Amazon War Zone
We Feed Camp 114
22 May 2056
Three days passed.
More refugees poured into camp, more suffered, more died–leaving Sir Jason Litchfield grim witness to it all. He had seen it all before, in so many other parts of the world. It was the same old story, but he said nothing of it to his friend. For he knew Alex Kinkade would not want to hear of it, nor be persuaded from his mission. Perhaps reality would one day set in, the New Zealander hoped, and thus open his friend’s eyes to the true nature of humanity. Until then, however, he would likely continue along his humanitarian path, no matter what the consequences. And though Sir Jason Litchfield could not be unaware of it, those consequences were even now taking shape. For even as he fretted over his younger friend’s fate, fate itself was moving stealthily through the jungle toward CAMP 114.
As night fell over the Amazon, marking the end of Litchfield’s third day in camp, five hundred heavily armed men moved silently into place around the hunger relief installation. Concealing themselves among the jungle foliage, they directed their collective hate toward their target: WE FEED CAMP 114.
Their leader, a man with a scar across his face and the blood of many Brazilian troops on his hands, raised a pair of old-style binoculars to his dark Indian eyes. For a long time he studied the layout of CAMP 114. It shone brightly beneath pools of electric illumination, its every detail clearly magnified now. He examined everything he saw with intense scrutiny. The electrified fences. The automated machine gun towers. The back and forth sweep of the patrolling sentries. Then, silently, he lowered the instrument from his unmoving eyes.
Tonight would be the night.
Tonight the White Savior and his milk-faced do-gooders would die.
Behind him, his guerrillas finished checking their assault rifles, positioning their mortars, and crouching for the attack. His orders from rebel commander Vargas were clear.
Make it quick and savage.
Spare no one.
Not three hundred meters away from where the rebel leader and his men waited to launch their commando assault, Alex Kinkade and Sir Jason Litchfield sat, in the Englishman’s hut, playing a game of chess. Kinkade was winning, even though the crafty old New Zealander had his queen in a rather tight spot at the moment.
As Kinkade pondered the trap Litchfield had sprung on him, the New Zealander stuffed his pipe with an amused grin on his face. “God won’t save the Queen this time, I’m afraid.”
Kinkade glanced up, but said nothing.
Then, in a startling flash of insight, the Englishman whipped a rook across the board. “Checkmate.”
Litchfield gazed down at the board, his pipe half-filled, stupefied. “Why, you bloody bugger…”
Kinkade chuckled and started to reach for his glass of Scotch when the sudden shriek of an incoming mortar shell brought Litchfield leaping across the table. Chess pieces scattered as he dragged his English friend to the floor.
In the next instant night became day as the mortar shell exploded just outside the window in a white-hot flash, tearing a gaping hole in the side of Kinkade’s hut.
Both men scrambled to their feet and bolted for the door. In quick succession, three more mortar shells slammed into the compound, blowing two huts of sleeping, war-weary refugees into oblivion. The third mortar shell hit one of the HN-9000’s, toppling the automated machine gun tower backward into the compound, crushing two of Kinkade’s personnel beneath the wreckage. Litchfield had to forcibly restrain his friend from dashing to their aid.
“They’re dead, lad!”
More were dying.
Machine gun and automatic weapon fire coming from somewhere beyond the compound’s fences ripped the hunger-relief installation with withering ferocity. Kinkade whirled around, saw his volunteers returning fire with valiant determination. Up on a nearby rooftop he caught sight of Hilda Ahlstad pumping round after round of brainwave rockets deep into the jungle, her brunette hair swaying in the flame-driven wind of a nearby burning hut. Hideous screams of men ripped apart by her rockets echoed out of the blackness, even as Litchfield gripped his arm and rushed him away.
Another dozen mortar shells hop-scotched across the burning compound, blowing huts, WE FEED personnel and hysterical refugee children to pieces. Kinkade turned to Litchfield as they momentarily sheltered against the steel-wall of a silent robodozer, “Something’s wrong, Jay! Those HN-9000’s should have cut that jungle and whoever’s hiding in it to bloody ribbons by now!”
