Be well assured, though in our power
Is nothing left to give
But chance and place to meet the hour,
And leave to strive to live.
Till these dissolve our Order holds,
Our Service binds us here.
Then welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it is made clear
How in all time of our distress,
As in our triumph too,
The game is more than the player of the game
And the ship is more than the crew!
A Song in Storm by Rudyard Kipling
October 11th, 0900 hours, Islamabad, Pakistan
Senator John Styles shook hands with the Pakistani Secretary of State and turned toward the helicopter. He wasn't sure the casual khaki jacket had been the right look. He knew it would look good when he was near the helicopter. It would project the image of a man of action on a dangerous mission for his country. He had selected the one with the epaulets on the shoulders, giving it sort of a military cut, which he thought would remind folks that he was in a war zone. He was concerned with the photos taken of his shaking hands with the Pakistani officials. Those men had all been in suits and he'd looked awfully casual. He hoped the news agencies would run the photos of him getting on the helicopter and not the meet and greet ones.
Styles stopped automatically just as he arrived at the door of the aircraft to turn and wave one more time. This aircraft was not like the big Marine One Sikorskys the President rode in with stairs up to the doorway and a big entrance area. There wasn't any way he could turn and wave while ducking away from the rotor wash and crawling up the awkward step into the helicopter. He decided to wait until he was seated to wave one more time. That would encourage the half a dozen reporters that had come out to the airfield to take one more shot with him in the aircraft next to the big United States Navy emblazoned on its side, very martial.
Once he was seated his aide, Robert Carstairs, handed him a set of headphones that served to both muffle the deafening roar of the engines and allow him to speak to the other passengers. The big Sea Hawk shook as the engines revved up and then lifted from the field and began moving forward gaining altitude and speed rapidly. The crew chief slid Styles' door closed cutting down on the noise significantly.
Yeah, he decided as he looked around the cabin at his companions, the khaki jacket was the way to go. The Pakistani liaison guy, Lohdi, was the only one in a suit and he looked very out of his element in the aircraft. Styles glanced over at Craig, the CNN reporter selected from the pool to represent all of the press, to make sure he had his camera. He knew Carstairs had a couple of cameras with him to get photos they could use later for his campaign but he wanted to be sure that there was some good independent press from this as well. Carstairs would be emailing photos to the press the whole time they were out, using their satellite phone link. Not even any cell phone coverage out here. That must be what truly defined a third world country-no cell phone coverage.
It was supposed to be a two-hour flight to the refugee camp. It wasn't all that far but the camp was at 8,000 feet and the helicopter had to take some long way around to follow the contours of the mountains so it didn't have to try and fly over any of the big peaks.
Styles looked out his window. They were already leaving the city behind and flying over a checkerboard of small fields, still gaining elevation although most of their movement was clearly forward.
He didn't like helicopters, too noisy and undependable. But he did like the image they projected in the news. Men who rode in helicopters had places they needed to get to fast. The Navy insignias on this one showed a man with influence, important to his country's defense. Just the image he hoped this trip would project. He needed to start positioning himself now if he was going to have a shot at the presidency in four years. Strong on defense, not afraid to get his hands dirty, but compassionate, hence, the refugee camp.
An hour later and they were into the mountains flying down a pass following what looked like a dry riverbed and then another change of direction to follow yet another valley. Styles sure hoped the pilot knew where he was going. He ought to, the military certainly paid enough to train these guys, he thought sourly. He was amazed how much the military spent on training. He was strong on the military so he always voted to give them the money, but honestly how much training did these guys really need.
Carstairs leaned forward and tapped him on his knee. "Let me get a photo of you here, Senator," he said.
Good man, Carstairs, Styles thought, always thinking. A photo in the aircraft with the Navy helmet on would look really good. He smiled at Carstairs for one shot. Then put his 'tough on crime' look on for a second shot. Didn't want to look like he was having fun here, this was serious taxpayer business he was on.
Carstairs picked up his second camera for another shot just as the aircraft began to shudder and slow.
"This is Lt. Holland, we have a problem with one of our engines. We're going to cut our airspeed and see if that helps. Nothing to worry about at this point."
Styles hoped there was nothing to worry about. He looked out the window again, mountains and rocks and nothing else as far as he could see. No wonder they were all terrorists, what else was there to do in a country like this?
The helicopter slowed perceptibly and the shuddering decreased. Carstairs tapped on Styles' shoulder again and passed him the camera so he could look through the pictures, a couple of really good shots in the aircraft and a nice one of him walking across the tarmac with the Pakistanis in suits behind him. He liked that one; he looked like a man of action surrounded by politicians, a nice image there. He left that one up on the camera and passed it back to Carstairs with a smile.
The helicopter began to shudder again and the co-pilot came back on the headphones. "We're still having engine problems. We're heading back to Islamabad to get this looked at. We have a second aircraft on the field there checked out and ready to go. Sorry for the delay but we'll have you back in the air as quickly as possible."
