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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 23

[J and Cottontail are a bit, ah, ruthless in taking down the opposition, aren't they?  Not that I'm weeping for Hamid; he certainly deserved whatever he got from Cottontail (and I'll leave the details to YOUR imagination; you know her methods).
Now, it's time to see what Mike's been up to.  Katrina (now called Kat) cooked an elaborate dinner, taking over the kitchen in the hotel and alluding to the 'Rite of the Kildaran'.  Wonder what THAT'S all about...
Enjoy - and thanks as usual for taking time to read!


    Mike awoke with Katrina in his arms again.  I really could get used to this.
    After lingering for hours in the restaurant, they had come back to the suite.  Stasia had left a note, claiming a headache.  Mike smelled set-up, but said nothing.  They talked for a while longer then, joints protesting, Mike stood to get ready for bed.  Without a word, without seeking permission, Katrina followed him to the bedroom, grabbed something out of a dresser drawer, and ducked into the bath.  Curious, he opened the dresser.  Her clothes?  Yep.  Her clothes.  So where were his?  Next drawer down, of course.
    She emerged in a sheer black silk nightgown and climbed right into the bed.  Amused, he did his ablutions and followed.  “Hitch over,” he said.  “You’re on my side.”  So she slid over under the covers.  Wondering how far she would take it, Mike lay up next to her, arm over her, hand cupped just below her exquisite breasts.  “Night,” he said, and “Goodnight,” she replied.
    And that’s all.  She snuggled into his arm and, within minutes, was sound asleep.  He lay there, bemused, for a few minutes before allowing sleep to overtake him, as well.
    “Off to the Archives today,” he announced over breakfast in the suite.  “Then, where do you want to go?”
    Stasia voted for the Natural History museum, while Katrina wanted to go out to the Udvar-Hazy Center, part of Air and Space.  “I want to see the shuttle,” she said.
    “So do I,” admitted Mike.  “Stasia, would you mind if Jack sticks with you today?”
    “I’d rather be with you, Michael.  But Major Hughes seems competent enough.”  She dimpled.
    Ignoring it, he said, “That’s settled, then.  Figure we’ll meet back here at 3.”  He rose.  “Bur first, the Archives.”
    Fortunately, it was another beautiful day, and most of the other tourists were busy with the cherry blossoms and other outdoor displays.  The National Archives seemed deserted, and they were able to linger over the documents for quite some time.
    Mike resisted the urge to lecture.  Rather, he allowed the women to look where they would, examine and experience what he knew was the heart and soul of his country, no matter how misinterpreted that vision might be.  He couldn’t accept the liberal weenies who had co-opted so much of the vision of men like Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.  It was ironic, he reflected, no matter how wrong-headed they were, no matter how he loathed the politically correct bullshit so many of them spewed, he was oath-bound to protect those very freedoms on their behalf.  He wondered if he could ever return to the States permanently.  Not without a political enema, he decided.
    After a while Katrina came over and took his hand.
    “These are important to you,” she asked.
    “Yes,” he said simply, then relented.  “They’re what this country is all about.  They’re about standing up for what you know is right, no matter what the cost.  They’re about allowing the maximum freedom for the most people, with the fewest restrictions imposed, ever.  They tell us what we can do, what we should so, and where our duty lies in protecting those rights.”  He paused.  “Nowhere else in the world can you go and be guaranteed - guaranteed - the right to speak your mind.  To be guaranteed that you can practice your religion, no matter what it is.  To know that your leaders are ultimately responsible to you, that they only govern by consent of the governed.  These few pieces of paper make this the center of all the freedoms that man can hope to achieve.”
    “I am glad you brought us here.”
    “As am I,” added Stasia.  “But I am ready to move on.  It is much to absorb, all at once.”
    “You’re right about that,” he said.  “Right.  Shall we?”  And they headed for the exit.
    Outside, they met up again with Hughes, who took charge of Stasia.  Then Mike and Katrina strolled across the Mall, back to the main Air & Space Museum, and boarded a bus that would take them out to Dulles.
    The Udvar-Hazy Center was the most recent addition to the sprawling Smithsonian, and was the first located away from downtown DC.  The forty-five minute drive seemed to pass in seconds, both were so intrigued by what they hoped to find.
    “When I was a kid,” said Mike, as the bus entered the airport property, “I used to watch Star Trek on TV.”
