Friday, November 7, 2008

Pirates...and YKW...again...

Pirates...and YKW*...again...

We peer out across a wide body of water at the long, low cargo freighter anchored at the far end of the harbor. It sits low in the water, gray and hulking, with little sign of activity. We have been growing restless the last couple days as we observe the ship through high-power telescopes and satellite imagery. For all we can tell, nothing lives aboard the ship. But we know better.

Finally, a couple hours ago, we notice some movement on the deck. A group of men seem to be having some kind of argument. Guns wave, and it seems like one of the men is circled and attacked by the others. They all disappear, but a few minutes later, a large wooden board is laid over the rail of the deck. A man is seen tied up on the board. He walks to the end, then falls off, his hands and feet fairly well bound together. He doesn't stand a chance in these shark-infested waters.

"Fuck!" I yell. "What the fuck? They made a guy walk the plank? What fucking century is this?" After a number of radio communications we confirm that the dead man was an agent who had snuck aboard.

The pirates celebrate by shooting off pistols and downing some bottles of alcohol. As we watch, another man comes along and starts ripping into the men, cuffing them around the ears and beating them back. I assume this must be their pirate leader. After an extensive argument, he shoots one of the men in the head. In a minute we witness the body flying through the air over the rail of the ship as the body is tossed to the fishes. Once more the radio chatters. One of the listening devices the agent planted reveals that the pirate captain was incensed that they killed the prisoner before he could be interrogated.

This is the ship we need to board and take over as soon as possible. But first let me tell you more about how we got here.

For a few weeks, life in the Chinese Hi-Tech Labor Camp, or Kastle Klingon, became almost tolerable. In the back of my mind I knew we were all doomed, destined to be killed once the project finished. They couldn't afford to keep us around knowing what we knew. At least the torture and maiming had stopped, we worked decent but long hours, and even had a couple forms of recreation to keep us entertained. I felt complicit in telling people that everything would work out, that we'd be saved if we just worked hard. Not everyone believed it but I think people we glad to have something to work on. Keeping busy kept one's mind off of how desperate and lonely we were for our families and friends.

I've never been in complete charge of a software project before. Instead of working on the code, I spent most of my time putting out fires and trying to work with some of the lessor developers to try to get them up to speed and productive. I don't know where most of the people came from, but they all had differing backgrounds and abilities. Many had severe emotional issues and without the fear of imminent death if they screwed up, they tended to get distracted and picked fights with other team members. Squabbles raged over the few females in the group who did nothing to settle the men down. It became a daily struggle to keep everyone in line. Sometimes I felt like given them the cattle prod myself but instead I just worked with them and showed them they might have a future in the industry if they could somehow reign in their emotions and focus on the code.

After a week or so of being in charge I began to receive these missives, highly detailed technical instructions on features we needed to implement. Apparently the "expert" had started working but hadn't arrived on site. These documents were scary brilliant, filled with ideas and approaches I had barely even considered. We were working on a project with the size and implications of the Manhattan Project. This project, code named "Project Ao Guang" after the East Sea Dragon, a bringer of disasters, employed hundreds of thousands of people across Southeast Asia. Not many of the workers were aware of their role in this project, or even that a project exists. It's one of China's best kept secrets. The West only knows of it as "The Plot."

A few weeks later, we are all ordered to stay out of the work room. Not even I got word to what was happening. I hung out with Misty in the cafeteria, just making small talk. We had grown very close the last few weeks, sharing our hopes and dreams, leaning on each other for support. Given our more flexible work schedule, we even found time now and then to sneak off into a closet or dorm room and "be more than friends."

After lunch time the leads were called into the work room. A section of desks had been rearranged and a few unfamiliar faces sat working at them. I felt a small pit resentment fill my stomach at the intrusion in my area. On the other side of the room, a small blond woman talked to Major General Wu. She had long flowing locks and a great figure. Something nagged at the back of my head. Wu departed and she faced us.

"Hi," she said in a distinctly American voice, Southern Californian even. I felt my innards clench up. "I'm taking charge of this project effective immediately. You all will report to me. Mr. Ross will be still be in charge of day-to-day operations when I'm travelling. My team over there is here to assist us. To accommodate them, I've cut a few of your team who will be reassigned. Or killed, I don't care. Take a look at your sheet."

Something in her ice cold eyes filled me with dread. I picked up the sheet and scanned the names. Misty was listed on it. I also saw Bethany's name. Most of the names were the people I trusted most, even if they weren't the most productive team members.

"No," I said. "My team stays. All of them. We all work together or none of us will work for you."

The woman's eyes flashed at me. "Oh, Alex, you're so funny! Do you really think you have a say in what goes on here?"

