Chapter 4: Rescue
September 26, 1989
John Long Badger had been sleeping about as well as a man suffering from a very bad case of gas could sleep, which was to say not very well. He bolted upright when he heard the first gunshot. He was frantically looking around the shack to see what was happening when all hell broke loose outside. The gunshots were coming so fast and furious that it wasn’t possible to count. He wasn’t the only one looking around with terror.
“That new guy is gone.”
“There are two boards missing.”
“They’re gonna kill us.”
Then the explosions started. They kept going off about once every four or five seconds. The four captives crowded into the corner of the shack that was furthest from the door and the opening created with the removal of the two boards. They cowered there even after the explosions stopped. The rapid fire stopped, and started coming infrequently. They still didn’t move when all went quiet.
There was the noise at the door of the bar being lifted. They huddled together staring at the door. The door slowly swung open. Sword Howard, wearing full body armor, stepped through the door and looked at the group huddled in the corner. He shook his head.
Holding up a bottle of pills, he said, “Take one of these. Just chew and swallow. They’ll calm your stomach down.”
He tossed the bottle of pills towards them. It hit the floor and rolled towards them. One of them picked it up.
“Who are you?”
“Aren’t you the guy they brought in yesterday?”
“I’m Sword Howard of Jade Force.”
He pulled an energy bar from a pocket of his armor and opened it. He started eating it. It was his third since leaving the shack. Based on the condition of the men and the noises they were emitting, he was really glad he had turned down that meal the previous evening.
Another Sword appeared behind him and said, “The body count is right.”
The former captives stared at her. She was wearing armor like Sword Howard, but hers was splattered with blood. There were no doubts she had been in the thick of things despite being a woman.
“Thanks. I’ll get these guys out in the sun for a bit, let the pills settle their stomachs, and then give them something to eat.”
The four former captives had each taken a pill. While the relief wasn’t immediate, it was fast. The men slowly drifted away from the corner. The idea of food sounded really attractive to them. They still had a hard time forcing themselves to leave the shack.
“I’ll get back to the search.”
It was still early morning and the sun wasn’t fully up in the sky. It was still a little bright for the men who had been inside the dark shack for months. They were squinting their eyes against the brightness.
Sword Howard said, “We have transportation coming soon. You’ll be on a plane heading back to Amra by evening.”
“It took four days to get here.”
Sword Howard said, “It may have taken them four days to get us here, but there’s a good reason for that. They drove all over in random directions for the first day. We were blindfolded and had to walk at a snail’s pace. We walked back and forth along the same trail for three days.”
“So where are we?”
“About seven miles off a dirt road, and forty miles from the city.”
“I feel so stupid. I thought I was off in the middle of nowhere.”
Sword Howard asked, “How are your stomachs feeling?”
“Much better,” John Long Badger said.
Sword Howard tossed four energy bars to him. John passed them out to the others. They all tore at the wrapper to get to it as quickly as possible.
“Eat it slowly. It’s a little hard to chew, but its got a lot of nutrients in it that your body needs.”
Another Sword walked over and said, “We’ve got them all laid out. Do you want to give them the farewell of honor?”
“Yes, I would.”
Sword Howard turned and followed a well worn path away from the little shack.
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s bidding farewell to the warriors defeated in battle.”
John Long Badger asked, “Could I watch?”
“Sure. Just follow the trail.”
John followed the trail down the hill way. He found that he was entering a small village. Laid out on the ground were the bodies of men, women, and children. He was shocked to find women and children there.
He walked over to Sword Howard in time to hear him say, “May the War Gods nurture you until it is time for your next battle. We were well met in this one. May we met again on the great battlefield. We are brother warriors in service to the Gods of War.”
Sword Howard turned and looked at John Long Badger.
“You look confused.”
“Why did you say that in Itanese?” asked John Long Badger.
“Because they spoke Itanese. What good is it to bid a fellow warrior farewell, if you say it to him or her in a language he or she doesn’t understand?”
