Part 12

Copyright© Geoff Wolak October, 2009 - Rev 2010

An independent Scotland

Jimmy was no big fan of the idea of Wales or Scotland becoming fully independent from England. Both of these countries now ran their own parliaments, but with limited powers. What they did have plenty of, were nationalistic politicians that believed they could do a better job of it. Well, all politicians thought that till the time came, and then screwed up just like the rest.

The case for Scottish nationalists was that Scotland had North Sea oilfields, even if those oilfields were in the dying throes of their life. They believed that Scotland could, and should, be a small and rich nation based on that oil presence. That was a belief and a hope, not a certainty. The Scottish National Party, the SNP, wanted to break away from Great Britain, after which all would be rosy north of the border. Forget the fact that they had one of the lowest life expectancies in Europe, a high obesity rate, and even higher alcohol and drug rate, plus large estates full of unemployed people.

Jimmy voiced an opinion on the matter, without wishing to get involved with local politics. The SNP, however, wished to debate the matter, after Jimmy had used a few hard words to describe them. He had likened them to Nazis, and those were the printable comments.

When asked by a journalist if he would debate the matter with the SNP, Jimmy replied, 'They would walk out of the interview, they certainly wouldn't answer my questions. Their belief in their ability to run an independent Scotland is just that — a belief with no substance. They have no plan for what they'd do after independence, other than ask Europe for money.'

The blue touch paper had been lit. A senior figure in the SNP agreed to debate the matter, and we travelled up to London on a fine June day. I aired caution, but Jimmy said that it was an issue that needed airing. The SNP's candidate, Mick Chandler, refused to shake Jimmy's hand in the studio. We were off to a good start. Helen and I sat in a side room to observe the taping of the show.

Once the adversaries had tested their microphones, Jimmy kicked things off, the interview technically his, the questions his, although he came with no prepared notes. 'Mister Chandler, may I call you Mick?'

'Sure, ' the man conceded, amicable now that the cameras were on.

'Mick, why do you desire an independent Scotland?'

Straight forward enough so far.

'All countries should be independent. Scotland used to be independent, the union with England was forced upon us.'

'True, and I agree with you, but in most cases I'd rather see countries coming together than splitting apart. What role would you see for the European Union?'

'An independent Scotland would be part of the European Union, it's something that we're very much in favour of.'

'So you'd give up being told what to do by London in favour of being told what to do by Brussels?'

'Countries within Europe have far greater freedom —'

'And some have far greater unemployment, and a low standard of living. European Union membership does not guarantee a great quality of life. Talk to the Portuguese, the Greeks or the Baltic States, they're in Europe — and struggling, as well as now questioning the benefits of membership. It's not all rosy.'

'No, but Scotland has great potential, and we're starting from a more modern industrial base —'

'And you think you have North Sea oil.'

'We do have north sea oil, something that we should have benefited from over the past forty years.'


'The oil revenue should have come to us.'

'Did you pay the billions it cost to explore the North Sea? Did you pay the billions it cost for the oilrigs to be built and operated? The revenue you would have received is far lower than you might expect, because you would have had to allow in foreign oil companies — to do what you could have never afforded.'

'It would still have been better than what we did receive, ' Chandler countered.

'Really? Scotland has been a large net receiver of British taxes since the last war, the English subsidising you. You're top-heavy with unemployed, operating an old industrial base that has been left behind as the world has moved on. How will you balance the shortfall between taxable income and your social bill?'

'By re-organising our industrial base and workforce with money from North Sea oil.'

'OK, let's assume that North Sea oil lasts longer than I think it will, and that London hands over to you tens of billions of pounds worth of oil rigs and refinement plants without a fight — or would you nationalise the refineries — a breach of EU law?'

'We would not nationalise the refineries, they're run by private companies like BP and Shell.'

'So you'd just grab the oil rigs, also owned by BP and Shell?'

'No, no private property would be grabbed.'

'So you would just take your cut of the oil revenue, as London does now.'

