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Chapter Thirty-One

Nellis Air Force Base was one of the most secure bases in the United States. Plunked in the middle of thousands of miles of just about nothing, the base was called "Dreamland" since it was the center for testing the most advanced concept aircraft in the world. It was from Dreamland that the entire stealth series of aircraft had been envisioned, designed and produced.

So when Mike landed, he wasn't expecting a tour and he didn't get one.

The G-V jet, with window shades covered, rolled to a stop inside a hangar before the door opened and a polite but definite Air Force SP led him across the hangar, down a windowless corridor and up to a security station by an elevator.

"Mr. Jenkins, your badge," the SP sergeant manning the desk said, nodding. "Please place your hand on the scanner and your eye up to the cup."

Mike hadn't used a retinal scanner before but it was pretty straightforward.

"You don't have a retinal scan," Mike pointed out as a badge with his picture on it was handed across the desk.

"We do now," the SP sergeant said. "And your fingerprints. We normally match them, but we didn't have a comparison set."

"Don't let them get out," Mike said, frowning. "Where?"

"The elevator," the SP said, waving. "Wait for it, swipe your badge through the reader. It will take you to your floor. Have a nice day, sir."

Mike got on the elevator unaccompanied and swiped his card. There wasn't even a readout so he had no idea how many floors he was descending but it was pretty far.

"Deep here," Pierson said, greeting him with a smile when the elevator door opened.

"And cold, too," Mike added; the air conditioning had to be set to about sixty.

"It's for the computers," Pierson said, waving him into the government-green corridor directly in front of the elevator, which was at junction. There were doors down all the corridors, but they all had electronic locks on them. It looked like something from a nightmare and Mike wondered how many of the workers down here had cracked over the years. "I'm told there are more Crays in this facility than any single facility in the world."

"I thought NSA had a lock on them," Mike said, frowning.

"And do you really think they're in D.C.?"

* * *

"You guys look like you've been working hard," Mike said when he entered the conference room. Vanner, Carlson-Smith and Greznya were sitting at the table just about surrounded by paper.

"We have," Vanner said, crossly. "I thought thirty-six hour days had ended when I got out of the Corps."

"If you've actually been going that long, you need to crap out," Mike said seriously. "Judgement really starts slipping after thirty or so."

"We're about done here," Vanner said, shrugging. "There are seven Brits in the files, twenty-three Americans of various political grades and the rest are other lads. We've broken them down by country and created a special DVD for each country indexed to the files along with a ... prospectus of their actions in Rozaje."

"The big winner numerically appears to be the Nips," Carlson-Smith said. "No real surprise. But the prime minister is going to be very surprised what his under minister for external security has been getting up to."

"That's the guy who more or less runs the JDF, right?" Mike asked, shaking his head. "Okay, if our people are willing to cut you loose, we'll borrow a secure vault and fly you out to Vegas for a short R and R. Pierson?"

"They need to wait a bit," the colonel said, frowning. "And I'd suggest a shower and a shave. We're having some VIP visitors in about a half an hour."

"Christ," Vanner said, standing up and stretching his back. "We don't exactly have a brief set up."

"Just get cleaned up, Patrick," Mike said. "And you too, Grenzya. Your clothes are here, right?"

"And your plane," Pierson pointed out. "And its pilots."

"I'll need to keep it here until this stuff is ready to go," Mike said, shrugging. "Can do?"

"Can do," Pierson said. "Where's the index?"

"Here," Vanner said, sliding it across the table to him. "Tabulated by country, then by name. Each of them has a short synopsis of who they are in the real world and what they did at Rozaje. There's a pack of DVDs, too ..."

"I've got it," Mike said, sitting down. "Colonel, could you find someone to scrounge up the showers and whatnot for these three?"

"There's a security issue with the Brit data," Carlson-Smith said, uneasily.

"I'll keep that in mind," Mike said, opening up the thick file folder. "Ah, England, let's start there ..."

"Mr. Carlson-Smith, if you'll come with me," Pierson said, smiling. "He does that to get on your nerves, you know," he added as they entered the corridor.

"And it works," the MI-6 agent admitted. "I could wish we'd never let that stuff leave jolly old England."

"The DVDs are in Albania," Vanner pointed out.

"So you've said," Carlson-Smith replied. "Repeatedly. And how are we going to get our hands on those I'd like to know. Lunari's a place angels fear to tread."

"We won't send angels," Pierson said, opening up one of the doors with his passcard. "Gentlemen, showers and clean clothes await. Miss, if you'll accompany me. By the way, the door locks when I close it. Just hit the buzzer when you're ready to head back. You have about twenty-three minutes."

* * *

Mike looked up as a man in a suit stepped through the door unannounced.