“I don’t know. I thought the spirits understood all languages.”
“Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t. I’ve learned that farewell in thirty different languages. If I ever go on a mission to a place where I don’t know how to say it in the local language, I’ll learn it,” Sword Howard answered.
“Not all of them are warriors. What about the women and kids?”
Sword Howard pointed to a young boy.
He said, “That boy was the first one to die. He was guarding the shack last night. He had a gun and he was willing to use it.
“Last night, one of the women, I don’t know which one, cooked the meal you ate. I’m sure that every woman in this village cooked a meal for you at some point in time. I doubt you were very popular among the women for the extra work you represented.
“The whole village participated in holding you hostage. There are no innocent bystanders in war.”
John said, “But they’re kids.”
“Don’t you get it? That kid was more than willing to shoot you if you tried to escape. There’s no lower or upper limit to the age at which someone can be considered a combatant.”
“It just seems wrong somehow.”
“That’s because you think war has rules,” Sword Howard said.
“It does have rules.”
“That is why you are not a warrior,” Sword Howard said.
Detective Paulo Nuzzi was not happy. He’d been sitting there tied to a chair for the past four hours. He was tired, hungry, and thirsty. The hunger and thirst was a natural reaction to the passage of four hours. Being tired was a direct consequence of not having slept for the past twenty hours. He’d seen some things that he’d never forget.
He heard a door crash open, the sound of armed people moving, and then a shout of, “All clear.”
He shouted, “I’m in here. They’ve been gone for four hours.”
Irritability is a natural result when impatience and tiredness are combined. He was getting more and more irritated listening to his fellow officers bust into individual rooms, invading them, and then declaring them clear. They managed to get through three rooms in the same amount of time the mercenaries had swept through the entire mansion belonging to Francis Baudin.
He shouted, “I’m in here! They’ve been gone for four hours!”
It was still another three minutes before the door to the room in which he was sitting burst open. The police team entered the room in a well practiced formation. He watched them thinking that they actually looked pretty stupid. There was an almost posed stance they took upon entering the room, as if there were a photographer standing around taking pictures.
It wasn’t right to criticize them for doing that since that pause in motion, that moment of standing there with the gun held just so and ready for anything, just reflected their training. The mercenaries were different. They never stopped moving to adopt a pose. They flowed through the entire assault on the house.
“Come and untie me,” he said.
“We’ve got to follow procedure and make sure it isn’t booby-trapped.”
“It’s not booby-trapped. Come and untie me.”
“You can never be too careful.”
“It’s my ass in the chair and I’m telling you that it isn’t booby-trapped,” he said starting to get angry.
“Just be calm. We wouldn’t want the bomb to go off.”
“The bomb squad will be here in a minute.”
Patience exhausted, Paulo lifted up and slammed the chair onto the floor. One of the legs cracked and then slowly gave way. It started tipping over slowly, but gained speed the closer his head got to the floor. His head bounced off the floor. He shook his head to clear it.
His right leg had come free. He kicked the left leg of the chair. With a loud snap, it broke and his left leg was free. He then battered the back of the chair against a wall. The arms of the chair came loose. He shook his arms and the ropes fell off.
Standing up straight, he barked, “When I tell you that a chair is not booby-trapped, believe me.”
“There are procedures.”
Paulo went over to the small room. He turned on the tap and drank a little water. That cooled off his throat. He splashed some water on his eyes. That woke him up a little, although he was feeling a little dizzy from lack of sleep.
“Who brought donuts?”
“I need three.”
“There’s only one left.”
“I’ll take it.”
“I don’t know. We should have you taken to the hospital to get checked out. You might have internal bleeding or something.”
“I’m hungry. They never beat me. They didn’t torture me, although some of the things that I saw will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. I’m tired, but not that tired. I am very hungry. Now get me that doughnut.”
Grumbling, one of the members of the SWAT team walked off to get a doughnut. There were procedures to follow.
