It was hot.
The mosquitoes always chose the nights such as this to attack in force, mused the Colonel. He slapped at his neck, droplets of sweat flying, and examined his fingers for a tiny corpse. Colonel Enrique Teran's tall figure was scrunched down in its seat, hairy arms the only distinguishing features emerging from the shapeless mass of sodden jungle fatigues. The Colonel brushed his hand against his equally soaked pants. He stroked his prized rifle, leaving a gleaming streak along the butt, and mused. The poor farmer, once only Enrique to the _policia_ in his grubby town, had come very far in the two years he'd been in the People's Liberation Army. Where he had been born only to labor on his father's dirt-choked farm, he had risen in the world. He had learned as did all real men that the only good life was that fought for and taken from an enemy. _Who_ the enemy was rarely mattered to Enrique, so long as there was one. This was truly the life, living by and under the sword. To the victor went such spoils as there were, and to the loser... ah, to the loser, a watery grave mourned only by the fishes, or a dusty headstone commemorated by the ants. Enrique smirked in the darkness. He always did his patriotic duty in support of public morale. The wives and daughters of those he bested never had cause to grieve overlong.
Major Jorge Bustamante was more stoic about the persistent bugs, ignoring the buzzing cloud about his head. He was shorter, more thickset than his boss, with a pronounced beer-belly. As a Major, he commanded officer's shares of alcoholic spoils taken in raids of liberation, and it showed. The Major had reached the same conclusion about life that his Colonel had, and enjoyed his current life of fighting, raiding and running. That there was a government to 'rebel' against provided him with as good a reason as any to indulge himself. He rarely mentioned that he was scheduled for many executions at the hands of that selfsame government --and several others as well--should he ever slow down. To Jorge, the survival of the fittest was more than a theory--it was a creed.
The tent the two officers now shared in the moonlight sat at the base of a weed-studded cliff, over which the waters of the river flung themselves. The crashing roar of the waterfall and its source was sometimes loud enough to drown out the singing of the crickets. It had been a long night. Both men hoped fervently that it would get no longer.
The Colonel and the Major rose as a sentry came belting up and gave them a breathless salute. _"The General has arrived, sir!"_ Colonel and Major, each carrying his favorite weapon, followed the sentry.
Eduardo Cadrillo was the General the two officers had been waiting for. A massive man, his more-muscle-than-fat form filled his tan and green uniform to the bursting point. In the cities, before the people, the General afforded somewhat looser clothes. Out in the field he could be seen stomping about, belly hanging over his belt, his shirt unbuttoned or missing, swinging his baton and cursing fit to ignite rock.
The General had sent word to camp earlier this day--the cannon had arrived. At last, their friends in America had supplied them the weapons so desperately needed in their campaign against the evil capitalists who held so much of the country beneath an iron heel. The best weapons that American Technology could supply--no more of the simple M-16s that shot bullets a man could laugh at. This was to be a weapon that might conceivably end the war they now fought. The thought didn't trouble the Colonel or the Major. There would always be other wars. If need be, the General would see to it, with his new plaything.
The soldier led the officers to the small clearing near the base of the waterfall. There the ground was dry, packed hard by the number of feet passing over it daily. The truck, camouflaged, resembled nothing so much as an outgrowth of the cliffs beside it. The Colonel and Major did not attempt concealment as they approached. If they wanted to survive to see the new weapon, their lives depended upon being seen by the guards.
A rifle poked at them from the trailer bed as they approached. The Colonel stopped and gave his own and the Major's identities. The weapon was reluctantly withdrawn. A hand lifted a corner of the opaque camouflage sheet, a yellow triangle briefly outlining dark silhouettes before night returned.
