“Men yearn for the gleam of a golden age.”
– John Morris
“The association of men is founded on honor.”
– James A Michener
Pointing fingers and excited conversations followed the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations across the lobby of the Les Ambassadeurs restaurant. He heeded the attention indifferently, though it was hardly unwanted, for he knew it had less to do with what he was and more to do with who he was…or rather who he was related to.
With the love of his life at his side, his daughter in his arms, and his close friends T.J. and Marion Makatu following behind, William Cameron MacCrarey walked up to the tuxedoed maître d' and explained in poor French that they were there to meet two English gentlemen. Following the maître d' through the archway of the dining room, Mac – his nickname since college – came to an abrupt halt.
“–shit,” finished T.J., looking over Mac’s shoulder.
Twenty-foot high ceilings adorned with ornate chandeliers and colorful classic scenes of gods and saints in all manner of troubles, white plaster walls, Renaissance paintings, pale red marble floors, tuxedoed waiters, linen table cloths, fine silver and china table settings created a stunning ambiance.
“Don’t embarrass me,” T.J.’s wife Marion said a bit shrewishly while trying to suppress a smile. She was a graceful full-figured and bespectacled woman with gray hair and wore her best Sunday morning church dress.
“Moi?” smiled T.J., a 62-year-old African-American man with a slightly receding hair line, a bit of a paunch, and wore a dark brown off-the-rack suit and fedora. On Mac’s first day as Deputy Ambassador, the two had met in the UN offices in New York and quickly become fast friends.
Marion rolled her eyes and Genevieve giggled again.
“There they are,” said Mac, nodding towards the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Champs-Elysees. The causally handsome man with bright blue eyes and flecks of gray in his wavy dark brown hair started forward, his daughter Cameron still in his arms.
A wave of awed excitement followed him through the dining room as though he were a ship cutting through calm waters.
As the five of them approached, Michael Abrams and the Clan Elders, Kyle Dunham and Merrill MaGeah, stood up from the table to welcome their guests. The taller and older of the three greeted Mac with an embrace.
“Lad, so good to see you,” said Kyle, Keeper of the Clan Camulodunum. He wore an earthy-brown Harris Tweed jacket, dark wool-blend pants, and shoes that seemed as old as his seventy-three years. Kyle’s silver hair was shoulder length and his piercing blue eyes exuded both warmth and the ability to take in all of a person with just a glance.
“And you, Keeper,” replied Mac before embracing the second Elder. “Hey, old man. Been too long.”
“Aye, it has,” agreed Merrill, a solid-looking, fifty-nine-year-old with thick salt-and-pepper hair long enough to tie in a short ponytail. He had a belly well-rounded from years in English pubs, and wore baggy, wrinkled trousers and a frayed and faded dark-green Harris-Tweed.
“This is Uncle Merrill,” Mac told his daughter as Merrill reached out for Cameron.
“Little one, y’are as cute as a button,” he declared, scooping her out of Mac’s arms. “Me Clan’s been wondering when you’re going to visit.”
Cameron smiled shyly and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Perhaps this summer,” answered Genevieve. In her mid-forties, she had luxuriant copper hair cascading over her shoulders, red full lips, a radiant smile, and an easy laugh. Her dark blue, knee-length dress accented her shapely figure and set off her light blue eyes.
“Gen, this is Merrill MaGeah and Kyle Dunham, Elders of my Clan.”
“So nice to finally meet you both,” she smiled. “Mac’s always telling stories about you.”
“Don’t believe him,” Merrill chided. “I’m really a wonderful person.”
“I know you are,” she said and kissed him on the cheek, occasioning a blush. “I’m sure you both are,” she added, kissing the Keeper’s cheek as well.
“And this is Michael Abrams,” smiled Mac as T.J. and Marion shook hands with their hosts. “I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“We have some things to talk about,” Michael Abrams replied, stone-faced.
“Hmmm…that doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it’s not,” answered the tall, trim impeccably dressed man with white hair, bold dark blue eyes, and the sun-bronzed skin of a well-to-do and well-traveled man of leisure.
Mac frowned before saying to Genevieve, “Michael met Kyle at university five decades ago and he’s been a friend of the Clan’s ever since.”
“I’ve never met a U.S. Senator before,” gushed Genevieve.
He shrugged and replied as modestly as a rich, powerful man could be expected to, “I was pleased to serve my country.”
“Don’t fawn over a former Senator, lass,” groused Merrill. “It only means he was over-privileged at the expense of your citizenry.”
“Ah, well,” Michael retorted, “I’ll remember not to use my over-privilege the next time you come knocking on my door for a favor.”
“I’ve never asked you for a favor,” exclaimed the Elder with as much innocence as he could muster. “Tis me Clan that’s benefitted from the wealth you stole from the people.”
“I’ll always help the Clan,” Michael replied, “but you can fly commercial back to London.”
“Ah, but where are my manners?” Kyle smiled. “Please, everyone,” and he proffered the empty chairs facing the window.
As everyone sat, Merrill pointed out the window at the Place de la Concorde. “That tall, pointy thing is the Luxor obelisk,” he told Cameron. “Thirty-three hundred years old, made of yellow granite and once stood at the entrance of the Luxor Temple in Egypt. It’s 75 feet tall, weighs 280 tons, and on its side are funny-looking pictures called hieroglyphs that tell the story of King Ramses II, who ruled the oldest and grandest civilization of the ancient world. King Louis-Philippe of France brought the obelisk here two-hundred years ago when the rich people were being mean to us common folk.”
“Hey, Professor, maybe a bit too deep for a five-year-old?” said Mac.
“Never too young to learn, eh lass?” the Elder winked at Cameron who squeezed him even tighter.
“Ohhh, you’re going to pop me head off, little one!” he laughed.
She giggled and squeezed harder.
After a hearty laugh, Merrill waved an arm about the restaurant and said, “In 1778, this was the ballroom of the Hôtel de Crillon. Benjamin Franklin signed the first treaty between the United States and France right here. During the French Revolution, King Louis XVI was guillotined–”
“Merrill!” Marion gasped.
“–in the square out there. So were 1300 others, including Marie Antoinette, Danton, and Robespierre. It smelled so badly of blood that even animals wouldn’t cross it.”
“Merrill!” she cried.
T.J.’s chuckle over the never-ending sparring between his wife and old friend turned into a cough and a casual admiration of the ceiling frescos after one of her withering looks.
“The League of Nations Charter was signed here, too, which is important because the League eventually became the United Nations.”
“Where Daddy works,” she said shyly.
“Oh!” he said with feigned surprise, “you can talk.” She giggled and when he asked, “Do you like castles?” her eyes lit up. “Well, not far from here is a real-life castle called the Louvre.”
“Really?” she cried. “Can we go there, Daddy?”
“I was planning on it after we’re done here. Perhaps Uncle Merrill would like to come with us?”
“And play docent, undoubtedly,” T.J. said with a grin.
“Whether we want him to or not,” added Marion.
“Why, I’d love to go with you, little one,” the Elder said, “if you’ll hold me hand while we’re there?”
“Why don’t we meet you there, old friend?” Kyle told him. “You and Cameron could take a walk through the Toulieries Garden on your way.”
“Aye, Keeper,” Merrill replied, setting Cameron down and standing up.
Marion stood as well. “I’ll come with you,” she insisted, not quite trusting Merrill to do what she believed was in her surrogate granddaughter’s best interests.
Merrill sighed but didn’t object. “Ever have a crêpe au blé noir, little one?”
Cameron shook her head.
“Well, you’re in for a treat!”
Mac kissed Cameron and promised they’d be along soon. After the three of them left, he looked from Kyle to Michael and said, “So, what’s up?”
“The better question,” said the Keeper, “is what’s about to be up? Much is in motion and I fear something terrible is afoot, something that could bring about a conflagration of the world order. But,” he admitted, “I have nothing but speculation to found that prognostication upon.”
