Pride rounded on Moreau as soon as he heard the man's utterance. It was random and out of place, which only meant that there was more to the exclamation.
Moreau tensed involuntarily as he watched Pride stride up to him. There was a flicker of determined maliciousness in the man's eyes. Moreau knew Pride suspected he was hiding something from him, and believed – unerringly – that the sick bastard was going to enjoy extracting it out of him. Brutal images of what lay in store for him, were conjured into existence by the Frenchman's agitated mind.
The American barbarian relished these opportunities and the freedom with which he could seize them. Moreau was nothing more than clay in the man's savage hands, but unlike a sculptor, Pride's hands were designed to destroy and maim.
Those present in the room watched silently as Pride stood before the Général. He loomed over the seated figure, imposing his frame over him.
'Care to share with the rest of the class?' Pride asked in a deceptively soothing voice. The power and strength the man exulted was unnerving. Moreau was a goddamned General! But in this madman's presence he could feel himself shrinking!
Moreau had to maintain calm. He had to give the impression that there was nothing wrong. Let them find out the hard way. He told himself as he shifted uneasily. 'I have nothing to share.' He retorted, but his voice came out cracked and high-pitched towards the end.
Shit! Shit! Shit! Moreau's mind screamed. Pride was grinning – amused by the man's pathetic attempts at bravado. He leaned into him, forcing the Frenchman to brace himself against the chair.
'Are you sure?'
Perspiration broke out on Moreau's forehead. It took great will power to stop himself from raising his hand and wiping it away.
Pride stared callously at the beads of sweat that dappled the man's upper lip. Moreau felt the heat from the Commander's glare and his throat began to dry.
Then, to Moreau's surprise, Pride shrugged and turned away. That was it? He exclaimed inwardly. Where was the interrogation? The excitement that surged through him, as he realized he had bluffed his way out of a harrowing experience, swelled his chest and quelled his frantically pounding heart.
He was the better man. It had nothing to do with rank or nation. This had been a battle of nerves and he had triumphed.
Moreau kept his expression still, not daring to reveal how he felt in case it tempted Pride to probe deeper. But curiosity made him glance towards the remaining prisoners – wondering how they perceived his successful defiance.
The Generals lacked emotion, showing neither admiration nor even the slightest bit of confusion. But their eyes never left the American Commander's back.
The ever-inquisitive Benziger leaned forward, with his fingers laced together beneath his chin. The man was amused! No doubt taking in the ordeal as if it were some sort of action thriller by Mathew Reilly - the whole time assessing and anticipating the twists and the thrills as they came to light. Without question, the son-of-a-bitch analyzed this as the latest unanticipated direction and desired to see where it would lead.
Or did he already know? Moreau felt his heart begin to race once again. He caught a glimpse of Lust on his peripherals and felt a knot tighten in his gut as he glanced her way.
She held his gaze and Moreau detected the pity in her eyes. She, better than anyone else, knew exactly what was in store for him. And it was that look that made him realize he had been wrong.
The bullet hit Moreau in the left knee before he even had a chance to snap his attention back on to Pride. It blew out bone and flesh and Moreau cried out in agony as it slammed his leg against his chair.
'Do you have something to say now Général?' Pride retorted amusingly as he checked the magazine clip to his pistol and exchanged it for another.
'Vous, fils de pute!' Moreau roared. 'Ça fait mal! Vous piquez putain!'
'Nope.' Pride shook his head in mock disappointment. 'Can't understand a word you're saying but I figure it's of no use to me.' He shot him again, this time in the gut, making sure to avoid any major organs.
Moreau cried out in pain once again and pressed his hands against his stomach. He whimpered as blood spilled between his fingers. The wound wasn't immediately fatal but without prompt medical care he'd mostly bleed out slowly and painfully.
'Now…' Pride said, his voice sterner than before, 'You going to tell me what I want to know?' Moreau hesitated, which only stoked the Commander's anger even more.
'Général, my patience wears thin.' Pride said as he paced before Moreau. 'You cooperate with me and I will take away your pain. Mess with me and I will put another drain hole in your gut.'
