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Chapter Twelve

"I'm a fucking engineer," Meller said, bending over and ralphing by the side of the road. "I ride bulldozers. I run AutoCAD programs. I quit running when I got out of SF!"

"Easy run," Vanner said, trotting by. "Easy."

"Fuck I hate this shit," Prael said, pulling up to bend over by Meller, breathing hard. "Fucking SEALs."

"Don't mind us," Sandy said as the three females trotted by. "Just headed home to wash up and put on our makeup. Told you you shouldn't have had all that beer!" she added as they headed up the path to the caravanserai.

"Fuck," Meller said, walking painfully up the path.

He had to admit, though, that he'd only been the first to fall out. Half the trainers were straggled along the side as he climbed up the switchbacks. Most of them, including Prael and, to his disgust, the three women, made it in before him.

"Very nice," Mike said as the group straggled in. He was hardly sweating. "I think we're going to have to break this down into groups. Vanner, you weren't supposed to hang with the big dogs. You're an intel puke."

"Love to run, sir!" Vanner shouted enthusiastically to groans from the fallouts.

"Praz, Praz, Praz," Mike said, sadly, shaking his head at the marksman. "You did so well up until the hill!"

"I sit in my hole and shoot people," Praz said, gasping. "I move very slowly. Running only makes you die tired."

Mike glanced at the back of the sweatshirt of one of the shooters who had fallen out on the hill.

"Killjoy?" he asked.

"Sorry, sir," the trainer said, gasping. "No excuse, sir. Quit running when I got out of Recon. I'll get in shape."

"You don't look very tired," Mike said to the Brit. His sweatshirt said "Scotty."

"Girlie run," the man said, shrugging. "Bit of a warm-up but when are we going to do some real running?"

"We'd been running in Tbilisi," Adams said. "But nothing like this." He'd broken a solid sweat but wasn't dead on his feet like most of them. Given that he had most of them by a decade, he'd done well.

"Ah, weeell," Mike intoned. "We will get the shooters into shape. And even Vanner. Tomorrow, engineers and Praz run with the ladies. That's not a dig, you've got a point. You guys don't run that much in your jobs and won't have to with the troops. I expect Praz to do some ruckmarching, though."

"On it," Praz said, nodding. "Where are the rucks?"

"Currently in the cellar," Mike said. "We'll do issue tomorrow. Fall out for shit, shower and shave. See you later."

* * *

"Okay, Colonel," Mike said when he, Adams and the colonel met at nine. They were in his office drinking coffee as he slid a file folder over to the officer. "This is lists of all the potential recruits, what I've ordered for TOE, general sketches of where I think ranges and barracks can go in and what Genadi, my farm manager, thinks are times people will be the most free to train and build. At that point, I'm stuck. I can write a SEAL training schedule. I can do SEAL training in my sleep. I don't know how to set up a base for nothing or how to set up the force structure. I'm not even sure what I don't know."

"Lots," the colonel said. "But you'll be learning, too. I take it you're going to be operational with this group?"

"Probably," Mike said. "But I want the leadership types to be trained up to full tactical ability to lead their teams. When we do multiteam exercises is when I'll come in. I've mentally broken the teams down by the Families. The good part to that is there's automatic cohesion, the bad part is if a team takes heavy casualties, it will hit the Family hard. It might make more sense to split them up."

"Split them," the colonel said, automatically. "The other problem is that if a team is operational when there's something to be done around the farm, that Family will be hardest hit for workers. Okay, let's look at this." He picked up the paper and then extracted a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket. "You're sure about the hundred and twenty?"

"Close enough," Mike said. "They haven't been physicalled."

"We've two SF medics," Adams said. "We'll get 'em all checked."

"Assume the hundred and twenty," Nielson said, looking at the paper. "Six teams, one team leader from each team. Twenty people including the team leader. Team leader and an RTO. The RTO is going to need something that carries in this mountains, maybe satellite if you can afford it . . ."

"Can," Mike said.