“I’ve never known you to be wrong, old friend,” Michael said.
“Nor have I,” added Mac.
Kyle gave an acknowledging nod. “The first hint of trouble was Johnny Swaywell bemoaning the evils of the UN and calling Mac the Antichrist in his Sunday morning sermons.”
“That didn’t amount to much…did it?” said Genevieve. “Just the ranting of a televangelist interested in ratings, right?”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, lass,” Kyle answered. “Your country’s far right and fundamentalists are believers, not questioners, whose political views and religious tenets are shaped by men like Michael’s grandson, Jack, and Johnny Swaywell.”
“Swaywell is by far the biggest contributor to Jack’s Senate campaign,” Michael added, “so Jack bends over backwards to ingratiate himself with the religious right.”
Kyle went on, “Believers all too readily accept half-truths and conspiracy theories as gospel, especially when they’re cloaked in Christian imagery. And even if they don’t believe Mac is really the Antichrist, they at least believe he’s a threat.”
“Jack and Swaywell met with Under Secretary-General Gerhardt Schoen on at least one occasion that I know of,” Michael explained, “and Schoen doesn’t do a damn thing without his boss’s blessing.”
“And Secretary-General Boujeau just made Mac the Commander of a mission to Brazil,” Kyle said. “A most unusual mission. Never in the UN’s history has there been anything like it in the Western Hemisphere.”
“Mac’s been on Boujeau’s shit list,” said T.J., “ever since he captured that maniac Zeda on Cyprus, became an international hero, and went before the General Assembly to call for a Charter Amendment Conference. Now, Mac’s a threat to the seven people who control the United Nations – Boujeau, Schoen, and the ambassadors from the Security Council’s five permanent member states – the U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, and France. Without their unanimous consent, the UN General Assembly can’t enact resolutions of their own, and when the Security Council unanimously does say do something, the General Assembly has no choice but to do it. Mac wants to amend the UN Charter, make the Security Council merely an advisory body, and let the General Assembly be a true democracy – one nation, one vote. For the first time since 1948, all 193-member nations would be equal. They’ll be able to set policies and establish missions that could benefit hundreds of millions if not billions of people. The Security Council’s power would disappear overnight, and to get his way Boujeau would have nearly two-hundred countries to cajole instead of just five.”
“The Security Council member with the most to lose is the United States,” Michael added, “whose UN Ambassador is Jake Tanner, the man who exiled Mac to Geneva after his confirmation hearings six years ago. Now, the U.S. has an election coming up and an incredible amount of dark money is being poured into the campaigns of thousands of far right candidates.”
“Dark money?” Mac said. “Citizens United?”
“Yes, that’s right,” replied Michael. “Money that’s impossible to trace back to its donors.”
“Why this election?” said Genevieve. “President Jameson’s a first-term Republican with no serious contenders from the left, and the Republicans hold both houses and half the Supreme Court. Why spend so much on ideologically stubborn far right candidates who’ll make Jameson’s second term a nightmare, given how moderate he is?”
“That’s precisely the point,” said the Keeper. “There’s a coupe coming.”
“The far right can’t take over the party,” Mac said.
“Not today,” replied Kyle, “but if something were to happen between now and election day, something devastating and traumatic that shifts voters hard to the right–”
“You mean like scaring people with talk of the Antichrist?” said Genevieve.
“Aye. And what does the Antichrist foreshadow?”
It took her but a moment to understand. “The Apocalypse,” she whispered.
“That’s the conflagration of the world order you fear, isn’t it?” said Mac.
Kyle nodded. “Many in the far right are evangelicals, and anything that hints of the Apocalypse both scares and thrills them.”
“International arms sales are on the rise,” Michael noted, “already above Cold War levels, but my old CIA buddies have no idea why.”
“The United Nations Foundation condemned the arms buildup,” Mac reflected, “but Boujeau hasn’t taken action on it.”
“Neither will the Security Council nations. Their arms manufacturers are making out like bandits.”
“This is all about money?” cried Genevieve.
“No, lass,” Kyle said ominously. “This is far more sinister than greed. Someone wants to control the United States and start a world war.”
“Who?” cried Genevieve. “Why?”
“I can only speculate on who,” Kyle equivocated, “and the why has many possibilities. We can only wait and hope.” He turned to Mac. “For now, lad, watch your back, especially in Brazil.”
Genevieve gave Mac a pleading look as if to say, ‘Leave all this behind and live a nice, quiet, normal life back home in Traverse with your family.’
With an understanding smile, he squeezed her hand and turned to face Kyle. “I will.”
“Choose your team wisely. The Clan will watch over your family, but where you’re going, no one can watch over you.”
Standing before his office window overlooking the East River, a satellite phone on hands-free sitting atop the credenza, Schoen said in German, “Calling for a Charter Amendment Conference sealed his fate.” The phone converted his words into ones and zeroes, beamed them up to a network of geo-synchronous satellites, and then down again to an identical phone to be reconstituted into words once more. “MacCrarey will arrive in Brazil the day after tomorrow. Your orders are to draw him into the jungle, General.”
“Ja, mein Herr,” General Adolph Heinrich Mendenberg replied. He stood at attention despite being alone in his office and four thousand miles away. “But is there not a danger of his discovering our home?”
“Bring him only close enough to strike,” Schoen ordered. Boujeau’s Under Secretary-General was a trim fiftyish man with blonde, almost white short-cropped hair, pale blue eyes, and the faint remnant of a scar running down his left cheek.
“The settlers?” presumed the General.
“How many do you wish dead?”
“Ja, mein Herr.”
“I expect to hear of the first attack by week’s end,” said the Under Secretary-General.
“Ja, mein–” and the satellite link ended. Mendenberg wrestled with a spate of indignation before locking the phone away in his grandfather’s old mahogany desk. “Captain!” he called to his Chief of Staff in the outer room. “Gather the heads of the families together in the Opera House at once!”
“Ja, mein Commandant!” the Captain called back.
Half-an-hour later, the General stepped through the doorway and onto the landing of his Bavarian-style villa. Cursing at the stiflingly heat and humidity of the afternoon, Mendenberg stretched the collar of his freshly starched white shirt. He despised having to wear a Shutzstaffel uniform in such a place as this, but he had to set an example.
The people of Viertes Reich were going about their business in the town’s square. A mother and her son passed by along the sidewalk crowded on either side by the untamed vegetation that claimed every inch of earth not occupied by the hidden city’s buildings, walks, and roads. The boy – perhaps seven years old, he guessed – gave a ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.
Casually returning the gesture, the General made his way to the waiting car, the steamy pungent air sapping his strength and magnifying the burden of his duties – duties he never wanted, duties of leadership forced upon him when Schoen, irony of ironies, left to join forces with Boujeau at the United Nations, an international organization founded to prevent the likes of the Third Reich from rising again.
Now it fell to the General to ensure the survival of the families and protect them from the impure outside world while treating them as the genetic superiors they were. They demanded to be waited on hand and foot, and so he also had to keep the Cuari perpetually enslaved as family servants, playthings, and breeding stock. He was mayor, slave owner, judge, arbitrator, CEO, and the procurer of billions of Euros worth of war goods he himself staged in places that were little more than names on a map to him.
His reflections began to overwhelm him, and he halted. His heart began pounding, his muscles tensed into solid masses, and feelings of helplessness and despair washed over him. Balling his hands into fists, he forced himself to conjure up the picture on a faded calendar hanging in his office. A picture of snowcapped Alpine mountains. A broad valley blanketed with evergreens. A grand castle surrounded on three sides by a clear blue mountain lake and on the fourth by a quaint Bavarian village.
How he wished to be there, but his was the third generation of descendants to live their entire lives in the perpetual dusk of Viertes Reich.
“Mein Commandant?” called the Captain.
