Genetic manipulation and enhancement becomes the key to evolution being worked on by scientists from around the world who are privy to a discovery found in the heart of a catastrophic storm that devastated Earth. With the research conducted, test subjects show augmentation in all facets of being, from physical fitness to prowess to acuity. Beyond the obvious evolution to the test subjects, the discovery also led to vast scientific, medical, and militaristic breakthroughs that normally would have taken generations to achieve. But not all of the scientists on the project were willing to work in secrecy and with no personal gain. A handful of the lead scientists contacted foreign powers and agreed to sell the technology to the highest bidders as long as they were extracted.
Logan Stone, Captain of Shadow Recon was deployed to the secret underground facility that had been breached. Arriving too late, he and his team only found more questions than answers. Before they could discover what was really going on, they were pulled out by a classified military unit and ordered back to base.
Twenty years later, Stone had little care for what he had stumbled upon that night or for his life as a black-ops military leader at all. After losing his wife, Stone’s sole priority was raising his daughter and giving her a good and happy life. But no matter how hard he tried to keep her safe, circumstances keep trying to draw him back into a world where violence, mayhem, and plausible deniability dominate his every thought.
The technology is out there, the secret of the GENs is on the open market, and the government agency that had been tasked with recovering the technology or destroying all evidence of its existence has been targeted for assassination. Former Shadow Recon team member Alexander Hodge, the current United States President, reaches out to Stone to request aid. Reluctantly, Stone is drawn back into the fold, but not before he is provided a personal guarantee by the President to let him do things his way and with no oversight.
It is a race as Stone and his team fights to keep the true secret of the discovery from coming out and recover that which had been stolen. Gen-Ops combines military, espionage, intrigue, and strong character development in a fast-paced and dangerous not-too-distant future world where the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.
Sooner than you might think…
It was what historians would most likely categorize as the single greatest tragedy to befall humanity, but also mankind’s finest hour. It began with little warning, as stellar dust particles entered the Earth’s atmosphere and began illuminating the heavens in a breathtaking display of fire and light. It was determined to be the largest meteor shower seen since the Leonid storm on November 12th, 1833. The storm, however, did not end with a spectacle of flames and light.
Over the next six weeks, meteor fragments began streaking through the sky. Some were as small as baseballs, others as large as houses. The meteorites that struck the water were a relief; those that struck land had devastating consequences. New York was one of the first cities to be destroyed, engulfed in flame and debris. It may have been the first, but it was not the last, as the landscape of Earth became forever altered by a six-week bombardment from space, creating a lasting impact far worse than any war in the history of the world.
On August 15th, with the world watching with a mixture of desperation and hope, Colonel John Collins led a joint effort between the United States Air Force and NASA, with technology, expertise, and assistance from countries around the world, into outer space in an attempt to prevent a catastrophe that had not befallen the planet Earth since the dinosaurs roamed the land.
The six-week storm was devastating, but it was only the beginning of what was really to come. It was odd to consider it the calm before the storm, but with a 40,000-ton meteorite approaching the planet and expected to impact Antarctica, the fate of humanity rested solely in the hands of the brave individuals who soared toward their destinies in hopes of saving mankind from certain extinction.
Five ships were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. One ship, the Discovery, veered off course and exploded during liftoff. The accident was not the result of a meteorite impact, but rather due to a faulty component in the solid-fuel rocket; the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuels from the tank and the booster mixed together and ignited.
The mission was expected to take six days. The ships would approach the meteorite, land upon it at different locations, and implant several nuclear devices in an attempt to veer it off course so that it would miss the Earth, or reduce it in size so that an impact would not bring about the end of the world. If the timing was perfect, and the mission was a complete success, projections indicated that the disaster could be averted. The best-case scenario also allowed for the slim possibility that the meteorite could even be destroyed, though there was less than a 1% probability of that occurring.
Undaunted by the odds, Colonel John Collins boldly declared to the people of the world that his team would succeed, and that this event, tragic as it was, would go down in history as the unifying force that brought the world together. Humanity would not just survive, but thrive and prosper more than ever before in a bright new world. His words were inspirational, and the man conveyed such confidence, that fear was slowly replaced by hope. No matter what people believed, or how they prayed, the world was united in hope for the success of Colonel Collins’s mission.
