Sleeping Giants Page 20

We used an abandoned Russian air base near Semey in Kazakhstan as our home base. We’d been flying UAVs over eastern Siberia for three days when one of the drones picked up something in Tuva. It was right in the middle of nowhere, just east of a town called Sizim. It’s a pretty inhospitable region, rocky hills surrounding green valleys along the Kaa-Khem River. There’s really nothing there, so the good news was we probably had some time before anyone showed up. The bad news was transport would be more difficult.

We took two Kazakhs with us on the chopper. We wanted to drop them near Kyzyl. They said they weren’t sure we could get our hands on a big enough truck there, but they knew a place in Abakan. It would mean waiting for an extra five hours but it seemed a safer bet. We flew in at night and dropped them into Khakassia before we headed toward Sizim. We were approaching the crater. There was some light flickering around it. It took a few seconds before we realized we were being shot at.

The helicopter dropped us about a mile away and we doubled back on foot. We waited for sunrise to get a better sense of what was going on. Turns out the artifact had turned a marijuana field inside out. There were peasants running around the field, some of them with AK-47s. They seemed to be more concerned about their crop being lost than with whatever it was that destroyed it.

Transportation was about six hours away and Sergeant Ortiz decided to make contact with the Tuvans. We didn’t have the Kazakhs with us but Ortiz speaks a bit of Russian. I think they recognized our guns, or maybe it was the sergeant’s accent, but after a couple minutes, they put down their AKs. We could make out one word in what they were saying: Americanyetz! Americanyetz! I don’t know what they think of Americans in Tuva, but they sure seemed happy we weren’t Russians.

One of the Tuvans went back to the village to get some help. He came back with a dozen more men. With the eleven men in our squad, that meant about forty able bodies. They helped us dig out the artifact and wrap some ropes around it. It took about an hour. Then we sat down with them and waited for the truck. That’s when the Russian army showed up, sort of. It was a small truck with two men in it. If I had to guess, I’d say they were in on the marijuana trade and were coming to get a cut or something. Anyway, we hid behind the artifact as fast as we could. The Russians got out of the truck and started yelling. One of the Tuvans approached them smiling, then drew a pistol and shot both of them in the head point-blank.

The Kazakhs showed up with the truck twenty minutes later. It took about ninety minutes to load the artifact, then another ninety to bury the Russians and get rid of their truck. The Kazakhs told us there were a few checkpoints on the way to Khakassia, so we decided to head south on M54 and get air transport out of Mongolia. We met our contact at the border and flew to Afghanistan on a C-17.

—End Report—

FILE NO. 094

INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT WOODHULL, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS

Location: White House, Washington, DC

—This is not exactly like fixing an old car, Robert. They will get it done, in time.

—I hope you’re right. You wouldn’t want to go down in history as the idiot who started World War III for a giant paperweight.

—You certainly have a flair for the dramatic.

—Not really. You’re doing a great job at it so far. You’ve managed to single-handedly start the Cold War again.

—And how exactly did I achieve that on my own?

—Your drone planes just unearthed a very large hand in a place called Tuva.

—I know.

—That they found a hand or that there is such a place as Tuva?

—Tuva is a small republic in southern Siberia. I also knew about the hand. I did not know you had been made aware of it.

—Well, you’re using US troops for your little pet project. Don’t be surprised if they report to us when there’s an international incident. And good for you about Tuva. I had to look it up…

—Forgive me if I do not share in your pessimism but the mission was a success. We retrieved the hand without any loss of life on our part, and logic dictates the Tuvans will not tell the Russians anything. I fail to see what the problem is.

—That’s the thing. They don’t need to tell. The Russians know.

—What do they know?

—Everything. They know everything down to the smallest detail. The Russian ambassador gave me the play-by-play this morning. Sounded just like First Sergeant Rodriguez, with a different accent. One of their planes was nearby when the hand emerged. It crashed a few miles north. They had a satellite over the site about an hour before your men arrived. He even showed me the video. The part where two Russian officers get shot is much more dramatic on television.

—I assume they are not pleased.

—That’s the euphemism of the century. I don’t even know where to begin. Mongolia’s pissed because we put them on the spot. Russia followed your truck all the way to their front steps. Moscow demands an official apology, which they obviously won’t get since we’re adamantly denying we had anything to do with any of this. They also have this thing on satellite photos, so they know what it looks like. It would be easier to come up with a cover story for a nondescript body part, like a forearm, or a calf, like you did in Turkey. But the hand, well, it looks like a big hand, even from a thousand miles up.

You know that by now they’ve tortured every Tuvan they could get their hands on, so I’d say they know even more than they did before. There’s a reason we hire local mercenaries for black ops; it’s called plausible deniability. You sent a bunch of friggin’ Puerto Ricans with M-16s on a mission into Siberia. They didn’t exactly blend in, you know.

—We cannot assemble new teams in every part of the world in a matter of hours. Furthermore, involving mercenaries would pose a significant security risk. We buy mercenaries. Mercenaries are easily bought. That is what mercenaries do.

—Well, for now, Russia thinks we discovered an ancient temple or something, which is fine, but how the hell do we explain why US troops are now in the business of pillaging archaeological sites?

—You do not.

—What?

—Explain. You do not admit anything, and you do not explain anything. But you give them something.

—What do you have in mind?

—Anything. Something they want more than a big hand. That should not prove too difficult. Dismantle a missile base somewhere. They would probably love for you to take those Patriots out of Poland. They will rub your face in it for a while, but they are absolutely not going to escalate the situation into something that can get—excuse the pun—out of hand, not if you give them a way out.

—Somehow I don’t think the president will be too keen on weakening our position in Eastern Europe just so you can keep playing your little game.

—You know as well as I do that most of these bases are just window dressing, straw men designed to make smaller countries feel a bit mightier. Give the Russians anything they can spin politically. They will have their victory and everyone will go home happy.

—Let’s just hope, for both our sakes, that the next part turns up in France, Australia, anywhere they don’t speak Russian.

I also had an interesting conversation with the president this morning. He wants to know what you plan to do with that robot of yours if you get it to work. The idea was always to extract advanced technology from it. So far, your people can’t even repair it, let alone reverse-engineer anything we can use. If your people can’t do that, what are we supposed to do with a twenty-story robot? We can’t use it without other nations asking questions, and there’s no point in hiding it in that basement forever.

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