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The Arctic Event


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Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

As for that other peculiar facet of his life, by the very nature and structure of the job, mobile cipher agents frequently operated alone. Since being drawn into Covert One in the aftermath of the Hades crisis, Smith had worked with a variety of allies in the field, but he had not borne the burden of being directly responsible for them.

It was one thing to make a bad call and get yourself killed. It was quite another when that failed call caused the death of someone else. Smith understood that. There had been a time in Africa years ago, before Covert One, when Smith had made such a failed call. The personal reverberations and pain of that decision lingered to this day. It was one of the things that had diverted Smith into the rarified world of medical research.

He slid the oiled bolt back into the SR’s receiver. Had that move been a form of cowardice? Possibly. It would be something to take a long and hard look at.

“I see what you mean, Top,” Smith replied. “Let’s say that particular requirement hasn’t come up with me recently.”

The instructor nodded. “Maybe so, sir, but if you keep wearing those oak leaves, it will. You can bet your ass on it.”

Or someone else’s.

Smith was still pondering the instructor’s words when an alien sound intruded into the forest quiet: the muffled purr-growl of a powerful two-cycle engine. A camouflaged all-terrain vehicle appeared through the trees, tearing up the trail from the Huckleberry Ridge base camp.

The young female soldier braked the ATV to a halt in the grove short of the mountain warfare class. Dismounting, she jogged toward them.

Smith and the ranger sergeant got to their feet as the courier approached.

“Colonel Smith?” she inquired, saluting.

“Right here, Corporal,” Smith replied, returning the salute.

“A call came in for you at base camp, sir, from the officer of the day at Main Post.” She produced a piece of white notepaper from the breast pocket of her BDUs. “As soon as possible you are to call this phone number. He indicated it was very important.”

Smith accepted the slip of paper and glanced at it. That was all that was required. The number was one that Smith had long ago committed to memory. It was not so much a phone number now as an identifier and a call to arms.

Smith refolded the paper and stowed it in his own pocket, to be burned later. “I’ll need to get back to the fort,” he said, his voice flat.

“That’s been arranged for, sir,” the courier replied. “You can take the quad down to base camp. They’ll have a vehicle waiting for you.”

“We’ll take care of your gear, Colonel,” the instructor interjected.

Smith nodded. It was likely he wouldn’t be back. “Thanks, Top,” he said, extending his hand to the noncom. “It’s been a good program. I’ve learned a great deal.”

The sergeant returned the solid handgrip. “I hope it’ll help, sir…wherever. Good luck.”

The highway leading down to Fort Lewis snaked through the forested foothills of the Cascades, passing a series of small towns undergoing the economic conversion from logging to tourism for their sustenance. The sixth-largest Army post in the United States, Fort Lewis served as the primary staging facility to America’s defense commitments in the North Pacific and as the home base for the Army’s cutting-edge Stryker brigades. Scores of the massive eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicles could be seen occupying the post motor pools and rumbling down the access roads to the firing ranges.

The fort also served as home for the Fifth Special Forces Group, the Second Battalion, Seventy-fifth Rangers, and a squadron of the 160th Special Aviation Regiment. Thus, the members of the base cadre were well acquainted with the requirements and necessities of covert operations.

The officer of the day didn’t ask questions when Smith checked in at the headquarters building. He had been advised to expect this sunburned and bearded stranger in sweat-stained camouflage. He had also been ordered by the highest of authorities to grant Jon Smith every possible assistance.

In short order, Smith found himself seated alone in a headquarters office with a secure communications deck on the desk before him. He dialed the contact number without consulting the note he had been given. On the East Coast of the United States a phone rang in a facility the public believed to be a private yacht club in Anacosta, Maryland.

“Yes.” The answering voice was a woman’s, toneless and crisply professional.

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Jon Smith,” he said with careful deliberation, not for the human at the far end of the circuit but for the voice identification system that would be monitoring the call.

