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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Kildaran - Sixth Interlude

[Welcome to the (currently) final interlude!  There may yet be one more interlude written; however, at this point it's a concept rather any any coherent strings of words, so, for now, this is it.  After this, nothing but pure Kildaran to the end!

For the newer readers, who may be wondering what the devil an interlude is - well, we have more books in mind in the same universe.  These interludes are focusing on primary characters from the novel that would (will) parallel this, Paint It Black, giving you a feel for their foibles and abilities.  You've met Prissy - lucky readers! - and the Mice; you've gotten to know Lasko better; and you've seen what happened to Shota at last year's Festival of Balar.  Now, you get to see what Shota's like AFTER the surgery!

Thanks for reading, and we'll return to our regularly scheduled story in a few days!



    The old Cargo Plane looked as if it had been blasted by the sun, oiled down, then coated in dust and pollution.  Repeatedly.  Over many years.
    One engine sputtered to a stop with a gagging cough of a stop much quicker than the other three.  It spewed dark smoke and a hint of flame from its exhaust, nothing that excited the men of the Air Cargo section of the Tbilisi Airport.  There was a bit more flame than usual, true, but that too passed.  So did any worries the men might have had, if they hadn’t already been so tired as to not really care.  They were just running on automatic, mostly.
    All sorts of aircraft came through here.  During the Russian-Georgian War they'd seen their share of smokers coming in - their own military craft, in fact - but this was an older beast.  By the looks of things, it had likely been on its last legs for at least ten years,  kept in the air with spit and a prayer more than airframe worthiness.  Maybe, just maybe, it was the skill of the aircrew.  They approached and got a better look at the aircraft.
     Its tail bore the flag of Uzbekistan, a fairly common flag of convenience.  But  that was peeling faster than the remaining paint, and a much smaller American flag looked to have been recently applied.  It's other lettering and numbering was peeling, but seemed older and likely was original - at least, more so than the flags it flew under.  At least all its lights worked.
    Fuck!  Especially the belly floods, which flared, cutting through the cold, flurries and settling dust and smoke.  This let the ground crew do their job much quicker. as they could see the props.
    There were already bets on how much it'd take in bribes to get the tower to grant permission take off again, and more bets if it'd be able to do so at all.  With the wheels were secured, the cargo hauler and inspection team arrived, there was nothing else to do.
      As the other engines died one by one, the airframe screeched in sympathetic pain.  Suddenly, they all started to reassess the safety of their chosen positions under the aircraft.  They all decided to move to the rear where the cargo hatch was.  Maybe they'd get a chance for a few more rubles as a ‘reward’ for helping unload the craft and to ‘not’ see anything.
    A cargo craft coming in at this time of night; no one in the tower complaining; no police lights racing across the tarmac; no response helo launched from the ready base near the main terminal; that could only mean one thing:
    Smugglers who already had an ‘in’ with the men on this shift.  Well, there was always room in their pockets for a few more rubles, and hard work wasn't anything new to them.  And, if it proved to be something bad, like, oh, Islamic mujahideen, well, there was a procedure for that.  A quick call to a contact in town, they call the Mountain Tigers, and that problem would go away.  So, too, would the staff who'd arranged for the safe arrival, ‘under the radar’ so to speak, of the hated enemies.
    “How the hell did this thing make it over the mountains down south?” muttered the oldest, and wisest, of the ground crew, seeking shelter from the wind.  “You all saw the weather reports?  Even with a tail wind it had to be one hell of a ride.  I'm not going to volunteer to clean it up on the inside no matter how much they offer.”
      That’s when the aircrew jumped out of the front belly door, kissed the ground, and cried thanks - one to Allah, the other to God Almighty.  One was what sounded to be a Russian dialect; the other in what they all recognized as a Southern drawl - cowboy movies had been circulating in the local black-market recently.  Uncut and unedited, with subtitles in Georgian.  The latest action movies from America too.  All rumored to be coming from the Keldara.