"Two medium machine-gun teams," the colonel continued. "Gunner, AG and ammo bearer. Two snipers, two five-man teams. It works out."

"Okay," Mike said, looking at the TOE list. "If we put twelve medium machine guns in the teams, we're short at the houses. I'll either need to order more or get heavies. What about the mortars?"

"They'll stay at the houses," Nielson said. "The women will run them."

"That's going to go over great," Mike said, grimacing. "How about women and older men?"

"Works," Nielson said, shrugging. "You got one-twenties. The women are going to have to be strong to service them."

"They're farm girls," Mike said, shrugging. "They're lookers, but I've seen them toss around some pretty heavy loads. I think they can hang."

"This will be fun," Nielson said, looking at the sketchy map of the area. "No better maps?"

"Not currently, sorry," Mike said.

"I'll get Meller and Prael to do a survey map of the area," the colonel said, humming. "That will keep them out of mischief. Don't know what to do with the rest for the time being, but we'll find something, we will. Idle hands are the devil's doing and I do so love training. . . ."

* * *

"That's the river I think would make the best one for hydro," Mike said, bringing the Expedition to a stop short of the foaming white-water. The river, still rich with snowmelt, was running at the top of its banks. It dropped through a steep gorge to the flats, running over large rocks as it reached the bottom and then through a deeply cut channel through the fields. Behind them, they could hear a low, deep song as the Keldara worked at picking the numerous stones from the fields. The stones had been brought down by this and other rivers ages ago, and dropped by sheets of ice along with the rich dirt of the valley. With the freeze in winter, the rocks were pushed up through the soil and had to be picked out to prevent damage to the plows. The soil was black and deep, but it had the price of the rocks. "I'm told it won't start to go down until April."

"Oh, there are things we can do now," Meller said, getting out of the SUV and looking at the slope. There were ridges to either side and they were very steep, but the one to the south was slightly lower and covered in trees. He pulled himself up the incline, using the trees and sideways shoved feet, and started up the hill.

Interested in what he was looking for or at, Mike followed. The engineer kept climbing, though, following the course of the stream. He climbed for about an hour and then stopped where two streams ran together.

"Okay," the engineer said, looking from side to side and then climbing to the top of the ridge, "how much demo do we have?"

"Lots," Mike said. "And I can get more. How much do you need?"

"A lot," Meller admitted. He slid down to the stream and then shook his head. "Should have brought a rope." Despite the speed of the current and the water being freezing ice-melt he waded in, working his way across carefully, holding onto large rocks that jutted out, until he reached the north side of the gorge. That side was lower and he climbed to the top of that ridge, looking to the far side.

"Meet you down at the bottom," he called to Mike.

When they got to the bottom, Meller wandered off to the north. Mike watched him for a moment and then got back in the Expedition, driving down to where there was a barely fordable point and crossing the stream. When he got back by the edge of the valley he found the engineer considering another gorge. This one was, if anything, steeper than the first, a very narrow, tree-choked V, with a small stream flowing out of it.

"Do you know if that stream is really important to the Keldara?" Meller asked, distantly, as Mike walked over.

"No," Mike admitted.

"How about this field?" Meller continued, looking around and then squatting down and looking around closer to ground level. "What do we have in the way of earth-moving equipment?" he asked, getting down in a leopard crawl position and spinning in place, looking outward.

"Not much, yet," Mike said as the engineer leopard crawled backwards to the treeline and looked from side to side. "We can get it. Backhoe?"

"Steam shovel," the engineer said, pushing up and looking at the ground. "Definitely steam shovel." He stood up and brushed off his hands. "I'm going to need a bulldozer, a big Cat or equivalent, or one hell of a lot of strong backs. Something to mix concrete. Cement and sand. Sand we can get here. You know if there's any good clay around?"

"No," Mike admitted. "And I don't know if this field is important.'

"It's okay," Meller said, wandering over to the ravine. "I can route it along the base of the hill with some rocks."

"What in the hell are you talking about?" Mike asked, puzzled.

