Plague Bomb, страница 1
“Whether or not gas will be employed in future wars is amatter of conjecture, but the effect is so deadly to the unprotected that we can never afford to neglect the question.”
General of the Armies John J. Pershing, 1919
THE ZONE Series by James Rouch:
THE ZONE 6
Copyright © 1986 by James Rouch
An Imprint Original Publication, 2005
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without permission of the publishers.
First E-Book Edition 2005
Second IMRPINT April 2007
The characters in this book are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
THE ZONE E-Books are published by
IMPRINT Publications, 3 Magpie Court
High Wycombe, WA 6057. AUSTRALIA.
Produced under licence from the Author, all rights reserved. Created in Australia by Ian Taylor © 2005
Intelligence evaluation. CIA for president. copies ... secretary of state for defense ... joint chiefs of NATO staff ... MI6
AFTER SEVERAL RECENT SOVIET PROPAGANDA REVERSES IT IS LIKELY THE KGB WILL BE SEEKING MEANS BY WHICH TO EMBARRASS THE NATO POWERS AND SHOW THE USSR AND THE WARSAW PACT IN A GOOD LIGHT THROUGH FAVORABLE WORLD WIDE PUBLICITY IN THE WEEKS BEFORE THE CRUCIAL CONFERENCE OF NEUTRAL NATIONS.
WHILE IT MUST BE THOUGHT UNLIKELY THAT THE KGB WILL TOTALLY FABRICATE AN INCIDENT, ESPECIALLY AFTER THE EXPOSURE AND FAILURE OF THEIR ATTEMPT TO SUBVERT THE NORWEGIAN PARLIAMENT’S VOTE ON NEUTRALITY, IT IS PROBABLE THAT THEY WILL USE ‘SLEEPERS’ AND ‘AGENTS OF INFLUENCE’ TO INITI- ATE SOME DRAMATIC ACT, POSSIBLE BY A WESTERN PACIFIST OR DISARMAMENT GROUP.
IT IS LIKELY THAT DEPARTMENT A. OF THE KGB’S FIRST CHIEF DIRECTORATE WILL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY SUCH OPERATION, SO MAKING THE CHOICE OF THE NEW HEAD OF THAT DEPARTMENT OF ACUTE INTEREST TO WESTERN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES.
A profile and evaluation of the officer appointed will be circulated as soon as his identification has been confirmed.
There were less than a hundred names on the death warrant. It would be an easy day for the Lubyanka’s execution squad.
Col. Yuri Rozenkov took up his pen, and not bothering to first remove the accumulated fluff from its nib, started to scrawl and gouge his signature, then stopped. It would be a good opportunity to try his new toy. From a drawer he took the ink pad and the as yet unstained stamp. He crushed its mirror image carved head into the oozing dark blue cushion, then pounded it onto the coarse grained paper at the foot of the list of names.
That was another eighty-nine files that could be closed, but by the end of the day at least that number of new ones would be opened, as the prison took in its quota. Most likely there would be more walking in than carried out, and the problems of severe overcrowding would become that much worse.
Without even glancing at the double column of single spaced names, Rozenkov moved the sheet to his out-tray. His eyes strayed to the telephone as he groped, without looking, for the next list. It did not ring, and he forced his attention back to the paperwork.
On this the close-typed names were broken into sections of roughly equal length by sub-headings. These were the prisoners who retained some vestige of their former health and sanity after the KGB’s expert interrogators had finished their work. Among them would be a few who had never even been to the underground rooms where that was done. Some were unfortunates who had been sent by mistake, who had been intended for less rigorous establishments, others had arrived in demented state, driven insane by fear of what they knew lay ahead even before they had crossed the threshold. There was not the time to sort and redirect them.
Those on the list were unique among the prison’s inmates, they were among the tiny minority who left it alive, but they were unlikely to survive long. The chemical and medical experimental establishments had seemingly insatiable demands for human guinea pigs. Some were going to the Institute for Blood Research here in Moscow, on Moznayskoye road, others to the biological weapons research establishment at Sverdlovsk.
