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|Chapter 27: Drums out of Darkness|
‘So far, so good,’ General Bradson thought, as they raced down the corridor towards the main door of the guardhouse. There, they joined up with the two mercenaries who had been searching for keys and who had stayed to guard their only exit. One mercenary, an ex French Foreign Legionnaire by the name of François, shrugged and then said in his thick Gallic accent, “We finally found some keys, but you had already blown the doors.” François held up the keys for a moment, before sliding them absently into his pocket. He had no way of knowing, but what he’d found were the keys to the officers’ latrine.
The General nodded once, wishing that they had found the keys – which he assumed were for the cell locks– a few moments earlier. He took note of François’ cold glance at the two rescued Marines. “Let’s move out. Keep an eye out for anything we can use for transportation. Otherwise, we break south and double-time it to the C-130. It’s only a mile and a half south by southwest of here,” the General said, adding the last sentence for the benefit of the two Marines. He handed his AK-47 to Private Johnson, and then handed a couple of grenades to Brian, along with a spare nine-millimeter pistol. “Let’s move,” he said, and led the way out the door.
Radio does not penetrate far into the ground, and thus the telephone lines were the only means of communication between the base and the underground facility. Abdullah, a newly minted Gruhban yekom (Sergeant), was a special weapons technician and was in possession of the only full chemical warfare protective suit on the base. Because of this, he had been detailed to stay behind and monitor the phones. Glancing out a window, he’d seen the General and his team enter the guardhouse. Abdullah had seen six men go in, and now eight coming out. He could see that they were using combat tactics, and that, in his opinion, made them possible hostiles, though he wondered how they had gotten inside the base.
Abdullah knew two things: one was that what he’d seen made no sense, and the other was that he had to let someone know, otherwise he would be held responsible. Over a unit radio, he asked to speak with the Sartip (Brigadier General) who commanded the base, and was now two miles to the north with the bulk of men that made up the battalion of Revolutionary Guard stationed there. Asked to wait while the Sartip was located, Abdullah fingered his assault rifle while he thought, and instead left a brief report on what he’d seen. He then clicked off the radio and used a side exit, intending to get the drop on the presumed intruders.
As General Bradson edged outside with night vision goggles on, he spotted movement near the door of an adjoining building. Before the General could react, a series of two soft pops sounded from his left, followed by two more.
Abdullah had never used night vision gear, and had assumed that the darkness would shield him. It had proven to be a fatal mistake: Abdullah was dead before he hit the ground.
François, who had fired the lethal shots, darted forward, pistol at the ready, and fired a fifth and final shot, directly into the headpiece of Abdullah’s protective suit.
Returning to the General’s side, François whispered, with a trace of amusement, “Dead men tell no tales.”
General Bradson signaled with his hand, sending a two-man element forward as they resumed their escape.
Keeping low but moving fast, Brian knew what he’d seen. Men with strange accents, who didn’t bother with military courtesy such as calling an officer ‘sir’. That, combined with his father’s odd Morse-code message, led Brian to one very firm suspicion: mercenaries.
Still somewhat dazed from the sleep deprivation and brutal treatment, Brian cast his eyes about, looking at the hardened men around him. ‘Mercenaries. They have to be…’ he thought, growing surer. And what was their nature? The scorpion… Was that what his father had warned him about? Brian didn’t know, but that was the most likely thing he could think of in his impaired metal state: some kind of double-cross. There was, he knew, little that he could do on the ground, but in the air was another matter entirely.
Eric stared at Jansen’s retreating back in disbelief. The first emotion to penetrate his shock was anger. He took a step to follow Jansen, confrontation in mind. The sound of the pavilion door slamming jolted Eric, and at many levels he felt Jansen’s rage. Eric came to a confused halt, very much alone, as he tried to make sense of what had just occurred. He remembered feeling the rage emanating from Jansen and how sudden and intense it had been. Thanks to both his innate gift and the overt signs, Eric had a flash of insight, ‘I touched a nerve. Something bad.’
Sure that Jansen would be returning to the suite he shared with Keith, Eric knew that he had to act fast. Racing to the hotel phone on the bar, Eric dialed and waited anxiously for Keith to answer, then said, “Keith, meet me at my room, right away,” and hung up before Keith could reply.
Eric raced for his suite, hoping that his plan worked and that he could talk to Keith before Jansen did, and so find out what might have gone wrong. Eric felt that Keith had misgivings, but he also knew that Keith was a friend.
