Two chapters? Yup. Two chapters.
A couple reasons. First, there have been calls to accelerate the editing and releasing process. Seems these chapters are popular and people are asking for more.
Then I went back and did the math. There are 56 chapters in The Kildaran, plus the Interludes which I removed and added to the end of the book as a little bonus. At one chapter a week, we’re looking at sometime in 2022 to get through them all. Frankly, given the, ah, passionate nature of some of you lot, I wasn’t sure I’d survive the experience.
So here’s the deal.
If the first chapter is five pages or less, I’ll pair it with a second chapter. If the first chapter is over five pages – and believe me, these are not small pages! – then it will standalone.
We’re getting going with the two parallel plots now. On the one hand, you have Katrina and Mike. On the other, you have Kurt and the bombs. Getting it all to come together in a way that makes sense was challenging. Hope you’re enjoying it!
Oh, yes – in my other writing (yes, I do other stuff!), I have a cover reveal TOMORROW (March 1st). It will be here, on the website, but it’s going to be in the fan page on FB and various other places. I’d love to get your support by spreading the word and sharing the posts, even just once, to get to as wide an audience as possible. Thank you!
Enough from me. Back to the story.
Somewhere in Chechnya
Their escape from the searching Russian troops, while tedious, had been clean. Not a single man was lost to hostile fire, though Ibrahim had had two men killed for dropping their end of a crate and jarring the delicate device inside. Now they were hidden in a network of caves, partially natural, partially man-made which the separatist forces used as a headquarters. They were deep enough to hide any tell-tale traces of radiation, as well.
Ibrahim had been summoned to meet with the leader.
“A great success!” exclaimed Giku Inarov, self-proclaimed Emir of the Caucasian Emirate, the former Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Inarov was the successor to the last separatist government. Then, after a secret meeting with a Taliban emissary, he had declared the dissolution of the rebel Chechen Republic. His chosen replacement was the Emirate, a fundamentalist Islamic state dedicated to conquering all the Caucasian region of Russia for Islam and, just incidentally, himself. In the year since his conversion, somehow success had been extremely limited. The Chechen people were tired of war, tired of having Russians trample the fields, smash the buildings, and kill anyone they thought threatening.
Thus little support was forthcoming from the people, despite his role as the Chosen One, and this could be the final effort. Inarov had spent all his resources. Every ruble in the treasury, gone. Every contact in the Russian military and intelligence agencies, burned. Every bit of goodwill left, used. If this failed, the Emirate would never be, and the would-be Emir would likely wish he was never born.
But Allah was watching over their efforts! How else to explain the appearance, months before, of Ibrahim? Ibrahim, who promised to lead Inarov to a great future? Ibrahim, who had brought order and discipline to the fedayeen? Ibrahim, who conceived and executed the bold stroke that brought them the weapons to secure his destiny?
Inarov faced Ibrahim across the table.
“And now we strike! Our nuclear fire will rain down upon their cities! The infidel shall burn, and we shall reclaim the Dar al-Harb for Allah!”
“Slowly, Excellency, slowly,” cautioned Ibrahim. “We have but one opportunity to land our blow and secure the Emirate. Our plans are not yet complete, our security not yet perfect.”
“Now we have these awesome tools of our liberation!” cried Inarov. “Inshallah, they cry to be used!”
“And so they will, Excellency. Soon.” I
brahim bowed his head in a gesture of respect.
“There is still much to coordinate. You ask for a simultaneous attack -”
“Of course, it is the only way we shall bring all of these corrupt unbelievers to their knees! They must feel the pain of their false gods!”
“I agree, of course, yet doing so is far more difficult than isolated incidents. Our people have yet to recognize the brilliance and rightness of your path -”
“They are faithless and weak! I will have them -”
Ibrahim calmly overrode the rant.
“ – and our numbers are small. Although it is Allah’s will we succeed, I need time to implement the plan. Most especially, I need time to execute the most dangerous enemies of your rule, the utterly faithless Keldara.”
Inarov looked puzzled.
“Ah yes, the Keldara. But how does such a small group pose a threat to us? I have never understood your insistence on their annihilation.”
