Very, Very Carefully
Title: Very, Very Carefully
Rating: R for subject matter
Disclaimer: John Porter and Strike Back belong to Chris Ryan and Left Bank Pictures, I am only borrowing for entertainment purposes with no intent to profit.
Summary: After John Porter is raped while rescuing a female hostage, he and the woman get together to help each other recover.
Another day, another mission, John Porter thought as he arrived at Section 20. He rarely saw the inside of the military intelligence building these days, usually only in a briefing before they sent him abroad to some place that was usually both exotic and dangerous. Although he personally thought that his new official title, special operative with Special Forces, sounded faintly ridiculous, he also knew it really didn't matter what he was called. The important thing was that he got the right results, no matter what his objective, and that was not in doubt, at least, not in his own mind. Now, John wondered if he were going somewhere dry on this particular mission. He was getting fed up with the English weather lately.
John turned and smiled to see Lieutenant Layla Thompson fall into step beside him. "Layla."
"Have you finished moving into your new flat?" she asked.
"Pretty much," he replied. After years of living on a tiny income in a cramped bedsit, he had so few possessions that the entire move had actually consisted of one single taxi ride. His new place was closer to the university that his daughter now attended, but unlike the bedsit, it hadn't been furnished. He'd been about to go shopping for some furniture when he'd been called in.
"Good," she replied. They reached the conference room, and John held the door open for her. He was just about to follow her in when he saw another officer coming towards them, and he stepped back to keep the door open.
"Major Pemberton," he said formally.
"Sergeant Porter," Major Chris Pemberton replied, equally formally. He waited until John had closed the door and they had all sat down before getting down to business. "How do you fancy another trip to Africa?"
"Zimbabwe?" he asked, almost hopefully. Zimbabwe had been warm and dry the last time he'd been there.
"Nigeria," answered Layla. "Port Harcourt."
"The oil industry?" John guessed, and because he was right, Layla gave him a little smile as she turned to the equipment in the briefing room.
"Alexandra Kehoe" she said, putting a picture of a happily smiling white woman up on the big screen. "Thirty two years old, nurse, employed in the medical division of Kenwright Oil Company in Nigeria for just over three years. She was taken hostage four days ago by a militant group."
"Doesn't this happen all the time to the oil companies?" John asked. "They take people hostage, get the ransom, and give them back unharmed?"
"That's how it usually works," Layla agreed. "This time is different. This group calls itself ARGON – Anti-Rape Group of Nigeria. Their professed goal is to seriously protest the rape of Nigeria's environment by the oil companies such as Kenwright, and this –" she paused dramatically – "is how they're doing it."
She called up a video and pressed play. Alexandra was visible from the chest up, looking frightened but otherwise unhurt. After a moment, she began to speak, obviously reading something aloud. "Kenwright Oil is raping the environment of Nigeria and taking the profits away from this country. This must change. If you give them half of your total profit each day, they will work towards making this country rich and prosperous for its people, and I will be safe. If not, then they will hurt and rape me in the same way that you are doing to Nigeria, and each day that you delay will make it worse."
"That was the first day," Layla said. "George Kenwright sent a negotiator to meet with them." She put another picture up on the screen, of a middle-aged man. "Daniel Packer. He offered the going rate, which apparently is nowhere near half of the total daily profit of any oil company, let alone Kenwright. The ARGON go-between said they'd think about it, and went away again. Within hours, however, Daniel Packer had been taken hostage, too. This is the second video."
This time, the video showed, from the side, a large wooden frame in the vague shape of an A that John recognised immediately; a whipping frame. He'd been tied to one before, when he'd infiltrated a prison in Zimbabwe, and only a case of expert timing had kept him from being tortured while on it. Alexandra, wearing only a man's shirt, was brought in by two men wearing masks. She tried valiantly to wrestle her way free, to kick out, even to bite, and put up a desperate fight, but the men were stronger. They pushed her roughly against the frame and snapped the manacles around her wrists, then her ankles. Then one of the men produced a short whip and lashed her once across the back with it. She screamed and bucked, trying to pull herself free, but it was already over. The men undid the manacles on her wrists, but not her ankles, and pulled her down onto her back on the floor. One man held her arms, and the other knelt down between her legs, slowly and tantalizingly unbuttoned her shirt, then raped her.
There was a cut, and then two men brought in a struggling and screaming Daniel Packer, stark naked, with his hands cuffed behind his back. They forced him violently against the frame, hitting him whenever he resisted, then snapping the manacles around his ankles first and only then releasing the handcuffs. After they'd secured his wrists, they whipped him ten times, hard enough to draw blood. Then the video ended.
