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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Kildaran - First Interlude

[Okay, so you're saying, Huh? Interlude? What? Let me tell you a story... While writing The Kildaran, I made the acquaintance of Dick Evans, another writer and fan of Ringo's work. We discovered that he could think of angles I didn't and vice-versa. So, he and I have been working together ever since - I'll write the chapter, send it off to him, he'll make suggestions, and then I'll accept (or not) or sometimes go off on a tangent. But Dick has an idea for ANOTHER book in the same 'universe', tentatively titled Paint It Black. Many of the changes we've made have been to tie this one a little more closely to that one, introduce concepts here that he'll expand there. But the biggest addition is the creation of these 'Interludes' - basically, character sketches of the major players from PIB which, really, have no place in the narrative flow of my book. So at appropriate times, I'll take an interlude (which Dick generally roughs out and then I polish to fit the style that I'm using) and insert it between chapters. Think of the chapters as scenes, and the Interludes as the intermissions between the acts.
Anyway, this is the first interlude. Language and content advisory! Prissy - Major Connors - is NOT a nice person at all, at all.]

18 Months Ago

Major Priscilla ‘Prissy’ Annabelle Connor, twenty nine going on thirty, five foot six, and a hundred and twenty five pounds, was being overcome by her needs, once again, but had yet to put her body to work the way she knew best and enjoyed the most. Prissy planned on a spree that very weekend.
There was a HomeSec Convention in the area. Maybe with a delicious and sweaty forty eight hours, she would manage to suck, fuck, and even lick her way into the good graces of several of the other agencies still working in the area, following up on any remaining leads, and trying to deal with the flak from the press.
She'd only gone and joined the National Guard and gotten a ROTC scholarship after promised moneys had failed to come in. She'd had to join the Soccer team to try earn a scholarship when she discovered that the ROTC scholarship still left her in need of funds.
It was in college that she'd learned about lesbians and that they too appreciated her body and could also give her something in return. Prime example: the coach and her soccer scholarship. Usually her harem helped keep up with papers and the multiple assignments a ROTC cadet had to deal with while playing D1 soccer and trying to get an CS-IT degree, all at the same time. Free time was hard to come by, so she used her body to make sure she had an easier time and a lot more fun.
She may not have done all the busywork, but she retained everything she read and heard in the lectures quite easily. She was also blessed with a near-eidetic memory. She still had to read, listen to and write what she wanted to remember first, and that was work she didn't like.
On top of extricating herself from numerous secret affairs in college she still owed the Army at least six-years of service after graduation and earning her Commission. At least she'd chosen a degree field that would all but ensure her a desk job in the military and a means to control her own fate. Maybe it would give her the opportunity to tweak her own data files on occasion. It would also let her read everyone else's files, making her life in the military easier, as she would be able to find new lovers to control and guide her career.
Her auburn-red hair was still gray-free these days even without much help of chemicals, unlike many of her peers, who had no real outlets for their stress and anger. She loved her hair, especially when she let it down. The natural deep red waves drew eyes to her like mosquitoes to a UV zap-lamp.
Then, with a small quirk of her full lips, a slight downcast of her large eyes as if she were shy and unsure., a wet touch of her tongue to moisten her lips, and more often than not her target would melt before she even got them in her hands.
She had a file full of married men and women who'd fallen to her natural abilities, which allowed her to keep her new boss informed on what was happening “Inside” the Florida National Guard politically. It also gave her ammo to bomb anyone that pissed him off, might be a potential obstacle in the future, or just looked like fun at the time. She'd even consoled’ a few who’d been demoted or passed over for promotion for some unknown reason and made a life long friend in the meantime. That was as long as they never discovered who'd torpedoed them in the first place.
It didn't hurt that she liked the stalk and the fucking afterward. She wasn't sure which was more thrilling, but just the thought of the hunt itself, could make her wet in anticipation.
She had learned to use that ability at the young age of twelve going on thirteen on one of her father's friends at a party. The man had passed out drunk in a lounge chair in her father's study. He’d awakened to find a very recently ex-virgin grinding down, him deep in her, and himself on the way to what the spilled fluids and stains suggested was NOT his first orgasm. She'd been smart enough to gag him, muffling his shout of surprise. His powerful third orgasm triggered her first, when pleasure finally overcame the pain of her first sex. For herself, she'd bit into his chest, bruising and marking him as hers for weeks after.
That had gotten her extra spending money for a few years. A blow job under the table during a political dinner had gotten her first car loan and his political office quietly the payments. After he’d become mayor of her small hometown, anal sex had gotten her a recommendation for the ROTC scholarship.
She kept him well-supplied with ‘favors’, of course. Often she’d perfect her technique with others before coming back to him to demonstrate her latest trick. For him, her first, she did things only a gymnast could do, and he paid for it very well. He went as far as embezzling funds from the city itself to keep her happy and available. She’d played his enemies the same way, allowing him to blackmail them, gaining power and guaranteeing them both extra money. This pleasant state of affairs lasted until the day his heart gave out during one of her weekend visits from college.
She made sure to clean up the scene as best she knew, including the use of bleach to ruin any DNA on scene and mask the musky scent in the air which would have immediately pointed at the cause of his untimely death.
It wasn't her fault he took way too many Viagras to keep up with her. He should have paid more attention to the medicine's warning label and less to her ass waggling in his face.
She placed a call to an escort service - one she’d thought about hiring on with, just for the experience - and then hung up after a few seconds, long enough for an appointment to have been made. She hoped it would appear that he’d died while waiting, the excessive Viagras taken ahead of time overtaxing his heart.
Not even the local papers printed more than a few lines in his obituary. The investigation into the recently discovered embezzlement didn't last more than a week. After all, what was the point in muddying the name of the recently deceased?
What really pissed her off was that it had taken her over five minutes to notice that the mayor had died, so much had she been under the control of her immediate needs. Her mind had cleared up immediately after her orgasms faded, though, and allowed her to think clearly. Luckily she shaved below back then so there would be no pubic hairs to connect her to his happy demise.
Ever since she used him to lose her virginity, he'd been one for the little girl look, hence her shaving. Any other hair of hers - well, she often visited him in his office with her father when he had business there. This established her as a regular, nobody to take note of. Plus it gave her the chance to tease the old lecher with her short skirts and lack of panties. Finally, since it was the Mayor's office, there would be tons of other people's DNA and fingerprints in the room, all leading nowhere.
She'd gotten out clean.
After graduation she'd found a promising young captain, now a retired colonel himself, to help her early on in her career. People talked, of course, but she had enough on so many others that those rumors reached her first. Then she’d take action through her growing network making life hell for the talkers and rumormongers.
Those that hated her openly she arranged for bad evals to appear in their files, and good evals to go missing. Anyone who supported her, with or without her incentives, and a few others, chosen at random, suddenly found plum assignments dropping in their laps, or unexpected promotions. She was laying in for future need.
Most of her old network soon split up as they retired or got out of the National Guard. Many fell into any one of the many HomeSec contractors that had been popping up left and right since 9-11. Lots of these were hidden as earmarks, inserted in nearly every bill passed while the shock was still fresh, so nearly every senator or congressman in DC had his own agency on speed-dial.
Supposedly they networked with each other and the real Big Boys of the business. But in general, they failed at that simple task. Inter-agency jealousy and rivalries, a need to gain credit for any good intel and have someone else to blame when it all zeroed out put paid to most of their good intentions.
It was the DC Mambo. Since no one really had a hard count on all the new Home-Sec agencies out there or where their real authority started and ended. So actually calling anyone to task on what they provided was nearly impossible. Anything not generated in-house had to be verified via their own channels, slowing down the process. Of course, it did ensure that all their bases - and asses - were covered before they actually offered a position on anything new.
Then, too, many of these new agencies were just smoke and mirrors for larger contractors. They’d use various similar names and minority department heads to appear as small and minority-led businesses, opening up routes to benefits their parent companies had no right to. In the end, instead of actually becoming a line of defense for the country, these mini-agencies lined up at the trough and grew fat on the gravy being ladled out by a panicked nation.
Prissy had long ago realized this. She used her contacts to arrange good jobs for good friends at places where the gravy train promised to keep flowing for as long as there was a war on terror. More than two dozen agencies had special friends in them, and she'd even managed to get a few into the FBI before the current situation had come to pass.
Prissy was pissed off in a way that few men could understand but instinctively were aware of and avoided like a plague.
A pure fury only a woman scorned could assume for her own.
A fury that was normally associated with redheads.
Of course, she just happened to be of that genus.
With over eight years in the Army National Guard, she was a fulltime IT and Security specialist, a job normally held by someone far senior to her and with more years of service. But she had risen like a shooting star, and on talent alone, just not the talent college and the Army had schooled her in. No, she used one every women carries in her arsenal. Good looks, the hard athletic body of a teenager, and a willingness to use it to further her career and network of insiders in various HomeSec companies and inside the Beltway itself.
Not that it seemed it would help her or her current mentor, Colonel Olds, any.
He'd just been hammered and verbally threatened - by a civilian of all things! - during a national crisis that was in her boss's backyard. For what? For just taking control of the situation as was warranted by policy and his being the ranking military man on the spot at the time. The rest of the meeting had gone on like a nightmare. She’d blotted out the memory of what had happened after her boss was removed from even nominal control of all the agencies and local forces gathered. No matter what she tried, though, she couldn’t blot the memory of him being told to shut the hell up or be shot on the spot. By a fucking civilian.
No matter how serious or dangerous the man looked, it just wasn't done.
But everyone had kowtowed to his orders as if he were anointed by God Himself. Hell, the President practically polished his boots as a favor! But rescuing Olds from the aftereffects of his tantrum was going to be tough. He’d let anger take over, when a few glances around the room and a surreptitious question or two would have told him not to fuck with the man. Instead, he'd pushed and been pushed back and whipped like a cur.
