Chapter Ninety-Seven

Arklight Camp

Outskirts of Tehran

June 16, 3:43 a.m.

As I turned to go find Violin, I saw Church heading quickly toward me.

“We’re hitting them all, Captain. A coordinated soft infiltration. Everyone is moving in at the same time. Four targets here in the Middle East and the one in Louisiana. I have every DMS and JSOC team not currently assigned to one of the targets on deck. Nuclear response teams are on high alert. We’ll do whatever is possible to do, but we can’t wait any longer.”

Soft infiltrations meant stealth and nonlethal weapons. Doing just one required extensive planning and training. Doing five? I whistled. “You ever do anything like this before?”

“No one has. So, we get to write the playbook on it. Your team has to avoid a political incident as well as find the bomb.”

“You want us to do this on tippy-toes?”

“Correct. You’ll infil during this evening’s shift change. Once you’re in position, you’ll begin an unobtrusive search for the device. Floor plans and construction blueprints for the refinery were on the flash drive, and Aunt Sallie has mapped out several likely areas for such a device to be hidden. Given its nature, and based upon the image from Rasouli’s phone, we are looking at a basement or subbasement. The construction blueprints of the refinery and the current surveillance layout are close matches, but they’re not exact. There are some postconstruction additions and some things that apparently were never built. Or at least that’s the CIA’s determination. Your map will have anomalies indicated by red dots. Don’t trust the Company’s report. When in doubt get eyes on those anomalies. Abdul will rendezvous with you here and deliver you to the site. He has a workable plan prepared.”

“Already? How’s that possible?”

“It’s a repurposed plan. Abdul was working with the Company to set up an operation at one of the nuclear power plants. He delivers heavy mechanical parts to refineries and the nuclear plant-turbines, generators, transformers, air purification systems, and so on. There’s a lot of overlap with the refineries and the nuclear station, and Abdul is well known. The refineries operate twenty-four hours a day, though at night the staff is reduced by about half. Nighttime deliveries are common. Heavy equipment is often delivered at night to be ready for installation by the larger morning shift, so this won’t raise any eyebrows. Abdul has been ordered to scrap the other plan in favor of this.”

“What’s our confidence in the infil plan? Can Abdul get us in?”

“Almost certainly, though this operation might compromise him, which means that his usefulness in Iran will likely end. He won’t be happy about it, and the CIA is definitely not happy about it, but I don’t particularly care about their feelings, Captain, and neither should you.”

“I don’t. Mission comes first, and our mission has a shorter shelf life than theirs, so it sucks to be them. End of story.” I paused. “What about the last two nukes?”

Church shook his head. “We’re nowhere with them.”

I stared at him. “Damn.”

“Yes.

“When do we roll?”

“Abdul should be here in twenty minutes. Figure two hours to the refinery, with a half an hour on either end for loading and unloading.”

I looked at my watch. “We’ll be hitting the place just shy of dawn. That doesn’t leave us much time to prepare a mission plan.”

“Figure it out on the fly.”

“Rasouli could be lying about the number of sites,” I pointed out. “There might only be five nukes. Or none.”

“Or there could be twenty,” said Church. “I’m aware of the risks; however, the overall threat increases the longer we let this play out. The president wants the sweep to focus on the known targets, regardless of additional intel.”

“Yikes. There are a whole lot of ways this could go wrong.”

“Yes, and very few ways to get everything right. And once this is all over there will be very angry people in several foreign governments, even among our allies. We’re putting armed soldiers into play without seeking permission from any government. A lot of sovereignty rules are going to be bent or broken, and that’s too bad. The State Department is working up several variations of a presidential response, no matter how this spins out. Best-case scenario is that we’ll later claim to the world press that we were always working in concert with, and at the invitation of, these governments. If we find and de-arm the bombs, then those governments will have to stand by us publicly and agree that they invited us in as advisors.”

“Armanihandjob, too?”

Church didn’t respond. I was two for two with nobody laughing at that joke.

“We have to face the possibility that our enemies will detonate the remaining two devices as soon as they know about the hits.”

“Well, you’re just a ray of sunshine,” I said. “I so look forward to our little chats.”

“If you want something cheerier, I hear that Best Buy is hiring.” He cocked his head at me. “Until you determine that the device is, in fact, at the refinery, you will be operating under limited rules of engagement. Avoid conflict but don’t get taken. If fired upon, you are not authorized to use lethal force. We are not at war with Iran.”

“So don’t start one,” I said, “yeah, I get that. You’re asking a lot from Tasers and beanbag rounds.”

“This order comes from the president, not from me. However, make sure the nonlethal weapons aren’t all you are carrying.”

“Something else,” I said. “Khalid brought up the question of whether these dhampyri are vulnerable to garlic? ”

“It varies. I know that some of them have been killed by Sabbatarians who attacked them thinking they were Upierczi. In heavy doses garlic is fatal to them too. But it’s not a matter of simply being around garlic. The garlic oil has to be introduced into the bloodstream, or in powder form into the lungs. They will be wearing ballistic shielding and each of them carries injectable epinephrine. Every soldier knows there are risks.”

He held out his hand.

“Good hunting, Captain.”

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