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Friday, July 1, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 27

[Quite the ride, wouldn't you say?
It's a helluva thing, riding up and down that Road.  Long, narrow, and twisted.  Really nervewracking, especially if you're not a great fan of heights.  But the view from the summit is like nothing else in New England!
Anyways, we've spent two chapters and an Interlude with Mike and the kids - surely, Ibrahim hasn't stood still, has he?  Probably not.
Let's find out.



    “I want my bombs!”
    “Excellency, the men are working -”
    “I want my bombs!”
    “Soon, Excellency, soon, we will -”
    “I want my bombs!  No more excuses, Ibrahim!”
    Ibrahim thought furiously for a moment.  “The reclamation of tritium is proceeding as quickly as we can safely manage, Excellency.  Any faster and we risk the lives of our men.”
    “Risk them!  But get me my bombs!”
    “Of course we shall.  I merely awaited your command.  Even so, it will take time to rearm all the bombs, especially since we are still awaiting our deliveries.”
    “Why do we wait?  Are our followers so inept?”
    “No, Excellency, there seems to be problems at the sources.  We divided the amount needed among many vendors to avoid arousing suspicion, but as yet we have only received one delivery of tritium.  It was a fair-sized amount, though.  We may be able to complete reactivating three weapons.”
    “Then give me my three so we can emplace them!”
    “Excellency, your desire is, of course, my command, but may this unworthy one ask a question?”
    “Excellency, the plan was to place all the bombs in the target cities at the same time, was it not?”
    “It was.  The plan has changed.”
    Ibrahim’s swarthy face showed worry for the first time.  “What is the plan now, Excellency?”
    “You will take the three weapons you repair and place them in Groznyy, Moscow, and Makhachakala.  We will demand that the Russian puppets in Chechnya and Dagestan step down immediately, and that the godless Russians recognize the Emirate or we detonate the bombs.”
    “But what of the rest of the Emirate?”
    Inarov waved his hand dismissively.  “Soon enough.  Allah has blessed us, Ibrahim, and will not allow us to fail.  We simply need to accept his changes to the plan.  Once the Emirate controls Chechnya and Dagestan, we will have some breathing room and time to advance our destiny.”
    “Very wise, Excellency.  May this one make a suggestion?”
    “You may suggest.”
    “Your wisdom in targeting Groznyy and Moscow is impeccable, yet I am troubled.  If we take the three weapons available - and they will be complete in no more than three days, Excellency - and ignore the threat the Keldara present, I fear that our works will be undone.”
    “You fear, Ibrahim?  Your faith wavers.”
    “Perhaps I misspoke, Excellency.  Shai’tan is clever; the Prophet has warned us to ignore his temptations.  Yet I feel if we were to focus to greatly on reclaiming these lands for Allah, and not remove the viper in our midst, the Keldara, then we would provide Shai’tan the opening he needs to undo our efforts.”
    Now it was Inarov’s turn to think.  “You truly believe these Keldara are that much of a threat?”
    “Excellency, outside of the Greater and Lesser Satans, there are no more dangerous foes in the world.”
    “What, then, do you suggest?”
    “We will take two bombs, one to Moscow, one to Groznyy.  We will gain our freedom thereby.  Allow me to take the third bomb and wipe the Keldara from the pages of history!”  Ibrahim fell silent and waited.
    Finally, Inarov spoke.  “There is wisdom in your words, Ibrahim.  Forgive me for doubting your faith; I should have known that you only thought of the greater good.  Very well!  As soon as the bombs are ready, we will execute your plan.”
    “Thank you, Excellency.  I shall not fail you.”
    “I know you won’t.”
    “At least we know his name now.”
    Katya’s comment seemed to go unnoticed by J, so she elaborated.  “Bursuk Gereshk.”
    J looked up from the map he had been poring over.  “What does that mean to us?”
    Katya looked unsure.  “We can use his name as a way to enter his circles?”
    “And if they ask for a code, or a password?”
    “Then we take them down.”
    “Just when I think you’ve gotten over your need to kill, padawan, it rears its ugly head.  No, we don’t take them down, not until we’re told to.”
    “Master, then I am confused.  What of the two men in Elista?”
    “They  could have identified us and made our task more difficult,” he explained.  “We needed Hamid to get to Gereshk, and we needed Gereshk to locate their position.  Now, we observe, and wait.”
    “I hate waiting.”
    “Another report from Katya.  They have a location!”