Again he looked at the telephone, still sentient on the edge of his desk. Had he over-played his hand? He knew his ambition was recognized and had worked hard to give it the image of a virtue. A promotion was due to him and with the arrest of General Khramoveski a path had opened that could, that must, lead to a plum position.
The colonel tensed and half reached for it as the instrument gave a brief half- hearted jingle and no more. Forgetting the new stamp he slashed his signature across the paper and slapped it on top of the others. A knock on the door was hesitant, light, almost feeble.
A senior sergeant took a half pace into the room, holding a strip of tele-printer readout before him like a talisman. ‘From the Department of Administration, Comrade Colonel.’
‘Well?’ Rozenkov knew the effect his sharp tone would have on the NCO. He had cultivated its menace during the years he had worked with the interrogation units. There were times when it had been successful where acid and electric shock treatment and even drugs had failed. It worked now, and the sergeant’s hand shook visibly.
‘They ... the Department of ... they wish to know if we can take another three hundred prisoners today. There has been a riot at Psychiatric Hospital number seven, on Institutskii Lane ...’
‘Impossible, tell them ...’ Rozenkov paused. Of course it was impossible, physically impossible to cram any more bodies into the prison, many were dying of disease before they could be questioned, and the guards themselves were beginning to succumb to the building’s foul atmosphere. The stench was even starting to permeate to this office. They must be fools in administration, they knew the position ... They knew! Of course they knew; he was being tested.
‘Tell them we will be ready in one hour. Make the reply immediately, then contact the chief officer and senior warder from each floor. I want them here in thirty, no, ten minutes. Each of them to have a list of fifty names. Contact all our experimental establishments, tell them we can supply all their needs, all of them. Then alert the commander of the execution squad, tell him to have his men draw extra ammunition and stand by. Arrange transport for upwards of two hundred bodies. Well, get to it man, now!’
The sergeant disappeared, and the closing of the door wafted the stink of human waste about the room. Rozenkov didn’t notice it, and wouldn’t as it became stronger, as it would, as it always did when a clear-out was initiated. Fear would spread through the Lubyanka like a raging contagion and sheer terror would in some cases do the executioners’ work for them. When the killing began, and much of it would be done in the cells where all could hear, there would be a number of prisoners whose hearts would, give out, who would die of fear. It might be as many as four or five of the inmates. Another eight or more would self-inflict fatal injuries on themselves, despite the constant searches geared to deprive them of any weapon that might serve that or any other lethal purpose.
And at least one guard, possibly two, would be killed or maimed by the frenzied resistance as tiring in their work, they became careless, let drop their concentration for even a moment.
Colonel Rozenkov did not care. He had set the slaughter in motion and with only deft guiding touches it would roll through the building until the floors ran wi
It was several years since he’d actually participated in such an event, not since he’d led the first assault platoon in the retaking of the huge Prasnya transit prison in Moscow’s Kradnaya district. That had been a blood bath. Some of his heavily armed shock troops had been literally torn apart by the rioting inmates, had gone down under an avalanche of fists and feet to be ripped open by nails and teeth.
That day he had killed twenty or more of the prisoners himself, perhaps twice that number, he’d not kept a count. He could recall standing off from a group cowering in a corner of a dimly lit cell and emptying his pistol into them, then closing with a bayonet fitted AK74 to whittle the huddling would-be escapers down to more manageable numbers, using his skills at inflicting painful death to peel away the outer layers of the hysterical press until with his bare hands he had throttled its last surviving member.
He fingered the slight ridge of a circular scar on the back of his hand where a shattered stub of a light bulb had momentarily been used as an effective weapon against him.
Insulated as he was by half the width of the huge building from the Lubyanka’s cell block, Rozenkov couldn’t hear the clamour that would be starting, but he knew it would have. It didn’t matter, the thought like the sound was blocked from his mind. He had eyes and ears only for the telephone.
