Status

Recent Statuses

3 mos ago
Current "I HAVE NO BAN AND I MUST CRINGE." Rest in peace to the last of the good men in this world. I will shed a thousand tears and pour a hundred 40s of Olde English.
2 likes
8 mos ago
I know I said I "change my status every year" but it has been three years. So...
2 likes
3 yrs ago
I change my status every year.
3 likes
5 yrs ago
"You went to the Chaplain, who also kicked you out. How do you antagonize a Chaplain?"
1 like
5 yrs ago
Current status: Bumming cigarettes off of a Chilean guy.
3 likes

Bio

I'm Evan and I like hard liquor, trashy EDM, and shooting things. On the side, I dabble in strategic analysis and I have a blast working through logistical planning.

I study nuclear engineering: It's basically a sophisticated counting exercise that usually ends up in two ways depending on if your math is right or not: either water boils or people die horribly.

Most Recent Posts

A collaboration post with @Jeddaven.

Zone Rouge 10, French Guyana

A convoy of two trucks, splattered with mud and red dirt splashed through the rutted roads of an increasingly thick jungle. The first vehicle, taking a turn into a sudden hole, jolted forward and overcorrected. Its front right wheel landed with a heavy thud into a wet pit of mud, before the driver hit the accelerator and floored the engine. With a high-pitched roar, the diesel engine ramped up the acceleration before forcing the wheel out of the hole. Luckily for the troops in the back, a nylon troop strap kept them from falling over the tailgate of the vehicle while they rattled around.

It was another few minutes of arduous driving before the trucks reached their destination: a well-worn turnaround point with the ruts of dozens of previous patrols worn into the soft muddy ground. From each truck a squad dismounted, heavy with the dozens of kilograms of gear they wore. The Legionnaires were not kitted like regular French soldiers, instead wearing powered suits dubbed the Combinaison pour environnement dangereux. The CED, made of advanced thermoplastics and bearing an integral environmental control system, was hardened against the hazards of an Anomalous Zone. Unlike the Legionnaires in Algeria, troops operating in Guyana and overseas expeditions in Vietnamese jungles had to work dismounted. The CED combat suit protected them against most of the Zone’s toxic effects.

“Line up! Final checks!” someone shouted with an air of authority. The last man out of the truck was Adjutant-chef Leon d’Avout, who had affixed his CED suit’s helmet and was now running an internal diagnostics check on his systems. Underneath the motorcycle-like visor on the armored helmet, an eyepiece ran green lines of code down the screen before flashing “ACTIVÉ” and bringing up the navigational, environmental, and health statuses in the corner of his vision. He then keyed the radio in his suit and sent a broadcast to his squad: “Caiman 1, this is Caiman 1-7, I want a radio check.”

In return, he received a sequence of responses from his team. They all affixed their helmets and adjusted the web gear over the top of their CED suits. One by one, Adjutant d’Avout had them hold out their sensitive items. He checked off the list as he went: night vision optics, thermal sights, the long range radio, ammunition and grenades, spare batteries and marking devices, and the NLC artifact cases that two members of the squad wore in lieu of assault bags. D’Avout was professionally efficient, tapping each item with his gloved hand and muttering its name while cross referencing it with the checks he had done before they left. This was only to make sure nothing had fallen out of the back of a truck on the movement.

“Okay, Caiman 1, you’re all set,” he called over the radio. He then switched the channel over to the other squad’s net: “2-7, 1-7: you all ready to step off?”

The other adjutant, a slightly more junior Legionnaire from Niger by the name of Rafini, acknowledged: “Yes, we’re good, call it up.”

D’Avout nodded at him and turned to watch the truck drivers show him thumbs up out of the window. He returned the gesture and waved them off, so they stepped down on the engines and sputtered off. D’Avout was splashed by mud as the trucks sauntered off back down the rugged jungle road they came. Underneath the CED suit, he paid no mind and instead directed the long-range radioman to turn his back and give him the cord. Without an open ear for the handmic, d’Avout had to plug the cord into a special outlet on his own radio receiver to be able to talk. Cumbersome, but necessary until the engineers were able to figure out a better way to coordinate the radios.

“Caiman 6, this is Caiman 1-7. Request to start patrol at 13:42 hours, over.”

The garbled affirmation of his commander came over the radio in reply, distorted by the sound of the jungle. They would need to change the settings once they got further into the Anomalous Zone to increase the power through the radio interference that the NLCs emitted, but that required precious energy. CED suits needed periodic energy charges, which were often dropped by French helicopters for patrols if they stayed out longer than their intended durations. Any extra power requirements, such as running the radios for long periods of time, would put them in dangerously short supply. D’Avout headed to the start of the trail, marked by a handwritten sign warning them that they were about to enter a Zone Rouge, a Red Zone.

“Caiman 1, Caiman 2,” he announced over the local radio, “Move out.”

Zone Vermelho, Amapá, Brazil

"Ah! Listen, Chen! I found the French channel!" Adriano shouted, slapping his desk. The sudden movement shook his radio set, one of the few items of interest in an otherwise barren communications post - and the man behind him, clad in light body armour with a bulky pistol at his hip rushed over to his side soon enough, excitedly leaning down over his comrade's shoulder. A security robot, trundling about the building on a pair of wide, cushioning treads spun about to point its guns at him, only to quickly proceed onwards with a dismissive wave of his hand, a light of its 'face' blinking green in recognition.

“Caiman 1, Caiman 2,” The voice crackled. “Move out.”

"I think I recognize that voice... I've heard it before! Foreign Legion, right?"

Adriano shrugged, noncommittal. "How much time do you spend listening in on Frenchmen to know that, exactly?"

"...Fuck you, Adriano. I spend just as much time here as you do. At least it'll be interesting to listen to, eh? They're heading into Shitville itself, after all." Chen laughed, pulling up a chair.

"I guess." Adriano replied, letting his shoulders slacken. "Poor fuckers. Someone has to do it, though." He continued, slowly ramping up the volume.

Zone Rouge 10, French Guyana

Their trek had gone on for what seemed like hours as they slowly crossed through kilometers of jungle territory. They marched across hills, through streams, and around gigantic jungle trees and ferns. Despite the crippling humidity and heat of the jungle, the French soldiers felt cool and comfortable in the environmental controls of their CED suits. Tubes of water ran across the bodysuit under their armor, chilled by a refrigerator next to the power packs on their backplates. It was a curious comfort that juxtaposed itself with the danger of the Anomalous Zone: one French colonel even called for the Legion to manually disable it on patrols for risk of the troops becoming “too comfortable and complacent.” D’Avout and the rest of the Legionnaires laughed off that armchair warrior’s suggestion.

The pointman had been hacking away at the jungle overgrowth with a machete when he noticed a curious lightness to the blade he had just been struggling with. “Mon adjutant!” he called out over the intercom. “I think we’re close!”

D’Avout called the patrol to halt and kneeled down to the ground. The others in the patrol followed, finding pieces of cover and settling down into their short halt. The patrol leader jogged through the path that the pointman had slashed through the bush, finally arriving at the soldier in front. He had let go of his machete and was allowing it to float curiously out of his hand. The handle remained tied by a piece of paracord to a carabiner on the Legionnaire’s webbing: standard procedure for securing small objects around the gravitational anomalies. D’Avout nodded at him, and the pointman crept his way through the ferns until they arrived at the edge of the jungle.

Ahead of them was a scene they had seen many times, but it was no less awe inspiring. Many years ago, a mysterious explosion had created a crater deep within the Guyanese jungle and shot pieces of earth into the air. The crater spanned almost two kilometers from edge to edge, and burrowed deep into the rocky ground. But atop the carnage, dozens of chunks of rocks ranging from boulders to small islands hung suspended in the air, as if by magic. The jungle had been cleared away by the blast and seemed unable to reclaim the dead and rocky ground surrounding the anomaly. It was the epicenter of their zone, and a place they could only travel to in small groups. Any attempt at flying in heavy machinery to exploit the phenomena here resulted in lost aircraft or malfunctioning technologies.

“Caiman 2,” d’Avout called into his radio, “We’ve reached the recovery area. I am requesting a frontline trace of your location, over.”

Caiman 2 could barely be heard over the static and interference. Radio chatter barely went a few hundred meters before it was cut out by the trees and jungle. They didn’t even dare take the radios into the crater, fearing they would be totally destroyed by whatever interference damaged the sensitive electrical components. “Caiman 1, -2. We are arriv- -east side- -rater now. Will confirm - sual identific-. Stand by.”

Caiman acknowledged, taking a knee by the pointman. He scanned the blue skies and rocky terrain of the crater: it never failed to remind him of a surrealist version of the moon where the sky had been swapped with the earth’s. Through his intercom, he urged his patrol to move forward. They did, walking out through the jungle in awe at the scene ahead of them: in an orderly line, they formed a circle around d’Avout and similarly crouched down to face outwards. Within moments, a series of small figures appeared far away on the east side of the crater almost mirroring the actions of Caiman 1. A red flare shot out directly overhead of their position, arcing into the sky and shining bright against the clear daylight.

D’Avout smiled underneath his CED suit’s darkened visor and withdrew a flare gun from a pouch on his own webbing. The bright orange pistol looked like a toy in the bulky glove of his hand. He pointed it to the sky and pressed down on the trigger, shooting a shining green reply with a dull popping sound. He called the patrol up to their feet and got them to work. “Alright, recovery personnel, take your sections and head in. We’re looking for those glowing rocks again. Remember the objective, each of you will be gathering at least fifty kilograms of samples in your protective cases. We’ll make it out with quite the haul today.”

Two of the Legionnaires jogged up and dropped the toughboxes off of their backs to the ground. They opened up the NLC artifact cases with a series of hinges and locks along the side and opened them up. “One man pulls security while three carry rocks. Keep your weapons slung!” d’Avout ordered. “I’ll be weighing the boxes with my scale before we go, so no slacking,” he further deadpanned. From a pouch on his thigh armor, the patrol leader withdrew a simple hanging scale like the one used to weigh a big catch on an offshore fishing trip.

They were tasked, simply, to acquire a certain amount of NLC-laced rocks to examine their properties in a lab. As the missions continued, the Legionnaires became quite adept at carrying large loads over long distances: the exoskeleton embedded within the CED suit helped quite a bit. The fact that fifty kilograms of NLC compound exerted a slight gravitational anomaly on the wearer’s back was also a lifesaver for the troops. In fact, many prefered to carry a case with fifty kilograms of rock over a standard pack: it felt like it was only twenty.

“Time on target is thirty minutes. Let’s go!”

Zone Vermelho, Amapá, Brazil

“Those sons-of-mothers...” Chen whistled, leaning back so far in his chair that it nearly toppled over. Adriano did nothing to stop him, aside from an admonishing sidelong glance, enough to startle his comrade into awkwardly righting himself.

“Did you hear that static before they dropped out? I wonder what did it.” Chen continued, his query met with an exaggerated shrug from Adriano.

“Who knows, these days. Could be an irregular lightning storm, some freak electrical anomaly... Maybe even one of those antigrav anomalies the eggheads have been scouring the whole fucking jungle for.”

“Some, uh... Faster-than-light bullshit?” Chen asked.

Adriano nodded, folding his arms over his chest. “It’s like magic, from what everyone’s been saying. Not really even moving faster than light, eh? You move the, uh... The void around the ship and kind of drag it along.”