"Daniel Packer was dumped outside a hospital in Port Harcourt," Pemberton explained. "ARGON said that the same thing would happen again if Kenwright was not willing to give them what they wanted. Kenwright offered to try again, this time with double the amount. They thought they could keep the negotiator safe by providing extra security measures, especially after ARGON refused to meet him in the first place."
"The security measures worked – for the negotiator," Layla added. "But later that same night, one of Kenwright's engineers was kidnapped. They whipped him, too – twenty times, not just ten – and dumped him at another hospital."
"And in the meantime, they're continuing to send videos of Alexandra Kehoe," Pemberton said. "Her treatment gets worse each day."
"They rape her once each time, but they whip her according to the number of days they've been holding her," Layla said. "Once for the first day, twice for the second day, and so on. If she dies, ARGON have announced that they will start over with someone else."
"So I go in as a new hostage negotiator?" John guessed. "Let myself get caught and rescue Alexandra?"
Pemberton nodded. "With any luck, our latest tracking device will help lead us directly to where they're keeping Alexandra before you get thirty lashes."
"They'll be scanning for trackers," John said, remembering the Katie Dartmouth rescue, and how his captors had found such a device in his tooth. They'd extracted it on the spot with a pair of pliers.
"Oh, I don't think they'll be able to find this one," Pemberton said. "Lieutenant, take the sergeant down to Q, will you?"
"Q?" Layla asked, and then she got the joke. "Oh, right. Q. Come with me, Sergeant."
In the lift, Layla dropped her professional manner again, and said, "John, I heard about you and Danni. I'm sorry."
John shrugged at the reference to a former member of Section 20 that he'd dated for a short time. "Break-up is probably a bit of an exaggeration, Layla. We both knew it was never going to be a long-term thing. And don't worry, it won't affect my job performance.."
"So you won't be going out there broken-hearted, waiting for a bullet to put you out of your misery?" Layla asked, and John merely grinned.
Q probably had a real name, but he didn't bother to give it to them. Instead, he simply said, "Let me demonstrate first, and then I'll explain. If you'll just lean your head down a little?"
John leaned forward a bit, expecting to be shown something, but to his surprise, Q sprayed something over his head, then flicked a light switch. "Look."
Layla bit down a smile, and John asked, "What?"
"There's a mirror behind you," Q said. John turned around and saw that most of his hair and the top of one ear were now shimmering an iridescent purple.
"The latest generation of nanoparticles," Q said. "These are based on quantum dots, except that they're a little larger. But the basic premise is the same; they're made of a semiconductor material and can be tuned to emit any colour of light that we want. In this case, ultra-violet. A satellite scanning in ultra-violet light can pick them up and let us know within five minutes where you are."
"As long as I'm outside," John realized.
"Yes, well, on the other hand, they can't be picked up by conventional tracker scanners," Q pointed out. "And if you rub your hand through your hair, you can transfer them to any other surface you like."
John pushed his hand through one side of his hair, then patted Layla on the shoulder. She made a noise of protest at the ultra-violet fingerprints on her blouse.
"Cars, for instance," Q suggested. "But other people, too, of course. Don't worry, Lieutenant, unless you should happen to walk under ultra-violet light, nobody will be able to see them. And they do wash out. They don't exactly dissolve, though, so they'll make the water show up as ultra-violet, too, until the charge dies. For this round, it'll be about twelve to fourteen hours."
"Just what I always wanted," John said. "Glow-in-the-dark dandruff."
Somehow, John wasn't surprised to discover that Layla was coming to Port Harcourt with him, but he was surprised that she'd chosen to go undercover as his wife. A secretary of Kenwright Oil met them at the airport, greeted them as Andy and Rachel Walbreck, and drove them to the Hotel Presidential where they'd be staying.
"One bed, no couch, the only thing for us to fight over is who gets the shower first," John teased.
"There's nothing to fight about, Sergeant," Layla said, emphasizing his rank. She grabbed her sponge bag and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving John staring after her and grinning. When they'd both had the chance to wash off the journey and John had dressed in a light, casual suit jacket over a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, he picked up the bottle of quantum dots that Q had given them, and sprayed it over his hair.
"You missed a spot," Layla said.
"You should have told me that you had ultra-violet vision before we got married," John teased her.
Layla shot him an impatient look, but took the pump bottle from John and directed it to the back of his head and neck.
"All right," she finally said. "You're good to go."