As most of the world watched and prayed, there were those who saw the events as an opportunity. Whether inspired by panic or malice, throughout the world there were riots, looting, and growing violence. Martial law was declared in many countries to help augment the already depleted police forces. As violence continued to erupt, the question began to be asked: was humanity even worth saving?
Fortunately, Colonel Collins was not prone to such philosophical debates. He did not look at the despair and behavior of the people during the past six weeks, but instead at his duty and his own sense of honor and pride. There was never a doubt about whether he would be going on this mission or not, and he never once allowed the thought of failure to creep into his conscious or subconscious mind. He would succeed because he needed to succeed. That was all that mattered.
Aboard the Liberty, Colonel Collins was on final approach to the meteorite. The Discovery had been lost in takeoff, and the Atlantis was struck by a nickel-sized meteorite that did not jeopardize the lives of the crew, but made it impossible for them to land on the surface of the meteor—which was named Gorrin, after Walter Gorrin, the man who first discovered it. That left them with only three ships, significantly reducing their projections for success, but Collins remained as confident as ever.
Collins studied the readouts and glanced over at his copilot, Captain Patricia Turner. “Confirm that all systems are check.”
“Houston, all systems are a go,” Collins said, informing the monitoring ground facility of NASA. “We’ll be losing radio contact any moment.”
“Understood, Liberty. Godspeed and good luck.”
“All ships, we’re going in,” Collins relayed to the other three captains. “Atlantis, you’ll be our birds-eye view. Keep each crew in communication with each other.”
“Roger that,” came the reply from Captain Randall Cox of the Atlantis.
Collins ignited the thrusters and moved deeper into the meteor storm. Fragments of all sizes were swirling around in various patterns and velocities. Loud clangs and bangs rang through the ship as several fragments struck the Liberty.
“Talk to me, Captain,” Collins ordered.
“We’re taking hits, but structural integrity has not been compromised.”
Lowering the ship to try and get through the worst of the debris, Collins struggled to see through a collection of stellar dust so thick that it was almost like being in a blizzard with whiteout conditions. Examining his instruments, he frowned, seeing that the dials were spinning and the readouts were not responsive.
“This is Collins to all ships. I’m bringing Liberty down. Please remain on your current courses until I see what is below the debris.”
“Roger that, Liberty.”
“Good luck, John.”
Collins glanced at Captain Turner. “You ready?”
“Are you sure we want to do this? We don’t know how solid anything is in that cloud.”
“We need to get through to complete the mission,” Collins said. “With sensors and visibility down, there’s only one way to do this with the time constraints we have: Straight in.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” whispered Captain Turner.
Collins did not answer. He did not have the luxury of answering. If he agreed with her, then the element of doubt would be present. They were going to succeed, even if that meant taking some risks. Besides, the crew of one ship meant nothing compared to the six and a half billion lives of the people on Earth.
“I’m going in,” Collins said, igniting the thrusters again and moving into the cloud. The ship felt turbulence, and it sounded like a sand-storm hammering at them, but nothing more substantial or solid hit them.
The Liberty made it through the cloud and into a clearing. Sensors became active again the same moment that Collins could see. He had thought that he was prepared for this mission. He thought that there was nothing up here that could surprise him. He thought wrong.
“Oh, God,” he gasped, at the realization that things could be worse than they ever projected or imagined.
* * * * *
Back on Earth, in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, half of the town was ablaze and in ruins from several of the smaller meteorite fragment impacts. A few miles one way or the other, and there was complete devastation. The Stones were some of the fortunate ones.
Robert Stone, Bob to those who knew him, was an officer in the Framingham Police Department. He had been active nearly non-stop for six weeks, as had all of the other officers. They began by assisting fire and rescue efforts, but soon had their attention diverted by looters and the growing frequency of vandalism and riots. Shop owners, even those who came to work to try and help people by handing out food and medical supplies, were badly beaten and left for dead. Anyone driving a car would likely be stopped and have their vehicle car-jacked. Patients in the hospital found desperate friends and family members forcing them from beds for those that had been injured in the explosions and impacts. In a word, it was chaotic.
