Chapter 46: Let’s go with Sun Tzu

In Africa, Jack felt smart, thinking that he had not really disregarded any orders for bringing his Glock 19 pistol and two 15-round clips with him, since no one knew he had it in the first place and because it was no Builders’ tech.  The rest of the gear were ordinary enough for people on a camping trip, except perhaps for the two sticks of C-4, one of which Jack had placed on the bare surface of the Station and buried it with rocks to ensure maximum impact on the perfectly smooth silver sheet of material.  The other was placed under the roots of a large tree, precariously perched on the side of the small mount next to the hole they had used to exit in the morning.  If his calculations were good, it would soon be buried under two metres of rocks and muddy dirt, making it almost impossible for anyone to see, and hard to get in or out without serious efforts.  Celina and Eirik were trying to convince themselves that it was the right thing to do for the safety of the people outside, more than for hiding the Facility from accidental discovery.  Jack, on his end, didn’t take a second to think about it at all. The charges were set and his two companions were already twenty metres away behind large rocks, waiting for him to yell fire in the hole, or something like that.  But Jack simply hid behind a tree opposite them and gave them the OK sign, as he was used to in diving, then lifted the red protective cap of the detonator and flipped the switch.  The sound was deafening and the wind that followed blew branches and leaves over their heads like a hurricane, and then it stopped.

Eirik was the first to rise and helped Celina along.  As the dust slowly settled, they saw that the mount had only failed halfway, but it was enough to bury the exit.  The rocks had been shattered and blown dozens of metres in all directions.  Jack, under orders to report the result, had left sticks at a distance and was now triangulating the position of the blast. Unfortunately, the metre of dirt that had fallen was preventing him to get any visual on the blast site.  So, he simply assumed that the C-4 had made the same type of damage as in the previous test and that’s what he would report to Norway.

“So, not indestructible,” remarked Celina as she looked over his shoulder, though she did not have the privilege to witness the result of the initial blast in the room earlier.

“Nope. It must be the force field that makes it harder or impossible to go through, but without power, it’s only metal or whatever composite it is,” guessed Jack.

Celina nodded in agreement and knelt to the ground to tie together her shoelaces, a good technique for climbing trees.  As she walked awkwardly toward a tree of the right size, Eirik placed the GPS in her back pocket.

She climbed like a monkey and soon reached the top, where she took a moment to get her bearings and noted down the coordinates on a piece of paper.  She made sure to delete them from the GPS waypoints list before returning to the forest floor.

“There is a mountain range to the west; everything else is forest in all directions.  Let’s radio in for the last time.  I have coordinates to give them. I’ll add 18 kilometres north and 2 kilometres east to the coordinates.  That will throw them off, but we need to take the exact position of where the equipment is buried and then we can head for the town in safety,” directed Celina.

“Base, this is Jack.”

“Johnson here.  Did you manage to get out?”

“Yes, Celina has the coordinates.  She’ll text them to you using the sat phone.”

“Okay, got them.”

Jack turned to Eirik and Celina as the other end of the line fell silent for several moments.  “We can start walking.  There’s no point remaining here.  Let’s go to the clearing to take the coordinates of the equipment and then we can wait for him to tell us what direction to head out,” Jack offered.

“Castaway, this is base.  Celina was right.  You are currently situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about three hundred kilometres south of Kinshasa.  I advise that you take the main road, but you won’t be able to see it until you engage in a serious trek through the jungle heading north-west,” replied Johnson.

“Roger that, base,” acknowledged Jack, thinking that was rather quick.  “We will depart as soon as I’m out.  We have the satellite phone, so please advise us of the evac plan, if one can be arranged.”

“Will do, Castaways.  The Colonel asked me to remind you to bury your communication devices before you part and make a mental note of their location.  Don’t leave any obvious markings.  Base over and out.”

“Good.  Now, the adventure begins.  So, we have to make our way to the coordinates we have provided them, bury the FastCom there and then we can start our journey out of here,” offered Jack.

“But, won’t they discover the path to the clearing where the stuff is actually buried?” asked Eirik, not remembering having been told that detail.

“Honey, that’s why I have provided them a location twenty clicks from here; also, the flora here is extremely active.  Soon, there will be no trace of the path we made.  We also used the small anti-gravity unit to carry the containers, so no dragging trails,” answered Celina.

