A new baby
New Year's Day, 2012, I woke to find Helen's head on my chest, her arm over me, and I wondered about the future. Our future. I also wondered why my clothes were on the floor. We had both agreed we wanted the baby, and we both reassured the other that no thoughts had entered our minds about getting rid of it. Yet we both felt we had to mention it.
I lay there listening to her breathing, thinking about another baby, and even if there was anything to think about. We were not short of money, we could afford full-time nannies, and we had done it all before. Twice. Not only that, but our daughters where now old enough to baby-sit for us. And as Jimmy often pointed out, Shelly was more practical and sensible than her dad.
No, I couldn't see any problems, other than a few wars, terror attacks, assassination attempts, being exposed, the plagues to come and the rise of The Brotherhood. But besides all that, I was happy to bring a new life into the world. My daughters were now too big to hug their dad very often, and I would love to have a dependent child again; one that didn't answer back with a smart comment in five languages. Or Latin.
Helen stirred, lifting her gaze to me. 'Awake?'
'Just thinking that it would be nice to have a kid that doesn't answer back.'
'That would be nice. I caught Lucy looking at porn the other week.'
'What kind of porn?'
'Gay men giving blowjobs.' She eased up and dropped her legs. 'She likes men with cut abs.'
'Could be worse, ' I said as I eased out, heading to the balcony and stepping over my clothes. I peeked through the curtains. 'Rained in the night.'
Before breakfast, we knocked on Jimmy's door. He let is in, and we grabbed chairs whilst being curiously observed.
'If you've damaged something in your room, you can pay for it, ' he dryly stated.
'We have some news, ' I said. Jimmy grabbed a chair, and waited.
'I'm pregnant, ' Helen admitted after a moment.
'I've told you before about sharing the bath water, ' Jimmy quipped. 'And in answer to your question: no, this was not supposed to happen, I have no idea if it'll be a boy or a girl, and yes I'm very happy about it - since your daughters are too big to fall asleep on me and they swear at me in Latin.'
'Not ... a good time to be bringing a new life into the world, ' I tentatively suggested.
'When was?' Jimmy asked. 'If we thought that ... we'd never have any kids. It'll be fine. So, when do you announce it to the world?'
'May as well get it over with, ' Helen suggested, a glance toward me.
'Announce it at the casino tonight, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Give the tabloids something to print.'
That day we dumped the girls on Jimmy — whether he wanted them or not, and went for a drive to a safari lodge, enjoying a long walk. Hand in hand, we strolled through the heat, the bodyguards keeping their distance. Back at the hotel, that evening, the girls were curious about our strange behaviour.
'I'm thinking of trading you in for a younger model, ' I told Shelly. 'One that doesn't answer back.'
Shelly put her fists on her hips, her mouth hanging open. 'Mum! Are you pregnant?'
'Pregnant?' Lucy repeated.
'Yes, ' Helen said. 'We've sold you to a local chief for two goats, and they are nice goats, so it'll be just me and your father from now on.'
'They'll paint your faces red for the marriage ceremony, ' I told the girls.
'That's great, mum, ' Shelly offered, ignoring me. 'I can't wait to have a baby.'
'What?' I barked.
'I want one at sixteen, ' Shelly informed us.
We stood shocked. 'Don't you think you should find the right husband first?' I barked.
'Oh, dad, you are sooo ancient. A man would just interfere with my plans.'
'Kids cost a lot of money to raise, ' Helen pointed out to our daughter.
'Oh, like we're short of money, ' Shelly scoffed. 'Jimmy has created a trust fund for us, we won't starve.' She headed off to her room.
I glanced at Helen, and we set off to confront Jimmy, finding him in the rooftop bar. His guests excused themselves, and we sat. 'You've set-up a trust fund for the girls?'
'Of course. Why wouldn't I?'
'You might have told us, ' Helen complained.
Jimmy sipped his beer, taking a moment. 'By time Shelly is sixteen she'll have moved out, studying abroad at eighteen.'
'What?' Helen gasped. 'Moved out?'
'She'll be ... a very independent young lady.'