Bob left his wife, Martha, and only son, Logan, in their home as he went off to work. He knew that the lives of his family were in danger, but his duty and responsibilities forced him out of the house, much to Martha’s protests. In reply, Bob handed Martha a shotgun and several boxes of shells to help defend the house. If something happened, he might never forgive himself, but his sense of duty to his job made him leave.
Logan was only seven, a cute boy with brown bangs over his forehead, bluish-green eyes, and a smile that usually could get him whatever he wanted. Like most of the people he knew, he was scared. Not necessarily of the meteors falling from the sky, because for him, that was just cool, but of the crying and screaming and violence that was erupting in the streets. Just a couple of days before, he had seen neighbors beaten within inches of their lives because they had a minivan full of gas. One of the neighbors had been his best friend, Mike. Mike didn’t make it to the hospital in time.
Electricity had been out for almost a month, but Bob had always liked to keep batteries around. He said it was because he was stuck in the dark in a hurricane when he was Logan’s age and always wanted to be prepared. The batteries came in quite handy; Logan and his mother could listen to the reporters on the radio. Very few channels still came in, but there were a few, and those that were broadcasting had news, whether it was about the increasing crimes, or about the efforts of Colonel Collins and his team.
Logan had heard Colonel Collins speaking on the radio before he had boarded the Liberty. Though Logan never met the man, he admired him a great deal. Colonel Collins was not afraid of anything, and Logan hoped that he too could be like that; especially in times like this.
It was like a scene out of a movie Logan remembered watching once with his father. His mother hadn’t been too pleased that his father let him stay up and watch it, but they just played innocent and she gave in. In the movie, astronauts and drillers went up to a giant asteroid to try and do something very similar to what Colonel Collins was now attempting. Logan remembered having nightmares about what would happen if that were all more than a movie. His father had assured him again and again that it could never happen. He had been wrong. This was real, and it was far worse than anything in the movie.
Everything was in chaos. No one seemed to know where the government was or who was running the country. The President had spoken several times, but then they did not hear from him again for two weeks. When someone later addressed the nation as the President, his voice was different. Logan knew that it was a different man, but when he asked his mother about it, she just cried.
The two were in their basement, listening to the radio now. Without power, most of their food had spoiled after this much time, but they still had several gallon jugs of water and enough cereal to last another month. It wasn’t very healthy, but it kept them from going hungry.
Logan’s mother switched channels. The one they were listening to was coming from Boston, where several small meteors had just destroyed a few more office buildings. If Colonel Collins was successful, it would still be a long time before things were restored to normal, if ever.
“Let’s try this one,” Logan’s mother said as she found a channel that came in clearly.
“…will be out of radio contact for at least the next eighteen hours. If the mission is a success, we will all see the effects of the nuclear explosion in the nighttime sky.”
A window smashed upstairs, and Logan jumped, startled. “Momma?”
“Hush, baby, don’t you worry about a thing.” Martha picked up her husband’s shotgun and slowly made her way up the stairs. As she got to the top, before reaching for the doorknob, the basement door opened.
“Oh, man, this place has people in it!”
“Get out of my house,” snarled Martha.
Logan could not see his mother’s face, but she sounded more menacing than he could ever remember her being. Even that time when she found him playing with his father’s gun she had not been as mad, and that night she was pretty mad at his father. If she had not been his mother, Logan would actually be scared of her tone. She was terrifying.
“Calm down, woman.”
“Don’t you ‘woman’ me! This is my house. Get out!”
She raised the shotgun and pointed it right into the man’s face. Logan thought that he recognized him. It was Keith, or Karl, or something like that. He was Mike’s babysitter a couple of years ago. One time Logan had been able to come over when Mike was being babysat. He thought that the babysitter was funny. Not so funny now.
“Dude, she’s got a gun!”
“And if you don’t get out of my house, I’ll use it,” vowed Martha, with the intensity and determination of a mother protecting her child. “I’ll put holes in you and all of your friends.”
“No, no,” the babysitter pleaded. “We were just looking for some food.”
