The Carrickfergus chugged passed Kotelny island, crashing through sheets of ice on its way.
Deckard sat on the bridge watching the scorched island slide by. The sting of defeat overwhelmed the physical pain he felt in his chest where the machine gun barrel had slammed into him. They had lost nine men on what should have been a straight forward post-battle assessment of the island. The bodies of their dead had been bagged up and put down in the bottom of the ship with the ballast for the time being. The Samruk mercs had loaded up and quickly evacuated the island.
Knowing it was futile to hold off on making the call, Deckard picked up the satellite phone, even though talking about what just happened was the last thing he wanted to do at that moment. He dialed the number for Xyphon’s head of security.
“This is Eliot.”
“I lost them,” Deckard said. “Whoever they were, they hacked into six automated tank systems that were left present on the island in standby mode. As near as I can tell they used the tanks to massacre everyone on the island, then send them back to their garages to wait for anyone else to show up on the island. It was a baited trap and we walked right into it.”
“Did you lose anyone?”
“Shit, I’m sorry Deckard.”
“We took a close look at the airfield though. There was no sign that an aircraft had landed or taken off on that airstrip in a while. We would have seen some tracks.”
“Which means they are still on the water. Makes since seeing that they don’t have total control over the airspace. It seems like they are using an anti-access strategy, shooting down just enough aircraft to make the Russians squeamish about sending more.”
“Whatever the case, they are long gone. I fucked up.”
“There was no way you could have known Deckard. You’re not out of the game yet. Not if you still want in.”
“What is it?” Deckard said as he sat up straight in his chair.
“Can you do VTC?” Eliot said referring to a Video Teleconference.
“Yeah, we can do that via satellite.”
“Good. Call this number,” Eliot then read off a strong of numbers that Deckard wrote down on a coffee stained yellow legal pad that Otter had left laying around.
“Who is this?” Deckard asked as he finished writing down the numbers.
“Uncle Sam has been looking for you Deckard. The chess pieces are shifting very rapidly back in the United States right now.”
Deckard hung up and opened a laptop computer. Bringing up the VTC program he dialed up the number that Eliot had provided. It took a minute for the connection to kick in before the video suddenly clicked on.
On the screen, Deckard saw four men sitting around a table.
“Deckard,” the man in the center of the table said. “We’ve been trying to get ahold of you for hours.”
“This isn’t exactly a Skype call from your local Starbucks,” Deckard replied. “What can I do for you?”
“Mr. Deckard,” the old man with the reading glasses perched on his nose began. “We represent a compartmentalized special access program folded within the national security infrastructure of the U.S. Government. What we would like to discuss with you is certain terms of employment and the legalese required therein which your company would complete the terms of service on an operationalized basis pending certain approvals and exemptions-”
“Okay, okay,” Deckard interrupted. “I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.”
“God dammit,” another old man on the teleconference muttered. “I fucking told you Craig, shut your fat fucking face.” The man wearing a black trench coat stood up and walked in front of the camera, standing in front of Deckard and blocking out the view of the other three men at the table.
“Listen,” he said. “The bad guys stole something from the Russians, probably something nuclear, and we can’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”
“What we have acquired for you are letters of marque and reprisal signed by the President of the United States of America. You just became the first sanctioned American pirate in over two hundred years. As a privateer you are entitled to raid enemy vessels designated by the US government, for pay, and we can also provide you with whatever intelligence support we can from here.”
“I’ve got wood.”
“I was hoping you would say that. Your mission is simple Deckard. Stop the enemy for getting away with the device they took from the Russians. That is your target. Kill everything between you and it.”
“I just came a little but I’m afraid that I can’t help. They must be heading east, but we lost their trail.”
“We can help with that.”
“10-meter imagery captured by Synthetic Aperture Radar from a passing satellite 45 minutes ago. The national geo-spatial agency was able to track fourteen commercial shipping vessels passing Kotelny island plus one mystery vessel. All we can do is a analysis of the ship’s wake and attempt to project a distance and heading.”
“I’m starting to feel like Captain Jack Sparrow chasing a ghost ship.”
“We’ll exchange business cards and swap saliva under the bleachers later Deckard,” the man in the black jacket said. “Right now we need to get this operation back on track. I’m bringing some imagery up on your screen right now. Craig, get that shit up on the VTC dammit.”
The screen on Deckard’s laptop showed overhead imagery of a ice strewn sea, a patch of the seemingly endless arctic ocean just like any other.
“We got no direct returns from searching for this particular ship, meaning it has poor radar backscatter characteristics.”
“A stealth ship?”
“It almost certainly has characteristics to reduce its radar cross section, the wake we detected was faint as well meaning that there are probably measures to reduce that as well. Whoever these guys are they are trying very hard to stay hidden and that makes them very interesting to us. We need you to close the distance and keep the pressure on them, otherwise they might have time to offload the device to a waiting airplane or submarine. Zoom in on that picture and take a closer look at the wake.”
Deckard clicked the magnifying glass icon and enlarged the image. The ship’s wake was hard to spot at first but it was definitely present.
“You can make out a stern wave and the turbulent wake leaving a trail behind wherever the vessel is off to,” the man in black continued. “I crunched the numbers. By measuring distances where the traverse and divergent waves intersect with the kelvin envelop I was able to get you a new heading for the suspect vessel. This heading also backtracks to Kotelny island.”
“What am I up against?
“My best assessment is that it is a semi-submersible craft which would explain why we can’t find a radar cross section on it. The good news is that this means the ship is moving at relatively slow speeds, meaning you’ve got a shot at catching up with it.”
“The bad news?”
“It probably lowers its draft by filling internal ballast tanks along the sides of its hull. It would also be able to evacuate those tanks quickly and then take off a much higher speeds. Its going to be hard to spot, even visually, but once you do and begin pursuit you will have your hands full.”
“You’re an old sea dog aren’t you?”
The man in black chuckled.
“That was a long time ago.”
“You could say that I specialize in quiet weapons for silent wars.”
Deckard was silent.
“You can call me Will by the way.”
“Who are they?”
Will was about to say something until Craig, the guy with the reading glasses interrupted.
“We don’t know who they are Deckard. That’s what has everyone here so scared. Russia has come under attack, America got hit hard last night, and we are seeing some really weird movements in Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea in recent hours. Right now it would be extremely speculative to point a finger at one actor or another because none of this is making sense,” Craig finished. “We’ll be in touch the moment we know more.”
“I would appreciate that,” Deckard said, his words left hanging in the air.
Will looked back at him.
“You remember the Moscow apartment complex bombing in 1999?” Will asked.
“It kicked off the second war in Chechnya.”
“Its not a secret that the bombing was a false flag conducted by the Russian FSB intelligence service.”
“What are you saying? That the Russians stole their own nuclear weapon?”
“I’m saying that all of the villains in Gotham city are teaming up on us.”
“As I said, we’ll contact you when we have something solid,” Craig cut in again.
The VTC went dark and Deckard was again sitting on the bridge with only Otter to keep him company. The ship captain whistled as he began steering them on a new heading that had just been sent to them.
“Damn son,” the ship captain said as he took a swig of spiked coffee. “That’s some black helicopter shit right there.”