Kurt's dead - right? I mean, emasculated, poisoned, stabbed, and now eaten by a tiger? He's gotta be dead!
The Valley is safe. There's only one bomb left unaccounted for. So - a little cleanup before we go searching for the last bomb.
You may be wondering what I'm going to do here AFTER The Kildaran is done. Well - I have another story I'm working on which may or may not end up posted here - would love to get your feedback on this. Maybe I'll post a short chapter to it later this week, see what you think.
“Where’s Schwenke?” demanded Mike. He paced back and forth then stopped, suddenly aware of his actions. This wasn’t something he wanted to get in the habit of doing; it showed nervousness and you never, ever, did that in front of the troops. He turned instead to Oleg, forcing him to answer the rhetorical question.
“I don’t know, Kildar,” replied Oleg uncomfortably. “We haven’t been able to find his body yet.” The one-legged man-giant was covered with mud and grass stains. He checked his BFT, as if an update would have come in the past eight seconds since last he peeked.
“You telling me he got up and walked away?” The disbelief was clear.
“It looks that way,” said Oleg.
“How the fuck does a man with no balls - literally! - walk away?” He shook his head. “Never mind, just keep looking.”
“Yes, Kildar! We, ah, did find those.”
“His balls. Had to fight off a couple ravens, but they weren’t too interested and flew off without having to be shot.” He turned and jogged away, back to the search.
“Piatras!” Mike had already turned to his next victim.
“Kildar?” asked the young militia man. He blinked rapidly in exhaustion. The battle - ha! - at the caves, the harrowing ride home, and this search, all piled on scant rest, made for short nerves. Add to that a nuke not fifty meters away, and anyone would be on edge.
“On the other side of the big truck. Senior Chief Adams is debriefing her.” He pointed, not looking. Not even a glance. His voice was stilted, as if giving the information out - No. It was as if he’d been ordered to keep quiet. That had to be someone pretty senior.
Mike didn’t have to guess who.
“Right, thanks.” He walked around to see - did he really see Adams give Cottontail a hug? He blinked. What the hell?
“What’s the scoop, Chief?” he said, announcing his presence.
Before Adams could get a word out, Cottontail broke away and moved swiftly, as only she could manage, towards him, bloodied hands outstretched.
He barely had to time to think, Oh fuck me! when her arms wrapped around him. He almost pulled away before, gingerly, unsure of the exact protocol here, given his ‘interesting’ history with her, he returned the hug.
Not that he could have pulled away, she was clinging to him so tightly. Then something inside him echoed the feeling, and his embrace tightened fiercely. “I’m here. I always have been,” he whispered. She stiffened for a moment at the kindness in his voice, then felt the honesty behind the words and finally accepted them. He could feel her body shake as she fought for breath, great heaving sobs, as she - cried?
He’d never been a father. But now he had an idea, a faint echo, of why the Chief had taken the plunge so many, many times: to care for someone who needed you at a time like this.
“Hey, hey, now,” he said, gently. “It’s gonna be okay. You did good, Cotton - Katya. You did good.”
What felt like hours was actually only minutes. Mike looked over at his closest friend and mouthed, “What the fuck?“ but the Chief just looked at him, shrugged, and smiled, as if being hugged by a walking sociopathic biotechnology experiment happened every day. It was also the smile of a father acknowledging a secret, one he would treasure and torture Mike with until the end of time, given the chance. But, for now, the choice to go on living won and he kept his mouth firmly shut.
“How’s J?” he finally managed to ask, releasing her. His freed hands wiped the remaining tears from her eyes as she sniffled.
“Kira said that he’d taken a large dose of curare,” she replied in a broken whisper. “The cut itself isn’t too bad, but the knife had received multiple coats of the poison.”
“Shit. That’s nasty stuff, and it doesn‘t take much to truly fuck up your day. They use that stuff in some surgeries, though. Maybe he didn‘t get much more than that. Can‘t bet on it, though. We‘ve got to get him right.”
“That’s what she said, too, Kildar. But she’s hopeful that J will recover.”
“Recover? How? He’s good, but he’s not magical.” He held her elbows and looked directly into her eyes. “You have to prepare yourself, Katya. Just in case.”
Dropping her eyes, she leaned into him, weak as a kitten, for a moment. Then she straightened, stamped her foot, and looked back up at him.
“J,” she managed, before her voice caught. She stopped, gathered herself, and started again. “J had me study various poisons, their effects, and their antidotes.”
“I didn’t think there is an antidote for curare,” Mike said, puzzled. Actually, he was dammed sure there wasn’t. He’d used it often enough himself.
“There is and there isn’t. Physostigmine is one compound which, if injected intravenously, will temporarily reverse curare’s effects. And there are some derivatives of aminopryridine that can have reversing effects. But neither of these are commonly available.”