The only thing that Eric had overlooked was that Jansen’s route back to his suite would put him on a collision course with Keith.
Keith raced down a covered pathway, and nearly slammed into his brother as he rounded the corner. “Janse, where’s–.” Keith stopped instantly as he recognized the look of anger and hurt in his brother’s eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about it. You were right… Just leave me alone.” Jansen said, and lowered his shoulder to push past his brother.
Beginning to get an idea what could have happened, Keith took a step to follow, and then halted. He knew that when Jansen was in a bad mood there was little he could do. That left one likely source of information, and Keith spun on his heel and resumed his run to Eric’s suite.
Keith felt as if the world was crashing down around his ears. He trusted Eric, and considered him a close friend, but the reality was that he hadn’t known Eric for all that long, not enough to trust him to act fairly if he felt wronged in some way. Keith could see a business deal that he and his brother were relying on screeching to a halt, and worse, stranding them on the island if Eric put a stop payment on the check he’d given them for the party job.
Trying to put those thoughts aside and focus on the fact that Eric had called him, Keith dashed around the final corner to find Eric sitting against his door. Keith came to a halt, and Eric, looking as downcast as he was feeling, got up, opened the door, then said, “Come in, we need to talk.”
Nodding, Keith followed Eric in, deciding to keep the fact he’d bumped into Jansen to himself for the moment.
Plopping into a chair with a sigh, Eric got right to the point. “Jansen and I had a fight of some kind. All I know is he’s furious with me. I want us all to stay friends, so I want to fix this, but I can’t unless I know what I did wrong.”
Settling into a chair, Keith decided to play his hunch and asked, “Tell me what happened.”
Eric let out another sigh and then looked Keith in the eyes, telling him everything that had happened, both at the suite before Keith had arrived, and later at the party pavilion.
Keith kept quiet as Eric told the story, and the final words seemed to confirm what Keith suspected. Narrowing his eyes a little, he said with a touch of anger, “Yeah, you hurt him, bad. No wonder he’s pissed.” Keith was well aware that he could be risking the business deal, but his main concern was for his brother.
Eric’s eyes shot open in surprise. He could tell that Keith was both sincere and a little angry, but not why. “Mind telling me what exactly I did wrong?” Eric said, with a touch of exasperation in his voice.
“Let’s see, my brother falls for you, and then you tell him you just want to use him to try having sex with a guy? Don’t you get how that would hurt?” Keith said levelly.
Eric opened his mouth to reply, but for a moment, no words came out, as he remembered exactly what he’d said. He closed his mouth and then, as he finally understood, said in a quiet tone, “I guess I see how he could have taken it that way… but I didn’t mean sex.”
Keith arched an eyebrow in surprise, and then asked, “Then what did you mean?”
Eric gave Keith an awkward, sad smile. “I like him. At least I think I do. I know I like him as a friend and I don’t want to lose that. I’ve been with lots of girls, but I’ve never really dated anyone. I never wanted to, not until now.”
Nodding slowly, Keith realized again that Eric came from a very different world; a lifestyle where dating was not the norm. Trying to see things from Eric’s perspective, Keith began to understand what he was seeing; someone with no experience at dating, and thus prone to mistakes and misunderstandings, along with not a little confusion. Keith closed his eyes before replying, “Oh. You meant try dating, not try a one-night stand. Uh, dude, there’s something you probably need to know. Janse will be pissed at me for telling you this, but… there’s a reason he flew off the handle. The first time he ever fell for a guy, they hung out for a few days, and the guy was all over Jansen. Then they had sex, Jansen’s first time. The next day, the other guy said he was just looking for fun, no strings, and he was going out with a girl that night. Janse was crushed, so yeah, he’d fly off the handle if he took what you said the wrong way, and it sure looks like he did.”
Deciding to clear the rest of the air, Eric asked, “Okay, that’s Jansen. What about you, when you got back from the disco?”
Keith thought about that for a moment and decided to be honest. “Part of it was I was concerned, for Jansen’s sake. You’ve got a hell of a rep with girls, and… I had my doubts about you and him because I thought you might not want to give up girls. I was also worried that if things went bad, like tonight, it could fuck up both our friendship and the business deal. Jansen made it pretty damn clear to me that I was wrong to butt in, so, I’m sorry I did.”
