They've breached the door; what awaits them on the far side?
Time to find out...
They were making good progress.
No alarm had been given that they could detect. Kira was monitoring the radios and other electronic devices and had reported no unusual traffic in either direction. They were either completely unaware that eighty heavily-armed men had invaded their supposedly-hidden stronghold, or were far, far more subtle in planning their ambushes than anyone could believe.
Padrek’s team had taken the branch to the right; Oleg and his team had taken the left. Teams Sawn and Yosif had followed Padrek and Oleg, respectively, into the caverns, leaving Vil and the command team to hold the exterior. Of course, with Dragon hovering a thousand feet overhead, ready unleash hell at the slightest command, and Valkyrie due to arrive any minute, the perimeter was probably the most secure location on the whole lake.
They had accounted for seven tangoes so far, all KIA. Their unfortunate prisoner, whose name was Qays, was spilling his guts to the Master Chief. He didn’t know all the details, all the side passages, but he knew all the major tunnels and chambers of the underground stronghold, he knew the habits and movement patterns of his fellow jihadists, he knew where Inarov kept his quarters and, most vitally, he knew where the nukes were being worked on.
Every few minutes, a new map of the layout would be downloaded to their BFTs with a subtle beep. It seemed that they were headed down the residential end; the sleeping quarters and Inarov’s office/suite were about all that were shown, so, after a hasty conference, Padrek’s team moved ahead, while Oleg’s team went to join up with the others.
Padrek had personally sealed the entrance to the barracks with enough Semtex to, as he put it, “Drop the caravanserai.” They didn’t have a count, but according to Qays, the majority of the remaining mujahideen would be racked out. A quick look through NVGs seemed to confirm that so, in short order, several tons of rock were blasted into place in the short corridor leading to the bunks. Those men might know that they had been attacked, but Padrek was willing to wager a year’s beer they wouldn’t be doing anything about it any time soon.
According to the schematic, they ought to be getting close to Inarov’s quarters -
His musing was interrupted by a sudden crack-crack-crack. Someone had just opened up at them with an old AK, and his team flattened against the walls and floor, returning fire.
“Filthy sneaking bastards!” came the cry at them. Using the camera system from the door, he looked around the corner. There were five heavy-set Chechens behind a hastily-erected defensive point. Behind them was a solid, even regal-looking door. He checked the BFT. That would be Inarov’s quarters.
“Keep them pinned down!” he called. They couldn’t risk an explosives assault in these close quarters; fragments, whether of metal or stone, didn’t distinguish between friend and foe. They’d bounce around until they exhausted their energy. He also couldn’t risk bringing the roof down and trapping Inarov; they were supposed to capture him, not rescue him from an artificial cave-in. Grenades, therefore, were right out, as were his favorite satchel charges. It was too tight for a direct assault, too; his men would be cut down before they covered the twenty meters or so. The Keldara were warriors, true, but the Kildar had taught them to appreciate their own value and to spend themselves wisely.
A slow grin spread across his face.
He and Vanner had wanted to try out the new toy for a while now. This seemed perfect. He sat back and called back to Justinas, “Bring up my special pack, that’s a good lad.”
Changing in a Hind was challenging at best. This was far from best. Especially since it seemed that every time Mike was precariously balanced, the helicopter would suddenly shift. Tammy’s revenge.
Hughes had kept his back to Katrina as much as possible, but that left him with no room to move his legs or arms, so eventually he HAD to turn. Mike was pretty sure that Kat’d left her top off longer just to give Hughes that quick flash; he really needed to have a talk with her about that. Later.
First things first: survive. He felt his long-ago SEAL training wrap around his mind in a familiar, comfortable way, clearing his thoughts, focusing him on the mission. His heart rate steadied, slowed.
D’Allaird didn’t bother trying not to look; he was too busy trying not to grin. He sat on his perch, steady as a rock, doing his damndest to imitate every Chief of the Boat Mike had ever known. If he’d been sipping coffee in a hurricane, he couldn’t have done a better impression.
Eventually they were all in their body armor. Just in time, too, as the dense Russian forest suddenly became a lake. “One minute!” shouted D’Allaird. Mike nodded, holding up a single finger to show he understood. And using the middle finger, just to make sure the message was totally clear.
