“They want you to go after them.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means the Russians are desperate,” Eliot said over the satellite phone. “They are scrambling more ships from the North Fleet but they will never get there in time.”
“How is this supposed to work?” Deckard asked.
“You intercept the enemy vessel-”
“Assuming there is a vessel.”
“And they pay the company in oil so it is all legit. Just like that job that you didn’t just do for us. Deckard, they are talking about opening up the entire Pechora oil field to us. We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars-”
“Assuming the check clears.”
“This is huge. Everyone at Xyphon is very excited but frankly they need me to sell you on the idea. Suffice to say we will cut you in for a percentage. Three percent of hundreds of billions of dollars is a lot of money.”
“Enough to keep my company running indefinitely.”
“You’re a hell of a soldier Deckard, but unless you aquire some serious business acumen in the next year you are going to need a steady stream of revenue.”
Deckard was silent for a moment. Everyone on the bridge of the Carrickfergus was looking at him.
“Any idea how I’m supposed to track them down?”
“One lead. Our crew on the Orion platform spotted a ship passing them an hour ago. Heading east. No AIS and the radar signature was so small that it looked like a iceberg on their displays. That ain’t normal. They never would have spotted it if we didn’t have so much illumination tonight.”
“Get me an estimate on the heading. If we can get into the general vicinity by day break we might be able to follow their wake.”
“So you’re in?”
“They burned our compound to the ground. I would like to know who it is that wants me dead.”
“Keep me up to date.”
“I will,” Deckard said. “And Eliot?”
“I want paper.”
“You’ll have a contract sent to you within the hour stating that if Xyphon is granted oil rights to Pachora that you will receive three percent of our net profit.”
“We’ll see,” Deckard said before hanging up.
Kurt, Chuck, Frank, Pat, and Otter stood looking at him.
“What you are waiting for, turn this ship around and make way for the Orion platform.”
“You got it boss,” Otter said as he began working the helm.
“Here we go again,” Frank said.
“You think I made the wrong call?”
“No,” Pat interrupted. “Someone just declared war on both Russia and America. They are seconds away from starting World War Three at any given moment and whoever they are, they are out there,” Pat pointed out into the darkness.
“Besides,” Chuck said. “A brother has to eat.”
* * *
“You gotta be kidding me,” Joshua said, the exasperation dripping in his voice.
“They’re the only ones we got up there,” Gary stated.
“You keep using that word we but he isn’t really one of ours,” Joshua countered.
“He’s a freelancer,” Craig chimed in with nothing of any relevance. “A loose cannon.”
“I acknowledge that there are aspects that make this…problematic,” Gary said. “But beggars can’t be choosers. For decades we neglected our capabilities in the arctic. The Coast Guard only has three ice breaker ships. One is in the process of being decommissioned and the other two are in dry docks being overhauled to extend their lifespan a few years.”
“This guy is a fucking mercenary for Christ sake,” Craig said. “You can’t trust him.”
“We talked to an officer Grant with Central Intelligence,” Gary said. “He said they had a fairly good working relationship for a time.”
In the corner of the room, Will’s chair screeched across the linoleum floor as he stood up. He had been huddled over a JWICS computer terminal for hours. The Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System was how some of America’s most classified information was shared within the intelligence community.
“I like him,” Will announced.
“Takes one to know one, huh, Will?” Craig said sarcastically. “Disavowed and disgraced.”
“The President just took us to DEFCON 2 in case you haven’t been keeping score,” Will said. “That’s the problem with you bureaucrats. You’re afraid to get your hands dirty. Well today we are going to do just that.”
“Oh my god,” Joshua said. “We’re all going to jail.”
“You don’t have to trust him,” Will said. “You don’t even have to like him but this is the guy who can get the job done and there isn’t a single other person we can call on.”
“You understand your colleague’s concerns though,” Gary added. “He brings substantial baggage.”
“Read his file,” Will said. “Special Operations, Ground Branch, Omega. This guy is one of ours. If the ring knockers hadn’t pissed him off he would probably still be one of ours. Instead he took his show on the road, and by all accounts this guy has more kills than cancer.”
“That’s what we’re afraid of,” Gary said as he leaned back in his swivel chair.
“Don’t concern yourself. It’s the arctic, it isn’t like there is much up there for him to destroy anyway.”
Craig rubbed his forehead.
“This is illegal as fuck,” Joshua said in a last ditch effort.
“It doesn’t have to be.”
“How?” Gary asked.
“Letters of Marque.”
“What the hell is that?”
Will tapped a cigarette out of his pack and popped it in his mouth.
“You can’t smoke here,” Craig whined.
“Go fuck yourself,” Will said as he lit it up. “So here is the deal. Back in the days of Sir Francis Drake and Captain Kidd, letters of marque were issued by the king to commission and authorize privateers to attack enemy vessels. They were government sanctioned pirates.”
“I hate to break it to you but we had this little incident in 1776 and ever since we haven’t had a king,” Gary said, swatting at cigarette smoke.
“But there is a historical precedent. President Madison authorized letters of marque during the second barbary war off the coast of Libya.”
“That has got to be the most obscure legal justification I’ve ever heard,” Craig said.
“Are you kidding me,” Will said as he exhaled another cloud of smoke. “We break the law all the time in JSOC, we just do it legally by exploiting loopholes and bypassing the intent of the law. If anything, this is on far more solid legal ground.”
“Who has the authorization to grant a letter of marque?” Gary asked.
Will arched his eyebrows.
“Run it up the flag pole,” Will said turning back to his terminal. “A lot has changed tonight. They will sign it.”