He'd tried to back door the situation after the meeting was over to get back at the man or get something on him. All of his so-called friends in DC and elsewhere had all told him to fuck off. Olds just didn't have enough goods on his friends and enemies in DC to get anything done other than orders to stay the fuck out of the man’s way.
If he'd just taken a moment to calm down and ordered her to take the initiative, things would have been different. She'd honey-trapped more than enough people in positions that would let them find out why their bosses treated the man like a demigod and how to get back in the game before it was all over. In fact, she'd have fucked every agent in the room if she'd needed to.
Now, it was a month later, the Christmas trees long packed away. The civilian had gone back to wherever he came from, covered in glory. And Olds? Colonel Robert Olds of the Tallahassee National Guard HQ had been passed up again for promotion for the third and final time.
Do not pass GO.
Do not collect your star.
Do not get a chance to promote your assistant to Colonel on a fast track to replace you, skipping her a grade as planned. No choice assignments until retirement. No spot in DC, and now no chance of a position with one of the Alphabet Agencies. Ever. It'd be golfing and fishing for the rest of his life on his meager Colonel's pension.
This meant no special posting for her either, now. She'd have to actually take a job for which she was trained for and not act as an aide for the Colonel anymore. She needed to wash away his sins, somehow. It would help if it was someplace where she could access her own records and adjust them. She’d have to ensure her own career didn't die as fast as his had, and it'd have to be on merit alone.
At least she was also as smart as she was pretty, but that was real work. Until she found and subverted another ranking officer and those about her, which promised to be fun as it usually was, she was on her own again. And it was all that assholes fault.
One Mike Jenkins’ fault. Oh yes, she found the name easily enough. And from a name, she could dig, and plot, and scheme. Because she had plans for that man, eventually. Bad, evil plans.
Mike Jenkins had killed the career of Prissy’s Colonel as sure as he'd shot the man himself as threatened. Something about, “If he didn't shut up and let those that could, do, and those that had no clue, shut the fuck up.” And he, Colonel Olds, obviously knew crap. He’d gone into the meeting, thinking that he had it all under control. How wrong she had been!
It took her some time to find an agent who didn't know who she worked for. Eventually she did, and fucked him silly and done other things to make his mind pliable as mush. He’d broken down the events of those 48 hours to her. The VX in the mosquito truck, stopped as it started to spray down International Drive. The VX at Wet ‘N Wild, and the dupe who’d helped save the situation. The aerosol cans of VX at Disney. The spray plane, loaded with VX. And the final attempt, deep in the tunnels below Disney.
Even she had to admit, Olds couldn’t have handled it.
She didn’t have to like the man who did, though. And she didn’t.
She'd disappeared after the events for a few weeks. It was suggested that she work off some back leave; with the overload of stress and biological hormones she'd built up, she agreed readily enough.
She spent much of that time watching from the sidelines. Her programs trapped memos passing through her office, so she could read first-hand what had really happened. The rest, she filled in from news channels. Yes, it'd been a mess, but in her opinion, who gave a fuck? So a few fat Northerners on vacation ended up worm food. A couple locals? Big fucking deal. More would move south next winter and it'd be just as crowded with tourists and old people. But the damage to her career - that could be permanent!
The only thing that kept her from going apeshit all over some unsuspecting person was the plentitude of horny young men that had descended on Florida that Christmas break. She had had to prove to herself that she was still pretty and desirable and could out-fuck any two-bit coed. She’d pulled a few of those into her bed, too, the really cute ones, for a lesson in what sex was really like. Who knew, maybe, someday they'd be of use to her too. And what coed or hornytoad checks a room for security cameras and sound when there's such a promising spread awaiting their use?
She’d bet some of them would even pose for them - thank you GGW!
Her ex-boss had been good looking enough with the rank and promise of a star on his shoulder to keep her bedding him down, or giving him a quick blow when the opportunity allowed. Now, he looked like a lumpy bag of potatoes left out in the sun too long.
She avoided him like the plague and made sure his retirement papers went through in record time, even for the Army. DOD and many others seemed to agree that everyone was better off with Colonel Olds out of the loop, out of the service, and onto a golf course as soon as possible.
Planning her revenge would take time. No problem; she had plenty of it now. Her assignment as the S-2 for the FNGHQ didn’t tax her much; she often worked on her back - or more often on her knees - and the chosen would scratch hers in return. That's how her game was played.
She’d even managed to avoid overseas and combat duties by sending anyone who might be an obstacle in her place. That's also how her bosses kept getting promoted over other more effective managers and intelligence officers.
Men were putty in her hands. So too were many women. Her gymnast's flexible body and perky breasts gave her the edge she needed to lure them in. And, paired with big, wide, innocent eyes no one knew what was coming.
She was a master at more than sex. Her revenge and planning skills, had they been known, would have made her a favorite of any of the dictators or drug lords in the world. They didn’t know of her, though. On the whole she thought that was probably a good thing. She believed if they'd ever figured her out they'd shit their pants in a panic and run for their mommies.
She never had to remember not to look directly into the camera, and she could always claim someone else was blackmailing her too. Fate or luck had wired her body for sex appeal and a need for sex too. Since she was twelve, she had just plain enjoyed sex and the control it gave her. Once the mood or need struck her, she'd find satisfaction, one way or another.
The same applied to her anger. And when both were satisfied, life was pure bliss. She could actually concentrate on her assigned job and make long term plans without interruption. Her upcoming birthday - thirty - had kicked her biological clock into overdrive, but there was no way she was going to succumb to the demand to produce offspring. Practicing making kids was good enough, thank you very much. Maybe someday, after she got her bird and was a lock for her first star she might have a child or two. She could always find someone to nanny the brat, anyway. But marriage was right out.
Too many men and women were out there, and she could use them for more than just sex or a donation of DNA. She probably would go to a sperm bank so the Army didn't look askew at her having a child out of wedlock. Then she could also pick compatible features to give her children the best opportunities to be smarter and better looking than she was. An interesting challenge, that.
She'd checked though some alternate channel contacts she'd made after the numerous whining calls that Colonel Olds had made. Those had all but immediately killed his career, along with any chance at credit for managing the entire national security situation cluster-fuck. Still, if he’d persisted - if he’d brought her into the loop - maybe she could have salvaged something.
But he'd backed down. Someone had scared him into stopping calling in favors or looking at her for other suggestions. One look into that defeated man's eyes had told her all she needed to know.
Her lover was a coward.
She'd known the same day her boss had arrived back at Headquarters, with his head hanging down. A pair of suits with black shades escorted him all the way to his desk, where they'd removed his cell phone, disconnected his computer and land-line. Then, they’d stood outside the door every single day until word came down that all of the terrorists were either captured or terminated and all the WMD's were neutralized or in friendly hands again.
Who had the power to do that to a man who commanded and controlled thousands of troops?
Who could make his longtime contacts in Washington DC just hang up on him or tell him to shut up and toe the line like a plebe?
Everyone abandoned him in his time of need. He looked like a puppy kicked by its master, and that still haunted her. Well, a little bit. He'd tried, after the events, to get his own revenge. Where did it get him? Under guard at his own desk. His clearances were gone and he'd remained a figurehead for only a short period of time until the memos came through.
She'd order the mandatory retirement cake. Everyone in HQ would show up and give him a pat on the back as he fell from grace and became a civilian again. She might even show up herself with a lover on her arm, just to show the bastard how badly he'd screwed up and what it cost him.
No more dumbasses, no matter how high their rank! She'd find new men and women with power and rank to control again, that was a given. She’d just have to make sure they passed a basic IQ test too.
Not too smart though, she couldn't afford to have them catch on to her ways. It would have to be the ones who thought below the waist, or wore their hearts on their sleeves. She couldn't afford any more idiots, not if she was to make her plans work.
The last day, though.
She’d come in to work, early for once. Olds’ watchdogs were there already, so she knew something was up.
“Morning, boys,“ she said. “You’re here early.“
“Yes, Ma’am,“ one replied. She thought of him as Igg, the other Ook. “The Colonel’s replacement is due in later.“
“Oh, so soon?” she asked, knowing full well that the formal transfer of power was to be the end of the week. “May I see the Colonel? Is he busy?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Ook. “You can go in.” He even held the door open for her.
“You stupid prick,” she hissed as soon as the door closed. “This is all your fault. You and your whining and moaning to your friends in DC. Well, fuck you! In a couple days, you’re history, and I could be too!” Olds just hung his head and took the abuse she heaped on him over the next couple minutes.
She finished by saying, “Looks like I have a new boss to fuck. Hope he’s a better lay than you.” At that, he looked up, angry and confused.
He started screaming at her then. The door burst open, Igg and Ook rushed in. He didn’t care, he’d gone over the edge. Furniture started flying, some at Prissy, some at the watchdogs, more out the window. Igg grabbed her and pulled her out of the room, slamming the door shut. Ook was already calling the MPs.
Olds’ screaming continued as they waited, punctuated by the occasional crash. After a few moments, the noise subsided. She moved as if to enter, but they stopped her.
“Best let someone else deal with him, Ma’am,“ said Ook.
Something made them tweak to the fact that it was too quiet in the Colonel's room. Ook broke open the door.
They managed to cut him down from his kludged up noose just in time. It would have been a long and bad death with his hand at the knots. Prissy silently wished they'd let him go out that way, burying any chance of him exposing her little schemes. Something of this must have shown in her eyes. Or maybe it was that hint of a smile.
He'd tried to jump at her, eyes ablaze. Igg had easily managed to stop him, though. A failure in this, too.
Then she'd smirked at him openly, as he was dragged from what was once his office. The MPs finally arrived, wrapped him in a Love Me jacket, and hauled him away.
She knew that, no matter what he said now, no matter how lucid, nobody would ever take him - or any tales he might tell of Major Connors - seriously again.
What she remembered of him was the look in his eyes as he was hauled away. She knew the look of a lover jilted, and she saw it then, with the realization of his crushing defeat.
She couldn’t help but compare that with the look in one Mike Jenkins's eyes, an unknown government asset that was blacker than black. Eyes that promised to deliver whatever he told a person he was going to do to them. And nothing, not even God, was going to get in his was.
That and the fact that he was a pure Grade-A psychopath and a son of a bitch as well.
Psychopaths needed to be put down like the rabid dogs they were before they did any more harm.
Mike Jenkins was a rabid dog. Looked like it was time for her to play dog catcher.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 8

[Now that we're done with the Chief, Mike can make another call. Language advisory!]