    “Ah swear ahm gonna shoot this beast if'n it donna blow up first!”
    “Ah, no!  How will we get back?”
    “We go commercial, Alexi.”
    “That is simply bizarre, Sam.  But you think we might let our passengers out before they make our wishes come true and blow a hole in our plane so they can, as you say, 'Unass‘?'”
    “Guess so, them were some mighty ugly storms on the way here,” Sam said, giving his old bird one final look-over as he walked aft.  He waved at the ground crew, then noticed the fuel truck.
    “GAWD NO!  Keep that truck far away until she cools off!  Otherwise, y’all are gonna blow sky high!  Them smoke and fire farts from the engines, they ain’t from clogged exhausts.  We got hot ports and a fuel leak somewhere.  The rigger tape patch job must’ve melted agin!“
    He continued in perfect Russian, “Hildegard's one touchy bitch.  Give her a chance and she'll start a fire in a puddle of oil or hydraulic fluid!  So you damn fools get the fuel away and dig out a fire-engine instead - and BACK OFF!  We gotta get our... cargo out.”
    “What might your cargo be, Sir?”  Smugglers for sure, grinned the old ground chief.
    “A few local Tigers, a pretty girl, and some old grandpa in a wheel chair.  Odd bunch.  But you know, the Kildar, he paid us just fine to bring then back along with their toys.  I'm guessing the toys belong to the Tigers.”
    “Tigers? You mean the Mountain Tigers?”
    “Yeah that's them.  Bunch of ugly fucks I got here, though they've been drunk off their asses for the last nine hours, singing loudly and off key.  That was, until we hit that spring squall just south of here. Y’all better get ready for that weather.  We got snow coming for sure.”
    “Tower hasn't said anything about it yet,” argued the crewman.  One sniff, though, and he could smell the change in weather coming despite the fuel fumes, dust of the field ,and smell of abused and tortured metal.
    Sam put his arm around his shoulders and steered him around the aft end of the plane and pointed him and his head south. “Now y’all jest look up above the horizon.”
    “I don't see a horizon...”
    “Exactly.  At this time of the morning, this time of year, you'd expect the sun to be shining right through, not a big ol’ mass of black stuff headin’ north.  We only beat it here by riding out the gust front, and didn't that shake things up!  Like to breaking in a Wild Pinto mare in heat, I tell yah.  Bet it's gonna be messy inside.”
    His partner pulled out a hand crank from a locker near the aft wheel well and, with a promise of bribes, got some help cranking the cargo hatch down.  Before it even touched the ground, gear bags started flying out, knocking a few men down.  Then five large men passed a old geezer in an even older wheelchair out the back and pushed him towards the ground chief.
    “You, move him to safety!,” called one. “There's a smell of burning wires inside - I think we got hit by lightning on the way in, the intercom blew out so we couldn't tell the pilots.”
    With that, the pilots and ground chief - pushing the old man on what had to be the second fastest ride of his life - took off like bats out of hell.  The rest of the ground crew, seeing their boss running for his life, followed, leaving their ride and gear behind.  The fuel truck passed them all, smashing every posted speed limit.  It wouldn't stop for anyone until much later, when it was stopped by a very large pothole on the far side of the field.
    Shota smiled.
    “Okay, you ugly Mules.  Now we do what J told us to do.  Unload the Sheik's presents we didn't use and commo.  Take over that flat bus to move our stuff.  Glad they ran first.  Didn't want to have to make it burn too early.  Too many new toys I want to try out later that we didn't get to use in  Tirana, and I really want to kill this plane in two minutes like J said.  No sooner.  Orders are orders.”
    “It worked for us in Tirana.  So if your stuff isn't off by then...”  He shrugged and lifted a giant tube, marked with Chinese and Arabic writing, to his shoulder, smiling very widely.
    “You know how I was with numbers.”
    He grinned even wider.
