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Asta L'Vasqqa: A Union Divided

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A UNION DIVIDED | CHAPTER I, PART 3

0932hrs
17th of October, 2018
Vilvau City, The Free State of Vasqqa

 

Everyone in Santiago's SUV heard the single booming report. 

As they rounded the corner of Elissando and Capitol, the crowds of demonstrators clogging the avenue in front of them went from chanting and marching in one moment--to a hurricane of confusion and violence in the next.

The sound had been two notes blurred into one. Santiago recognised it all too well. There was a snap like a snare drum in an empty concert hall, then a single crack like a thunder-clap. It was most definitely high-calibre, probably a .50.

The effect was almost instantaneous.

Screams and shouts, some in the back dispersed and ran, yet Santiago saw some in the fore charge. Bottles were thrown, exploding into inferno where they hit. Shots rang out as police fired rubber rounds. Trails of smoke arced through the air as riot-control gasses were deployed.

 

"Mér! Get us out of here!" shouted Santiago as a few rioters began to take notice of the SUV.

 

The driver didn’t need to be told twice as a brick landed squarely on the SUV's hood, placing a sizeable divot on the thin metal.

They were too late, the Raqqans had made the shot. Subiri was likely dead. Vasqqa was going to shit.

The SUV roared backwards in reverse, sending Santiago, Plover and four members of the SSO kill team rocking in their seats. Santiago heard a dull smack as a rioter was rundown by the driver's reverse drift.

 

"We need to regroup with Shrike!" shouted Plover over the screaming and shouting outside.

 

A stone slammed against Santiago's shotgun seat window. The glass spiderwebbed, but didn't shatter.

 

"That's a hard Neg, birdie-boy", retorted Santiago.

 

The driver slammed on the horn, making a few rioters jumped aside, though one was too late. Santiago felt him go under the wheels.

 

"--we have one shot at this, I'm not leaving until we feather that turncoat f*cker. Shrike can take the handler and our intel back to Intreimor, we stay here and we get this done!"

 

"You don’t mean--"

 

Santiago nodded.

 

"I'm positive those papers had his egress"

 

---

 

0934hrs
17th of October, 2018
Vilvau City, The Free State of Vasqqa

 

2 minutes since the mark.

 

Kingfisher raced down Via Elissondo's back alleys.

He tore down the alley, crashing into haphazardly stacked piles of trash. Close to the exit, he ripped his shooter's jacket off, leaving it crumpled on the pavement behind him.

He slowed as he emerged into the next street, ducking into and down a closed off subway staircase. There was a man in the Guardia Civil's uniform waiting in the stairwell.

They nodded to each other. The guardsman picked up two carbines from the duffel bag at his feet and handed one to Kingfisher. They both continued down the deserted staircase as Kingfisher checked the chamber and flicked the safety off.

 

5 minutes since the mark.

 

Even as they reached the deserted station they could hear the muffled wail of sirens from above. The civil guards were widening their patrol routes already. There's wasn't much time.

Kingfisher signalled to the man and they took off in a sprint down the empty tracks. Kingfisher's companion lit his torch and the beam bounced around the subway tube's walls as they raced down, their heavy footfalls sending rats scattering in the darkness.

The pair ducked into a service passage in the side of the tube and quickly dove through a hole smashed into the wall. They emerged into another tunnel, much older than the first. The guardsman grabbed a spade left lying against the wall and began clogging the hole with rubble.

 

15 minutes since the mark.

 

Suddenly, a light hit the pair of them.

Teresa.

She was followed by two other cell operators, Tuna and Herring. Though Teresa was supposed to have another two in tow.

 

"It was a good shot, I'll congratulate you later."

 

Something was wrong, everyone was tense naturally, but they were short two cellmates and the mood was almost manic.

 

"Is there an issue?", began Kingfisher.

 

Teresa didn't wait, she just signalled the group and they began pulling two motorised carts onto the tracks--old service wagons with a small two-stroke engine used by maintenance crews.

She started one of the engines, pulling the ripcord as the motor sputtered to life.

 

"The guardsmen responded faster than we thought. Sval and Olin didn't meet us, I think--"

 

Suddenly, a clatter of footsteps, followed by shouts came from somewhere down the line.

 

"Mér."

 

They boarded hurriedly and sent the pair of wagons down the tracks.

They were maybe 20 metres down the tunnels when several beams of light hit them from behind.

Kingfisher didn't hesitate, he dove to his belly and into a firing position. The carbine, chambered in .280 roared in the tight confines of the old tube. He sent rapid, tight bursts down the tunnel. The guardsman joined him, firing from a seated position, carbine between his legs. Teresa's PDW spitting 5.7mm rounds down range as she fired from a crouch on the other wagon.

Muttering curses, Tuna reached into his backpack and pulled out a thin black tube. It was an Argic War era grenade launcher. He was pulling 40mm rounds out of the bag when a sudden bump in the tracks sent the case of grenades scattering.

Rifles from the other side were quick to answer, their crashing echoes blurring into one thrum of noise as tracers streaked down the tunnel. Incoming rounds ricocheted and spanked off the gravel base and concrete walls. The fury of noise made everyone's ears ring as the drumroll of gunfire was amplified by the tunnel walls.

The guardsman was sent sprawling, catching a bullet to his shoulder. To his credit, the man didn't scream. Kingfisher shuffled over to his position, continuing to fire the carbine one-handed.

Finally, Tuna slammed the break-barrel launcher closed. Flipping the tall sights up, he lined up his trajectory.

The tube coughed once. A moment passed as the explosive was hurled down the tunnel.

There was a rush of displaced air that passed like a wave before a resounding explosion followed a millisecond later. Every one of the group briefly went deaf as the round ignited. The explosion in such a confined space was devastating and shook the tunnel supports, sending dust raining down.

The hostile fire seemed to stop abruptly, vague sounds of screaming echoing down the tube, barely heard over the ringing in their ears.

 

18 minutes since the mark.

 

Kingfisher exhaled as he treated the guardsman's wounded shoulder.

No more enemy fire bothered them as they reached the end of the line. Quickly dismounting, Kingfisher took stock of his surroundings.

The rail tunnel abruptly broke off, separated by a cyclone-mesh fence and some rail buffers from a wide cavernous expanse of massive pillars and sluice ducts. It was a dark gaping maw of concrete, he figured they could stuff jets and small apartment buildings down here.

