False Flag: Azores (Part 1 of 3)
Painting by Demar Douglas
The Vivenda de Saudade Bed and Breakfast was a two story red roofed inn on the southern coast of Terceira, an island in the Azores chain. A well-maintained two lane road followed the shape of the island in both directions from the front gate. Early one morning as the sun crested the horizon, daylight found a red haired white man in a black suit and sunglasses standing just inside the gate, hands in his pockets, casually glancing left and right, an earpiece connected to his left ear via a translucent curly cable mostly under his sportcoat.
After about an hour, four large box trucks, their plain walls as white as those of the Vivenda de Saudade, approached from the west and pulled up near the gate, dominating the empty road. With a speed that could be taken for reluctance, the gate opened enough for the red haired man to walk out and approach the driver’s side window of the lead truck.
"Papers please," he said in unaccented English.
The driver -- a slovenly looking fellow in a sweat stained sleeveless white t-shirt over his protruding belly, a raggedy looking Boston Red Sox cap, his loose jowls covered with at least three days worth of beard -- reached over to the empty passenger seat to pull a clipboard from under a Smith & Wesson Model 3566 pistol and handed it to the red- haired man.
The red haired man looked over the paperwork and then regarded the truck driver. "You’re in the Hierarchy, huh?"
The driver had a lopsided smile, his scruffy jowls amused, as a lilting female voice with a thick Nigerian accent replied, "Isn’t Iron Rain supposed to be an intelligence organization? Do you take everything at face value?"
The red haired man raised an eyebrow and said, "Challenge: who is more fool?"
The truck driver rolled his eyes and replied in the same feminine voice, "Response: the fool or the fool who follows him?"
The red haired man stepped out of the way and gestured, as the gate opened and let the trucks roll through.
Lights, Camera, Action
The Forte de Sao Sebastiao rested on the southern coast of Terceira Island, part of the Azores chain of islands in the Atlantic ocean. A far cry from its heights, trading volleys of cannon fire with the nearby Fortress of Sao Joao Baptista. Still, the structure was visually imposing, which drew location scouts and finally director F. Gary Gray and the entire production of the Octavia Butler adaptation Patternmaster. Hundreds of actors, crew members and more swarmed around the ancient structure with their Star Waggons and scaffolding and the trappings of a big production.
A kind of orbit of people surrounded Hassan Khan, the main financier for this film. An internationally renowned fashion designer whose stylings were anxiously desired by billionaires and college co-eds alike, he sat in one of the director's chairs in a beige linen suit with a teal silk shirt open to his solar plexus, his relaxed posture a stark contrast to the cloud of people rushing around to fulfill his wishes.
Twenty feet away, in a smart green blazer and skirt, speaking animatedly into a ChipWare phone, Dr. Melissa Mathis paced in a perfectly circular five foot diameter path. Standing nearby, a thin blonde woman in sunglasses and a white pantsuit holding a tablet, periodically typing when she heard something Mathis said. Mathis would likewise sometimes gesture and the woman would show her what was on the tablet.
Sitting near Gray as the director reviewed footage sat Malik Brown, a figure who confused many people in the cast and crew. His laminate badge said, "Teamster Shop Steward," and while he knew the name of every key grip and gaffer on the set, but he rubbed shoulders with Khan, Mathis and Gray himself like a member of the glitterati. In a windbreaker, khakis, loafers and a Teamsters logo polo shirt, he looked as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
Brown glanced at his watch as a single word notification -- "HERE" -- appeared. He held up a hand to Gray, who looked his way as he stood, and mouthed the words, "be right back," to see Gray's demeanor settle and return to the monitors.
"Everything all right, Mister Brown?" Khan asked, his voice smoother than cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.
"Yessir," Brown replied with a wave, "just have to give something to my fiancée's best friend."
Khan laughed, a warm, rich sound like a welcoming hand on your back after a long trip. "To keep tabs on you here is impressive! I must meet her!"
As Brown kept walking he spun and said, "I'll holler at you about the wedding fashions, she's a big fan of your work! I'll have her save you a dance at the reception!"
After trading a few more "Aw, you got it man!" bon mots with crew members and actors, Brown came to the parking lot where a blue, black and white Mercedes-Benz Vision EQ5 waited. An impossible collection of curves and steely angles out of a science fiction film, this was one of only three copies of this car in the world, out rolling around like an ordinary drive to the store.
