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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 31

[And now, back to the story!

What, no elaborate explanation?  No details?  No hints and teases?  Nope.

One thing - THANKS to everyone!  Up over 10,000 views!  Yippee!



    “Where did they go?”
    “I - don’t - know - who - you - mean!” gasped out the young soldier.  Cottontail had him firmly - no, excruciatingly tightly - around the throat with her thighs and was holding him against a wall.  The pressure forced him into a subservient position before the questions even started.
    Very demoralizing.
    They had followed the track from Kek-Usn here, a remote Russian Army Vehicle Maintenance Depot.  Given the chronic corruption and lack of funding, it was more of a scrap yard.  Four rows of trucks, personnel carriers, jeeps, and other assorted machinery lay before them, with a number of notable gaps in the lines.  While J examined the holes, hoping to determine the types of trucks taken, Cottontail had made for the guard shack, where she found the unfortunate private lying unconscious in the snow.  She had awakened him with all her wonted gentleness and was proceeding to interrogate him.
    She squeezed harder.
    “Where are the trucks?  Who took them?  When did they take them?”  A hand on her shoulder stopped her.
    “He might be able to answer if you let him breathe,” suggested J.
    She dropped him, disgustedly.  “Filthy pig-fucker.  Useless, just like all the other soldier-boys.”
    J knelt down next to the panting boy.  “What’s your name?” he inquired, gently.
    “Tomas,” he managed.
    “Tomas, we’re trying to help you.  My friend just got a little carried away, didn’t you, Katya?”
    “And I’m sure she’s sorry.  Aren’t you?”
    “Yes.  Sorry.”  She still sounded more pissed than apologetic, but since he was still breathing Tomas didn’t press the issue.
    “Now.  What happened?”
    Ah, yes, old school.  Good cop, bad cop.  And the witness?  Scared shitless.
    “Where are we?”
    “Another thirty minutes and we’re outta here,” answered Adams.  He, Nielson, Vanner, Grez, and Captain Guerrin were gathered in the conference room, reviewing the rapid execution of the mobilization plan.  “Dragon and Valkyrie have received clearance for Russian overflight, but they won’t authorize rearm.  Refuel, yes.”
    Nielson nodded.  “We have the transport to carry her bullets?  Hump ‘em.  JP?“
    Guerrin answered, “My men are up to speed and synched into your commo, have current maps with pre-set positions noted, and have their gear loaded.  One platoon is already in the hills; the other two are on ten minutes’ notice.”
    “How’s the liaison with the mortars?” asked Adams archly.
    “Corporal Sivula has done his job in a highly professional manner,” said Guerrin stiffly, then smiled.  “He and Jessia have them seamlessly integrated.”
    “What a shock - not!”
    “And you’re clear on your mission?” interrupted Nielson.
    “Patrol out to about ten klicks from the Valley proper.  Maintain sentry posts at established locations.  Defend the Valley against any incursions.”
    “Status of enemy forces?”  Nielson turned to Vanner.
    “Groznyy site under observation.  Demo emplaced.  Standing order to engage when the nuke arrives.”
    “U-2V orbiting.  We’re receiving a continuous feed, visual and infrared.  Nothing’s getting out of there without us knowing.”
    “And the mobile force?”
    Grez answered, grimacing.  “Unknown.  Cottontail reported that they followed them to Kalininskiy, a small town a few klicks south of the lake.  No attempt was made to hide the movement.  The trail ended at a vehicle depot outside town.  J questioned the guard, who didn’t know much.  He said he was in the guardhouse, answered a knock on the door, and next thing he knew Cottontail had him up against a wall by the throat and was barking questions at him.  He did say that he was surprised that any trucks were missing.”
    “This depot is in a very remote area.  It’s used mostly for obsolete machines the Russians don’t think have much chance of repair, even allowing for the usual incompetence and parts issues.”
    “Did he identify what was taken?”
    “He couldn’t point out anything specifically.  They don’t actually patrol the lot, just control access from the main road, so he wasn’t familiar with the inventory.  And the printed inventory list seems totally worthless - J read parts to me which suggest they made off with four GAZ M-23 escort vehicles, twelve Tatra T-111 trucks, six PAZ-672G all-terrain busses - there were more, but the list seemed silly for a military depot.”
    Vanner was looking thoughtfully at her.  “What else was taken?  According to inventory.”
