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Clear Line of Fire

By ND Badrinath All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Thriller


For the first time in history, USA and Russia perceive a threat from Indian military technology. Satyan Sharma, burning with desire to build world-class software in India, gets his big break. His company is selected to design the brains of highly advanced artillery in an Indo-Uzbek collaboration. Both USA and Russia try to sabotage the project through their secret agencies. Their tentacles reach into the highest circles in Delhi and they manipulate corrupt Indian politicians to win Satyan over or neutralise him. Ram Niranjan Pandey, central minister, seems to hold all the cards. Satyan and his fiancée, TV reporter Rubita Bannerjee, take the battle onto their own ground – the media and India’s corporate circles. Can they unpeel the layers that keep emerging in this high-stakes game? At one point Satyan pulls himself back from the brink of giving in to Pandey’s subtle temptations. Filled with self-loathing and recrimination, his soul explodes, unleashing dark powers that take everyone by surprise. The Clear Line of Fire is a fast-paced thriller; the action moving across Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Washington and Moscow as well as the steep slopes of the Himalayas.

Chapter 1

A wintry Virginia sun glinted off the guard-booth windows. Allen Connolly stood by and watched the guards poke about his hired Ford. They seemed to be taking their time. He figured it was a case of the Monday-morning blues. He pulled his jacket tight around his shoulders and rubbed his palms together.

The sergeant stepped out of the booth and handed his pass and ID card back to him. His morose expression reinforced Connolly’s diagnosis. “Tough week starting up for you, mac?”

The sergeant eyed him balefully. Then, relenting quite suddenly, he returned Connolly’s smile. “Guess you know how it is with us foot-soldiers, eh, Mr. Connolly?” He nodded companionably as his men finished their inspection and gave the car a light slap. “Well, there you go, then.”

Monday-morning blues notwithstanding, the check had been thorough, and every man at the gate had been alert. With a grin and a wave of his hand, Connolly eased the Ford up the driveway towards the CIA headquarters building some hundred yards away.

He parked the car and strode up the steps into the long, low-slung building. Gleaming glass doors let him into a cavernous lobby dominated by tones of grey and blue. It had several passages leading off to either side at angles behind a grey and beige desk with a glass front. At the desk a receptionist tapped away at her key-board, her eyes scanning the computer screen set below the glass-topped surface. She smiled as he came up.

“Good morning, Mr. Connolly. You’re two minutes early for your meeting,” she said, showing him a perfect set of teeth. Her bright hazel eyes regarded him with calm assurance. He smiled in return and thought that she most definitely cheered the place up. She might be a black-belt in karate too, he speculated, just in case things got ugly. “If you’d give me your pass I’ll book you in. You might not have long to wait but, in the meantime, can I get you a coffee?”

Neat, real neat, he thought. The Company’s HQ at Langley seemed to have been hard at work trying to put on a more human face since he had last been here more than two years ago. “No, thank you Miss…?”

“Beauchamps, Mr. Connolly,” she replied, taking the proffered pass. “Amanda Beauchamps. Have a seat.”

“Allen to you, my dear,” he said, and turned towards the sofa in the waiting bay.

At five feet ten, Connolly was not a tall man by American standards. Nevertheless, he had the litheness of a jungle cat. His loose-fitting suede jacket and corduroys covered broad shoulders and a narrow waist – a frame which supported a light but hard-muscled body. The tip of an old scar from a knife fight in a Kabul back alley showed through the V of his open-necked shirt. Connolly had discovered that the scar was a big turn-on for the girls and had gotten into the habit of wearing open-necked shirts to give them a tantalizing glimpse. On the left side of his chest, but lower down, was another, larger, rosette-shaped scar – this one from a bullet that had torn up half a lung during the days before Desert Storm. Sheer grit had kept him alive as he had struggled for two days, alone and close to death, to get back behind American lines.

Connolly wore these experiences lightly. His deep-set, mirthful eyes belied years of fighting Uncle Sam’s wars behind enemy lines all across South Asia and the Middle East. A shock of thick, black, curly hair covered his skull. His high cheekbones and swarthy, angular face, gave prominence to his long, straight nose. He looked like an Afghan Pathan and, with his fluent command over idiomatic Pushtu, could pass off easily as a local in those desolate highlands – a fact that had been put to use in countless missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had also mastered several other South Asian tongues including Urdu, Tamil and Arabic – one of the many reasons he had been selected to join the Agency to follow a career in addition to his original profession as a consulting geologist with several American and European multi-nationals with mining interests in Asia.