'Yes, as the proper owners of the oil, ' Chandler agreed.

'OK, so on day one of an independent - a supposedly richer Scotland, the English military withdraws, closing all bases in Scotland, a loss of some thirty thousand well paid jobs. How will you cope with those jobs losses.'

'Why would the bases close?'

'Because apart from Germany and Cyprus - with their particular histories - England does not keep military bases in other EU countries, especially not when they're fighting over North Sea oil. So I'm pretty sure that all military bases would close and move south, a massive loss of jobs and taxable income for you.'

'It would be an adjustment to be considered at the time.'

'Are you saying that you haven't thought through independence properly?'

'Not at all —'

'Then answer the question. What will you do when all military bases close?'

'We'll adapt and carry on, new jobs in new industries.'

'And if Russian bombers strayed close to Northern Scotland? Who would scramble to meet them?'

'An independent Scotland would be part of Europe, and within its defence treaty —'

'The European Union doesn't have a defence treaty, so you'd be on your own to start with. And English jet fighters would not scramble to aid you, no more so than they would for Southern Ireland. They might for Denmark or Norway, because they're members of NATO. Would an independent Scotland be a part of NATO?'

'It's something we would consider at the time —'

'Again, you have not thought it through. Yes or no, part of NATO or not? Because if you are a part of NATO then you'd be expected to maintain a suitable army, navy, and your own air force; all very expensive items. You can't be NATO in name only; it's a two-way street. You'd be happy to have a US bomber base in Scotland?'

'No, we're not in favour of having US bombers in Scotland.'

'So you'd not get NATO entry, and you'd be defenceless. Fine, you're choice. Moving on, what's your definition of a Scottish national — someone with the right to reside there?'

'They would have to be born in Scotland, as with any other country.'

'So if Scottish parents working in England have a baby, it would not be Scottish or allowed to live there?'

'It would be allowed, because the child's parents are Scottish.'

'And if one parent was Scottish?' Jimmy asked.

'That would have to be decided.'

'Again, you haven't thought it through, you're guessing what you'll do.'

'Not at all —'

'So one parent — allowed to reside or not?'

'It would be decided in proper debate, since we don't have that issue yet.'

'You already offer free university places, England doesn't. Would a child of a single Scottish parent be allowed to get a place?'

'Again, that would be debated when the problem arises.'

'And English people living in Scotland, could they send their kids to university there free of charge?'

'If the child was born in Scotland.'

'Could an English citizen - already working in Scotland, who becomes unemployed after independence, claim benefit there?'

'That would depend on their status, and the years they had paid national insurance in Scotland.'

'Fair enough. And the five million people, either Scottish — or with a Scottish parent, currently living in England and Wales — they'd no longer qualify to claim benefits or tax credits in England, and would need a new passport, obtained in Edingburg, and would need to exchange pounds to Euros when they popped home for a visit, passports shown at the border.'

'The adoption of the Euro is something we would decide at time, given the economic circumstances.'

'Given that it may be just a few short years away, perhaps the people of Scotland deserve to know now. Scottish pounds or Euros?'

'I'll not be drawn on it.'

'How would you organise Scottish people living south of the border, returning to be registered for new passports?'

'That's a logistical process that we would plan for.'

'Do you think England would expel them?' Jimmy asked.

'Why would they?'

'They'd become non-citizens of England as soon as you declare independence. Their British passports would be void, no use to travel abroad. So they'd all have to travel to Edinburgh to get fresh passports, proving their heritage — where they could. Could a Scottish person born in England have an English passport, but live in Scotland and claim benefits?'

'Again, it would be looked at.'

'Right now there are five million people watching this programme who're wondering where they stand. Do they not have a right to know? '

'I won't be drawn on theoretical scenarios —'

'It's not theoretical, they're sat watching. And what of people who consider themselves Scottish, but whose parents were born in England, do they get passports? Surely not.'

'You muddying the waters with small detail.'

