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The day of the auction for Britain, I spent ping-ponging between the harbor and the yacht port, hoping to come across the boat that I had seen on Bobby’s pictures. Sadly, I didn’t find any vessel named “Southern Star” or any other that was visually similar to it. The indigenous people, who I asked about it, knew nothing. Spit Master wasn’t there either. He probably thought he had his yearly schedule filled now and he was celebrating. It was a rather exhausting search because of my bad hip but the positron gun in my pocket was giving me some hope. At least, I was not harmless anymore!

The atmosphere I found on the harbor was quite colorful as usual. I fitted in well with my brand-new shirt, which had a chick on the front licking the barrel of a huge gun. It was my favorite! Quite naturally, a few explosions thundered in the air very soon and they backed up the overall feel of the place. It was just inevitable to see or hear something like that if you stayed around an entire day. On top of all that, it was hot as hell!

During my continuous raids back and forth, I had a chance to take a good look at the busy trade thriving on this weird island. Here, on the harbor, it was mostly about mona but the yacht port turned out to be a true marketplace. Between the shitty articles like my “water gun”, they were selling many other curious gadgets there, and most of them originated from Mars. In Greenland, we didn’t have access to them because we’d broken up with the former colony as other major confederations had. In SPC, however, because of the Indian nature of the place and its closeness to the docking station on Swains, nobody cared about trade moratoriums, and smuggling flourished.

As a little boy—just like every child in fact—I had always dreamed about being invisible. Back then, I wanted to steal into supermarkets and malls and snitch things that my parents didn’t want to buy me. Later, in puberty, my main goal transformed and I wanted to sneak into the girls’ locker room at school and see some of my schoolmates undressed. Nowadays, with my occupation, I would have definitely benefited from such a thing in various ways too. So far, I had thought it was impossible but it turned out it was possible, only I didn’t know it!

The gadget was called stealth strip and when you put it on your head—like a sweat headband—it produced an angle sensitive close distance hologram for the surrounding people. It mimicked the exact environment behind your back no matter the position of the viewer. People might circle all day around you and they would never be able to see the next frame before taking the next step. In fact, a hundred people might circle around you at the same time and the hologram would be always right for every one of them! To be honest, the patch was not perfect and a bit rough around the edges but it worked even so. I didn’t know about supermarkets but for locker rooms, it was good enough. Unfortunately, the device was too expensive.

Another curious thing, which I thought impossible, was the gravity-shifting umbrellas. These would make a bubble of weak antigravity around you, pushing the raindrops away. I had always wondered why nobody had tried to invent such a thing but it turned out they had invented it on Mars, although there it was for pushing dust particles away, not raindrops. Up in the colony, they actually had many other things we didn’t have here, like an automated system of flying transport; organic houses, which support constant temperature through perspiring; domestic androids in every household; and a human-free government. Of course, there were fewer people on Mars and it helped them sustain a better standard, but the main reason behind it was their closeness to the aliens. Couloongs fed them with new technologies, and down here, we only got what smugglers delivered us.

It was different once—the colony and us were a whole. We went to the red planet with the idea of it being a life insurance for our race. The original settlers lived miserably and in privation but they thought it was a temporary thing. We, on Earth, also believed so. Every batch of new space enthusiasts carried to the old ones not only supplies and things they weren’t able to produce themselves but also hope. Regretfully, after twenty or so missions, a long line of recessions hit the Earth and the colonizing ceased. It was a misfortunate moment because up there, they had just started a reproductive program and they needed more resources. At first, everybody believed missions would be restored after recessions ended but then the Great Shifting of People followed, and right after that, the Couloongs came. As a result, they had stealth strips on Mars now and gravity-shifting umbrellas, and we only had tons of hungry migrants everywhere, omnipresent misery, and never ceasing global climate warming!

Incidentally, I don’t think we’ll restore our relations with the colony ever again. They believe we betrayed them and they are right to a point. Not only did we ditch them on a hostile planet without any help, but we also ridiculed them about their constant nagging; a Martian is a nickname for a faultfinder here on Earth. Many people consider them a nation of loafers who have relied on us for everything without making any effort, and when we weren’t able to help them anymore, they switched to the aliens. Who knows who is right and who is wrong—maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle—but the fact that we ditched them remains!