Connolly ran his mind through the events of the past forty-eight hours as he waited. He had got the summons to HQ during a well-earned weekend in the north-western Pakistani city of Quetta. Bancroft from the embassy had run him to ground at the Residency Club bar, the only watering-hole in those remote parts where an American citizen could find convivial drinking company without constantly being on edge.

The State Department attaché had driven up from Islamabad, braving a treacherous seven-hour drive through the mountains. That in itself was a cue that something important was up, else why wouldn’t they have just sent a message to call him in. Bancroft hadn’t had much information though, except to say that he was booked on the first available flight to New York and hand him his ticket. He had had just an hour to throw his things into a suitcase and grab a bite before setting off.

At JFK, he had been met by old Jacky Heinz, who had taken him straight to the airport bar and handed him his HQ entry-pass and ticket to Charleston. He was to rent a car there and drive into Langley. Connolly didn’t ask why he had to take such a roundabout route – he had seen enough of the games the HQ types played.

“Looks like this is a big one, old son,” Heinz had said as they sipped their beer. Heinz had been his coordinator in Kuwait back in ’90. Connolly had taken a liking to this mountain of a man who also had a mountain of a brain and an uncanny knack for reading the Arab mind. After Desert Storm had wound down, Heinz had been recalled stateside to head an analysis project covering the Middle East as well as the Indian sub-continent. But Heinz was not really in on this one – he had merely been asked to meet him at JFK and hand him the papers. “Matthews himself is in charge of this caper. Word is that he and Weinberger had a long rap down in DC last Friday. Here you are, and it’s only Monday. Looks like they picked you out for this especially. I hear tell the job is out in India. Beats me why they would want you there of all places. You’re doing a good job in Afghanistan.”

“Maybe it’s because I schooled there for a while,” said Connolly. “But I haven’t been there in fifteen years.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. Ahh, it’s probably just some static on the grapevine,” said Heinz, flapping his hand. Hey, you better get moving, your plane leaves in ten minutes.”


In the early seventies, Connolly’s father had been an advisor to IBM in Delhi. He had been the liaison man for Big Blue in the labyrinthine political circles of that old-new country. When he became thirteen, Allen had been entolled into the exclusive residential American School in Kodaikanal, a quiet hill station in southern India. That was where he had discovered his aptitude for foreign tongues. Mixing easily with the locals, he had mastered Tamil within months. The Connollys loved holidaying in the countryside and had been entertained regularly by erstwhile rulers of the old princely states on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. Young Allen had nurtured his talent for languages, picking up Urdu as well. Travelling widely, he had come to know large portions of the subcontinent. He had inherited his father’s love of geography and history, and had grown attached to the region which had seen a centuries-old civilization flourish and mature despite wave after wave of marauding conquerors. More fascinating yet was the contrast – the country was still a political toddler grappling with the divergent pulls of spiritual wealth and economic poverty. By 1977, the year when a new government in Delhi had, in a fit of anti-US fervor, closed IBM and other American MNCs down in India, Allen Connolly had graduated from the Kodaikanal school. He decided to take up a career which would give him the opportunity to stay on and work in that part of the world and enrolled at Stanford to study geology.

His oriental looks, familiarity with South Asia and command over languages had attracted the attention of the CIA while he was in college back in the US. After five years of working with Exxon, Allen Connolly had been recruited by the Agency as one of its field operatives in the Middle East. Over the last ten years, with considerable financial assistance from the CIA, Connolly had set himself up as a consultant geologist. The job gave him an excellent cover to travel to the remotest corners of those countries and maintain offices in several major cities in the region. Most of his assignments involved working with petro-majors and took him to various Arab countries. But, so far, he had not been sent down to the Indian subcontinent, barring a few clandestine visits to Pakistan while working with rebel Afghan tribesmen. He wondered what could be happening in India that the boys down there couldn’t handle.

Or shouldn’t handle. Was that it?