    “So one, two, ten... what ever... MOVE IT MULES!”
    Shota had taken to being a leader of men of equal brawn with great vigor. He liked being able to swat a man into line to make a point without worrying about that man breaking or getting angry.
    It just was the way his team worked.  Chief Adams had shown him some very nasty ways to make sure that the knew that messing with him just meant PAIN.  It'd only had taken three examples - one of the guys, Tubri, known as ‘Two Brows’ for the deep furrows in his forehead,  twice - to make his point.
     Shota had helped both men up with smiles and patted them on the back, which likely would have just folded lesser men in half at the point of impact.
    “Welcome to the Mules.  I'm Boss.  Sergeant.  Kildar says so. Oleg says so.  So you follow my orders.  Period.  Or you’re out of the ‘Experimental Heavy Operations Support Squad‘.”  Smile.  “Everyone else calls us the 'Mules’, so you don't have to remember the special name, but write it down.  Keep in your pocket, you’ve got to check the schedule for rotation on patrol, or who has 'watch Kildar duty and Ready Action' status.”
    Even though his new troops had obvious questions, they knew better than to ask their new leader right now in front of others.  Like Shota, they had learned that there was no embarrassment in asking others for help - as long as you didn't do it in front of the troops.
    Anyone who made Shota's new promotion and job harder would pay.  So it was toe the line and watch everyone else, both to learn and ask them questions before it was too late.  Every one of his men had a child's version of an off the shelf tablet with Wi-Fi capabilities.  They were made for fingers not quite sure or a little bit clumsy due to strength and thickness.  No finesse in these men, unless it was in blowing things up.
    The Four Blind Mice had upgraded the devices and made them as hard to crack as they were durable.  The applications and tools embedded in the devices were up to date and meshed perfectly with the rest of the Mountain Tigers' devices and the Cave's encrypted comms.  It was as idiot-proof as they could make them.  They had even been tested out by an entire classroom of rowdy kindergarten-aged children.
    Vanner had been impressed by the alterations and durability of the devices.  He’d added a little fillip of his own: detcord placed inside the rubber edging.  Not only did it act as a self destruct, or a weapon of last resort, but aided the device in remaining sand- and water-proof.  He'd sent them back to God-Boy and Mouse to get modernized in looks and made less child-appealing - those colors would be death on the battlefield.
    Twelve of the hardened and altered tablets had been issued to the Mules.  Another fifteen were made as cool as the Four Blind Mice could make them, packing solar cells on the back and a shaker-generator-capacitor charging system.  Mouse had added her own special touch, with the latest Mouse-customized apps ripped from every operational military, and even some that were as black as their own operation.
    Six went to OSOL.
    Six went to the Teams via Chief Adams's contacts - with a note: “Enjoy the new toy, love, Ass-Boy.”
    The last three went to JSOC for field testing.  When field test data and alterations had come back, a final version had been offered up to several manufacturers cleared and capable of making the devices as designed, without cutting corners.
    This had netted another bonus for the Intel section and their think-tank (and in-house troublemakers), the Four-Blind Mice.
    It'd also made Colonel Nielson happy for at least half a year, until, like all budgets, the new income was exceeded and applied to other needs that kept popping up like weeds.
    This is why J had allowed the Squad to haul as much foreign tech as they could, plus all the test rounds they could carry.  Not only would they have something for them to play with that was definitively non-Georgian and non-US source, but also something more for the tech-heads to tear apart.  They were told to steal anything different and new to see if it could be applied to their own use.  If it could, perhaps someday it could be manufactured locally, either in Alerrso or the tech plants planned for the Five Valley region.  Of course, that would have to wait until after a new town was built for all the displaced Georgians and a new, larger militia trained up to extend the protective umbrella of the Kildar in the region.