Inside the truck, the General and another guard sat in a technological clutter, next to what they'd conveyed this far. The single naked bulb threw harsh shadows on the smoothly molded contours of the cannon. The eyes of both Colonel and Major widened in anticipation. The Colonel licked his lips, eyed the thing greedily. _"General, sir, is this--?"_
_"Yes. This is what our friends in America long ago promised us."_ He seemed to take an almost orgasmic pleasure from stroking the long-lined weapon. _"After so long, the promise is now a reality."_ The General put on his speaking voice. _"With this, no other army in the country can stand against us!"_
_"With this, General, no army in the world can oppose you."_ Colonel and Major both looked around in surprise. There was another in the half- ton after all, small, thin, thick glasses and mousy brown hair over pale skin. Had they met this individual on a march, they probably would have strung him up as a warning to the people against assistance to the enemy. Since he was here with their General, he must be someone of importance. The Colonel blinked; the Major flashed a yellow smile.
The stranger pushed his glasses back. He addressed the General in flawless Spanish. _"These are the ones who get the cannon?"_
_"Si,"_ was the response. The stranger looked at the Colonel and the Major and smiled, a plastic smile he reserved for inferiors and imbeciles, carefully crafted to appear otherwise.
_"Gentlemen,"_ he said to them, _"with this Mark IV Rogers-Gordon Particle Beam Cannon, there is no force on earth that can stand in your way."_ He stood up, stooping in the narrow confines, and waved his hands. _"Let me show you the basics..."_
Jamie Kinnison, aka the Patroller _Renegade,_ was a tall, lean specimen. Dark brown hair went well with a tanned, healthy appearance enhanced by an almost skintight white uniform. Right now his six-feet-plus was folded uncomfortably into a space half that size, full of twigs, crumbly leaves, and hungry insectivora. He did not glance around, seeming unsurprised to be addressed by a ghostly voice in the darkness.
Jamie had long ago surpassed what he had believed were his limits of patience. Of the twelve hours he had so far spent perched vulturelike on this overhang near the rebel camp, only the first had passed at all quickly. He'd amused himself practicing his rusty Spanish by translating all the dirty jokes he could hear. The second through fifth hours were spent going slowly insane. He'd recovered his sanity during hours six through nine by dreaming up ever more elaborate and gruesome deaths for his scientist friend, Jeremy Stone; he'd find himself another patron. After all, the scientist hadn't _had_ to agree to get Jamie to take this mission. Hours ten to present had been spent dredging what traces remained in his memory of German and French classes from somewhere--this was the last time he was coming to middle or South America for a friend!
And his Gauntlet--source of his power as a Patroller, link with his Recharger (known rather unflatteringly as Energizer)--had been no help at all. His friends, Patrollers much longer than he, had told him time and again that trying to get meaningful conversation out of a Recharger was an exercise in futility. True to form, Energizer had answered Jamie's questions with more questions, generally giving the man no useful information at all.
When the truck, the only one after sundown, had driven up and been hastily camouflaged, Jamie's day started looking up. He was fairly certain that this truck carried what he'd been sent to destroy. Just to be careful, Jamie listened with interest to an account of what was being said in the truck--someone in there was taping the conversation for future reference. He repeated what he was hearing subvocally for the benefit of his Recharger; a second opinion never hurt.
Patrollers always made sure to hit _only_ their targets--or so Energizer kept telling him. He'd listen for a couple more minutes.
As the man in the truck went into his spiel, Jamie went into action. He stood and stretched--a twelve-hour postponement there, thoroughly enjoyed--and brushed leaves, twigs and crickets from his uniform. Then he stepped out off the edge of the cliff and floated down to the ground. As he touched mother earth a bullet whanged past his head. The second and third, better aimed, were right on target--center of the chest, just as the foreign advisers taught.
Jamie caught the bullets in his field and used their own speed to send them into the left back tires of the truck. The guard's weapon had a silencer; the tires didn't. Jamie winced as the truck keeled over with a massive crash. The guard on the truck, weaving as the vehicle rocked, opened fire again, the bullets stitching a crooked line toward the Patroller. The General, Colonel, Major, guard and Advisor, in varying degrees of concern, dragged the tarpaulin back just in time for the show.
Jamie searched for any iron in the guard's weapon. It was hard to find--_too damn much plastic in things nowadays,_ was his considered opinion, and his mutant senses could only detect those substances electromagnetically active or responsive.
