And we’re back!
Back in the day, when I was pitching this idea to John, he said something very interesting. Well, he said many interesting things, most of which I can’t repeat. Sorry.
One that I can repeat, though, is his thoughts on this series.
He said, after writing KILDAR, the focus of the series changed in his mind. Instead of being the adventures of Mike Harmon, which is how it started in GHOST, it was a romance between Mike and Katrina. It’s not something you would think, right? I mean, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably read the whole series. (And if you haven’t, there’s a big green button just below to buy the first book.) It doesn’t seem like a romance, does it? But no, it’s all about Mike and Katrina.
Enjoy your Valentine’s Day trip into the world of The Kildaran!
Mike walked into the conference room and announced, “We’ve got troubles, people.”
“No great surprise,” quipped Adams. He had known Mike the longest, back to Class 201, and was essentially his second-in-command.
“Who do we have to kill this time?”
A deep, almost subliminal growl rose from the assembly. They all had their reasons to hate the Chechens.
“But that’s not all. We have to retrieve a shitload of nukes they stole from the Russians, as well.”
“Location? Guard force?” asked Nielson. A mostly retired Colonel, he was Mike’s Chief of Staff and a master at logistics, training, and planning operations.
“No idea yet. Pierson suggested they might have the information. OSOL will be sending us whatever they have.”
He turned to the Vanners.
“Pat, Grez, start combing through everything you’ve picked up. See if there are any hints about a major op going down. Get with J and Katya, try to get some good HumInt developed as well.”
“Hey, Mike, I know that Chechens and nukes are bad mojo, but really, why do we care?” Adams added. “I mean, they know better than to try to fuck with us, and most of their beef is with the Russians. I say we let them hammer on each other for a while.”
Nielson was already shaking his head.
“And after they finish with the Russians, how long do you think the Georgians will hold out? If they have nukes, they are the biggest, baddest little country in this corner of the world. And we have to live here.”
“No, we can go back to The World any time we want,” replied Adams. “I know this is a good gig, but nukes are NOT what I signed up for.”
Mike knew better than to take him at face value.
“Ass-Boy, shut up. You want a piece of those bastards as much as I do. Besides, if we don’t do this op, who knows when they drive a nuke into the Valley?”
Adams nodded. “Thought of that. Just wondering if you had.”
Staff Sergeant Oleg Kulcyanov, current Ondah, King of the Spring, leader of one of the Keldara teams, de facto leader of the militia, and a bull of a man, spoke up. “And what do we do?”
“Not sure yet,” admitted Mike. “It’s going to depend on where they have the nukes, what kind of security they have, how far away they are. All that shit. For now, you work with Adams on training for urban infiltration and combat, in addition to your regular duties. If they manage to get into Moscow, we’ll have to be ready.”
Both men nodded.
Turning to the helicopter pilots, he said, “Kacey, Tamara, I don’t know what your role will be in this yet. I’ve been promised all the support we need, so permission to bring the Hinds in and out might be all clear. We can’t assume anything, so keep on your flight crews. Seconds might make a difference for air support, dust-off, or even transporting the cargo.”
Nielson weighed in again. “So, what do we know?”
“We know the Russians were sending a large number of nuclear warheads to a port on the Black Sea for transport to the US. We know the convoy was attacked in force, and twenty-five of the warheads were taken. We know the warheads vary in size and yield; the largest is a five megaton -”
“You’re fucking kidding!” burst out Adams.
“Nope. Five. Plus, a three, and a two. The others, we’re waiting on Pierson’s information.”
“We’ve got to stop this shit! They wouldn’t even need to get into the valley with those!”
“What else?” prompted Patrick Vanner. He was more used to these planning sessions than his wife, Greznya, now also a Sergeant, and more likely to add his opinion. Partly because he had been one of the original trainers for the Mountain Tigers. Partly because Grez had been born and raised in the Valley. But largely because he could simply out-think most people outside this room on any subject to which military intelligence could be applied.
“There’s not much more I know,” replied Mike. “Pierson speculated the Chechens would use the nukes to first blackmail Moscow into recognizing their state, and second wipe us off the map.”
Nielson shook his head.
“We need the intel before we can do anything intelligent. It‘ll be orders of magnitude harder to find one or two nukes in Moscow than a whole cache, even if they‘re in Chechnya proper. Which we don‘t know they are.”
“Agreed. I just wanted to bring you all in on this, get ideas, and start the ball rolling.”
