Whaddya know? Kendra’s actually let me do a post on my own website!
I suppose that’s what I get for giving her an account and access, eh?
Guess it could be worse.
In any case, I’m back with a couple more chapters of the book. I was looking at it after I finished today’s edits and I realized that we’re just over 10% into the book. Yup. Currently on page 79 of 694 – and that’s set up to be printed as a 6×9 book!
Of course, as I edit, the page count fluctuates a little – up a page, down a page. But still, it’s a book which you could use to give someone a concussion.
How do I know this? Because as a surprise I had two copies printed last year and sent one to Richard as a gift; I thought he’d appreciate having it in his hands
Oh, yes. One more thing before I go into Shameless Self-Promotion Mode: have you looked closely at the cover image I put in here? I mean, really closely?
Shameless Promo Time!
Those of you who have gotten an eARC of A Quiet Revolution can tell the others, but I really think you ought to put in your pre-order for the ebook now! I mean, it’s only $2.99, and given what your fellow Ringo fans have already told me it ought to hit on several of the same cylinders!
You can also enter to win autographed copies of all four Cassidy books. Don’t miss that!
Buttons below, and then you get your fix. That’s all. No more chatter.
Groznyy, Chechnya, Russia; The Cave; Mike’s Office
Izz al Din Kassab had been in the service of the Chechen rebellion for over fifteen years. His uncle, Abdul-Sami, was a hidden mullah under the Soviets and had secretly taught him the Qur’an. When the Soviet empire fell, and the Chechens had dreamt again of freedom, Abdul-Sami was one of the first to enlist.
He was also one of the first to die at the hands of Russian troops.
Izz al Din wept for a day when he heard, then sought out a resistance cell. Even though he was only twelve, his desire to avenge his uncle shone through, and he was accepted.
Over the years, he had battled against Russian control at every turn. Gravely injured in three separate actions, he nevertheless returned again and again to the heat of battle. He survived when others died and rose up in the leadership of the resistance. Nothing stopped the gradual disaffection of the majority of the Chechen people. Recruiting, funding, planning, all became vastly more difficult, almost impossible. Chechens were actually turning on his comrades, selling them to the Allah-cursed Russians for nothing more than a little quiet! Surely the fools realized that there could be no real peace with the Russians still as their overlords?
It was Kassab who had found the caves that they were now forced to use, near the northern border of Chechnya. It was Kassab who organized and, to be honest, terrorized the locals into providing food and other supplies. It was Kassab, too, through whom Ibrahim had made his first cautious contacts months ago. Now it was Kassab who was granted the opportunity to enact the final blow. He had been dispatched with a small group of mujahideen to Groznyy, to find a suitable hide and prepare the site for delivery of the weapon.
But there were problems.
“Salah, you son of a diseased camel! No phones!”
Salah, a young and not-too-bright recruit, hung his head.
“Izz al Din, I had to call my mother. She made me swear to Allah that I would call her every week!”
Kassab shook his head at the foolishness.
“And so, you pull out a cell phone and call! You told her where you were! You told her what we are doing! Miserable, stupid, worthless oaf!”
“But Izz -”
“But nothing! Silence!”
Kassab waited for a few moments.
“Give me the phone.” Salah handed it to Kassab, who promptly dashed it to the ground and crushed it with the butt of his AK.
“Now. You will be on sentry duty tonight, and every night, until we complete our mission here. You will also pray every day to Allah that your mother knows how to keep her mouth shut, unlike her son. Now get out of my sight.”
Salah slunk away.
Kassab sighed. Maybe it would get easier.
The brief call was captured by an orbiting satellite, recently retasked for this mission. At the programmed time, the bird transmitted back to its controllers. The routine data dump sent the innocuous-sounding call to a bank of computers deep in the desert sands, where another program was triggered to search for certain words and phrases.
Enough were found to launch yet another program, which backtracked the call and nailed down both the point of origin and the receiver. Finally, a fourth program put it all together and added it to the queue of information already gathered.
And there the god of bureaucracy stepped in.
To save bandwidth it had been decided to hold all possible leads until a critical threshold was reached. The anonymous DOD programmer had decided the threshold should be measured in megabytes, which he could wrap his mind around, not keywords and trigger phrases. So the data sat, hotter than the cores of the stolen nukes, as the bytes trickled in.
