After dropping the luggage at the hotel, Bob Samuels, Wendy Travis and Stan Mitty had a couple of days before reporting to the Academy.
“What do you reckon? Go tourist for a while as we get our clock back in sync?” Stan suggested.
“Sounds good to me,” Wendy agreed.
“A quiet walk should free the head, though keep awake as the local criminals will spot a tourist and home in for the cash,” Bob concurred with a caveat.
“We can leave the cameras and big bags behind and carry our wallets in a buttoned pocket. Better leave your Hawaiian shirt in the closet, Bob,” Stan laughed.
“Ha, as long as you don’t wear your croc hunter outfit, we will fit right in,” Bob riposted.
“What we have will do, if the fashion parade is over ladies, let us go,” Wendy said, getting a little impatient.
“Age before beauty, after you Bob,” Stan decreed.
“The doors wide enough, go,” Wendy snapped to end the debate; as she could see this taking all day, “There is a nice café just down the road where we can have a meal. I’m starving.”
“Never stand between Wendy and a meal,” Stan advised as they started.
“Too damned right, do you have some small change?” Wendy said, setting a quick pace, “There are some street urchins just up the road.”
“Yep stuck a handful in the side pocket; Aussie 5 cents,” Stan advised, “Once the word gets around that is all we have they will leave us alone.”
Before they had walked five steps, they had a horde of little hands raised.
“Inglés gracious por la dinero,” Chorused a dozen kids.
Stan reached into his pocket and scattered a handful towards the children. They dived onto the coins with delight until they examined the coin and reacted in dismay, “Qué tipo de dinero es Este?”
“Ossie, ossie, ossie, Oy, Oy, Oy,” Stan chanted, “Australian.”
The kids just gave him a strange look and wandered off, muttering, “Loco Gringo.” As the other children up the road moving off for better pickings indicated, hand signals had been exchanged to warn that these were jesters and not soft touches; didn’t stop the recipients from keeping the coins, though.
“Worked, hey?” Stan smiled.
“You’re mean, but yep it worked,” Wendy affirmed, “Still that group of loafers have pricked their ears up and are giving us the once over; I expect that we will have company the next time we walk past a laneway.”
“Do we call a taxi instead of walking or you up for a little exercise?” Bob asked.
“I believe we can get to the café without drama, and then we can have a meal in peace, just watch our step afterwards,” Stan suggested, “Though the short hair should give them warning enough.”
“Lead on; there is a steak with my name on it waiting,” Wendy stated, “Before, I may not be as forgiving.”
As Stan had suggested, they reached the café quietly, and they entered and found a table. They soon had their meal in front of them and kept a discreet eye on the street outside.
“A couple of friends have joined the loafers,” Wendy noted quietly, “That takes them to six.”
“Plenty of time to relax and allow the food to settle,” Bob said, “Then if they are still there, we will see how the chips fall. Waste of time to point them out to the cops; they feel it is more important to look good than do anything.”
“Works both ways, if we give the gang a lesson in manners no flack either,” Stan stated.
While they were sitting back enjoying a cup of coffee; one of the loafers wandered over to the café and talked to a waiter. Seemingly satisfied with the answer, he drifted back to his friends, and they resumed their casual watch. Stan signalled for the cheque and pulled a couple of notes out of a pocket without displaying more than that amount. Bob and Wendy dropped a small note each as tips following the same technique. Eyeing the waiter in the mirror, Stan caught him shrugging to indicate light takings. Possibly a big smile would give the message that the trio had money. Stan gave the other two a shrug with a wry face, then asked; “Shall we wander up the boulevard towards the church?”
“Sounds good may meet someone to talk to,” Wendy affirmed.
As they walked out the door, Stan added, “Our friendly waiter has pointed up the road towards the church. And there go a couple of the watchers.”
“Shall we play with them or just continue?” Bob asked.
“At the moment there are six. If more reinforcements arrive, I suggest that discretion is the better part of valour,” Wendy advised.
Stan and Bob nodded then walked casually up the road towards the church; on the way passing a police officer.
As they did Wendy inquired of this worthy, “Por favor capitán, Por que e sos hombres siguretes purteneca a un fendo de salud?” (Please captain, Do these men behind have health insurance?)
This question puzzled the policeman, “Cá? Voy a pregunter, Senorita,” (What? I will ask, Miss.)
“Mucho gracias, Mon Capitán,” Wendy thanked him as she continued walking.
Glancing in the window reflection, as the loafers came level with the cop; the policeman asked his question, by the shoulder-shrugging together with looks in our direction, must have also puzzled them. While they resumed their travel, it wasn’t with the same bravado as before.
As the team approached a likely laneway the two men who had previously hurried up the road stepped out and confronted them, “Dinero rapidamente.”
Stan flung a handful of the small coins into their eyes with a side motion; following up with a jab to the diaphragm doubling the first assailant in two. A sidekick to his partner eliminated the threat from that man.
The following four came running up, the lead with a knife in hand which he dropped as one of Wendy’s knives appeared in his shoulder and the next man suddenly had trouble holding his pants up as his belt was sliced in half, by a slash from another of Wendy's knives.
Bob sprang into action at the same time dropping one with a chop to the throat and his second with the ‘geld the stallion, crown the king technique’ (genital grab lifted overhead and rap the head of his mate with the still closed knuckles).
Wendy retrieved her knife, wiping it on the target’s shirt; there was no further action as those able made good their escape. By now the policeman had wandered up and answered Wendy’s previous question, “Senorita, Me temo quo se alvidaron, lo más lamentable; Identidad por favor?” (Apparently, they don’t, very sad, identity please)
“Certainly here’s my passport,” Wendy handed it over.
“Gracias; a diplomatic!” The policeman passed it straight back as if it was on fire, “And yours would be the same?”
“Indeed,” Stan confirmed displaying his credentials as did Bob.
“I see, gracias, please enjoy your stay in our fair country,” The policeman saluted and returned to his post, ignoring the injured men.
“That seems settled. Shall we proceed with our walk?” Stan suggested.
“Yes, that certainly was entertaining; perhaps if we leave someone will help these poor souls,” Wendy added.
They walked on with Wendy pocketing the dropped knife. The rest of the afternoon was pleasantly spent visiting tourist sites. “I think the rest of our stay should be less energetic when the word gets around,” Wendy commented.
“Those toys of yours, I believe customs wouldn’t have been too happy about them?” Bob asked.
“Wonderful things, diplomatic pouches,” Wendy smiled. “Though don’t play the innocent as I saw a couple of other packages with familiar names in there.”
“Perhaps, Dine in tonight then another stroll in the morning?” Stan asked.
“Sounds like a plan,” Bob and Wendy agreed.
“By then I should not be jet-lagged and able to enjoy the sights,” Stan commented, “We have an interview with Brigadier Vasquez at 9 am Monday, we need to be at our brightest for that.”