Tuna and Herring grabbed a pair of bolt cutters they had left here from before and began wrecking the cyclone fence. Teresa unpacked the rest of their emergency kit and threw one of two ballistic vests the cell possessed at him. It was an exceptionally good piece, light-weight hard fibre laminate, but rated level 4 rifle-resistant. He put it on and slipped a molle rig over it.

The Vilvau storm drains. The city was so prone to flooding that the Vasqqan government poured billions into a massive sprawl of underground ducts, drains and sluices. The whole network ran around and between the city's metropolitan area, built to hold enough water to fill a large lake.

HsLrFqH.jpg

Tuna and Herring were finished. Throwing the cutters aside, they picked up their arms and flicked on the torches duct-taped under the barrels. As the small group advanced through the central aisle, Kingfisher felt a twinge of apprehension.

Something didn't feel right. He couldn't shake the feeling that the air felt... off somehow.

Teresa broke his train of thought as she came up behind him.

 

"Almost there, Joaquin. We'll be heroes when we return to Raqqa. This is exactly the sign the Raqqan people need. We won't put up with spayed Iverican puppets like Subiri. When the loyalists come for Raqqa, they'll find us ready. We'll take the Marches and the Riverlands, we'll forge a border and Raqqa will be free. We'll win this time."

 

He could not bring himself to respond to Teresa as a growing sense of unease built.

Wind.

There was a draft down here when there wasn't before. This was a closed section, bricked off. There should be no draft here.

It was too much of a coincidence, no work was being done in the vicinity, it could not be ignorant maintenance crews.

Someone had been here... Or still was.

 

---

 

Santiago lay prone in the darkness, watching carefully as 5 figures entered the white-hot display of his rifle's optic.

From his vantage atop one of the pillar ledges, he could observe the wide sluice aisle the group was coming down.

The kill team had been positioned around the cavern's pillar ledges, in three pairs triangulating the unsuspecting herd below.

Santiago trained his sight on the lead figure, he couldn't make out Kingfisher from the thermal image, but he knew, as he slowly thumbed the safety off, that he would put one between his traitorous spook-eyes even if it meant having to personally end each and every one of his scummy friends.

 

"Get f*cked, bird boy", Santiago whispered to himself, as he breathed in and lay his fingertip on the trigger,

 

 This one's for Hel-Rus, for three-SOAR.

---

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Previously: When SSO agent "Shrike" offers him a chance to settle an old score with "Kingfisher", now an alleged traitor, Captain Santiago becomes embroiled in a cloak-and-dagger game between the Duchy of Verde and his homeland, the Republic of Iverica. Santiago fails to prevent Kingfisher's assassination of the Vasqqan head of state, Subiri, but manages to confront and defeat Kingfisher in the storm drains of the Vasqqan capital. However, after a watery intervention gives Kingfisher a chance to speak, Santiago quickly learns that his mark, Kingfisher, is no traitor at all, but a double agent still loyal to Iverica. Forging an uneasy alliance with Kingfisher, Santiago must confront Shrike, the real traitor who had masterminded the debacle in hopes of recovering the sensitive documents Shrike has just now gained possession of--but first, there is a small matter of overcoming the suspicions of Vasqqan terrorist leader Teresa. Not to mention the gun she has trained on Santiago's head.

Note: Small error in the previous post (CIII P1), The header says the scene takes place in "Porto Verde". It does not, Porto Verde is in the Duchy of Verde, where the traitor Shrike plans to hand over his captured docs. The real location is Vilvau Storm Drains, where we resume our story...

 

A UNION DIVIDED | CHAPTER III, PART 2

1410hrs
17th of October, 2018
Vilvau Storm Drains

 

Everyone paused for a moment. Santiago could still feel the sweat and sluice water trickling down his face. 

Santiago considered the she-wolf. The terrorist still had her weapon leveled at both men. Santiago spared Kingfisher a glance. He looked mildly perturbed at best, nursing his likely smarting face, where his sharp Narvic nose was bent at an off angle. 

Despite his decade in SOAR, Santiago knew the situation was precarious enough to warrant a prudent anxiety. It seemed that the lady had gotten them on the back foot. If Kingfisher was playing cool, he better have a plan.

 

"In case you missed the cue", Teresa began.

 

"This is the part where you tell me everything", she said, slowly cycling the charging handle of the carbine halfway back and examining the round chambered within.

 

Kingfisher realigned his nose. A soft click was audible when the ligament reset itself.

 

"Everything? Volumes, really. Which part first?" Kingfisher answered. His voice was low, the tone a touch gentle.

 

Teresa frowned slightly.

 

"The part where this pútero got involved", she jerked the carbine in Santiago's direction, where the SOAR officer was frozen, coldly considering Teresa through his unhandsome squashed features.

 

"Involved?... Involved… No. Not quite. Stumbled, perhaps", Kingfisher replied, slowly, but more seriously now.

 

Teresa looked mildly annoyed. But Kingfisher continued.

 

"Truthfully? He's still supposed to kill us. Probably will. Especially me. Slowly.", Kingfisher said, as though Santiago had at most, owed him a swift kick in the rear rather than a slow death by bisection.

 

Santiago could feel the heat in his temple rising. That skinny dicked little bird-faced bastard!

 

"Then why--", Teresa began.

 

"Though--", Kingfisher interjected.

 

"--he won't. Not now. Not while we have a bigger threat to both Vasqqa and his Iverica. Perhaps you thought he was sent in to retrieve me? That I was somehow a triple agent?"

 

Santiago looked on. Teresa just glared mutely.

 

"It is very reasonable", Kingfisher admitted.

 

"Myself, a traitor SSO agent. In your ranks? Coming to Vasqqan terrorists for a way out--freedom from a life of false-facing and moral ambiguity? Odd, you might think. How many human beings really want that?"

 

Teresa was as still as a mannequin. The sluice water dripped from her soaked amber locks.

 

"I know you'll need to find out for yourself. Nothing I'm going to say is going to make you buy my word. That I truly want out of this life. But perhaps you'll listen to your own judgement instead"

 

Kingfisher paused. Santiago thought he saw Teresa twitch a fraction.

