CONGO TRAIL - CENTRAL AFRICA
A hot shockwave from the napalm blast swept over Eve and for a moment she assumed she was toast. The heat stung her face, the light blinded her eyes and the expanding air almost knocked her over. But the fury didn't last and Eve knew that the simple question of death in her mind proved she was alive. She pulled her keffiyeh over her nose to keep out the smoke and raised her rocket launcher.
She was standing on a small hill overlooking a vast jungle valley south of the Sangha River. Three Google backfire jet bombers had just scattered their deadly payloads for as far as the eyes could see. The jungle burned with the sick chemical stench of napalm for miles in front of them. Google was desperate to stop the rapid northeastern advance of Yahoo's Force H before it reached Nigeria. The napalm would burn for at least 12 hours halting any army in its tracks. This valley had the only roads armored units could navigate for a hundred miles, so it was an excellent target. And in the process Google had come damn close to frying Eve and her tiny expedition team. Now it was her chance for paypack.
She fired her air to air missile at the lead bomber. Next to her, Yuliya and Bullinda fired their missiles at the two bombers trailing it. They were all dressed in military camouflage fatigues with Yahoo African Corps insignia. Eve's missile struck dead on and blew the lead bomber's right wing clear off. Bullinda's missile also connected, ripping into the tail section of her bomber. Both began to fall like wounded birds. Yuliya's missile sailed past, either from an aiming misfire or some technical glitch. Yuliya's eyes fell in shame. Eve reassured her with a pat on the shoulder. "It's alright. Fetch another. There's still time."
Yuliya dashed to the back of their Jeep Hunter and grabbed another rocket launcher. She brought it to Eve. Eve shook her head, "No. You do it."
Yuliya swallowed but didn't hesitate. She raised the launcher and flicked off the trigger safety. The tracking system quickly picked up the last fleeing bomber. This was going to be an even harder shot to make, Eve knew. But Yuliya had been learning quickly and had proven herself to be natural born guerrilla fighter. Yuliya pulled the trigger and the missile shot out in pursuit. All three watched tensely as the fiery plume rushed away leaving a shrinking trail of smoke. For a moment it looked like the bomber might outrun it as they both disappeared from sight. But a faint white flash and then the distant crack of an explosion proved it was a hit. Eve raised her electronic binoculars in time to see the bomber spiral downward to its doom. She turned to Yuliya and smiled under her keffiyeh. "Good job."
Yuliya nodded, curtly accepting the praise and then turning her eyes to the distant jungle fires. Their personal relationship had abruptly changed after Eve's fight with Bullinda. Clearly, Yuliya had been hurt that Eve had agreed to make her a prize, even as a ploy to get Yahoo to fight and even though Eve had won. While Yuliya had insisted on joining the war against Google and fighting under Eve's command, any flirtation of romance between them was gone. Yuliya was obedient and professional but had lost her playful enthusiasm. Eve could have blamed it on the grueling pace of their military campaign, but it was more than that and she knew it. Frankly, Eve was relieved any issue of "love" was over and there was no spare time or energy for sex anyway. When the three of them had time to sleep, they did it in shifts, snuggled platonically against the night cold with whoever was not on watch.
"We'd better keep moving. If they were guessing we were headed here, they'll know now with the bombers missing.” Eve said as they loaded the spent launchers into the back of the Jeep. Bullinda jumped into the driver’s seat and Eve took the shotgun. Yuliya leaped into the back and they drove off.
So far, Yahoo's African campaign had been even more successful than Eve could have hoped. Google's forces in the south had been spread out and ill-equipped for years. Meanwhile, life in the jungle had apparently revitalized Yahoo's fighting spirit. They met little resistance when they attacked Capetown and then took Port Elizabeth. When what was left of Google's southern armies attempted to regroup in Mozambique they were cut off and slaughtered. Google's northern forces made no attempt to save them. In just days, Yahoo took effective control of everything on the continent below the equator. Then YAC infantry and armored units, under CEO Marissa Mayer's direct command, drove up through Kenya into Ethiopia to capture Djibouti. With it as a staging base, they could control the Gulf of Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea.