Moreau gulped in air and fought the rising bile. He had never been treated this way. Never been shot before. He was scared. He was a goddamn fucking General and he was fucking scared! The nausea sapped his strength. The sticky substance that was his own blood, which covered his hands, broke his will.
He didn't want to challenge Pride anymore.
He didn't want to die.
'It's an eraser.' Moreau sniveled. That short phrase caught everyone's attention but not every reaction was the same.
'What kind of eraser?' Pride asked, his voice strained with building anger.
'A thermonuclear warhead.' Moreau replied. 'I was instructed to transmit a signal through out the conference and only to cut it if things didn't go our way.'
Benziger laughed delightedly at the news and even went as far as applauding, while the others expressed a mix of scorn and shock.
'When did you cut the signal?' Pride hissed.
'I didn't.' Moreau whimpered. 'It was cut on its own.'
'Cut on its own?' Pride drew a deep breath and resisted the temptation to shoot him point blank in the head. 'If its been cut, why hasn't the payload been delivered?'
'It was agreed they would delay the launch by an hour in case I re-transmitted the signal.'
'And how long have you been keeping this from me? How long has there been no broadcast!' Pride yelled. The Commander had lost his composure. He no longer appeared to be the man in control. His simple plan was being threatened by a coward and it infuriated him.
'I don't know!' Moreau cried out. 'I don't know when it was cut. Maybe ten minutes ago, maybe an hour, maybe more. I don't know!'
Moments ago Pride had pictured feeling the white sands at his feet and hearing the lapping of the clear blue sea along the shore. He had imagined his skin soaking up the warm sun, tasted the smell of money weighing his pockets and felt the press of the tanned, naked whores against him.
And now, it was being threatened because of this damned coward!
Pride let out a frustrated roar and blew the Frenchman's brains across the floor. But his anger wasn't satiated. He kicked the limp body out of the chair and began stomping its bloodied head until it was nothing more than a messy pulp sticking to the base of his boot.
Pride began to pace, ignoring the fact that his left boot kept sticking to the floor. Greed and Wrath watched him silently, waiting for their next instructions.
He had to come up with a new plan, but he needed to fill some important blanks. Was the nuke already airborne? How long till it reached its destination? Did he have time to escape?
He shot a baneful glare at Lust and the two remaining Generals. They were silent and stone faced, but undoubtedly they were enjoying this – eagerly watching as his plan unraveled all because of an unanticipated factor.
He'd make sure to execute them before he left. He would ensure he had the last laugh.
'Commander, you seem frazzled.' The irksome lawyer spoke up. 'Surely a man of your capabilities could overcome this… dilemma.'
The damned prick. Pride cursed. 'Don't think your precious back-up plan is enough to protect you from me.' Pride retorted angrily. 'I won't hesitate to put a bullet through you.'
'And I don't doubt you would.' Benziger replied calmly, with an air that revealed him as the man who held all the winning cards. There was no mask hiding his fear, no false bravado concealing his agitation. This was the real deal and it pissed Pride off to no end.
'I merely want to assist where I can.' He continued. 'I can find out when the signal stopped being transmitted.'
'Why?' Pride asked suspiciously.
'Entertainment of course.' Benziger laughed. 'Your squabbling and killing is all amusing. And I am most curious how you plan to solve this latest puzzle.'
The son-of-a-bitch was provoking him to a challenge. This was all a game for him! But the knowledge would come in handy and there was a better chance of coming up with some form of plan – even if the only course of action was an evacuation. He needed to know how much time he had left.
'You're a sick fuck, you know that?' Pride commented ruefully, 'But I accept your offer.'
Benziger smirked at the Commander before pulling his laptop closer and hit the key that called for anyone's attention down in the Comms Room.
Crockett bandaged Huey's wounds, the whole time Ghost standing beside him, with her rifle pointed at their captive's head.
Bishop had been discussing the grim news with Dee and Mayhew beside the digital tactical map at the centre of the room, while Bambi contributed from her seat.
Huey had told all, and spared no details. He revealed the American's plan to steal the contents of the Vault. When Bishop had challenged him, questioning why he would betray his country so readily, Huey did not hesitate to spit back his answer:
'My country?' He had crowed. 'They ruined me to get me here and they have no intention to fix it when all this is done. I'm loyal to myself and no one else.'
