The stories are starting to converge! Which means Mike’s little ‘working vacation’ is coming to an end.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.S.R., or at least Georgia, Chechnya, and Russia, things are happening. Is there a spy, reporting on the plans? If so, to whom? And what will happen?
And Katrina is pushing her boundaries further in Chapter 28.
Somewhere in Chechnya; The Caravanserai; Moscow; Washington DC; St. Louis
“I want my bombs!”
“Excellency, the men are working -”
“I want my bombs!”
“Soon, Excellency, soon, we will -”
“I want my bombs! No more excuses, Ibrahim!”
Ibrahim thought furiously for a moment. He could recognize a danger point, especially with this egocentric despot.
“The reclamation of tritium is proceeding as quickly as we can safely manage, Excellency. Any faster and we risk the lives of our men.”
“Risk them! But get me my bombs!”
“Of course, of course. We shall. I merely awaited your command. Even so, it will take time to rearm all the bombs, especially as we still await our deliveries.”
“Why do we wait? Are our followers so inept?”
“No, Excellency, there seems to be problems with our sources. We divided the amount needed among many vendors to avoid arousing suspicion, but as yet we have only received one delivery of tritium. It was a fair-sized amount, and we may be able to complete reactivating three weapons.”
“Then give me my three so we can emplace them!”
“Excellency, your desire is, of course, my command, but may this unworthy one ask a question?” He made his tone as obsequious as he could manage.
“Excellency, the plan was to place the bombs in the target cities at the same time, was it not?”
“It was. I have changed the plan.”
Ibrahim’s swarthy face showed worry for the first time. “Excellency? May this one beg an explanation?”
“You will take the three weapons you repair and place them in Groznyy, Moscow, and Makhachakala. We will demand the Russian puppets in Chechnya and Dagestan step down immediately, and the godless Russians recognize the Emirate or we detonate the bombs.”
“But what of the rest of the Emirate?”
Inarov waved his hand dismissively.
“Soon enough. Allah has blessed us, Ibrahim, and will not allow us to fail. We simply need to accept His changes to the plan. Once the Emirate controls Chechnya and Dagestan, we will have some breathing room and time to advance our destiny.”
“Very wise, Excellency.” The praise mollified the would-be ruler. “May this one make a suggestion?”
“You may suggest.”
“Your wisdom in targeting Groznyy and Moscow is impeccable, yet I am somehow troubled. If we take the three weapons available, and they will be complete in no more than three days, Excellency, but ignore the threat the Keldara present, I fear our works will be undone.”
“You fear, Ibrahim? Your faith wavers?”
“No, Excellency!” Ibrahim put all the fervor into his voice he could generate. “Perhaps I misspoke, Excellency. Shai’tan is clever; the Prophet has warned us to ignore his temptations. Yet I feel if we were to focus too greatly on reclaiming these lands for Allah, and not remove the viper in our midst, the Keldara, then we would provide Shai’tan the opening he needs to undo our efforts.”
Now it was Inarov’s turn to think.
“You truly believe these Keldara are so much of a threat?”
“Excellency, outside of the Greater and Lesser Satans, there are no more dangerous foes in the world.”
“What, then, do you suggest?”
“We take two bombs, one to Moscow, one to Groznyy. We will gain our freedom thereby. Allow me to take the third bomb and wipe the Keldara from the pages of history!”
Ibrahim fell silent and waited. Finally, Inarov spoke.
“There is wisdom in your words, Ibrahim. Forgive me for doubting your faith; I should have known you only thought of the greater good. Very well! As soon as the bombs are ready, we will execute your plan.”
“Thank you, Excellency. I shall not fail you.”
“I know you won’t.”
“At least we know his name now.”
Katya’s comment seemed to go unnoticed by J, so she elaborated.
J looked up from the map he had been poring over. “What does it mean to us?”
Katya looked unsure.
“We can use his name as a way to enter his circles?”
“Are you asking, or telling?”
“Telling you, Master.”
“And if they ask for a code, or a password?”
“We take them down.”
“Just when I think you’ve gotten over your need to kill, padawan, it rears its ugly head. No, we don’t take them down, not until we’re told to.”
“Master, I am confused. What of the two men in Elista?”
“They could have identified us and made our task more difficult,” he explained. “We needed Hamid to get to Gereshk, and we needed Gereshk to locate their position. Now, we observe, and wait.”
“I hate waiting.”