    After the Georgian-Russian ’war’, his command had become permanent.  The Colonel had promised that he'd get the best of the best, and that started with two Ghurkha DI's over in the Five Valleys training the fledgling Militia - The Mountain Rams.  Any locals - original or refugee - those two and McKenzie (brought back to help the Rams get started)  thought had the right mindset and build to become Mules of the Mountain would be sent through a special training course before being sent through a trial period with E-HOSS.
    Initially the E-HOSS were meant to carry supplies and help break any Tigers in over their head or in a bad situation.  But they proved that the supply Mules could change into an avalanche of pure destruction when pointed in the right direction, given the right toys - or just told to make do with what ever they could lay their hands on and go save their friends and cousins.
    Shota smiled, remembering carrying a quad-fire rocket pod into combat to clear a nest of pesky Russians from a copse of woods.  They had caught team Sawn by surprise, escorting over a hundred refugees and unable to counterattack.  No other assets had been free at the time.  His men had thrown wooden spears tipped with mortar rounds, amongst other creative uses of high explosives and rockets.
    The order had gone out: “Send in the Mules.  Clear all obstacles and feed the grass with their dead.  Get the civilians and our men out, any way you can.”
    Those woods were still a source of heat-treated timber for the growing city at the nexus of the Five-Valleys.  Luckily the rains had come, extinguishing the fires.  That allowed the twenty surviving Russians to surrender.  They never really knew how many didn‘t make it out of the woods.  The Kildar suspected there was a whole company of paratroopers, but the Russians never offered and the prisoners never talked.  So they were just put to work as forced labor until an exchange was arranged a few months after hostilities had officially ended.
    “You can come out now, Katya.  Are you feeling better?” Shota shouted through the growing wind and the dying sputters of the engines.
    He reached up with his free hand and gave a well-stacked blond a hand down to the tarmac.  She'd have been beautiful except for the  smoke and oil visibly staining her face and hair.  And the puffy, slightly unfocussed eyes.  Oh, and some bits of food and vomit on her.
    If he noticed that she smelled as bad as she looked the thought never crossed the warrior’s mind.  They all had made use of something in the last half hour as a puke bucket, except the proud Katya.  She'd held on until the last gust front hit and they lost altitude at a rate faster than an express elevator... that's what actually took out the communication panel.
    Who knew a girl could puke so hard and so true?
    They knew better than to say anything to her about it.  For fifteen minutes they'd given Katya the best they had to make her forget her nausea and get her angry at the world again.  Normal like.
    Once she caught on that they were teasing her because they considered her part of their team and family, to make her forget her weakness, she started to return barbs in a way only a whore could.  It made the Mules blush red to the tips of their ears, each and every one of them.
    She even managed half a smile, at least until they bounced down the runway.  Then she surprised everyone again by painting the wall to the pilot's area with another barrage.
    Luckily that door didn't work, according to the pilots, or they'd have regretted coming back to check on their cargo.  One wrong comment and not even J could have stopped Katya from defenestrating  at least one of them, probably the Russian.  He’d  been all too touchy-feely on the flight down and back for her liking, but J told her to play along.  She was there as his nurse and the men as his hired bodyguards.  Letting a younger, better-looking man brush up against her instead of her old half-dead boss would have been par for the course with the chosen disguise.
    At least she hadn't had to fuck him.
    So she'd teased and hoped he'd been left with a case of blueballs for the duration of their stay in Tirana.
    She recovered from the abrupt landing and gave him and the others a half smile. She had her own egress plans and that was all she was going to, or was allowed to, tell them.
    “Shota, see you in the valley.  Your men did well, for a bunch of useless soldier-boys.  It was an awesome fireworks show.  Too bad all those assholes got the wrong address, ended up in the condemned buildings instead of at an exclusive party and auction of prime American girl-flesh. A real shame.  I'm sure I gave them the right address.”  She shrugged, and giggled - purely a strange sound coming from a woman the Kildar often referred to as his ’pet sociopath’.  “Wrong place, wrong time.  For that bunch of slavers, anyway.”  Shota tossed her a bag, this one silk chased leather.  It clanked when it thudded into her lap, along with his last clean chamois.