“They are pagans, worshipping false gods, not even the weak Christian Jesus. That apostasy alone condemns them. They also have the support of the President of Georgia, which could stiffen his resolve in face of your requests. Finally, they are led by an agent of the Great Satan, an accursed American, who seems to wield an unseemly amount of power with the American government. If he asks, the Great Satan itself might decide you were a threat to its interests and bring its unholy military might to bear upon us. While Allah would not let them prevail, it is not yet time to face them in battle. Islam needs you, and your leadership, as we build. We will bring all the world to Allah, so risking you, and your place in the reclamation of the Dar al-Harb, would be an offence to Allah.”
Inarov, convinced, settled back.
“Tell me again, faithful one, where our plans lie in claiming the lands for the Emirate.”
Ibrahim relaxed and began ticking off points on his fingers.
“First, we must verify all the weapons are functional. That will take at least a month, especially if any need repair. We have the equipment to do most repairs, and I have acquired –” By which he meant ‘kidnapped’.
“– Sufficient technicians to do the work. The Lesser Satan built sturdy weapons, but they have suffered for lack of maintenance.”
“Second, while we repair the weapons, I will dispatch teams to the former capitals of the Emirate’s lands: Yerevan, Baku, Groznyy, Makhachakala, Magas, Nalchik, Stavropol, Vladikavkaz, and Cherkessk. Tbilisi, too, shall not be forgotten, but I shall handle them personally, after the Keldara. The teams will seek locations suitable for our operations. I will lead a team to Moscow for the same purpose.”
“How shall I help?”
Ibrahim had expected this.
“Rally the people to our cause. Convince them your rule will bring the beneficence of Allah to their land and a life of prosperity to their children. You are their Emir, yet they know you not. Use the equipment we will use to transmit to the ungodly to speak with them.”
Inarov’s head bobbed at every point.
“Yes! I will exhort our people to rise against the ungodly! Their hope has arrived! Soon the oppression shall fall!”
“Do not reveal too much, Excellency!” cautioned Ibrahim. “The Great Satan’s agents are clever, and while we have the blessing of Allah, we cannot expose ourselves too much to Shai’tan’s wiles! Platitudes, and kind words, and the text of the Qur’an.”
“Agreed, my friend. I am simply eager to be about Allah’s work!”
“So you shall, Excellency, as you need to also prepare the statements declaring your Emirate, and the power behind it.”
“How will we prove our intent? They shall doubt our words if we cannot supply more.”
“Each warhead can be individually identified. We will provide each leader with the numbers for the warhead in their city, and they can get their proof from the Russians.”
“Have you set a date yet for the execution of our plan?”
“No, Excellency. I did not wish to presume upon your prerogatives.”
“How long will these missions take?”
“With Allah’s favor, they shall be completed in four weeks. But we must allow for delays, as Shai’tan works strongly to protect his infidels. I also must complete the mission to the Keldara before we can announce our presence, otherwise the Great Satan will only be a phone call away.” He seemed to think for a moment. “Six weeks from today.”
“Excellent, Ibrahim! You could not have picked a better date! The great festival of Soviet laborers will be the day our labors finally break us free of its decaying husk!”
After Inarov had left, Ibrahim went to his quarters.
“I am not to be disturbed,” he informed the guard outside the door. The guard didn’t question him, and Ibrahim was sure that nobody would come near. Still, he locked the door securely before relaxing.
The plan was proceeding well, reflected Schwenke. It would have shocked his sponsors to learn Ibrahim al-Jasir, devout Muslim and fervent revolutionist, really didn’t care about the Emirate or Chechnya or even Islam. In fact, the whole structure, the whole towering edifice of plans and plots, treachery and deceit, was all so Kurt Schwenke, former intelligence agent, could have his very personal revenge on an ex-hooker.
Twice, the woman had gotten away from him. Once, she had humiliated him, once, simply interfered with his plans. Not again. It had taken him some time, and quite a few of his remaining resources, to track her down, but he had finally learned that she spent much of her time in a small valley in Georgia.
There she cowered under the protection of a semi-feudal lord called the Kildar and his militia, called the Keldara and Mountain Tigers. It had taken even more time to conceive this operation, using the megalomania of the so-called Emir and his resources. While Kurt had made sure that his scheme was fundamentally sound and would, if all went well, achieve the Emir’s goals, the true purpose was to deliver a single weapon to the valley, wipe Katya off the map, and even the score once and for all.
“Soon, bitch, soon. Soon. You won’t be able to run. Your little tricks won’t help you when the sun comes to visit you. Soon. Soon.”
All the guard could hear through the thick door was an indistinct mumble.