Brown walked up and kneeled at the driver's side window as it rolled down to reveal four women sitting inside, with varying expressions of amusement or boredom at his arrival. In the driver's seat was Gladiator, the Union of the Snake's PR "fixer." A honey-shaded woman with a short hairstyle, she sat in the driver's seat wearing a Proenza Shouler striped jacquard jacket with a smirk on her face. In the passenger seat sat Negotiator, a former DangerWatch member well known for her savagery and her lethality. A tall, muscular woman with pale skin, wayfarer sunglasses and a brown flak vest snug over a sleeveless t-shirt with dark blue cargo pants, her swoop of brown hair was reminiscent of Val Kilmer in Top Gun, spiky and irreverent. Behind Negotiator sat "Snakebird," more rarely called Anhinga the Trustee, her red-trimmed black cape resting on her black bodysuit as she waved happily at Brown. Finally, sitting behind the driver's seat was Prophecy, something of a mystery in the organization. A lean older dark skinned woman in a mountainous African print headwrap with a matching shawl wrapped around her shoulders, an unassuming yellow muumuu completing her look, she smirked, eyebrow raised at Brown.
"Hello ladies," he said, then chuckled, "this has to be the most dangerous car in the world right now!"
"Hey Malik!" Snakebird said happily. "Ooh, did you read the briefing on what we got into this car?"
He chuckled and nodded. "Who do you think had to coordinate the installations? I knew you'd geek out about all the tech, Snakebird. Y'all good?"
Gladiator said, "I'm sure we will be. I know, that because you're you, that everything at the Vivienda is all right."
Brown reached into his jacket and pulled a folded up piece of paper from his inside pocket, handing it to Gladiator.
"There's a specially treated microdot here that will get you past Iron Rain," he explained. "A messenger dropped this off for me an hour ago."
From the back seat, Prophecy chortled. "I told you they were paranoid, but that’s a lot. They probably have eyes on us now!"
Negotiator turned around in her seat and said, "How many times have you said ’I told you so’ in your life, Prophecy? Ten million? Twenty?"
Gladiator spared a look at Negotiator that would have with withered a sport utility vehicle into ashes and said, "The Organizer gave me permission to tranq you if you get cranky."
"As well," Prophecy smiled, an expression with more menace than joy, "you know I have standing permission to put you down for a nap if you act up, Patricia."
Negotiator narrowed her eyes at the mention of her first name and crossed her arms, slumping down into the passenger seat.
"Well," Brown chuckled, "sounds like you ladies have a lot going on, but you should know we do have more assets in town ... but so does the other side. If things need to get more interesting ..."
"... that would activate the Hierarchy's contractual obligation," Prophecy said, adjusting the hem of her skirt delicately, "with Iron Rain right behind them. It's likely best to just ... stay friendly today."
"It's only one day a year," Snakebird shrugged.
Brown stood and said, "In any case, please feel free to give me a call if you need anything, you all have my number, and I'll bring the cavalry."
Gladiator laughed. "You won't be one of my Corals, and you sure as hell aren't 'Street Sweeper,' anymore, so stop playing like you're about this life, Malik! I'll tell Fiona I saw you hard at work ..."
With the exception of Negotiator, chuckles all around as the window rolled up and the sleek luxury car pulled away. Brown waved and watched them go, shaking his head as he headed back to his spot on set.
Rollin' With The Homies
At that moment, across the island at Lajes Field, a standing United States Air Force installation, the W.A.R. Plane (a repurposed and retrofitted Concorde painted green) landed on the runway and shortly taxied into a hangar next to an AWACS plane.
A ramp descended from the back half of the W.A.R. Plane's underside and the sleek shape of the W.A.R. Fare emerged. Carefully coming down on to the concrete, the customized van was based on a Kenny Youngblood design from Hot Rod Magazine, having an elevated back seat with its own windshield, 27.7 inch runflat tires and a smooth, wedge shaped design that kept toy replicas flying off the shelves for decades. The concealed chaingun that popped out of the roof and missile racks that extended from the undercarriage were all stowed now, along with Black Fury's armored suit in the small storage section behind the back seat.
