23 nautical miles east and of the continent of North America off the Atlantic shore of New Brunswick, Canada.
Captain Lennart Johansen awoke to a knock on his stateroom door. A yeoman hollered through the metal door, delivering an urgent message from the bridge. The first mate Mathias Solberg requested his presence at the helm. Captain Johansen dressed quickly and stepped out of his cabin into the foggy Atlantic night, displeasure at being roused from his sleep putting the man in a foul mood. The message from First mate Solberg was vague. Lennart shrugged deeper into his slicker warding off the chill air.
His cabin situated close to the main bridge of the medium sized Norwegian oil tanker, the Mette Kristensen Offshore so with long, determined steps Captain Johansen crossed the frosty, metal deck and slipped into the heated bridge slamming the door shut locking out the frigid air that followed him. Loosening his coat, Captain Johansen made his way straight for ships controls. First mate Solberg greeted the captain.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir,” Mathias Solberg apologized as he pointed to a blank ships console. “The board's power has been shorting out. At first, it was only flickering, but now I have lost all readings.” Solberg explained.
“Have engineering take a look at it. A power shortage is what you woke me up for!” the captain angrily replied.
Solberg shrunk at the man's words. Captain Johansen was one of the finest men ever to sail ocean rated cargo ships, but even more respected among the Norwegian crews who worked the ships was the bite of his temper.
“The ships communications have shut down, also.” Solberg volunteered. “I have sent a man down to engineering. I am still awaiting his return.”
“Pull back on the turbines, bring us to a full stop.” Johansen’s anger faded as he realized the trouble that awaited the crippled ship. “What were the last coordinates you were able to check?”
Solberg referred to a logbook sitting above the ship's console. As he read off the longitude and latitude of the crippled ship, the blood drained from Johansen’s face. Grabbing a maritime map the captain asked his first mate to read the coordinates again. With his finger, Johansen traced the map pinpointing the ships position. “How long have the instruments been acting up? What was the ship’s speed last you checked?”
“On and off for the past hour and a half, at least. Twenty-five knots.” Solberg replied.
Johansen did the math in his head. The 183-meter long oil tanker, carrying more than 700,000 barrels of Saudi crude at an average speed of around 20 odd knots and now drifting.
“Felberg.” Captain Johansen called to the closest crewmember. “ Get down to the engine room and tell the men to reverse the ships turbines. I need them to bring the ship to a full stop…immediately. There is no time to waste, hurry. Now,” Johansen urged.
First mate Solberg stared at the map where the Captain’s finger remained. Panic slowly began to build. This quadrant of the ocean was a minefield of towering metal leviathans. Turbines that were installed over the years to take advantage of the energy produced by the oceans waves and then coupled to the Eastern shores of North America with cables that ran across the ocean floor.
Keeping a cool head, Lennart Johansen turned to his first mate. ”How far behind us is our sister ship the N.S. Bjornstad.”
“The last radar reading put them approximately 3 kilometers back; their speed matched ours.”
Captain Johansen rubbed his bearded jaw. “Surely they will see that we are crippled and adjust their position,” he reasoned out loud. The thought of the other ship ramming the Mette Kristensen combined with the ship drifting aimlessly in the vicinity of the metal ocean turbines was disturbing. Captain Johansen breathed deep trying to calm his racing heart. Naw. He reassured his frantic mind. It was virtually impossible for both tankers to lose their guidance and steering systems. He had nothing to fear.
Two kilometers back of the crippled Matte Kristensen Offshore, the Captain of the N.S. Bjornstad did indeed notice the first boat power down. Raising the ship-to-ship radio, he called ahead to inquire. Static greeted him. Over and over he tried to communicate with the Captain of the forward Norwegian tanker. At a kilometer and a half, he switched to the N.S, Bjornstad’s communications and was about to relay the orders to slow his ship when a rumble emanated from the bowels of his ship. The mid-class oil tanker shuddered. The Captain’s coffee splashed over the sides of the cup burning his hand.
The N.S. Bjornstad Captain cursed under his breath and reached for a towel. Turning back to the mess of coffee on the ships instrument panel he caught the panels power flicker then go out. He reached for the ships coms line, the mike silent as he depressed the button. Under his feet, the captain felt the ship vibrate. His years of captaining a cargo ship, he instantly realizing the ship was gaining speed.
One hundred feet below the ship's bridge, men clad in black scaled the tankers side returning to the large rubber zodiac that bobbed, tethered to the larger cargo ship a brief hour earlier. Three more men clambered over the side and down nylon ropes to the small inflatable boat. When the five men were safely inside the boat was cast off and driven in the opposite direction the two oil tankers were traveling.
A kilometer away from the N.S. Bjornstad a second inflatable intersected the five men. The other rubber boat had left the Mette Kristensen after a similar successful mission. The two low-profile rubber boats with their 90 horsepower motors made for a heading due south of their current location.
Ten kilometers behind the crippled Norwegian tankers sat a much smaller ocean going vessel. A 70-foot ship dressed up to imitate the fleet used by the American coast guard. The crew aboard this ship sat anchored, waiting for the inflatables to return before heading back to shore along the Maine coastline.
“It's political suicide,” Saskatchewan Premier Gaylord Humphries exclaimed. “Sending that writ to the Prime Minister notifying his office of our intentions to become a sovereign region within the borders of Canada. I don’t know. If Emery calls our hand and sends the army to take control, what in the hell will we do?”
Sam Cavanaugh, the elected leader of the newly declared independent Western Canada Region, glared at Humphries. “We’ve rehashed this same question for months now. What can he do? The man has sold out our country already. This whole green energy policy he put forward has done nothing but squash the countries economy. Millions are out of work and this ridiculous idea of his to power the country with friggin windmills and Chinese-produced solar garbage, hell, why not give everyone a shovel and tell them to dig holes in the ground to live in!”