"Who the hell are you?" Mike asked, then stopped and nodded as the President followed the secret service agent into the room. "I must be getting tired, Mr. President."

"I can understand that, Mike," the President said, walking over to shake his hand. "I was told some of your intel people, and a Brit, were going to be here."

"They've been on straight ops for the last couple of days, Mr. President," Mike replied as the President was followed in the room by the national security advisor, the secretary of Defense and a man Mike didn't recognize.

"Step outside," the President said to the three secret service agents that had come in the room. "You're not in on this one."

"Yes, sir, Mr. President," the lead agent said, nodding to the other two.

"I thought they were supposed to argue about that sort of thing," Mike said, smiling and standing up. "And I'm at the head of the table."

"Sit, Mike," the President said, collapsing in one of the seats. "We have an hour to do this. I'm on my way to California for a meeting with the governor and to look over the latest damage from an earthquake. Which was fortuitous since it meant I could clear my schedule for this meeting." He looked up as Colonel Pierson came in trailed by Vanner, Carlson-Smith and Greznya.

"Mr. President," Mike said, waving at the three. "MI-6 Agent John Carlson-Smith, Patrick Vanner, formerly of the U.S. Marines and NSA, and Greznya Kulcyanov of the Keldara."

"A pleasure to meet you all," the President said, standing up to shake their hands. "Mr. Carlson-Smith, I want to assure you that I've spoken with the Prime Minister and he and I are in agreement on the way to implementize this situation."

"Yes, sir, Mr. President," the MI-6 agent said uneasily.

"I'm John Parais," the unnamed man said, extending a hand. "undersecretary of defense for intelligence gathering and analysis. As soon as we're done here, we'll get you on a secure line to Lord Arnold so he can clear up any questions."

"Yes, sir," the MI-6 agent said, apparently relieved that there was another professional in the room.

"I'm also going to remain here with a small team," Parais continued. "Not to look at the data, though. We've got some additional intel on Lunari."

"And it's Lunari that we need to talk about," the secretary of defense said.

"Indeed," the President agreed. "Don, you take it."

"We need those DVDs," the secretary of defense said, leaning forward. "And it's been agreed that, yes, Mike, you'll be the one to secure them. That does remove various problems while effectively dumping them on your shoulders. But the President has managed to convince the prime minister that you have broad enough shoulders."

"Thanks," Mike said dryly.

"But we do need the DVDs or ... how we would prefer to handle this simply won't work," the NSA said.

"Agreed," Mike said. "And I suppose sending in Delta ..."

"Has been discussed and ruled out," the President said. "We need someone who is highly deniable. Admittedly, there has been—"

"Enough contact that I'm sliding out of that realm," Mike said with a chuckle. "But I'm the best thing you've got."

"That's it in a nutshell," the secretary said. "The same goes for the various other black ops groups. When you hit Lunari, there are probably going to be too many traces left behind to totally deny which group did it. Bodies among other things. I'm sure you'd prefer to pull out all of your dead—"

"We try," Mike said, remembering the Viking funeral.

"But you might not be able to," the secretary continued. "Ditto on Delta or ANV or ILS. Yes, they'll go in sterile, but."

"But," Mike said. "The problem being that I'm sure I can't take the bordello with one team and I'm not sure I could do it with the whole Keldara. And if I call in the Families, it leaves us uncovered at home. Bad things can happen when that happens."

"Which is why a Special Forces team will arrive in Georgia the day after tomorrow to train in-country militias," the national security advisor said, smiling. "Three teams, actually, with a company of Rangers in augmentation. Do you think that will be enough?"

"Yes," Mike said. "But they'd better be carefully briefed on Keldara culture."

"Your Colonel Nielson will remain in place as a liaison," the secretary said. "He's being temporarily reactivated so he'll outrank the team commander. Effectively, he'll be in command."

"Oh," Mike said. "So much for deniability."

"It's still there," the NSA said. "Thin but there. We do this sort of thing all the time with various groups. The Keldara are well liked by the Georgian government."

"How much do they know about this?" Mike asked.

"Not much," the NSA said. "And the less the better."

"Yeah, I wouldn't want them trying to get their hands on the booty," Mike said, shrugging. "Not that they would. Trust me, the room that this is going in will be wired to destroy everything. And the Keldara will trigger it even if I'm dead."

"Works for me," the President said. "But you're going to have to get the DVDs from Lunari. And we're going to need the American data."

"Vanner?" Mike asked.

"I have it here," Vanner said. "Once we had the basic database set up, it was easy enough to pull out the Americans. Greznya?"

"Here, sir," the Keldara girl said, pulling a folder out and carrying it over to the President.

"What about Grantham?" the President asked. "We got a brief description from Colonel Pierson, but ..."