“She is brilliant, isn’t she?” Eirik smiled.

At that, Jack smiled and started the march, slashing his way through the undergrowth. “Yeah, very brilliant, but you can tell me that again after you walk all day through that shit in the wrong direction,” he said, laughing.

“Actually, it is only halfway out of our way and if you think of all the diamonds and priceless equipment we have back there, two days of walking is nothing. I have done a hell of a lot more trekking in Belize to see temples and ruins which turned out to be no more than piles of rocks,” added Celina.

At that, Eirik said nothing. He had never expected walks to be referred to in days and the three years of absolute comfort in the Facility had made him addicted to his sonic shower and comfy bed.  At least the one positive outcome was his newly found admiration for Celina, which had not yet turned to love.  Maybe because he knew deep down that she had taken the risk to come to the Afro Station for a man who had died probably around two centuries before he was even born.

At that rate, Jack estimated that they would reach the location they had provided Johnson the next day at best, just before sunset.  Today, they would be walking about three hours and then have just enough time to make camp using the tarp they had, and make a fire with the wood they were accumulating as they walked.  Finding dry wood in a rain forest was a hard job, but stopping from time to time to collect some of the rare ones they could find would be saving them time at the end of a day’s walk, making sure that they didn’t have to do it in the dark when the horror movie began.

Celina made a map according to the information provided, which showed a path through the dense forest over a river and plains for about twenty more kilometres until they reach a road that would lead them to the Capital.  Eirik was the least accustomed to the stifling humidity.  Each hour of walking felt like being in a sauna, dressed in a three-piece suit and doing push-ups.  The ground was vastly uneven, which made every step a chance for a potential ankle injury.  From the top of the tree it had looked easier, but with all the rocks and mounts, the route was far from straight.  Jack had soon realized that the plan to reach their destination at the end of the next day’s march was becoming more and more unlikely.  They had started too late for that and the terrain was much harder than expected.  At least the temperature was warm, so they could make do without a shelter if needed. Jack and Celina had already discussed that possibility and agreed that all they needed was a platform far enough from the ground to stay away from most of the creepy-crawlies, and a campfire to warn off potential predators.

Celina was the first to propose to stop, noticing the sun’s position and because she spotted an area that she felt was suitable.  The trees were far apart enough to afford them some visibility all around, after the GPS was opened and got its bearings.  To Eirik’s great disappointment, they had only traveled four of the twenty-one kilometres to their first waypoint, which Jack and Celina, both accustomed to the outdoors, felt was a good pace for a few hours of walking in the thick jungle.  Tomorrow would be much better because the map was now showing a river bed and that was faster and easier to follow.

The first thing Eirik did before even taking a minute to drink or eat was to kneel down, grabbed the second storage unit, and selected the only square on the small screen labeled biomaterial, which also indicated the battery life, 88 percent.  Just as Philie had disappeared, she had just reappeared sitting in front of the device, her head down, her large ears in front of her face, shaking a little as the tingling sensation associated with Builders’ sonic showers and transporters frightened her. He called her to come and she immediately undserstood that everything was alright.  As she approached him, her wet nose was in the air, sniffing and waiting politely to be dismissed and when he did, she made a dash for the nearest tree and started her sniffing journey from there, always remaining within five metres of the camp.

The platform was quickly made using the local branches and flora as padding and before long, the night came with all the noises it brought with it. All four were on the platform, Philie being the only one busy helping getting rid of the protein-rich beetles and forest grubs, and the rest trying to sleep.

Morning came too quickly for everyone.  A thunderstorm raged for a few long minutes in the middle of the night, which luckily, they had been protected from by the tarp that Jack had insisted on placing over their heads.  Eirik, noticing that the dog was still fast asleep, took the opportunity to return her into the storage for the rest of the day.  Although he appreciated the company at night, he didn’t want to expose her to the risk of a full day of trekking.