"That gorge isn't as good for a hydro dam as this one," Meller replied, looking at him as if he was a moron. "We'll build one over here."

"There's only a trickle of water," Mike pointed out. "And that's intermittent."

"There won't be when we route the main stream over here," Meller said. "That's why I was asking about demo."

* * *

Meller showed Mike and Genadi what he was contemplating on the rough map of the area supplied by the Georgian military. It had apparently first been done by the Soviets, and it was both poorly surveyed and horribly out of date. But it showed both gorges, even if the elevations were wrong.

"We'll build the dam in the north gorge," Meller said. "I need to survey it really carefully, but I'm virtually certain it's going to make a better dam. Much more rise to it with less expanse."

They were considering the map while parked by the north gorge. The day had brightened up and while it was still cool, the thaw was definitely in place. That was evident by the mud that coated the Expedition as much as anything else.

"You can get higher water for a shorter dam?" Mike guessed.

"Got it in one, Kildar," the former SFer said with a grin. "Shorter it is, less likely to fail all things considered. Also, it's not overrun with snow-melt so we can get started as soon as the ground thaws a little more. We'll build the dam, then blast a channel from the previous river over to the new gorge. We'll have to do that in stages so it doesn't get a hard flood, but we can work that out later. Drop some of the rubble into the current gorge, build a smaller dam up there, with a relief overflow, and you have the river running into the new gorge and the old one is just a trickle except in winter when it will overflow into the old gorge. The river will come out of the new gorge, go down a channel we'll cut, and join the old river. The flow of the land works that way, anyway. Might not even need to cut the channel."

"That looks like one hell of a lot of work," Mike said, shaking his head. "I hadn't realized how much work it was going to be."

"Ah, it won't be all that much," Meller said. "This spot also has a couple of places where there are what looks like old logging roads. We can improve those and run trucks up them to dump onto the dam area for material. We'll need a bunch of rock, various sizes, dirt in quantity and most important, some good impermeable clay."

"There is clay where the Kildar wants to put in the rifle range," Genadi said. "Lots of very tough clay. That is why it is pasture and not fields."

"I'll have to check the permeability," Meller mused. "All clay is not golden."

"What about electric?" Mike asked.

"Simple enough," Meller said. "Set up a controllable culvert weir with a turbine. There are turbines like that you can get from GE or Siemens. Automatic diverter system, a condenser coil, some transformers and you've got power to the whole community. Enough, for sure, for the Keldara and the caravanserai. If you build up the turbines, you might have enough for Alerrso."

"What do you need?" Mike asked. "That we don't have."

"Hmmm . . ." Meller hummed, rubbing his chin. "I don't need anything until I get to the electric part. But the shovel and a dump truck would speed things up a lot. And a good concrete mixer. I'm going to need various numbers of people at different times. Oh, and lots of sand and lots of gravel, good gravel, rock and cement."

"There is a gravel pit," Genadi said, pointing up the southeast valley. "Up in here. From the Soviet days. We don't have gravelling machinery. We can break it with hammers like we usually do, but . . ."

"We'll get gravelling machinery," Mike said. "And a small bulldozer for up there. Bigger than a Bobcat, but small."

"Those rocks they've been picking," Meller said. "Are they granite?"

"Mostly feldspar," Genadi said. "Why?"

"Never mind," Meller replied. "I was thinking we could gravel them, but not if they're feldspar."

"You're losing me," Mike said.

"Granite is what most of the mountains are made of," Meller answered. "It's really hard. There's other rock in there, since these are folded mountains, but most of it is granite. Feldspar is softer."

"There is some granite," Genadi said.

"Not worth sorting out," Meller replied. "Not if we have a gravel pit already. We should get that as soon as possible. Lots of uses for gravel. Some of these roads could really use gravelling."

"For that we can even use the draft teams," Genadi pointed out. "We haven't had the heart to put them down, yet."

"Don't," Mike said. "Don't breed for them, anymore, not much. But don't put them down. If I recall correctly, most of them are mine anyway. I'll pick up the tab for keeping them."