After Stasia left, Chief Adams came up.
Mike and the Chief had known each other for almost twenty years. They had met in the infamous BUD/S class 201, when they were two of only five survivors of the course. Burly and bald, the Chief had stayed in the Teams when Mike had gotten out to become an instructor. Unexpectedly reunited in a stinking hellhole under the Syrian desert, Adams was surprised but not shocked to find his old teammate, Ghost, holding off a battalion of Syrian troops with the assistance of a few naked co-eds.
These few, christened Babe, Bambi, and Thumper in the tradition of the Teams, and Amy, an ROTC private, had been kidnapped, drugged, and flown in to be raped, tortured and eventually killed in an effort to break the will of the U.S. The plan had gone awry with Ghost’s intervention, which led to the deaths of both bin Laden and the president of Syria, the total destruction of a chemical weapons plant on the site, and the disappearance of one Mike Harmon, aka Ghost, whose name now topped every jihadist’s most-wanted list.
Adams had been surprised again several months later when his old friend had called and asked him to come to Georgia, “the country, not the state,” and help him train a militia. Having recently separated from the Teams, and in the process of divorcing wife number five, the Chief had said “Sure,” figuring at worst it would be a quick payday. When he finally got to the Valley of the Keldara several weeks later, training cadre in tow and a crash Berlitz course in Georgian echoing around his mind, he received several shocks in rapid succession:
First, the quality of the equipment. Mike had clearly spent megabucks in getting the best he could acquire and get it into the country.
Second, the quality of the recruits. Almost uniformly athletic, intelligent, and motivated, the Keldara mastered the basic training with incredible speed. SEAL-style training came next, and the Keldara simply soaked that up as well. Never had the Chief ever seen recruits as capable as these.
Third, the Keldara women. Fricking incredible didn’t begin to describe them. Stunning. Gorgeous. Fantastic. Amazing. And, dammit, off-limits unless he was serious about wife number six.
Finally, the beer. Chief Adams thought he knew all the best beers after his global travels in the Teams. None had a patch on the Keldaran beer. Each Family made their own particular brew, and all of them were worth losing an arm for. The brew of Mother Lenka, that was worth a couple legs as well. Not the other arm, though; he had to hold the bottle somehow. Simply the most amazing beer.
He was also Mike’s field second. Anything which would affect the mission, he took seriously.
“What the fuck are you doing about Katrina?” is what he opened with, causing Mike to chuckle.
“Subtle as always, aren’t you?”
“Don’t fuck around, Mike. This could be really bad. Or maybe not. It‘s gonna depend on how you handle it on your end.”
“I know,” Mike agreed. “And I was as surprised as any of you when she came to me, wait. How do you know about Katrina?”
“It’s been pretty obvious to everyone but you, buddy. You’ve been trying so hard to keep out of her way, you haven’t noticed she’s been circling closer and closer for months. She practically lives in the caravanserai, you know, between sessions with Daria and Anastasia. She’s taken familiarization and advanced courses on the M4 and MP-5 with me, along with hand-to-hand. Grez covered basic intel analysis, and she’s even worked out as a stand-in crew chief for Kacey on a bunch of recon/training flights.”
Adams smiled. “Face it, dude, she’s got you locked in her sights and there is no way you’re getting loose.”
He decided to leave the red-headed heat-seeker joke for some other time.
“Doesn’t look like it, does it?” Mike agreed, grinning back. “I have to admit, as much as I hated the idea at first, it’s starting to grow on me. Still…”
“Still,” interrupted Adams. “You worry about her safety, you worry whether or not some raghead, frustrated at not getting you, will take her out. Or take out your children. You worry about how you will react, whether you’ll fall apart again or, maybe worse, just go completely black. Right?”
“For a Chief, you’re pretty bright.”
“Bite me. Look, let’s take your objections in turn.”
“Okay. Safety here in the Valley.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Nobody within fifty miles is gonna fuck with the Keldara, not without bringing an army in, and the Georgians won’t allow it. Their army might not be any great shakes, but they know they depend on you holding this corner secure and aren’t going to let some fuckwad muj army march over the border.”
“Takes care of the children issue, too, I guess.”
”Yep, at least until they are old enough to get out on their own, if they decide to. Odds are, they won’t. Any kids you two have are going to be the Keldaran children of the Kildar, the next best thing to royalty round these parts. A couple might want to leave, get some of your wanderlust, or just be stupid and rebellious. And I know you’ll make them go walkabout, just to experience the wider world. But I know you. You ain’t nobody anyone’d want to meet in a dark alley. Bet you‘re already thinking of all the dirty tricks you can teach them in hand-to-hand.”