Anton Konstantin groaned inwardly as he watched the ponderous old fogies file into the conference room. In the new dispensation within the Federal Secret Service, which had taken over most of the operations of the disbanded KGB, the old guard had been completely reorganized. Formerly powerful men had been given sinecures where their outdated attitudes would do the least harm. Many of these were present today: Kharkov, Director of the Institute of Inter-Regional Political Research; Zhivarev, head of the Socio-Cultural Analysis Department; Makarych of the Technology Transfer Wing and many others Konstantin had met briefly on previous occasions. They were relics of the cold war who had long outlived their purpose, if indeed, thought Konstantin, they had ever served any. He was part of a young breed of high achievers who were impatient to build a new and resurgent Russia, free of the parasitic lesser republics which had weighed down the erstwhile Soviet Union. But the fact that his boss and mentor, Major General Aliakhin, had called them in for this meeting meant that these old crocks served some purpose. So Konstantin kept his views to himself.

At thirty-five, Colonel Anton Andreyevitch Konstantin was the youngest ever section-head of the FSS. He was slightly built and always neat and trim. His small stature was more than compensated for by a live-wire mind and a hard-driving ambition. His pale blue eyes burned with a patriotic fire that made his less zealous colleagues nervous.

Konstantin did not tolerate fools gladly, especially not the lot he saw in the room. The gaggle settled themselves slowly into the chairs around the massive oak table. Huge and imposing, resplendent in his Army uniform, Major General Yegor Aliakhin remained standing at the head of the table. Now there, thought Konstantin, was a member of the old establishment who had adapted himself well to the changed realities. Konstantin felt admiration tinged with an almost filial affection for this old soldier who had staked his life and more for his motherland, and under whom he had served with unswerving loyalty for fourteen years.

Konstantin was Aliakhin’s protégé, in whom the older man saw himself as a youth. The only difference being that Konstantin belonged to the twenty first century and was already becoming recognized as a potential head of the FSS. Apart, of course, from the obvious difference in size – but that counted for nothing in the special bond that existed between them.

It had been six months since Konstantin had been made head of Section K, the division of the FSS responsible for counterintelligence operations in the Indian subcontinent. When he first got this posting, the Kremlin had been abuzz with rumors that Konstantin had somehow run afoul of his mentor. The Section was, from the FSS’s standpoint, a low-priority one since it covered a staunch Russian ally. There were, to be sure, Pakistan and Afghanistan to keep tabs on, but neither were as challenging as assignments on the newly-independent republics south of Russia, where Konstantin had spent three very successful years. His handling of the Armenian problem had marked him out as politically astute and tactically brilliant. For him to be shunted to the Indian subcontinent was, to all observers, an indication that his career had run into trouble.

Konstantin had been puzzled even more by the crash courses on Indian languages that he had been put through. If he was to be sent to the field – in a new sector to boot – at this stage of his career, this could not augur well. But he had implicit faith in General Aliakhin and waited patiently for the old soldier to reveal his plans. Surely, he told himself, there was a greater purpose behind Aliakhin’s move. Konstantin had ploughed through lessons in Hindi, boning up on the topography of the key Indian metros – even making a few ‘familiarization visits’ to Delhi and Mumbai before actually taking charge.

Aliakhin had been as avuncular as ever towards his protégé, even having him over for weekends of fishing and hunting at his dacha on the shores of Lake Baikal, complete with evenings of rip-roaring drinking and cards at the local inn. If Aliakhin had heard any of the rumors about Konstantin’s career prospects, he gave no sign of it.

Konstantin had waited patiently. Today, he felt it in his bones that Aliakhin’s plans would be revealed.

“Gentlemen, let us begin,” said Aliakhin, bringing the meeting to order instantly.

“You are all familiar with the arrangement between the Indian and previous Czech governments for the supply of the Skoda 155-mm howitzer. This particular weapon from Skoda had several features which made it the most effective artillery piece for operations in the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas and Asia Minor. As you also know, that arrangement now stands cancelled. We had used our good offices with our Czech friends to terminate the contract. Consequently, the Indian government had perforce to choose between the British Vickers, the French Caesar and the Austrian Voest-Alpine. All three are excellent guns, but none could match the tactical superiority of the Skoda.