 

"Santiago was duped into getting me and stealing our cell's intel so the Verdense can cuckoo Iverica out of Vasqqa. Right now, there's a rogue SSO handler out there about to defect to the Verdense and turn this situation into a bigger mess than it already is. You saw it yourself, he was quick to turn his gun on them the moment he knew that fact. If the Verdense aren't stopped, it will be like the 80's all over again. Santiago and I both agree that isn't a winning outcome for 2 out of the 3 parties involved. The question now is--what say you, Teresa?" 

 

Teresa responded sharply.

 

"I say I shoot that Iverican rat over there. Or I shoot you both and forget about everything.", she replied, an edge in her voice.

 

"Then what? You saw it yourself. Iverica--", Kingfisher gestured to Santiago.

 

"--and those defectors shooting at us earlier are clearly not friends. Contact our cell, we should be close enough to the surface for a signal. There's been a raid, they've taken our drives. What do you think the defectors are going to do with those? Scan them for nudes?"

 

"It's up to you Teresa. The skin is in your field."

 

Teresa nodded slowly.

Kingfisher huffed blood from his nose.

Santiago tensed.

 

"I think I'll shoot you both."

 

---

Your sister's a mister.

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A UNION DIVIDED | CHAPTER III, PART 3

1420hrs
17th of October, 2018
Vilvau Storm Drains

 

It had taken more clumsy wrestling than Kingfisher had expected. But when the awkward tussle in the muck had ended, Teresa lay subdued, her back against the slimy sluice wall and her hands double zip-tied.

Santiago stood by Teresa, damp as a dishrag from the brief but fierce one-sided struggle. One carbine was in his hands and the other, freshly captured, slung on his shoulder.

Kingfisher was panting. He took a moment to catch his breath. He sniffled. It seemed as though his nose had once again deviated from its proper alignment.

There was a click and flare of pain as it was once again reset.

 

"Goot yu cot on quigly", said Kingfisher, once his breaths had settled.

 

Santiago stared at him.

 

"What?"

 

"I sehd, Gudh yu cogd on quigly!... Dahmmet…"

 

Kingfisher took a breath and huffed a horrific gobbet of rust brown stuff from his nostril. He kept going until his ears hurt.

 

"It was fortunate that you read my intentions quickly", Kingfisher said.

 

Santiago shrugged.

 

"Opportunity. She didn't take the carbine when I dropped it. Besides, I got the impression your mér wouldn't work this time".

 

"What gave it away?"

 

The question hadn't come from either of them, but from Teresa who had evidently roused herself from the shock of being bludgeoned by a rifle stock from behind.

 

"Was it the smell of horseshit or was it the amateur TV-drama routine?", she jeered.

 

Santiago frowned. He looked at Teresa like one might at an unflushed toilet.

 

"Can I shoot her now?"

 

Teresa glowered defiantly at the both of them.

 

"What? No, no--", said Kingfisher.

 

"We're taking her in for intel".

 

---

 

30 minutes Later

 

The group walked along the final stretch of storm sump tunnel. Sunlight was visible through grates now, sending dappled rays of pale gold down on the greyish puddles left behind in the wake of the deluge. Somewhere in the distance, a ship's horn sounded.

There was an eagerness among the small group to finally be free of the dank and oppressive confines of the Vilvau storm drains. Along the group, Santiago brought up the rear, Kingfisher on point--now armed with the captured carbine, and the captive Teresa was between the two, securely in the middle.

As the group came upon the tunnel opening, Santiago could see the mid-afternoon sun peeking through the gaps in a fast moving blanket of grey cloud. Kingfisher stopped just in front of the opening and unfastened his radio.

 

"This is a dumb f*cking idea", Santiago couldn't help commenting for the umpteenth time.

 

"You've mentioned", Kingfisher noted as he began fiddling with the channels.

 

"Should'a shot her back there, now we're stuck lugging a prisoner around. Risking her escaping and murdering us in our sleep."

 

"Two things, Capitan--", Kingfisher turned to face him as he enumerated.

 

"One, she's valuable intelligence to the SSO--the broken necked Plover was correct about that. And two, you may have thought me a bastard, but I do wish to avoid any more unnecessary deaths."

 

There was a gravid pause.

Wind blew from the drain tunnel's egress. Far up, but not too far, the shrill cry of gulls could be heard.

 

"Un-f*cking-believable", came Santiago's exasperated whisper.


 
Kingfisher didn't respond, yet the silence did nothing to mollify Santiago's quickly mounting anger.

 

"Of all times to grow a conscience. Of all times, you picked the most convenient moment, didn't you? You left me and my boys to die! In a sewer worse-smelling than the one we just f*cked off from! Do you remember that, you bleeding c*nt, or have you f*cked over so many of your own that it hardly made an impression worth remembering?!", Santiago had almost shouted the exhortation, barely containing himself.

 

Kingfisher regarded him. Santiago could tell he was tracing his eyes over the sick bullet-made divot on his face, the taut skin, the tell-tale graft. So he met the look and returned it, though with as much caustic vim as he could muster.

Santiago could tell there was something to be read in the other's face. Though what it was could not be so easily ascertained. Was it distaste? Pity? Or possibly some hint of remorse? The frustration at the other's illegibility only served to wear at Santiago's temper. There was a pressure in his head not unlike an over-stoked boiler--a pressure and heat that bade him continue his tirade. 

 

"What did you call it--unnecessary deaths?! You're a walking contradiction! No sense. None whatsoever. A real f*cking syntax error, you are. Maybe if you spared a thought for the 40 good, loyal men you had under your watch, maybe I'd understand a bit more! But this is a f*cking terrorist, you bird-brained bastard! A. f*cking. She-wolf. Terrorist! Capital T! If you consider her life more important the 40 you threw away on those blasted ditches--I'll--I'll--"

 

He trailed off, suddenly becoming aware that he had been stepping closer and closer towards the other man, who had stood mutely there, observing the tirade with that infuriatingly constant air of cold detachment.

The sudden silence persisted for only a brief instance before Kingfisher replied in a tone that could almost be called sombre. 

 

"Of course. It is still about Salonica. I should have addressed this with you earlier. The lives of your men… If my responsibility for their deaths is the problem, Capitan--then allow me to underline my regret--it was my command. I failed your men. They are dead because of me. I am sorry."

 

Santiago's temple throbbed. He heard the apology, yet for reasons unknown, the heat behind his eyes burned hotter still. 