'That's the problem with two countries that have been intertwined for hundreds of years: where do you draw the line? Who is Scottish, and gets free tuition fees, and who doesn't qualify? The population of Scotland is around three million, a sizeable minority being English, or born in England. There are then five million people who could claim a Scottish passport, and if they chose to move back you'd have to support more than twice the population, and all the benefits, tax credits and health service.

'Truth is, there are more Scottish people and their children living and working in England than there are in Scotland itself. Their taxes go to London, not to you, now or afterwards. And if the break with England was acrimonious then you could have a lot of people being made redundant south of the border. Your businesses would also need to pay export duties when trying to sell their goods south of the border. You could end up with a great many unemployed people on your hands. '

'These are all things that our parliament would debate —'

'You may not have a choice. Some of those choices would be made for you by England, where most of your citizens live and work. The London Government may wish to limit the number of foreign workers. But let me ask you this? If the Scottish economy was not doing well, would you consider it OK for Scottish people to look south of the border for work?'

'They enjoy that right and freedom under EU law.'

'And if Scotland was doing better than it is now, under your excellent leadership, would English citizens be allowed to take the good jobs north of the border — as they do now?'

'They have that freedom.'

'So, not much would change really under your excellent leadership. The economy would be the same.'

'Not at all, we aim to make far reaching changes —'

'For the benefit of Scottish citizens, creating jobs that the English can then come up and take. All your hard work, and you'll be creating jobs for well qualified English graduates. Unless you wish to state here and now that job protectionism will take place ... illegal under EU law.'

'Under EU law ... we would not practise job protectionism.'

'But you'd like to, otherwise why improve the Scottish economy for some else's benefit. So, once independent, you'll use North Sea oil revenue to create a Scottish utopia, with all the good jobs going to the English, Welsh and Europeans. Very kind of you, very ... charitable.'

'It would not work out like that —'

'So you would protect jobs?'

'That may be an option.'

'Which would be reciprocated by London, and five million Scots would have to move north, walking all over the flowers of your new utopia ... and destroying your economy. If you have ever wondered why there are so many immigrants in England, it's because things here are pretty good. If you do a good job for your citizens, then that very porous EU border will be open to people moving north and absorbing all the extra wealth that you'll create for your own Scottish citizens. So why bother? The better you do, the more immigrants you'll have to cope with. North Sea oil revenue will be assisting them, not you.'

'If immigration was an issue then we'd look at it.'

'Not under EU law you wouldn't. And if you're out of Europe you're then you're on your own, no money from London or Brussels. Would you be begging the IMF for loans?'

Chandler offered Jimmy a flat palm. 'We'll be a member of the European Union, with all citizen rights protected.'

'Then you'll be working for nothing, because the better you do the more immigrants — and English - you'll attract. Thank you, Mick, you've clarified in my mind what a charitable group the Scottish are.' Jimmy reached across and shook the man's hand, and stood.

Leaving the studio I said, 'They're fucked either way.'

'That's the thing about the European Union, a sharing of responsibility and wealth. You can't get ahead without sharing it around.'

'What'll happen now?'

'Now, their angry citizens will wish to protect Scottish jobs, which will help to refine their approach. Their politicians can't be seen to be protecting jobs, but don't dare not protect them. I just introduced them to the real would of European politics: damned if you do, damned if you don't, and damned if you sit and think about it.'

'You ... going to get involved in the future?'

'Not really, it just pisses me off — regions wanting to break away, thinking they can do a better job of it. You've got the nationalists in Northern Ireland, Czechoslovakia split in two, northern Italy wants to break away from the south. It's all bollocks. The politicians there, they're like heart surgeons saying to a patient: we've not done this before, but we're hopeful.

'If, and when, the world economy goes to shit, lots of regions will break away and put up roadblocks, starting with Texas, Alaska and Hawaii.'

Boot camp

A few weeks later we hopped on a night flight down to Goma hub, catching a connection to the airfield used by USAF Transport Command, and finally a coach around to the new infantry base, the first four hundred American soldiers in place and making friends with the creepy crawlies. Rows of uniform, yet simple huts stretched out into the distance, a few brick buildings now under constriction. Their commanding officer called together the officers and NCOs, many of the men in this first batch aiming to become instructors in the future.