“It has for some time been apparent that a matter which we had treated as closed has been reopened by our neighbors in Uzbekistan. This has been prompted by the return of one of Skoda’s top ballistics experts, Dr. Ismail Barkhatiev, an Uzbek national, to his own country.

“Uzbekistan has embarked on the design and development of this howitzer under Dr. Barkhatiev’s direction. What is most distressing is that they have not bothered to inform us.”

Images of Barkhatiev and his labs flashed on the screen behind Aliakhin as he explained the Uzbek initiative.

“In his most recent efforts in Samarkand, he has been assisted by one of his ex-students, Dr. Rajan Swaminathan of India.”

A grainy file-photo of Swaminathan followed as he outlined the Indian contribution.

Aliakhin wound up his recital of the facts with a detailed explanation of the Skoda gun and its advantages over the others.

“The question which, I am sure, is uppermost in your minds, gentlemen, is the most obvious one, and one that should strike any right-thinking Russian.”

Aliakhin’s menacing glare scanned the room as the general’s listeners bestirred themselves dutifully.

“Why are our good neighbors going to all this trouble to develop this weapon in such a secretive manner? Why should they share sensitive military secrets with the Indians?” Aliakhin’s voice was rising with indignation. “Why do they hide this from their Russian brothers? Do they not trust us?

“No,” he thundered, “the Uzbeks have become ambitious beyond belief! And they think that this,” – he scowled in disdain – “this toy is going to give them power over their other neighbors in the south! Today Kazakhstan, tomorrow Tajikistan and then,” here Aliakhin paused to scan the assemblage and finished with a dramatic stage whisper “then my friends, even Mother Russia herself will not be safe from their scrabbling hands!

“Now we,” Aliakhin leaned forward, his fists pressing down on the table, “We are all here to see that the world is not subjected to the sprouting of a rash of regional powers. Powers who cannot be expected to act with maturity and a sense of perspective. I have called for this meeting, gentlemen, to ask you to monitor this disturbing situation through your respective departments and report to me on the first of every month without fail. The formats in which I want the information are in the dossiers before you.”

After a tirade like that there was not even a hint of dissonance among those present.

“We shall, then, be in a position to take decisive action at the appropriate time. Thank you, gentlemen.”

The meeting was at an end and the old men began stuffing their papers into their brief cases.

“One last thing, gentlemen,” he said.

Everyone froze.

Indicating Konstantin he said, “This is Colonel Anton Konstantin, whom many of you already know well. He is in charge of Section K which, as you may know, covers certain key Russian interests in South Asia, and will spearhead our little operation. He is one of my most trusted aides. You are all requested to extend to him your fullest and most unstinting cooperation in his efforts to protect the interests of Mother Russia.”

There were some faint murmurs around the room, but no one said anything audible. This last announcement had caught them quite off guard.


The smooth voice of the girl behind the desk cut into Connolly’s reverie.

“In you go, Mr. Connolly. Second floor, first corridor to your right and fifth door on your left.”

Connolly smiled his acknowledgement as he retrieved his pass and stepped into a long corridor. A guard was waiting to escort him to the old man’s office.

They walked past a room stretching more than twenty metres and behind the frosted glass Connolly could barely make out the silhouettes of massive screens and ghostly white-coated figures flitting around. The intelligence network constantly fed the Company’s server farms billions of bits of information from every corner of the world. This was the nerve centre of the CIA. From here, Uncle Sam watched the progress of dozens of undercover operations in political and commercial capitals around the world. As he walked past, Connolly contemplated the analysts scurrying around with reams of printouts or peering at multi-colored screens inside their sanitised cloister. Not for them the heat and dust and blood and sweat of arid Afghan mountains or teeming Asian bazaars. These were squeaky-clean automatons inhabiting these air-conditioned caves, fighting digital wars in a virtual world totally removed from reality. It was bizarre, almost grotesque. Connolly felt a shudder as he turned into the door of the lift held open by his escort.

Connolly’s mood lightened as he stepped into the familiar office of the Deputy Director and Chief of Section 3, H. Atherton ‘Mad Matt’ Matthews. At least this place hadn’t been taken over by the computer nerds. Here people dealt with people. You knew that the man behind the huge desk at the window knew what was going on in the real world. Matthews had been one of the best field operatives in his time, a man respected for his physical courage and feared for his ruthlessness. Now past fifty, he was a strong contender for Director when Davies retired in two years.