“Sounds like... I don’t even know what that sounds like. I don’t understand it.”

“I don’t either.” Adriano laughed, shaking his head. With a grunt, he began to push himself up from his seat, stretching his arms high above his head. “...Well, it’s probably going to be a while before the Frenchmen get back into radio range, yeah? I’m going to go get us a couple coffees.”

“I’ll let you know if anything goes horribly wrong, I guess.”

Zone Rouge 10, French Guyana

Collecting rocks was a physical event, only made harder by the bulky nature of the CED suits worn. Despite their environmental protection, the protective gear handled picking up and manipulating objects like winter mittens. Oftentimes bending over or squatting to pick up a heavy piece of NLC-infused rock was a struggle, not only ergonomically but mechanically as well. The powered exoskeletons’ servos whirred and whined as the Legionnaires picked up rocks and carried them to the collection point. Some of them were too large to fit in the cases, so one of the troops was tasked with breaking it down with a sledgehammer he carried on his back. As he hit the rock into smaller pieces, traces of gas exited the porous insides: they could only hope the air filters could block it out.

It took just under the thirty minute target for the Legionnaires to collect the rocks. The carriers, nicknamed les chevaux by their peers for their ability to carry large loads long distances, had the cases placed on their backs and took up a position in the middle of their formation. D’Avout had been supervising the process and checked the time displayed within his helmet. The timer had counted down to zero, and he withdrew his trusty flare gun again and removed a shell from a nearby pouch. He popped the break-action pistol open with the smoothness of an actor and inserted the blue-ringed flare. His communication to the other team was instantly recognizable: a blue flare soared across the sky.

Already in movement order, the Legionnaires departed the objective. None of them looked back upon the otherworldly scene far more fitting to an alien world than Earth: they had seen it all before, many times. All they could do was put one foot in front of the other and return home. They marched for another hour through the jungle, through the path that they had cleared on the way in. The day turned to dusk, and soon enough the Legionnaires found themselves in darkness. It was the most difficult part of the day for the men as they switched on the sickly green scopes of their night-vision devices. Looking through a narrow tube with no depth perception, they trudged more carefully.

They were upon the patrol before the soldiers could even react. One significant downside to the CED suit was that the exterior audio collection was never as sensitive as the human ear. A young Legionnaire by the name of Dimitri Zabrowski was first: at the rear of the patrol, he simply disappeared into the shadows. The man in front of him turned his head to look at where a garbled thumb had come from, and found only a trail of blood. “Halt! Halt!” he called over the squad intercom. Instantly, everyone stopped and faced outwards into the jungle.

D’Avout turned his head just enough to see a dark shape lunge forward from the shadows and knock him to his back. He shouted, hitting the ground with a painful thud while he wrestled with the figure atop him. Instinctively, he swung a pugilistic hook at the thing pinning him to the jungle floor and made contact. The opponent, an animal of some kind, fell to the ground and d’Avout spun away while reaching for the sidearm buried deep in a holster along his thigh. While he fumbled for the safety release on the flap, he saw what he feared: a jaguar, colored sickly green, with muscles rippling grotesquely along its rotting hide and fur. The predator stared at him with eyes of sheer hunger, bloodstained teeth bared.

D’Avout pushed his hand out as the creature lunged at him again, colliding with the jaguar and blunting its advance. His right hand made purchase on the holster’s flap and he withdrew a revolver to point in its face. There was no hesitation as he fired off three shots, each one impacting the jaguar’s face and blowing it clean off. Greenish-red blood and brains splattered across his CED suit. To his left, d’Avout saw another one of the mutants clawing into the softly-armored undersuit of a Legionnaire’s belly. He pointed his handgun at the scene, firing wildly into the brush. No hit, but the jaguar turned its attention to the shooter. Leaving its prey, it came to attack the now-kneeling squad leader.

D’Avout was ready for this one: he took the jaguar in stride as it pounced on him, knocking into its face with his powered fist. The animal collapsed to its side, scrambling to recover from the haymaker until d’Avout turned the tables on it instead. The Frenchman fell right on top of the mutant predator, wrestling with it until he got his hands around its head. D’Avout squeezed, his servos providing all the pressure he needed to crush the jaguar’s head into a bloody pulp between his palms.

Now momentarily able to stand up, d’Avout reached for the bullpup rifle that had been slung to his back during the initial ambush. As he engaged it in his hands, the pointman in front of him concluded his own duel with a mutant: similarly unable to reach his weapon, the man had disemboweled a jaguar in mid-leap with the machete tied to his webbing. An arc of blood and entrails landed onto the jungle floor as the creature yelped and flailed. Gunshots were now starting to echo throughout the jungle as the Legionnaires shot at the moving silhouettes in the jungle. D’Avout scrambled towards the bloody figure who was laying on the ground clutching his stomach, desperate to find the victim. It was his radio operator, mortally wounded and shakily attempting to apply a self-aid sealant bandage to his wound. “Goddammit, goddammit,” he cried over the intercom.

“I need your radio!” d’Avout shouted into his mic as he grabbed the connector cable from the manpack radio on his back. He put his hand on the radioman’s shoulder as he plugged in, as if that could comfort him from the severe bleeding. D’Avout wasn’t sure if the man could even feel his gesture through the thick shoulder armor plates of the CED suit. He called up on the radio regardless: “2, this is 1! We’ve been hit… We need help!”

There was no reply. “2!” shouted d’Avout, keying the radio with an aggressively white-knuckled grip, “Where the fuck are you?”

Around him, the sounds of chaos could be heard even in the CED suits. Gunfire and shouts over the radio. Wounded men, perhaps Zabrowski, were screaming on the radio. D’Avout ordered his team leaders to find out what was going on and consolidate into a circle. The patrol medic was now able to take a break and look at the casualties around him: slashes, bites, gored organs, but most importantly the contamination seeping slowly but surely into fresh wounds. His aid bag was ripped open on the dirt of the jungle, bandages and tourniquets ready to administer followed by autoinjectors of morphine and NLC poisoning antidotes.

The patrol leader fumbled again for the maps in his pouches to determine what was going on. It was an overflow of information: the laminated map of the jungle, stained with blood. The readout on his wrist that displayed an eight-digit positioning coordinate derived from a constellation of French global positioning satellites far above the ground. A protractor that guided him to the exact point in their lone grid square. A black dry-erase marker that marked their exact position. A quick calculation of how many kilometers they were from their evacuation point.

They were alone and too far away. The predators in the dark were only becoming more numerous as the fauna of the jungle sought their prey. D’Avout keyed in the radio again, crying simply: “Any station this net, who’s out there?"

Zone Vermelho, Amapá, Brazil

Adriano nearly jumped out of his chair at the sound of the voice, scrambling to put on his headset. The Frenchmen had been quiet for quite some time - had something gone wrong?

"This is Outpost Sete." He said, in heavily Portuguese-accented English. "We are hearing you loud and clear."

Zone Rouge 10, French Guyana

Mon Dieu! Dieu merci!” exclaimed d’Avout to himself, hearing the garbled voice of someone. They spoke English. He composed himself and ducked down his head while another rumble of automatic fire sprayed across the defensive circle. Someone had stood up, holding his belt-fed squad automatic weapon by the carry handle, and shot a burst of fire into the bushes just meters ahead of them. A creature yowled in pain in the distance - the bushes rippled as a mutant took off in a dead sprint. The patrol leader struggled to think who could be speaking to them in English as a grenade’s explosion washed over him with pressure that felt like being punched in the face.

He came to the conclusion: the Brazilians. They were fifty kilometers from the border. Somehow their radio signals were coming in clearer than their home base’s. “Outpost… Sete?” he said, trying to acknowledge their call sign. He thought he had the right one, but it was hard to tell through all the fighting. “We are a French Foreign Legion element located at…” he checked his notes on the map, slowing his voice down to a slow and methodical chant of the grid coordinates: “Charlie Kilo… Four-two-two-one, Three-six-six-one.”

He struggled to remember the English word for a break in the message. It had been a long time since NATO had resolved itself into OTAN, swapping the primacy of English for French. His grasp of the language was rudimentary at best. He didn’t even know what the medical evacuation procedure of the Brazilians consisted of. Fearing he would lose Outpost Sete in translation, d’Avout tried the best he could in broken English: “Uh, interruption. We have two hurt. We need evacuation, très rapide. Please respond, over!”

Zone Vermelho, Amapá, Brazil

“Ah, yes, we... Oui! Compris!” Adriano replied. Loudly thumping his fist against his desk, he quickly switched to his native Portuguese, yelling over the din of buzzing jungle insects and electronic equipment.

“Chen! Hey! Forget the fucking coffees!” He barked, abruptly leaping up from his seat, only to be nearly dragged back down to earth by the sudden whiplash of his headset’s cable.

“What is it, Adriano? Are you peeping on the Frenchmen again?” Chen snapped back, stepping back into the monitoring station with an entirely uncaring roll of his eyes. His expression quickly changed, however, the moment he saw the panicked expression on Adriano’s face, ceramic mugs loudly shattering on the ground, spilling hot coffee onto his shins.

Fastening his headset back into place, Adriano did his best to stumble his way through the French tongue. He’d earned a little, but only just enough to stumble through the most basic conversations. “Charlie Kilo, ah... Four-two-two-one, Three-six-six-one. We send, uh... Helicopter, it gets there about... Seven minutes, fast as it can go. Has room for twenty. We have...” He paused, glancing behind him. Chen was already gone, the distant sound of his shouting no doubt rousing the helicopter crews from their bunks.

“Medics!” He barked, letting out a sigh of relief. “We send, ah... Medical workers?"
The stomping of feet alerted Adriano to an approaching column of men. Narrowly managing to push himself to his full height as the helicopter crew stormed through, patting the pilot on the shoulder as he passed by.

"Hey!" He shouted, speaking much more comfortably in his native tongue.

"Try not to crash on the way, eh?"

"Fuck you too, asshole!" Afonso hollered back, making his way to his steed as quickly as his legs could carry him. The helicopter had been purchased from the French little more than a year or two, but was heavily modified to fit the needs of the unreal South American jungle; a pair of miniguns mounted on each side of its vaguely diamond-shaped hull, coupled with a third rear-mounted heavy machinegun and supercharged engines. In anomalous zones, speed and firepower were far more important for Brazilian helicopters than fuel capacity.
Hauling himself into the cockpit, it didn't take long for the rest of Afonso's crew to follow. One by one, they filed into the metal beast - and then, they were off, his copilot firmly settled into place beside him. Pre-flight checks were blown through in far less time than procedure necessitated, but then again, rescuing a squad of Foreign Legionnaires from a mutant horde was hardly a common occurrence. Most of the time, they were just Brazilians.

Outpost Sete quickly began to recede into the distance beneath them, a tiny helicopter landing pad that narrowly managed to double as a landing post. It didn't take long for the insignificant structure to be swallowed up by the seemingly endless expanse of the mutant jungle, the helicopter speeding off into the distance.

For the next several miles, there was little but green, and the cleared section of jungle around the French-Brazilian border. It was night-on impossible for Afonso to distinguish one stretch from the other, aside from the rare break in monotony provided by the occasion half-alien thing scattered here-and-there. In some places, trees simply refused to grow, and for little apparent reason - in others, titanic toadstools displaying all manner of sickly colour took the place of the tree canopy. Minutes passed with little exchanged other than the occasional dry quip, punctuated by a 'fuck you' here and an 'eat shit' there. If not for the urgency of their mission, Afonso questioned if he might fall asleep, and he was certain that Andreia might be thinking the same.

