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C James

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C James last won the day on March 25 2014

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    Nowhere near a cliff
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    Writing, Geopolitics, Travel, technology, history, science, avoiding cliffhangers, lurking.

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  1. I'm actually trying for this Christmas, but I'm getting some annoying and disruptive obstruction from my calendar, which has recently, and inexplicably, taken to telling me that this month is September. I am, however, trying. I need to write about 3 more chapters to finish it, then go back and make certain all the details and clues fit, etc, which will require a few changes (hence why most team members have not seen it yet - I need to make some changes to early chapters, and I don't know all of what they are yet). It has a mystery component (kind of akin to a detective novel), so there are things the reader needs to be able to figure out based on clues in the story (or, they can just read along if they prefer, but it's my job to make sure the option is there). Oh, and of course, I need to go through it with an incredibly fine-toothed comb to make absolutely certain that there's not even the slightest hint of a cliffhanger, or any tension at all, in it. I can't remember if I've mentioned the title yet - it's Going Sideways. Apropos of nothing at all, I see that the Urban Dictionary defines that phrase as; "Used to describe when a tense situation, usually an operation of some kind, suffers a catastrophic breakdown and devolves into near-chaos, usually requiring violence and/or aggression to restore order."
  2. Car keys are sometimes called another name; "lunch". This perhaps explains why I often can't find my car keys right after my lunch.
  3. I'm still working on Going Sideways, and I hope all of you are coping okay with the virus, lockdowns, etc, that have made 2020 a year I, and I am sure many, would like to forget. I expect to be around here much more often from now on - and also I'm spending more time writing. I know my timelines on posting never pan out, but I do hope to have Going Sideways online by the end of this year. (Note to self; it ain't gonna write itself, so quit slacking!). Currently, I'm only on chapter 15 (And need to finish it all before it can be edited, etc, as some later developments need alterations to early chapters). I still expect to bring this in under 20 chapters. Recent chapters have run around 20k words - and my current count on chapter 15 is 79k words. (erm, might need to split it, I think...). I can't say much about the story (Graeme hates spoilers, and he might see this, so...) but I can say that it will have words. Those words will usually have vowels and consonants, often several of them. Hrmmm. What else can I say? No cliffhangers, of course. Oh, and there are things in it that might seem... familiar to some.
  4. No one has told me how long my new story is, either, so how would I know? Seriously though, for once (I'm notorious for massively underestimating), I think it's coming in roughly where I guessed - just under 20 chapters. Of course, I shall refrain from either mentioning or admitting that this is mainly due to the chapter length being around 20k words, about 4 times my usual. Chapter 14 is currently showing as 50 pages, 21k words. My current guess - 2 chapters to go (after the one I'm just about done with, 14.). Then I can send it out to the team. I really can't do so yet, as some key details keep changing, which has required a few changes to early chapters and will do so again. The new story is called "Going Sideways". For those not familiar, it's mainly a southern US colloquialism, meaning things not going as planned, and doing so badly. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Go Sideways Beyond that, the only thing I can say at this point is that, as always for my stories, it will be 100% utterly and totally cliffhanger-free - not even a hint of one, as I'm sure Graeme will be happy to attest.
  5. Circumnavigation was the first series I read on GA. It was several years ago now, but I remember well the interest that reading developed in GA it made a lifetime fan of the site and was the first of many tales to grab my interest. At that time I did not know how to contact an author, nor did I realize what all the symbols about like, etc. meant. So I just read and enjoyed and read some more... Today I am an addict to the stories I read on GA you created a monster an addicted monster with your writing style. I just finished reading "For the Love" for the second time and enjoyed it just as much as the first. I am going to continue searching for your work, among others on GA and continue my enjoyment.

    Mister Will

  6. I'm ashamed to see it's been over 4 months since I returned, and this is my first visit since. I'm so sorry. I'll be back more often from now on. I have actually been writing (though with glacial slowness) and finally have a few chapters. I'm only now at where I thought I'd be in October, and starting to reach out to team members (Frankly, I wouldn't blame them if they told me to shove it, seeing as how I've been so remiss) but it's starting to come together now, at last. And... Wildone, shame on you for disparaging me so; you know I'd never, ever, even come close to a cliffy! And oh no, I can't seem to find my most-used emotion, the angel-halo one, but I'm innocent, I tell, ya, innocent! @ Tallonrider; even I'll admit that my vanishing act was so bad as to be almost a cliffy! @ Anubis; no need for climbing gear. As I'm sure anyone will tell you, I'd never, ever, go anywhere near a cliff or a cliffhanger. <Innocent look> @ KevinD It shouldn't be too much longer before I can post. (meaning, months) because I need to complete most of it first. One reason is plot; minor changes may need to be made to early chapters, depending on how later ones shake out. The other reason, to be honest, is fairness; it would be wrong of me to post anything unless I am 100% sure I'll finish it in a timely manner, and given my absences, the only way I can be certain is to have it already done. And, to one and all, as a sign (as well as a test) of whether my long hiatus is at an end, expect me to drip back by within a week.
  7. Thank you, thank you all so much. To be honest, I was expecting (and couldn't very well object ) some righteous flames for my vanishing act. I have been in contact with some here during my hiatus, and should have at least asked if they'd post a message here for me (my usual browser doesn't work with GA software, so I had to install a different one before I could log in) but I didn't. Sorry. But, I'm back... and yep, writing has begun again. I very sporadically wrote a bit during my hiatus, but it was piecemeal, often on a laptop during free time such as waiting for a plane, but I didn't get very far. Even when I did have free time, I found it hard to concentrate (working long hours didn't help). But, it's moving again, so there will be a story coming soon. It's called "Going Sideways" and barely exists yet, just a few chapters, but it does exist. I'll be reaching out to all of our old team members very soon. What can I say about the story? Hrmmm. I'm not really sure what I can say for fear of spoilers, but it's both adventure and interpersonal, plus I do my usual thing of trying to make it as realistic and accurate in the details as possible. Oh, and, of course, like all my stories, I go to great lengths to keep it utterly and entirely cliffhanger-free, guaranteed! CJ
  8. I can only offer my sincere and abject apologies for my vanishing act. I was spending far too much time online (and writing) and it was hurting my career. So, coupled with a case of writing burnout after Circumnavigation (which was nearly 100 chapters, and was often hard to get the chapters out in a timely manner) I had to retreat from the online world. I didn't even fully realize why I was doing it at the time, it was a compulsion, and it did save me financially. I'm fine now, but it was a bit hectic for a long time. What there is no excuse for is me not returning occasionally. I am deeply sorry, and I apologize. I am working on a story, just a few chapters so far, but it feels good to be writing again. I'll also be answering the posts I see in other threads in the forum (thanks!) and also a lot of PMs I have waiting, during coming days.
  9. Many of us are wondering what your next new story will be about and when.....

  10. Thought I'd start a new thread, just to harass everyone. I think I'm back now... I got into some of why I've been gone in the other threads, but I plan on logging in once or twice a week from now on, though probably no more than that until lightning season is over (it plays hell with my transceiver, which is my only link to the 'net). I hope y'all have been staying away from all cliffs and cliffhangers!
  11. Huh? WHAT?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!? But but but..... I never, every use cliffhangers!!!! ACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've had internet problems, plus life got super hectic. I basically had to deal with a lot of things, including an illness in the family (thankfully resolved, but it was a rough go), so my internet time went basically to zero. I've been away on business a lot, and had a lot of work to do at home as well; I had to create a wildfire buffer zone around my house, so I spent a lot of quality time with my chain saw. Thankfully, Monsoon season is here, and the rain has ended the fire danger, so I'm far happier. To be honest, I think the writing pace of Circumnavigation burned me out for quite a bit; it was a struggle to churn out a chapter a week for a 99 chapter novel. It was also a real challenge to get it all posted by the end of December (December 186th, I think?) Actually, seeing as you bought it up, I'm going to have to admit another of the reasons for my absence; the cliffhangers in your novel made me catatonic for weeks on end! <shudder> I was traumatized... Yep... at best lately, I have a lag state of 300 miliseconds and packet loss. I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get satellite internet (which is my only other option here...). And... things are at last less hectic for me, so I'm really back this time, which means I'll be logging in one or twice a week at least.
  12. I think I heard from him, whilst talking to myself.... And yup... I do have a new story in mind for GA. But Benji... you know that a goat would never have anything to do with a cliff.