'She'll be that difficult?' I challenged, shocked by this revelation.
'Not difficult, she'll be just about the most sensible and practical woman on the planet. But she'll also want to do her own thing. If you try and rope her in she'll just go anyway, you'll only end up hurting yourselves. Once she's made up her mind there'll be no stopping her.'
'Move out at sixteen?' Helen repeated. 'Where?'
'To the main house; be illegal otherwise.'
'Why?' I asked.
'Why does any teenager want space?' Jimmy posed. 'You can't apply logic to it, you just need to be there for her when she needs you ... which will be just about never. She's tough as old boots is our Shelly.'
Helen and I exchanged looks. 'And Lucy?' I asked.
'She's the one you'll be trying to marry off and kick out the door, ' Jimmy emphasised. 'And you have a new kid on the way.'
'You're saying that we won't be able to rein-in Shelly?' I pressed.
'The more you try ... the more she'll move away.'
I sighed, facing Helen. 'I think we could get two camels for her.'
'She'll take after her mum, ' Jimmy added.
'I was just like that, ' Helen admitted.
That evening, at the casino, we informed the gang, getting many rude comments, offers of condoms or suitable books to read. I informed the African Times so that our paper could claim an exclusive.
The following day, trying to relax on the golf course, I received dozens of congratulation texts and emails, the phone eventually turned off. Fortunately, the next day would see a return to business meetings, a respite from the baby talk. Jimmy had called a meeting of everyone involved in the new city, Po and the Russians keen to get going.
In a large room at the convention centre, we stood about a map as Jimmy took charge, some fifty people now in attendance. 'OK, our corporation will, first of all, create a worker's village here.' He tapped the map. 'Two miles south of the proposed city centre. That workers village should have two hundred wooden huts, canteens, shower blocks, a fence and a few guards.
'Next to it, our corporation will create a vehicle park for bulldozers and diggers. They'll start clearing the land and digging the future drains. The eight-lane highway will pass straight through the main city centre, dipping under the centre in a small tunnel. That highway will continue on south another thirty miles. From the city centre, two other highways will reach outwards, northwest and southwest - towards the nearest towns. That ... is the priority; we need good roads to bring in cranes and heavy loads.
'Next, each contractor involved in the project will build its own workers village next to ours in the south. Each contractor is responsible for its workers and equipment, and everyone will carry ID cards.' He pointed at a local man. 'Yours is the largest concrete producer. I want your quarry turnout to be increased six fold.'
The man look shocked. Pleasantly shocked.
'In addition to greatly increasing concrete output, I want to start a factory that will create pre-cast concrete blocks of given sizes, some with metal mesh inside, some with metal girders inside. They'll be moved afterwards, many being utilised as pre-cast sections for covers over sewers. And don't worry, you'll get a loan from us to expand your operations. Yuri, we'll want as much steel as you can produce, at least a twenty fold increase in your current capacity.'
'We are already expanding as fast as we can, ' Yuri put in.
Jimmy pointed a local man. 'I want as much wood as you can get. Don't chop down the rainforest, buy it from existing wood mills. Start bringing it in and stockpiling it under cover.
'OK, next we'll build the power station southwest of the city, and we'll start today. That will be both oil-fired, and coal-fired. My aim is that the sewers will be dug first, the pipes laid, the sewerage plant working. Then we need to think about water mains, electrical cables, phone cables. Those pipes and cables will run through concrete tunnels high enough for a man to stand up in. The roof sections will be pre-cast concrete, and will form the pavements of the city, access being via hatches and control points. Our aim is to have the utilities infrastructure for a million people in place before we even have a single person living in the city.
'Next, we'll build an estate of standard four-storey apartment blocks in the south, just north of the workers compounds. Those apartments will be available for workers, engineers and visitors. I want forty apartments built straight away, but keep in mind that they'll not be temporary - they'll be there for decades. So make them nice enough, parks and gardens nearby, shops and facilities.
'But what I don't want ... is for workers to be travelling up to here unnecessarily, creating traffic and walking around in their muddy boots. So everything that the workers need must be provided south of the city centre.' He wagged a warning finger.
