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Jamal's ear flicked to the side, signaling both idleness and boredom in one succint gesture. It was night out, and that meant it was cooler than the daytime, but it was still a searing twenty-five degrees Celsius, and small crescents of sweat were forming under his armpits. His cap came off in his paw, and he pushed his other paw through his short, bristly hair.

"Got a light?" he heard his partner ask from nearby. He was looking at the stars, not at Jamal. Jamal answered by tossing the lighter to him, and the other man turned and caught it deftly. "Thanks, man," he imprecated, before applying the tongue of flame to the paper-covered stick of tobacco in his mouth. The soft glow from the cigarette stuck out in the darkness like a tiny, dying star—they were far enough away from the lights of the camp behind them. He saw wisps of smoke drift lazily up, then vanish into nothing above.

"Sure," Jamal heard himself say, while his eyes wandered elsewhere, drawn away from the conversation by the overwhelming cacophony of insects in the bushes beyond, along with general listlessness. He wondered if anything was looking back, and readjusted the strap of his rifle subconsciously.

The rifle itself was an indication of the poor conditions of what had been the norm in their nation (not that they had ever had any choice in the matter of their citizenship, nor did that appear likely to change): a holdover from the ancient Soviet days, it was one of the many mass-produced copies of the simplistic, yet venerable AK-47, which had remained in Somalia's armoury even until today.

The reason for their presence was simple. For years, dictatorial régimes had struggled to find good soldiers to defend their power base, but it was hard to find ones that weren't ambitious enough to depose them. There was, of course, brainwashing, but that was time-consuming, and often more expensive than was practical. What was better was to make pariahs, who would never threaten the power of whomever was in control, and recoms were the obvious choice, given that they occupied the lowest possible social strata in the modern world. It was fast, cheap, and dirty, but it worked: the society into which they were brought already imprinted its idea that recoms were below humans would brainwash them with minimal work, and it would take little convincing, for recoms were, of course, very different from humans.

"Recom" was actually a slang term, derived from "recombinant being", referring to the method of engineering a human fœtus with animal traits, producing what was known in scientific circles as a parahuman. They had originally been created in a Chinese laboratory in 2011. The project was intended to create a labourer who did not officially exist, was easy to control, had little or no drive for independence, and whose disappearance would only be known to the government officials involved (unlike Chinese citizens, who would, despite their isolation, create an inconvenient stir).

Early in 2028, seventeen years later, North Vietnam and North Korea both received examples of the project, who then pursued it with China's help. However, as with many plans that involve too many people, information was leaked to a South Korean reporter that the North Korean government was conducting numerous exercises, believed at the time to have been in preparation to invade South Korea. Although the information was proved false, and the journalist and informant were both killed, the information had already spread onto the Internet, and exploded, creating many different versions of the story. Following covert inquiries by many intelligence agencies from across the world, information came to light the following year that South Korea was not, in fact, planning to attack South Korea or Japan, but had instead created a series of parahumans. China was suspected of aiding the North Korean government, but involvement could not be proved.

Given that North Korea had already gone nuclear once, and that several politicos held that they still might have that ability, despite UN inspectors crawling all over their country, and how riled the international community had gotten after their tests, no official was very patient. In an address to the world, President Avery Carr stated bluntly that the United States would not "take anymore of the North Koreans' government's nose-thumbing in the general direction of civilised world opinion", and that the "[United States] has not, does not, and never will take kindly to such provocations, especially on matters of discrimination, racism, and slavery".

Subsequent multi-party talks resulted in the dismantling of the North Korean genetic engineering project, while North Vietnam had already discarded their own for the time being when the issue first started heating up, but the technology had already spread across Asia and into the Middle East and Africa, where it was nigh-impossible to track anything or anyone with a great deal of success. While the equipment was expensive, it was not impossible to attain for those who had the money, and it was subsequently used to produce staff for special black projects, like the one that was being conducted on the Somali base.

★★★
All units, prepare for insertion.

Thus was the call over the KY-72-encrypted cyberbrain network, to each of the fourteen occupants of the CV-22 Osprey, flying over eastern Somali airspace.

The man in charge, USMC Gunnery Sergeant Ethan Kane, stood near the cockpit, watching the collection of troops. His subordinate, Sergeant Lorrin Bates, stood beside him, but was facing the other direction, leaning into the cockpit to watch the night-darkened scrub below race by.

"ETA?" he asked simply, leaning farther into the cockpit to look at the control panel. Flying had never caught his interest, and he had no idea how to read the complex control panel in front of him; even if technology had progressed far enough so that even an idiot could fly, the Old Guard pilots didn't trust the electronic instruments enough, instead preferring to stick to the old mechanical standard.

"About fifteen minutes, give or take two or three," replied the pilot, in the same mechanical voice she had been since Bates had first asked that question. Bates was beginning to get the distinct feeling that she had it in for him. But that didn't matter: fifteen more minutes, and they'd be off this rickety hunk of speeding metal, and onto solid, familiar ground, where no one but he himself could control his movements.

It was ironic, he thought, as he listened to Kane running over the mission brief one final time—so bitterly ironic that they were going to have to slaughter so many of those poor, damned recoms in order to shut down Somalia's one and only working (barely) genetic engineering plant. It was part of a greater foreign and domestic policy system, adopted in light of the vehement protests against the mistreatment of recoms both at home and abroad, and tonight's goal was to enforce UN Resolution 2201, an interim solution to the problem of dealing with the creation of engineered beings, which essentially ordered all recom production plants to cease operations immediately, until the controversy had been resolved. There were many sides to the conflict; there were recoms who wanted no more like themselves created, and there were humans who agreed; there were those who advocated the complete eradication of recoms altogether, and there were also, paradoxically, several recoms who had suicided, apparently concurring. Still more wanted to bring the creation process under recom leadership, letting them deal with it, while others said they weren't ready for such responsibility. And all this on top of the increasingly heated immigration debate back home in America! It was quite enough to drive a man to insanity.

He pinched the bridge of his nose unobtrusively, attempting to relieve his stress and at least appear attentive, for the benefit of the troops before him. He didn't really need to hear the briefing again, but it helped to keep up an image.

And then, suddenly, it was over, and the rear door of the Osprey was opening. Neither Bates nor Kane nor any of their subordinates had any time to think in the moments that followed; the operators at the edge of the opening dived through the hole in a smooth, synchronised dance that they had gone through countless times before, both in the field and in training. As the troopers cleared the plane's rear, others swarmed up to take their place in a sort of orderly chaos, and in less than three minutes, the belly of the bird was emptied of warm bodies.

Alpha squad, form on me; Bravo, follow Boomer in. If it gets hot, HYCO for air support to level the place. Keep the casualties down; remember, we're here to save these guys.

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