Unto the breach pos 4, p.44

Unto the Breach pos-4, page 44

 part  #4 of  Paladin of Shadows Series

 

Unto the Breach pos-4
 



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  It had been long since the Tigers crossed the mountains, bringing fire and axe to Chechen villages, but mothers still used them to strike fear into the hearts of children. “Be a good boy or the Tigers will take you and eat your heart.”

  The scrap of fabric in his hand told the whole story.

  The Keldara were back.

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  “There’s another one,” Greznya said, holding up her hand. She tapped a control and the electronic feed was automatically shunted to a computer program Vanner had “borrowed” from the National Security Agency. The computer chuckled over the intercept and then spat out a prediction. “Borana’s Brigade. Approximate numbers nine hundred. Heavy weapons, 12.7 on trucks and 81 millimeter mortars. RPGs as usual. They’re about seven hours away but rolling out now.”

  “That makes well over nineteen distinct units heading for the Area of Operations,” Lydia Kulcyanov said, looking over her shoulder at Colonel Nielson. She looked about six months pregnant. Given that she had only been married to Oleg for four months, that made the child almost certainly the Kildar’s. Not that anyone was going to note that or even care. But it would be nice to get her husband back so she could have one with him. With nineteen Chechen units, each of unknown numbers, closing on the hundred and twenty or so Keldara, it was looking more and more like Oleg was going to come home in a body bag. If at all.

  The colonel just nodded and gestured with his chin.

  “Update the board,” he said.

  * * *

  Kacey watched her dials as they came into the green and took a deep breath.

  The back had been rigged for litters. Four of them. There were more casualties than that but she could loft a couple more bodies. If they used the Guerrmo Pass on the way back. Outgoing, with just herself, Tammie, Gretchen, some ammo and heavy weapons and the litters they would be fine.

  She’d seriously considered asking the Rangers for one of their medics. The Ranger medics were 18 Deltas, trained at the Special Forces Medic School at Ft. Sam Houston. Like Special Forces medics they were trained to do anything but “open the cranial cavity.” All of them were EMT qualified and could keep somebody alive just about as well as a first class emergency room. But they were under the same stupid damned orders as the rest of their company. They could not cross the mountains under any circumstances. Washington was playing political games while people were dying.

  So were the Georgians, for that matter. But they were in support. Captain Kahbolov had turned up with three Blackhawks, each with hand-picked medics in the back. All Kacey had to do was get the wounded Keldara back to the base. Then the Georgians would take over, flying the wounded back to Tblisi Military Hospital.

  Six casualties to evac. And the Russian scientist. And “Katya” whom she’d never met but heard enough about. There was no way they were getting them all in one lift. Too much weight.

  No. Fuck that. She’d seen that the Hind had more lift than even the Czech engineers were willing to admit. They’d pack them in like sardines if necessary.

  Just pray the wounded survived the trip.

  Especially given that, that loaded, she was going to have to fly right through the fire of the bunkers in the pass.

  She pulled up on the collective and lifted off into the howling storm.

  For once, weather was the least of her worries.

  * * *

  “Drop everything but ammo and water,” Mike said over the throat mike.

  Sawn was driving the Toyota pickup and Mike wished they’d changed places. But he couldn’t run the op and drive at the same time, the reason that the military assigned drivers to officers.

  Fuck, he really was brass.

  “When we hit the stopping point, we are going to run not walk, to the LZ.”

  He was in commo with the team leaders and depended on them to pass the word to their teams. That was what the chain of command was all about.

  “Strip to bare necessities,” Mike continued. “Anybody who can’t run goes on a stretcher. Detail teams to replace as we move. All the casualties go out as soon as we hit the LZ. Oleg, you’re in charge of keeping Dr. Arensky and Katya with us. If either one can’t make the time, dump somebody’s ruck and piggy-back them. Our one mission is to get to the other side of the mountains as fast as humanly possible. Get moving.”

  He switched frequencies without thought.

