An entry for the Giltsharp Swiss Army Knife writing competition
McFee sat on the dirt floor of his cell, his clothes in tatters, blackened with blood and sweat. He had been beaten - not too roughly - and searched - not too well. Outside it was dark yet humid, the last of the sun's rays struggling through the window high up on the far wall as day gave way to night. He chewed the last mouthful of the mediocre meal they had given him, and his hand rustling on stubbled chin he let sleep take him.
David McFee was no spy, he was certain of that. He was a consultant who worked for rather pressing employers, for whom access to information was rather important. Not government, not corporate, more a bit of both. People who claimed to run the world. It's just, McFee reflected, that they made such a bad job if it that they had to employ people such as himself to go in to hot, sticky, corrupt hell-holes to sort out there messes for them. Neither spy nor mercenary. Fixer. Emergency repair man.
Night gave way to day, and the men did not come back. Then night, then day again, with only a rapidly emptying jug of water for company, and the conversation, frankly, sucked. Either they were leaving him to stew for a few days - starve him a bit in the hope it'll loosen his vocal chords shortly before a final cigarette in front of the thin wall; or he was here for the very short remainder of his life. An oubliette. Where they throw prisoners and forget about them. Either way, he was a dead man walking. Day became evening again, and the prison, such that is was, fell quiet. No footsteps, no sounds of breathing, no conversation. Alone, it seemed.
Time to get out, then.
He removed his boot. His captors had thoughtfully removed his laces to prevent him from killing himself before they had a chance to do so themselves, but they had thoughtlessly neglected to search the recesses of his footwear. Reaching right down into the toe, McFee pulled back a flap of leather, and his fingers extending more than was absolutely comfortable, he pulled out a long, slim object wrapped in a cloth.
Chunky, heavier than you'd expect, McFee slowly unrolled the little parcel. A flash of red and shining steel, and it was in his hand: his Giltsharp SwissMemory knife. They could give him any tool, weapon or gadget on Earth, but this was all that McFee ever carried. It was all he'd ever need. No Cartier wrist watch with a built-in laser. No Walther PPK that doubles up as a handy biro and address book. Not even the X-Ray glasses which were all the rage in the industry right now. Just gimmicks. You don't want gimmicks in this profession. You want tools. Tools to do your job then get out. Nothing else made the grade: just the finest steel worked into a selection of tough, versatile blades, encased in the World famous red case.
McFee looked at the knife and smiled. A present from a good, good friend. A friend he would be seeing very soon.
The door was easy. He worked at the flimsy wall with the tempered steel of his Swiss Army blade, the plaster and mortar falling away in chunks until he could get a handhold and wrench a loose brick from the wall. He wiped the blade clean with the cloth, and set about the rest of the brickwork around the lock mechanism. Not a scratch, very satisfying. With enough room to work in he used the blade as a screwdriver and quickly began to dismantle the lock. Not what it was designed for, but the Swiss Army Knife's legendary strength proved itself again as the mechanism came apart in his hands.
He pulled the door open, and he was free, and as he suspected, not a soul to be seen. He crept along a darkened corridor, back to the wall, blade still open in his hand. He had no intention of ever using it on neither man nor beast, but its weight was comforting, as he scarcely breathed for fear of capture. Another door at the far end, and he would be free. Unlocked. Open and out.
McFee found himself in a compound. The same compound he had been captured trying to break into. Thus far, it had proved much easier trying to break out, as a result of his patience, skill and the quality of the tools available. And he knew he would need it again before he left.
Noting the position of trucks, jeeps and guard posts, McFee edged along the lee of the building until he found the structure he was looking for. Compared to the cell block, and the nearby barracks, this one was utter luxury. Modern, glass-fronted, and he was pleased to see, open for all-comers. Straight through the front door, straight up to the lab, and it was a matter of seconds, with his SwissMemory plugged neatly into the USB port of the computer, he found and downloaded the data he required. And in return, he left a little present - a program of his own devising that would find its way onto every machine in the network, wiping data as it went. A virus with no known cure, all for the good of humanity. He smiled at the irony, as he pocketed his knife and crept back out into the night. Unseen, invisible, a good job done, his consultant's fee well and truly earned.