The anomaly, thankfully, was much more difficult to avoid spotting. From quite some distance, he could see boulders and thick clouds of dust hovering in mid-air, in flagrant defiance of what nearly every scientist on earth once thought possible.

Briefly wondering if the French hoped to help Brazil's academics with their barely-comprehensible nonsense, he glanced sidelong at Andreia - with an antigravity anomaly, he'd need to keep all his attention on keeping his helicopter in the air. It'd be her job to direct the gunners.

As they came closer, he had no doubt the Frenchmen could see them approaching. Shortly after they passed a kilometer of distance, Tomas and Maria opened fire - the buzzsaw-like din of twin miniguns cut across the jungle, spewing streams of hot lead in the direction of the inhuman shapes pointed out to them by the helicopter's powerful sensor suite, sweeping along the treeline. The sound of the helicopter's blades slowed to a dull, rhythmic thud as Afonsa brought it ever closer to the treeline, but the reduced noise was quickly replaced by the sound of dozens of wildly firing gun, then the low staccato of the rear-facing heavy machinegun.
Hydraulic rescue lines fell toward the forest floor from one opened door, and from the other came an heavy, metal anchor, smashing through the overgrown canopy to the underbrush below.

Zone Rouge 10, French Guyana

The machinegun fire had been too close for comfort, with dozens of tracer rounds sweeping mere meters away from the French patrol like a laser beam illuminating the ground. Small brush fires in the undergrowth began to ignite, giving light to the scene of French soldiers firing at the mass of mutated creatures. “Okay! We have the helicopter here!” shouted d’Avout through his intercom. “Light up the area! Spark the flares!”

Each Legionnaire maintained a kit of three red flares, much like the ones in a car’s breakdown kit. One after the other, while their colleagues covered them, bright red flames sparked alight and cast ghastly light on the trees and mutants in the distance. Growls and roars echoed throughout the jungle as the shadowplay of animals drew fire from the Legionnaire patrol. They were running low on ammunition, but able to conserve their fire to single shots as the Brazilian helicopter raked the vegetation with their high-powered weapons. Outside the contained environment of the CED suits, the rotorwash of the ever-descending helicopter whipped the trees and leaves around, creating a miniature storm of dirt and loose flora.

Behind the patrol, d’Avout heard the sudden snaps and cracks of breaking branches and a pair of heavy thuds into the ground. He whipped his rifle around and shouldered it, finger on the trigger, only to see two bright yellow anchor-like devices suspended from metal wire ropes connecting to the body of the helicopter above. Each of them had a pair of small seats jutting out the edge. “Get the wounded onto the lifts!” d’Avout shouted frantically as he recognized them for what they were: rescue lifts designed to punch through the thick jungle canopies for remote evacuation.

Under the rotorwash and scared off by the light of the flares, the mutant creatures circled hungrily around the perimeter of the patrol. They let out yowls and cries of hunger and raw animalistic ferocity. Legionnaires fired isolated shots into the darkness beyond their newly-safe zone while a man helped the medic drag the two casualties to the lifts. The wounded men clutched their open wounds, the bleeding stymied somewhat by field dressings and tourniquets. Their limp bodies were buckled into the seats on the lifts by the men who were able to hoist them in, and gear was secured to their chests by way of rope and bungee cord. D’Avout waved two troops to accompany them on the lifts.

The four Legionnaires had been buckled in and one flashed a thumbs up to the helicopter above them. A Brazilian crewmember, the dark silhouette of his head poking out through a window in the helicopter, activated a winch that rapidly dragged the lift back up towards the side doors. For the Legionnaires on the lifts, the ground below them rapidly faded into darkness and was quickly obscured by the jungle’s vegetation. Only the flickering light of the rapidly-dimming flares could be seen from the cabin of the massive helicopter.

D’Avout heard the crackling affirmation of the medic aboard the Brazilian aircraft that they had made it, and the lifts were again dropped down to recover the other four on the ground. The flares were dying out and the creatures approached closer, bravely testing the perimeter only to be beaten back by bursts of gunfire. D’Avout was down to his sidearm, firing indiscriminately before being forced to reload. He checked behind him, where the three remaining troops had buckled themselves in and were waiting for him. The patrol leader rushed his way to the lift, dropping down onto the metal seat and reaching for the seatbelt.

He felt a jerk as the lift began to rise up, but not before noticing a figure leaping from the darkness. A mutated leopard came barrelling out of the jungle towards d’Avout, teeth bared in a vicious snarl. Immobilized in the restraints, the Legionnaire did the only thing he could: kick the leopard in the face. The exoskeleton-powered feet came up from underneath the creature’s jaw and connected with the mutant in mid flight. He felt only a little bit of resistance as his armored boot smashed through the skull and brains of the creature. Blood and gore exploded from the leopard’s head, coating d’Avout’s right leg in red: the lifeless body of the mutant landed in a crippled mass below as the lift raced towards the helicopter.

The pair reached the cabin of the helicopter where d’Avout was pulled inwards by his fellow Legionnaires. The man fell backwards onto the deck of the cabin, his CED suit clanking against the aluminum plating. He rolled onto his stomach and took in the scene in front of him: a flight medic wearing a green nomex suit bearing a bright Brazilian flag on his shoulder was treating the two wounded troops in front of him. His other Legionnaires were seated down on either side of the cabin, clutching their weapons. A second Brazilian, her nametag obscured by a gunner’s harness, was crouched down next to d’Avout and trying to get his attention.

“How many more? How many?” she asked, her accent difficult to hear over the whooping of the rotors.

“Eight! Eight!” replied d’Avout through his helmet’s speakers. “Eight more, another patrol. Not with us!”

“Not with you?” the Brazilian asked, concerned tone clearly obvious in her question. Her facial expressions weren’t visible under the flame-retardant hood she wore. “Where?”

“No idea! Find them!” demanded the Legionnaire. He pushed himself off the ground to the sitting position, looking out the back of the ramp. He realized now that he was sitting next to the machinegunner who had been working the area below with heavy caliber automatic fire. He had an idea: still inside his pocket was the flare gun that he had used to get in touch with the second patrol earlier. He had one last shell for it. D’Avout drew it from its pouch, cocked it open, and pressed the last red casing into the breach. He fired it straight out the back of the helicopter, watching it arc across the sky.

A few moments passed before, a few kilometers in the distance, another flare shot straight up in response. The bright red response brought a smile to d’Avout’s helmeted face as he pointed for the Brazilian crewmember. “There!” he said. “Our other men!”

The woman nodded. "Afonso! O sinalizador! Há mais oito deles!" She said, shouting toward the cockpit, through which a pair of pilots could be seen side-by-side.

"Eu vejo eles!" The pilot responded, and the helicopter began to turn, the din of gunfire quieting at it rose into the sky. The woman's name-tag was briefly revealed - Alinha - as she pushed herself back to her feet, scales the greenish colour of the jungle glinting in intermittent patches on her neck. D'Avout barely had time to contemplate the mutant before the helicopter stopped, and down went the jungle penetrators yet again. Even carrying nearly a dozen Legionnaires, the winches barely faltered, if at all. Within seconds, the helicopter was packed full of men in CED suits, though the newest arrivals had thankfully avoided serious injury. Blood lay on the floor in intermittent splatters, but by now, the pair of Brazilian worked more slowly, monitoring the injured, their bleeding stopped by hemostatic bandages and tourniquets.

The machinegunner next to D'Avout slumped as the ramp he was firing out of pulled closed, remaining secure in his harness. His face was hidden behind the visor of his helmet, but his exhaustion, nonetheless, was palpable, his shoulders falling. He offered D'Avout a glance and a nod, but the rest of the ride passed mostly in silence, broken by the occasional briefly friendly conversation in broken English or French between the chopper's occupants; the atmosphere dangerously tense, maintained by briefly icy looks shared by the soldiers. The pilots raced back towards the border, pushing the controls of the helicopter as far as they would go. Yet they noticed something peculiar in the handling, something that had occurred with the arrival of the French soldiers onboard: the helicopter felt like it floated along ever so slightly, the stiffness and the exact control of the instruments replaced with an almost casual responsiveness like a car hydroplaning on a wet road.

Mercifully, however, it didn't last much longer than a handful or two of minutes before the helicopter finally set down, lowering the ramp, a large air ambulance visible waiting on the adjacent helipad. Finally, the gunner next to D'Avout spoke up, pushing himself to his feet.

"Hey!" He said, moving to place a hand on the Frenchman's shoulder, before he was able to leave the chopper. "Glad you guys are all alive, but... Sorry about all the paperwork in advance, eh? Bet this is going to be a bureaucratic nightmare."

D’Avout pressed down on the metal clips that held the helmet attached to the neckpiece of his CED suit and clicked them open. A small hiss of pressurized air escaping from the suit was audible as the helicopter’s blades slowed down and the whine of the engine attenuated. He wiggled the helmet off, revealing a pale, classically handsome face bearing stubble and drenched in sweat despite the best efforts of the environmental cooling system. He smoothed out his long hair, flicking the sweat away onto the floor of the airfield as he watched the Brazilian medics rush stretchers towards the ambulances. “You two!” he barked, pointing towards the Legionnaires who had accompanied the wounded men on the ride. “Secure their weapons and sensitive items and then follow them! Don’t let them leave your sight.”

They nodded, grabbing up the rifles of the wounded soldiers and handing their heavy backpacks of gear over to their colleagues in Caiman 2’s patrol before rushing out the back to flag down the Brazilian medics. D’Avout turned his back to the machinegunner who still stood on the ramp of the helicopter, watching for a moment as the Legionnaires hopped into the compartments and refused to leave their mates.

Mon amis,” he said solemnly as he turned his gaze back to the Brazilian, “I do not care about the paperwork right now.”
Mexico City, Distrito Federal
July, 1955

The morning commute for these employees was just as routine as any other. A bus stopped at its station halfway down the street, outside of the wrought-iron fencing reinforced with brick columns that secured an imposing compound of office buildings. The employees, like most other government men, marched towards the entrance of the gates dressed in drab suits of black, grey, and blue while carrying leather briefcases. They queued on the sidewalk as guards checked their paperwork and badges, another traffic jam in a day full of them. Simple entrance signs next to the guardhouses of the bored policemen displayed the names of their workplace: the Departamento de Investigación Politica y Social.

The DIPS was born from security concerns following the revolution, being descended from Venustiano Carranza’s Sección Primera. Throughout years of name changes and reorganizations, the Sección Primera provided an organized intelligence service to hunt down lingering revolutionaries and insider government threats that showed themselves after the conclusion of Adolfo de la Huerta’s failed 1923 uprising. As the world regained its footing and international relations became a central focus of Mexican government policy, the mission of DIPS expanded to handle the onslaught of challenges. Responses to American border incursions, spy missions in the glitzy embassies of Havana, and rooting out Brazilian economic espionage all became daily activities in the DIPS’s foreign branch.

It was on the fourth floor of the foreign branch’s headquarters where a young man sat some time later in the morning, sullen faced, hands clasped in his lap. He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked down at his half-shined shoes. The sound of typewriters clacking away in the open-aired office in front of him wasn’t enough to drown out the thoughts that swirled around in his brain. His mind, albeit scrambled, formed one coherent message again and again that poked and prodded at his psyche: I fucked up. I really fucked up.