The second day of their march was particularly boring for all of them and Eirik thought that Philie was the lucky one in that adventure.  Once you saw a kilometre of rainforest, you had seen them all.  Although at night he could hear monkeys and about a hundred more things he was unable to identify, during the day, very few living things could be seen and not many could be heard except for several birds and the occasional monkey groups engaged in the same petty problems as the humans in this country:  Territorial disputes, females, and clan politics.  Celina once stopped to point at a snake the size of her arm and told them that it was harmless, but likely tasty.  Jack once thought of taking the glasses to see if he could identify plants of worth, like perhaps a soft and non-poisonous leaf, for when they would run out of toilet paper.  Celina looked at her GPS more often as they approached the location where they planned to bury the communication device and record the supposed location of the exit of the Afro-Station, hidden hopefully forever, or at least until they figured a way to export their equipment out of the country.  That idea, at this point, seemed as likely as being swept away by a snow avalanche.

With the new location on paper, about two more days of walking to reach a road that Johnson had described as “decently well-traveled,” and with more than three hours of daylight, they decided to put some distance between them and their alleged starting point before making camp—a camp which Jack promised would be more protected from the creepy-crawlies that Eirik hated more than the stifling heat.

They fell asleep, completely exhausted.  This time, the black tarp covered the entire elevated A-frame shelter.  That took care of the insects, but increased the temperature to a point where it had to be opened in the middle of the night to let cool air in. At that moment, Jack moved the tarp aside for a second time this night, and heard noises that he recognized as human. The cracking sound of vegetation under heavy boots was his first clue, but the whispers in the dark confirmed it.  Taking the Builders’ glasses from his fatigue pants, he placed them on his nose and looked in the direction of the noise.  At first, he didn’t see anything in the distance, then his field of view gradually shifted colour from green to blue as he focused his gaze at the distance.  Thirty-two metres away, the shapes of three men appeared, all in red, their heat signature clearly distinctive against the cooler background of the forest.  In their hand he could see long bright blue shapes, definitely cooler than anything around them.  The strange shapes started to be highlighted and outlined in a faint yellow glow as he focused on them, as rows of text streamed at the corner of his peripheral vision.  A light machine gun, he thought to himself, as he gauged the general shape of one of the highlighted items that he was staring at.  He placed his hand on the side of his head and touched the glasses in an attempt to read the text that was appearing in front of him, but the text disappeared in an instant when the abrupt movement of his eyes made the glasses lose their target.  He soon reacquired them as he refocused his gaze on the three individuals and the outlines of their bodies were again highlighted.  He found that he can zoom in mentally as he focused and perused his targets, the device actually highlighting up to three different targets at once.  He noted the unusual shape that was clearly delineated by the highlight on his subjects’ heads; these showed up as blue cones that jutted out of the red, round shape of their heads.  Without looking at the text that comes with the digital outline, Jack instinctively concluded that they were wearing mounted night vision goggles.

As he zoomed back out and checked on his sleeping companions, a cold numbing fear gripped him.  He couldn’t take the chances of waking them, for fear of them making noise.  He couldn’t go back to sleep either.  Only a few hours remained until dawn and he decided to remain awake and stand guard.  He stayed uncomfortably seated, looking at the group of three men walk away from them, but he could somehow hear them whisper among themselves and caught a few words.  Startled by the sudden development, he removed the glasses and the whispers came to an end.  He stared at the glasses in his hand for a few seconds, but couldn’t see much in the dark and he replaced them on his nose and ears again.  When he turned to look around, the display had indicated no trace of the men, and he couldn’t hear or see them anymore.

Celina, like always, was the first to get up.  Jack brought her up to speed on the night’s event. Their talk woke Eirik up and Jack had to repeat the story to him while Celina went to perform her morning routine, a little more mindful of her environment.  They all agreed that Jack had done the right thing not to reveal himself, despite the fact that these men looked professional, definitely army type and spoke English.  He had been right not to make their presence known to them. During all their conversations with Norway, neither Johnson nor anyone else in the support team had mentioned they had people on the ground in Africa looking for them yet.  Knowing what was buried almost two days’ march from their current location, they felt that seeing a group of heavily armed men in the middle of the night was terrifying.

“Do you think they know we are here?” asked Celina as she ate her morning ration of MRE.

“No, I don’t think so.  Lucky for us, the fire had died out before they came into visual range.  I didn’t see them look in our direction after I spotted them and doubt if they noticed us first.  The way they moved in the dark with night vision in the jungle effortlessly, the way they held their weapons and walked in an even-spaced formation, people like that would have taken advantage of the element of surprise, not wait for us to be on our guard,” put forth Jack.