Huey had continued to rant, enjoying how he was no longer tied to any flag, to any loyalties. 'If I had been in charge,' He declared, 'I'd have offed Benziger and waved those nukes goodbye.'
Bishop shot a confused and suspicious look in Mayhew's direction. 'Benziger? Is he in charge of the killswitch?'
Mayhew winced at having been put on the spot. He shifted uncomfortably before giving any answer – a very short and direct answer. 'He is the killswitch.'
The Brits had been rocked senseless by the news. Dumb had been the first to yank himself out of the shock and lunged towards Barnacle, drawing his arm back to strike him across the jaw. He would have succeeded too had Bishop not grabbed his arm, holding it firmly.
Bishop, as much as he wanted to let the Irishman deck the mercenary, decided it was counter productive. The SBS operative instead glowered at the man, giving him a look that clearly said 'This is far from over.'
And that was how Bishop ended up neck deep in shit he didn't really want a part of. Bishop pressed his fingertips into his eyes as Mayhew went over everything. Bishop would have preferred Duke had been present for this. While another part of him wished he wasn't here for this – maybe somewhere across the globe not giving a damn.
There was a sudden dull chime that aggravated the tension present in the room. Mayhew let out a groan before he could stop himself.
'What's that?' Bishop demanded as he eyed the mercenary suspiciously.
'Intercom; Telephone; Migraine.' Mayhew answered with a grimace. 'Just pick one.'
'Aren't you going to answer it?' Bambi asked him, her own voice coated with distrust.
Mayhew sighed theatrically and made his way to the wall mounted monitor as he said, 'Suppose I must.'
At first, Bishop kept his eyes focused on Mayhew as he made his way across the room, then glanced towards the remainder of his team. He noticed that, excluding Jenkins, every member of his squad was keeping an eye on Mayhew's backside. Even Dumb, who was ordinarily glib and carefree, was carefully following the mercenary with narrowed eyes.
Bishop tapped the Irishman on the shoulder, and gestured to stand at ease. Dumb shifted though it was hardly to relax. A surge of discomfort trampled his stomach. He could feel the axe hanging over his neck, even though he couldn't understand why. He just knew there was bad news to be had.
Bishop walked up behind Mayhew just as he said, 'This better be good Benziger.' Bishop glanced at the snide young face staring back at them. This was the living killswitch?
Simply by looking at him and Bishop could understand the latent hostility Mayhew had towards the man. It was, after all, contagious.
'I see you have guests.'
'What. Do you. Want?' Mayhew hissed brusquely.
Benziger shrugged the aggression off, as if it were a cough. 'I have been informed that one of the satellite uplinks we discovered earlier has been disconnected. I want to know when.'
Mayhew hesitated. He wasn't sure if this was another one of his games or if there was reason to be concerned. Regardless, Mayhew finally dragged himself away from the monitor to check the tactical map. His jaw clenched automatically as soon as he discovered it was one of the two blinking blips that had been in the centre of the Mesa.
Mayhew summoned an idling technician while the Brits gathered around the screen. Even Bambi wanted to see what was going on and struggled closer.
'Do we still have a log on the unauthorized satellite transmissions?' Mayhew asked the technician.
'Yes sir.' The man quickly answered and approached the nearest terminal. After a few key strokes, he tore at a printed sheet of paper and handed it to the mercenary. 'The log sir.'
Mayhew took it from the man and glanced at the numbers before him. There was a record of every transmission – each with a designated code. As soon as he found the one he was looking for, he looked for the final entry.
'Well?' Benziger could be heard over the intercom.
'Almost an hour.' Mayhew replied coarsely.
'The precise time Mayhew.' Benziger said, with a subtle edge to his tone.
Mayhew glowered at the Swiss lawyer. 'Fifty four minutes.'
Benziger sat back in his chair silent, subdued. He laced his fingers in front of his face and his brow furrowed. Was he suddenly concerned about something? Mayhew found himself asking. Could the great Benziger be disturbed?
Almost as if reading Mayhew's mind, Benziger recollected his composure and his sardonic smile returned. 'No matter. Plenty of time.' He then turned off screen and called out, 'Commander. In another six minutes – give or take – the French will be launching their eraser.'
