Dodging cover to cover through the decaying buildings and rubble took over 5 hours, after which he reached the main thoroughfare. He was able to hitch a ride with a supply convoy returning to the humanitarian base.
The crumbling base sprawled over the northern end of the ruined city. It was a melting pot of mercs and low-lives. The locals tended to avoid it, even though it was built to help them. It had no fortifications and minimal security: Personal safety was your own headache. The smell of the gutter wafted through the air, and the prefab buildings were now starting to decay from the lack of upkeep. The humanitarian organisation which had established the place were long gone. Apparently being this close to fire and death outweighed their ‘noble cause’.
Jack made way to a cheap motel towards the west of the base. for a measly sum, you could get some food, recharge your equipment and get to sleep in a small little coffin-hole set horizontally into the wall. In fact, the motel was a converted crematory. It had rows upon rows of ‘rooms’. Good enough to rest up. His op (operation) had required a lot of running and sneaking, leaving him quite drained.
The very next day he went over to ‘The Smoking Guns’, barely a pub by any standards. He had met the client there, and today was the scheduled pick up.
As he entered through the door, the chatter quietened a bit, and then resumed with gusto.It was moderately filled, reeking of filth and with a crowd who would like nothing better than to kill you and take your stuff. He went to a seat adjacent to the wall and ordered a vodka implosion. While he waited, he had a look over at the people there. There were your usual seedy-types, looking around furtively, trying to pickpocket from the drunks. A group was playing holo cards. It seemed like a high-stakes game, quite a crowd had gathered. Then, alone at the bar sat a guy with a red FRIGged shoulder plate. He saw the vodka implosion going from the bartender to the waiter to Jack’s seat, and their eyes met. Contact.
Jack pulled out a cigarette and lit up, took two puffs and flicked it towards the wall. The guy stared at him.
“What are you looking at?” Jack drawled.
“A fuckin loser, that’s what”
Jack got up. “You wanna go?”
He got up and wordlessly pointed at a side door, which led to an alley behind the pub. He went first, and Jack followed.
It was a gloomy unlit alley which dead-ended a few meters on one side and had been closed off by rubble on the other. The guy held up his hand, and a few aerodrones descended from above, hovering near his hand. As he retrieved them, Jack vividly thought about the birds coming to feed.
Jack pulled out the data drive. “What you wanted”. The guy took the drive from him and plugged it into his arm-band. A few minutes went by as his suit AI verified the data. Then he smiled.
“An excellent job done. You were even able to track the troops in the fort. Deserves a bonus, I say.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “You want something else from me”
The smile faded a little.”Well, yes, in fact. We require your services in a related op. This time, you’ll be in a team, and be rather closer to the enemy than before.”
“Closer than I would prefer?”
“Closer than I’d prefer.”
“And who are the other guys on the team?”
“We’ll arrange a meetup. The op is, time-wise, a bit far off. Till then, you can build up on your…..teamwork.”
He shrugged and spread his arms, “What isn’t?”
“And the pay?”
“We’ll make it worth your time. Throw in some good gear too. That reminds me, your reward”
He offered his hand, which Jack shook. In a moment, the money was transferred. Quite enough to cover his expenses and more. Jack let go of his hand.
“In 4 hours, arrive at the air base. They’ll be arriving by transport. Go to the arrivals section, and take a seat. Pretend to read this”, he handed Jack a book with a rough, faded purple cover,” They will ask you directions to the bathroom with no sink. If compromised, reply that you don’t know and walk away. Meet me here and I’ll arrange another meet. You got that?”
Jack nodded once, turned, and started towards the door.
“And hey,” The guy called at his retreating back,” My name is Zink”
Jack nodded once more as he went through the door.