I sharply turned around because another loud explosion thundered through the harbor, startling me. It was more of a reflex; I was already getting used to it. This time it happened nearer to me—somewhere in the crowd—but, as usual, none of the people paid any attention to it. Everybody was busy burning guano in primitive stoves, mixing it with water or various kinds of acids, and then calling the slurry mona and selling it. Other people were buying the shit, carrying it to Ofu and then, after Greenspace’s refusal, they brought it back for “recipe improvement”. It was a vicious cycle, which no one wanted to see. The wretches, who participated in it, had no time to notice someone else’s explosions—the explosions were simply part of the game!

I turned back and headed for my yacht port round because I didn’t want to watch the agony of the next masochistic idiot who had mutilated his body or face. Over there, the Chinese were just selling fake guns and smuggled items, and stealing people’s money. It was definitely not good for my wallet but it was healthier for my nerves.

Despite having my car close enough, I preferred walking because I was afraid I would lose my parking space on the harbor. Besides, it was too hot to drive. Inside my old Ford, it felt like an oven and outside, I could probably fry eggs on its hood! I slowly left the area, still thinking. Everything was so weird on this stupid island; this entire ammonia fuss was so ridiculous! I couldn’t understand why Chavez needed the theater with his purchase hub and all the people going nuts about it, instead of buying the stuff from factories all over the world and cutting the bullshit. It was not something he needed to hide from the authorities—it was just an ordinary trade activity. Moreover, clearly none of the people on the islands was capable of producing ammonia!

Another strange thing, which I couldn’t understand was the business of my Greenland “friends” here. If they really wanted to sell ammonia, they could safely do it from home. Greenland was an industrial country and there was no point taking the risk and messing with Chavez. His paramilitary ex-environmental organization was far from being something you would want to have as a business partner, unless of course, Greenspace had a monopoly over the trade, which was not the case. They were just using the docking station on Swains for their exports as everybody else. And the pirates there were politically neutral—they would shoot a railway composition for anyone as long as the price was met.

After ten minutes, still deeply entrenched in my own thoughts, I reached the yacht port. I made the usual rounds there but nothing had changed while I had been away. “Southern Star” was nowhere in sight, Spit Master was missing, and Marty Cork too. I had just wondered where to hide from the severe sun, when I realized there was a balance in life and it had given me an unexpected present in return for my bad luck with the guys I was looking for. I glimpsed the idiot who had sold me the “water gun”, which I had in my pocket! As soon as I saw the bastard, I ran to him, furious.

“Hey, give me my money and take your fucking shit back!” I cried angrily, grabbing him by the elbow because I knew he had the ability to vanish miraculously. His funny little toy was worth only a hundred bucks but I was not going to give up my warranty claim. It was a matter of principle!

The jerk looked at me, unimpressed. He took the gun and tried it in the air, after which he said it was my fault. I had broken the weapon, he explained, because I had used it in the hot weather. Due to its firing technology, the thing had an operating range between minus ten and plus thirty degrees Celsius and it had been forty-five here on the island for days. I just couldn’t believe my ears! Naturally, I refused to take his point and insisted that he gave me my money back. He said he couldn’t do it because he had paid it to his contractor already and if I wanted, he would give me an e-mail address to claim my warranty. He lied, of course—he had no contractor! He had bought the thing on the street market in Shanghai where all the factories worked without any supervision after the country had fallen apart.

We continued to quarrel about the purchase, and at one point, I was even tempted to use my real gun to make the bastard accept my side. Unfortunately, there were too many people around us and I had no permit for the Luger—I was going to get myself into a complicated situation if I wasn’t careful. In the end, the Chinese agreed to take the gun back if I picked something else from his stuff for the same amount of money. I picked a portable car air-conditioner for thirty bucks, a pair of night vision goggles for twenty, and a cellphone for fifty. Then we parted in peace.

I took my brand-new acquisitions, which were going to be just as functional as the gun—I was sure about that—and then I headed for the way out. I was tired of waiting and wanted to go back to the harbor so I could take my car and drive to Failolo. I was afraid Marty would give it another try to kill Bobby and I hoped I would run into him there. It turned out I was not going anywhere, however. I had just taken a few steps, when I saw that Sengupta’s marine monster had come to the shore. I hadn’t noticed it. The boat was anchored at its usual place on the wharf so I turned back and moved closer to take a look.