Regret? A quick apology? No, it was too easy. Santiago couldn't let a bastard like Kingfisher off with a simple word of commiseration--sincere or not. It was perverse. Sick even. Entitled in the extreme. 

Santiago felt his hands drift towards his knife, as if they acted on their own volition--wishing against better judgement to satiate the growing need for vendetta--wanting so badly to skewer the man in front of him.

The slight movement betrayed Santiago's reply for him.

 

"Alright", said Kingfisher. There was an air resignation in that one word. Kingfisher seemed to understand finally that words of reconciliation would not mend anything in Santiago's eyes.

 

"I understand how it has to be", Kingfisher moved forward to meet Santiago. Every instinct in Santiago's well-honed arsenal was ready for the two movements that would bring the confrontation to a brutal end.

 

"Your terms. We'll settle this. But we get Shrike first."

 

A long pause came and went.

Santiago nodded, slowly, and moved away. He passed the bound Teresa without incident and took point.

 

---

 

*Relevant Mom Joke*

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A UNION DIVIDED | INTERLUDE III

1530hrs
17th of October, 2018
Porto Verde

 

The Duke had chosen to shelter at the first signs of the gathering storm. Within the warmer confines of his upper study, he took in the blustering view of the northern horizon from the room's commanding perch above the boulevard. Despite the portents of even more severe winds and rougher seas to follow, the Duke Borbon felt reassured that every advantage was on his side. A matter of time and patience would be little bother now that his plans were nearing fruition.

The Duke had furnished the Iverican traitor, Shrike with a capable vessel, ample intelligence, and the necessary resources for a safe departure from Vasqqa.  With such advantages, Shrike would have little to fear but some freak accident in the storm and so deliver the awaited items with little difficulty.

Turning to his desk, he woke it with a gesture. The flat electronic device centred on the mahogany piece chirped and brightened its display, revealing several choice reports. Iverica of course, had shown no signs of changing their play. It was likely that Deitorr and his staff had no clue that their Vasqqan operation had been compromised. 

Among the latest entries was news of Deitorr's government calling for a unified response, making it clear to Bourbon that Iverica had every intention of using their surreptitiously-orchestrated troubles to call the diaspora together.

It was clever no doubt, to have used the two-faced Vasqqan Consul Subiri as a sacrificial lamb to hasten the civil struggle. The pro-fed population had naturally felt under threat after their leader was shot in front of parliament. Thereafter, the mounting tensions had led to sprees of retaliatory pogroms escalating to the insurgent skirmishes blossoming all over the Raqqan marches at this very moment.

The fear of repeated history was no doubt scaring the bordering Narva and Galicia quite thoroughly. The situation and building terror had gotten to such a degree that Deitorr now felt safe to make his closing play--to capitalise on the diaspora's anxiety and call for a coalition intervention. Borbon's hope to filibuster the referendum would be overridden by the sheer fear of a repeated Vasqqan civil war. Any hopes the other diaspora states might have had of the situation stabilising itself would be quashed by the evidence of still mounting Vaqqan-Raqqan hostilities. Already, there were reports of mass mobilisation around the Raqqan Cordilleras and the river valley passes.

But.

But, for Deitorr's success thus far, he was about to fail one crucial objective. If--when Shrike arrived and bore his evidence into Verde's parlour, it would be the intelligence leak and political scandal of the century. The world would known that poor Subiri was martyred--any collusion he had with Borbon's own people would likely be a footnote if at all found out. The entire Ibero-sphere would be so disgusted that the Ivericans had indirectly spurred the pogroms that were at this moment, ravishing Vasqqan country, that any hope of an Iverican hegemony would be dashed for another century yet.  Deitorr's government would be ruined and decried for the selfish wolves they were.

Not the best outcome, as Borbon thought, but the one necessitated by Deitorr's stubborn wish to play a one-sided game. Borbon had given Deitorr a choice during that fateful meeting in the Ultramares. Deitorr had feigned acceptance when he actually meant treachery. Whereas Borbon desired an unbloody compromise, Deitorr had pushed for a gory dominance. That was his choice, and the repercussions would be on his head alone.

The Duke once again turned to the window. Outside sleets of grey and intermittent jolts of lightning marked the horizon. The rains, falling heavy already and the winds, whipping as they were, seemed to only grow in din and fury with every passing moment.

 

---
 

1545hrs
17th of October, 2018
Somewhere in the Verde Sea

 

The storm's noon reprieve had not lasted long. For the scant few hours of semi-clouded skies and intermittent rays of pale sunlight had once again given way to the combat between winds from tepid Thalassa and frigid Argis. After that brief calm between the hours of high-noon and mid-afternoon, the grey ceiling of cumuli nimbus had returned and sheets of torrential rain had begun anew, quickly gaining in volume and force.

The Verde Sea, the plane of normally calm shimmering emerald was now quickly transforming into the battle ground upon which two eternal and potent forces of nature were to meet once again in repetition of the perduring clash of seasons.

Most captains, at the sight of such turbulent skies, had prudently chose withdrawal to safe harbours. Ships small and large alike seeking the chance passage had wisely aborted, leaving but scant few reckless, or so-resolute vessels to tread the whipping waters. Among that few was the ivory form of a leisure yacht, its glossy hull of quality synthetics tossing and swaying in one rather lonely stretch of the sea. 

Spanning 110 metres from prow to stern and 16 metres at its beam, the vessel was sturdy and of a displacement to weather most squalls. Despite this, the powerful engines and ballast-assisted gyros laboured. Its turbines were not spared--and while most canny sailors would have dropped speed and ridden out the worst hews of the current, the yacht in question attempted its best speed to make some grievously important destination.

Aboard her at the high pulpit of the observation deck, stood the lone form of a squat, but sturdily built man. He wore a thick peacoat over what appeared to be a well tailored charcoal suit. The leather dress shoes often accompanying the bespoke garment were abandoned in favour of rubber storm boots. He braced himself at the rail with one hand, but kept the other on a pair of range-finding binoculars.

The suited fellow so precariously perched was known by the callsign of Shrike. And at this time, Shrike was wary. Wary for just a moment before, one of the bridge mates had remarked on the sighting of a small fast-craft which bore its course similarly to the white yacht. With a mounting suspicion, Shrike had clambered up to the observation deck. While he had dismissed his fears as improbable, a slight tinge of paranoia had called him to make certain.