“Office of Strategic Operations Liaison, Colonel Pierson speaking, how may I help you sir or madam?”
“Go scramble.”
“Scrambled. Hold one. Walker!”
Another voice came on the line. “Sir?”
“This is going Ultra. I want you off this line, recorders shut down and the record of this call wiped. Now.”
“Sir, yes sir!” There was a distinct click.
“Sorry, Mike. New bells and whistles. Go ahead.”
“Bob, we’ll take the mission. But we need lots and lots of support or this is going to be a no-go.”
“That’s what I told NCA, and his exact words were, ‘I don’t care. I was told he was the best, and you will personally ensure he gets whatever he wants.’”
“Nice to know I’m appreciated,” Mike said with a chuckle, then he turned serious. “Ready?”
“Go ahead.”
“First, we need better intel. I’m getting a string running, but it’ll take time to generate anything useful. So anything you have, we want. Don’t worry about any processing or pre-processing - my intel section will want the raw data to see what they can mine from it themselves.”
“Done. You want me to coordinate directly, or through you?”
“Directly. I’ll have Vanner call you. You could do me a favor.”
“Name it.”
“He’s been tabbed, unofficially, as a CW3. He doesn’t care one way or another, won’t wear the rank, barely remembers to use it. I want it official, not just something I did at his bachelor party.”
“Not gonna ask. Okay… Next?”
“Not so fast. We want all of the Russians’ take, as well. Overheads. Names. Planning. Everything about this convoy, from soup to nuts, from the officer in charge down to the grunt filling the gas tanks. If there‘s a leak on their end, we need to find it before I put any Keldara‘s asses on the line.”
“There might be some issues with that -”
“Not if you want this done, there won’t be! Bob, if these weapons were anywhere in Russia except Chechnya, in anyone’s hands except the Chechens, I would have told you to fuck off and not thought twice.”
He continued angrily. “If the damn Russians put any - any - obstacles in my way, if they interfere even once, I swear to you I will walk away and let them deal with their own problems! So don’t you tell me there are any issues with getting me the intel I need to pull this one off! You need me to pull this one off. Vlad needs me to pull this one off. What I don‘t need is to be jerked off. Do we have an understanding?”
“Feel better now?”
Mike smiled ruefully. “Yeah, some.”
“What I was going to say was, there may be some issues BUT we will get it to you. Right, intel. What else?”
“Home guard. Someone to watch the store while we’re haring after these nukes. Preferably the same company that was here last time; they’re familiar with the Keldara and at least some of the terrain. But I want them here soonest. They couldn’t take advantage of our infrastructure, didn’t have a chance to learn our patrol routes, weren’t able to fully integrate with the Keldara. Since we have more lead time, though -”
The last major mission had taken the whole of the Keldara militia to execute. Even though they were going to be, geographically, fairly close by, the geographic and political terrain had made it impossible to get in and out quickly. This would have left the rest of the Keldara vulnerable to raids from the Chechens, a situation that Mike, as Kildar, couldn’t permit.
A company of Rangers had been flown over to take the militia’s place, but the timing hadn’t permitted a truly comfortable fit. Although no problems had arisen, it was an oversight which Mike was determined to avoid a second time.
“Makes sense. I think it was Bravo Company, 1st/75th, but I’ll check that and their availability.”
“It’s not a deal-breaker if Bravo isn’t available, it would just be smoother. They know the territory, they know the Keldara, and they know the rules.”
“Understood. Next?”
“Full entry and overflight permission from the Russians for the whole operation area. We can’t fuck around with passports and customs and ritual dick-beating when we need to move. I especially don’t want to give Putin a single opportunity to fuck us over again. It’s not like we were good buddies last time we met. Oh, and off the record?“
“Yeah?“ said Pierson warily.
“I told Lasko to miss by at least three inches.“
“I really, really didn’t need to know that, Mike.“
“In any case - if we get good intel, we may have to act quickly; we can’t lose time. Also, it’s a potential security issue. If we have to be cleared through customs, then some guard will be on the phone to his cousin in Groznyy minutes later.”
“Stickier, but it’ll get done too. You mentioned overflight?”
“We’re trying to line up chartered cargo and passenger flights. We’d be deploying out of Tbilisi, if we move that way. We also have the two Hind-Js, so we‘d need support for them - refueling, mostly, but they will be armed. Dragon and Valkyrie will be piloting, if we use the choppers.”
Kasey Bathlick and Tamara Wilson, former captains in the Marines, were Mike’s pilots. Recruited by OSOL on his behalf, they had been flown to Georgia with a promise of good pay for nothing more than an interview. The situation, and population, hadn’t impressed them at first, but they quickly realized that they had landed in with professionals and had signed on. The next day they were in the Czech Republic, taking delivery and getting flight qualified on the Hind-J helicopters Mike had ordered, followed quickly by a three-day flight back to Georgia. One series of hairy-ass sorties had earned them their handles, Dragon and Valkyrie.
“Do you need any extra mechanical support?”
“No, we have a good ground crew that we’ll be taking along.”
“Anything else?”
Mike was somewhat hesitant, but brought up his final point. “This could well end up being too big for us to handle. Don’t want to say that, but it’s the truth. This has to be the major thrust of the rebels, and with this number of weapons, I expect security to be massive. We might not have the manpower to take it down. The other problem is if they’ve dispersed the weapons. Again, it’s a question of bodies. I only have a hundred twenty, more or less. Concentrated, it’s a pretty good force. But if we have to break up into penny packets, we risk being defeated in detail. I won’t do that to the Keldara. And if we stay concentrated, and hit one target at a time, we risk losing the others weapons if they get the alarm out.”
“What are you asking for, Mike? We can’t commit any forces to hostile action on behalf of Russia, not even on Russian soil.”
“No, but the Russians can. If I tell you we can’t do it, or we need to do multiple, simultaneous strikes, then I need to know that the Russians will commit their own military to this.”
“I can’t guarantee the quality of their forces.”
“If they’re smart, they’ll send their very best, but that’s their problem. If we find the nukes, we’ll recover what we can and steer the Russians to the rest. A couple brigades, even of their crappy conscripts, will go a long way toward taking them out of commission.”
“Quantity does have a quality all its own.”
“Truth, Bob.”
“I’ll start the wheels turning. What else?”
“That about does it for now. I’ll have Vanner call you shortly to set up the initial intel exchange and arrange further dumps.”
“Good enough. Out.”
Mike set the satellite phone down. They were committed now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 7

[Okay, so I'm posting a little more quickly than I expected to. Hope that meets with your approval! =) If you're new to this blog, please, I beg you, go back to the beginning and read from there. Otherwise, if you get lost, I refuse to leave any bread crumbs for you! Warning: This post, being largely a conversation between Mike and the Chief (his oldest friend, and another former SEAL), is chock full of adult language. So keep the kiddies away!]


