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Chapter Twelve

"Sit," Mike said, collapsing behind his desk. His office was in one of the older parts of the serai, with thick stone walls and no windows. Vanner had checked it for emissions and it was damned near as good as a professional secure room. That was probably because of the high olivine content of the local granite, dolomite actually. Mike still had it swept once a week and Vanner had insisted on "touching up" with some impossibly expensive paint. The stuff was a nice light blue but apparently it was opaque to transmissions.

"What's on your mind? And are you an emissary from Vladimir?" he asked, meaning the president of Russia. Chechnik's position was much like that of Colonel Pierson, he was a briefer to senior non-military members of the Russian government. One of the people he regularly briefed was the Russian president who occasionally used him as a very covert conduit.

"Among others," Chechnik replied, sighing. "In fact, it was I who convinced the president, and others, that I should come. I have some information that you need about your mission."

"So give," Mike said, frowning.

"Yes, that is the problem," the colonel replied, sighing again. "Kildar, Mikhail, I believe that you are an honorable man, a man of your word."

"He said, just before ripping the honorable man off," Mike said.

"Nonetheless," Chechnik said. "I must ask you this. I cannot give you the information unless you agree that you will not, in turn, give it to your government or the government of Georgia."

"Oh," Mike replied. "I could go for that, but it depends. Does this information have serious strategic or tactical bearing on the United States?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Chechnik said. "But my masters have determined that they are unwilling to share the information with the Ami." The Russian paused and grimaced. "It has to do with an area that the Americans have chided us on. In my opinion with good reason. But it...this situation is extremely embarrassing for our government. And we can only take so much embarrassment. That thing with Paris last year, My God, the ripples are still refusing to settle. Then the Albanian thing that you turned up!"

"Every government had problems with that," Mike pointed out. "That's why it's stayed so damned quiet."

The Albanian op had turned up a load of files on a sex ring that had "honey trapped" dozens of officials in nearly as many countries. The worst part about the honey-trapping was that the officials, ranging from minor military officers all the way to the British Home Secretary, had abused, raped and even killed the prostitutes involved. The files were still sending very quiet shudders through more than a dozen governments, including every major world power. And in the end, Mike had ended up holding all the originals. The thought on that went something like this: None of the governments trusted the others with the information. But somebody had to hold it. Mike was the easiest to wipe off the face of the earth if it came down to cases.

The DVDs, paper files and hard drives were buried in the basement of the caravanserai. The information in those documents was power in a very real sense; one person privy to it had referred to it as "the blackmail equivalent of a nuclear weapon" with good reason. But it was a dangerous power that Mike intended to invoke as cautiously as possible and only in an extreme situation. It was a power that could topple governments. If he used it, he was going to be immediately targeted by some very pissed off, and hugely powerful, people.

Mike was far less worried about the Russians, for example, than the Japanese yakuza. Some of the files referred to actions of senior Japanese businessmen. They'd all, at this point, committed suicide, even if some of them had to be helped with the knife. But the Japanese would not care for the loss of face if the information surfaced. Nor the French, Chinese... The list was very long.

"Yes, but most governments are not still recovering from the embarrassment of one of their nuclear weapons almost vaporizing Paris," Chechnik snapped. "If this got out on top of everything else... Please, Mikhail, I must have your word. If your mission is successful, let us hope to God, even then I hope I can persuade you to keep the exact nature of this secret."

"That's a hell of a lot to ask, Erkin," Mike replied. "What's so damned important? I mean, yeah, nukes are a big deal. But we already know about those."

"Dr. Arensky is not carrying nukes," the Russian replied, softly.

"Then what the hell is he carrying?" Mike asked, just as softly.

"Your word."

Mike sat back and looked at the Russian for a long time. The colonel was a professional intelligence officer with a long track record. He'd been in a lot of hairy situations from what Mike had gleaned; he hadn't always been a desk officer. But as Mike watched, a bead of sweat formed on his forehead and started to trickle down.

"You've got it."

"Dr. Arensky is not a nuclear scientist," Chechnik said, leaning back in his chair with a sigh. "He is our premier expert at biological and chemical weapons."

"Biological," Mike said, softly.

"Dr. Arensky walked out of the Novy Birsk Biological Weapons Research Facility with four vials of weapons grade smallpox."

"WHAT?!" Mike shouted, then clutched his head. "How in the FUCK!?"

"The security on our facilities has...much to be desired, yes?" Chechnik replied, shrugging. "This material was kept in Category Five quarantine, the very highest level. It was surrounded by guards. Everything in and out was carefully controlled. As far as we can determine, he moved it out slowly. First from Cat Five then to Cat Four and so on. The missing material was not discovered until after he left. Left does not cover it. The offices of the facility were destroyed by a special operations team that took down the entire guard force. Then we did a very thorough survey of the materials and, lo, the smallpox was missing. Only that. And it was the only sample of that particular, particularly vile, weapon."