That was when Eve's three woman commando team had split off from the main forces and dashed west through Central Africa, wreaking havoc. They destroyed rail lines and fuel depots, ammo supply yards and communications stations. Along the way, they set fake broadcasting pods, sound systems and holographic projectors. From satellite pictures and communication intercepts it would appear to Google that several armored divisions were moving northeast. And after the slaughter in Mozambique, Google's remaining forces in Central Africa were quick to flee in fear of the approaching "Force H."
On some level, Google had to suspect the mythical Force H was a diversion. Even real armies use holographic projections and other tricks to confuse the enemy, often to make their forces seem smaller. But whatever it was moved too fast and left too little trace to have been a full force of tens of thousands with heavy armor and artillery that the holographs portrayed. Yet Google still had substantial military assets in Algeria, Libya and Egypt they needed to protect. So they had to be sweating as some sort of military force thrust through the Congo toward Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. Their defenses in Dakar were so weak that it might fall to a determined light infantry unit. If captured by land it would allow Yahoo's naval assets to resupply from Capetown in the South. With Amazon already in control of Tangier and Gibraltar, the lost of Dakar would mean Google Africa was completely cut off from the Atlantic. They couldn't take the chance and had to split their remaining North African forces while bombing anything that appeared to move. Eve couldn't help but be amused at the thought. While Google might have believed that Force H was merely a thousand or even a hundred mechanized soldiers, they would never dream it was simply three women in a Jeep with some small arms and explosives. Meanwhile, Marissa and YAC’s main armored divisions were preparing to make a desert run toward Cairo and seize the Suez. That would be the end of Google in Africa. Everything else would be cleanup.
NIGHT CAMP - CENTRAL AFRICA
Darkness fell and it became difficult to navigate through the overgrown jungle trails. Eve ordered Bullinda to pull over so they could camp until morning light. They had traversed another three hundred miles since they had shot down the bombers.
"You want us to set up the tent?" Bullinda asked.
Eve shrugged. "I don't need it." That, of course, meant no tent as the others wouldn't dare ask for the luxury of stretching out their legs to sleep if Eve didn't request it. Bullinda spread a camouflage net over the top of the Jeep. With her machete, she cut tree branches and arranged them in the netting to add to the concealment. Yuliya unfolded an army entrenching shovel and began to dig a water hole in the moist jungle dirt. As she dug, she listened to some tech podcasts on her iCom. Eve had encouraged her to keep up to date on the latest industry developments. Eve pulled out her iPad and checked over the programing of the electronics they had planted for their fictional "Force H." She adjusted them to make it appear the units had been slowed and forced to go around the napalm carpet. She checked her email. There was a note from Lorena saying that Pascal and Alice were fine. Another note from her mother who was having trouble with her laptop. And a short message from Oliver saying he was doing well and had officially become Virgin's military attaché to Yahoo.
From the shallow water hole Yuliya used a tin cup to scoop up smelly brown water and pour it into a portable water purifier. She had already refilled their canteens and was distilling more water to fill a bucket. Bullinda had finished checking over the Jeep and when the bucket was filled she and Yuliya stripped off their clothes and used sponges and a little soap to wash dirt and sweat from their bodies. Eve noticed that they didn't ask her for permission, probably fearing she might have nixed even this simple comfort. But Eve knew at least a quick wipe down at this point was almost a necessity. Even in the open Jeep, they were all beginning to smell from the relentless journey. Keeping reasonably clean was critical to maintaining health and fitness in the wild.
Bullinda's naked skin was covered with darkening bruises and as Eve took off her clothes she revealed a matching set. Bullinda eyed Eve's bruises up and down, more bemused than lecherous. Their fight had taken quite a toll on both their bodies. It was amazing neither had been killed or permanently damaged, let alone that they had recovered quickly enough to jump into the war. Eve did have a couple loose teeth and feared they would eventually have to be pulled. Bullinda's left eye was still bloodshot from a concussion and her collar bone had been broken, not that it seemed to bother her much. As Bullinda stepped over and gently washed Eve's back, Eve couldn't help but remember the brutality of their hand to hand duel.