Cavanaugh’s face reddened. “What would you have us do? Continue to sit on our asses and watch as our friends and neighbors freeze in the dark while their families starve,” the leader of the newly independent nation replied. “Our region has a vast amount of resources and we,” Cavanaugh used his hand and in a sweeping circle pointed to every member of the newly stated independent alliance. “All of us at this table agreed to use those resources to support our republic and put people back to work. Let our residents work and if not prosper at least they will be able to help their families.”
Manitoba Premier Ralph Stanley stood to join Cavanaugh. “He’s right. We’ve had our debates on this issue, now is not the time to be getting cold feet. You of all people,” Stanley focused on the Saskatchewan Premier, “You were all for our split from the rest of Canada. What happened to make you suddenly change your mind?”
Humphries looked from one colleague to the other. “I…I don’t know, too many variables I suppose. Our population is small compared to the remaining provinces. I know we talked and planned this out.” He stopped and stared at his hands, his face a mixture of conflicting thoughts. “Can we do this? Can we honestly sit here and decide what’s best for the constituents of our provinces.”
“Our provinces have the resources to sustain the population. We grow an abundance of food. Cattle flourish and with our refineries, we have all the fuel we need to weather this storm,” the leader of the new country locked eyes with his contemporaries gathered around the table. “The Prime Minister has been informed. Until now he has failed to reply, which I suppose is understandable with the chaos that his government has spread across this country, so I say we continue to solidify our union and forge our way. Cliff, you have anything to add?”
Cliff Featherstone, the acting premier of the combined Northern Canadian Territories, set down the sheaf of paper he was reviewing. “Unless we want to return to the stone ages I say we move forward on the path we have chosen. My people are used to the rough life living at the top of this country but let me tell you, the Inuit people are not about to go back in time so that we can freeze and starve like our ancestors. My people have made great strides to catch up with the modern world, and we are planning plan to stay there.”
“Good. Then it's settled.” WCR leader Cavanaugh rapped the table with his hand. “I have had talks with counterparts of ours south of the border." Cavanaugh turned his attention back to the Manitoba Premier. "What are they calling themselves these days?" He searched his mind for the elusive name of the group of breakaway states below the forty-ninth parallel.
Premier Stanley interjected. "The Protected States of America."
"Yes. The Protected States of America. They have assured me that they will gladly accept oil and gas exports from us. As with The beef and lumber, I am certain we will be able to sell outside our new borders. Plus, we have the support of these rogue states. They will stand with us against any retribution from our federal governments. Bureaucrats that have failed our both our countries and the very people they claim to represent.”
Sam Cavanaugh rifled through reports he had commissioned in respect to the regions resources before changing the subject. “I imagine a lot of this hypothesis will depend on how our relationship with the rest of Canada pans out, though.”
“What will we do when the protesters start reappearing and hampering our oil production?” Manitoba Premier Stanley asked. The question was rhetorical but seeing as the men at the table wanted to rehash old business he wanted to clarify the council's decision. The other Premiers at the table, he included, had reasons to be nervous. Claiming sovereignty from the rest of Canada had its risks.
“We will stand with what we had initially decided. We show them the door. There is a vast world outside our borders that may tolerate their high selfish morals. We, gentlemen, will not. As agreed, the days of protests being used to delay or shut down any form of energy production will not be allowed within our borders.”
“Here, here,” the remaining members of the newly independent Western Canada Region cheered. Leader Cavanaugh addressed Stanley. “You have the hardest job, my old friend. What is the status on our new militia? If the Prime Minister does decide to involve the army, we are going to need to defend our borders. And even with the Prime Minister’s response, be it as it may, we will need to ensure the safe transport of our oil products south. Make damn certain we have armed escorts for the truck and train convoys as they leave the refineries. As far as I’m concerned we are in a perpetual state of war.”
The gray of dawn seeped over the country as Zhernakov and his crew turned into the yard of the abandoned farm. Weary from the long night of travel, the men entered the house. The mission complete, the men would spend the next couple of days hidden before seeking separate routes back to the more hospitable surroundings.
Zhernakov slept a few hours of troubled sleep. He joined some of the men in the kitchen and sat sullenly listening to their conversations over a cup of scolding coffee. The talk covered a range of topics, the work of the previous night not among them.
Throughout the day the men slept and ate, drank coffee and slept again. A meal of steaks, pierogies, and smuggled Russian beer rounded out the evening. As dark settled over the region, the men huddled in their sleeping bags, tired from a second restless day of boredom, the trips away from the deserted farm the only thing to occupy the Russian’s minds.
Zhernakov rolled awake, the house eerily quiet in the early morning hours. Lying motionless on his back with his eyes open he stared through the dark at the low ceiling listening to the creaking and groaning of the ancient farmhouse. He attributed his restlessness to the days of pent up tension from the planning and execution of the mission deep inside the Ukrainian country. Unable to fall back to sleep, Zhernakov slid the zipper of the bag open and fumbled in the dark for his work boots. Climbing from the warmth of his bedding he crept ghost-like across the rough floorboards and out the back door into the still night air.
Wandering away from the house, he used the dim moonlight to navigate through the trees occasional scraping against branches. A faint game trail opened. He followed it deeper into the overgrown bush. Zhernakov stopped beside a large old spruce to relieve himself before fishing out his packet of cigarettes. About to touch his lighter to the waiting cigarette his solitude was interrupted as a tsunami of super heated air tossed him face forward into a clump of smaller trees. A broken branch sliced across his chest ripping his coat and shirt exposing flesh.
The boom that accompanied the blast of air registered briefly on his traumatized brain. A minute passed. Then ten more minutes ticked by before Zhernakov raised his dazed head. Shaking away the remnants of a concussion he stood on wobbly legs and turned to face the farmhouse. Orange and yellow flames licked the sky where the house and the other men had rested only a short time earlier.
With a more violent shake of his head, the web of confusion lifted leaving his world silent but for a buzzing inside his skull. Propped against a tree, he began to push off when a silhouette appeared highlighted between the burning house and the edge of the bush. A moment passed. A second form walked into the scene. Two men stood with their backs to Zhernakov as they gazed at the flaming pile of rubble. A conversation ensued.