  13. C James


    Epilogue It had been a trying six months, time passing in a whirlwind of activity. Two weeks after their return from Israel, Eric and Brandon had organized a biker funeral for Jim and Linda, where Eric had introduced Mad Mike and his bikers to Jansen and Keith. Then, taking Mad Mike aside, Eric had made him a business offer: full employment on generous terms for himself and his entire club. The money was not an issue; Helen and the band had set aside the extra five million the Israelis had provided, intending to use it for things Jim would have wanted. Three days later, Brian had asked Keith to accompany him on a trip he knew he had to make, and a few days later, Brian and Keith had stood in the rain in Arlington National Cemetery, to pay their private respects to Private Earl Johnson. That night, Brian told Keith that, although he’d decided to stay in the Marine Corps, he’d confirmed that he would be posted at Camp Pendleton, which wasn’t too far from the site of Carlisle’s, and living off base. That conversation led, somewhat later, to another, and a month after Private Johnson’s funeral, Brian and Keith moved into their new apartment. Instinct, due to the massive publicity resulting from La Palma, found itself in greater demand than ever before. For Eric, Jansen, and Keith, their lives revolved around the demands of Instinct’s touring schedule, and supervising the remodeling of the building they’d picked for their club. Like any construction project, this one had a few snags, but eventually, the huge north and south halls – each capable of seating over five hundred people – took shape, and the rest of the club soon followed. Phil Breslin, a very recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his recent series that had rocked Washington in a way not seen since Watergate, found himself, due to Helen’s promise, with an inside scoop on the club’s grand opening. Entertainment was no longer his beat – his most recent story had been on the fall of the Iranian regime – but he took the story anyway due to Instinct’s role in the events that had given him his Pulitzer. His byline helped boost the already growing interest in Carlisle’s impending grand opening. The Scar's shattered and rotting corpse, recovered from an ash-covered rocky field on La Palma, had laid to rest any lingering doubt regarding his involvement in the events on the island. One other thing changed for Eric; his relationship with tequila. On rare occasions, when it was just the two of them, and Jansen had locked the doors of their house from the inside and hidden the keys, Jansen and Eric would enjoy a little tequila. With no one stressing out on him, Eric could be himself and have the purest form of fun, and most times he was not the terror he once had been. In Jansen, he had found his soulmate. Opening day for the club was near at hand. Keith, after a day’s scouting to fill the few remaining staff positions, walked into the club office to tell Eric and Jansen some news. “We’ve got a problem. Remember our old boss from the strip club, George Tankardsly? Seems that either he, or more likely the owners of our old club, don’t like the idea of dancers starting up competing clubs, or hiring away their potential employees, especially at higher wages. Anyway, one of my friends gave me a heads-up; George, plus a bouncer, is planning on attending our pre-grand-opening open house and pushing for a cut of our business. Expect some threats, subtle or otherwise.” Eric nodded casually. “Sending a bouncer to scare us, huh?” Eric thumbed the intercom and said, “Horst? Could you come in here please?” Moments later, Horst marched in the door, saluted, and asked, “You sent for me, Herr Eric?” Eric rolled his eyes. “Horst, please, just call me Eric, not Herr Eric, and no saluting.” “Your wish is my command, Herr Eric,” Horst replied, and snapped off a crisp salute. Eric glared at Jansen and Keith, who were snickering loudly. “I know you guys put him up to this…” Returning his attention to Horst, the club’s chief of security, Eric explained the situation. Horst’s expression changed in an instant, and his smile vanished. “My force here is ten men, including five of Felecia’s former troops. However, two are away on vacation. I need no help to handle one man and a bouncer, but I think it would be advisable to put an end to this threat, not merely deter it. I can think of two ways of doing so…” Horst explained his plans. Eric shook his head. “Forget the flying lesson, please. I’d prefer to handle this legally. Let’s go with plan B.” That night, the club, which they had christened Carlisle’s, opened its doors to the public for the first time. The open house served two functions: a training run for the staff, and a PR event to build up a buzz for the grand opening. Most things went well, and the club was soon filled to capacity. Still, it was frantic for the three owners, who had to dash about, handling countless small problems that appeared. Two hours into their first night, Jansen spotted the familiar face of George Tankardsly, accompanied by two very large men, heading for the bar in the north hall. He pointed George out to Horst and said, “That’s him, and he’s brought two goons.” Horst made a few calls on his cell phone, and then on a walkie-talkie. With that done, he followed along, a few paces behind, as Eric strolled down to meet George at the bar. George had just finished telling the bartender that he needed to speak to the owners when Eric said from a few paces to his side, “One of ‘em would be me. What can I do for you?” George glanced pointedly at his two heavily muscled men before saying, “We need to talk to you, alone. I must insist on it.” Eric shrugged. “Whatever. Follow me; I’m heading outside for some air anyway.” When George, flanked by his bouncers, followed Eric out of a side door into the parking lot, he found Eric leaning up against a wall, apparently unconcerned. George pointed at the two bouncers to emphasize the implied threat and said, “I’ll get down to business. You’ve hired Jansen and Keith, and if they are going to work in this town, unless you want trouble, we’re going to cut a little deal–” Eric smiled at George. “Trouble? I don’t think you know much about trouble, yet. Let me introduce you to a few people.” On cue, General Bradson and Felecia emerged from the shadows. George blinked in recognition; they’d been all over the news programs. Eric nodded happily. “Good, I see you recognize them. The General and Felecia, who haven’t nuked anybody lately, are Instinct’s co-heads of security. However, this club is owned by Jansen, Keith, and me, as equal partners, so let me introduce our head of security, Horst.” George’s eyes grew a little wider as Horst, accompanied by eight armed, uniformed men, emerged from the club door. Holding up his hands, George said, “Wait, okay, forget it, I’m out of here–” “Not so fast,” Jansen said, as he and Keith followed Horst’s men into the parking lot to face George. “Nice to see you again, George. This visit wasn’t a good idea on your part.” Jansen nodded to Horst, who said one word into his walkie-talkie. “Now.” The growling roar of Harley engines turning over echoed through the night, first just a few, and then dozens. Then, with Mad Mike in the lead, he and thirty bikers, some swinging chains, began to circle. Above the roar, Eric yelled, “This is just a taste of what we can put together at short notice. You really don’t know what you’re messing with here. If you ever bother us again, you and your bosses will find out just what we’re capable of. You’ve got ten seconds to get off our property.” Flanked by half a dozen Harley-mounted bikers, George and his two men began to run. The message was received, loud and clear; Carlisle’s would not be bothered again. “There is much to be said for an overwhelming show of force,” General Bradson said, with a strong note of approval. Then, joined by his co-head of Instinct’s security, Felecia, he went inside for a drink. Once the doors had finally closed for the night, Eric shook his head and wiped his brow. “That was hectic, but a good hectic. I think we’ll do okay.” Jansen put his arm around Eric. “Yeah, now all we’ve got is the wedding reception here in the afternoon, followed by opening night.” Eric rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I can’t believe Mom’s getting married and holding the reception here. That was a shock. It’s all been so fast; François only popped the question last week.” Jansen nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it’s been a rush in a lot of ways, but we’ll pull it together. The club staff should be able to handle a wedding reception, no problem. Look at the bright side; if anything goes wrong, we can always blame Keither.” “I heard that!” Keith yelled from another room. “Strippers,” Eric said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling shrugging shoulders. Keith entered the room as he and Jansen shouted in unison, “That’s exotic dancers, you ass!” The laughter went a long way towards easing their opening-day jitters. The wedding ceremony for Jane and François was held at a local church. François had surprised both Jane and himself with his spontaneous proposal, but it had come from the heart. After the wedding, the newlyweds, plus over one hundred guests, descended on Carlisle’s for the reception. The wedding guests included all of Instinct’s official family and more than two dozen of François’ mercenary friends, thus making it a reunion for most of Felecia’s force. Carlisle’s could seat nearly five hundred people in each of its two main halls, so space was not an issue. Keeping the freewheeling mercenaries from overindulging in the open bar proved to be harder. The party dragged on, well past what they’d planned, and Eric began nervously eying the clock. The lines for opening night had already begun to form, and it looked like the wedding party was staying for the show. An hour later, for the first time of many throughout the coming years, Eric took the stage to a round of thunderous applause. Using the one move he knew, he executed a smooth sidestep as he whipped his shirt off with one hand. Then picking up the microphone, he waited a few long moments for the applause to die down. “Welcome to the grand opening of Carlisle’s,” Eric said, as countless camera flashes dazzled him. “We’ve got three bands lined up for you tonight, starting with Instinct. Later, we have exotic dancers for your enjoyment. The ladies will be performing in the south hall and the guys will be doing their thing right here.” Brian, sitting in the front row, joined in the thunderous applause. Except for a few very private demonstrations, he’d never seen his boyfriend’s act. He hoped he could talk Keith into a private encore when they got back to their apartment… Backstage, Jansen and Keith waited, listening to the applause. Eric bounded in off the stage and gave his business partners a wild hug. Sometimes, dreams die the hardest deaths of all. But on those rare and ephemeral other times, when fickle fate is kind, dreams proffer unto those rare and lucky few the greatest life of all. They could not know it, not then, but fate would prove indeed kind, then and in the years ahead, giving life unto their dreams…. © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice . Special thanks to MikeL for advice I hereby dedicate this story to my friend Wildone, who has suffered a horrific accident, but due to his strength, perseverance, and courage has pulled through and is recovering. I wish you a continued speedy recovery, Wildone. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  14. Chapter 51: Changing the Game The wedding party and Felecia’s force arrived at the hotel in Be’er Sheva, almost unnoticed due to it being the middle of the night. Jansen made it clear that he and Eric would be sharing a room, which surprised no one, not even Jane, who had guessed at the relationship almost before it even began. Exhausted, Eric and Jansen climbed into the room’s single bed, and before sleep claimed them, Eric said from the heart, “I’m sorry for everything I put you through. When it looked like I wasn’t coming back, the thing that hurt the most was the thought of never seeing you again.” Jansen, barely able to keep his eyes open, gave Eric a hug and replied, “I get why you did what you did. I think it was insane, but I can understand, because if it was you or Keither that was missing, I would’ve probably done the same thing, if I’d thought of it. Just… talk to me first, if there’s ever a next time, okay?” All Eric had time to do was nod, before sleep claimed him. Eric awoke early, finding that he was using Jansen’s bare chest as a pillow. A light touch, and the change in Jansen’s breathing told Eric that the dancer was almost awake. Eric grinned in the dawn light, and began waking Jansen up in the most personal way possible… Three doors down the hall, Keith woke up, alone in bed, and glanced over at Jon, who was still sound asleep. Keith crept over to the window, where he sat down to watch the sun rising over the Negev, though his mind was not on the view. He found himself thinking of Brian, and gave himself a mental kick for having a crush on a guy he thought was straight. On the floor above, Brian padded out onto a balcony to watch the sunrise, rejoicing in the belief that he was out of imminent danger for the first time since his capture by the Iranians. Stretching out on a chair, enjoying the warm caress of the rising sun on his chest, Brian found himself wondering what Keith was doing. After a few idle daydreams centered on Keith, Brian shook his head in disgust as he thought, ‘Stupid, stupid, stupid. He knows I’m gay, so if he was interested in me, he’d have said something by now. He looked shocked when he thought he’d bumped into my morning wood, so probably straight… but straight or he’s not interested, same difference, so it’d be a lot better if I just avoid him until this is over.’” Moments after making that decision, Brian picked up the phone, giving himself a mental kick for stupidity as he did so, and dialed the front desk to ask for Keith’s room. The ringing room phone caused Keith to jump, and he snatched it up, hoping that Jon could get back to sleep. He need not have worried; Jon was a sound sleeper and had not even stirred. Putting the phone to his ear, Keith whispered, “Hello?” “I hope I didn’t wake you up,” Brian said, and then, trying hard to sound casual, “This is Brian. I, uh, I’m going out to see some of the sights while we’re here and, uh, I wondered if you’d like to go along. Better to go with someone you know than alone, right? Masada is only thirty miles away…” Brian glanced again at the hotel’s information booklet on the table, which he’d scoured to find the most interesting nearby attraction. “It’s well worth seeing. And I–” Keith found himself grinning at the prospect. He liked Brian’s company, and hoped he’d make a good friend. “Yeah, count me in, thanks,” Keith whispered, and then added, “Can I meet you downstairs, maybe grab some breakfast? Jon’s still asleep.” Smiling, Brian replied, “Sure. See you in the lobby.” Jansen and Eric, having sated one hunger, sought out the restaurant to satisfy another. After ordering, Eric looked into Jansen’s eyes and smiled. “No tequila involved this time. That was all me.” Jansen grinned, blushing slightly as he replied in a quiet voice, “Yeah, that was great. Any doubts I ever had are gone. Actually, they were back at the resort on La Palma. I’ve got a theory about you and tequila; it makes you kinda wild and uninhibited, but it’s still basically you, and you only get into real trouble when people start freaking out on you, right?” Eric grinned, surprised that Jansen had caught on so soon. “Pretty much. The only exception was Jerry. Even before I knew what he was, I hated him, more than I’ve ever hated anything or anyone. But, yeah, other than that, if I’m around someone who is relaxed and not stressing on me, I’m usually fine. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I get a hunch what people are feeling, so I think I react to that more than what they say or do. You can ask Chase or Jon; they’ve been around me when I’m on tequila. Sometimes I’ve been okay. The trouble really started at a party Jerry had, when I kind of trashed the place.” Suddenly, Eric figured it out and asked, “So, when did you and Chase talk?” Grinning, Jansen replied, “While you were off on your insane grenade mission. After we got the news that the plane had been taken and you and Brandon were safe, Chase and I started talking about you. I kinda started it, by the way, and we were both pretty pissed with you and Brandon at that point. Anyway, he told me about that knack you have for reading people. Then the subject turned to tequila, and he shared his thoughts on that, saying that you’d always been pretty much okay when it was just you and him when you were on it. I bounced my theory off him, and he said he’d always thought pretty much the same way. I guess now I know how you pegged me and Keither as brothers so damn fast. So, how come you never told me about that reading-people stuff?” With a shrug and a smile, Eric replied, “Because I thought you’d think I was crazy if I said something like that.” Jansen chuckled. “Eric, I’ve always considered you crazy. That wouldn’t have changed a thing.” Eric laughed, and Jansen looked him in the eyes before saying, “So, you know, you really know, that I mean what I’m about to say: I don’t want us to ever end, because I love you.” Eric had no need to check; he felt the truth of Jansen’s words. Not caring who saw or what they thought, Eric reached across the table, took Jansen’s hand, and replied, “I love you too. I knew for sure when I was on Jerry’s plane.” Jansen was about to reply when Keith walked up and, not noticing the joined hands on the table in front of him, asked, “Have you guys seen Brian? He was going to meet me in the lobby; he asked me to go sightseeing with him…” Jansen recognized Keith’s anxious tone, and asked, “How long ago did he say that?” Keith checked his watch, “Almost five minutes ago.” Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Jansen looked past Keith for a moment and then said, “Turn around, he’s heading this way.” Eric and Jansen were sitting at a table for two, so Brian and Keith found a table of their own a few yards away. As they sat down, Jansen whispered to Eric in a serious tone, “I think Keither has a crush on Brian. Does your inner knack, or whatever you call it, work on Brian? Can you tell if there’s any chance the feeling is mutual? Keith said Brian keeps sending mixed signals... Keith tends to fall hard when he’s into a guy. I don’t want to see him set himself up for a train wreck.” Remembering the vibes he’d been getting when he was around both Brian and Keith, Eric had a strong hunch that whatever attractions there were, were mutual. Looking over at their table, however, he could both see and feel the awkwardness. Angling his head slightly as a thought occurred to him, Eric asked Jansen, “I wonder if Brian knows that Keith’s gay? Second thought of the day: I remember Brian grumbling something about his dad being a damn public-address system, so… I wonder if Brian thinks everyone knows he’s gay. Did you tell Keith about Brian?” Jansen shook his head, beginning to grin. “No I didn’t. I forgot until you mentioned it that he wasn’t there when you told me about Brian. I just assumed he knew. Let me get this straight; you think they are attracted to each other, but neither knows the other is gay, but assumes the other one already knows?” Eric grinned and arched an eyebrow. “Nothing straight about it, and that pretty much sums it up. You know what we’ve got to do, right?” Jansen nodded solemnly and then broke into a wicked grin. “Have some fun at their expense, of course. It’s my brotherly duty, after all. Let’s go barge in and join ‘em.” Keith looked up with mild annoyance as Jansen and Eric pulled up chairs at the table, and invited themselves to join Brian and Keith. Brian too was slightly perturbed; he was looking forward to a one-on-one chat with Keith. Glancing at Eric, Brian said, “Good morning, oh thief of grenades. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m grenadeless today.” Brian gave Eric a slight smile, to let the bassist know that he wasn’t angry over the theft. Nodding at the good-natured dig, Eric replied, “Sorry about that, man. Anyway, Jansen and I just thought we’d stop by and cheer you guys up with a story. It’s pretty funny. I just found out that a couple of old friends of mine,” Eric used the term ‘old friends’ to keep Brian and Keith momentarily in the dark regarding the real subjects of the story, “have been dancing around each other for a while, all awkward and clumsy. Neither knew the other was gay, and they never actually discussed it. Hell, one even asked the other out on a date and they still didn’t know. They were both oblivious as hell.” Jansen began to laugh, and Keith shook his head. “A date and they still didn’t know? Either of ‘em? How the hell can anyone be that damn dense?” Keith asked, before meeting his brother’s eye and seeing a mirthful twinkle, one he recognized as a sure sign that Jansen was pulling his leg somehow. Before Keith could pursue that thought, Jansen said, “I dunno, Keither. You tell me; how can anyone be that damn dense?” Eric began to laugh and stood up before chiming in to add, “Have fun on your date today, guys.” Glaring at Eric and Jansen’s retreating backs, Brian snapped, “It’s not a date, shitheads, I just wanted some company to go sightseeing…” thinking that they were making fun of only him and putting him in a very awkward situation with Keith. Brian was trying to think of something to say when he heard Keith ask, “Are they right? About us, I mean?” Brian turned to face Keith, and saw only a hopeful look. Relaxing, beginning to see the humor in the situation, Brian nodded, “They are about me, anyway. I thought you knew. What about you?” Keith glanced at Eric and Jansen who had returned to their table but were looking in his direction and obviously enjoying themselves far too much. “Yeah, I thought you knew, too. They’re never going to let us live this down. You know that, right?” Brian chuckled. “Yeah, they probably won’t. I really thought you were straight.” Keith angled his head, perplexed. “Why? I know I never said, but…” “It was that first morning. I’d heard from both Eric and Felecia that they knew I was gay, so I figured my Dad had pretty much spread that bit of news to everyone. I was kinda pissed about that at the time. Then, you kinda freaked when you thought I’d bumped you with my morning wood. Your eyes looked like they’d pop out of your head, so I figured…” Brian said, letting his voice trail off. Keith smiled. “That wasn’t why… it was the freaking grenade. You held the thing damn near under my nose, remember? And I’d just found out I’d been sleeping next to a live grenade all night.” Brian shrugged, becoming slightly puzzled. “But the pin was in; it was safe.” Rolling his eyes and laughing, Keith replied, “Dude, I’m a civilian. All I saw was a freaking grenade under my nose, and pin or no pin, that’s why I reacted that way.” Brian blushed slightly, remembering. “Yeah, that makes sense. So, what about you? Why’d you peg me as straight?” Keith rolled his eyes again. “Take a wild guess, mister tough guy macho Marine.” Sporting a wicked grin, Brian replied, “Believing in stereotypes, huh? Shame on you.” Keith laughed, and then replied, “So, is it a date today or not?” With a confident smile, Brian replied, “I really didn’t intend it that way at first, due to my little misconception about you, but yeah, I’d like it to be.” “Then it’s a date,” Keith replied with a smile of his own. Helen ordered breakfast in her room, and then called General Bradson and Felecia to ask them to join her. There was still, Helen knew, a lot left to deal with. The General arrived while Helen waited for breakfast to be set up. As soon as the waiter had left the room, Helen got down to business. “The check I was given appears to be good, so that resolves the money issue. However, we still have a few problems. Namely, I’m stuck with two nuclear warheads, and the U.S. Government is out for our heads.” “They staked out a very public position on this. They can’t back down without humiliating themselves, and that embarrassment would extend to the entire administration, to a degree. Complicating the matter is that they already have a public black eye regarding the Iranian nuclear program. Therefore, to the bureaucratic mind, the answer is to double down and hope the other guy folds. That’s my read on why they put you and Instinct on the most-wanted list. This isn’t like the business world; less logic applies. Ego and public image are the primary motivators. They won’t back off because to their mindset, they can’t. They also probably believe that they control the rules of the game,” General Bradson said. Helen nodded. “That’s about what I’d figured. At the moment, my thinking is that we give the reporter everything we’ve got and let him run with it, getting our side of the story out.” General Bradson shook his head. “I don’t think that’ll work. They can stonewall, and they can also cloud the issue by making up new charges. The status quo plays into their hands by ceding the initiative to them. What we could do via the reporter would hurt, but I don’t think it would make ‘em back off. What we need is a game-changer.” The General’s confident tone clued Helen in that he had a plan, so she arched an eyebrow and asked, “What do you have in mind?” It took ten minutes, complicated by agitated interruptions from Helen, for General Bradson to explain his plan. After he’d finished, Helen sat glaring at him for over minute as she considered his plan, before breaking the icy silence. “General, my initial reaction was: you’re out of your motherfucking mind. After giving it a little thought, I’d say my first reaction was overly charitable… however, I do see that if this insane scheme works, it would solve all our problems. My problem is that it seems to require that the other side follow your script. For example, the part about the embassy… you expect them to just offer that up out of the blue?” General Bradson surprised Helen by pulling out his satellite phone, along with a sheet of paper given to him by Levi Gold, which contained a phone number and an e-mail address. He dialed the number, which was a private line to the White House switchboard. When the operator answered, the General said, “This is General Walter Bradson. I am in the Middle East and have in my possession multiple Iranian nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them. Unless the current situation changes, I will, within the next seventy-two hours, launch a nuclear strike on Iran. Let me be clear, I need to speak to the President regarding a clear and present danger to the United States of America. This is most urgent.” Helen blanched slightly, but General Bradson calmly resumed eating while on hold. A few minutes later, the operator came back on the line. The General listened for a moment, and then replied, “I’ll be there. In the meantime, I’ll be sending, within the hour, an e-mail to the President’s private e-mail account. It will have my name in the subject line. The President will want to listen to the attached recordings. One is of Deputy Undersecretary Graeme making illegal threats in the name of the administration, and the other is of Jerry Clump, shortly before I stopped him from getting away with the bombs on La Palma, boasting at having seized three nuclear warheads from Helen, and crediting the administration for giving him the opportunity. Oh, and by the way, have a nice day.” General Bradson ended the call. Smiling at Helen, he said, “They already knew that we’re in Israel. I have an appointment at the communications room of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. The President will speak to me over an encrypted comm link, and it was the White House’s idea. The mention of your tape of Mr. Graeme evidently made the impression I was counting on; they want to be sure the conversation is private and then they’ll really turn the screws. The embassy is one place they can be certain that I’m searched and electronically monitored, so there won’t be any chance of me recording the conversation.” Helen exhaled, closed her eyes, and then replied, “Well, you just neatly wrapped up the part I thought was impossible. Count me in. What do I need to do?” “Call that reporter. Tell him to examine Flight Two at La Palma airport, and that he’ll find Jerry Clump’s DNA on the bulkheads and on a knife, and tell him that Jerry Clump died while trying to get away with two nuclear warheads. Tell him to run his story about Deputy Undersecretary Graeme in twenty-four hours. Promise him whatever you need to in order to get him to hold on that long.” Helen nodded. “One question; won’t they arrest you the minute you set foot in the embassy?” General Bradson explained his contingency plan for that, and Helen rolled her eyes, feeling a migraine coming on. After a few minutes, she agreed, and then added in a resigned voice, “I guess that, if worse comes to worse, we can always stay in Israel.” Shaking his head, General Bradson got up to leave. “Don’t worry,” he said on his way to the door, “By tomorrow, this will all be over.” Three hours later, General Bradson strolled confidently along the busy Tel Aviv street and turned left. At the main entrance, he walked up to one of the Marine guards and said, “I’m Walter Bradson.” The Marine had been alerted to expect him, and ushered him inside, where a waiting Deputy Chief of Mission said, “I’ve been instructed to take you to our communications center. However, there are classified devices in that room, so everyone is searched for any electronic devices. Please hand over your watch and any other electronic or metallic object.” General Bradson had left his satellite phone in his hotel room due to expecting the search, which despite the Deputy Chief of Mission’s solemn words was not routine. The General smiled, and handed over his wristwatch, key chain, and then, with a flourish, a ballpoint pen. “Wouldn’t want me taking any notes either, I assume,” he said with a smirk. The Deputy Chief of Mission didn’t react. He had orders, and followed them by leading the General to a small room next to the communications center. The General was scanned to check for any electronic devices by a three-man team, and then took a seat while a technician established a secure link to the White House via an STU-14 encrypted phone system, and then the Deputy Chief of Mission handed the General the phone. “The line is active. Just hang up when you’re done. I’ve been asked to give you privacy.” As soon as the door closed, General Bradson took a deep breath and said, “Hello, Mister President. Thank you for speaking with me.” The President’s tone was formal, reserved, and businesslike. “It seems I had little choice. I happen to believe that you are bluffing regarding Iran, but I’m prepared to put this entire matter behind us. Turn over those warheads in return for clemency, keep this matter quiet, and this whole thing can go away.” “Clemency revocable at your discretion, no doubt.” General Bradson said, his voice firm. “No deal. We acted in good faith, only to have your State Department hacks try to make us into scapegoats. There’s also the matter of your policy in Iran. Sir, I view it likely that much of this was done without your knowledge,” the General said, using a convenient fiction that both men understood, “but there are aspects of this that you may be unaware of. I stopped Jerry Clump, as he was getting away from La Palma with two nuclear weapons. We recorded him before we took him down, and if you’ve listened to the copy I sent, he clearly implicates your administration’s mishandling of the situation with giving him the opportunity to get the bombs, and avows that Helen and Instinct got involved solely to keep the nukes out of his hands. It’s also proof positive that he was alive, despite your public assurances to the contrary. He used one nuclear warhead in an attempt to trigger the destruction of the entire coastline of the North