Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00014]Nate woke up the next morning feeling pretty good. For a moment he lay there, enjoying the warmth of the bed, no real awareness of who or where he was.
But it only lasted for a few moments. The depth of his situation crashed down around him and he sat up. Suddenly the room was too hot, the bed uncomfortable. He was in a small bedroom with two beds in it. The rear part of the living quarters was divided up into a half dozen small rooms opening off a short hallway with a bathroom at the end of it. He’d taken the first empty room and passed out in it.
The door to the bathroom was closed, the sound of the shower coming from it. Nate walked out into the common room and found Santiago and Caleb passed out at the dining table. He headed out into the warehouse, where he saw Tony, Maha and Jenna going through the boxes.
“Come look at this,” Tony said, waving him over. Tony looked a lot better today, though there were dark circles under his eyes and his usual smile was missing. He pulled back the flaps on a large cardboard box with a red cross printed on the side. Inside were cans of food, powdered milk, rice, beans and even some cookies. “There’s about ten more of these. We figure our drug lord intercepted a Red Cross aid shipment.”
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“Bad for them, good for us,” Jenna said.
“That’s not all either,” Tony said. “We found clothes too, but not like you’re thinking.” He led Nate to a different pallet of cardboard boxes. A ghost of a smile lit his face as he reached into a box and pulled out a neon yellow, string bikini. Then he pulled out another bathing suit, a one-piece made of shiny gold fabric. “The latest in Mwindan fashion I guess.” He tossed the suits back in the box and made a face. “There’s also a bunch of men’s Speedos in there.” He opened another box. “This one is all club wear.” He pulled out a very revealing dress that appeared to be mostly straps and not much else. “Heels, too.” He took out a pair of women’s shiny black heels.
“Why is there stuff like that here?” Nate asked. He was still only half awake and this was feeling very surreal.
Tony shrugged. “Maybe the drug lord has a harem.”
“In the jungle?”
“At his mansion of course, the one with the wall around it and a hundred armed thugs.”
“That doesn’t seem likely,” Nate replied. “This is Mwinda, not Columbia.”
“Until you come up with a better theory, I’m sticking with mine.”
“Fortunately, those aren’t the only clothes we found,” Jenna said. “There’s jeans, shorts, Hawaiian shirts, men’s button downs, running shoes, sandals. Pretty much a whole department store. And all of it nice stuff. Most of my clothes aren’t this nice.”
“There’s also a box of military surplus stuff, with fatigues and combat boots and stuff in it.”
“This just gets more and more bizarre,” Nate said. “Where is everybody?”
“The pilots and the flight attendants are out working on the plane,” Jenna said. “You saw Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at the table I guess. I think their lady friends are showering. Akila’s still on the roof.”
“How is Omisha doing?”
Jenna’s face grew grave. “Not good. She was awake when I got up but she wouldn’t talk to me or look at me. She’s having a pretty rough time.”
“Why don’t we stop for breakfast?” Tony said. “There’s powdered eggs and pancake mix. Even some syrup. And coffee. Lots of coffee in those boxes.”
They went into the common room. Jordynn was sitting on the couch, brushing her hair. She gave them a wan smile. The two guys were still out.
“Should we wait until they wake up?” Tony said softly.
“Sure,” Jenna replied. “I have a feeling it won’t be long.” She opened a cupboard and pulled out a big metal pot which she casually dropped onto the concrete floor. Caleb and Santiago jerked upright at the clatter and she smiled at them. “Sorry. Clumsy me. Are you awake now?”
“I hate you,” Caleb said, holding his head. Santiago gave her a dark look.
While Tony was working on breakfast Tamara came in, a towel wrapped around her hair. She had on a tight T-shirt and short shorts. “Thank god there’s a shower. I think I’d kill myself if there wasn’t a shower. I wish I had more clothes. Would it be too much to hope this place has a washing machine?”
“Actually, we found a lot of clothes in those boxes this morning,” Tony said. “We think our drug lord hijacked an aid shipment.”
“Great. Probably a bunch of used muumuus donated by overweight housewives in Iowa,” Tamara sniffed.
“Not really. We’re talking heels, club wear, skirts. There’s even a whole bunch of bikinis.”
Both Jordynn and Tamara perked up at his words. “Where?”
“Near the back. You can’t miss them.”
They came back a few minutes later, each of them carrying an armload of clothes and disappeared in the back. Breakfast was ready and people were just starting to eat when Tamara and Jordynn returned. Tamara was wearing a short red skirt and a white tube top. Jordynn was wearing a low cut dress that clung to her revealingly. Caleb had a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth when he saw Tamara and he stopped, his eyes widening.
“God damn,” he said.
Santiago gave a low whistle.
Tamara did a slow twirl. “We may be stuck in the middle of nowhere but that’s no reason why we should have to look like hobos,” she said, looking at Jenna as she spoke. Jenna’s jaw tightened but she didn’t rise to the bait.
Jordynn smoothed her dress. The skirt was slit almost to the hip. “You don’t think it’s too much, do you?” she asked Santiago. “I just…with everything going on I wanted to feel pretty.” She lowered her eyes.
He took her hand. “It is perfect,” he said softly.
Tony caught Nate’s eye and mimed gagging. Jenna shook her head in disgust and got up from the table to take her plate to the sink.
The door to the bedrooms opened again and Omisha came in. She hesitated in the doorway, her eyes cast down. Nate approached her. “Omisha, would you like some coffee or some eggs?”