Somewhere, Murphy smiled.
Anisa Kulcyanov was terribly excited.
She was normally one of the coolest of the intel specialists. She had proven herself under fire in Romania and as a crew chief for Captain Wilson’s Valkyrie. Little rattled her. This didn’t rattle her either. Excited didn’t count as rattled.
“Grez? We have our first solid hit. Can you confirm?”
Greznya came over to Anisa’s station. It was one of four receiving a feed from the NSA’s Echelon program. Echelon was a top-secret voice analysis and recognition program, designed to eavesdrop on electronic communication worldwide.
Pat Vanner, who had been in the NSA before resigning, knew of it and knew it was one of the few tools they could use quickly. A few phone calls from Mike to OSOL, and then to the SecDef, had finally convinced the NSA to allow Vanner’s intel girls access.
“One time only,” they were quick to add. The wheels of government turn slowly, even under the most urgent circumstances, and the downloads had just begun.
In fact, days had passed since a homesick muj had called his mother to reassure her that yes, he was okay, and yes, he was eating his meals.
“What is it, Anisa?”
“A cell phone call from Groznyy to Kvanada. A muj calling his mother.”
“And, he said Kassab’s team was in place and awaiting their, I quote, ‘weapon of Allah’s Fire.’”
“A ‘weapon of Allah’s Fire’ sounds like a nuclear weapon to me.”
“To me as well.”
“Can we lock it down any more precisely than Groznyy? And who is Kassab?”
“Kseniya is working it.”
At her name, Kseniya turned.
“Possibly Izz al Din Kassab, a known fighter in the Chechen rebel forces. Last known position was with Giku Inarov, the current rebel leader. Location, though, is unknown.”
“Maybe not any longer. Okay.” The English word had crossed into Keldara just as quickly as any other language. “Get the best fix we can on the location of the call. Priority on any other transmissions or activity in and around Groznyy. Irina, see what the Russians have available for HUMINT in that area. And Kseniya, get a full dossier on Kassab. The Kildar needs this information.”
“Good job! Now, get back to work. There’s lots more data to massage. We might just get lucky again.”
“Okay, Grez, what do you have?” Mike asked.
This wasn’t the first time Greznya had briefed Mike and her status as Vanner’s wife had little to do with it. She had proven time and again she was a highly capable intelligence analyst in her own right; marriage had simply solidified her status in the eyes of the Keldara. Marching upstairs and reporting didn’t faze her at all.
“Izz al Din Kassab and a team of fighters have rented a small tenement building near the center of Groznyy. They are apparently an advance group, waiting for others to deliver one of the nuclear weapons.”
“It is not clear, Kildar. Within the next few weeks, certainly.”
“Who is Kassab?”
“A long-known fighter in the Chechen resistance. He has been associated with Giku Inarov, one faction’s leader, for some years now. Full information is in this file.” She laid a folder on the desk.
“Would Kassab have been able to pull off this assault on his own?”
“Unlikely. He has never operated independently. Nor has he shown any indication of the planning abilities required for an exercise of that magnitude. Background includes being wounded many times in service to one leader or another. Keeps coming back; he‘s a true believer. Knows his role. He‘s kept his head down so there’s never been any official attention.”
“How did he let a slip like this happen then?”
“Probably. Okay. He’s been a good soldier, following someone else’s plan.”
“Exactly our conclusion, Kildar.”
“What do we know about Inarov?”
“Born in 1964. Educated in Groznyy as a construction engineer. Fought with rebels in both first and second Chechen wars. Served as head of Chechen Security Council between wars but removed in disgrace.”
“He was accused of taking hostages while acting in the position.”
“He couldn’t give up the habit even to go legit. What else?”
“Selected as Vice-President of separatist government in 2006, rose to Presidency in 2007. Declared the Caucasus Emirate in October of that year, following a series of visits by Taliban and al-Qaeda representatives.”
Greznya looked up from her notes.
“Apparently, he is attempting to unify all of the former Soviet and current Russian republics in the north Caucasus into an Islamic state. This definitely includes Georgia.”
“Oh, joy. Why haven’t we heard of this joker earlier?”
“According to the CIA there is little support for Inarov outside a very limited base in the southern mountains. His greatest successes have come outside Chechnya; inside Chechnya, the current government lists him as their number one target.”