Mike declined to answer.
“What about school? If I have kids, I want them to have an education, not just have a choice between farming, working in a brewery, or being a soldier.”
Adams waved it off.
“Buddy, you’ve got more money than you’ll spend in a lifetime. If it worries you, set up a school in Alersso, subsidize it so kids can get a real education, and stop worrying. It’s not a concern for right now, anyway, is it?” He plowed on. “What else?”
“What if something happens and I lose her, too?”
It was almost a whisper. Although Mike had finally recovered from the death of Gretchen, it was still a tender subject. Adams didn’t think anyone else in the Valley would have heard him like this, except maybe Stasia.
“Then we sing her to Valhalla and wipe out the motherfuckers who did it. Accidents might happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You think for a second that Katrina – Katrina! – would allow you to wrap her up like a china doll? Shit, no!” He leaned closer.
“Let me tell you, she is smart. Maybe smarter than you. How long has she been thinking about this? Planning it? And now she’s doing something about it! She wants you, Mike, God knows why, and she has done everything in her power to get you. You worry that she won’t be able to take care of herself? Dude, she pushes me hard in sparring sessions. She is strong, she is fast, and she is motivated. Strikes like a snake and doesn’t hold back.” The Chief smiled. “She cheats, too.”
“You worry about her education? Stasia set her up in the same online college she does, and Katrina’s flying through her coursework.”
“You worry about this life? She wants it! She knows what you need and is bound and determined to be that person.”
He paused. “I almost hate to say it, but she’s probably the best choice you have here. If she has her way, your only choice.”
A mischievous grin crossed his face. “Hell of a looker, too.”
Mike, looking thoughtful, said, “You know she was the first person I met in the Valley? I was lost, trying to drive the old Mercedes through a snowstorm, running low on gas. Finally, I see this person bent almost double along the road. I asked her for directions, then gave her a ride back to her house. I thought she was an old woman, she was so bent over and wrapped up. But when we were in her house and she unbundled…” He trailed off.
“You know, it’s almost because of her that I bought the caravanserai,’ he mused. “She was always in the back of my mind.”
“Back to my point, then. What are you going to do about Katrina?”
“What else is there to do? I’m going to marry her, but on my terms.”
“About fucking time, Ass-Boy.” The two friends shared a good laugh.
“It’s going to have to wait a while, though. I don’t want to be planning a wedding and a mission at the same time.”
“Don’t make her wait too long, Mike,” warned Adams. “I think you’ve just about used up her patience. I don‘t know if you have a choice, anyway.”
“Twenty-five nukes say she waits a little longer.” He frowned. “You know, there’s something odd about this mission, though.”
Now the Chief frowned too.
“Well, the scale of it, for a start. None of the muj have ever hit something this big before. They just don’t have the planning or tactical abilities to pull off a hit like this, not deep in someone else’s territory. This is just too good, too professional. Hell, it feels like something we could pull off. It’s seriously black.”
“Are we sure it’s muj?”
“No, and that bothers me too. Pierson is sure that it’s Chechens, and I’m sure his intel will support it. But it doesn’t have the right feel for it. One nuke, maybe. But a whole convoy?” He shook his head. “Something stinks about this and I can’t figure out what it is.”
“What else could it be?”
“I don’t know. What if it’s all a ruse? Maybe the Russians hit their own convoy to blame the Chechens.“
He held up a hand to stop Adams’ protests. “I know, unlikely at best. That just proves my point, though. We need more intel, and we need it fast. Maybe J will have some ideas.”
”Where is he? And Cottontail? I haven’t seen them around in a few days.”
“Don’t know. He said he was taking her for training and he would be in contact with us. We ought to be hearing from him soon.”
“That dude seriously worries me, Mike. He’s like a creepier version of you, totally invisible unless he wants you to see him.”
“I know,” Mike agreed, “But that’s why he’s the best at what he does.”
Adams snorted and stood. “Okay. I’ve got to get some training planned with Nielson. You want to sit in?”
“No, just let me know before you get the teams running through it.”
“Right. Oh, yeah, one more thing -” Adams added, his hand on the door sill.
“I’m gonna throw your bachelor party.”