The castle faded from Mendenberg’s mind. His Cuari chauffer held open the 1936 Mercedes staff car’s rear door and the Captain sat waiting in the back seat.
“Another attack, Mein Commandant?”
“To the opera house,” the General ordered the driver.
Mac sat quietly conversing with Lt. Sean Kelly and Taylor Johnson in the café of the San Baridiso Hotel. “Perry is stationed aboard the HMS Magellan just off the coast here,” Mac told them, pointing at a map of Brazil unfurled on the table and weighted down at the corners by empty demitasse espresso cups. “Authorization codes have been loaded into GLOSAT. From deployment request to arrival at target, sixty minutes.”
Sean Kelly, who Mac described to friends as a Greek god come down from Mount Olympus to walk amongst us mortals, said with the bluntness of a career non-com who’d only recently been promoted to Lieutenant, “With all due respect, Mac, is this assignment gonna be another pooch screw like Cyprus?”
Taylor let out something between a chuckle and a snort. A Cambridge-educated former Liberian diplomat, he was a tall, lithe man with a kind face and a talent for languages. “Cyprus made MacCrarey a political and media superstar. So–”
“So, they’re gunnin’ for us.”
“So, let’s be on our toes,” Mac told them. Noticing a distinguished looking man walking over, he stood up from the table. “This must be our host.”
The Brazilian Ambassador to the United Nations, Don Octavio Bandos, extended a hand and exclaimed in heavily accented English, “Welcome to my country! I recognized you from the newspapers, Deputy Ambassador MacCrarey.”
“An occupational hazard, Ambassador,” Mac said with a smile and introduced Sean and Taylor.
“I appreciate your meeting me here, gentlemen,” the self-possessed Ambassador said. A bit on the heavy side and clad in an expensive Italian suit, Bandos had the classic look of a man from the Iberian Peninsula, though a bit darker in skin tone, with Basset hound brown eyes and streaks of gray in his slicked-back black hair.
Mac replied, “I just wish we were meeting under more pleasant circumstances.”
“I trust the Secretary-General has briefed you on our situation?” Bandos said.
Mac was about to say, “No,” when a throng of waitstaff accompanied by the hotel manager himself approached the table to fawn over their distinguished guest.
Mac turned the interruption into an opportunity to more thoroughly examine his surroundings. The nearly-empty café had subdued appointments and a retractable façade that opened out onto the sidewalk. There, several tables and chairs sat on the sidewalk beneath a green, yellow, and blue-striped canvas portico. Beyond the walk was a broad thoroughfare, and beyond that a treeless park that wrapped around the Square of Three Powers before continuing on to Lake Paranoá. On the square sat a massive building in the shape of an upside-down flower vase with dark translucent glass walls and more than a dozen cement arches curving gracefully upwards to join together in a circle a hundred-feet above the ground.
“How do you get in that thing?” Mac muttered to himself.
Bandos’s cooing entourage fell silent and followed Mac’s gaze outside.
“Ah!” Bandos exclaimed with no small amount of pride. “Stunning, isn’t it?”
“That it is.”
“Our city's cathedral – seventy meters across and supported by sixteen concrete columns, each weighing ninety tons.”
“Kinda reminds me of the old Gemini launch pad at Cape Canaveral,” Mac mused. “In fact, the whole city has a kind of old futuristic look to it, as if the architects had watched too many sci-fi films from the 50’s.”
“They probably did,” chuckled the Ambassador. “It’s called Modernist Architecture. It was all the rage when the city was built from the ground up in the late 50’s. Visit all our architectural treasures while you are here. The Itamaraty palaces, the National Theater –”
“Perhaps on our return,” Mac interrupted.
“Ah, but of course. Business before pleasure, yes?” said Bandos and ordered entrees for everyone before dismissing his admirers.
“To answer your earlier question, Ambassador,” Mac said, “the Secretary-General has told us nothing of your situation.”
A consummate politician, the Ambassador acted as if nothing could be more natural. “Allow me to explain, then. You see, my country has great natural resources in her interior. For decades, we have attempted to exploit them in exchange for the investment capital we need to diversify our economy. But, our trek to prosperity has had a few…side effects, shall we say. Perhaps you have heard of our Amerindian problems?”
“There have been incidents since the early 1900’s of explorers, prospectors, and settlers being attacked and often killed by native tribespeople,” replied Taylor.
“The aboriginal peoples are called Amerindians?” Sean assumed.
“Yes…and no,” Taylor continued. “The term Amerindian is a generic reference to all of the indigenous peoples of Brazil, including millions of mixed-blood Brazilians. But, there’s only about half-a-million true Amerindians left.”
“Left?” said Sean.
“Left,” Taylor repeated. “In the five centuries since Columbus arrived, millions of Amerindians have been wiped out by conquerors, old world diseases creating new world epidemics, and mainstreaming – the purposeful mixing of races and destruction of aboriginal languages, customs, folklore, and land.”
“Mainstreaming is an act of compassion,” Bandos explained. “We have given the primitives an opportunity to join modern civilization.”
“Often by force,” Taylor said.
Ignoring the affront, the Ambassador went on, “To harvest our great natural resources, we had no choice but to claim large tracts of land, first for timber and now to clear cut for livestock, strip mining, and agriculture. In the 1950’s, Brasilia was purposefully located several hundred miles west of the Atlantic coast to encourage the development of our interior. Over the intervening decades, homesteaders, ranchers, lumber companies, precious metal extractors, and oil companies have pushed ever further inland. From time to time,” he added with a dismissive shrug, “they come across an Amerindian tribe whose way of life has remained unchanged for thousands of years. They’re given–” he hesitated, searching for an inoffensive word, “–a great…opportunity for change. But, the tribes are too ignorant to accept a better way of life, choosing instead to fight.”
“Who could blame them?” Sean muttered.
“The Amerindians are filthy, backwards people, young man. We have assimilated hundreds of thousands of them over the centuries,” said Bandos. “We gave them Catholicism, education, and countless amenities to make their lives more tolerable.”
“Mr. Ambassador,” Taylor said, “it’s still not clear to me why we’re here.”
“Yes…of course. In the far western territories of our country, homesteaders have reached the outer edge of the Amazon basin. The further west they’ve gone, the more vicious and numerous the Amerindian attacks have become.”
“Who’s attacking who?” said Sean.
“The Amerindians are attacking the settlers, of course,” the Ambassador answered impatiently. “In the past few weeks, seven villages have been attacked and more than a hundred settlers have been killed. The media has grown increasingly critical of my government, claiming it is unable to protect its people. The attacks are close enough to the border that the Peruvian President has begun creating diplomatic problems for us. To resolve the matter, our Parliament has decided to make an example of the tribe responsible. By crushing them, we will shock the Amerindians into assimilation and secure our frontier once and for all.”
“Yeah, that’ll work,” Sean said irreverently. “They’ll watch the nightly news on their jungle TVs and see how their brothers and sisters are being slaughtered by you and say, ‘Gosh! We oughta be more like white people!’”
Mac held up a hand. “Sean, please. Mr. Ambassador, I still don’t understand what our role’s supposed to be.”
“Simply to be present,” he replied with a shrug. “The UN is respected for its peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, and Brazil must do what’s necessary to protect her civilized people. My government simply–”
“–simply wants us to be present so the world’ll think the UN blessed your actions, no matter how reprehensible they may be,” Sean said.
Bandos drummed his fingers on the table. “Crassly put…but, yes. The Secretary-General and I have an understanding.”
“What are we,” Sean growled, “Boujeau’s lap dogs? A tiny Amerindian tribe defends itself from land thieves, the federal government decides to eradicate them, and we’re supposed to just watch and smile for the cameras?”
“I will not tolerate your insolence anymore, young man!” snapped Bandos, getting up from his chair. “I am the Ambassador of –!”