“Great. We have a guy living practically next door who wants to take over the whole area, who knows how to operate outside his own area, who now has nuclear weapons and has nothing to lose.”
Greznya grimaced. “Essentially correct. There is another factor which is also making us uneasy.”
“Inarov has had success against the Russians in both wars. They were all on a much smaller scale, however. The few followers he still has are from the same mold – small unit commanders, capable, but not imaginative. From reading the Russians’ dossier, I think, and both Patrick and Stella agree, that the conception and planning of this action is beyond him.”
“Someone is doing his thinking for him,” Mike agreed. “What we do about that, though…”
He trailed off, then picked up the phone. “Daria. Combat staff meeting, thirty minutes.” Hanging up, he said to Greznya, “Do we have any idea where J and Cottontail are?”
“We’re in contact with them daily. They have skirted the Pankisi and are near to entering Dagestan.”
“Contact them now. Have them head to Groznyy. We need eyes on the ground.”
“At least we have a starting point,” opined Adams.
The briefing hadn’t taken long. Mike’s initial shock at seeing Katrina, even with Daria’s, “This is part of her training, Kildar,” had quickly evaporated as he listened, again, to Greznya’s information.
“What we do from here, that’s the question,” added Nielson. “We can’t commit fully on the basis of this report alone.”
“Of course not,” said Mike. “Options? Oleg?”
“Attack. The more we send to the Cold Lands, the happier the All-Father will be.”
Mike disagreed, but before he could speak, Greznya spoke up. “Foolish man! This is our only link to the source! If we kill them all, where do we go next?”
“We still need to take them down,” said Adams. “Can’t have them setting there.”
“Until we can trace them back to Inarov, if he is the one behind this, then we have to.”
“We need better intel. J and Katya will get there in a couple days, but what will we miss?” He shook his head. “I think we need to tap into Chechnik’s sources.”
“Do it,” growled Mike, “Just don’t expect me to talk to him.”
He turned to Adams. “Oleg has a good point, though. We’re going to have to plan to take it down. I want you to take Pavel and his team to Groznyy too. Take someone from Intel.”
“Anisa,” said Vanner.
“Fine, Anisa. And make sure you have Cottontail’s black box. Daria, they’re going to need transportation and a base,”
“Rent or buy two vans in Tbilisi and find a warehouse near Groznyy.”
He had to grin. “Damn, it’ll suck when you leave. I hope you’re taking notes, Katrina!”
“Be assured, I am,” she replied, grinning back.
“Knock it off, you two,” said Adams. “How soon do you want us there?”
“Give J some time to get there and develop some sources. Say, four or five days?”
Adams nodded. “Done. Full load?”
“Urban package. I’ll call General Umarov and see if we can’t borrow a couple choppers to get you to Tbilisi quicker.”
He turned to Nielson.
“Any word yet on the Rangers?”
“I expect them day after tomorrow.”
“They dropping in again?” On the previous deployment, the Ranger company had parachuted in from a Ukrainian An-120 transport.
“Yep. Gotta keep those jump wings.”
“Oorah. Will we have sufficient bunk space?”
“Barely. The three emergency shelters you had Meller build last summer are vacant.” A late-winter avalanche had come close to burying one of the Keldara compounds. Mike realized that if anything happened to their homes, they would have nowhere else to stay. In a Georgian winter, that would be quickly fatal.
In response he’d had three long buildings constructed for use as emergency shelters. They also served as large meeting halls and gathering places for the whole community. The villagers from Alersso had rented them on occasion for weddings and other celebrations. They‘d also been used during the worst of the influx of refugees as temporary housing.
“I don’t think the Keldara have any plans for them in the near future.”
“Good enough. Same company, right?”
“First of the Seventy-Fifth. Guerrin is still commanding.”
“That’ll make it easier.” He looked around. “I think that does it.”
People stood to leave. Mike noticed Katrina make her way through to his side. “Yes?” he asked.
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him quickly. “See? I can be the Kildaran you need.”
“Out!” he said, smiling.
“Yes, Kildar,” she replied, and walked, no, swayed, out.
Airborne over Europe; The Valley
Captain Jean-Paul Guerrin, known to his friends as “JP”, was psyched.