After Stasia left, Chief Adams came up.
Mike and the Chief had known each other for almost twenty years. They had met in the infamous BUD/S class 201, when they were two of only five survivors of the course. Burly and bald, the Chief had stayed in the Teams when Mike had gotten out to become an instructor. Unexpectedly reunited in a stinking hell-hole under the Syrian desert, Adams was surprised but not shocked to find his old teammate, Ghost, holding off a battalion of Syrian troops with the assistance of a few naked co-eds.
These few, christened Babe, Bambi, and Thumper in the tradition of the Teams, and Amy, an ROTC private, had been kidnapped, drugged, and flown in to be raped, tortured and eventually killed in an effort to break the will of the U.S. The plan had gone awry with Ghost’s intervention, which led to the deaths of both bin Laden and the president of Syria, the total destruction of a chemical weapons plant on the site, and the disappearance of one Mike Harmon, aka Ghost, whose name now topped every jihadist’s most-wanted list.
So Adams had been surprised again several months later when his old friend had called and asked him to come to Georgia - “the country, not the state” - and help him train a militia. Having recently separated from the Teams, and in the process of divorcing wife number five, the Chief had said “Sure,” figuring at worst it would be a quick payday. But when he finally got to the Valley of the Keldara several weeks later, training cadre in tow and a crash Berlitz course in Georgian echoing around his mind, he received several shocks in rapid succession.
First, the quality of the equipment. Mike had clearly spent mega dollars in getting the best he could acquire into the country.
Second, the quality of the recruits. Almost uniformly athletic, intelligent, and motivated, the Keldara mastered the basic training with incredible speed. SEAL-style training came next, and the Keldara simply soaked that up as well. Never had the Chief ever seen recruits as capable as these.
Third, the Keldara women. Fricking incredible didn’t begin to describe them. Stunning. Gorgeous. Fantastic. Amazing. And, dammit, off-limits unless he was serious about wife number six.
Finally, the beer. Chief Adams thought he knew all the best beers after his global travels in the Teams. But none had a patch on the Keldaran beer. Each Family made their own particular brew, and all of them were worth losing an arm for. But the brew of Mother Lenka - that was worth a couple legs as well. Not the other arm. Had to hold the bottle some home. Simply the most amazing beer he had ever had.
He was also Mike’s field second. Anything that would affect the mission, he took seriously.
“What the fuck are you doing about Katrina?” he opened.
Mike chuckled. “Subtle as always, aren’t you?”
“Don’t fuck around, Mike. This could be really bad. Or maybe not. It‘s gonna depend on how you handle it on your end.”
“I know,” Mike agreed. “And I was as surprised as any of you when she came to me - wait. How do you know about Katrina?”
“It’s been pretty obvious to everyone but you, buddy. You’ve been trying so hard to keep out of her way, you haven’t noticed that she’s been circling closer and closer for months. She practically lives in the caravanserai, you know, between sessions with Daria, and Anastasia, plus she’s taken familiarization and advanced courses on the M4 and MP-5 with me, along with hand-to-hand; basic intel analysis with Grez; and has even worked out as a stand-in crew chief for Kacey on a bunch of recon/training flights.” Adams smiled. “Face it, dude, she’s got you locked in her sights and there is no way you’re getting loose.” He decided to leave the red-headed heat-seeker joke for some other time.
“Doesn’t look like it, does it?” Mike agreed, grinning back. “I have to admit, as much as I hated the idea at first, it’s starting to grow on me. Still…”
“Still,” continued Adams, “You worry about her safety, You worry whether or not some raghead, frustrated at not getting you, will take her out. Or take out your children. You worry about how you will react, whether you’ll fall apart again or, maybe worse, just go completely black. Right?”
“For a Chief, you’re pretty bright.”
“Bite me. Look, let’s take your objections in turn.”
“Okay. Safety here in the Valley.”
“That one’s bullshit and you know it. Nobody within fifty miles is gonna fuck with the Keldara, not without bringing an army in, and the Georgians won’t allow that. Their army might not be any great shakes, but they know they depend on you holding this corner secure, and aren’t going to let some fuckwad muj army march over the border.”
“That takes care of the children issue, too, I guess.”
”Yep, at least until they are old enough to get out on their own, if they decide to. Odds are, they won’t. Any kids you two have are going to be the Keldaran children of the Kildar, the next best thing to royalty here. A couple might want to leave, get some of your wanderlust, or just be stupid and rebellious. But I know you - you ain’t nobody anyone’d want to meet in a dark alley. Bet you‘re already thinking of all the dirty tricks you can teach them in hand-to-hand.”
“What about school? If I have kids, I want them to have an education, not just have a choice between farming, working in a brewery, or being a soldier.”
Adams waved it off. “Buddy, you’ve got more money than you’ll spend in a lifetime. If it worries you, set up a school in Alersso, subsidize it so kids can get a real education, and stop worrying. It’s not a concern for right now, anyway, is it?” He plowed on. “What else?”
“What if something happens and I lose her, too?” It was almost a whisper. Although Mike had finally recovered from the death of Gretchen, it was still a tender subject. Adams didn’t think that anyone else in the Valley would have heard him like this.
“Then we sing her to Valhalla and wipe out the motherfuckers who did it. Accidents might happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You think for a second that Katrina - Katrina! - would allow you to wrap her up like a china doll? Shit, no!” He leaned closer.
“Let me tell you, she is smart. Maybe smarter than you, because she’s spent how long thinking about all of this and doing something about it! She wants you, Mike, God knows why, and she has done everything in her power to get you. You worry that she won’t be able to take care of herself? Dude, she pushes me hard in sparring sessions. She is strong, she is fast, and she is motivated. Strikes like a snake and doesn’t hold back.” The Chief smiled. “She cheats, too.”
“You worry about her education? Stasia set her up in the same online college she does, and Katrina’s flying through her coursework.”
“You worry about this life? She wants it! She knows what you need and is bound and determined to be that person.” He paused. “I almost hate to say it, but she’s probably the best choice you have here - and, if she has her way, your only choice.” A mischievous grin crossed his face. “Hell of a looker, too.”
“You know she was the first person I met in the Valley? I was lost, trying to drive the old Mercedes through a snowstorm, running low on gas. Finally I see this person bent almost double along the road. I asked her for directions, then gave her a ride back to her house. I thought she was an old woman, she was so bent over and wrapped up. But when we were in her house and she unbundled…” He trailed off. “You know, it’s almost because of her that I bought the caravanserai,’ he mused. “She was always in the back of my mind.”
“Back to my point, then. What are you going to do about Katrina?”
“What else is there to do? I’m going to marry her.”
“About fucking time, Ass-Boy.” The two friends shared a good laugh
“It’s going to have to wait a while, though. I don’t want to be planning a wedding and a mission at the same time.”
“Don’t make her wait too long, Mike,” warned Adams. “I think you’ve just about used up her patience. I don‘t know if you have a choice, anyway.”
Mike shrugged. “Twenty-five nukes says she waits a little longer.” He frowned. “You know, there’s something odd about this mission, though.”
Now the Chief frowned too. “How so?”
“Well, the scale of it, for a start. None of the muj have ever hit something this big before. They just don’t have the planning or tactical abilities to pull off a hit like this, not deep in someone else’s territory. This is just too good, too professional. Hell, it feels like something we could pull off - seriously black.”
“Are we sure it’s muj?”
“No, and that bothers me too. Pierson is sure that it’s Chechens, and I’m sure his intel will support it. But it doesn’t have the right feel for it. One nuke, maybe. But a whole convoy?” He shook his head. “Something stinks about this.”
“So what else could it be?”
“I don’t know. What if it’s all a ruse? Maybe the Russians hit their own convoy to blame the Chechens.“ He held up a hand to stop Adams’ protests. “I know, unlikely at best. That just proves my point, though. We need more intel, and we need it fast. Maybe J will have some ideas.”
”Where is he? And Cottontail? I haven’t seen them around in a few days.”
“Don’t know. He said that he was taking her for training and he would be in contact with us. We ought to be hearing from him soon.”
“That dude seriously worries me, Mike. He’s like a creepier version of you - totally invisible unless he wants you to see him.”
“I know,” Mike agreed, “But that’s why he’s the best at what he does. I‘m thinking about getting him to dig up something - anything! - on Kurosawa. Even he’s starting to act like he knows what’s best for me. Not that that makes him any different than anyone else around here,” he grumped.
Adams snorted and stood. “Okay. I’ve got to get some training planned with Nielson. You want to sit in?”
“No, just let me know before you get the teams running through it.”
“Right. Oh, yeah, one more thing -” Adams added, his hand on the door sill.
“I’m gonna throw your bachelor party.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 6

[Where are we now? Oh, yes - Chapter 6. In which - well, you'll have to read to find out what happens. Hope that you're enjoying this - comments are always welcome - I'm enjoying posting these!]


Their escape from the searching Russian troops, while tedious, had been clean. Not a single man was lost to hostile fire, though Ibrahim had had two men killed for dropping their end of a crate and jarring the delicate device inside. Now, they were hidden in a network of caves, partially natural, partially man-made that the separatist forces used as a headquarters. They were deep enough to hide any tell-tale traces of radiation, as well.
Ibrahim was meeting with the leader.
“A great success!” exclaimed Giku Inarov, self-proclaimed Emir of the Caucasian Emirate, the former Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Inarov had been the successor to the last separatist government. Then, after a secret meeting with a Taliban emissary, he had declared the dissolution of the rebel Chechen Republic. His replacement was the Emirate, a fundamentalist Islamic state which was dedicated to conquering all of the Caucasian region of Russia for Islam and, just incidentally, himself. But in the year since his conversion, success had been extremely limited. The Chechen people were tired of war, tired of having Russians trample the fields, smash the buildings, and kill anyone they thought threatening.
Little support was forthcoming from the people, and this could be the final effort. Inarov had spent all his resources. Every ruble in the treasury - gone. Every contact in the Russian military and intelligence agencies - burned. Every bit of goodwill left - used. If this failed, the Emirate would never be, and the would-be Emir would likely wish he was never born.
But Allah was watching over their efforts! How else to explain the appearance, months before, of Ibrahim? Ibrahim, who promised to lead Inarov to a great future? Ibrahim, who had brought order and discipline to the fedayeen? Ibrahim, who conceived and executed the bold stroke that brought them the weapons to secure his destiny?
Inarov faced Ibrahim across the table. “And now we strike! Our nuclear fire will rain down upon their cities! The infidel shall burn, and we shall reclaim the Dar al-Harb for Allah!”
“Slowly, Excellency, slowly,” cautioned Ibrahim. “We have but one opportunity to land our blow and secure the Emirate. Our plans are not yet complete, our security not yet perfect.”
“But now we have these awesome tools of our liberation!” cried Inarov. “Inshallah, they cry to be used!”
“And so they will, Excellency. Soon.” Ibrahim bowed his head in a gesture of respect. “There is still much to coordinate. You ask for a simultaneous attack -”
“Of course, it is the only way that we shall bring all of these corrupt unbelievers to their knees! They must feel the pain of their false gods!”
“I agree, of course, yet doing so is far more difficult than isolated incidents. Our people have yet to recognize the brilliance and rightness of your path -”
“They are faithless and weak! I will have them -”
Ibrahim calmly overrode the rant. “- and our numbers are small for what we plan. Although it is Allah’s will we succeed, I need time to implement the plan. Most especially, I need time to execute the most dangerous enemies of your rule, the utterly faithless Keldara.”
Inarov looked puzzled. “Ah yes, the Keldara. But why should such a small group pose such a threat to us? I have never understood your insistence on their annihilation.”
“They are pagans, worshipping false gods, not even the weak Christian Jesus. That apostasy alone condemns them. They also have the support of the President of Georgia, which could stiffen his resolve in face of your requests. Finally, they are led by an agent of the Great Satan, an accursed American, who seems to wield an unseemly amount of power with the American government. If he asks, the Great Satan itself might decide that you were a threat to its interests and bring its military might to bear upon us. While Allah would not let them prevail, it is not yet time to face them in battle. Islam needs you, and your leadership, as we build to bringing all the world to Allah. Risking you, and your place in the reclamation of the Dar al-Harb, would be an offence to Allah.”
Inarov, convinced, settled back. “So tell me again, faithful one, where our plans lie in claiming the lands for the Emirate.”
Ibrahim relaxed and began ticking off points on his fingers. “First, we must verify that all the weapons are functional. That will take at least a month, especially if any need repair. We have the equipment to do most repairs, and I have acquired “ - kidnapped - “sufficient technicians to do the work. The Lesser Satan built sturdy weapons, but they have suffered for lack of maintenance.”
“Second, while we are working on the weapons, I will dispatch teams to the former capitals of the Emirate’s lands - Yerevan, Baku, Groznyy, Makhachakala, Magas, Nalchik, Stavropol, Vladikavkaz, and Cherkessk. Tbilisi, too, but I shall handle that after the Keldara. They will seek locations suitable for our operations. I will lead a team to Moscow for the same purpose.”
“How shall I help?”
Ibrahim had expected this. “Rally the people to our cause. Convince them that your rule will bring the beneficence of Allah to their land and a life of prosperity to their children You are their Emir, yet they do not know you. Use the equipment we will use to transmit to the ungodly to speak with them.” Inarov’s head nodded at every point.
“Yes! I will exhort our people to rise against the ungodly! Their hope has arrived! Soon the oppression shall fall!”
“Do not reveal too much, Excellency!” cautioned Ibrahim. “The Great Satan’s agents are clever, and while we have the blessing of Allah, we cannot expose ourselves too much to Shai’tan’s wiles! Platitudes, and kind words, and the text of the Qur’an.”
“Agreed, my friend. I am simply eager to be about Allah’s work!”
“So you shall, Excellency, as you need to also prepare the statements declaring your Emirate, and the power behind it.”
“How will we prove our intent? They shall doubt our words if we cannot supply more.”
“Each warhead can be individually identified. We will provide each leader with the numbers for the warhead in their city, and they can get their proof from the Russians.”
“Have you set a date yet for the execution of our plan?”
“No, Excellency. I did not wish to presume upon your prerogatives.”
“How long will these missions take?”
“With Allah’s favor, they shall be completed in four weeks. But Shai’tan works strongly to protect his infidels, and we must allow for that. I also must complete the mission to the Keldara before we can announce our presence, otherwise the Great Satan will only be a phone call away.” He seemed to think for a moment. “Six weeks from today.”
“Excellent, Ibrahim! You could not have picked a better date! The great festival of Soviet laborers will be the day our labors finally break us free of its decaying husk!”
After Inarov had left, Ibrahim went to his quarters. “I am not to be disturbed,” he informed the guard outside the door. The guard didn’t question him, and Ibrahim was sure that nobody would come near. Still, he locked the door securely before relaxing.
The plan was proceeding well, reflected Schwenke. It would have shocked his sponsors to learn that Ibrahim al-Jasir, devout Muslim and fervent revolutionist, really didn’t care about the Emirate or Chechnya or even Islam. In fact, the whole structure, the whole towering edifice of plans and plots, treachery and deceit, was all so one Kurt Schwenke, former intelligence agent, could have his very personal revenge on an ex-hooker.
Twice, the woman had gotten away from him. Once, she had humiliated him, once, simply interfered with his plans. Not again. It had taken him some time, and quite a few of his remaining resources, to track her down, but he had finally learned that she spent much of her time in a small valley in Georgia, under the protection of a semi-feudal lord called the Kildar and his militia, called the Keldara and Mountain Tigers. It had taken even more time to conceive this operation, using the megalomania of the so-called Emir and his resources. While Kurt had made sure that his scheme was fundamentally sound and would, if all went well, achieve the Emir’s goals, the true purpose was to deliver a single weapon to the valley, wipe Katya off the map, and even the score once and for all.
“Soon, bitch, soon. Soon. You won’t be able to run. Your little tricks won’t help you when the sun comes to visit you. Soon. Soon.”
All the guard could hear through the thick door was an indistinct mumble.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 5