Litchfield, familiar with the HN-9000 after having once sent a company of New Zealand troops against its predecessor, the HN-7000, well knew what the computer-controlled machine gun towers could do once they began to sing their terrifying hymn.
Yet, the camp’s three remaining HN-9000’s remained ominously silent. “Sabotage,” Litchfield murmured, just as a second tower, near the south fence, shattered beneath a twin mortar strike. “Only two left, Jay! I’ve got to reactivate them!”
“No chance, lad! We’ve got to get away from here! This camp’s finished!”
Kinkade gripped Litchfield’s shoulders. “I’ll bloody not run away! My people are being slaughtered out there! I’ve got to save those who are still alive!” His words seemed in vain, however, for in the next instant the camp gates exploded into molten bits and vanished before their eyes.
“My God, lad! They’re going to storm the camp!”
Behind them, a flood of armed guerrillas rushed out of the night, carried forward on a wave of bloodthirsty cries. Bullets zinged past their ears. One struck Kinkade in the shoulder and flipped him headlong into the dust.
Reacting instantly, Litchfield whipped out his 9mm Nitro-Shock as he skidded down next to his fallen friend. “Good God! Listen to me, lad! We’ve got to make for the river before the rebels completely overrun this camp!” Even as he spoke, the New Zealander turned and snapped off two shots, hitting one guerrilla in the chest from a range of a hundred meters and killing him instantly.
“It’s no good, Jay…I’d only slow us down. Our only chance is to make for the control shack and reactivate the gun towers.”
“C’mon then!” Litchfield said, pulling Kinkade back to his feet. “Let’s make for it!”
They stumbled away into the flaming night.
When they came within sight of the control shack three armed men suddenly burst out the entrance. Kinkade recognized all three as refugees he’d given sanctuary to only weeks before. Now they were headed straight for Litchfield and him, their dark faces full of murder.
Litchfield acted without question or hesitation.
Bringing up his Nitro-Shock, he fired at the nearest man. The explosive-packed projectile burst dead center of his chest, expanding like a miniature nova as it vaporized his head, part of his torso, and one gun-wielding arm before flinging what remained of him end over end into the night. He might have screamed but no one but God would ever know. The second man to his left fired back, ripping the ground between Litchfield and Kinkade a split second after the New Zealander shoved the Englishman aside. Steadying his hand, Litchfield squeezed off a second shot. It hit the second man in the groin, emasculating him an instant before his agony-wracked body was torn in half like a canceled theater ticket and discarded at the feet of the third man.
The third man raised his weapon in a froth of rage and fired.
Litchfield, anticipating the coming burst of automatic fire, dodged sideways. Too late. Three rounds ripped through his left arm, spinning him around and slamming him face down into the dust. His Nitro-Shock tore free of his hand and tumbled away, out of reach.
The third man advanced, grinning yellow teeth as he reached for his facão–the machete–that he carried in the folds of his tattered rags. He would enjoy hacking these two gringos to death.
Litchfield, smearing a trail of blood along the ground as he crawled toward Kinkade, begged him in tight pleading whispers to make a last ditch run for it.
“It’s your last chance, lad…please…don’t die here with me.”
Kinkade, a man of indomitable will, rolled suddenly away.
Clawing across the red dust of the compound to where Litchfield’s weapon lay, he snatched up the gun. Rolling over onto his rump with a savage grimace, he swung the weapon around in a wide arc.
The third man flung his machete aside with a bark of obscenity as he yanked up his weapon in time with Kinkade’s.
The third man, a split second slower, saw his burst of bullets rip the dust uselessly to one side of Kinkade. The Englishman’s shot wasn’t much better, striking the man in his left kneecap. Poorly aimed, but under the circumstances all that was needed. With a yelp of agony the third man’s leg dissolved in a white flash of light as the Nitro-Shock bullet exploded. Flesh, bone, and the man’s sanity were vaporized in an instant. Thudding to the ground, he gibbered uncontrollably until a second shot from Kinkade silenced him.
Now it was up to him, the Englishman thought.
He made for Litchfield, pulling him to his feet.
“The rifle, Alex…” Sir Jason weakly instructed.