Jimmy stood on the bonnet of a jeep to address the assembled men. 'Welcome to the jungle. And that jungle is not as frightening as it may seem at first glance; some people make it their home. They go to sleep in it each night, they hunt in it, they have sex in it, and they raise their families in it. To them, it's not so scary.

'To you, it's a hostile environment ... until such time as you decide that it's not. And that's all you need to do, you need to decide that you can master the jungle, and tame it. Members of the Rifles are dropped into the jungle naked, in groups of two or three, a hundred miles from the nearest road. They carry nothing with them. And, as the Rifles say: if you can't make it back — we don't want you back!

'To them it's a big joke, and a game. To most western soldiers it's a nightmare come true, and probably a death sentence. The difference ... is one of a little training, and a big shift in your state of mind.

'You're here ... to try and see how the Rifles do what they do so well, and possibly to emulate that training for yourselves and your men in the future. But you fine gentlemen didn't grow up sleeping on the floor with the insects. You did not eat with your fingers, go hungry, and be beaten a lot. That, gentlemen, cannot be reproduced in a training schedule, nor should it be attempted. The fact is, nice white western soldiers cannot do what the Rifles can do, and for that you should be grateful.

'So are we saying that you could never reach their level? Well, it's a case of ... would you wish to? Your political paymasters do a good job of making sure that you grow up in nice safe environments, and that you don't sleep on the floor. Otherwise, what's the point of a successful and civilised western democracy?

'The question that you're now thinking, is can a western soldier be trained to overcome his soft upbringing? The answer is partly yes, in that British and American Special Forces personnel are mostly capable of walking out of the jungle. But they represent a small fraction of your men. And a group of British or American Special Forces soldiers would not win against the Rifles.

'To understand that, consider this: the training programme for the Rifles is equivalent to your paratroopers, followed by your Rangers, followed by your Green Berets, followed by Delta Force. That's followed by extensive jungle, desert and mountain warfare training programmes. And that, gentlemen, is what every basic infantryman in the Rifles goes through, the best of whom are selected for the Pathfinders.

'All of the Rifles have been injected with the super-drug, and are fit enough to run a marathon and break a world record. They get up at 5am each day and go for a twenty-mile run. After breakfast, they start the day's training, and don't finish till 7pm, where they then start educational studies or educational games. Those finish around 11pm, when they have time to clean up and have a beer. Theirs, is a working day of around fifteen hours, and during basic training they're not given time to think.

'Each soldier is trained on all of the world's weapons: pistols, rifles, machineguns, mortars, and artillery pieces. They're taught to drive a variety of vehicles, from jeeps to tanks, and their annual allowance for ammunition would stagger you. In the west, soldiers may go months without firing a shot. The Rifles will fire most every day for two years during basic training.

'In the west, we have an emphasis on self-training, and self- discipline. Here, we don't rely on such things. The Rifles philosophy is to use every minute of the day, whereas in the west you'll find soldiers sat around a lot of the time. That ... is your first key difference. If you were to start afresh with new recruits, you should design a programme that allows them no time to think.

'The Rifles are also taught through the playing of games, similar to the techniques employed by Rescue Force. Around a large field a number of tables would be set up. At each is an NCO with a weapon, or a book, or a piece of equipment. Teams run around the field, stopping at each table. They may be required to strip a weapon, find a fault, or answer a question. The teams compete for prizes, and these games can take eight hours, all the time the soldiers kept so busy they don't notice the passing of time. That, is your second key difference.

'The final difference, is one of culture and motivation. The Rifles have a great camaraderie: the Regiment is home and family, friends and fun, work and relaxation all in one. To be threatened with being kicked out is enough to strike terror into any of our soldiers. But that in itself is not enough to explain the main difference between them ... and you.

