So, here's a new chapter to chew on.
At this point in the story, each chapter will alternate - one the Mike/Katrina storyline, then the Nuclear Blackmail storyline - because they're moving in parallel.
And welcome to the reader from the Dominican Republic!
“So, Ibrahim, how soon will we take our next steps?” Giku Inarov sounded impatient, and with good reason. Nearly three weeks had passed since the weapons had been acquired, nearly three weeks of work and toil, and it seemed they were no closer to dispatching them than when they started.
“Excellency, we are having great difficulty with the devices themselves. The weapons are well-crafted, and sturdy, but they have suffered from a lack of maintenance. We are having to replace many of the tritium triggers, as these have degraded most quickly. Your men work tirelessly, but it takes time to obtain sufficient supplies.” And replace those sickened by radiation.
“And you did not anticipate this problem?” demanded Inarov. “It is imperative that our conquest of the Emirate begin as planned!”
“So it shall, Excellency, so it shall. All of your teams are in place, secure in their assigned locations. They only await the weapons to proceed.”
“How much longer, then?”
“I expect to receive sufficient tritium within two weeks to finish -”
“Unacceptable!” roared the Emir. “Allah has decreed the date to complete His work, and you shall not fail! The punishment for failure will be severe,” he warned.
Ibrahim answered thoughtfully, “There is another possibility, Excellency, but one which I have been reluctant to explore.”
“Will it be faster?”
“Yes, Excellency, but -”
“Then do it immediately!”
“Excellency, please, let me explain!” Ibrahim allowed a pleading note to enter his voice, satisfying the Emir’s ego.
“Very well. You may explain.”
“Thank you, Excellency. Each warhead contains a certain amount of tritium, all of which must be of sufficient quality to ensure detonation. However, not all of the tritium in each warhead is bad. We could take all the material, separate out the bad, and use the remainder to arm a few warheads, enough, perhaps, for our purposes.” At the cost of how many more fatal cases of radiation sickness? Best use those least needed in the coming weeks. Most disposable. Yes.
“Why have you not done so?” boomed Inarov.
“As I said, Excellency, only some warheads will be made functional in this manner. All the remainder will be totally useless until their triggers are replaced. I regret to say, I do not know how much tritium this will yield, nor how many triggers we will be able to repair in this manner. We may have enough to work Allah’s will; we may not.”
“Allah shall provide, Ibrahim. Do not let your faith waver.”
“Yes, Excellency.” He hesitated for a moment, then continued. “There is one other difficulty. Separating the ‘good’ tritium from the ‘bad’ tritium, while possible under these conditions, is dangerous to the men who perform the task. They will be exposed to radiation.” Best to put the idea in his head, in case he has sources I don’t know of who may try to undermine my position.
“Again, I regret that I do not know. Certainly enough to make them sick for a while; possibly enough to kill them.”
Inarov said, indifferently, “They shall be martyrs, no less than a man who dies in direct combat. Do it.”
Ibrahim bowed. “At once, Excellency. Allah’s work be done.” And Schwenke left to give the necessary orders. Must not lose control. Must not lose control. Must not lose control…
The guards in the corridor, seeing the fury in Ibrahim’s eyes, cleared out of the way, almost pitying the infidel who incurred such wrath.
Chechnik turned to the speaker, a young Lieutenant.
“There have been some unusual purchases made near Chechnya.”
He sighed. “Andrei, it is late. I have been here all day, and I am tired. A little more detail would be nice.”
“Sorry, Colonel. Let me show you.” He moved to a computer and called up a map of the Caucasus, with several cities highlighted. “See? An arc, running from Roston-na-Donu, to Volgograd, to Astrachan, and some towns between.”
“Very pretty, Lieutenant. So what has been purchased?”
That got Chechnik’s attention. “Tritium? How much?”
“Never more than a few grams at any one location, but, if these are all connected, there is nearly half a kilo being purchased.” That much was enough for dozens of nuclear warheads.
“Have any orders been delivered yet?”
“No sir. All the sources have been complying with the Prime Minister’s order to delay shipment as long as possible.”
“Very good, Andrei! Let’s see who comes to pick it up. Allow the largest single order to be completed; where is it?”
“Vsyo Khemik, in Volgograd. Twenty grams.”
Chechnik nodded. “Ensure the shop is under constant observation, and a team is prepared to follow whoever retrieves it.” He picked up a phone. “I need to pass this along.”
“No, Andrei. The Kildar.”
Vanner hung up the phone. “We’ve got something!” he called to Stella.
“What is it?”
“Russian intel has picked up on a bunch of suspicious sales orders for tritium. Chechnik’s sending us the data. He’s also getting agents in place to track a single order back to the source.”
“What if they lose the tango?”
“That’s why I’ve gotten their communications freqs,” replied Vanner. “We’ll be able to listen in on everything they say. If they lose tracking, we may be able to take over the electronic end. Besides, you still have the overrides that Mouse hacked out of the NSA.” He grinned. “We may just have caught our first break.”
“Do we tell the Kildar?”
“Not yet. Not until we have something more solid.”
“Pat?” Grez spoke up.
“Look at the hits,” she said, pointing to the map. “See that?”
“Possibly. It wouldn’t hurt to check.” Stella was looking on in confusion at the verbal shorthand, so Grez explained. “All the data points, when taken together, describe an arc. It’s possible that they are all a similar distance from the source of the orders.”
“I see it now. And that source could be in northern Chechnya, wouldn’t it?”
“Bingo,” said Vanner. “We’ll still wait on the agents’ track, but I think we need to get some assets on the ground in that area. Contact J on his encrypted link and let him know. Time for Cottontail to hit the road. Hippety-hop,” he said with a smile.
“I hate this,” grumped Katya.
They had just gotten the request to move again, this time to the city of Elista.
“There are many things an agent must tolerate,” reminded J. “Sudden movement is but one of them.”
“I know,” she replied, still grumpy. “I wish they would make up their minds, though! It takes time to move, time to build a cover, time to learn the city, time which we never have!”
“All the penalty we incur for having controls. The Kildar has better than most, though. They have a point, a purpose, in asking us to transfer our operations, unlike too many I can recall.”
“And what is that purpose? They don’t share, just tell!”
“Child, remember what I taught you about need-to-know.”
“If I don’t know it, I can’t reveal it,” she parroted back.
“Ah, you do remember. Good.” J looked around the small flat that had served as their base. “I see nothing remaining. Ready?”
Katya picked up her battered bag. “Ready.”
“Destination or travel?“
“Elista is a city of one hundred thousand and capital of the Republic of Kalmykia. It is currently experiencing considerable reconstruction, courtesy of the President of the Republic, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, so imported workers, even tourists, are fairly common. I leave first and take the fourteen-eleven bus. You will follow on the seventeen-forty. I will wait for you inside the Golden Temple, the Buddhist temple outside the city.”
“Very good. Safe travel, padawan.”