Kildar, p.35

Kildar, page 35



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  "Okay, see you later," Mike replied.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  "Hello, Mother Lenka," Mike said, finding the Keldara woman in the back of the Devlich house.

  "Kildar," Mother Lenka said. She was seated on a stool in the kitchen, watching the younger women work.

  "I've got a question for you," Mike said. "Care to go for a ride?"

  "Of course, Kildar," Mother Lenka said, getting to her feet. "I can explain to you how to train your women."

  "Pass," Mike said, grinning. The old woman was a terror about "explaining" things.

  "Larissa," Mother Lenka continued, "keep these lazy bones at work; the men will be wanting their food on time."

  "Yes, Mother Lenka," one of the Keldara women, presumably Larissa, replied, nodding at her.

  Mike drove the old woman up to the bench over the Keldara compound.

  "What are we looking at?" the old woman asked as they got out of the SUV.

  "How much beer do you make every year?" Mike asked, walking through the brush covering the bench. Something had been up here within the last fifteen years or so, judging by the size of the saplings that grew on the bench.

  "About three thousand liters," Mother Lenka said, frowning. "And let me tell you, it's not easy. We start after the harvest and work on it most of the winter."

  Mike nodded and continued down a game trail to the end of the bench. There was another of the innumerable streams where the bench curved into the mountainside. He made a note to ensure it was spring fed, but most of them were. They trickled off in high summer, he'd been told, but never quite went away.

  "I'm thinking of trying to make enough to sell," Mike said, coming back out of the brush to where Mother Lenka was standing.

  "We already do," Mother Lenka pointed out, gesturing at the town.

  "More than that," Mike said. "Much more. Enough to export."

  "Never happen," Mother Lenka snapped. "You are talking about . . ."

  "Ten thousand liters, minimum," Mike said. "Over what is usually made."

  "There isn't enough time in the world," the woman protested. "Or enough stoves to bake the barley!"

  "We'll build a brewery," Mike said. "Up here. With water on tap. The barley will be automatically fed to the very large ovens. And the women will work it, which will give them a source of income."

  "Ah," Mother Lenka said, giving him a toothless smile. "Now I understand. But there is a problem."

  "And that is?" Mike asked, raising an eyebrow.

  "There is an undertaste to the brew, yes?" Mother Lenka asked, walking into the brush. "This bush," she said, lifting a low growing bush that looked something like a blueberry bush. "This makes the tiger berries. We put some of them, crushed, in the mix. That is what gives it the slight tang you don't get with true beer. Very old Keldara secret. But we'd have to have . . . very much of these berries. The women gather them in fall, but we could never gather enough. Without the berries, it won't be the beer you know so well."

  "For this year," Mike said, musingly, "we'll just have to have an all-hands evolution to gather them. Get as many as we can gathered. I'll talk to Genadi about planting some more. I don't know how fast they grow, but we can have fields planted if we have to."

  "The best come from the wild mountains," Mother Lenka sniffed.

  "But it's not for the Keldara," Mike said, smiling. "It's for barbarians that don't know what real beer tastes like."

  "Well, I suppose barbarians will drink anything," Mother Lenka said with a sniff. "I have tasted a can of something called 'light beer.' It is . . . bad."

  "Love in a small boat beer," Mike said, cryptically.

  Mother Lenka raised an eyebrow then cackled.

  "Yes, Kildar," the old woman replied, still chuckling. "I get it. Fucking close to water, yes? Well, we will give them something that is not close to water. The tiger berry is a . . . what you call it? Aphrodisiac, yes? That will give them some zip in their peckers."

  * * *

  "Vanner?" Mike asked, sticking his head in the commo room.

  "Intel," one of the Keldara women on duty said, pointing to the next room.

  Mike frowned and stepped down the cellar hall. The next door was locked.

  "Vanner?" he asked, tapping on the door.

  "Hi, Kildar," Vanner replied as he opened the portal. "Welcome to the intel room." There were two Keldara women in the room, seated at a table reading something.

  Mike had devoted about sixty grand to general "intel" items. Vanner had apparently been shopping. The room was crowded with electronics gear including scanners, a couple of very large printers and three computers with oversized monitors. One of them displayed a portion of a topographic map that Mike could make out was the northeast end of the valley. It was marked with roads that had just been put in and the new training ranges and their buildings.

  "Very nice," Mike said, dryly. "What's going on?"

  "I'm training Lilia and Stella in the basics of updating maps," Vanner said. "I pulled a couple of satellite shots off the commercial net and we're updating the valley map using a commercial topography program. What we're doing right now is looking over the output and doing an eyeball comparison since the program has a tendency to get details wrong. I also got Prael's survey data and we're using that to double-check the satellite data. After that I'm going to ask Colonel Nielson for funds for a full area satellite sweep. We can use that to get better maps of the Area of Operations. I got two map printers, cheap, so when we have better maps we'll be able to produce them for the Keldara. And I ordered the most comprehensive mapset available from Janes so we'll be set for most potential deployments, even though I know the Keldara aren't designed for deployment."