'Consider the following scenario. A four-man team of Special Forces soldiers reaches its objective, but two are killed and one wounded. What does the last able-bodied man do? He helps his wounded buddy out, writes a book about what a hero he was and lives happily ever after. The Rifles would press home the attack, even if it meant certain death, they'll never give up.

'Now consider World War Two, and the same scenario on D-Day. Would the last man have given up? Probably not, because he knew what was at stake; his life may have saved a hundred others. So what's the difference between D-Day, and now? The answer is one of no war, no particular enemy, so no motivation to make a grand gesture and a sacrifice.

'So how do you, officers and NCOs, train and motivate men to fight to those standards in a small war, in a country that is not a threat to the US of A? How do you motivate your soldiers to fight to the end? The answer is — you can't, and should probably not try to. But, when a real threat arrives, you'll find some meek individuals willing to give all in that fight. You cannot artificially reproduce the kind of scenario where someone would lay down their life without a strong motivation.

'The Rifles do not wear body armour, they don't wear helmets, and they don't stop if their colleagues are wounded. They learn early on that to take the objective will stop their friends from being killed. Stopping to give first aid will simply create even more wounded on the battlefield. They also learn tactics that are very different from yours. In some ways, you could say that they sneak around more than patrolling in lines, riding in jeeps — and generally letting the enemy know where they are.

'They would not simply exchange machinegun fire, or mortar fire, from fixed positions. They hate static positions, and their philosophy is one of gaining the advantage where possible — a tactic more akin to your Special Forces than your basic infantry. They're happy to pick off the enemy, run and hide, and try again later, instead of mounting a frontal assault. It's about winning, not sticking to rules and conventions, or gentlemanly conduct. They'll use decoys and set traps as part of basic infantry manoeuvres, something that you'll not see in western armies. To understand the Rifles, you'll have to grasp that the objective is everything, the tactics employed don't matter.' He jumped down and we led the commanding officer away.

'An interesting approach, both for you and the Rifles, ' the man commented.

Jimmy replied, 'A hundred years ago, men stood in neat straight lines in red and yellow uniforms and fired at each other. It's taken a while to get away from that, and to fight more like the Indians - than General Custer and his men. The job ... is to get the job done, not to stick to formations and procedures on the battlefield.'

'You think we won't meet their standards?'

'Your Special Forces already do — to a degree, and British Special Forces teach the Rifles. The point is, you shouldn't attempt to reproduce their mindset, or your soldiers will go home on leave and start killing their neighbours. When you take a nice white boy and brutalise him, he goes psycho. The Rifles don't.'

'So ... you think this mission is doomed?'

'Any mission ... needs an objective, clearly defined, in order to reach that objective. What, exactly, is your mission ... as far as you've been told.'

'Well, we tried to train the Liberian Rifles, and failed before you got involved with them. That caused a few harsh words in the Pentagon. And we've seen what your boys can do. So it's a mix of the two: how we could train a proxy army, and be more like them.'

'That's politics, that's not an objective, ' Jimmy stated. 'Your objective ... is to win the engagement, to kill the enemy — in whatever theatre of conflict you find yourself. So, I'll make it easy for you. Follow my training manual, take the experience and benefits that it gives your men, but never try and be something that you're not. Your soldiers want to go home to their wives and girlfriends, to serve a few years and learn a trade before getting a civilian job. You can't treat them as we treat Rifles. So don't.'

'But after a few years of this, we'd be able to recruit and train our own proxy army?'

'Most definitely.'

We did not stay long, and flew back after an hour-long chat, reclaiming our rooms at the golf hotel. Several ministers came across to petition us for various things, before we made it clear that anyone just turning up would be buried in the foundations of the new marina. Still, we chatted to half a dozen ministers about various projects, and I must admit that I found giving general pointers easier than scanning reports and making my own decisions in my office.

At 1am, sat in the quiet rooftop bar, I said to Jimmy, 'Do you ever wonder what happened to the younger you?'

'Younger ... me?'

'You said he went to Canada, forwards in time.'