Her words stunned me for a second as a dawning realization hit me. "I got General Khanan off their backs. I got them decent working conditions. I can promise them that you'll give them much worse. I know what you're capable of. It's no surprise you're working with them."

She chuckled at me. "Oh Alex. Can we let the past be the past? Haven't you been through enough?" She began to frown as she noticed my team members assembling behind me. I spotted Misty watching from a doorway. The woman's frown turned into a murderous rage. "You do what I tell you or I can have this whole group ripped to pieces."

I stared right back the blond bombshell. "Fuck you, Carrie. I have no idea what you've done to yourself, or why you're working with these people. What is it, some kind of big payoff? Did they promise you some kind of position with them? They could promise you the moon, but take a look around you. Take a look at the data. Everyone who knows anything about this project is either dead or in this camp. You might think you're safe but you're just another one of their pawns. You're probably the smartest person I know, but you have to see that if this whole thing succeeds, the world will cease to exist as we know it."

"Done yet," she responded haughtily. "You think I'm going to sit on the sidelines for this one? I'm going to be on the winning side, babe. If you work with me, I'll give you your shot too. I can get you out of here. I can make things right."

Carrie Park sauntered up to me. She had obviously had thousands of dollars of plastic surgery, everything from her nose and eyes and mouth to her breasts and hips, like a barbie doll on steroids. But no amount of surgery could mask her foul odor or her hateful eyes. She at least wore perfume to cover it up, but some weird body chemistry of hers caused her skin to excrete some bad-smelling substance, something akin to burned rubber.

"Maybe we can be together again, baby," she whispered to me as I inched away from her. "Just like old times." She grabbed my face and kissed my lips before I could pull back. When I glanced back towards Misty she had run off...perhaps witnessing the whole thing. Carrie slapped me hard in the face.

"You fuck!" she screamed at me. "You think I still give a shit about you? I can have any man I want. You're just a small little shit I plan to flush. If I didn't think these idiots here were even worse than you I'd have you sent out and shot. If you want to keep your team then find some fucking space for them. But I will have them shot if they don't perform. I will have their fucking heads blown off. You got it?"

I nodded.

"Good. Now for the rest of you, get your asses into the conference room. We're way behind and we've to get caught up. Move it!" They shuffled their way out of the door like sheep to the slaughter.

I started to follow but Carrie put her hand on my chest, waiting for the last person to leave. "No, not you. This is my team now. We'll talk later, in my quarters. You go gather the rest of your team and get them busy. This whole damn project needs to be up and running in six months. Ross, I need to know you're in this thing. I'm serious when I say I can get you out of here. But I need to know right now: are you in or out?"

I so wanted to strangle her right then. She ruined my life. She forced me to flee the USA to this godforsaken hell hole. I could probably snap her neck before the her men over in the corner could interfere. "Fine, Carrie. It's obvious we're both heading straight through the gates of Hell here. I know that you are not just here for the money, and you can't be trusted. I'm in, but I'll be watching everything you do. You're not putting one over me again." And so I began working with Carrie Park again.

After she dismissed me I went to find Misty. I looked high and low, in the dorms, the mess hall, the gym, even in women's restroom. After an hour or so I found her outside huddled under a tree in the courtyard, her eyes moist with tears.

"Go away," she said as I approached.

"Misty, what's wrong?" She didn't respond. "Is this about that woman? Carrie Park?" She looked down at the ground and sniffled.

"I saw you, Alex. I saw you kiss her. How could you?"

"Oh god, did you see when she slapped me? Misty, please." I sat next to her and tried to put a hand on her shoulder but she jerked away. "Misty, yes, she's someone from my past. She's the Terrorist. She's the one who forced me to come here. She's the one who ruined my life."

"They why did you kiss her? Do you still like her?"

"Buh. Ugh. Misty, she's a horrible person. I'd rather swallow my own testicles than to spend one moment with her. She lacks all human compassion, and frankly, she smells. Really bad. Some kind of hormone imbalance."

Misty didn't respond.

"You think I'd spend one moment with here when I could be with someone like you? Misty, you're the reason I've been fighting so hard here. You've inspired me. You're all I think about, and my mind is obsessed with finding a way for us to escape and live free somewhere. You're beautiful, you're smart, you're a good friend and a great lover. Carrie Park is evil, and could never hold one moment of interest for me."

"Even with her fake boobs and eyelashes and butt?"

"Her whole face is fake," I replied. "She's had more work done than Joan Rivers."

Misty leaned over towards me and nestled her face on my shoulder. "Thanks, I needed to hear that."

We huddled under that tree for a while, holding each other while the world descended towards chaos.

*YKW=You Know Who

Posted: Friday, November 7, 2008 @ 11:23 PM

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