Faisal felt seasick. His guts lurched from side to side.
His chipset’s motion cutoff routine hurled him from the app back into his jungle shack, where Don Carlos had been shaking him by the shoulders for god only knew how long.
“Turn that fucking thing off and talk to me, huh?”
Faisal dialed down the tags so Don Carlos would no longer see tiny lights winking on and off in his eyes. It drove the man straight out of his mind to see a hacker zoned out mid-conversation.
“I could have killed you, you know, spacing in front of a client like that.”
“I’m not paid to charm clients,” Faisal said.
“Don’t be a smart ass.”
They were alone. The narcos had gone and Don Carlos’ men with them. Suddenly, without the dozen stinking guerrillas taking up space Faisal’s shack seemed spacious as a banquet hall. The gas generator hummed steadily in the background. From time to time it hiccuped. Whenever it did the bare light bulbs suspended from the ceiling flickered.
“Where’d they go?” Faisal asked.
“They’re shit scared of the drones.”
“You take care of the drones, remember?”
“Yeah, I guess.” In fact Faisal spent about two hours a day literally keeping the camp off the drones’ radar. An easy fix. He just tweaked the AI pilots a bit to distract them. Kind of like dropping a titty mag in front of a security guard, except here it was machines he got feeling all horny and nasty. Faisal turned them on to something other than guerrillas (frequently jungle rodents), which kept them occupied away from the actual camps. The only way a human ops supervisor would figure it out was if he dug down into the actual code. That’d never happen – military men couldn’t code for shit. In Faisal’s experience even terrorists made lousy programmers.
“But they’re still shit scared of them,” Faisal added.
Everyone who’d ever gone up against Americans knew drones worked best at night. They ran quiet. They were decked out with sound snooping and night vision gear. Drones scared the narcos and rebels shitless partly because their own night fighting gear consisted mostly of antique, battery-operated night-vision goggles out of North Korea. Those were hardly going to pick out a drone cruising at ten thousand feet. With gear like that you wouldn’t get a hint of trouble till you had a missile lodged halfway up your ass.
Don Carlos lit one of his Turkish cigarettes. “They’re tired of waiting. I told them we wouldn’t bother them again until we had results. So now what I want from you is to know when we will have some results.” Smoke drifted from the corners of his mouth. It formed a dense, low-hanging cloud in the humid air of the shack.
Shit’s fucking demonic, Faisal thought. Out loud he said, “if they’re off the grid they’re off the grid. When they pop up I’ll fix them. It’s not my fault this place has got a dead zone.”
“It will have to be big.”
Don Carlos should have gone into entertainment. Entertainment management. He could have been a circus ringleader. With Don Carlos bigger was always better, especially if it ended up on the AP feed.
In Grozny Faisal turned the contractors’ drones back around for some blue-on-blue action. In the DRC he’d really unleashed his creativity. A handful of custom-built AIs convinced a whole unit the place was haunted, to the point where HQ committed them to a special military hospital en masse. Far as Faisal knew they were still rotting in straitjackets.
Yeah, he’d come a long way from Palestine.
Another thing about Don Carlos was that he never slouched. He stood ramrod straight with his shoulders back and head up. Never perched on the edge of a table. Never leaned into anything for support. Faisal’s father would have liked that about him. Good posture. Firm handshake.
“You know this job isn’t about the money,” Don Carlos said. His tone made it seem like he was thinking out loud. Faisal rarely heard him speak like this and it confused him. “This is home. The prodigal son returns.”
Faisal knew very little about Don Carlos’ past, other than that he’d come from here. Not here, exactly, but somewhere in the Free Trade Zone.
It wasn’t like Don Carlos ever sat down with Faisal and explained his life story. He wasn’t that kind of boss. Nor was this your typical start up IT gig where the boss was basically obligated to lay out the back story in the interview. Where the idea came from, how it was destined to change the world, a rough time line till IPO, equity options, etc.
What Faisal did know about Don Carlos he’d culled from rumor and speculation, most of it digital. There were a range of different stories. The most common went something like this: once upon a time Don Carlos was a middling military police officer. After years and years of confiscating piles of cash he got to thinking the drug biz might be a more lucrative career path. So one night he ripped off the evidence room and went into the drug business for himself, becoming so wildly successful that instead of killing him the Ninos bought him out. Another story alleged that Don Carlos once had a wife and kid. The military police accidentally killed them during a raid. In that version he joined up with the narcos for revenge and took special delight in bombing police barracks. And again a buyout made him big.
Faisal didn’t care which story was true, or if any of them were true.
What he took from the rumors was Don Carlos was ambitious. Also exceedingly competent. As time passed his ambition grew, from local to national to global. Don Carlos aspired to more than pushing dope. He wanted a piece of the global insurgency industry, to be War Incorporated. Not a brown man pushing dope but a brown man helping other brown men fight white devils on their own terms.
All for a modest fee, of course.
Yet suddenly Don Carlos couldn’t care less about the money. It was starting to look to Faisal like he’d spent all these weeks in a hot, humid jungle hammering away on a shit connection just to feed his boss’s ego. He didn’t pretend to understand people’s psychological needs. He wasn’t good at it and he didn’t care much about people’s feelings. He was a hacker, not a therapist.
Faisal’s stomach turned over. His throat dried up. He realized he felt disturbed.
He straightened up in his chair. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, as if someone had come right up behind him and begun breathing down his neck. At first he took this to be another symptom of his general level of disturbedness. But as the feeling intensified he remembered the physio alarm he’d set earlier, for when the professor and lady merc popped up on the grid.
Faisal slapped at the back of his neck. The alarm cut out.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Don Carlos asked.
“Mercs are back on the grid.”