Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 459
Mu Ssang’s gaze shifted over to the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Boats, seemingly as small as his palm, were floating in the distance.
Paul continued to explain. “It’s all because of them. 80% of the oil that travels through the pipeline and into the oil tankers belongs to the supermajor companies like Exxon-Mobile, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Total. Not many people on Earth truly understand the depths of financial muscle and the political clout these supermajors possess.”
“Are you saying the influence of those supermajors are greater than the global agricultural giants like Continental, Monsanto and Cargill?”
Mu Ssang was born in South Korea, a small corner in the far east of Asia. Afterwhich, he had to constantly wander around various battlefields. He did not have many opportunities or free time to widen his perspective in international affairs.
Paul’s jaws dropped at that nonsensical question. “Hey. It’s like comparing tigers to a bunch of kittens, you know. Even if you add up every single agricultural giant into one, they still won’t even reach the toes of Total, which is the smallest in that list of the global oil supermajors.
“All thanks to Total, France can have a say in the world of oil-producing countries even though it does not produce a single drop of oil. Did you hear about the rumor that when a new president is elected in France, the first place he heads to give his greetings is La Défense (a business district near Paris, France; location of Total’s headquarters)?
“If Total coughs, the whole of France gets the shivers. The influence and effect it has on the country is tremendous. The Bab al-Mandab Strait is like a leash for the West. You should remember that whether it’s a human or a country, they’ll suffocate to death if someone tightens the leash.”
“In other words, the reason for the legion’s presence isn’t the security of Djibouti, but to act as the security guards protecting Total’s oil reserves.”
“Well, you ain’t wrong about that. As long as the Arabian desert keeps producing oil, we gotta protect the area. But the compensation we get in return from the West, including the USA, is pretty damn sweet, isn’t it? Don’t forget that the Soviet Union has been egging on both Somalia and Yemen for a long while, hoping to take over the Gulf of Aden’s oil channel.
“Everything might look calm and peaceful on the surface, but let me tell you, this whole place is built on thin ice.”
“Everywhere humans live seems to be a battlefield, then.”
While saying that, Mu Ssang’s eyes turned dark, a deep black that was like the pit of the abyss.
He was activating the ‘Inner Eye’. His mind jumped across space and began directly perceiving the objects. All those ships, only as large as a person’s palm a second ago, now appeared right in front of his nose as if they had been zoomed in twelve times.
The distance made them look puny, but now that he could see them up close, the decks of those ships turned out to be even bigger than a soccer pitch. He could not see many facilities above the ship’s deck, though.
The Deck House (where sailors resided) stood tall by the stern, while the bow was a mess of tangled pipes reminiscent of dense vines found in Mansu Mountain. All twenty or so tankers floating in the ocean had similar appearances.
“Amazing. The water line to the deck alone seems to stretch over thirty meters. Those pirate ships are measly little barges or chug boats with small ferry engines attached, yes? So how do they manage to hijack oil tankers?”
The favorite weapons of the pirates were RPGs, AKs and machine guns. A wooden boat manned by five or six pirates would easily capsize if the oil tanker created some waves.
“It might seem like a joke to you, but armed pirates are on another level compared to civilians. Those bastards attach powerful motors to their ships, so they can easily reach 50 knots per hour, you see. They get close, fire a round of RPG to scare the bejesus out of the oil tanker crew, then three or four smaller vessels rush in. They throw up some hooks and climb aboard the ship. That’s how they get on.
“Watching those b*stards rush toward a dead-on-water oil tanker is like watching a pod of Orcas attacking a massive humpback whale.”
“Can a single RPG render such a huge oil tanker immobile?”
“An oil tanker is meant to transport oil, you know. It’s not a warship. To transport as much oil as possible, the ships need to be lightened as much as possible. A tanker’s hull is covered in 18mm steel plates, while metal for the bulkhead is what, 6mm thick? So, yeah, a single RPG can easily punch through the hull.
“If the ship’s draught gets hit multiple times, then its bulkhead structure will be rendered totally useless. Once its hull gets punctured, it’ll sink due to its weight alone.”
“I’m guessing the marine pollution would be serious, too.”
“A pirate is a pirate because they don’t stick to the rules, you know. If they were worried about polluting the oceans, they wouldn’t even resort to piracy in the first place. The thing is, these oil tankers are like the treasure trove for the Somalian pirates. Hijack one ship and you’ll be set for the next few years.