Certainty was needed, for his goal was within reach. His special cargo was securely lashed and stored below under guard. His destination was scant hours away. If his suspicions were confirmed, the stakes now, would be at their highest.

---
 

Beginning of the end. In this interlude, I did have to exposite quite a bit. Given the amount of time that's passed since the first entry was published, it seems reasonable that some form of overall recap of the "strategic" side of this story would be needed. Re-reading the whole thing makes Borbon's POV in this episode rather redundant as its been narrated before--this is one problem of episodic writing. In effect, the whole story is less cohesive and readers tend to only retain the most recent ideas because of said format. Oh well.

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A UNION DIVIDED | CHAPTER IV, PART 1

1615hrs
17th of October, 2018
Somewhere in the Verde Sea

 

A lone Vasqqan Guardia Maritima patrol boat thrashed against the storm, all the while being buffeted by squalls and swells that would have already capsized larger ships. But the boat was sturdy and held fast in the fits of the raging Verde Sea despite being a generation out of date and in dire need of a general refit. 

If there had been any adjacent craft, a lookout might have noticed the peculiar arrangement the boat's crew were negotiating. While one struggled in the pilot compartment, another slipped and skidded on the narrow deck, secured to the tossing craft by a single lifeline fastened to belt and rail with carabiners. 

 

---

 

"Do you even know what you're doing?!", shouted Kingfisher into his headset as he manipulated the ship's helm-by-wire wheel madly.  

 

"Do you?!", retorted Santiago from the outside, though his reply was becoming increasingly hard to discern as the wind and sea spray intensified. 

 

Truthfully, neither he, Kingfisher, nor Santiago were trained in the operation of this particular class of patrol boat. Furthermore, the pair were a few men short of the minimum safe crewing of the boat. The helpful SSO fixer at the Guardia Maritima boat pool had informed them so. But, as needs must, Kingfisher had reassured their Vasqqan fixer contact that his skill with civil fast craft and Santiago's own experience with SO/AR RHIBs would be sufficient to see them through. That reassurance had of course, been given so confidently before the pair had seen the dark grey maw of the monsoon. 

They had gained on Shrike's yacht, relying on shipboard radar and recent sightings from fishing boats as they sped past the patrol boat in the opposite direction—towards safe harbour. But as Santiago and Kingfisher motored further and further out into the storm-swept expanse of the Verde, the certainty of their pursuit became ever greater. The further out they had ventured, the fewer radar contacts they encountered, until at last, only a solitary blip remained on the boat's small jittery radar display. Unmistakable by the ship's bearing and radar cross-section, the sole blip could only be Shrike. 

Kingfisher had all the while been piloting the boat to close with their quarry as best he could, yet the constant swells and towering waves made it impossible to maintain bearing and good visual contact. Worse still, Santiago had found that the remote fire-controls systems of the foredeck 20 millimetre gun inoperable—leading him to his current struggle of crawling the few feet to the weapon's gunner seat outside. 

Kingfisher's maritime expertise were effectively exhausted at this point. He had never had to negotiate a storm of this ferocity before, let alone with an unfamiliar craft. At every turn, he found the small boat's bearings upset by shoving of the swells and the unpredictability of currents left in the wake of yawning waves. 

A bolt of lightning flashed, the surrounding mass of cloud diffusing it evenly around the boat. Not that it afforded Kingfisher any better of a view. All he could see from within his pilot compartment was the roiling sea, with low dark clouds and heaving waves where the horizon would have been. 

"Brace!", yelled Kingfisher as the boat's bow dipped dramatically into a dearth left by the sea's undulations. The fast craft abruptly hit the water with a crash that the SSO operator felt in all 33 vertebrae. The panels of armoured glass were briefly engulfed by the blue-black of infinite stormy water, before the ship's natural buoyancy reasserted itself and lifted the whole craft in an eruption of rising water. 

Santiago's reply came as an unintelligible burst of static as the water vomited his deck-clinging form out of the chilly blackness. 

 

---

 

Santiago did what he did best in a stuck situation—he cursed profusely. Spitting salt water out of his gritted teeth, he ignored the stinging in his eyes and the soakedness of his undergarments. 

He had slipped this way and that on the smooth steel deck of the patrol boat, bruising his ribs and testicles in a multitude of angles and spaces he cared not to remember. He heard Kingfisher say something, but couldn't make out what it was over another crash of thunder, startling close this time. 

As another jilt of the boat sent various parts of his body into intimate contact with various edges, protrusions, and railings of the foredeck, Santiago found himself with only a span of a second to hold his breath. For in that very instant, warned only by the dropping sensation in his gut, the ship had dropped from a swell and plunged pointedly into the black. 

Santiago vaguely recalled Kingfisher garbling something into the ship's closed circuit radio before the crash of water nearly ripped the headset—which he had taken care to securely duct tape around his temple—clear from his head. The force of the dive had made to yank him from his cling-hold and had nearly taken his boots and trousers off as well, such was the pull. The sensation lasted only an instant, before it was replaced by the opposite, a watery mass slamming him face-first on something hard and flat as the waters protested the ascent of the surfacing boat. 

It was only when the ship had stabilised somewhat and when Santiago had recovered from the shock that he managed to put his headset in order and release a sputtering query of, "What?", at Kingfisher. He pushed himself up to his knees, and found that he was resting on the upper panelling of the hump that made up the boat's superstructure. 

 

"For the Saviour's sake man, I can't understand a single damn thing you're--", Kingfisher was returning testily on the set, but just then, something had caught Santiago's attention. 

 

"Hold that thought, birdman", Santiago interrupted as he took in the view from his newfound vantage point.

 

To their south—that was afore them—was a literal ray of sunshine. It illuminated a good span of the sea for some distance, revealing a slight clearing of smoother, less turbulent waters. The eye of the storm and just within its bounds, the samite form of a solitary yacht. 

The brief view was interrupted as the boat dipped, sliding down a hill of water before cresting another. Santiago shifted his gaze, and beheld a sight that was equal parts terror and opportunity. 

Not far to their north—that was astern them—was a hulking mass of dark water capped with a crown of furious white foam. This one would have been no different from the other thousand or so waves they had passed, except that it was easily twice as high but not at all steep. 

The mass of dark water was a nascent rogue wave, still gathering force as a bulbous hump of a swell. 