Atlantic. A reporter has a copy of the conversation with Deputy Undersecretary Graeme, and that story will be breaking in twenty-four hours. I have not yet provided him with the tape of Jerry Clump. Also, regarding Iran... I asked you to speak with me today regarding a clear and present danger to the United States of America. That danger has been brought about by you and your policies. Unless you cease your opposition to the gasoline interdiction, I see the use of Iran’s own nukes against them as the least-bad option. Allow me to explain: Israel cannot allow that fanatical regime to become a nuclear power. The Iranian regime is run by religious fanatics of the worst kind, and they make no bones about wanting to wipe Israel off the map–” The President raised his voice to interrupt. “That’s fear-mongering. Israel’s own nuclear arsenal would deter Iran–” “And that, Sir, is where you are wrong. Deterrence only works against the sane. Enough of their regime believes that it is their religious duty to cause a new holocaust – Ironic, considering they deny the first one ever happened – and they do believe in martyrdom. There is also the matter of geography. Israel is just a little bigger than Connecticut, while Iran is the size of Texas, California, Montana, and New Mexico combined. Just a couple of bombs would effectively destroy Israel, but given Iran’s size, it would take a massive strike, more than even an intact Israel can deliver, to do the same to Iran, and that, Sir, assumes that the Iranian regime is deterrable at all. Israel therefore has no choice; failure to remove the threat would be national suicide. There is also America to consider. Iran may well seek to deter us by planting a bomb in one of our cities as a threat. We’ve seen how easy that is, and as you know, we came within moments of losing Los Angeles and New York. If you’ll recall, you fired me for going ahead without orders, but as we both know, even though the public does not, had I not done so, we’d have lost at least one of our two largest cities.” General Bradson let the implied threat of public disclosure hang in the air for a moment before continuing, “Sir, I can offer you countless reasons why a regime that has been the number one supporter of terrorists for three decades cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power. Suffice it to say that, in my judgment, it cannot, and I do have the means to stop it. If need be, I shall do so. Better by far, for all concerned, including the Iranian people, if their regime can be brought down via the current unrest.” “Given where you and the bombs are, your hosts are up to their eyebrows in this and I’ll make sure they pay,” the President shot back in anger. He wasn’t used to any challenge to his authority. “I won’t tolerate any action–” “You really don’t have a choice, Sir. We have one way out of this, and one way only. First, all charges against me, the band, the mercenaries, and anyone else associated with the effort to keep nuclear warheads out of Jerry Clump’s hands will be immediately and publicly dropped. You could use the excuse that you were distracted by the volcanic risk to the country and relied on bad information. To that end, you will issue an apology and announce the public firing of Deputy Undersecretary Graeme, his superiors, and everyone else involved in his clique at the State Department. Not a resignation, a firing. Next, you will declare your opposition to any gasoline shipments to Iran and you will not interfere with the efforts of others to interdict those shipments. You will do this within twenty-four hours or I’ll have no other choice but to release the tapes of Jerry Clump to the press a few hours before I nuke a couple of carefully chosen Iranian sites. Bear in mind that I still have these weapons solely because of your administration’s attempt to shaft us, and I’ll make that explicitly clear. I’d prefer not to have to do that, but I will if I must.” A long silence ensued. General Bradson began to wonder whether the line had gone dead, when he heard the President’s voice, quieter now, almost subdued but dripping menace. “You’re playing a dangerous game, Bradson. I can make sure you never leave that embassy, not alive, anyway.” “I’ll be blunt; I’ve taken measures regarding the eventuality that I don’t return. Unless I am free before the end of the day, the commander of the mercenaries – who by the way has nuked Iran once already – will launch the strike and release all the tapes. You don’t know the means I’ve planned for the strike and you can’t stop it. As you might guess, my hosts, due to being threatened with another holocaust by the Iranian regime, are not adverse to a third party solving their problem,” General Bradson said, and crossed his fingers, hoping that he would not need to follow through on his threat. Another long silence ensued, and then the President, seeing that the path of least political damage appeared to be going along with the General’s plan, said, “I’ll be making a speech to announce the firings, the apology, and the Iranian policy adjustment early tomorrow. Now, how do I know you’ll keep your part of the deal?” Graciously accepting the President’s surrender, General Bradson replied, “Within two hours of your announcement, I’ll render the bombs inert and deliver them to this embassy, Sir. Then, they are in American hands and this issue is behind us, provided that we are never bothered again, and you allow the pressure to remain on Iran until their regime folds.” After the call ended, General Bradson emerged from the room to find himself face-to-face with three of the embassy Marine guards. The Deputy Chief of Mission stood behind them and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could do so, an aid gestured frantically, calling him aside. Ten minutes later and five blocks away, General Bradson made a call from a pay phone, to Bill. Without preamble, General Bradson asked, “Did you get it?” “Yeah, we did. I’ve listened to it, too. Being in the NSA has its uses, after all,” Bill replied. Tapping into a government STU-14 conversation had been fairly easy, given the resources Bill had access to at the NSA. “You know what to do if I disappear or if he reneges on the deal, right? And then later...” Bill took a long moment to consider his reply. If he did what the General wanted, he could end up in prison, or worse. However, what had gotten him involved in the first place was his higher duty. Making his decision, he said, “If there are any problems from him in the near future, I’ll act at once. If not, it’ll be like the leak when we detected the fallout from the nuke in Iran; a well-orchestrated and timed release of the information, in mid-October, I think, right before the election. That will torpedo any hopes he has of a second term. There’s enough here, combined with that tape of Jerry Clump that you sent me, to hang him out to dry and I’ll make damn sure it happens,” Bill replied, relieved that the showdown appeared to be over. He had no qualms over his potential role; his disgust with the administration ran long and deep. General Walter Bradson, USAF, retired, strolled out into the Tel Aviv sunshine with a victor’s smile on his face. The next day, Levi Gold joined Helen, the members of Instinct, Felecia, and General Bradson, as they watched the President’s speech. Helen smiled as the President announced the firings at the State Department, and grinned as her boys began to cheer when the apology and lifting of charges was announced. “It’s finally over, isn’t it?” Eric asked as he bounded to his feet. The members of Instinct raced off to share the good news, and Helen followed, to make sure they didn’t inadvertently say too much. Felecia arched an eyebrow in Levi’s direction and asked, “Would you have really let me take the nukes and zap Iran?” Levi shrugged. “I must answer carefully. I will tell you what we told your Secretary of State, who phoned us yesterday during your chat with your president, and tried to strong-arm us into detaining you and the warheads. We would have not objected when Helen reclaimed her legal property – which was one of the purposes of the legal procedure we insisted upon. From our point of view, the strike you proposed would have served us better than one of our own. We would have escaped much of the blame, and at worst, we would be left with going ahead with our own strike against their underground facilities. Now, let me ask you this; do you still wish to deliver those bombs to the embassy? I can arrange that easily enough, but once they are gone, what guarantees do you have?” General Bradson glanced at Felecia and smiled. “We have some insurance. I won’t say how, but I have a copy, in the hands of friends, of the President’s conversation with me, including his threats. That, combined with the tapes of Jerry Clump, should be enough to destroy him, or at least cost him the election if he chooses to break his deal and run again. Same goes if he doesn’t keep his promise regarding Iran. You have my solemn promise that I’ll hold him to that. I do need one thing from you, just to be sure: An unconfirmed rumor, in a week or two, from the Mossad, that we captured five bombs in Iran, not four. Let them think I might still have one. That should give them pause if they suddenly develop any clever ideas.” Levi nodded in agreement, and in spite of not being a military officer, he saluted General Bradson. “There are those who will condemn you if this story ever gets out, but to quote a passage from Theodore Roosevelt, It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat. That man is you, General, and you, Sir, by your intrepid triumph over impossible odds, have done your country, mine, and the world, a great service.” That was the first time Felecia had ever seen General Bradson blush. Later that day, Felecia stood in the hotel lobby, Horst by her side, as she bade her men farewell. Many, she would never see again. They had their money, and now their freedom. With mixed emotions, she watched the first groups of departing mercenaries filing out the hotel door. After discussing the matter with Jon, Eric, Brandon, and Chase, Helen received their enthusiastic consent. She then went to see General Bradson and Felecia to make them a job offer. The only issue Helen was adamant on was one she reiterated three times: “No more nukes!” Shortly before dinner, Keith knocked on Eric and Jansen’s door. He entered, beaming, when Jansen opened the door, and gave his brother a playful slug on the arm. “You jerks. I’ll get you for what you pulled this morning.” He pointed an accusing finger at Eric, and added, “I hope you guys had a good laugh at our expense.” “Of course we did,” Eric replied deadpan. “Would you expect any less?” Keith flopped into an armchair, and Jansen asked, “So, how did it go? You’re in too good a mood for this to be bad news.” Keith grinned, looking first at Eric and then at Jansen. “Great, actually. We had a blast. We’re going on a dinner-date tonight. Turns out his home base is Camp Pendleton, so he’ll be close by once we get home, and yeah, I heard that we’re okay to go back. It’s been a great day all around. So, partners, does this mean we can still open the club?” Eric toyed with the idea of making Keith suffer for a few minutes, but then he chuckled and replied, “We’ll start looking for a suitable place just as soon as we get back.” Eric cracked open a bottle of Israeli whisky, and the three business partners drank a shot to toast their bright and beckoning future. © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice . Special thanks to MikeL for advice I hereby dedicate this story to my friend Wildone, who has suffered a horrific accident, but due to his strength, perseverance, and courage has pulled through and is recovering. I wish you a continued speedy recovery, Wildone. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  15. Chapter 50: Refuge and Allies The eruption of Cumbre Vieja continued unabated. The massive cloud of ash and volcanic gasses boiled into the stratosphere, but the airport was still in clear air. The fading southerly breeze was just barely enough to keep the ash cloud to the north. It would continue to do so, but not for a great deal longer. Then, the ashfall would resume at the airport, closing off any chance of escape for Flight Three, if the aircraft was still on the ground. At the press center, north of the greatest devastation, one reporter’s mind was not on the eruption itself, until the news swept through the news center that it had likely been triggered by a nuclear blast in the La Cumbre tunnel. Phil Breslin, the reporter with whom Helen had shared the recording of her conversation with Deputy Undersecretary Graeme, realized that his story, which he’d thought was ready to release, had far more to tell. He dialed Helen’s number and was told by Barbra – who was well aware that they needed the reporter and his story – that Helen could be reached on a different phone, and gave him the number. General Bradson, at the controls of Flight Two as it neared La Palma airport, handed Helen his phone and said with a bemused smile, “It’s for you, and you’ll want to take this call.” Phil Breslin didn’t waste time on niceties. He asked, “Did you detonate a nuclear bomb? The wire services are claiming that the eruption was triggered by a nuclear explosion and you had the only nukes on the island that I know of–” Helen cut the reporter off by saying, “I’ll talk to you about that when we’re back on the ground. Short version: Jerry Clump showed up on the island and things got kind of frantic. It might interest you to know that he’s dead, as of about ten minutes ago, and we’re about to land in his plane. I think it’s better if we meet in person, for a lot of reasons. Can you get to the airport?” Phil swallowed once, his mind racing as he blurted out, “No, I don’t think that’s possible… but I’ll do it. I’ll get there.” “Bring a camera and a recorder,” Helen said unnecessarily, and then added, “Be careful, and if you can’t make it, turn back. I’ll get word to you somehow.” Phil hung up, already planning his trip. Snatching up a map, he looked at the road around the north end of the island, and from there, south to the airport. His heart sank; his only possible route would take him directly through the worst of the ash plume, which he felt sure would make the road impassable. As if that wasn’t enough, he also suspected, incorrectly, that the ash plume was radioactive. Wracking his brains, he tried to think of some way, any way, to make the trip, but without a boat or a capable vehicle, he couldn’t think of anything. Cursing fate, he called Helen to let her know that he couldn’t get to the airport, and she assured him that she’d be in touch again in the next few hours. General Bradson aligned Flight Two with the runway and shut down the engines. He’d considered leaving them on, but although they had no plans to use Flight Two again, he saw no reason to wreck perfectly good engines. He also preferred to keep his options open, and there had been something nagging at the back of his mind. The General performed a textbook dead-stick landing, raising a cloud of ash as Flight Two rolled to a stop. He used the last of its momentum to steer onto a taxiway, clearing the main runway for use by Flight Three. General Bradson stood up and stretched. Smiling at Felecia, he said, “We’ve done it again, and stopped old Frankenstein permanently. Now all we have to do is get off this damn island and then take care of our other problem.” Brian bounded aboard as soon as the ramp was lowered. Racing into the flight deck, he gave his father a hug before standing at attention to report, “The team I sent punched the tickets of the stragglers in the terminal, so I had the people at the hotel load up onto the livestock transport, and move to the terminal. I have a perimeter set up, and so far, the airport appears secure.” “Well done,” Felecia said, nodding with approval. “Good job, son,” General Bradson said, and then added, “We need to hurry, that ash won’t hold off forever. First, we have to move the two bombs over to Flight Three, and then we’ll get everyone aboard, wet down the runway, and take off. This bird still has a damaged starter on one engine, and I’d rather not try a three-engine takeoff. We’ll be taking off heavy, max load on fuel, plus some auxiliary bladders. Get some men topping ‘em up right away, I’ll explain as we go.” “You’ve got a plan, I can tell,” Felecia said with a relieved grin. She’d been wondering where they could go after taking off, but the General’s comments about fuel meant that he had a destination in mind. Helen, Eric, and Brandon walked down the ramp, and made their way towards the terminal building, slogging through the ash. Jansen and Chase raced from the terminal. A few yards from the main door, Chase pulled Brandon into a relieved hug. Jansen hesitated, and Eric guessed at his uncertainty. He replied by pulling Jansen into a tight hug. Jansen and Chase both gave voice to the same thought at the same time, “Are you fucking insane?” Helen answered the question in a dry tone, “Yes, they both are. There can be no doubt. They came within a hair of getting themselves killed. Come on; let’s get inside and out of this damn ash.” Felecia, a few paces behind, chimed in to add, “They took a hell of a risk, but they also gave us the opportunity to take down old Frankenstein, once and for all, before he could get away with nukes.” In the terminal, General Bradson made a few quick phone calls in order to see if his idea would work, then he pulled Helen aside for a quick discussion. “I have to make this fast, but here’s the short version; we need somewhere to go. I have a few contacts from my Air Force days so I made some calls. They need to check with the Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister, but the two men I spoke to are general officers and they were sure we’d be very welcome, under the circumstances…” General Bradson hurried through a brief explanation and then waited for Helen’s response. Helen had serious reservations, but no better ideas. Reluctantly, she agreed. “I don’t like it, not without a top-level approval, but we can’t stay here and where the hell else can we go? The U.S. Government wants to throw us all in prison, so we’re fairly low on options.” In a race against the clock – they knew all too well that a shift in the wind would trap them on the ground – Flight Three was turned, fueled, and prepared for takeoff. The two nuclear warheads were moved with the aid of the truck and secured in the cargo bay. Then, the passengers were loaded aboard. Eric, sitting with Jansen in the cargo bay, noticed his mother, arm in arm with François, coming his way. “You’re quite mad. You know that, of course?” Jane asked, arching an eyebrow. Thanks to Brian keeping them posted, the entire wedding party knew of Eric’s mission to Flight Two. Jansen slugged Eric lightly in the arm. “Yeah, he is, and I’m still mad at him.” Eric looked downcast as he replied, “I thought Jim and Linda were probably still alive. I had to do something. I just had to. I know it was nuts, but I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing.” Chase, sitting a few yards away, gave Brandon a one-armed hug at the mention of Jim’s name, and said, “I’m still pissed at you for going, but I guess I understand.” “Thanks. I’m sorry for what I put you through, I really am,” Brandon replied, still grieving for his oldest friend. Eric glanced at Brandon, and then told Jane, François, and Jansen in a low, solemn voice, “Felecia found out where Jim and Linda’s bodies are. I wish we had time to do right by them, but she said she’d either get the authorities to recover them when everything settles down, or she’d come back and do it herself. Brandon and I talked on the plane; we’re going to give them a biker funeral.” The conversations were interrupted by General Bradson’s voice coming over the intercom, “We’re almost ready for takeoff. Felecia’s men are just about done wetting down the runway with the fire trucks. As soon as they are aboard, we’ll raise the ramp and be on our way. Strap in, this might be a little bumpy.” After disengaging the intercom, General Bradson turned and told Felecia, who was sitting in the navigator’s station, “Make sure Horst does a head count of your returning men so we know everyone is on board.” Felecia chuckled. “Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Walter. I’ve already told Horst to do just that.” General Bradson smiled at the good-natured jab, and then told his copilot, “We’re near max takeoff weight due to the extra fuel, so it’ll take us a while to build up speed in this ash. I think we’ll need ever inch of this runway. When we begin our roll, I need you to keep your eye on the engine gauges. If any of them so much as twitch, let me know immediately. If this occurs before we are two-thirds of the way down the runway, call for an abort. After that point, just let me know and we’ll try to deal with it in the air.” General Bradson had serious concerns; the plan to wet the runway would probably work, but there was a chance that the engines could still ingest some ash. Losing one engine was, he felt, survivable. Losing two or more would not be. Once they were two-thirds of the way down the runway, they would be moving too fast to stop. Past that point was what pilots called the black zone; a multi-engine failure would be fatal. Once Felecia’s men were back aboard, General Bradson took a deep breath, and began start-up