The night and following day went without incident and early Monday the trio hailed a taxi and set out for the appointment at the military academy. The team was ushered in and introduced to Brigadier Vasquez and Commander Rodriguez from the marine section of the naval academy.
“Good morning, welcome to our fine country,” Vasquez said in welcome, “I hear that you have already had some entertainment?”
“That was nothing, a little exercise after a nice meal, I believe we didn’t cause any no permanent damage, perhaps they may decide to obtain employment as an alternative way of life,” Stan commented.
“One could hope; the programme that we intend is to attend the academies to spread your knowledge, and prepare our troops for the struggle that we find our nation involved,” Rodriguez advised.
“What would be the problem?” Travis asked, “And what particular knowledge is required?”
“There will be a full briefing in the coming few days, in a nutshell, at the Northern departments there have been low-level incursions apparently local bandits but perhaps backed by our neighbours. The apparent aim is to separate this area ultimately to merge with those neighbours.” Vasquez supplied. “And in another district, there have been reports of robots which attack all people at random. We evacuated this area for safety.”
“As most of our training has been to counteract large-scale invasions; these circumstances have put us in a catch-up situation. The counter-insurgency skills are what is required,” Rodriguez added.
“We will be advising all three arms, should be interesting dealing with the Air Force. With the Navy we keep the advice to land warfare,” Stan responded, “For myself, I have been in Vietnam, Rhodesia and lately exercises in North Australia dealing with these scenarios. So has Travis and Samuels for the last two.”
“Yes we have had a briefing as to some of your activities, though some details are missing, perhaps to cover sensitive information,” Rodriguez confirmed.
“We know who is behind the last incursions, but diplomacy decrees if we say nothing they won’t either; since nothing happened, there are no stories to tell,” Stan affirmed, “Plausible deniability as I assume is the case here. Perhaps if you get Warrant Officer Samuels drunk enough he may drop some hints,” then grinned when Bob protested to the others amusement.
“Your briefing on the role will be given over a few weeks so that you can generate the training programme required. With the robots which our scientists have dubbed ‘Daleks’ I have heard of no reports of the use anywhere else, we will depend on the initiative and 'on the spot' planning; something which Academies are notorious in discouraging,” Vasquez advised.
“That’s where your infamous luck and fine disregard of official orders should shine, eh?” Travis asked.
“Since I didn’t go to an academy, they haven't corrupted me,” Stan advised, “Yes, it is a help.”
“It is well that I have served with Australians in the past and therefore, understand their sense of humour. The dossier doesn’t indicate that you two are married?” Vasquez asked.
“Not likely,” The answer came in stereo from Wendy and Stan.
“Well then, this afternoon Major Gomez will take you through the Electrical and Mechanical Facility to familiarise with the robots and show some video of them in action.”
The preliminaries being finished the trio adjourned to the administration department to be assigned accommodation and a map of the areas to be used, together with an itinerary of their first weeks’ activity. Major Gomez ushered them into the garage where technicians were investigating the robots. Most of the exhibits were only bits and pieces. “These ‘Daleks’ self-destruct when out of fuel, ammunition or otherwise likely to be captured. We do have one intact which failed because the electronics were disabled. However it is booby-trapped, and we have to work on it remotely and very cautiously,” Gomez advised.
“The investigators are keeping the subject mechanism in the dark behind a sandbag wall. The workshop is within a ‘Faraday’ cage,” Warrant Officer Julio Giminez explained, “So far we have removed two panels and neutralised the traps behind. Solar panels charge the batteries, which is why we keep the Dalek in darkness.”
“Could we have a closer look?” Stan asked, 'I am a technician, and WO Samuels is an I.E.D. expert.'
“If it is permissible, Major Gomez?” Gimenez asked, and when he received the go-ahead, “Follow me to the specimen. I will caution on quietness and no shining of lights.”
They followed the WO into a side building which had earth embankments surrounding with a zigzag approach to the doorway with a robust door; the roof design was hinged at the lower edges and split at the ridge as is the typical configuration of a munitions storeroom. Red lights lit the inside; in the centre was a large sandbag rectangle with small gaps at 1-metre height. Ropes and pulleys at each gap indicated a moveable cover. A couple of technicians were operating an endoscope and viewing the result.
“The technicians do not speak English fluently, any questions should be in Spanish or directed to me,” Julio explained in a whisper.
“Buenos Dias, senores, Nis muestra las bomba se han encontrado?” Stan asked.
“Si, observe por favor,” One tech said as he adjusted the view.
"Gracias, Bob see those leads and pins wrapped around a spindle. I would suppose that that would allow the person who delivered the items to withdraw from the area before arming," Stan said.
“I count five, so there are that many in just this compartment. Nasty is not the word I would use, diabolical perhaps,” Bob said.
“Si, uno diabolico hombre Este,” The tech agreed with a grin.
“Photos and diagrams are over on the wall, progress is slow as we don’t want to lose this specimen,” Julio explained."
Moving over to the indicated desk, Stan commented, “I see. Once beyond the traps, the unit is rugged. As we have already seen from the fragments, the explosives are excessive, intended to destroy all equipment and personnel nearby. I would set just enough to destroy the sensitive equipment to save weight and complexity. A few ounces of thermite paste would achieve that without making it so dangerous to the assemblers. ”
Returning to the larger warehouse, Stan and Bob settled down to examine the fragments and partly reassemble them into a unit. After an hour at this task, they had reassembled most of one. “I count about twenty charges set around the frame, so about 20 kilos? Enough to destroy a 10-ton crane base, let alone a one-tonne vehicle talk about overkill,” Bob estimated, “Set off by an internal self-destruct or pull trigger detonators under the panels.”
“This should be fun; I think the two of us could spend an hour a day usefully either dismantling or reverse-engineering from the data,” Stan decided.
“Yes an hour is about the longest safe time on explosive disabling,” Bob concurred, “These wheels look like the ones fitted to small skid turn tractors; easier to spin the whole rather than rotate a turret.”
“Hmm, perhaps if I were to ask some questions of an intelligence nature, I would be useful rather than just nodding my head wisely,” Wendy interjected, “Julio, have you forensically inspected for fingerprints these parts, etc.? What conclusions have you arrived at?”
“There is a folder on the desk with all that information as has been found,” Julio advised.
Wendy went over and was soon reading the information. While there were some fingerprints, they had been no matches found, the same with DNA, the chemical analysis of explosive components are consistent with explosives manufactured in Brazil. Electronic components and wiring were consistent with European sourced equipment of radio and servo types. Some scratches and screw holes were evidence that the makers have removed the manufacturer’s labels from the chassis, and stamped serial numbers had been ground off.
“Well I can add some ideas; these machines were assembled underground, in non-sterile conditions using road transported components,” Wendy announced with an expectant air.
Stan asked, “And how did you come to that conclusion?”