'The eraser?' Mayhew asked quizzically. He knew perfectly well what the code stood for, but any device could stand in for it, as long as it did its job and erased everything out of existence at its target.
'A French thermonuclear warhead.' Benziger supplied with a nonchalant shrug.
'A what?' Both Bishop and Mayhew cried out in alarm. The room ground to a deafening halt from the horrifying discovery. Even Huey's face, Bishop realized later, registered complete, terror-stricken, surprise.
'Six minutes?' Pride's excitement could barely be contained. Mimicking Benziger, the American Commander couldn't help himself but repeat the phrase, 'Plenty of time.'
He marched up to Moreau's corpse with measured strides. He wasn't going to rush. He wasn't going to look like panic had been mere moments away. He wasn't going to give them the satisfaction.
He was going to play it cool.
Pride grabbed Moreau's limp wrist and brought the watch close enough so that Pride didn't have to bend much. He grinned as he worked out what must have been the button to activate or deactivate the transmitter.
He squeezed the button and waited. Ten seconds passed and nothing happened. There was no sound. No light. No nothing. Pride's brow creased in frustration. He tried again.
And again the result was the same.
Pride grip tightened in frustration and when his third attempt resulted no differently, he tore it off the dead Frenchman and tossed the watch with an indignant roar. All eyes watched as the timepiece hit the smooth floor and skid towards the shattered window, disappearing out into the open.
Pride flashed a deadly look at his prisoners, daring them to ridicule him. He would have loved an excuse to execute one of them – not that he needed any, but with that attitude he would have ran out of hostages long ago.
His prisoners however just watched tentatively, knowing one wrong move could very well be their last. Only Benziger was daring enough to look bold. Why should he be bothered? His death meant the death of millions. Still, his bravado only shielded the others from his thoughts.
The prospect of having the last laugh even after death was enticing, but he hadn't put much consideration into the death itself. He was aware, that one day it would undoubtedly happen – whether naturally or not. But it hadn't occurred to him what death would really mean to him. He wasn't scared of death. No. He knew this, otherwise he wouldn't have created the elaborate set up to ensure others died with him. He had faced many dangers in his life, many threats, so this was nothing new. And yet, with death so close that he could taste it, he felt a palpitation in his chest, though he wasn't going to give anyone the satisfaction of them knowing he was uncomfortable.
Pride, disappointed there was no reaction from his prisoners, approached his men and declared, 'Prepare to move out.'
'Sir.' Wrath calmly spoke up. Pride glanced at him suspiciously from over his shoulder. Were all his men threatening to mutiny now?
'I may have a solution.'
'A solution?' Pride repeated, bemusement coating his words.
'We can shoot it down.' Wrath replied bluntly. Wrath remained stoically unperturbed while Pride analyzed him for the slightest hint of mockery.
'With what?' Pride asked after a short while.
Wrath answered by giving the FGM-148 Javelin, still secured to his back, a loving tap.
Seeing the sheer audacity, Lust broke out into cynical laughter. 'Are you high Foster?' She then yelled. Wrath glowered at her, his back muscles tightening in frustration. 'You think you're Superman or something?'
Pride put up his right hand and snapped his fingers. 'Greed, shut her up.' Without hesitation, the New Yorker strode up to her from the side. He lashed out at her with the butt of his Railgun, striking her dead center in the face. Her head snapped backwards, her nose cracking noisily from the blow.
Lust dug her fingernails into the bottom of her chair and stopped herself from cursing audibly. Her body trembled from the pain, yet still she glared at Greed who smirked in return.
Pride hadn't broken his gaze from Wrath and his expression hardly even shifted. When he spoke, he spoke calmly and without insult. 'Can you make the shot?'
'If I can't, we're dead anyway.' Wrath responded.
Pride nodded slowly. Even if he were to start evacuating his men now, chances were he wouldn't fly far enough to escape the blast radius. 'And how do you propose to do this? We don't even know were its being launched from.'
'We don't need to.' Wrath replied. 'We know its target.' Pride's lips twitched into a smirk as Wrath went on, 'I'll take a chopper from the hangar below and take it out on its approach.' The man spoke with a confidence that made the plan seem like a child could pull it off.
