With sunset passed, night consumed Africa, and the squad managed to reach Uganda. After a full five-man rotation alternating drivers and sleep shifts, they arrived in Bugiri. They entered the rough, dusty town doubling as tourists, college students, missionaries, or whatever seemed the least threatening to the locals. However, as Delia knew, no matter what façade they attempted they were still seen as privileged foreigners, which made every villager and citizen immediately wary upon encounter. At least, Delia thought that was true to some extent. She remembered the feeling well herself.
They drove through the town, just catching its name. The names changed, but much of the terrain remained constant. Dusty red dirt, long strips of shambling stores, vast landscapes of dense roughage. They expected as much from these poverty plots where their suspects escaped.
Spade parked the Jeep in the distant outskirts of the town off road. Flyboy and Dali woke Primal, her ear buds still pressed in and playing music. It was often the only way she could get to sleep on missions, because the music was the only thing that could drown out her ever-edging, crippling paranoia.
Delia was already outside the Jeep, walking about the weeds and brush. She felt the sticky bristles of the weeds snag at her cargos and combat boots as she walked. It was dark, but the moon offered enough silver outlining for her to traverse with some ease. Primal seemed entirely unaffected by the darkness as she prowled the field with wolf-dogs flanking her. She seemed more at peace out there.
Delia raked her choppy, lengthy bangs from her eyes as she noticed Spade, who had wandered off into the brush for a piss break. She pretended she didn’t see him and averted her eyes. However, the thought forced her to realize that her own bladder ached for release, and she saw that the others scurried towards separate, somewhat private plumes of brush as well. They did not seem embarrassed and Delia discovered she wasn’t all that shy either. Perhaps she had been homeless too long to care anymore, or perhaps her childhood in the slums was the cause. Either way, she dropped her cargo pants and silently celebrated the relief. As soon as she finished, she was thankful that Primal was a stickler for cleanliness, having packed soaps and sanitizers.
Delia grabbed the phone next and contacted Freudenberger while the others snacked on granola and bottled water. After several rings-which were uncommonly long for Freudenberger-their supervisor finally answered.
“I FOUND THEM.” The tiny woman’s voice boomed excitedly, just another feature unmatched to her stature and physique.
Delia’s brown eyes bugged out. “What? Are you serious?”
“Yes! Oh my God. Literally seconds before you called I received confirmation on their whereabouts. I actually found them. Finally.” Delia heard a sniff. “I may actually cry.”
Delia laughed, she was thrilled. “So might I. But that may be the lack of sleep speaking.”
“Oh, believe me; I know it’s the lack of sleep speaking on my behalf.” Freudenberger sighed, sounding as relieved as Delia’s bladder. “Where have you arrived, assuming you have reached Uganda?”
“About two miles outside Bugiri.”
“All right, got you on my map.” Freudenberger clacked away on her desktop. “Your coordinates are…”
Delia listened intently as she memorized their new location. “What are we looking for specifically?”
Freudenberger cleared her throat in attempt to rid her groggy tone of no sleep. “You’re looking for a likely dilapidated industrial barn complex on abandoned farmland. It’s old; hasn’t been used in a decade, if not longer, with no upkeep whatsoever.”
“That’s where they went? How did you even figure that out?”
Freudernberger coughed again. “Let’s just say it took a little smidge of wiring Flyboy’s funds to the right surveyors to check it out for me. I called in as though I were a prospective buyer hoping to buy cheap land, revitalize it, and use it for my own industrial purposes.”
Delia was impressed with Freudenberger, as always. “Well, all right then. Flyboy has funds?”
“Of course. You remember I told you his family owns hangars all over the world? Actually, he owns them. He inherited them a few years ago when his father died. Poor guy, it was all pretty rough on him.” Then, she chuckled. “How else do you think you guys are funded? Anyway, just as I thought, the surveyor reported what he assumed were homeless folks trying to settle into the property. He assured me it was an easy fix, but felt inclined to warn me. There’s a chance it might not be them, since he didn’t physically see them, but given the situation it is surely worth investigating.”
Delia concurred. “How did you know they would pick a place like this?”
Freudenberger set her computer to sleep then leaned back in her chair, finally relaxing. “It hit me during our last call that they would have to be close to running out of money and supplies by now. And with the added fear-mongering story that Beitel spun for them, they’re more inclined to discretion than ever. They wouldn’t risk spending what little they have left at any established businesses where the clerks and managers could relay their whereabouts to authorities. Thus, I researched the abandoned properties for sale and condemned properties within a hundred or so mile radius from the motel.” After catching her breath, she let out a flat, “Ta-da!”
