Chapter 45: Cannibals?

Eirik got his first night of sleep since he had broken his arm.  Doctor Novikov’s instructions on how to use the newly discovered Medical Autonomous Regeneration System, called a MARS by most, had been simple but effective in repairing his injuries.  He took a minute to roll his sleeping bag and noticed that Jack and Celina were already outside.  It was still dark; the sun was not yet high enough to reach the ground through the stuffed jungle canopy.  Although humid, the fresh air was welcomed.  Now, he would squeeze his tall frame one more time through the opening and be free of this place forever.

The plan had been discussed and, surprisingly, they had all agreed to all details without so much as a little correction.  Of course, they all had days to think about it and it was sound.  They had not told anyone yet that they were out and were finishing to bury the Builders’ equipment, gold, and two containers of diamonds.  They also received the C-4 and, to Celina’s shame, Jack had already used a full stick on one of the walls inside a room.  The result had been much less than expected and he used the video function of the FastCom to transmit the result, a chip the size of a tennis ball.  The scientists who requested the test were overjoyed.  Without power to maintain the force fields, they could breach a hole in a wall in time.

They would finish the burial this morning with the help of Eirik and then call in to inform Norway that they were out and ready to depart.  Jack would talk to the people at the headquarters in Norway himself to inform them that they were at least free.  Eirik proposed to do it, but Jack and Celina objected, saying that he couldn’t lie to save his own life.

 

In Norway, Lawson’s replacement, Allen Johnson, was stretched too thin for his own liking.  He had spent too many hours in the barracks, making secure international phone calls to friends and allies in the United States and trying to understand the new political reality.  Being under the United Nations, he knew he was safe from the new administration but he didn’t know if his boss was.  As an investigator first, he couldn’t just let it go.  He needed to know.  He also had to handle the safe return of the Afro-Castaways.

He made the math:  At best, they would be mounting a rescue using UN assets in the zone and evacuate them to a secure location.  For that, he needed to explain where those tourists came from and why they were in their country, lost in the jungle.  The problem with that plan was, they couldn’t risk informing the government of their presence for fear that the military would mount their own operation to capture and interrogate them.

The second best outcome would be for the Castaways to make it to the US or British Embassy in Brazzaville or to any of the UN agencies where they had allies and could be flown out by commercial or military airplanes.  They all knew that any of those safe havens could be hundreds of kilometres away, separated by dense jungles filled with dangerous plants and animals, but the many villages and militia camps loyal to no one might be even more dangerous.

The least pleasant scenario was that they wouldn’t even make it to the next hill before being blown to smithereens by man-made anti-personnel mines.  Worse still, the mines would probably only wound one or two of them, condemning them to a long and slow death.

Then, he still had all the reports and tasks related to the Facility itself, and for that, he needed to return inside, which meant gearing up and diving.

As soon as he entered his office, he made the door rematerialize and sat down at his desk.  He grabbed a FastCom unit and said the name Castaways, which had been programmed to reach Jack, Eirik, and Celina’s communicators in a conference call.

“Good to hear your voice Allen,” said Celina.  “Do you have a solution for us?”

“Hello Celina, I’m well, thanks.  How are you holding up?”

“Good enough, under the circumstances.”  Which was true and false at the same time, one would consider all the material that they had buried, balanced against the problem of getting themselves out.

“Are the guys with you?”

“Yes, they are here.”

“We have made a decision.  We will not inform the government of the country you are in unless we are sure they can be trusted.  Assuming you are right about your location, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s government is not one of them.  You have to manage to get out and use the GPS, and then we can make a determination.  Frankly, I would rather no one see you until you reach friendly territories.  You have a lot of food and water, so you don’t have to stop for hunting and gathering, which will save you a lot of time and increase your survival probability tenfold.  But you have to be careful.  If you are in Darfur or the DRC, you will effectively be in a warzone that will make your journey a lot more complicated.  After you successfully blast your way out, I want you to remain in the Facility until we have a plan.  No need to take risks outside,” Johnson explained.

Jack was listening to the exchange as he analyzed the possible repercussions of such an order.  He picked up his communicator as he signaled to Celina that he would intervene in the discussion.  “Sir, using C-4 on the outside will make a hell of a bang, giving out our position like fireworks on the fourth of July.  I would rather not be trapped in a hole, defenseless, if and when these people show up.

“Allen, we know we are on the equator, but in the northern hemisphere, because the water is turning clockwise though extremely slowly.  I’m sure you are familiar with the Coriolis Effect, so it’s likely the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I mean, Gabon and Kenya are the only two other countries in Africa that are on the equator, and the DRC is by far the biggest.  I know the complete history of the region and I will have a lot of time to bring everyone up to speed,” explained Celina, seeing minutes of precious daylight running out.

“If we are in the DRC, maybe you can send us hunting rifles or something that even archaeologists might have on them,” requested Jack.

“Negative.  In order for you to have those, it would have required you to have a permit and since you have entered illegally, you know the rest.  Again, my fear is for you to be arrested for espionage and executed on the spot.  If you have weapons, you might be tempted to use them, which would complicate things for you instead of making them better.  Also Celina, note that African males are not only raping young virgins or babies, believing they will be cured of AIDS, but white women as well,” informed Johnson, thinking of that deeply disturbing phenomenon of the “virgin cure” for HIV and AIDS.

“With everything I know about the DRC, I would be more afraid of cannibals than what lives in the jungle, anyway,” Celina said.

“You’re goddamn kidding me, right?” asked Eirik.

