meat cleaver. They fell still.
jumped up and rushed around the back of the router. Stepping over the two
lifeless attackers she cautiously approached the third man and dragged his
weapon away, it was a long range mag-rifle, old but still deadly. He was too
distracted in his footless agony to present a threat, so she rushed over to
Gibson. He was motionless. Keeping an eye in the direction of the road and
covering the surviving attacker, she checked Gibson for injuries. She was
horrified by what she found. He had been shot several times by mag-rifle fire,
and he had huge holes in his side and leg. She called his name Stave,
Stave, reached down and nudged him as gently as possible. She took
another look at the third attacker, he had stopped thrashing around. Sparing a
few quick moments she checked Gibsons pulse, it was very faint.
back over to the router and looked for anything that might have a medical
symbol on it; military vehicles must have medical gear. Beneath one of the
seats she found it; two small emergency med packs. One of them was blown in
half, its complex inner workings scattered around the back of the vehicle. The
other seemed okay. She rushed back to Gibson and quickly reviewed the pictorial
guide on the med pack, most of it was familiar memories from her own
accident. She tore open the seal and pulled out the dense, slightly flexible
foam strip. It felt unusually heavy and was marked on the side that should
fasten to the patient. She gently held Gibsons head and pressed the med
kit onto his neck. Leaning back, she spared another brief glance at the
surviving attacker; he was just lying there, breathing heavily.
up Gibsons hand and watched him. The area was quiet except for a slight
wind in the trees. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, but she
forced them back. She brought his wrist up to her cheek: no pulse; felt his
neck: no pulse. Bringing up the med pack readout on her display, it showed no
vital signs. In a dull shock she stood and looked down at Major Stave Gibson,
one of the few people in the world who had ever cared what happened to her.
and leered at the surviving black marketer, cult member, attacker, murderer.
She stepped aside and nearly tripped over the attacking leaders shredded
remains. Catching herself she kicked at his lifeless corpse. Feeling the
satisfaction of her foot digging in to the offenders broken ribs she
paused and then kicked it one last time.
man moved slightly and came to her attention again; her eyebrows furrowed and
she stalked toward him. As she closed in, she could see that his eyes were
glazed with shock but he was conscious. She kicked him. He winced and convulsed
slightly on that side. She kicked him again and he tried to double over but
couldnt; the microshrapnel had really done a job on his lower spine.
thought came to her. She kicked him one more time, then picked up the large
mag-rifle and leaned it against the router alongside her own gun. She then
rummaged through the vehicle, opening every panel. Eventually she discovered
what she wanted: a good length of towing cable. Yes, that would work fine
primitive but effective. Because of her hands it was difficult, but she
managed to snatch up the cable in one arm and carry the Australian gun in the
crook of her other arm. Walking back over to the third attacker, she checked to
make sure he was still alive by kicking him again. He was still alive.
gun aside, she squatted down and tied together his legs at the knees. Then,
placing the gun against his head, she grabbed one arm and pulled him onto his
stomach. He watched her in terror before his face went into the dirt. She
kicked him again. Then, standing on top of his legs with the gun pointed in
between, she grabbed his arms and pulled them behind his back. It took her a
long time to tie them, but she finally got it done. Pushing him back over, she
then ran the line beneath each arm and wrapped it into a loop. It was messy,
but it would work. She stood and looked around, still nobody.
grasped the looped cable and dragged the third man over to the nearest tree.
Retrieving her gun, she pointed it at his head again as a reminder of the
punishment for resistance. Cooperation was not going to save him, but he did
not know that. Once she had him tied to the tree, she stood back to survey her
handiwork. He looked back in weak terror at her and tried to speak, she
returned his gaze with a blank, expressionless glance.
walked, leaned her gun against the router and picked up the third mans
mag-rifle. It seemed easy to use. It had an old style trigger system that was
pretty self-explanatory. Walking away from the disaster scene, she paced
herself ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and on until the third man was a
good long distance away. Lying against a small log, she steadied the heavy
weapon, aimed back down range toward the offender and popped off a round.
Crack! went the weapon as a large blast of splinters exploded above
the mans head. He immediately began to struggle, a fresh stream of blood
poured down his face. But Nengghi had managed to wind the cable too well for
him to escape so quickly.
Crack! she fired again. This time it hit low, spraying him with
dirt and dust. He yelled at her, but she wasnt listening.
Hmm. she muttered aloud to herself, This is not very
one eye and Crack! off went another round. This one hit the
mans left side at the elbow, shattering the arm and sending the lower
half cartwheeling away.
Wow! she thought, half-fascinated and half-horrified no
matter, her rising anger was in charge now. The man was screaming and starting
to pull loose. She quickly fired two more rounds Crack, Crack! The
first one passed up the length of his right leg and the other exploded on the
tree right next to his head. He shrieked and went limp.
herself up, she paused and looked at him, motionless. Nothing, she watched and
listened, still nothing. Standing up, she stalked toward him, anger growing
that he may have died before she was finished. She leveled the gun again and
fired, Crack, Crack, Crack, Crack, Crack! the whole area turned
into a cloud of dust and dirt and blood. Standing to let the dust clear, she
saw that the man, the third man, was dead beyond any doubt.
the gun down.
in the air, her arms went limp and she screamed. She screamed like she had
never done before in all her life. She punched her fists at the sky, picked up
rocks and threw them at the trees, the dead bodies of the attackers, the
heavens, the open fields, nothing was spared her fury. She finally tripped and
fell. Stopping to compose herself, she sat and breathed deeply and slowly.
After a while she stood back up and returned to Stave Gibsons still form.
