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Chapter Three

"Okay, buddy, what do you take?" Adams asked when Mike got to his office. The former chief was sitting in one of the chairs with his feet up, apparently awaiting his arrival.

"What do you mean?" Mike asked, sitting down and clearing his screensaver with his password.

"I timed it, this time," Adams said. "Three hours and forty-seven minutes from the first shriek until your door opened. I mean, are you getting black market Viagra or something?"

"I don't need Viagra," Mike said, shrugging and pulling up the spreadsheet on Keldara costs. He'd made a pretty penny from killing wanted terrorists and "securing" a few nukes that otherwise would have left large holes in cities. But the Keldara were costing like crazy and it was just amazing how fast the money bled away.

"Oysters?" Adams asked.

"Christ, you're not going to let this go, are you?" Mike asked, leaning back in his chair.

"How many times did she come, anyway?" Adams asked. "The shrieks were getting pretty muted by the end."

"I don't know," Mike admitted, trying not to grin. "I only counted the times she went blind. That was three."

"Good Lord," the chief said, shaking his head. "So, give. What are you taking?"

"Nothing," Mike said. "I don't take anything. I just don't allow myself to come."

"How?" Adams asked, exasperatedly. "I mean, Tinata is ..."

"A knockout," Mike finished. "A certified virgin the first time I screwed her, pretty as hell, great tits and a tight pussy. I just think of other things when I think I'm going to come. And keep going. For as long as I want."

"What? Dead puppies?" Adams asked, curiously.

"No, mathematics, generally," Mike admitted. "Multiplication tables. What's eight times seven?"

"Uhm ..."

"Right, if it's not right there in your head, you have to think about it," Mike said. "Most people do have to think about the sevens and eights in the tables. Anything that requires a bit of concentration. Something you have to think of to recite to yourself. Just ... distract yourself to get out of the moment but keep them in it. And if you've got a modicum of control you can keep from coming. That way you can make a lady really happy, if you fit even vaguely. If she's not into penile orgasms, there's the fingers and tongue. And once a woman comes once, she generally will keep coming if you keep going. Most of the time they'll say they want you to stop, but unless they're really aggressive about it, keep going. Their orgasams just get larger and larger until they're really over the edge. Simple as that."

"I need to try that out," Adams admitted. "Where the hell did you learn this?"

"I overanalyze," Mike said, grinning. "You've told me so yourself. There's more than one reason that they called me ... what they called me on the teams. When you're doing a sneak at that level, you have to be able to read a person, to know exactly what they are going to do, to feel everything around you. It's not much different in bed. You're a great entry guy, buddy, but you were never as good as I was at a sneak, right?"

"Admitted," Adams said, shrugging. "And that makes you great in bed?"

"Believe it or not, it's awful close," Mike said, smiling thinly. "They're both about power, trust me. When a woman is that much putty in my hands, it's just like when the knife goes in on a target. There's a reason they call orgasm the 'little death.' "

"That's sick," Adams said, shaking his head.

"I never said I was a well man," Mike replied, still smiling.

"Go ahead and try it on Flopsy, Bambi or Mopsy," Mike continued, listing off three of the hookers by nickname. Cottontail's impossible; cold as the Antarctic. Don't even try."

"She seems to have fun," Adams said, frowning.

"She's pretty good at faking, but not as good as she thinks," Mike said, shrugging.

"How can you tell?" Adams asked.

"What, you want me to give up all my secrets?" Mike replied, grinning.

* * *

As soon as it was dark Mike donned combat gear and headed out to his personal Ford Expedition. He'd ordered various vehicles for the Keldara to get the farm on a more modern basis: When he bought the property the Keldara had still been using horse-drawn plows. Besides tractors he'd purchased trucks and SUVs for each of the Six Families. They doubled as transportation for the militia but were mostly used for farm work.

This was his personal Expedition, however, and although it seemed the same as the rest on the exterior, save for a spare antenna here and there, it was significantly modified on the interior. He'd given Vanner a bunch of money, and the electronics wiz had fitted it out with every conceivable bit of gear that he might need to control the militia. In effect, it was a roving command post.

He punched in a code on the dashboard-mounted computer and brought up current locations on all the training groups. Phase One of patrolling was about done and he'd hardly had a chance to go out and check them out. A group from Team Sawn was conveniently near the north road, while being well out of sight behind a ridge, so he put the SUV in gear and headed out.