This time the bigshot who owned her wasn’t onboard, it seemed. I could tell by the fact that there were no guards in sight. I saw only a few dockworkers making rounds between the vessel and the shore, and soon they provoked some wicked ideas in my mind. I was tempted to play an idiot and pretend I was a crewmember. I was very curious to take a short tour on the deck but unfortunately, I had no marine uniform or a stealth strip on my head so I had to give up on the idea. My chances of remaining unnoticed were actually less than nil. Then an even cleverer idea occurred to me—to pretend I was a dockworker—but I ditched this one too. The guys who were carrying boxes with fruits and vegetables probably knew one another.

I idled on the wharf, “supervising” the quality of the fruits for a while but at some point, I started to realize I was making an easy target out of myself. During my short stay on this island, I had made quite a list of acquaintances and some of my new “friends” could easily recognize me. I quickly drew away and took out my brand-new cellphone instead, hoping to kill some time. As I turned it on, I was very afraid it would start ringing right away—I was particularly worried that Dunkin might call. “Life was far simpler back in the time when mobile phones had just SIM cards with numbers and no accounts,” I though. “Then, when you lost or broke your phone, you simply disappeared from the world!” Fortunately, the gadget, which was an Indian device, remained peaceful and quiet when it verified my account and updated it into the system, and I sighed with relief.

I put the phone into my pocket, and being fully accessible now, I strolled to the harbor to fetch my car. Then I drove it back to the yacht port and parked it at a safe distance, but near enough so I could keep an eye on the boat and be ready if someone walked down its gangway again. Meanwhile, the gangway had been pulled up and the guys with the boxes had disappeared. I took my brand-new air-conditioner out of the box and prepared myself for a long wait. At least, I was well equipped now, I thought, while plugging it in.

A few minutes passed, during which time nothing changed in the car. The gadget remained totally silent and nothing signified if it worked or not. There were no LED lights flashing and the temperature inside the vehicle was still devastating. I thought a little and started the engine to give more power to the air-conditioner because the battery of my car was too old and maybe that was the problem. Nothing happened again and somewhere in the depths of my mind, I knew it was natural and even inevitable!

Highly annoyed, I grabbed the device and looked at its back label. The voltage was right, the polarity was right, and everything seemed okay. After a while, remembering about the gun, I discovered that the operating range was not okay, however. It read that the device was effective between seventeen and twenty-seven degrees Celsius!

“Why would I need an air-conditioner like that and what idiot would manufacture such a thing in the first place?!” I cried in disbelief.

I got out of my car, really furious now, and strolled to the cart of the fucking Chin, thinking what I wanted to do to him. I had a couple of bright ideas in mind but when I got to the place, it turned out the jerk had miraculously vanished again. Just an hour after reimbursing me with a fake air-conditioner in return for my fake gun, the bastard had quite prudently scrammed. I was surely going to kill him the next time I saw his damn face here!

Totally devastated, I went back to my Ford and wearily placed my butt on the leather seat, where the wet spot from minutes ago hadn’t even evaporated yet. In this hellish environment, I opened my mouth and breathed like a fish, waiting for the sun to go and burn the opposite hemisphere of the Earth. I stayed in the car for four painful hours and nearly died there, during which time nothing happened on the boat.

Meanwhile, I had enough time to follow the results from the auction for Britain on my new cellphone. Just as I had thought, the Chinese conglomerate won—the companies in Chinasia had accumulated too much money and it was an easy battle. Right after the event, the winner shared their plans about the acquisition. Quite expectedly, they wanted to resurrect the old fame of China in Europe. They said New Britain was going to bring European Confederation to its knees and some Brits were very excited to hear it. There were some downsides, however, because it was rumored that the money behind the conglomerate belonged to former functionaries from the Communist Party. The rumor said some of these functionaries thought that New Britain should be a communist country! It was really interesting to see what would happen in the end because no government had endeavored to make such a risky deal so far. If it worked, very soon other governments might decide to follow Britain’s lead.