When his commander informed him that his company was going to be deployed overseas, again, he hadn’t been. In fact, he was pretty pissed. Not only was he on short time, but Bravo Company had been overseas fifteen of the past twenty months. Some time was in Germany, which on the whole was pretty good. A very little bit of time was in Georgia, which could have sucked, but turned out very good. And most of it was in one sandbox or the other, which still sucked. Home had been good. Home for mustering out was going to be better. He was far into short time, with less than two months to go. To be told that he had one more deployment to make, well, shit.
Then he was told that it was back to Georgia. That changed everything in a hurry.
Bravo had been deployed a couple years earlier. The mission, he was told, was to train with a mountain militia called the Mountain Tigers. While Rangers were one of the best spec ops forces on the planet, it never hurt to get more practice in unusual terrain, and the mountains of eastern Georgia, while not the Rockies in stature, would provide ample challenge to even a veteran company. It got better, though, since the company was going to jump in. Normally, maybe jumping into an unknown LZ would not be high on anyone’s list of things to do, but they needed to jump to get recertified. Recertifying also meant staying on jump status, and therefore on jump pay. So that was good.
Getting to Georgia to jump had been interesting. First, military airlift to the Ukraine, where a Ukrainian An-120 had picked them up and delivered them to the LZ. Then JP landed in a tree, to get pulled out by a fucking Hind, and set down in the middle of, well, something. He still didn’t know quite how to think of it. It ended up that Second platoon was bunking in the quarters of the local warlord’s harem, of all things. This warlord, called Kildar, turned out to be a former SEAL, and had some serious pull in Washington, because JP got briefed on what their real mission was.
Seems the militia was out of town, on a black op.
Black as in, “This never happened, now we have to kill you, sorry.”
The second mission was to cover their back and hold the valley from being overrun by Chechens. They weren’t alone. Even though the militia had left for points east, the women were still around. They weren’t your typical peasant women, either. Besides running a very credible intelligence outfit, a good number were trained as mortarmen, mortarwomen, whatever.
This did cause a little problem, though, as some of his men had to be assigned to the mortar teams in support, which meant they had to work with the women. Closely. Not a problem if they were typical peasants, but they really weren’t typical. JP didn’t know how they did it, but every one of these women could have posed for a swimsuit issue. And it didn’t help they were all young.
What did help was the fact that most of them were either married or engaged to the men his Rangers were there to cover for. That, plus promises of immediate and dire punishment if there were even any hints of an issue, kept everyone in line.
Then there was the third, truly black mission. If the shit really hit the fan, and the Keldara came barrel-assing back through the pass with Chechens on their heels, then his company was to slam the door shut on the Chechens with all the force they could bear. The Keldara were going to have a home to come back to, period fucking dot.
The situation had never quite gotten that bad. They discovered Chechen-manned bunkers in the pass leading to the valley, but one of the Hinds had completely flattened them. The force chasing the Keldara had been nearly wiped out despite outnumbering the militia by roughly forty-to-one. And the blocking force sent ahead to bottle the militia up had met a grisly end at the hands and knives and axes of the Keldara women. All that was left for the company to do was help carry the wounded and dead back home.
They’d been pulled out shortly after. Their deployments since had been routine, even boring in comparison. One final deployment to Georgia, though, that made it much more agreeable.
They had been given a choice between jumping in again or taking a more conventional approach; JP had chosen to jump. He was regretting it now.
That’s how long it had taken from takeoff at Lawson aboard the C-5 until now, just before time to jump.
Three hours’ sleep, he estimated. And the jet lag was going to suck. Still, they were almost there.
“I hope they don’t land in any of the trees again,” said Kacey.
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Tammy. “That captain was pretty cute.”
“You just appreciated that he got your name,” answered Kacey.
“You gotta admit, not many people, not even Rangers, know about Tamara Sperling.”
Her father had been a big sci-fi fan and had named his only daughter after two of his favorite Heinlein characters: Tamara Sperling, a hetaera (or, as Tammy joked, a “space hooker”), and Jillian Boardman, a nurse and the heroine of Stranger In A Strange Land. It was one of Tammy’s ways of separating the wheat from the chaff when it came to men; if they didn’t get the reference, they were done. JP had gotten it.
“I ought to get my bird ready, though. Chief!” she called, turning away.