“Road dust on the inside of panels also mould spores of a type not found in the open or above ground. The fingerprints and DNA mean that most assembling was on a flat floor without special clothing.”
“By the Lord Harry that’s brilliant, Travis, if you follow-up on those clues, that will keep you occupied,” Stan advised, “I would suggest then that the chassis are sourced separately, with other bits and pieces cut to size plates from another and electronics assembled elsewhere.”
“What is the observed field endurance, Julio?” Stan asked.
“Three days of action and distance covered about fifty kilometres; though they can loiter for a week on internal batteries. Fuel dictates the endurance, with the maximum being ten days. Rarely do they operate like that as the idea is to create maximum terror before heavy gear can be brought up,” Julio answered.
“Armament?” Bob asked.
“Fifty calibre sniper rifle with five-round magazine, 7.6 mm machine gun with a 100 round magazine, two tow missiles and two ground to air missiles. When the ammunition is used up, it can use the self-destruct explosives to destroy infrastructure or vehicles,” Julio supplied, “Though they leave bridges alone, to avoid cutting their fellow machines off from targets.”
“That’s fairly sophisticated programming; surely the brain that designed these machines would do better from selling an unarmed version for hazardous operations to the commercial market?” Wendy commented.
“I would agree with that assessment, however so far that is a dead-end for research,” Major Gomez answered, “We have looked there has been no similar equipment on the market.”
“I would guess this is one of those infamous Mad Scientists, with an axe to grind with your country, has there been a profile done to narrow down the suspects?” Wendy asked, “The Borderlands have Portuguese speaking people, has any bright but unstable student become missing?”
“I will see if the police have investigated that line,” Gomez agreed, “The weapons and electronics indicate a well-funded and extensive establishment with high-security cover.”
“I have heard that SAE, to mention one group, are a law unto themselves. Perhaps if someone convinced them that there are communists over the border; they would back them to the hilt, and not even their government would know,” Gomez added, “There are twelve to twenty at each deployment, at one-month intervals.”
“The factory can assemble the higher number in a month, securing the components without raising flags would be the reason for the varying number as well,” Stan suggested. “A van could deliver one or two tractor chassis or any of the other components without drawing much attention. With the delivery to the dispatch zone done with one large Pantech.”
He then added, “A simple timer is all that is needed to actuate the programme; to allow the delivery personnel to retire safely. The programme would be to follow a GPS path going from A to B engaging targets as detected.”
“The Army has tried tanks, and while they are successful against individual mechs, as soon as one ‘Dalek’ identifies a tank, it rallies all nearby units to attack. While the tank can take out several, it doesn’t last long before it is disabled and the crew is lost. As they can make thirty or forty mechs for the cost of one tank, let alone the real cost of the crew. The cavalry is very reluctant to become involved.”
“With a sustained speed of ten kilometres per hour and sprint capability of fifteen it can move quicker than men on foot but much slower than motorised vehicles. Since the drones home in on vehicles or any radio transmissions, it is hard to organise mechanised ambushes.”
Stan suggested, “Having seen these exhibits, I will need to see them in action to work out a strategy to combat them.”
“I will work with intelligence and try to narrow down this Mad Scientist. Perhaps if identified, he can either be talked out of this programme or otherwise neutralised.” Travis said.
“I’ll concentrate on disarming the captured unit, and perhaps a counter weapon can be designed, or tactics worked out,” Bob said rounding off the suggested plans.
“There is a patrol leaving in a few days to the next likely target; at this stage, limited to observing and not combat. I am sure that you will be welcome to join them,” Major Gomez suggested, “At the moment engineers are constructing a post outside the observed limit of the ‘Daleks’ range. I am sure that if you can spot any features required, it would be appreciated.”
A few days later Stan accompanied the patrol to the area in question. Major Gomez was leading and said, “This is the deepest incursion so far,” Indicating a clearing about a hundred metres up the road. Small trees and shrubbery shattered and lying down around a central point indicating a largish explosion.
Consulting his radio operator who said, “There is no activity at the moment, no radio transmissions detected.”
“Operator, send a sitrep,” Gomez ordered, “Now we move immediately to cover and see if that stirs up something.”
After the party had left the road, they took cover behind shrubbery Gomez raised an eyebrow in query, and received the message, “Two data bursts,15 degrees apart to the North.”
Looking in the direction Gomez indicated that two small dust clouds were approaching.
“They will stop soon, that clearing shows the fuel limit, and they go ‘doggo’ lying in ambush for up to two days then ‘boom’,” Gomez explained. “Unless of course, they have extra fuel; in which case we will soon have company.”
"That's reassuring," Stan said.
Gesturing for the radio operator to approach Gomez grabbed the other earphones and listened, after a few seconds passed it over to Stan, “They are guiding each other to our last transmission.”
Stan could hear short squeals at intervals which gradually became stronger until the source came into view in the form of two low, wheeled vehicles and just after the clearing diverted into cover and stopped.
“If we were to make a loud enough noise, emerge into view or send a radio signal, both would smother this spot with their entire arsenal. After which they would charge and detonate themselves,” Gomez advised, “What we will do now is set a few whizz-bangs and then quietly move back to safety before we let them off. We still have to maintain radio silence as the TOWs will home in up to a mile.”
This maneuver they completed, moving to an overlooking hillock where they could observe the area. Gomez detonated the whiz-bangs which the Daleks immediately fired on; then the two machines came roaring out, swinging to either side of the baited area after which they detonated adding two more overlapping clearings.
“Spectacular indeed,” Stan commented, “Some poor farmer would be killed or at least scared to death.”
“Yes ‘farmer on a tractor’ were the first targets and made it impossible to farm anywhere north of here,” Gomez said, “All civilians have had to be evacuated to at least 30 kilometres south of here to allow a buffer zone. Aircraft can’t fly any closer.”
“Any signs of more?” Gomez asked and received the negative, then signalled the scouts forward to inspect the area, leaving the radio operator with a couple of observers the party moved up and examined the ‘Dalek’ sites. Marking fragments for collection as they went, the two units were unrecognisable as mechanical assemblies. Having completed the examination, Major Gomez directed the patrol's return to the new depot about two kilometres south of the boundary of incursions.
“If they get any closer the vehicles will have to be moved further back,” Gomez said.
After about an hours’ march, the cliff which housed the depot came in sight. The team entered a cave, in the ceiling, there were ladders to gain access to the actual quarters.
“The roof of the cave has been constructed of reinforced concrete designed to survive double the explosive observed. Still best to keep it hidden as even one would a nasty experience,” Gomez explained, “When it is fully active entry will be constricted by being narrow, pitfalls with catwalks bypassing, all of which should prevent the ingress of the ‘Daleks’.”