“How do you think they came in?” asked Eirik. “Parachuted down?”

“No clue.  They could have been here as part of a military presence in the area or dispatched anytime in the past few days to find us,” Jack speculated. “But, I’m pretty sure they are not here on a hunting safari, not with the gear they had.”

“What can we do?” asked Eirik next. “I mean, we have to get out of here, but how?”

“I had three hours to think about it and regret not taking the time to study more about the Builders’ tech we buried.  Damn, these have night vision and thermal capabilities, not to mention optical target identification and sound amplification, and God knows what else.  We could have taken more stuff with us that could have helped.  Now, we have almost nothing,” snapped Jack, clearly upset.

“Maybe we should go back,” said Eirik.

“We can’t.  If they are as good as you said, Jack, they likely can track us all the way to our stash,” said Celina.

“My thoughts exactly; it’s too late now.  I’m sure they don’t know where we started from because the ground was hard and it rained two times since we left. That will make tracking us almost impossible.  Also, we were careful enough not to disturb too much vegetation.  That will help us, too.  We have food and water, so we don’t have to stop for hunting and gathering. We can just head out straight but no longer on the path we discussed with Johnson,” said Jack.

“You think he knows?” asked Eirik.

“Well, someone fucking knows we are here.  That project is all about reports and logs, all that shit getting carried by divers to the barracks, read and analyzed and retransmitted around the globe,” explained Jack. “Besides, they know the implication of being able to take stuff out.  Scores of people have done nothing else since they learned of the Facility.  They know that it’s possible since Fangs’ first plastic container and FastCom went through, you can bet your shirt on it.”

“At least you have a gun and military training,” Eirik interrupted again.

“Bullshit.  I have nothing.  My military time was fifteen years ago, and I have never seen so much as a mugging since I left the army.  Even if I was an active soldier, all I have is a gun with thirty rounds, that’s all.  The rifles they had seemed rather long and thick to me, and the ends of the barrels were rather huge. I can’t be sure; these were likely noise suppressors,” concluded Jack, seeing the look of incomprehension on Eirik’s face.  “A silencer, if you prefer.”

Eirik nodded.  “I think the glasses have records embedded in them.  I managed to access a database that listed the names of a lot of items when I used them a few days ago.  Before I was healed, I had a lot of time on my hands to play with them, especially when everything turned to English for me,” said Eirik.  “I can take a look while you eat.  I’m not hungry.”

Jack didn’t think twice and cracked open a chicken-and-rice MRE, and sat down to eat.  Celina had almost finished repacking everything when Eirik swore loudly and immediately placed his hand in front of his mouth upon noticing his mistake. Jack, surprised at the outburst, looked at his friend with eyes that said it all.  “What’s wrong?”

“You were right that they were Americans and wrong about the gear,” said Eirik, as he continued staring at a dark tree in front of him to get a better contrast with the yellow text scrolling in front of his eyes.  “The two men at the front had Colt 9mm SMGs with noise suppressors and the third one had an M249 gas-operated and air-cooled, quick-change barrel machine gun, whatever that is.”

“I’m not too familiar with the M249, but I know it is serious shit and the SMG, that’s what I was trained on. It is like an M-16, like the ones you see in Vietnam movies.  Anything else?” pressed Jack.

“Loads. They all had SOC Forces .45 pistols and something Ka-Bar, but it looks like a knife.”

“Yeah, it is a special operation forces knife and so is the .45, too. These guys are Marines Special Forces.  I can’t take down one, I’m sure. So, three of them, no way.”

“Their third generation night visions were likely as good as the glasses you wear now to see in the dark and you can’t be blinded with them like the old ones.  A chip makes sure to reduce the light input in the tubes before it happens, so no using a flashlight to blind the guy and shooting him like in the movies anymore,” concluded Jack, thinking that he wouldn’t even try it if he could.

“Then, that’s easy.  Let’s go with Sun Tzu,” offered Celina.

If your enemy is inferior, attack with confidence.  If equal, find an advantage and fight.  If superior, retreat. That’s the one?” asked Jack.

“Not really Sun Tzu’s exact words, but close enough. I was actually thinking of Know thy self, know thy enemy and of a thousand battles, a thousand victories be the result.”

