Illicit Operation

December 3, 2011
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The wrongs of the past, reborn even in the new world. It is unthinkable. Of course, I especially am aware of the insolence of the people who know not the privilege of New Britain State, but to resurrect an ancient line of crime? Despite Mr. Yancy’s best efforts at establishing utopia, the greed of humanity seems to have shown itself once more.

Allow me to introduce myself: Juliana Andertson, twenty-six years, resident of Cliffordshire Square block. I hate it there; it’s much too drab and compact. Free spirit that I am, open spaces and bright colors are more suited to my tastes. This is why I find my line of work particularly enjoyable. I am a Senior Scout Explorer with the WDA (World Data Agency). About once a month, I and a few carefully selected colleagues venture out of the sanctum of the State into the big, bad world. Rather, many civilians believe as such. It is actually quite beautiful out there, hardly dangerous at all. Charming fields, peaceful wildlife, mountains that pierce the sky… Sometimes, I like to entertain the notion of uprooting myself and going to live in the wild. I’ve been taught, however, that living in squander is for the Poor; those lost ones that have chosen to remain away from the NBS. It is my duty to learn about these people and the nature surrounding them, and to report all findings to the WDA.

We had travelled to Brass, in the southern region of Sotamersa. The WDA helicopter deposited us into the bowels of the Marywoode. As we made our way through the rainforest, the surroundings grew darker. The shadows of trees seemed to nibble further at the sunlight with each swing of my machete. By the time total darkness had developed in the rainforest, we had logged three new types of tree and a strange blue amphibian. Due to the abrupt contact of a tree trunk and a crewmember’s forehead, I made the executive decision to stop our trek and set up camp for the night. I had opened my pack to find an IcyPak for Andres (the injured man) when I saw the string. It was thin and silver, positioned perpendicularly to my shins. Was it perhaps a tripwire trap set by native hunters? Excited, I knelt to examine it, motioning for my crewmates to do the same. I saw no footprints nearby, but I pulled out my DirectLite and began to scour nonetheless. After a half-hour of dedicated silence, I gathered my mates around me. “Haven’t you found anything?” I asked, noticing the sharing of glum disappointed glances. Fidgeting and adjusting their company-supplied UpDraft windbreakers, none answered. Eyeing them sternly, I changed my demeanour to that of an old-time army general rallying his troops for battle. “All right, then. We are intellectual, inquisitive minds, are we not? Let us not be discouraged by a lack of apparent data! Let us follow the string!” Pleased with my speech, I spun and marched north beside the line. After a brief cacophony of groans, the group stirred and fell into step. We marched for hours in the darkness, never straying from the strange silver cord, stopping only once to help an excitable intern log a sighting of the same blue amphibian. My crewmates were nodding off, and I became worried for their morale, something the execs at the WDA have warned should be kept elevated constantly. I, however, would not be deterred from my curiosity. This is what makes me an excellent Senior Scout, but even I realize the negativity of a grumpy crew. In an attempt to bolster their spirits, I feigned sighting an oddness in a certain leaf. I hurriedly answered the moans with the assurance that the crew could finally pitch camp for the night; I would scout ahead a bit to check if there was really anything of consequence there. Sleep-deprived, the crew readily agreed and were soon clumsily opening their pods. Grumbling to myself about lazy, uncouth interns and rainforest insects, I trudged into the trees. I hadn’t travelled far when I heard a rustle from behind. Machete outstretched, I slowly turned to face the creature, sighing in relief when it was revealed as Andres. However, the large man seemed determined to get to me, which I sensed as a bad sign.
“Where are you going?”
“Why, I’m following the string, in case you hadn’t guessed.”
“I’ve not reason to believe your little story about the leaf.”
“Erm… You’ve got me. I am curious as to the destination of this thread.”
“Why did you lie to the crew?”
“They are exhausted! I needed to boost morale. You can understand that.” Andres was also selected as a chief candidate for Senior Scout.
He made an exasperated noise, a sort of harrumph, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I’ve a mind to come with you.”
“And why is that?”
“I want to see where the string leads.”
“Fine.” Who was I to argue with a fellow scientist? With a sigh, I turned to continue along. I promptly tripped, eliciting a snort from my companion. The silver string had ended, crudely tied off to a root. Grumbling, I noticed that I was sprawled upon a dusty, well-concealed path, about as wide as a Jeeper truck. Springing to my boots and ignoring his outstretched hand, I dashed past Andres, training my DirectLite on the trail. Though I am shameful to admit it, I nearly skipped. I had not yet made any sort of major discovery, and my career would receive a cheerful shove upward if I were to interview the natives of the Marywoode, which had obviously created the path. I raced along for a good fifteen minutes, heedless of the lower-hanging branches. The road took a sharp turn as it began to incline. Slowing down, I noticed a faint, yellow square of light ahead of me. Proceeding with great caution, I approached the light, which I made out to be a window in a shabby hut. As I drew nearer, more huts materialized from the darkness. Andres skidded around the bend, whacking a tree and dislodging a flock of squawking parrots. I scowled at him as he reached me. Together, we stealthily crept to the crumbling doorway of the wooden building. I frowned. Did the Poor not know of proper building technology? I glanced at Andres, unsure of what to do. He nodded uneasily and raised his arm to rap on the doorframe. His hand had not moved, however, when a girl appeared. I leapt back, startled, yelling and reaching for my machete. The girl simply narrowed her eyes at this display.
