"O bring my trug na die ou Transvaal…"
Kruger sang loudly and off-key, finishing the line with a thunderous belch. Crowe had wandered onto the dance floor and was drunkenly twirling a horrified-looking woman in his arms.
"You got any more'a that lekker cream?" he asked, stumbling over to the buffet table and picking up his seventh glass of champagne. When he tried to drink it, he missed, sending it flying over one shoulder into the face of a tuxedoed man. Crowe started giggling like a little girl and dropped his dance partner.
The party guests, either too shocked or too frightened to leave, stood in a huddled cluster off to one side. These men had, in the course of twenty minutes, drunk almost all their champagne, engaged in something they called a "baffing contest," and relieved themselves on the manicured lawn.
They were crude, lewd, and socially unacceptable creatures in the eyes of someone like Eloise. But one of them was also carrying a long sword, so she thought it best to pretend she was having a good time.
"Wanna see what a real man looks like, maisie?" Kruger asked, rubbing up against her like a cat.
She had to admit, in some strange way, she did. Her husband, one of the many faceless junior admins on Elysium, was a pale, fragile creature. This man was well-muscled, hairy, and stank like some wild animal. In short he was everything she secretly thought about at night when Claude was still at the office.
Before she could give him her answer, though, Crowe pointed at something off in the distance. "Oi! Look, bru!"
A figure, a woman, a very ugly woman, tottered across the grass. She was naked save for a flimsy medical gown and slippers.
Kruger momentarily forgot about Eloise. The new arrival was pale, scarless, like she'd just been bioreplaced. Then he noticed the eyes and started to laugh like a demented hyena.
"Ai, Drakey, what happened to you?"
He, who was now definitely a she, clutched at the flimsy gown. "So I went in for a spell in one of them med-pods, thought I'd get rid of my klap, you know how that stuff itches and all and, well, I think something went a bit wrong, ne?"
Crowe snorted. "I think 'e looks better with a poes than 'e ever did with a piel, eh?"
The two of them fell to the ground in hysterics.
"Check out die lekker anties!"
"Hou jou bek! I feel like a complete arse," Drake admitted, blushing under his new skin.
"I get first dibs breakin' her cherry," Kruger said. "Y'want it under the trees or maybe in the pool?"
"I don't want it bloody anywhere! I just want to be a chappie again!" Now he was really blushing.
While the three of them squabbled, Eloise seized her opportunity. She pressed a code into her comlink that she'd specifically been told never to use. Claude would get it and relay it to the highest possible authority.
Champagne was not cheap. And neither was her reputation as a good hostess.
"What is it, Undersecretary?"
"It's a Code Nine, Madame Secretary. From sector 7-3?" Tuyet seemed more nervous than ever.
Delacourt scowled. "Send a security team."
"We've tried. They're not answering. We think…somehow they've been disabled."
There was only one man who knew that particular trick. And he was here. He was supposed to be on bloody holiday.
"Get my shuttle ready. And, Undersecretary?"
Tuyet gulped. "Yes?"
"I want your resignation in hand by tomorrow morning."
Fifty-odd people were playing croquet.
It wasn't the usual kind of civilized Elysium croquet game. It had taken a good deal of swearing in Afrikaans, a few threatening gestures by Kruger's sword, and the even direr threat of seeing Drake naked to get the game going. Seeing as Kruger had already whacked the wooden balls halfway into orbit, he'd improvised with the severed heads of some of the capering cloned squirrels on the grounds.
"So, Monsieur Kruger, tell me a bit about your job," Eloise said nervously, sending a squirrel head spinning off to one side. She was one of the only guests who'd had the nerve to speak.
He thought about it, belched, then answered. "It's befok, really. Lots of killing and violent deaths and all. Y'know, life couldn't really be any better." He grinned at her.
"Oh." She picked up the hem of her party gown and tapped at another head. "Do you get bio-insurance with that?"
Drake had gotten bored with the game and was flashing a group of young women. "Don't you know you want it, bokkie?"
"Oi, Drakey! Yer a maisie, remember?" teased Crowe.
"Right." He covered himself again.
Kruger was as happy as he could remember being in a long time. He had two more weeks of this to look forward to. He only hoped they wouldn't run out of champagne or those lekker little cakes with the cream before then.
"Can't this damned thing go any faster?"
The Elysium monorail was fast, perhaps 150 kilometers per hour, and Delacourt had never felt it go slower.
Sector 7-3 could have been on Earth for all the good it was doing her now.
Like everything else in this place, Kruger quickly tired of croquet, even if it involved hacking at severed animal heads. He had retreated to the enormous pool, champagne in one hand and katana in the other.
This place was beautiful and tranquil and even smelled of something other than garbage and rot. In short, it was everything Earth wasn't. This was where the ones with money came when they wanted to escape the horrors below. This was where no one ever got sick or old or useless. It was, as its name suggested, a kind of paradise.
It was boring as pap, really. No one needed to be killed (well, except for the squirrels) and there weren't even the usual skimmers to shoot down from the sky. Even the weather stayed dully constant.
"Hey, baas, I think I got a date," Drake called out to him. He'd found some awful feathery number of Eloise's to wear, and it made him even more conspicuous than the hospital gown.
"And it's me. I figure he'll have to go out with me since I've seen 'im naked. As a girl, I mean," added Crowe.
"Aren't you two missing something?" Kruger said.
They looked stupidly at him. "Like, a cozzie or summat?"
Before he could tell them what it was, someone else approached the pool. She was alone, appeared to be unarmed, and wore a stern expression. He knew her from somewhere, though where that was it was hard to say because of all the champagne he'd consumed. Kruger decided to wait for her to speak.