“Well, I suggest you go find it somewhere else. Somewhere people aren’t still trying to live.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, back stepping away from the basement. “We’re going.”
“Go on!” Martha shouted, chasing after the looters. She made sure that they had really left, then checked the rest of the house before coming back down to see Logan. “See? Nothing to worry about.”
Logan gave his mother an encouraging smile, but he could see how afraid she was. She was acting so that he wouldn’t be afraid, but he could tell that she was really shaken. Standing up, Logan walked over and hugged his mother. As they held each other, she began to sob, giving in to the emotions of the day.
They stayed that way for an hour, just holding each other in the basement. Finally, Logan’s mother leaned back, wiped the tears away, smiled, and then stood up. “We should go board up the broken window.”
“I’ll help, Momma,” Logan offered. He half expected her to say no, but she nodded.
“That’s my big, brave boy,” she said.
The two boarded up the window using some wood from the floor of the living room and nails from his father’s toolbox. There were still people shouting in the streets, but nobody else came toward their house. Logan’s mother kept glancing out the window, as if she expected the burglars to come back with more friends, but they never did.
After they finished, Logan took a nap. He was not tired, but his mother insisted. He needed his rest so that he could stay up and see the explosion in space. Logan finally fell asleep, dreaming that he was with Colonel Collins aboard the Liberty, saving the world.
When he woke up, it was almost as if his dream had come true. He had just set the timer on the nuclear bomb and got back to the ship to take off. When his eyes fluttered open, he heard the reporter on the radio say: “There! I see it! An explosion!”
“Logan, baby, do you want to see it?”
Logan nodded. He would not miss this for the world. The two went upstairs and out into the backyard. They looked up in the night sky, which looked almost as bright as daylight with explosions and fireballs in space. He had done it. Colonel Collins had done it.
Logan jumped into the air, pumping his fist and cheering. It was the first time anyone had anything to cheer for or celebrate in six weeks. His joy and excitement were infectious, causing Martha to sob with happiness. They were going to live. They were all going to live.
Taking a piece of paper and folding it into an airplane, Logan began running around the yard with it, pretending that it was the Liberty. “He did it! He did it!”
“Yes, he did,” Martha said, smiling encouragingly at her son.
Logan ran back to his mother’s side, looking up at her full of confidence and with no doubt whatsoever. “One day, I’m going to save the world too.”
Martha stared into his eyes and saw such conviction that she was amazed that the eyes belonged to a seven-year-old. In that instant, it was as if she could see into the future, and knew with perfect clarity that what he said was the truth. “I know you will,” she said proudly. “I know you will.”
Hells Canyon, Idaho * July 4th, 3:27 AM * 20 years later
This was not a usual mission for his team. Captain Logan Stone, commanding Shadow Recon 5, had led his men into various operations around the world. The soldiers in his squadron were so good at what they did that they had became known as Wraith Squadron, the soldiers who did not really exist. They went in, completed their objectives, and got out before anyone even knew that they had been there.
Not this time. This time Stone’s team was being deployed on U.S. soil. That fact alone did not sit well with him. Some unknown group, whether a military presence representing another country, a terrorist unit, or something entirely different, had felt inclined to fly in from Canada by helicopter and touch down in Idaho at Hells Canyon.
If not for satellite surveillance, the ten helicopters invading United States airspace never would have even been detected. Intelligence labeled the choppers as having stealth capabilities. Stone had seen one before, on a mission out of Afghanistan. The helicopter was flying right behind rebel troops and they never even heard it in time to turn around and look. Why they were going to Idaho was the question.
Hells Canyon was a national recreation area. Tourists could visit there and participate in a wide variety of activities on over 900 miles of government-protected land, including hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and other similar activities. It was also one of the few areas in the world that had not been touched by the Storm that changed the face of the world.
With all of the missions that he had led, Stone should not have been surprised when he was handed the preliminary operations packet to learn that Hells Canyon also had something else located there, something not listed in the tour book or known by anyone who did not have the highest clearance. Miles beneath the canyon, even lower than the Snake River; the government had a top-secret scientific facility. What exactly they were researching was not disclosed, but the fact that the helicopters were there meant that somehow the existence of the facility had been compromised.