'Now, the first building to be constructed will be the corporation building, to house the corporation staff involved with building control. That building should be a quarter mile from the city centre, and started straight away, as soon as the highway reaches it. We'll then work on the following aspects, and in this sequence: roads, mono-rail, bus depot and bus routes. That will allow everyone to move around.
'We'll then have the unusual situation of building a city with many buildings — but no people. Because of that, we'll build apartments along both sides of the road southwest; nice apartments near the city centre, standard apartments further down. They'll have shops, bars, and restaurants. There'll be a clinic, a police station, and other utilities. That community will support those moving into the area, who'll need to buy things on day one.
'The foundations, and lower levels, of the marina and shopping centre will be built - but not used. That will be followed by the first government building, with nice apartments nearby for their staff to live in. Those buildings and apartments will be ready a good six months before anyone moves in.
'The local council office will be built next to the corporation building, more apartments nearby. When that building is finished, you can start work on the nice housing estates to the north and northwest, but in stages.
'Then, when the first government officials have moved in, the marina and shopping centre will be finished, plus the first tall apartment blocks - quality apartments, shops on the lower levels. Next to them will sit office blocks. There's no point in building office blocks without apartments; they need to be ready at about the same time. We'll then look at additional government offices step by step.
'What I have just described ... will be under the direct control of the corporation. Other contractors may build on land allocated to them whenever they like, but do so at the risk of having no one to use those buildings for six months. It's up to you.'
He tapped the map. 'Here, south of the city, is a piece of land jutting out into the lake. I want a golf course built here, a nice hotel, and a small marina. That golf course will be thirty miles away from the existing course, so it won't take business away.'
He placed a finger on the map. 'The university will be here, in the west, a large industrial park here in the southwest. In the south, near the golf course, will be a small airport for regional aircraft, Dash-7s.' He stretched across the map. 'There will a train line here, with a passenger station, and that line will transport people all around Africa. Inside the city ... there'll be no train track, but it is my aim to make buses free for everyone. Buses and taxis will be electric, and either free ... or very cheap.'
He pointed at a Nigerian. 'We'll be offering you contracts for steel girders and pipes.' He repeated that to a South African. 'Every neighbouring country will get a contract. OK, questions?'
We spoke for forty minutes, promising loans and grants to numerous factories, the nice people from Caterpillar receiving major contracts. Basically, our entire cash surplus would be used up, as well as the investment money. But never one to miss a good deal, Jimmy had reserved the best lakeside land for the corporation to build on and to sell afterwards. We'd make a quid or two.
The tax position was odd, in that this was still our region. Half of all of the taxes would still come to us — all of the taxes for the next four years, which we would then spend on the region as if they had gone to Kinshasa in the first place. The only difference was one of control. I had to wonder what would happen when Kimballa, or his successor, was in power here.
We broke for lunch, eating with the Caterpillar directors and some of Senator Pedersen's buddies. After lunch, people bid for patches of land, a few plots sold, some kept back, a few plots given away. I then met with Steffan Silo, Jimmy showing little interest in seeing his brother.
I met Steffan in the restaurant atop Spiral II, Steffan keeping a house below. Settled at a table, I asked, 'How's the track through Angola?'
'We've improved the worst sections. Why?'
'I'd like to put a lot more ore out that way.'
'It's single track in many places, so we're laying additional track and marshalling areas. Then it will simply be a case of inland on the left, heading to the coast on the right.'
'And if you had more money and more people?' I pressed.
'Three months. But why the rush?'
'In case you hadn't noticed, New Kinshasa will need heavy goods brought in.'
He shrugged. 'I'll review it, award contracts to Angolans and Zambians.'
'What about a road along that route?' I asked.
'There is one, good enough in some places.'
'Could you improve it, send lorries back and forth?'
He made a face and shrugged. 'We can award the contracts.'
'It'll have priority over the northern train line, now that New Kinshasa is under way.'
'I can fix the worst parts of road, create a few bypasses; that'll speed up the route.'