“Come in, sonny,” said Matthews – to him, every junior was sonny. “Grab a chair.” The room had one more person in it – a middle-aged man wearing a well-cut navy blue suit and a quiet striped tie, looking very much the Wall Street broker. He was seated facing Matthews.

“This is Hawthorne from the Pentagon, sonny. He has an interesting story to tell. There’s something going on in your neck of the woods which Uncle Sam wants you to check out. Well, not exactly your neck of the woods, but close enough. Now hear this,” Matthews leaned forward and jabbed a finger at Connolly. “This job is completely hush-hush, see? Even our boys in the zoo” – short for Zone of Operation – “don’t want to know about it. And we definitely don’t want those teddy bears” – Matthews’ pejorative for the FSS – “to know that we know anything at all about what you’re going to hear, okay?”

Connolly felt uneasy. He was clearly being told that he was going in alone on this one. Not even the CIA would be there for assistance. He shot a sideways glance at Hawthorne and was met with a steady, appraising stare.

“He’s yours,” said Matthews.

Hawthorne pushed a slim plastic folder along the desk. In a smooth voice and with carefully chosen words, he spelled out the scenario. “In that folder are details of a strategic alignment for a 155-mm caliber self-propelled mountain howitzer now being negotiated between India and Uzbekistan. I believe that this weapon is known in common parlance as a shoot-and-scoot gun. In point of fact, this is a transaction which was being structured by India and the USSR since 1985. The Soviet regime had assigned the task of design and production to the ordnance factory at Skoda in Czechoslovakia. After the political disintegration of the USSR, India tried to get the Russians to take it forward but they politely declined as a result of some discreet persuasion from us. We had then considered that chapter closed.

“For reasons set out in the docket, Uzbekistan is interested in consummating the partnership with India on this howitzer. It appears that this weapon will have certain features which make it advantageous in military maneuvers in the terrain of Asia Minor. India’s interest is high because of the howitzer’s capability to achieve tactical superiority in operations in the Himalayan areas bordering China and Pakistan.”

“You say ‘will have’, Hawthorne. That means the gun’s not ready yet?” Connolly interrupted. He noted with grim pleasure that Hawthorne could not conceal a slight frown of irritation. Connolly had him slotted for a nerd warlord, a commander from the electronic battlefield, and had taken an instant dislike to him.

Hawthorne cleared his throat. “The gun, as you call it, is still in the prototype design stage. Again, for reasons set out in the docket, the Uzbeks are collaborating with the Indians in its development. For the last two years, we have been monitoring progress more closely. We have reason to believe that the project is now fast nearing prototype testing.”

“This mama is a real sweetie, sonny, mark my words,” Mathew broke in with a grin and a wink. It was obvious to Connolly that Matthews shared his dislike for Hawthorne. “Now, in case you’ve been wondering how a couple of countries like India and Uzbekistan got their hands onto something so hot, it’s like this. The gun was to be made by Skoda. But once the Czechs got out from under the Soviet Union, they told every Soviet military ‘expert’ to pack his bags and haul ass out of there. One of these was an Uzbek ballistics scientist who had worked with them in designing this gun. Maybe the Czechs figured they could make this little thingamajig by themselves, maybe they just lost interest in it. But our little Uzbek returned home, bringing all his drawings with him. The gun is great for operating in those areas like Hawthorne here told you. But the Uzbeks had a little problem…”

Hawthorne took his cue, “The superior shoot-and-scoot capability of this howitzer is only one of its advantages. It also features a so-called Variable Angle Recoil Dissipation mechanism which enables it to be fired from surfaces with greater inclines than any other weapon in its class. What this means is that the gun can fire from positions on mountain slopes steeper, and from terrain less firm, than other 155-mm guns. Which in turn means that, for an army on the move in such terrain, the number of places this gun can stop to fire multiplies several times. The problem that Mr. Matthews referred to relates to the computer console which controls the gun. While the Skoda plant was working on the ballistics, the Soviets had been working separately on a state-of the-art GPS based software, the technology for which the Uzbeks do not possess. That was to be the other special feature of the howitzer.