Delia smirked. “I’m impressed.” She admitted.
“You should be.” She coughed once more as a wave of pained fatigue washed over her. “Go get them, please. When you get out there, let me know. Oh, and before I forget, don’t let Primal bring out any of her bigguns.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Bigguns?”
“You’ll know.” Freudenberger ended the call.
Delia made a note to ask Primal about it later, but first she was eager to relay the information and start off toward the abandoned farm. Finally they would find out what was truly happening with the German scientists and their so-called internship.
Many miles later with energy and faith re-instilled from Freundenberger’s last bit of news, the squad closed in on the abandoned farmland. The property was overgrown, but some portions still resembled old outlines of crops. Wooden and wired fencing was rotted, some twisted, with the land’s natural growth. Most of it was rendered useless, and certainly penetrable. As they continued to drive along the dirt road, they saw the massive, interconnected industrial barn complex in the distance. From their position, it didn’t seem entirely a mess, simply weathered and rusted. However, when they would approach it on foot they would see how the rotting wood and siding was literally worn and torn. Some off-chutes had caved entirely.
It was late, past midnight, but morning wouldn’t encroach for hours. The squad had decided to use the darkness to their advantage, as they had many times before. On the trip, they developed a plan to scout the land and the farm undetected. Surely the criminal scientists were skittish, observant, and ultimately paranoid by then.
Delia suggested that Flyboy stay behind with the hidden Jeep and to signal if there was trouble. She also asked him to ditch the Jeep and find them if he heard any struggles. Naturally, he already knew what to do, and had armed himself with a sleek, short blade katana. She remembered how skilled he was with it, and knew he kept it sharpened and polished. He also kept a pistol holstered and strapped to his thigh for good measure.
Primal went in for overkill as she had for every mission. With twin knives, long, curved, and holstered at either thigh, Delia assumed she wouldn’t need much else. Alas, Primal had equipped spare twin sets of the same style knives attached to her deerskin boots, and another set strapped at her back. She was clad in denim and leather for flexibility, but also for some protection. Her wolves accompanied her as well. Naturally.
Spade carried his metal edged cards and retractable nightstick as he had the entire trip. He cared for little else, besides his Taser, but he preferred it for interrogation purposes. Upon Delia’s urging, however, he equipped it as well.
Dali carried simpler items. She had an Xacto knife. Upon first glance, most people would disregard her choice of “weapon,” but she knew how dangerously sharp and penetrating the blades were. She had seen them in action cutting through foam board for framing her artwork in college as well as deep into veins and muscle.
Delia didn’t have a preferred choice of weapon like the others, at least not in object form. She worked well with guns, had impeccable aim, and could defend herself easily with a variety of blades, but she rarely equipped anything of the sort. She had been so thoroughly trained in Krav Maga by one of Israel’s best fighters that she never felt underdressed, so to speak, on the battlefield. Her body and mind together served as her weapon.
They decided against equipping firearms for their scouting session. Although the squad was not entirely certain whether the scientists had guns of their own, Delia and Freudenberger were confident that they were without any heavy artillery. They may have had a pistol, but the squad could handle it even without guns of their own. The squad knew it was better than possibly and unintentionally equipping these hungry, delusional, undoubtedly panicked criminals with guns. Besides, they weren’t supposed to kill anyone, and they had successfully survived without firearms before. They felt it was not an issue.
Delia paired with Primal as they flanked the back of the barn together. They ran quietly, side by side, through the dry, dark grass along the stretch of the barn. An eerie tingle nagged at Primal, her paranoia creeping through her skin again. She went for the knives strapped to her back first. With a click, she had snapped the blades open. They were curved, recently sharpened, and came to a point like steel claws. Primal pressed the handles against her palm and let the blades extend out from between her index and middle finger. She clenched her hands like fists over the handles so only the blades were visible. The knives were made specifically for that.
Delia glanced back at Primal, noticing how she held her knives. Delia imagined Primal fought like an animal, claws outstretched and slashing like a cat that didn’t hiss. Or perhaps, Delia thought, Primal did hiss. It became clearer to her every day as to how Primal obtained her name.
Delia was expecting trouble, but was the most relaxed of the four. She never doubted her skills; she was trained not to doubt them. Death was not an option; no such thing could possibly exist to her when in battle.
Spade and Dali took to the other end of the barn. It was not just one building, but designed as though there were several series of long hallways, most likely stables and perhaps commercial milking stations for cows. From what Spade could guess, there were multiple equipment rooms inside and possibly useless old machinery as well. It was two stories, large, and maze-like.
