Shrugging through the rose thorns, protected by a heavy leather apron, the blacksmith adjusted the thick gloves, proof against stray hammers and cinders but well-worn enough to allow the gentlest of movements. A stem was carefully pincered and brought in view of the entomologist’s face, who scanned it for aphids. Across Sarmiento Park, a teen herd’s boombox gave voice to an excited Córdoban DJ, announcing the latest from the latin bhangra scene. A traffic cop was nosing around their parked Alfa Romeo, assuming it was just another family sedan that forgot to feed the meter.
The parade stretched through the downtown area, its colorful participants a completely normal distribution of small-town denizens. The statistician knew otherwise. They stood waving from the platform of the float, their flysuits carefully integrated with the diorama to give the appearance of animated mechanical humans. All they needed to do was get within twenty feet of The Mayor, and the technology built into the platform would do the rest. The imagineer adjusted the EQ on the float’s sound system, giving the Estonian techno which poured from the speakers more high-end sparkle. The crowd reacted favorably, some of them breaking out into dance.
The baker took one last look at the cake, sitting on its gold-rimmed stand on the veranda, the carefully cultivated gardens surrounding the Palacio Rioja visible in the background. If it weren’t for the two backpack stealthcopters leaning against the railing, it would be Instagrammable, hashtag noneofyourbusiness. The architect finished the final touches, and gave a silent nod. In a smooth motion, the two of them had their packs on and had plummeted over the edge, carefully angling away to not disturb the icing.
A soft Texas breeze ruffled the grass along the banks of Belton Lake. Why not Lake Belton? wondered the hydrologist. Behind the trees, the aviator finished securing the paragliders. They had arrived with two, but would be leaving with three, which added a true twist to the logistics. Across the water, the sounds of Jamaican country music could clearly be heard coming from a raucous campsite. They were about 300 feet away, and had not been part of the plan. But if there were to be witnesses, then let them be the inebriated type.
The chauffeur peered at the rear-view mirror. The scattered reflection from the rain-slicked A7 revealed only headlights, no politely alarming Luxembourg police flashers. The Corniche bulleted down the roadway, the flutter of its diplomatic flags the only sign that it wasn’t standing dead still. Some miles away, in Ettelbruck, the authorities were coming to the conclusion that the altercation at Chez Fred had been a distraction. In the back seat, the jeweler closed the briefcase, satisfied with its contents.
The luthier adjusted the direction control of the four-legged arachnoform lumbering above the forest of Oro Bay. The spherical contraption had been difficult at first, but proved to be intuitive in guiding the transport’s spindly hissing legs across the varied terrain. Behind the padded seat, the cartographer consulted screens and printouts. The purple spruce should be visible soon. A single trunk would yield over a hundred cello bows, worth millions in the underground market. They were there to make sure it remained just another tree.
The catamarine knifed silently upstream, its passage discernible only as a faint twin wake on the surface of the river. Up ahead, the sonar array was already picking up the turbulence from the Mbocaruzú falls, the staccato warning pings slicing neatly between the Mozambique big-band swing being piped into the earpieces. In their individual pods, the cartographer and the miner reviewed their maps, surveys, and orders. Up ahead, behind the rushing down-flow of the water and completely out of sight, a set of steel doors silently opened and awaited the pair’s arrival.
Once above the canopy, it was impossible to see the green-winged hang-gliders that the archeologist and the mercenary had used to enter the Antananarivo bird sanctuary. Going through Customs had been dicey, the parts for the flying machines had been dispersed with various kinds of unassembled patio furniture, but the quality of the materials still stood out. Fortunately, the mercenary had brought up the Madagascar goth metal scene and distracted the functionaries into stamping passports and waving them through. They hadn’t even asked about the Geiger counter.
There wasn’t enough room on the narrow boat for the botanist to take out a handkerchief and wipe their brow. The square head vessel, slicing through the water on its way to the Phong Dien Floating Market, looked to be laden with mangos, but that was a ruse. The pyramids that piled the boat only a had a skin a single mango deep. Underneath were piles of something with about the same density as mangos, but much much more valuable. The captain twisted the knob on the cabin radio on hearing some narcopolka, the device’s limited capacity making the sound increase not in volume, only in distortion. The sun sparkled off the water, a thousand heat lasers evading the shade thrown by the wide straw hats they wore.