Kinkade retrieved the dead man’s weapon then handed Litchfield back his gun. As they hobbled toward the control shack the first wave of guerrillas penetrated the burning refugee camp, spraying everything that moved with assault rifle fire.
“Ready when you are!” Litchfield gasped, bringing his gun to bear as they prepared to burst into the control shack.
Kinkade nodded. “Now!”
They crashed through the door.
Both men saw everything in an instant: Pierre La Rocque tied to a chair, his face beaten to a pulp. Next to him, beside the HN-9000 control console, two female volunteers lay bound and gagged. They had been raped–then disemboweled with machetes.
“They tortured them, my friend! Forced them to deactivate the HN-9000’s! Then I came along and heard their screams and–”
A bare-knuckled fist crashed down on the Frenchman. Jerking at his bonds like a shackled bull, he bellowed, “Kill them, mon ami! I am not important!”
But you are, Kinkade thought, in that last moment between them. Then, the butt of an automatic rifle swung around in a tight arc, straight into the Frenchman’s face, pulverizing it.
For Kinkade the moment of hesitation was gone.
He hit the floor and cut loose with a long burst of automatic weapon fire, running a diagonal line of 9mm tracer bullets across two of the guerrillas, tearing them both to blood-spattered shreds.
Litchfield threw caution to the wind as well and snapped off a Nitro-Shock round, dangerous in such close quarters but with their lives hanging in the balance there was simply no other option. It exploded in the chest of a third guerrilla, blowing him back against the far wall like a discarded rag doll.
The fourth and final guerrilla was quicker than his three dead comrades. He squeezed off a long, vicious burst of au-tomatic fire at Litchfield. Weakened by his wounds, the New Zealander couldn’t react fast enough. He caught the burst full in his legs. Five, six, seven and more bullets tore through his thighs in a crippling blast, dropping the old soldier in an agonized heap on the floor.
La Rocque, blood streaming down his crushed face, surged one last time against his bonds.“Allez vous en!” he screamed, butting his large round head into the guerrilla who had gunned down Litchfield just as he swung the smoking muzzle of his weapon toward Kinkade.
Automatic fire blazed again.
One bullet grazed Kinkade’s cheek, a shot otherwise fatal had not Pierre’s courage succeeded in deflecting the brunt of the killing blast. Two additional rounds slammed into the Englishman’s weapon, knocking it from his grasp. It clattered to the floor as the man at the far end of the hut struggled to regain his balance.
It was now or never.
Alex Kinkade, former Special Air Service major, leapt savagely forward.
Two desperate men came together. One–a guerrilla of the Amazon rebels–sent in twelve days earlier with seventeen other Yawalapiti tribesmen posing as refugees. Their mission: infiltrate CAMP 114 and sabotage the HN-9000’s. Yet, for the guerrilla, now gripping the Anglo do-gooder’s throat between two crushing hands, it was also a matter of revenge. Eight months earlier he had crouched in the jungle waiting to ambush the WE FEED convoy. Many of his comrades had died that day, including his brother. He had loved his brother. And every breath he squeezed from the dying Englishman’s lips would prove it.
Kinkade’s lungs seethed.
Where was air? Where was any molecule of it? He bucked against the rebel guerrilla straddling him on the floor where he lay, but his grip was too strong, his enemy too fanatically determined that he die. He felt the brown, callused hands wrapped around his throat suddenly constrict tighter. Then tighter still.
Everything...starting to fade…
“Alex,” a voice cried out from the flickering madness of the burning hut, “his eyes…dig your bloody fingers into them!”
The sound of Litchfield’s gasped command from somewhere behind galvanized the struggling Englishman. His fingers clawed upward against the sweating face determined to end his existence. Against this newfound resistance, the strangling hands tightened insanely.
“Kill him, lad! For God’s sake kill him!”
Kinkade found the eyes, black and watery with unfathomable hatred. He ripped at them with one last explosion of animal savagery. The man killing him snarled. Kinkade heaved, finally twisting the life-crushing weight from him. Rolling over across the floor as orange flames licked up the walls of the burning hut, he searched for something–anything–to strike back with.
His hand touched steel.