The men sitting around the table let out a collective sigh. Will just chuckled as he scrolled through files on JWICS.
“Deckard is about to become an American pirate.”
* * *
By daybreak, Otter spotted clouds of black smoke billowing in the distance. It was becoming an all too familiar sight. After making contact with Xyphon’s oil platform, they determined a rough heading which took them straight to Kotelny Island.
Deckard stood next to Otter on the bridge, kitted up except for his heavy snow camo parka that he held in one hand. Xyphon and the Russian government had been in touch via a cut out that Deckard probably didn’t even want to know about. The Russian military lost communications with their base on the island during the night. When aircraft were scrambled, one of the MIG fighter jets was shot down. Now they were requesting that Samruk scope the situation out prior to Russian forces making an amphibious landing later that day.
All the boys were jocked up down below. They were going to execute a forced entry to the island, eleminate any enemies they encountered, attempt to rescue any remaining Russian soldiers, and report back to Xyphon with their status. If the base had been compromised, the enemy also might attempt to utilize the airstrip that the Russian military had recently upgraded. Kotelny was a strategic base during the Soviet era, but had been shut down at the end of the cold war. It was only with the opening of Arctic transit lines that the Russians renewed their focus on the region, seeking to assert their sovereignty and fossil fuel rights in the arctic.
As the Carrickfergus neared the island, they could see burning vehicles. They were Russian GAZ 3351s, treaded personnel carriers made specifically for traveling across the arctic snow and ice.
“Somebody lit these guys up,” Otter said.
He then took a sip of coffee as if it was just another day at the office.
Deckard stepped out of the bridge and climbed down a ladder onto the barge. His men stood assembled and waiting. This time they were not even going to dick around with the trucks. Bringing them had been a huge mistake in the first place, one he chalked up to his lack of experience in the arctic. This wasn’t counter-terrorism raids in Baghdad and he should have adapted to his environment better.
The Carrickfergus cracked through the sheets of ice as they closed on the island. The Samruk mercenaries almost looked robotic in their arctic gear. In addition to their snow camouflage and heavy parkas, they each wore tinted SnoCross goggles which also included a nose protector. Without them, they would suffer from both frostbite and snowblindness. Under that they each wore a No-Fog breath deflector which would help keep them warm, but more importantly, would prevent their goggles from fogging up. That was one of those little details that could get you killed in a firefight.
“Listen up!” Deckard yelled as he strode into the middle of the group. “1st Platoon you have the airfield. 2nd Platoon, you have the barracks a few kilometers east. Afterwards we will consolidate and sweep up anything else we missed.”
The orders were brief to say the least, but he had faith in his Platoon Sergeants. Besides, they were just making this up on the fly.
As the Carrickfergus approached the icy coast, the ramp lowered and the mercenaries flowed off the ship, already wearing their assault snow shoes. Fedorchenko took his platoon towards the airfield while Shatayeva took his platoon to the barracks. Deckard shadowed Fedorchenko while Sergeant Major Korgan trailed after Shatayeva, the senior men present to help provide command and control.
The only thing the mercenaries heard was the whistle of wind in their ears and the crunch of snow under their boots. The columns of black smoke rising into the blue sky warned them that despite the alien desolation of emptiness of the arctic, that something was very wrong on Kotelny Island.
“We have bodies,” Korgan reported over the command net. “Someone tore them to ribbons. Looks like large caliber rounds were used.”
“I’m seeing them,” Deckard replied as he walked passed the remains of a Russian soldier. He had been wearing a heavy jacket with a fur lined hood. His entire body was scortched black up to his neck and was nearly cut in half at his mid-section.
Fedorchenko’s men moved out in a wedge shaped formation, spreading out and keeping a good distance between each mercenary so that they couldn’t be wiped out by a single grenade, IED, or burst of machine gun fire. Deckard trailed along behind them, his head swiveling back and forth but not seeing any enemy threats. After a few more minutes of treading through the snow, Fedorchenko ordered his men on line with eachother to conduct a sweep of the airfield.
Deckard walked off to the side and crouched down next to a pile of expended shell casings. Picking one of the shells with a gloved hand, Deckard recognized it as a 12.7 DShK heavy machine gun cartridge casing. Dropping the brass shell, Deckard clicked his radio.
“How are the barracks looking?” he asked Korgan.
“Mostly empty, but some of the compartments are completely ripped apart by heavy machine gun fire.”
“12.7 anti-aircraft gun?”
“Maybe, but I don’t see any firing positions.”
Deckard walked around the pile of expended brass. In the snow, it was easy to find and follow spore. Taking the hint from Korgan, he immediately saw tank treads next to the pile of brass. They seemed to lead off in another direction.
Tanks? But where did they go?
“Barracks secured,” Korgan reported.
“Airfield has been swept as well,” Fedorchenko radioed in. “No sign of the enemy.”
Deckard knew that something was seriously wrong. Someone just wasted a company’s worth of Russian soldiers with tanks and machine guns. They didn’t just disappear.
Deckard looked down the slope on the opposite end of the airfield, noticing that the Russian motor pool looked untouched, unlike the barracks and other vehicles scattered around the island. Reaching into his chest rig, he pulled out a small three power monocle. Lifting up his snow goggles, he cupped his hand around the monocle and took a closer look at the garages a few hundred meters away.
The motor pool looked dead, as clouds of snow were blown around the parking area. Then the doors on the garage suddenly began to open. Deckard squinted, trying to get a better view of what was inside. Then he saw it.
Deckard hit the transmit button on his radio.
“We’ve got a problem.”