“Now, the Uzbeks don’t trust the Russians any more than we do. They wanted the howitzer for themselves but were constrained by their lack of software know-how. That’s where the Indians come into the picture. The Uzbek scientist Mr. Matthews referred to – Barkhatiev – had a bright Indian student whom he taught ballistics in the Polytechnic at Patrice Lumumba University. This student,” Hawthorne frowned at his notes, his composure ever so slightly punctured, “Sam, uh, Sam-Nathan or some such. Well anyway this ex-student is now a prominent scientist engaged in software research at a defence laboratory called DRDO at Bangalore, India. I am given to understand that you are not unfamiliar with this city. This person is considered to be something of an expert in computer software for ballistics applications. Barkhatiev and his ex-student have got together with the blessings of their respective governments to complete the design of the gun.”

“Word is, sonny,” said Matthews, “that these guys have finally cracked the design. So the gun is ready for prototype production. And that’s where you come in. The plum is ready for the picking, and we aim to have it.”

He lowered his predatory head and flashed the devilish grin Connolly knew so well. Mad Matt on the prowl was something else. It was the kind of thing that men like him were born to do. He made no secret of the fact that he enjoyed it. And Mad Matt had had the entire globe for his jungle ever since he hit CIA HQ after retiring from field-work.

“Now hear this. You go in to this Bangalore place and set yourself up as a consultant scouting the country for an American GPS software major. That’s your cover. And like they say, Bangalore is the software capital of India. Christ, what a term – software capital. I hear they’ve got power blackouts half the time. Anyway, you shack up there, and you’re supposed to be surveying local talent, government policy, infrastructure, that kind of thing. I’ve set up a crash course for you to get up to scratch on the jargon.

“Your job is to get the design once the prototype is tested A-Okay. Maybe we’ll snitch this Barkhatiev and maybe Swaminathan too.” Matthews certainly had no problems getting his tongue around the Indian name. “Or maybe we’ll just grab the designs and skedaddle. That’s your call once you’re out there. I’ll brief you on your communication protocol immediately after this meeting.


That last word was merely Matthews’ way of calling the meeting to an end. Over the last ten years, Connolly had never known a question to follow. He knew enough not to have any. Not, at any rate, in the presence of outsiders like Hawthorne. There hadn’t even been any question of asking him if he would do it. With Mad Matt there was no telling where questions would get you – he only wanted answers.

Hawthorne caught the signal and gathered his papers to leave. With a quick nod at both men, he walked out.

“That was just to get that pompous ass out, Allen. Now get this clear. I’m sending you in alone on this. But I don’t want to risk losing one of my best boys just because the bloody goons up in DC are antsy about us being seen playing blind poker in India. Because it;s embarrassing the hell out of the Pentagon that Uncle Sam doesn’t know what the fuck is going on in a thrird world country. Can you beat the hypocrisy of those bastards? One of the reasons they don’t want overt CIA involvement, they told me, is that it would be unseemly for us to appear curious about a hi-tech breakthrough in a third-world country!

“Okay, so I’ve got this detail of surveillance people flying out to India over the next few days. They’ll all be there before you’ve landed, setting up their act. They’ll give you the intelligence support support you need on the field.”

He handed over a slim folder. “The details of the operation are in this dossier,” he continued, “memorize and destroy as usual. Good luck, sonny.”


Major General Aliakhin had manipulated the assembled officials superbly. Deliberately leaving Konstantin’s mandate vague while pummeling them with a barrage of patriotic fervor, Aliakhin had obtained their obedience to Konstantin, several years their junior. Konstantin remained impassive, seemingly oblivious of the furtive glances of the men around the table as they filed submissively out of the room.

“They will co-operate fully now, General. There was not even a whimper of protest,” said Konstantin, looking with reverence at his mentor. “You have been able to get the entire machinery of the FSS at our disposal without question. I wonder if these same men would have let go of their little fiefdoms so easily in the old days.”

The General’s eyes had lost their fierceness, but they were tinged with sadness. “My son,” he said, placing a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, “we have only bluff and bluster left to enforce our will on the world. The Soviet Union is dead and Mother Russia is not yet strong enough to take up her rightful position among the nations of the world. Take this gun as an example – we cannot do as good a job of designing it as the Uzbeks, with the help of the Indians, will. Such is the sad state of affairs, Toni.”