Zhernakov struggled to make out the words. At first, the noise in his head drowned out the voices. Then slowly words became clearer.
“Make damn certain that the trucks in the barn don’t burn completely,” the first man spoke before releasing a short, derisive laugh. “These stupid greedy Russians,” the man continued. “They are so motivated by power and money that they fail to see the strings directing them. “Call the Foundation. Tell them they can expect the war between the Ukraine and Russia move to the next stage.”
The man paused and looked around. His gaze swung past the tree where Zhernakov hid before pivoting his head back around to survey the damage. “The ensuing war should no doubt curtail the exporting of any oil and gas from these countries for a long time.” The man lightly patted the second man on the back. “Mission accomplished I’d say. Tell the men to hurry. Even in this remote area, someone is likely to have heard the explosion and see the fire.”
Zhernakov remained leaning against the tree. Not trusting his hearing he patted at his ears to rid the buzzing. Disoriented, he willed his brain to make sense of the last few minutes. What had just happened he wondered? The language the man spoke. It wasn’t Russian, or the vulgar Ukrainian…his mind stumbled…yet, he understood the words.
A bolt of understanding jarred his muddled thoughts. American. The man had spoken in American, a language every Russian Special Forces member worth his salt learned to comprehend. What the…. Rage pushed against the lingering effects of the explosion in Zhernakov’s head.
Instincts from years of training and service replaced the confusion. Zhernakov reacted like the soldier he was trained to be. His men were dead, and he wanted to find out by whose hand. Slipping behind a grove of trees, he plotted a course through the bush to the front of the property where he surmised that these men must be gathered.
Making a wide arc, he forged on. Sweat dripped down his chest. Pausing to wipe the sweat Zhernakov dried his hand in his pant leg. The sweat continued. He swiped again bringing his hand up close to his eyes. The hand was dripping red. Glancing down, he realized the moisture wasn’t from exertion but from the gaping cut that traveled diagonally across his exposed chest. Zhernakov clutched a handful of torn material and pressed the cloth tight. He staggered, his eyes rolled back into his head before he sank to the ground.
Lucas stood overlooking the shipping docks at the San Francisco freight terminal. Large Oceangoing cargo ships from China lined the port. The ships laden with the containers of metal towers and solar panels made with the rare earth minerals found mainly in China. With the ever-growing demand for sustainable power, a subsidiary of the P.O.T.E. Foundation had approached the Chinese government and requested a substantial increase in production.
Rarely having the occasion to see just how the board members of the Foundation carried out the daily business of importing and transporting the products from China, Lucas found that a previous engagement on the west coast timed out well with the delivery of the green power stations. Out of curiosity, he begged off an appointment to wonder among the docks and get a first-hand account.
The importation and transport of the burgeoning green energy products were left up to the officers running the Foundations Sustainable Energy Division of which Lucas had little knowledge. Today, while attending a different meeting, he felt a desire to see the process in action and reveled in the chaos of the shipping terminal as he breathed in the salty sea air.
Jim Vanbaggin, the CEO of the Foundations S.E.D acted as his host and guide. While the two men stood high above the bustle of boats and trucks, Vanbaggin explained about the incoming shipment.
“This whole shipment is destined for the Midwest,” he stated. A convoy will travel the few thousand miles where we have teams actively clearing the land and reading the sites for these metal wonders.”
“What kind of timeline are we looking at?” Lucas interjected.
“From ship to standing and wired to the system is probably a solid six months,” Vanbaggin said, then as an afterthought added. “That’s thanks to you. If you hadn’t procured the diesel for the trucks, I don’t know how long the time frame would have stretched.”
Lucas nodded absentmindedly. “What happened to the supply of fuel we keep on reserve for our transportation and why are we not shipping these units by train? Explain that to me again."
The CEO turned from his guest and gazed out over the jammed port. “Rebels,” he answered in one word. “Train traffic east of the Rockies has become sporadic especially through the newly formed Protected States. The alliance ignores the feds in Washington and has begun confiscating any train or truck traffic of ours through their region. Our shipments are now routed either north of the border or through Mexico costing extra time and fuel.
Gas and diesel shipments are under constant attack these days. The Foundation’s refineries operate under heavy guard and to get the fuel to the coast we again have to run down and across Mexico and I am sure that I need not remind you that most of the refineries owned by the Foundation are now within the borders of the new Protected States. If word were to leak out about our ownership of the plants…”Vanbaggin let the sentence hang in the air before he resumed, “even our cargo ships are being attacked on the open ocean. I have requested more guards and stricter measures…” Vanbaggin locked eyes with the Climate Prophet. “People are desperate, Lucas. With the shortage of fuel of any form the average American can not afford to buy their own.”
“I don’t understand. Are we not providing ample power from our panels and turbines? Why don’t these people take advantage of the clean energy we are pouring into the systems? Why do they insist on the dirty fuel?”
“When was the last time you roamed the streets of our country?” Jim Vanbaggin retorted. “The typical working man can’t afford the luxury of driving an electric car; their homes are heated by gas furnaces and besides, the power grids that are supplying the cities are fickle at best.”
“Can China ramp up production? Speak to them. See what they can do. How about on our part, can we not speed up the time of installation once these products reach our shores?” Lucas probed. “We are giving the people of the world what they wanted, are we not. They protested and balked at the continued use of fossil fuels. Outcries about the warming of the planet echoed throughout the world had it not?” Lucas’ face reddened as his anger grew. “What the hell did they expect? Did they seriously think that the world could be weaned from the oil addiction, but nobody would have to suffer?”
Turning on his heels, Lucas walked away from his short reprieve gazing out at the ocean’s beauty. “Double, no, triple the guarding of your diesel supplies. Hire every man and women who are unemployed and speed up the installation process,” he shouted over his shoulder. “The Foundation has the money. Use it to complete our mission,” he said as he stormed out of the shipping office door.