"Jesus Christ," Mike said. "Smallpox. That shit is nasty. And you go and let him waltz out with..."

"Yes, it is nasty," the Russian said. "Also eliminated from the face of the earth. But this is not just any smallpox. This was developed very late in the Soviet era, when genetic technology was fairly advanced, far enough advanced that our scientists could really begin to tinker, yes? They made a breakthrough, then. May I lecture?"

"Go ahead," Mike said, sighing.

"There are three strains of smallpox," Chechnik said. "Standard, hemorrhagic and macular, you understand this? Standard has about a thirty percent death rate, but it has a slow onset. So if you are inoculated against it, only those with very weak immune systems die. Often inoculation will stop onset even in those showing symptoms. Hemorrhagic and macular are quite different. They strike very very fast and kill even faster. And almost everyone who gets them dies. The one clinical study showed ninety-four percent for hemorrhagic and one hundred percent for macular, each with over a hundred cases."

"So this is, what? Hemorrhagic or macular?" Mike asked.

"Wait," the Russian replied. "It is worse. The problem with hemorrhagic or macular as a weapon is that they are infectious for a very short period of time. Then the carrier dies and is no longer spreading them. From a bio-weapons standpoint, that is termed a 'sub-optimal carrier.' Standard, in many ways, is better because the onset is slow."

"You figured out a way to spread it out," Mike said, tonelessly. "Or you upped the fatality level of standard."

"This is a modified form of macular, the very most deadly," Chechnik said, nodding. "The infected person lives for up to five days while being infectious and then dies, nearly one hundred percent of the time. And that is even if they have been given the vaccine. There is no vaccine, no antidote, that will save anyone who is infected. If this gets out, it will kill the whole world. Your writer Stephen King wrote a book, yes, 'The Stand.' This is Captain Trips. At most a few thousand people left in the whole world. That cannot even restart the human race. And it was modified to be very... latent. That is it will survive for a long time even if there is not a host. It will wait for years if necessary to find a host."

"You evil motherfuckers," Mike whispered. "You couldn't just destroy it, could you? We turn our nukes away, you turn your nukes away, but you keep this... this fucking doomsday device? Why?"

"We see as one on this," Chechnik said, shrugging. "Vladimir swears that he was unaware of this weapon, but I don't believe him. However, if you recover it..."

"If I recover it it's going straight to the US," Mike said, savagely. "I don't know if they'll destroy it or not..."

"No," Chechnik said. "Please. This is exactly what we cannot allow."

"What? You think I'm just going to give it back?"

"No, I don't expect that," Chechnik said. "No one expects you to give it back, although I have been assured if you do that we will destroy it."

"Right," Mike scoffed. "Just like you did for the last, what? Twenty years?"

"But Dr. Arensky knows the proper protocols for destroying it," the Russian continued as if he wasn't listening. "He will show you how to destroy it. You must recover Arensky, alive."

"I'm tempted to put a bullet through his head," Mike snarled.

"Don't," Chechnik said, shaking his head. "Arensky is very much a victim in all of this."

"Huh?" Mike replied, frowning. "More stuff you haven't told us?"

"Arensky is a good man," Chechnik said. "Yes, he works on biological and chemical weapons. But he has come up with more cures, more defenses, than assaults. He also is a...a universalist, yes? He thinks of his country first, but then of the good of the world. He prefers playing the defense, yes? You have people in your own military who work on these things. Are they all evil?"

"So why'd he defect?" Mike asked. "And take this shit with him?"

"Probably his daughter," Chechnik said with a sigh. "He dotes on Marina. We now believe that Marina disappeared well before Dr. Arensky. It is probable that she was kidnapped and used to force him to do this. Arensky is also a genius in the entire field. He is expert on chemical and biological production methods. He even has much knowledge of details of nuclear weapons production. We believe the smallpox was only the tip of the iceberg. He took discs with him with details on various forms of production, including nuclear. We believe that he is being traded to a major country. They probably were the funding source for this operation. One assumes that they can continue to use Marina as a method to force him to assist them in their WMD efforts. And the smallpox is probably not for use. Some country, Iran, yes? They will get it, prove that they have it, and hold it to prevent the Americans from taking action against them. Mutual Assured Destruction, yes? If you over throw the mullahs, they destroy the world."

"Your security is a nightmare," Mike said. "You know that, right?"

"We are aware of that, yes," the Russian said with a frown. "In this case... we are aware of this, yes. We are, as they say, working on it."

"Work faster," Mike replied. "I'm getting tired of cleaning up your messes for you. The Keldara are not prepared to handle chem-bio. Hell, we haven't even trained them on MOPP gear!"