As the boat hit a smoother patch of water between waves, Santiago found himself able to shamble into the seat of the deck gun. Quickly securing himself with the four-point harness, he glanced again at the wave, now quickly coming up on their heels. 

He had a plan. 

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A UNION DIVIDED | CHAPTER IV, PART 2

1615hrs
17th of October, 2018
Aboard the Patrol Boat

 

"Are you sure about this?", queried Kingfisher into the headset. 

 

Situated in the cramped confines of the patrol boat's piloting compartment, he had to trust completely Santiago's judgement of the sea outside. From within, looking through the stout screens of droplet-speckled armoured glass, he could see little apart from the furious lapping of the tumultuous waters outside and the bleakness of the storm-ridden skies. 

 

"No, not really--", returned Santiago, now securing himself to the deck armament's gunner seat. 

 

"--but unless you have armada-air on station for a gun run and sealift, I don't see how else we're going to manage this fool's errand", Santiago finished with a tone that brokered no argument. 

 

Kingfisher sighed and coaxed the boat against the rough waters into a bearing dictated by Santiago. 

The rogue wave, which Santiago had theorised would take them into closer quarters with their quarry would no doubt be closing in rapidly now. If they positioned themselves just right, they might just be able to mount the white water wash after its collapse. While Kingfisher held grudging admiration to the man's cavalier dedication and focus, he could not help but also feel the slight tingle of apprehension as it skittered down his spine. The wave was a force of nature, terrible, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. The apprehension towards the plan brought back the unpleasant memory of their wash down the storm drains. They were at the mercy of nature once again and a stroke of fortune like his reunion with Santiago was not something that could be counted on to repeat. 

Kingfisher spared a glance at the compartment's only other occupant. There, to the rear of the compartment, double zip tied to a sturdy handhold, was the supine form of Teresa. The woman had been eerily silent since her capture, offering little complaint as they hauled her along. Every so often, she could be enticed to offer a glare in response to their commands, but even that was quickly eclipsed by her unsettling ease of complaiance. 

 

"You might want to brace yourself", cautioned Kingfisher sheepishly. 

 

The woman payed no heed. Her eyes were closed and the expression on her face was almost serene though Kingfisher was sure she was awake. 

 

Kingfisher turned back to his instruments. Somehow, he could almost feel the monster wave as it swelled from behind. 

 

---

 

1617hrs
17th of October, 2018
Aboard the Yacht

 

"What the jalapeño are they playing at?", the man called Shrike questioned aloud. 

 

He was once again situated on the yacht's observation deck, a high platform atop the bridge surrounded on all sides by the rails. Here, at the eye of the storm, the winds and waters gave brief reprieve—enough to allow the stocky man a safe perch. 

Once they had cleared the barrier of storm known as the eye wall and found themselves in the marginally more manageable plane that was the eye itself, Shrike had calmbered again on to the observation platform of his yacht. From atop the sea-washed platform, he observed the patrol boat as it nestled itself just obliquely before a rising rogue wave. 

The crew, already aware of the oncoming threat, had altered their bearing to evade it. Though the new heading took the yacht back into the tumult of the eyewall, it would mean being safer from both the doggedly pursuing fast craft and the rogue wave. The yacht may not be as swift as its pursuer's craft, but it certainly had the hull to fare better in the squalls. With ample warning, the yacht would make it to where the smaller craft would have great difficulty pursuing well in advance... 

 

...Unless. 

 

"No--", whispered Shrike. 

 

"They can't possibly--". 

 

"More speed, damnit!", he shouted into his radio. 

 

---

 

1618hrs
17th of October, 2018
Aboard the Patrol Boat
 

 

Santiago peered through the viewing block, a look of grim satisfaction spreading across his sea-splattered and scarred features as his eyes found the target.

 

The sea spat at him from all directions. The storm winds, frigid and lash-like, cut at him from every direction. Yet he was steady and steeled, secured to the seat of an Arx Arms 25 millimetre chain-driven automatic deck cannon. The gunner seat, mounted at the gun's right, was protected only by a thin steel shield, yet the gun's size and length—easily as long as he was tall—was reassuring enough.  

He operated a small panel to his lower right, flipping a toggle and punching a stiff button. In response, machinery whirred and clanged. The 25 millimetre's autoloader came to life, making all manner of crisp metallic noises from below—the clatter audible even above the din of the storm. From the cylindrical magazine silo beneath him, a parade of dagger-sized rounds emerged into the tape-like feed chute which ran from the deck floor to the gun's receiver. The clattering procession of rounds was then greeted with a cackle as the motorised carousel scooped them on to its teeth at the mouth of the feedway. 

Santiago heard a final slam as chaingun locked a round in place--just he felt the boat pitch backwards with a jerk. It was almost upon them now, the pull of the mighty wave announcing its grasp on the small patrol boat as the titan prepared to lash itself upon the face of the sea.

Under different circumstances, he would have felt very small—like a fry fish caught in the wake of a whale. But now, as he put his hand on the fire control stick and travered the turret, he felt reassured that God and Arx Arms had come together this day and put him at the trigger of a very big, very dangerous gun—storm be damned. 

 

---

 

OOC: Some part of me really hates this part of the chapter. After a few days of trying to re-write it so it would be less puke-worthy, I've just decided to post it with these two dead memes anyway.

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A UNION DIVIDED | CHAPTER IV, PART 3

1619hrs
17th of October, 2018
Aboard the Patrol Boat

 

With all the prayer and skill Kingfisher could summon up, he piloted his craft to approach the rogue wave just as it was beginning its penultimate act. 

Kingfisher had kicked the patrol boat's throttle into its furthest setting. Still obliquely ahead of the rising wave, he coaxed the boat into a steady bank towards the predicted path. Both the wave and the boat were now on the same heading, the boat leading the hellish mass of water by two or three score metres. Quickly, the boat's bank brought it at an angle square centre and ahead of the wave. 

As the wave loomed into place behind them, it cast its tall shadow far ahead of their small craft. What little light that had made it through the worst of the storm was now snuffed out so that it was as though they had been enveloped by a vast tunnel. In that moment, Kingfisher could feel his blood spike in apprehension—like it wished to jump straight out of his skin and slither as far from the wave as it could possible go. Thoughts screamed, unbidden but irrepresible. 

Might he have timed it wrongly?  

Would the beast swallow them?  

Why couldn’t the damn boat go any faster?!