“The area is also a pinch point for roads, only one pass through this ridgeline which has been mined with remotely triggered explosives, together with dragon teeth to slow down traffic; it also slows our supply vehicles.” He added. “Since a ‘Dalek’ is narrower than a truck, the obstacles are moveable, and the post has to be manned.”
“A lot of work has gone into this, and I see no weak points. I guess that the learning process was expensive?” Stan ended with a question.
“Very much so, as you saw today each batch travels that bit further and are more aggressive,” Gomez acknowledged.
“Well, it has been very entertaining, best return to the workshop and try to determine vulnerabilities,” Stan decided, “The radio signals from the “Daleks’ are consistent?”
“The programme is to guide each other and if we home in on them, more targets,” Gomez supplied.
Arriving back at the workshop, Bob and the team had completed the dismantling of the explosives and were now tinkering with the guidance system.
Stan put on some overalls and started tracking the circuits, starting from the power supply to the fuse bank Stan was able to see the problem. A critical fuse had been displaced, rendering the electronics useless.
“Ah-ha, for want of a nail the battle was lost; in this case a slipped fuse,” Stan announced, “I believe that I will refrain from replacing it for now.” To render it safe from temptation, Stan carefully removed all the fuses with tweezers and placed them in an evidence envelope. Then continued tracking the circuit to the separate power supplies for individual boards; one power lead ran to a metal box which also had video, and computer leads plugged in. Stan then commented, “This would be the brains, I will start labelling leads and identifying their functions.”
The box was mounted on aircraft type ‘barrymounts’ which limit vibrations and isolate from shock. Being mounted below the top access plate, this would be the vulnerable point from an overhead attack. Not easy but doable if the ‘Dalek’ were overturned or targeted from overhead, “Take care when dismantling this box, any bio-data would likely be the designer’s and not a worker,” Stan commented, “Bob could you remove the access panel in case there is something nasty. Not that I like giving you the rough end of the stick, but the priority is to maintain this in one piece, and you have the touch to avoid surprises.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Though I doubt there is anything as it would compromise the operation of the computer. One wrong bump and the brain would go leaving the protection unarmed,” Bob said, “Still a stitch in time saves nine.”
Bob started by examining the exterior and ventilation holes for wires attached to the panels. Finding none, Bob carefully released one side and examined the underside then satisfied released the remaining screws. “OK safe enough, no surprises as I expected.”
“Ta, let’s see if there are any special chips,” Stan said as he started to note the components taking photos as he went.
While some of the numbers had been buffed off, the tracks and quantities of these components gave a clue to their function.
“When we have the data, I wonder if I can have ‘Ziggy’ take a look and give us a circuit layout. He had a job to check out a harvester control board which had the chip ID buffed off, only took a couple of days for him to determine the circuit,” Stan suggested, “He is still in Queensland so shouldn’t be too hard to track down.”
A phone call was made to the Consul office to make contact via the Army back to Oakey base to see if something could be arranged. As Army Intelligence had set up their visit in the first place, they had the basic briefing so did their best to expedite the transfer of data. Ziggy had been contacted and began work on the board and circuits; Stan had followed most of the leads and deduced the voltages which were going into the mainboard, most were standard values direct from batteries.
Actual control was using solenoids to control higher amperages required to make control adjustments which in turn used the standard hydraulic pistons from the donated chassis. A very sophisticated programme was needed to allow cross-reference of GPS and camera inputs, Ziggy identified a GPS receiver which was programmed for a simple road A to B setup. This feature was helpful; this reduced the routes available, which then had to be interdicted and allowed small parties to scout the terrain using animal trails to avoid detection.
After assessing the situation, Stan arranged a meeting with General Vasquez to put forward his advice.
"Very good, now I have the authority to put forward a proposal to you, Your government has asked for your term to be cut short and we made a counteroffer to employ you directly, would you accept a commission of Lieutenant Colonel in our army?" Vasquez asked.
"Couldn't improve my standing with my Army as I have done it before, I heard retirement was being suggested at the end of my role here. If Travis and Samuels were in the mix as they are both special recruits for a single purpose," Stan considered.
"Far from me to break up a crack team, I have already spoken to both, and their condition for acceptance was to come as a team," Vasquez agreed.
"I will have a quick chat with them and let you know. Thank you, Sir," Stan replied.
"The first job I have in mind is the Anti-Dalek project," Vasquez offered then stood and shook his hand.
Stan left and found Wendy and Bob then asked, "Well, what do you reckon?"
"Well I am for accepting as the word has come back 'thanks for the job', but there is no further posting," Wendy answered.
"Much the same with me," Bob said, "I am looking for a new job myself."
"Are you both with me, the powers that be aren't interested in my return," Stan admitted, "I am accepting the offer might as well jump before I am pushed."
"Sounds good to me, I was offered a Captaincy," Wendy said.
"I was too, but said I was more interested in Warrant rank, less paperwork," Bob laughed.
"OK let's do it, General Vasquez is patiently waiting," Stan advised, "Even has a task of interest to us. It is what we have been doing already, the Daleks."
"OK then we give the good news to the old bosses and save them the bother of thinking," Wendy suggested.
"Let's went Cisco, Heh, heh," Bob cracked.
The three assembled in their room and had a brainstorm conference to word their resignations appropriately. It was decided that a preamble laying out the need to complete the task that they had been assigned, and while it was sad that their role with the Australian Army would come to an end it was desirable to complete the task for the friendly nation. Obtaining a computer and printer a resignation letter beginning with the preamble they had nutted out and then the reluctant tendering of the resignation.
The team had completed the paperwork contacted General Vasquez and announced, "Stan here, once our resignations are accepted; we would be available for the positions offered."
"Excellent, once it is official, I will call upon you to head the team to neutralise the insurgents," Vasquez said.
Since Australia was keen to be separated from any association, the reply was swift and final, having this signal in hand they adjourned to Vasquez' office where they presented their credentials.
"Welcome to our Army, Captain Travis, Lt Col. Mitty and Warrant Officer Samuels," General Vasquez announced, " I will do the paperwork shortly and arrange an induction. I suppose there will be some noses out of joint, no worse than there are already."
This paperwork exercise went quickly, and the Team was assigned to the Dalek front to commence operations in earnest.
Heading back to the base, Stan spotted a ‘Dalek’ (a.k.a. an autonomous attack drone) ahead.
This machine had located a trail to the camp and was preparing to set up an ambush to catch out the men entering or leaving, and luckily the team had spotted it. Stan was still in combat patrol mode and approaching quietly from amongst moving bushes which had occasional hot spots from smouldering embers. Both of these disguised him from the passive movement and infrared detectors which surrounded the turret rear. Actually, ‘luck’ was the only advantage humans had against these automatons. One on one a battle tank would probably succeed, but once the first ‘Dalek’ spotted the tank, it would call in a dozen fellow machines, and that would be that for the armoured vehicle, as despite losing 3 or 4, the rest would defeat the tank in short order. As the enemy can replace dozens of these machines for less than the cost of one tank let alone the training of the crew, tanks weren't a viable option except on wide-open areas where the tank can pick them off outside the machines attack range. A patrol of 3 men had the best chance as additional men attract too many ‘Daleks’. A scout to detect from a distance, a sniper to disable one sensor at a time; with the third keeps an eye out for others as they travel in patrols of up to a dozen keeping contact with data burst radios. As they detect radios which they quickly triangulate and home on, human patrols can’t use the radios for communication.
