In my book Clash by Night, it’s the 22nd century and Emily Dunkirk is leading a team of artists and museum curators on a mission into a Brazilian war zone to recover a cache of priceless paintings. They are being aided by Ghost Team, a small group of mercenaries: Fang Li, their Chinese commander; Opelia, their Electronic Warfare Officer; and three other soldiers.
In this chapter, the mission is approaching Manaus, a war-torn city far up the Amazon River where the paintings have recently arrived. The artistes are in a decrepit boat they’ll use to infiltrate the city, with one merc on board for defense. The other mercs are following the boat underwater in Paladin, an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC).
And then some pirates decide to interfere with their mission…
Paladin, War Zone, 13:12
Amazon River, 23 km east of Manaus
Ophelia leaned back in her chair and groaned as something in her back cracked. She tried doing some light stretches to ease her aches and pains. General Dynamics had put a surprising amount of effort into making the APC’s chairs comfortable, but no chair was up to the number of hours she spent in front of her screens.
She leaned forward as one of her drones showed three boats approaching from upstream.
“We’ve got incoming,” she said over Ghost Team’s encrypted comms channel. “Three boats, decent condition, no markings. Coming downriver toward us. Designating as contact Alpha.”
She quickly got an “Understood, moving into position,” from Laney and a quiet “Got it,” from Emily, who was tied into their network now.
“Looks like the artistes have picked up some fleas,” Travis observed, sitting at the fire control station behind the driver.
“Close up the distance,” Fang commanded, “and tell the boat to slow down.” The boat had been keeping their speed down to match the APC’s slower pace, but they were still about two hundred meters ahead of them. Paladin surged forward as the driver complied. The ride got noticeably rougher.
Ophelia relayed the message to Emily on the boat, then got a drone into position to get a closer view of the approaching force. The boats were full of armed men, perhaps twenty in all, carrying rifles, machine guns, and pistols. No heavy weaponry that she could see. The boats looked like gasoline/alcohol conversion jobs, probably underpowered but serviceable. They were clearly pirates, and brazen ones at that, to be working so close to Manaus. Either that, or the Batista influence was severely waning in anticipation of the upcoming Chinese push.
Fang looked over at Ophelia. “They must have a spotter. Find him and take him out.”
“On it,” she said.
“Travis,” Fang said. “Prepare to fire antipersonnel rounds.”
Travis shot him an over-the-shoulder look to make sure he was serious. “You got it.” Antipersonnel rounds were intended to take out combat-suited soldiers en masse. Against wooden boats, the results were going to be ugly.
Infiltration Boat, War Zone, 13:18
Amazon River, 23 km east of Manaus
Emily was in the boat’s small bridge with Gregorio when she got the warning from Ghost Team that trouble was in the offing. She relayed Fang’s order to slow down to Gregorio, the boat pilot, who instantly complied, then sent an alert to her team and made sure they were all safely gathered in the cramped common room behind the craft’s small bridge—cramped mostly because of all the space taken up to accommodate their camouflaged cargo container.
“Three boats, pirates, coming downstream,” Emily explained. “Ghost Team’s going to take care of them.”
Gregorio raised an eyebrow.
Emily shrugged. “Don’t ask me, I don’t know how they’re going to handle this.”
Through the bridge’s window, Emily saw a shimmering haze moving across the deck, then realized after a moment that it was Laney, dynamic camouflage engaged, taking up a position at the bow. It was hard to tell, but she thought the mercenary may have gone prone on the deck. Assuming she had a weapon deployed, it must have been camouflaged, too.
“COB, maintain course,” Ophelia said. COB was her own codename, which Fang had told her meant Commander of Boat. Apparently, Ghost Team had found it humorous to apply the term to a civilian like herself with no naval or other military experience. “And get your heads down, it’s about to get dangerous.”
Emily knelt. Gregorio looked down at her, got the hint, and joined her on the floor, though he did keep a hand on the bottom of the wheel to keep the boat steady on its course. In a sensorium window, she flipped through Ophelia’s working list of key drone views until she found one that showed their boat and surrounding area from above.
“Spotter is down,” Ophelia said.
Emily watched as the three pirate boats rounded a bend in the river. Two of them sped up when they spotted their target. Emily heard gunfire, realized that the pirates had fired warning shots past their boat.
Beneath the seemingly peaceful water, Travis targeted three brilliant antipersonnel rounds, one at each boat. Each round was effectively a miniature missile with enough built-in smarts to determine the best way to engage its designated target. A primary mandate of their targeting instructions included not damaging a nearby wooden craft designated as “friendly.” Designed for both underwater and aerial use, each round determined the amount of propellant that needed to be expended to reach the target and penetrate the hull.
What Emily witnessed was the first two boats simply disintegrating, followed a few seconds later by the third. Splinters of wood, body parts, engine pieces, and structural elements flew into the air, accompanied by flame and smoke as the fuel supplies caught fire.
A few lucky survivors suddenly found themselves unexpectedly in the water. Then Emily heard the staccato boom-boom-boom of nearby rifle fire and realized that the men in the water weren’t so lucky after all, as Laney targeted them.
A moment later, Ophelia said, “Alpha force has been squashed. You’re clear to proceed, just try to stay away from the debris.”
Emily stood up and Gregorio followed suit. Where three boats had been, there was only scattered wreckage. Even the fires were burning themselves out.
“The only good pirate is a dead pirate,” Laney said, satisfaction in her voice.
Emily had no particular sympathy for pirates who’d undoubtedly harmed a lot of innocent people, but it shocked even her, and she’d witnessed it via drone view, that twenty bloodthirsty pirates could meet a violent end so quickly. It was the very definition of an asymmetric fight, amateurs against seasoned mercenaries with top-of-the-line equipment.
Gregorio watched the wreckage as it drifted downstream past them. He turned to her and said, “I’m glad you’re on my side.” He shuddered. “I’d hate to end that way.”