Somewhere around nine-thirty, after discharging my cellphone completely because there was no wireless charging station around and the battery of my car was too old and weak to supply enough energy, I couldn’t bear my self-imposed heat torture any longer. I got out of the Ford, all wet, and went to the cart of an Indian guy to buy two ice creams. I ate them at once and after that, I drank three bottles of soda pop, hardly restraining myself to ask for three Cokes. I wiped my mouth and I had just taken a few steps back toward the car, when I realized I had paid dearly for my relief. The gangway of the boat was down again and someone had obviously got on board or left. And I had missed them!

I looked about anxiously but I didn’t see anything unusual. Neither the white limo nor Sengupta were anywhere in sight. By that moment, darkness had started falling and the yacht port was quickly emptying. Very soon, the merchants took their goods away and just a few guys remained in the area. They were all hanging by one of the vessels some twenty meters away without paying any attention to me. After twenty minutes more, I nervously wondered what I wanted to do. Still there was no one on the boat and I cautiously went closer to it, pretending I was on an innocent night walk. Then I listened tensely but I heard no sound coming from the deck. The vessel was completely peaceful and the passage to its lower level was gaping invitingly only a few steps ahead of me.

I looked about again. It was surely a stupid idea to climb up but I couldn’t resist the thought. Something about Sharon’s plans clearly involved Sengupta and I needed to know what it was. Besides, the opportunity seemed perfect—the boat was obviously deserted for the night. Of course, it was a bit weird that the gangway was down but maybe they had it ready for tomorrow morning. Many other vessels had their gangways down too!

I glanced around me one last time and then hesitantly stepped onto the ramp, ready to jump back if I had to. Nothing happened though—no one shouted at me. No one even saw what I did so I quickly trotted up the gangway and climbed onto the boat before I could change my mind. Ten seconds later, the vessel became the next place in a long list of private properties, I had violated lately!

It turned out to be empty on the deck. The boat really seemed lifeless. Extremely cautious, I briskly walked around, trying every door in turn and they all happened to be locked. The metal stairs to the second level had a little gate blocking the way but it was tiny enough to jump over, which I did. When I climbed up, I found nothing on the upper deck either. It was the same story—locked doors everywhere!

Shuddering, I went down to the lower level and stopped for a moment, thinking. As usual, I had no idea what I was doing and looking for. Well, apparently, I was looking for trouble but it didn’t count—it was normal for me. Besides, the falling night was making me feel more confident. I hesitated because I wanted to take a second tour around but I doubted that meanwhile any of the doors would have unlocked themselves, anxious to help me. Just then, something on the bridge caught my eye and I turned toward it, puzzled.

I saw a weird sign on the arch right above it, which seemed to be a company logo. It consisted of three intersected blue balls and two letters—ST. At first, I didn’t register what was weird about it but then I remembered the boat from Bobby’s memory stick. On one of the pictures there, the sign was just the same but seen from a very sharp angle, which had made the letters unrecognizable. Now that I saw them properly, I realized what they stood for—“Sengupta Transports”!

Right after I had made my discovery, I felt completely lost for the zillionth time. I had just started thinking I was getting the overall picture of what was going on, and now the sign here had made a total mess of my head again. Did it actually mean that the “beloved by the Moon” was playing with Bjornson now? But why had he kissed Sharon? Or if the two bitches still played together, why had Marty tried to kill Bobby?

Being too confused and full of questions, I walked to the bow and cautiously looked over the railing. It was a stupid idea because this boat didn’t look like the one on Bobby’s pictures at all. “Southern Star” was a cargo vessel with cranes and holds and this one, whose name was “Emilia”, was obviously built for pleasure. Here on the lower deck, beneath the shadow of the second level, there were numerous cocktail lounges, video screens and sound systems, a dancing floor, a wet bar, and many exotic plants in pots. There was even a pool table in the middle of it!

Still puzzled and intrigued, I went to the table to take a look. The balls there were not moving even though the boat was probably swaying gently on water. I couldn’t perceive it because the vessel was too big and heavy but anyway, at open sea, it would be surely impossible for anyone to play such a delicate game. I carefully pushed one of the balls and it moved naturally, after which it stopped. I looked under the table and found that it was installed on a gyroscope mechanism. Nevertheless, it still seemed stupid to me. “What difference would the steadiness of the table make, if the people playing were unsteady on their feet?” I thought. And then I noticed something weird near one of the corner pockets.