“Where’s the Captain?” Paulo asked.
“The Captain will get here in an hour or so.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s at the mansion of Francis Baudin. It’s a real mess out there.”
“I know. I saw it happen,” Paulo said.
“You saw it happen?”
“Yes. I also saw the Francis Baudin bordello get raided and destroyed, yesterday.”
“We were there yesterday. Someone really did a number there. They killed everyone, then killed some of the neighbors, and they blew up the building.”
“I also saw them torture and kill two of the kidnappers.”
“The ones who were stupid enough to kidnap a mercenary,” Paulo answered.
“Mercenaries did this?”
“Yes. Very brutal mercenaries who could eat our asses for breakfast and complain that there wasn’t enough meat on our bones.”
“Cannibal mercenaries? I never heard of anything like that.”
“They weren’t cannibal mercenaries, you idiot. It’s an expression about how tough they are,” he said.
“They can’t be that tough.”
“They went through Francis Baudin’s mansion in five minutes. They killed everyone and everything in that house. The only sound they made was their guns and grenades going off.”
“We saw the beds. We couldn’t figure out why they blew the shit out of the beds.”
“When you went in a room with a bed, did you check under it for a person?”
“Yeah. We looked.”
“They didn’t look. They just lobbed a grenade under the bed. If there was a person there, well the person wasn’t an issue any longer. If not, the bed didn’t care.”
“Yeah. That’s a good word to describe them. Where’s that doughnut?”
“It’s coming,” one of the policemen said.
“What?” he asked turning to look at the Sword walking up to him.
“There’s a baby.”
“Yes, we found a baby. It’s maybe three or four months old. It appears to have slept through the whole battle.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay. Sword Hang is with it.”
John asked, “You’re not going to kill it, are you?”
“No. We’ll take care of it until we get to town, and then put it with a family to raise.”
John followed Sword Howard to the house where the baby was being kept. Sword Hang was holding the baby in her arms and feeding it. There were no obvious wounds on the baby.
“You look good with a baby,” Sword Howard said.
“Thanks. I found some milk and a bottle. I was surprised. I figured that the mother would have been breastfeeding it considering the lack of money around here.”
“She may not have been able to produce enough milk,” Sword Howard said.
“Or she bought into that whole formula is better crap,” Sword Hang said.
“It is,” John said.
Both Swords looked at him as if he was an idiot.
He repeated, “It is. Everyone knows that.”
Sword Hang said, “It’s not. That’s what the makers of the product want you to believe. A mother’s milk is naturally crafted to take care of all of the nutritional needs of an infant.”
This was another example of where pseudo-science put together by a party with a vested interest in the result, was used in advertising. Four out of five doctors say (fill in the blank), so buy our product. What was really being said was that four of the doctors were paid to say it, said it, while one had enough integrity that he wouldn’t say it. Although, he might have been paid to disagree. Oh, and if your doctor disagrees with our pseudo-science, then he’s one of the ones who is in the wrong.
“How do you know?”
“I have a master’s rating in medicine,” she answered.
“Same here. I also have an acceptable rating in pediatrics.”
“Why do you know pediatrics?”
“You never know what will happen in war,” Sword Howard answered.
“We’re not the first warriors in history to find a baby after a battle and we won’t be the last.”
“I thought you said there was not a lower limit on the age of a combatant,” John said.
“There isn’t. If a person had run at us and tossed the baby at us, we’d have blown it out of the sky. There are a lot of cases where people used infants as means to deliver death and destruction. In battle, there are no innocent bystanders. Everyone is a combatant. Right now, we aren’t engaged in a battle. The baby isn’t a threat. It will never be a threat to us since we can determine how it will be raised.”
“It’s a he,” Sword Hang said.
“He’ll never be a threat.”
“I never finished searching the house. Can you see if you can find a birth certificate?”
“I’ll do that,” Sword Howard said.
“What are you searching the houses for?”
“Spoils of war,” Sword Howard answered.