They came in low over a rocky hill that dropped abruptly away. With a sudden flare, Valkyrie dropped as well, settling into a clearing. With a speed that still surprised Mike, D’Allaird leapt up to release the passenger door, then the cargo hatch on the opposite side. M-4 loaded but on safe, Mike quickly jumped out, followed by Hughes, then Katrina. He was scanning the perimeter of the surrounding trees when he noticed Vil dog-trotting up.
“How goes it?” he shouted as they cleared the prop wash.
“Very smoothly so far,” answered Vil. “Master Chief Adams has a report for you in the command center.”
The tent was just as calm as the scene outside. “All this training and the fuckers are just rolling over,” groused Adams as Mike walked in.
“You’d prefer a better fight?”
“I’d prefer a fight, period! So far the only organized resistance is coming from Inarov’s bodyguards. They’re holding back Padrek and his team, but he’s got something sneaky up his sleeve.”
“I thought we were expecting some hundreds? Where the hell are they?”
“At this point, probably just about out of air.”
“You always were the one for intelligent questions, Ass-Boy. Seems that our boy Padrek caught them asleep - literally. So he did what he does best - demo.” Adams smiled evilly. “He took one look in before he dropped the roof. Our count here makes it out around two hundred fifty of the stupid shits, caught napping.”
‘”Not exactly sporting,” said Mike. Adams groaned.
“That’s exactly what Padrek said. I’ll tell you, with all due respect, what I told him: the point is to make them dead, not be ‘sporting’”
“What’s that?” asked Mike, gesturing to a prisoner rigger-taped to a chair in a corner.
“That’s Qays. Luckiest SOB in the whole outfit, you ask me. Would you believe that he was asleep on top of that rock pile?”
“He give you anything good?”
“Solid gold, Mike. Everything’s checked out so far.”
“You mean we might have to let him live?” Katrina had entered the tent unnoticed, leaving Hughes outside.
“Damn, you’re a bloodthirsty bitch!” exclaimed Adams.
“Why, thank you, Master Chief, you know me so well!” she replied, dimpling.
“Yeah, we might have to let him live. I think he’s having second thoughts about the wisdom of the Emir.”
Just then Kira spoke. “Go ahead, Padrek.” A pause. “Understood. Priority is removing prisoner from combat.” She turned to face the group. “Padrek’s captured Inarov alive. He’s bringing him out.”
Mike strode toward the exit. “I’ll meet him. I want to talk to this prick.”
“No sledgehammers, Mike! We didn’t bring any!” yelled Adams.
“I’ll think of something! ‘Overcome, Improvise and Adapt!’ Remember?”
Inarov was in sorry shape. Usually meticulous about his appearance, he was dressed in torn, dirty Russian utilities. His beard seemed straggly, ragged. His lank hair was in disarray. He was covered in grime, and there seemed to be a shiner developing below his right eye.
Mike met him just outside the entrance. “Giku Inarov. Would-be Emir of the so-called Caucasian Emirate, and a royal pain in my ass.” Mike looked him up and down with disgust. “Planning on sneaking away, your Emirateness?” he asked contemptuously. “While your loyal bodyguard nobly sacrificed themselves for you? How did you take them out?” he asked Padrek, who had followed Inarov.
“Oh, just a wee toy Vanner and I have been playing with. Nothing much, really.”
“What was it?”
“Well, you know those new spy bots the United States is developing? The ones that mimic birds, and insects?”
Mike shook his head. “Not really, no. Thought that was all sort of science fiction.”
“Oh, no, they’re pretty well advanced. Vanner’s been keeping abreast of these things. Truly fascinating! Did you know -”
“Get to the point, Padrek!”
“Yes, Kildar. Vanner arranged to acquire a number for testing purposes, he called them ‘beta tests.’ Then he gave some to me.”
“So you used, what, electronic insects? How?”
“Well, the smallest is the size of a bee, so that gave me an idea. I went to Dr.Arensky, and he provided me with a very potent toxin. Mouse did the actual programming, before she left, to seek out bare skin and implant the toxin.”
“So you stung them. With robot bees.” Mike couldn’t believe this.
“Essentially, yes, Kildar.”
“Creative. Different. Don’t know how practical it is for front-line use, but still…”
Inarov, who had been standing quietly, suddenly roared, “Allah’s curse upon your cowardly hide!” Waving his arms about, he continued, “A true warrior doesn’t hide behind godless mechanical toys! He faces his enemy as a man, and wins or loses by his own strength of arms! You make me -”
A flat crack echoed through the clearing and a chunk rocketed from Inarov’s upper left arm.