Eric considered that for a moment, and sensed that Keith was on the level. “You need to learn to trust me. Okay, I see where you’re coming from. I get that, but now what? Is Jansen going to be pissed at me forever?”
“He calms down quick so I doubt it. It would help, a lot, if I could tell him that you weren’t out to... use him as some kind of experiment.”
Eric was about to answer, and then paused, remembering that he did have something in mind, something that he needed to know. After thinking it over for a few moments, he said, “Well, sorta. One time, at a concert, I kissed a guy I was alone with backstage. I liked him, he was a really cool guy, but when I kissed him, I just didn’t feel… I don’t know the words. There just wasn’t anything beyond the kiss, if that makes any sense. So, I wanted to kiss Jansen, to see… how I felt. Look, I just don’t know if a relationship would work out. I want it to, but I just don’t know, so I can’t promise anything. If you think he’s going to get hurt, I’ll just back off and be a friend.”
Keith stared at Eric for a long moment, and then began to chuckle. “Whoa. Okay, first off, sometimes relationships don’t work. That’s life. I’ve got a pretty good hunch that Janse would be fine with a kiss, that’s a lot different from just using him to try out sex with a guy, like I bet he’s thinking. Look, could you be faithful to him, for however long you were in a relationship? That was my concern, with you being bi and notorious for your countless hookups. You are a rock star, after all.”
Beginning to realize that the conversation was getting a little ridiculous, Eric laughed. “Okay, mom, yes, I’d be faithful. And yeah, on tour I hook up a lot, but I wouldn’t if I was with someone. I haven’t hooked up with anyone since we’ve been here, and it’s not like I haven’t had opportunities.”
Keith rolled his eyes and replied with a grin, “Okay, I guess I deserved the ‘mom’ comment. I think I better head back and see how Jansen is doing. Let me go alone and I’ll talk to him.”
That idea provoked a frown from Eric; he wanted to go see Jansen himself and put things right. That thought died as Eric reflected that Keith knew Jansen best. “Give me a call, one way or another, okay?’ Eric asked, dreading the waiting that he knew was coming.
Keith got up to leave, and said on his way out the door, “Count on it.”
Keith walked into his suite, to find Jansen curled up on the couch, a small bottle of scotch in hand. Eyeing the bottle, Keith judged that Jansen was probably buzzed, but not flat out drunk. Keith sat down next to his brother, and asked softly, “How are you doing?”
Staring at the bottle, a morose scowl on his face, Jansen replied, “Fucked up, that’s how. I keep going over it in my head. Either Eric just wanted to use me as an experiment, and that ain’t like him, or… I just fucked up, big time, and blew everything… our friendship, the business, everything. Sorry Keither… you were right.”
“I’ll spare you some stress. I was on my way to Eric’s when I ran into you. He called me, wanted to talk. We talked. I think you got him wrong. We talked–”
“Yeah, you said that already, so what did he say?” Jansen asked, looking even more miserable.
“Look, this is between you and him, but I’ll say this; he says he wasn’t just after a one time thing.”
“You told him.” Jansen said, scowling.
Seeing no point in denying it, Keith nodded. “Yeah, I did. Under the circumstances, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Feeling more miserable than ever, Jansen took another swig of scotch. “So, I really screwed up. If I hadn’t flown off the handle, things could have… damn. How mad at me is he? Think there’s any chance of patching things up?”
“You need to talk to him, Janse. I don’t think he’s mad, not when I left anyway. Just call him, okay?”
Jansen contemplated his scotch for a few moments before replying, “He’ll be mad, I know he will. Maybe by tomorrow he’ll cool down and I can talk to him.”
Recognizing his younger brother’s talent for procrastination and figuring that waiting would only make his brother and Eric miserable, Keith lifted the phone, dialed Eric’s number, and before Jansen could snatch the receiver away said, “Come on over,” and hung up.
Helen felt a wave of relief. The intermittent phone system had held together for an hour, and that had been just long enough. Hanging up, she dialed a room number, and waited for Jane to answer before saying, “I’m sorry to be calling so late, but I thought you should be the first to know; I’ve arranged for us to leave the island, three days from now. A cruise ship on a transatlantic repositioning voyage will be passing by and doing a sightseeing circumnavigation of the island. They’ll send a tender to pick us up at the beach Brandon and Chase were married on.”