'You shouldn't believe everything I say; the right lie to the right people at the right time. He didn't go anywhere, I killed him.'

I faced Jimmy, beer in my hand. 'You ... killed your younger self?'

Jimmy nodded, reflecting on the past.

'Would that not cause some sort of paradox?'


'So ... how?' I gently nudged.

'I appeared in that field in Canada, suitable passport with visa stamp, plenty of money, a few diamonds. I waited till nightfall and walked to the nearest town, trying not to be seen. I hopped on an overnight bus - in Canada they don't stop at night. At the next large town I hopped on a train, couple of days to reach Toronto.

In Toronto I bought a suitcase, then some clothes, a toiletries bag, the works. I bought a second camera and took snaps, having them developed, bought a few postcards and maps, and made like a tourist for two weeks, buying a plane ticket and flying to London.

'In London, I grabbed a hotel room as a base, then caught the train down to Cardiff, to see if my younger self was where he should have been. You see, in late 1984 my original self got a job at stockbrokers in Cardiff. I did quite well and eventually landed a job in London, but I had four weeks between jobs. I had moved out from my patents house and was living in a small bedsit in the Roath area of Cardiff; student land.

'I spied on my younger self, saw what his hairstyle looked like, any marks on his face or hands. Happy with that, I knocked on his door late one night and shocked him. I told him that I was him from the future, and listed off a few things that only we would know. When he wasn't looking I broke his neck. In the early hours I dragged his body out to the car I had hired and dumped the body where I knew it wouldn't be found.

'Back in his apartment I squeezed into his clothes, then bought a few more the next day. I rang my mum and made small talk, but avoided seeing her till I moved to London and started at McKinleys — and the managers there had only met me once. I worked in London for two months, telling my mum I'd put on weight and that I was working out at the gym a lot, finally going back to Newport to stay for a week.

'They saw the difference, but put it down to London and the extra weight, and gym training. After that, it was a case of start ticking boxes.'

'Why replace yourself like that? Why take the risk?' I puzzled.

'How would it look if the world's intelligence agencies couldn't verify my past?'

'Well, yeah, they'd definitely think you a fucking alien!'

'So I had to slip back into the timeline.'

'What would have become of him?'

'He would have grown into an arsehole. He'd have stayed with the wrong girls ... and left the one he should have stayed with. He would have ... made a lot of mistakes. You wouldn't have liked my younger self; it took me sixty years to finally figure it all out, and to be comfortable with myself.'

'You spend a lot of time thinking, ' I noted. 'If you haven't figured it all out yet, what hope for the rest of us?'

He laughed, staring into his beer. 'I'll let you in on a great secret.' He faced me. 'I'm not even supposed to be here.'

I stared at him. 'What?' I puzzled, a heavy frown forming.

'I'll explain it at some point. But my stepping through the portal - not quite what it may seem.'

I was not looking forwards to the next day's political activities, but it had to be done. We travelled the short distance around to the Pentagon building and spent the entire day meeting ministers, glad to be out the door at 5pm. But after our evening meal it started again, Yuri and Marko introducing us to new business partners involved with the shopping centre project.

We were then approached by an Indian businessmen, a hotel guest, playing golf and enjoying the facilities. Thinking him a guest, I invited him to sit. We soon discovered that he was from South Africa, and owned a chain of washing machine factories both in South Africa and India. And could he open one here?

I was starting to wonder if the place had a bad name; of course he could open one here. But when I cautioned him about a small market and a poor populace, I answered my own question about peoples' attitude to the region. Our region was growing, but it was not a great market for luxury goods.

Turned out that his washing machines were quite cheap by western standards, and that he sold many around Africa. I offered him free land, fifty percent of his factory construction costs — not including plant and machinery, and a two year tax break. He thanked me for that, but what he was really interested in was cheap plastic, rubber and steel — the raw ingredients of an African housewife's wobbly washing machine.