[Back into the Valley. When we left our hero - oh wait. You found THIS post, right? You can go back and look at the PREVIOUS posts! D'oh! Sorry, a Homer moment there. I hope you like Stasia - she is a memorable person!]


Anastasia Rakovich, called Stasia by her close friends, was twenty-eight, tall, blonde, and gorgeous. She had been a ‘gift’ to Mike by an Uzbek sheik, Otryad, who had bought her at age twelve, wedded and divorced her, and made her his harem manager. Despite this lack of formal education, she was as extraordinarily intelligent as she was beautiful. Multilingual, she could hold fluent conversations in a half-dozen languages, and manage in who knew how many more. Her thirst for knowledge was unquenchable; since coming to the caravanserai, she had earned Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Education, and was working on an MBA. She coordinated the classes for Mike’s harem, most of whom couldn’t read when they first arrived, and saw to the smooth running of the hareem. And she was also a serious sub, relishing nothing more than her time with Mike in the dungeon he had finally installed for her, far back in the second sub-basement.
“Stasia.” Mike was apprehensive as the silence stretched out. He knew how smoothly his household ran now, despite the complications brought on by a gaggle of teenage girls. Even though he didn’t think that anything would come of Katrina’s desire - or demand - be become the Kildaran, he was still reluctant to give up the peace and serenity that the harem, under Anastasia’s careful stewardship, had brought to his life. He didn’t want to give her up, either, if he was being honest with himself.
“You wished to see me?” You can do better than this! he thought. Not for the first time, he touched on the fact that it was truly the sub that had the upper hand in a dominance relationship. “This is about Katrina?” he prompted.
“Yes,” she replied seriously.
“I don’t really know -” he began, then stopped.
She suddenly smiled, a full, joyous smile, and the tension in the room vanished. “Mike,” she laughed, “Of course you don’t!” She shook her head.
“I know what you are thinking. I know what happened today, when Katrina came to see you. And I know, too, how to manage this.” She laughed again. “That is why you have a manager, and not do it yourself, yes? I have been through this before in Otryad’s household. It is not difficult if you can accept your role.”
Mike wondered at the sudden shift in the conversation. “My role?” he sputtered. “How do you mean?”
She turned serious. “The Master always has a wife, even with his hareem present. I was Otryad’s wife, until I was replaced. Whether for show, or for politics, or power, or even for love, the hareem remained. And the relationship to the hareem remained the same.”
“Explain, please.”
Settling fully into lecture mode, Anastasia continued. “Let us say that you take Katrina as the Kildaran -”
“Not a sure thing,” he interrupted.
“Let us say.” He nodded. “Then she will be first in the household, the Mistress, and after the Master, her words are law. She is young, though, and inexperienced. You will still need me, to help manage the hareem. She will need me, to help teach her more of how to care for you. She is smart, though, and is aware of this, that you will need your time and your space too. Think now. There are times when you need Tinata, or Martya, or one of the others. It changes with your mood, and the situation, and the problems of life outside the hareem, does it not?” He nodded again. “So how should it be different after?”
“In America -”
Her head shook vigorously. “But you are not IN America. In truth, I doubt you will ever return there to live. You are the Kildar, now, and have adopted these people, this culture, as your own. You may try to change some aspects of it - no girls have been sent to town since you came, have they?” Before his arrival, it was common for the locals to sell their extra daughters to slavers. It was a cultural holdover from an their agricultural past. Children were the economic life-blood of any farm, but boys were more valuable than girls, partially because boys were generally more physically capable, but also because girls would eventually marry. Marriage, especially the first year, was difficult in such cultures, so a dowry would be provided by the woman’s family as a financial cushion for that first year. That dowry, though, was a huge drain on the family providing it. So another custom had evolved, where post-pubescent girls who were not yet betrothed, usually around twelve or thirteen, would be sold off. Not only did it relieve the family of the burden of a dowry, but it could provide up to six months‘ income. Mike hadn’t allowed that to continue. “But the culture as a whole, you accept. You never sought a hareem, yet you ended up with one because the girls had already been sold and the families wouldn’t take them back when you stopped the slavers. So you adapted, and changed. You didn’t know how to handle a hareem, so you found Otryad, and me.” She dimpled. “And you have given me wonderful years, when I thought that my future was bleak. I know that you are different, and won’t get rid of me when you think me too old, like Otryad would have - did. And so because you are who you are, the Kildar, and a SEAL, and everything else - you will keep the hareem, and you will keep me, even when you take a wife.” She looked positively smug as she finished speaking.
“You still amaze me. I thought you would be upset, jealous. I guess I didn’t realize that, just because this is new to me, it wasn’t new to you.”
She shrugged. “I won’t say I won’t be jealous. Katrina will take more of your time than any other woman you have had. But you will still need me, from time to time,” she twinkled, “And the other girls. You will need to have your own place and time away from her, so that the time you spend with her is as joyous and pleasant as it should be.”
“I really hadn’t considered that. I wonder if Katrina has?”
Stasia nodded. “It is one of the topics we discussed. She accepts that even if she is first in your heart, your bed will not be hers alone. Although,” she added, “I think she has her own ideas how to keep you in her bed more frequently than not.”
“I’m sure she does. You have been teaching her, after all.” He leaned back. “I do have one question, though.”
“Only one, Master?” she teased.
“For now,” Mike admitted. “How is it you are so sure this will happen? I really have some problems with all this, and I still have to-”
Stasia’s laugh echoed around the room. “You doubt Katrina’s will?”
No, he had to admit as his laugh joined hers, he didn’t doubt that at all.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 4

[Another visit to the Valley of the Keldara. No, there is no such real place. Sorry. But there is a really nice bit of real estate in Georgia which could pass for the valley - thank you MapQuest! Same warning as before, adult language and situations in this post - so maybe the 12-year-olds shouldn't read it - or maybe they should. Your kid, not mine. Anyway, enjoy!]


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?”
“Chechens again.” 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 that they might have that 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.”
But 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 or 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 - lots of things. 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 either. I’ve been promised all the support we need, so permission to bring the Hinds in and out might be all clear. But we can’t assume anything, so keep on your flight crews. Seconds might make a difference. We might need you for air support, dust-off, or even transporting the cargo.”
Nielson weighed in again. “So what do we know?”
“We know that the Russians were sending a large number of nuclear warheads to a port on the Black Sea for transport to the US. We know that the convoy was attacked in force, and twenty-five of the warheads were taken. We know that 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 that military intelligence could apply.
“There’s not much more I know,” replied Mike. “Pierson speculated that 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 that 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 that would deal with this kind of thing.”
“And to whom do I report my speculations?”
“The Vanners, for now. Any people that you know that 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 have to, 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. 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, as long as 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. “Yes, Kildar?”
He sat on the table next to her chair. “Knock off the Kildar crap. What’s this about you wanting to leave?”
She agreed, “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 that I belong, here.” Daria Koroleva had been a whore, sold into sexual slavery by her boyfriend, before Mike had rescued her, purely by accident, on a mission in Rozaje. 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 that, having recovered from an illness, 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.
He groaned. “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?” She nodded. “And that I don’t know how long it will take?” Another nod. “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 bed-mate telling him what he had to do about Katrina - that he was NOT looking forward to.
At all.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 3

[Time for another chapter. I'm going to TRY to post one every four days or so, that'll give me a schedule to keep and keep the writing moving forward as well! Last chapter, you got to meet Katrina, who wants to be the Kildaran - what's that? What's a Kildaran? Haven't you been reading the previous chapters? NO?? Then go back and do so! - and now we get a leeetle complication introduced. WARNING: Adult Language, not suitable for all readers. Please use discretion.]