Without warning, the thousands of tons of water accumulating into the mountain that was the wave dropped suddenly. The entire mass fell as the force that drove them bled into nothing. Like some leviathan sea-snake, the water had risen into its pinnacle and before diving into the waters once again. The crash that followed was so thunderously evil that the compartment was thrown into immediate chaos—a panel of armoured glass facing the aft was blown inwards, allowing the sea to spill inside. Tools, first aid boxes, part containers, and other odds and ends were thrown about from where they had been securely fastened. Something tore from above him, it sounded as though a moutning on the compartment's roof had been ripped and cast into the sea. All the displays on the console went black. Some returned but showed only blue screens and bios text. Others, like the radar display ceased to project at all.  It was as though a great explosive detonated in the water behind and beneath them, the mere shockwaves spreading disarray and destruction. 

Yet, despite the fearsome chaos, the boat was pitching forwards. The wash of white water propelled the small craft as though a great and invisible hand of some sea god had flung them like a dart. The wave's many smaller, yet still furious children bore the boat on their wings—sending it rocketing towards their quarry at an alarming rate. 

The panels were all awash with blurring sea water. But through the sickening motion of the convulsing boat, he could make out the gun on the fore deck as it moved. It was traversing to point its pike of a barrel some 25 degrees starboard. Without warning, a boom that rattled the remaining glass panels rattled the boat. Santiago had opened fire. 

The burning white muzzle flash left after-images in Kingfisher's eyes. The panels threw droplets of water off and shivered as the first beat of the weapon shook the compartment. Kingfisher felt the air shake as a round and two more were fired in quick succession. It must have worked. They must be in range. 

 

"Hey! You still alive in there? Correct our heading, bear 30 degrees starboard!", Santiago's voice came crackling from the headset. It appeared the closed-circuit had survived. 

 

"Hurry up! Or did you ride that f*cking wave just for fun? 30 degrees starboard! Now! 30 degrees starboard!". 

 

"C-copy. 30 degrees starboard", Kingfisher sputtered.  

 

He manipulated the rudder and cycled the engine's quick starter toggle, it seemed to have stalled during the wave's crescendo. He felt the engine shudder and cough through the deck plating. He tried the yoke, and the boat turned—but the response wasn't good and the sluggish rudder almost sent them into a hard turn starboard. It took some correction before they were on the right heading. 

Toggling fuel and engine battery off and on, he punched the quick starter button. Nothing, the old diesel refused to wake

 

"No joy! I've got to try the manual starter!", shouted Kingfisher into the headset. 

 

--- 

 

Santiago muttered the hundredth oath of day as he tried to compensate for the pitching and tilting craft. The chaingun was fighting him, its elevation and traverse servos still worked, but its automatic laying had been shot since the wave ripped the radar module off of the roof—the spinning bar almost taking his head off as it had whirled mere inches from his head. 

The yacht was just there, sitting on the horizon, no more than 2 clicks ahead. The swaying form of the fat shitbird of a vessel almost appeared teasing. In this brief calm lent by the storm, at this range, there was no way the yacht could outrun them. 

Frustrated, he squeezed the trigger on the joy stick twice and sent two more rounds streaking above the sea's roiling surface. The burning bolts of autocannon tracer leapt into the grey miasma of the storm, arcing and fading from sight somewhere above and beyond the bulky whitish silhouette of the yacht about 1800 metres away. Evidently, the sea was too rough for a decent shot. 

He was about to hassle Kingfisher over the headset when he both heard and felt the rumble of the engine's successful restart. The boat leapt forward again but it over-bore, swaying this way and that, drifting slightly as it tried to correct its course. 

The headset crackled.

 

"Rudder's damaged, I'll take us on parallel approach, but I don't trust these sticks for multiple runs. We'll only have one shot at strafing them and it's going to be rough until we get very close", Kingfisher warned. 

 

"Aye. One run, copy. I'll make it count", Santiago replied. 

 

He had some 500 rounds in the silo magazine below. He'd have to dump as much of those as he could in a few minutes, carefully hitting the upper decks and super structures without killing the yacht for good—the intel, where ever it was stored, would still need to be recovered. 

There was a change of pitch as the boat's single diesel engine went from a growl to a humming whine. At the engine's prompting, the stern tilted back into the water and the prow rose slightly. Santiago felt himself being pressed back into the seat as the speed climbed and the blocky shape of the yacht on the horizon grew ever nearer. Also becoming more visible in the distance was a very low sandbar, likely the high-point of a small atoll. It seemed that the yacht was attempting to manoeuvre around it, though escape for them was unlikely—the patrol boat was now screaming at its full power, easily skipping 15 metres every second and gaining more speed by the moment. 

Santiago tapped send on his headset. 

 

"Be advised, I see an atoll, same range as the yacht but some 100 metres off its port-side bow. Make sure you account for it when we peel off. Now speed up, man! More speed at a straight heading. I need this tub to stay still!" 

 

"Let me focus. Your whinging won't fix the rudder", came the sarcastic crackle in response. 

 

At the 40 knot mark, the craft gained a little stability from the swells as it powered through the water. Santiago had already lined up the gunsight, its elevation indicator zeroed on the horizon at the shortest mark of range. He waited, their damaged boat clumsy in its attempt to match the yacht's heading. 

They were coming up frightfully close, just astern of the target now, yet Santiago had to hold patiently until their heading was as stable as it would get. In the sight picture, the target swayed this way and that, until in one golden moment, the yacht was right in his sights at 500 metres, 10 degrees starboard, and +8 degrees above the bow. Santiago didn't think, his finger just squeezed the stick's trigger. The chain gun roared—a series of ear-splitting barks making up his initial 3-round burst. Spent brass the size of altar candles clanged like a din of bells as they were ejected onto the deck. The rounds flew, a single tracer in the trio missing the yacht by a mere span of metres. Santiago corrected, waited for the sights to line up and squeezed again. 

Blooms of smoke erupted from the port aft section of the superstructure. He squeezed again and again, raking as much of the exposed decks as he could. The barrel was now sizzling as sea spray turned to mist on its barrel, the air shimmering around its length. As the yacht closed, edging to move alongside their quarry, the yacht's bulky silhouette grew so that he could make out small figures milling about the deck. Santiago knew he would have one last go at the yacht before they'd have to peel off to avoid the atoll. He thumbed a toggle on the gun's joystick, switching to full-auto. 