Sitting cross legged with her back to the world, she faced him, gently removed
the now worthless med pack and caressed his neck. Kissing his forehead, she
nestled up against him and sat there, staring into nowhere.
found them twenty minutes later. His own router had picked up the sound of
weapons so he had not waited at the rendezvous location. He had lost valuable
time approaching the ambush site and figuring out that the Australian router
was down west of the road.
Selangor router came to a slow stop, the door slid open and Keng climbed out.
He knew he did not have much time. There was a chance that the Australian
router had contacted fire support units, Gibson may not have had time to lock
out its relay settings.
were cursed. he muttered to himself as he looked around.
He ran over
to Nengghi and looked sadly at Gibson. They had never met in person, but he
felt in some ways that he knew him.
Nengghi, he shook her shoulder slightly Nin. he said softly. She
looked up, dried tears marking her cheeks. Vasiliy never had a
chance. Keng thought perversely to himself, thinking back to
Vasiliys musings on how he kind of liked Nin as he knew her.
spoke up; My name is Nengghi. she noted perfunctorily, These
men attacked us
Major Gibson is dead. she said in despair. I
tried to save him
she blankly surveyed the carnage. Keng was
already looking around, making a few assumptions. He calculated for example,
that the guy executed against the tree was probably not Gibsons
handiwork. He looked back down at Nengghi and made a private oath never to
refer to her as mousy again.
They had to
move, and quickly. Australian air support might arrive any time if they had
picked up this action. There was no telling what Gibson had arranged in
advance. Kengs mind was a blank, everything was falling to pieces.
Okay, he said to himself. I have to detach and think
Nin, I mean Nengghi, you need to take care of your leg, I cant help you
because theyll know I was here, do you understand? he asked. She
nodded her head. That med pack can be reused, put it on your left
leg. She did as he said while he walked away and looked up at the sky.
are my choices? he thought to himself. I can leave and let them
rescue her, or at least make sure the Australian router calls for help. If I do
that, I cant stay in the area. He looked back toward the road at
the knocked-out cult vehicles and wondered idly whether there were any more of
them in the area. His own live intelligence was sparse, because of course
neither side was supposed to be here. One thing was certain, Nengghi had to be
protected. He looked again at the shattered remains of the third man and had
passing doubts as to who needed protecting, but he also knew that she would not
be able to repel another group the size of the one they had just run into.
at the damaged Australian router, he saw there was no way she could take it
back to Setan. Allowing himself to be captured by the Australians was no way to
fulfill any of his missions it would leave things worse than they were
So. he nodded to himself. Its her then, its the
back over, kneeled down next to Nengghi and began the speech he was forming in
his head; Nengghi. he said. I need you to do something very
important, do you want to help with the plan that I think Major Gibson was
working on? he asked. She looked at him as if she was wondering whether
to trust him, she remembered Gibson commenting about how you run in to people
you can trust in the strangest places. She decided at this point, trusting Keng
was the best course in an otherwise disastrous situation.
Yes. she said after some thought.
Its very important that you not tell anyone about this except Major
Gibsons commander. Do you know who that is? She nodded. She
remembered seeing Colonel Rusman twice during the time they were preparing her
for Singapore. Good said Keng, Dont tell me his name,
but when you see him, tell him that the man Gibson was trying to meet arrived
too late to help, but that I sent this message: We have a new enemy. Remember
that. he told her.
Alright. she replied, We have a new enemy.
Thats right. Keng said, Nengghi
placing his hand on her shoulder, Im terribly sorry about Major
Gibson. She nodded her head in appreciation and asked What should I
help you with that. Do you have any way to access the routers
systems? He asked.
last thing he did was put this patch behind my ear, it gave me a viewer for
shooting our gun. she looked over at the Australian weapon still leaning
against the router.
Good. Keng replied, you can probably access the routers
system through that. Kengs natural sense of espionage rose to the
surface. The opportunity to grab priceless Australian technology was right
before him, but this was one time his professional expertise had to take a back
seat to the best course of action.
Alright Nengghi, he replied, I want you to bring up your
display, and tell me what it looks like. After some descriptions, Keng
was able to talk Nengghi through to the part of the display that synched with
the router. He then described how she could check to see if the router had sent
any distress signals and if not, how to order it to do so. After a few short
minutes, he was confident she knew what to do.
Ive got to leave Nengghi, he said, We are off to the
west, and I will try to keep an eye on you until help arrives. You should hide
over behind the router with your gun until the Australians arrive, okay?
She nodded her head again.
you for helping. she finally said.
her up. He had given up trying to keep the Australians from knowing about him,
it was a stupid idea to begin with. Things were blown wide open and he just had
to make the best of it.
Ill be around, tell the Majors commander that you can still
get in to Singapore if they want to continue what Major Gibson started. Goodbye
Nengghi. He nodded and climbed into the Selangor router. Once inside he
sent a message to Vasiliy and his team 50 kilometers to the west,
Overwatch: scan for cult groups, show maximum caution. RESM. Talk to you
in 10. The letter code told Vasiliy that there had been a tactical action
but that Keng was okay and that the Australians were not to blame.
Keng ordered his router out of the area. Once it had backed out into the
roadway, he made sure he saw Nengghi inside the disabled router. She was under
instruction to wait 15 minutes before sending a distress call. That should give
Keng time to put some distance between him and the most likely approach of
Australian rescue units.
As he sat
back for the ride, Keng felt depressed. Things were falling apart. The
Australians would probably be able to figure out the message in time, but the
question was whether they could survive the second half of the plan without
anyone on the inside who could hold things together.
scrawled down some notes, quietly entering the letters G-I-B-S-O-N and
T-A-R-K-A. Scribbling out the names, he shook his head and wiped the display
Next: 23 -