As Stan was the sniper in the middle, he signalled the scout to lay flat and Sergeant Samuels to be ready to backup; then dropping into a shallow depression, Stan set up his rifle. The plan was to take out the sensors one by one as the unit rotated trying to locate its foe. The vulnerable target was the targeting sensors alongside the main gun; once this last was knocked out, the mechanism behind the turret would be disabled. This damage achieved the backup man would run forward with a 6-foot lever, then tip the ‘Dalek’ on its side exposing the centre of the turret roof, one more armour piercing round would then destroy the brain and radio. When the backup man has tipped the machine, he has about five seconds to take cover as the ‘Dalek’ then self-destructs in an attempt to take its attacker with it. The tip-over also prevented the firing of the rockets which were not usually deployed against individuals and blocks most of the radio transmissions.
Blam!! The ground seemed to rise and subside as the self-destruction blast took place; the advantage of tipping the Dalek over is that the arrangements of the explosive charges for sideways dispersal. Most of the explosive wave directed into the ground or vertical kept the destructive effect localised except for shrapnel falling back to earth. Task completed, the team remained hidden until after the dust had settled and then with no new threat imminent, then reformed the patrol and moved back to base; noting that the close approach had to be reported to avoid leading any ‘Daleks’ back there. Access to the base by entering a cave where several vertical ladders, allowing entrance to the accommodation; these ladders being inaccessible to ‘Daleks’ and protecting each ladder was a murder hole, from there rifle shots could hit the vulnerable spot.
As the patrol approached the base, the warning flags in the recesses across the front of the cliffs were orange, these indicated data burst activity nearby. Either red or orange meant returning patrols were to remain hidden until the green all clear flag. The team settled down in one of the prepared bolt holes scattered around the base, to await the all-clear. The flag was displayed a little time later after decoding the data bursts as distress from our target.
Stan leapt out and marched quickly into the cave as he was getting tired and grumpy. Reaching the base of the ladder he climbed and stepped off into the assembly area, flashing an ID at the camera and then pushing through the door to the armoury to dump the rifle: planning to return and clean it after having a shower and feeling more human. As Stan did this, a corporal ran up and said, “Hey soldao de limpeur y puna esa arma de astensia, luego informa an RSM.”
A little annoyed, Stan yelled over his shoulder, “Sarge sort this idiot out; I’ll be back as soon as I am civilised.”
At this the newly arrived corporal puffed up and went red, starting to protest but stopped when Samuels drawled, “The Colonel’s compliments to the RSM and tell him to pull his head in.”
Samuels commenced cleaning his weapons before racking them as he was obliged to set a good example having the same rank as the RSM.
Having had a quick shower, Stan went back to do the required task as each man has to be sure that his equipment was fully serviceable for any eventualities. Stan had this routine because if he came away after cleaning; he could be tied for hours debriefing and catching up with paperwork; he would rather not pong all day.
As Stan walked into the armoury, Samuels was still finishing, “That was a bit naughty, and the poor boy is bent and twisted for weeks. Your mother wouldn’t recognise you with the cam on.”
“I am sure that you can explain the facts of life to him,” Stan snorted, “I flashed my ID, which the RSM probably did see and then set the poor boy up. Meet you in at the debrief, after you have a shower; your mother wouldn’t want to recognise you from that pong.”
Samuels grunted and doubled off to remedy his sartorial inelegance; meeting Stan in the debrief room looking like he was stepping on parade in what seemed like a fraction of the time Stan had taken. He indicated that the other teams should debrief first while Stan caught up on the intelligence reports. Taking his turn, Stan stood and drew his patrol route. “Located and disabled the first mech here and the second by the creek. On the way back we intercepted the last target nearby, this marks the closest that they have come.”
Major Gomez then summarised the reports adding that there had been data bursts from a wide area indicating a total of about twenty. The teams had disabled about 11. There were still about nine moving around; though the balance is away from our local territory. The Blue team had a minor casualty, but he walked in and would be back on deck in a couple of days.
“We have received reports of a new type of machine, a replenishment drone. This development is not a welcome development as the mechs programmed 'set and forget', with a combat endurance of 72 hours. With a maximum hibernation time of a week; it was possible to have them eliminated before the arrival of a new batch,” Gomez went on, “Allowing us an opportunity to ambush the new batch before they unloaded.”
Running out of ammunition or fuel was a trigger for the self-destruct, preventing capture and dismantling.
“Damn, we had better watch this new tactic,” Stan said, “If I were running their show, the replenishment mech would have a couple of guards. The loss of those could be afforded, as the endurance of the group would be increased far beyond the attrition rate now.”
“Yes they could use this advance to build up numbers to make it impossible to target individual units, and then have a break before the next lot,” Samuels said.
“Can you identify these new units so we can remove them on the first sortie?” Stan asked.
“Not as yet, though Wendy has nearly broken the code, at the moment, she can only tell the difference between distress and rally calls. I expect the replenishment mech will have some acknowledgement code and then operate passively to home in on the mech in need,” Gomez offered, “If we can duplicate the replenishment call, perhaps we can lure it into an ambush.”
“Good idea, get Wendy to work on that as a priority,” Stan ordered, “Catch some rest, and I’ll be in my office.” The last being directed to the team leaders as he headed there.
Gomez had followed me to give a more detailed operations update; Major Rodriguez and the RSM were already waiting. As Stan walked in, the RSM sternly asked, “Why would you tell the poor Corporal to ‘pull my head out and rub my ears’?”
“Eh?” Stan asked puzzled.
“He passed on ‘tirar de su cabeza y frota tus oidos’,” RSM Alberts said with a smile.
“Samuels told the corporal, from me, to pull your head in; the corporal must have decided to translate so that it didn’t sound so bad.”
“I expected as much. I suppose we will need fresh troops to hunt down the last of this batch?” Alberts asked.
“After we work out this last variation, we have to thoroughly investigate these new mechs to see how this increases the danger,” Stan advised, “And new tactics to counter the introduction of these new units.”
“I will organise a couple of scouting parties to see what they are doing. With those assessments in hand, things should be a little clearer.” Alberts decided. “Though I suppose you will want to lead the strike groups? Since I have given up on suggesting the use of common sense or correct protocol to you.”
“Yes I am afraid so, I need to be at the sharp end because real-time intelligence is not available,” Stan replied ironically, “Samuels usually keeps me from putting my foot in it.”