The horror that was the Soviet Union’s most notorious prison no longer concerned him. It had never been more than a stepping stone on the way to greater things, to higher rank and position. In his time there he had signed away lives beyond number, hardly knowing, not caring whose they were ... but it was in a way fitting that his departure should be marked by this last slaughter ... And he had thought that the execution squads were in for an easy day ...
It took an effort of will, but he let the telephone ring twice before snatching it from its cradle.
The Range Rover’s two-tone blue over grey paintwork had been heavily smeared with mud, and sprays and bundles of wilting foliage festooned it haphaz- ardly, inexpertly secured to any projection and wedged into every joint between the panels.
Four civilian passengers sat inside, a fifth stood beside the vehicle using powerful binoculars to scan the road ahead. Several times the observer panned the winding route, until a distant scene of activity caught his attention and was brought into focus. He stood for a moment, concentrating his attention, then lowered his glasses and flicked through an artwork illustrated book laid open on the driver’s seat.
‘Well have to make another detour.’ Stopping at a page that showed front and side views of an armoured recovery vehicle, he took another look through the glasses to confirm the identification. There are troops up ahead. Another mile or so and we’d have run straight into them.’
‘Are they ours?’
A rear window was wound down and Professor Edwards’ wrinkled face blinked sharp-eyed inquiry.
‘Depends what you mean by ours. Seems to be a NATO group.’ The thin-lipped mouth among the wrinkles gave a disparaging grunt and Edwards restored the glass barrier between himself and the world. Stowing the binoculars in an imitation leather case every bit as scratched and battered as the instrument itself, the observer climbed back into the driving seat, pushing the book in among the crumpled maps filling the parcel shelf. ‘If you’re all ready?’
‘I haven’t finished my coffee.’
Father Venable’s reedy voice piped from the far side of the rear seat.
‘Well bloody hurry then, we’re here to stop a fucking war, not have a sodding picnic.’ The burly figure whose broad frame dominated the centre of the rear seat, without regard for the discomfort he inflicted on the elderly men squeezed on either side of him, glowered at the bespectacled priest. ‘Be better if you didn’t have a drink. Who was it who ever persuaded me to come on this trip with a bus load of incontinent geriatrics?’
‘Really ... there is no need for ... language ...’ The driver interjected to cut through the plaintive chorus of protest from the pair being crushed by the big man’s contortions as he strove to make himself comfortable. ‘It’d be a help, Gross, if you cut out the personal abuse, saved it for your shop stewards’ meetings, and if the rest of you rose less swiftly to his bait.’
‘Sir Julian is quite right.’ Nodding agreement with their driver, Professor Edwards gave up the unequal struggle to try to obtain a more equitable share of the available space and sought distraction in a contribution to the discussion. ‘We should recall our mission, its purpose. For the sake of that, for appearance’s sake, we should strive to achieve a degree of harmony. I must myself admit, that while I cannot subscribe to so optimistic a projection of the outcome of our endeavours we must not let petty differences blind us to the importance…’
‘Aw, shut it, you prissy asshole.’ The CND badge pinned to the left breast of the stained fawn anorak worn by the woman in the front passenger seat rose and fell significantly as she let out a long sigh. She leaned across and spoke to their driver as he steered them on to a fresh heading that would take them past the NATO troops. ‘Jesus Webb, did you say that Edwards had won a Nobel prize? What for, hot air and bullshit?’
Webb glanced at the woman, able to spare only that moment as the potholed surface and the many broken boughs that littered it tested even the Rover’s rugged suspension and power steering. ‘He was espousing the cause of disarmament before you were born, let alone before you decided you weren’t much good as an actress and there might be more in it for you to make yourself into a pale imitation of Jane Fonda.’