Damn. Styles checked his watch. An hour and half back to Islamabad, change aircraft and get going again, say an hour and then two hours to the refugee camp. They wouldn't be in Sengeray until after 3:00. With the short days that only gave a couple of hours of good light for photos and meant a night flight back, so no pictures when they returned. He wondered if they should wait now and fly out the next day?
Suddenly, the aircraft was shaking very badly and losing altitude fast. The co-pilot was back on Styles' headset. "We've lost one engine, at this altitude it takes both engines to keep us airborne. We've contacted Islamabad and they already have the second helicopter on its way out to meet us. We should be on the ground no more then an hour and half."
Styles glared at Carstairs. This had been his idea in the first place. A visit to the Afghani refugee camp was a good excuse to get him into Pakistan and get some foreign affairs credibility. It'd sounded like a good idea in Washington. Now it was beginning to sound dangerous.
Carstairs held up his camera toward Styles. Yeah, Styles guessed there was some truth to that too. Pictures of them on the ground around their damaged aircraft in hostile territory would send a powerful image. To Americans any country with an Islamic majority was hostile territory, it would look good on the news. He could use this anecdote to go for more funding for the military, cite his own experience, crashed in Pakistan. He was beginning to like this. He smiled across at Carstairs and nodded, this could be better than the refugee camp; pictures of him next to a downed Navy helicopter were probably better than him talking to some bearded, potential terrorist.
October 11th, 1300 hours, Indian Ocean 500 miles west of Christmas Island.
"Captain." Sparks said, handing Lee a message slip. Lee stood up from where he was perched on the corner of the worktable in the nose of the Seaview. He'd been listening to Admiral Nelson explain why two weeks of collecting soil and water samples around an extinct volcano in the ocean floor was worthwhile. He was glad for the distraction. Not that Nelson's explanations weren't always interesting, they just tended to contain a bit more data then Lee could process all in one sitting. This one had exceeded his "need to know" about ten minutes ago. Unfolding the message slip Lee quickly glanced through its content.
Looking up, his superior officer intercepted a quick tightening around Lee's eyes and correctly interpreted the facial expression as one of annoyance. "Something wrong, Lee?" The Admiral asked.
"I don't know, sir, but it's in my private ONI code which is never a good thing. Especially given the latest news," referring to the disappearance of a navy chopper. The helicopter had disappeared that morning in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border containing a U.S. Senator, a Navy crew and other passengers. Apparently it was a simple equipment malfunction, as the damaged aircraft was found only two hours later by a second replacement Navy chopper. So far no one knew where any of the passengers or crew had gone.
"Surely not, Lee" Nelson focused his attention more closely on his subordinate "is that one of your languages?" Nelson didn't even try to keep the annoyance out of his voice as he all but glared at Crane.
"I'm afraid so, Admiral," Lee looked just a bit sheepish. "Once you learn one or two of those languages the rest of them are pretty straight forward, or at least a little easier," remembering that Urdu at least had really been a bit of a struggle.
"Well let me know," the Admiral said, not managing to keep a certain amount of peevishness out of his voice. He really hated it when the Navy co-opted "his captain". Lee had only been commanding the Seaview for less than a year and he had already spent over a month working for ONI on one earth saving mission or another. Nelson appreciated the efforts that Gavin Johnson, the Admiral in charge of Naval Intelligence, made to keep Lee's ONI work, as much as possible, limited to times when the Seaview was not at sea, but even so this was getting to be a bit of an imposition. He'd agreed with the Navy when they'd loaned him Lee to command Seaview that the Commander would remain available to fulfill ONI assignments as needed. He'd had no idea he was going to be quite so "needed".
As Lee climbed the stairs toward his cabin to decipher the message Nelson thoughtfully tapped his pen against the table. Maybe it was time to renegotiate his arrangement with the Navy, Lee being willing.
Lee quickly deciphered the ONI message receiving no surprises. He'd been less then ingenious in his explanation to the Admiral. Not only was Pashto one of his languages but he also had a Pakistani cover that he and ONI had been building since his time at Annapolis. His cover persona was a Parisian/Pakistani ex-pat who went home to visit an uncle in the Pakistani tribal areas several times a year. It was a very strong cover, having been built up over the years and maintained in Paris by a young, Pakistani ex-patriot who enjoyed his vacations in California whenever ONI needed Lee in Pakistan or Afghanistan. This looked to be the 'event' for which that cover had been maintained all these years. Tamin Dakar was about to go home for a little taste of the action.
Lee left two hours later on the flying sub for Gibralter to begin his surreptitious entry into the Islamic world. Tamin Dakar disappeared from France after reportedly killing a policeman in a scuffle in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris. Twenty-six hours later Tamin arrived in Kulschai, Pakistan, anxious to get home to his family. The Seaview continued her soil collecting in the Indonesian Sea.