“Another report from Katya. They have a location.”
Grez pointed to a monitor.
“There, just to the east of Lake Kek-Usn.”
“She stated Gereshk brought the tritium there and has not yet left. Unless he’s waiting for another contact?”
“It’s possible. It would seem to be out of character, though, given the haste they’re trying to collect the tritium.”
“That’s what I thought, too.”
“We need to bring this upstairs.”
Nielson was happy.
“How far away is this lake?”
“Straight line? About three hundred fifty klicks. Of course, there’s no such thing as a straight line around here.” Vanner shrugged. “We’d have to detour way around Chechnya at the very least. Figure six, seven hundred klicks at least. More, if the roads are blocked.”
Adams looked thoughtful.
“Two days drive?”
“About that,” agreed Vanner. “Maybe a little less if everything goes well, but probably not much more.”
“If everything goes well. Riiiight.” Chief Adams had a long, and frequently painful, association with Murphy.
Nielson interrupted with, “Okay. Chief, call Chechnik and explain the situation to him. Nicely,” he added, seeing the malicious grin on the Chief’s face.
“I’ll talk with OSOL, coordinate with the alphabet soup, and get the area under constant observation.” He thought again and waggled his fingers at the ceiling with a half-smile. “Make sure they‘ve moved the eyes in the skies.”
He continued more seriously. “We’ve got to get this dialed in. If we’re going to commit to this site, we need to be sure of the target. We wait until we’re absolutely sure the nukes are there before we engage.”
“What if they move the nukes before we get there?”
“Point, but that’s the point of observation. Still. I’ll get the teams mobilized and the choppers loaded. Put the Rangers on notice. I want to be ready by dawn. I expect it will be a few days, though.”
“I’ll call him, as well.” He said this with some reluctance, unwilling to interrupt the Kildar’s first real vacation in, well, forever.
Adams said, “If he misses the concert, he’ll be pissed.”
“He’ll be more pissed if he misses the movement.”
“Colonel Chechnik’s office, Lieutenant Malakov speaking.”
“I asked for Chechnik.”
“I am the Colonel’s aide. How can I help you?”
“If I wanted to talk a miserable piss-ant who isn‘t fit to lick my boots, I would have asked for you! I asked for Chechnik, and you’re going to connect me. Now. Tell him it‘s Adams.”
“Hold.” Malakov put the phone down.
This assignment sucked, but was better than the other choices: Siberia, or an unmarked grave. Putin wasn’t entirely convinced of Chechnik’s loyalty, and so Malakov had been tapped for the job of spying on one of the nation’s spymasters.
“Colonel? There’s someone named Adams on the line for you.”
“Adams? What does he want?”
“He wouldn’t tell me. He insisted on talking to you.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Chechnik picked up his extension. “Master Chief. How can I help you today?”
“You can tell your aide that when I call it’s fucking important!”
“My apologies. It won’t happen again.”
“Good. Colonel, we have a possible location for the nukes.”
Chechnik sucked in his breath.
“Yeah, we don’t screw around. We need some help on your end, though.”
“Anything at all!” Chechnik scrabbled for a pen. “What can we do for you?”
“We have agents in the area, but we need constant observation. Any movement in or out, we need to know when it happens.”
“Where do you need this?”
“It’s the eastern shore of Lake Kek-Usn, in Kalmykia.”
Chechnik considered this.
“We may not have the resources to maintain constant surveillance,” he admitted. “Our technical means are not usually slated for Russian overflight.”
“I’m aware of that, Colonel. We’ll take whatever coverage you can provide. Doesn‘t have to be aerial; a couple fishermen with good cameras will help. But we need it. Right now.”
“Very good. What else?”
Now Adams paused. Chechnik had fucked them over once before, but he didn’t see any alternative. Sooner or later they’d have to tell him of their movements. “We will be taking the site out. Timetable is still up in the air, but we will be moving on it shortly. Overflight for our Hinds and customs clearance for our teams should have already been approved. If it hasn’t, get it done. We need road conditions for the area, and we’ll need any local yokels to be told we’re coming through and not to interfere.”
“Multiple sources, Chechnik. And no troops on the ground; one thing we don’t need are the locals blowing the whistle on us.”
“I understand, Master Chief. I have done this before.” Chechnik’s voice was cold.
“Overflight has been granted, I know; I’ll ensure that you have easy passage through customs at your entry point, though knowing at least the primary route will allow for better data.”