He hated waiting, but this was worse. He had just been bailed out of a Mexico City prison on Saturday night by his supervisor and was called in to report to Arturo Urbano himself, the director of the DIPS Foreign Service. The agent tried to steady himself but still jumped when Director Urbano emerged from the wooden door. “Valdés, Enrique,” Urbano called out sternly, eyeing the young man’s name on an index card. Agent Valdés jumped to his feet, standing straight up to the director. “Yes, sir,” he answered.

“Get your ass in here,” the director barked, stepping back through the door.

Valdés moved quickly, shaking as he stepped inside the office. Urbano had already returned to his massive upholstered chair behind the oak wood desk, staring intently at a printed out record atop a brown personnel file. The door shut, blocking out the typewriters and conversations in the office behind it. Only a ticking clock broke the silence.

“Agent Valdés, what project are you working on?” Urbano asked, eyes never looking up to the anxiety-riddled man in his office.

“The, uh, Jamaica analysis, sir,” stammered Valdés. “Local political factions that would be friendly to us there.”

“I don’t really care about the specifics,” Director Urbano said, putting the paper down. He stared at Valdés from behind a thick mustache. “Did something outstanding happen that I didn’t know about?”

“What, sir?” asked the young agent.

“Outstanding, you know. Cause for celebration. Because it sure looks like you were celebrating,” chastised the director. Before Valdés could respond, he went down the rap sheet in front of him. “Drunk in public, fighting a motherfucker, punching a goddamn cop, and trying to make a getaway in your automobile despite being drunker than a vagrant on the street. And this isn’t the first time this has happened. Your supervisor wants you off the team, and he kicked you all the way up to me. You’re in a shitload of trouble, kid.”

Urbano stood up from the desk, walking around it while still glaring menacingly at Valdés. He opened up a small humidor that sat beside a wooden bookshelf and took a cigar from its top shelf. A small yellow and green Cohiba label wrapped around the thickly rolled tobacco leaves. The director paused to light it, puffing smoke out into the room. Whatever he was doing, if it was a deliberate intimidation tactic or not, Valdés felt like it worked. He had removed his shirt jacket and was now directly in front of the young agent with his hands on his hips, puffing on the cigar.

“I should fire you and let you go get a shit job with the tax office,” he said, shaking his head. “You know how much of a pain in the ass people like you cause me?”

“No, I-”, stuttered the young man, trying his best to stay straight as the director leaned his face forward into his. Despite being shorter in stature, Urbano seemed like he could just as easily snap Valdés’s neck as sign a memo ordering his employment terminated.

“I wasn’t asking,” Urbano cut him off. He looked out towards the city street. Just a few blocks away was the famous Paseo de la Reforma with its fancily-embellished banks, high rises, and offices. He turned back to Valdés: “But you have one saving grace in this department, and that’s purely because God must love you or something.”

Urbano went back to his desk, withdrawing another, thicker folder from a filing cabinet adjacent to his humidor. Like most other documents in the DIPS office, it bore a red “SECRETO” classification stamp. He tossed it onto the desk in front of Valdés where it landed with a heavy thud.

“There were some developments at our Cuban embassy last week, a bunch of ragtag guys have decided that they wanted to take a stab at the Dominicans and Haitians… they call themselves the Guarda Costa of Hispaniola. Whatever the hell that means: I haven’t seen that word in print since my old history textbooks. Here’s everything we know about them. You’re the new project lead.”

Valdés was speechless. His fear turned to confusion, expressed in his face while he restrained his body to keep standing up. Urbano blew a puff of smoke at the agent. “You have questions?” he asked sardonically.

“I, uh, where is the workplace?” was all Valdés could say.

“Your workspace?” snorted Director Urbano. “It’s down in the basement, next to the boiler room. You have a crew of five. All of them are kind of fuckups like you. You’ll get along great. I’ll send you off that way with the deputy to give you your specific orders later. You’re dismissed.”

Valdés hesitated, the urge to click his heels together and salute washing over him. He had spent two years in the service like most men and had been in trouble many times as a young eighteen-year-old. DIPS, however, was nominally civilian even if most of the staff were former military men: there was no rigid procedure like he had to perform in uniform. But he simply nodded, grabbing the folder in front of him and turning for the door. Director Urbano called out his name as he pushed open the heavy door separating the office from the working floor.

“Valdés,” he said. “Just don’t fuck this one up.”
Puebla, Puebla
July, 1955

“We have two weeks until we go to war with the British Empire.”

The company commanders around the table were stunned by the battalion commander’s blunt admission of the situation. They had been called into a briefing, unscheduled by anyone’s staff, with up-to-date readiness reports. Every soldier who had a mild cold was reported up with a timeline for their recovery, every weapon with a spot of rust on the barrel was examined and given an exact time and date it would be cleaned spotless, and every man from colonel to cook had their five-kilometer run time and rifle qualification score mercilessly examined with a foolproof plan to coach them into better shape. Despite the unannounced homework, the paratroopers in the Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas were in mostly good shape.

The meeting let out at seven in the evening, two hours past the five o’clock end of the duty day. Captain Dominic Lopez emerged from the door sipping his cold coffee out of a mug and grabbed one edge of the frame. He leaned forward to stretch out his sore shoulder for a few seconds, then swapped his coffee mug to the other hand and repeated the exercise. Behind him, First Sergeant Antonio Kan crossed his arms and waited for his commander to get out of the doorway before rejoining the officer in the hall. They were the command team of the second battalion’s Compañía A and would be participating directly in the first wave of the planned attack into Belize.

“We’re looking good out there,” Captain Lopez said nonchalantly. “Ever since we got… who was it… Vivanco back from the hospital with his motorcycle crash we are pretty full up on our people.”

The First Sergeant nodded and crossed his arms. His sleeves were rolled to his elbows, revealing the faded tattoos on his forearms, Mayan patterns weaving between depictions of a jaguar and an eagle. With paternal disapproval in his voice, he acknowledged: “Gotta remind that motherfucker to stop racing his motorcycle. If he’s going to get killed, I at least want him leading his squad while he does it.”

Lopez chuckled as he walked to the front entrance of the battalion headquarters building. The unit footprint was set up like a campus, with a battalion building occupying the center with four company buildings to its front. A fifth support company was slightly larger of its own footprint located opposite the line companies, with its own facilities for supply storage and maintenance. Lopez and Kan paused to withdraw their maroon-colored berets from under their shoulder epaulette straps and don them. The paratroopers were uniquely identifiable by their red headgear and purple rank insignia, derived, ironically enough, from British airborne tradition.

The two men walked together on a footpath through the immaculately groomed landscape that had been planted outside of the battalion headquarters. Their sergeant major had been putting the extra duty personnel – those who had gotten in trouble for a variety of things from being late to work or not getting haircuts – to work making the footprint look fit for an aristocrat’s mansion. Little signs, hand-painted by the extra duty soldiers, warned others to stay off the grass. The two men turned the corner to the company office and reached the strip of parking lanes in front where they both had put their automobiles. Cars were becoming increasingly common in Mexico, to the point where most officers and senior non-commissioned officers had owned one.

Captain Lopez’s automobile was a stylish, if slightly older, 1947 Nissan model made for the Mexican export market. The Pionero was the family of Mexican offroad trucks built similarly to the standard-issue jeeps that were driven by Mexican troops. Pulido’s was painted a dull blue with a spare tire strapped to the hood, but had no scrapes or mud marks on it. He always claimed that he was going to go offroading with it eventually, but never actually did. The commander put his coffee mug on the hood and told his First Sergeant to go home as he reached into his glovebox and withdrew a steel cigarette book.

The sun had since dipped below the hills in the distance as he lit a cigarette. His lighter clicked open with a metallic clink and the air was soon filled with the scent of burning tobacco. He watched as First Sergeant Kan turned on his bright red, two-doored sports car, which roared to life with the growl of its V8 engine thrumming through the aluminum body. Its tired squealed as he reversed it out of his parking spot and the transmission changed back into gear: the car hurtled out of the parking lot, almost drifting around the corner to reach the access road that would take Kan back to the housing area. Lopez remained alone, smoking his cigarette as the shadows of dusk encroached on the lone vehicle in the parking lot. He checked his watch, its radium dial faintly glowing in the darkening light, and saw the hand strike eight.

He was quiet at breakfast that morning while his wife fried some eggs for them on the stove. The kids had long since gone to school; Dominic had walked them down to the bus stop near the park where most of the army officers lived in base housing. He had twin sons who had just turned eleven the month prior and were going to a primary school in Puebla. It was a nice district in a nice part of town, the money invested by the well-to-do officers’ taxes probably having something to do with it. He had nodded to the others similarly dropping off their children. His colleagues at work in the other companies had similarly aged children.

His wife set the ceramic plate down with a clink on the scuffed wooden table. They had gotten it from his wife’s family as a wedding present, an old hand-me-down piece of furniture that he had much appreciated as a young Lieutenant. As the years dragged on, Captain Lopez and his family were slowly but surely replacing their older furniture with more high quality pieces: the dining table remained stubbornly sturdy even when couches were ruined by spilled drinks and shelves broke down from a too-heavy item. The pair both prepared their breakfast, a simple meal of huevos rancheros in near silence.

“Is everything alright?” Ana asked, her eyebrow cocked at Dominic.

“Sure. Busy few weeks coming up at work,” her husband answered simply, sipping on coffee in a different mug. This one bore the insignia of the parachutists, a welcome gift from his current company.

“Is that why you were late last night?” she probed further, a sly sense of humor creeping into her voice. “Not chasing skirts at the bar with that First Sergeant of yours, are you?”

“No, nothing like that,” replied Dominic with a perked up tone, playfully swatting his hand in her direction. “Leave Kan alone, he was on his third marriage. I think he needs time to act like he’s twenty again.”

“I thought your big training exercise was in October, did it move up?” Ana said, bringing the topic back on track.

Dominic shrugged and looked Ana in the eye. They had plenty of these talks before. Ana knew what he would say next. She heard it every time before a big operation: “I guess we aren’t doing that anymore, but we have about two weeks to hit the guys hard for something. I can’t really say what now, but you will know sooner or later.”

Ana nodded and pursed her lips in disappointment. “Just two weeks this time?” she asked, almost dejectedly. Her husband, caught in between bites of his breakfast, nodded and swallowed quickly.

“Two busy weeks,” Dominic confirmed, looking down into his coffee. As he spoke, he stood up from the chair and stepped over to the cabinet behind him. High above the counter, he opened the door and withdrew a half-emptied square bottle of gold tequila. “It will be a lot of late nights like that one, maybe a field exercise. But they do want us to at least spend some time with our families before we go.”

He sat back down and unscrewed the cap, splashing a bit of the alcohol into his coffee. He took a sip, the sensation of the liquor coursing through his body and calming his nerves enough to continue eating. Ana laughed at him, shaking her head in mild disapproval. They carried on finishing up their breakfast quickly, Dominic helping place the dishes in the sink before Ana told him to check the time.

