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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 15

[Handfasting is what the Keldara do. So now Mike's going off on vacation, on very, VERY short notice. Lots of loose ends to tie up before he flies off into the great blue yonder. Plus, after this, we've got another interlude - say hello to my little friend! Well, not really - you'll see soon!

Oh yes, in case I didn't mention - I do appreciate and read all your comments - keep 'em coming!]


“Chatham Aviation, Gloria speaking, how may I help you?”
“Hello Gloria, Mike Jenkins here.”
“Oh, hello Mike! It’s been far too long!” Chatham Aviation was Mike’s usual charter company. They could, and had, provided him with planes from small executive-style jets, to one large enough to carry two Keldara teams and all their gear, plus the pilots to go with them. Pilots who weren’t scared off when told to disperse their plane, just in case of nuclear detonation. Pilots who took Mike arriving covered in someone else’s blood and reeking of cordite in stride. This charter should be a piece of cake.
“It’s been pretty quiet, Gloria.”
“Do we need to make any changes to the order Daria has arranged?”
“What? Oh, no, nothing like that. I was wondering if Captain Hardesty was available for the next couple weeks?”
“I believe he is, Mike. How soon do you need him?”
“Can he be in Tbilisi tomorrow?”
“Yes, he can. Will these be short flights, or longer?”
“At least one longer - over to the States and back. A bunch of shorter hops, too. Why?”
“Trying to match you with the right plane. We just acquired a G550; it seats fourteen, berthing for six, and has the range without refueling to make Washington; will that be sufficient?”
“Perfect, Gloria. I’ll have a party of three at the airport tomorrow.”
“Captain Guerrin.”
“Are the quarters for your men adequate?”
“Perfectly, thank you. And thank you again for the offer of space in the caravanserai, but my officers and I will remain with the company.”
“No problem. Colonel Nielson will be starting your training tomorrow on our patrol routes, security procedures, and comm protocols. If you give him a roster, and recommendations, he’ll make up a duty rotation. In addition, we‘ve upgraded the sensor net since your last visit. I‘m sure Chief Vanner can‘t wait to tell you all about it, probably at length. I‘d insist on coffee. Lots of it. These are kind of his baby, he‘s pretty proud of them.”
J.P. nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“You can drop the ‘sirs’ and ‘Kildars’, Captain. I was in the Teams, and not as an officer. Most people call me Mike.”
“Then you can drop the ‘Captain’ and just call me J.P.”
“Good enough, J.P. Do you have any issues you need dealt with on our end?”
“Not really.”
Mike’s eyebrow quirked. “Not really?”
“Well, there does seem to be one small personnel problem - not really a problem, I think, just a concern, maybe.”
Mike gave him a ‘come on’ gesture.
“It’s the man who was in your infirmary overnight. Corporal Sivula?”
“What about him? Complications? I thought he just had a mild concussion?”
“Complications, yes, but not that kind. It seems that the doctor came in this morning to check him and found him kissing one of the local girls.”
Mike had to laugh. “That is one slick operator! Less than a day, and in the hospital at that, and he’s already landed a Keldara?”
J.P. grinned back. “It wasn’t quite like that, I gather. I had Kwan talk to him; it seems that Sivula and the girl - Jessy? Something like that - have been emailing since we were deployed here last.”
“Jessia Mahona,” Mike supplied. “One of my mortar team leaders. Sweet girl. Widowed a while ago. She‘s seemed happier for a while now, and especially in the past week, since news of your company returning went public. Guess I know why, now.”
“That’s what Sivula said - well, more than that, but you get the idea.”
“That I do. He’s lucky it’s Jessia and not one of the other girls, though. Since she’s a widow, most of the Keldara rules about behavior and chaperones don’t apply, or at least not as strongly.” Mike shrugged. “It’s a little awkward, but I don’t think there’s a problem on this end.”
“It’s not the Keldara I’m worried about, Mike.”