Adams ignored the obvious attempt for information.
“Good. Once we have the route planned, I’ll download it to you personally.” He allowed his tone to turn menacing. “Don’t screw this up, Chechnik.”
Chechnik heard the click, then, a second later, another click.
Fuck me. He had suspected, of course, there was a spy in his office. Too much information had flowed the other way to be explained otherwise. He was insulted, though. At least Vlad could have given the job to someone competent, instead of Malakov, the worthless mudak.
He pulled his service pistol from the drawer. Well, a service pistol. Actually, it had been signed out by Malakov, at Chechnik’s request. That would just make it more believable when his aide, torn between two loyalties and suffering from PTSD, committed suicide in the Colonel’s office. It was going to be messy, but carpets can be cleaned. Or replaced.
“Lieutenant? Will you come in here a moment?”
“Nielson here. Sorry to be calling so early.”
“No problem. At least I was able to get in before the calls started today. What can OSOL do for the Keldara today?”
“We may have the nukes located, but we need surveillance. We’ve asked the Russians to keep it under observation, but -”
“Let me guess, they don’t want to admit that their satellites watch their people just as closely as they watch us.”
“Okay, let’s see here… We have enough recon satellites to keep it under our umbrella 24/7. Do you want updates, or the raw feed?”
“I think the feed, not analysis. Make sure we get it all: deep scans, infra-red, the works. We can monitor it just as well from this end. Plus, no offense, we have a very direct stake in this.”
“What about Predators? Can you shake some loose for low-level recon?”
“I’ll work on it, but they’re pretty thoroughly tasked. It might take a day or two to get them on-station.” Pierson thought. “But I may be able to get a U-2 for you.”
“You think the Russians will go for that?”
“I don’t think they have any choice. Mike was pretty brutal with them, I heard.”
“He was at that. Seriously, I thought all the 99th’s birds were tied up?”
The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron was based, officially, at Beale Air Force Base, and was supporting the American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a demanding duty that required most of their airframes.
“I wasn’t thinking of the 99th. You’re right about them. No, I was thinking of the 42nd Recon.”
“42nd? Pardon me, Colonel, I didn’t think there was a -”
“42nd? Not on most books, no. This program’s as black as they come, almost as black as you lot. A few years back, they scratch-built a dozen new U-2s, designated the U-2V, with a second seat, state-of-the-art avionics, upgraded engines, and, most importantly, improved sensors that can maintain a constant air-to-ground feed.”
“Never heard of them.”
“Exactly the point. They belong to the Air Force, officially, but the National Reconnaissance Office operates them. I know they are under-utilized at the moment. The only catch is I know the NRO won’t allow you to take the direct feed.”
“We’ll live with that, if we can have ‘em.”
“See what I can do. Anything else?”
“Not at the moment, Colonel.”
“Very well. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have any answers, one way or another.”
“Mike, it’s Dave.”
Mike had awakened at the first ring from the sat phone, climbing quietly from the bed. Katrina wiggled a bit but didn’t seem to wake. “Yeah?”
“We’ve got some movement.”
That brought Mike fully awake.
“How soon?” He was already thinking of flight times.
“Not soon. Four days, minimum.”
Mike relaxed a little. “Where?”
“In Kalmykia, north of the Chechen border. Cottontail and J followed a tritium packet there.”
“I can be back -”
“Whoa! We can handle this part. Besides, isn’t the concert tonight?”
“Yeah, but -”
“No buts, Mike. We can handle this. You enjoy the show and fly back tomorrow. That’ll give you plenty of time.”
“Yeah, time to think of an excuse for Cottontail. You think she’s gonna be happy you saw Crüxshadows without her?”
“See you in a couple days.”
“O Great One, I have wonderful news!”
“We have completed the rearming process on three of the bombs.”
“Two of the larger weapons, the five megaton and the two megaton; and a small one, one hundred kilotons.”
“That is good news, Ibrahim! Proceed with the plan immediately!”
“Excellency, of course we shall. I will dispatch the largest to Moscow, naturally, and shall oversee the movement of the next-largest to the Valley of the Keldara myself.”
“The next-largest, the two-megaton bomb, should go to Groznyy, not the Keldara.”
“Excellency, perhaps you are not aware of the scope of the Valley?”
“It is a single valley, Ibrahim!”
“It is a veritable pit of vipers, Excellency, and needs to be scoured clean!”