His eyes made a pass on the clock hanging from the kitchen wall: it was fifteen to nine, giving him just enough time to get in the car and drive to work. He shrugged again, returning to the jacket that he had draped over the dining chair. He swung it over his shoulder, pushed his arms through the sleeves, and buttoned it unhurriedly. Gripping his coffee mug in one hand, he stopped to let Ana step over to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Okay, I’ll see you tonight,” he told her. “Have a good day.”

That week, Captain Lopez found himself managing the fastest-paced training he had ever seen since joining the military just six years prior. The battalion had been dedicated thousands of rounds of ammunition from sources unknown to immediately get people out onto the range. Through the checkpoint on his way to work where the gate guards checked the papers of all soldiers going on and off base, he saw dozens of green supply trucks being waved through the express lanes, bearing the white letters “MX” on their doors. He had never seen blatant identification marks on the plain vehicles before, but assumed it was a new standard made up to reduce friendly fire incidents. The British were an industrialized nation, far removed from bandits or the border smugglers that the military usually fought.

The training ramped up from there. Days spent in the hot summer sun on ranges turned into qualifications on all sorts of weapons. Rifles, grenades, machineguns, mortars, and even a run on the bayonet assault course generated massive piles of paperwork that were ferried off to battalion staff for their tracking purposes. Several chalkboards had been wheeled into the battalion office, with staff officers crossing off each squad in the companies as they reported finishing steps in the process. By the end of the week, all individuals would have gone through a refresher of basic individual skills. Leaders down to the sergeants running squads fulfilled extra requirements, like an afternoon of land navigation twenty kilometers south at the El Aguacate course.

Each night, Captain Lopez and First Sergeant Kan returned home sweaty and exhausted, tanned and reddened from spending hours underneath the beating sun repeatedly practicing their tasks. Every spare moment of waiting was to be filled with refresher training, from teaching impromptu classes on rope tying and jungle operations to meticulously cleaning and maintaining weapons. The only respite came as the soldiers were granted Sunday off to spend at church and with their families before the second week arrived. Monday was their qualification jump into the training area just of the city’s Parque Estatal Flor del Bosque.

A quiet Sunday turned to an early Monday as Captain Lopez found himself geared up and standing on the tarmac of Puebla base’s airfield in front of his hundred-or-so-man company. Ahead of him, a twin-engine plane’s engines roared to life and swept up a cloud of dust and dirt around them. Crewmen on the ground scrambled to load the men into carefully planned groups of paratroopers, counting them with slaps on the back of their equipment as they were rushed into the cargo holds of the plane. Captain Lopez had been through the process all before: the deafening noise of the propellers precluded any sort of conversation aside from the yelling of the jumpmaster.

The entirety of the transport plane’s cabin smelled of oil and the sort of industrial grime that permeated any military vehicle. The seats, thinly padded over an austere metal frame, shook violently. None of the flights had ever been comfortable, and neither was the gear that bogged down the parachutists like thick winter coats. As the plane followed others off the runway – the pilots had been practicing this maneuver themselves for the previous week, a close order takeoff to maximize planes in the air at a given time – Captain Lopez found that he had the sudden urge to piss.

Their flight was short, a relief to many of the men onboard as the jumpmaster ordered the troops to stand up and hook their static line clips to the metal wire overhead. Captain Lopez felt his carabiner clamp into place and screwed the lock on as the jumpmaster came by to quickly check for safety concerns. A red light lit the dark compartment where the troops nor stood, pressing into each other. One of the jumpmasters, looking out the door, brought his head back in and gave the other a thumb up: he hit a switch on the hull behind him, flashing the red light to a solid green.

“Go!” shouted the jumpmaster, setting the process into motion. Captain Lopez at the front couldn’t have stopped even if he wanted to, with the mass of men rushing forward and out the door pushing him more than he ran. He barely had time to think before he felt himself whipped out of the plane door in the crisp morning air, body hurtling out of the plane’s fuselage. Automatically, he kept his feet and knees together and counted to four in his head. The static line worked, and his body jolted with the shock of the parachute being pulled violently out of its pack. The muscle memory of instinct took over and the veteran paratrooper soon had his hands on the risers of the parachute: he inspected the rigging and the canopy and found he had made a perfect exit.

One of the soldiers behind him was not so lucky. The man had fallen for a moment longer than four seconds before noticing that his main chute failed to deploy. Captain Lopez saw the figure drop for a split second longer than it should have before a smaller white parachute canopy erupted from the reserve pack. A good catch. Lopez checked the rest of his element as the plane finished its drop and sped off towards the rising sun: everyone else was just fine. He then turned his attention to the sandy drop zone below him that was rapidly growing closer. Through a visual cue, Lopez dropped his gear on the paracord line below him that let it dangle below his feet and braced for impact.

Nothing about airborne landings was graceful. It felt more like being dropped like a sack of bricks than landing pleasantly. To distribute the shock, Lopez fell to his left side hitting his body into the ground sequentially: first, the balls of his feet, followed by his calf and thigh and rear before landing on the side of his back. He rolled to his back and quickly unclipped his gear as the parachute fell to the ground behind him. The man’s knees and ankles ached in pain, but he was used to it by now. Maybe one day he would find a nice desk job, but that would not be until much later for him.

Captain Lopez flipped open the clasps on his rifle case and withdrew the semi-automatic rifle known colloquially as the Mondragón. A quick check around him revealed that the paratroopers under his command were doing the same. The men of the Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas were on the ground and forming up into their sections to head out on their mission for that exercise: a mock attack on a mock village with a “government building” at its center. Their opponents would be wooden targets painted green, but bearing Union Jacks as bullseye targets. Someone’s clever little joke for the paratroopers.

With the rest of his gear donned and rifle in hand, Captain Lopez rallied with his small headquarters element and contacted his platoons through his radioman’s manpack. He gave the order to move out immediately.
The Caribbean Sea
July, 1955

The ARM Matador faced surprisingly calm winds and seas on its course to Cuba. After receiving its orders to drop off the American and Argentinian survivors of the battle in Havana, a scramble of diplomatic and military coordination was thrust upon the unprepared officers of the ship. Captain Pulido now had daily telegram contact with the Mexican ambassador to Cuba, an establishment politician and foreign service officer who made naval careerists look like uncultured bums by comparison. Every telegram, however businesslike, felt thick with posh niceties that felt almost passive-aggressive in nature. Pulido could deal with the Navy and its culture, but these diplomats spoke almost a foreign language to him.

He had brought the two officers into his wardroom to lay out his expectations for their arrival in Cuba, now merely a day or so away. Captain Stanton, the American, sat in an upholstered chair that had been bolted to the floor to secure it during heavy seas. He still wore the trousers and shirt of his US Navy officer’s uniform, laundered by the Mexicans after his rescue. So far, he had refused to wear any of the spare clothes offered to him by Captain Pulido out of a stubborn pride: he much preferred the faded and stained American uniform and only accepted offers of fresh socks, boxers, undershirts, and new dress shoes to replace his waterlogged undergarments. One of his telegrams to the Americans embassy, typed under strict surveillance by the intelligence officer onboard, detailed his request for a new uniform as soon as he was to enter port complete with exact tailoring sizes and a list of all his medals and decorations to be placed on his coat.

Captain Lantana, the Argentinian, had no such reservations. He gladly wore the Mexican dungarees offered to him with the sole caveat that the ship’s tailor provide him with sewn rank epaulettes and a nametag to Argentinian specifications. The tailor, who in actuality was a sailor confined to extra duty in the laundry room after a drunk and disorderly conviction on shore leave, made do with the rickety old sewing machine that he used to repair the crew’s uniforms. It didn’t look bad at all. He claimed, snidely, that it was close enough to what he wore for duty fatigues on the Argentinian ships.

Pulido twirled a pen around in his fingers as he leaned back in his bolted-down chair, examining the two men. It was a black ballpoint pen, identical to the millions of others produced by a government contracted factory that employed the blind of all people. It had been a jobs program catering to the captive market of government ordered office supplies, but usually the products came out just fine. It was bare and simple, save for two phrases printed on the side in tiny silver lettering: “Hecho en México” and “Gobierno de México.” The two officers and the American’s interpreter remained silent until Captain Pulido spoke commandingly.

“I don’t like that you’re on my ship, and you don’t like that you’re on my ship,” he said flatly. The Argentinian and the American were unmoved, blankly staring back at him.

“We’ll be reaching Havana tomorrow, if the seas keep in our favor. Now, each of you will be released immediately to your respective countries. A convoy of diplomatic vehicles has been arranged to meet us at the gate to our port facility there. We will all meet together and you will be escorted to your embassies.”

Pulido eyed the uneasy look on Stanton’s face. He turned solely to the American. “Don’t be so worried,” he said with a thin tone of sarcasm aiming to cut down the obtusely protocol-minded officer. He knew that the jab would fly right over Stanton’s head via the translator anyways: “This is not a prisoner exchange. The Marinas will not be armed, and we’ll dress them up nicely for you. Ceremonial belts and shiny helmets, not rifles or shotguns.”

Pulido cracked a thin smirk, but the American failed to see his humor. Instead, he muttered a simple statement of acknowledgement.

“How about a last supper while I still have you aboard?” the captain asked the two officers, breaking a bout of silence between the three. There was really not that much more to talk about. “I’ve directed the officers’ mess to make steak and potatoes. Better use them all up before we get resupplied in port anyways.”

Pulido reached below his desk and withdrew a bottle of French wine from one of the cabinets. “And a glass of wine never hurt anyone,” he grinned.

The Matador continued its journey into the night while the dinner was underway. Nobody spoke to each other, instead looking down at their plates. A record played classical music softly for the officers’ mess. Besides the music, only the sound of silverware clinking on plates could be heard. Dressed in their white double-breasted cook aprons and floppy hats blatantly stolen from French tradition, the enlisted aides watching from a distance and only came to refill glasses of wine or water. They muttered amongst themselves as they watched the strange scene unfold, commenting on the awkwardness of the captain’s two guests.

Distant lights from small Cuban towns came and went. The Matador kept to its lane several nautical miles off the coast, gliding past Santa Lucia, Puerto Esperanza, and finally Mariel as the sun crested the horizon. The early dawn shone into the bridge, reflecting off the windows of the frigate and making it markedly more inconvenient to navigate just as the warship entered the final approach to the port of Havana. A sailor called the harbormaster to confirm their entry while another detail commanded the hanging of signal flags from the tower to the deck. The Mexican ship passed dozens of small craft going out for the day: fishermen, pleasure boats, and small ferry vessels off to other coastal villages.

At six in the morning, the crew of the Matador who were off-duty or otherwise unessential to the port operations were dressed in their white naval uniforms. The crew was marched to man the rails of the ship as it approached its designated dock inside the city of Havana: a ceremonial gesture when a Mexican military vessel entered a foreign port. It was less formal than a full salute and presentation of the crew, but still a friendly show of mutual respect. The crew stood at parade rest, hands clasped behind their backs, and observed the city in front of them as it sprang to life. Cars started traveling the roads; citizens beginning their commutes to work.

The Matador slowed its speed, partly to reduce wake for other vessels in the port and partly to manage its tight turn into the docking complex established for Mexican vessels. In part due to Cuba’s supposed neutrality in Caribbean affairs, it maintained embassy complexes, communications networks, docks, and systems for commercial and government activity between the United States and Mexico. Havana was, for all intents and purposes, a no-man’s-land for the countries and a middle-ground for activities in the grey zone that often occupied North American foreign affairs. That is precisely why the Mexican Navy’s command had directed Captain Pulido to exchange the two rescued officers in Havana as opposed to flying them out of Mexico City.

