Isle de la Juventud, Cuba
13:00 (18:00 GMT)
April 9th, 2012
General Hector Vasquez sat in the comfort of his air conditioned Range Rover and stared out to his right-hand man, Luca Perez, as he prepared his latest acquisition for a test. His eyes narrowed behind his Maui Jim sunglasses and his teeth bit down on his unlit cigar as he fished in his pocket for a lighter.
It was an unusually hot day. The heat index typically didn’t exceed one hundred degrees for another month. Normally, he would ride one of his prized stallions around his estate, but not today. He watched as Luca wiped the sweat off his brow for the third time in as many minutes. Is that from the heat or is he nervous about getting this weapon to work? He’d better get it to work.
Past Luca was a palm tree lined field. Luca stood adjacent to the canopy covered table, littered with computers and monitors, wiped his brow again then walked the short distance to the SUV. Vasquez lit his cigar and rolled down the window as Luca approached. Vasquez’s daughter, Adriana, had been pestering him to quit smoking. I wonder what she’d say to me now?
“General, we have the weapon configured and ready to test.”
About fucking time. The cigar was clinched between his teeth. He took a long draw, savored the tobacco’s essence and blew it out. The smoke lingered above his olive green beret, like a cloud and swirled as he opened the door.
“Follow me, sir,” Luca said.
At the table. Luca picked up a bottle of water and took a long drink.
The general sighed to show his impatience. “I’ve never seen a weapon like this. How does it work?”
Luca stepped to the side before he answered. The general now had a clear view of the screens.
“These weapons don’t use a traditional firing pin with a magazine or belt to feed the ammunition into the chamber. Instead, the barrels are the magazine. That black box contains twenty-four barrels, stacked in four rows of six barrels each.”
Luca handed the general one of the barrels. Vasquez took it and turned it end over end.
“Yes, sir. That one is loaded with seven grenades. If you’ll hand it to me, I’ll show you how it is applied to the weapon.”
Vasquez handed Luca the barrel. He took another draw from his cigar and exhaled the smoke in a quick and forceful manner. Luca took the queue and moved faster.
“Very quickly, sir, they’re inserted from the back.” Luca hurried into the roasting sun to one of the Metal Storm units a few meters from the table and opened a metal door in the back of the weapon.
“That thing just looks like a black metal box,” Vasquez said as he removed his cigar and spat on the ground.
Luca’s lips curled up.
“Something amuse you, Mr. Perez?”
“I thought the same thing, general.” He bent down and slid the barrel into the back until it clicked into place. The metal door clanked as he snapped it back into place.
The general wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “Get on with it. What’s next?”
Luca cleared his throat and hurried back into the shade. “The munitions, whether they are bullets or grenades, are stacked in the barrels. The projectiles fire using electrical pulses sent down the barrel. It’s flawless—with respect to firing. No jams. You can set it to fire at a rate of your choosing.”
“What is the maximum firing rate?”
“If it could be sustained—up to one million rounds per minute for bullets and two-hundred and fifty-thousand rounds per minute for grenades. Of course, it would be impossible to fire one million rounds. The unit would be so large; it would no longer be mobile or easily hidden.”
Vasquez rubbed his beard and stared out past Luca. I might have to raise the price on this. Or better yet, put it out to the highest bidder. “Tell me about the kill zones.”
Luca pointed to the center monitor. “This area on the screen represents the area in the southwest part of the field, out there.” He gestured to the field, about three hundred meters out.
The general stooped and read the monitor and then out to the field where Luca had pointed. “Continue.”
“If I press this button…” The general’s eyes motioned down to the keyboard. “…you will now see the kill zones that we’ve set up. If anybody or anything enters these zones without wearing one of these sensors…” Luca held up a small token, the size of a medium coin. The general reached out, took it and inspected it. “…the weapon is set to auto fire all the grenades at the rate that’s been set. Nothing would survive.”
The Colombian’s will definitely want these to protect their estates. I’ll make millions. “What about small animals? Wouldn’t they set-off the weapon?”