“Of course they would pounce on a tanker like a pack of crazed wolves.”
“I guess the shipowners must be losing their sh*t over it, then.”
“Indeed. A 300,000-ton tanker can transport around two million barrels. This year’s oil price based on OPEC’s pricing is $31 per barrel. In other words, a single tanker is an oil deposit worth $62 million, or in francs, 170 million. So, the shipowners have no choice but to pony up the ransom.”
“Watchdogs protecting pretty valuable cargo, eh.” Bellman, who was listening in, muttered sarcastically.
“Hmph. CIA’s dirty schemes also played a part in the genesis of Somalian pirates rampaging around, though. What do you think was the reason for the pro-Soviet Barre regime suddenly cancelling the cooperative treaty with the Soviets and becoming pro-US? And why did Aidid’s henchmen turn to the life of piracy? Heh, you got nothing to say, now do you?”
Bellman faltered for a moment at Paul’s counterattack. He used to be in the team responsible for threatening the Barre regime with battleships and sweetening the deal with bribes, after all.
He began detesting Paul teasing him like this, even though the latter already knew Bellman’s history.
“Hmph. Are you suggesting that we should’ve done nothing and watch Africa turn Commie red?”
“Oh, so you acted like thugs and scammers instead? Being a guard dog is a hundred times better than being a CIA-employed conman in my book.”
“The United States didn’t coerce anyone. It’s nothing more than Somalia waking up from a Socialist delusion and voluntarily choosing democracy.”
Bellman, desperate for a sound reply, ended up resorting to the ‘America’s Theory of Charitable Recommendation’.
“Voluntary, my ass. For a gangster-cum-conman using military might (hard power) to threaten while sneakily playing psychological warfare with money (soft power), you sure do have a way with words, don’t you.”
“Fine. I can’t defend myself against being called a conman, but it’s still better than a certain ignorant ex-DGSE butcher, no?”
“You are just a Yankee brainwashed by thuggish imperialism!”
“And you’re just a damn frog acting like the boss of all the village idiots!”
Bellman and Paul’s argument devolved into petty personal insults. Bellman was formerly part of the CIA, more specifically a person in charge of the Middle East operations. Meanwhile, Paul was a former member of the DGSE Operations Department’s strike force.
These two would often take issues with each other’s former workplaces and regularly start a shouting match. Truth be told, this was nothing more than male bravado at work and a noisy way to deepen their bond.
Mu Ssang retorted. “Hey, are you both little girls? Why are you running your mouths like that when you have healthy fists at your disposal? Be a man, and duke it out using your Savate and Krav Maga. If you don’t do that, then why not vent your frustration out on Samdi, instead?”
The current mercenary and the current arms dealer glanced over to Samdi, who was ‘playing’ around with Dino at the moment.
The scene of Samdi dragging Dino away by the latter’s tail was seared into the retinas of two bickering men.
Dino had its front claws, and even its fangs, stabbed into the sandy beach, desperately trying to stop itself from getting dragged away, but it was all useless. The four streaks of sand being overturned like a farm being tilled were the only things being left behind.
Paul and Bellman shifted their gazes back and silently stared at each other.
‘Like master, like servant!’
Both of their expressions clearly displayed how fed-up they were.
Have a go at someone as nonsensically strong as Samdi, was it? That was basically the same thing as telling them to die. The two men promptly shut their mouths.
Paul’s emergency radio began ringing. This radio, a backpack-style AN/PRC 77 used during the actual battles in 1968 by the US Army, was currently being used by NATO as a piece of standard-issue radio equipment for different companies to communicate.
Paul picked up the handset. “Hello? What?”
“It’s Signaller Daudet from the HQ calling, sir! An individual named Ombuti from the Aklan crew is looking for you, captain.”
“Roger that! Wait, why is that old man Ombuti even looking for me?”
“He was asking if you can contact Special Military Adviser, sir.”
“Roger. But we all have a satellite phone here, so what is he even talking about? In any case, got it.” Paul put the handset down and turned to look at Mu Ssang. “Oy, Black. It looks like Ombuti tried to contact me out of frustration. What did you do with your satellite phone? Did you eat it or something?”
“My satellite phone? I don’t have anyone calling me, though? So why did Ombuti…?” Mu Ssang tilted his head in confusion.