The caravanserai was perched on a ridgeline overlooking the valley of the Keldara and at a height to be able to barely see into the town of Allerso which was in an upper valley. The driveway from the caravanserai ran down a series of switchbacks to the road that passed along the edge of the valley. The road was slightly elevated so that most of the valley could be viewed as he drove northward. The crops did, indeed, seem to be growing well and there was a new glow of electric light from the houses. When he'd arrived the Keldara didn't have a pot to piss in, much less electricity. If he died tomorrow, or today, which on this road was a possibility, he'd have done that much good at least.

Lasting good, that is. He'd done many things that he defined as "good" over the years, but they mostly involved killing terrorists or finding wayward weapons of mass destruction. But more terrrorists always seemed to arise, hydra-headed, and WMDs were here to stay. There was always some Russian guard willing to sell his soul for a bagful of cash or some muj with a high school knowledge of chemistry whipping up a beaker of Sarin. To put all of them out of business would require changing the world, and that was too big a prospect for any former SEAL.

He cleared the valley and ascended the switchbacks at the north end, heading into the mountains. He was glad the road was clear this time of year. The first time he'd come to the valley of the Keldara he had been lost and the road had been an ice-covered nightmare of a drive. On an early summer night it was simply pleasantly winding.

He reached a good debarkation point where a small parking area overlooked the river foaming through the gorge below and got out, stretching. The night was clear and black as pitch, perfect for a walk in the woods.

He loaded up his assault ruck and picked out an SPR for the trip. The teams were on their last exercise of Patrol Phase One, a two-day hike with various mission objectives. Patrol Phase One was designed to train them in various missions in patrolling in large groups, rotating members of the teams through leadership positions. It was straight out of the Ranger Handbook, which fit the mission of the Keldara better than SEAL training. After they'd gotten used to patrolling in large groups they'd move to Phase Two, which would train them in small unit patrolling over large distances, the only way that they would be able to fully interdict Chechen movement in the area.

He deliberately hadn't looked at the particular mission of this patrol. They might be in movement or set up for ambush; it was up to him to find them and determine their mission.

He had to be careful about it, however. The teams were loaded with blanks but carried a full load of combat ammunition; the area was unsecure and their "training" might involve hitting a Chechen group at any point. The Chechens had to know by now that this region wasn't safe. His people had stopped a snatch and wiped out a full battalion attack already in the area. But the Keldara area had been a major path for Chechen groups for some time; the passes in the Keldara AO were the only way through the mountains short of entering the much better protected area around Tbilisi. It was one of the reasons that the Russians, and therefore the American government, were looking for him to shut down Chechen operations in the region.

He first had to cross the rather sizeable stream. While that sort of thing was easy with a group, by himself it required a bit more care. He hunted around for a good ford but there was none in the immediate area. And even getting down to the stream bed from the road was tricky.

Finally, he found a reasonably negotiable spot and slid down the hill on his butt, ending up with his feet planted on a rock that was actually jutting out of the stream. He secured a climbing rope to the rock and hooked off to it, then slid into the stream.

The current was powerful and bloody damned cold, glacial melt coming straight off the mountains. The rocks were also slippery as hell. He made his way carefully across the current, planting his feet and using the hard point of the rope to stabilize.

He got to the far side and pulled the disconnect he'd tied into the rope, retrieving it and then coiling it and putting it away. He thus was starting off his hunt dead wet, cold and nigh on to miserable. Which was all to the good; he'd been having it too easy lately.

The team had last been placed on the far side of the ridge above him, so he headed up the steep slope. In places he had to push himself up using the trees on the ridgeline but it only took him thirty minutes or so to ascend the ridge and get a good hide.

He pulled out a thermal scope and started scanning the area below him. When he didn't see anything in the spot he'd noted the team in, he scanned around. There didn't seem to be anything in the valley below so he kept scanning around.

The valley the team had been in was a narrow V heading down from the north and more or less paralleling the road at about two hundred meters of elevation. There was a small stream running down the center. It joined with a slightly larger valley that curved in from the east and finally joined the gorge the road wound up, adding the contents of both streams to the river that cut the gorge.

The team was nowhere in sight in the first valley so he kept panning back and forth looking for hot points in either valley. He finally spotted a hot point coming into the larger, perpendicular, valley, but it was coming from the east and nowhere around where the team had been. They'd have had to run like hell to get up to that point and the figures were moving wrong. As he watched, more and more figures came in view and some of them had the distinct outline of horses or mules. It wasn't one of the Keldara teams, that was for damned sure. In fact, unless he was much mistaken, it was a Chechen supply convoy.