The anger that had consumed him not fraught from the CEO’s bad news but driven by the nightmares of a world scorched to cinders by an out of control climate caused by the burning of the earth’s dirty energy. Faces and screams of the planets population clung to his mind ever since the terrible visions he had suffered all those years earlier as he lay in the hospital, thus the reason for his unbending stance on the replacement of the world’s energy supply.
Popular or not he had no inclinations of changing his path. He would save the world from a premature death whether his fellow man liked it or not.
Climbing into the last truck with Amelin and a driver, the Russian captain remained silent, his eyes looking out into the surrounding blackness as the trucks rolled down the highway toward the city of Ternopil. A trip he was told that would take until the following evening. At Ternopil, another pair of Russian sleeper agents would meet with the eight men now traveling the dark Ukrainian highways.
Lev Zhernakov’s thoughts raced ahead at the risky mission deep across the enemy country. The people joining his group from the Ukraine were Russian nationals who had been planted in the country many decades ago and bided their time waiting the day they were to of service to their home nation. Some of the men had never set foot in the Motherland. Born of Russian parents who had been transplanted to the Ukraine in the mid-twentieth century during the KGB’s far-reaching secret sleeper initiative, but all the men, he was assured, were as dedicated to Russia as he was.
The final piece of the puzzle joined the team of Russian patriots at an abandoned farm on the outreaches of Ternopil. Zhernakov’s convoy split at a small town 50 kilometers away from the Ukrainian city. Each truck ordered to travel the remaining distance over different routes.
Zhernakov and Amelin exited the major highway 30 kilometers south and east of the smaller Ukrainian city, the final leg driven over a dusty, neglected gravel lane that avoided the urban center. Several times the back roads crossed the meandering Seret River, the same river the city of Ternopil sat alongside.
“Stop here,” Zhernakov instructed the driver and pointed to a trail leading into the bush. By his calculations, the rendezvous was less than couple kilometers way from the turnoff. The Special Forces leader took nothing for granted. The men he now traveled with and depended on were unknown to him and for all he knew could be collaborating with the enemy to capture the foreign Russian interlopers.
Zhernakov asked the driver to extinguish the truck lights, including the interior light and waited while the Western Ukrainian dusk pushed the daylight farther west for the night. “Wait here until I return,” he commanded before adding. "Have the other trucks wait with you when they arrive.”
Easing the door open he quietly slid from the cab of the truck. Zhernakov walked the short distance back to the gravel road where he stood among the dense bush lining the ditch and lit a cigarette. His eyes traveled the length of the gravel lane in both directions.
Satisfied at the emptiness of the country road, Zhernakov walked the grassy ditch, his body tight to the overgrown trees and slowly marched the remaining distance to the farmhouse.
Approaching the opening from a stand of shrubs he studied the layout. A short distance from the abandoned house stood a leaning barn of mud and straw on a stone foundation. Through the darkened entrance to the dilapidated building, The Special Forces captain noticed a corner of a bumper and a sliver of red from a taillight. In the quiet of the evening, hushed voices filtered from inside the barn and drifted across the overgrown yard to the bush where he lingered.
Zhernakov remained patient, his eyes constantly roving the bush around the deserted farm. His instincts buzzed. After all these years of living in a foreign country could these men still be trusted or did their loyalty now lie with others? With every breath, he fought the expectation of finding armed Ukrainian military hiding among the buildings and in the forest that surrounded the farm. An ambush was not the way he wanted this mission to end.
Methodically he swung his gaze from the farmhouse to the barn and then slowly studied the shadows of the out buildings. The mission was too important for him not to be cautious. After a time of surveying the grounds he gingerly crept along the cover of the trees edging closer to the barn and the voices.
Crouching in the long grass alongside the crumbling stonewall, he rose up and peered through a broken window. Two men lounged against a small cargo van. The pair’s actions told of boredom and time spent waiting not the hyped nervousness of a deceitfully laid trap. Zhernakov listened to the conversation, the men joked and talked in Russian.
Blending in with the night sounds, Zhernakov crept away from the barn and circled the rest of the farm buildings checking for any signs of a deception. His fears of an ambush pushed aside, for the time being, he entered the barn through the hanging wooden door.
An hour passed before he phoned Dimitri Amelin and requested the trucks driven to the site.
Zhernakov let the men sleep as he quietly left the house and wondered in the frosty morning mist. Dew on the long grass beaded and soaked the legs of his pants and the canvas sides of his boots adding to the morning chill. Ducking into the old stone barn, Zhernakov opened the back van door and lifted a tarp covering the equipment for the last stage of the mission.
With a grunt of satisfaction Lev Zhernakov marveled at the trunks cargo. Fishing in his shirt pocket he retrieved a crumpled pack of cigarettes. The brand was as close to the Russian cigarettes he smoked but like all things about the hated Ukraine, the cigarettes left a bad taste in his mouth. This country had a way of making everything wrong he fumed as he struck a match and lit the end.
Puffing on the cigarette, he closed his eyes and felt the nicotine flood into his body. With the smoldering match in his hand, he backed away from the trunk load of explosives, lungs full of cigarette smoke easing his tension. Leaning against the rickety barn wall, he contemplated the cargo in the back of the van, enough explosives and detonating equipment to start a small war. The Russian laughed at his unintentional joke. Wasn’t that the plan after all? A war the Ukrainians will never see coming he thought.
Zhernakov marched back into the house. The men and supplies were all gathered at this forgotten farmhouse in Western Ukraine. Time to share the details of the last part of the plan. The target area started a half-day drive from the remote farm and spread out for 50 kilometers in a westerly direction. The target, the large Ukrainian natural gas terminal that acted as the central hub for the nation's gas fields. Gas supplies were shipped from across the country to the terminal and then, in turn, shipped onward in above ground pipelines to supply the insatiable European market.