    “Oof!  Dammit, Shota, I'm strong, but that's fucking heavy!”
    “Sorry.  Give my share to Mouse.  She knows what to do with it.  She been doing good by me with my bonuses so far.  Someday I can pay dowry for a wife that's not afraid of big things.”  He blushed.  “You really should talk to her about investments, she's mostly honest now since the Kildar and Anastasia had a talk with her last year.  Now with real gold maybe we can do more for the Families and ourselves too?  Make sure she gets me the new Xbox too, please.  We, uh-broke the last one.  By accident.”  He blushed even harder.
    Shota's watch beeped twice and then went silent.
    “What do you think, Katya?  I'm torn - should shoot from outside or set a charge inside?  What you think will kill this bitch best?  The Sheik said he was tired of those two doing opium and gun running on the side.  I told him we could take them to the farm, we got backhoes, but he said good pilots are hard to find.  Oh, I still need to thank you properly for letting me shoot them guys with the big rockets instead of just guns.”  He blushed.  “J said, 'A kiss is normally in order here.'  But not in front of the guys, okay?”
    “Shota, you did that already.  Twice.  Sloppily.  And you were very drunk.”
    “Sorry, I was very happy too.”  He heard a chortle somewhere behind him.  “You drop that box of reloads, Tubri, and I'll shove that rocket pack up your ass!”
    Katya said, “Happy at kissing me and living?  Or seeing all the big guns and rockets in that warehouse ripe for the picking?”
    “Both.  We did it right, too.  Nothing else got hurt.  Much.  Just a few abandoned warehouses and some vermin that needed exterminating, anyway.  I like that new rocket the most, though.  Filled with liquid air.  Makes doors like glass and people too.”
    “Yes, that was a nice touch, a nice quiet liquid nitrogen explosion in the middle of the bodyguards.  No harm to their fancy cars, or their weapons, or, best of all, their electronics.  That was a nice take.  Using your axes to just chop out what we needed instead of waiting was kinda gross, but, you know, kinda cool too.”  She looked up at the device resting lightly on Shota's shoulder and shivered.
    “So did you read the label on the rocket you loaded up this time?” Katya was sure finding the cold-rocket was a pure accident, but its choice, accidental or not, had minimized collateral damage during the final stages of Sheik's Tirana ‘Urban Renewal’ project and crime reduction movement combined into one  noisy black op.  All ammo and empties left on the field pointed back at Iran, China, North Korea and good ole Mother-Russia.  Nothing local or that would be tied to the US, or the Kildar.  And using the Sheik - who would have thought an Uzbekistani sheik would wipe out a den of sex slavers in Albania?
    In the end it was made to look like a major drug deal, weapons buy, and slave trade gone terribly, terribly bad.  It all had to be timed to take place during a live fire exercise at the NATO base beyond the city.  All eyes had been turned that way, with many families taking to the hills just beyond the warning fences to watch the Americans and their European allies waste another few million dollars just for practice.
    Surely many had personal dilemmas after the fireworks in the hills and in-town had ended.  Ignore the fireworks and wait for the loot?  It would be less risky.  But what if their involvement came out?  In the end, the MP’s beginning to patrol the streets of the chaotic city solved the problem.  The Policia e Shtetit, Albanian State Police, took over the investigation, although it didn’t take long to realize that something big had gone down right under their very own noses.  And, since no one had bothered to bribe them, they were out for blood and actually trying to do their jobs for once.
    In short order they had evidence pointing at a half dozen different countries.  Worse still, more than thirty heavies, and twelve major players in town, were just gone. That wasn't counting the baker's dozen of still defrosting hacked up men at a famous brothel, auction and slave transshipment house in town
    The few that hadn't come to the ‘party‘, had encountered Katya in full hooker-cum-secret agent mode.  She hadn't had to repeat herself in their terminations once.  J had given her a tube of superglue, some dental floss, a toothpick, a playing card, a bag of pistachios, and a jar of habaneros and told her to have fun.  A number of local farmers hardly noticed how large their compost piles had grown overnight; they were more confused by the stockings stuffed full of Euros left hanging on their doors.
