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For All Nails #193: Apocalypse Soon

The Orinoco Delta
16 December 1974

General Manager Bill Cashman looked approvingly upon the oil refinery that sat
brooding on the shore of the Orinoco Delta.  "I love the smell of
petrochemicals in the morning," he exclaimed.  "Smells like . . .

Salesman First Class Charlie Shen didn't particularly share his supervisor's
enthusiasm, for petrochemicals or anything else.  To him, the refinery smelled
like the world's largest collection of rotten eggs.

A week before, Shen had been safely ensconced in the Factfinding and
Forecasting office of the Saigon branch of United Dry Goods, monitoring
activity by the local jeffies and doing some market research for the Velocity
Boy bicycle subsidiary.  The next thing he knew, Upper Management had decided
that his experience negotiating third-party lease agreements with the Hmong
made him the ideal candidate for a Highest Confidentiality assignment in New
Granada.  He was dumped into a KA-5 bound for the Virgin Islands, then stuffed
down the turret of a Scandie submersible and shot across the Caribbean to this
smelly pile of rusty pipes.  Now there was nothing to do but wait for Cashman
to tell them all what they were supposed to be doing here.

"Ever since President Salazar initiated the Taichung Project," the General
Manager said, "he and the Board have known that it was possible to build a much
more powerful type of device than the one that was tested in 1962.  Since then,
we've been keeping watch on the nations of the world, to guard against the
possibility that one or more of them might seek to create such a device.

"The Board has recently learned that Colonel Vincent Mercator, the dictator of
Mexico, has initiated a program in the Neogranadian city of Ciudad Camacho to
build such a device.  Our orders from the Board are to travel up the Orinoco to
Ciudad Camacho, locate Colonel Mercator, and depreciate him with due

Cashman had outfitted an expedition with a fully equipped Thalassa Riverdragon
III patrol boat, mounting twin Parkinson BR-117 semiautomatic weapons.  Shen
knew everything there was to know about the BR-117s: retail price, bulk
purchase discount rate, standard maintenance plan, rate of fire, operational
warranty and shipping weight.  However, he had never fired one in his life.

That didn't worry Shen unduly, though.  In addition to all its equipment, the
Riverdragon also carried a squad of KA's stalwart Company Police.  Just seeing
them there in their brass-buttoned blue uniforms and bell-shaped helmets
inspired confidence.  Company legend had it that the mere prospect of tangling
with the CPs had sufficed to keep the NUSM from attacking the Philippines
during the Global War. [1]

Somewhere on the Orinoco River
17 December 1974

Shen was adding an entry to his journal when his concentration was broken by
the Chief calling out, "Look alive, we got company!"

As two of the CPs took up their stations at the Parkinsons, Shen joined the
Chief at the Riverdragon's controls.  "What have we got, Chief?"

The Chief pointed upstream to where a long low raft was coming into view around
a bend in the river.  "There, sir."

Shen dug out a pair of Dunn Optical binoculars ($359.95 retail, limited
lifetime warranty) and focused on the raft.  Three adults, two children,
various bundles scattered here and there.  "Looks like a family of river folk
to me," he said.

"Could be," said the Chief noncommittally, "or they could be FANG spies. 
Recommend we board and search, sir."

"Very well, Chief," said Shen.

As the Riverdragon came alongside the raft, the Chief led three of his men over
while two more covered the Neogranadians with the Parkinsons.

While his men searched through the scattered bundles (scattering them more in
the process), the Chief leveled his pistol (a Krag-Colt .44-calibre, $139.95
retail) at the eldest of the adults, then spun around suddenly as he saw one of
the children, the girl, maybe six years old, move towards a basket.

"Chief!" Shen barked out.

The Chief froze for a second.  The girl staggered past the basket to the edge
of the raft, then knelt down and vomited into the river.

The other child, a boy of perhaps eight, said in Spanish, "She sick.  Drink
water, get sick."