Stone had a complete biographical profile of nine American scientists, mostly geneticists, biologists, and biochemists. His first mission objective was to safeguard and evacuate the scientists, if at all possible. His second objective was to recover any research, materials, and data that could be salvaged. His final objective was to regain communication and control of the facility. His secondary protocol, if the facility were to fall into enemy hands, was to destroy it and leave no trace of its existence.
The mission itself was straightforward. Stone had executed similar operations around the world in the past. Usually, they were attempts to acquire data or materials from hostile threats, but safeguarding and preserving what was already in the government’s possession was almost the same directive. Why there was a secret research facility so well-hidden, and what exactly these scientists were chartered to work on, were questions that gnawed at the back of his mind. The mission was all that was important. He and his unit would fulfill the mission objectives. But he wondered if there was some kind of unknown contaminant or biohazard that would lead to the loss of lives on his team. Surprises like that had erased Shadow Recon 3 a year ago in Iraq.
Risking your life for your country and your team was part of the job. Even without knowing all of the details in advance, Stone knew that it was their job to go in without flinching or worrying about the consequences. Only the mission mattered. As always, he would make sure the mission was a success.
With one exception, his team had been together for the better part of four years, ever since Shadow Recon was first sanctioned by Military Intelligence. First Lieutenant Rebecca Santos was the best shot in the unit. Stone had selected her from a cross-branch competition when she led her Navy Seals unit to win the trophy that year. Santos was the leader of her unit and took some convincing, but the challenge of being one of the founding members of Shadow Recon was alluring and she ultimately did transfer to Military Intelligence to join.
Santos was more than the unit’s sniper. She was strong, cunning, and determined, and with the exception of Corporal Vargas, she could hold her own or beat any other Wraith. She often used her strength to fend off others, creating a barrier between her and those that she cared about, but Stone saw glimpses of her softer side as well.
Sergeant Major Ron Avery was a man that Stone had learned to rely upon and trust above all others under his command. Avery had been a Ranger, not an uncommon stepping ground from the military into Shadow Recon. He had better cognitive recall than anyone that Stone had ever met. Avery could walk into a room, be blindfolded immediately, and still be able to tell you in precise detail exactly what and where everything was in the room.
This was not attributed to his Ranger training, but rather a childhood game between himself and his father, who was a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By the time he was 12, Avery could assemble and disassemble a firearm blindfolded. He was also gifted with an innate tactical ability that allowed him to see various scenarios and alternatives clearly, and also to instantly weigh the options and choose the one with the highest probability of success.
Avery was the first man that Stone recruited for Shadow Recon 5, and had felt comfortable and confident in allowing Avery to train all other members of the unit. He was also a man whose opinions Stone sought and considered heavily when making field decisions.
Sergeant Bryce Corgan was as different as one could get from both Santos and Avery. Corgan had been born to wealth and then lost it all in the Storm. He spent his youth on the streets, fighting to survive, and moving up the social hierarchy of street gangs until he was at the top. In his late teens, he realized that he wanted more out of life, and decided to join the army.
Like Avery, Corgan made his way into the Rangers. He was considered to have a keen mind and a strong intellect, but he also often showed a blatant disregard for orders. He always said that he merely interpreted the orders differently, stretching the boundaries a bit, but the stigma that he was reckless and not a team player followed him until Stone decided to give him a chance in Shadow Recon.
Corgan may not have always fought fair, but Stone reasoned that the rules of engagement were not always so clear cut when dealing with a military intelligence covert operations strike team like Shadow Recon. Corgan was still known to be reckless at times, but he had demonstrated time and again that he was willing to gladly sacrifice his own life and health for his team, and that had gained him the respect of his unit.
Corporal Ramon Vargas was the foundation of the group. He has the strength of four men, and the heart of five. He was the one soldier that Stone had recruited directly from basic training rather than from another Special Forces unit. It was a decision that Stone had never regretted.
Vargas had been given a free pass in life. He received a full football scholarship and was considered in the world of sports to be on the fast track to the professionals. In his sophomore year, his high school sweetheart became pregnant, and Vargas made the decision to leave school and seek a career where he could raise and support his family. Though he dabbled in several career paths, he ultimately decided upon the military.