'It may end up being the main artery for the new city, all one thousand miles of it.'
'I'm working on the city roads as well, ' Steffan mentioned.
'A man of many talents, ' I quipped.
He made a face and shrugged.
We left Goma hub having started a new city in the heart of Africa. The first coal mine was under way, a South African company running the project for us, and the first coal-oil refinery was under construction. All in, I figured that the new city would keep fifty thousand builders gainfully occupied, and that the city would then house up to a million people in time. It solved my inability to spend money and create jobs in one stroke.
Warfare of the future
Big Paul stood at a foldaway table in front of a shooting range, sunglasses on. Stood in front of him were four groups of ten men keenly observing, interpreters ready, a few Rifles NCOs to hand.
He raised a grenade. 'This ... is a standard NATO grenade.' He tossed it to a Rifles NCO, who then walked into the range, pulled the pin and dropped the grenade into a barrel of water. Three seconds later the water reached up ten feet, moistening the parched sand as it came back down.
'If that grenade went off here, chances are many of you would be injured, but no one killed.' He tossed a Chinese grenade to the NCO. 'That's a Chinese pineapple grenade. When it explodes it sends out larger pieces of metal, and they kill.'
The water again reached up around ten feet. Big Paul lifted up a grenade the size of a lipstick. 'This is a new grenade, weighing less than one sixth of a regular grenade, so you can carry more of them.' He tossed it to the waiting NCO. You turn the cap at the top so that the red line is exposed. You then press down against something hard, your finger won't do it.'
The NCO checked the setting, banged it against the rusted oil drum, and dropped the grenade inside.
'You have five seconds, longer than the NATO grenade, ' Big Paul added, the water reaching up as high as the previous grenades. 'A bandolier of these grenades weighs very little, yet they have the same basic effect. You can, however, throw these further. There's also an adapter for most rifles, especially the AK47, and you can fire them two hundred yards out. If you aim right they'll detonate above an enemy position.'
He lifted a square grenade, the size of an old nine-volt battery, and weighing almost two pounds. 'This ... is known as the square grenade, or battery grenade. It has three settings: five seconds, ten seconds, or one minute. Such a long setting is necessary for demolishing bridges and buildings.'
He held the grenade up. 'This would not only kill everyone here, but they would not find any body part big enough to identify us by.' He pointed to the desert, to a jeep with two Rifles NCOs, some three hundred yards away. Lifting a radio, he said, 'Standard grenade.'
They threw a grenade and ducked down. It detonated with a puff of smoke and sand, a dull thud registering a few seconds later.
Big Paul lifted his radio again. 'Battery grenade.'
The distant NCOs checked settings, dropped the square grenade into a hole, jumped into their jeep and sped away in a burst of sand. Big Paul put his hands over his ears, others copying. The battery grenade blew, the sand cloud blocking out the sun as the blast washed over them, small rocks raining down. It was ten seconds before Big Paul could see his audience again, the men coughing.
'That, gentlemen, is one mother of a grenade. They're useful for blowing up small bridges, houses, and compounds. But never think that you could pull the pin and throw it. If you're up a mountain, then throwing it down is fine. If you want to demolish a building, set it to one minute — and run like hell!'
The nearest NCO attended a mortar, an 81mm. He checked his front, the desert clear, readied a shell and fired. It landed a thousand yards away and blew up a dust cloud.
'That's a standard 81mm shell, ' Big Paul informed his students. 'This ... is an improved model.'
The NCO fired the second shell. Four seconds later an angry dust cloud rose up, four times higher than the previous, the blast washing over the men.
Turning back to the table, Big Paul lifted a standard Russian 7.62mm cartridge. 'This is a standard Russian 7.62mm. We now have them in Teflon; they'll do a lot of damage to a car engine, and pass right through a civilian vehicle.' He raised a larger cartridge. 'This is a fifty calibre round, also now in Teflon, good for hitting a vehicle engine. It will even damage lightly armoured vehicles.' He selected another fifty-calibre cartridge. 'This is an exploding shell. If your enemy is hiding behind a rock, you aim at the rocks left or right for a ricochet shot, and it explodes like a grenade. It's also good for houses with thin walls, because it explodes inside the house. It won't kill the people inside, but it'll wound them all.'