The device’s verdict must have been favorable, for when Maggie Templeton spoke again it was with considerably more warmth and animation. “Hello, Jon, how’s Washington? The state, that is.”

“Very green, Maggie, at least the half I’ve been in. I gather you and the bosses have something for me.”

“We do.” The professionalism crept back into her voice. Margaret Templeton was more than Fred Klein’s executive assistant. The widow of a CIA field operative and a veteran of her own years at Langley, the slender, graying blonde was, for all intents and purposes, Covert One’s second in command. “Mr. Klein wants to brief you personally. Are you set up to receive hard copy?”

Smith glanced at the desktop laser printer connected to the secure deck, noting its glowing green check lights. “Yes.”

“I’ll start sending you the mission database. I’m putting you through to Mr. Klein now. Take care.”

“I always try, Maggie.”

As the desk printer started to purr and hiss, the phone clicked, and Smith visualized the connection jumping from Maggie Templeton’s integrated workstation/office with its bristling array of computer and communications accesses to that second, smaller, starker room.

“Good morning, Jon.” Fred Klein’s voice was quiet and instinctively controlled. “How’s the training going?”

“Very well, sir. I only have three days left to go on the course.”

“No, you don’t, Colonel. You’ve just graduated. We need to put that training to work right now. A problem has developed that you are uniquely positioned to deal with.”

Smith had been bracing for this ever since receiving his contact notification. Still, he had to suppress a sudden shiver. It was happening again, as it had happened so often since Sophie’s death. Once more something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong.

“What’s the situation, sir?” Smith inquired.

“Your specialty, biological warfare,” the director of Covert One replied. “Only on this occasion the circumstances are somewhat unusual.”

Smith frowned. “How can biowar ever be considered anything but unusual?”

A humorless chuckle came back. “I stand corrected, Jon. Let me escalate that to exceptionally unusual.”

“How so, sir?”

“For one, the location-the Canadian Arctic. And for the other, our employers.”

“Our employers?”

“That’s right, Jon. It’s a long story, but this time around it appears we’re going to be working for the Russians.”

Chapter Five

Beijing

Randi Russell sat in the Cantonese restaurant that opened off the Hotel Beijing’s large and somewhat careworn lobby, breakfasting on dim sum and green tea.

She had worked inside Red China on a number of occasions for the Central Intelligence Agency, and oddly enough, she had found it a comparatively easy operating environment.

The mammoth PRC state security machine was ever present, purring and clicking away in the national background. As an idowai, a foreigner, every taxi or train ride she took would be recorded. Every long-distance telephone call would be monitored, every e-mail read. Every tour guide or translator or hotel manager or travel agent dealt with would answer to his or her assigned contact within the People’s Armed Police.

So totally pervasive was this mechanism that it actually began to work against itself. As a spy, Randi was never tempted to let her guard down or become sloppy with her cover, because she was always acutely aware she was under observation.

This morning, her observers would be seeing a decidedly attractive American businesswoman in her early thirties, dressed in a neat beige knit dress and a pair of expensive but sensibly heeled pumps. Short, tousled golden-blond hair framed her face, and her open farm girl’s features bore only a light touch of cosmetics along with the dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose.

Only another member of the profession might note the irregularity, and then only by looking deeply into her dark brown eyes. There could be seen the hint of an internal bleakness and an instinctive, perpetual wariness of the world around her-the mark of one who had been both the hunter and the hunted.

Today she hunted, or at least stalked.

Randi had chosen her table in the cafe with care, her position giving her an uninterrupted band of vision that cut across the hotel’s lobby between the elevator bank and the main entrance. She scanned it only from the corner of her eye. As she nibbled and sipped, her attention appeared to be focused solely on the open and totally irrelevant business file on the table in front of her.

Intermittently she would glance at her wristwatch as if counting down time to some appointment.

She had no such appointment. But someone else might. The previous evening she’d committed the Beijing traffic schedules for Air Koryo, the North Korean national airline, to memory, and she was moving into a potentially hot time frame.

Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

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