Stone would be hard pressed to think of a single instance where Vargas was not smiling and happy. It was not that he joked around excessively or failed to grasp the severity of some of their operations, but rather he was genuinely confident and optimistic, and always saw the positive aspects in life. His demeanor was often infectious within the unit, something that Stone was grateful for.
The final member of the team was the newest addition, Private Alexander Hodge. This was Hodge’s first Shadow Recon mission, but he had come highly recommended from the Green Berets. Stone was a little surprised to hear that Hodge had requested a transfer into Military Intelligence, but learned that he was aggressive and wanted to gain experience in a variety of fields.
Stone was concerned that Hodge would be cocky or overconfident, but he found the man to be quite reasonable and qualified to replace the opening in the unit. Stone did some research and learned that Hodge had political aspirations for the future. Hodges’ father was a sixth generation Texas Congressman and the young man wanted to follow in his forbears’ footsteps. Somewhere in his youth, his father had recommended that he join the military and be a war hero so that he could go further in politics than his father. Whatever his reasoning, Hodge responded quite promisingly to the rigorous training program. Stone would see how he handled his first mission, though.
Stone stuck his thumb up to acknowledge the announcement. They were currently 30,000 feet up and about to make a high altitude jump to land on Hells Canyon in an area that was not currently occupied by enemy forces. If they were off at all, they could find themselves coming down in enemy fire, or dropping another 8,000 feet into Snake River. It was the dead of the night, and they had to be precise, but Stone knew that his team was up for it. This was what they did. This is what they were trained for. They would be fine.
“Satellite imaging shows ten helicopters and thirty hostiles on the ground. Repeat, ten helicopters and thirty hostiles. When we touch down, we move swiftly and quietly. We take out as many topside as we can without revealing our presence. Any questions?”
“What happens when our presence is detected?” asked Corgan.
“Take them down. We need to clear the surface and then make our way down to the underground facility. That facility is our priority, but we don’t want people at our fronts and backs, so the hostiles must be taken out first.”
“Do we know what’s in the facility?” Hodge asked.
“Scientists and research materials that we are expected to salvage,” Stone replied.
“That’s comforting,” sneered Corgan.
“Zip that, Sergeant,” barked Avery.
“Helmets and air masks, everyone,” Stone said.
“You heard the man, and you know what to do,” Avery shouted. He stepped over to Hodge and leaned closer, “Stay by me. I don’t want you drifting into the canyon.”
“Yes sir,” Hodge replied.
The light switched from red to green, indicating that it was time to jump. Avery began shouting for everyone to go, and one by one the members of Shadow Recon 5 jumped from the plane and into the nighttime sky. Normally they would pull the cords at 10,000 feet, but since the canyon was 8,000 feet, they would need to pull the cords 1,000 feet higher than normal so that they had sufficient time to slow their descent. Anything higher than that and they risked being seen by the hostiles. The landing would be a hard one, but they would land.
Stone remembered a recruiter coming to Framingham High when he was there and saying that there was ‘no feeling in the world like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.’ That seemed especially true on a nighttime operation when there were hostiles below. Stone preferred going into a hot zone by helicopter or on the ground, but there were always missions that required a little more speed and stealth.
At 11,000 feet it looked like they were already on top of the canyon. The ground was racing toward them, and if the sensors on their watches were not accurate, they would probably find out just how close the ground really was. Stone pulled the cord and felt his body jerk back as the parachute snapped into place. He could make out lights down below, but was fairly certain that with their black fatigues, boots, and darkened parachutes that his unit would not be discovered unless the hostiles were lucky.
Stone landed hard, rolling and then grabbing the ropes to his chute to pull it in. He saw the rest of his unit land and do the same. They stashed their chutes and drew their weapons and night vision goggles. Stone did not have to relay any commands. His unit knew what to do.
Santos made her way to find some cover on high ground, where she had a line of sight on the hostiles. She favored the M82A1A rifle over other sniper rifles that might provide better range. The rifle specifications indicated that the rifle could accurately fire at 1800 meters, but Santos had made some adjustments of her own to get that up to well over 2000. With ten rounds in the magazine, when given the order, she could take out a third of the hostiles before they would even know that they were under attack.