Dali noticed a rotted out hole in the siding of one section. It wasn’t very big, but she gestured it to Spade who looked inside. She heard a sort of squishing under foot and looked down. The dirt was a little wet, but it had not rained since they arrived, and everywhere else on the property was dry. She smelled faint, familiar fumes. She stepped out of the moistened soil.
Spade looked back at her. “Everything seems dead inside… And I don’t just mean me.” He smirked.
Dali shook her head in silence, judging him.
“Why did you move back so far?” He asked, noticing she had skipped away from him.
“I didn’t want my feet getting wet.” She flailed her fingers at the ground underneath him.
“Ah.” He hadn’t noticed. His black hiking boots were thick, and the ground wasn’t wet enough to soak through. “What is that?” He sniffed at it. “That’s gasoline.”
“Yeah, I know.” Dali shrugged. “It’s gross.”
“I kind of wish you said something when you found it…” He didn’t bother to shoot her a glare. “If this place hadn’t been used in years, why is there fresh gasoline spilled here?”
At the other end of the barn complex, Delia and Primal found an entrance latched with a locked chain. Delia took the lock gently in her palm and glanced over her shoulder at Primal behind her.
“Spade is the talented lock pick, yes?” She asked, and Primal nodded while she surveyed the land and suspiciously eyed the barn doors.
Delia let the lock drop from her hand as she took a step back. “Let’s go get him.” As they walked together, rounding the corner, Delia asked, “Have you sensed anyone here?” She had noted Primal’s uneasiness the entire night.
Primal was usually talkative, and could ramble on about people’s psyches, her theories and philosophies, her country life growing up, but after interrogating Beitel she had grown increasingly silent.
“Something feels way off.” Primal replied. “It’s hard to tell the real feelings apart from the paranoia sometimes.”
“Maybe it’s the same for good reason.” Delia said to her. “With what you all do for a living, there’s no harm in being overly careful.”
Primal kept her gaze outward, searching. “Real paranoia, the personality disorder, is not true awareness. It makes haywire connections, creates underlying situations that just aren’t there, and muddles perception.”
“You know a lot about psychology. I saw the way you handled Beitel. I’ve heard you speak about disorders from time to time.” Delia said.
Primal nodded once. “Yeah, well… But that’s why I can never be too sure. Also, it’s ‘what we all do for a living.’ Not just us, but you too now.”
Delia said nothing in reply. They walked silently together.
In the darkness, Primal found an opening in the barn. The wood had rotted out, creating a small hole to look through, but it appeared someone had pulled more of the crumbling wood out. It was large enough to crawl through. The ground squished under Primal’s boots, and she looked down to see two sets of foot prints matching Spade and Dali’s treads.
“They got in their own way.” Primal gestured to the hole and climbed through it. Delia followed suit.
Inside the barn it was pitch black; only splintered streams of silver served as light peppered from holes in the deteriorated roof. At one point the barn had wooden plank flooring, but most of it was taken out and repurposed, destroyed, or simply collapsed from exposure without maintenance.
“Where did they go?” Delia wondered out loud. She saw nothing back blackness and dust. “I doubt that the scientists are still here.”
Primal squinted, peering into the darkness. She swore she saw something entirely mismatched to the environment and mission. She approached it warily. “There’s something more than scientists running from the law here.”
Delia looked in Primal’s direction, unable to follow her comrade’s gaze.
“Oh shit.” Primal said. “There’s a military Humvee in here.” Primal’s eyes widened, as she realized it was a line of seven Humvees, each armored for high-fire battle. “There are so many.”
Delia came closer, adjusting to the darkness. “Are they old? Like maybe they were stored here by Uganda because they’re broken down?”
Primal looked back at her. “Delia… These are brand new.” A clatter came from the nearest hall, and Primal snapped to attention, her body tense and taught. Her side faced the hall entrance, knives in hand; blades exposed and pointed out like claws.
Delia was less tense, but just as prepared to defend herself. She could see Primal in her peripheral.
Primal whispered to Delia, “There are so many…” Her voice was steady, not a hint of panic.
“The Humvees?” Delia asked.
“No…” Primal continued to stare into the hall.
Delia faced the darkness. She felt a wave of tingling heat transpire through her muscles. She wondered if this would be her first battle, a formal initiation into the squad perhaps.
Through painstaking silence and whispers, a man’s voice cut through. “Go make the call and let him know it worked. We will take care of this.”
At that moment, Delia knew Primal’s paranoia was well-founded. It was everything else that was wrong.
Primal’s green eyes smiled and flashed in a stream of silver light. “Oh, love, we in for a night.”