‘He got you there.’ Gross leaned forward and turned a wet-lipped rubbery leer to the women. ‘Be warned little starlet, little aging starlet, Sir Julian here has crossed verbal swords with better men and women than you. For years he’s been virtually a compulsory member of every expert panel on television and radio in England. He’s made more in appearance fees than you have hooking on Broadway between walk- on parts, or should I say lie-down parts.’
‘That’ll do Gross, let it go at that.’ Wrenching the wheel hard over, Webb didn’t quite succeed in avoiding a deep hole where a drain cover had collapsed. From Father Venables came a yelp as the vehicle lurched. A garishly coloured flask jumped from his hand, bounced against the fabric lining of the roof and spattered all the passengers with lukewarm coffee.
Again Webb caught a glimpse of the woman, this time as she tried to cover her head against the sticky deluge. She wasn’t completely successful and the sweet fluid trickled through her plastered hair and down her cheek. Immediately she set to work to repair the damage, using tissues and cosmetics from a small bag pulled from the depths of a pocket. He wondered how much effort went into cultivating her outdoor look.
The grubby jacket hugging close to her curves, the tight faded jeans; it was all carefully contrived, like her carelessly attractive hair style. But as she worked fast with comb and make-up for an instant he saw the real Sherry Kane, frightened of being a shade over thirty, trying hard to stay in the mould, maintain the image she liked to see of herself. As repairs to hair and face were completed, her style returned and she launched back into character.
‘Can we get around that position, or are we likely to be up to our fannies in NATO boy scouts any minute?’
That conjured an absurd and amusing picture, and Webb was surprised that Gross didn’t jump in with something suitably suggestive and crude. Possibly the picture wasn’t so outlandish; perhaps not boy scouts, but Webb could imagine her going with younger men, much younger…
‘It’s not a position. We’re far out in front of any fixed defensive lines, have been for the last six hours. Actually there are other parts of the Zone we could have driven across in that time, if there hadn’t been the certainty of our being spotted within a few miles. Here it’s going to take us a day or so, but the ground forces are far more thinly spread and there’s a good chance we’ll be able to slip between them. Besides, the more arduous the journey the greater the gesture,
‘What were those troops then?’
Venables re-secured the top of the all but empty flask. ‘Pioneers, I should think, a pick and shovel company cleaning up after the fighting, poor devils, too stupid even to be used as cannon fodder. Not the sort we have to worry about. We can forget them; they’ll not be bothering us.’
The Leopard armoured recovery vehicle followed Sergeant Hyde and his squad as they walked along the scorched section of road, assessing the suitability of the knocked-out trucks and personnel carriers for repair.
At irregular intervals the surface was pockmarked by shallow indentations where the engineers had removed mines the Russians had found time to plant after springing their ambush on the column.
In many cases there was little of the vehicles left to examine. Fierce blazes had completed the work started by close-range tank fire. Ammunition and fuel loads had burned long enough to totally consume all but steel bodywork and chassis members.
An M113 armoured personnel carrier had come to rest a little off the road, having taken only a single hit, and not burned; it looked a more promising candidate for their attention.
The shell’s impact had jammed the rear door, and Dooley had to take a crowbar to it. When finally he managed to pry it open the air was suddenly full of fat black flies as a miniature tidal wave of decomposed mushed flesh and bloated maggots slopped slowly around the sides of the partially lowered ramp, and to the ground.
Ripper started to heave, threatened to set others off, until Hyde shoved him away.
Holding a cologne-doused cloth over his mouth and nose, Dooley waved sapper Thorne forward. His voice came indistinctly from behind the rag. ‘What you waiting for, give it a fucking burst.’
‘Anything to oblige.’ As he stepped up, for once he could envy their sergeant. The furnace heat that had long ago destroyed the NCO’s face had also ruined his sense of smell. Bracing himself in anticipation of the weapon’s surging recoil, Thorne aligned the fuel dribbling nozzle of the man-pack flame thrower on the partially open rear of the carrier.