Faces looked thoughtful. Dr. Arensky chimed in, “And why am I here?”
“You’re the smartest man in the Valley, Doctor,” answered Mike. “Even though nuclear weapons weren’t your specialty, you know more about Russian WMD procedures than anyone else here. You know what we can really expect for help from the Russian agencies which would deal with this kind of thing.”
“And to whom do I report my speculations?”
“The Vanners, for now. Any people that you know you think would be helpful, we want their names and we’ll get J in touch.”
Now he turned to the final face at the table.
“Daria, get with Chatham Aviation. See what they can provide for cargo planes, both long- and short-field capable. If we must, reserve them and flight crews indefinitely. Also, we’ll probably need ground transportation; see what we can arrange for vans, trucks, whatever.”
Adams added, “What about security here?”
It was an issue they had faced before. The Keldara militia was an elite force, equal to any SpecOps Mike had ever encountered, but they were small. There were less than a hundred and twenty, all told, and if they had to go haring off into Chechnya, or Russia proper, they would need every man they had on mission. Which meant stripping the Valley of its mobile defence force. Previously, a company of Rangers had been flown in and dropped from a Ukrainian cargo plane to act as a “home guard.”
“Good point. I’ll ask Pierson if the same company is available for an extended deploy in the Valley. Last time was way too hurried; we need to really integrate them into our systems.” Mike looked around. “What else?”
“This is going to cost.” Nielson was still a bean-counter, and always looked after the bottom line.
“That‘s covered, if we can make the recovery. If we get them all, we‘re in line for over half a billion.”
“Billion?” Adams whistled. “This might just be worthwhile.”
“Anything else for now?” A mumbled chorus of no’s and nope’s was his reply.
“Let’s be about it, then. Oh, Daria,” he added, “hold on a moment.”
She stopped, half out of her seat, then settled back as the rest filed out.
He sat on the table next to her chair. “Knock off the Kildar crap. What’s this about you wanting to leave?”
“Yes. I have enjoyed my time here. It is peaceful, this Valley, even with the militia. I have felt safe, and welcome, and needed. But I do not feel I have a future here.”
“You’ve done a great job.”
“It is not the work. I do not feel I belong, here.”
Daria Koroleva had been a whore, sold into sexual slavery by her boyfriend, before Mike had rescued her on a mission in Rozaje, purely by accident. The house she worked had been a snuff house; the girls killed in painful and cruel manners. One of the sadistic pricks had just told her she was going into the rotation when Mike and his Keldara had taken out the house, stripped out the computers, and incidentally saved the girls. Daria’s skills as an assistant had become evident on the mission. She slipped easily into the role, and when the mission was over followed them back to the Valley.
“I thought you were happy?”
“I am, usually. Mike, this is not what my life was to be!” Her frustration showed. “I was to be a secretary, or maybe a teacher, not helping to plan assaults on targets, helping get people killed!”
“Do you think you can go back?” he asked gently.
“I don’t know.”
“And are you ready to face all that?” Mike’s sweeping gesture took in the world and all its hazards.
“Probably not,” agreed Daria. “I have to try, though. My time here has taught me that much. Besides, I want to see my parents again.”
“Won’t there be problems? You didn’t want to go back, then.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. You told me of an American poet, though, who wrote, ‘Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.’ I am ready to go home. And then, who knows? Maybe you can get me a way to America,” she smiled.
“I think I can arrange that,” he conceded with a smile of his own. “I’ll miss you.”
“And I you, Mike.” She laid his hand over his.
“But I think that you will have enough to distract you, soon.” This smile was purely mischievous.
“Katrina, you mean. How long have you been working with her?”
“Since before the last harvest festival. She has learned much; enough so that I feel you can survive without my skills.”
“You realize, now, that I won’t be able to let you go until after we complete this mission?”
“And that I don’t know how long it will take?”
“Well, then, after the mission is complete, we’ll have to give you a big send-off.”
She rose, and they walked toward the door.
“I’ll be in my office for a while. Anything coming up?”
“Anastasia wanted to talk to you.”
He could imagine what about. Wincing, Mike said, “Send her up in a few minutes,” and headed up the stairs. Enemies, outnumbering him by overwhelming numbers, he had faced. He had discussed and debated with government ministers, secretaries, and even the President. He’d dealt with an ex-wife amiably, even. But the manager of his harem and most frequent bedmate telling him what he had to do about Katrina, he was NOT looking forward to.