    Grez pointed to a monitor.  “There, just to the east of Lake Kek-Usn.”
    “They’re sure?”
    “She stated that Gereshk brought the tritium there and has not yet left.  Unless he’s waiting for another contact?”
    “It’s possible.  That would seem to be out of character, though, given the haste they’re trying to collect the tritium.”
    “That’s what I thought, too.”
    “We need to bring this upstairs.”
    Nielson was happy.  “How far away is this lake?”
    “Straight line?  About three hundred fifty klicks.  Of course, there’s no such thing as a straight line around here.”  Vanner shrugged.  “We’d have to detour way around Chechnya at the very least.  Figure six, seven hundred klicks at least.  More, if the roads are blocked.”
    Adams looked thoughtful.  “Two days drive?”
    “About that,” said Vanner.  “Maybe a little less if everything goes well, but probably not much more.”
    “If everything goes well.  Riiiight.”  Chief Adams had a long, and frequently painful, association with Murphy.
    Nielson interrupted with,  “Okay.  Chief, call Chechnik and explain the situation to him.  Nicely,” he added, seeing the malicious grin on the Chief’s face.  “I’ll talk with OSOL, coordinate with the alphabet soup, and get that area under constant observation.”  He thought again and waggled his fingers at the ceiling with a  half smile.  “Make sure they‘ve moved the eyes in the skies.”
    More seriously, he continued.  “We’ve got to get this dialed in.  If we’re going to commit to this site, we need to be sure of the target.  We wait until we’re  absolutely sure the nukes are there before we engage.”
    “What if they move the nukes before we get there?”
    “Point, but that’s why we need it under observation.  Still - I’ll get the teams mobilized and the choppers loaded.  Put the Rangers on notice.  I want to be ready by dawn.  I expect it will be a few days, though.”
    “And Mike?”
    “I’ll call him, as well.”  He said this with some reluctance, unwilling to interrupt the Kildar’s first real vacation in, well, forever.
    Adams said, “If he misses the concert, he’ll be pissed.”
    “He’ll be more pissed if he misses the movement.”
    “Colonel Chechnik’s office, Lieutenant Malakov speaking.”
    “I asked for Chechnik.”
    “I am the Colonel’s aide.  How can I help you?”
    “If I wanted to talk a miserable piss-ant who isn‘t fit to lick my boots, I would have asked for you!  I asked for Chechnik, and you’re going to connect me.  Now.  Tell him it‘s Adams.”
    “Hold.”  Malakov put the phone down.  This assignment sucked, but was better than the other choices: Siberia, or an unmarked grave.  Putin wasn’t entirely convinced of Chechnik’s loyalty, and so Malakov had been tapped for the job of spying on one of the nation’s spymasters.  “Colonel?  There’s someone named Adams on the line for you.”
    “Adams?  What does he want?”
    “He wouldn’t tell me.  He insisted on talking to you.”
    “Thank you, Lieutenant.”  Chechnik picked up his extension.  “Master Chief.  How can I help you today?”
    “You can tell your aide that when I call it’s fucking important!”
    “My apologies.  It won’t happen again.”
    “Good.  Colonel, we have a possible location for the nukes.”
    Chechnik sucked in his breath.  “So quickly?”
    “Yeah, we don’t screw around.  We need some help on your end, though.”
    “Anything at all!”  Chechnik scrabbled for a pen.  “What can we do for you?”
    “We have agents in the area, but we need constant observation.  Any movement in or out, we need to know when it happens.”
    “Where do you need this?”
    “It’s the eastern shore of Lake Kek-Usn, in Kalmykia.”
    Chechnik considered this.  “We may not have the resources to maintain constant surveillance,” he admitted.  “Our technical means are not usually slated for Russian overflight.”
    “I’m aware of that, Colonel.  Whatever coverage you can provide.  Doesn‘t have to be aerial; a couple fishermen with good cameras will help.  But we need it.  Right now.”
    “Very good.  What else?”
    Now Adams paused.  Chechnik had fucked them over once before, but he didn’t see any alternative.  Sooner or later, they’d have to tell him of their movements.  “We will be taking the site out.  Timetable is still up in the air, but we will be moving on it shortly.  Overflight for our Hinds and customs clearance for our teams should have already been approved.  If it hasn’t, get it done.  And road conditions for our route.”
    “Certainly, certainly!”
    “Multiple sources, Chechnik.  And no troops on the ground; one thing we don’t need are the locals blowing the whistle on us.”
