Capitán Alejandro Lozada Jauregui, on night patrol with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, far outside their normal territory, was dirty and dog-fucking-tired . It had been a diablo of a night, and nobody had slept much. He'd stopped to rest, but it was time to move on again. He took a last quick puff of unfiltered Pielroja and butted it on his bootheel.

His tiny six-man squad had started from an encampment on the Colombian side of the Darién Gap in Los Katíos National Park, then pressed north into Panama. Maybe as far as Pucuro, but nobody could tell. The Cuna and Chocos native peoples here were muy bush smart, but didn't seem to reckon distances or speak much Spanish. None had ever seen a topo map or a compass.

Officially, the squad was a mapping party, trying to find a trail wide enough for a jeep to drive but narrow enough to seem impassable to untrained eyes. Unofficially, everyone knew it was fool's errand; with little hint of solid ground in many places, nothing crossed the Gap. Afoot, they kept getting all manner of rank-smelling water, and worse, in their boots and camoflage fatigues as they stumbled across sinkholes that looked like innocent puddles.

Tired as he was, Jauregui decided to recon a hundred more yards up the dim, narrow trail, just to be on the safe side, then head back. They'd heard something really odd late last night, an hour after they'd hit their bedrolls. A deep thrumming buzz had gradually filled everyone's skulls until nobody could sleep.

Aware that it could well be unfriendly, Capitán Jauregui had decided to be proactive. He'd booted everybody out on patrol right away rather than wait for first light. They'd all bitched, but he'd told them they'd be even unhappier if they got shot up through the canvas walls of their tents. One of the testier of his squad had called him 'a total híbrido'. But they'd taken his point, and slogged out of camp to make a picket sweep, headed approximately toward the noise.

Then the noise had stopped. All anybody heard for the rest of the night was an occasional distant splash and muffled cursing, as each in turn picked up boots full of black water.

Jauregui edged cautiously through the undergrowth, early morning sun now just brushing through the triple canopy of rain forest high above. He might never have spotted it, except that a glint of light caught the chrome on the driver's mirror just when his gaze passed over the thickly treed hummock, surrounded on all sides by yards of rancid water.

He snapped off the safety of his muddy, scarred M16, briefly prayed to a nondemoninational, atheistic, revolutionary, godless non-deity that, if he needed it, the shitty thing wouldn't jam on him -- again -- then raised it above his head and waded through hip-deep water to the island. Then he padded like a wet, wary jungle cat, up to the laundry van.

Not quite believing, he laid a light palm on the flat metal side; it was real enough, all right. How the hell had it gotten here? There was no way it, or any kind of boat that could carry it, could penetrate that dense maze of water and hummocks.

He took a deep breath, shouldered his gunstock, and edged his head past the the window frame to see if he could make out the interior. Dark. His left hand found the door handle and moved it slowly, silently, down, down, down. The handle stopped. He put his shoulder into sliding the door back along its track, wincing as unoiled rollers groaned unexpectedly.

He drew another, shallower breath and stepped inside. Blinking, he took a hard look around. Then he backed out and padded gently back down into the growing light at the edge of the water. He kept walking into the water, staying quiet, occasionally looking back over his shoulder.

As soon as he reached relatively dry land again, and had taken a prudent remove along the narrow trail he'd followed in, Capitán Alejandro Lozada Jauregui thumbed the rifle's safety back on. Then he began running, flying back to the etape as fast and as noiselessly as he could, trying hard not to stumble on creeper roots.