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Chapter Twenty-Eight

"Daria," Mike said, sitting down next to the girl. "I'm sorry, I haven't been ignoring you. There's just a lot going on."

A lot was an understatement. Despite the President's assurances, various hoops had to be jumped through. Among other things, it turned out that Carlson-Smith didn't have his passport with him. Mike had offered one of the blank ones from the Georgian embassy, but that had been politely declined. The delay, however, even with no problems in the U.S., was going to make their arrival in Las Vegas tricky at best. Mike had, along the way, managed to convince people that he had a real need to go to Vegas first, so the landing in Nellis had been put off until the Keldara, and Mike, were dropped in Vegas. Which left just a few little details to clean up.

"I understand, Kildar," Daria replied, smiling. "How is it going?"

"Well, we're on our way at last," Mike said. "But I was wondering if you could do me a few favors."

"Of course," Daria said, smiling. "Here?" she added with a wink.

"Now, now," Mike said, shaking his head. "I need you to call ahead and talk to Gurum. Find hotel rooms for everyone. Some of us might not actually make it to Vegas but I want everyone to have a room. We probably can't ..."

"This is done," Daria said, pulling out a notebook. "The group that cancelled at the convention had a block of rooms reserved. I found out about it and contacted them. They still had the rooms held, but had finally decided that they were not attending. I secured that block of rooms for us at a very reasonable rate. Since we needed some more space, and the hotel was mostly booked, I also secured the penthouse suite for your use, anticipating that Chief Adams and Mr. Vanner would be using it as well. I asked about information security on the room and the hotel has assured me that since the usual users of the room are major American businessmen who often discuss proprietary business in the penthouse that it is quite secure. I spoke with Gurum, who is a very nice man, and ensured that there was access to food for the Keldara. I also talked to the intel girls and they have sufficient 'traditional native costumes' for the convention."

"Oh," Mike replied.

"I spoke with Chief Adams as well," Daria continued. "We're at about sixty percent on small arms ammunition, one hundred percent on RPGs and have a sufficiency of grenades. He wanted me to remind you that we need more Semtek and that if we have to go into Lunari that we're probably going to need more troops. We also need resupply on first aid equipment. And we only have sufficient rations for one day for the entire group." She paused, looked at his expression and shrugged. "I'm trained as a secretary and manager. And my father was a colonel in the Ukrainian Army."

Mike opened his mouth to reply, then shut it.

"Is there anything for me to do?" he asked, somewhat plaintively.

"Just sign the appropriate checks," Daria said, smiling prettily. "Oh, and I need your passport."

"Why?" Mike asked, pulling it out.

"We're hoping you have all the right entry and exit stamps," Daria replied, flipping through the passport. "And you do."

"What's that going to get us?" Mike asked curiously.

"Mr. Vanner thinks that he can create stamps for the rest of the passports from this," Daria said, tucking the passport away and making a note. "We're going to need Croatian entry and exit stamps, at the very least. And I think that's it."

"Are we paying you?" Mike asked incredulously.

"No, as a matter of fact. But I'm trying to help."

"In that case, take a note to double your pay," Mike said, smiling. "Seriously, Anastasia does some of this for me in Georgia but I could use a real assistant. And you seem to have things remarkably under control. Are you open to a job offer?"

"Does it involve shooting people?" Daria asked carefully.

"No," Mike said, then shrugged. "I'd suggest that you take some training, purely for defense. But what I'm thinking of is what you're doing, a personnel and logistics person for missions, assuming there are other missions, and being my personal assistant. I suspect that in Georgia you're going to be bored, but when we're doing things like this you sure won't be."

"What would something like that pay?" Daria asked carefully.

"Well, it would include room and board at the caravanserai," Mike pointed out. "On the other hand, there's not much to do there. As to the pay, we can work that out and find something equitable."

"And what about ... the other?" Daria asked, just as cautiously.

"What other ... oh," Mike said, then shrugged. "Up to you. If you consider it a duty, don't worry about it. I've got more women problems than I'd prefer. On the other hand, if you consider it a fringe benefit, we can work something out," he added with a grin.

"For now, I think I'd put it in the category of 'fringe benefit,' " Daria said, smiling back. "I accept the job offer. We'll work out the pay."

"Thanks," Mike said, standing up. "Get used to finding out-of-the-way buildings to beat people to death in."

"I'm sure they'll deserve it," Daria said, smiling darkly.

* * *

"So how are you going to use my passport to fix everybody else's?" Mike asked Vanner. "Copy the pages?"

The intel specialist was seated at a table at the rear of the plane, working on his computer.

"Won't work," Vanner said. "The Georgian passports have different watermarks. I scanned in all the entry and exit stamps on your passport including most especially the Croatian one. Now I'm creating a three-D model of what the stamp looks like," he continued, spinning the computer around so Mike could see.

"Very nice," Mike said dryly. "It looks like a stamp. And that gives us ... what?"

"Well," Vanner said, hitting a key and looking at a large item that looked vaguely like a printer on the floor, "in about fifteen minutes it should give us a Croatian entry stamp."

"How?" Mike asked.

"That," Vanner said, pointing at the box, "is a desk-top manufacturing device. Give it any sufficiently small three dimensional design and it can make it. Right there."

"You're kidding," Mike said, furrowing his brow. "Right?"

"Nope," Vanner said, grinning. "It's no good for multipart machinery but it can make any solid object that's smaller than its collection area. The technique is called sintering. The machine takes the CAD diagram and splits it into thin layers. The way it used to work is that each layer would be laid down and then welded to the lower layer, sintered actually. This one is a rapid system that lays the whole model down, layer by layer, then heats the item up and forms it in one go."

"I almost hate to ask how much that thing cost," Mike said, shaking his head.