On the shore, a permanent party of sailors performing their shore duty in Havana – a desirable location for Mexican personnel – waited to receive the massive mooring lines that kept a frigate such as the Matador secured to the dock. They waited patiently as tugs pressed themselves up to the ship and gently nudged it towards the pier. In the bridge, the radioman delicately sent commands to the Cuban tugs that helped it out. A dance of words and rehearsed poetry, the buzz of radio static not unlike the crackle of a record being played. Upon its final arrival to the pier, the thrumming of the engine that had been ever present during the ship’s cruise slowed to a stop.

While lines could be thrown by hand from a smaller vessel, the sequence of events for a larger ship like the Matador required a more complex series of events. A group of sailors at the fore and aft ends of the ships emerged with rifles fitted with rifle grenade launching cups. They aimed to a pre-made orange target on the shore that had been constructed to safely land the ropes away from harbor crew and fired, sending shot line flying across the bay to the concrete pier. Sailors scrambled to retrieve the line before it slipped into the water and wrapped it around two rotating posts. With enough wraps, a crewman with a long socket wrench could ratchet the post around and take in the slack from the shot line, bringing the Matador closer to shore.

The rest of the process involved deck crews manually tossing the ropes down to the shore team once the frigate was close enough. The sailors duly tied eight lines, four at the bow and four at the stern, to posts and tightened them down to ensure that the ship would be stable enough to stay in place. At the front of the ship, the mechanism holding the massive anchors in place were disengaged and the ship reverberated with the clanging of massive chains falling towards the sea. The two anchors, for port and starboard, both dipped into the still bay of the Cuban port and fell to secure the Matador. Six men on the ground rolled a wheeled staircase to the rail of the frigate and secured it in place while the deck crew did the same. The Matador had officially arrived in Cuba.

Captain Pulido had been the only one on the bridge in his officer whites, a curious difference from the officers and crew who were still in dungarees working to dock the ship. But after all, it was his responsibility to meet the welcoming party of Mexican officials that was now arriving at the pier in black sedans waving small Mexican flags from their bumpers. The watchman had already observed as distinguished men in suits emerged from the back seats of these cars, straightening their ties and patting down their suit jackets to smooth wrinkles.

He turned to his executive officer who would be assuming the duties as a skipper during Pulido’s absence to handle diplomatic affairs. “Alright, Enrique,” he said, paternally using the officer’s first name. “Once this is handled you should be coordinating with the logistics detachment here. I should probably be snatched up to go deal with the embassy and their debriefings… I may be gone for a while. I trust that you have command.”

The executive officer nodded: “I do, sir. Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll start releasing the men for shore leave later today while we get the new supplies onboard.”

“Excellent,” Captain Pulido replied. He patted his executive officer on the shoulder and turned to the door leading down the tower to the deck. “You’ve got the conn, Commander Fuentes.”

The captain arrived on deck with his entourage of personnel. The two foreign officers were front and center between two Marines with polished silver helmets, armbands, and white pistol belts and rigging that criss-crossed their green fatigues. A cadre of other officers, mostly to handle the administrative aspects of the Matador’s docking, followed suit behind them. Captain Pulido inspected his own uniform and walked to the stairs that had been secured in place by the welcoming party. The enlisted man standing guard saluted him, and Pulido returned it sharply. He urged the party to follow forward as he began to walk down the steps to greet the embassy staff that awaited him.

Captain Pulido stepped ashore in Havana and returned the salute from the dock’s commander. The officer offered a welcome to the base: “Welcome to Estación Naval de la Habana, Capitán.”

“Thanks, Teniente,” Captain Pulido replied as he returned the salute again. The official party was right in front of him. He straightened his tie and walked towards the men in suits.
@Dinh AaronMk Roger that. Just to be fully briefed concerning the parameters, any divergence from IRL timeline can not happen until either the start of WW1 (1914), or a little before WW1 (No earlier than 1910?)

I'll revise/ create a more lore appropriate nation that falls within the parameters. Is there any more information that I should be aware of?


So the entire concept does conflict with multiple established countries (Britain, US, Cuba, Mexico, maybe Argentina if you count their reference to a subplot in and around what would be your "national waters") and various major story arcs that are currently in progress. You can come to the Discord for more info and we can square you away with the entire situation.
Lake Arareco, Chihuahua
June 1955

“Are you ready? This is it.”

“Eh, as ready as I’ll ever be jefe.”

The poncho-clad man twisted the corner of his mustache and looked at the young boy in front of him. He held his lever-action rifle gingerly, looking around the hitch where they had parked their exhausted horses. Both of them were matted with dust and grime. Way up in the mountains near Lake Arareco, they had finally found the hideout of the man they were looking for. It had been a long journey over miles of rugged terrain, and both of them were exhausted. Yet the man in the poncho, who was known only as Javier, felt his heart soften as he gazed at the boy’s face. He knew what he had to do.

“Sit here, Eduardo, guard our flank,” Javier said after a moment of hesitation. He unslung his own bolt-action rifle from his torso and handed it out to the boy.

“But sir!” protested Eduardo, turning to plead with Javier. “I want to fight!”

Javier shook his head and reached underneath his poncho to pull a cigarillo from a stained shirt pocket. Eduardo immediately took out a book of matches and struck one, handing it to his boss. With Eduardo’s help, Javier puffed on the cigarillo until he could see the smoke rising. “Eduardo, this is something that I have to do. Maritza is in there, it’s my job to save her.”

The boy nodded, suddenly understanding. He wiped his face with a red handkerchief that hung around his neck. “What if this is it, jefe? What do I do if… you don’t make it?”

Javier stared off into the distance, gazing over the brilliant blue water and mountains surrounding the lake below. Despite the ruggedness, there was true beauty in these hills. “I’ll make it. I have to. Just stay here.”

He hesitated for a moment, puffing on his cigarillo while his hand reached down to touch the wood-handled grip of his revolver that lay nestled in the low-slung leather holster on his belt. Without another word, he turned to face the door of the hideout. It was a squat, clay-brick building built into the side of a hill, with an arched entrance bearing saloon double doors. Javier began his walk towards them, scowling at the entrance as he walked. With every step, the rattle of his gear and belt could be heard. He reached the double doors of the entrance and pushed them open, taking a deliberate step to the inside of the darkened building. He looked around, examining every corner of the structure.

Gold, treasure, and money lined the walls of the hideout. Priceless pieces of art, coins and doubloons, and anything else imaginable were stacked in lazy piles along the painted clay walls. Javier took a few steps forward, his hand continuing to clutch his revolver, until he noticed movement out of the shadows directly in front of him. He froze, staring down the figure that had just emerged from the shadows.

El Negro,” he scowled, dramatically taking a draw off of his cigarillo. “I knew I had found your lair.”

El Negro laughed, a hearty chuckle that reverberated throughout the room. Yet it was not genuine, it reeked of evil. The villain was a Black man: tall, broad-shouldered, and dressed in a ragged Union Army uniform jacket with a leather pistol belt and bandoliers that crisscrossed his body. He took a step towards Javier and stared the vaquero down.

“I was expecting you to find me eventually,” El Negro said, one eye glaring at Javier. The other was covered by a menacing eyepatch, a scar crossing his mean face. “But now I have drawn you straight into my trap! Who will find you here now when I kill you? The Federales? Don’t make me laugh.”

Javier stared down the villain, locking eyes with the bandit. His hand twitched towards his pistol, but El Negro shot his own hand to the revolver on his own hip. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he warned. His eye darted to the corner of the room and he quickly pulled a figure out of the shadows.

It was Maritza. The beautiful young maiden, still dressed in her vibrantly white adelita with barely a stain or coat of dust, had her wrists bound in front of her. El Negro grabbed her by the collar and dragged her in front of him, pulling his revolver and putting it to her head. Maritza wailed, flipping her black hair as she shouted: “Javier! Please help!”

Javier’s eyes narrowed as he looked for an opportunity. Time was ticking, and he had made his decision within seconds. El Negro’s head and shoulder protruded from behind Maritza: the vaquero yanked his own revolver from his holster in a lightning-fast motion and fired off a single bullet before El Nego could even react. A puff of smoke erupted from the barrel of his gun and El Negro yelped before falling to the ground. Maritza, screaming, ran forwards towards Javier where he quickly caught her in an embrace. In a deft motion, he cut withdrew a bowie knife from a leather sheath on his belt and quickly cut through the ropes binding her wrists together.

Javier gently pushed her aside, focused entirely on El Negro who lay on the ground. Blood trickled from the wound on his chest, while the villain pressed a handkerchief in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding. “It didn’t have to be this way,” he said, towering over the dying man. “You could have just surrendered in San Juanito.”

El Negro scowled again, staring back up at Javier. He spoke slowly, shakily: “You’ll never get it. I could have been rich. You’d do the same if you were me.”

“Nobody gets away, not in my town.”

El Negro coughed, pressing the handkerchief into his wound harder. His body jolted with a death spasm and he made a faint grunt. With the last of his strength he tried to reach out for Javier, eyes filled with pure hatred. But he stiffened out and his arm dropped to his side. El Negro’s eyes locked forward, unmoving. He was finally dead. Javier turned to Maritza, who had been watching in the corner. He nodded, and carefully placed his revolver back in its holster.

“Cut! Good work, everyone!”

The dramatic dim lighting suddenly changed as a series of lightbulbs turned on inside the cabin. The man on the floor grunted as he sat up, while the vaquero extended his hand to help him to his feet. “How’d you think that went, Jefferson?” Javier asked as the actor dusted himself off.

“Heh, a little corny, but I suppose it will fly,” Jefferson West answered. He removed his eyepatch and wiped the sweat away from his forehead. “This costume is hot, though.”

Javier Cortez turned around to the actress in the corner who was rubbing her sore wrists. “I think they tied it rather tight, luckily you didn’t nick me with that big knife of yours,” she said. Maritza was played by a reasonably mid-level actress in Mexican cinema by the name of Emily Carrillo. She had been in a rut playing damsels in distress for Western films for over a year now. Much like Jefferson West, she had been typecasted after her performances in many similar films. It was all starting to feel like a day job to them, just showing up to work and collecting their pay.

The director opened the double doors of the hideout and stepped through. Manuel Gutiérrez had a similarly unimpressive resumé of almost mass-produced Westerns, even if he acted like a cocky executive in the glitzy Mexico City studios. He wore dust-covered jeans and cowboy boots completed by jangling spurs, with aviator sunglasses perched atop his wild head of curly hair. “I liked it, that’s what the audience wants!” he exclaimed. “Drama!”

Javier and Jefferson both looked at each other: Jefferson rolled his eyes subtly. El Gran Atraco de San Juanito was just the same as Gutiérrez’s other works.

“You know, I think we can finish this today. We still got some daylight left,” the director said, checking his watch. “It’s just about the right time too. How about we get you guys a break for a few minutes and then we’ll have you ride off into the sunset, Javier. We can wrap up shooting and head back to Chihuahua.”

“Thank god,” Javier muttered. Despite his portrayal of a rugged frontiersman, the real Javier Cortez enjoyed air conditioning and good food as much as anyone else. “Can’t wait to get out of this heat.”