procedures. The engines lit off smoothly, and he stood on the brakes as he advanced the throttles all the way to the stops. General Bradson released the brakes, and Flight Three began to roll, churning forward through the layer of wet ash, which had a consistency similar to thick mud. Slowly, Flight Three accelerated, and as it gained speed, its large, fat balloon tires began to roll on top of the dense ash instead of plowing through it. “Engine state?” General Bradson asked, as they neared the halfway point. “Engines nominal,” replied the sweating copilot. As the C-130 neared rotation speed, General Bradson checked the engines one last time and pulled back on the yoke, easing the C-130 into ground effect. He retracted the landing gear while still in ground effect, trying to gain every ounce of speed that he could. At one hundred knots, he pulled further back on the yoke, and the C-130 lumbered into the afternoon sky. Barely a hundred feet off the ground, General Bradson fed in some left aileron, and the C-130 began a turn to the left. “I’m going to stay low and head east, right along the edge of the ashfall. That should shield us from any satellite observation. Once we near the African coast, I’ll climb and blend into an air route. Keep an eye on the engine gauges; we’ve got one hell of a long way to go, over three thousand miles.” “That’s nearly a thousand miles past our range limit, even with the fuel bladders,” the copilot replied, puzzled. He knew that General Bradson was incapable of making such a huge and obvious mistake, but he had not yet been told the plan. Smiling, General Bradson winked and then replied, “We’re going to rendezvous with a tanker over the Med. It’s been a while since I’ve done an air-to-air refuel, but I think I still remember how. It’ll be a tough one, because it’ll be dark by then.” The copilot arched an enquiring eyebrow, but the General was not willing to explain further. Instead, he said, “Copilot’s airplane. I’m heading aft for a while, to make some calls and get some rest.” General Bradson found the only privacy he could – in the aircraft’s tiny bathroom – and phoned his old contacts again, receiving some very welcome news: they had approval. Flight Three flew on, tracing the southern edge of the eastbound ash cloud for three hundred miles, and then climbing to ten thousand feet as they crossed the coast of Morocco. The General had selected his waypoints with care to avoid radar coverage, and Flight Three maintained a heading of east by northeast, crossing into northern Algeria, and then overlying Tunisia before emerging over the Mediterranean, two hundred miles west of Malta. After another hundred miles, General Bradson checked his navigation screen and eyed the fuel gauges. They still had enough fuel to make Malta, barely, but that was all. He made a phone call to confirm, and received the welcome reply. “We have you in sight, closing in from above and astern.” Breathing a sigh of relief, General Bradson thumbed the intercom. “Don’t be alarmed, but you’re about to hear some odd noises. We’re going to do an air-to-air refueling.” Then, to Felecia and the copilot, he said, “It’ll be either a KC-130H or a KC-135, and the latter is a jet, basically a tanker version of the Boeing 707. I’m hoping it’s the former, because when a KC-135 flies as slow as our max refuel speed, it can get a little bumpy.” Eric, peering out of the window in the side door, saw it first; a black mass obscuring the stars as it moved forward, above and to port of Flight Three. Helen, at the General’s request, had told no one, not even the members of Instinct, of their hoped-for destination. That secret lasted for a few seconds more, until the rendezvousing KC-130H tanker, which had been flying blacked out, turned on its lights. Eric blinked, staring at the olive-colored aircraft’s camouflage pattern, and then, as the tanker eased forward, its brightly illuminated tail came into view. “Whose flag is that?” Eric asked, pointing at the small three-striped national emblem painted on the tail, its colors a simple light blue over white over light blue. Brandon, who was looking over Eric’s shoulder, shrugged. François eased forward to look, and then replied, “That’s an Israeli flag, and that gives me a good guess as to our destination.” The night refueling, using the tanker’s probe and drogue system of a trailed hose, was a demanding maneuver for the pilots of both aircraft. U.S. fighters use a flying-boom system, and the General, a former fighter pilot, had never used a probe and drogue before, a fact he had kept to himself. It wasn’t really relevant, he knew, Flight Three’s drogue ­– which looked like a small basket on a pole, protruding from just above the cockpit – had been removed before the aircraft had been sold as military surplus. What they had in mind was far more challenging and risky. “Open the side door and prepare to receive the probe,” General Bradson ordered over the intercom. He knew he had to do this right; the side door was just forward of the wing and its churning propellers. If he overshot, the fuel line would be destroyed, along with at least one engine. The KC-130H above had only a single probe-and-drogue pod, so he had one chance, and one chance only. Horst pulled the side door in, and the roaring slipstream churned into the cargo bay. With a cargo hook in hand, Horst waited. The Israeli aircraft began trailing out the fuel line and calling out estimated distances, which the copilot of Flight Three relayed to Horst via the intercom. Luck was on their side, and Horst snagged the fuel line on his first try. That news reached the flight deck and General Bradson told the tanker, “We have capture. Reel out fifty more feet.” In the cargo bay, Horst and some of his men wrestled the fuel line inside, and two men heaved in the slack as it came. Horst connected the line to the first of the fuel bladders by stuffing the probe into the top access hatch and then packing the gap with some towels. He reported that he was ready, and as the fuel began to flow, the long process began. It would take over an hour to complete. Once the fuel bladder was partially filled, the transfer pump was engaged, moving the fuel to the C-130’s internal tanks. The single-speed transfer pump was toggled on and off to keep pace with the flow from the tanker into the fuel bladder, and eventually, Flight Three had received almost a full load of fuel. With profound relief, General Bradson watched the Israeli tanker pull away as it reeled in its refueling line. Flight Three now had enough fuel aboard to reach its destination: Nevatim Airbase, in the heart of Israel’s Negev desert. General Bradson checked his course and position, and then told Felecia, “We’re about four hours from landing. Better let your men know that the Israelis have promised us all amnesty or safe-conduct, whichever we individually prefer.” Flight Three droned on through the night, approaching Israel from the west. An hour before they landed, a flight of six Israeli F-15s took station, two off Flight Three’s starboard wing, and the other four more taking high cover. General Bradson knew the reason for the fighters off his wingtip; although the four on high cover, a few thousand feet above, were there for defense; the close-in escorting pair would have the primary mission of blowing Flight Three out of the sky if ordered to do so. It was a reasonable precaution, given Flight Three's nuclear cargo. Flight Three touched down safely at Nevatim Airbase. Following instructions, General Bradson taxied into the mouth of a waiting hanger before shutting down. Even as the engines started their spin-down, the hanger door rolled closed behind them. General Bradson looked out the cockpit window, seeing three men in dress uniforms, accompanied by a squad of black-clad combat troops. The General hit the button to lower the main cargo bay door as he said, “Let’s go meet our hosts.” Followed by Felecia and Helen, General Bradson left the flight deck of Flight Three for what he suspected would be the last time. He glanced back, at the controls, remembering the mission to Iran, and gave the C-130’s cockpit doorframe an affectionate pat as he walked past. ‘You served us well, old girl,’ he thought, before turning his mind to the challenges ahead. In the cargo bay, Helen took an awkward seat on one of the two nuclear warheads, staking out her claim by her presence. General Bradson and Felecia stood at the top of the cargo bay ramp, and a voice called out from below, “Permission to come aboard?” General Bradson smiled, recognizing the voice of one of his old Red Flag friends. “Good to see you again Eli. Come on up.” Eli, a Colonel in the Israeli Air Force, led the way up the ramp, followed by two other men, one dressed as a brigadier general, and the other as a soldier in combat gear. Neither was actually in the military. The man dressed as a soldier, who was actually a nuclear technician, followed his orders and ignored the formalities, making a beeline for the bombs. His instructions were to make certain that they were not rigged to detonate. Helen hesitated, and then moved to allow him access, knowing she wasn’t in a position to object. Eli warmly shook the hands of General Bradson and Felecia, and then introduced the other two men. “General Bradson, this is…” he let his voice trail off, unsure how to introduce the other man. “Levi Gold, General,” the other man said, adding with a casual shrug, “I’m not actually a military officer; I’m with the Mossad, head of the directorate that deals with Iranian matters. I’ve also been appointed by my government to be your host while you are here, and that includes being empowered to deal with the two presents you have brought to us,” he said, with a nod towards the nuclear warheads, which were a dozen feet away. Helen eyed the technician, who was still inspecting the warheads, and then she coughed for attention, and said, “I’d very much like to discuss getting these,” she patted the nuclear warhead, “off my hands, but my boys and I are out a great deal of money…” Levi exchanged a glance with the other two Israelis, and then replied, “Before we discuss that matter, I’d like to get the rest of your party on their way to some accommodations. You’ve all had a long and harrowing experience. We’ve reserved the entire floor of a hotel in Be’er Sheva, just a few miles from here, for your party, and we have a bus waiting outside.” Nodding, Helen replied, “I’m sure that a meal and a bed would be very welcome. However, Jon, Eric, Chase, and Brandon share ownership with me, so they need to be part of any discussions.” The wedding party, including Keith, along with Felecia, her men, and Brian, were ushered aboard two buses. Jansen hesitated, but Eric reassured him by saying, “I’ll join