“We’ll be observers,” Mac stated as he too stood up. “We’ll be advisors, we’ll reach our own conclusions, and we’ll recommend whatever course of action ends the loss of life and fosters the long-term well-being of all involved. Am I clear?”
Bandos’s face reddened. “Quite,” he said, kicking his chair out of the way. “Your superiors will hear of this.”
“I would expect no less,” countered Mac.
The Ambassador gave a defiant snort and strode away.
“What now?” Taylor asked.
Mac smiled, remembering what the Dalai Lama had said when asked the same question. “First thing’s first. We eat,” and he sat back down.
The smug Ambassador sat in the backseat of his BMW as it sped through the streets of the capitol. “The plan is proceeding just as you knew it would,” he said into his satellite phone.
“But of course,” the self-satisfied Secretary-General replied, a faint French-Canadian patois tinging his words. “Mr. MacCrarey is a naïve idealist, which makes him nothing if not predictable. We proceed as planned, yes?”
“And in exchange, you will endeavor to secure Brazil a permanent seat on the Security Council. The sixth most populous country in the world should be the sixth permanent member. Yes?”
“But of course,” Boujeau lied.
They flew north out of Brasilia on a cargo transport to a military airstrip along the Amazon River. There, they offloaded their Humvee and travelled upriver to a small village where a guide named Juan Luarte waited to ferry them to the frontier. He was captain of the Purus, a barely seaworthy ship somewhere between a small barge and a large fishing boat.
Sitting in a ramshackle open-air bar near the docks and with Taylor serving as translator, the four men finalized their travel plans over a platter of boiled fish and sweet potatoes sitting atop a large plywood cable spool that served as their table. Juan leaned over a map of the river. “It is settled then,” he said in Portuguese. “We sail 900 kilometers west along the Amazon,” tracing the river with his finger, “to the Jutai. Take it southwest 250 kilometers to where it is no longer navigable, and offload that…that–” pointing at the Humvee, “–that and from there you travel by land to Cruzeiro do Sul. I will wait on the river for your return.”
“Cruzeiro do Sul is the first frontier settlement attacked,” Mac explained to the others. “We’ll start our investigation there. Any questions?”
Taylor shook his head.
“Nope,” answered Sean.
“Let’s load up, then,” Mac ordered.
He and Taylor followed Juan to the Purus docked upstream from the café. The roar of a diesel engine sounded, and the Humvee jostled its way up the rutted, muddy road. Sean navigated the bulky truck across a makeshift ramp of old planks laid between the quay and the ship. Once on board, he and Juan lashed it down to the deck and stowed away the planks. Within minutes, the Purus weighed anchor and Luarte’s 12-year-old son backed the ship out into the river. As the boat slowly turned upstream, the UN team members went below to settle into their quarters.
Standing in the doorway to Mac’s cabin, Juan told his guests, “If you need anything, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“We will. Thank you,” replied Mac and the Captain left them to unpack their duffle bags. “Seems friendly enough.”
“Should be for what we’re paying him,” griped Taylor from the cabin across the hall.
“You gotta be tougher, man,” Sean called from his cabin.
“I’m telling you, the man was relentless. The longer I negotiated, the bigger his family got and the smaller his home. By the time we were done, I think he was living in a cardboard box with eight children, his parents, a sickly wife, a brother-in-law with a drinking problem, and a sister in the family way.”
When they returned to the main deck, every sign of civilization had vanished. Only an occasional shanty, broken down dock, or small clearing with a pathetic crop of something or other appeared now and then along the riverbanks. The pleasant sounds of the jungle drifted across the water to mix with the low, lazy rumble of the twin inboard engines.
The whitewashed plywood walls of the bridge cabin, with its corrugated sheet metal roof, sat behind an open semi-circular bow. From there, one could see the narrow band of blue sky above the tall trees that crowded the shores. A ragged, olive green canvas canopy supported by bamboo poles shaded the aft deck from port to starboard to stern, and underneath it sat the lashed down Humvee.
A weatherworn table nailed to the heavy, rough-hewn planks of the forward deck became the unofficial office of the United Nations Mission to Brazil. There, the three of them sat with their research papers, maps, beat up old coffee pot, and four tin cups.
“Sean, give us a run down on the region we’ll be traveling through, please,” Mac said. “To truly understand a people, you must understand the symbiosis they have with their land.”
“Brazil is the fifth largest country in size and sixth most populous on Earth,” Sean began. “It has a surface area of over three million square miles and a population of nearly two-hundred million. Ten South American countries border it to the north, west, and south. Its natural resources include diamonds, gold, oil, lumber, sugar cane, cattle –”
“And coffee!” a jacked-up Taylor exclaimed, taking another swig of the dark, rich steaming brew.
“And coffee,” Sean chuckled. “Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world.” Gesturing at the river, he went on, “The Amazon is second only to the Nile in length, stretching 4100 miles from the Peruvian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s fed along the way by something like a thousand tributaries, one of which – the Jutai – we’ll be sailing up. Altogether, they form a watershed covering two-thirds of the country. If you were to picture Brazil as a diamond, the watershed covers the entire top half and part of the bottom. In it lives the most diverse biosphere anywhere on the planet with thousands of mammal, aviary, marine, reptile, insect, and plant species. Unfortunately, mercury and arsenic poisoning from gold mining and slash-and-burn farming is degrading the watershed and driving many species towards extinction.”
“Humankind never seems to learn from its mistakes,” Mac sad sadly. “Taylor, how about a civics lesson?”
Leafing through a notebook until he came to the page he was looking for, he began, “Multi-party republic form of government with a two-house legislature. Very small military for a country its size. Low per capita income – around $3,000. Serious economic problems with a growing national debt, rampant inflation, overcrowded urban areas, and social unrest. The world got a glimpse of that during the lead-up to the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio when riots broke out. Predominantly Catholic. Official language Portuguese, though Brazil is the most ethnically diverse of all South American nations – 15% Portuguese, 11% Mestizo, 1% pure-blooded Amerindian, a third African and mulatto, 40% other European – mostly Italian, Spanish, and German.”
“Germans, huh?” Mac said with a slight scowl.
“The most of any country in Central or South America,” Taylor nodded. “Why?”
“For one thing, Schoen is German – very German,” he said. His teammates laughed. “For another, as many as two-thousand war criminals escaped Nazi Germany and ended up in Argentina and Brazil, including Adolf Eichmann, Klaus Barbie, and Josef Mengele, the Schutzstaffel doctor from Auschwitz. The prisoners called him Dr. Death. He performed all kinds of gruesome experiments on Jews and Gypsies before sending them to the gas chambers.”
“Real warm and fuzzy son-of-a-bitch, huh?” Sean said.
“There were plenty of Germans here before the war,” Taylor noted. “Ranchers, exporters of iron and rubber, etcetera.”
“Many of whom were supporting the Third Reich,” Mac countered. He caught himself and held up a hand. “Sorry. Please continue.”
“Discovered in 1500 by Pedro Alvarez Cabral, a Portuguese Naval Commander. Named after its first export, brasil, a red dye made from wood. Held by Portugal as a colony until the early 1800’s when it became an independent monarchy. Became a Republic in 1891, calling itself the United States of Brazil. From 1930 to 1985, it was ruled by a series of military dictators.”
“Thanks to the Nazis and the CIA,” Sean said bitterly.
“Yep, pretty much,” Taylor nodded. “Twenty-six states, each divided into municipalities governed by councils. We’ll be meeting with a council member of Cruzeiro do Sul when we arrive who’ll fill us in on the Amerindian attacks. Oh, and by the way, before Africans were brought over, Amerindians were used as slaves.”
“Shit,” muttered Sean.
Time on the Purus ebbed and flowed through the thick, humid days and inky black nights. It swam in whirlpools and stood still in tiny coves until it became almost meaningless. Only the occasional school of river dolphins arching up to the water’s surface broke the hypnotic monotony. The constant drone of the engines, the rhythmic lapping of waves against the hull, the unchanging concerto of bird songs, the hum of insects, the interloping of dragonflies and the wafting nighttime swarms of fireflies furthered the wonderful, surreal illusion of an eternal, timeless world.