Vargas would circle around to the front of the helicopters and remain there in case any of the choppers got off of the ground. Stone had not thought it possible, but Vargas took a mounted weapon—the MK19 Mod3 40mm grenade machine gun—and held it as if it weighed little more than a rifle. The MK19 could take down the helicopters if they attempted to escape, but it certainly was not a quiet weapon.
Stone would personally lead Avery, Corgan, and Hodge into the opening with the hostiles. They all had M4 carbines with grenade launchers, but would begin with only M9 sidearms with suppressors attached to silence their shots, and their knives. As soon as a single shot was heard, they would switch to their M4’s and abandon the attempt to use stealth.
Stone was moving his unit down toward the helicopters when Santos’s transmission sounded in his ear: “Only five helicopters are in the target area.”
Stone touched the switch on his neck to activate his communications unit. “Confirm hostile activity.”
“Hostiles number twenty. Repeat: twenty. Ten hostiles are unaccounted for.”
“Standby, Two,” Stone said. Looking over at Hodge, Stone signaled for the satellite uplink.
Hodge removed the uplink from his pack and flipped the top. He clicked a few keys on the keypad and a topographical map of their area was displayed, including heat signatures. Stone studied the image to make sure that none of the hostiles were lying in wait for them.
“Those missing choppers could make things difficult,” surmised Corgan.
“They could circle around and attack us from behind,” Avery agreed.
“Hodge, jam transmissions. I don’t want any communications going out to request assistance.” Touching his communications again, he said, “Two, Five, we are a go.”
Stone watched Hodge until the private indicated that communications were being jammed. Any attempt at communications from this point would result only in static. That is, until Hodge ended the jamming.
“Move in,” Stone said.
Stone and Corgan went to the left, Avery and Hodge to the right. They would come up from different angles and begin eliminating hostiles. If the hostiles did catch on, there would be confusion for them to deal with before being able to retaliate. When they knew what to do, it would be too late.
Stone and Corgan crawled along the ground, moving to within inches of three hostiles. The hostiles were standing together and talking. They looked Asian, perhaps Japanese or Chinese. Those were two languages that Stone never learned. They were definitely wearing uniforms, but there were no identifying marks that would determine who they were or where they were from.
Stone gestured toward one of the men, and Corgan crept up with his knife in hand. He grabbed one of the hostiles from behind, slitting his throat. As the other two men turned in shock, Stone shot both in the chest. Three down.
Avery and Hodge were doing the same from the other side. Avery signaled Hodge to stay and provide cover fire. He then moved behind a large rock and shot four hostiles. As the last fell, he pivoted around the rock and was moving on. Hodge then crawled up to the rock, peered around, and began to follow Avery. He heard something fall behind him and turned to see one of the hostiles on the ground. Hodge glanced in the direction of Santos and mouthed the word “Thanks.” He did not know if she was still watching, but he sure appreciated that she had been at that moment.
Stone made his way to the first helicopter and stepped into the open doors. He made his way to the front, where the pilot turned around. The man began to say something, but Stone put three bullets into him before the words escaped his lips. From the cabin, he saw Avery shoot two, and Corgan throw his knife into the chest of a third. A couple of others fell, courtesy of Santos.
When Stone jumped down from the helicopter, he saw that the other helicopter pilots were all dead as well. Bullet holes were in the cockpit windows, victims of Santos and her rifle. “Clear,” Stone called out.
“Clear,” Avery said.
“Clear,” replied Corgan as he wiped the blood off of his knife on the dead hostile.
“Clear,” finished Hodge.
“Hodge, terminate the jamming,” Stone ordered.
Hodge pushed a few buttons and then nodded that transmission was available again.
“Two, Five, all clear. Bring it in.” Stone then looked at Hodge. “Connect me to Base Command.”
Hodge pulled out the satellite uplink phone and connected with Shadow Recon Command. “Here you are, sir.”
“Owl, this is Wraith One,” Stone said. “Five birds are in the air.”