He considered for a moment where he'd left the Expedition. Supply trains like this one generally met up with trucks somewhere along the road that he'd parked on. The damned Expedition was directly in view of anyone driving down the road, which was one hell of a note.

He didn't know why this sort of thing always seemed to happen to him. He was like a terrorism fuck-up magnet. All he'd wanted to do was go watch the Keldara doing ops and here he was dealing with a damned Chechen supply convoy. It was such a pain in the ass.

He pulled out a map and slid down the hillside out of direct view. The maps, a new improvement by Vanner, were fluorescent in ultraviolet, so he set the Night Observation Device to UV, slid it down over one eye and opened up the map.

The valley the Chechens were moving down was marked as 415 and, sure enough, there was a narrow trail running along the south side. There was also a ford marked. It was a good thing he hadn't taken a better look at the map or he might have used both and run right smack dab into them coming the other way.

The trail was snaking on the hillside and, based on their movement, they were going to take a good hour to reach the road. Depending on where the Keldara team was, it might be able to get into ambush position. But groups like this usually met up with trucks coming down the road and they'd be coming from the north; even the Chechens weren't stupid enough to run up the valley of the Keldara, and all the sources they used were to the north. That was the whole point of running through here.

Ergo, there was a truck or trucks coming down from the north to meet them. It would rendezvous with them near the ford, transfer cargo and go back north. Guns and ammo coming in, drugs, girls and what have you going out.

This was a mission for more than one of the teams. And he still couldn't find the team he was looking for, so he'd have to call in.

"Keldara Base, this is Kildar," he whispered over the radio. "We have a situation."

* * *

Gildana Makanee keyed her headset and waved at Sergeant Vanner as the call came in.

Gildana was seventeen years old, blue-eyed and long-legged with long blonde hair she regularly braided in a thick rope that hung to her lower back. Until a few months before, Gildana had envisioned a life just like her mother and her grandmother and great-great-great grand, dating back to medieval times. She would soon marry, many of her friends had married already, and the man she was to marry, Givi Ferani had already been chosen. Then she would have as many children as she could manage until she was old and gray and worn out from working the farm.

She liked Givi and thought he would make a good husband. He was hardworking and at least had a sense of humor. She really had no dreams beyond having beautiful and healthy children who would live.

Then everything changed. The new Kildar had come and now everything was topsy-turvy. As one of the better readers and writers among the women of the Keldara she had been chosen to assist in the "ops and intel" section and met Sergeant Vanner. He had opened up a whole new world to her and the girls who worked with her. They now controlled the communications for the Keldara militia and some of them worked in the intel section intercepting what they could catch of the limited Chechen radio traffic. The work was long and often boring, but far more interesting than cleaning the house, cooking, hauling water and keeping the fires going. Sergeant Vanner had even gotten her a "correspondence course" on satellite communications and she was working on it assiduously. Along with it had come several other courses on mathematics and she was working her way through those at the same time.

Life was looking up.

"Kildar," she answered in a calm and lilting tone, "this is Keldara Base. Say situation, over."

Calm and unhurried. Sergeant Vanner had drilled that into them over and over. The last thing anyone wanted to hear over the radio was that anyone was stressed out. Keep calm, no matter what was happening.

"I was going out to observe Team Sawn, operating in the vicinity of valley 415. I am at position 918 in view of a convoy of probable tangoes moving down 415 from the east towards a probable rendezvous at 228. Count is thirty tangoes, eighteen pack animals. Weapons not observable at this range. Clear?"

"Tango convoy at valley 415, moving east towards 228. Your position 918. Count is thirty tangoes, eighteen pack animals."

"Roger. Unable to determine position of Team Sawn. Probable vehicle movement from north along Tbilisi Road for link-up. Get Keldara Two, Three and Five in contact. Contact Team Sawn, have them display UV source. Will vector Team Sawn to ambush on convoy if possible. Vector second team to road if possible. Tell teams to go red on ammo."

"Roger, Keldara Six," Gildana said, scribbling notes. She looked over her shoulder at Sergeant Vanner who had slipped on a headset and was nodding at her notes. "Keldara Two is available at this time, Six."