Jane did her best to remain calm. Her initial reaction was horror; the thought of three days sitting on what she considered to be a powder keg was not welcome news. “Thank you, Helen,” Jane said, in a formal tone, and then asked, “In the meantime, can we relocate away from this volcano?”
“I’m still trying, Jane. There just isn’t anything available, and even if there were, it would likely be on the east side of the island, where we’d be dealing with ash. We’d also have to worry about getting back. The experts are saying that the eruption is likely to continue as it has, and then probably some slow moving lava, which we’d be safe from here. In fact, the eruption seems to be tapering off; the ash venting today were considerably less than yesterday.” Helen struggled to remain civil. She was still steaming from the breakfast confrontation, and Jane’s demeanor was not helping.
Jane considered the news for a moment, and shifted to a softer voice before saying, “Helen, thank you. I know that you are doing all that you can. I just have a very bad feeling regarding all this. Please, if you can find a way to get us away from this accursed mountain, please do so. I can’t explain, but I just ... I just feel that we are in grave danger here.”
Mollified by Jane’s more pleasant tone, Helen replied, “I’ll keep trying. Have a good evening, Jane.”
Once the call had ended, Helen’s first thought was that Jane had become slightly paranoid due to the stress. The memory of Jane’s claim of a ‘feeling’ evoked a snort of derision from Helen. Then the nagging thought that was battling its way to the forefront of Helen’s mind surfaced, and she remembered that another Carlisle had a somewhat spooky ability that defied rational explanation. Dwelling on Eric’s gift for a moment, Helen reflected that she’d seen it in action far too many times to doubt its existence. That thought made Helen pause, pondering if there might be some hereditary aspect, and thus if Jane could be right. Glancing out the window, towards the mountain shrouded in darkness, Helen could only wonder.
Jane, contrary to Helen’s suspicions, had no special gift. Her fears alone were enough to make her wary, and though she had no real basis, that did not preclude her from being right.
Deep beneath Cumbre Vieja, magma was on the move, forcing open fissures deep underground as it pried open its ancient rift system, which ran north to south along fracture zones. Along the way it encountered ground water, heating it to thousands of degrees, generating enormous pressures that could not yet find relief.
Sartip Qassem Jaffari-Reza was at last getting his men under control, and his officers were doing their jobs, forming them up in their units. The Sartip began to relax slightly as the chaos abated. He jogged toward the chemical detector van, seeking an update, his mind focusing on the assumed chemical leak.
At the van, he was given the radio message from Abdullah, and everything changed.
“Try those keys you found,” General Bradson said, waving his team forward as he swung back to cover their rear. The old Jeep, parked beside a barracks, looked like just what they needed. There were no keys in it, and the General, ever hopeful, wondered if the ones from the guardhouse would fit. The General knew that they could run the distance to the rendezvous, but his son and Private Johnson were weak due to their ordeal, which would slow them all down. It could be done, but the Jeep would make the journey easier and, more importantly, faster.
François leaped into the driver’s seat, unmindful of keeping low, and began to try the keys. Within seconds, he was able to report, “No joy, Mon General.”
As François hopped out of the Jeep, Brian took his place. After a quick glance under the steering wheel, he whispered, “I need a knife and a light.”
François drew his K-bar, flipped it in mid-air, and handed it handle first to Brian. General Bradson, suspecting what Brian was trying to do, fished out a penlight and handed it to his son.
Brian ducked under the dashboard and cut the wires leading to the ignition switch. Working as fast as he could, he stripped the thickest pair, and then the rest. Several seconds later, the starter motor growled once, and Brian said, “I think I’ve got it. Pile in.”
It took a few tries, but with the alternator wires twisted together and raising a few snapping, hissing sparks as he crossed the starter wires, Brian got the Jeep going. François tapped him on the shoulder, “Move over, I’m driving,” the Frenchman said, indicating his night-vision rig with his thumb.
Brian clambered into the back seat, shoehorning in to make room as all eight men piled into the four-seater vehicle. The relief and excitement of his rescue, combined with sleep depravation, made Brian a little less guarded. Glancing at his father, he said with a smile, “I guess I should ‘fess up; that’s how your staff car disappeared for the night a couple of times when I was sixteen.”
Rolling his eyes and smiling at the revelation of something he’d long suspected, General Bradson growled, “That’s it, you’re grounded.” The moment of levity over, he glanced behind them as they pulled away and said to François, “Stay off the brakes; we can’t have any lights showing.”
