The Last Finesse #Excerpt by #Author Brian Bloom @BrianB_Aust

From Chapter 7

Jorge smiled when he heard the description. ‘The coffee’s not standard SCRAN, Luke; it comes courtesy of Harry Carrie, personally: he wanted the crew to drink the same slop he was forced to when he first joined up; didn’t want his crew hooked on caffeine; especially didn’t want them taking coffee breaks. The CO carries the tradition on. It’s part of the culture on Gatacre; Bob reckons we’ve got better esprit de corps when all of us are putting up with the same discomfort.’

‘Maybe I’ll just have a Coke, then,’ Luke announced, his face now expressionless.

‘You can’t help yourself, can you, sailor?’ Jorge chuckled.

Luke grinned. ‘The “maverick” lurks close to the surface, mate – on the other hand, though, maybe I just crave caffeine in the morning . . . Had a chance to think about what we discussed yesterday?’

‘Matter of fact, yes, and I have two questions.’

‘Go for it.’

‘Okay. First: why do I need to know all this theoretical stuff before we inspect the cargo on Beotkkot?’ He carried on eating.

Luke took the few seconds’ opportunity to consider how he’d word his answer. ‘Two reasons, really,’ he began. ‘One: in terms of nuclear energy, there’s too much misinformation and folklore out there that’s emotionally tainted because of media hysteria. You need to be informed about what nuclear fission is, and how it works, so you’ve at least got some sort of objective understanding of what you’re looking for on Beotkkot, and why.’

He drew in his breath. ‘Two: I’m good for a bet this won’t be the only time you’ll be up against this type of problem when you’re doing your navy duties. Next time, it could be in the Persian Gulf, or Somalia or some other rogue African country, or even Malaysia or Indonesia – on our own doorstep. Thanks to a bloke called Abdul Qadeer Khan, every man and his dog can access nuclear technology if he wants it.’

Jorge looked askance. ‘I’ve never heard of him – who is he?’

‘A. Q. Khan’s a nuclear scientist; born in Bhopal, British India, before it was partitioned. He now lives in Pakistan. In the early ’70s he was employed in Holland by a company subcontracted to the Urenco Group. Urenco was then – and still is – a world leader in the nuclear-fuel supply chain.’

Luke exhaled audibly. ‘When enriched uranium is being produced, it’s critical to be able to access the appropriate intellectual property and technologies. Basically, in December ’75, Khan purloined the IP and also a list of names and contact details of Urenco’s key suppliers, he transferred the tech know-how to Pakistan.’

He inhaled, again audibly. ‘And that was just the beginning. By 1988, Pakistan had the bomb. Obviously, Iran must’ve been sniffing around for a while before that, because Pakistan and Iran had already signed a “nuclear co-operation” agreement. Fast forward to the ’90s, and our hero displays his personal shingle offering to facilitate the tech transfer to anyone who’d pay his price – that was his “heavenly reward”.’

‘Jesus Christ!’ Jorge exclaimed, having stopped eating a couple of minutes earlier.

‘“Mohammed” might be a more appropriate name to invoke,’ Luke commented: ‘Pakistan’s 97 per cent Muslim, but it seems the principles of the Koran are open to subjective interpretation. Rather than cut off the thief’s hands for stealing something that didn’t belong to him – which might have happened if he’d stolen a loaf of bread in Afghanistan – they slapped him gently on the wrist, for public consumption, and then quietly rewarded him. “Steal a loaf of bread? Bad boy! Steal something that can cause the destruction of millions of people? Good boy!” All the imams have to do is insert “Mohammed” somewhere in the sentence and they can justify any despicable action because Allah’s the greatest, and its Allah’s will: “No worries, mate. Here’s a few million dollars as a reward. Just don’t spend it on booze. Booze is bad. As-Salāmu Alayka: peace on you.”’ He mimed a pat on an invisible head as he emphasised the word ‘peace’, even as he mispronounced it.

Whatever reaction he was expecting to his little homily, he would have been disappointed: Jorge still sat there looking like a stunned mullet.

Luke continued. ‘In the early days, Khan’s sales pitches were mainly to Muslim countries. One of the first he approached was Iraq, in ’91, but in ’95, the Americans discovered the Iraqis had turned him down – they thought his offer was part of a US “sting”. We also know he was in talks with Niger and Mali, and both those countries are 90 per cent Muslim. Apart from Iran, his clients have been Libya – and who knows who else?’

‘What about North Korea?’ Jorge ventured.

‘They approached Pakistan, and that one was probably facilitated by their mutual friends in China. Then, after they’d acquired it, the North Koreans transferred the tech to Syria – and very recently, Iran and Venezuela have signed to co-operate in the area of nuclear technology.’’

‘And now North Korea’s transferring the tech to Myanmar?’

‘Yeah,’ Luke answered; ‘that’s how it seems. From a high-level perspective, there’s really no doubt now; the nuclear genie’s escaped from the bottle. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was signed by 189 countries, but it’s losing its teeth. Nuclear technology will proliferate in the years ahead, despite the “weapons” agreement. You’re going to be very busy over the coming years – that’s why you need to understand what nuclear’s all about.’

Jorge remained silent for a full minute as he thought about the implications.

‘So, what’s the other question?’ Luke prompted.

‘What?’ Jorge asked, absentmindedly. The expression in his eyes was much more serious now.

‘Your second question?’ Luke repeated.

‘Oh, yes . . . You told me that like electrical charges repel each other and that opposite charges attract – the same as the north and south poles of a magnet.’

‘So?’

‘So, how does the nucleus of the atom stay together if it’s made up of neutrons and positively charged protons repelling each other? And if opposites attract, why don’t the negatively charged electrons orbiting the nucleus collapse into the positively charged nucleus?’

Luke inclined his head and clapped his hands in mock appreciation. ‘Well done, mate: you’ve homed in on the core issue. Now we can start having a sensible discussion about nuclear-fission energy.

The Last Finesse

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Genre – Conspiracy Thriller

Rating – MA (15+)

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