“I would hate to lose the two luckiest men in the command, but as we have found that is our best asset,” Alberts said.
“The harder you work at something the ‘luckier’ you get. But common sense does indicate not to depend too much on machismo,” Stan laughed, “And it wouldn’t be the first time that Samuels has given a thick ear to stop me from overdoing it.”
The RSM looked at Stan speculatively. He added, “And I get my own back next time in the Dojo.”
Then a knock came at the door, and Captain Travis came in with the news, “I've nailed the decryption on the bursts and identified a new one which I believe is the one you are trying to find. The bursts contain the ID of the machine, the GPS location and the purpose. The new one is just the ID and countdown at random times. Then the originator transmits a homing beep to guide the new mech to its position.”
“Thanks, Wendy, if it is directional that may be a problem,” Stan responded, “Does the homing beep contain information?”
“Only the ID signal,” Wendy advised.
“This will take some experimentation,” Stan answered, “If you can record a signal series, we will give it a try.”
After a few days and the scout's reports had been analysed; it confirmed the assessment that the replenishment drone would be moving accompanied with two guarding ‘Daleks’. The rep mech was about three times the size and equipped with manipulating arms; it had a rotating turret and a tandem trailer was attached. Two groups were detected accounting for six of the remaining nine units. Calling a strategy meeting in my office Stan started by saying, “Well we have tracked down the replenishment mechs; we will have to keep the three independent mechs under observation until they need resupply so that we can record the relevant signals.”
“Perhaps if we give them the run-a-round to speed up their fuel consumption; laying some red-herring trails for them to follow to lure them further away from the resupply mech,” Samuels suggested, “Radio calls from the fringe of their operating range would probably do it.”
“Yes that is a good idea, might give Wendy a bigger sample to record; if you organise a couple of teams to entertain them, that should help.” Stan directed. “If the routine of delivery continues, another batch will be due shortly and make our task somewhat harder.”
“How is the experiment with pit traps going?” Stan asked directed to the RSM.
Looking at his notes, he said, “The optimum seems to be between 100 and 110 centimetres when it sits there calling for assistance. Any less and it can get itself out; more than 140 cm and it self-destructs assessing that it is trapped by hostile forces and unable to defend itself.”
“If you can construct a few of those around the base; with our men able to walk over them without tripping them, which would be useful,” Stan said.
“I’ll set the Engineers on the task; the assessment is that the diggers can prepare four a week. Providing the mechs can be kept away,” Alberts stated, leaving the meeting to set a plan in motion.
WO Artificer Julio Gimenez said, “I have a prototype mech which can be programmed to target the enemy mechs and ignore humans. That would be an advantage as the enemy mechs shoot at all humans, including their own. This ploy on their part keeps their ground troops away when the mechs are deployed; which is good for us as we can’t have to have larger patrols to counter enemy patrols.”
“Sounds great, keep up the good work,” Stan congratulated.
The next morning just before dawn the scouts were dispatched to locate the remaining mechs, using animal trails which are too rough and narrow for the ‘Daleks’ to use.
As the mechs were good at churning the dust, it wasn’t long before several were pinpointed with their direction noted to estimate objectives.
“The tactics are different because of the resupply vehicle,” Wendy suggested, “Normally they are set and forget, now there is some variation in direction.”
“Perhaps there is some in task reprogramming, has there been any radio traffic from out of the country?” Stan asked.
“No we have always been scanning for that, and none were detected,” Wendy advised, “We decided that it was all pre-programmed; still scanning and recording in case there is a change.”
“We need to eliminate the standard units, then we can perhaps capture the resupply unit,” Bob suggested, “They may not have set self-destruct mechanism in them, depending on the guard units to protect them.”
“Time will tell. If we nail the independent units and then the guards; we can then investigate the resupply units a bit closer,” Stan decided.
Having located and determined the route that each group was using, the two groups were homing in on the last units attacked. As a concern, these were pointing at the depot.
“I guess those last were sacrificial to locate our base. Eventually, the drones will triangulate the base by position signals,” Stan said, “It is now a problem with the new units as they can loiter outside and besiege us. We have a back door, but that would reduce the usefulness of the depot.”
“The most likely route to here is these trails so if we mine those we can trim them down,” Bob suggested pointing at the map, “This tactic was useless while they were moving randomly.”
“I have the recordings of the distress calls which we can broadcast from narrow passes to lure them into an ambush,” Wendy said.
“Good if we can nail them before they get too close it will make life easier,” Stan decided, “And if we spread the decoy signals, it will give scanners no locus to home in on.”
“You will need the maximum force on the ground?” RSM Alberts asked.
“Yes; all personnel will be involved as this is a crisis; though no heroics,” Stan ordered.
“We will burn the midnight oil to arrange tactics and set them in motion before first light. I estimate that if we have each task group at these positions by sunrise when the ‘Daleks’ start to move, we have the best chance,” Stan said, pointing at the relative positions.
In the dim light of dawn, several groups were in position; the field engineers had set the mines at pinch points with three rows on the depot side, with another three rows on the lead inside, inert currently to be set after the enemy units past them.
As luck would have it, Stan’s group was in position when the first of the replenishment trio entered the ambush pinch point. The lead guard ‘Dalek’ triggered the first mine and was disabled.
As it only had its’ tyres deflated, it remained intact while trying to target its attackers.
Meanwhile, the replenishment unit was stuck as it couldn’t maneuver to reverse direction. The second guard unit backed up and found the now set mine, tipping on its side. The self-destruct perhaps over-ruled, and it remained intact.
The replenishment unit backed up to use its crane, running the trailer into another mine; destroying the trailer. The replenishment unit then disengaged the trailer and moved out of danger with the retreat now blocked with burning wrecks as the fighter had self-destructed after the second attack.
Then ‘Boom’ the first ‘Dalek’ went off with the replenishment unit trying to bulldoze the remnants out of the way.
On impulse, Stan yelled, “Stop, there are antitank mines ahead.”
Surprisingly the replenishment unit stopped and after rotating the turret trying to locate the source of the speech went inert.
Following his guess, Stan said, “We have several weapons trained on you, surrender if you wish to survive!” No effect, “Could one of you repeat that in Portuguese?”
“Temos armos apontadas para voçé, dé-se,” Wendy ordered.
A panel slowly opened, and a white handkerchief appeared.
Wendy ordered, “Devagar cái fora guardando seu mäos acima.”
A small man in overalls alighted from the Replenishment unit and moved to the side of the trail looking forlorn. A couple of soldiers stepped out and secured him while the engineers cleared the remaining mines from the depot trail.
“Let me see; we need a volunteer who knows how to drive a tank and is small enough to fit inside. Wendy, are you busy at the moment?” Stan asked.
“How kind of you to think of me,” Wendy responded.
“I had better check it for booby traps first, Stan,” Bob announced, “Not that anyone sensible would like to sit with an armed one for days at a time.”