“I think he was quite clever,” came a woman’s voice. “If you’d like to disagree some more, I can use more practice. You’re my first live target.” Katrina lowered her M4 to point at the ground.
Mike grabbed him just above the wound and made Inarov face him. “You heard the lady. More practice? Or you going to cooperate? I promise, if you cooperate, I won’t kill you.”
“I do not cooperate with infidels!”
“Way wrong answer!” Mike spun him away, grabbing the injured arm and holding it out.
A flat crack-crack-crack rang out. Inarov’s left elbow seemed to explode. The lower arm and hand, neatly severed, dropped to the ground. “Tourniquet!” shouted Mike. After one was roughly applied, Mike took hold of the upper arm again.
“That’s one hand. Hope you’re right-handed. My promise still stands. You cooperate, and I won’t kill you. Refuse, and I let my fiancée - nice shooting by the way Kat! - use you for more target practice. Wonder what’s next on her list? So do I. Shall we find out?”
“NO!” gasped Inarov. “I’ll cooperate, just get that bitch away from me!”
“Ah-ah-ah, even though it’s true, that’s no way to talk about the woman I’m going to marry. No, I think that she’s earned her right to stay with us.” Gesturing, Mike had a bandage applied to the first wound. Probably too quickly for Inarov’s liking, they were ready.
“Now then, Giku - may I call you Giku? Yes? - we’re going to take a walk. You’re going to give me a tour of your lovely little hidey-hole, and you will tell everyone we encounter to surrender. If they don’t, if you try to get tricky, well, they might get lucky. They might kill me, or her, or another one of my troops.” His voice dropped to a hiss. “But I guarantee you will die, and then every last one of your surviving men will die. Then we’ll drop the rock on their bodies, and that will be the end of your little Emirate, a pathetic attempt at glory, gone forever. You got me?”
Inarov nodded. Somewhere, probably when the tourniquet was applied, someone must have slipped him some anti-shock meds, as he seemed to be having a hard time tracking. That would just make him more reasonable. It was nice working with professionals.
“Good,” said Mike more normally. “Let’s walk.”
Inarov was good as his word. He, Mike, Kat, and Padrek’s team toured the underground facility, although Mike did sorely miss Shota at times like this. There were times that a man-mountain, with an augmented IQ over 180, was a most useful tool to have. For one thing, he could simply have carried Inarov around by the neck. But he wasn’t available for this mission, and that was that. Still. After having a 5.56 mm amputation, there wasn’t much fight left in Inarov.
` After passing several common areas - a rough-hewn mosque, a kitchen and dining hall, and a very haphazard armory - they approached a room whose entrance, unlike the others, was concealed behind a curtain of grayish plastic strips. Gesturing for the others to wait, Mike ghosted forward. He was only a meter from the entrance when Pavel whispered, “Kildar, wait.”
“What is it, Pavel?”
Padrek’s man pointed with the Geiger counter he was carrying. “That room reads hot.”
Taking an involuntary step back, Mike asked, “How hot?”
“About twenty rem. Nothing that will harm us quickly, but I wouldn’t want to be in there for too long.”
Mike faced Inarov. “Is anyone in there?”
“Yes. That is where we are trying to rearm the weapons.”
“Are all of the weapons in there?”
“I will not tell you.”
The sound of Katrina’s M4 being switched off ‘safe’ was very loud in the silence.
“Again. Are all of the weapons in that room?”
A very brief pause, and “Yes. All we have.”
“If any of those weapons have their shielding off - they’re running a risk of an uncontrolled reaction. Especially if the cores are exposed and too close to each other.”
“Uncontrolled - oh, shit. Explosion?”
“Right.” Keying the radio, Mike got Adams. “Chief, I need every man not on perimeter guard in here, now. This idiot’s got all the weapons in one room. According to Padrek, we could have an explosion.”
“Understood. On their way. Out.”
“Moving them may be difficult,” offered Inarov.
“Why is that?” demanded Mike. He wasn’t in any mood for more bullshit right now.
“The technicians, they’re still in there, working on the tritium process.”
“They haven’t stopped?”
“No, why should they have? They’re not my fedayeen, only technicians that Ibrahim brought in.” He shrugged. “They are here to work.”
“’Brought in’?” asked Mike scornfully. “You mean kidnapped, don’t you?”
“Like you, they are infidels. Only those who watch them are of the Faithful. Why should I care?”