François ground a few gears as he got used to the old Jeep’s stiff transmission, but within seconds, they were racing out of the base, following the road to the west, and then south towards the rendezvous point. General Bradson used the satellite phone to call ahead and tell Felecia, “Have you in sight. Coming from the north, in a single Jeep, ETA one minute.”
Gritting her teeth, Felecia replied, “Welcome back,” and hung up. Using her radio, she ordered the northern perimeter, “Friendlies inbound, one Jeep. Let them pass.”
“Affirmative. Have them in sight,” came the reply, and Felecia got up to walk back to the C-130.
Felecia’s northern perimeter force was not alone in having the Jeep in sight. Five minutes before, the Iranian sentry on the mountaintop two miles to the west had thought to look at the square embankments, thinking that the weapons temporarily storied there might be the source of the leak. A quick glance had caused him to blink, and then look again, at the C-130 incongruously parked amongst the embankments. Iran had several C-130 transports in its service, but the sight of one there was impossible to explain, unless… He lifted his radio and sent a report.
In the back of the racing Jeep, General Bradson tried to steady himself enough to survey the C-130 ahead with his night vision gear. He couldn’t make out much detail, only that there were very few men around. He’d expected as much.
François pulled the Jeep to a dusty halt a few yards from the C-130’s rear ramp. He was the only one amongst the General’s team who Felecia had warned what to expect. The others were, she judged, at least partially loyal to the General.
Flanked by two of her men from the plane, Felecia walked up to the Jeep as François got out and moved aside, his AK-47 not quite raised, but ready.
Felecia didn’t hesitate. She strode up to the driver’s side of the Jeep, drawing her pistol with the final step, and leveling it at General Bradson’s head from three feet away. Her two flanking troops added their AK-47’s, pointing them at the men in the Jeep. François joined in, aiming his gun at General Bradson’s chest.
Nodding, casually at Felecia, General Bradson said, in a voice devoid of emotion, “I was wondering when you’d make your move.”
“Keep ‘em covered, all of them, make sure they stay put,” Felecia ordered her men, ignoring the shocked, betrayed looks from her men in the Jeep. Glaring at General Bradson, she said, “With me, now.”
General Bradson kept his hands in plain sight as he climbed out of the Jeep. Felecia reached forward and took the nine-millimeter pistol from his belt, and holding a gun in each hand, she said, “We need to talk. Walk straight ahead.”
After fifty feet – enough distance for some privacy – General Bradson stopped, turned slowly to face Felecia, and said, “Mind telling me what the fuck you’re playing at? You can’t get out of here alive without my help.”
With a sigh, Felecia replied, “What I’m playing at is saving your damn hide, for one. Our fearless leader Frankenstein has a somewhat different agenda than you. As you figured out, he’s after something here, and you were the means of access. You got us in. His orders to me are to kill you, and anyone you rescued, if you showed up at the rendezvous point.”
Narrowing his eyes, General Bradson replied, “Seeing as I’m still breathing, I take it you’ve had second thoughts. That note I left you, perhaps?”
Sighing, Felecia said, “You ornery, sanctimonious son of a bitch… no, I am not an idiot. I’m well aware that the plan you gave me won’t get us out alive. What you didn’t count on was me figuring that out in advance. It’s the SA-6 batteries around this site; they’ll be alerted and blow us to kingdom come about a minute after we take off. Your egress route takes us right through the engagement envelopes of two of them. The way to beat them is terrain and course, plus a downwind takeoff. Yeah, I figured it out, but guess what, you’re still alive. Now maybe you get why I tried so hard to keep you off the ground mission. I wanted you somewhere safe, like in a small plane over the gulf, running things from the air, because I don’t want to have to kill you. Walter, I’m going to ask you to trust me and play along. You don’t have a choice. We’ll get you, your son, and the other jarhead to safety, but as far as most of my men are concerned, I’ll tell ‘em we’re keeping you breathing because we’ll need your help to get out. I’ve got to do that, because some of my men, maybe even most of ‘em, are more loyal to ‘ole Frankenstein and his money than they are to me. I’m also damn well aware that you’ve won over quite a few, which is why I just had to put some of my best men under guard in that Jeep, damn your hide.”