you soon, I promise.” Jansen wasn’t happy about being parted from Eric, but he replied, “Make sure you do. No more crazy stuff, okay?” Upon receiving Eric’s smile of agreement, Jansen joined the others heading for the two buses. Once those leaving had cleared out of the C-130, Helen patted a bomb and asked, “Are you still willing to buy them for the money we’re out? I was led to believe that you would be.” The technician nodded to Levi, indicating that the bombs were safe, and then left the aircraft. Levi returned his attention to Helen and shook his head adamantly while reaching into his pocket. “I’m afraid you have been misinformed, ma’am… May I call you Helen? This issue is… problematic for us. Israel has never admitted to possessing nuclear weapons. Were we to purchase those, which you are known to possess, we would become an admitted nuclear power. That would be politically difficult, and my government instructed me that under no circumstances am I, or any other Israeli official, to take legal ownership of those warheads.” Helen was about to ask General Bradson what was going on, but Levi’s grin made it clear that he had something in mind. Levi handed her the piece of paper from his pocket. “That is a check, drawn on the Bank of Israel, for thirty-five million American dollars. It is yours if you will agree to allow us to fully inspect your nuclear warheads, in order for us to learn what we can of the Iranian nuclear program’s state and level of advancement. We would need to take the devices, temporarily, to a nearby facility. After we have learned whatever the bombs can teach us, we will return them to you, in a few days at most, with our profound thanks. Does this sound agreeable to you?” Helen stared at Levi for a moment, before turning to tell General Bradson, “I really would prefer to be rid of these damn things.” “Sorry Helen, Levi has a point regarding Israel never admitting to possessing nuclear warheads. Look at the bright side; this way you get your money back, plus five million. I’m sure we can find something to do with them now that the money is no longer an issue. Maybe you need a matching pair of large paperweights for you office?” The General’s attempt at humor garnered a few awkward chuckles as it fell flat. Eric, never one to let a joke die, said, “I say we keep ‘em. It might be handy to use one the next time the paparazzi start bugging us. Paparazzi have conventions, don't they?” After shooting an irritated glare in Eric’s direction, Helen turned to face Levi, and as she tucked the check into her purse, she said in a gracious tone, “Thank you for doing this. I’d have preferred to be rid of the bombs, but you’ve solved our financial problem and you’ve given us refuge.” Levi smiled and withdrew a contract from his pocket. “This is in English. Feel free to read it. It makes clear that the bombs remain your property. Amongst other things, this should prevent your government from charging you with nuclear proliferation and trafficking in nuclear weapons. Once it is signed, I’ll have the bombs transported to a nearby facility.” “Most likely the Negev Nuclear Research Center, their main nuclear facility, about twenty miles south of here. That’s why they had us land at this base.” General Bradson said, ostensibly to Helen, but his words were intended for the Israelis, to let them know that he was familiar with their nuclear program. He had a hunch regarding why they were so eager to inspect the warheads, and hoped that they would accept the offer he’d made during the flight, via his friends. Levi Gold replied with a bemused look. “We do intend to take the devices there. It is, as you say, a research facility,” he said, observing the official fiction. Israel’s policy was to neither confirm nor deny the purpose of the facility, even though it was widely known to be the center of the Israeli nuclear weapons program. The technicians in Machon 8, their primary experimental and research laboratory at the facility, were ready and waiting to examine the Iranian bombs, a project that had been given priority over all others. Helen read over the contract, and then signed. She then, with a sigh of both relief and resignation, returned the contract to Levi. Helen had an additional reason to be thankful; only she had been named on the contract, which meant that Instinct should be safe from any repercussions. Levi wasted no time; at his order, a winch-equipped truck was backed into the cargo bay, and the bombs were loaded aboard. He watched as the truck made its way down the ramp, and then he turned to tell Helen, “I have a car waiting to take you and your band to the hotel. We wish to make no secret of the fact that we are inspecting your bombs, so please, make a call to that reporter the General mentioned, and be sure to inform him of that detail. For the moment, for your own sake, we suggest that you refrain from mentioning that you retain ownership. We’ll meet again, in the morning, and let you know what we’re planning. For now, please enjoy our hospitality.” General Bradson was pleased that he hadn’t needed to ask to stay behind. Once Helen and Instinct were taken to the waiting car by the other two Israelis, Levi Gold, alone in Flight Three with General Bradson, said, “If you need rest, we can wait until morning. However, it would be better for us all, I think, if we took care of our immediate business now. Less urgent is that some of our technicians and some of our strike command Air Force personal would like to debrief you, Felecia, and any of her men who saw the underground facility before she nuked it. We’ll get to that in the morning.” General Bradson nodded. He’d expected that. Ever the cool professional, Levi Gold casually added, “The matter that is most urgent is your offer regarding Iran. What you unearthed there was the greatest professional embarrassment of my career. We did not know they were so far along with their effort. It is only because of the unstable political situation in Iran, which we hope bears fruit, that we have held our own strike in abeyance, for now. Your attack on their refineries was inspired, for it has hurt them badly. They are desperate for petrol… gasoline, as you call it. The population is growing more restive and resentful by the day. The situation has been enhanced somewhat by the loss of two Venezuelan gasoline tankers, which were bound for Iran. The first one exploded and sank in the Red Sea three days ago, and today, another met a similar fate in the Indian Ocean. They were counting on that fuel and its loss was problematic for their dictatorship.” “Why do I suspect that they ran into torpedoes?” General Bradson asked, with a knowing smile. Levi shrugged, painting an innocent expression on his face as he replied, “We do have some Dolphin-class subs that might possibly have been in the areas of the explosions, but coincidences happen.” “Bullshit,” General Bradson replied with a grin. “I do hope that more such ‘coincidences’ occur.” Levi’s expression had become dour. “That might be unlikely. Due to the two incidents, Iran has been unable to find tanker operators willing to contract for the journey, and they own none of their own. However, they might have a way out. Your government has been making noises regarding offering tankers a naval escort, citing freedom of the seas, and also in a naive-at-best effort to curry favor with the Iranian regime. That would preclude us from taking action against the tankers in most cases. Our problem is the same as yours; a self-deluded clique within your government has staked out a position based on its radical policies. Having done so, they now find themselves unable to back down without humiliating themselves. Therefore, they are acting to prevent your plan from working and are quite content to allow Iran to become a nuclear power. We do not share that view, and we will not tolerate a nuclear Iran.” General Bradson nodded, scratching his chin thoughtfully. This was the reason he’d chosen Israel as a destination; common causes make for allies, and he was in desperate need of allies at the moment. “You’re damn close to launching a full-scale strike on Iran, aren’t you? My read on this is that the only reason you have not yet done so is that you want to give the rebellion that’s brewing over there a chance, because if it succeeds, that could solve the issue permanently.” “I can neither conform nor deny that, General, but I can say that we would much prefer the uprising to succeed. We cannot, under any circumstance, allow that fanatical dictatorship to become a nuclear power. They make no secret of their wish to wipe us off the map, and deterrence only works against the sane. Once we understood the nature of the underground facilities you discovered, we have since found more. A conventional-weapons strike may prove insufficient.” Levi paused, letting the obvious implication hang in the air for a moment before adding, “Therefore, your gasoline gambit is the best hope.” That, too, came as no surprise to General Bradson. The logistics for the Israelis, given the range and geography, and faced with vast, deep underground complexes, meant that a nuclear strike could be the only viable option. “So, either my plan works or there will be a full-scale Israeli nuclear strike against Iran. Don’t bother answering, I know you can’t. The problem, as I see it, is that the best solution is being blocked by this radical clique of ideologues in the U.S. Government.” Levi nodded, wondering if the General would balk when he realized the magnitude of the situation. “Getting rid of the foot soldiers will do little good. I trust that you know how widely the problem extends?” General Bradson didn’t know for sure, but he had long suspected, and by the manner of his question, it was evident that Levi knew for certain. General Bradson chewed on his lip for a moment, already aware of what he was about to be asked to commit to. Deciding to cut to the chase, the General replied, “I do, and I think there’s a way to take them down. Part of it is already in place.” “We cannot help overtly,” Levi said. In a cold, determined tone, General Bradson replied, “Leave it to me. If the Mossad can provide me with a few phone numbers back in the ‘States, I think I can wrap this thing up in twenty-four hours. If that fails, I am ready and able to carry out the strike plan I proposed.” © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice . Special thanks to MikeL for advice I hereby dedicate this story to my friend Wildone, who has suffered a horrific accident, but due to his strength, perseverance, and courage has pulled through and is recovering. I wish you a continued speedy recovery, Wildone. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
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