    “I understand, Master Chief.  I have done this before.”  Chechnik’s voice was cold.  “Overflight has been granted, I know; I’ll ensure that you have easy passage through customs at your entry point, though knowing at least the primary route will allow for better data.”
    Adams ignored the obvious attempt for information.  “Good.  Once we have the route planned, I’ll download it to you personally.”  He allowed his tone to turn menacing.  “Don’t screw this up, Chechnik.”
    Chechnik heard the click, then, a second later, another click.
    Fuck me.  He had suspected, of course, that there was a spy in his office.  Too much information had flowed the other way to be explained otherwise.  He was insulted, though.  At least Vlad could have given the job to someone competent, instead of Malakov, the worthless mudak.
    He pulled his service pistol from the drawer.  Well, a service pistol.  Actually, it had been signed out by Malakov - at Chechnik’s request.  That would just make it more believable when his aide, torn between two loyalties and suffering from PTSD, committed suicide in the Colonel’s office.  It was going to be messy, but…
    “Lieutenant?  Will you come in here a moment?”
    “Colonel, Nielson here.  Sorry to be calling so early.”
    “No problem.  At least I was able to get in before the calls started today.  What can OSOL do for the Keldara today?”
    “We may have the nukes located, but we need surveillance.  We’ve asked the Russians to keep it under observation, but -”
    “Let me guess, they don’t want to admit that their satellites watch their people just as closely as they watch us.”
    “Okay, let’s see here…  We have enough recon satellites to keep it under our umbrella 24/7.  Do you want updates, or the raw feed?”
    “I think just the feed.  Make sure we get it all - deep scans, infra-red, the works.  We can monitor it just as well from this end.  Plus, no offense, we have a very direct stake in this.”
    “None taken.”
    “What about Predators?  Can you shake some loose for low-level recon?”
    “I’ll work on it, but they’re pretty thoroughly tasked.  It might take a day or two to get them on-station.”  Pierson thought.  “But I may be able to get a U-2 for you.”
    “You think the Russians will go for that?”
    “I don’t think they have any choice.  Mike was pretty brutal with them, I heard.”
    Nielson chuckled.  “He was, at that.  Seriously, I thought all the 99th’s birds were tied up?”  The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron was based, officially, at Beale Air Force Base, and was supporting the American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a demanding duty that required most of their airframes.
    “I wasn’t thinking of the 99th, but you’re right.  No, I was thinking of the 42nd Recon.”
    “42nd?  Pardon me, Colonel, I didn’t think there was a -”
    “42nd?  Not on most books, no.  This program’s as black as they come.  A few years back, they scratch-built a dozen new U-2s, designated the U-2V, with a second seat, state-of-the-art avionics, upgraded engines, and, most importantly, improved sensors that can maintain a constant air-to-ground feed.”
    “Never heard of them.”
    “Exactly the point.  They belong to the Air Force, officially, but the National Reconnaissance Office operates them.  I know that they are under-utilized at the moment.  The only catch is I know the NRO won’t allow you to take the direct feed.”
    “We’ll live with that, if we can have ‘em.”
    “See what I can do.  Anything else?”
    “Not at the moment, Colonel.”
    “Very well.  I’ll get back to you as soon as I have any answers, one way or another.”
    “Mike, it’s Dave.”
    Mike had awakened at the first ring from the sat phone, climbing quietly from the bed.  Katrina wiggled a bit but didn’t seem to wake.  “Yeah?”
    “We’ve got some movement.”
    That brought Mike fully awake.  “How soon?”  He was already thinking of flight times.
    “Not soon.  Four days, minimum.”
    Mike relaxed a little.  “Where?”
    “In Kalmykia, north of the Chechen border.  Cottontail and J followed a tritium packet there.”
    “I can be back -”
    “Whoa!  We can handle this part.  Besides, isn’t the concert tonight?”
    “Yeah, but -”
    “No buts, Mike.  We can handle this.  You enjoy the show, and fly back tomorrow.  That’ll give you plenty of time.”
    “Yeah, time to think of an excuse for Cottontail.  You think she’s gonna be happy you saw Cruxshadows without her?”
    “See you in a couple days.”
    “O Great One, I have wonderful news!”
    “Yes, Ibrahim?”
    “We have completed the rearming process on three of the bombs.”
    “Which three?”
    “Two of the large weapons, the five megaton and the two megaton; and a small one, one hundred kilotons.”
    “That is good news, Ibrahim!  Proceed with the plan immediately!”