Nodding once, General Bradson was pleased that Felecia had figured out half of the reason why the plan he’d given them would get them all killed. Deciding to keep that detail to himself – the notes he’d placed in the uniforms he’d given the Marines held the details, just in case he didn’t survive – he replied, “Let’s say I believe you. Now what?”
“You act like a prisoner, at least to a degree. They’ll buy that, especially as it happens to be true. I’m also well aware that some of them would take your side. However, if you try to interfere with my mission, I will kill you. My men and I, we need the money, and Scar has promised us a mint. He’ll turn on us if we don’t deliver. For my men’s sake, the mission must succeed.”
General Bradson was still unsure, but for the first time since he’d met her, he felt that Felecia was leveling with him. “Okay, I’ll play along. Where the hell are most of your men? If we don’t get out of here immediately, we’re dead. I was sure you’d have loaded up some chemical warheads and be ready to go by now. Remember, we’re weight critical due to fuel constraints; you’ve got about five tons capacity, max, or we’ll run dry on the egress.”
To General Bradson’s surprise, Felecia shook her head, “We’ll be a while longer. My men have run into some trouble, but you don’t need to know what we’re after.”
Setting aside his concerns regarding what Felecia was really after, General Bradson said, “Let me help if I can. Getting out of here as soon as possible is critical, for all of us.”
Nodding, Felecia turned and began to jog back towards the C-130, saying over he shoulder, “Come on, I’ll show you.”
With the General in tow, Felecia approached the Jeep and said to its occupants, “Sorry for that, it was necessary. The General will be helping us get out of here, in return for safe passage for himself and our new guests. Get them,” she indicated the two marines with a nod, “on the plane and get some coffee and food into them, they look like they could use it.”
The demeanor of the mercenaries changed, but Brian and Private Johnson both took note of the fact that they were relieved of their guns. Brian climbed out of the Jeep, stooping over, feigning a limp, doing the best he could to hide the telltale bulge in his uniform caused by the grenade in his pocket.
Leaving her men to get the two Marines settled into the cargo bay, Felecia told the General, “With me,” and led him to the cockpit. There, she pointed at a large print of a satellite photo on the navigator’s table. “These bunkers to the west are our target. There’s an underground facility, and we think one or more of the bunkers conceal a way in. There’s fifty bunkers, and my men are checking into then as fast as we can, but so far all we’ve found are standard concrete cut-and-cover structures, sixty feet deep.”
General Bradson glanced at the photo, seeing that it was copied from commercial satellite photography and lacked the detail of the military data that he had access to. He’d studied the site and had guessed at the underground facility, something that Bill had confirmed. The giveaway had been what appeared to be a large farmhouse, on top of the mountains that held the bunkers. Farmhouses are not usually sited miles away from farmland, on a mountaintop, overlooking a massive and secret military base. The best guess was that it contained massive blower fans, mounted atop a ventilation shaft, plus a guardhouse. That deduction had triggered a closer look at the terrain, and an intriguing discovery had been made; older topographical data, overlaid on the satellite images to give altitude, indicated a westward slope to the alluvial plain at the base of the mountains. However, the satellite photo showed small erosive watercourses running north to south. Water prefers to run downhill, which indicated that the terrain elevation had changed. A check by satellite confirmed it; a large area had been raised by fifteen feet. The conclusion of the NSA analysts was that the Iranians had gone to great lengths to conceal rock and soil tailings left over from the excavation of a massive complex beneath the mountains. Disguising the way in as a few of the existing bunkers made perfect sense. However, the Iranians had overlooked one small detail, the discovery of which had occasioned an amused chuckle accompanied by an explanation from Bill during one of his early planning session with the General.
Tapping the string of bunkers on the photo, General Bradson said, “You’ve got to rule out the regular bunkers. Look at the road; it’s dirt, and the vehicle tracks, plus the hardpan caused by frequent traffic shows up clearly.”
Not getting it, Felecia said, “So what? I don’t care about fucking tire tracks–“
“You should, because the Iranians won’t be sending much traffic to the storage bunkers. Hit the ones that show the most road activity, they’re probably the entrances you’re looking for.” The general tapped at three specific bunkers.
Her eyes widening, Felecia bent over to study the photo. Two seconds later, she radioed Wilhelm. “Numbered from the south, try bunkers eight, nine, and thirty-three. Try eight and nine first, they’re closest to you. We think those may be the ones we’re looking for.”