FLASHBACK - BONFIRE - YAHOO SECRET HEADQUARTERS
When Bullinda had stepped into the fighting ring, Eve spotted a heavy baseball sized rock nearby. She figured she could snatch it up and hurl it between Bullinda's eyes before the match began and incapacitate if not out and out kill her. "So we're talking standard NCWWA rules? With a two second shoulder pin?" Eve said casually, trying to stall for a second as she neared the rock. But Bullinda had caught Eve's glance and before she could reach down and nab the rock, Bullinda charged out of the ring at Eve like a rhino. "No rules, you dirty Apple cheat!" She smashed into Eve like a linebacker and threw her to the ground hard, knocking the breath out of her.
Before Eve could recover, Bullinda grabbed her up and hurled her into the ring. Eve hit the dirt and managed to roll up to her feet, only to have Bullinda leap in and clobber her in the face with a hambone sized fist. Eve staggered back, her brain almost completely fried with pain. On instinct alone, as Bullinda tried to punch her again she managed to duck and leap inside Bullinda's swing. She fired back with her own punch to Bullinda's guts. She punched again and again, but with negligible effect on the giantess. Bullinda's tree trunk arms encircled Eve and pulled her into a crushing embrace. All of the air in Eve's lungs was instantly squeezed out as their breasts smashed together. There was little doubt Bullinda could have broken Eve's spine and all of her ribs, but mercifully held back, content to suffocate her into unconsciousness. Eve's feet dangled helplessly over the ground as Bullinda raised her up in the vice like hug.
The crowd of fellow Yahoo employees circled the ring and cheered Bullinda on. They had seen this wrestling lock before and knew how it always ended. "Bullinda! Bullinda! Bullinda!"
On the verge of losing consciousness, Eve attacked the only way she could, biting Bullinda in the neck.
Bullinda howled in pain like an angry bear. She loosened her grip just enough for Eve to knee her in the crotch and break free. Eve landed on her feet, sucked in some lovely oxygen, and threw a fierce kick into Bullinda's ribs and then a spinning kick to her chin.
Eve realized she would have to change tactics; there was no hope of a quick victory from a single decisive blow. If she had any chance to win, and she assumed she didn't, she would have try to wear the monster down. While Bullinda was almost a foot taller, her legs and arms were relatively short, her size coming from a long stocky midsection. Eve's legs were long for her height. She discovered that she could spinout kicks to Bullinda's face and ribs, just out of reach of Bullinda's own arms and legs.
Eve pounded on Bullinda again and again with long kicks as if hammering at a reluctant nail into hard wood. At first it seemed to have no effect. Eve knew if she had been wearing boots or sturdy shoes she would have had a better chance. But barefoot it was likely her hits weren't powerful enough to register against the seven foot pile of muscle. Bullinda's strong hands shot out each time hoping to catch one of Eve's feet and put an end to the annoying abuse.
But when that didn't work, Bullinda tried rushing at Eve, hoping to tackle her. As gracefully as a dancer, Eve dodged out of Bullinda's path, but not before sending a powerful side thrust kick into Bullinda's right ear. That kick had to have hurt, and Eve thought, because more than half its force came from Bullinda's own charge.
Bullinda staggered for a second, blood was running down from the flesh wound Eve had bit into her neck. Eve desperately needed a moment to rest herself, but she couldn't take it. She continued to kick at Bullinda's head. Now rather than trying to grab at Eve, Bullinda was trying to block the kicks away from her face. Clearly Eve's blows were having an effect. Eve alternated between kicking at Bullinda's face and kicking down at her kneecaps, hoping to break one. Bullinda, sensing she was starting to lose, howled and charged again at Eve.
Eve repeated her dodge and sidekick, using the force of Bullinda's own charge to strike her head on the right ear again. The ball of Eve's foot felt something crack underneath. Ear bone, skull bone, jaw bone? Bullinda swayed, punch drunk. Eve now saw a clear path to victory. One that had always been there. In her desperation to win quickly, she had forgotten the Aikido teachings of Steve Jobs. When confronting a stronger opponent, use their own power against them. It was how Jobs had defeated Microsoft back in the days when their PC Windows operating system had seemed invincible. Rather than attack their OS head on, he stepped aside with the iPad, creating a new market that doomed the old one. All of Microsoft’s power could not be turned in time to react and ended up propelling their fall. Likewise, any blow Bullinda was capable of delivering could be dodged and used against her.