Without looking up she gave the merest shake of her head and walked past him to the couch. Nate started to follow her, then looked over at Jenna, who shook her head.
Jenna washed her dishes and turned around just as Santiago got up from his seat at the table and sauntered over to the couch. “What about cleaning up after yourself?” Jenna asked, pointing at his plate and coffee cup, still on the table.
Santiago shrugged. “I’ll get it later, Mom.”
“If we’re going to be stuck here together, everyone needs to clean up after themselves. Everyone needs to pull their own weight.”
“Okay,” Santiago said. “Why don’t you women clean and we men will – ”
“Will what? Lie on the couch and watch TV?”
“That’s not happening,” Tamara added.
“Let’s not fight about this right now,” Jordynn put in suddenly. She gathered up Santiago’s dishes along with her own. “I’ll wash them.”
Nate picked up the remote for the TV, but before he could turn it on Tony spoke up. “Can we just…leave that thing off for right now?”
“Don’t you want to find out more about what’s going on?” Nate asked, surprised.
“Sure, but maybe later, okay? I just had breakfast, I’m drinking my coffee. I don’t feel so bad right now. Maybe I just want a few more minutes to enjoy that. There’s nothing we can do about anything anyway.”
“I’m with Tony,” Santiago said. “Hell, we can’t even understand what they’re saying anyway. It’s too easy to jump to conclusions. I’ve been thinking about what we saw last night and there’s no proof that it had anything to do with the terrorist attacks. This is Africa. Crazy shit goes on all the time here. That was probably just some political unrest that we saw.”
“Are you really that delusional?” Jenna asked. “Seriously?”
Santiago gave her a dismissive look. “I’m just saying we might have misinterpreted it, that’s all. We should have the pilot call someone on the radio. Get us some information we can trust.”
Nate put the remote down. The truth was he didn’t want any more bad news right now, either. He looked over at Omisha, sitting by herself on the love seat with her head down. She didn’t need any more either.
The door to the warehouse opened and Akila came in. She must have seen the clothes and gone through them because she’d put on a pair of fatigues and combat boots. Her hair was tied back in a tight braid and she was wearing a snug-fitting, black tank top. She looked like she meant business. She looked them over. “Good, you’re awake. Time for weapons practice.”
“What are you talking about?” Tamara asked.
Akila was carrying her AK-47 and she held it up. “I’m talking about learning how to use these.”
“I don’t think I’m really dressed for it,” Jordynn said doubtfully. She was sitting on the couch next to Santiago, who had his hand on her knee.
Akila looked her and Tamara over. “I agree.”
“Then can’t we skip this?” Tamara asked. “Can’t the men take care of this?”
“No, you can’t skip this. Everyone needs to know how to shoot.”
“I agree,” Santiago said. “We don’t know whether any of that shit about the virus is real, but those guys who shot at us sure enough were. We need to show them we’re not to be messed with.”
“I took a closer look at the place this morning,” Akila said. “It’s practically a fortress. The walls look like they could hold off fifty-caliber rounds, probably even an RPG. We’ve got water, power, food. We could hold out here for a long time, so long as we’re smart and careful. That means everyone contributes to our defense.”
“Go change,” Santiago told Jordynn. “You can put that dress back on later.” When she got up her patted her on the butt as she walked away. Muttering, Tamara followed her. Santiago got up and picked up his rifle. “Let’s do this.”
♦          ♦          ♦          ♦
When the women were changing, Akila led them into the warehouse, except for Omisha, who stayed where she was. Akila started to say something to her but Jenna took her arm and whispered something to her and she let her be.
Once in the warehouse, Akila handed out the rest of the rifles. Jordynn took hers like it was a snake and nearly dropped it. “Hold onto it,” Akila snapped. “It won’t bite you.”
Tamara held hers against her chest and turned sultry eyes on Caleb. “Do you have a thing for women and guns, big boy?”
“I do now.”
The last person to receive his weapon was Maha. Akila held one out to him but he didn’t take it. “I do not wish to do this,” he said softly.
“What, is it against your religion?” Santiago asked, his tone challenging.
“No. Buddhism has no specific strictures in this. But I told you of my past life and the karma I carry from it. I will not willingly add to that.”
“What about the bad karma you’ll get from letting your friends be slaughtered?” Santiago asked.
Maha considered this.
“Or maybe you’re just afraid of guns,” Santiago added.
“On the contrary, I find the weapon very desirable in a surprising way. That is what concerns me.”
“Take it,” Akila said. “You’re going to have to, sooner or later.”
Maha took the gun. “Okay, but I would like to skip the practice. I will take the next watch on the roof instead. May I have some ammunition?”
“Not without learning how to use it,” Akila replied.
“If that is your only concern…” Maha took the rifle, ejected the clip without looking down at the weapon, caught it, inspected it and snapped it back into place. He worked the action, brought the rifle quickly and smoothly to his shoulder and dry-fired it. The whole sequence only took a few seconds and was done with practiced ease.
Caleb whistled. “That was sweet.”
“Why didn’t you say you’d handled one of these before?” Akila asked.
“I haven’t. Not in this life anyway.”
Santiago made a disbelieving sound. Maha ignored him. Akila stared at him for a moment, then pulled a clip out of her shoulder bag and handed it to him. “Remember, we don’t have very many rounds.”
“I will.” Maha took the clip and disappeared up the ladder.
“There’s more to that guy than he’s letting on,” Tony said.
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