    She consulted her notes.  “Two ZIL-E 167s, no description.”
    “Big six by six troop movers, designed for heavy terrain.  Anything else?”
    “Seven GAZ-69.”
    “That’s their version of a jeep.  Okay, this actually makes sense.”
    “What?  All of these are at least forty years old!”
    “No, it’s perfect.  Look.  First, this facility is close enough to their base to be easily accessed, right?”
    “Second, it’s lightly guarded and infrequently visited.”
    “So they could do any necessary work undisturbed,” added Grez, getting into the rhythm.
    “Right.  Third, look at what they took.  The GAZ M-23 was a high-speed escort vehicle built for the KGB in the sixties; the Tatra T-111 is legendary for its reliability and off-road capability; the PAZ-672G was a twenty-six passenger bus built with four-wheel-drive for use in Siberia; and the ZIL-E was built to carry troops through any terrain, under any conditions.”
    “So they can move on roads or off-road, whichever is easier.”
    “Right again.  They can use the M-23s to scout ahead, even split into several groups, an escort with each.”
    “And since they’re all army vehicles, nobody will question them, either.”
    “Exactly.  Perfect camouflage.”
    “That’s great,” interrupted Nielson, “How do we track them?  We don’t know where they’re going!”
    “That is a problem,” admitted Vanner.
    “The only solution I see is to track all groups of trucks in the area,” suggested Grez.
    “Very manpower-intensive,” cautioned Vanner.
    “And how do we know which bunch of trucks is which?  Have the Russians stop them and knock on the window?  ‘Excuse me, did you steal these -?’ BANG!” mocked Adams.
    “If we coordinate with the Russian military, we should be able to eliminate most of the legitimate movements.”
    “If they can find their ass with both hands and a GPS!” snorted Adams.
    “It’s the best shot we have!” countered Vanner.
    “We don’t even know if these fuckers have a nuke!  Maybe they’re just transferring to another base!”
    “Calm down, you two!” snapped Nielson.  “It’s a major movement either way.  It needs attention.  If it turns out they’re simply en route to a new location, then the Russians can deal with them.”
    “Here’s a scary thought: what if they break up into multiple groups because they have multiple nukes?”
    “Thank you so very fucking much!” snarled Adams.
    Nielson ignored him.  “Pat, get on the horn to Chechnik.  Fill him in, get him working his end.”
    “Grez, back down in the hole.  You usually run three shifts?”
    “Run them double shifts, overlapping.  Primary group on for eight hours, second group comes on with primary for eight, primary goes off for eight when the third group comes on.  You’ll need the extra eyes and ears.”
    “What about Mike?”
    “I’ll make that call.”
    The Keldara’s whisper over the radio net brought the entire team to full attention.  Silently, with the skill pounded into them through seemingly endless drills, safeties were released, rounds chambered, guns raised.  The plastic explosives, arranged around windows and doors that would otherwise potentially deflect a bullet from its target, were primed and armed.
    Braon just waited.  As the team sniper, that was his role.
    An old Toyota sedan, battered and dented, rolled down the street towards the house, followed by a nondescript heavy truck, bed covered over with rotting canvas.  The sedan flashed its brights once, twice, three times, then rolled to a stop.
    The front door opened.
    “Wait until they all exit the building,” whispered Pavel.  “Try NOT to kill Kassab.”
    Chechens, bundled tightly against the cold, spilled out of the doorway.  The sedan’s doors opened in response, and three men climbed out.
    “Seven, eight.  That’s all of them.  Kassab’s in the lead.”
    “Take them!”
    The night erupted.  The demo charges were triggered, spraying the trailing fighters with glass and brick, while deadly-accurate fire methodically mowed them down from the front.  Kassab alone escaped immediate death, but rounds shattered his left leg and right shoulder simultaneously.
    The men in the car fared as poorly; all three were dead before properly registering they were being attacked.  The driver of the truck reacted a little more quickly, slamming into gear and mashing the accelerator to the floor.  Unfortunately, he slammed the truck into fourth instead of reverse.  The truck lurched forward, crunched into the trunk of the sedan, and stalled.  The driver didn’t have time to realize his mistake before a round exploded his head like an overripe melon.  The tires exploded under the impact of dozens of rounds.
    “Don’t fire into the back of the truck!” called Pavel over the radio.  “We can’t risk damaging the bomb!”  He changed frequencies.  “Braon, shift position.  I need you able to see into the truck.”