“Your men, J.P, are your problem. Sivula’ll take some shit for having a girl here, but if he can’t handle it -”
“Mike, he wants to marry her!”
Again, the eyebrow. “And?”
“He can’t - I can’t - we’re on deployment! Kwan tried to tell him he couldn‘t, and Sivula said he‘d resign if he had to!”
Mike looked straight at J.P. “How you handle it is your choice. But if you don’t mind a little advice?”
“I was hoping you’d have a way out of this, maybe some kind of cultural taboo?”
“Nothing like that, sorry. In fact, Sivula’s fallen for one of the few women in the Valley it’d be SAFE for him to date - or marry, for that matter. She’s been married, so there’s no bride price - that’s a dowry. Since she was married, she’s not betrothed or promised to any man. And since she’s a widow, she actually can choose when, if, and whom she marries again.” He smiled. “I’d say he’s actually made the best choice possible. Like I said, lucky.”
“I can’t have one of my men distracted on mission, though! You know that’s a recipe for disaster!”
“Agreed. Not sure, though what I can do about it. I can’t tell Jessia to break up with him - even if it was right, I don’t think she’d listen, Kildar or no. Maybe, though -”
“Maybe, what?” J.P. was ready to leap on any shred of hope.
“This might sound crazy - but how vital is Corporal Sivula to your company? Will his squad fall apart without him?”
J.P. shook his head, “No. He’s a good troop, but I can move him around, especially with the training we’ll be doing. Why?”
“Move him to liaison with the my mortars teams. Specifically, Jessia’s.”
“That’s like setting the cat to guard the canary!”
“Nope. I know Jessia. If I tell her that Sivula’s off-limits on duty - he’ll be off-limits on duty. Period. Unless he has no discipline at all - and being a Ranger, I don’t think that’s an issue - then we’ve belled the cat.”
“What about this whole marriage business?”
“If they want to get married, they get married. They‘re both of age. No trouble on this end. How about Ranger regulations? Unless he‘s already married, there‘s nothing in the UCMJ.”
“Nothing specific, no. It’s at the discretion of the commanding officer. Haven’t had this problem come up before, though.”
“Again, you want my advice?”
“I said I did.”
“Let ‘em. The only condition I‘ll impose is they have to decide whether to stay here, or take her back Stateside. If he’s going to stay here, I’m sure I can swing that, either short- or long-term. Same goes for taking Jessia to the States. A visa won’t be an issue.” He smiled. “I’ll throw them a bone. If they’re serious about this, then I’ll arrange the ceremony for them. It can happen at the festival of Balar.”
“The festival of who?”
“Balar. It’s a celebration of spring, derived from the Celtic Beltane. Big, big festival. Games, like the Highland Games, and the winner is crowned the Ondah, King of Spring.”
“I still don’t think this is a great idea, but you know these people. And I know Sivula; he’s pretty level-headed, usually. He wouldn’t be pulling something like this on a whim.”
“Good. Once you talk to him, I want to talk to them both, so check with Daria on the way out, see what I have free later today.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“Won’t work; I’m leaving for a while starting tomorrow. Don’t worry,” he continued hastily, seeing the look on J.P.’s face. “It is mission-related.” Sort of, he silently added.
“Vanner. Grez. Stella. What do we have on Kassab?” Mike was in the intel room, called the Cave, surrounded by chattering printers and whirring computers.
“Nothing much. Cottontail has planted a few bugs on their windows, and managed to slip one under the rear door, but the take hasn’t been great. Lots of griping about duty, who gets to patrol, shit like that. Kassab’s having a hell of a time keeping them occupied. From what we’ve pieced together, we think that there’s been a delay. There are a couple references to ’the package’ - aren’t they so clever? - being late.”
Grez picked up. “They keep a very poor guard, especially at night. When we want to take it down, we should not have any problems.”
“How many are there?”