The mission, Zhernakov realized, bordered on industrial espionage. With the Ukrainian terminal destroyed and the natural gas supply severely disrupted Europe would have little choice but to crawl back to Russia for fuel to heat their homes and run their power plants?
With the men divided up into three groups, the Russian captain sent the first truck heading west with specific instructions. Each small band left the farmhouse at staged intervals. Zhernakov wasn’t foolish or egotistical enough to try attack or even attempt to sabotage the main terminal. The Ukrainians guarded the sprawling industrial behemoth with more firepower than they sent to patrol the border between the two countries. No. The plan was much simpler. Zhernakov’s plan would use the overland gas pipelines to his advantage.
The men had kept busy through the early morning hours. The first part of the agenda required the cargo trucks transformed from the standard white to a colored striping and matching decals of the Ukrainian government service fleet. Meticulous details were studied and applied to matching the vehicles before license plates stolen from a government maintenance shop and then switched in place of the originals. As the time drew near the men donned the emblazoned uniforms of the government run Gas coop.
The first truck left the abandoned farm one hour ahead of the second team. Their trip was the longest and would take the men farther to the west, kilometers past the heart of the Ukrainian gas complex. The second team was prepped to leave at a designated time followed by Zhernakov and his crew. A day of long travel and tense nerves kept Zhernakov focused as the pieces of the most crucial part of the mission unrolled.
5 kilometers due east of the mega natural gas plant, Russian Special Forces captain Lev Zhernakov gave the word to the truck driver to pull off the road and into an empty field. Under the star-filled sky, he left the truck; his radio tuned to a unique frequency and stared at the stars waiting for progress reports from the other two crews.
A couple of hours after midnight Zhernakov relayed the final orders. The three teams of saboteurs used the cover of darkness as they drove the trucks across empty roads and through fields distributing the cargo from the backs of the trucks. Each team assigned predetermined destinations along the miles of exposed banks of pipelines using GPS coordinates to target the vulnerable sections of infrastructure.
After achieving their task, Zhernakov’s team drove back east from the target and parked at a chosen rendezvous, a flat mountain that looked west in the direction of Lviv and the large Donets Gas Cooperative. The first team to leave the farmhouse had already been in contact with Zhernakov their task accomplished. By four a.m. the second of the remaining crews returned, their jobs as well, complete.
Checking his watch, Special Forces captain Zhernakov dug three remote transmitters out from the inside of his coat and stuffed them in his front pocket. The time of truth was near. With a slight tremble to his fingers, the Russian fished a cigarette loose and stuck it between his lips. Cupping his hands to shield the flame he flared his lighter and drew on the slender white tube of tobacco until it glowed.
A drop of sweat ran the length of his face as his lungs filled with tobacco smoke. As an obedient soldier he had never questioned his orders, but then again his orders never gave him second thoughts as what he was about to accomplish. His training was for armed sorties into hostile environments, the rescue of his fellow countryman. This plan was sabotage plain and simple. And even with his naturally born hatred of the Ukrainian people, he would never wish what was about to take place upon any human in any country.
Zhernakov glanced at the hands on his watch again. Taking a long drag off the cigarette, he palmed the transmitter marked 1. The minute hand ticked to the top of the hour. Zhernakov applied pressure with his thumb on the remote's button. He held his thumb down until the button glowed green.
Off in the distance, a trace of light flared and then vanished, followed by a series of eruptions to the west of the gas plant. He passed the remote and dug out the second one. Repeating the procedure a second series of flare-ups filled the starless night sky. Now the waiting, time was required for the final part of the plan to set up. With the miles of gas lines spewing the flammable, toxic gas into the surrounding area, a required amount of time for the build-up of a vapor cloud. The weather over the region had cooperated, no wind to dissipate the accumulating gas.
Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. After twenty-nine minutes had marched by, Zhernakov readied the final remote. His thumb held poised over the small black plastic box. With his eyes glued to the minute hand of his watch, he sucked in a lung full of air, slowly letting the breath out as his thumb squeezed the red button. The button flashed green. Immediately he raised his eyes to the western horizon.
The men in his group joined his vigil. Seconds seemed like hours. A slight breeze rattled leaves. The peaceful night sky suddenly erupted in a bright white and orange explosion. From across the countryside, a roar rose from the ground in the west and rode the tops of the trees until it reverberated against the mountain walls. The sound followed closely by loud, volatile eruptions of miles of above ground steel gas pipelines.
Zhernakov dipped his head. The thought of countless lives that he suspected would perish by his hand. Grimly he ordered his men back into the trucks.
Silent Crusade - YouTube the trailer for my latest Brand Coldstream book. Have a peek....
The ringing of Ryan’s cell phone interrupted his discussion with Netanya Kalb. Flashing on the screen was the number from the D.C. Bureau office.
“Excuse me a minute,” Ryan ventured away from Netanya and returned to the bedroom for privacy. “Hello. Special Agent Ryan,” he answered.
“Ryan, District Chief Tom Wilkerson. Are you wrapped up in Venezuela yet?”
“Yeah, Pretty much chief. I think I’ve sifted through all the details. I am waiting for a couple of reports from the Venezuelan Police, but I can have them sent to me. Why?”
“Grab your things; we’ve got trouble in the Ukraine. These damn terrorists seem to be methodically destroying the oil supply in every country. I received word that there was an explosion at the natural gas plant near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The Donets Gas Cooperative is the hub of gas exports and supplies a quarter of the heating fuel used in Europe." The FBI District Chief paused. "If the estimates of damage are anywhere close to what I've read, the pipeline will take years for them to rebuild and have up and running, the Ukrainian economy will be on the verge of collapse."
Charles Ryan whistled in astonishment at the news, "That is undoubtedly going to play havoc with the short fuel supply Europe has already been facing." Ryan commented.
"Hang on a second.” Ryan heard the chief's muffled voice as the man covered the phone receiver. Ryan listened to a muffled conversation between Wilkerson and another FBI agent. The conversation ended followed by a few seconds of dead air before the FBI chief spoke again.