    Intermittent, ineffectual fire sprayed erratically from the bed of the truck.  It was uncoordinated, panicked, but it forced the Keldara to stay undercover.
    “Braon!  Hurry!”
    “In position.  Sighting.”  A series of sharp cracks echoed through the night.  “Targets serviced.”
    Pavel waved Ivor and Artur forward.  Moments later, they reported, “Package secure.”
    “Check for survivors, and get a medic out for Kassab.”
    Kassab had lost a fair amount of blood and was barely conscious.  Gerasim, the medic, ran a pint of O Neg and another of saline to bring the volume up while he worked on staunching the bleeding.
    “Can he hear me?” asked Pavel.
    “He should, but he’s in and out.  He might not track very well.”
    “Good enough.  Kassab!”
    The Chechen’s eyelids fluttered.  “Who are you?”
    “I’m the man asking you questions.  If you want to live I’d suggest you answer them.  When do you report in next?”
    “Piss on you.”
    “If that’s how you want it,” shrugged Pavel.  He grabbed the ruined shoulder and squeezed.  Kassab groaned.
    “Again, Kassab.  When do you report in?”
    “I would rather die.”
    “And I would prefer to honor your wish, but the Kildar would be disappointed in me.  So I will ask once more.  If you do not tell me, why, we’ll just have to keep you alive.  Awake.  In pain.  All the way back to the Valley.  Then, I’ll let Mother Lenka ask you questions.  I’m sure our doctor can repair any truly critical damage, keep you functional for a long, long time.”  He leaned in closer.  “Do you know the stories they tell of our women, Kassab?  How they tear the still-beating hearts from the bodies of their victims?  Drink their blood?”  His voice dropped to a ghastly whisper.  “They’re all true.”  At a normal tone, he continued, “Last time.  When do you report in?”
    Kassab choked out, “I am to report when Boulos arrives, and again when we’re ready to place the device.”
    “Timetable?  Exact, please.”
    Kassab shook his head.  “No exact timetable.  We didn’t know how quickly Boulos would arrive, or how long it will take to move the bomb.”
    Gerasim spoke.  “Have to hurry up.  There must be internal bleeding, his BP is dropping like a stone.”
    “When is the latest you can report?  When will they start to worry?”
    Kassab didn’t answer.  He seemed to have passed out.  Pavel hit the bloody leg, and Kassab awoke with a gasp of pain.  “How long until you must report?”
    “Sundown, tomorrow.”  His face grayed and he slumped down unconscious.  Gerasim pushed Pavel away.
    “That’s it.  He’s out.  If you want any more information from him, I need to treat him now.”
    “Keep him alive.  We need what he knows.”  Artur trotted up.  “Report.”
    “Weapon is secure, but that truck isn’t going anywhere.  Three survivors from the house force; none from the incoming group.”
    “Condition of survivors?”  
    “Two are in a bad way, don’t think they’ll make it much longer.  The third is better off, says his name is Salah.”
    “Very good.  Casualties?”
    “Iosif tripped over a brick and sprained his ankle.  We’ve got it taped up.  He‘s fully functional, but he‘ll feel it tomorrow,” he finished with a smile.
    Pavel grinned back.  “Good.  We’ve got to get out of here, quickly.  Take half the men, gather our gear, police the area, and prepare to roll.  Ivor!” he called.  “Rig the townhouse!  I want that place rubble!”  Turning again, he said, “Semyon, take two men and toss the house.  Look for cell phones, computers, anything like that.  You have five minutes!”
    “Tammy, can you make it to Groznyy in one hop?”
    “No problem, Colonel.”
    “What about back?”
    “As long as I’m not too heavily loaded.”
    “Get in the air.  Tac frequency three.  Dust-off of wounded prisoners and a package.  Pavel will give you the exact rendezvous point.”
    “Hot LZ?”
    “What’s the package?”
    “A nuke.”
    “Crap,” she muttered.  “Roger.  On our way.”  Tammy dropped the phone, grabbed her flight suit and started slipping into it.  “Naida!”
    “Suit up!  We’re hot!  Chief!”
    D’Allaird, anticipating her, replied, “Gassed and ready to roll!”
    “Outstanding!”  Hopping on one foot, she pulled on her other boot.  “Lift off in two minutes!”