    “Star Trek?”
    “Science fiction show from the 60’s, I caught the reruns in syndication.  Kirk, Spock, McCoy.”  He saw the look.  “It’s easier to show you, I’ll get some DVDs.  Anyway, the ship they were on was called the U.S.S. Enterprise, and when NASA was choosing names for their shuttles, that’s what they called the first one.  Of course, they said it was to honor all the naval ships of that name, but we fans knew better.  They cheated, though.  This Enterprise never flew in space, doesn’t even have engines.  It was basically a giant model version, used just for unpowered glide tests and shit like that.  Still, it’s a shuttle.  Wonder how close they’ll let us get?”
    They got off the bus and followed the crowd into the gleaming building.  Picking up a map along the way, Mike and Katrina walked along the hallway that announced, “To Boeing Aviation Hangar/James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.”  Suddenly, a long, black shape appeared ahead of them.  “It can’t be,” said Mike, hurrying a little.
    “What?” asked Katrina alongside.
    “They can’t have a Blackbird here, they just can’t!”
    “What black bird?  A raven?”
    “No no no!” exclaimed Mike, pulling up short at the end of the walkway.  “That’s a Blackbird!”
    Stretched out before them like a black dagger was the hundred-plus feet of an SR-71.
    “That plane was the baddest, fastest, most radical plane ever produced for the Air Force!  It could fly faster, farther, higher than anything else that breathed air.  Nothing could catch it; not other jets, not missiles, hell, radar had a hard time finding it.  Just look at it!”  Mike had found the stairs leading down to its level and was walking, hypnotized, towards the plane.  “It still looks like its ready to go,” he said, wonderingly.  “It looks like it wants to go,” he added.
    “It looks evil,” said Katrina.  “No, not evil.  It looks like it has a purpose.”
    “Sure does, honey.  This bird used to fly anywhere we needed to look at.  Anywhere, anytime.  Go in, take pictures, come back.  Before decent satellites and unmanned drones, it took one of these babies and a pilot with balls of steel to get the intel back home.  No weapons at all on these.  Just speed, pure and simple.”  He stood there, drinking it in.  Katrina looked as well, but then turned away.
    “Michael?  What is that one?”  She pointed to their left at an old piston-engined bomber.
    He consulted the map.  “This says it’s the Enola Gay, the plane that- holy shit!  That’s the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb!”  And they were off.
    For two hours they explored the aviation hangar, discovering the history of aviation, one piece at a time.  They found a Concorde, and a Super Constellation; they found the Gossamer Albatross; and a Grumman Goose; they found a Mustang and a Thunderbolt and a Hurricane and a Black Widow; they found planes he had never heard of and autogyros they had never imagined.  Finally, almost satiated, they exited past the tail of the Blackbird and entered the Space Hangar.
    There was the shuttle in all her glory.  Brilliant white above, jet black tiles below, the old orbiter took his breath away.
    “Why does it look like that?”
    “Like what?”
    “The sides, and the bottom.  Why are they not smooth, why do they look like my family’s hearth?”
    “Oh, the tiles!  Those are ceramic heat shields, used to keep the craft from burning up when it reenters the atmosphere.”
    “Ceramic?  Like plates?”  Her tone was dubious.
    “Well, sort of.  Same kind of stuff, but much, much lighter.”
    “Why not one big piece, then?  Or a few big pieces?  Instead of all these little tiles?”
    “The tiles wear out eventually and have to be replaced.  It’s easier to do it if they’re all fairly small.”
    “This one never went to space, you said?”
    “Then how did they do, what did you say, ‘glide tests’?”
    “If I remember right, they mounted this on the back of a big plane, maybe a 747, and took it up as high as they could, then released it.  Like flying a paper plane, just a lot bigger,” he smiled.
    “I want to see something that’s been to space, Michael.  Let’s look!”
    And away they went again.  In pretty short order, they found two Mercury capsules and a Gemini capsule, and wondered at their size.  “Our bed is bigger than Big Joe!” laughed Katrina, pointing to a Mercury.
    “Not quite, but pretty close.  But men went into space in those things.”  He peered at the marker.  “Says that Big Joe was a test module, launched in 1959.”
    “And the other?  Freedom 7?”