Pride clapped him on the shoulder. 'Do it. If there's any chance in hell of getting out of this, I'm taking it.'
Wrath bowed his head and made for the door. As he grabbed the handles, Benziger cleared his throat. 'Commander, I believe you have overlooked a matter.' He said slyly.
Pride eyed his suspiciously while Wrath hovered impatiently by the doors.
'As you are aware,' Benziger continued, 'The men in the Comms room have been informed of the imminent danger. By now they would be planning an escape – something that may interfere or delay your efforts to neutralize the warhead.' Pride gritted his teeth in irritation, more so when Benziger flashed him a smug grin.
'The bastard's got a point.' Greed said.
'I know that!' Pride snapped. 'But we don't have the time to take them out.'
'Then don't.' Benziger responded. 'Rather than work against them, work with them.'
Pride fixed the lawyer with a hard stare then roared with laughter. Wrath and Greed exchanged glances before grinning uncomfortably. 'Why not?' The Seven Sins Commander then retorted. 'What have they got to lose? They'll be dead either way.' Pride then looked Benziger firmly in the eyes. 'Get them on the line. I'll talk to them directly.'
There was a frantic energy in the atmosphere, even if the majority present were calm and collected. The technicians were panicking and Mayhew was losing his patience trying to calm them down. He couldn't fault them. They weren't soldiers. Being killed wasn't in the job description. But there was nothing Barnacle could do for them.
Sending them out for themselves was certain death. Staying put was out of the question. The mines were flooded. They were simply, squarely fucked. Hence the panic and Mayhew's fraying patience.
Bishop and his team hadn't stopped from when they received the news. Jenkins was still tackling the virus, however was given the order that once a plan of action was agreed upon, he was to abandon his mission whether he succeeded or not.
Mayhew had explained to the British the layout of the facility and pointed out areas of interest to the team – even if they were to be used only as landmarks. They had no time for sightseeing. From Huey, along with some chiding and cussing, they got a rough idea of where the American troops were likely to be stationed.
'The way I see it Sarge,' Dee said, 'We move fast and hard.'
Bishop glanced over his shoulder at Bambi. From all of them, she was in the worst shape. There was no way she'd be able to keep up.
'I can do it.' Bambi said, as if sensing his and everyone else's thoughts.
Bishop grimaced. He knew bravado when he heard it.
'Bishop, we're going to have to decide on a play now.' Crockett said. 'We don't have any idea how much time we have.'
'Fock, it could already be too late for all we know.' Dumb muttered.
'We still have to try.' Bishop responded. 'And this may be our only option, so load up and-'
It was then the wall monitor interrupted them. The chiming brought a tense silence to the room as everyone glanced in its direction. Mayhew and Bishop exchanged puzzled expressions before approaching. To their surprise, though they didn't show it, Benziger wasn't the one calling them.
'Well, well.' Pride smirked. 'I see the snake grew a new head.' The two sergeants showed their confusion and irritation.
'What's this about? Who are you?' Mayhew demanded.
'I am Dorian Anderson, codename Pride; Commander of the Seven Sins strike force.' He answered. 'As for what this is all about...' He paused and curled his lips into a tight smile. 'I wish to form a temporary truce.'
'The hell?' Mayhew shouted. 'You want to do this now? We've got bigger problems to deal with than this!'
'Go on Commander.' Bishop said levelly, having ignored Mayhew's outburst. 'You wouldn't be approaching us with this if you didn't have good enough reason.' Bishop added before Mayhew could voice his surprise and disdain.
'Smart move Sergeant.' Pride smirked. 'As you know, a thermonuclear warhead is scheduled to be fired on our location in...' The American made a show of checking his watch, 'well, around two minutes now.' He answered. 'We don't know from where and we don't know how long before delivery. However...' Pride let the word drag out longer than necessary before continuing. 'We have a plan.'
'A plan?' Bishop repeated sarcastically.
'One of my men is enroute to the hanger, where he will commandeer a chopper to take out the missile.' Bishop narrowed his eyes at the incredulous gesture. 'I am aware, that you may inadvertedly complicate matters by getting in his way – something neither of us needs.'