“Weapons are dangerous.”
Andres was squinting at the native, as if gauging the threat. I glared at him, willing him to be patient. “May we come in?” I pleaded, fearing the window-lights, which were rapidly increasing in number. The girl stepped aside and curtly gestured into the dark hut. I gazed around, wide-eyed, as she drew a plank over the opening. The hut had one room, a sleeping mat, a fire pit, and the one window. It seemed to have been built by hand. Its occupant, however, did not seem to have built it. She looked to be about seventeen. Forced to stoop by the low roof, I shuffled over to a spindly chair. Andres had sat as well. He attempted to make conversation with the girl, politely showing interest in her home and asking how she could stand living in a tiny space such as the hut. After a while of his badgering, the girl turned and replied curtly.
“I live here with three other women.”
Andres, having been briefly startled into silence, fumbled to recover in the darkness.
“Oh. Where are they, then?”
“They are working.” She looked away.
This elicited another grimace from Andres, so I decided to take the discussion away from the tactless man. I found that her name was Cesta, and quickly informed her of our occupation and doings. A hopeful light seemed to enter her dark eyes. She began to speak, slowly at first, but gained speed as she continued. Cesta told us first of her life as a young girl. She had been born in the wilds of Sotamersa and raised to love the rainforest, which had surrounded her like a mother’s caring arms. Her parents had died when she was fourteen, leaving her and a little brother to fend for themselves. She later learned that the flash flood that had destroyed her village had been caused by the construction of a dam by this very company. Not long afterwards, the children were abruptly kidnapped and blindfolded, taken in an old truck to a different section of the vast rainforest. They travelled for days, both Cesta and her brother frightened into silence. The rough men had deposited the two at an outpost of this camp, at which they were promptly separated and made to learn the way of things. Cesta was taken to this deteriorating hut, and began work immediately. The string we had followed marked the boundary of the encampment, also performing security duties. When I inquired as to the nature of these duties, I received only a shake of her black-draped head.
Frowning, I mulled over the situation. It seemed quite odd for a tribe to have resorted to kidnapping its members. The living conditions seemed inadequate; even the more bizarre of the tribes were not likely to cram several people into a small space such as this. I was startled out of my puzzling state by a sudden movement. Cesta had risen from the floor and had moved to look out of the window. She turned to me worriedly, “We must leave, quickly. They suspect, and there is something I must show you.” Andres dragged the barricade from the doorway, and we darted out into the night.
Cesta kept us at a good clip, testing our WDA-certified physical training. She weaved through the trees, occasionally taking a sharp turn. The sun rose, soon casting the usual shadows through the treetops. I began to grow tired of tripping over roots and wading through the brush. I suggested that we travel along the wide gravel path, which was to our immediate right. Cesta simply shook her head and continued to sprint. At last, the girl slowed, Andres and me panting as we caught up. Clambering over the last hill, I felt inclined to slide back down when I saw that which lay beyond.
It was pure wasteland. Countless rows of decimated treestumps riddled the barren land. I stared at it, unable to comprehend the implications. The trees had been chopped in a precise and complete manner, impossible by any natural disaster. There was no evidence, however, to show that the work was done by machine. The landscape seemed to tilt as I made out the forms of hundreds of men at the edge of the trees. They were more muscular than those of the NBS, and they toiled constantly without rest. Quite a few women darted between them, always stooped. I turned to Cesta, who was looking at the labourers without comment. I made to question her, but she silenced me with a hand movement: “Not here”.
Once more, the party set off at a brisk dash. We were headed in the direction of the village. I complained to myself about our apparently needless route through the rainforest. Without warning, our guide vanished. My feet frantically backpedalled and I spun, fearing isolation in the dense trees. I called for Andres to return, but he had disappeared into the growth. The little rustlings and chirps of the rainforest intensified in my ears. I grew irritated and began stamping about, shouting. Finally, I sat down on a rotten branch and cursed the infernal rainforest as a blue rodent scampered away. My fretting increased as a trickle of smoke wafted through the trees. Not long afterwards, Cesta’s head poked through the leaves of a nearby tree, causing me to fall from my perch. Unhurt and very much relieved, I greeted her warmly. The girl glared at me and pointedly plunked down beside me, explaining that she had remembered to go and set fire to her hut and those around it. At my incredulous gaze, she sighed and told me that the presence of Andres and I in the camp would surely be discovered shortly, and the destruction of the hut would help to slow identification techniques. I nodded, now understanding our wayward path through the wood. Cesta’s sharp features grew stony when I inquired as to the nature of all these things. As though talking inflicted her internally, she began to tell me of the men we had seen at work.