Rarely had Konstantin seen the old man in such a melancholy mood. He was puzzled. Serving continually on field assignments, he had lost touch with conditions that existed in interior Russia. His main field of operations covered South Asian countries and, while many of them were democracies, the standard of living had never been anything to write home about. With those countries as reference points in his experience, Konstantin had little reason to believe that Mother Russia was not the paradise-on-earth it was made out to be.

The old man turned towards the window and looked pensively over the snow-lined streets of Dzerzhezhinsky Square. He saw his countrymen, huddled in their dark overcoats against the swirling snow, scurrying about their affairs. Aliakhin had long ago seen through the lie of Socialism and anticipated the situation his country was now facing. His long military career had shown him the horror of wars that the inflated Soviet ego had dragged his people into. He had, for years, dealt daily with men drunk on power. Men who refused to change even after they realized that the socialist model was failing. Men who lacked the political will to alter the system because they feared change and the potential loss of power and privilege it represented. The working man’s dream had turned into something worse than a nightmare – a dull, demeaning drudgery with no end in sight.

He turned away from the window with a sigh and resumed the discussion. “We refused to collaborate with the Indians on such a project when they asked us, not because we didn’t want to, but because we couldn’t, my son. Frankly, we were nowhere near ready with the GPS software. And obviously we didn’t want them to know it. We didn’t want the Americans to know it either. We made a great show of allowing ourselves to be persuaded to cancel negotiations with the Indians. And we told them that this gun represented an escalation of the very arms race that the new Russia would do all in her power to curb.

“Don’t look so shocked, Toni. You must be made aware of the levels of degradation we have to pull Russia out of due to the mismanagement of our political masters. You have been exposed so far only to the realities of the field. Pull yourself together and face another kind of reality – one that exists in the corridors of power. It’s time for you to grow up some more. You are like a son to me and I feel almost like a tycoon in the US showing his heir the state of affairs of the company.”

Aliakhin turned his mind to the assignment at hand and Konstantin smiled as he saw the fire of combat return to his mentor’s eyes.

Thumping Konstantin on the shoulder, the General said, “But enough of this old woman’s talk, eh, Toni? We have another battle to be fought! Now, the Uzbeks and the Indians are close to building the prototype and the moment is ripe for us to strike. I want you to obtain for Mother Russia the designs of this weapon. Though I referred to it as a toy so disparagingly a moment ago, it is critical that we equip our forces with it at the earliest.”

“The plum is ready for the picking, eh, General?”

The General chuckled as he gathered his papers. “The very words that our friends across the Atlantic used while briefing their operative at Langley, Colonel Konstantin, the very words. Come into my office and I will explain in detail what I want you to do when you go back to your favourite hunting ground – India.”

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263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...

cicheah: Very well-knit story which sustains one's interest from beginning to end. Most enjoyable and a pleasure to read.

Warchief: The biggest problem with the Harry Potter series is that it's all from his point of view. So we never really get to see or understand events from other peoples perspective. I think that they would be more than a few people that want to know what happened at Hogwarts during that last year.As far a...

tyleroakleyfan: this was the perfect ending I loved it. thank you so much I enjoy the relationship that Draco and harry have and their children. im glad Vernon learned his lesson. and Dudley as a wizard did not see that coming but it gives him a way to be closer to harry. very good job with this. if you could ch...

gunter1987: I just want to say here that this is my first review, but I really wanted to review this story. I apologize if I don't write English to well, I am French.Reading through the many science fiction stories posted here and other places in the world, I started to see a few linking themes: heavy-hande...

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Leah Brown: This was an amazing read! I was hooked from the very first chapter, holding my breadth to see what would happen next. The characters are rich and vibrant, and the world Danielle has created is fascinating. If you love YA, you MUST read this book. Such a smart, brilliant debut novel. I loved it!

RiverSong: So, at first glance, I thought this was just going to be like any other werewolf book out there that you could find on Wattpad, but I was intrigued enough with the little bloop that I wanted to read more. Following that weird thing that I call curiosity, I found this thing called an obsession. Th...

Raymond Keith Moon: Great story arc. Nice command of the balance of overview and detail. Feels a bit like a multi-player computer game, but provides satisfying explanations for all the apparent magic. Please keep writing!

Sara Joy Bailey: The characters are well written, full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done.

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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

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Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."