'And so the truce?' Mayhew said distastefully.
'I'm not agreeing to anything unless we accompany your man onto that chopper.' Bishop bluntly said. 'If you disagree, I will make sure to complicate matters for you.'
Pride bristled just enough that it showed for a brief second, but he regained his composure soon after and calmly replied. 'Of course. I expected as much. Two of your men can accompany him.'
'He's a big boy.' Pride responded with a grin. 'He can look after himself.'
'And your other men?'
'They will be ordered to stand down.' Pride replied. 'But you must understand,' He added with unconvincing concern, 'with the radio frequencies down the message will get around a lot slower.'
'Good thing then we got it back up.' Bishop responded with a wry smile of his own.
'Yes...' Pride hissed in displeasure. 'Good thing.'
'Tell your man to expect us. We'll be there shortly.' Bishop then gestured towards his men to bring Huey. 'Oh and one other thing Anderson.' Bishop paused long enough for Ghost to shove Huey in front of the wall monitor. 'Should we encounter any trouble along the way, you know what will happen to him, right?'
'Of course.' Pride responded with a mix of frustration and false apprehension.
Shortly after that, the line was terminated and Bishop returned with Mayhew to his men. He could see their scepticism in their eyes, so he didn't bother to attempt to reassure them – especially not since he shared their sentiments.
'I'll be heading to the hangar-'
'I'm coming with.' Bambi interrupted.
Bishop opened his mouth to say something but Bambi's glare cut in before he could. 'Don't you dare say it.' She argued. 'I may have been roughed up, but I'm still fighting fit.' It wasn't the same bravado Bishop detected before, but he did notice her pride. She wanted to show she was still capable; that she wasn't helpless.
Bishop conceded, even if it was against his better judgment, but he knew her better. He knew her strengths and weaknesses, even with her handicap. The sergeant then turned to the rest of them team. 'The kid will remain here and make sure that virus doesn't set off the nukes in this facility. I'll need someone to stay here with him.'
'It's ok Sarge.' Jenkins called out without taking his eyes off the terminal. 'I'll lock the door after you're out. Should things get too hot here I'll slip out the back way.'
Bishop considered this and found it acceptable. 'Ok.' He said with a slight nod. 'An extra pair of hands will hopefully make the next bit easier.'
'Which is?' Crockett asked.
'I want the rest of you to take the elevator to the top. I want to put Commander Anderson on the spot. He wants to call a truce, then we're going to make sure we're right on his doorstep if he decides to change his mind.' Bishop then glanced towards their prisoner. 'Take Huey with you for insurance.'
'The bastard isn't likely to surrender.' Dee muttered.
'I know.' Bishop admitted. 'If anything, I'm looking to delay him from doing anything stupid.' The Sergeant's eyes trailed over his weary men. 'I haven't had the pleasure of working with you until today, but I know I can trust your judgement. I know you'll want to do what's right.'
'You're talking like you ain't coming back.' Dumb smirked with a hint of unease.
'Sorry Dumb, you're not getting rid of me that easily.' Bishop chuckled.
'Aw shucks.' The Irishman joked.
Bishop refrained from revealing how he felt. In the back of his mind, he felt he would not see these soldiers again. From the looks in their eyes, they silently shared the same thoughts. However, this was not a time for farewells. Bishop wished them god-speed and he and Bambi made for the door.
As he walked, he pressed his hand to his ear and called, 'Oracle, do you read me?' He repeated the message three times without getting an answer before he stopped bothering.
Pride took a deep breath and glanced at his watch. Time was running out. He had already instructed the American soldiers scattered about the facility to stand down and grant the British passage to the hangar. The men under his direct command weren't pleased with the order, most especially Wrath. However they complied, knowing that putting up with a minor nuisance was a lot better than being wiped off the face of the Earth.
Pride amended the orders he had given Wrath, and it was enough for him to tolerate his unexpected company.
'You cannot expect to trust the Brits.' Greed commented once Pride had stopped issuing orders and instructions. 'They'll use this cease fire to try and pull something.'
'I'm well aware of that Greed.' Pride replied. 'In fact, I am hoping they will.' He added with a devious smirk.