“No, Sir. It has to have a minimum body mass, which is adjustable in the system.”
Brakes squealed and an engine stopped as a Jeep pulled up. The two men turned in its direction. In the passenger seat sat Julio Ramirez. The general put the cigar back in his mouth. A wry smile crossed his face and he walked out into the sun toward the Jeep.
The man sat in the Jeep with his hands clasped on his lap. He held his head low. The general enjoyed the look on the man’s face. He’d been beaten, tortured, starved and locked up for the past two weeks. Won’t he be surprised when I tell him I’m letting him go?
He answered in a quiet tone, with a distinct shake in his voice.
“How long have you worked for me?”
“Six months, sir.”
“Have I been good to you—provided you with food, shelter, money to send back to your family?”
Vasquez took another step closer to Julio. He reached out and grabbed him on the back of his neck and squeezed. Julio’s shoulders drew tight and he closed his eyes. “Then why did you steal from me?”
Julio kept his silence and coward more. Vasquez tightened his grip, jammed the cigar into his mouth and clamped down. He slapped Julio in the face. “Answer me!”
The general enjoyed it when Julio put his hands up as if to ward off another blow.
“I—I don’t know. I mean—my family. We needed money. I’m so sorry.”
“You’re sorry? Is that all you have to say?” You’re a Goddamn traitor. You’ll see how I deal with traitors. Vasquez released his grip.
Julio inhaled a quick breath and held it. His eyes squinted. His body jerked and his hands went up again.
The general laughed. “Relax. I’m not going to hit you.” Yet.
He took the cigar out of his mouth and spat on the ground. Sweat ran down the side of Julio’s face as the general stared him down. God, it’s fucking hot. I need to get this over with.
“I have been beside myself trying to think what I should do. I know that many men fear me for my sometimes brutal ways, but those ways are necessary to keep men in line. You understand that, do you not, Julio?”
“Speak up!” The general slapped Julio once more.
“Yes, sir!” Julio rubbed his cheek. It was red and the general could almost make out the shape of his hand print on the condemned man’s face.
“It has also been said that I am too cruel and maybe—maybe I should be a bit kinder and more lenient. What do you think?”
Julio raised his head and gave the general a half-toothed grin. The general saw the small gleam of hope in the man’s eyes and smiled back.
“Very well then,” he said. “That’s just what I’ll do. I am forgiving you for your crimes against me. I’m letting you go.”
Julio’s eyes widened. He raised his chin toward the general as he smiled wider. “You are?”
“Yes. If you drive this Jeep to the far side of the field and go through those trees,” The general pointed to where he had mentioned. “I have someone waiting for you to take you home. But Julio, there is one thing I demand in return.”
“Yes, general, whatever you want.”
“Don’t ever come back or ask me for anything. Understand?”
Julio nodded in excitement. “Yes, general, thank you.”
Vasquez slapped the hood of the Jeep. “Go on!”
The driver of the Jeep stepped out and walked over to the canopy. Julio moved over to the driver’s seat. The engine roared to life. Julio placed his hand on the gearshift and paused.
He raised his head and said, “General?”
Vasquez stared into man’s eyes once more. “Yes?”
Vasquez held up his hand and waved him forward.
Julio released the clutch. The tires stirred the dust as they began to turn. Vasquez walked over to the laptop and examined the screen. One of the kill zones detected a hostile entity within its defined parameters and sounded an alarm. A fraction of a second later, a single blast startled and made the general jerk. Two hundred and forty grenades darkened the sky, like a swarm of bats. Vasquez’s eyes widened in anticipation.
A thirty foot fireball engulfed dirt, steel and body parts. Twisted metal, a blood drenched seat, glass and something that looked like half a leg came to rest in and around a forty foot crater in the field. Smoke emanated from the blackened pit and small parts of the Jeep and Julio burned.
The general’s eyes squinted as a broad smile spread across his face. His weathered hand found the top of Luca’s shoulder. “You were right. Nothing survived.”