Kinkade seized it just as two gnarled hands grabbed his head, ramming it backward against the wall. Momentarily stunned, he lost his grip on the weapon. A fist slammed down on the back of his neck, followed by another, driving him down to all fours.
His strength, almost gone...
Then, out of the corner of his eye, Kinkade saw again the raped and murdered bodies of his people and beside them, strapped to a torture chair, the battered, dying face of Pierre La Rocque.
It was all he needed.
Kinkade found the machete and grasped it firmly between two bloodstained hands. With a ferocity born of desperation, he thrust it point first into the underside of the man’s scrotum. The sixteen-inch blade jammed halfway up, grinding against pelvic bone. Kinkade twisted the blade savagely, and heaved again. This time the blade sunk all the way to the hilt. The guerrilla, his face frozen in a lockjaw of horror, slowly crumpled to the floor.
Crawling to his feet, Kinkade staggered over to the beaten and tortured Frenchman–but there was nothing to be done. He was already dead. Gently, he laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder, then let it slip away again, like the mooring line of a boat left to drift forever out to sea.
Nearby, a groan hastened Kinkade back to Litchfield, now slumped unconscious on the floor of the hut. As he knelt beside the older man, he heard the shrieks and moans of the wounded being bayoneted by the invaders.
Only seconds left...
Struggling to his feet, Kinkade stumbled over to the HN-9000 control console, scanning its cluster of data screens through smoke-stung eyes. Two of the screens kept flashing: Failed Unit–indicating the two gun towers destroyed by mortar strikes. The remaining two screens flashed a different message: Unit Deactivated.
Kinkade tried to remember the reactivation code even as his mind fought against a rising tide of blackness. Dimly, he heard booted feet running past followed by the sound of doors being kicked in, one by one by one. Then: short, savage bursts of automatic fire.
Suddenly, like tumblers in a safe clicking together, his sluggish mind remembered the code even as his fingers punched in the numbers. Instantly, the HN-9000’s hummed back to life. All that remained now was to press the Engage Enemy tab glowing on the console and the machines would unleash their hellish havoc against the refugee camp and jungle beyond. But as Kinkade’s hand moved forward to do so, a guerrilla suddenly burst into the hut, his face feral with intensity. Dark eyes searched the bodies on the floor for any signs of life.
Kinkade punched down on the activation tab just as a combat shotgun roared from behind. Spun around by the impact, he was struck by a second blast that sledge-hammered him to the floor. Blacking out, he never saw the smoking barrel lower toward his head–nor the final look of triumph on the face of the guerrilla about to pull the trigger that would bring him oblivion. Only–the guerrilla never got to pull the trigger a third time.
For in the next instant his head burst open like a dropped melon, blown apart in a fury of 20mm bullets as CAMP 114’s two remaining HN-9000’s swiveled over the compound, raking it with implacable fire.
WE FEED CAMP 114 lay silent in the early morning heat.Tendrils of smoke, fetid with the smell of burnt flesh, coiled up into the orange dawn. Nearby, half-wild dogs from war-ravaged jungle towns trotted outside the camp, whining with hunger lust. Fear of Man had kept them at bay through the long night but now that fear was fading as the smells of carrion slowly drove them mad. Even now the first of them, their jaws slack with drooling hunger, began to nip at the bullet-riddled corpses lying around the outer perimeter of the camp.
As the equatorial sun climbed up into the screeching branches of the surrounding rain-forest, a dozen or more diskkopters suddenly appeared over the smoldering refugee camp. The dogs, seeing them, trotted away–their bellies sagging now with undigested human flesh. They vanished quickly into impenetrable undergrowth.
Seconds later, the first of the mid-21st century machines drifted down into the midst of the smoking compound. Soldiers rushed out, automatic weapons sweeping the desolation. When nothing stirred save for the bright tropical flies buzzing around the corpses, others landed behind the soldiers, emerging from their flying machines with hands grasping medskanners as they grimly searched the smoking graveyard for any signs of life.
And, finally, still others landed, venturing forth under the killing rays of the jungle sun with their glittering multi-lensed autokams.
One of them was a man named Blake Haldane...