    She’d even gotten to use her new trick, breaking a neck using just her thighs.   
    In the end, the police declared all the various killings justified.  After all, they were all criminals, if also leading lights in the city.  Another crop would sprout, eventually.  The only loose end were the Mules, who scampered out of town after emptying the arms warehouse while J, in his role as an elder statesman, held court on the far side.  From there it was into stolen trucks and a final run to an abandoned airfield a dozen miles outside of town.
    The last of the weapons, ammo-boxes, they sheik's team bonus pay in individual bags of gold (one each), and what smelled like coffee beans - still green, taken from one of the warehouses that no longer had living owners to complain - filled all four of the towed baggage cars.  Two Brow jumped into the driver's seat and had pulled up next to Katya in her aircraft tow truck.
    As soldiers they lived on coffee and had claimed that as their bounty and then let in the Sheik's selected looter to grab everything else not nailed down.  A full list would be sent to Vanner later along with any other future bonuses or payments.  That would likely take months, as fencing that much loot would have to be done slowly.  Katya had made the Sheik promise to build a real orphanage and school that wouldn't end up sending the girls and prettier boys into sex-slavery.  J had whispered something in the Sheik's ear and the man had nodded sagely and agreed to the demand as if it had been in his original plans in the first place.
    That likely would mean smaller shares of future bonuses.  But Vanner was more concerned with intel and who tried to move in to fill the sudden vacuum.  Who knew when they'd be called to clean up the town again.  After Shota's debriefing he was sure it would be a topic that the big man would bring up at every opportunity.  He loved blowing things up.
    “You all seem  ready.  Nothing’s left aboard but that other crap we captured, right?  The opium and hash the pilots think is their bonus?  Sheik said burn it all.   Just remember it's gotta look like accident.  That's why the Sheik picked this plane and this crew.  J will take care of the crew and get them home safely.  I'm sure they'll just be happy to be on their way without anyone learning they were here in the first place or tying them to this mess.”     Katya finished her quick reminder, wiped off her face with the chamois, shook it out and offered it back to Shota.  He shook his head in the negative.
    Savo looked nervous perched on top of the pile of ammo boxes.
    “Sarge?  Could we move farther away from the plane before you BIP it?”  He sniffed the air and pointed at the small line of smoke coming out of the rear bay.  “Ought to make it quick too, before that electrical fire does it for us.”
    “BIP?  That's I picked a white phosphorous rocket to use.”  He smiled at Katya.
    “That old bird‘s made of aluminum and steel.  Add oxygen and my willie pete and you end up with thermite, near enough. Burns so hot water doesn't help.  Foam maybe, but I’ll bet twenty rubles that fire truck turns around when we run off since Two Brow just threw two smoke grenades inside!  What the fuck you do that for?”
    “Sorry Sarge, you were talking so much and we got a schedule to keep.  I figure only a lot of smoke will make our running look real, put all eyes on the plane and not on you when you shoot it.  Right?”
    He had to admit, for once Two-Brow‘s logic was sound.  “Yeah, okay. See you Katya.  Go see Mouse soon.  Or I’ll kiss you again!”
    His men laughed, and she actually blushed.  She slammed the tiny car to its top speed of forty KPH and took off.  Her path would lead to the far hangars where there'd be a change of clothes and a motorcycle waiting for her.  Theirs would lead to a rear gate and  several SUV's filled with drivers from Team Oleg, but first things first:
    Erase all evidence.  Pilots too if necessary.
    Shota looked around.  Nope.  They and J were long gone and the smoke was getting bad.
