A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 23

A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 23

***

“God-fucking-dammit!” exclaimed Felton, when her loadmaster informed her of the mishap. The anger lasted about as long as the curse did. Then she took to asked herself the serious question, Did I screw something up?

Mentally running over the sequence just past, she decided she had not, that it had to have been either a procedural or a material error back at the airport. She continued on.

***

The next drop went as smoothly as had the first, as did the next three. With a flutter of wings the Sachsen transport turned and made for home.

“Five out of six? That’s not that bad. But, damn, we needed all of it.”

Saint Nicholasberg, Volgan Republic

The diesel fumes and rumble of heavy traffic were a high price to pay, thought Jan Campbell, just to have a place to meet someone.

Though meeting an old . . . well . . . no, “friend” didn’t quite cover it . . . was the ostensible reason for her subjecting herself to Volga, Jan Campbell wasn’t entirely sure what had really brought her here to Saint Nicholasberg. Certainly, it wasn’t the vodka, although that stood far above the generally poor food and unsanitary hotels. She looked at some trash blowing down the street next to the outdoor café in which she sat, thinking, Someday the trash is all going to be picked up, the cleanliness of the restaurants will improve radically, the hotels will have fresh linen, and people will flock to the barricades because then they’ll know that the Red Tsar is back.

She took a sip of her ice-cold vodka, served in a glass that would have done for a beer, and reminded herself, Oh, yes, I am here because Janier, at the bequest of the Gaul-dominated Renseignements Generaux, added some specifics to their intelligence requirements, and I happened to have a couple of personal connections for that. I still wouldn’t be here if Sidney hadn’t asked personally.

“Sidney,” AKA Sidney Stuart-Mansfield, lieutenant general (retired) and currently head of Pimilco Hex, which was to say, Anglian Intelligence, was the one who had arranged her secondment to the TU, her most welcome promotion, and the independence in action she’d always craved.

So, I suppose I owed the bastard, she thought, taking another healthy slug from her glass.

At least the vodka’s not bad, though the best of it is still horse piss next to a good twelve-year-old Kinclaith. Then again, I could still be in the POW camp in Balboa, so I’m not going to bitch too much about being here. Hell, it’s something of a fluke that I’m not dead, so I really can’t complain at all, can I?

Placing the vodka back on the table, Jan used her fingers to pick up a pelmen, a kind of thin-doughed, stuffed dumpling, from a bowl, dip it in sour cream and pop it into her mouth. The dough of the pelmen was yellowish, since the flour that went into it came from chorley, a grain that grew on a sunflowerlike plant, the seeds of which, prior to grinding, resembled tiny kernels of corn. Where chorley came from, native to Terra Nova or imported long ago by the Noahs, none could say.

Yeah, not bad. So, yeah, it could have been a lot worse than this.

A hand snaked down to grab one of the pelmeni. She swatted at it instinctively but missed.

“You never were quick enough to catch me,” said a plump and balding Volgan, speaking French and smiling broadly as he took a seat. He made the pelmen disappear as he did. A briefcase he carried was set down by his left foot.

“I never really tried, Vladimir Yefimovich,” she retorted. At his sceptically raised eyebrow, she modified that to, “Well, I never tried that hard.

The eyebrow dropped, replaced by an equally sceptical smile. “So what can I and the Volgan Republic do for you, my lovely écossais?”

“I need to know everything that you, that is to say, your country has sold to Balboa.” In fact, Jan already had a good deal of that information. She concealed this the better to be able to judge the truthfulness of what she hoped the Volgans would give her.

“Only that?” the Volgan asked. “Just that little bit?”

“Exactly.”

“Exactly? Nobody knows exactly. Well, nobody in this country. I am sure the Balboans know, some of them.”

“How is that even possible?” she asked.

Vladimir sighed, whether at fate, at human iniquity, or both, Jan couldn’t be sure.

“The short version,” he said, “is that about the time the Balboans went on contract to the Federated States, we were still in a state of moral, emotional, economic, and accountability collapse. The difference between ‘socialist principles of accounting’ and ‘generally accepted accounting principles’ being several decades of gross domestic product.

“It was possible–hell, it was easy–for someone with cash in hand to go straight to, say, the Thirty-second Guards –that’s right, Guards–Armored Division with a satchel of money and drive off with not just some of their equipment, but all of it. Yes, that included the secret material. Moreover, provided that the colonel or general or colonel general making the deal sent some of the money upward, and used some more of it to support his troops so that the government didn’t have to, he’d be commended for his business sense.”

“The Balboans didn’t do that,” she countered, “or at least not much.”

Vladimir held up defensive hands. “No, they didn’t,” he admitted. “My example was just that, an example. Instead, they contracted directly with factories–they bought a controlling interest in some of those–for what they wanted.

“Now tell me, Major Campbell”–the Volgan laughed at seeing her startled–“well, of course we know about that . . . and congratulations. In any case, tell me how to tell if a factory that supposedly produced forty White Eagle tanks actually produced one hundred, but recorded only forty. Or if the factory from which that factory bought the one hundred engines didn’t hide sixty or six hundred of those. Or took a hundred burned out engines and transferred them to that same Guards Armored I mentioned, with a little cash to their commander to accept the scrap as new. We spent decades under the Red Tsars, fudging production figures to prove this or disprove that in order to support some piece of propaganda. And we were, and still are, good at it.

“Let me give you another example, those eighteen-centimeter guns they used to so discomfort the Zhong recently. I can tell you where they came from. Those I can tell you exactly where. I got curious because the use to which they were put I found quite clever. They were in a depot-level storage yard in the frozen south. They were allegedly demilitarized, as part of the treaty regime on force reduction. Demilitarization, in this case, consisted of boring out the lands. And, surely you will agree, boring out the lands of a rifled artillery piece does make it unserviceable.”

“Not,” Jan said, somewhat bitterly, “if the shells they’re going to fire are laser-guided, fin stabilized arrow shells, with simply amazing range.” Bitterly? Well, she hadn’t a single fuck to give about Zhong losses, but the Zhong’s losses meant Balboans freed up to fight Anglians and that meant her losses.

“Correct,” Vladimir agreed. “They were bought by someone in Cochin, as scrap, for a fraction of their previous worth as arms. And then . . .”

“And then they were sent onward,” she finished, “fully functional for their intended purpose.”

“Yes,” Vladimir nodded. “Sent onward, disassembled, stored in shipping containers, and then–so it would seem–reassembled. By the way, though we cannot prove it, we think Carrera had a hand in the method chosen to ‘demilitarize’ those guns.

“Some were bought openly, because your enemy needed some to train with. Most, however, went under the table. Aircraft? Those Mosaic Ds they used recently to give you so much trouble? Same story, or only slightly different, anyway. The one difference is that I think I can tell you how many of those they have.”

Jan tilted her head with interest. That was one of the intelligence requirements the Gauls had laid on her. “How many?”

“We think eight hundred and fifty-seven. From that you must subtract training and combat losses on your own.”

Those, based on the training I saw, are unlikely to be small, she thought.

Jan felt something bump her right leg. It felt hard and sharp cornered and…

 

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