That changed when they traded the quiet, blood-warm, coffee-black Amazon for the clear, restless waters of the Jutai. After two days between her ever-narrowing riverbanks, the water grew so shallow that Captain Luarte had no choice but to run the Purus aground. Mac and his team stowed their gear in the Humvee, set the planks for the ramp, and bid farewell to the Captain and his son.
“You’ve been gracious hosts and skilled river men,” Mac told them. “We thank you.”
“May God bless you,” replied the Captain.
“May your God bless you as well. We’ll radio when our mission’s completed.”
Ten minutes later, they were standing on the shore watching the Purus back into deeper waters. Another ten minutes and she disappeared around the bend, the low rumble of her engines fading into the sounds of the jungle.
The tall trees and dense underbrush bordering the rutted road challenged the wide-framed Humvee, but they still reached the town of Cruzeiro do Sul by mid-day. With a mere two dozen ramshackle structures straddling a muddy creek and 200 yards of clear-cut land to the south and west to grow corn, beans, squash, and wheat, calling it a town was generous.
Stopping along what passed as Main Street at an open-air market, Mac said to the others, “Let’s fill our larder.”
Several villagers followed them around, hawking and gawking, while they perused the baskets of charms, blankets, handmade utensils and tools, hunting supplies, Pirarucu, caimans, monkeys, lizards, and all kinds of vegetables and exotic fruits that crowded the market’s aisles. The aroma of seasoned meat cooking over an open fire hung in the heavy air and Mac suggested they get something to eat. Just then, a tall thin man with leathery skin, thinning black hair, a loose-fitting white cotton shirt and baggy trousers pushed through the crowd.
“I am Head Councilman and militia Captain Aurelio Sanchez,” he announced in perfect English. His facial features and relatively light complexion bespoke a mostly Portuguese heritage.
“Councilman, I’m William Cameron MacCrarey, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the UN,” he said and held out a hand.
“Yes, I recognized you from the magazine pictures,” Sanchez replied, taking Mac’s proffered hand. “You have an interesting heritage, and a controversial present.”
“I suppose I do,” Mac replied. “May I say, Mr. Sanchez, your English is exceptional. Travelling the world as I do, I’m forever humbled by how many people speak multiple languages and master them all.”
“Even here in the shadows of the Andes we understand how the nations of the world are no longer isolated but interdependent. Are they not, Mr. Ambassador?”
“They are, and call me Mac.”
“Please call me Aurelio.”
“Let me introduce my team. Taylor Johnson,” he gestured, “fluent in Spanish, can muddle through Portuguese, and does an excellent job as my mentor. Lieutenant Sean Kelly, my military advisor and a good man in a pinch.”
“Ambassador Bandos briefed me on your assignment,” the Councilman said, shaking each man’s hand, “and I promised my full cooperation. But, well, let us have a seat at the cantina. There we shall have a frank and honest conversation, yes?”
“They’re the best kind,” Mac answered, and the Councilman led the way to an outdoor bar-café.
After the proprietor had taken their orders, Aurelio told them, “We do not need you here. We do not need observers or advisors. We need an armed brigade to protect our families!”
“I have the authority to order the deployment of troops,” Mac assured him, “but to what end? Claiming the land of your native peoples as your own and battling them into near extinction will irreparably damage your nation’s collective psyche and make you poorer for it. Believe me, my country made the same mistake.”
“I wish only to defend my families,” Aurelio countered.
“As you yourself put it, Councilman, we are all interdependent. Your people, my people…their people. We’re all citizens of Earth and want what’s best for our families.”
Aurelio let out a long breath. “Yes. Of course. Please understand how difficult it is to keep the proper perspective when your friends and family are in harm’s way.”
“I can only imagine,” Mac said.
The Councilman stood up. “Let me radio Bandos that you have arrived. In the meantime, please enjoy your repast and I will return shortly.”
Plates of potatoes, fish, beans, and blue corn tortillas covered the small, dingy table and the four of them ate heartily while continuing their conversation.
“When was the last attack, Councilman?” Sean said.
“Nearly two weeks ago.”
“No new attacks since we left Brasilia?” Mac said with uneasy curiosity.
“I assure you, the situation has not changed. The Cuari are remorseless, fearless savages.”
“The Cuari?” Taylor said in surprise. “They’re the Amerindians responsible for the attacks?”
“What is it, Taylor?” said Mac.
Taylor shook his head. “The Cuari disappeared seventy-five years ago. Just after World War Two. No one’s heard from or seen from one since.”
“They are very much alive, I assure you,” said Aurelio. “They have burned dozens of homes to the ground, murdered scores of settlers, and what has our government done? They have sent you, the author of numerous amendments to the UN Charter.”
Mac was beginning to get the picture.
Aurelio leaned forward. “Suppose your amendments become part of the Charter. Suppose my country brought in National Guard troops. Suppose many Cuari die. The nations bordering Brazil would be empowered by the new UN Charter to intervene.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mac replied.
“They could send troops across our borders, occupy the conflict areas, impose sanctions. The negative P.R. would cause trade and tourism to decline, and with it the public and private revenues my country desperately depends on. So, why do you suppose it is that my government sent you?”
They both knew damned well why. “Because if I recommend that National Guard or UN troops should be called in, then your country can say they have no choice and whatever happens is on my head.”
“That is correct.”
“Sounds like another pooch screw, alright,” muttered Sean. “Just like Cyprus.”
“Aurelio, rest assured that my decisions will be based on the best interests of all concerned, but history recommends that we leave the Amerindians in peace.”
“My people wish to live in peace as well,” the Councilman said, “but they’ll fight to the end if they have to, for they have nothing left to lose.”
Aurelio stood and beckoned them to follow. “Come, let’s get you settled in.”
They pitched their tents just outside of town, a tarpaulin hung between them to create a covered courtyard of sorts. Beneath it stood a lashed-together bamboo table and folding camp chairs. At dinner that night, Councilman Sanchez joined them to plan their tour of the settlements. When they finished, they kicked back around the campfire, talked of family and work, shared a gourd of coconut liqueur they’d bought at the market – which Mac found reminiscent of something called Arik he’d come across in the South Pacific – and soon, tall tales and the laughter of comradery among good-hearted people filled the night.
Word came in the following morning of another attack.
“In Nueve Verdes,” the Councilman told the others. “Not more than ten miles to our west.”
“Can you take us there?” said Mac.
“Of course. I will arrange for their Head Councilman to meet us when we arrive.” Noticing Taylor, head in his hands, Aurelio added, “And I will bring us plenty of coffee for our trip, made from our own beans.”
“Thanks,” Taylor mumbled.
Sean gave his buddy a wry grin. “Mac and I feel fine.”
Taylor muttered something in Liberian that sounded far from friendly. Sean laughed and slapped his friend on the back, occasioning a moan and another Liberian curse. “Sorry, buddy,” he said rather insincerely.
An hour later, the four of them were bouncing along a two-track in the Humvee. By the time they reached their destination, the temperature and humidity were both near 100. Even with the same clear-cut farm fields to the south and west, Nueve Verdes looked even less like a town than Cruzeiro do Sul. No church, no market, nothing but shabby huts lined the two-track, and there was no one in sight but a short lean man of perhaps fifty.
Aurelio and the man shook hands and conversed in what Mac assumed was Portuguese. “This is Teo Queltico,” said Aurelio. “Head of the Council.”
“Taylor, please ask him to explain what happened last night.”
“I doubt my Cambridge Portuguese will get us very far. What with their accents and intermixing of Amerindian and Portuguese, I hardly understood a word they said.”