“Their task is to chop down the trees and haul them to a factory to be turned into different products.”
“Why would they do that?”
“The products from the trees’ bodies are sold at high prices in other countries. Much of it becomes hardwood, which is profitable in Japan.”
I did not know what Japan was, but remained quiet.
“It is the job of the women to assist the men and clean away the leftover debris. We also do small jobs and other things in the camp.”
“And what are you paid?”
“Paid? I have told you, we were kidnapped.”
“You mean to tell me that you’re… slaves?” This, combined with the merciless slaughter of the nature, was enough to propel me to my feet. I stormed around the clearing, muttering about the Tranquil Pact. The history databases had informed me that all people had agreed to stop this wasteful harming of the earth- hundreds of years ago! I wildly rolled up my sleeve and jabbed at the big red button on my wristwatch. To jail, with all of them!
A rustle. I smiled. Andres had returned; I called out to him. It was not Andres, however, but a large man with a gun that emerged from the fronds and tackled me. I tried to squirm away, but his beefy arms easily kept me pinned. I felt a rope being secured around my wrists. The man raised his rifle, but did not fire, instead bludgeoning my head with it.
I awoke in an odd, tiny room, stripped of my pack and equipment with a faint fogginess floating in my thoughts. The chamber was concrete on all sides, and the ground was covered in rank straw. I immediately flew to the plank, which served as a door, but it seemed to have been anchored somehow. Grumpily, I sat with my back against it. I realised that this was a cell, though very crude. I did not despair, however; my captors would surely be along for interrogation. My eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and I noticed another bloodied form huddled in the corner. Painfully, I crawled over to investigate. It was Cesta, though she had been beaten badly. She turned her puffy eyes to me.
“I thought you could save us. I am sorry.” The eyes closed, and she slumped down.
“Who are these people, Cesta?” I implored.
“They are in charge.”
I sighed, feeling defeat leaking into my body. If they knew of my occupation… They had already identified as an outsider. I suspected that they had little reason to avoid killing me now, save for my usefulness in informing them of Andres’ location. I chewed on my lip, deep in thought. It was my final moments on the earth, after all. My body relaxed, and I felt my eyes grow unfocused. I could even hear the whump of the heavens opening to receive me. I hoped that I could slip away before the men returned. A ringing crept into my brain, growing until it became a piercing shriek. I could faintly sense people dashing around and yelling. A bang came from the direction of the door. I groaned as a familiar pair of strong arms lifted me into the air, wishing the men would leave me in peace.
It is perfectly reasonable, my startled reaction to awaking in the hospital bay a WDA helicopter. I had thought my days were ending, and yet here I was, suddenly rescued and recovering from a severe head injury. According to the bored WDA attendant at my bedside, the emergency transmission from my wristwatch had gone through, and an aircraft had been sent immediately. My crew, however, were the heroes of the day. They had awoken angrily to find Andres and me missing, and had followed the string in search of us. They met up with Andres, who explained the situation. After interrogating an occupant of another hut, they had flown into a rampage, detaining thugs and protecting the slaves. They were eventually subdued, but their antics had allowed our party to remain undetected for as long as possible. By this time, I greatly rued having abandoned my crew, and decided to reward them somehow, but there were issues of larger gravity at hand.
“The trees,” I whispered. “Did you see-?”
“Yes, and we’ve rounded up most of the baddies responsible. They’ll be dealt with back in the NBS, as well as the firms they catered to.”
“And the workers?”
“A medic is overseeing them. Another helicopter will arrive there shortly. We have brought along your friend to aid in our investigation.” Nodding, I peered around the pudgy woman to see a heavily bandaged Cesta lying on the next cot, smiling weakly at me. I nestled back into the pillows and peered up at the attendant. “I would like to file a report to the WDA administration.” She handed me a computer. I quickly typed up an essay on Andres’ and my exploration and findings, commenting on the strange abundance of blue species in the forest and commending the work of the team. I also filed a request to receive proper training in the law once I had recovered. I shoved the computer back to the woman and promptly fell asleep.
I have now completed my education, and will soon embark on a tour of the NBS to raise awareness of deforestation and like activities. I will guard the beautiful nature of the planet against the gluttonous wrongdoers, who will pay dearly for their decision to renege on the Tranquil Pact. I will continue to explore and to educate the world about the importance of maintaining nature’s balance, as well as tolerance of the Poor. Mr Yancy’s dream of a better world will thrive. The story of what is now known as Op Marywoode will be spread, and I have vowed to devote every fibre of my being to the combat of such illicit operations.

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