“Okay, thanks,” the words Tom Wilkerson spoke before he removed his hand from the receiver and resumed the conversation. “Jesus,” he muttered under his breath, “I’m not sure if this case is related now. An update just came across the wire. Ukrainian authorities have discovered the burnt remains of members from the Russian Special Forces within driving distance of the explosions. The remains of fake government vehicles were found in another torched building close to the bodies.” Wilkerson read the details of the report to Ryan.
“Still, I will have the coordinates and a copy of the initial report uploaded for you to read on the plane ride. I've included the name of a Ukrainian Spetsnaz officer who will meet you at the airport in Lviv.” Ryan again suffered the silence as the chief paused. “What the hell is going on?” the chief uttered. “Ryan, we need to get to the bottom of this. If the Ukrainians retaliate and go to war with their neighbors, the disruption to the oil supply will cause severe consequences, not just to Europe but to the entire world.” The District Chief Wilkerson fell silent once again then added as an afterthought. “Have you been in contact with any of the others agencies involved in this investigation? What are they saying? Have any of our fellow agencies caught a lead?”
Charles Ryan updated the FBI Chief, the lack of information or evidence pointing to any particular group still out of reach. Wilkerson stopped the agent once Ryan began flogging his often-repeated hypothesis.
“Evidence. Agent Ryan. We need evidence, not some crackpot conspiracy theory that you concoct to suit your needs.” Ryan’s boss scolded. “Find something in the Ukraine. Whoever is behind this can’t remain anonymous forever.”
“I’ll do my best Chief,” Ryan promised and cut the connection. He returned to hotel suites main room.
“Time for me to pack up, there’s a flight to the Ukraine with my name on it,” Ryan explained the phone call to Netanya Kalb. “I don’t get it,” Ryan said. “Here we are running around like a dog chasing his tale while the environmentalists are blowing every refinery and pipeline to kingdom com and yet everyone refuses to see them for what they are. How can that be possible?” Ryan fumed as he moved about the room collecting his spread out papers.
The sixth of April 2019, two weeks before Agents Ryan and Kalb’s meeting in Venezuela.
Captain Lev Zhernakov, the leader of a small band of Russian Special Forces, stood outside his car a quarter of a kilometer from the Ukrainian/ Russian border. Captain Zhernakov accepted a cigarette from one his men and waited for a light. Drawing heavily on the burning tobacco, he sat on the hood of the car and stared straight ahead at the dim lights of the guard station. Lost in thought, the Captain sat immobile until the cigarette he held pinched between his fingers consumed the thin paper down to the filter and burned his skin.
Flicking the butt to the ground, Zhernakov calmly slid off the hood of the car and stomped out the smoldering filter.
“Comrade.” Zhernakov addressed sergeant Konstantin Yeleshev. “Our contacts. You have apprised them of our arrival?”
“I have taken care of that, Captain,” Yeleshev replied. “We are to meet a day and a half from our destination near the western edge of the country. New transportation and the supplies you requested will be waiting.”
Captain Zhernakov nodded his approval. He lingered at the front of the late model Ukrainian made ZAZ Tavria; his mind still focused on the risky operation that would take him deep into the Ukrainian territory. If anything, Captain Zhernakov left little to fate. He had survived countless assignments for his country because of meticulous attention to detail.
The once rigid border leading into the Ukraine had disappeared a decade ago when Russia annexed the Western half of the country, but his team had to enter this part of annexed Russia as Ukrainian nationals, the façade they traveled under must be complete and beyond reproach once they crossed the Ukrainian border.
The first leg of the mission his unit faced was to move through the Russian-annexed part of the Ukraine not as countrymen but as Ukrainian nationals. This fact was vital if Zhernakov completed the task asked of him by the Russian government. Captain Lev Zhernakov was well aware of the hatred that burned between the two warring countries. Crossing through the often fought over territory had its hazards depending on what nationality a person represented.
Dressed in the civilian garb of the local Ukrainians, the border, now manned by Russian soldiers could prove to be a tense situation, setting the tone for the rest of the campaign.
The journey started that morning once Zhernakov and his two colleagues left the small Russian city of Shebekino shortly after breakfast. At the hotel, the men had changed into their disguises leaving all traces of their Russian culture behind. The risk of being identified as Russian military or even a citizen of the mother country could cause a backlash resulting in dangerous consequences for the faltering Russian hierarchy.
The timing of the drive from Shebekino, through the Belgorod Oblast and to the crossing planned for a mid-morning arrival, a time of day that the working people of this region would regularly use the passage while attending to the day's business.
The sun peeked thru the early morning mist pointing the direction west. Zhernakov requested the car be stopped short of the crossing to allow a few moments of mental rest before resuming the operation.
Kicking at the groundout cigarette butt, Zhernakov painstakingly reviewed with his men their part of the task. Satisfied with the responses he walked to the passenger door, kicking the hated Ukrainian car before settling into the cramped front seat.
Private Roman Kourov, the third man in the small crew knew the Kharkiv Oblast region better than his fellow Russian comrades. Kourov had grown up in the city of Izyum, south of the crossing when the region was still under Ukrainian rule. Born to Russian parents, Kourov suffered in the Ukrainian province until his late teens when he left his parents home and signed up to join the Russian military. Kourov’s command of the Ukrainian dialect was natural and without the Russian accent making him the best candidate for taking the car thru the Russian-controlled section.
On his captain’s command, Kourov shifted the car into gear, edged into the line of traffic and in turn rolled to a stop at the crossing barrier. Lowering the driver's window, Private Roman Kourov sat looking at the red and white striped barricade blocking the cars path as he waited for the Russian soldiers.
“What’s your business?” a bored guard questioned as he bent to survey the cars interior.
“Driving to Cherkasy. My friends and I are to work there,” Kourov replied accentuating his Ukrainian accent. Kourov handed the Russian soldier a packet containing false Ukrainian I.D.’s and forged work papers. The crossing guard’s bored expression changed when he heard Kourov’s accent. He mumbled a derogatory tirade about the arrivals to his partner than with disgust turned back toward the car and spit, the fluid dribbling down the side of the car.