Aurelio passed on Mac’s question, but Teo said nothing. Instead, he turned and walked away. Mac shrugged to the others and headed off after the little man. On the far edge of the pitiful little settlement, they came to a small, thatched hut and heard a woman crying inside.
“A child and his father were returning home from the forest last night,” explained Teo through Aurelio. “As they crossed the open field,” he pointed west, “four Cuari appeared at the edge of the forest. The father will probably survive, but his boy passed away during the night.”
Mac asked if they could talk with the father. With some reservation, Teo knocked on the door to the hut and led Mac and Aurelio inside. The body of a boy no more than thirteen lay in the middle of the one-room hovel, his lanky frame tightly wrapped in a hand-woven blanket. The boy’s father, a blood-soaked swath of cloth covering his lower torso, sat on the dirt floor next to his son, rocking back and forth, tears streaming down his face. Aurelio knelt down and gently kissed the boy’s forehead. Mac did the same. The father gave a slight bow to the Anglo and the Councilman, who asked the father for permission to speak. The grieving man obliged with another bow and after the two had talked in whispers for several minutes, Aurelio stood and headed for the door with Mac in tow.
Once outside, he explained, “The boy and his father were hunting in the jungle. Apparently the Cuari tracked them back to the village and shot them as they started across the field. The father shot back and thinks he hit one of them.”
“Why wait until they were back at the village to attack?” Sean pondered. “Why run the risk of being seen or caught in a counterattack? The forest gives you ample space to use a bow or throw a spear. And if there were four of them, why didn’t they make sure to kill the father?”
Mac sensed the questions were rhetorical and encouraged Sean to continue.
“They wanted to be seen. They wanted everyone to know who killed the boy.”
“The father used the word ‘shot,’” noted Mac.
“You thinking the father’s wound was from a bullet?” Sean said.
“It could not be,” Aurelio insisted. “The Amerindians have no such weapons.”
“May I see?” Sean asked.
At first, Teo adamantly refused, but Aurelio kept talking, his words growing ever more insistent, until the Councilman hung his head and shuffled back inside. A moment later, he reappeared with the grieving father. Sean carefully unwrapped the crude dressing.
“Taylor, grab my first aid kit from the Humvee, wouldya please?”
“On it,” Taylor answered, glad to get away from the gore.
“Definitely a gunshot wound,” Sean told the others, cleaning the torn and bloodied skin. “How the hell did a remote Amerindian tribe get a gun?”
“We’re damned well gonna find out,” Mac declared. “Where do the Cuari live?”
Neither Councilman had the faintest idea, but Aurelio observed, “If the father shot one of the Cuari, there might be a trail of blood to point us in the right direction.”
Three-quarters of an hour later, Taylor found more than just a trail of blood.
A young Amerindian’s body covered with tattoos of animal spirits and tally marks lay face down in the thick foliage of the forest floor. Strangely, he wore a pair of army fatigue pants and an ammo belt wrapped around his waist. The bullet from the father’s hunting rifle had pierced the left side of the Cuari’s back just below the shoulder blade.
“Punctured a lung, most likely,” Sean noted, kneeling down beside the body.
“Are the Amerindian dead buried or given a ceremonial funeral pyre?” Mac asked Aurelio.
“A pyre,” the Councilman told him.
“Taylor, let’s gather some kindling and logs. Sean, find us a small clearing where we can build a fire.”
“On it,” said Sean.
“How rare is the man who can see past the prejudice and vengeance of others and do what is honorable,” Aurelio said.
For Mac, it was simply a matter of honoring everyone equally. “I’m trying,” he said.
“If only everyone would try,” Taylor said.
When the pyre was ready, Sean and Aurelio bent down to pick up the body. Rolling it over, they took one look at the face and froze.
“Uh, guys?” called Sean. “You better come here and take a look at this.”
Mac and Taylor walked over, hands full of wood and brush.
“That doesn’t look like any Indian I’ve ever seen,” Taylor remarked.
Though the Cuari’s height, body markings, skin tone, and straight dark hair were quite normal for this part of the world, “His face,” Mac gaped. “He looks…he looks–”
“European,” Taylor finished.
The young man staring blankly at the sky had large, round, dark blue eyes, a high forehead, low set cheekbones, and a narrow, pointed nose.
“Northern European,” Mac nodded.
“Do all the Cuari look like this?” Sean asked.
“I’ve never seen a Cuari,” Aurelio admitted. “They were discovered in the 1930’s by a German expedition scouting locations for a rubber tree plantation, and no one’s seen a Cuari since. That is, not until the attacks began on the settlements two months ago. But, I can assure you no other native Brazilians look like this.”
“Any record of the German expedition, uh, leaving something behind, shall we say?” Mac said with a half-grin.
“Children?” replied Aurelio. “Not that I’ve heard of.”
Mac knelt down beside the mysterious young man. “Well, whoever you were, son, and wherever you came from, it’s time to go home.” Then, he reached out and closed the Cuari’s eyes for the last time.
That night, two families died when their homes were burned to the ground in San Benedict six kilometers to the west. The following day, another family perished in a fire and the head councilman was shot to death in the village of Monte Misme ten kilometers further on.
The mission team travelled to each town in turn to investigate, and as evening approached, Mac sent an encoded email to T.J. explaining what had happened and where they were. Stowing his laptop, he stepped from his tent and scanned the edges of the little clearing southwest of Monte Misme where they’d set up camp. The trees gently swayed as their evening shadows crept across the field, but otherwise nothing moved. The rest of the world could have been a million miles away. Sitting beside the campfire, Sean said to Taylor and Aurelio, “Nothing between our departure from Brasilia and our arrival in Cruzeiro do Sul. No deaths, no attacks, nothing. Then, three attacks, three days in a row, each further west than the last.”
Taylor huffed. “Reminds me of–”
“Cyprus,” Mac said, walking over to the campfire. “I doubt it’s a coincidence.”
“They want us out here,” Sean agreed.
“Monte Misme is the western most settlement in Brazil,” Aurelio noted. “Only two hundred kilometers of uninhabited jungle between here and the Peruvian border.”
“Apparently not that uninhabited,” Mac said.
“The Cuari don’t know us from Adam, probably never even heard of the United Nations,” Taylor commented. “So, who is it that wants us out here, and why?”
“I only know we must end these attacks,” exclaimed Aurelio, “once and for all.”
“Then, we go after ‘em,” Sean declared.
“Go where?” Taylor countered.
Sean pulled a black marker from his shirt pocket, grabbed the map sitting on the bamboo mess table, and made three dots. “These are the last three villages attacked.” He connected them with a straight line. “Directly east to west.” Then, he extended the line further west into the jungle. “With no more settlements, no one left to attack, and nowhere left to lead us.”
Mac understood. “They’re coming.”
“Soon,” Sean nodded.
Unnerved by his partners’ matter-of-factness, Taylor said, “So, what do we do? Wait here like sheep in the night for the wolf?”
“But,” Mac replied, “who’s the sheep and who’s the wolf?”
A full moon cast its silvery light on the clearing, embers from the long-abandoned campfire glowed, fireflies blinked, crickets chirped, and a gentle breeze brushed over the knee-high grass.
He sat amidst a cluster of trees along the clearing’s edge, his thermos of coffee nearly empty –
“Whoa!” he whispered, spying shadows moving along the far tree line – one, two, three silhouettes stealthily making their way along the edge of the clearing towards the tents. Pulling the laptop already up-linked to GLOSAT out of his rucksack, he switched the live satellite image of the clearing to thermal feed, zeroed in on the three ghostly images, and locked in each of their coordinates.
“Gotcha, you bastards.” He dropped the laptop, pulled out his Berretta, and fired three shots into the air. The silhouettes stopped dead in their tracks and dropped to the ground. Red-orange flashes lit up the far tree line and bullets tore through the branches above Mac’s head. Calculating their intruders’ positions relative to the tents, he yelled, “Targets! Two o’clock!”
