Prologue Outside the former Soviet missile base of Vaziani, Georgia

July 27, 2005

            The summers in Eastern Europe were nowhere near as bad as their counterparts in the United States.  Usually, the temperature was balmy, hovering around the low 70's.  The breezes could bring that temperature down a bit, but it was much more comfortable than the harsh winters that were only a few months away.

            It was here, miles outside an old Soviet base, where three men waited in the darkness for their contacts.  They were not natives, in fact they looked much like the outsiders they were.  Olive skin, dark hair, piercing eyes—very different than the pale skin of native Georgians.  The three men were also dressed alike: denim jeans, long-sleeved plaid shirts, and work boots.  The three of them smoked cigarettes to keep warm, the cold weather not something they were used to.  It had been almost 45 minutes and their contact still had not arrived; yet they did not get impatient—they had plenty of time.

            Ten minutes passed before two loud trucks rumbled down the road, their high-beam headlights lighting up the three men and the two American pickup trucks they came in.  The larger trucks were Russian military transport trucks, used primarily for moving equipment.  The Russian trucks roared to a stop a few feet in front of the men and purred as their engines were killed.  Two men from each truck stepped out and walked to the waiting three.  "Hallo Ramzi!" shouted the leader of the four, a 50-something former Soviet general and drop-dead drunk, in his thick Russian accent. 

            "Good evening general," the man called Ramzi replied.  His name wasn't Ramzi, however.  It was Commander Mohammed Aziz, an Iranian who grew up in Iraq, as odd as that is.  And he was leading the two men behind him, who were also Iranian.  "I hope you're journey here was okay?"

            General Nikolai Kozlov laughed a hearty laugh that started in his stomach and bellowed out.  He nodded vigorously to the Arab man.  "Of course my Arab friend, of course."

            Aziz held back from punching the man immediately.  He was a Persian, not an Arab.  Iranians were Persian.  He wanted to scream that in the general's face over one hundred times, but he kept his calm and smiled.  "Good.  Shall we get down to it then?"

            Kozlov nodded and looked over his shoulder.  He barked an order in Russian and two of the men went back to the trucks.  "I got everything you wanted…and a few other goodies," the normally drunk—though not at this moment—general said.  He laughed one of his deep bellowing laughs again.

            Mohammed hated that laugh every time he heard it.  Inside his body cringed—it was like nails on a chalkboard to him.  It wasn't only the laugh he hated.  Everything about the general disgusted him.  The way he wore his former Soviet military uniform as if it was a casual piece of clothing.  It was too tight in some areas, wrinkled in others.  It was disrespectful to say the least.  Kozlov's general appearance wasn't any better.  He shaved sporadically and had a scruffy beard that traveled down his towards his neckline.  He was at least 60 pounds overweight, which affected the way his uniform fit him.  The Russian had deep bags under his eyes, and his breath reeked of alcohol.  The former Soviet was a slob—and that was being nice.  Aziz looked over to one of his men.  In Farsi he said: "Go see what this piece of filth brought."  He looked to the other man.  "Qasim, go with him."

            General Kozlov grinned, as if he understood what his Arab friend was saying.  "You have the money, yes?"

            Mohammed smoked the last bit of cigarette he could and tossed the butt into the forest that surrounded them.  As he blew out the smoke, he stared deep into the general's eyes.  "Let's see what you have first, ok?"

            "Of course comrade!" he bellowed and released another laugh that only pushed Aziz's nerves to the edge.

            The two men the Persian commander sent were Lieutenant Qasim Shareef and Lieutenant Commander Rasheed Saad.  They walked to the back of the big transport trucks and were met by two of the Russians that came with Kozlov.  They opened the tailgates to the trucks and pulled off a large protective canvass.

            "He brought SAMs Ramzi," Rasheed shouted in English, the only language they could communicate with the Russian in. 

            Kozlov smiled a yellow, toothy smile.  "You see!  I bring surprises!"

            Aziz didn't acknowledge him.  "How many and what kind?"

            Rasheed looked at the numerous surface-to-air missiles in the back of the truck.  "Ten.  He's got six SA-17 Iglas, two Olerikons, and…my God, two Stingers?"

            Aziz's eyebrows went up.  "You brought Stinger missiles?"

            The ex-Soviet military officer nodded emphatically.  "I did Ramzi."

            "How?  Where did you get them?"

            Kozlov waited before he answered.  He knew he had impressed the Arab.  "I was a commander of an infantry unit when the Soviet Union fought the Afghans.  We took them from a group of…of…muyahdeen?"

            "Mujahadeen," Aziz corrected.

            "Yes, yes!  Them!  We took missiles from them.  I kept them for myself.  I think the American CIA gave them Stingers," Kozlov said, looking to the dark starry sky in thought.

            Aziz nodded, more out of annoyance than agreement.  "Yes, the CIA gave them those."  He looked back towards the lieutenant commander.  "How do the Stingers look?" he asked in Farsi.

            Rasheed studied them.  "Not bad.  Older, not the generation they have now.  I think these are the first gens."