    “That’s actually Freedom 7 II.  It would have been Alan Shepard’s second ride into space, but the mission was scrubbed.”
    He laughed.  “No, cancelled.”  They continued their tour of the space hangar for another hour, then returned to aviation.
    “Anything you want to go back to?”
    “Have you flown in any of these, Michael?”
    He thought for a moment.  “Well, there’s the UH-1.  They have the Iroquois here, but I’ve been in the Huey.  There’s the Cessna and Piper Cub, too, but those don‘t really count.  Umm, that might be it - oh, wait, I did fly in a Tomcat once, back in the day.  Why?”
    “I want to take your picture in front of all the planes you’ve flown in,” she answered, pulling out a small camera.
    He signed.  Women and pictures.
    Eventually they made it back to the hotel, a few minutes before Stasia and Hughes arrived.
    “How was Natural History?”
    “I never imagined the variety of animals, and the gems!  Katrina, you must see these stones, and the jewelry!  Michael, can we go back there while you’re at your meeting?  There are some things that Katrina shouldn’t miss!”
    “Sure, if she’s willing.”  The objection was purely pro forma, as he could see the excitement in Kat’s eyes.
    “I would enjoy seeing them,” she answered.  “Is there time?”
    “I don’t know how long my meet will take.  I’d hate to have you waiting outside the museum for me to come get you, though.”
    “It is certainly close enough for us to walk, Michael.”
    “What about your, problem?”
    “It is not so bad, when I’m with someone.  Besides, this is the capital of the whole country; what could happen here?”
    He rolled his eyes.  “Jack, you don’t see or hear this.  Kat, did you bring a piece?”
    “Of course.”
    “Carry it.  If anyone gives you a hard time, pull out your passport.  I’ve arranged for diplomatic immunity for you both, so they shouldn’t detain you.  If they do, demand to call me, and we’ll get you out of trouble.”
    “And what shall I say, when they ask why I am carrying a gun?”
    “Simple.  You’re her bodyguard.”
    Mike and Major Hughes arrived at the Pentagon in plenty of time for the meeting.  “You lead,” said Mike.  The Pentagon, with its seemingly endless concentric circles of corridors and offices, was one of the few buildings which could throw off his sense of direction.  Checkpoints, of increasing thoroughness, were passed, and eventually they arrived at a conference room, deep in the most secure area.  “I’ll wait out here,” said Hughes, and opened the door for Mike.
    Around the table were a half-dozen men, and one woman, all dressed in high Washington “My clothes cost more than yours do, so I’m more important” fashion.  One man, he recognized.
    “Mr. Secretary!” he said, walking over.  “I have to say, it’s good to see a familiar face.”
    “Good to see you too, Mike,” answered the Secretary of Defense.  “Quite a mess we’ve dumped in your lap this time.”
    “Yeah, well, if it wasn’t tough, you wouldn’t need me,” he answered.  “I have to admit, I was surprised when the new guy kept you on.  Pleased, but surprised.”
    “So was I,” admitted SecDef.  “But he’s a good man, at heart, and he does admire an ability to get things done, no matter what side of the political aisle.  We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but he knows when he doesn’t know something, and he’ll listen to what I have to say.  Fortunately, he’s not trying to micromanage my Department.  That, I couldn’t accept.”
    Mike sat down.  “We waiting for anyone else?”
    “Besides Colonel Pierson?  No.  I understand that some more intel just came into his office, and he wanted to bring it to the meeting.”  The door opened as he was speaking, and Pierson walked in, a bulky folder under his arm.
    “Sorry I’m late, gentlemen,  ma’am.  Mike.”  He looked around the table.  “I think introductions might be in order.”
    The lone woman started.  “Patricia O’Connell, Assistant Director, NSA.  This is my assistant, Jeffrey Moore,” she said.  She was in her forties, Mike guessed, with a severe haircut and no makeup he could see.  A real ball-buster, he thought.  Got to her position by being orders of magnitude better than her competition, and pushing aside anyone who wouldn’t give way gracefully.  Her assistant was a young, bookish-looking man.  An ivory-tower policy wonk, he speculated.  No real world experience, but can get every scrap of data out of a source.
    The next man was speaking.  “Agents Williams, Howard, and Rodgers, CIA.  Rodgers and I have spent considerable time in Chechnya.  Howard’s been in Moscow, working with the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence on the nuke-exchange program.”  Two real agents, probably competent, and another bookworm, was his snap judgment.