  “Vanner.”

  “Kildar?”

  “Tell your girls to drop all their gear,” Mike said. “They only carry LCE and their weapons. They have to keep up.”

  “Got it.”

  “Padrek.”

  “Kildar?” The reply was muffled.

  “Drop all your gear except weapon and LCE. Crossload your spare ammo. You’re going out on the bird if there’s room. You’re going to sweat your ass off in that suit and drinking through the mask is a bitch. If you start to get too overheated, hell, I don’t know what we’re gonna do. Put you on one of the stretchers or something. Keep hydrated as best you can.”

  “Yes, Kildar.”

  “We’ll extract you as fast as we can.”

  Three of the Toyota pickups, loaded to the brim with Keldara from Team Yosif, were in the lead. Mike hoped the Chechens hadn’t gotten an ambush team in ahead of them — he couldn’t afford more casualties — but if they had the three pickups would hopefully spring it.

  The entire group, using every functional vehicle, was barrel assing down the road towards the Georgian lines. There was no way to fight their way through, the girls had confirmed that a group of over two hundred had crossed a mountain and were now in blocking positions — but that was also the way to the Guerrmo Pass.

  The mountains thinned at that point. Whereas they had had to cross nearly a hundred klicks of nasty assed alpine terrain on the way in, at the Guerrmo the distance from their current valley to “safety” was barely thirty kilometers. He could run that in a few hours on the flat. But this was going to be going up increasingly steep ridgelines stretching up well above the woodline and into the snowline. The Keldara could make it, assuming more Chechens didn’t cut them off. But the females both hadn’t been in as much training as the fighters and… Well, there was a reason that men and women competed in different leagues in the Olympics. The Keldara were, at this point, damned near Olympic quality athletes. They could carry their rucks at a dog trot all God damned day even straight up a slope. He’d worked hard to get them to that level of condition for precisely this reason.

  The girls could maybe maintain a jog for three hours. Uphill, less. Even if they’d been in the same condition, they couldn’t have hung with the boys carrying the same gear. As long as they were with the group the Keldara simply couldn’t run as fast. And right now, the only thing that they could do, should do, was run like hell.

  Getting them out was a priority right up there with evaccing the casualties and Arensky.

  Freq switch again. This time it was to a connection that automatically routed the call through a satellite.

  “Tiger Two.”

  “Go, Kildar.”

  “I take it the helo is moving?”

  “On the way,” Nielson replied. “They have to fly through Guerrmo, though. They can get higher but not carrying any sort of useable load. And Guerrmo… ”

  “I saw,” Mike replied. “So, is that a permissible Ranger AO?”

  “Negative.”

  “Fuck.”

  * * *

  “Sir, with all due respect, this is crap,” Guerrin said.

  He’d set up a satellite call to SOCOM. Their operational control for this mission ran direct to SOCOM, bypassing the Ranger command group entirely. It wasn’t unusual to get tasked to other units that had operational control.

  But he didn’t usually talk directly to the SOCOM commander.

  “I’m in agreement, Captain,” General Howard said, mildly. “However, I just got off the phone with the CJCS on this very subject. Relations in the area are very touchy at this time
. The Georgians don’t want you fighting at all. They certainly don’t want it apparent to the world that they can’t control their own territory. So the Keldara have to fight their way out on their own. If the Chechens pass the entrance to Guerrmo Pass, if in other words they come past those defenses, you are clear to engage. Among other things, at that point it becomes self protection and I was firm on that point. But until then you are to remain in place and not engage anyone that is in or beyond the pass. Is that clear?”

  “Clear, sir,” J.P. said. “I will comply. If the situation changes, though… ”

  “I’ll inform you immediately,” the general said. “And I hope it does. For your information, I’m told the mission came off without a hitch. The only hitch is that the entire Chechen force in the area seems to be determined to wipe these guys off the map. And, trust me, I know exactly how it feels to just be sitting there in the rain not able to do a fucking thing. But that is exactly what you are going to do.”