"If this gets loose, it won't matter," Chechnik said, shrugging. "But the vials are in very sturdy containers. As long as those are not breached, and you cannot do that with a rifle or even an RPG, then everything will be fine. He took containers as well. They are about ten centimeters high and eight across and made of steel and depleted uranium, yes? You cannot even penetrate one with one of your Barrett sniper rifles. But you must recover Arensky, yes? It would be good if you could recover Marina. Then destroy the vials and this nightmare is over."

Mike thought about what was being asked of him for a moment and then shrugged.

"I'm going to do this anyway," he said, carefully. "And I don't want to sound mercenary. But... Bob pointed out that if I recovered nukes, I'd get the vig on those. If you guys don't even want me to tell the US what I got..."

"How are you going to get paid?" Chechnik asked.

"That and... They're going to want to know what I got," Mike pointed out. "If I turn up empty handed, there are going to be lots of unpleasant questions."

"We will give you two nukes," Chechnik said. "If you destroy the smallpox and..."

"Keep my mouth shut," Mike finished for him.


"So..." He started to chuckle and just couldn't stop for a second. "So what you're telling me is that you're going to hand me nuclear weapons? Atomic bombs? Da Big Ones?"

"Well, we're pretty sure you won't use them," the Russian pointed out. "And then you can sell them to the Amis and everyone is happy. Also, they will be very small nukes," the intel officer added with a grin.

"Four," Mike said. "For this op, I'd better be paid a pretty penny. And it's not like you don't have a shitload lying around."

"Now that was mercenary," Chechnik said, frowning.

"I've got a very high overhead," Mike replied. "Welcome to capitalism."

"Four," the intelligence specialist agreed.

Mike suspected by the quick capitulation that he could have gone higher. But, hell, he was going to get that damned shipment even if it meant expending every last Keldara and no payment. On the other hand, if the Russians stiffed him they weren't going to like the repayment. That assumed that he wasn't being handed another bill of goods.

"We will get the nukes to you, here, as soon as you send word that the material has been captured and eliminated. The Georgians have agreed to let an American team pick them up. We can sneak the nukes in easily enough."

"Got it. Do I need anything special to destroy this stuff?" Mike asked.

"There are various ways," Chechnik said with a shrug. "But I would suggest carrying some carboys of acid. Very strong acid."

"Great," Mike grumped. "Just what I need to be carrying on a combat op."

* * *

"Katya," Anastasia said with a slightly malicious smile, "this is Mr. Jay." She'd called Katya into her office to introduce the Kildar's newest associate.

"Just Jay, please," the man said, looking the girl up and down. "Just...Jay."

"Hello, Jay," Katya said, looking the apparent Keldara up and down. She was smiling and ducking her head, coquettishly. "I'm Katya. How are you?"

"English, please," Jay said in British accented English. "Anastasia, could I borrow your office for a moment?"

"Certainly, sir," Anastasia replied, getting up and going to the door. "You two have fun."

"Could you say that for me again?" Jay said, walking up to the girl and starting to circle her from just beyond arm's reach.

"Who are you?" Katya asked, still smiling pleasantly. "And could you stop circling me? It's making me nervous."

"Then you need to learn to use more than your eyes to track me," Jay replied. "Say it again. In English. I will choose the language, you will reply. And you are my padwan, and I am your Jedi Master. You may call me Jay."

"I do not have a master," Katya said, somewhat less coquettishly. But it was in English.

"Well, in this case, it's an honorific," Jay replied. "And we'll need to work on the accent. You should be able, at your age, to learn to turn it on and off. After nineteen, for some reason, it becomes nearly impossible. Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

"Nur Bisschen," Katya said. She'd taken to looking straight ahead rather than following him in his circling.

"Definite accent there," Jay said in Russian. "Try something a little longer."

"Gottverdammte teilzeit schmierfink," Katya said, smiling pleasantly.

"Yes, we're definitely going to have to work the accent out," Jay continued, ignoring the rather personal curse. "There are only three major remaining regional dialects in German. At least in Deutschland. Austrian and Swiss German are slightly different. We'll see how many you can absorb. And Arabic, well, there are so many variants of that it's funny."

"I can't pass in Arab countries," Katya said, lifting up her hair. "Blonde, see?"

"There are some blondes to be found," Jay replied. "And there's this thing I don't think you've ever heard of called 'hair dye.' Oh, no, I take that back. You're not nearly as light a blonde as you would like to appear. Closer to dishwater than platinum, babe. Your dye job's showing through at the roots. Nice touch making sure the carpet matches the drapes, though."

"You're a spy master," Katya said in English, dropping the coquettishness.