Mike was instantly furious. “Because you took them from their homes and their families to work on goddamn nuclear weapons that could kill them all! I’ve run into plenty of your kind in the past, people who believe that ‘different’ means ‘wrong,’ but you take the prize.” Turning to Padrek, he said, “Let’s see how enjoys radiation. Do you think you could strip the shielding off one of these nukes?”
“I - maybe, Kildar. With this much radiation in the room, I would think that there are several that already have their shielding removed. Tritium wouldn’t create that much radiation.”
“Fine,” snarled Mike. “As soon as we’re done with this prick, I want you to find a nice, dirty, contaminated bomb and rigger tape his sorry ass to the casing. Put his nuts as close to the source as you can manage; even if he lives, I don’t want him spawning another little jihadist.” Returning to Inarov, he said, “Get your guards out of there. I’ll deal with the techs.”
There were only two guards, who, upon hearing Inarov’s voice, quickly exited the room and were subdued. Mike pulled aside the heavy plastic, but before he could speak Anton barked, “Kildar! Back off!”
He dropped the curtain back, bringing his weapon up. “What?”
“The radiation - it spiked to a hundred rem!” Mike paled.
“What’ll that do to us?”
“I’m not sure, but it can’t be good.”
Padrek spoke. “After a few hours, mild radiation sickness. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Fatigue. Not too much more, but we ought to get those techs out now. M It may already be too late, but we must try!”
Cupping his hands around his mouth, Mike yelled, in Russian, “Attention workers! I am the Kildar, and I need you to stop what you are doing right now and exit the room!” Nothing, so after a few seconds he added, “You have nothing to fear! We are here to rescue you! But you need to come out now!”
A voice, muffled, replied, “Why should we trust you, ‘Kildar’? Is this another of our jailers’ tricks?”
Mike pushed Inarov forward and through the curtain, holding his shirt firmly. “Is this your jailer? Does he look threatening now?” And he pulled Inarov out.
A moment passed, and a bespectacled, balding man stepped out. “You are here to rescue us?”
“All of you, and take those weapons away. But I need you to come out from there.”
The man nodded. “Immediately. God may yet spare us.” He made a feeble kick at Inarov but failed to connect.
Very shortly a dozen men were gathered in the now-crowded hallway. They were mostly young, with two or three older scattered in with them. “Anton will lead you outside and help get you checked out.” In Keldara, he said, “Get a reading on them, get them cleaned up as best you can. See if you can find different clothes; I’m sure these are spoiled.” There wasn’t a Keldaran term for ‘contaminated’ so he did his best. “Then radio Dr. Arensky, see if there’s anything we can do for them here. I remember some things from my training - after they‘re as externally clean as possible, start giving them liquids - water - beer!”
The shocked looks on their faces were priceless.
“Beer, Kildar? Our beer?”
“Yes, your beer. It’ll help flush the radioactives out of their system. So. Clean, then beer. Got it?”
In Russian, Anton said, “Please, follow.”
“Padrek, I want two guards here. Two meters away from that doorway. Nobody goes in without my say-so.”
Over the radio: “Chief. How many NBC suits did we bring?”
“Radiation suits? Two, I think.”
“Fuck. Okay, those are going to be two very sweaty suits. Figure out who they fit; nobody else is to retrieve the weapons. According to Padrek, some of the bombs have had their shielding removed, and the whole room reads as contaminated.” Another thought hit him. “We’ve got to get the shields back on. Who do we have who could do that?”
Hughes spoke up. “I’ve gotten training. I was on a NEST team for a couple years.”
Looking him up and down, Mike said, “I don’t think I have a rad suit that will fit you.” Hughes was taller, but thinner, than the average Keldara.
He shrugged. “If they can get the weapon out, I can check the shielding out here. It’s not tough to put it on quickly, if you don’t care about neatness.”
“What about radiation?”
“Well, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but it shouldn’t be an issue, not for brief exposures. The body armor will help, actually, but I’ll want to get rid of it afterward. Gotta have gloves, though.”
“Body armor’s cheap, comparatively. Right, you’ve got yourself a job.” Prodding Inarov, he said, “Move on. What’s left?”
“All that remains down here is my office, and Ibrahim’s quarters.”
“His quarters first.” Inarov walked another twenty meters or so and stopped. This door wasn’t sloppy. It fit flush to the opening, which had obviously been carefully shaped. Inarov tried the knob.
