Deckard climbed down the metal stairwell from the bridge and down into the passenger compartment of the ship. Standing in the middle of his men’s living and work space, the mercenaries were stepping around him in the cramped ship quarters. His vision was still transfixed on the piece of paper he held in his hand. They had received it by email and Deckard had printed off a couple of copies.
In his hand he held a letter of marque signed by the president, authorizing him to attack enemy vessels at his own discretion. With the flick of a pen, the Carrickfergus had been made into a pirate ship, and Deckard the pirate captain. Some of the mercenaries looked at him strangely as they passed by. No one could recall seeing their boss with such a big smile on his face.
Snapping out of it, Deckard stepped over Mk48 machine guns and around winter parkas and trousers drying from improvised clothes lines. He was looking for the computer hacker he kept on Samruk International’s payroll when he stumbled across Chuck Rochenoir’s hootch. Him and Nate, the new guy who had served with Marine Corps Special Operations, were sitting on top of MRE boxes while drinking a couple Miller High Life beers.
“You want one Deck?” Rochenior asked. “It’s the fuckin’ champagne of beers.”
Deckard stepped forward, looking at the giant black flag that Chuck had strung up on the wall. The skull and cross bones was something that Marines and SEALs could always appreciate.
“Something wrong?” Nate asked.
“Far from it,” Deckard answered.
He handed Chuck the letter bearing the letterhead of the Oval Office. Chuck and Nate crowded around the piece of paper, trying to make sense of it.
“This can’t be what I think it is?” Nate asked.
For once, Chuck was at a lose for words.
“Let’s start flying the jolly roger and make it official,” Deckard said with a grin.
* * *
Deckard found Cody hunched over a desk, finger fucking some electronic gadget.
At the end of the passenger compartment, Cody had set up a small work station. The desk was covered with wires, batteries, rechargers, thumb drives, and other odds and ends. He was perhaps the only non-combat personnel in the company, but he had a magic touch with electronics. From computer network operations, to jerry-rigging satellite dishes, or isolating obscure radio frequency spectrums, Cody had an exceptional talent.
Not that it didn’t come without its drawbacks.
“What do you want?” Cody asked after briefly looking up at Deckard. Then he muttered under his breath, “fucking pussy.”
Cody was in a unique position as he had both aspergers syndrome and apparently an undiagnosed form of Tourette’s syndrome on top of it.
“Get anything off those laptops?” Deckard said as he noticed the laptop computers that Aghassi had taken off the Russian mafia target they had hit.
“Not much, just social media shit that can be used to link them back to the rest of the Russian mob. But we already knew that.”
“The other thing I wanted to talk to you about is what happened on Kotelny.”
Cody didn’t look up and continued to mess around with the Pawn Pad in his hands. It was a Nexus 7 tablet that had been specially built for penetration testing of electronic networks.
“Tanks got hacked. What else you wanna know?” Cody asked. “COCK!”
“How hard is it to do something like that?”
“Very difficult. Just like our Predator drones. The signals being transmitted between the drone and the operator are unencrypted, otherwise the encryption would lead to such a lag time that it would be like trying to have a fire fight with a 56k AOL dial up connection.”
“But intercepting signals doesn’t allow you to take control of the drone?”
“No. FUCK. To do that you have hack the actual hardware on the drone and that is encrypted.”
“Who could do something like that?”
“Military grade encryption? Not me. Not anyone I would know. Governments only I guess.”
“So we’re talking about a major power player? A country that has a massive electronic warfare infrastructure like China?”
“DICK. FACE. Yes. No. Or just a Russian military insider who sold his secrets to someone. I don’t know.”
“You are not filling with me confidence right now Cody.”
“Why the fuck would I want to do that,” Cody snorted. “We’re all going to die up in this frozen shit hole you brought us to.”
“Well, that’s nice to know,” Deckard said as he looked up at the ceiling. “Anything else you can actually do to help me before we stumble into oblivion?”
“Take this next time,” Cody turned around and tossed Deckard the pawn pad. “Turn it on next time you come in contact with these guys. It might suck up some interesting signals we can use.”
Deckard looked down at the tablet and pursed his lips.
“Okay Cody,” Deckard said as he turned to walk away. “Okay.”
* * *
Deckard found his cot in the middle of the mercenary maelstrom and sat down. It was his ship and his merry band of pirates, but even he could get lost in the chaos. Having soldiers live right on top of each other in cramped quarters made for an interesting combination of fist fights and grab ass. These were no professional sailors either, they were blow-the-door-down, kill everyone inside, and be home by beer-thirty ground pounders. The few former SEALs and Marines may have been used to it, but most of the men adapted to the maritime lifestyle with great reluctance.
But none of them complained. Deckard’s checks cleared. For now anyway.
The former Special Operations soldier picked up his AK-103 rifle, depressed the nub at the end of the carrier spring and detached the dust cover. He then popped out the spring and pulled out the bolt carrier. Using a rag and some oil he did a few minutes of weapon maintenance.
They were quickly learning how to put a weapon into operation effectively in the arctic. More and more of the mercenaries were rolling out with just iron sights as the batteries in optical sights froze after fifteen minutes. Deckard applied a very light coat of oil prior to reassembling his rifle. Any more, and he risked having the oil freeze and gum up the cycle of operation when he pulled the trigger, leading to malfunctions.
Next he moved on to his Glock 19, the standard issue sidearm in Samruk International. He had given up his much loved Kimber 1911. As much as he loved God’s gun, Deckard knew that the reality was that 1911’s were high maintenance tack drivers only carried by Luddites, Iconoclasts, and connoisseurs. At the end of the day, the Glock 19 was more reliable and reliability was something that they desperately needed in the arctic. It took three minutes to disassemble the pistol, wipe it down, and put it back together again.
Deckard slid the Glock into the Raven Concealment holster on his hip and headed back up to the bridge. Otter had actually let Kurt Jager take the helm while the ship’s captain was looking over sea charts and plotting a course.
“Where do you think the enemy is heading?” Deckard asked him.
“Well,” Otter said as he frowned and blew out his cheeks. “Based on the wake analysis we were given, it looks like they are heading towards the De Long straight.”
“Will we over take them prior to getting there?”
“I have no idea. It depends on their speed relative to ours and right now we have no idea how many knots they are moving at. We should have a better idea in 5 hours when the next satellite in polar orbit goes overhead. If it is able to pick up the stealth ship’s wake again, we could be able to calculate speeds.”
“How long until we reach the straight if we continue at our max speed?”
“At 25 knots we will get there in just a little over 24 hours.”
“Feels like we’re fighting a war in slow motion.”
“We’re not hitting time sensitive targets in some urban sprawl,” Kurt reminded Deckard. “Even with the north-east passage opening up, there is still very little infrastructure in the arctic.”
“Maybe that won’t be the case in another twenty years as the oil companies try to suck every bit of energy reserves out of the arctic,” Otter confirmed. “But for now, we are faced with the tyranny of distance and the austerity of the environment.”
“I guess the good news is that the enemy is as well,” Deckard said.
“Their choice of vessel would make one believe that they chose stealth over speed, counting on the assumption that they would not be found.”
“But we’ve already got their heading.”
“And we’re probably gaining on them as we speak,” Otter said with a rare smile.
Deckard ran his finger over the chart, tracing the projected route of the Carrickfergus, wondering what the next day would bring.