  * * *

  “Sergeant Sivula?” Jessia said, sticking her head in the door to the barracks.

  “Yes,” the sergeant said, rolling off his bunk and glad none of the guys were naked when she burst in.

  “We are moving the mortars,” Jessia said, panting. “The Keldara are trapped on the other side of the mountains.”

  “We got the word,” Sivula said, walking over. The panting was doing really interesting things to her chest but he tried to ignore that. “But we can’t do anything.”

  “Neither can we,” Jessia admitted. “But we are going to move our mortars forward to support when they are in the pass. We can fire into it.”

  “Damn, that’s right,” Sivula said, grinning. “Let me get with the LT. I guess you’d like some help?”

  “We are strong,” Jessia said, shrugging. “But they are very heavy. As is the ammunition. Yes, we would like some help. As many strong backs as you can muster.”

  “Fuck, yeah,” Sivula said. “I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

  * * *

  The president stared at the take from the Predator and sighed. It was, more or less, gray clouds and not much else. The pilots had admitted that they were steering well away from mountains and otherwise entirely on instruments. Nothing could pierce the storm in the area.

  “This is very frustrating.”

  “We can permit the Rangers to move,” the CJCS said. “General Howard says that they are chomping at the bit.”

  “Georgia says not only no but hell no,” the Secretary of State said with a sigh. “The Defense Minister has stuck his nose in to the whole thing. He’s not about to let anyone think that the Georgians can’t control their own territory. Even if that’s truth.”

  “So the Keldara are going to have to fight their way out on their own,” the president said.

  “Unless this clears,” the Secretary of Defense said.

  “Unfortunately, this is all the time I can spare to this,” the president said. “Or perhaps fortunately. Keep me apprised if the situation changes. If the weather clears, turn operational control of the Predators over to Mr. Jenkins. Use them at his discretion. Make sure at least one is up, armed, at all times. The B-2 is on the way back?”

  “Yes, sir,” the CJCS confirmed.

  “Then my purpose here is really served,” the president noted. “Time for real work.”

  * * *

  No ambushes.

  That was the good news. The bad news was that the easy part was over.

  “Out!” Oleg was shouting from the back. “Move it!”

  Mike glanced at his C2 device as he rolled out the door. The Chechen unit holding the road up ahead still hadn’t moved, according to the device. Reality might be otherwise. The group behind them, according to the intercepts, was still held up at the roadblock. Damn, Adams was good.

  The rain had slowed, at least. It wasn’t clearing, really, but it had settled down to a steady, soft, really fucking cold, rain. Good weather for running.

  The Keldara were already fading into the woods. He’d made it clear, get a point out in front but none of this slow ass dicking around. The point now was simply speed.

  “Why hello, Katya,” Mike said as he trotted into the woods. The blonde was distinct, her hair practically glowed even in the near total darkness. He’d have to get her a balaklava. Somebody had already given her a cold weather suit. “Fancy meeting you here.”

  “This is not what I signed up for,” the agent spat. “Running in the dark in woods is for you caveman types.”

  “If you can’t make it, I’m sure Shota would be happy to carry you piggyback.” The Keldara had been stripped, reluctantly, of most of his heavy armor for the run. Mike had heard him protesting from the back of the truck that he could keep up with it on, really he could. But Oleg had been firm.

  “I’ll keep up,” the girl said, stumbling over a root. “If I could just see.”

  Mike stripped off his NVGs and stopped, pulling the girl over.

  “Here,” he said, slipping the harness on her head and adjusting it. Then he flipped the monocular down. “Better?”

  “Yes, Kildar,” Katya admitted. “Thank you.”

  “I can actually see pretty well in this,” Mike admitted. He’d always had cat-eyes. “Oh, wait,” he added, pulling off his own balaklava. He’d find one somewhere and his face and hair didn’t stand out as much as hers. He slid the overlarge head covering on, after taking off the NVGs, then put those back on and adjusted the whole assembly.