    He jumped on the rear of the last luggage cart, hooking a foot under a cargo strap.  That allowed him to take a solid stance even as the swaying cart increased the distance from the aircraft.
    “Wish we had a heat seeker, but I think they'd spot that from the tower.  Keep us in the shadow and moving opposite the fire truck and Katya, Two Brow!  Backblast area clear?”
    “Roger that.”
    “Hey, Savo!  Bet you I can center hit that hatch with the rocket from here.  I win, I get your sister for the flower picking this spring.  Deal?”
    “No deal. I’ve heard the stories about you - what happen to the girl in Virginia?  I don’t need my sister with a broken jaw or walking with crutches for the rest of the spring.  Besides, what man would marry her after the stories got started?  How about five kilos of your share of pistachios instead?  Bet you hit the door, but still set it on fire.  Eventually.”
    “HAH.  I'm Shota.  My Drill pierces the Heavens.”
     With a pop and barely any smoke the rocket shot out in a short arc shot  right up into the cargo hold.  There were some sparks as the propellant went off deep inside, making it bounce around, setting all sorts of things on fire.  By then they were over half a klick away and accelerating.
    Shota smiled at Savo and mimicked throwing pistachios into his mouth and holding a woman's head near his groin.  Savo just flipped him off and tapped Two Brow who floored their vehicle to its max, fifty-five KPH.  Shota never lost his balance.
    Life was good.  He'd gotten to blow up one more thing before the mission was officially over.
    Wasn't that nice?
    Shota tossed the used tube onto the pile of coffee beans, rugs, and raw bolts of silk and lay back looking at the sky.
    He hoped that their helmets and tablets had captured all the glory of this mission and that they could get another new movie made.
    He hoped God-boy liked pistachios and dates. - he wasn’t about to cough up any of his gems, gold or silk.  He was saving that silk for a future bride and their bed.  It was going to take a lot to cajole one of the Valley's girls into his bed and marry him.  Being rich and having his own home filled with luxuries wouldn't hurt.  He was sure if the woman could survive bedding him, their children would be like those warriors of legend.
     “Gonna rain, then snow.  I sure hope they got the trucks waiting for us where they’re supposed to be.  I don't want to fly again today in this shit, not even if Valkyrie is the pilot.  Though she is pretty.”  That started another line of thought.  “Hey, Savo, you know everyone down at the airfield, doncha?  Does Valkyrie have a boyfriend?  I hear them American women like their men big and dumb.”
    Shota never stopped grinning.
    Then it started to rain pieces of the Hildegard.  Pieces that were burning.
    After that, Shota had other things to bitch about as some even reached their cargo train.  Bare-handed or not, they cleared the pieces on the move.  Some of their pay could and would burn and other parts could imitate the late Hildegard too.

    After the plane exploded, no one at the airfield thought about the Mountain Tigers, the old man or the pretty lady who'd ‘borrowed’ the ground crew's vehicles.  Those were found the next day near the South Gate along with a box of candied dates, some spices, and a couple of wads of rubles.  The ground crew called it even and didn't bother to mention their largess to anyone else.  Their wives would appreciate the goodies and come market day the wives could trade what spices they didn't use for more luxuries or necessities.  It'd all work out in the end.  If the tower had just let them in onto the secret predawn flight in the first place maybe they'd have returned the favor the next day themselves.
    They hadn't, so fuck them.  What they didn't know, wouldn't hurt them.
    No one found the pilots or the old man in the wheelchair that day or the next.  An hour after the all clear at the main airport, two well dressed European businessmen shook hands with an American Colonel who'd eased their way through customs with liberal use of his rank, a smile, and a firm handshake filled with a few hundred rubles to the right people.  Just everyday business in the Tbilisi Airport.
    No US Colonel exited the Airport either that day or night.  But an elderly Georgian did manage to catch the last bus of the day heading to Alerrso.  The bus was followed by a motorcycle that had seen better days and seemed glad for the company of the bigger vehicle as the snowfall increased.

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