"It was the first run of a new generation of them," Vanner replied. "And a lot. But I thought it might be useful to have along. And I got a deal on it as a beta tester."

"We're going to need more than one," Mike said, thinking about the future.

"Well, I've got an in with the manufacturer," Vanner said, grinning.

* * *

"You do have ink, right?" Mike asked as Vanner slid the still hot stamp into a holder. It sure looked like an entry stamp.

"Fourteen different colors and shades," Vanner admitted. "I mean, I'm not a professional forger, but I can hum a few bars." He picked up a piece of paper and opened up a stamp pad with Mike's passport open on the table in front of him. Humming, he inked the stamp and then stamped it on the piece of paper.

"Looks ... pretty much the same," Mike admitted.

"It should, it was made from this model," Vanner said. "I had to work out the background watermark and I think that might have led to some thin spots ..." He pulled out a loupe and considered the stamped paper under the light. "Yeah, there are some rough spots. But if it's not a close inspection it should work. And if any of these passports get a close inspection we're going to have problems."

"Well, we should be okay on the U.S. end," Mike said. "Where's the MI-6 guy?"

"Going over the hard copy files," Vanner said. "Turns out he speaks and reads Albanian."

"I hope he's not developing more intel than we'd like," Mike said. "Where?"

"Front of the compartment," Vanner replied. "I'm going to get started on the exit stamp...."

* * *

"This is horrible stuff," Carlson-Smith said, skipping to the next video.

"See anyone you recognize?" Mike asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," Carlson-Smith said tightly. "I was assigned to the Kosovo sector for some time and I recognize several gentlemen who are or were similarly assigned."

"Interesting that they were able to get them there," Mike said. "I suppose you've also seen the video that we're interested in."

"Vanner pointed out the file," Carlson-Smith said. "I've avoided it. That's for you Yanks to fix up. The rest of this is going to be more ... difficult. They've compromised the bloody head of the French force in Kosovo. And he's been promoted. He's in charge of the military-civilian liaison office in France that's supposedly been backstopping Interior Ministry Forces on rounding up France's Islamics. Which has been notably unsuccessful, I might add."

"I'm missing something," Mike admitted.

"The Albanians have been working with the muj for some time," Carlson-Smith said dryly. "Nothing that the bloody media is willing to bring up, but they trade information among other things. I'd give odds that our friend General Robisseau has been feeding information to the targets in France. Probably because he was 'encouraged' to do so by his Albanian friends."

"Crap," Mike muttered. "Any Georgians in there?"

"Not as far as I can tell," Carlson-Smith said with a chuckle. "But there's more than one American and quite a few Japanese. Check this one out," he added, hunting in the files for a moment.

Mike watched the resulting playback for a moment and then turned away.

"So?" he asked. "I've seen a couple."

"Didn't recognize the gentleman?" the MI-6 agent asked, smiling thinly. "One of your bloody liberal strategists, mate. Been on TV any number of time. Big money collector."

"Cleaning this up is going to be a nightmare," Mike admitted. "Multiple countries, multiple jurisdictions. And all people that could afford the squeeze, which means either rich or powerful or, generally, both. Who bells the cat?"

"Who indeed, mate," Carlson-Smith said, jumping to another file. "Bloody hell, another one. Junior member of the Foreign Service. Works with the UN in Kosovo. Refugee relief. Rich liberal poofter. I'd have guessed him for being under the whip, not holding it."

"I'd think he'd be getting his pussy from refugees," Mike noted.

"He probably was," the MI-6 agent admitted. "But getting rid of the bodies is tough. And when you abuse them beyond a certain point, they go talking to the press. That gets your career sidetracked. You have to leave the Foreign Service and go work for an NGO, which doesn't have benefits nearly as good, does it?"

"Point," Mike said. "What are the benefits of working for MI-6?"

"You get to look at really nasty porn," Carlson-Smith said darkly. "And you get to deal with lowlifes and drug dealers. Then there's the terrorist informers, most of whom don't actually know anything, but are more than willing to take cash for nothing. On the other hand, it's got great dental."

"Sounds great," Mike opined. "James Bond and all that."

"People think that," Carlson-Smith said with a sigh. "But it's more like your CIA, isn't it? I mean, yes, we get weapons training in class and all that, but we never bloody use the things. I haven't drawn my weapon in my whole career and very rarely carry anything for that matter. Very few of us do. Neither do your CIA intel fellows, believe me. The paramilitary types like NVA are a different story, of course. They're the wet-work fellows."

"So what do you do?" Mike asked, curiously.

"As I said, run around dealing with lowlifes and trying to get someone to tell us something true," the MI-6 agent said, shrugging. "You build up a group of contacts and get information in any way that you can. It's more glad-handing than running around with beautiful women and killing supervillains. Most of it's quite boring, really."

"Sounds that way," Mike said with a snort. "I'll take James Bond any day."

"I'd rather be doing that than this, mate," Carlson-Smith said. "Among other things, there are things that man is not wot to know or something like that. And this is one of them. Something you'd best keep in mind."

"What do you mean?" Mike asked, frowning.

"There are going to be quite a few very powerful and very unhappy people when this particular ant-pile gets kicked over," the Brit said, shutting down the video program. "I'm covered since I'm just a dumb bureaucrat doing my job. Except for those IRA bastards, nobody personally cares about one agent or another. Sure, the odd muj will have a whack at us, but that's just business. You they're going to hold personally responsible. The people on these files, they're going to lose and lose big. But so are their supporters and sponsors. And they're still, mostly, going to be in power, either directly or indirectly. Even if parties fall as the result, which they just might. Just by finding these files, you've made some powerful enemies."

Mike thought about that and shrugged.

"Let 'em come."

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