The pair of guards eyed the cars occupants than the line of vehicles backing up at the gates. “Go before I change my mind. Do not come back this way. We do not need any more of you Ukrainian lichinki in our great country. Now, quickly before I step on you.” The guard growled tossing the packet into the car and motioned for the barrier to rise.
With his eyes glued to the road ahead, Kourov shifted the car into drive and rolled slowly forward. Once past the bar, he glanced at Captain Zhernakov. “This assignment will certainly test our patience.” Zhernakov nodded, he let out a breath and removed his fingers from the butt of his Ukrainian made fort-12 handgun, a firearm manufactured in the Ukraine for its militsya.
Inwardly he seethed, any other day he would have shot the soldier who called him and his men maggots. Zhernakov released another slow breath. For the mother country he reminded himself and for that, he would put up with the insults from the Russian occupied territory and, God have mercy, the time he was to spend with the appalling Ukrainians.
“Our next stop?” he asked Kourov, the man responsible for guiding the trio through the hostile no man’s land that separated the two countries and then for his knowledge of the country for their travels across the Ukraine proper and on to the far west border the country shares with Romania.
By the end of the first day, the trio stopped at the city of Cherkasy, close to the center of the Ukraine, one-third of the way to their destination. Accounting for strategic stops along the way the Captain Zhernakov expected to be across the country in three days, four at the most allowing for unscheduled setbacks.
Mid afternoon on the second day, Private Kourov steered the car into a small out of the way garage on the outskirts of Uman. A prearranged signal with the cars horn resulted with the opening of a large overhead door. The three men remained in the vehicle until the door sealed off the interior of the roadside garage from the outside world.
Roman Kourov climbed from behind the steering wheel and in Ukrainian talked with the lone visible occupant of the building, a mechanic clad in greasy overalls. Captain Zhernakov watched warily as the two men conversed before Kourov flashed the all-clear sign.
A short discussion and then a predetermined transaction took place. From the trunk of the Tavria, the Captain retrieved a worn black satchel. Inside the bag were bounded stacks of hryvnia, the Ukrainian national currency. The garage attendant took his time counting the money before tugging his cellphone from his overalls and relaying a coded message. When the call ended, the mechanic walked to an old fashioned fridge that stood alone in the corner of the cluttered garage bay and returned with four beers.
Surprising Zhernakov, the man handed him one of the beers and addressed him in Russian. “The others will arrive under the cover of darkness.”
Truck engines sounded through the cinder block walls of the garage on the edge of the Ukrainian city of Uman. Zhernakov glanced at his knockoff Timex watch. Eight forty-five the illuminated dial read. From his position inside the building he had watched the sun set, the last streaks of light had disappeared from outside the grimy windows an hour ago. The shop attendant stretched, emptied the last of his beer and lit yet another cigarette before he idly walked to the smaller man-door facing the gravel parking lot.
With an alert mind, Zhernakov tracked the vehicles as they turned off the main road, coasted toward the garage and then idled right out front of the building. He detected three engines, the quiet running diesels incorporated in the Electron EM. A Ukrainian manufactured multifunctional truck that was in wide use across the country by all facets’ of government departments from military to ambulances. For that reason, he had requested these particular trucks for this mission. Zhernakov banked on the trucks going unnoticed by the traveling public because of the widespread use these vehicles received throughout the Ukraine.
A muffled conversation leaked into the garage before the small door opened and several men followed the mechanic into the bay. Zhernakov’s hand rested close to his firearm, his eyes alert to any deception that may arise from the newcomers. Inside the door, the men stopped. The mechanic pointed toward the Russian Captain as he spoke to the group.
A grim faced leader of the second group left the others and crossed the floor toward Zhernakov.
“Dimitri Amelin,” the man introduced himself before asking the Russian Captain a question. The man spoke Ukrainian and laughed as Zhernakov returned the greeting with a puzzled look. Switching to Russian Amelin became serious. “We are in the Ukraine, are we not?” he said with a smile before continuing in Russian. Amelin outlined the part of the mission his team was to provide.
Zhernakov listened stone-faced to the Russian sleeper agent until the man finished his briefing. Mentally checking off each item as Amelin reported, Zhernakov nodded at the end of the update and turned to face the small band of men now gathered inside the garage.
“Mount up men,” he said as he split the group into three and assigned trucks. Zhernakov decided to ride with Dimitri Amelin. A large part of the plan remained on a need to know basis and he would tell his Russian counterpart the necessary details as the time unfolded.
The Ontario Premier rushed out of the limo and held the door for his guests. Lucas stretched as he peered at the front of the Canadian Parliament building. The building stood brightly illuminated in contrast to the flickering city lights of the surrounding area.
Joiner commented on the brightly lit parliament grounds. “Naturally, we can’t have the beacon of our country sitting in the dark. Parliament Hill has its source of power; generators run 24/7 these days to keep the head of our government powered.
Lucas shot a quick glance at the Premier; his mood still soured from the cheap ploy the Ontario Premier had pulled while driving from the airport. Putting his hand on Alice’s back, the two climbed the steps leading into the mainstay of the Canadian government leaving their host behind.
Hugh Joiner quickly swallowed his pride and rushed to join the couple. The errors of judgment by instructing his driver take that particular route to make a point with Lucas becoming plainly obvious. Joiner babbled as the three entered the building to draw Lucas’ mind away from the mistake the Premier had shown. A disturbing thought that he had severely pissed off the man responsible for his tenor as Premier now hung heavy on his mind. Joiner was beside himself in his efforts to erase his mistake.
As the three followed the Parliamentary aid down the large stone hallway to the Prime Ministers office at the back of the building, Lucas offered no signs of clemency toward the Premier, tuning out the man’s feeble attempts at conversation. When their escort stopped at the ornate doors leading into the P.M.’s office, Lucas turned to the Premier.