"Agent Kruger, what have you been doing here?"
Then it hit him.
"Look, okes, they sent me a stripper! And she looks just like that tight poes Delacourt, eh?"
Before she could react, he jumped up out of the pool, and his lips were on hers. He tasted of champagne and sweat and pure testosterone. It was the first kiss of any kind she'd had in a very long time. She let him.
"Secretary Delacourt, what is the meaning of this?"
The kiss broke abruptly and she found herself face to face with a very annoyed-looking President Patel and his personal guards. His hovercraft floated like a wraith above Eloise's mansion.
"Mr. President! I'm afraid I…wasn't expecting your visit," she said, aware of how stupid she sounded. She'd just been caught red-handed; how would she explain this?
"I've been called out of a Level 4 security meeting to deal with your indiscretions. I hope you have a very, very good explanation for this."
"He was about to fok the old bag?" suggested Drake a bit too loudly.
"Shut up, Drakey," Crowe said from the corner of his mouth.
Delacourt looked at Patel, who looked at Kruger, who belched again. Everyone was at a loss for words either from anger or shame or pure drunkenness.
"Please, Mr. President, let me explain."
It was Tuyet. Delacourt forced down a bit of absurd laughter. What was he doing here after she'd already dismissed him? Was he a spy after all?
"Young man, we were in the middle of a…"
"…long overdue high security drill," finished Tuyet smoothly. "I'm surprised it's not obvious."
"Of course. We couldn't notify you, or anyone else, because it was…"
"Secret." Delacourt could have sworn Tuyet winked at her as he completed her sentence.
Patel still looked vexed. "That doesn't explain what these mercenaries are doing here. One of my employees told me his lawn was, um, defiled this afternoon."
Tuyet was circling behind Kruger, Crowe and Drake as Delacourt quickly made up a story she knew her boss would believe.
"In the extremely unlikely event that illegals ever breached our perimeter, sir, these three seemed the best possible simulation without the real thing," she said smoothly.
"Y'bring any more beer, mate?" Kruger said with a loud hiccup.
"You see? Just like the rabble, without the risk. Agent Kruger is under my direct control. De-activate; security test complete."
What she didn't notice was the quick, almost unnoticeable thrust of a stunner Tuyet gave first to Kruger, then to Crowe and the feminized Drake. Whatever he had been taught at the academy was useful, because the three mercenaries tumbled to the concrete floor, harmless as kittens.
"I've been summoned out of my daily security briefing for a drill?" roared Patel.
"A very overdue, drill, sir," said Delacourt in as sheepish a voice as hers ever got.
"Please, Secretary Delacourt, don't waste my time like that again unless it is a real emergency. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have business to finish this afternoon. Carry on." The President turned on his heels and ascended to the hovercraft. As quickly as he had come, he was gone.
A few of the guests had wandered in, having watched the whole surreal scene from the veranda.
"Is he…unconscious?" Eloise whispered, nudging Kruger's prone form with one toe.
"Yes, Eloise. He won't be bothering you anymore." Delacourt was reminded of how much she hated this woman and her little-girl voice.
"What about damages, Madame Secretary? He drank all our Clicqot…"
"…smashed our ice sculptures…"
"…relieved himself, dear God, on the front lawn…"
Delacourt held up her hands. She had solved one problem only to find herself with a dozen more. She was about to suggest to Eloise that she file a claim through the Office of Defense when Tuyet spoke up again.
"Of course we'll compensate you, Madame. We never intended for this drill to go quite so, ahem, awry," he said, taking Delacourt by the arm as he did so and leading her poolside.
"I hope you have a very good explanation, Undersecretary, and I hope that it is less than ten words." She felt the color rising to her cheeks.
"Remember the Transvaal Free State?"
She stopped in mid-stride. That place, in the former South Africa, was where Kruger had been born and bred. It was, like most of Earth, now a scorched wasteland filled with shanties, drug traffickers, and weapons dealers.
"What about it?"
"Seems they're having problems with the Nigerian faction again and they called just now. They want their boy back, Secretary."
"For how long?" She thought she already knew.
"Two weeks, they think."
Delacourt was practically grinning, though she never actually grinned. "And did they pay up-front?"
It was Tuyet's turn to look proud. "They always do. They paid double since we send the best."
She looked down at Kruger and his men, who were no doubt dreaming of rocket launchers and maimed bodies. They'd be in their own personal paradise for this mission. The Nigerians wouldn't stand a chance, and she'd be getting a fat bonus on the side as she always did for Kruger's work.
"Remind me to give you a raise…"
"Where are we, man?"
"Ai, this is the worst babbelas ever!"
Kruger opened his eyes.
A sky choked with smog and dull brown dust. The smell of decay and fetid meat left too long in the sun. Somewhere, in the distance, the unmistakable chatter of gunfire. The burned-out husk of an old truck at the side of a road.
His body, he saw, was clad in full battle gear. When he reached for his sword hilt, it was where he always kept it.
How did I get here? Was there something in the champagne?
If it really was a hangover, it was an interesting one, because he knew this place. Nobody had to tell him or show him a holomap. He was home.
Crowe flanked him on the right, and Drake, thankfully returned to his masculine state, stood on the left. Each held a Cousar in his arms and wore a predatory smile.
"Oi, look, men, we're home!"
The comlink in his ear buzzed. A woman's voice spoke the two magic words: Activate Kruger.
As the data download commenced, Kruger couldn't help but smile. These were going to be a fun couple of weeks.
Stay tuned for more, including a Kruger origin story in the works!