Hi everyone and apologies for the enormous delay. SC4 has not been kind to me of late; endless CTD issues have plagued me to no end. It was almost at the point of giving up as nothing seemed to work. I zoom in and CRASH! I load a bigger city and CRASH! I load a tile that's never crashed and CRASH! Needless to say, I've been discouraged. I have several chapters in reserve and no pictures to post with! Today I got lucky. I managed to get SC4 stable for a couple of hours and got what I needed. The shots aren't the best, so I appreciate your patience. Here we go...
Fox in the Hen House Part 1
Shandiz Restaurant seemed like the perfect spot for the meet. Not too busy and in the heart of the embassy district, the cuisine was good and the wait staff friendly. Carol hadn’t had to wait long before being joined by a lone, heavy-set local. She had marked him earlier when she came in, standing near the entrance fidgeting and clearly expectant.
“I am Abu Bakaar. You are from Stark,” he declared in a heavy accent. Carol simply nodded as he sat opposite her.
He waved impatiently at the waiter, who became suddenly apprehensive at his joining Carol. No longer as openly friendly, the server moved alongside the man, all the while casting furtive, almost pleading glances at Carol. He ordered Goat Karahi and with a grudging glare at Carol, Reshmi Kabab.
“May I have…” she began and was immediately cut off.
“You will eat what I’ve ordered, American.”
The flustered waiter begged off and rushed to the kitchen to place the order.
Carol calmly looked him in the eye, “I’m not American…”
“Liar! But it is of no consequence! You have the package? That’s all that matters.”
She reached down to the metal case at her side, “Yes, it’s right here and…”
“I am obligated to dine with you,” he interrupted, “but not to converse! You are nothing to me, cow.”
So that’s how it is, Carol thought. Fine. The meal came and they dined in silence; him occasionally scowling at her, while she studiously ignored him. What didn’t escape her notice was that the restaurant had cleared out fairly quickly, with only their terrified waiter remaining.
The meal went on far too long for her liking as Bakaar grabbed the lion’s share, permitting her only a few morsels. Resigning herself mainly to water, she sat with arms crossed as he finished off the meal, belching loudly. The waiter hurriedly cleared their dishes away and scurried to the kitchen with a final, pitying glance in her direction.
“And now, woman, you will give me the money and come with me. You are my prisoner,” he laughed.
“Actually? You’re seriously expecting me to just up and come with you? Where’s Stark? You’re getting nothing until you hand him over.”
He brought his hands above the table with a hateful look in his eye. He held a Beretta M9 pistol, levelled directly at her. Pretty smooth, Carol noted, as she hadn’t even noticed Bakaar draw on her.
“Stand up! Did you really expect us to hand Stark over to you? They will pay, and pay again and we will finally send him back, piece by piece. Perhaps they will be able to reassemble his parts in the factory,” he sneered. “In the meantime, foolish woman, not only will he craft many powerful weapons for us, but you will make a fine addition to our flock.”
Carol stood meekly as he roughly ran his hands over her, frisking for weapons of her own. He made sure to cross the line into groping as Carol envisioned putting him headfirst through the wall. Keeping her cool, she endured the indignity as he finally grabbed the metal briefcase and pushed her toward the door. She was shoved roughly into the back seat of a waiting car, next to a swarthy, bald man. Bakaar climbed into the front passenger seat and the car roared away.
Bakaar turned to her and gestured towards the bald man, “This is Raza. He is your master. You will speak only when spoken to and you will do as you are commanded.” Raza barely acknowledged her presence.
Carol tried her best to appear terrified and pretended to sniffle quietly, eliciting cruel laughter from Bakaar. Reaching for a box at his feet, he removed a device that looked like a portable defibrillator. He carefully balanced the case he’d confiscated on the dash and pushing the paddles on either end, applied an electric shock 3 times. Satisfied, he dropped the device back into its box and popped the latches on the case. As promised, Stark Industries had sent a lot of money.
Looking smugly over his shoulder, Bakaar grinned, “Your tracking devices are destroyed. There is no hope for you, American.”
Raza stared out the window, watching the streets of Kabul give way to the brown wilderness of the Afghan desert.
They had headed southwest, rather than north as Director Brand had predicted. Passing through Kandahar in the early dawn hours of the second day, they moved out of allied territory and skirted the Registan Desert. After changing vehicles three separate times and eventually switching to horseback, they arrived at their destination near the Pakistani frontier two days later. Carol’s hands had been tied the entire time and her wrists were thoroughly chafed. She had been further restrained at night and kept under guard but thankfully, no one had so much as laid a finger on her, much less spoken to her.
They rode through an area with camouflaged netting that served to cover crates of supplies, vehicles and weaponry, up to a cave at the base of a mountain. They dismounted and made their way deep into the cave complex, coming to a large metal door. A faint metallic banging could be heard within.
Raza waved away his men and when they were alone, he addressed Carol in a fine British accent, “You’re from Stark Industries and obviously are highly valuable, otherwise they would not have sent you. Are you a scientist or an accountant?”
Carol thought quickly, grateful for her military service, “I’m an engineer. I worked on the GPS upgrade for the GBU-32 JDAM ‘smart bomb’ before being promoted to VP of the Precision Ordnance division.” She was unsure of whether such a position existed but Raza was visibly satisfied.
“That’s good, very impressive,” he nodded, “I have a new project for you; just yesterday Mr. Stark agreed to build us a mighty weapon and you will aid him. He already has an assistant, but you are clearly an outstanding addition to his team. Once the weapon has been completed, we will release you.”
She knew they wouldn’t.
“And if I refuse?”
Raza shrugged, “You should probably not,” and called out. Immediately, two armed men ran back to his side and undid her bonds. He unlatched the door and the banging stopped instantly.
Raza strode in, followed by Carol and the guards. The area was clearly a workshop, with tools and parts of all description strewn about. Two men stood at the far end of the workshop, hands behind their heads and eyes cast down. Carol barely recognized Tony, who’d clearly been subjected to multiple beatings. More disconcerting were the wires leading from beneath the bandages around his chest, connected to a car battery on the workshop table.
“Mr. Stark,” Raza called out and, looking up, Tony saw her immediately. The dismay on his face was scarcely concealed as Raza continued, “I’ve brought you a gift. Now you and Yinsen, “he pointed to the other, bespectacled old man, “will help me smite my enemies with 1000 times more precision.”
To be continued...