“Okay, so let’s run for our lives!” proposed Eirik nervously, handing back the glasses to Jack and getting up, waiting for someone to take the lead.

The sun was at midday height by the time they found a good enough vantage point where they could risk climbing another tree and see if they could guess in what direction to go next. They were supposed to head north-west but, with a potential team of enemies possibly knowing the direction they would take, finding an alternative was on everyone’s mind. Again, Celina, after showing some expertise in climbing the first tree, prepared to climb this one—a large tree of about ten metres high with its trunk twisted almost all the way to the top. The first branches were high, but the twisted trunk afforded her good grip, so she made it quickly to the thinning summit.  To the naked eye, the view was good.  They were still surrounded by forest, but when she put the glasses on, everything changed.  To the north, a thin blue line appeared and she could see, as she zoomed in, a red object going slowly along it from west to east.  She then dialed up the description system that Jack had almost turned off, because the little yellow square was moving all over the place, identifying plants, animals, and insects that he couldn’t even see.  Zoomed to their maximum, the glasses now indicated that the line was composed of literate soil, which it referred as rich in iron and aluminum.  Celina was uniquely qualified to understand that riddle, having studied the history of road building from the Roman time all the way to today.

“It could only be a dirt road,” she concluded, before climbing down.

“We head north.  No choice.”

“Any sign of my trio of butchers?”

“Nothing,” said Celina, starting the march with Jack and Eirik in tow.

Like the morning, the rest of the day passed more slowly than the last two days, primarily because of the lack of meaningful conversations.  With the potential threat of armed soldiers added to the mix, it increased their overall level of stress and decreased the desire to engage in small talks.  Night was soon upon them and, with it, the need to make another shelter.  This time, Jack’s focus had been more on using branches and leaves to break their outline rather than for comfort and rain proofing. They also decided to take turns sleeping in order to keep watch, wearing the glasses on thermal mode, which seemed to be automatic when activities were recorded under low-light conditions.  It was about three in the morning when Celina was awakened by Eirik, who had been fighting to keep his brain busy since he took his post at midnight.  He wasn’t sure if he fell asleep or not, but he felt rested and his mind was alert.

Celina was tired but not sleepy, a state of being which she had never managed to explain to anyone. The dawn was still four hours away.  She took comfort in the fact that the road she had seen would be reached by noon, with any luck, and that she would be sitting in a car or at the back of a dirty truck for the rest of the trip to town.  They had a lot of money to ensure that.  Most of it was replicated, but who would ever know?  They also had gold, which should be enough for them to barter for a crappy car or a pair of mules, she thought, laughing to herself alone in the dark.

The light seemed never to come when Jack woke up and joined her on the watch.

“I know you and Eirik are like brothers, no offense to both of you, but he is not cut out for this.”

“Nah, I can see that too.  He is looking tall and fit, but that doesn’t mean he can handle himself in real fight.” Jack yawned.

“These soldiers you saw, if we are evenly fit to walk in this terrain, we can stay in front of them and we will be fine,” said Celina.

Jack shook his head at the statement. “This is assuming that they are not in front of us already, and that they don’t know trails, shortcuts or have support from other groups or military hardware like helicopters.  If we can get to that route, we might be able to get away–unless they have local assistance, which mean we’ll get fucked at the airport anyway.”

“Fear for breakfast, thanks,” added Celina sarcastically.

Jack didn’t comment further and just poured water in his MRE.

“It is possible that we buried the solution to our problems with the rest of the Builders’ equipment.”

“Then, we should have taken more time to study the equipment and planned better, but we were all eager to leave as fast as possible.  Anyway, there is no way to know if waiting and studying the equipment could have helped us or not.  Maybe we could have ended up trapped in a cave with only one exit.”

“True,” acknowledged Celina, dismissing the thought with her hand.  “Screwed either way, isn’t it?”

“We will see.  But it is true that it doesn’t look good.  It’s the same for a pilot crashing behind enemy lines, but the difference is that we have an amazing piece of gear,” said Jack, pointing to the glasses.  “We also have plenty of food and water.”

“But a crashed pilot would have the training,” countered Celina.

“I have a good part of that training and you are amazing, too,” replied Jack, trying to sound positive.

“Cruising my girlfriend now?” asked Eirik, lying on his sleeping bag, his eyes still closed.