As they drove out of the hangar, the eager Flyby who got them across the Atlantic waved, but no one in the W.A.R. Fare -- The Martial, all lantern jawed and clean cut; Rock & Soul, looking like a corporate assassin; Black Fury, his lengthy frame cramped in the back seat, and the old soldier Jack Flack himself in the driver's seat -- waved back, their foul mood almost wafting along with the exhaust.
They pulled up to the security gate and Flack rolled down his window as a bored looking military policeman with skin like smokey topaz stepped up, holding a folded piece of paper.
"Iron Rain delivered this about an hour ago," he said simply.
Flack took the paper, still folder and regarded it, then looked back at the MP. "Thank you, son. Please have 'em keep the tarmac pretty clear, in case we need to beat a hasty retreat, all right?"
The word "son" made the MP bristle a little, but he saluted smartly.
Flack lazily touched his beret and returned the salute, as the window rolled back up and the W.A.R. Fare pulled out on to EN1-1A, the road outside of the base. As the W.A.R. Fare moved along the largely empty road, a shimmer of holographic light appeared around it, changing its outer appearance to that of a 2022 Thor Hurricane motor home, shadow and all.
Inside, Black Fury glanced back at his armor, secured in the back, for what was easily the sixth time since they got off the plane.
"Why can't I wear my armor again, Jack?" he asked, frustrated.
"For the fifth time, John," Flack said with some frustration, "the doggone seats back there aren't rated for that kind of weight! It takes literally ten seconds to put on when we get there, you'll be all right."
Black Fury crossed his arms and sunk into the seat. "I don't know why you even brought me."
The Martial turned around, his chiseled movie star looks exhausted by this line of discussion. "If everything goes wrong and this turns into a problem, we have Jack and the W.A.R. Fare, a combo that's kicked butt since Soldier Sam was on the team and I was a kid ..."
"Damned right," Flack said under his breath.
"... and you," Martial continued, "in a suit of prototype combat armor that can go toe to toe with Rattlesnakes. You're our insurance policy so we all get home safe."
Black Fury raised an eyebrow with a kind of grumble but turned right to look out of the window and nodded.
"What's this I see about a movie filming near here?" Flack asked.
Rock & Soul spoke up, saying, "Paperwork came through last month, too late to book a better venue. Some bigwig fashion designer cut a deal with Melissa Mathis to film his favorite book as a movie. They're gonna provide cover for us as what we're doing, if it goes wrong, can be written off as part of the filming. Special effects and all."
"How long until we get to this 'Vivienda da Saudade Bed & Breakfast,' Jack?" Martial asked.
Glancing down at the dashboard, Flack replied, "Says here we've got about a half hour."
The Martial tapped a screen on a center panel a few times and entered some credentials. "Listen up, you mutts," he said. "I'm logging in to my Tidal account. Each person gets to pick a song, oldest to youngest ..."
Rock & Soul groaned.
"Nobody complains about anybody's pick," Martial said, glancing back at her. "Jack, I'll take care of you, what's your first pick?"
Flack rubbed his chin with one of his leather gloves and said, "Mmm ... Buble. 'Feeling Good.'"
"Not even the Nina Simone?" Black Fury asked, throwing up his hands.
"You wanna lose your turn, soldier?" Martial barked. "Get this Buble, then ..."
As the opening chords began, Flack started humming along and Rock & Soul chuckled, shaking her head.
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
The impossibly gorgeous Mercedes pulled up to the red haired man at the gate of the Vivenda de Saudade and rolled down her window.
"Papers, please," the man said simply.
Gladiator smiled, his face reflected in her Dior Exquise sunglasses. She reached down into the door and pulled out the folded sheet of paper Brown had given her, handing it to the man.
The man opened the paper, took a phone out of his inside breast pocket and scanned the paper. He nodded, handing the paper back to her and said, "Challenge: if I listen close, I can hear those singers."
Gladiator smiled brightly and said, "That's not the challenge."
The man frowned at her, pulled out his phone and looked at it for a moment. He sighed as he put it back and sang in a low tone, "If I listen close, I can hear those singers, oh oh oh."
Negotiator aimed a Remington Tac-13 tactical shotgun out of the window at the man past Gladiator's face, saying, "You didn't say 'challenge' that time, pal!"