The Yahoo crowd fell silent as their hero showed signs of being defeated. Yuliya and Oliver were able to push through to get a better view.
Eve stepped in firmly and switched to her fists, with a left swinging punch to Bullinda's stomach and then a right jab to her chin. As Eve anticipated, Bullinda tried to punch back, but in her dazed state, Eve easily caught her arm and used her own weight against her. She flipped her over her back in a classic judo throw and Bullinda hit the dust hard.
Eve's own body was now numb. She felt no pain and her mind seemed pleasantly clear, almost euphoric. Which was a good and bad thing. She was probably in hypoxia shock, her body tissue so deprived of oxygen from the relentless fight it failed to send pain signals anymore. If she didn't rest soon she might have a heart attack. But the minute she did rest, pain could rush on so quickly she might instantly pass out.
Bullinda slowly rose to her feet, blood was now leaking from her right ear and eye, in addition to the neck wound. Eve's legs didn't seem willing to rise up into kicks, so she stepped right in and punched Bullinda in the face. Bullinda tried to punch back but Eve ducked it and struck her again and again.
The bloodthirsty crowd's mood had shifted. They began to chant, "Apple! Apple! Apple!"
Bullinda's guard dropped and her arms dangled to her side. Eve hit her in the face again, and this time blood shot from her nose. Eve paused, but Bullinda refused to fall. Her eyes were still defiant. "Come on." Bullinda said in a slurred voice. "Is that all you've got?" Eve knew she was about to keel over herself. She was terrified Bullinda might get a second win and attack. She raised her fist to punch Bullinda.
"No! Enough! Enough!" Yuliya rushed in and leapt between them, grabbing Eve's arm. She pushed Eve away and then realized Eve was so weak she was barely able to stand herself. Eve whispered in her ear, "Don't let me fall." Yuliya grabbed Eve into a tight hug, pretending to hold her off, but actually holding her up.
Marissa Mayer rose from her throne and walked to the ring. The crowd parted in her path. Yuliya shouted to her. "You are the leader! Call the fight off! What point is there in them killing each other!? Google is the real enemy! Can't you see that! Call it a draw!”
"NO!" Bullinda shouted out as she took a step forward and addressed Marissa. Her voice shook the jungle. Her eyes blazed and she spoke firmly. "I have lost the fight. Bullinda has been defeated…” The last ounce of her energy spent, Bullinda’s eyes rolled back and she collapsed like a falling redwood.
Eve managed to stand long enough for Marissa to confirm the win with a nod. Marissa turned to the crowd and shouted. "The decision has been made! Fairly fought and won for! Yahoo will join all in with Apple to destroy Google or perish in the attempt!"
The crowd chanted, "Yahoo! Apple! Yahoo! Apple!"
Eve allowed Yuliya and Oliver to help her limp back to the mats where she laid down. The minute she closed her eyes she fell asleep for ten hours. When she woke up, the Google/Yahoo Africa war was beginning. True to her word, Mayer rapidly mobilized her forces. Hidden across the jungles and savannas were all the necessities of a modern army: armor, weapons, supplies, transportation. Yahoo's naval forces, older ships of the line but still to be feared, were pulled out of mothballs. Meyer's plan had been to bring these assets into play decades after the world’s civilization had been destroyed by Google. Now they would gear up to stop it first.
When Eve awoke, she found a recovering Bullinda offering her coffee with a smile. The white of her left eye was bloody red, the unbandaged bite wound on her neck was swollen, but she was oddly upbeat and excited about the coming war. While Eve and her never spoke specifically about it, since that moment Bullinda became Eve's devoted first lieutenant, girl Friday and bodyguard.
NIGHT CAMP - CENTRAL AFRICA
Bullinda rinsed the soap from Eve's back and as Eve turned around she gazed at the still healing bite wound on Bullinda's neck. Bullinda chuckled and said, "Love bite." Eve returned a smile then noticed that Yuliya seemed bothered by something. Jealous? Eve wondered. It was the first trace of it since the three had set out together as "Force H." No, there was something else.
"What is it?" Eve asked Yuliya.
"Nothing," Yuliya answered unconvincingly. Bullinda's mouth tightened, as if she knew what Yuliya was holding back.