"No, I am a master spy," Jay replied. "There is a difference. A spy master runs multiple spies but is not necessarily a good spy. A master spy is a master spy. Part of my job will involve training you. Part of that will be teaching you to see what is really in front of you instead of what you want to see. There are two main purposes to that; reporting accurate information and developing the ability to recognize and assimilate every detail of a culture so that you can disappear into that culture in an instant. You'd like to learn to disappear in an instant, wouldn't you, Katya?"

"Yes," Katya admitted.

"So I'm not going to threaten you with anything but this," Jay continued, leaning in from behind so he was right by her left ear. "The moment that I think your attention waivers, the moment that you don't give me every particle of your being, I will simply stop teaching you. When you know it all, feel free to leave. Please. Because it will no longer be worth my time and I will no longer waste my time. There will be no threats, there will be no warnings, there will be no appeal and there will be no more lessons. Do you understand me?"

"Perfectly," Katya replied.

"Then let us begin..."

* * *

Mike had arranged a meeting with the rest of the command group after the private meeting. He could tell that Adams, Nielson and especially Vanner were alive with curiosity about what had been discussed. But he was still trying to figure out how to handle the information so he ignored their curiosity.

"Baseline:" Mike said as soon as the group was assembled in his office. "I trust Colonel Chechnik with any information we give him. On the other hand, he's also required to report it to his superiors. And since we got burned by leaks in the Russian military one time, you can ask him any questions you'd like but we're not giving him our mission plan. You okay with that, Colonel?"

"Perfectly," Chechnik replied.

"So, besides what you gave me, which is not open for discussion at this time, why are you here?" Mike asked.

"My job is to find out what you need to improve the likelihood of this mission's success and then get it to you," Chechnik said. "I have the full support of the Stavka as well as the office of the president. We want these nuclear weapons stopped. But we ask that it be quietly."

"Also, Arensky is no longer to be considered a bad guy," Mike noted. "And we need to raise the profile of recovering his daughter. It's now believed that she was kidnapped to force him to defect with the...materials."

"Okay," Nielson said after a moment's pause. "You realize you just said we're going to have to do a split mission. And it was already hairy as hell."

"I'm aware of that," Mike said. "For various reasons I'm going to handle the side with Arensky and the WMD. Adams will lead the strike team to try to recover Marina. So what do we need, want or desire from Colonel Chechnik."

"Sucks to be a hostage," Adams said, repeating a common SEAL mantra. In most hostage rescue training missions, the "hostage", invariably a dummy dressed as the hostage, was killed either by the rescuers or the holders.

"Try to make it suck less," Mike said. "Anything else?"

"Well, I could use some better satellite intel," Vanner said. "Specifically, better than one meter scale shots for the entire area."

"You need them for map generation, yes?" the Russian officer said. "Would maps be better? We have high resolution maps for the area."

"You do?" Vanner said. "I've been looking for maps for forever for this area."

"What do you think our Spetznaz use?" Chechnik replied. "We can get you topographical maps, raw DTED or imagery, if you wish."

"I was going to ask Washington for that," Mike admitted. "I'd like a Predator on station in support."

"I have been made aware that the US is willing to supply such support," Chechnik replied.

"Christ, talk about cooperation," Adams snorted. "Am I the only one that's having weird reality distortion here?"

"I've seen it before," Mike admitted. "Once."

"Paris," the Russian said, nodding. "Yes, when one of our nuclear weapons becomes, as you American's say it, 'in play', we become very cooperative."

"We need everything you have on the players," Nielson pointed out. "And the order of battle with data on individuals down to small unit commanders. If you have it."

"Of course," Chechnik said, opening up his briefcase and sliding a DVD onto the tabletop. "All of what we have is in here. It is everything that my office was able to find, at least. As with your American intelligence agencies, there is often something out there that one group knows that the rest do not. But I swear this is everything that the president of Russia could put his hand on in less than a week. It is in Russian, but I understand you can handle that."

"One thing that might or might not be in there," Mike said, musingly. "We need the name of a slaver that works the area. Preferably one that's not terribly brutal. I'd prefer one that if he has a good worker doesn't punch her around just to show her who is boss."

"I only reviewed the information," Chechnik said, cautiously. "And it focuses on the military groups in the area. I'm not sure what it has about the sex-slavers. Some of them are both, of course."

"Everything you can get in a couple of days," Mike said. "We are getting on short time for this op. And that request for info stays very close to the chest, understood? You don't even pass it to Vladimir. Just inside your group on a need-to-know basis."

"I will do it," Chechnik said.

"I think that's it for now," Mike continued. "Colonel, we have a lot of planning and prep to do for this mission. I hope you won't find it remiss if we cut this short. I'd appreciate it if you'd stay for dinner and overnight. I can have Anastasia show you around the area. I'd do it myself but I'm going to be pretty busy."

"Of course," Chechnik said. "I will leave you gentlemen to your business."

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