A timeless time later…
“Katrina, stop.”
“Katrina, I mean it.” Mike stood suddenly, dumping Katrina toward the floor. She recovered quickly, and landed on her feet, clothes only somewhat mussed. She wasn’t happy, though.
He didn’t allow her more. “Katrina, I have to talk to the Elders, I have to talk to Daria, and Anastasia, and Adams, and…” He trailed off, realizing just HOW complicated this might become. With a quick shake, he continued. “And I’m sure you have to make plans too, and -” He was saved by another knock on the door. “Come!” he cried, gratefully.
Daria entered, Kurosawa at his usual spot by the door. He closed it behind her - was that the hint of a smirk on his face? He‘d have to talk to him. Again. “Colonel Pierson on the satellite phone for you.” She carefully didn’t comment on his, and her, somewhat rumpled looks. Kurosawa must have warned her. Katrina hadn’t exactly been quiet with her side of the discussion.
“Thanks.” He turned to Katrina. “I need to take this. I’m sure that you have something to do…?” He trailed off hopefully.
“I will be back later, Kildar.” With a quick kiss on his lips, a brilliant smile, and a surprisingly lascivious wink, she turned and followed Daria out of the office. No Kurosawa. He hadn’t been around long, but he’d learned quickly how these calls affected him. With a sigh, Mike turned to the sat phone.
“Pierson,” came the voice of Colonel Bob Pierson, Mike’s contact at OSOL (Office of Strategic Operations Liaison, or as they sometimes called it, Oh-so-S-O-L). “Go scramble.”
Mike entered a code. “Go scramble. What’s up, Bob?”
“I know we haven’t had much for you lately, Mike,” began Pierson.
“No worries. It’s actually been nice not having to chase down the scum of the earth for a while.”
”Yeah, well, the new administration isn’t quite sure what to make of you, Mike. You’re neither fish nor fowl -”
“- nor good red meat, I know. At least the SecDef knows me.”
“True, but he still has to take orders from upstairs. We want to use you for certain issues, but they’re really reluctant to bring you in on anything not in the States.“
Mike’s antennae twitched. “Level with me, Bob. I don‘t do this for the money, I do it because American interests are at stake somewhere. So if this isn’t going down in the States - just where are we talking about?”
“Fuck no, Bob, I’m not doing a damned thing for those pricks! They hung me - us - out to dry with the Chechens by withholding their intel. You know how many lives they cost me?” Mike’s fury was real. The Russian intelligence agencies had known that a large force of highly trained Chechen soldiers, led by one of their varsity, Grigor Sadim, was headed his way on a mission and hadn’t passed on the information. While Mike might still have completed the mission - it was a particularly virulent form of smallpox that they were hunting, one that would have wiped out most of the planet’s population - he still didn’t know if the price the Keldara paid was worth it. “Tell Vladimir to go fuck himself. You can pass that along with my compliments.”
“Mike, you really need to -”
“All I NEED to do is figure out what to do with Katrina,” he snapped back. This threw Pierson off for a moment.
“Katrina, what? Never mind. Mike, the Russians have lost a shipment of nukes.”
That got his attention. Mike had already stopped two attempts by some towel heads to move nukes into populated areas, getting shot up pretty well once. “Okay, Bob, you’d better tell me this story. I don’t promise anything, but I’ll listen.”
“President Medvedev has been quietly increasing the rate they’re dismantling their missiles, and shipping them to the US to be reprocessed back into fuel.”
“About the only smart thing Vlad’s puppet has done,” added Mike.
“Well, the latest convoy was heading for Novorossijisk, a small port on the Black Sea, where a US-flagged freighter was waiting. Outside the town of Elista, though, they were hit by a good-sized force of Chechens.”
“Let me guess. The Chechens won and made off with as much of the convoy as they could manage.”
Pierson had worked with Mike far too long to be surprised. “Yes. They didn’t take everything, but they did haul off twenty-five warheads.”
Mike exploded. “Twenty-five! How the fuck did they do that? Wasn’t there any security around them?”
“There was a full company of Spetnaz, but this was very well-planned and executed. None of the intelligence agencies, ours or theirs, had the slightest whisper about this until just a couple days before it went down. Even now we don’t know where they’ve taken them or exactly who has them.”
“So how does this affect us?” Mike asked, although he was afraid he knew the answer.
“Besides the fact that you don’t want the Chechens to be a nuclear power?” Pierson replied sardonically. “They really don’t like you, Mike. You are number one on their hit list, above even Medvedev and Putin, for the ass-kicking you gave them in Pankisi. And with nukes, they don’t have to get all the way to the Valley to take you out. Three of these are in the megaton range - two, three, and five.”
“If that’s not enough, we have managed to hear enough to figure their other target: Moscow. They’re going to hold the city hostage until Chechnya is recognized and the Russians pull all their forces out.”
“No way can that be good. So how can I help?”
“We want you to get those warheads back. It’s in your best interests, along with ours and the Russians.”
“We’re going to need lots of help with this.” And maybe we can shut down the Chechens for good, he thought.
“I’ve been assured that anything you need, you get.”
“What’s the vig?”
“Some more good news there. Ten million per warhead. Double that for the big boys. And double the total if you can recover them all.”
Mike’s eyes widened slightly. “Over half a billion if we get them all? They are serious about this.”
“Never more so. As bad as a single warhead floating around with al-Qaeda was, this is worse. We can’t allow a true renegade nation access to nuclear arms. If you can’t take care of this, then we might have to get in there ourselves, and I’ll be honest with you: after Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t know that our troops are ready to do it again. They’re willing, God knows, but they’re tired. We need some time to recover.”
“I’ll get back to you soon.” Mike hung up the satellite, and picked up the regular phone. “Nielson?”
“Yes, Kildar?”
“Staff meeting. You, Adams, Oleg, Daria, Arensky, Vanner -”
“Which one?”
“Either. No, both.”
“Dragon and Valkyrie too. Twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes. What’s going on?”
“The Chechens have some nukes. We have to get them back.”
“This’ll be fun.”
Mike grinned. “Not for them.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chapter 2

[If you haven't - GO BACK AND READ CHAPTER 1!! Otherwise, this will make NO sense. Sorry, just the way it is - this book is not like some I've read where you can pick up anywhere and it will be easy to follow. Everything here builds on what came before, so it's really, REALLY important to read them in order. Otherwise - well, if you get confused, it's your own fault! Imagine how I feel, trying to keep all these threads separated in my head!!!]


“I am the Kildaran, and I have come to claim my rights,” the woman repeated.
“I am the Kildaran, and -”
“Dammit, Katrina, I said no!” Mike winced. He had thought - no, hoped - that the issue had been settled. Katrina, of the Family Devlich, had been the first Keldara Mike ever met, and she had quickly decided that she was destined to be the woman of the Kildar, called the Kildaran. Perhaps the most unusual of the Keldara girls, she was fiercely intelligent, as stubborn as the Georgian winter was long, and, oh yeah, absolutely incredible-looking. Fiery red hair, blue eyes that seemed to pierce him, long legs, and a figure that no man would think of resisting, she had been the first poster model for Mountain Tiger Beer for a good reason. But Mike had hoped that she had finally come to her senses about being Kildaran - it had been months she had last mentioned it. Apparently not.
Katrina’s eyes flashed. “And I say yes!”
“Katrina, you know why you can’t become -”
“I do NOT! You said I was too young. I have waited until I am ‘old enough,’ older than any of your harem you have broached! I have fought for you, I am a warrior of the Keldara now.”
“But -”
“I have learned from Mother Lenka the secrets of her brew. Everyone knows that I am to be her heir. I have learned from her, too, the secrets of the Goddess. In this, too, I am to be her heir. I have been learning here, from Anastasia -”
Mike nodded, somewhat grudgingly. Anastasia Rakovich, his harem manager, had mentioned that Katrina had been taking instruction with the harem girls. Not surprisingly, she absorbed the basics quickly and had moved on, taking college courses online. At last report, Katrina was about ready to earn a Bachelor’s in - what did Anastasia say? He couldn’t quite remember.
“And she has taught me more than that. She has given me the classes that she gives - gave - the Kardane girls. So if you think I will be clumsy in bed, or unwilling -.”
“I don’t think of you in bed.” Seeing the fury rising on her face, Mike gestured to a chair. “Please, Katrina, let me explain. Sit.” Reluctantly she did so.
“You know some of my past.”
“I know you were a SEAL before you came to be the Kildar.”
“Do you know why I was traveling?”
“Not really. Nobody in the teams will talk about it, if they know.”
“They don’t. Besides Chief Adams, nobody in the Valley knows the whole story.” Well, almost nobody, he thought. He was pretty sure that Greznya Vanner had pieced together most of his past, but she was the best of the Keldaran intelligence operators, and she hadn’t talked. J probably knew, or suspected, most of it as well. “And he only knows because he was there for some of it.”
“So tell me. If this is why you refuse me, you cannot deny me the explanation.”
What to tell her? “Before I came to the Valley, I had another name, another life. I was a retired SEAL, taking some classes -” He went on for several minutes, telling her of his rescue of the college co-eds, the killing of Bin Laden and the Syrian President, the nuclear bombs in the Bahamas and in Paris, and how he had to change his name, bury his past. “Every jihadist group on the planet wants me dead, preferably slowly. I had to start over, here. The teams, the training, are as much to protect me as to defend the Valley from the Chechens.” He was somewhat disconcerted to see a smile cross her face.
“Kildar, your story is better-known than you think. Oh, not the details, but many of us know that you did brave deeds and were forced to forget your past when you came here.” She turned serious. “But how does this make me unfit to be the Kildaran?”
He shook his head. “It’s not that you are unfit. Frankly, you probably suit me better than any other Keldara.” The smile was back, full radiance. “But I can’t risk bringing someone I love into this life, risk losing them to people who are hunting me.” A shadow crossed his face. The Keldara practiced the Rite of Kardane; basically, droit de seigneiur in return for a dowry. The last girl before Mike stopped the Rite, Gretchen Mahona, had stolen Mike’s heart. Totally unexpected, he had battled with his feelings and his obligations for weeks before the matter was settled permanently with her death in battle. It had been months before he had even begun to recover. He shook it off. “I can’t risk having someone I love be in a position to become a hostage to those people.”
“Ha.” Not exactly what he expected. “First, Kildar, what of the children of the Rite? Could they not be hostages?”
Mike shook his head. “Not really. Nobody outside the Valley knows that they’re my kids, so they have no special value. Plus, they’re here IN the Valley. I don’t think that anyone is going to try to get them from here -”
“Again, Ha! You say yourself that this valley is safe!”
“For anonymous little kids, yes. How anonymous do you think you’d be as the wife of the Kildar?”
“I do not wish to be anonymous! I will be proud to be your wife!.” Now Katrina let her voice soften. “You know that this should be. You know you want it to be. I can feel it whenever we talk - which is not so much anymore!”
Mike nodded ruefully. “Yeah, I have been kinda avoiding you.”
“No longer! Daria has been working with me, too, training me on her job as your administrative assistant.” She stumbled just a bit over the words. “Did you know that Daria is planning to leave?”
This was a surprise. “No.”
“She has not talked about it, but she is lonely for her home. She wishes to go back. She is not so old that she cannot begin again.” Daria was maybe 24, but in this culture that was waaaay into old-maid-dom.
“Katrina, I understand, but my answer is still -”
“You have no choice,” she interrupted. She played her trump card. “I have consulted the Elders. It is time, and past time, for you to take your wife from the Keldara. They agree that I am best for you.” She tried to look stern, but the twinkle in her eyes gave her away. “They will brook no argument on this, Kildar.”
Mike had been many things in his life. SEAL team member, instructor, husband, college student, and now free agent troubleshooter for the US government. But he had never been stupid. So, when faced with the inevitable - stall.
“The Elders are behind this?”
She shook her head. “No. But they agree.”
“I can’t believe this, but - Let me consult with the Elders about what happens next, and then -” He was cut off by a very girlish squeal as Katrina practically leapt over his desk, landing solidly on his lap and clinging to him. “Oh, Mike!” Then there was no more time to talk, her very kissable lips pressed to his.
What the hell.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chapter 1