Big Paul lifted a final grenade, similar to the battery grenade. 'This is the Good Morning grenade. It has an eight-hour fuse, or thereabouts. It may be six hours, maybe ten; it's random. The minimum fuse time is four hours, the maximum time being twelve hours. You bury them where you know your enemy will return to collect their dead or wounded, and bang! You can also sneak in to a place at night, spread them around, and sneak out. You'll be long gone when they go off, and they'll go off at random — scaring the crap out the enemy. It's a good way of making people think that you're still around - when you're not.'
A long way off, Lobster sat waiting some trade in the shade of pleasant orchard in Southern Lebanon. He had dug a shallow trench into a dirt road and planted a long strip of specialist explosives, covering it over. Near the explosives, he left a reason for an approaching driver to stop, a rusted old AK47 lying in the road.
The sun slowly said goodbye and hid itself, the chill coming on quickly in the olive orchard, the location a favourite of mortar crews trying to hit the Somalia UN base.
An hour later he noticed lights. He grabbed his radio and clicked three times, repeating the signal. Readying his detonator, he waited dispassionately, death not a concern to him, just a consequence. The job was everything. The objective was everything.
The target vehicle slowed, but kept its lights on, soon illuminating the AK47 and squeaking to a halt. A door opened after some debate, a man checking around carefully. The car was in the right position, so Lobster threw the switch.
The blast was not much, it was not designed to be, hence the use of a special explosive. But the car lifted up and rolled, landing on its roof after reaching an apogee of some six feet. It landed in a ditch and crumpled, the man who had eased out blown off his feet, but not killed.
Lobster walked silently forwards, dart pistol ready. The dazed gunman offered little challenge, killed with a dart made of wood, a throat shot. Groans emanated from the car. Lobster twisted off the petrol gap, gas dripping to the sandy floor. He dropped in a pencil thin incendiary stick and walked away, the fuel ablaze a few seconds later.
His colleagues had been kicking dirt back into the hole made by the explosives, but soon running through the orchard to a vantage point. A full six minutes later, a slow roasted mortar shell blew the car in half.
The net effect of the earnest labours of Lobster and his associates, was a great deal of unrest in the south of Lebanon, many fingers pointed at the Israelis and Somalis, but not so much evidence revealed. Bodies were being found, chemicals blamed, UN doctors proving otherwise. And the number of men disappearing was increasing.
Unfortunately for Hezbollah, a great many mortars and weapons had been found by UN inspectors. And there always seemed to be a picture in the Beirut press of a burnt out car, a rocket tube in the back. All told, it appeared as if a great many accidents had taken place by mortar crews and bomb makers. To be helpful, the Israelis suggested that Lebanon introduce a health and safety code for bomb makers; perhaps a certificate of competence for rocket crews.
Rahman had been observing, thinking, and waiting. Now he was ready to strike, sending out his minions in a carefully thought out attack.
A Pakistani registered ship set off from Karachi, taking on board its crew of fighters a few miles off shore, its supply of explosives from a second ship. It sailed south. Through the Yemen Straits it passed without problem, passing under the radar and the watchful gaze of the Somalis, and US Navy ships patrolling close by.
At the town of Suez it took its turn in the queue, accepted aboard a pilot, and progressed north into the canal, heading toward Little Bitter Lake. As soon as the ship was inside the canal, the pilot and his mate were killed, their bodies dumped over the side. The ship's lifeboat was lowered, a deadly cargo of explosives and gunmen inside. That lifeboat powered to the side of the canal as its parent ship headed on.
A second lifeboat was lowered a mile further on, the gunmen inside all prepared to give their lives for their chosen cause. The first lifeboat spotted its target, a huge container ship. It motored to the rear of the ship, turned in its wake and caught up with the slow moving giant. The giant's gangplank was hooked with a grapple, the first fighter climbing up. That fighter stepped up the gangplank, shooting dead the two surprised men staring down at him. Operating the gangplank controls, the gunmen lowered it for his comrades, shots fired at the ship's bridge.