He considered briefly using his Gauntlet. He was _supposed_ to be mastering that almost all-powerful tool of the Patrol. But he still tended to rely more on his own inborn abilities than on an inherited piece of alien technology. Even his friends' warnings about the risk to his carefully-concealed identity did little to make him use his Gauntlet; it was more work than his abilities were.
He finally seized on the clips of the straps of the guard's weapon. He pointed dramatically at the thing, fully aware that he now had an audience, and made a sudden grasping, sweeping motion. The startled guard let out a yell as his weapon came to life, hurling itself from his hands. The group watched amazedly as the rifle bounced off the cliff before disappearing into the dark river. Then all eyes returned to Jamie.
He grinned. _Maybe I can convince `em I use invisible force fields._ He pointed at the dark bulk of the RPB cannon, and shifted into painfully low Spanish. _"Get from that away."_
The General immediately bridled, fearful of losing his new toy and power. _"An American!"_ he bellowed, drawing his .45 and taking aim. _"You are not taking my gun!"_ He had seven shots, and he used them all.
Jamie stretched his powers slightly. When the General had emptied his magazine, the Patroller allowed the bullets to slow to a halt and drop into his hand. Then he barely stifled a grunt of paint and tossed the hot bullets up and down to cool them off. _You are getting careless,_ a cool voice told him. _You know that solid objects heat up when starting and stopping suddenly, and that is without taking your magnetics into account._
_Thank you, Energizer,_ he responded silently, and briefly imagined thumbing his nose at that supremely self-confident alien machine. He solved the problem of the projectiles by floating them back to the dumb- struck General. _"Here,"_ he said politely, _"Me think these yours."_
The rebels were stunned. Who _was_ this strangely clad person who spoke the language so poorly and paraded about ignoring bullets?
The American advisor was stunned, too, but for less time--the idea of superheroes was not so new to him, and the silver of the man's left fist was a dead giveaway: this was a Patroller. While the General was shooting, the advisor was crawling back under the tarpaulin. Fumbling in the darkness, he found the powerpack and the proper connectors. The RPB gun came to life at the same time Jamie finished peppering what had been the General's favorite pistol with what had been the General's bullets.
_"Move aside, General!"_ the advisor barked, shoving the muzzle clear of the tarp. he focused the target imagers on Jamie's bright form, locked the gun on sight. _"Now you will see just what your new weapon can do!"_ The advisor had been present for the testing of and design work for the RPBs. He knew what would happen when he fired.
Jamie noticed the gun again. This was more like it! _Energizer?_
_It appears to be a crude particle-beam accelerator,_ the Recharger responded. _Primitive, but dangerous. You can divert the power, or deflect any beam. In the latter case you will wish to avoid contact with the earth until the electrical charge buildup has a chance to dissipate. If you concentrate, you will be able to form a shield that will be proof against it, and a force field will remove the danger of charge buildup._
_Nah. A force field wouldn't be enough fun._ By the time the advisor had locked him into his sights, Jamie had figured out where the power was coming from and going to. He hopped up, stopped about ten feet from the ground. The eyes of the flabbergasted Mexicans followed him, as did the cannon's autoscope. He twisted his fields toward the RPB gun.
"Fire!" yelled the advisor. Most of the rebel camp just over the rise awoke to the crack of thunder and the flash of lightning.
The attending rebels blinked tears from night-adjusted eyes. Then they rubbed said eyes. Jamie still hung in midair before the cannon, grinning. He was making up for twelve hours of utter boredom. _"Come on, men,"_ he said, _"give up. All me here for is gun."_
The General whirled on the bewildered advisor. He bellowed, _"What are you waiting for? Shoot! Kill the Yanqui dog!"_
Jamie straightened, dark eyes narrowing. "I heard that, you sonnuva bitch," he retorted. The General's belt lifted him from the truck. Despite his howls and struggles he floated over and hung a yard from the glowering hero. _"Me American, wetback, and damn proud about it. But I _ain't_ no @#$%in' yankee. See her remember."_ Then the General sailed into the river. He surfaced twenty feet downstream, and kept screaming as the current carried him away. Jamie idly wished for piranha.
