The Siachin Glacier
Friday, 4:00 A.M.
Rodgers was crouched behind the slab, his gun drawn as he looked across the clearing. He had allowed the fire to die while Nanda continued to make her broadcast. Although the Indians had not moved on them, he did not want to give them a target if they changed their minds. He could think of several reasons they might.
If Nanda’s message had gotten through, the soldiers certainly would have let Rodgers know by now. The Indians would not want to risk being shot any more than he did. Their silence seemed to indicate that either the Indians were waiting for Rodgers to slip up or for reinforcements to arrive. Possibly they were waiting for dawn to attack. They had the longer-range weapons. All they needed was light to climb the slopes and spot the targets. It could also be that the Indians were already moving on them, slowly and cautiously. Ron Friday may have gone over to rat out their position in exchange for sanctuary. That would not surprise Rodgers at all. The man had given himself away when he registered no surprise about why Fenwick had resigned. Only Hood, the president, the vice president, the First Lady, and Fenwick’s assistant had known he was a traitor.
But Friday knew. Friday knew because he may have been the son of a bitch’s point man in Baku, Azerbaijan. For all Rodgers knew, Friday may have had a hand in the attacks on the CIA operatives who had been stationed there. One way or another, Ron Friday would answer for that. Either he’d hunt him down here or end their broadcast with a message for Hood.
With the fire gone, however, Mike Rodgers had another concern. He had sacrificed his gloves and jacket for the cause. His hands were numb and his chest and arms were freezing. If he did not do something about that soon he would perish from hypothermia.
He took a moment to make sure that Nanda was protected from gunfire by what remained of the slab. Then he crept back to where he had left Samouel behind the ice barricade.
The Pakistani was dead.
That did not surprise Rodgers. What did surprise him was the sadness he felt upon finding the lifeless body.
There was something about Samouel that did not fit the template of an objective-blinded terrorist. In the Pakistani’s final moments, while he should have been praying for Allah to accept his soul, Samouel was telling Rodgers how to splice the dish to his radio. Along with Samouel’s dogged trek alongside two historic enemies, that had touched Rodgers.
Now, in death, Samouel was even responsible for saving Rodgers’s life. The general felt grateful as he removed the dead man’s coat and gloves. Stripping the bodies of enemies had always been a part of warfare. But soldiers did not typically take even things they needed from fallen allies. Somehow, though, this felt like a gift rather than looting.
Rodgers knelt beside the body as he dressed. As the general finished, his knees began to tickle. At first he thought it was a result of the cold. Then he realized that the ground was vibrating slightly. A moment later he heard a low, low roar.
It felt and sounded like the beginnings of an avalanche. He wondered if the explosions had weakened the slopes and they were coming down on them. If that were the case the safest place would not be at the foot of the slopes.
Rising, Rodgers ran back toward Nanda. As he did, he felt a rumbling in his gut. He had felt it before. He recognized it.
It was not an avalanche. It was worse. It was the reason the Indians had been waiting to attack.
A moment later the tops of the surrounding ice peaks were silhouetted by light rising from the north. The rumbling and roar were now distinctive beats as the Indian helicopter neared. He should have expected this. The soldiers had radioed their position to the Mi-35 that had tried to kill them earlier.
Rodgers slid to Nanda’s side and knelt facing her. He felt for her cheeks in the dark and held them in his hands. He used them to guide his mouth close to her ear, so she could hear over the roar.
“I want you to try and get to the entrance while I keep the helicopter busy,” Rodgers said. “It’s not going to be easy getting past the soldiers but it may be your only hope.”
“How do we know they’ll kill us?” she asked.
“We don’t,” Rodgers admitted. “But let’s find out by trying to escape instead of by surrendering.”
“I like that,” Nanda replied.
Rodgers could hear the smile in her voice.
“Start making your way around the wall behind me,” he said. “With luck, the chopper will cause an avalanche on their side.”
“I hope not,” she replied. “They’re my people.”
“But thank you,” she added. “Thank you for making this fight your fight. Good luck.”
The general patted her cheek and she left. He continued to watch as the chopper descended. Suddenly, the Russian bird stopped moving. It hovered above the center of the clearing, equidistant to Rodgers and the Indians. Maybe twenty seconds passed and then the chopper suddenly swept upward and to the south. It disappeared behind one of the peaks near the entrance. The glow of its lights poured through the narrow cavern.
Rodgers peeked over the slab. The chopper had landed. Maybe they were worried about causing an avalanche and had decided to deploy ground troops. That would make getting through the entrance virtually impossible. He immediately got up and ran after Nanda. He would have to pull her back, think of another strategy. Maybe negotiate something with these people to get her out. As she had said, they were her people.
But as Rodgers ran he saw something that surprised him. Up ahead. Three of the Indian soldiers were rushing from the clearing. They were not going to attack. They were being evacuated.
What happened next surprised him even more.
“General Rodgers!” someone shouted.
Rodgers looked to the west of the entrance. Someone was standing there, half-hidden by an ice formation.
All right, Rodgers thought. He’d bite. “Yes?” the general shouted back.
“Your message got through!” said the Indian. “We must leave this place at once!”
Everything from Rodgers’s legs to his spirit to his brain felt as though they had been given a shot of adrenaline. He kept running, leaping cracks and dodging mounds of ice. Either Ron Friday had gotten to him with a hell of a sell job or the man was telling the truth. Whichever it was, Rodgers was going with it. There did not seem to be another option.
Looking ahead, Rodgers watched as Nanda reached the entrance. She continued on toward the light. Rodgers arrived several moments later. The Indian soldier, a sergeant, got there at the same time he did. His rifle was slung over his back. There were no weapons in his gloved hands.
“We must hurry,” the Indian said as they ran into the entrance. “This area is a Pakistani time bomb. An arsenal of some kind. You triggered the defenses somehow.”
Possibly by tinkering with the uplink, Rodgers thought. Or more likely, the Pakistani military wanted to destroy them all to keep the secret of their nuclear missile silo.
“I can’t believe there were just two of you,” the sergeant said as they raced through the narrow tunnel. “We thought there were more.”
“There were,” Rodgers said. He looked at the chopper ahead. He watched as soldiers helped Nanda inside and he realized Friday had deserted them. “They’re dead now.”
The men left the entrance and ran the last twenty-five yards to the chopper. Rodgers and the sergeant jumped into the open door of the Mi-35. The aircraft rose quickly, simultaneously angling from the hot Pakistani base.
As the helicopter door was slid shut behind him, Rodgers staggered toward the side of the crowded cargo compartment. There were no seats, just the outlines of cold, tired bodies. The general felt the adrenaline kick leave as his legs gave out and he dropped to the floor. He was not surprised to find Nanda already there, slumped against an ammunition crate. Rodgers slid toward her as the helicopter leveled out and sped to the north. He took her hand and snuggled beside her, the two of them propping each other up. The Indians sat around them, lighting cigarettes and blowing warmth on their hands.
The cabin temperature inside the helicopter was little higher than freezing, but the relative warmth felt blissful. Rodgers’s skin crackled warmly. His eyelids shut. He could not help it. His mind started to shut down as well.
Before it did, the American felt a flash of satisfaction that Samouel had died on something that was nominally his homeland. Silo, arsenal, whatever Islamabad called it, at least it was built by Pakistanis.
As for Friday, Rodgers was also glad. Glad that the man was about to die on the opposite side of the world from the country he had betrayed.
Joy for a terrorist. Hate for an American.
Rodgers was happy to leave those thoughts for another time.