"Here, sir," Vanner said, turning to his computer and then stopping. "This is ..."

"Just run it, Marine," the President said. "I understand what we are dealing with."

"Yes, Mr. President," Vanner said, bringing up the image on the plasma screen over Mike's head and explaining why it couldn't be Senator Grantham murdering the girl.

"John?" the President asked, turning to Parais.

"I'd like confirmation from my own analysts," Parais said, frowning. "But I'm not going to ask for it. But with the original, I will do my own confirmation. Pending that, I have to agree with Mr. Vanner. That is not Senator Grantham."

"Who is it?" the President asked rhetorically.

"Doing a voice comparison will be hard," Parais said. "The quality of the data has been damaged by the voice modifier. I'm not sure we could be certain of the identity based upon that data. Even if we ran it against Echelon, we'd probably come up with hundreds, possibly thousands, of hits. The reason being, we'd have to spread the net for the hits. We couldn't say 'Give me the person this is' because it would bring back either 'no one' or someone that sounds just like that, which probably wouldn't mean Grantham because just because it sounds like him to the human ear, doesn't mean it matches signal ..."

"It doesn't," Vanner interjected. "We checked. The signal spread is all wrong."

"So that's a confirmation that it's not Grantham," Parais said, nodding.

"Explain," the president said.

"The human voice is more than just what we hear," Greznya said, softly. "There are not only undertones and overtones, things beyond our range of hearing, but frequencies within the sounds we can hear that are cancelled out. When you take all of that and break it down, it creates a very distinct signature, the 'voice print' of a person. I actually ran the comparison of this man's voice against Senator Grantham's. You can see where the voice has been modified and where it has not. And there has been no modification of the under and over tones. It has only seventy points of congruence to Senator Grantham and three hundred noncongruent points. And additional fifty three were ambiguous and fell outside standard probability."

"I brought Greznya rather than one of the other girls because she's my best person at voice recognition," Vanner said. "She can pick out which Chechen or Russian commanders we're picking up on the basis of less than a full word."

"Sort of like when a radio station plays just one bit of a song?" the President asked.

"Yes, sir," Vanner replied. "And she's very good at voice analysis as well."

"This is not Senator Grantham, whoever he is," Greznya said, softly but firmly. "I have listened to six of his speeches and compared them to this person's voice, tone and word choice. Admittedly, the subject matter is highly different, but this person uses certain word strings that are not consistent with the senator. And that is ignoring the fact that the voice analysis is not a match."

"Any idea who he is?" the President asked, just as softly, looking with interest at the girl.

"He is an American," Layela said. "He naturally has an accent consistent with the northeastern United States. He has some habitual phrases that he may use in common company, notably 'playing with the big boys' and 'gaming the future.' He is between twenty-five and thirty at a guess based upon his natural tones. He is a nonsmoker. There is no sign of smoking degradation in his voice, however there is slight age degradation. I would say that he is college educated or at least uses large words frequently. More than that I cannot tell."

"That's a bit," Parais said, nodding. "We'll look at it as well."

"Carefully," the secretary of defense said. "Very carefully. And you're going to need to bring the FBI in on it."

"That, unfortunately, is an absolute," the President sighed. "Okay, Mike, you don't do this for free. What's the cost on Lunari?"

"I'm also not a mercenary, Mr. President," Mike said after a moment's thought. "I do what I do and if there's a reward I collect it. The question I've been asking all along is 'why go to Lunari?' I know why I did the other things I did; Lunari is a bit more nebulous. Clear a senator? Not sure I care enough to lose a single Keldara. Make sure that a Brit Foreign Office brahmin isn't being blackmailed? Ditto. Money has never been the reason I do what I do and you know it."

"It's important," the NSA said, frowning. "Very important. If it weren't, would we be here?"

"I know it's important," Mike said. "I'm just wondering if it's important to me. And mine, I might add."

"Depends," the secretary of state said. "You're going to get a lot of enemies out of this. You're already going to get them, no matter how we play it after stirring this up. But if we can get all the data, you're also going to have some friends. Some very senior friends."

"Trust not in the friendship of princes," Mike said, still frowning. "I don't know why I even brought it up. I know I'm going to Lunari and I'll get the DVDs if at all possible. But I'm not sure it's going to be possible. Insertion and extraction is going to be a bitch. And we've got no intel."

"There's a possibility, there," Parais said. "But not for this discussion."

"As to getting paid," Mike said, shrugging. "The good senator from New Jersey owes me five mil if I find the girl. I pointed out to him that if his 'constituent' didn't pay up, he was going to be given the bill. Let him pay it."

"We'll talk," the President said, standing up. "You're going?"

