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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Stivers Dick
 

«They Came to Kill», Dick Stivers

1

In the bell tower of the artillery-shattered Greek Orthodox church, Colonel Viktor Dastgerdi put his eyes to the fifty-power lenses of the tripod-mounted siege binoculars. He spun the pan crank to scan the Bekaa Valley and the mountains of eastern Lebanon. Swirling snow blurred the images of rocks and abandoned fields and ice. He panned the optics across the landscape to the gray foothills of the Sahel Mountains. He found the red X.

Ten kilometers away, more than five kilometers into Syria, the Xof brilliant-red plastic — two crossed sheets a hundred meters long, ten meters wide — marked the position of a miniaturized transmitter.

Through the binoculars, Dastgerdi saw the red sheets shimmer as gusts of wind tore at the plastic. Storm clouds passed, the late-afternoon light coming in intermittent moments of sudden glare. Sunlight flashed from rocks white with snow. He turned the tripod's altitude crank to drop the aspect of the binoculars and surveyed the narrow, rutted track leading to the target. He saw the truck racing back to the base.

"They are away!" Dastgerdi shouted down to the technicians. "Confirm the signal."

The church had taken several high-explosive shells during the wars fought in the Bekaa. Only the bell tower and the walls remained, the stones and plaster pitted by shrapnel, the roof timbers and pews carried away by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards for their fires. Syrian technicians manned electronic consoles in the small rooms of the bombed-out sanctuary. Canvas tenting provided shelter from the falling snow.

A radio specialist flipped an audio switch. An oscillating tone came from a monitor. The technician called out to his commander, "Receiving the signal."

"Fire the rockets."

A voice shouted orders, first in Arabic, then Farsi. Below the bell tower, in what had been the main street of the village before the wars came to the Bekaa, Syrians and Iranians hurried away from a truck-mounted 240mm rocket launcher. An officer paced around the rack of Soviet artillery rockets to check the cables and propellant-igniter leads. Then he retreated to the safety of a doorway. Elsewhere in the ruined village — now serving as a base for the Islamic fighters assigned to Dastgerdi — soldiers stood at windows and doorways to watch the launch.

Dastgerdi gave the rocket guidance cones a last glance. The finned cones mounted on the warheads of the rockets represented two years of research and development. Standard-issue Soviet 240mm rockets employed no guidance mechanisms. Launcher crews aimed and fired the rockets like artillery. The rockets being tested today employed microcircuitry to guide them to their targets via small maneuvering fins. Unlike guided missiles, which incorporated complex and expensive computers to find and track their targets, these rockets were guided by the signal generated by a transmitter positioned at the target. The cones on the warheads contained the simple electronic and mechanical parts to modify the trajectory of the falling rockets.

Two years of my life, Dastgerdi thought. But with those rockets, I will kill their President. Then comes the war...

Dastgerdi heard the sound of boots running up the steps. Ali Akbar Rouhani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards stationed at the village, stomped up to the observation post. He stepped past Dastgerdi and put his eyes to the binoculars. When he did not see the target, he grabbed the body tubes and attempted to shift the view. But the binoculars did not move. Rouhani used his strength against the delicate gears of the altitude head.

"This American trash!" Rouhani cursed. "Why does it not operate?"

Dastgerdi spun the cranks, allowing the binoculars to move. Rouhani found the target.

"There!" Rouhani stared for a moment. Then he stepped to an opening in the bell tower's wall and shouted down. "Fire the rockets! What is the..."

A roar obliterated his voice as a rocket streaked away, the flame brilliant against the black clouds. After a second the solid propellant burned out. Another rocket flashed away, then another and another.

A thundering roar came from the storm-dark sky as the supersonic rockets created a noise like a freight train. The thunder faded as the rockets hurtled into the distance.

The Iranian watched the explosions through the oversized binoculars. "A hit! Two hits! They all hit! Praise be to Allah!"

Colonel Dastgerdi saw the four white-orange sparks on the hillside ten kilometers away. One cloud of yellow marking smoke puffed into the air, the wind blowing the yellow over the hillsides. He called down to his technicians:

"Is there now a signal?"

"No," a voice answered from the canvas shelter. "No more. It is gone."

"Fire the other rockets."

Four more rockets streaked away. Twenty seconds after the launch, four widely spaced puffs of red smoke appeared on the hillsides.


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