For Captain Tamara Long, USAF
Born: May 12, 1979
Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan
You fly with the angels now.
There were a bunch of people I had to get research help from on this one. As usual, Ryan Miller and Mike Massa contributed to technical operational help as well as HALO training details. I’d like to thank Christopher Austin, former member of the Army Hight Altitude Rescue squad for really professional input on the mountaineering portion. James Cochrane, husband of my coauthor Julie and Emil Prasowksi of the Army Marksmanship Training Unit supplied helpful advice on long-range shooting about which I previously knew virtually nothing. I’ll add that James, on the spur of the moment, took over a necessary four hour drive when I was so sleep deprived from writing I was babbling. The fact that I didn’t die in the midst of writing this novel is probably due to James and Julie. Thanks.
As usual, any mistakes are mine.
I’d also like to thank the girls at Hooters of Chattanooga for supplying gallons of sweet tea and keeping my ashtray emptied and my girlfriend for being just fine with me sitting in Hooters five hours a day.
“Working late, Doctor?” Boris asked, yawning and glancing at the scientist’s identity card.
Dr. Tolegen Arensky nodded, trying not to appear nervous. “One of my samples is done cooking; I have to test it when it’s fresh.”
“Better you than me,” Boris replied, handing the ID back and making a note on his log-sheet. “If I ever have to pass the doors of even level one, it will be too soon, yes?”
“The day we have to call security into the quarantine zones is the day I quit,” Dr. Arensky said with a weak smile. “I barely trust our research assistants in there, no offense.”
“None taken,” Boris replied with a shudder, pressing the solenoid under his desk. At the sound of the all-clear buzzer the over-watch, observing the entry room from a remote security station, opened the sliding steel entry door and Dr. Victor Arensky started the last hour of his tenure in Russian biological research.
He passed through another metal door, nodded at the sleepy guard on the far side and turned right towards his office. If he had turned left he would have quickly confronted a third steel door and the various processes required to enter Quarantine Level One. Since he generally worked in Level Four or even Five getting to his primary labs was a daily chore.
Staying in the outer “non-quarantine” zone of the hexagonal building he passed seven office doors, all on his right and representing by their names and title plates descending levels of power in the institute, passing his own at the seventh. Any sample, of course, would be cooking away in Level Four — nobody did any more research in Five since the “incident” nearly ten years ago — but he hoped that the guards would be their usual efficient self and ignore that.
He went past his room, however, and stopped at the very end of the corridor. There was one more door there, a janitor’s closet. He entered the janitor’s closet and removed some bottles of ancient and dust covered bleach from the third shelf on the left. From under his bulky winter coat he removed a vaguely pyramidal object and stripped a coating from the flat underside revealing a sticky tape. He pressed the object against the wall then very gently unscrewed the tip of the object which was cylindrical. On the base of the screw device was a plastic plug with a round plastic tab jutting from it. He grasped the tab and pulled, removing the plug with a vaguely “pock” sound. As he did a blue LED on the other end of the cylindrical device began to blink. He carefully screwed the cylinder back into the device and then placed the plastic plug in his jacket pocket.
That done he proceeded back to his office.
As he entered the room he removed his heavy outer coat and fur hat, hanging them on the coat-rack by the door then followed them with his suit coat and donnned his lab coat. After a moment’s thought, after actually turning to his desk, he paused, removed the lab coat and redonned his suit coat. After another moment’s thought he removed the heavy jacket and fur hat and placed them on his desk.
The office was small, barely adequate to fit his desk, a safe in one corner and a filing cabinet. It was also spartan. On the desk was a lined pad, a pencil and a framed photograph. On the back wall was a picture of the current Russian president. A slight discoloration around the frame indicated that there had once been a larger picture in the same spot. It also indicated how long it had been since the office was painted.
Picking up the briefcase that was already in the room he set it on the desk and opened it. Turning to the safe, the combination for which the facility administrator did not have even if the idiot thought he did, he dialed in the combination from memory and opened it. Inside were four steel containers. Smuggling them to his office had taken the better part of two nerve-wracking months but getting them out of the building was impossible; everything leaving was searched with otherwise abnormal efficiency.