The words seemed barely to have left his mouth when Sean flew out of his tent, pistols in both hands. Before his body even hit the ground, he opened fire. Rolling into a kneeling position, he aimed above the black silhouettes and fired again until he emptied the clips. Like a runner leaving the blocks, he sprinted across the field, tossing the rifle slung over his shoulder at Taylor’s tent flap as he passed.
Sean loaded a fresh clip into one of the .45’s, aimed at the ground in front of the would-be-assassins, and just as he was about to squeeze the trigger, they fired back. He dove for the ground as the crack of another .45 sounded to his left.
Mac fired again and again, running full tilt across the field.
Taylor scrambled out of his tent, picked up the rifle, and knelt on one knee. Looking down the barrel, he tracked the moving shadows and fired, first over their heads and then into the dirt just behind them. The Cuari reached the tree line and vanished into the shadows of the jungle.
Mac slowed to a stop and pivoted in a circle, arm extended and Beretta in hand, but nothing moved. The world had seemingly reverted back to the moments before the attack.
“You okay?” he called out, lowering his gun.
“Yeah,” Taylor muttered. “Sure.”
“Woooohoooo!” Sean howled, firing his .45 into the air.
“I guess he’s okay,” Mac mumbled and turned back for the tents.
Backpacks packed and backed, the four men made for the tree line. Once they were standing beneath the jungle canopy, Mac said to Sean, “Alright, let’s give it a try.”
Taking his iPhone out of a vest pocket, the Lieutenant pressed the GLOSAT app and up came their location in degrees, minutes and seconds along with four tiny dots on a satellite image of the jungle.
“What’s GLOSAT?” Aurelio asked, looking over Sean’s shoulder.
“A network of communication satellites geo-synchronously orbiting above the 45th parallels,” Mac answered. “I leased bandwidth on them so field offices and missions around the world can communicate in real-time via audio, video, and text. It includes a UN database of information on member nations, missions, deployable peacekeepers and military assets that can be deployed in the field.”
Sean pulled down a menu and selected VIEW. Opening another menu, he selected TRACK LOCK, another MARKER, and finally SUPERIMPOSE. Three moving ghostly shapes appeared on the screen along with another set of degrees, minutes and seconds. “GLOSAT can also track any object you mark, 24/7. Those,” and he pointed at the screen, “are our Cuari.”
“I’ll take point,” Mac said and for the remainder of the night and through the next day, the mission team tracked their would-be assassins. At nightfall, the images stopped.
“They’re either home or setting up camp,” Sean supposed.
“Let’s dig in here, then,” Mac told them, taking the iPhone from the Lieutenant. “I’ll take first watch. If they start moving, I’ll wake you.”
At sunrise, the green ghosts set off again. Mac and his team broke camp and followed until dusk. After descending into a broad river valley, the images halted. When he could see the river through the trees, Mac held up a hand. “We’ll camp here,” he said, and his exhausted teammates were all too happy to oblige.
A sound woke Mac from a deep sleep, an all-to-familiar yet terribly out-of-place sound. He stumbled out of his tent, noticed the sun cresting the plateau they’d climbed down the night before, and shuffled over to where Aurelio, Sean and Taylor were standing. Staring across the river, he yawned, “Is that what I think it is, or am I still asleep?”
“That depends,” Sean said, not wanting to be the one who said aloud the obvious but impossible answer. “What do you think it is?”
“Uh, well,” Mac hesitated, “it sounds like, uh…traffic.”
Sean nodded. “Yep. So, we’re either all asleep or we’ll all nuts.”
“One way to find out,” Mac said and waded into the river. The others followed close behind. Reaching the far bank, they cautiously headed in the direction of the grinding gears and whining engines. Twenty paces into the jungle, the trees suddenly disappeared.
“Bloody hell!” cried Taylor.
Sean grabbed his friend’s arm and pulled him back from the edge of a broad trench.
Clearly manmade, five meters wide, three deep, and filled with algae-covered water, the trench ran to their left and right as far as they could see. Ahead lay a broad oval-shaped valley and at its center was the mindboggling source of the sound.
“Good God!” exclaimed Taylor.
“Like I said,” Sean quipped, “we’re either all asleep or we’ll all nuts.”
“We’re nuts,” Taylor decided.
“This is impossible,” Aurelio said. “There are no settlements west of Monte Misme.”
“Well,” Mac replied, “that’s a damned big impossibility out there.”
The valley was two kilometers wide and four long, he estimated, with every scrap of underbrush long since cleared away for farming. Only the most massive trees remained, their trunks wide as a Humvee and 200 feet tall at least. They were spaced evenly apart, and their branches intertwined high above to form a vast green canopy over the entire valley. At its epicenter lay a vast city, cast forever in perpetual twilight with a well-groomed central square and a statue of a soldier. Around the square stood a theater or hall of some kind, a pub, stores with second floor apartments, a church, and a large Bavarian-style home. Vintage cars and trucks lumbered around the square and along well-groomed avenues that led into sprawling neighborhoods. Farmland with beasts of burden guided by Amerindians tilling the rich fields surrounded the city, and around the edge of the farmland stretched the broad trench Mac and his team stood beside.
On the far side of the valley were dozens of longhouses with clay-brick chimneys belching white smoke that wafted up to the canopy of branches. There, it lazily undulated back and forth like translucent waves on an upside-down sea.
A faint, bitter-sweet scent hung in the air.
“Can you make out the signs on the buildings around the square?” Mac asked Taylor.
His teammate lifted his binoculars. “They’re in German,” he said. “Clothiers, hunting goods, beer hall, farming supplies, groceries,” and he passed the binoculars to Mac. “The statue is a soldier giving a Nazi salute. Looks like we got us a little Deutschland here.”
Mac peered through the binoculars. Cuari, Mestizos, and fair-haired Caucasians went about their business, tending to their lawns and gardens, driving down streets, walking along sidewalks, and coming and going from shops just as city dwellers anywhere in the civilized world were doing at that very moment. But, this wasn’t the civilized world. It was about as far from it as one could get.
The Bavarian-style mansion on the east side of the square had an immaculately manicured garden, wrought iron fence, white stucco walls cross-hatched with wooden beams, and a dark gray slate tiled roof. In front of it, a gleaming vintage jet-black touring car sat in a semi-circular driveway.
“Beautiful,” Mac whispered. “Mercedes-Benz 770. Saw one at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan once.” He lowered the binoculars. “Aurelio, tell Bandos what we’ve found. Taylor, send our GLOSAT coordinates to T.J. and ask him to do some research for us. Sean, contact Perry. Tell him to ready a unit for deployment to Monte Misme. Taylor, Aurelio, and I will hike back to meet them. Keep an eye on Little Deutschland while we’re gone and radio if anything out of the ordinary happens.”
“Out of the ordinary?” Sean snorted. “This whole damned place is out of the ordinary!”
“Dummkopf,” growled Gerhardt Schoen, punching the keypad of his satellite phone.
A moment later, the voice of General Mendenberg crackled into the receiver. “Guten morgen, mein Herr,” he said.
“Fool!” yelled the Under Secretary-General. “The prey has found the hunter!”
The General’s jaw dropped. “Mein Herr?”
“Secretary-General Boujeau received a call from Ambassador Bandos not 30 minutes ago. MacCrarey found Viertes Reich.”
Mendenberg closed his eyes and let out a breath. “Mein Herr, it…it cannot be. I entrusted the mission to my best half breeds.”
“Destroy Monte Misme!” demanded Schoen, his words so cold they gave even the General pause. “Not a soul must be allowed to live.”
“But, mein Herr, the entire settlement…for just one man!”
“He is no ordinary man!” snapped Schoen. “No one must be left alive who can find our city again, especially MacCrarey!”