With Jimmy sat watching, but not interfering, I said, 'How about this: we create a joint venture, and split the profits. That way, I have no problem about giving you the materials at raw cost, which is just about zero in some cases.'

'What percentage?' the businessman asked.

'What would you say was reasonable ... if I was hanging you out of a helicopter by your ankles?'

The man laughed. 'I'd say sixty-forty to you in recognition of the raw materials, and my forty percent represents my network, and expertise.'

'You'll have a two year deal, then a review.' We shook hands. With the businessman gone, I asked Jimmy what he thought.

'Our aim is to create jobs, and to give back to the people - so fine. At the moment, people here import stuff like that, and it's not cheap.'

Suffering further approaches for the next hour, I called over two of the bodyguards, and they stood between us - and those interested in talking to us.

Old Goma town was our first call in the morning, a short flight over. In a large field northeast of the town, a new town in itself had sprung up, hundreds of the self-assembly huts now laid out in neat rows. Accompanied by a resident RF team, we wandered along and greeted householders, enquiring if they had everything they needed, and finding them all smiles. The RF team then informed us that many of the new happy householders had been in tin shacks prior to the explosion and fire. These huts were a significant step up.

In the town itself, we stopped and stared up at tall yellow cranes, an apartment block — or ten — in progress. I recognised the design; four storeys, twenty apartments per block. The mayor of the town welcomed us, thanking us for all our help. Well, since the bomb was aimed at us, it was the least we could do.

In Gotham City, the marina was coming along, an army of local builders toiling over it. The large round concrete swimming pool would, someday soon, be a marina. Now, it was dry and deep.

'Why so fucking deep?' I asked Jimmy.

'To get sailboats in, keels of four metres.'

'That's a big boat!'

'That's ... Yuri and Marko measuring their dicks. Still, it'll be nice to see them sat here. Otherwise it would just be speedboats.'

The basic shape of the bars and cafes could be discerned from their foundations, and we'd name the place after Shelly as promised: Shelly's Marina.

A quarter-mile by coach brought us to another building site, a more important one. The canal we found was again a large empty concrete swimming pool, the deep foundations for our stock exchange being laid, a second building taking shape next to it. Progress.

'Will the stock exchange be busy?' I asked Jimmy.

'Yes, because they'll trade on all the world's exchanges, plus our own metals, ore and oil market. Oh, and diamonds.'

'Will that piss off the Israelis?'

'Not at all, they'll be running it. I'll make contact with the main merchants in Amsterdam soon. African women like jewellery, so I'll persuade someone to open a factory or two down here.'

'I mentioned this place to McKinleys. They've already bought a few spare apartments ready, they can't wait.'

'I think we could attract two thousand traders at least, ' Jimmy suggested. 'They'll be followed by buyers.'

'Buyers?' I queried.

'Raw material buyers. They'll look at oil, ore and metal ingots, and haggle for them here, arranging their own transport out. Take that Indian factory. Their buyer would sit around a pit and, when a new batch of steel was ready, they'd bid for it. At the moment, the people buying the raw materials we produce are at the end of a phone or computer. Down here they'll have a team trying to get the best deals. Same for our food produce in the future.'

Back at the hotel, we took a call from the African Times editor; a car bomb had gone off in Somalia. Jimmy rang the head of PACT, only to find out that two Sudanese agents had been picked up thirty miles from Mawlini. The men had been gainfully employed scouting for an attack.

Jimmy told the man, 'I want a line of men on the border, from Kinshasa to the Red Sea. Deploy the Rifles, and put all of my interests on alert.'

'They'll strike back at us?' I asked when Jimmy had lowered his phone.

'And they deserve to, ' Jimmy softly stated. 'And, what's more, I don't want to do anymore damage to Sudan.'

'You wanted to drive a wedge, ' I pointed out.

'It's ... easy to see things in the 2025 perspective, and to react accordingly. But, part of me hopes that we can chart another course, that maybe 2025 can be dealt with quietly. And ... I don't always like pitching nations against each other for 2025 posturing — innocent civilians getting clobbered in the process. I know it's wrong for 2025, but we could have seen a few more years of peace.'