One of the other adults, a woman, chattered at the boy, who chattered back.

"Sir ---"

"Stand down, Chief," Shen said.  Reaching into one of the Riverdragon's
lockers, Shen picked up a box, then jumped across to the raft.  To the boy he
said, "Is that your mother?"

"Yes," said the boy uncertainly.

Holding up the box, he said, "Ask her if she'd like to buy a water purifier. 
Runs on three double-D batteries, included, with a seven year warranty, only
seventy-five pesos."

The boy relayed Shen's offer to the woman, who chattered with the other two
adults before answering.

"She say we only have twenty peso."

Shen smiled.  "Sixty pesos, and I'll throw in an extra set of batteries."

Outside Ciudad Camacho
18 December 1974

It was two in the morning when they saw the lights of Ciudad Camacho reflected
off the lowering clouds to their right.  They tied up the Riverdragon on the
right bank, and left two of the CPs to watch it while the Chief led Shen and
the rest of the men through the dark, humid jungle.

The jungle ended abruptly three hundred meters from a chain-link fence.  Beyond
was a brightly-lit compound dominated by a large squat building  with two wide
smokestacks from which rose steady trails of steam.  There was no mistaking it
--- this was the atomic reactor from which Colonel Mercator obtained his
neutro-two-hydrogen. [2]  On the far side of the compound they would find the
square cinder-block building that housed the administrative center of
Mercator's bomb factory --- and Mercator himself.

The Chief led them in a single-file crawl over the bare, muddy ground between
the jungle and the fence.  Shen, who was next to last, felt utterly exposed. 
It seemed an eternity before they had all reached the dubious safety of the
fence.  One of the CPs produced a set of wire cutters (Diego & Channing
Heavy-Duty Shears, Shen's mind whispered, $26.95 retail) and made an opening,
and they slid through one by one.

The Chief quickly led them into the shadow of a corrugated tin hut, and from
there they made their stealthy way deeper into the compound.  They were passing
through an alley between two wooden buildings when an amplified voice behind
them called out in Spanish, "Halt!  Don't move!"

Shen looked back in time to see the CP behind him open up with his pistol, at
which point he hit the deck.  He remained curled up in a ball while a flurry of
gunshots filled the alley.  His eyes remained closed after the fire died down,
and only opened when he felt a nudge from a booted foot.  He looked up to see a
man in FANG camouflage fatigues pointing a Rojas-65 rifle ($949.95 retail) at

"I surrender," Shen said in Spanish.

Camp Adolfo Camacho
18 December 1974

"Shen, Charles, Salesman First Class, 10791255."

"Relax, Mr. Shen," said Mercator in a voice as smooth and supple as a leather
seatcover, "there is no need for such formality.  You are a Kramer spy and
assassin, and I am your intended target.  We're practically old friends."

Shen remained silent.  Since Mercator was right, there was no point in

"It will not be long," Mercator continued, "before your superiors in the Kramer
organization realize that your mission has failed.  No doubt they will use
their upcoming meeting at Bali to decide on an appropriate response."

There was a pause, as though Mercator were waiting for some reaction from Shen.
 At this point, though, Shen didn't care what Upper Management decided at their
annual Christmas shindig.  Of course, nobody outside the Company was supposed
to know that this year's meeting was being held on Bali, but Shen knew that it
was impossible to keep something that big a secret.  Everybody at UDG knew
months beforehand from the catering bills alone.

Mercator seemed disappointed when Shen said, "What's going to happen to me?"

"Oh, the usual where spies are concerned," said Mercator absently.  "Days of
torture followed by a brief military tribunal and death by hanging."  He fixed
Shen with an intense stare.  "Isn't there anything else you wish to say to me?"

Shen thought for a moment, and then said, "Would you be interested in a
purebred Persian cat?  I can get it for you wholesale."


[1]  A Company legend that Sobel faithfully repeats on p. 352. 

[2]  KA scientific jargon for tritium.