Mike was shaking his head. “And I doubt the hospitals in Tbilisi stock them either.”
“No,” agreed Katya. “They don’t.“ Before he could ask, she explained. “As part of the background for any mission, J had me memorize the stocks of anti-toxins at the local hospitals, so I could select the most effective poisons to use in case I was out of my own.“ She waggled her fingers. “But there is one non-pharmacological cure.”
“Oh?” This would be enlightening.
“Curare works on nerves, preventing them from transmitting or receiving, especially the nerves that control respiration. It affects all, but primarily those.”
“Knew that.” He flashed back to a face turning blue after he’d fired a curare-laced dart into the target, while Adams had hit his mistress - the daughter of Someone Important stateside who’d been kidnapped, gone Stockholm and fallen into bed with her captor - with something less lethal. After all, there were over a hundred potential foes in the floors below; steep odds, even for a pair of SEALs. How they’d gotten out - he blinked, returning to here and now.
“What you probably don’t know is that the human body will, in time, rid itself of the curare. The problem is, the stronger the dose, the longer it takes, and once respiration shuts down -”
“It’s game over. You still haven’t told me the cure, Katya.”
“Artificial respiration. If you can keep the victim on artificial respiration until they clear the toxin from their system…”
“Then they’re cured? Is it that simple?”
“There may be some residual effects, but overall, yes, Kildar. That is why he asked for Valkyrie. But,” she blushed slightly, “I panicked a little and didn’t remember until I was actually calling for her.”
He snapped his fingers. “The auto-doc.”
She nodded. “It will keep him alive until they get to hospital, then they can continue with their machines, as long as is needed.”
“And what about Schwenke?”
She looked troubled for about half a second, then smiled sheepishly. “I tore off his balls, and injected him with the toxin Dr. Arensky created for me. He should be dead, but he’s not here.”
“There‘s a blood trail,” added Oleg, who had approached quietly and stood to the side. “He won’t get far; it‘s a lot of blood. Unless he took something beforehand, he‘ll bleed out before he gets too far.”
“We’ve underestimated him before,” said Mike, warningly. “Pull anyone you need to find him. Dogs, every hunter in the Six Families, hell, raid the Gurkhas, I don’t care! I want to see his body. I want you to bring me back his dammed head!”
“Yes, Kildar!” The massive team leader turned lightly and practically sprinted away from them.
Mike turned to Katya. “I suppose you want your money now?” It was half a test, half serious.
She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “No, Kildar. Right now, all I want is a shower, then a ride to Tbilisi.” She looked down, then back up, defiantly. “I will be there for J when he recovers. You will not -”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Mike quickly, before the unspoken threat could emerge and damage the fragile - friendship? No, more like kinship - that emerged today. “Clean up. Take all the time you need. I’ll have Dragon stand by to fly you to the hospital. And when you and J are ready to come home -”
Her face lit with the first genuine smile Mike had seen on her in months.
“- You can, ooft!”
“Thank you, Kildar,” she said, the gratitude evident as she hugged him again and squeezed whatever he was going to say right out of him.
Chief Adams hid a grin.
“That’s a big fucking bomb,” said Adams , staring at the plain wooden crate, still in the back of the ZIL-E. For all its simplicity, it seemed ominous.
“No shit,” agreed Vanner. “And those crazy bastards had some that were bigger. Good thing they moved before they were ready. I‘d‘ve used as many nukes as it took, trip-hammer style, to flatten everything in my path.” He illustrated the point with his hands, opening and blossoming out, mimicking a row of explosions, culminating in one that took both hands. “Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang. Problem solved. Georgia blames Russia, US backs Georgia, pure chaos, and then you could snatch any territory you wanted right out from under their noses.”
“Well, they chose the right beast to carry it,” Mike said, looking around, impressed. Considering the cold war technology, it had proved remarkably durable. It was certainly large enough. “Wonder if we can salvage these? They’d make superb troop transports for the winter. Slower than crap, I’m sure, but I guarantee you nobody else would even come close to their mobility.”
“Maybe,” said Vanner. “They’re both going to take work, this one less. The other one looks like Swiss cheese. Won’t be cheap. Maybe have to scrap one.”
“After this mission, I think we can finally stop worrying about money,” said Mike. “You may be right about the other, though. It looked pretty sorry. If it can’t be rebuilt, salvage what you can. Anything else, well, I know of a little depot that’s been used for midnight requisitions…” He trailed off, lost in thought.
“That’s good to hear, about the money,” said Vanner, enthusiastically. “I have some ideas that -”
“Whoa, whoa there! After the mission, Pat. One bomb left, remember?” Mike slammed the brakes on his Intel specialist. If he let him continue, he’d end up having to sign something else. He’d had enough surprises.