"Roger," the Kildar said. "I'm going to sit tight until I've got an idea where Sawn is. Get cracking."

* * *

Vanner had already opened up a window on his screen showing the locations of all the teams and shook his head.

"That's funny," he said. "Sawn's just to the east of him, down in the valley. They're in an ambush position along the side valley, so they're not in position to hit the Chechens. Call them up."

"Sawn Six, this is Keldara Base," Gildana said, switching frequencies for transmission but leaving open the Kildar's frequency so she could listen if he called.


"Be aware, there is a Chechen force, thirty tangoes, eighteen pack animals, moving down valley 415, approximately three thousand meters from your position. Kildar is on the ridge behind you, observing from 918. Show UV marker so the Kildar can vector you to them."


* * *

Mike blinked as a hot-spot appeared in the valley and then a UV light was laid out, clearly marking the position of the ambush team. They weren't more than five hundred meters below him and they'd been completely invisible to IR. They must have covered themselves up pretty damned good.

He checked his frequency sheet and changed to Sawn's codes. The different connections weren't frequencies, but packet codes for the distributed network that had been laid in over the last few weeks. Besides going out on patrol training, the Keldara had been laying down dozens of "black box" retransmitters. The devices were encrypted and distributed information in frequency-hopping burst packets. Weighing in at a bit less than two pounds, they functioned something like the internet, picking up the packets and moving them along the best routes. The boxes were now in so many places in the nearby mountains that communications were virtually solid throughout the local area. But only for the Keldara. The system was locked out for anyone else, short of very high-tech and aggressive hacking.

"Goddamn, Sawn, you guys are hidden like a bitch," he said approvingly. "But we're going to have to move. Pick up your team and move south to the trail along 415. And boogie. Go hot at this time."

"Roger, Kildar," Sawn said. The Makanee boy was not by any stretch his top team leader, that would be Oleg Kulcyanov, but he was pretty damned good. And if he could hide that well, it boded well for the mission. Now if the team could just move fast and quiet.

"I'll link up somewhere around the river," Mike said. "Tell your guys if they frag me I will strangle them with my bare hands."

"Understood, Kildar," Sawn said, the humor evident in his voice.

"Kildar, this is Keldara Base."

"Gotta go, Sawn," Mike continued as more hot-spots appeared. It was apparent that the entire twenty-man team had been lightly dug in along the hillside. Too bad they weren't in position to hit the Chechens; it had been a perfect hide. "See you at the stream. Go Keldara Base."

* * *

"Kildar, Keldara Three is here," Gildana said, looking over her shoulder at Colonel Nielson. "He recommends vectoring Team Padrek onto the road to the north."

"Have him handle that end," the Kildar answered with a slight grunt of effort. "Be aware that my damned Expedition is in full view on the road. If the Chechens steal my car, tell Padrek to run far and fast."

"Roger, Kildar," Gildana said, smiling slightly.

"I'm going to go link up with Sawn and cover that end," the Kildar continued. "Get the trucks."

"Roger, Kildar."

"Kildar out."

Gildana looked over her shoulder at Colonel Nielson quizzically.

"Vector Padrek to point 583," the colonel said, pointing out a spot on the map near the road to the north. "Interdict all vehicles moving from the north, standard road block. The Chechens will probably be carrying contraband. Rules of Engagement Three. Do not fire until sure of resistance, but stop everything and use full care. Roll out the support team, have them draw RPGs and MGs. They need to be on the road in fifteen minutes."

"Yes, sir," Gildana said. The Kildar had bought a specialized database and she and Vanner had modified it slightly. This was the first test of it in a "real world" mission.

She brought up the database and punched for live-mission. A screen gave her a number of options, each of them marked by large buttons or icons. She chose "roll response team," then "heavy weapon loadout," "roadblock," punched in the code for the location when the box came up, chose "rendezvous," then hit the icon for Team Padrek, which was the head of a ram, and last chose ROE 3.

The system automatically generated an operations order including what weapons and ammunition pack each member of the team would carry, which vehicles were available and a map to the position. In addition, there was a frequency list and information about friendly forces in the area.

She hit send and got a pop-up screen that read: "Please detail commander's intention."

She hit the "modify" key and rapidly typed in data on the current situation including the fact that there was probably a truck or trucks headed to rendezvous with the Chechen mule train. Then she reloaded the frag-order.

Nielson considered it for a moment and then nodded.


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