Sergei, Dan, and I sat atop the turret, Sergei scanning the terrain with binoculars as Pavel gently rotated the turret and used its optics. I told Dan of what had taken place and that I knew that the IRLF held not one, but two American naval aviators. I spoke quietly so as not to disturb my watchful brother, and in English, my command of that language is rather better than Sergei’s and I wished not to burden him or his crew with this knowledge.
I showed Dan the proof of the second American, by their dog-tags, the watch, the ring. Though Kemal had wanted his message to go only to Bones, I told part of it to Dan, who I know works for the American Naval intelligence. Surely he would know who to call, what to do! I told him first of the proposal to trade for the Iranian.
“Muhammad must mean a lot to the Iranians if they’re willing to give up both their captives.” Dan gave me a shrewd look. “What aren’t you telling me, Captain?”
“What? I… I have told you all I can.” I had promised Kemal, after all.
“Why would they want him back so badly? Who is he to them?”
“I am sorry, Commander. Kemal wishes this information to go directly to Bones. It has something to do with those who hold this Iranian.”
Phinin’s eyebrows rose. “I’ll level with you, Captain. My people have him! Look, Alexandra. If you’ve got something to say, please don’t hold back. It could be vital to both our countries! Tell me now.”
I could not help but trust him. After all, had he not risked his own safety to bring Sergei my brother and his men all this way, to protect me in this mission? So I told him all. He sat back, a little stunned, I think.
“Kemal is right. This could be the break we’ve been looking for. Alexandra….”
“Please, my friends call me Sacha.”
“Sacha. I’m Dan. You know, we are going to need Bones on board for this. And that squadron’s morale will be raised a lot when he finds out that his pilots are still alive. When we get back to Sochi, I’ve got to get back down to the Gulf. I won’t have time to get out to where they are, they’re back on the carrier. At the same time, this has to be kept absolutely secret.” He looked meaningfully at my brother, who was absorbed in his search for the enemy.
I giggled at that, I am sorry to say. Commander Phinin did not know my brother very well. “Sergei has heard nothing, I assure you. Watch.” I cleared my throat. “Brother!”
“Hmmmm?” Sergei didn’t even take his eyes from the binoculars. I tapped him with my foot, and he pulled them away and gave me an irritated look. “What! Can you not see that I am busy looking for your little friends who want to kill us all?”
“Dan would like to know what you have heard, my brother.” I laughed. “If you have heard anything at all, you and your binoculars!”
Sergei put the binoculars back to his eyes, after giving me a look of mock severity. “Some of us have better things to do than chat the day away. As for me, I care not to know your conversations. As you can see, here on the ground we work all the time, unlike in the air where I am sure you have time on your hands to do nothing at all!”
After giving Sergei a moment to return to his methodical searching, I turned back to Dan and switched back to English. “You see?”
Dan thought a moment. “We don’t need any of this getting out, and I’d like to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention to this. It’s a shame you’re a VVS pilot. If you could do carrier traps you could just fly down there.”
I sat up. “I can land on a carrier, Dan! I have five arrested landings, on our carrier Kuznetsov. In flight training, I volunteered for one of the Sukhoi-27K test programs.”
“The Kuz is heading for the Gulf, too. Did you know that?”
“It is. Part of your government’s plan to raise your stature among the Allies, by sending the Russian carrier battle group down to assist the American carrier. Our guys’ve had a tough time, and they’ve been calling for reinforcements for months. President Bush wants this to be a multinational effort, and President Putin’s joining the coalition for this, seeing as Iran’s backing the IRLF. But your battle group’s not due in for a couple of weeks yet. Still….” He thought a moment. “Think you could land an Su-33 on an American carrier?”
I was taken aback by this. “I have never thought about it. I know that their landing systems are similar to ours. I suppose it could be done. But our aircraft could not be launched again. It is not able to use a catapult.”
“It wouldn’t need to.” Dan was definite. “I remember tests where a C-130 transport landed on one of our carriers, and took off again under its own power. The Su-33 is a short-takeoff aircraft. Could you do the same if you had a start into the wind, from a distance?”
“I have done five ski-jump takeoffs.” I saw now what his plan was. “But we have no Su-33s at Sochi…wait, we do. But they are special air service, the 503rd, not my own 586th. How will we obtain one?”
“Let me worry about that. You just worry about the flight.”