Now inside 100 metres, they were parallel the ponderous white craft. With the target so prominent in his sights, Santiago merely traversed and held the trigger down, sweeping the gun across the upper deck in a hail of fire. Presumably trying to mount a defence with whatever handheld weapons they might have had, the topside crew vanished in a cloud of smoke and debris. The gun hammered out shot after shot of lethal lightning bolt, the percussive thunder reverberating in synchronous beat with the brass accompaniment of singing spent casing. Up close, the blooms of smoke were now detailed with flying debris and ember sparks as the lethal enfilade tore through aluminium, carbon fibre, and wood panel. Within moments, small fires had started as the 25mm rounds left searing holes to mingle with more flammable carpet and drappery. 

When there were no more indications of movement or resistance on the mangled wreck that was once the yacht's visible decks, Santiago eased off the trigger and made to signal for Kingfisher to wave off for now—the atoll had grown to encompass the field of sea afore them. But just as he tapped his headset, he felt the boat lurch to the starboard. They were now edging dangerously close to the yacht's flank. If this continued, they would hit the yacht at their full flank speed—and if they didn’t, they would surely collide with the atoll's sandbar. 

 

"Rudder's stuck!", crackled an alarmed Kingfisher on the headset. 

 

"Mér! Get out, we need to bail now!", shouted Santiago in response. He was already unstrapping himself from the gunner's seat. Glancing to gauge their time to imminent impact, Santiago saw that the formidable port-side of the yacht's hull was so close that it was now a looming wall of white carbon fibre, almost filling his entire field of view. 

 

Dashing a short distance to the superstructure that was the pilot's compartment, Santiago plunged the hatch's access lever and yanked the metal portal wide. 

 

"Bird, what the f*ck? Now!", Santiago roared. The spray of salt water the bow had thrown up was occluding his vision slightly through smarting eyes, so it took him a moment to see that he was struggling to help a half-conscious Teresa free from her binding to a safety rail. 

 

"Leave her! We have to--", his words were cut short as the two speeding hulls met with violence. 

 

--- 

 

With a terrible shriek of scrapping metal and twisting carbon fibre, the patrol boat rammed into the side of the larger yacht. The yacht pivoted clockwise as the patrol boat struck it close to its forward deck—its great bow turning its pointed arrow-like prow acutely by some 30 odd degrees. The accidental ram had shifted its alignment in the way that from above, must have resembled the spiking arrow of a pressure guage.  

The patrol boat, on the other hand recoiled from the force of the impact, but the momentum had simply glanced its bearing to a position parallel and alongside the swinging and swaying yacht. Salty waves crashed over the grappling pair as they convulsed in the aftershocks of their meeting, washing over the decks as the momentum carried the locked vessels hard into a sandbar of the nearby atoll.  

At first thrown to the deck as he tried untying the half-conscious Teresa, Kingfisher had quickly managed to grab onto the same metal rail to which his prisoner was secured. He clung there as the second jarring impact nearly took the old boat apart and sent several hard and point-edged items into his crown and shins. 

Briefly airborne as the sloped bow ski-jumped on the acute angle of the sandy shore, the boat arced inelegantly a few metres before its keel crumpled on impact with the beach proper, the full weight of boat falling and sending already stressed rivets into disjunction. The gun's feedway was torn from the hull silo magazine, 25mm rounds spilled like brass treasures in all directions. What remained of the armoured glass was either knocked free from the compartment mountings or cracked into uselessness. Equipment was further strewn about in the pilot's compartment, displays and emergency material joined the tools and ship's essentials previously knocked about when the wave thrust them forward. The pungent odour of diesel overpowered the freshness of the sea breeze indicating that somewhere in the lower aft compartment, the engine and its fuel lines were far from serviceable. 

Kingfisher stirred from his stupor, his breaths quick and hitching. He was on the deck, at the foot of the rail he had clung to earlier. The boat was tilted at a slight slope so that the water had pooled to the fore of the compartment. Looking around blearily, he noted that he had been unsuccessful in completely freeing Teresa—who was now passed out, a small trickle of blood dripping from a minor laceration at the base of her scarlet hair. He also spied Santiago, who was groggily slipping in the puddles of seawater that had invaded the compartment long before. The scarred SOAR officer had managed to grab a handhold by the hatch, but had not managed to dodged a heavy box of tools, thrown by the collision into his gut—which had been protected only by a foam life vest. 

The yacht. Shrike. The intel—the present thoughts echoed about in his mind again as Kingfisher struggled to rise from the slippery deck.

 

"Capitan--", began Kingfisher, half murmuring the words between his still slowing breaths. 

 

Santiago spat. 

 

"Yeah, I'm—I'm going. Kit up", Santiago wheezed. 

 

Still in some state of fugue, Kingfisher groped around and somehow found his carbine, knocked free from the bin he had stowed it in. His plate carrier, the same that had stopped Santiago's lethally-aimed burst in the sewers, miraculously hung on the hook he had left it on. 

Santiago had pulled his own vest on and was checking his carbine—robotically going through the motions. Checking his magazine load, chamber, and then magazine rig. He then made for the hatch. 

 

"S'the two of us. Be sharp, watch our six and all the right-hand corners and doors, I have point and left. Don’t—Do not—f*ck me over this time", said the Capitan, as he positioned himself before the hatch portal. 

 

Having checked his own equipment, Kingfisher nodded and moved to take his place behind Santiago. 

Santiago stared at Kingfisher searchingly for a few moments, his expression unreadable, before the bulkier man slowly leaned and cleared the hatch corners.

 

---

In case its been so long that you forgot what was happening: Santiago (who was initially hired to find and kill the supposed traitor Kingfisher), finds out that he had been tricked--Kingfisher is not a traitor. The real traitor, Shrike (whom is on the yacht in this story), used Santiago to neutralise Kingfisher. Shrike wishes to defect to Iverica's rival, the Duchy of Verde, offering Kingfisher's captured intel and handler as his entry bribe to the Verdense (doing this would reveal Iverica's shadey dealings and destroy their reputation, allowing Verde to assume power). So Kingfisher and Santiiago make sense of this and resolve to track down Shrike and recapture the sensitive intel before Shrike can deliver it to Verde. The pair get a gunboat from a coast guard contact and pursue Shrike's yacht into a storm--where both become beached on an atoll for the final confrontation. 

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