Whatever Vanner was going to reply was lost. Dr. Arensky was inspecting the weapon, with Jack, and the discussion had been getting louder and more heated. When a nuke was the center of discussion, that sort of thing certainly focused attention.
“Problem?” asked Mike.
Jack looked up. “Maybe.”
“And I say not!” said Arensky.
“Okay, Doctor. Jack? You first.”
“We know there aren’t motion sensors on this - at least, they aren’t active, or they would have detonated it already. Between Katya‘s IED ripping apart the tranny, and J and Schwenke‘s little tête-à-tête, and all our people in and out, well, let‘s just say I‘ve been waiting for that suspiciously scary click-hummmm sound for a while.”
Arensky muttered, “It beeps, you… Why it beeps, I don’t know, it was meant for a missile and who’d hear the beeping while it’s in flight? Silly engineers, watching one too many James Bond movie…” He trailed off.
“And when were you going to tell us this?” asked Mike angrily. “You notice that we‘re standing next to it?”
“Oops?” said Jack. “Payback’s a bitch? Sir! Anyways, you’re the one who keeps telling me what a nutcase this Schwenke character is!”
“Okay, okay. So we were stupid and got away with it. So what?”
“So, we don’t know if any other triggers were armed. Timer? Remote detonator?”
Mike paled. He had all the experience he wanted with both those items, coming seconds - and a fifty-fifty guess - from incinerating Paris once.
“So how do we solve it?” he said. He paled. “The bastard’s still missing. What if he has the remote, or a cell phone?”
Vanner said, “No worries there. I shut down the cell towers in the area - they all run off our juice, anyway - and I had the girls blanket the area in EM ‘noise’ on all but the frequencies we’re actually using at the time.” He looked smug, showing off his techie prowess.
“We don’t because there are no triggers like that!” said Arensky, full of the self-assurance that came with usually being the smartest person within fifty miles.
“This is a hundred fifty kiloton, fission/fusion bomb. Powerful, yes, but also not high tech, even by former Soviet standards. It would be extremely difficult for Chechens to rig any additional detonation systems, just because it‘s so primitive. All we need to do is open up the box and ensure that the detonator circuits are disabled.” He reached for the lid to raise it, and Jack’s hand slapped down.
“And I say, that would be purely stupid! It‘s Schwenke we‘re dealing with, dead, dying, or other!”
Mike raised a hand. “Doctor, I have to agree with the Major. I’ve seen them rigged with just such a device, and we simply can’t take the chance.”
“I’m not in the habit of repeating myself, Doctor, so no arguments, please. This discussion is over. Chief, I need a work party to load this into Valkyrie as soon as she returns. We know it can be moved; let’s get it to Novorossijisk as quickly as possible and let the professionals handle it.”
“What if there’s a timer?” asked Arensky.
“All the more reason to get it out of this Valley, yes?”
“Pretty rough on Tammy if it goes off mid-flight,” said Vanner, sotto voce.
“Yeah,” agreed Mike, just as quietly. “But she’ll never know it.” Louder, he said, “Jack, hope you don’t have any plans for tonight.”
“Break ‘em. You’re bomb-sitting again. Consider this an order, Major. You‘re all I can spare, and we need official control all the way to the delivery site.”
“Shit. Can I have five minutes?”
Mike consulted his watch. “You can have fifteen; Valkyrie should be back by then.” He grinned mischievously. “Good luck. And - yeah, payback is a bitch, ain‘t it? I‘m a SEAL, Marine, and we know all about payback. Just ask the Chief sometime. Half of his stories may be bullshit, but you never know.”
He was a former major in the Spetznaz, cashiered, disgraced. Now, he was an assassin who sold his services to the highest bidder.
The smart phone beeped. Definitely the highest bidder. It was time to move.
“Colonel Pierson, it’s the Kildar.”
“Go ahead, Mike. We‘re secure, line is clear.”
“Got another one. That makes an even two dozen. It’s en route to the ship, with Hughes riding shotgun on it.”
“How’d you - never mind, I don’t want to know.”
“Not gonna tell you anyway,” said Mike. “But you need to inform the receiving end that this bomb may be active. It was twenty klicks from the Valley when we stopped it, and the psycho controlling it may have had enough time to start a timer or rig other booby-traps.”
“Oh, they’re going to love this.”
“I’m sure they will,” agreed Mike. “Probably a good idea to have them meet the chopper well away from the other nukes.”
“I need to make some calls,” said Pierson.
“I believe you do.” There was a click, and the line disconnected.
Deep in the Pentagon, Pierson called for his aide.
“Anderson! Get your ass in here! We’ve got another situation! Three guesses who with, and the first two don‘t count.” Again, he didn’t add.