One week later.
It was Colonel Milanovic, the pencil-necked buffoon.
"Thank you for the data. The company directors are very pleased with it."
"There are, of course, a few questions."
An air of resignation. Any excuse. "Ask away."
"You were captured, you say?"
"You tell me your mission was compromised? Did you tell them anything?"
Eighteen years of Special Forces, McFee had never talked.
"I said nothing."
"But they knew your name. From that they must know of the Corporation."
"There would be that risk, had I actually said anything."
"But there is still that risk, McFee."
Angry now. "There is NO risk. I was not questioned."
"So you keep telling us. We cannot, however, expose the Corporation to any uncertainty in these operations. It is bad for the share price and our credibility on the world stage. The Directors have indicated that your services are no longer required."
"Fine. People like you are ten-a-penny."
"You are reminded that you have undertaken not to work for any of our rivals for a period of five years."
"...and that we will impose extreme sanctions if you break this agreement."
"Have you finished?"
"Not yet, McFee. The Directors have also decided to withhold you fee for this operation due to the potentially compromising situation you have left us in. You will be escorted from the complex."
McFee frowned. He expected to be torn off a strip, but to be cast aside like this was devastating. He always knew he was expendable. The Corporation's objectives in the political and economic spheres were simply not compatible with the welfare of the individual. Any employee could be cast aside at any time, and the more they knew about the operations of the business, the greater the risk the exposed themselves to. McFee was at the sharp end, and when the merest arrangement went wrong, the tiniest of details overlooked - one guard returning from a meal break five minutes early in his case - lives were at risk. His own.
The shaven-headed soldier entered the room. A private army, working both for the state and the Corporation. Answering both political masters and the men with the money to keep their puppet in power. But all this grunt knew, he was wearing the flag on his shoulder, and one day, there'd be a statue of him in his home town.
Milanovic: "Escort this man from the premises, Corporal."
"If he doesn't leave, kill him. You have my express authority."
McFee led the way to the main entrance. He had walked these corridors many times before, working not for the Corporation and what it represented, but for himself. His pocket. His own agrandisement. And now, on this final march, at the point of an uncomprehending corporal's M-16, he realised how wrong he had been. Wrong to take this job. Wrong to work so ruthlessly in the field. Wrong to fight this undeclared civil war against the other corporations, against the political opposition. His last mission - his Watergate - was simply the last step before crossing the Rubicon.
This war wasn't for the good of the nation, for the good of humanity, or even for the good of anybody except those ruthless men in suits guarding share portfolios, liquid assets and their suited stooges on Capitol Hill who kept them profitable. This wasn't democracy, because McFee knew that democracy had been bought just like any other commodity; and it was those with the strongest portfolios, the monopoly in a market where choice is between one army and another, who wielded the real power. And his little present to the opposition had handed the Corporation the state monopoly on a plate; and in return they were handing him straight back.
The exit. The way out into a world now controlled by this corporation. This, then, is not an exit.
"Thank you Corporal."
"My pleasure sir."
McFee took one last look at his surroundings. A small reception area, the desk unmanned as the receptionist's post had been cut back several months ago. Just a chest-high counter, a phone and a computer, the screensaver bouncing round the VDU for weeks on end.
The oldest trick.
"I'll wait, sir."
McFee bent over, and retied his lace, just out of sight of the already bored Corporal on the other side of the counter. With one deft flick of the wrist, the SwissMemory was in his hand, the device rammed home into the USB port and a with couple of clicks he was already unloading its special cargo. Within minutes, the entire Republican Corporation network would be down, data digitally shredded, the entire company and government apparatus kicked back to the stone age. Just like he had done to DemocratCorp the week before.
Just restarting the game on a level playing field.
"Ready now, Corporal."
"Thank you sir. If you'd just care to step outside."
Exit, to the real world.