"I'm going," Mike said, looking at the table. "God help me."

"He will," the President said, nodding. "His hand will be over you, Mike. I know it will."

"Thanks," Mike said. "Although I'll admit I'd rather have a B-52 loaded with JDAMs."

* * *

"You said you have data for us," Mike said when the President and most of his party had left.

"We've got a partial layout for the streets," Parais said, sliding over a DVD. "Also some data on the building but not the interior. I had an intel crew sweep for computer noise and there wasn't any. However, we know there is at least one computer in the building from information on the street. So ..."

"It's shielded," Vanner said, sighing. "Which means they know how important this place is."

"There are at least twenty guards on duty at all times in and around the building," Parais continued. "And there are more than sixty working for the same clan in the area. All of them will come swarming at the first sign of a firefight. In addition, if it's apparent that it's not the regular authorities, such as they are, or another clan attacking, the other clans are likely to pile in. I'm not sure about reaction times, but you're looking at Mogadishu if it drops in the pot."

"We need more intel," Mike said, shrugging. "We need interiors. We need to know where the DVDs are. We need to know where Natalya is. We can't even be sure she's still there. What about a ground-pen sweep?"

"There aren't any tasked for that area at the moment," Pierson said. "I checked."

"Bob, the President just made a special effort to stop by," Mike said with a sigh. "Retask."

"That's not a simple action, Mike," Pierson argued. "I can't just pick up the phone and ..."

"Yes, you can," Mike said, his face hard. "You pick up the phone, call your boss and say 'Hi, I need a ground penetration satellite retasked. Why? It's compartmentalized. But the President asked.' Do you really think he's going to ask the President if he really asked? And if he does, do you think the President won't back it? Hell, Bob, I shouldn't have even had to ask. We should already have the data."

"I'll see what I can do," Pierson replied with a sigh.

"I'll get it retasked," Parais said. "Easier and less questions if I order it. And you're right, this is a presidential directive mission. That's easily a high enough priority."

"Preferably, we need people inside," Mike added, looking thoughtful.

"Dracul?" Vanner asked.

"Not if there are that many guards," Mike said, shaking his head. "The lack of intel is what's getting me. But I'm not sure how to get someone in the club."

"We can get a girl in," Carlson-Smith noted. "The data from Rozaje included some internal e-mails of the clan. Girls go to Lunari from all over. All we have to do is pull a car up with the right words, drop the girl off and leave. The driver doesn't even have to be Albanian. Of course, that leaves her in a very bad spot. I'm not sure MI-6 has a female agent who would take that mission. Lunari is nearly as bad as Rozaje."

"That's not an issue," Mike said, distantly. "I've got one. I just can't figure out how to get the intel out. She won't have a way to send out commo and she won't be able to just up and leave. Even if she can develop intel, it won't do us any good."

"We might be able to offer some help," Parais said uneasily. "I was directly ordered to offer this technology but I'm not happy about it. It's highly classified."

"Get over the pro-forma protests," Mike said, his eyes narrowing. "What is it?"

"The tech is experimental," Parais said. "But we can internally wire a person for sound and video. Not very good video, but both. And it's almost untraceable. And for sure won't turn up on standard scanners."

"How the hell do you do that?" Mike asked, blinking.

"You hook it up to the optic nerve," Vanner said, watching the DIA secretary carefully. "You either preprocess there or send out a rough signal and process it somewhere else. I've read about the theory. Has it actually been done?"

"Not on humans," Parais admitted. "We haven't been able to find an agent that will permit the operation. It's not without risks. Blindness for one."

"You're thinking about inserting Cottontail?" Vanner asked.

"Yep," Mike said thoughtfully. "We'll need a doctor who's willing to carefully explain the risks. Where would you do this?"

"There's a special hospital in Virginia ..." Parais said.

"Does she get Dr. Quinn?"Mike asked, laughing.

"Been there, have you?" Parais smiled. "That's actually one of my charges. But that's where the procedure would take place."

"We're probably on short time here," Mike pointed out. "The Albanians know what they have and with Rozaje hit they're going to do something about it."

"The procedure is fairly noninvasive," Parais said. "At least from what I've been told. They go in through the nose for the video portion and there's only a very small implant in the mastoid for the audio. It's something like having a tooth pulled."

"I'll have to pitch it to Katya," Mike said, frowning. "If she goes for it, we'll drop her off on our way through with someone to keep an eye on her after the procedure. How long for full recovery?"

"A day or two at most," the DIA director said.

"What about ... I dunno, security?" Mike asked.

"The transmitters are frequency hopping and use burst signal compression," Parais said. "Very hard to detect and they're encrypted transmissions. The data won't get compromised."

"I just hope the agent doesn't," Mike replied.

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