Which was why he was here at three o’clock in the morning.
He opened the briefcase and slitted the containers into the pre-cut slots in the foam rubber inside. He then removed ten CDs from the safe and carefully arranged them on the face of the foam rubber. He started to close the safe then paused and picked up the framed picture on the desk. He looked at it for a moment and then carefully removed the picture itself, sliding it into the briefcase before closing and locking it.
His preparations complete he centered the briefcase on the desk, sat down on his hard wooden chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. After a moment he looked at his watch. He would continue to do so every nine seconds, unthinkingly and really unseeing, for the next three minutes and forty seven seconds.
At the same moment as Boris was questioning the doctor on why he was arriving to work at three in the morning, on a narrow road nearby a delivery truck was stopping at a police checkpoint.
Police checkpoints were so ubiquitous, and greedy, in the Confederation of Independent States, the former Soviet Union, the only surprise on the part of the driver was to find one at this time of the morning at such an out-of-the-way spot. However, based upon their standard police car and there being only two of them it was probably a roving patrol that had chosen a side-road to “raise some revenue.” If they were on the main road it would be obvious and they’d have to cut their watch supervisor in on their take. Out here nobody was going to notice.
The driver braked to a stop and pulled out his license and registration, slipping a ten ruble note between them. He’d put it in an expense report and probably be paid back, eventually. Karenska Pharmaceuticals could afford the bribes; they were after all a part of doing business in Russia. They were so common, they weren’t even considered bribes. Given the way that all public servants were paid these days it was almost reasonable for the cops to increase their salaries in this way. But they could be God-damned greedy about it.
“License and registration,” the officer said as the driver rolled down the window. There was another officer on the passenger’s side, waiting patiently. Not common but not unknown. Generally they were both on the driver’s side so that the partner could be sure of the take. The strangest thing about the policeman, the driver noticed in the last moments of his life, was that he was unusually fit and professional looking.
“Please step out of the vehicle,” the policeman said, stepping back and gesturing. He also hadn’t pocketed the money.
“Why?” the driver said. “I’m not drunk.”
“I need to ask you a few questions,” the policeman said, waving again with is left hand and placing his hand on the butt of his service pistol. “Out of the truck!”
At this the passenger side door was yanked open and the officer on that side grasped the driver’s mate, pulling him down to the road.
“Okay, okay!” the driver said raising his hands then lowering them to open the door and climb out. “What’s the big deal?”
“To the side of the road,” the policeman said, sternly. “Hands above your head.”
“Fine, fine, whatever,” the driver replied, shaken. “What is all this about?”
The answer was a cold sensation in the back of his head and then blackness.
The “police officer” slid the silenced Makarov pistol back into the rear waistband of his perfect uniform trousers and looked at his watch. As he lowered his hand a man wearing the identical coveralls to the driver, right down to the Arenska Pharmaceuticals badge on his left breast, walked out of the woods carrying a body bag. He unrolled it next to the body and then the “driver” and the “policeman” lifted the driver’s body into the bag. The “driver” zipped it shut and then the two lifted it and carried it to the rear of the panel van.
When they got there six men in heavy battle dress were already there, opening up the back door. Four of them boarded and caught the tossed bodies, rapidly stacking them on the shelves lining the side of the panel van. The remaining two were carrying weapons, coveralls and body armor. As the bodies were being stacked one of the policemen slid on the coveralls as the two porters handed off their burdens to the four stackers in the van. The second stripped of his police uniform revealing the uniform of the Federal Security Executive underneath. He was handed a heavy jacket, a fur hat and correct equipment for his position. When the “policemen” were dressed, all four climbed into the now crowded panel van.
Three seconds after the door slammed the panel van started rolling again. From braking to a stop until moving the van had been in place for two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, three seconds ahead of plan. The “driver” considered this and reduced his speed by one kilometer per hour. It wouldn’t do to be there early.