The alert was given, but it was too late. The container ship slowly passed the second lifeboat, that boat's crew destined for a third ship. The container ship's crew were soon overpowered, the Philippine crew all shot. Cutting the engines, the momentum of the great ship carried it forwards as it was coaxed closer to the sandy banks of the canal. Judging the decaying speed, the gunmen turned the nose sharply and jammed it into the bank, blocking a third of the canal.
Down below, explosives were being placed against the hull, more than enough to cause a suitable hole. When ready, the timer was duly set, the gunmen retreating to their lifeboat, a further ship in mind. As they motored north, looking for a suitable ship heading south, the container ship took on water, its stern lowering.
From behind, a second ship dug its nose into the sandy banks of the canal, directly opposite the stricken container ship. With a hole blown into its hull, it also slipped lower at the stern, the Egyptian authorities now alerted and rushing to the scene. The news services around the world had also picked up on the story.
Jimmy received a call from Sykes. 'Two or more ships have been hijacked inside the Suez Canal.'
'You thought this would happen?'
'It was one of his ideas, not implemented before. I've changed my plans, and he's changed his. If he's true to form ... then he's wired the ships to blow when the authorities try and board them. Let the Egyptians know your concerns, and keep me updated, please.'
A third ship had been snared, and sunk in the middle of the canal. The Suez Canal was now plugged. Not listening to the advice from Sykes, the Egyptians boarded the partially sunken vessels and tried to move them, the controls smashed, engines damaged. The crew bodies were removed, recovery barges sent for.
The recovery barges were just about the widest vessels allowed into the canal, not least because of their shallow drafts. One moved in from Suez town, another moving down from Great Bitter Lake. The plan was simple: when in place, drag the ships clear if possible, sterns lifted first. Divers would be used to plug holes, watertight doors sealed, air blown in. That would take several days, followed by an additional few days to get the barges into place, for them to grapple their prey, and to start the operation. In the meantime, additional ships were now alongside the stricken vessels, containers being offloaded.
Rahman had anticipated just such an operation. Noon, the day after the attack, his men on the canal banks transmitted the correct radio signals. Those first few containers to be removed, the obvious ones stacked at the top, blew. The blasts killed crews, damaged cranes, and cracked the sides of ships. At the same time, the main target of this exercise, the two rescue barges, blew, soon heading to the bottom.
Rahman had plugged the canal for what should have been at least six weeks, and Jimmy uttered a few rude words.
After a walk around the grounds, Jimmy made a few calls, quite a few calls. Some of those calls were to do with the Suez Canal, now known as the Suez Bottleneck. Tugs had been hired by the British Government, tugs from all around the eastern Mediterranean, as well as from Somali, Jordan, Israel, Kenya, and even Pakistan. They were all headed towards the Suez bottleneck, small enough to squeeze past the wrecks.
The following morning, some twelve tugs tied off ropes and chains to the partly sunken ship blocking the centre of the canal. They put the pedal to the metal, and pulled for all their worth, scraping the ship along the sandy bottom at a very slow pace. Not to be disheartened, and working on double the normal rates, six other tugs turned up and fixed ropes of varying lengths. Eighteen tugs now powered up, creating a hell of a backwash, and dragged the stricken ship along at a modest pace.
Nine hours later, the lumbering cargo container reached the mouth of the canal, the lights of Suez town a backdrop to a thousand spectators. A further two hours allowed the tugs to turn left, and to drag the ship half a mile away from the mouth of the canal. A cheer went up around the world.
The recovery barges, the ones that sunk before they could recover anything, were less of a problem, and were duly dragged clear the next day. Five days after the attack the canal stood clear, loose containers now being recovered from the depths.
When Jimmy saw a picture of the ships graveyard, east of Suez town, he said, 'They'll still be there in ten years, rusting away.'
In a palatial Dubai apartment, Rahman walked to his window and stared down at the bustling modern city below. Thinking.