  "What the hell are those?" Mike asked, pointing to a couple of what looked like very large radios.

  "Oh, well . . ." Vanner said, clearing his throat. "I didn't use the full budget getting the primary gear, so I pulled a couple of those off E-bay. They're last-generation intercept gear. German. I've been teaching the girls about intercept. Most of the Chechens that use radios speak Russian and most of the girls know Russian. So we've been listening in on the Chechens from time to time, trying to figure out their operational pattern. They don't use encryption systems, but they do occasionally use codes and their transmissions tend to be cryptic anyway. I got a freeware program that gathers codes and looks for patterning so we're picking out some of their code words and we're getting a feel for their shorthand. I've been using a remote site for triangulation, trying to get a feel for the movements. Most of them don't have radios, anyway, or use sat phones. I can't do much with those; you need a ferret satellite to pick up sat-phone transmissions. But we're picking some stuff up. Nothing we can use, yet, but we're establishing some patterns."

  "Oh," Mike said, blinking. "Good." When he'd budgeted for an intel setup he'd expected a bit of improvement in the maps and maybe a stab at pattern generation. Not this.

  "I don't get many indicators that there's any special activity directed at the valley at the moment," Vanner continued. "Only three out of sixteen indicators that the Keldara are a target. The term has come up twice, both in reference to changes in movement away from the valley. There may be a force forming near the Pankisi Gorge for an incursion into Chechnya, that's got about a nine-point indicator rate with an almost three hundred percent increase in traffic in a localized region. I dropped that through our Russian conduit since it doesn't affect us."

  "Okay," Mike said, grinning.

  "Is this a social call?" Vanner asked.

  "No," Mike said, shaking his head. "I want to set up a microbrewery so the Keldara can look at exporting their beer. I'd like you to do the initial research. Think of it as . . . intel gathering. I need a design for a microbrewery, how to run one, what goes into it, maybe a few consultants to contact."

  "Okay," Vanner said, his eyes going distant as he nodded. "I'll get started on it right away."

  "Thanks," Mike said, grinning as the intel NCO turn
ed away. "Have fun."

  * * *

  Mike walked to the harem next, opening the door to the area carefully. Anastasia had started classes and he didn't want to interrupt if she was lecturing. However, it seemed most of the girls were working on something when he came in.

  The girls were seated on cushions, using short desks. He saw that Katya was frowning as she wrote something. The girl had been picking up reading fairly fast but her writing ability still left a lot to be desired.

  He waved to Anastasia and walked to the small room on the ground floor she'd set up as an office.

  "Yes, Kildar?" the girl asked as she followed him into the room.

  "Three things," Mike said, grabbing a chair in front of the desk and letting her have the swivel chair behind it. "I want to get computers in here, for one. Knowledge of how to use a computer, if not programming, is pretty much a necessity in modern life."

  "I don't know anything about computers, Kildar," Anastasia said, frowning. "I don't even know how to turn one on."

  "You'll have to learn, too," Mike pointed out. "When we get them, I'll have Vanner set up a network. They can be used for learning, too. Maybe I'll just get each of the girls a laptop and a wireless card. But that brings me to the second item; we need to get a tutor for the girls. I know you're used to instruction, and you might be better for basic instruction. But I'd like some of these girls to get to at least advanced high-school level by the time they leave. Not just basic reading and math but history, science, what have you. I'd like you to look into that. Look around Tbilisi. Female, obviously, and open-minded just as obviously."

  "Very well, Kildar," Anastasia said, her brow furrowing. "I can find someone; I have hired people for the hareem before."

  "Great," Mike said, one more detail handled. Hopefully well. "Last item: the girls. I'll have a session with Klavdiya tonight. I'd rather spend some time with each, rather than deal with them assembly line. Does that make sense to you?"

  "Very much so," Anastasia said, relieved. "I would suggest that you spend quite a bit of time with each of them for at least a week."

  "I don't know how much time I'll have, day to day," Mike said. "But I'll figure something out. Now, any problems you can't deal with?"

  "Katya is, yes, very much a bitch," Anastasia said, frowning. "Also smart and manipulative. I would have her out of here as soon as possible; she poisons all around her."

  "I told her if she gave me any trouble, I wouldn't bother selling her, I'd just put her down like a rabid dog," Mike said. "Is it that level of trouble?"

  "Not . . . quite that bad," Anastasia said, hastily. "But she is poisoning the new girls. She is a problem, but I don't think she should be killed."

  "Don't put a huge value on her," Mike said, shrugging. "Her problem is she's underutilized. I don't mean sexually; all the trainers think she's the greatest thing since sliced bread. But she's got one hell of a mind. A rabid one, admittedly, but she's intelligent and fast-thinking. Unfortunately," he sighed.

  "She has virtually no education," Anastasia said. "So you can't put her in the intelligence and communications section."