A rubber boat crunched to a stop on the shingle of the island and the six men in black immersion suits and body armor spread out in three teams of two. Each team had one man carrying two Russian RPO-A disposable rocket launchers while the second carried an SV-98 sniper rifle. Each man was wearing night-vision goggles and ran through the darkness as if they had done it a thousand times, easily avoiding the many large rocks that littered the beach.
One of the teams paused and took a knee as the team member carrying the sniper rifle pulled a heavily weighted device from his belt. The device was, essentially, a tomahawk with a heavy head. The “front” side of the head was a razor sharp axe blade. The “back” side was a hammer-head.
After a moment there was a crunch of shingle a sentry stepped off a worn trail onto the shingle and started walking to the east, away from the crouched team.
The team sniper stepped forward silently, placing his feet carefully to prevent the shingles crunching and pausing to let the wind carry the slight sounds he was forced to make away from the sentry. This silent, but rapid, stalk brought him to within a arm’s length of the sentry in less than a minute. As soon as he was within reach he brought the axe, which had been held up over his right shoulder the whole time, down and across from the left, burying it slightly sideways at the very top of the sentry’s neck. Leaving the axe in place, he caught the falling body and lowered it to the ground then gestured to the trail and followed the rocket-man up.
Just over the slight rise to the north was a hexagonal building, guarded on it’s vulnerable rear by three heavily armed, and armored, bunkers…
As Dr. Arensky was screwing a blue blinking cylinder into a pyramidal device the regular morning delivery from Arenska Pharmaceuticals pulled to a stop at the outer gate of the facility.
The outer gate was on a narrow causeway that led to the mainland. The hexagonal facility was on a small island in Astrakhan. The only way on and off were by helicopter, boat or across the narrow, kilometer and a half, causeway.
“Where’s the regular guy?” the guard asked, blinking. It was breezy as hell on this guard post and he’d been huddling in his unheated shack trying to survive until he saw the headlights. Being out in this whipping wind wasn’t his idea of fun, either.
“Drunk? Sick? Quit? I dunno,” the driver said, unpleasantly, handing over an Arenska ID and manifest stating that he was Ivan Sorvoso, Arenska Pharmaceuticals Employee Number 54820 and that Ivan Sorvoso, Arenska Pharmaceuticals Employee Number 54820, was the correct driver for the vehicle on this day for this load of biological chemicals, precursors and testing samples, inventory enclosed. “All I know is I got called at damned midnight for this shit. So I’d like to be done and gone as soon as possible.”
“Fine by me,” the guard said but studied the documentation carefully. He was new and motivated, which was why the old guys had stuck him on the outer guard shack. That way the little snot wouldn’t be grumbling all the time about them being asleep. He nodded after a moment’s careful perusal and handed the documents back. “All in order,” he said, stepping back into his guard-shack and pressing a solenoid to raise the heavy metal pole across the road.
Without so much as a wave the truck jerked to life and headed towards the vast hexagonal building ahead.
As the panel van pulled away from the guard-house the three sniper/rocket teams reached their pre-attack points. Each of the sniper members pulled out periscopic night vision devices and checked the bunkers. Each was manned, with lights on in the interior. Tactically, they should have been red or blue but over the years the various users had substituted white bulbs so the bunkers stood out like neon signs. It also meant that the users would effectively night-blind.
Almost simultaneously, although separated by eighty yards, the three snipers snapped their periscopes down and picked up their rifles.
As the sentry was being taken down, four of the eight entry specialists in the panel van slid off as it passed the front doors. The reason for the hexagonal shape was purely security; the hexagons made it possible to fit more area in while maintaining a reasonable number of external cameras. A rectangle had less internal area, a circle created too many “blind” areas.
Unfortunately, the excellent theory had run into far too typical Russian inefficiency. The front cameras, in fact, left precisely that dead zone to the left of the front doors. The eastern camera pointed slightly outwards as did the western. This was supposed to be covered by the two cameras over the door, but those left a solid gap, about six meters wide, along the wall. The team of four crouched in that gap for a moment as the lead checked his watch. Then he nodded and waved one of the armored and masked figures forward.