I briskly went over to look at it. They were four small objects and at first, I took them for pieces of rock. When I grabbed them in my hand, however, they glistened with bluish-gray reflections like metal, although they were not metal because they felt soft to the touch. “Probably it means nothing; someone must have played with them here,” I shrugged, but then I remembered I had a pair of night vision goggles in my shirt pocket. I pulled them out to examine the pieces better because it was too dark under the shadow of the second level. I was actually reserved about my gadget and expected it to function only in bright sunlight but it worked after all. I was able to see in the dark.

Feeling excited I had bought something Chinese that was worth its money, I turned my eyes back to my hand. The pieces looked all the same except they were greenish now. They had no smell and they were definitely soft—I could scratch them with one another. Since my goggles didn’t help me gather any more information, I just put one of the stones in my pants’ pocket for further inspection and arranged the others as they were. The thought the material might be radioactive briefly flashed across my mind but I rejected it because they wouldn’t have ditched it so carelessly on the pool table if it were. Then I headed to the gangway at last to prevent the possibility of being caught here. The longer I stayed, the greater the chance I would be discovered. And I didn’t even know yet I was already too late!

I had just walked down and stepped onto the wharf, and I was still looking at the world through my brand-new goggles, when a light green shadow crept from behind my back and hesitantly stopped by my feet. At first, I thought a cloud was sailing across the moon but a moment later, when a threatening hand rested upon my left shoulder, I knew I was wrong. I wildly turned around, startled, taking off my goggles and praying that it would be Peularia asking me for a threesome with her cute Indian assistant. Unfortunately, it was not her—the fate was much crueler to me, as usual! I came up against a heavily bearded, bald-headed Indian who was so huge that I stared right into his chest. He was the same one who had pushed me into the white limo on my first day on Tutuila and guarded Sengupta later on, when he and Sharon kissed.

“Start talking!” the bastard roared after securing his grip on me with his right hand. His voice was as harsh as a maneuvering fighter jet. “And let it be convincing!”

Worriedly, I glanced behind him to see if he was alone. He had no company and I assumed he was installed here to guard the boat for the night but he had decided to take it easy. He had probably gone for a quick chat with some of his fellows on the other vessels. Then I looked back at him.

“Why aren’t you sticking your fucking ass on board?” I grumbled, falsely affected, and placed my right hand closer to my pocket. “Why do you think you’re here? Is this the fucking way you’re supposed to guard this property? Is this what you’ve been paid for?”

“What? Who, the fuck, are you?” the jerk’s eyes bulged in disbelief. He was truly shocked to hear me talking like that, which was my plan. I didn’t even let him finish his stupid curses or whatever it was, he had to say. I just snatched his huge beard with my left hand in order to distract him, and dug my other hand into my pocket.

This is actually a classic mistake, which every big guy makes. They all presume to be strong enough to start threatening you instead of grabbing their weapon right away. After a second, the Indian tried to embrace me harder, but before he had figured out why I was caressing his beard, my Luger was already digging into his nostrils. The idiot crossed his eyes to focus them on the weapon, and after recognizing the situation, he hesitantly started pulling his hands away from me.

I silently stepped back and gestured to him to turn around and get down on his knees. He obeyed reluctantly and when he took the right pose, I aimed for the back of his neck with the gun handle. Since the guy’s head was as big as my ass and I was not quite sure about the result, I had to reinforce the strike with my left hand. It proved to be enough. His massive body shook abruptly and then he collapsed on the ground, unconscious. It happened right in the moment when a shy cry echoed in the darkness.

I looked around. An ordinary looking guy stood hesitantly near one of the other boats. He was probably the one the Indian had been chatting to. I raised my hand and briefly waved it in the air so as he could see the silhouette of my gun and then I quickly walked away. I cast a few glances behind my back but he didn’t follow me. Ten minutes later, I was back at my hotel. I had no time to waste however. In a few hours, I had another meeting I had to prepare for. My schedule had been really busy lately and I hoped it would bear fruits soon!

©2016 S.T. Fargo

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 24 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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