The actors walked to the outside to where José Menendez, Eduardo’s actor and a man barely into his twenties getting his feet wet in cinema, had been grilling corn on a campfire near where the camera crew had set up a tent for shade. He waved them over, offering the tinfoil-wrapped ears of corn to Javier, Emily, and Jefferson. All of them took a seat on whatever they could find, mostly tree stumps and a log that someone had dragged over earlier that day. In a pot, José mixed the sauce for and used a camping spoon to drop a dollop on everyone’s snack. “I guess Manuel wants to film us… riding off into the sunset again,” José sighed. “It’ll be a late night then. I figured I’d make something.”

“This shit’s tough, I get hungry,” Jefferson agreed. “All this walking around up these mountains, I feel like I’m back in the army.”

“Probably better hours,” Emily mused as she took a bite into the corn, careful to not let the sauce drip onto her white dress.

“Not really… we’re filming from dawn to dusk out here, even the military works a nine-to-five like everyone else.”

Javier chuckled. “I just can’t wait to get back to the hotel.”

“Why, so you can go trawl the bars and bring back a lady to your room?” Emily teased. She cocked her head sideways and raised her eyebrows at him with a smirk. “’I’m a big movie star, I’m a cowboy! I’ll show you how to ride,’” she mocked him in a fake-gruff voice.

“That’s not very ladylike,” Jefferson replied, half teasing her in return.

“Yep, but I gotta be for my paycheck! Maybe eventually I won’t have to be tied to the goddamn train tracks for the fifth time. ‘Help me, cowboy! Help me!’”

The group all shared a laugh as they kept digging into the corn that had been made. José checked his watch that he had stashed in his pocket: it wasn’t allowed on his costume, seeing as it was a timepiece made in 1950. “I think he wants to go right when the break ends. Not much of a break, huh?”

Almost as if on cue, perhaps deliberately, Gutiérrez stepped out from behind a prop of a broken-down wagon cart and clapped his hands together. “You guys all fed up?” he asked. Even if he did think he was a better director than he really was, at least he cared about his actors. “Let’s get this all wrapped up so we can head home.”

They had finished up their corn and tossed the tinfoil into a wastebin that had been brought out by one of the film crew. The corn itself was just tossed into the surrounding trees. The cast of the film got up from their improvised campsite and quickly got themselves back together. A cameraman had gotten back to his station on the film camera that he had been using to track the exterior shots and Gutiérrez rushed them back to their places. Another intern arrived with the clapperboard and waited until Javier and Emily had taken up spots beside the door to the hideout. He let the stick fall onto the wooden slate, producing its characteristic sound.

El Gran Atraco de San Juanito, ending scene! Take one! Action!”
Meyrin, Franco-Swiss Border

Less than ten kilometers from Geneva lay an expansive campus of high-technology facilities. Born from the CERN site created in 1954 to study particle physics and nuclear science, the French had expanded their ownership of the program and created dozens of facilities dedicated to the study of NLCs brought back from the Overseas Territories. While CERN retained its traditional name, the Conseil européen pour la recerche nucléaire had become a misnomer. The program was now owned wholesale by the French instead of a European council, and its scope had expanded to become the principal body for the research and development of NLC compounds.

Most of the facility maintained an academic appearance aboveground, nestled between idyllic French and Swiss fields. Despite the conspiracy theories about Langium poisoning and other negative contamination around the site, it was common to see farmers tilling their fields in the summertime. Most of the action happened underground, where a complex labyrinth of laboratories, accelerators, and test chambers created a miniature city unto itself. Thousands of staff worked on hundreds of projects big and small to develop NLC compounds for engineering purposes. The mission of these scientists was purely civil in nature, the only caveat that the French had to concede to maintain the program: advances in energy generation, transportation, space and air research, healthcare, and dozens of other fields were produced almost daily. Military research of NLCs remained highly classified at test ranges and facilities far away from the picturesque mountains of CERN.

The tallest structure in the campus was the central office building located in the new wing of the facility. CERN separated itself into the campus for particle and nuclear physics and the NLC sites themselves, often creating an interservice rivalry between the scientists who worked on either project. This was not helped by the fact that the offices were separate and the NLC wing was seen as newer and better funded: more than one bar fight had broken out in Geneva when a nuclear engineer wanted to prove something to a Langium engineer. Atop this building was a glass-walled office belonging to Doctor Arthur L. Delacroix, the head of all Langium research at CERN and regarded as the primary living expert in France. He had taken this position almost ten years previously, and was a fixture in national and international discussions about the substance.

The scientist, his white hair long since balding, adjusted his glasses as he stared at the computer monitor in front of him. He had managed to open up his intranet’s electronic mail application and was looking at a quick note sent to him by the chief of NLC space applications. Doctor Delacroix much preferred paper and letters, but had reluctantly allowed the network terminal to be installed in his office mostly to satisfy the younger members of his staff. They had always been bringing up his missed emails and calendar invites, and he recognized that he just needed to adapt to the way of the future. He read the small words on the screen, even if his eyes didn’t adjust too well to the harshness of the blue light:

Dr. Delacroix,

Dr. Kawaguchi presented her work at the UN CSAT conference in Brazil. I attached her whitepaper to this email, but would like to talk to you about this in person. I will try to come by as soon as I can: the government and the UN are pushing for action on this.

V/R,

Émile Verne, PhD


That was it, sent just over an hour ago. Doctor Delacroix scowled at the message as he tried to click on the paper icon that hovered in the “attachments” bar of the email. He clicked it once, highlighting it blue. It wouldn’t open. He clicked it again with the other button, and a menu with a dozen options popped up and obscured the text of the message. The scientist sighed, figuring he could just get Doctor Verne to open it for him. He leaned back into his chair, before suddenly hearing a knock on the glass door. It was Doctor Verne, in a grey sweatshirt and jogging pants. He was much younger than Delacroix, but was still an expert in the application of NLC compounds to space science. The head researcher waved him in, pressing a button on his desk to unlock the door.

“Thanks, boss,” Verne said as he stepped into the office, making sure to close the door behind him. He noticed Doctor Delacroix looking at him. “Well I saw the news but I also had to do my run for the day, couldn’t put it off any longer even if someone just changed the laws of physics.”

“You and your running, Doctor Verne,” Delacroix said, shaking his head. “But you could have at least gotten dressed appropriately. Back in my day, we-“

Verne cut off the scientist, waving his hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, sir, you wore a suit and tie and walked uphill in the snow to class both ways. But sweatpants are comfortable, and I’m not presenting at the UN like Doctor Kawaguchi was.”

Doctor Verne approached the desk and noticed the email client still up on Doctor Delacroix’s screen. “Have you seen the whitepaper yet?” he asked with the slightest hint of a smirk.

“No, uh,” Delacroix stammered. “Well, I was hoping to go over it with you. It seems to be of a very high importance.”

Verne shook his head and leaned over to the mouse. “You click the left button twice, fast. That will download it.”

He did so, and the attachment quickly downloaded onto the computer and popped up on the screen. Beneath the letterhead of the Brazilian university where Doctor Kawaguchi worked was an abstract and pages upon pages of scientific data. Doctor Verne pointed to the abstract and tapped on the monitor: “I got a phone call from a colleague in Brazil working on an exchange program with their NLC work. Doctor Kawaguchi has seemed to isolate an exotic negative mass particle responsible for some of the gravitational disruptions we see in the anomalous zones. Particularly the one in Guyana. “

“We’ve known it’s been particle-based negative mass for some time,” said Delacroix, cocking his head. “You’re telling me they’ve managed to replicate this? We’ve been trying that for years!”

“Well, not really,” Verne said, running a hand through his full head of hair. Despite touches of grey at the fringes and the hint of wrinkles on his face, Verne was still ruggedly handsome well into his late forties. “They’ve identified the method of testing and replication… but it requires a lot of NLC. And they’ve also run the calculations on its applications. They say it’s possible to utilize it to expand and contract space to accelerate objects past the speed of light.”

Delacroix squinted at Verne, hardly believing what he was hearing. “Weren’t we working on this?” he asked, puzzled. “You brought up this concept a few months ago.”

“Yes… I mean, theoretically it was possible,” replied Verne, suddenly on the defensive. He put one hand on his hip and gesticulated with the other. “We have been working the calculations and… the damn Brazilians are just faster. But who knows, those kooks live and breathe Langium at this point.”

“Well this saves a lot of work, but they still don’t have anything.”

“No, and that’s where the UN comes in. They released their calculations for the volumetric and mass requirements of specific NLC compounds to replicate the particle generation seen in the gravity zones, but it is a lot. They don’t have enough in all of Brazil. The UN is talking to us, the Soviets, and the Americans about a triparty program to accelerate this research.”

Doctor Delacroix rubbed his chin, looking around the room. His eyes landed on the portrait of the French president that hung in every important government building, a humble bespectacled man by the name of François-Jean de Mer. He almost allowed himself to be lost in thought before an electronic chime rang out from his email client and a new message flashed on the screen from the senior leader mailbox at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation. “Click on that!” Verne almost exclaimed. “Two left clicks,” he added, poking at Delacroix once again.

ATTENTION: UN Resolution 699

Dr. Delacroix,

As per the briefing at the UN CSAT by Dr. Kawaguchi yesterday, the UN has reached out to our ambassador regarding participation in the proposed UN program to generate an international space vehicle propulsion system based on negative-mass propulsion. Upon discussion with President de Mer and the cabinet staff, a vote will be pushed to Parliament this evening for immediate proposal. We fully expect that Parliament will vote to participate, but we will need formal approval before shifting funds.

Dr. Verne and yourself will need to appear before the Ministry to brief members of staff and President de Mer on the implications of this discovery. We have chartered a flight to Geneva International Airport (Air France Flight 2431) to take you and necessary staff to Paris. It will arrive at 09:45 hours tomorrow morning and the CERN logistics and finance staff has been directed to immediately handle government travel reimbursement procedures. Dr. Verne is copied on this email.

Please call my office number to confirm receipt of this email – I know you don’t like sending replies.

Thanks,

Roxana Masson, Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation


Verne and Delacroix both looked at each other, stunned. “I didn’t expect de Mer to be on top of this… it usually takes weeks to formulate any sort of cooperation with the US or USSR,” Delacroix said.

“My assistant was telling me that there’s been a lot of chatter on RRPIS,” Verne mentioned, referring to the internet protocol that French military and government organizations were now using to transmit classified information. RRPIS and its unclassified counterpart, RRPINC, functioned much like the CERN intranet that Doctor Delacroix had been struggling with. “The Air and Space Force is already pushing their development people into this. It’s big, sir.”

“Then it looks like we may need to get ready too. It’s going to be a long night,” Delacroix agreed. “Would you mind sending someone for coffee and something from the café downstairs? I’ll ring my wife and tell her I will be late tonight.”

Verne nodded and looked at his watch. “I’m going to take a shower and I’ll be right back here once I get my team together. Luckily we caught this before the end of the day… I wouldn’t want to be recalling people back to the office.”

Verne headed for the door, bidding Delacroix a temporary farewell. He headed for the stairs, rushing downstairs to his own office: senior leadership occupied the top floor, while the Space Science Department ironically occupied one of the lower levels in the tower. Delacroix, meanwhile, stood from his chair and walked to the glass windows that looked out over the campus below. The lights of Geneva were beginning to turn on in the approaching dusk. It was only four in the afternoon, and he always hated how short the winter days had become. The doctor stuck his hands into his pocket and turned his gaze up to the sky where he could faintly see a jet flying from the airport.