Eve addressed them both commandingly, annoyed with the whiff of schoolgirl secrets. "What is it?"
Yuliya stuttered. "MacBreak Weekly…"
"What about it?"
"It's nothing… just that…" Yuliya had trouble finishing.
"It's just Leo Laporte. Nothing important." Bullinda offered.
Eve was now angry. "What about him? Tell me now!"
"He… made the G-Blade his pick of the week."
"You mean, on This Week in Google or TWIT?”
"No.” Bullinda’s deep voice softened. “He did it on MacBreak Weekly."
Eve couldn't believe it. More likely, she didn't want to. She downloaded the podcast to her iCom. She had to hear it herself. Not that she had any illusions about Laporte's long history of treachery to Apple. But he had personally promised her on the Aurora that he would be unwavering in his support from then on. Now, with Africa almost won, the last thing Apple needed was to have Laporte stab it in the back on the blogsphere. What a fool she had been to trust him.
She played the podcast and skipped through the typical wild guessing about what Jobs would reveal in the upcoming Keynote. Upgrades to the iCom were an obvious guess, the Apple iCar was, as usual, unlikely. The "Pick of the Week" was always near the end of the broadcast. When she found it, Laporte's chipper radio announcer voice began: "So, my pick of the week might be a little controversial for this show, but I have to give credit where credit is due. It is the biggest commercial product launch in history…"
"Oh, Leo, I don't like the sound of this." Andy Ihnatko, the legendary tech journalist, said concerned. Eve had a soft spot for the dependable Ihnatko.
"I'm sorry, but I have to call them as I seem them.” Laporte continued. “The Google G-Blade is my pick of the week. There's just nothing else close. Even Apple fans should really check it out. It's an incredible product that…"
Andy cut him off, "That is specifically designed by Google to create anarchy and drive the world into darkness."
"I know that. I get that. But it's still pretty cool." Laporte answered. "Look, I've been saying for some time that I take Google seriously when they say that they have turned to evil. The overall cruelty of the Android ecosystem can’t be ignored anymore. Everything, from their products, to their software, to their shock troops and weapons of mass destruction is designed to create suffering and hopelessness in humanity. But, nevertheless, the G-Blade is really fun. Have you played with one, Andy?"
"No, Leo. I don't want to finance Google's stated goal of sending the Earth into a thousand years of darkness."
"You could borrow one. Didn't they send you a review copy?"
"They did, but I did not open it. The other problem Leo is that you have no way of knowing exactly what is programmed to do. In addition to being a powerful laser weapon, the teardown's indicate it is a full fledged Android communications device. They can track your location, listen to your conversations, and for all we know they could remotely turn it into a bomb. Remember the Nexus Q?"
"They have to have the tracking features for some of the game options and communication hardware so it can download updates. I don't know if we have to assume there is some other sinister purpose."
"Leo, what part of Google is evil don't you get?"
"Just because they're evil doesn't mean they can't make a great product once in a while. It's not just for cutting things in half. You can actually adjust the laser to stun and have fights with your friends. Kids love it."
"Kids love chainsaws. But we shouldn't hand them over and say go play with them. There have already been thousands of accidents, kids cutting their parents, teachers and siblings in half…"
"Well, kids need to be supervised. That I agree with. But there are a lot of toys that can be dangerous if used improperly. There are also new apps for the iCom that include parental controls. Of course, you have to jailbreak your iCom to install the virtual Android engine…"
Eve stopped the podcast. She couldn't take it anymore. Regardless of how the war was going, the success of the G-Blade had the potential to make it all for nothing. It was Google's Trojan horse to destroy Apple's markets. Even in those territories where Apple iOS adoption was over 90%, if everyone started buying G-Blades and jailbreaking their iComs to use them, Google’s technological tentacles could worm their way into every household. The message from Google was clear. We're evil, join us, it's fun. Eve began to think Mayer was right. Apple's Keynote would be the final victory for Larry Page. There was no way Jobs could introduce a product to top this. And when he failed, Page would finally have everything he wanted. Why not drop the nukes and seal his win?
A call came in on the iCom. Eve answered it, Marissa's voice came in clear and upbeat. "We did it. We captured Cairo. How soon can you get here?"
To be continued…
Next episode: Revolt in the Desert