“Locked,” he said, stepping away.
“Open it. You’re Emir; don’t tell me you don’t have a fucking key.”
“I do, but I have never violated Ibrahim’s trust!”
Mike laughed harshly. “Trust? Let me tell you something about your precious Ibrahim: his real name is Kurt Schwenke, and he is as much a Muslim as I’m a fish. He’s deceived you every step of the way, from his name to his history to the real reason for this whole scheme. This raid and the whole nuclear blackmail plot, that was his idea, wasn’t it?” Inarov didn’t say anything, or even move, but he had gone more and more pale with each sentence. “Thought so. He’s played you for a fool, used your ambition and your faith so that he could get revenge on one person.”
Inarov fumbled with his hand for a set of keys. “I do not believe you! Ibrahim al-Jasir is the most loyal son of Allah I have ever known! I shall show you!” He turned the key in the lock.
Almost before he knew what he was doing, Mike turned and hurled himself at Katrina, knocking her flat and shielding her with his body as the door exploded. Inarov’s body was shredded by the flying metal. Two Keldara were down, too, thrown against the opposite wall by the force of the blast.
“Damn, damn, damn -” Mike cursed. His ears rang.
“Michael? What happened?” Kat, for the first time, sounded shaken.
“I forgot that we’re dealing with Kurt Schwenke. No, strike that. I forgot that we’re dealing with a cold, unfeeling killer, who takes every possible precaution. Of course he’d set a trap on his quarters!” He stood, then pulled Katrina up after him. “Chief?”
“Mike! What the hell?!”
“Schwenke booby-trapped his door.”
“Two Keldara, don’t know how badly.” As he spoke, one of the injured troops stood, wobbily. “One’s up. And the Emir’s got his martyrdom, though not quite how he planned it, I think.”
“Yeah. Would’ve been nice to have another gift for the President.” He looked at the wall. “We could take a picture. Wonder if he likes Impressionist art?“ He could almost hear Adams wince. “Yeah, think I’ll get a couple shots.”
“Idiot. So what next?”
“Next? Cleanup and Evac. Get it rolling.” He switched off. “Padrek? Inarov said his office was down here. I’d assume that’s where his files will be. Get them, any computers, anything else you think would be useful.”
“Then start rigging this place to drop.”
“Yes, Kildar!” Oh, were the Mules going to be jealous!
A large contingent of Keldara were standing outside the ‘bomb room’, as Mike thought of it. “How’s it going,” he asked Hughes.
“I’ve got your men hauling out the unshielded ones first, reduce the risks. Three done so far. The techs that Inarov was using? He at least provided them with lead aprons, so I’m just taking them and rigger-taping them to the open casings. Quick and dirty, but it’ll work for the short term. How far do they need to go, anyway?”
“Chopper to Elista, then we’re flying them Novorossijisk. We turn ‘em over there.”
“Officially, the Navy, but I suspect that the CIA has a hand in it. In any case, they’ll hold on to ‘em.”
“So about how far do they need to go?”
“About a hundred thirty kilometers in the choppers, then another five hundred on the planes.”
“I’ll want to do something a little more permanent, then, when we get to Elista.”
“Do the Russians know you’re flying nuclear weapons across their territory?”
Mike’s smile was cold. “Nope. I figure I‘ll tell them after they‘ve sailed off into the sunset. Hopefully, I‘ll get to see Vlad‘s face when I tell him.”
“Does that have to do with - no, that’s above my pay grade.” He was saved from further comment by movement behind him. All the Keldara backed away, giving the two men in olive drab full-body suits plenty of room. The weapon was on a wheeled table - a gurney, Mike realized - and seemed to move easily despite the weight. “Back to work. You want to stand off a ways.” Mike and Kat moved before he finished his sentence.
“One last question. Do you have a count?”
Something about that bugged Mike, but he knew better than to jostle Hughes just now.
On the way out, it hit him. “Twenty-two? There should be twenty-three!” Breaking into a run, he exited the cavern, yelling for Adams.
“How many nukes were we looking to recover? Total. What did Pierson say?”
“There’s only twenty-two here.”
It only took a second for Adams to do the math. “Shit.”
“Right. One in Groznyy, one with Schwenke’s missing force - and we’re still short one.”
“You think he miscounted?”
“Who? Pierson? Hughes?”
“Either. Both. Christ, the Russians could’ve gotten the numbers wrong.”