The General snapped to attention and clicked his heels. “Forgive me, Mein Herr. Your order will be obeyed. Monte Misme will cease to exist, and MacCrarey along with it.”
“They had better, mein General, or you will cease to exist,” and the line went dead.
Mac stood in the clearing, everything around him intensely vivid – the sounds and smells of the forest, the sensation of the breeze on his skin, the rustling grass, the hushed conversation of Taylor and Aurelio behind him, even the taste of the air – the legacy of his blood rising up on the eve of battle, the unbidden warrior within.
“Auto-deploy plans ready,” Taylor called from the tarp-covered courtyard between the tents.
“Aurelio?” Mac called back without taking his eyes off the tree line.
“Fortifications proceeding apace,” assured the Councilman as he walked over. “The settlers will work through the night, if need be. Perimeter campfires will be kept burning until dawn.”
“The settlers are saying you’re a blessing from God for giving them a chance to fight.”
“If it weren’t for me, they would have been left alone,” Mac replied. “But, my friend, I wouldn’t be any place but here with you and your people.” He sensed something and stepped toward the forest. “Come on, man,” he whispered.
As if obeying Mac’s command, Sean materialized from the trees and sprinted into the clearing. “No more than two hours behind me!”
Mac called over of his shoulder, “Give the order!”
Taylor typed AUTO-DEPLOY into his laptop. The computer responded with ENTER AUTO-DEPLOY STRIKE CODE. He read the scrap of paper in his hand and typed 10A03Z61, then hit ENTER. Next, the computer asked for COORDINATES and he entered the location of Monte Misme – ‘91 degrees, 15 minutes, 32 seconds WEST; 45 degrees, 0 minutes, 23 seconds SOUTH.’ Next appeared SOURCE and Taylor typed NAVY/UK/HMSMAGELLAN and hit Enter again. A final prompt scrolled across the screen, ENTER TIMING/RESOURCES, and he punched in IMMEDIATE, TWO, HAR.
TAYLOR, PERRY HERE, read the reply. “AUTHORIZATION CODE AND IDENTIFIER ACKNOWLEDGED. GOOD LUCK.”
AND TO YOU PERRY, keyed Taylor, and signed off.
“Let’s go,” Mac told the others and they walked east through the woods to a small rise overlooking the broad field that led down to the village. Rough-hewn log barricades and trenches slashed through the crops, the excavated earth used to create hillocks. Wagons, carts, and crates blockaded every path, campfires burned all around, and lanterns lit up the village.
“Outstanding, Aurelio,” Mac told him.
“My people have worked very hard,” the Councilman said proudly. “A hut has been converted into an armory of sorts down by the river. Hunting rifles, ammunition, bows and arrows, machetes – anything that can be used as a weapon is stockpiled inside. The outlying homes have been abandoned and the others barricaded. Boys under twelve and girls younger than sixteen have been sent downriver. Those who remain with their parents are ready to fight.”
A group of settlers worked on a split-rail fence nearby and in their tired eyes Mac saw a hardened look of resolve. “Let’s help them finish up and get into position.”
Sean didn’t have to be asked twice. “Look out!” he yelled to a man and woman trying to tip over a cart loaded with dirt, and he took off running full-tilt. The villagers cheered him on as he passed by and slammed into the cart like a linebacker sacking a quarterback and over it went.
Taylor picked up a stack of wood posts and carried them over to the settlers working on a barricade. Mac grabbed a shovel and jumped into one of the trenches. The Councilman hurried forward, dolling out orders as he went.
Finishing with the fortifications, the settlers grabbed whatever weapons they were most proficient with from the armory and filled their empty bellies with food set out by the village matrons. Wishing each other luck, they silently made their way back to the trenches and blockades.
Cracks and pops of burning logs in the perimeter fires and the rustle of wind through the trees were the only sounds. Mac circled the field, offering quiet words of encouragement to the settlers, all the while keeping a wary eye on the forest wall.
Sensing a subtle change in the air and soundscape, a surge of adrenaline coursed through him. Moisture-rich air drew deep into his lungs to fuel his tensing muscles, and every one of his senses magnified themselves a hundred-fold.
“Everybody down!” he shouted.
Thump! Thump! Thump! sounded deep and heavy from the forest.
Shockwaves from the mortars rolled across the field as red-orange streaks of fire arched overhead and slammed into the outlying huts. Burning wood and thatching blasted into the sky, showering down fire on the rest of the village. The ground shook and the air shuddered as the settlers opened fire at the trees. White smoke and the scent of burnt gunpowder hung over the field.
A thunderous, primal scream rolled out of the forest along with the Cracks! of return fire. Though painfully apparent they were out-gunned and out-numbered, every man and woman of Monte Misme stood their ground, firing, reloading, and firing again.
Mac drew his .45 and joined the valiant, hopeless battle. Blam! Blam! “Hurry up, Perry,” he breathed. Blam!
Mortars rained down, bullets flew in every direction, bodies lay scattered on the ground, huts burned and the injured screamed. A shell exploded in a nearby trench sending pieces of dirt, rock, and settlers in every direction. The concussion threw Mac backwards, his ears ringing as he struggled to get back onto his feet.
“Come out and fight, you sons of bitches!” he shouted in anger and emptied his clip into the trees.
The firestorm from the forest died away and another primal scream sounded as the soldiers of Little Deutschland charged into the clearing, setting off an even more urgent fusillade.
Mac swapped clips and mumbled, “I gotta be more–” Blam! Blam! “–careful–” Blam! “–what I ask for.”
The settlers took down one soldier after another. When they ran out of bullets, they shot their arrows and threw their spears. When they ran out of arrows and spears, they reached for clubs and machetes and steeled themselves for a final stand.
A thunderclap rolled in from behind them, and a bright white streak tore overhead. A split second later, the center of the advancing line disappeared in a deafening, blinding explosion. Chunks of earth and flaming pieces of bodies blasted into the air. Three more flashes, three more white streaks, three more massive explosions, their fading echoes replaced by a whining roar from beyond the village to the east.
Two monstrous gray Marine Harriers glided over the trees, their powerful twin turbine engines rotating downward, until the jets came to a stop in mid-air. Cheers went up from the settlers as the javelin-shaped crafts pivoted left and right, panning the battlefield and village, its streets now awash with hot, acrid gales from the turbines.
A burly blonde soldier picked up a mortar launcher and aimed it at the Harriers.
Mac took a bead on the man and pulled the trigger.
He swore, pulled the slide back, and–
He frantically ejected the clip, slid in a fresh one, pulled the slide back, and–
Realizing the chamber must be jammed, he cursed and threw the gun aside. Ripping a spear out of the chest of a dead soldier, he let out a cry and charged.
One of the pilots spotted the defiant soldier and angled his jet’s thrusters back, dropped the nose down, and used the holographic image projected on the canopy’s windshield to lock onto his target. The muzzle of the mortar flashed, the pilot pushed the joystick hard to the right, the port thruster roared, and the left wing rose up. The fiery shell streaked underneath and the pilot pushed the stick back to the left, locked on again and squeezed the trigger. A hail of 50-caliber, titanium-tipped machine gun shells ripped through the air. The soldier cursed, dropped the mortar tube, and ran for the trees. The bullets slammed into the ground behind him, the pilot deftly tracing them across the field until they ripped into the soldier. His torn and bloodied body skidded across the ground and crashed into the trunk of a tree with a sickeningly damp thud and cracking of bones.
The pilots continued to pivot left and right, firing at will. Their deadly hail of bullets turned one soldier after another into giant bloodied ragdolls until what remained of the line dissolved into a full out retreat into the jungle.
Another cheer went up and the pilots throttled down their engines. Once on the ground, the flight commander popped open his canopy and climbed out onto the port wing. Taking off his helmet, he jumped down and said, “Evening, Mac.”
“Good of you to drop in, ol’ boy,” Mac replied.
“But, of course,” answered Colonel Perry Spencer.