He had completely forgotten about the presence of satellite phones in the Samaria Farm as well as in Novatopia, which had been installed with the help of Minister Bonipas. Being forgetful was one of Mu Ssang’s traits, after all.
Mu Ssang pulled out the satellite phone buried deep inside his backpack. He hadn’t noticed it until now, but the device’s indicator was flickering like crazy. When he raised the handset near his head, Samdi swiftly spread open the antenna.
“Hisss- Wa-kill… ‘Tis… Me… Hiss…”
The reception was quite poor. Black Mamba was temporarily seized by confusion in his neuron network when he heard the predicate, ’tis’ instead of the expected ‘hello!’
The static caused by the diffused reflection in the ionosphere was making it even more chaotic and confusing, too.
“…Is it you, Woo-hyun?”
He then belatedly realized that no one among his acquaintances other than Sun Woo-hyun was capable of speaking in such a thick Hamgyong Province dialect.
It was the phenomenon of ‘cognitive dissonance’ one would experience when living abroad for a long time.
“Yep, ’tis me, Sun Woo-hyun. Hiss, crackle… Wakil, I ‘ave somethin’ to report to yah. Hiss, crackle…”
Mu Ssang could barely catch what was being said.
“Wat iss it?!” Mu Ssang replied in a thick dialect, too.
Until then, he had been sitting sprawled on a beach chair. However, while answering the call, he had shot up back to his feet.
The Samaria Farm had experienced the Voodoo uprising in the past. Currently, Doctor Michelle Mulsoli, a professor in the field of plant design and construction, was overseeing a large-scale construction of a spinning mill and a pallet manufacturing plant.
If Sun Woo-hyun had to resort to calling him on a satellite phone, then something serious must have happened on the farm.
“Hiss… ‘Tis oil, boss.”
“Did yah sa’ oil? Did oil tanks ca’ch fire?” Mu Ssang roared out in alarm.
The farm was currently housing five large oil tanks. Dried cotton trees were used as fuel for all the heating and cooking, but various machinery, transport equipment and generators still used oil as their fuel source.
“N-no, boss. Hiss… We got oil comin’ outta here, sir. Oil is pumpin’ outta the loading doc’ near th’ Pende River, boss. Hiss, crackle…”
Mu Ssang barely could understand the thick Hamgyong Province dialect, which was obscured even further by the annoying static.
He was getting even more confused. Of course, it’d be difficult for anyone to understand right away when they were suddenly told that they struck oil without any prior warning. After all, oil was not something like groundwater you’d get by digging up some random spot on the ground, was it?
Mu Ssang decided that talking to the… Uneducated Sun Woo-hyun like this would only leave him further in the darkness of confusion.
“Hand the phone over to Doctor Mulsoli, will yah.”
“Rog’r that, boss.”
The static continued to bug his sensitive ears, but Mu Ssang had no way to block off his sense of hearing.
South Korea was utterly bereft of natural energy resources. Never mind oil, natural gas or uranium. It didn’t even have coal. There were only small deposits of some non-industrial anthracite coal that could be turned into briquets. But that was about it.
As such, any Korean would feel just a bit hung-up in the topics of oil and natural gas. Obviously, even Mu Ssang felt his heart starting to race from the news.
“Wakil. It’s Mulsoli.”
“Hello. It’s been a while, Doctor Mulsoli. By the way, oil? What’s going on?” Mu Ssang ignored a lengthy formal greeting and went straight to the topic at hand. That was how urgent he felt at this moment.
“We — Hiss… Crackle… Hit — bzzz — Pay dirt, sir. Oil… Ssss… We got oil, bzzz…”
The communication was going out of control. It sounded like the professor was saying something about hitting pay dirt but all that static and breaking up of the sentences made it hard to figure it out.
Mu Ssang glared at the sun dipping ever so slightly to the west. There it was, that ball of flames that was the culprit for all these communication troubles.
He received a report earlier that morning from the 13th division HQ that a powerful sunspot explosion was causing all sorts of communication issues. After he heard that, Mu Ssang wondered what an explosion on the sun’s surface 150 million kilometers away could even do. But as it turned out, it sure did impact something.
The solar winds caused magnetic storms outside the planet’s atmosphere, and all those UV rays were bombing down like a thunderstorm. Communication radios and short-wave transmission devices with low output would suffer huge interference from all that magnetic storm up there. Obviously, even the communication satellites using the ionosphere would get badly affected by them, too.