“Time to go!” said Celina as she stepped off the platform to go and take care of her morning routine.

“We’ll have a problem with the dog soon.  The power is about fifty percent now.  That’s like no more than two days.  Maybe three, if I can take her out a little more,” said Eirik as he looked at the device.

“Not yet,” replied Jack. “I love that dog, but we can’t take a chance with these people after us.”

“Okay, but is it possible that they are here to help?” asked Eirik, half knowing the answer.

“If they were, don’t you think that Johnson would have told us?” answered Jack, with a look of incredulity and that concluded the discussion.  When Celina returned, they left at once.

They made relatively good progress and Celina had seen no sign of their pursuers.  She was making good use of the glasses.  It taught her a lot about the surrounding vegetation and the occasional animals that came into view until she was stopped by Jack, who had placed his hand on her shoulder.  As she turned, she saw that he had his index finger on his lips, after which he discreetly pointed to the left.  It took her a few seconds to see it. The trees on the left were clearly wider apart and the vegetation much less dense than where they were currently treading. It was a path, a faster way out of the jungle in the direction of their travels, and she turned toward it instinctively, but was still being rooted in place by Jack’s hand.

“My instinct tells me to take it, because it will be faster and much less of an effort.  On the other hand, a well-travelled path is much more likely to be ambushed.  However, we are making so much noise with all the cracking of branches and swishing of the machete that people are likely to hear us from miles,” said Jack.

“So, we use the path?” she concluded.  “The glasses should help a lot in this case. I can take the lead if you want.”

Jack nodded, his decision finally made. “If you want,” he said, looking at Eirik for approval.

Without waiting for the guys to make a decision, she broke left and, with less than three steps, she was now firmly on the path on both feet.  At first glance, she noticed that the path was slightly winding from side to side, but soon they were making four times the speed. Using the compass of the satellite phone, she estimated that it ran almost due north.  Jack was sure that the trail had not been used since the last rain at least—maybe more, he hoped.  The dirt was well compressed and their boots didn’t leave too much of an imprint. It started wide enough and abruptly widened to easily accommodate two people walking abreast.  Jack, walking behind, was using the glasses to monitor their surroundings, noticing that it was clearly maintained, but by whom and for what purpose, they had no idea.

They walked for almost two hours, Celina still running point.  Jack was closing the march with the GPS in hand and was trying to figure out where they were in relation to the road Celina had seen in the morning.  As he lifted his eyes from the monochrome LCD, he noticed that something wasn’t right, but his training had been too little and too long ago to realize it on time.  A small path was diverging to the woods on the right and returning to the main trail less than three metres after.  Celina also noticed the path but paid no attention to it.  Before anyone had time to react, they heard a series of cracking noises.  Her body tilted forward as the ground gave way beneath her and she dropped half a metre on her knees, then fell forward on her chest, head and arms flat on the dirt road, and she was now crying in agony.

Eirik was the first to rush to her.  The hole was now completely exposed.  It was covered with branches, either broken or dispersed outward.  Both of her legs were pierced by sharpened sticks driven in the ground and pointed upward.  He could also see that almost all the sticks were dirtied by what looked like mud and as far as he could tell, three of the sticks had injured her, two in the left tibia and one in her right thigh, a mere centimetre above the knee. Jack, for his part, managed to remain calm and had taken a few extra seconds to examine the surroundings for additional traps or people, but the infrared revealed nothing bigger than some monkeys high in the trees.  He took a second to look at Celina’s wounds and was shocked by the yellow text that had appeared in warning in front of his eyes.  Removing the glasses, he knelt next to Eirik, who was now trying to comfort her.  She had already stopped yelling despite the pain and tried to remain stationary as best as she could.

“We can’t lift her yet.  If the sticks have touched any arteries, removing them may induce massive bleeding,” said Jack.  “Celina, we will have to cut the sticks one by one and then place you on your back, okay?”  But all he got was a loud moan.

Surprisingly, none of the sticks had broken and it took almost fifteen minutes to cut all three with a hand saw.  Jack had even taken the time to put surgical gloves from the first aid kit, fearing something that he had not yet told Eirik, but that Celina already knew, despite her mental condition and the extra pain generated by each back-and-forth movement of the saw. They regretted not taking the Builders’ laser knife, but it was too late for regrets.  Eirik had already given her pain killers, but the mild codeine pills would take a while to take effect, if they did at all.