[Here we go! For those of you unfamiliar with John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series, this chapter is for you! I used it to introduce most of the main characters and give a quick background into the story, so I'm not dropping people into it blind. One word of warning, which I will repeat at the beginning of other posts: this is an adult book and as such uses adult language and themes. Just be aware. In any case - Enjoy!]


It had been a good couple years, Mike reflected, looking out over the Valley.
Mike Harmon, aka Mike Jenkins, aka Ghost, and currently the Kildar, was sitting in his office. Not young any longer, he kept in reasonable shape, though it wasn’t immediately apparent by the insidious thickening of his waist he fought daily. Average face, brown eyes, brown hair, with slight changes of manner or dress he could pass as a native in just about any country.
Formerly a SEAL team member, he was now the owner of a valley in Georgia, with a population of “retainers” called the Keldara. Daria Koroleva, a young Ukrainian woman he had rescued and, as it turned out, a damned fine administrative assistant, had announced that “someone important” was coming up to see him. Although there weren’t any VIPs in the Valley that he knew of - at the moment - Mike had come in off his balcony to wait - it was March, after all, and still what he called ‘brisk’ and what most normal people called ‘ridiculously cold.‘ Not having much to do at the moment but wait, he was taking the time to look back. And perhaps face a few ghosts.
After preventing the VX shipment from decimating Disney and Orlando, the Keldara had stayed in the Bahamas a few weeks well-deserved R&R, while the late Juan Gonzales’ yacht - rechristened Sudden Stop - had been refurbished.
Gutted, was more like it, taking full advantage of the crew sent over from Little Creek. They had been supposed to return home, but a liberal allotment of good food, beautiful women, great beer, and generous undocumented bonuses persuaded them to stay on to oversee the work. And, also, forget what they did when they finally departed. Luxurious, oh yeah, it was all that. But anyone who wanted to tangle with a nice, soft target like a rich man’s yacht was supposed to be would be sorry, sore, and sorely disappointed afterward.
SOCOM had mentioned, somewhat diffidently, that the yacht should be turned over for proper disposal, but a quick call to Bob Pierson at OSOL had quashed that. The Keldara enjoyed the sunshine before beginning the crossing back across the Atlantic, through the Med, and on to the Black Sea port of Sochi where it moored. The customs inspection, though hardly rigorous, had missed every major modification, so he knew that it would pass even a more-than-casual glance. That was good. No point in keeping an ace up his sleeve if wearing a tank top.
They had kept the five cigarette-style boats “borrowed” from a government impound, although not all traveled back with them. One was given, as promised, to Randy Holterman, the Keldara’s boat instructor, who went off shaking his head at his quarter-million dollar “tip.” And two were left behind in Islamorda, with Captain Don and the original “Too Late,“ to be cared for and chartered out. The remaining two had been ferried back to Sochi as well, where he maintained them for training and generally blasting across the Black Sea for the fun of it.
Britney had returned to SOCOM, and her role as liaison to the DEA. She had been promoted to Captain after the VX mess, and had really risen in prominence in a very small community. She and Mike had continued to stay in touch, tied together by their experience in Syria. After she had visited the Valley, he made one of his rare trips to the States to visit her. Their connection was good for both of them, healing wounds old and new. They had helped each other heal during the last, and had parted as friends.
That winter, the first full winter he had experienced here, had almost been fun. For the first time in memory, the Valley of the Keldara wasn’t cut off from outside as soon as the snow flew. Oh, there was snow - meters of snow, actually - but there was electricity, and training, and Mike had been right - some of the valley slopes made perfect ski runs, though getting back up the mountain had been a bitch without a lift system.
Maybe next year. That was on the wish list.
The Keldara had at first been stunned by the idea of skiing for pleasure - survival was the usual order of business in winter, not recreation - but it had been integrated into their cold weather training, and quite a number had come to enjoy it. Gennadi Mahona’s crop selection had provided an ample bounty that year, enough food so not a single Family went hungry, even allowing some to be stored away as an emergency supply.
Winter ops had been limited, but Master Chief Charles Adams had been positively devilish in the training missions he devised. That’d earned him several new nicknames. Of course, not one was mentionable in polite company…
Spring came and the patrolling expanded in scope, ranging far out from the Valley proper. Small bands of Chechens - survivors of the debacle in Pankisi the previous fall - roamed the eastern mountains at will, raiding farms, stealing food, raping, pillaging, and burning.
It had seemed prudent to extend their control beyond the Keldara‘s traditional reach, to bring as many of the people into the Five Valleys as wished to move. As a result, the population of the area had nearly doubled, and while they weren’t strictly Keldara, they were still tough, mountain farmers.
Of course, Vadim Tyurin, the local administrator slash cop slash judge slash all government functionary had complained, but a few hundred extra euros had gone a long way to quell that problem. He’d gratefully accepted as reserve officers the worst-wounded from the Keldara’s epic battle against the Chechens. They filled a role as firemen, too, as the cash-strapped government of Georgia couldn’t even begin to fill the role. Mike paid them a small salary, which salved their pride; Vadim got trusted, reliable men who would support him; and the Families were shown that wounded warriors still had a valuable role. Everyone won.
Mike had even signed off on ordering a used Dutch fire engine, something he’d learned by actually reading one of the innumerable pieces of paper that needed his signature. He’d learned the hard way to at least glance at the documents he signed; Vanner had a wish list of equipment a mile long, and Stasia! She’d gotten way too familiar with the uses of his AmEx Titanium!
Patrick Vanner, his intel expert, married Greznya Mahona in a tradition-laced ceremony that spring. Given Vanner’s fascination with the roots of the Keldara culture, Mike wasn’t sure what thrilled him more, marrying Grez or observing the ceremony.
The planting of food crops had expanded further, taking full advantage of the new tractors and their attachments. They’d added acres of the tiger berry bushes, the secret ingredient in the local beer. Mountain Tiger beer, while maybe not the best-known or least expensive brand, was almost certainly the most sought-after, at least in the US and UK.
Gurum, the brewery manager, and Bob Thomas, the distributor, had worked hard over the winter to figure the optimal levels to balance quantity and profit, but it looked like they would need more capacity in pretty short order. Chatham Aviation, Mike’s charter company of choice, now carried Mountain Tiger as their only beer aboard their planes. They believed in serving their clients only the best, especially those who could afford their admittedly-pricey services.
Mother Lenka couldn’t stop laughing whenever she thought of it, since the beer they exported was considered inferior, at best, in the village. It was perfect for the barbarians, however.
There hadn’t been much organized Chechen activity. Not a shock, considering the dent the Keldara had put into their forces. The surviving bandits had quickly learned not to screw with the farms under the protection of the Keldara, so combat ops had dropped sharply. Worrying that the routine patrols would quickly dull the finely-honed combat edge, he resolved to add new training to their routine.
In addition to basic militia training for the new residents, using captured Chechen weapons, he had also recalled Don Meller, one of their trainers and a construction expert, and had him create another dam - this one much cruder, just dropping the top of a hill into a ravine and doing a concrete coating - but it made for a hellaciously deep dive training area.
Team Yosif had turned out to be pretty skilled at it - “ducks to water” rolled through his mind, making him smile - and it had kept Mike busy, too working on passing on his dirty SEAL tricks to the new water pups.
In addition, he had had Meller supervise the building of a small clinic and laboratory for the resident doctor and microbiologist, Dr. Tolegen Arensky, who nearly drove him bat-shit, with his over-the-shoulder suggestions and changes. It seemed that every day there was a new addition or deletion, or another unexpected requirement, or - the list went on and on. But Mike had cautioned him to treat this particular microbiologist with kid gloves, and Meller had. He’d earned every penny of the sizeable bonus Mike gave him, too.
In the fall, J and Katya, the humint side of his intelligence staff, went off for a few weeks as a “favor” to Sheik Otryad in Uzbekistan, taking Shota and his Team of heavies with them, supposedly as backup. He didn‘t ask, but it was surely an odd request. A heavy weapons team just didn‘t mesh with the way J worked or the image Mike had of the man.
J was a master spy, who could blend seamlessly into any population he cared to observe, a skill that still made Mike somewhat uneasy. He was the best at what he did, though. And Katya, Cottontail, was his student. A former hooker, the blonde, blue-eyed, barely out of teenage girl was also the deadliest, stone cold sociopath Mike had ever encountered. Initially rented from the local pimp for the imported trainers during the first phases of training, she had been instrumental in the success of many of the Keldara’s hairier missions. She had been fitted with bio-enhancing drugs and poison-dispensing fingernails for a previous mission by the US government, and had been put entirely into intel, much to the harem’s relief. And Mike’s, too. Although he had stopped bedding her long before, he’d obtained and inoculated himself and his command staff with the anti-toxin. Just in case.