    “That just leaves me.  George Watson, DIA-DJ.”  By his relaxed air, Mike pegged him as another career agent who had moved up by being competent. 
    “DJ?” he asked.
    “Defense Intelligence Operations Coordination Center.  We try to put the big picture together.”
    “Why not DI?  Or DC?”
    “DI is taken - Analysis.  And DC would be a little confusing, dontcha think?”  He laughed a little, a genuine laugh.  “Besides, it’s our job to make sense out of intelligence, not make sense ourselves.”
    “And everyone knows the Secretary, of course,” said Pierson.
    There were nods and murmurs around the table.
    “Let’s get this rolling.  I know we’re all on tight schedules -”
    “Nope,” said Mike.  “Not me.  I have to be in Boston by 7pm tomorrow.  That’s about it.”
    “What’s in Boston?” asked one of the CIA guys - Williams, he thought.
    “Red Sox versus Tampa Bay at Fenway.  You know how long it’s been since I’ve been to a ballgame?”
    Pierson smiled, then said, “Okay, back on topic.  We’re all here to give Mike any and all the assistance he needs to solve this problem for us, without having it blow up in our faces, literally.”  He sat down.  “Now.  Mike, I have some intel from your operatives, J and Cottontail.  They’ve intercepted a shipment of uranium tritide, and are going to trace it back up the chain as far as they can.”
    “So the nukes aren’t ready to fire, or at least not all of them,” said Howard.  “The tritide is needed to replace the triggers.”
    “And that means that we have a little time, at least,” added Watson.  “It wouldn’t do much good to threaten to use a nuke and then not have it work.  I don’t think they’d go even if they had just enough, either.  They want to have them all ready.  At least,” he amended, “I’d want them all ready first, before I moved.”
    “Why do you think that?” asked Rodgers.  “The Chechens aren’t known for their planning, or patience.”
    “We don’t think this is a Chechen operation.”
    “Of course it’s a Chechen operation, who else would it be?”
    “Sorry, I should be clearer.  It hasn’t been planned by any Chechens, and it’s not just Chechnya that’s in play.”  Watson brought out a briefcase.  “According to what we’ve been able to assemble, the driving force behind the latest insurgency is Giku Inarov.”  He gave the background quickly.  “Lately, in the past six months, he’s been advised primarily by a man named Ibrahim.  That’s all we know.  Nobody has a photo, or bio, or, hell, even a last name.”
    “What are you doing, then?” put in O’Connell. 
    “Waiting for you jokers to get the raw intel,” he snapped back.  Obviously, this was an old disagreement, and Mike wasn’t going to put up with it.
    “I don’t have time for this bullshit,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter why we don’t have info on this guy.  We need to get some, and get it quick.”  He faced the CIA agents.  “Do you have any contacts who are in with the insurgents?”
    Williams and Rodgers shared a look before answering.  “We do have one man inserted, but it would be almost impossible to get his information without extracting him.  And if we manage to extract him, he’s done as a source.”
    Pierson spoke up before Mike could erupt.  “Doesn’t matter.  This is the absolute priority of all our resources.  We hold nothing back - nothing!”
    “Besides, if we succeed, there won’t be an insurgency for him to return to,” supplied Mike. 
    “That would be worth it,” said Williams.  “We’ll try to get a message to him tonight and start working on an extraction plan.”
    “What else do we have?” said Pierson.
    The meeting dragged on for three hours.  By the end, Mike had a headache and was reminded again why he hated DC.  He stood up.
    “I’ve heard enough.  Mr. Secretary, always a pleasure.  Bob, if you’re ever in Georgia -”
    “Someday, Mike.  Soon, if we can get this wrapped up.”
    “George, I’ll get my intel guy in touch with you.  You seem to be able to coordinate everything pretty well.”
    “That’s my job,” he agreed.
    “Williams, if you need any help on the ground, talk to George.  We have some resources in the area who may be in a position to assist.  Ms. O’Connell, I need constant access to Echelon.”  She looked as if she was going to object, so he continued.  “Don’t fuck with me, lady.  Right now, you work for me.”  With that, he walked out of the room.
    “Jack, let’s get the hell out of here.  I’ve had enough of DC.” 

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