“Dammit. I can’t hear a damn thing here. What am I supposed to do now?”
Mu Ssang began getting irritated. The main subject was oil, while the predicate sounded like ‘hit pay dirt’. In his mind, those two were not aligning properly.
“Black, let’s head to Lac Assal. It’s only about 42km from here. After passing through the Great Rift Valley, we’ll run into that lake.” Paul said that after sensing that something was up and began hurriedly tidying up.
“Professor? Let me call you back in one hour.”
Mu Ssang did not ask Paul for the reason and simply organized the satellite phone before climbing on the jeep. If Paul said they should go, he must have had a solid reason for saying so. Besides, the world’s saltiest lake, Lac Assal, was already a part of the vacation itinerary.
Two jeeps tirelessly ran across the crumbling black ground, accompanied by a massive animal running alongside it, easily matching the vehicles’ speed. The creature sported a tan-hued hide with black spots.
It was, of course, poor Dino. It tried to ride along in the jeep, but Samdi kicked the poor thing out of the vehicle.
Dino boasted a stride of nearly 20m, allowing it to keep pace with the jeeps traveling between 70~90km per hour with some leeway to spare. Becoming Black Mamba’s hench-animal turned a bona fide monster into a mere monstrous animal instead.
As Paul said, they needed less than one hour to spot a lake gleaming bright white in the distance. That was Lac Assal with a salinity of 35%. All those intermittent salt piles near the lakeside and the lake’s surface over the horizon were all gleaming white under the sunlight.
“How wonderful! Look at all the salt bubbles floating around!” Bellman got excited at the sight of the salty lake with bubbles floating on its surface.
The pitch-black lava-covered land and the pure-white salt-covered land had come together to create a rather strange sight. In all honesty, though, Lac Assal was probably all there was to see in Djibouti.
“Eh-whew. I hate this. I’m already sick and tired of this hot weather.” Samdi shook his head.
The beaches of Djibouti were at least cool thanks to the ocean breezes. But the vicinity of the salt lake was like a hellhole sizzling in stifling, choking heat.
They already had their fill of stiflingly hot weather back in Ituri’s great forest. But this place seemed even worse. Samdi could only shudder in disgust at the temperature cresting near 46℃ that reminded him of a salt steam bath.
There could not have been another lakeside on Earth as hot as Lac Assal.
“What the hell? Did we come all this way just to look at this nonsense?” Samdi began grumbling away.
Lac Assal was merely a useless lake formed in the middle of a useless wasteland. You could not drink or even swim inside that lake. Worse still, the sunlight reflected by the salt ‘fields’ seared your eyes and the salt granules carried by the harsh winds could even cause allergic reactions on your skin.
‘You’re just a bird brain who can’t even appreciate the effort put in by the great mother nature to bring this ensemble together!’ Bellman tutted in his head.
Paul spoke up. “Black, try to connect through the satellite again.”
“Got it.” Mu Ssang pressed a shortcut button. It automatically connected to the last number that got through. “Professor? Can you hear me now?”
“Yes, it’s a lot better than earlier.”
The improvement in the communication’s quality also happened on Mu Ssang’s end. He gave Paul a thumb-up, causing the latter to grin brightly.
For some unknown reason, the solar wind storms could not affect the communication around the vicinity of Lac Assal. Paul learned this during one of his field training sessions and he finally got a chance to actually put that knowledge to good use.
“I have good news and bad news. Which one would you like to hear first, sir?”
“Doesn’t matter, professor. Tell me both.”
“We had to stop the construction of the plants because oil began flowing out, sir.”
“Wait. So the oil definitely came out?” Mu Ssang asked one more time just to be sure.
“Yes, without a doubt, sir. The location is area R-28. It’s the same location that you said you couldn’t figure out the terrain, Wakil.”
“You’re talking about that crusty soiled area with not even a blade of weed, yes? Where several dozen circles ranging five to ten meters in diameter could be found?”
“That’s correct. We abandoned that area because we couldn’t cultivate cotton there. Instead, I was thinking of setting up a spinning and weaving plant there. But during the excavation, the oil began gushing out from the site.”
“We hit the jackpot, then!”
Mu Ssang cried out in shock..