  "Wouldn't think about that, anyway," Mike said. "She'd figure out a way to knife me in the back. Let me talk to her after we're done."

  "I think we are," Anastasia said, smiling faintly. "I guess I'll be missing your company for a while?"

  "I think I'll be a little busy, yeah," Mike said, grinning sheepishly. "I don't hold you as monogamous, though. Feel free to trip up a trainer if you're of a mind. I know you think I own you, but I don't. You're a free agent."

  "I think I'll wait my turn," Anastasia said, sighing. "The rest would be a come-down, I'm sure."

  "Can't find out unless you check," Mike pointed out. "I'll go get Katya and have a little chat. Have Klavdiya meet me in my suite at dinner."

  * * *

  "Damnit, Kat," Mike said when the obviously apprehensive hooker was seated in his office, "do you want me to have to put you down?"

  "I am trying not to be a problem, Kildar," Katya said, sniffling and dropping her head.

  "Oh, quit the act," Mike said, sharply. "We both know it is one. I won't ask you the last time you actually cried."

  "A long time ago," Katya said. Her head came up and she gave him a poisonous look. "It doesn't do you a bit of good."

  "Well, you're screwing up my harem and I won't have it," Mike said. "But that's the only place where there are classes you can attend . . ."

  "I hate them," Katya said, angrily. "All the other girls are so slow!"

  Mike started to open his mouth, then closed it. He gave the situation some thought and then blew out, angrily.

  "Okay, in addition to a dozen other duties I have, I'm making you my personal project," Mike said. "That does not, by the way, mean that you're going to be having sex with me. But I'll undertake to instruct you. How far along are you in reading?"

  "I can read well in Russian," Katya said, carefully. "I don't know all the words . . ."

  "Ever heard of a dictionary?" Mike asked. "I'm not going to be nice about teaching you, by the way."

  "We don't have a Russian dictionary," Kat snapped back. "Or, yes, I'd look the words up."

  "I know we've got one around somewhere," Mike said, making a note on a pad. "But I'll order a few. What about English?"

  "Only speak little," Kat said in broken English. "Not read well."

  "Next project," Mike said, nodding. "You need to get English down. It's the de facto international language. As of now, you're my assistant. Did you understand that?"

  "Yes," Katya answered in English.

  "I need a list of the girls who have not been broached," Mike said. "I want to spend a week with each of them. Make up a list and a calendar. I'm going to run it by Anastasia before I go with it, though. If you figure out some way to make trouble doing that, and it's obvious, I will beat the hell out of you. Understand?"

  "Yes, Kildar," Katya said, frowning.

  "Here's a Day-Timer," Mike said, digging in his desk and finding one he'd picked up free with some office supply orders. "I want you to, in general, have the girls lined up in reverse order of age, that is the oldest ones first. None who are under sixteen. Did you get that?"

  "Yes, Kildar," Katya replied.

  "Repeat it," Mike said. "In English."

  "To make schedule," Katya said, carefully. "Oldest girls to go first. One per week. Younger be sixteen."

  "The youngest to be sixteen," Mike corrected. "Start with Klavdiya, though. And after lunch, meet me in the workout room. If you're going to be my assistant, you're going to be training with me all the way. Go work on the schedule for now. When you're not working with me, go down to the intel section and talk English with Vanner in his free time. Got it?"

  "Yes, Kildar," Katya said.

  "Take off," Mike said, turning to his paperwork. "And don't get in trouble."

  * * *

  Mike ate a sandwich for lunch and then changed into workout gear and headed down to the weight room. When he got there, Katya was waiting.

  "I have the schedule, Kildar," Katya said, handing him the Day-Timer. "I have listed all the girls in reverse order of age, with Klavdiya first."

  "Okay," Mike said, flipping through the book and sighing. "We're going to work out together, then we'll go do some shooting. Go change into shorts and a T-shirt for this. I suppose you could work out in a skirt, but it's not normal."

  Mike was through his warm-up when the girl got back to the room. He looked her over and nodded.

  "Your thighs are pretty solid," Mike said. "We'll start today working on upper body."

  "Yes, Kildar," Katya said, puzzled.

  "You need to warm up, first," Mike said, leading her over to the cross-trainer. He showed her how to use it and set it for a fifteen-minute light course. "When the time runs out, we'll start warming up your upper body; this is just to get your heart working."

  He moved over to the circuit training and dialed in his settings, then sta
rted pumping. He'd barely gotten through the triceps workout when Kat was done. He showed her how to reset the Nautilus machines and gave her a general weight range to work with. She noticed that he was moving at least five times her workout weight.

  "Are you set me low to keep from making strong?" Kat asked, looking at him coldly.

  "You have to start low," Mike said just as coldly. "I'll build you up to the max you're good for. But if you think you're going to pump my level, ever, you're sadly mistaken. You can go ahead and try if you'd like," he added with a grin.

  They worked on the circuit for an hour, a light workout for him but about as much as Kat could take on her first day.

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