As the last stick was finally cut, they turned her around and placed her on the ground.  Jack raised her head and looked down at her wound.  She had not passed out, but she was sure it would come; she felt it creeping on her.  As Celina let her head fall back, she mentioned the only thing she had thought since she went through the trap, “Fucking VC and their Punji sticks.”

“Not exactly,” corrected Jack.  “It’s not made of bamboo and the bastards who planted them are not Viet Cong.”

“But it’s the same shit, isn’t it?” pursued Celina, not needing a history lesson.

“No, it’s not.  It’s only dirt, not human feces,” Jack lied.  “If we can remove the sticks without too much blood, you should be okay and not go septic.”

“I don’t get it, but it doesn’t matter.  What should we do now?” said Eirik, holding Celina’s hand.

“We have to remove the sticks one at a time and apply pressure to prevent excess bleeding.  I’m attaching that rope to your thigh so I can slow the blood flow if it gets bad. Eirik, make sure it is tight but not too much. I don’t want to stop the flow completely, if I don’t have to,” said Jack.  “Ready?”

“No, but we don’t have a choice.  Too bad the gadget can only make water and not whiskey.  I could use a drink right about–aaaaaahhh!” yelled Celina, interrupted by pain so intense that it reverberated all the way to her teeth, as the first stick was removed.

“Add pressure!” yelled Jack. “Fuck, it’s bleeding a lot.  The thigh has a lot of large blood vessels.”

“One big one,” said Celina, the reality of the situation dawning on her.  “Damn, a path to contour a trap!  Could there be something more obvious than that?  Hell, a giant flashing billboard wouldn’t have been clearer!”  She bitterly thought, all these years studying ancient battles and guerrilla warfare had gone wasted in the real world.

“So long as he keeps the pressure, you will be okay,” said Jack, convincingly enough to make Eirik believe it.  “I’ll leave the other two in for now. Your left leg is not bleeding at all for the moment.”

“We have the medical device with us! That should work,” exclaimed Eirik, as he held the makeshift tourniquet with one hand and took the storage device in the other, passing it to Jack.

“It’s the second icon,” Eirik pointed to the second square on the thin black pad.  Jack pressed it and the MARS rematerialized on the ground.

Celina was now barely conscious and was trying to tell Eirik something, but even as he lowered his ear close to her mouth, he had a lot of difficulty making out the words she was saying.  It sounded like don’t use with stick, but that made little sense.

“Let me try on the right leg,” said Jack, passing the device over the wound.  “Damn, it doesn’t tell me shit about what to do.  I touched it with my finger and it came on, but then nothing.” Damn, why does the system deny me the use of this tool?

“Jack, it’s not a medical tricorder. It’s more like a syringe!” said Eirik.

Not wanting to place the potentially dirty device on the wound, he placed it on the skin next to it and the display came on and everything appeared in English, like the glasses.  Jack felt relieved and pressed the “Make Repair” button without reading further.  A sharp air-blowing sound, much like the one generated by aerosol cans, was heard and, within seconds, Celina was unconscious.

They debated briefly if they should take the opportunity to remove the two sticks in her left leg or leave them in place to prevent bleeding.  The choice was made simple when Eirik put forth the disturbing image of the device fixing her wound, leaving the stick in the middle of the repaired tissue, believing that it was part of her body.  It was Jack who took the initiative and removed the two sticks one by one while looking for signs of excess bleeding.  He also tried to clean the wounds as much as possible, not trusting the Builders’ technology to do it.

Eirik was still looking at Celina’s face and body which was now relaxed, almost peaceful, when he noticed that the blood that was gushing out of the right leg had stopped.  A moment earlier, it was being pumped out of the body with each heart beat and now it had ceased.  He felt relieved to see that and indicated it to his friend, who was too focused on cleaning the blood and feces from the other leg to notice.

To Eirik’s surprise, what should have been good news sent Jack flying over her body and kneeling next to Celina’s chest, his left hand on her belly and his right ear on her mouth. Not hearing anything, Jack lifted her t-shirt and placed his ear on her bare chest. Then he said it. “Her heart is not beating anymore!”