“A total of eight. We have identified three by name - Kassab, although he almost never leaves the building; Salah, we think he’s the one who used the cell phone; and Ghazi. Salah and Ghazi have both been outside on guard duty at various times, and Ghazi has gone to the market twice.”
Stella added, “Kassab is the only one with any security sense. Although he has been using his cell phone quite a bit lately, he has stayed away from the ground floor, so we cannot pick up his end of the calls. We are using Echelon to search for the conversations happening at the times we know he calls, but we still have a large number to sort through.”
“That leaves us with another problem, though,” said Vanner. “Even if we pick out his conversations, we might not know who he’s talking to, and we probably won’t know where they are. That’s assuming, too, that the person on the other end is at their base, and not passing a message on from a safer location. If this whole project has been planned by an expert - and it feels more and more like it has - then he’s at least built that much security into it. We might need to snatch Kassab and his team and discuss it with them.”
“Beat them with sledgehammers until they talk, you mean.”
“Well, yeah. It’s worked before!”
“Right. I will be in contact daily; I want to hear about anything you think could be important, no matter how small it seems. You have good instincts,” he continued, looking at Grez and Stella, “And I know you’ll crack this.”
“What a day,” Mike said as he dropped into a chair in the kitchen. Mother Savina and Mother Griffina were directing Olrun and Hildr, making dinner.
Mike had come down just to catch his breath; it seemed that every time he went up to his office, he thought of something else that needed his attention. He couldn’t hide in his quarters, either, as like as not Kurosawa would be there with his jars and his needles, ready for another session. It was a fine line. On the one hand, he could have pain in his joints all day, every day, and twice as bad in the morning. On the other hand, there was that lovely burning sensation all over his body, plus ending the session weak as a kitten. Of course, he was promised that the long-term benefits would be worth it, but…
Tonight, he’d almost forgotten. It was only the slightest hint that reminded him that Kurosawa was probably lurking by his door.
I’ve got to find more for that batman to do, he thought. He’s spending way too much time working on me. Damn, it’s black magic though. Probably wants another session before I leave on the trip. That’ll be fun. Wish he hadn’t told me what was in those jars. Herbal medicines, fine. But fugu? Shit! We used that stuff in the teams a couple times. Nasty, nasty crap. No thank you! Not tonight!
Adams was already at the table, in a dirty - no, filthy - uniform, drinking a beer.
“What a bitch it is, being Kildar,” he said.
“Don’t worry, Master Chief. You’ll have your turn soon enough,” Mike said, opening a beer of his own and taking a long pull.
“What do you mean?” asked Adams suspiciously.
“You haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?”
“You usually know all the gossip around here. You mean the grapevine let you down this time?”
“I’ve been down with Team Padrek at the shoot house all fucking afternoon, Mike. I haven’t heard squat.”
“Oh, you mean you did some work after playing with Mopsy?”
“Some of us don’t have a harem and have to get it when we can.”
“So you really don’t know.”
“Fuck you, Mike, know what?!”
“You’re holding the bag here starting tomorrow.”
“No shit. Katrina and I are taking a vacation, and I’m leaving you in charge while I’m gone.”
“Are you completely fuckin’ nuts? We have a major op going down here any day!”
“Not that soon,” corrected Mike. “While you’ve been playing soldier, I’ve been running through everything we know, think, and suspect, which, I’ll tell you now, ain’t much. There’s nothing to indicate any action happening soon. In fact, our one solid lead is complaining about delays.”
“Even more reason to stick around! If they’re waiting, and it’s late, then as soon as it arrives, their op goes down!”
“And if it arrives, they go down. Cottontail has it staked out, and we’ve got shooters to back her up, enough to take out the people there. So that’s it, you’re holding the bag.”
“Can’t wait to pop that virgin pussy - awk!” Adams’ voice was abruptly cut off as Mike reached over and pushed him ass over teakettle onto the floor.