    Naida rushed into the room, zipping her suit.  “Mission, ma’am?”
    “Pickup in Groznyy, prisoners and a nuke.”
    Naida gulped.  “A nuke?”
    “That’s what the man said.  Better be a smooth flight then, huh?”  A devil-may-care grin crossed her face.  “Knew this job was gonna be the shit!”
    “Jenkins!”  Mike’s voice on the phone could barely be heard over the pounding music.  Nielson could clearly hear a singer: “With noble acts, the bravest souls / Endure the heart’s remains…”
    Stasia and Katrina were wearing the closest they could come to goth outfits, though Stasia’s leather bustier was considerably closer.  They were dancing to the music, Jack watching them while scanning the crowd and enduring.  Though, listening to the lyrics, he thought he may have to reassess.
    Kat was doing her best to keep up with Stasia, but there was no comparison.  Stasia was in her element.  Despite the crowd.  Despite the oddities of dress.  Through Mike, she knew the music.  Through the sheik, she knew how to dance.  It allowed her to move freely, expressively, and she was taking full advantage of this opportunity.
    Rogue, the lead singer, had noticed her, and had asked the stage manager to invite her on-stage.  But before he could find her, she would be gone.  A dream that once was.
    “It’s going down!”
    “What?” shouted Mike.
    “The op!  It’s going down!” shouted back Nielson.
    “The op?”
    “Fuck!”  Nielson could hear, barely, heartfelt cursing.  “Understood!  We’re moving now!”  The phone cut off.  He could only imagine the conversation happening on the other end.  The girls weren’t going to be happy.  It sounded like one hell of a concert.
    “Arise, my brothers!”
    Inarov’s still-handsome face glowed with the fervor of the fanatic on the web page.  “The day of reckoning for the infidel overlords is at hand!  Arise and join with me in establishing the Trans-Caucasian Emirate of Islam!  Take up arms, knowing the Allah has provided you with guidance.  Listen and obey my words as your Emir!  I promise you justice!  I promise you power!  I promise you freedom!”  His visage turning stern, he continued.  “O godless leaders of Chechnya and Russia, I abjure thee!  Remove your troops from our land, allow our men to live their lives as Allah has willed, and leave this land forever, or Allah shall bring down upon your capitals His holy fire and burn your poison out!  Depart, and you shall taste Allah’s mercy.  Remain, and you shall taste Allah’s wrath.  You have two days to obey the word of Allah and his Emir.”  Now the face softened, smiling.  “My brothers, have faith.  Through the mercy of Allah, you shall be free to live as the Qur’an!  Be strong, resist the temptations of the infidels, and you shall be among the chosen!”  The picture froze for a moment, then resumed.
    “Arise, my brothers!”
    “Shit.”  Bob Pierson’s oath was muttered, but no less heartfelt.  He had made it home at a reasonable time, only to be called back to OSOL three short hours later.  Now he watched the feed from the net a second time, reaching for the phone.
    “Keldara House, Ilena Mahona speaking, how may I help you sir or ma’am?”
    “Colonel Nielson, please.”
    “Certainly, Colonel Pierson.  One moment.”
    “Hold on.  How did you know…?”
    “The Colonel has been expecting your call, sir.”  He could practically hear her dimpling.  “You’ll be on the secure line shortly.”  Seconds later, he heard, “Good evening, Colonel.”
    Without preface, Pierson replied, “Have you seen the web?”
    “We’ve been a little busy, Colonel,” Nielson answered irritably.  “What about it?”
    “Your friend Inarov just posted a video, calling for an uprising and promising the use of what he calls ‘Allah’s fire’.  Sounds like he’s getting ready to make things happen.”
    “More than getting ready.  We just intercepted a group in Groznyy, and they were packing heavy.”
    “How heavy?”
    “We don’t know yet.  It’s en route back to the Valley, should be here in a few hours.  We’ll let you know then.  What else does he say on the video?”
    “It’s on a loop, you can check it our yourself.”  He gave Nielson a web address.  “We’re trying to trace it, but not having much luck.  It‘s getting plenty of hits.  With any kind of luck, the server‘ll crash soon.  Think you can help on that?”
    “Vanner’ll get on it as well.  Anything else, Colonel?”
    “No.  If we hear anything else, I’ll make sure it’s passed on.”
    “Thank you.”  And without another word, the connection was broken.

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