“Captain?” answered Tim D’Allaird. Chief D’Allaird had known Kacey and Tammy before they were invited to leave the Marines, the Corps in its infinite wisdom deciding that it would rather not have two female pilots who ditched a chopper in the Caribbean. In the Bobbsey Twins’ defense, there had been extenuating circumstances: a nuclear blast which had totally fried their bird’s electronics, making the subsequent crash a testimony to their skill in that anyone survived, rather than a negative.
D’Allaird had been recruited a few months later, after he had separated from the service as well. Now he was the primary flight engineer for the Kildar’s burgeoning air force, working harder than ever, teaching Keldara everything he knew, and loving every second.
“We might have to go fishing for Rangers again,” said Tammy. “We up on Valkyrie?”
“Ready to roll.”
“Who we got to winch ‘em up?”
“Naida’s got the duty right now, but I’ve got nothing doing right now if you prefer?”
“No, she’s passed all her qualifications. Gotta solo sometime, right?”
“Gotcha. We’re ready to roll.”
“Captain! Company all present or accounted for, two injured,” reported First Sergeant Michael Kwan. Another veteran of the first Keldara mission, Kwan was nearing twenty years in uniform. Unlike JP, though, he wasn’t planning on going anywhere soon.
“Corporal Sivula, and Specialist Lynch. Lynch rolled his ankle landing. Sivula managed to knock himself out. I didn’t see it, but I was told he came down on a rock, got caught by a gust of wind and dragged along for a few feet. He’s conscious now. Robinson’s looking after him.” Daniel Robinson was the company’s medic.
“Any sign of the Keldara?”
Last time, the women had met his men out in the fields to collect and fold the chutes. It was a nervous few minutes, though, as the Rangers hadn’t been alerted to being met.
“No, sir. It seems they’re holding back this time.” Kwan looked around. “We’re ready to move out when you are, sir.”
“Good. Let’s get the men moving, then.”
The first Rangers were at the edge of the field when a black Expedition pulled up. JP brought himself to attention and saluted as the man he knew as Mike Jenkins got out.
“Captain JP Guerrin and company reporting for duty, sir!” he snapped.
Mike stopped, surprised, then returned the salute.
“Welcome back, Captain!” he said.
“At ease! You know,” he said as he walked forward, grinning, to shake his hand, “That’s the first time in years anyone from outside the Valley has saluted me. Usually it goes the other way around.”
His smile became broader. “I see you missed the trees. Tammy’ll be disappointed; she was all set to come to your rescue.”
“Good to be back, Kildar,” JP replied. “If you don’t mind, though, I have two injured men I’d like to get into shelter as soon as possible.” It wasn’t arctic cold any longer, but he knew that Sivula and Lynch would do better if they could keep warm.
“No problem. Do you want our doctor to look at them?”
“You have a doctor now? Probably be a good idea for one of them, make sure he’s not concussed.”
Mike nodded and turned.
“Serena!” he called. One of the Keldara girls ran up.
“I need you to take these men to the hospital. Sergeant, um, Kwan?”
“Serena will take your men up, if you’ll point them out to her?” Turning back to JP, he continued, “In the meantime, we’ll get your men settled. It won’t be quite as complicated as last time.”
“No more harem quarters?” asked JP
“No,” Mike said, “Sorry. We have three, I guess you could call them community buildings, set up as shelters during the winter. There’s enough space for all your company. I do have enough room at the caravanserai for you and your officers, though.”
“We’ll get the men in first, if you don’t mind, then settle the rest of quarters. I‘m a little uneasy living up there -”
He gestured at the vaguely Turkish-looking castle perched on top of the hill.
“ – while my men are down here.”
Mike shrugged. “Whatever you prefer, Captain. I’ve been in your shoes, though, and I have to say that I never needed an extra opportunity to be uncomfortable. It always came around sooner or later.”
Corporal Andrew Sivula didn’t feel concussed. That’s what the weird Russian doctor had said, though, and he’d spent enough time in hospitals to not argue with a doc. Besides, it kept him in a nice, warm, comfortable bed overnight, instead of wherever the rest of the company was bunking.
Still, he had to wonder if the doctor was right. He had to be seeing things, or something, because…
“You are awake, finally,” said the woman sitting next to him. Her brown eyes were rimmed in red, as if she’d been crying, and filled with concern. Her face was framed by curly brown hair, and he could feel her hand on his.
She nodded. “Welcome home, Andrew.” Then she was kissing him.
Not the worst way to wake up.