Mike shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. They might lose warheads they haven’t accounted for, but ones they’re shipping out? We pay them, you know, for each nuke. They want their dollars, so their manifest is gonna match exactly. And Hughes wouldn’t miscount.”
“That means one’s gone off somewhere.”
Mike winced. “Please don’t say ‘gone off.’”
“Sorry. How about ‘wandered away’? It doesn’t matter what I say, it ain’t here.”
“Goddamn motherfucking prick’s outsmarted us!”
“No, Schwenke! Okay. How many of Inarov’s men did we end up pulling out of there alive?”
“Eighteen. That includes Qays.”
“The odds suck, but I want you to talk to each and every one of them. See if any were privy to any policy-making, any planning. Maybe one will geek as to the location of the last bomb.”
“Givi!” Mike called, spotting one of Oleg’s team. “Over here!”
“Yes, Kildar!” The young man trotted over.
“I want you to count the bombs as they come out. Exactly. Write it down if you have to. Got that?”
Confused, but willing, Givi said, “Yes, Kildar!” and ran off.
“Michael? What is problem?”
He’d totally forgotten about Katrina. He turned to look; she had her M4 at the ready, guarding his back. Briefly, he explained.
“So we are missing a bomb? So what?”
“If they have another bomb somewhere in Russia, what problem is it of ours? Think, Michael.”
“How about you explain it?”
“I see three choices. One, they are found by Russians. Problem solved.”
“Two, they are not found by Russians, but cannot detonate bomb. Eventually, they go away, or try to sell bomb, or do something else stupid. Again, problem solved.”
“Maybe. And three?”
“Three, they detonate bomb and kill many Russians. So? I do not hate Russians, but this is not our problem. We are asked to find this base, capture the bombs here. This we do. Can we help if bomb is moved before we arrive? Can we stop it moving in Russia? We are Keldara, but we are only small.”
“God, you’re a bloodthirsty bitch. That’s not a bad thing,” he added hastily, raising his hands. “But in this case, well, there’s a phrase: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’”
“Ah, I have heard this. We have a similar phrase: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more.’ Michael, we cannot depend on the Russians to protect us, or the Georgians, or even the Americans. We must protect ourselves. That is what the Keldara have learned, have lived. Capturing these bombs makes us safer, yes? This is good. But does not allowing Russians to die make us safer? I do not know. I do not think so.”
“I disagree. I also promised Pierson that we would retrieve all the bombs.”
“Ah, then it is a matter of our honor. This, I understand.”
“Good. Besides. If it was easy, they wouldn’t have asked us.”
Originally, the plan called for both Dragon and Valkyrie to ferry nukes to Elista. That was before they learned of the potential for Russian ambush, and since they couldn’t know if it was limited to ground forces or if they had brought air support along, it was decided that Valkyrie would carry the nukes while the Dragon flew in support. It would take twice as long, but all agreed that security trumped speed in this case.
Adams’ interrogations started badly.
“Suck on a goat cock, infidel!” spat the first, a heavy-set, middle-aged man with a typically greasy beard and a lazy eye.
“How about you suck on this?” asked Adams, placing the barrel of his Desert Eagle in his questionees mouth. “Or would you rather answer the question?”
“I would die before telling you anything!”
“Your choice,” said Adams with a shrug, and pulled the trigger. The back of his skull, and what few brains he had, spattered the line of prisoners standing behind. Adams stepped past the new-made corpse, and had the next selection brought forward. “Feeling reasonable? Or do I get to waste a round on you, too?”
He didn’t have to waste any more rounds. Unfortunately, though they were now falling over themselves in their eagerness to cooperate, not a single one knew any details of the plan. It was common knowledge that three groups had set out, but none knew the destinations. Finally getting to Qays, who was almost pathetically eager to please, he asked, almost out of habit, “I don’t suppose you know anything?”
“I know who was leading the missions!”
“I was on a double shift on guard duty that day, I saw them all leave!”
“Boy, I’m starting to like you. Who were they?”
“The last one to leave was Ibrahim. It was magnificent, watching all those - “
“Yeah, yeah, a fuckin’ parade. Who else?“
“Boulos Rahal left before him, much earlier. Before dawn.“
“Yeah, we know Boulos. Knew.“
“And first was Bursuk Gereshk.”
Adams actually smiled. “That name I know. Very good, Qays. There might be hope for you yet!” Turning back to Kira, he said, “Get that information back as quick as you can.”