            Aziz grinned.  The first generation of American Stinger missiles was more mobile than their siblings, the second generation Stingers.  The second gens had a GPS lock on them.  They were preprogrammed with boundaries, which meant they would only fire if they were in the right targeting "box."  The first gens had no lock at all.  "How much for the SAMs general?"

            Kozlov waved his hand.  "For you, for the money you pay me, they are a gift."

            Aziz didn't reply to that, instead returned his gaze back to his second-in-command, Rasheed.  The Perisan moved to the other truck and looked at the large, gray box in front of him.  "Open it," he told the Russian that was near him.  The large burly man leapt on top of the of the truck bed and unsnapped the locks on the box.  He lifted the top to the deep gaze of the dark skinned man.  "It's here."

            Aziz nodded.  "You came through for me, Nikolai.  I am extremely surprised."

            The general frowned.  "Surprised?  I admit, it was no easy task, but I was in charge at that base before Russian army pulled out of Georgia.  We had a few things hidden there, things NATO and UN never knew about.  Most of those Georgian military are former Soviets.  Comrades will always be comrades," Kozlov finished with a sly smile.  "Now, if you'll be so kind, there is that matter of six hundred million dollars…"

            Aziz nodded.  "Yes of course.  But I'm afraid I don't have that right now."

            The frown on the Russian stayed.  "Then I am afraid I cannot give you what you came for."

            Aziz nodded to his men near the trucks, then returned to the general.  "Wrong Nikolai, we're taking it.  The SAMs too."

            Before Kozlov could reply, he and the Russian next to him turned to the sound of muffled grunts from the two Russians near the truck.  Qasim and Rasheed had plunged combat knives they had hidden in their jeans into the two Russian men's' backs.  The knives were dug in to the hilt, their points ripping into their stomachs.  The two Iranians moved with precision, pulling the knives out and slicing their victim's throats.  "What the--" Kozlov shouted.

            He wouldn't say anything more.  The back of his head exploded as a rifle round burst out of it.  His aide met the same fate.  The general and the heavyset Russian next to him crumpled to the ground.  This time a genuine smile crossed the face of the Persian commander.  "My name's not Ramzi, it's Mohammed.  And I'm Persian you piece of shit," he mumbled to the dead man as he spit on his uniform/ 

            Two Iranians carrying Russian SV-98 sniper rifles with silencers attached stepped out of the woods.  They pulled off the headsets they were wearing and let them hang around their necks.  "Stingers, huh Mohammed?" one of the snipers asked.

            Aziz nodded as he pulled his hidden microphone out from under his shirt.  "Yeah Abdel, I can't believe it myself.  Get those bodies in the woods.  The ones Rasheed and Qasim have too.  Make sure you pour the lime we have over the bodies before you cover them with dirt.  It should take weeks for anyone to know this slime is missing.  Rasheed, Qasim!" he yelled to his men.  "I'll help you load that stuff in the trucks.  Now that they're dead, we need to work quickly."

            The five Iranians moved like a well-oiled machine.  The snipers had already dug the hole they would put the bodies in, so they quickly dumped them and went back for the bags of lime in the back of one of the trucks.  The lime served a good purpose.  It would keep any animals from sniffing around the burial site (so as not to attract attention) and it would speed their decomposition time up considerably. 

            The loading and burial took exactly 28 minutes.  "Excellent, now get the straps out of the back seat of the trucks and let's secure our load."

            Once again, the Persians went to work, pulling out security harnesses and locking the SAMs and the large lead box in.  Rasheed gave a thumbs-up to his leader.  Aziz checked his watch.  He was ahead of schedule by at least a few hours.  It was perfect. 

            "Abdel, Rasheed, follow us in those trucks."  The two men nodded and boarded the large Russian trucks.  They growled to life and illuminated the American trucks once again after their headlights turned on.  The two pickup trucks drove off down the road, the Russian vehicles behind them.  There was no evidence at all that anything had occurred.

            The four trucks drove non-stop for hours, tearing through southern Georgia.  They approached the Georgian-Armenian border around 4 PM the next day.  Aziz lead them through a series of back roads that made the drive a little longer, but it was worth it.  They would cross through the mountains, through a particularly treacherous pass that would not be monitored by Georgian border forces, or the Armenians for that matter.  The small mountainous range was not fair from the inter-country railroad that ran through the lower East Europe countries. 

            Aziz snapped his pickup truck into four-wheel drive and powered up the first ascent.  The other trucks followed.  Roaring loudly, the diesel engines of the Russian transport trucks strained as the lumbered up the mountain slowly, trying to push themselves towards the top of the mountain.  It didn't take long for them to reach a high elevation.  The Iranian commander halted the truck line, placing his truck in park.  The others followed suit.  The Persians stepped outside of the trucks, looking at their commander as he pointed at the trucks.  "Time to get rid of those.  Abdel and Rasheed, put your trucks in neutral gear.  The rest of you get behind the trucks."

            The lieutenant commander and the sniper moved quick, popping their trucks into neutral.  The Russian machines lurched forward a little.  Both men called out after they finished that and awaited their next order. 