J had taken her under his wing, and he had to admit there had been some positive changes since. Mike wondered what the favor for the sheik had been about, since there hadn’t been a change in the government, nothing that Vanner could pick up, nothing in the news, but he was a man who paid his debts. He owed Otryad a large one for the ‘gift‘ of Anastasia, Mike‘s harem manager, so he felt easy letting the two go along, taking Shota and his team and little else. The sheik had said that all equipment would be provided after J’s assessment of the mission.
It was like an itch he shouldn’t scratch at times, but all had come home healthy and happy as frogs in a pond. Even Shota, who didn’t brag, but smiled wider than the tiger who’d caught the big game hunter.
Vanner had added a new quirk to his burgeoning intel team in the fall as well. They were called the Four Blind Mice. Led by Creata, nicknamed ‘Mouse’ for her demure attitude and diminutive stature, they were as expert a pack of crackers Mike had ever encountered. Hardware, software, smart technology, or blasting powder and an iron safe, it didn’t matter, if there was data needed, they could get it. He was still a little uneasy at the ‘updates’ Mouse had received at the Virginia facility - it felt way too much like he was turning her into a Borg - but she seemed to adjusted to it well. And, hell, at this point he couldn’t get Vanner to give up his Mice anyway.
Not without bloodshed.
Of course, there was the ugly clash between the Russians and Georgians as well. The Chechens had, for years, used the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia as a base and staging ground with virtually no opposition.
his had been greatly reduced by Mike’s operation the previous year, and Russia had been anxious to finally extinguish the smouldering fire such a safe haven represented. President Svaskili of Georgia, however, had different ideas, not because he supported the Chechens. Nor was he a coward; he‘d even visited Mike during the height of the crisis, just to be closer to the front.
Corrupt, yes, but also a patriot, he had believed that, if he allowed Russian forces to enter his country for any reason, he would be totally unable to get them to withdraw afterward. He had therefore refused permission for the Russian forces to penetrate Georgian territory, even with Georgian military observers to ensure the destruction only of the invasive Chechens. Prime Minister Putin, the prick, had pushed in anyway. Tensions had risen, and there had been several ugly incidents between Russian and Georgian troops.
Since this was taking place less than a hour’s helicopter flight from the Valley, Mike had taken action after several Spetnaz teams had been spotted within a few miles.
He had managed to come face-to-face with Putin, insisting that the Russian troops - who had now completed their mission and exterminated their targets - be pulled back across the border. Putin, predictably, and as Svaskili had feared, had refused, seeing an opportunity to regain control of Georgia. Mike made a subtle hand gesture.
One well-placed round from Lasko had convinced Putin of the error of his ways - and that he needed a change of pants - though had done nothing to endear Mike to him. Mike could live with that, although Lasko had bitched unmercifully for weeks afterward that he could just have easily solved the ‘Putin Problem’ permanently.
Then there were the kids, the children from the Rite of Kardane.. Lots of kids, most of them still babbling and crawling, but a few beginning to toddle around, and he could see snatches of himself all about - eyes here, hair there, a way one moved, or sat or.. He had to admit to being uneasy at the thought of so many pieces of him running around. Kids were kids, though, and as the days and weeks and now months passed, it really made the Valley feel more welcoming, that he was much more of the Keldara no matter what the future held.
And now another winter had passed. Father Kulcyanov was still holding on, despite a bout with pneumonia that Dr.Arensky had just managed to turn back, and Mike was hoping that he’d make it through one more festival of Balar. There was a new President back in the States. It wasn’t the brass-plated bitch from hell he had feared - she was secretary of state! This other guy, Mike had no clue about. Although - he recalled a dinner a few months back, right after the election. Stasia, Katrina (one of the Keldara, and the original poster girl for Mountain Tiger Beer), Vanner, Grez, and Amelia Weston - the wife of a high-ranking General, and had met Mike and Stasia before the Pankisi mission. She had taken up the standing offer to come visit Anastasia, and the talk had turned inevitably to the election and what it might mean for him and the Keldara. A new president might mean that he would be needed less - or at least asked for less.
Katrina was saying, “I heard that there was a new President. He’s not from the same club as the last one, is he? Will this affect us here, in the Valley?“
Stasia coughed into her tea cup in surprise, but Amelia picked up the question smoothly.
"Oh, no, my dear. Washington doesn‘t usually work like that. Yes, the parties are different, the ideologies. But the reality of the world, that doesn’t change just because we change leaders! Every new president spends many, many days in consultation with his predecessor, bringing in advisors and trying to get a handle on the extraordinary amount of problems he’s just inherited. The General and I were at one dinner President Cliff held for the new man. They were discussing, or perhaps I should say hinting, at which world problems and briefings they just can't gloss over or change without major repercussions. After the Georgia-Russia event was settled - and how was that here?”
Mike had answered. “We didn’t see much of it, although it has finally put paid to the bandits that had been raiding the area.”
“I’m so glad to hear that!” Amelia exclaimed before continuing. “Mike, you actually came up at this briefing, in a sideways reference. Not by name, but as a 'Friend in strange places.' Before the President-Elect could ask any questions that couldn’t be answered cleanly, or at least not so openly, Cliff said - now, how did he put it? Oh, yes. 'You have friends at OSOL who can help you in sticky situations. Like the Georgian one. They know people you really want to keep on their good side. People that can get you gifts like this one.' Then - oh, this was too much! - pulled out a photo of your gift from the Syria mission. The poor man! I thought he would need to leave the table, if you get my drift.” She smiled merrily. “Dinner was pleasantly quiet after that, though the President-Elect did drink a bit more than was polite."
"So the new President will respect Michael?“ asked Katrina quietly.
“I certainly think so,“ answered Amelia. “Certainly your Colonel Pierson will do what he can.“
“That’s good. I would hate to kill him, just so they left Mike alone and only called on him sometimes.” Mike nearly coughed out his coffee at that, but she wasn’t done. “We have problems enough in and around the valley, though that is changing too.“
Fortunately, Stasia took the situation in hand. “Katrina,“ she said in Keldara, “You do NOT threaten to kill the president, even if you are not serious. Have you forgotten your lessons about the Secret Service?
“No, Mistress, I haven’t forgotten.”
“They are well-trained - almost as well-trained as our Tigers - and utterly dedicated to their profession. You would be lucky to survive an encounter with them.“
“Who said I would be there?“ Katrina’s usual fire, never suppressed for long, roared back. “I thought that Katya would be perfect for a mission like this.“
Vanner and Mike simply sat and watched the exchange with slack jaws. Was this really Katrina talking about killing a President, even if he wasn’t the right party? It was Katrina, after all, so who really knew? Mike wondered what had possessed him to acquiesce to Stasia’s request to invite Katrina. Greznya, though, simply added in English, “You really don’t want to go there.” Then they all noticed Amelia, who was silently laughing.
When she finally caught her breath, she had said, "Oh, dear. I wish you'd been around in the Nixon years, dear! Lots of Rye to reap back then. Mostly chaff no one would have missed. Care for another scone?"
THAT had been an interesting dinner.
One positive from the election, though. At least it had freed up the former president to finally travel to Georgia and drop in for the long-promised “steak and beer.” That had been a kick! The Service guys had looked like they were ready to shit themselves when they unassed the chopper, facing a well-armed local militia run by a merc! That had been worth waiting for by itself!
Over the three-day visit the new Nannies - they weren’t, really, they were Swedish professional women, professional in every sense, escorts, bodyguards, cooks, maids, secretaries - and his two non-Keldara batmen - he couldn’t think of them as butlers - had really smoothed things over, with Stasia’s able guidance.
They’d had, what, seven other high-level visits in the past year? All lower on Mike’s personal hierarchy, but all were much, much more stressful. The one presidential visit? Easy, relaxing. Just what he needed.
All thanks to Stasia’s planning - that, and a serious abuse of his Titanium Agent’s AmEx card. The twelve nannies - all gorgeous, of course, tall, blonde, eyes that were like blue ice - had come to the Valley after intensive training at, oh hell, he couldn’t remember how many ‘academies’ and ‘classes’ they had gone to.
Enough though.
He wasn’t sure, but he thought Stasia had taken some liberties in renaming them. They were, let’s see if he could remember them all: Eir, Geirdriful, Goll, Gondul, Herja, Hildr, Kara, Mist, Olrun, Reginleif, Sigrun, and Skogul. But these were all names of Valkyries from Norse mythology, so the odds of them all carrying a name like that was, well, minuscule. In any case, that’s what they answered to.
His thoughts turned to the upcoming Festival of Balar. Maybe Oleg could keep the Ondah again. Of course, this year Shota might just give everyone a shock…
There was a knock on the door. It wasn’t Daria; he knew her knock. He knew both butlers’; not theirs, either. Kurosawa, especially, he knew. Bridgewater, the Brit, was less likely to intrude on his thoughts and privacy. Kurosawa knew no such boundary. On the other hand, the man was a genius with acupuncture herbs, just what his damaged joints needed.
Nor was it timid, or retiring, the knock of someone worried about disturbing him. No, this was a courtesy knock, as if the person had every right to enter Mike’s sanctuary and was simply honoring the formality.
The door swung open, revealing a young woman in Keldara dress, obviously the finest she had. Kurosawa, short and round, could be seen, resigned, behind her. Her red hair flowed down under her kerchief, blue eyes flashing, as she stood in the doorway with one hand on her hips. “I am the Kildaran and I have come to claim my rights.”
“Oh, fuck,” Mike muttered.