Then he looked at the truck group. Those wights looked back at him. He cleared his throat. _" Gun, please, and me will be on me trip."_ The advisor remembered that his hands were still on the triggers.
This time Jamie played it fancy. His magnetics seized the beam of coherent energy, twisting it about. For a moment the Patroller was surrounded by six rings. The lights gradually faded as the energy leaked out of his grasp, and Jamie sent the remainder of the shot into the ground right under his feet, resulting in a crater several feet deep.
The double thunder aroused the camp at last. Jamie heard spanish- speaking voices raised over the hill and decided that he had better end this. _"Change off from the truck,"_ he commanded. The rebels immediately went for their weapons. "God, you guys are stupid," he muttered. He glared at the intact rear tires. A soft white spear formed in mid-air, lanced out. The remaining rebels were shaken off the truck as the tires exploded and it settled. Jamie spread his arms and a sparkling haze of electrons heated the RPB gun up almost a thousand degrees in just seconds. A shimmering appeared between the stumbling rebels and the glowing vehicle as Jamie took care to make sure that none of them would be injured-- overmuch, at any rate--if the vehicle exploded. On the truck, the advisor howled in both fear and pain as he vaulted off the back, hidden from Jamie by the bulk of the vehicle. Scrabbling in the dust, he headed for the river. He knew what Jamie's field effect would do.
With a roar that echoed from the far hills, the RPB gun exploded, igniting the fuel tank of the truck. The fireball went up almost a hundred feet, turning night into day in the nearby camp.
Jamie, riding the crest of the explosion, looked at the fire-filled crater with surprise. He'd known he was going to destroy that gun, but even his experience hadn't told him how violent the disruption would be. Not that a few chicos more or less were going to make him lose sleep, but ..._whew!_ He formed a pair of scoops and quenched the flaming truck by dumping it in the river. He removed his force field from around the rebels and watched them wander off to meet their fellows. Then he lifted off and shaped course for Baja California. Mission accomplished, as far as he was concerned.
_Doctor Stone and Doctor Cochran will likely be upset,_ Energizer told him as the ground drifted away beneath him. _I believe they wished to study any hardware encountered during this operation._
"They could've come along to salvage stuff then," Jamie responded belligerently. Now that the excitement was over the prospect of tedium during the long trip home was settling in. "Damn! Why couldn't I just have showed up here ten minutes ago and gotten this all taken care of?"
_It was necessary to ascertain the exact location of the proscribed weapon,_ Energizer responded easily. _Unless you had known where the weapon was, could you have disabled it?_
"Sure," Jamie retorted. The wind whistled in his ears. "Probably," he amended. His Gauntlet remained silent. "I could've hunted for it--"
_And you would have found what? A truck driving through a rain forest? No. It was necessary this time to allow the target to reveal itself to you. If that required some time spent waiting and studying--had you bothered to study--then that was part of the operation as well._
"Ahhh." Jamie grunted, rolled over in flight, oriented himself and opened up the jets. His flight sped up. "I still think if the thing was plugged in anywhere I could've found it."
_And possibly become involved in a firefight with the soldiers who were guarding it during the day,_ Energizer observed. Jamie had no response. _As Maria says, the best way to avoid a fight is to prevent the fight from occurring. This way took more time, but resulted in far less threat to life and property._
"Maria's full of it," Jamie snorted.
_Patroller Morales is an exemplary Patroller,_ Energizer responded. _She would not have been asked to train you if she were not._
Jamie grunted, knowing he would get no satisfaction from his Recharger. Those in California would be upset, it was true; now that he stopped to think about it, Jeremy _would_ have liked to study the gun.
But they had told him only to make certain that if it existed it was neutralized. And besides, there would have been the problem of carrying the silly thing back with him! At least his way, the affair had been concluded, if not totally satisfactorily, then at least completely.
He tested the small crystal recorder he'd carried the long way down to make certain that it still worked. The solid-state electronics and the record crystal hadn't even noticed the dunking in the river. Satisfied, he pushed onward. The Advisor intended to get that crystal, and what he knew with it, back to the company. Jamie Kinnison had been located once more.
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