Colonel Crawford broke the secure video link to Hawaii, Admiral Packard’s image blinking out a second later. They’d had a lot to discuss, and the call had lasted a long time. Captain Blanchard, who had stayed quiet and out of view of the camera, stepped up and shut down the computer that was used for video calls. Air Force Brigadier General Triplett, commander of Tinker Air Force Base, sat across the table from Crawford. He was a good administrator and did a good job of running the base, but he wasn’t a tactician or a warrior. Fortunately, he readily acknowledged that fact and had no problem deferring to the Admiral and Colonel on strategic matters.
Their first topic had been the immediate commencement of mass production of the vaccine. Crawford had urged they begin producing it as quickly as possible, and the Admiral had agreed. General Triplett already had Air Force personnel on the way to the University to oversee the production ramp up and ensure there was vaccine being manufactured around the clock. He would take on managing the distribution of the completed product and the prioritization of inoculations.
They had moved on to several other topics, including airlifting some needed supplies from stores on the mainland to Hawaii. A couple of hours into the conference, the Admiral had muted the microphone on his end and they had seen an aide step into the camera frame. Packard’s unruly eyebrows had shot up, then he’d unmuted and told Crawford that a Russian GRU officer was calling on a secure US military circuit, demanding to speak with Major John Chase.
The Colonel was as surprised as Packard, suggesting the caller be joined to their conference so both of them could hear why the Russians wanted to speak with Major Chase. The Admiral agreed, glancing off to the side at an aide. A moment later there was a dual tone beep indicating a voice caller had joined the video conference.
“This is Admiral Packard, United States Navy. To whom am I speaking?”
“Admiral, my name is Captain Irina Vostov. I’m with the GRU of the Russian Federation. It is urgent that I speak with Major John Chase of your Army on a most serious matter.” Packard looked out of the screen at the Colonel and nodded for him to speak.
“Captain, this is Colonel Crawford. I’m Major Chase’s commanding officer. We’re on a secure line. What is this matter?”
There was a long pause and Crawford was about to ask if she was still on the line when she spoke again.
“If you are truly his commanding officer, you will know what I gave him and what he gave me.”
Crawford hesitated. If this were really the GRU Captain the Major had briefed him about, then it would hurt nothing to reveal what he knew. But how could he be sure? What if this was an attempt by the Russians to catch the real Captain Vostov?
“If you’re really Captain Vostov, you can tell me the specific injuries one of Major Chase’s team suffered while opening the loading bay doors during exfiltration from Los Alamos.” It was the only event he could come up with that had a specific answer, but wasn’t important enough for anyone that wasn’t there to have all the details.
“That would be Technical Sergeant Scott. He fell and broke his right arm, below the elbow. He also suffered a head injury and lost consciousness. How is he, by the way?” She hadn’t hesitated for a second. Certainly hadn’t had to look through notes to come up with the correct answer.
Crawford looked up and nodded at the Admiral, letting him know the correct answer had been given.
“Thank you, Captain.” The Colonel said. “Scott is recovering nicely. So, are you calling about the vaccine, or the three special packages the Major gave you?”
“The packages, Colonel. They were on board an Antonov cargo plane bound for Moscow. Two hours ago you shot that plane down as it took off from Kirtland Air Force Base. I want to know why you are going back on the deal I made with Major Chase.” Her voice had a hard edge to it as she spoke.
“Captain, I assure you I did not shoot down any Russian plane two hours ago.” Crawford said, Admiral Packard interjecting before Irina could respond.
“Captain, Admiral Packard. That plane was shot down on my standing orders. As I’m sure you can understand, things move slowly within the chain of command, and they’re moving even slower after the attacks on my country. Updated orders had not yet reached the team that fired on your plane. No one has violated the agreement you made with the Major.”
There was silence on the line as Irina thought about what she’d just been told. “I accept your explanation, Admiral.” She finally said after a nearly a minute. “But we now have a problem. There’s a madman in the Kremlin and my comrades and I no longer have any way to stop him. If he’s not stopped, the vaccine will only delay the inevitable for America. He is determined to destroy your country to the last man.”
“Please stand by, Captain.” Packard pushed a button that placed Irina on hold, isolating her from the call. “What do you think, Jack?” He asked Colonel Crawford. Use of the Colonel’s first name told him the Admiral wanted the pure, unvarnished truth.
“I think we have three specials in our possession. If we can trust this woman, whom I’m still not one hundred percent sure about, those three bombs won’t do us any good. Sure, we can deliver one to each of the three Air Force bases they’ve captured, but what will that really gain us? A few dead Russians? They’ll fly replacements in within 24 hours.
“My opinion is that we don’t have a better option than making a leap of faith and supplying her with whatever she asks for. I’ve been doing some research today, and her uncle is Fleet Admiral Shevchenko. He’s about as moderate as a Russian gets, and personally I’d much rather see him in control of Russia than this asshole Barinov who’s been butt fucking us for the past month. Sir.”
Packard smiled and nodded. “Succinctly put, Colonel. OK, I’m bringing her back on.”
“Admiral, I’m still here.”
“Captain, we are prepared to provide you with whatever equipment and support you require, but I need to check with my superiors first.” Packard said.
“That’s not acceptable, Admiral! I made a deal with Major Chase, and the inefficiency of your military is the only reason we’re even having this conversation. I have honored our deal, and I expect you to do the same. I happen to know you don’t have any superiors to check with. Do not forget I’m GRU. I know you are the highest ranking survivor, and that your President and Congress are all dead. Do not play games with me!” Irina’s voice was hard and loud. The woman was obviously under a lot of stress.
“Captain, there are things you don’t know. I will recommend we supply you with what you need, but I will not hand over special packages without proper approval. Major Chase should not have done so, either, and under any other circumstances he’d being facing trial and quite possibly execution.”
She was quiet for a long time before speaking again. “Apologies for my tone, Admiral. It has been a long day.”
“Captain, besides the special packages, do you need anything else?” Crawford interjected.
“No, Colonel. We have everything else well in hand.”
“Very good. Assuming Admiral Packard receives approval, how would you like to go about collecting the items from us?” He asked.
“2200 hours tomorrow I will be in El Paso, Texas. It is just far enough outside of our CAP that you can come in without being detected, but close enough that my pilot can deviate from his patrol without drawing scrutiny.”
“Are you sure?” Crawford asked. “Between El Paso and Juarez there are about three million infected people wandering around.”
“The location will be secure. I will call back in precisely 16 hours for the Admiral’s answer and with the rendezvous coordinates. You will have Major Chase available for me to speak with. If I don’t hear his voice, no coordinates. Also, he must be the one to deliver the devices. He’s the only one I trust to not start shooting simply because his orders didn’t get updated.”
Crawford glanced up at the screen, Admiral Packard looking like he’d just sucked on a particularly sour lemon.
“That may be difficult, Captain. He is currently out of radio contact, searching for some missing personnel.” The Colonel said.
“Colonel – I’ve studied the United States Army for the majority of my adult life. I know how resourceful you are, how swiftly you can move when you must. Even allowing for what has happened to your country. Find him and have him standing by for my call tomorrow. Dosvedanya.” The dual tone beep sounded again, only in reverse order, letting them know she had disconnected.