They were on the cusp of the greatest scientific advancement in human history.
Hey, it's me in the black Ford Raptor truck out there. Can you open the gate to the ranch?
Zone Rouge 23, French Algeria

A boot tapped on the metal floor to the rhythm of a ponderous drumbeat. Heavy, distorted guitar filled the air with raw and ugly notes. A singer, voice saturated with aggression and angst, sneered lyrics describing a heroin trip and suicide in no uncertain terms. The music played from a boombox that had been strapped to the top of a nearby weapons rack with a fraying green ratchet strap. For hours on end, the soldiers in the cramped cab of their patrol vehicle listened to CDs brought with them on their deployment. Along with bantering about anything and everything, it was their only entertainment as the machine crawled through kilometers of dark, grey landscape.

Sixteen men in two vehicles made up the patrol. Each of the trucks, the term an understatement enough, was a massive twelve-wheeled armored vehicle. The massive cruisers trod gently over the terrain with gigantic, wheels regulated by a complicated pneumatic tire inflation system nested within the armored hull. The sleek, angular craft were outfitted for overland expeditions: inside their armored and angular frame were spaces for a cockpit, living quarters, compartments holding electronics and communications gear, sensors, an airlock, storage space, an airlock, and even a cramped toilet like a cross-country bus. They were covered in prominent antennas that swayed in the wind and bumpy terrain and cameras providing an almost completely surround-view of the windowless shell.

Their frames were painted in a mottled grey-green scheme, a modification of standard camouflage to better fit the tones of an anomalous zone. On each of their sides, beside their hull numbers, a large and bright French flag had been prominently painted. One of the cruisers bore a large crane like a wrecker vehicle’s, stowed securely along the side. A remote-controlled turret duly swiveled atop it, a large ammunition box bolted to the side to ensure that the crew would rarely need to dismount for reloading. It carried with it a trailer that resembled a cab-less dump truck, a gigantic bin to store whatever could fit. The other was further festooned with more antennas, a radar covered in a cylindrical shell, and meteorology gear on a shelf that extended towards the sloped front to give more surface area to the already-crowded roof. This one carried a flatbed trailer, like a long-haul lowboy.

Ahead of the patrol drove a much smaller craft. It appeared to be an armored remote-controlled vehicle, like a chunkier version of a Martian space rover. Equipped with a plethora of probes, manipulator arms, cameras, and scientific equipment, it had rolled carefully up to what appeared to be a series of cylindrical containers peeking out just above the ashen-grey surface of the zone. Inside the armored cruiser, a man sat in a padded chair and observed a bewildering array of CRT screens in front of him. His focus was on the central one, showing the grainy camera of the drone’s manipulator arm. He pressed forward gently on two joysticks, one to move the arm forward and another to angle a fork-like scraping device to touch the ground. Beside him, a TV labeled “GROUND PENETRATING RADAR” suddenly shifted its picture.

Its complicated readout looked like the ebbing and flowing tides of a grey ocean. But as the operator nudged the drone forward, its display suddenly shifted to reveal four distinct sharp arrowhead-shapes at different points on the screen. A screen embedded into the wall above it, labeled “LANGIUM GASEOUS RESIDUE DETECTOR” displayed corresponding spikes above the background measurements. The operator began to lightly claw at the ground with his forked arm, slowly uncovering the glowing cylinders beneath. He had done this a thousand times and already had an idea of what he was finding before he could even get the spectrometer on another arm onto target. “Mon adjutant,” he called over the intercom, “We got some of those batteries.”

From across the cockpit of the cruiser a tall man, wearing green camouflaged pants and a sweater bearing epaulettes bearing a gold bar bisected by a thin red line, came to look over the shoulder of the drone operator. The flickering light of the screens flashed across his oversized glasses as he reached out and tapped the camera monitor. “Yep, those are batteries. Run the laser and we will call our partner to pick it up.”

The drone operator, a caporal, responded affirmatively and brought a second arm out with yet another control panel. This clunky setup was necessary for the vast array of equipment that these drones possessed. Once it was in position, the operator pressed a button to switch the monitor to the other arm’s camera, where a set of crosshairs was superimposed over the footage. He deftly maneuvered the laser to aim at the battery and begin its scan. Outside, the drone gave off a low hum as its pulsed laser quickly ionized a microscopic portion of the battery and an optical sensor analyzed its generated ions. After a few seconds of scanning, a flashing result appeared in the bottom of the screen: “NLC COMPOUND 141.”

This information had already been transmitted to the other crawler, but the adjutant gave a courtesy radio call to the other vehicle commander anyways. In a delicate maneuver, the command vehicle reversed slowly, its driver careful to keep the wheels straight on its carved-out path lest he jackknifed the trailer and they had to wait a few days for tow support. The crane vehicle drove forward and stopped beside where the drone had designated the NLC batteries with an infrared laser. The crane on the cruiser began to extend and swivel to where the batteries were located, now dug safely out of the ground by the drone’s claw. Everything about this was slow and deliberate. It took the crews almost an hour of painstaking maneuvers to control the massive vehicle and equipment’s movements. But they had finished: all four of the batteries were dropped into the trailer atop a treasure trove of other artifacts.

“Good catch, continue patrol,” the adjutant called out over the radio.

The vehicles started their crawl again. Massive engines rolled the tires across sharp rocks and treacherous changes in elevation. Even a small ditch or bump could risk a rollover of the cruisers. The speaker inside was turned back up again, and the music continued to play. It was an atmospheric favorite of the soldiers, a complementary soundtrack to the dismal weather and alienated terrain that they saw day in and day out on their seven-day patrols. It was also a unique cultural quirk to the men who crewed the machines. Since The Visitation of 1961 and the subsequent exploitation of NLCs artifacts, France had given the uniquely dangerous mission to its traditionally most expendable forces: the Foreign Legion.

The Legion was rapidly deployed with the bare minimum of equipment and understanding to scout the anomalous zones that were rapidly appearing in French colonial possessions. Many of them died, often horrifically, as they were exposed to the horribly scarred environment and mutated creatures before protective gear had time to develop. It was these sacrifices that led the Legion to stand up its own training and research organizations: the tactics and technology that were now commonly used across the globe to operate more-or-less safely in the anomalous zones had been developed by Legionnaires and initially taught at Legion troop courses. Even their cruisers had been developed by the Panhard Company based on exacting specifications produced by Legion reports and intelligence.

The caporal exited his chair, which was locked into the ground to reduce rollover injuries, and leaned up against his control panel. The man’s uniform nametag read “Zalewski.” He had been a refugee from Communist Eastern Europe, his family smuggling him to the West when he was only a small child in the 1970s. Many of the men in his unit had similar stories. They were criminals, refugees, people in hiding from spouses or the bank, or even Francophiles who wanted a chance to serve in what they saw as the world’s greatest country. Charles Zalewski had nowhere else to go after he could never hold more than a job as a waiter in a small town in Alsace. His lack of ID documents hampered his ability to even go to university.

“I’m ready to go home…” he mused absent-mindedly as he reached for a steel cigarette case in his cargo pocket. In front of a sign explicitly prohibiting smoking in the vehicle, he lit a match and inhaled deeply. The crew had long since disabled the smoke detectors and the cruiser’s air filtration system was sufficient enough to get most of the smoke out.

“Home?” deadpanned another member of the crew. Jacques Dumont, a Légionnaire who had fled Quebec after his resistance cell had been decimated by American airmobile troops, turned back to see Zalewski smoking by his control station. “Base is not home.”

He cocked his head and thought about it for a second: “Well, on second thought, maybe it is to you, commie. Shitty rations, a creaky bed, and plenty of rats to chase out. Must be just like Mother Russia or wherever you came from.”

Zalewski chuckled and tossed a crumpled-up piece of paper at him. “At least I can speak French the way they taught us, not like your fucking speech impediment. Your mother must have drank a lot with you in her.”

“The only thing I’m excited for right now is coming off shift. I am exhausted,” said the third soldier. Another caporal, this one German. He had changed his name to Patrick von Möller, and often convinced people that he was another Alsatian much like where Zalewski had initially settled in France. Von Möller never quite talked about where he had come from, only vague references to street gangs in West Berlin. The rest of the unit had hypothesized about it, and joked with him about running from a crime lord, but von Möller would just shake his head and redirect the conversation. He checked his watch, a surprisingly expensive Swiss timepiece that bore years of wear and tear. Probably stolen. “Thirty more minutes. Then I can sleep.”

“Just don’t jerk off too loud, and don’t finish everywhere,” sternly instructed the adjutant as he returned through the hatch leading towards the bathroom in the back of the cruiser. Adjutant Gerard Lemas was the only Frenchman aboard, and had come to the Legion from a conventional unit like most senior NCOs and officers. He was the highest-ranking non-commissioned officer in the platoon, and the current patrol commander on this week’s foray into the anomalous zone. Despite his slender frame and big glasses, he exuded an air of strict paternity. Plenty of people had mistaken him for a logistician or a computer programmer before he flashed them his green beret with a harsh stare. He would dress them down appropriately if they mistook him twice.

“You share that bunk with Hollande, and he has to sleep in your pool of degenerate children.”

“Yes, mon adjutant,” was the only thing that von Möller could muster. He looked back at his dashboard and instruments, knocked out of the conversation.

The low hum of the cruiser’s engine and the grunge music were the only sounds for a few moments, until Dumont started chuckling. Like a contagion, Zalewski and von Möller joined him. Lemas cracked a faint but noticeable smile, and went back to his station. Largely surrounded by radios and a computer with a pixelated satellite map of the zone, he studied their route. Their path had taken them out and back in a cloverleaf-pattern to maximize their chances of finding NLC artifacts. It had been a good haul, but that only meant more time preparing paperwork and offloading the material when they returned to base. He had already gotten a head start on the forms, each artifact required at least a dozen or so forms in a series of three-ring binders stacked lazily across the small amount of desk space that he had. Some of them were thicker than others, depending on the perceived hazard of the material.

The song changed again, the CD repeating back to the first track in its playlist. It had been like this for three days now. Someone had to tell Dumont, the resident DJ, to bring more disks next time. Von Möller had been banned from the boombox after slipping a “best hits of polka” disk into the collection for one patrol. That lasted about three minutes before Lemas had taken the CD and made them sit in silence for a few days: he then taped it to a green “Ivan” target on the rifle range for their next qualification and ensured that it was forever destroyed. The cruiser patrol continued, Zalewski returning to his drone station to prepare it for the next operator. Before they knew it, their shift was over.

Four of their colleagues appeared through the door, bleary-eyed and freshly woken. Their leader, a slightly subordinate NCO, went to Lemas’s desk to receive the shift change brief. The others milled around in the passageway until the leaders were done, long since numbed to the routine ordeal. At their adjutant’s beckoning, the Legionnaires turned over their positions to their counterparts.

“Anything cool happen?” Zalewski’s counterpart asked as he took the seat and quickly reviewed the screens.

“We found like, some batteries and stuff. Might have run over a creature, not sure what that bump a while ago was.”

“Ah,” his replacement replied disinterestedly. They were all ready to be done with their patrol. Zalewski rubbed his eyes and stubbed out his cigarette on the ashtray next to his console while his replacement bid him a farewell: “Well, I’ll see you soon. Take care.”

“You too.”
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