            "Turn the wheel towards the edge of this cliff, then get out and join us back here," Aziz announced quick.  After doing as their commander told them, Abdel and Rasheed joined with their teammates behind the trucks.  "On three, push as hard as you can.  These trucks need to go over.  One…Two…Three!" the commander shouted.

            The physically fit Iranians didn't even strain an inch.  The two Russian transport trucks went over the edge in under a minute.  The five watched the trucks fall thousands of feet downward towards the bottom of the mountain, resounding in a colossal crash. 

            Three hours later, Aziz and his band of men were heading towards the Sevana Lich, the largest lake in Armenia.  Their drive would take them through the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, so it would be a little time before they reached their first rest stop after driving for almost a full twenty-four hours.  That rest would be well warranted.

            The little industrial town of Gavar (formerly Kamo under the Soviet flag) looked every bit like the collapsing town that it was.  Many of the factories in the town were either closed down or produce small levels of their product.  It was a dirty, run down area, perfect for hiding out in. 

            It was the entire reason Mohammed Aziz picked Gavar as a rest stop.  If they laid low for the day, they might not stir up any questions about who they were.  Before the sun rose over the mountains, Aziz had his men moving and driving out of Gavar quickly.  Nobody had even realized they were there, besides the old innkeeper at the inn they stayed at.

            Aziz pushed his men as far as they could go.  They were running on very little sleep and had almost a full day and a half of driving to go. 

            But they did it, taking a little longer than they expected.  Two and a half days, instead of the day and a half they thought, but it wasn't long before they were at the Armenia-Iran border.  Aziz's men were tired, the trucks were running on their last leg—their push through the southern mountains of Armenia was a tough one.  They were close though, very close.  The little border of their home country stood in front of them; the mountain range standing like a guardian of Iran.

            This border crossing would be much easier to infiltrate, the men knowing the crossing like the back of their hand.  Mohammed had spent months surveying the area, finding the weak spots.  If worse comes to worse, they would be able to easily handle any resistance the border guards would give them.

            Aziz looked over to Qasim in the passenger seat of his truck.  The man was still gripping his H&K G-3 assault rifle, letting it rest on his lap, still alert, even in his exhausted state.  "You ready?" the commander asked him.

            "Yes sir," he replied.

            "Ok, here we go," Mohammed said as he stuck his arm out the window and waved the truck behind him forward. 

            The American pickups powered forward through the mountains and into their home country, into a safe haven.  They weren't exactly off the hook yet, however.  Aziz and his men would need to rid themselves of the trucks and move the weapons they took from the filthy ex-Soviet, but the Iranian commander was not worried.  He had set these things up ahead of time, so it would just be a matter of meeting contacts at certain rendezvous points.

            The former Iranian commando smiled.  The Great Satan would meet it's fate soon enough.

Central Intelligence Agency

Counterterrorism Center (CTC)

Langley, Virginia

July 31, 2005

            It didn't come in until about three in the afternoon.  It looked harmless enough, nothing to really cause stir, but in the situation they were in, everything had to be scrutinized.  CTC Director Kelly Underton was punching away on her keyboard, updating a report she'd been working on when it was brought to her.  As normal her brown hair was pulled back and wrapped in a tight bun.  She looked at the analyst through her glasses.  "What do you think?"

            The analyst, a young man and one of the youngest at the CTC, raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise.  He didn't expect the CTC director to ask for his opinion, so he stuttered before beginning a sentence.  "Uh…um…well Mrs. Underton I would say it's something to check out.  I mean it wouldn't hurt to have the Moscow office check into it, just to see if anything turns up.  This guy was somewhat important, as it turns out."

            Underton dragged a red painted fingernail over a report she'd received from the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (SVR), Russia's foreign intelligence service.  It was an informal little "heads-up" notice that a former Soviet general had appeared in the Georgian Republic on July 26 and was still there on the 27th.  Since then he'd been missing and SVR felt the Americans should know about it.  The Russian information desk upstairs sent the information down to the Russian CTC desk.  "Define important, if you could," Kelly said without looking up.

            "According to the guys upstairs, Nikolai Kozlov was one of two generals that was stationed at the missile base of Vaziani when the Soviet Union was still in existence.  He was also a commander of an infantry company of Soviet forces into Afghanistan when they pulled that little invasion stunt of theirs in the '80's.  Kozlov wasn't too happy about the fall of the USSR—the Russian Army punished him on numerous occasions for speaking out against Yeltsin and democracy in Russia.  Sent him to a gulag for a year.  Not a real friend of ours, ya know?"

            Underton's fingernail tapped her crimson colored lips.  "Think he could get his hands on something important?"

            "It's possible.  Russian desk doesn't doubt it—they only told me because they think the friggin' guy might be playing 'sell-to-the-highest-bidder' with weapons.  The big question is what kind of weapons he has," the analyst replied with a cocky twinge in his response.

            The CTC director smirked as she handed the sheet of paper back to the young man.  "I guess it wouldn't hurt to look into this.  Have the Russian desk keep an eye out; ask them if they could contact our Moscow office.  See if they can get anything else out of this, and make sure SVR keeps us updated."