"They are expensive to feed in winter," Genadi said, nervously.

"They'll only last another, what? Ten years maximum?" Mike asked. "We'll get by. And there will be occasional uses for them, like this. Oh, the oxen you can stall and feed up and we'll slaughter. But not the horses. And not any of the oxen that people really think of as pets."

"I don't think anyone thinks of the oxen as pets," Genadi said, darkly. "You have never had to deal with oxen."

"Genadi, get one of the Keldara who is sharp at bargaining and finding things to help Meller find some gravelling equipment," Mike said, nodding in thought. "Try to get used. This whole thing is costing like the dickens."

* * *

After Meller and Genadi left in the latter's Expedition, Mike drove over to one of the nearby fields where teams were slowly picking rocks.

"Kildar," Father Makanee said as Mike pulled up. He was in there with everyone else, lifting the rocks from the black earth, but he stopped and came over to Mike's vehicle, letting the rest get on with it. "It is good to see you. You are looking at the dam site?"

"Meller has an idea how we can get started early," Mike said, watching the rock pickers for a minute. Even girls were out in the field, picking up small rocks, up to the size of a person's head, while the men lifted the larger ones. They stayed behind the tail of the pickup, lifting them from the ground and throwing them in, where other men moved them forward to a growing pile. There was a wagon or two out as well, since there were more pickers than trucks. "We might have it in by midsummer, God willing."

"That would be good," the Keldara elder said. "What do you think?"

The total expanse of fields that would be plowed was evident with the snow gone. There was at least a thousand acres and Mike wondered how they ever could have plowed and seeded it all with only horse-drawn plows. One day at a time, he guessed.

"I think it's going to be a good year," Mike said, nodding, then getting out. "I'm not going to do this for long, but I think I should do it for a while."

He could see Erkin, who wasn't up to his full growth, struggling with a boulder that was trapped by heavy soil. Mike bent and pulled at it along with the teen until the rock broke free and then helped him heave it into the truck.

"Christ," he said. "I can't see doing this all day."

"It is backbreaking," Erkin said, shaking his head. "The worst chore of the farm. But even with the new plows, we have to pick the rocks."

With rocks that weren't so trapped, the pickers were working in a rhythm, some of them calling out a long series of syllables.

"What is that?" Mike asked Erkin as he bent to pick up another rock. It was at least seventy pounds and he could lift it easily, but he could see that this would get wearing after a very short time.

"The cry of the picker," Erkin said, shrugging. "It is what we always chant. Ah Syllio!" he called, bending for another rock then: "Casentay!" as he heaved it in the truck. "Ah Syllio!" he repeated as he bent for another. "It is the cry of the spring. When we harvest, there is another cry."

"But what does it mean?" Mike asked.

"Nothing," one of the older men answered. "It is just what we chant. It makes the time go by."

Mike couldn't quite bring himself to join in, not all of the men were singing anyway, but he listened to it as he picked rocks and he found that the time did go by. The cry was hypnotic, sounding up from the fields in a regular rhythm as the chanters got in beat, echoing from the surrounding mountains.

He had just heaved a huge stone into the truck when Erkin waved at him as he bent.

"Time to break," Erkin said, waving at an approaching cart. "The women bring beer and food."

"I could eat," Mike admitted, wiping sweat from his brow. The day was cool but he was sweating from the effort. He needed to get some of the trainers down here to learn what real work was. He was dogged by the hour or so he'd spent at this and the Keldara would be at it all day.

"You need to pace yourself," the older Keldara told him. "If you tire, don't dip with every cry. Work to your body's pace, this is the only way to make it. And you don't lift well; use less back."

"I'll keep that in mind," Mike said, grinning. "I guess I have a lot to learn."

"It is good that you help, Kildar," the man said, nodding formally. "It shows that you care for the land, as a Kildar should. But you have other duties to attend to."

"I'll stay for lunch," Mike said as the women began unloading from the cart. "Then I'll head back."