Calm before the storm
The next "M" Group meeting was due, and due to be held in Washington, whilst difficult questions were now being asked about Rahman. Jimmy had few answers to offer them, and a few plans would have to be altered.
We stayed the night in the usual Washington hotel, meeting US investors interested in New Kinshasa, travelling around to the White House the next morning. A room normally used for state dinners had been moved around, and I was reasonably sure that we'd not be bugged. Not here. Everyone had arrived at the front door, being filmed, and even the President now openly referred to these meetings as "M" Group, offering no denial about our role. The public were not suspicious, they were keenly awaiting whatever tricks, gadgets or magic potions we came up with next.
I had heard about a Manson Drug Users Club in California, a group of people who got together to discuss the effects of the drug on their bodies, the drugs characteristics - instead of its side effects. They shared recipes for maximum health and strength - whilst allowing minimum weight gain, posed for photographs, and seemed to be caught with prostitutes a lot.
I had not met with either of the new Republican or Democratic candidates, but Jimmy suggested that he was comfortable with either. He saw no major problems with them, but was not a hundred percent sure of the Republic candidate.
In Rome, the numbers of both electric cars and electric scooters were increasing, as was the death toll amongst young riders. We pointed towards Italian driving. The Italians had, however, introduced speakers to the scooters, speakers that gave off traditional scooter sounds, warning slow moving Italian housewives that there was a teenage Italian driver on an electric scooter approaching at high speed, but with no training, no helmet and little care.
In Nairobi, the scooters had also been popular. Unfortunately, they were just as popular with irate lorry drivers, who seemed to delight in knocking scooters out of the way. The death toll was high, the Kenyan lorry drivers motoring like Italians with attitude.
The people who had claimed the super-drug to be some sort of magic, or alien technology, were now being shot down by researchers working on stem cell projects, those researchers claiming that they would have come up with it in a few years. Yeah, right. We also now enjoyed the Japanese claiming that their scientists were within five years of creating the electric car batteries. That led to a TV programme that described us a "leeches", grabbing cutting-edge research and finishing it off with the brute force of money. There was also the suggestion of industrial espionage, that we had stolen the plans and profited by them. But even our harshest critics had to agree that the profits had been ploughed into Africa, and to feed the poor.
Jimmy and I now worked the room, greeting leaders and aides in a variety of languages, making everyone feel welcome and needed, but also making everyone feel that we preferred them to the others. Jimmy eventually called order.
'Ladies and gentlemen, politicians, hard-working aides.' Everyone smiled. 'Our first order of business is the Suez Canal. But first, we need to discuss a terrorist with the codename of Rahman — since I'm sure he was behind the attack. If ... I had not altered the way things go, then this gentleman would have appeared around 2015, caused problems for three years, and disappeared forever more. We have altered things, and for some reason he has appeared early.
'And, as if not fully awake, he could have done a better job of it in Suez, sinking those ships in the centre of the canal, not the mouth. His next target should be the Bosphorous Straits, Turkey, and with little effect other than a huge oil spill for Turkey to deal with. That's assuming that he is true to form. He was behind the plane hijackings in Mogadishu, in Chad, and again in Yemen — the aircraft that was shot down.
'He will continue to try and hijack aircraft, hoping to crash them into populated western cities. Everyone ... must be vigilant. If contact is lost with an approaching aircraft, put a jet fighter on its wing and have a look. Now, I can tell by some of your looks that you're struggling with that concept. Your countries ... are your choice, but consider what a 747 crashing in your capitals may do.
'Now, other than what I have already described, I know very little about Rahman. I have little else to offer, so don't ask. But, since he's out of school early, I have taken a few steps of my own. Yesterday, Kenyan and Somali forces re-took Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan.'
Many of the leaders glanced at each other, shocked.
'They flew in on scheduled UN flights; we did a little hijacking of our own. The difference, this time, is that they will stay for several years.'
'How does this affect the plan to invade?' Chase asked, clearly concerned.