    “Excellency, of course we shall.  I will dispatch the largest to Moscow, naturally, and shall oversee the movement of the next-largest to the Valley of the Keldara myself.”
    “The next-largest, the two megaton bomb, that should go to Groznyy, not the Keldara.”
    “Excellency, perhaps you are not aware of the scope of the Valley?”
    “It is a single valley, Ibrahim!”
    “It is a veritable pit of vipers, Excellency, and needs to be scoured clean!”
    “No, it is a source of annoyance which you seem to have an unhealthy obsession with.  Again, I ask you, why do we need to waste a weapon on a bunch of barely-past stone age barbarians?”
    “They are a grave threat to the security of the Emirate!”
    “So you say, Ibrahim.  But my other advisors do not feel the same.”
    Ibrahim‘s usually-calm voice rose in anger and frustration.  “Have they forgotten the crippling blow these infidels inflicted on our cause, so little time ago?  The best, most dedicate, most skilled of our fighters butchered in the field, slaughtered by the accursed women?  Are they afraid?”
    Ibrahim pushed his luck a little too far.
    Inarov leapt from his seat and backhanded Ibrahim off his feet.  Ibrahim hadn’t thought he could move that quickly.  “They - and I! - fear no one!  We are the tools of Allah’s destiny!”  He fumed before continuing.  “I should have you killed for your impudence.”
    “Excellency, kill me if you desire, but you must listen!  The Keldara must, must, be eliminated!”  He assumed the tone on one shamed, and begging forgiveness.
    “You truly believe this?”
    “I do, Excellency, more than you can imagine.”
    “Are you willing to stake your life upon it?”
    “I am, Excellency.  The Keldara must die.”
    Inarov sat back in his chair.  “Very well, Ibrahim.  Your willingness to die for your belief speaks well of you.  I respect your commitment.  You shall have a bomb, the smallest one we have ready, and transport, and men.  Be warned: one of those men shall be given orders to shoot you if your faith, your belief in this mission, wavers, even slightly.”
    “I accept.”  He hesitated a moment.  “I shall need quite a few men, Excellency.”
    “It’s only a single bomb.  How many would you need?”
    “The Keldara are ferocious fighters.  If I am to have the smallest bomb, I shall need to get into their valley properly, instead of staying outside and depending on the blast radius to wipe them out.  They will defend their homes, Excellency, men and women alike.  We will have the element of surprise, yes, and that will work in our favor.  Yet I still think that I will need, perhaps, three hundred men.”
    Inarov was apoplectic.  “Three hundred?  Impossible!”  And Ibrahim would need fighters, not support, not the misfits.  They would have to stay behind.
    “Necessary, Excellency.  That will barely give me a two-to-one advantage.  Less than that, and I cannot guarantee success.  And since I am staking my life on the success of this mission…”
    “We have barely twice that, total!”
    “Yet you will hardly need that many here.  We are undiscovered -”
    “So far.”
    “So far, yes Excellency.  Our men are already in Groznyy; you will not need to dispatch any more for that.  Since we are relying on stealth for the cities, the plan for Moscow calls for a dozen men, including two technicians, and a leader.  That will leave you with nearly three hundred.  And once we return, your security will be guaranteed.  Once the people see the glorious results of your actions, they shall flock to your cause, as numerous as the grains of sand in the holy deserts.  Yes, we shall be vulnerable here briefly - but we shall emerge victorious and more powerful!”
    “Very well, Ibrahim, you shall have -” He paused, as if considering, making himself look generous, and merciful.  “Yes, you shall have your three hundred.”  He scowled at the look on Ibrahim’s face.  “What else?”
    “Excellency, to move that many men quickly, I shall need to utilize the vehicles we have secretly repaired.”
    Sigh.  “Is this truly necessary?  No, don’t speak; I know your answer.  You may have your transports, too.  How soon do you plan to leave?”
    “Tomorrow, before dawn, we dispatch the bomb to Groznyy, and the team to Moscow with theirs.  I shall leave at noon.”
    “Noon?  Is that wise?”
    “Excellency, with so many men, even a blind Russian satellite could see us, day or night.  Who would think that we would risk such a precious cargo on such a daring plan?”
    “Audacious indeed!  Allah’s blessings be with you, Ibrahim.”
    “Thank you, Excellency.”  Without another word, Ibrahim bowed his way backward out of the room, never looking up at the Emir, never letting the contempt that Kurt felt for him show on Ibrahim’s face.

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