Several tense minutes later, Wilhelm replied, “Affirmative, affirmative. All hell let loose when we blasted open eight, and we took heavy fire from both eight and nine. I’ve sent teams into each; they’re in contact, meeting stiff resistance but advancing, taking some casualties. Will advise when I know more. Out.”
Sartip Qassem Jaffari-Reza felt his blood turn to ice. The report from Abdullah, who could no longer be reached, and the observation of a transport aircraft on the ground, had led the Sartip to conclude that the gas leak alert was fake, or probably so, and a cover for an attack of some sort, most likely a rescue mission for the American prisoners slated for execution. The mountaintop sentry’s reports of gunfire in the bunker area put things in a very different light. The Sartip could only assume, correctly in this case, that the underground facility, guarded by twenty of his best men, was the true target. He was well aware that, should anything happen to it or the devices it held, his remaining life would be both short and unpleasant.
Sending out orders via his now partially restored radio net, he sent out five two-man reconnaissance teams, and then turned his attention to preparing his main force, by his estimate three thousand strong, to advance. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he told them that they had two minutes before moving out and into combat. He knew he couldn’t get them underway faster than that, though he fervently wished otherwise.
To his chief of staff, the Sartip said, “Take six companies and angle west to relieve the underground complex, get there as fast as you can, everything depends on it. I’ll take the rest of my command and hit the landing site. Leave a platoon here to act as a radio relay, and tell them to make damn sure Teheran knows we’re under attack, in case I can’t get through.” The Sartip turned and gave further orders to a young officer, “Take your company back to the base. Get heavy weapons; mortars, artillery, RPGs, anything and everything that you can bring to bear fast. Leave a platoon with the howitzers; those will reach the enemy plane from the base. Have them start firing as soon as you can, using the sentry on the mountaintop for fire direction. Make sure you overshoot and not undershoot; you know what is to the north of the target. Destroy the plane, and then we can annihilate the invaders at our leisure.”
Glancing out the cockpit window into the blackness, seeing from memory rather than sight, General Bradson asked, “Did you check out these square embankments?”
Felecia nodded. “One of the first things I did, right before I had the Claymore line set up. The ones lined up to the north of us have chemical warfare artillery shells. I’ve even got an idea for putting them to use.”
That made it obvious. She wouldn’t be hitting the underground facility if what she was after was right outside the aircraft. “If it’s not chemical weapons you’re after, then… ” General Bradson said, taking the opening he’d been given.
Shaking her head, unwilling to mention the real goal, Felecia replied, “We’re after something specific and we think it’s in the deep tunnels behind some of the cut-and-cover bunkers, but I won’t say what so don’t bother asking.”
“You can’t do it. Those tunnels are immense. They have to be, based on the volume of debris the Iranians tried to disguise by making it look like part of the hillsides. Call it off and let’s get your men out of here,” General Bradson said in an adamant tone, while wondering what Felecia was really after.
“I can’t, Walter. If we don’t get what we’re after… Look, we’re getting what we came for and that’s how it’s going to be,” Felecia said, in an angry tone.
“You’re going to get us all killed. You know that, right?”
“Same difference as if we leave without what we came for,” Felecia said cryptically.
It was plain for both to see that they were running out of time. They both knew that an Iranian attack had to be imminent. Felecia explained her plan for dealing with it, and the General found himself in agreement. However, it suddenly occurred to him that her plan could be drastically improved by something literally right under their noses.
Slipping into the pilot’s seat, General Bradson advanced the throttles slightly, letting the idling turbine engines spool up before saying over the noise, ““I’m going to pivot us ninety degrees so we’re pointing south.”
Felecia did not reply. She watched, bracing herself against the navigation console, as the General reversed pitch in the two left engines and then advanced all four throttles. The C-130 pivoted smoothly in place, and the General powered down, leaving the engines idling. Felecia’s eyes opened wide in surprise as she realized what the General had done. Nodding appreciatively, she offered a friendly hand to help him out of the pilot’s seat, and once he was standing, she looked him in the eyes and said, “Walter, that’s brilliant. You took my plan and made it a hell of a lot better. I think we work well together.”
Nodding solemnly in spite of his misgivings, General Bradson replied, “It’s our plan, Fel. Part yours, part mine, and it’s desperate as hell. I just hope it can buy us enough time.”
© 2009 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.