'It makes it easier, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Because the Taliban and al-Qa'eda fighters will think it a Somali issue, and will try and unseat the Africans from Kandahar airfield. That movement of fighters will help us to gauge their numbers and positions, radio traffic, leadership structures, the works.'
'And thin them out a bit, ' I added.
'Will the African soldiers attack civilians as before?' the Germans asked.
'They have specific orders not to, and to stay put, fending off attacks. The previous civilian deaths came from Somalis who took a wrong turn into a town, and most of the soldiers on the ground are Kenyan. Still, there will be civilian casualties, as there were in Mogadishu when al-Qa'eda attacked. An ... eye for an eye is an important part of Somali culture.'
'Is their aim simply revenge?' the Germans asked.
'No, their aim — my aim — is to draw out al-Qa'eda fighters, and to keep them busy in Afghanistan instead of busy hijacking planes. I fully expect that all Islamic fighters, terrorists or would-be fighters, will travel to Afghanistan to join the fight, the more the better.'
'Keep them off the streets elsewhere, ' Chase noted.
Jimmy told him, 'I would appreciate you monitoring any movements into Afghanistan, but without intercepting any of them. We want as many as we can to be bottled up there.'
'How many Africans have landed?' the French asked.
'It is not many. There a thousands of fighters and Taliban.'
'It's more than enough. The Rifles have taken receipt of the next generation of advanced weaponry.'
'How ... advanced?' the Germans asked.
'Enough to worry you; you would not wish these weapons to be on the streets of Europe. Now, since we're discussing Afghanistan, some of you are already aware of the American desire to invade Afghanistan and to root out al-Qa'eda. I have, for the past decade, spoken out against such a move, not because it would have been a bad idea, but because conventional warfare would have been used.
'American soldiers, training in Somalia, are being specifically trained to fight the Taliban, and the techniques are similar to those that would be necessary to fight The Brotherhood. All of the nations assembled here should be aware that I'm training the foreign soldiers in Kenya and Somali in this fashion, but I'm also training them to invade Afghanistan.
'Those soldiers, who may later become instructors, will learn techniques that will be directly employed against The Brotherhood, and will also allow those instructors to train their own proxy armies. When the invasion of Afghanistan draws near, it will be spearheaded by American and British soldiers, with Africans in support. The Chinese will supply aircraft and logistics, but I do not ask nor encourage Chinese soldiers to participate ... unless they wish to do so.'
'We wish to do so, ' Han immediately announced. 'Since we consider the techniques valid for own forces in the future — if need be.'
Jimmy faced the French. 'You have some very excellent soldiers from the Foreign Legion being trained in Africa. They would be most welcome, and a great benefit to us.'
'We are willing to commit five hundred men, ' the French offered.
Jimmy faced the Russians. 'What say the Russians?'
'Our people will not be happy for our soldiers to return to Afghanistan, but we wish to find certain terrorist leaders. So we have created an expeditionary force of five hundred men, all volunteers. Most are in Africa now.'
'Thank you. Moving on —'
'Do you not ask us?' the Germans posed.
'Your soldiers are only fit for barrack duty.'
I hid a grin, and Chase looked away.
The German Chancellor composed herself. 'Then maybe we should change that — if they will be needed for counter-terrorist operations in the future.'
'To be ready for May, your soldiers would need to be in Africa next week, ' Jimmy pointed out.
'We have considered a volunteer unit, and discussed it with our French counterparts. We can have four hundred men ready.'
I asked, 'And they'll work under black African instructors?'
'They have volunteered for the work, so either they know — or they don't know where Africa is!'
'We will be glad to have them, ' Jimmy offered the Germans, a quick glance my way. 'And afterwards, it is my intention to create a dedicated multi-national force, a desert, jungle and mountain warfare brigade. All of your soldiers will then be able train with that unit, to give them experience of what might be required in the future.'
'And us?' Ben Ares asked.
'There is no way ... that I want Israeli soldiers in Afghanistan, ' Jimmy firmly told him. 'But you are welcome to join the desert training brigade in Kenya.'
The Germans asked, 'The soldiers in Afghanistan, now and during the invasion, they will breach the Geneva Convention?'