Stripped out, they figured that Valkyrie would be able to carry a sufficient fuel load and, at most, four of the weapons. The overpowered engines could lift more, yes, but they simply couldn’t pack them any more tightly in the crew compartment. At that, Naida was riding in the copilot’s seat.
“Do not touch anything,” warned Tammy.
The two wounded Keldara, along with four more for the heavy lifting, flew in the Dragon.
“Hey, Anechka!” said Ionis, who was one of the four. “Going to take us for a ride?”
“If you want to survive the trip, you’ll strap in,” warned Anechka on the intercom. “If Captain Bathlick encounters any trouble, you’re in for the ride of your life. Just saying.”
“Remember the tales the Rangers told of the Chechens in the pass?” asked Eamon, tightening the straps and tugging on them to make sure they were secure.
“I - oh.” Ionis settled down and began fastening his. “I get your point,” he said as the engines started revving up.
“Anisa, we have a name. I need all the data you can find on him.”
“Who, Grez?” Her fingers were poised over the keys.
“Got him. We’ve done a preliminary report on him a couple days ago, remember? Do you want that, or do you need more depth?”
“Everything. According to the one source the Chief has found, he’s got a nuke and is unaccounted for. Guess who has to try to figure out where he’s gone?”
“On it. It might take some time. The Russian security is awful, but so is their organization. It’s not easy finding anything in that mess.”
“Do your best. Once you’re in, get Kseniya to help you.”
Round trip, including unloading, seemed to be working out to about seventy minutes
“We ought to be out of here before dawn,” commented Adams, pleased. “If we can avoid any problems with the Russians, we might be home by sundown.”
“I want you to take it easy on the way back. No point in rushing and arriving tired and groggy. If we’re needed, we need to think clearly and see straight.”
“We’re SEALs -”
“Former SEALs, Master Chief. Very former, in my case.”
“Yeah, but you’re not driving back, are you?”
“As a matter of fact -”
“Didn’t think so. We’ll get there when we get there. Don’t you worry about us grunts.”
“Did we get everything out of the base?”
“I think we got everything useful. It seems like a couple tons of paper. I gave it a quick look; most of it’s either in Arabic or the worst Russian I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah. This way.” Adams led off to one of the vans, which was obviously heavily burdened. He opened the back door to reveal a very solid safe, at least two feet square and three high, with a double combination lock.
“Where was this?”
“Behind Inarov’s throne, or whatever you want to call it. Padrek had a hell of a time blasting it out of the rock without damaging it.”
“Any ideas what it contains?”
“Nope. Mouse isn’t here, so we can’t crack it on site, not gently, at least.”
“Can’t risk blowing it,” Mike agreed. “It’ll have to wait until we get back. Speaking of Padrek - is he done rigging?”
“Say the word, and it all comes tumbling down.”
“One more bomb to bring out.”
“Okay. Let me know when we’re clear.” Mike walked over to the closely guarded Chechens. In Arabic, he said, “In a few moments, we will be finished here. You will be allowed to return to retrieve any items of a personal nature before we turn you over to the local authorities.”
“The police from Prikumskij. We’ve arranged for you to be held there pending your trial.”
A few knowing smiles passed between the mujahideen. The local authorities? They’d be free before dawn!
“All except you, Qays,” continued Mike. “We have a few more questions for you.”
Qays’ face fell. “Yes, Kildar.”
Over the shoulders of the Chechens Mike could see the last bomb being wheeled out, followed closely by Hughes. “That it, Jack?” he called across the field.
“And is everyone out?”
In Arabic again, Mike said, “You may go now. You have fifteen minutes.”
Quickly, but not running, the Chechens headed for their base. Foolish Ami! Stupid infidel! The mutters grew in confidence as they got closer and closer. By the time the first actually entered, they were almost laughing.
When the last was out of sight, Mike spoke quietly into the radio.
Padrek gave three blasts on an air horn, repeated it twice, then yelled, “Fire in the hole!” Then he pushed the button.
He had placed nearly two hundred kilos of Semtex, strung with det cord, through every passage and every room of the caverns. When triggered, the PETN exploded at over eight thousand meters per second - more than twenty times the speed of sound. The Chechens were universally obliterated before they could recognize what happened. The megatons of rock that then fell were merely an artistic touch.
“So falls the Emirate,” said Mike, walking away.