After a few minutes checking Bob emerged and announced, “The engine is still running, all seems Okay. I am afraid that Wendy is the only one here that would fit.”
“We have a choice; we can skull-drag it back as we can’t use a vehicle or would you be so kind as to do the honours, Wendy, pretty please with sugar on it?” Stan then asked a little tongue in cheek.
“Since you asked so nicely, I suppose I can,” Wendy said, “But you owe me big-time.”
“I am sure that Bob can provide any personal vice that you have,” Stan riposted.
“Hey, it’s your errand. Don’t bring me into the deal,” Bob protested.
“But you know all the QMs and their naughty little secrets,” Stan came back.
“OK, I‘m doing it, stop the nonsense,” Wendy said climbing into the hatch; and after a few minutes, it surged into motion, initially weaving before settling into following the track.
Gathering the rest of the group and their prisoner, Stan directed the men to cover Wendy as she maneuvered the unit back to the base. Those encumbered with the prisoner and gear were sent down covered trails to return.
All the team arrived back at the depot without further drama and started debriefing. Wendy and Major Gomez were interviewing the prisoner identified as Roberto DaSilva, but otherwise, that was about all, as he was scared out of his wits. It was expected to be a long and delicate process.
After examining the replenishment unit and found nothing was exciting, it explained the apparent intelligence with the new tactics. When fuelling a Dalek, a cable was attached and the programme updated.
One of the other groups came in with news that they had eliminated the other trio and had discovered that their replenishment unit had a man inside who had died in the ambush. They were quite happy with their success but were amazed at learning of Stan’s capture of a live prisoner. As soon as they had isolated their unit, they poured fire into until it stopped moving, then treated it cautiously expecting it to explode at any second.
“If we leak that we found a deceased man in both and keep Roberto under our hat for now until we extract the maximum information from him. The computer interface in our unit will also help if we keep secret the knowledge that it is intact,” Stan said.
“Yes, I concur, though it will be a while before I can gain Roberto’s confidence and make some headway,” Wendy advised.
“I’ll take a couple of drinks down to him and say Ola,” Bob suggested, “Perhaps if we give him a little freedom he will calm down and let us know what we want. I doubt that threats will succeed.”
“That better be kept quiet; the feelings toward the makers of the ‘Daleks’ are pretty unfriendly,” Stan reminded him.
“Naturally, I won’t ask any questions as my Portuguese is not up to it,” Bob concurred, “Perhaps if his guards act as companions and are fluent, he may chat and give a couple of hints which Wendy can then use to guide the questions.”
“Has the identity of the deceased operator been determined?” Stan asked.
“There are indications that he was an Uruguayan, who was of Portuguese descent evacuated from this area but then disappeared. Investigations are underway to confirm,” Major Gomez supplied, “DaSilva is apparently from a small town just over the border.”
Bob put the programme into effect by Bob visiting and calming him down with Wendy following up asking how he was faring, each time building confidence and learning a small morsel to add to the growing pile. He was born and recruited from the small town of Palomas about 40 kilometres north of the border where he was contacted and trained for the job. Initially, it was for a secret movie using the storyline of the Dalek invasion though eventually he was briefed as to the task being real and a great adventure. The task had settled into a dull routine until the ambush, and the possibility of injury, the news that his companion was deceased was kept from him. The intelligence team identified the deceased man as Antonio Guzman, an expatriate Uruguayan living in the same town. It seems Tony was disgruntled with his previous treatment in Rivera where he had grown up.
“I will put a trace on Guzman; he may even be the brains behind the invasion,” Wendy suggested, “Perhaps he was using the replenishing role to find out what was happening to his toys.”
A story extracted from the journal of Colonel Stanley Mitty written in his later career.
Allow me to describe the situation. It is my honour to carry the title of Governor of the Nord Montana Province, my centre of influence is a remote town in South America. This village glorying in the name Nuevo Madrid is an agrarian settlement servicing the neighbouring farmers and the shops required. It is a way stop and storage centre for mining camps further into the hinterlands both for aircraft and freight trucks; strategically situated at the junction of the highway between neighbouring countries and the South highway towards the Provincial Capital San Domingo. To the North were mostly gravel roads connecting the rugged northern mountain reaches, home to the mines and myriad tiny villages. Because of the strategic location, a military barracks and their associated married quarters, with platoons garrisoned in the two border towns and another at a village in the foothills to the north; with these garrisons being relieved at regular intervals from Nuevo Madrid.
Deputy Governor Lieutenant Colonel Romero is in his element in the provincial capital San Domingo attending all the functions which would bore me to tears. For myself being at the centre of activity and wearing a dozen hats such as Police, Customs, Military and anything else that needed doing, filled my working day and occasional night. All these merely gave me something to do with my time and freed me from the intrigues at the main cities which my reputation for bluntness has landed me in all sorts of trouble — rescued from this by the excellent results when tasked with challenging assignments. Hence being bestowed the honour of the appointment to the position of Military Governor of Nord Montana Provence; thus satisfying all problems and removing the irritation from polite society.
The majority of the population were glad to have the peace and safety of my adherence to the common sense application of the law and carry out improvements to the infrastructure to allow even the remoter villages access to markets to improve their standard of living. The minority that had made their living by preying on these same people were somewhat less enthusiastic. Lately, life was becoming rather mundane until one evening. The regular pilot arrived for overnight refuelling and rest. Because this town is equidistant to two borders, it is also a customs inspection station. The aircraft inspections carried with the results relayed to me in my capacity of Chief Customs Officer. As I believe in the principle of the least fuss, I walked down to the local café to have a word with ‘Daring’ Dan Smyth, the pilot in question. “Good evening, Captain. May I have a few words?” I asked.
“But of course, my dear Colonel, How may I help you?” Dan replied.
“There seem to be a few little discrepancies with your declaration. While there are the hidden bits and pieces; there were a couple extra that I would like you to explain as one seems to be, shall we say, forbidden fruit, and the other not identified.”
“News to me, I am not informed on the extras, and as long as they don’t interfere with flight safety, I don’t care,” Dan said.
“OK, this is what is going to happen, the motor sounded a bit rough when you landed, it is going into the shed tonight to have a little service. I expect that all will be nice and smooth in the morning, and you can be on your way after a chat in my office,” I decreed.
“It’s your town; I take it I may sleep in the Hotel as usual?” Dan asked with a grin.
“Naturally, I wouldn’t like our guests in the Juzgado to be disturbed by your snoring,” I returned, leaving to arrange the inspection.
During the search, the men identified two extra additions, one as I expected, a packet of heroin which as I had an understanding with the local crime boss that supply of such drugs was not welcome. The size of the packages was a test to see if we were checking. The other was more disturbing as it was a small explosive device. Both packets were rendered safe then removed. With these in hand, I made my way to Dan’s room inform him of the results.