  “Thank you, again,” Katya said, pulling up the hood of the weather suit. “Now, I think we run, yes? I wish I’d brought running shoes. But at least I’m in flats.”

  “You’re going out as soon as we reach the LZ,” Mike pointed out. “You should do fine. Stick with me, kid.”

  “I think I will,” Katya said.

  * * *

  “Up, Vugar,” Yosif said, cheerfully, yanking up on the ruck of the Keldara sprawled face down in a stream. “No lying down on the job.”

  “Just getting a drink, Yosif,” the Keldara said, blowing out a mouthful of mud. “Gotta keep hydrated or the Kildar will have us sent to the Cold Lands.”

  They’d been trotting through the pitch black woods for the last forty five minutes and everyone had sprawled at least once. Even the Kildar had ended up sliding, backwards, down a hillside. Adams had run face first into a tree, smashing his NVGs. Two men were on stretchers from injuries.

  But they were nearly to the LZ, a bare hilltop four klicks from the road.

  Now if the helos would just be there.

  * * *

  “LZ in sight,” Tammie said. “I don’t see our friends. C2 has them nearby, though. I think we’re coming down lonely, though.”

  “Gretchen,” Kacey said over the intercom. “Make sure the gatling is armed. We’re coming into the LZ lonely so we don’t know if it’s hot or cold.”

  “Yes, ma’am,” the Keldara girl said. “I will keep any enemies off.”

  “Just fire if fired upon,” Kacey said, sighing. The girl positively wanted to get in a firefight. It was the last thing Kacey had on her mind.

  The ride in had, frankly, sucked. The storm seemed to be breaking up but that just meant that the winds were getting worse. Coming through the high passes in the mountains, fighting the now piggish Hind in high altitude, had been a nightmare. She’d nearly clipped a mountain three times.

  Now she had no clue what the winds on the LZ were going to be like. And it wasn’t exactly large.

  “Tiger, Tiger burning bright,” Kacey said over the radio. “This is Valkyrie. Status, over.”

  * * *

  “Valkyrie, this is Tiger One,” Mike panted. He pulled on Katya’s arm to drag her up the slope while thumbing his throat mike with the other hand. The agent was clearly just about done and he was half tempted to just throw her over his shoulder. Take that for calling him a “caveman.” “We are five hundred meters east of LZ. ETA one mike, over.”

  “Roger, Tiger. We ar
e going to swing around and come back. LZ looks clear, but… ”

  “Confirm, Tiger. Be there in a minute. Out.”

  * * *

  “Just another minute, Katya,” Mike said. “Come on.”

  “I… can’t… breathe… ” the agent panted.

  “Surely you’re not going to let us men out-do you?” Mike snarled. “The men are doing just fine but you puny women… ”

  “Oh FUCK you!” Katya snarled, pushing off from a tree. “I’ll fucking race you to the top you fucking pig!”

  “That’s my girl,” Mike muttered, quietly, as Katya stumbled up the hill, actually passing one of the panting Keldara shooters.

  The wind was whipping the light rain into his eyes as he cleared the woodline. Katya was down on her hands and knees ralphing into the scrub that covered it. All good.

  “Valkyrie, Valkyrie, this is Tiger,” Mike panted. “LZ is clear.”

  Somebody, probably Pavel, was already laying out a Y with chemlights, indicating direction of wind.

  “Y is laid,” Mike continued. “Winds are high, repeat, high. About seventeen knots from the west. Suggest vector from east.”

  “Roger, Tiger. See Y. Inbound. Clear the LZ.”

  “Clear the LZ!” Mike shouted, thumbing his throat mike at the same time. “Incoming bird.”

  He grabbed Katya’s arm and dragged her to the north side of the clearing, over into the trees on that side.

  “Just one more run,” he said. “Let them dump the ammo then you run girl. Good girl. You’re a trooper.”

 
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