“No, she is not,” Jack answered this time.  “It’s not like what you think or what you have seen in the movies.  Hundreds of thousands of people died of the famine that has been ravaging Congo for decades.  Hunger will make you do a lot of things and unlike the supposedly more civilized pioneers that opened the west in the United States, people here will not wait to eat the dead.  They will hunt them down like wild games.”

Eirik’s brain took a while to come to terms with the idea.  Having the words civilized and eating the dead in the same sentence didn’t help.  In the meantime, Johnson pressed on.

“Now I have some bad news for you,” he paused for a sip of coffee. “We can’t allow you to take any of the Builders’ equipment with you.  The risk of being captured or killed with these things on you is too high.”

“Even if we are in the friendly Republic of Congo?” asked Jack.

“You have to understand that there is likely a lot of ground and checkpoints from where you are to your safe return to Norway. That includes hard terrain to cover on foot and by local transports.  Even if you can secure one, army checkpoints are manned by children who are as unpredictable as a pack of elephants during mating season.  Then, you have corrupted police and military forces, militia, and street gangs, and a lot of airport security.  That is, if we can’t airlift you,” replied Johnson.  “Again, guys, and you have to trust me on this:  You can’t take any military actions, you can’t attack anyone.  Doing so in non-military uniform can be constituted as an act of espionage and that could mean a summary execution.  I can’t repeat this point enough.”

“What the fuck is he talking about?  Like we are going to go and play Rambo out here?” asked Eirik in a low voice, not thinking that Johnson could have heard him.  The communicator registered the low voice and amplified it and he was heard 5 on 5, but Johnson didn’t react to it and understood that an unlisted man couldn’t comprehend the machinations of war.

“Sir, I understand and I will have a lot of time to explain it to the others,” said Jack, looking at Eirik.

“How about you, Miss Miller?”

“I have seen my share of gorillas, both the monkeys and the guy with the machete.  I’m a terrain archaeologist. I can pull my own weight and I’m used to the psychology of child soldiers.  Treat him like an adult and respect his authority, regardless of his age,” explained Celina, feeling that it was time for the PBS Special to end and for them to go.

“Great, thank you.  Last point of concern:  The dog.  I know it is cruel, but if it were me in that situation, I would put it down before I start on the journey.  There are several problems associated with having a dog in your situation.  If it manages to survive the walk in the jungle, a beagle is a dog bred to hunt.  It will be loud and will attract a lot of attention to itself.  I have seen a lot of dogs run away in Bosnia, exploding mines and triggering traps in their wake.  If the dog gets loose, don’t run after it.  Don’t yell at it to come back, it could get you killed.  It is your call. I can’t force you, but think about it seriously,” concluded Johnson.  “I have to return to the barracks for another meeting.  Guys, take care of each other, okay? And good luck!” You will need it.

“Thank you,” said Celina and Jack together.

“I’m not putting the damn dog down or anyone else for that matter,” Eirik firmly pointed out.  “I have a solution that should work.”

“Okay, we have a lot of things to do and I don’t want to make camp in the moonlight.  So let’s go,” urged Jack, clapping his hands together and looking at Celina who was already a few metres away, re-opening the trail to the burial site.

It took them almost four additional hours to take all the equipment to the place they had selected, a clearing not too far from the entrance.  Eirik took one more item that he had planned to bury and tested his idea. It worked like a charm, to the amazement of the others.  The dog problem was solved.

They finished burying the container an hour before midday and were glad that the containers were designed for underwater use.  The first foot was relatively solid, but the rest was mainly mud with water, slowly filling the hole from underneath.  Philie had no problem with the plan, and had already taken her fill of the brown liquid.  Eirik, on the other hand, was still hanging to his bottled water as if it was made of pure gold.

They discussed it briefly and decided to disregard the orders of not bringing anything with them for the trek out of the jungle.  Eirik had already experimented with one of the gadgets that allowed things to be cloaked or placed “out of phase,” at least he assumed so, because once the items were in front of the device, they vanished.  The truth was that the device acted like a small storage unit, dematerializing the items and storing them in a save space within its active memory.  That also saved weight for easy transport in a pocket, which redefined the magical bottomless bag, but Eirik noted that it consumed energy, though not too much.

As the equipment’s visual display was written in English, he easily learned how to use it, but its user manual only described the basic operations—no different from what one would find in microwave ovens where the basic functions are mentioned, but not how the actual thing cooked food.  Sixty cubic liters is all that it could take, despite weight and molecular complexity, which Eirik guessed halfway.  All the diamonds and the gold were buried, except for three bars of 100 grams each, which they all carried for barter in case they needed to.  Eirik had already used the MARS to heal his wounds, and that miraculous little device was now inside the storage unit along with the device that allowed him to see through walls.  He also stored a water replicator that had enough pressure, if dialed up, to be used as a shower with adjustable temperature.  It seemed, however, that the power source had its limits, like all of these gadgets when used outside the Facility.  Because of this, it would be used for generating potable water, which was not much of a problem in a rain forest.  The last three were:  A telescope, a pair of glasses that has an integrated computer that provided information on anything in its database, and the last one was no less than a FastCom, which they now knew could likely make secure one-to-one calls but, like the rest, it consumed a visible amount of energy.

They had informed Fangs of that discovery and it was concluded that the equipment in the Facility was powered by some form of wireless energy.  This information triggered laughter from far too many people, until Fangs explained that induction was wireless, and that Nikola Tesla had already made it work in 1891 and had powered the electric lamps in his labs wirelessly for years.  “In Japan today, equipment charging tables already exist, dumbasses,” she had said with a snort of derision.