The women of the Keldara were, as always, beautiful. But never so beautiful as when they were bringing beer. Most of them had buckets in their hands with beer packed in snow and Mike was as eager as anyone for some.

As he stepped forward, though, he saw Katrina swinging a bucket in front of her, a pout on her face. He realized that there was a protocol to who got beer from whom, and for some reason Katrina was being, effectively, shunned.

"So what did you do now, Katrina?" Mike asked, walking over to her and plucking one of the bottles from the bucket.

"It wasn't my fault," Katrina said. "It was Vasya's!"

"And who is Vasya?" Mike said, struggling to get the bottle open. They were old glass bottles sealed with wax and a cork and after trying to pull the cork out, he cut the wax with a folding knife then pulled the cork out with his teeth.

"He's my cousin," Katrina said, shrugging. "I didn't start the fire!"

"Not in the house, I hope," Mike said, sternly.

"No, in the paddock," Katrina said. "He wanted to see if horse manure would burn . . ."

"Was it dry?" Mike asked, wincing.

"Yes," Katrina said with a sigh. "And it turns out it burns very well. We should use it for fuel!"

"And your part in this was . . . ?" Mike asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I knew where there were some matches," Katrina said, her head bowed and face working to try to pout. "But I didn't light them!"

"Hmmm," Mike mused, taking a sip of beer. "Let me ask one last question: How old is Vasya?"

"Five," Katrina said in a very small voice.

"And were you supposed to be watching him and keeping him out of trouble?" Mike asked.

"But . . ."

"But, but, but," Mike said, shaking his head. "But you bring me Mother Lenka's beer, and I don't believe anyone was harmed, so you are forgiven by the Kildar."

"Thank you, Kildar!" Katrina said, her head coming up and her face shining.

"Your mother and father on the other hand," Mike said, shaking his head. "They have to make their own decisions."

"Oh," Katrina said, frowning prettily. "You're teasing me."

"A bit," Mike said. "But since I'm talking to you nicely, everyone will know that you're forgiven by the Kildar and that will make them less likely to punish you. More. But you have to start to think."

"I do," Katrina said. "All the time. Most of the time very fast and very well. But sometimes I get . . . strange."

"Thoughts feel like they won't connect?" Mike asked, cautiously.

"Yes, like they are running around like horses in spring," Katrina said. "Very many of them, but none make sense. I feel crazy at times like that. And sometimes I get very sad. Usually there's a reason, but sometimes there isn't any. I just don't want to do anything but sleep and mother gets very angry with me. They all call me lazy, then. I'm afraid I'm going to become like Aunt Anjelike. I don't think you've met her. She was very fun for a long time, my favorite aunt. Now she is . . . not right in the head."

"Sounds like you need your meds adjusted," Mike said, smiling. "Have a beer."

"They say I'm a witch," Katrina said, quietly, but smiling. "That I can be one, at least."

"I've got a few friends that are witches," Mike said. "Back in the States. Most of them, admittedly, are nuts. But that's what medication is for. And they have access to psychiatrists."

"I see things," she said, looking around. "In my dreams. I told my mother just before you came that I had a dream of ice and a beautiful man who would be a great leader for us. She told me I was crazy, but here you are."

"Well, there was snow," Mike said, smiling. "I suppose that counts for ice. But you screwed up on the beautiful part."

"You are very beautiful, Kildar," the girl said, then ducked her head. "I am sorry I said that."

"It . . . wasn't a good thing to say," Mike admitted. "You have your life and I have mine. I might be able to change yours, a bit, with everyone else's. But you need to be careful or you'll be in the position of being sent to town. I'll prevent that, but if you make enough trouble, your life will be hell. You know that."

"Yes," Katrina said, quietly.

"Go spread your beer around," Mike said. "I'm going to go put my empty in the cart and head back before I get you in trouble."

"I will not get in trouble for talking to the Kildar," Katrina said, smiling at him shyly. "Not out here in public, anyway."

"You just wait," Mike said, shaking his head.



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