Twenty-Four

July 12th, 2024
1800
Macau
Peoples Republic of China
Gideon couldn't believe the events of the last hours and just how far this mission had gone off course. What had started as a simple security job for quick cash had become a maelstrom of firefights, well-equipped enemies and a seemingly endless supply of people seeking to end his life.
Gideon needed the cash. He longed for a better life for him and his family. He had hoped he had forever turned his back on warfare. A few years back, he had purchased a building in a gentrifying area of Detroit, putting every dime he had into the place. It also became where his Church met. He hadn’t counted on the taxes rising to astronomical levels, first from property tax, and then from the CPC declaring that religious organizations were no longer exempt from taxation.
A Navy SEAL, Gideon had never admitted defeat in his life. He’d been shot, not just a few times, but four times, counting the time an insurgent’s bullet had grazed his head. That number also included when an Afghani translator, upon receiving his m9 pistol for the first time, had accidentally fired it. The ricochet had ended up in his enormous thigh. That same thigh had also been the resting place of a 9×18mm Makarov round fired by a Russian mercenary who had ended up on the wrong end of his MK 48 a few nanoseconds later. The last was a 5.45×39mm from an Iraqi insurgent who managed to shoot him in the shoulder after Gideon breached a door and was first inside the Iraqi’s mud hut.
Hell week was a breeze for him. In Gideon’s SEAL class, 35% completed the course, 10% more than usual. Gideon’s instructors unanimously attributed this to Gideon’s steadfast refusal to leave anyone behind. At one point, he carried two sleep deprived, hallucinating SEALS back onto the beach when they had just tried their absolute hallucinogenic best to drown him.
Money had never been Gideon’s strong suit, and Gideon never asked for help. He had come out of the Detroit ghettos, relatively unscathed. He had enlisted in the Navy to escape, but he knew a few people in the loan shark business. A few days later, his problems with the government were over, but new problems were just beginning.
Gideon stood on the reclaimed land of the Macau airport, looking back along a straight and narrow causeway to the mainland. The thunderstorm that had been on the rise had moved its way onto land, and thick heavy rain began to pour down on the tarmac all around. In the distance, he could see a group of four making their way across the tarmac to board the Norseman. Most importantly to him, Daniel was ok.
Shaking his head, Gideon turned to walk toward the huge Norseman. Gideon noted that the matte grey paint job was gone, replaced with white and red. Emblazoned on its side was the Emerson Corporation logo and Emerson Transport in the corporation’s distinctive typeface. The craft’s front nose ramp was down and open, awaiting the last of the returning men. He studied its deck plating dejectedly, then walked up the ramp to wait for the others out of the rain.
Gideon’s wife Mercedes had softened him and made him a totally different man. A better man, a better friend than he had been. Before Gideon had married, he was known as a hard charging drunk. His team knew he could be counted on when it was time to do business, but when the man was drinking he was not fun to be around. Those days were in the past, and Gideon had not touched the stuff in nine years.
The group of four reached the Norseman and the Norseman's front nose ramp began to rise to seal off the interior. Daniel approached and slung his arm around Gideon's shoulders, giving his friend a comforting squeeze. At least he had his friend Daniel here, he thought as he continued to study the deck plating. The loss of Taksin bothered him. It was a senseless way to die. Gideon couldn't hold it in anymore.
"Taksin had no business being in the middle of that. He was just a kid!” Gideon raged aloud, to no one in particular. Visions of Taksin’s death flashed in front of his eyes, and he had to shake his head to clear them.
Together, Gideon and Daniel watched Gallery climb to the command deck, his eyes fixed straight ahead. The pilots were sitting stiffly at the stations beyond him, where they’d probably been running pre-checks. Now, they carefully avoided turning around.
Daniel must have felt the need to stand up for his friend, or perhaps he was just doing his usual inquisitive thing. He yelled up to Markus Gallery on the bridge like structure above. "That was a lot more resistance than I signed on for. I was contracted to provide basic security, not to get into a massive firefight in the middle of Hong Kong.”
Gideon added his voice to his friend’s. "Those guys were elite. Top tier mercs, maybe even CPC Javelin Operators!”
Markus looked down and seemed to shrug. "We were on a mission. Stuff happens.”
Gideon threw his huge hands in the air in disgust and moved to the back of the bay, muttering angrily under his breath. Daniel persisted. "Who were those guys?”
Markus didn’t quite turn away, but he didn’t answer. To Gideon it looked like he was putting together a speech in his head. It was clear Markus knew a lot more than he was willing to say.
"Come on," Daniel prodded. "Talk to me. Talk to us.”
"Maybe they were Tangent Mercs. I don’t know. Maybe they were CPC or Russian Mafia. What difference does it make? Everyone wants Radchenko!”
Olivet Reyes turned from whatever chart she’d been studying at a fold-out workstation along the wall, and came to her feet. "I say they were definitely Tangent Private Military Corporation Contractors.”
"You can’t be sure," Markus threw back at her.
"I am sure." Her slight Venezuelan accent became more prominent as her emotions rose, but otherwise her voice was cool and detached. "They had a top of the line Shillelagh Manpad, for one thing. Only the Tans would have access to something like that.”
"You don't know that. It’s Hong Kong. You can buy anything there.”
"I don’t think so." She spoke up firmly as she folded her arms across her chest. "Not anything that new, and nothing of that quality."
Markus leaned over the rail to talk at her. "Look, try to understand. Radchenko is valuable, and they know we are hunting him. That makes each of us a target.”
"And they have excellent equipment to go target shooting with," Gideon threw in.
"I agree that somebody is putting money and manpower into this job." Markus then offered what he might have thought was a winning smile. "But, come on, we’re better than they are.”
"I guess we have to be." Daniel deadpanned.
"Look, somehow they found out about Loki, and that’s what makes this less than a walk in the park. Either they got lucky or we have a leak,” retorted Markus.
"A leak. Perfect," Daniel said as he threw up his hands. "Look. I need to know what you know, everything you know, or I'm out. Why do you really want Radchenko? There’s something more than the bounty here.”
Gideon watched with a detached interest at how this showdown was going, and his eyes panned around the room to see where everyone stood. Markus looked across at Loki who had kept quiet throughout the heated discussion. He nodded towards him, and Loki smiled and beckoned for the rest of the group to join him and Markus at the command center’s main terminal.

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