Jimmy called Abdi, getting the details of the car bomb. A busy market had been hit, a hundred injured, thirty dead so far. We sat in the rooftop bar, a fine day, and slowly ate lunch, not much said. I could see Jimmy struggling with the turn of events, not least because he had caused them. But the bad news had not ended; this episode was only just getting warmed up.

After lunch, we packed ready to leave, our cases now with the bodyguards. In reception, Jimmy took a call, the detail causing him to close his eyes for a moment. He faced me. 'A civilian airliner has crashed in Mogadishu. It ploughed into the city centre.'

'That's no coincidence, ' I quietly stated.

'No.' Jimmy stared at his phone for a few seconds, then dialled Forward Base. 'What aircraft do you have on the apron?'

They indicated a 737 headed for Mawlini.

'I want that plane, hold it, we're on our way.'

He told the senior bodyguard to take us around to the airport, and to grab Hueys for the short hop down to Forward Base. The Hueys were sat waiting when we arrived, their rotors turning. With the bodyguards carrying our luggage, we ducked our heads and jogged across to the open doors, soon on our way to Forward Base across lush green countryside, Jimmy oddly quiet.

At Forward Base we boarded the waiting 737, our luggage simply placed between seats. The plane was not full, and contained the usual mix of RF staff, Rifles or UN staff. With the door closed, Jimmy grabbed the passenger tanoy.

'Ladies and gentlemen, a plane had crashed in Mogadishu. We're going to detour there, after which this plane will carry on to Mawlini. Sorry for the inconvenience.'

When the plane was airborne, and the seatbelt sign was off, Hacker appeared next to us. 'Guys, ' he acknowledged.

'Hey, stranger, ' I offered. 'Where you working these days?'

'Teaching in Cuba mostly, but I run courses here. Are we deploying to this plane crash?'

Jimmy said, 'There're plenty of RF staff based around Mogadishu. Nothing we can do in time.'

'Was it a crash on landing?' Hacker innocently asked.

'No, ' Jimmy said after I glanced at him. 'We think maybe a bomb, or terrorists.'

'And there was a car bomb this morning, ' I put in.

'Sudan kicking back?' Hacker knowingly asked.

'Perhaps, ' Jimmy replied. 'Maybe al-Qa'eda. Either way, it's bad for Somalia — and the region.'

With Hacker seated, I wandered along the isle, greeting people and chatting, finding a few familiar faces. Touching down at Mogadishu airport, we lugged our cases down the steps, our bodyguards joined by Somali Pathfinders, a bus waiting. Only then did I think to call home and explain the situation. At least Helen and the girls had not boarded the coach to meet me at the airport.

At our hotel, we found an empty suite, our luggage dumped before we headed around the government buildings. Abdi had visited the crash scene earlier, but now greeted us, dressed in his odd general's uniform, wide shoulders and much braid.

'Many dead, ' he simply reported.

'Whose airline?' I asked.

'Oman Airlines, ' he reported. 'A hundred people on the aircraft.'

'And on the ground?' Jimmy asked.

'The aircraft hit an apartment block being built, so no people living in the rooms. Maybe sixty builders hurt or killed, some people on the street, taxis. And this an hour from the car bomb!'

'No coincidence, ' Jimmy agreed.

'You think it is Sudan?' Abdi asked.

'We picked up Sudanese men near Mawlini, ' I put in.

'I have thirty thousand men on the border!' Abdi warned, a finger raised. 'They will not get through.'

'Sudan may not be behind the attacks, ' Jimmy suggested to Abdi, and I had to wonder the logic of that. But I kept quiet. 'I think maybe al-Qa'eda wanting revenge for Sudan.'

'So we need to go back to Afghanistan?' Abdi asked.

'I hope not, ' Jimmy stated.

A man rushed in, shouting in the local language. Abdi faced us as the man retreated. 'Gunman had entered a hospital, they hold it hostage.'

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