“I think you’ve helped us enough for tonight Hugh. I would like to speak the Prime Minister privately.” Lucas turned his back on the beleaguered politician. “We will find our way back to our plane. Don’t wait around for us,” he said as he took Alice's arm and walked with her to meet the Canadian head of state.
Carl Emery scrutinized the stack of documents on his desk. The reports his chief of staff had hand delivered to his office a few hours ago sat spread out over the breadth of his mahogany desk. The Canadian Prime Minister read and reread the couriered statements. How could this possibly happen? Again he lifted the last page of the officially stamped declaration. The countries economy was tanking and now this.
The door to his parliamentary office opened. Angrily he raised his head. He had made his instructions to his staff quite clear. He was not to be bothered while he decided how best to deal with the situation at hand. About to snap at the intrusion, his overburdened mind quickly recognized the robed figure and his lady friend cross the threshold. Emery checked his tongue.
With a brief glance down at the papers covering his desk, Emery pushed his chair back and rushed to meet the guests. “Lucas, Alice. My deepest apologies for not personally meeting you at the airport,” The Prime Minister explained shaking Lucas’ hand. “I presume that Premier Joiner explained about the sudden emergency?” Lucas nodded his understanding the P.M. became visibly relieved. “Where’s my manners,” Emery led the two toward his desk. “Please have a seat. Can I offer either of you a drink?”
Seated back behind his desk, the Canadian Prime Minister gushed on about the strides the country had gained moving into a much smaller footprint of fossil fuel use. Carl Emery explained a few of the harsh changes he had implemented toward that goal since the last meeting between the two.
Emery took a breath, his friendly façade slipped. With a tremble in his voice, he cut to what he thought was the reason Lucas had paid this visit. “Before you ask, yes. The tanker traffic coming into our Eastern ports has increased.” The P.M. swallowed nervously. “Let me explain before you remind me of the deal we made.”
“Our country is suffering a recession like none before. Our GDP has retracted to alarming rates. Manufacturing, exports are falling off month by month almost becoming non-existent. Our cities are emptying as people leave in droves looking for work and affordable shelter of any sort. Hell, we’re even having difficulties keeping the lights on, not only here but also all our essential services are now suffering, hospitals, government offices, all the critical services.” Prime Minister Emery leaned back in his chair. “You need to understand. I have no choice. The need to increase the oil supplies from the Middle East is imperative if this country is to avoid insolvency.”
“What about the aid your country receives to mollify the adjustment to renewable energy sources, the turbines and solar panels that arrive on your shores daily from China. Do the people of this country not get paid to install these energy substitutes?” Lucas questioned. “I would think that a vast amount of jobs are being created to replace the downturn in the workforce from the old hay days of your oil based past? Certainly not you or anyone else of average intelligence could have thought that this transition would be smooth and without sacrifices.”
Emery averted his gaze to the top of his desk avoiding further eye contact with Lucas. With a shrug of his shoulders the Prime Minister realized his excuses held no merit with the man seated across from him. Despondent, his mind struggled for a suitable reply. He had signed a deal with the devil when he accepted the P.O.T.E. Foundations backing to win the last federal election. Now like it or not, he would go down in history as the Prime Minister who had sold out his nation.
“The agreement was for you to assume the office of Prime Minister and to lead this great country down the road toward a greener future. You have plenty of resources in the western half of this country that we agreed to allow you to use to aid in the process. I was under the assumption that the majority of Canadians backed the changes. Have they not spent countless years protesting and campaigning against the, correct me if I am wrong, the killing of our planet by the continued use of dirty oil from…the tar sands, isn’t that what they call the area?”
“If it was only that easy,” the P.M. mumbled. A flicker of hope returned as his eyes rested on the last page of the documents sitting on his desk. Lifting his head he slid the page at Marcus without a further word. Marcus picked the paper and raised it to his face. Expressionless he read the few paragraphs contained on the official paper then reread the top section a second time.
“In agreement with the three Prairie Provinces and the Territories of Yukon and the Northwest, we, the sitting premiers, at this moment withdraw our bordered land from the confederation of the Country of Canada. As with, the region west of the Ontario border and east of the Rocky Mountains, above the 49th parallel, will now be considered the sovereign territory and from hereon be known as the Western Republic of Canada.”
Lucas slid the paper back onto the Prime Minsters desk. The emergency the Canadian leader had been alluding to no doubt, he thought. Lucas regarded the meaning of the official document signed by the new Western Canadian contingent. In a rare display of emotion, Lucas smiled at the Prime Minister. “Carl, the People Of The Earth Foundation is not the mafia or a drug cartel. We don’t rely on threats or make people disappear for not living up to our agreements.
An arrangement that I know I need not remind you, that was signed by one of your predecessors at the Paris Climate Accord in 2016. Our Foundation is here to support the leaders of the world so they may accomplish the goal of reversing climate change and improve the state of the environment in each country so the earth will remain inhabitable far into the future. If you feel a need to import a small amount of oil to allow your government to keep control of the country, then so be it.”
“I am confident you will find a way to deal with the rogue provinces in a way beneficial to your nation's well-being, and soon,” Lucas added. “The days of tankers ferrying oil across the open oceans is coming to an end. What kind of impression will this have on the rest of the world if every time a crisis evolves we resort back to carbon-based solutions?” Lucas tapped the documents and rose to leave.
Alice sat motionless at the side of the desk. The only signs she displayed were the slight movement of her head as she watched the volley of words between the two men, her face passive, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with any of the banter.
Prime Minister Emery escorted his visitors to the main Parliament building doors where he bid them farewell. Walking down the stairs to a waiting car, Lucas excused himself. In the brightly lit parking lot, unobserved fingers typed a quick text message then hit send. The continued supply of oil from across the ocean was unacceptable, and an altogether stop was becoming imminent. The planning would involve months of preparation but now was as good of time as any to put things in motion.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.