“Piss off! You’re on thin ice here, Chief!” Mike waited a moment, letting his anger subside. “I told you, I’m doing this right. That means not sneaking a piece of ass,” he said more calmly. “Besides. Stasia’s coming along to ‘chaperone,’ and, ah, other reasons,” he finished with a leer.
“Oh, that’s all kinds of good. Gonna fuck your way cross country? Never mind, I so don’t want to know.” Mike stood up and put his chair back. “Fine, good, get out of here. Just don’t think this is gonna get you out of that bachelor party. You being gone, gives me more room to maneuver.” Adams’ grin was purely evil.
Looked just like Kurosawa when he said, “This shouldn’t hurt. Much.”
A knock on the door.
The door opened, revealing a man and a woman standing, holding hands.
“Ah, Jessia, come in. And you must be Corporal Sivula,” Mike said, coming around the desk. He reached out, shook his hand, and gestured them to the couch. “Please, sit. This isn’t going to be formal, and you’re not in trouble, either of you. I just wanted to talk to you.”
They sat, gingerly, in the indicated spot. “It’s Andrew,” said Sivula, as he settled in.
“Then I’m Mike. Like I said, there’s not going to be a problem here. But Captain Guerrin and I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for you. He had a chance to talk to you?”
Jessia answered. “Yes, Kildar.”
“And he explained the options you have?”
Andrew and Jessia looked at each other. “Yes,” she said.
“Then what’s it going to be?”
Jessia looked at Andrew again, then replied, “We want to get married.”
“And where are you going to live?”
Andrew fielded this. “If possible, sir, we’d like to stay here, at least at first.” Jessia, Mike saw, gripped Andrew’s hand tighter.
“That can be arranged. I could use another experienced soldier around here, especially with the mortars. How long do you still have in your term?”
“Fourteen months,” said Andrew.
“Think you can handle the job? Fire lanes, movement, planning, logistics, it’s all going to fall on you. I need someone who’ll be able to keep up with these girls.”
Finally, Andrew smiled. “I can do that, sir.”
“Jessia? You understand that he’s going to be off-limits, on duty?”
“Of course, Kildar!” She sounded offended that he’d even brought it up, as he had more than half-expected.
“What about timing? Did the captain mention my proposal?”
Jessia dimpled. “Truly, Kildar? We could marry at the festival?”
“Truly, Jessia.”
“And the Kilda - uh, Katrina, she doesn’t mind sharing her day?”
“She, and I, will be honored.” Seeing the bewilderment on Sivula’s face, Mike explained, “I’m getting married the same day, during the same festival. You know,” he continued, “You’re going to have to learn the Keldaran dialect of Georgian, right?”
“Yes, Kildar,” replied Sivula in that language.
Mike laughed. “That’s a good start! Hope you also know ‘yes, dear.’”
One more knock. Kurosawa’s. Crap. He thought he’d dodged him.
Sigh. “Come.” The door sprang open and a red-topped blur rushed at his desk.
Katrina bounded - there really wasn’t any other word for it - in, over the desk, and dropped into Mike’s lap.
“Tomorrow, we go?”
“Tomorrow, we go. Excited?” he asked, as if he hadn’t seen her entrance.
“Ecstatic!” She emphasized it with a kiss. “How will we get there?”
“Fly, of course. We’ll have Captain Wilson fly us to the airport, where we’ll meet a jet.”
“What is flying like?”
“Just you wait. If Stasia agrees, I’ll have the pilot give you a thrill when we take off.”
“As long as you’re with me, I’ll be fine.” She nestled closer to Mike. “And how closely will Stasia be watching us?”
“Closely enough, minx! I promised that I would return you honor intact, and I mean to keep my word, despite your temptations.” Mike smiled. “Are you ready? Did you pack?”
She shook her head. “Stasia said something about I needed a new wardrobe?”
“Oh, lord. I should never have introduced her to credit cards.”
“Credit cards?”
“Never you mind.”

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