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Challenge: Diamond
Title: Likouala
Rating: PG/FRE
Dolls: Ming Jian Yuan [Iplehouse Bichun], Wren Llawcae [Iplehouse Asa/Nobility Doll Custom Muscular Woman Body]
Author's Notes: Any and all criticism and comments welcomed, as always.


They started in the Likouala region, a WUNPO plane dropping them onto the shore of one of the region’s abundant lakes. It took them only a few minutes to pare down, stripping off all the things they would not need, gathering the largest rocks they could find and sinking their jump gear – parachutes, oxygen tanks, masks – into the lake. Jian caught a fish while they did so, and Wren looked at it, pronounced it a safe species to eat. He cleaned it as they began their hike through the forest, and they ate raw fish as they walked.

It took two days to reach the Oubangui, the river swollen and surging with the season. They followed it for another half day before reaching a village, a collection of corrugated tin and daubed-mud huts on the bank of the river, farm animals tethered and corralled near some of the larger homes, children running and playing and screaming in the dirt. They avoided it carefully, moving around the outskirts, staying in the cover of the trees. There was a band of clear-cut around the village, stumps sticking up out of it, with some small food-plants in even rows trying to grow in the sandy soil.

They made camp, gathered what edible plants they could find and ate some of their freeze-dried rations. They waited for night to come, sleeping by turns.

When it was full dark, in the early hours of the morning, they crept down to the village and stole a boat from the edge of the river, a thing like a large canoe, a small outboard motor on the back of it. They took it from a line of other boats, all nearly identical – Jian grabbed a full container of gasoline from one of them. They slid it into the water and climbed in, pushed off with a stick and allowed the current to carry them away from the shore. They waited nearly an hour before starting the engine.

The little vessel carried them up into the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the place where the Oubangui merged with the Congo River, became wider, slower, muddier. The gasoline finally ran out, and they steered the boat to the shore, jumped out, then abandoned it to the mercy of the Congo.

Neither of them spoke much, not even when, after three more days of hiking, they found what they were looking for. It was a small camp, guards posted around the perimeter, knock-off AK’s and M-16’s cradled in their arms. There were children there, skinny, crouching in the dirt, crawling down into holes in the ground and coming out again, what seemed like hours later, with bags of soil and rocks. They squatted in gangs, sorting through the bags, and sometimes one of them would jump up and run over to one of the men watching them, offer whatever it was they had found. The man would wash it off with a bit of water, and it would catch the light like mica, like fishscales. The child would be given a bit of food – they would inhale it, belly bulging, eyes wide – then be sent back to work.

Blood diamonds. That was all they needed to see. They backed away, careful, silent, settled down at a safe distance.

Jian took the small satellite radio out of his bag, tuned it, and spoke into the little mouthpiece. “Command, this is Team Gemini. Team Gemini. Seven-one-two-six-four. Do you copy?” The numbers identified them, were given to them just before they left – no one aside from them and the person monitoring that connection knows their number string, or what the correct reply is.

“Copy loud and clear, Gemini. One-eight-seven-naught-niner-niner-three. What do you have for me?” The voice crackled a bit, a static buzz, but the connection held.

“Coordinates.”

“You found them?”

“One camp, anyway. There will be others.” Jian’s voice was tired, and Wren looked at him sharply, watched him as he rattled off their location to the comms officer on the other end of the radio. “Send in the cavalry.”

“Done. Approximate ETA three hours. Command out.”

Jian flicked the radio off, put it back into his bag and looked back at Wren. They were both silent for a moment, then Wren said, slowly, “Maybe we should take a break after this one.”

Jian sighed, ran his hand through his hair – it was dirty and greasy and the filth on his hand didn’t really do anything to change that – and leaned back against the tree behind him. “You think?”

“We haven’t spent more than five days in a row at home in…nearly six months. I think we’re going to start making stupid mistakes if we don’t get some rest.”

“Maybe you’re right.”
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