Placing the offending articles on the table before Dan I said, “This first is heroin and for your information had a small booby trap which could take a finger off if mishandled. This other is an explosive device next to your flight control run, apparently actuated by coded radio and G.P.S.”
“That’s a rum show, I should have found that second one, I suppose that they didn’t want me to stray too far,” Dan complained.
“They will both be put back where they come from, minus their nasty bits, the drugs with cash for about what they paid for the heroin, and the other with a telltale light to let you know if it goes off, I suppose that you can take steps as you think fit. The Kingpin of the company you work for plays a little game with me to see what the gang can get away with; I may turn the screws a bit to remind the boss that there are limits to my patience.”
“I’ll have a few hours to contemplate what to do if that happens, can you rig the light I to allow me to remove it, wouldn’t want to be seen as part of the game?” Dan asked.
“Good idea, I will see to that,” I agreed, “Once you have that info, this conversation didn’t happen. Still, I will see you in the morning for the official reprimand.”
“I will be remorseful and promise to be a good boy from then on,” Dan said solemnly and shook my hand.
I went to arrange the replacements and set in motion the screw turning. My trusted mechanic entrusted with the modified packets to replace safely, and I then consulted with the head detective as to what my adversary was up to lately. He looked a little worse for wear as he had been entertaining the local double agent, thereby distracting him while I was setting up the aircraft inspection. Knowing the identity of the spy, allows me to feed such information as I wanted, as well as picking up on what interested Vincenzo.
“What’s happening on the shady side, anything new?” I asked.
“Oh just the usual, though the warehouses are a little active tonight, old Alphonse was trying to find out if we knew anything and I just acted disinterested,” Detective Jones informed me.
“Looks like I am in for a late-night, Vincenzo slipped a couple of nasty surprises into Dan’s plane, and I would like to return the favour. So ask around and find what he is up to; then we will see what happens if we drop a spanner into the works.”
Climbing into my car, I drove up to the observatory located on a hill behind the town. “Good evening, Professor, how are you tonight,” I began, “Anything unusual happening in recent nights?” We had an understanding that the Professor would report any late-night traffic or lights.
“Well enough, there has been some activity on Sierra Viuda that’s annoying; someone is flashing lights, and that interferes with my telescope. I would appreciate it if you could persuade them to go somewhere else,” Professor Gomez said.
“I intend to upset a few plans this evening,” I said, “Thanks for the information, I’ll get onto it.”
Driving back to the office, I added this information to what I knew. There were some rumours that the mine bosses smuggled indentured workers into the mine. These were usually picked up out of town by truck, by coincidence the road up to the mines passed by the base of Widow’s Mount (S. Viuda). By the time I returned to my office, Detective Jones had also arrived with the information that two trucks would be doing a late-night run to the mines, supposedly to pick up return freight. This programme in itself was unusual as rarely did they leave empty or at night.
“Perhaps if we went earlier and met the trucks as they arrived at their rendezvous, we would be ready to spoil the party,” I suggested.
“Good, I‘ll get the boys loaded up and head up to the mountain,” Jones suggested, “If we use a couple of trucks, they will suppose that we are their friends and wave us down.”
Stan decided that Detective Jones would lead several police officers with another 12 soldiers as reinforcement in two trucks, leaving by a side road, then when out of sight of the town would swing around and re-join the northern road leading to Widow’s Mount. I would remain behind with a police officer and a couple of soldiers, to follow the other convoy when it departed and ready to cover the convoy if it diverted from the expected route. While this meant I might miss out on the fun, Jones was competent to handle the situation; I had my dignity to maintain as well as perhaps the need to distance myself from the case.
Sometime after Jones departed the suspect trucks also left, after waiting for a suitable period, I followed myself and soon caught up to their dust trail. The road wound amongst fields and small villages, the track gradually becoming steeper and with tighter bends as we approached the mountain. As twilight was ending, with the drop-offs and forest closing in, I wasn’t disappointed to know that the trip would soon end. Holding this position, we approached the expected rendezvous, then rounding a bend we found the two trucks being inspected by police at a barricade. The drivers claimed innocence; they were waved on without their cargo to the mines where they would probably have difficulty explaining the lack. ‘Too bad’ I thought.
Stan's car came up to the barricade and stopped. An officer then ushered me over to the group sequestered just out of sight of the road. There were two groups the closer, handcuffed together were a surly bunch of banditos, guarded by two soldiers, and the second group consisted of about twenty labourers receiving water, something to eat and being interviewed by Jones and another detective. Presumably, the other soldiers were in a defensive perimeter so that we wouldn’t be disturbed.
“What do we have here?” I asked rhetorically.
Jones came over and said “My old friend Jose Pena, known to his friends as El Mofeta (the skunk), and worse to those who dislike him, along with his motley crew, I believe that I will be having a long and unpleasant conversation when I drag him back to town. This other group are workers destined for the mines, their heads filled with promises of well-paid employment and then after a year or two return to their hometown wealthy.”
I asked who their spokesman was, “Quen e o sen porta-voz?”
“It is I, Juan Carlos,” Replied one in good English, which I appreciated as my Portuguese was a bit rusty with an atrocious Aussie accent.
“From where do you come and for what purpose?” I asked.
“From the west, to work at the mines with those on my left, They paid me a small retainer which I left with my wife,” He said then indicated the remainder, “These others are from the east; we met a couple of days ago.”
“I afraid the promises are probably without much truth. More likely, the small sum your wife has will be the only money she sees. While I have no proof, it is rumoured that sometime in the next twelve months a bundle would arrive on her doorstep with a note saying that you have perished in an accident and a brief apology. This information may or may not be true; It may also be the last she will hear of you.”
Carlos translated this to his fellow peons, and judging by the grim looks directed at El Mofeta; he would need protection rather than guarding very shortly. So I signalled Jones to load them up and remove them from this area, Jones had also caught the atmosphere developing and ordered the bandits loaded aboard the truck.
Carlos noted this and sighed, “Ah, couldn’t they stay just a little longer; we would like to have a little chat behind the bushes.”
“Detective Jones plans to have a long conversation, and I couldn’t deprive him of that pleasure. Now for you, until this is all sorted how about accepting employment, repairing roads at the going rate, room and board included,” I suggested.
Carlos passed this on and received the affirmative, “This sounds a better proposition than you suggested would happen in the mines; most of us have done similar work at home.”
“I will have you taken into town and housed in the barracks so that you can shower and catch up on your sleep,” I said, “Then in the morning we will work out the details and come up with the best deal between yourself and the Provence. As I am also the immigration officer, I will grant you temporary visas.”
A bus was organised to be sent up from the town rather than overcrowd the one truck remaining. Having set this in motion, I returned to prepare the reception I needed in the morning.
The annoying task would be to write all the reports on our activities. Not my favourite work as it usually meant requests to elaborate.