Raising his eyebrows as if he was rolling his eyes behind his aviator sunglasses, he sighed and said, "Challenge," before singing the line again.
Gladiator patted the shotgun affectionately, which made Negotiator pull it back inside. "Response," Gladiator said, before singing in a pleasant contralto, "voices in your body coming through on the radio. Oh. Oh."
Visibly frustrated, he stepped aside, sweeping his left arm as the gate opened.
Gladiator waved with a scrunch of her nose as the window rolled up and the car began to drive up the driveway. There were now four huge crates, eighty feet tall on each side, positioned on the yard around the main building. The Mercedes pulled up right next to the house and parked, and all four ladies got out.
Fifteen minutes later, the motor home rolled up near the gate and the hologram faded away, leaving the W.A.R. Fare to pull up to the gate. Flack already had his window down as the Martial, Black Fury and Rock & Soul all sang along to "Umbrella" by Rihanna.
Flack awkwardly chuckled and glanced back at the singing before handing the paper to the man. "They just have you standing out here, son? I've got some bottles of water in here if you'd like ..."
As he scanned the paper with his phone, the red haired man in the suit said, "That's very kind, sir, thank you, but I'm not actually human. Challenge: 'and where is that band?'"
Flack winced, sneaking a glance at the back seat, where Rock & Soul and Black Fury sang at each other, oblivious.
"Response," Flack said carefully and quietly, just loud enough to be heard by the man in the suit, "who so vauntingly swore."
The suited man handed the paper back to Flack and stepped aside as the gate opened. Flack repeated his lazy salute as he drove the W.A.R. Fare around the verdant concrete-enclosed decorations and pulled the van around to face out towards the street in the circular driveway.
The four of them exited the vehicle, Rock & Soul putting on a Coach leather Carrie backpack while Black Fury rushed to put on his armor. They glanced towards the house, where Negotiator leaned on the front driver's side of the Mercedes, lazily flipping a dagger over and over, glaring at them.
"Great," Martial said under his breath.
The four of them walked towards the house, with her watching every step.
"Hey sis," Martial said. "We're not gonna have any problems here, are we?"
Negotiator raised an eyebrow before her head grew blurry in the sunlight and then looked exactly like the Martial. In his voice, she responded, "What do you think, genius?"
Black Fury took a step towards her, but Flack got his arm across the bigger man's armored chest, trying to stop him. Fury barked out, "The Martial asked if we're going to have a problem here, Patricia?"
Her face glitched and returned to her normal appearance, the dagger still easily flipping end over end before its handle landed in her palm, again and again through this entire exchange.
After a beat, she said, "Not now."
The Martial scoffed and said, "Come on, let's get this done."
The four of them walked into the front door while Negotiator just watched.
About a thousand feet north, a flash of energy and a pop of sound emerged in the high grass and a teenaged Black boy with short dreadlocks and the sides of his head shaved, wearing an oversized suit blazer and white slacks appeared, stumbling into the grass.
He jumped up, glaring around for anyone who might be there. Considering himself alone, he glanced down at the grass stains on his pants and groaned. He waved a hand past them, and small glowing green webs trailed after his hand, dissipating as it went along with the stains.
His hands on his hips, he whipped his head around, considering his surroundings.
"Took a lot of energy to break into this dimensional plane," he muttered to himself, "but this all looks pretty boring. What's the story around here?"
The teenager held his hands up to chest level and started wiggling his fingers. Bright green tendrils of energy began to stretch -- from pinkie to thumb, from ring finger to index and so on -- between his hands until it formed a web. On his forehead, four crimson eyes, like those of a spider- appeared opaquely as he watched faces appear and disappear in the web. War Dog. The Organizer. Prophecy. Rock & Soul. Pride. The man from Iron Rain.
"Oh, this is a world full of secrets," the teenager giggled. "Everyone here is hiding something. That sounds like so much fun, with none of the 'Oh, you can't torture the mortals for your amusement, Anansi' that I normally hear from all my regular playmates. Ooh, that's interesting, a big group of fun little toys is all clumped together in that house over there. Let's see what fun there is to have ..."
He let his hands drift apart and both the eyes and the web disappeared. With a giggle, Anansi snapped his fingers and disappeared from sight.
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