“Wraith One, continue with mission. We will search for the missing birds from here.”
“Roger that, Owl. Wraith One out.” Stone handed the satellite phone back to Hodge. He waited until Santos and Vargas rejoined them, and then continued with the operation. “Okay everyone, topside is clear. We’re moving 2000 feet down the west rim to the Park Ranger station. The entrance to the secure facility is in there.”
“Talk about messed up,” Corgan snorted. “People probably walk in and out of there every day, and it’s a top secret government facility.”
“No better way to hide something than by putting it in plain sight,” said Stone. “Let’s move out. Quietly and cautiously.”
Shadow Recon 5 made their way down the sloping canyon from the east rim to the west rim. They were alert with their M4s raised and ready for an attack, but Hodge was also keeping an eye on the downlink from the satellite: their trail was clear of all heat signatures.
Arriving at the Park Ranger station, Stone silently commanded the team to split up. Santos, Corgan, and Hodge circled around to the back while Stone, Avery, and Vargas went in through the front door. Before entering, Stone and Avery slung their M4s over their shoulders and took out their sidearms: if someone was in the building without registering on satellite, they still wanted to take them down without announcing their presence.
Vargas was the last of the three into the building. He covered the door and watched both Stone and Avery clear out the room. The two went through each room stealthily, scanning for any possible sign of a hostile. The last room to clear was the bathroom. Stone entered first and instantly smelled the indistinguishable odor of blood. With a hand signal, Avery joined Stone and they made their way inside.
The bathroom was relatively large for a Park Ranger station. Instead of one stall, there were five, along with five sinks and a shower. When the station was built, there was an assumption that hikers and bikers would ask permission to use the facilities. It was a good idea that probably served them well.
Stone kneeled down and looked under the stalls. In three of the five he saw either bodies or feet. There was blood along the floor under all five. Approaching the first stall, Avery raised his M9 as Stone pushed the door in. It was empty. Moving to the next one, Stone pushed the door open and they saw a park ranger with a bullet hole between his eyes, staring back lifelessly.
Stepping over to the third, Stone knew that there was a body in this one as well. That did not mean that a hostile wasn’t crouching on the toilet and waiting to shoot them, though. Stone pushed the door open and Avery nodded: only a park ranger. This one had been shot in the chest several times. The next stall was empty, and the final also had the body of a park ranger in it.
Stone stepped back, moving toward the exit, wondering whether these rangers really only worked for the National Recreation Area, or whether they knew that they were sitting atop of a secret government research facility. It was bad enough to lose your life in any attack, but if they were oblivious to what was really going on and the possible dangers that they faced, then that was a great injustice.
Odds were, they had probably welcomed their killers with a friendly smile, asking if there was anything they could do to help. The rangers probably thought that their killers were lost, trapped on the canyon before it got dark. Instead, they were executed.
Stepping out of the bathroom, Stone touched his comm-unit on his neck and pushed the button twice. He did not need to say the words—the two static clicks were signal enough to bring the rest of the team into the station. Santos had her group by the doorway by the time Stone was walking to a back room.
“This way,” Stone said. Once everyone was inside, Stone reached for a brass eagle and pulled gently at its head. On the wall, a panel opened and a series of password buttons and a retinal scan was revealed.
“Whoa,” Corgan whistled. “Do we have clearance to get in?”
“I was added to the system forty-two minutes ago,” Stone said as he typed in a series of nine numbers for the password and then leaned in for the retinal scan.
A voice sounded, female and somewhat robotic, saying: “Welcome, Captain Stone.” A large portion of the wall lifted up, revealing an elevator.
“No stairs into the secret government facility?” snorted Corgan.
“This is the only way in or out,” Stone explained.
“They must have a huge demand for elevator repair technicians then, eh?” snickered Corgan. “We’re not really taking the elevator, are we?”
Santos nodded her agreement. “The doors could open up to a dozen men with machine guns.”
“Vargas, check the top for any kind of panel or doorway opening. I want us above the elevator when it goes down,” Stone ordered.
“Yes, Sir,” Vargas said, stepping inside and rubbing his fingers along the top of what looked like a smooth ceiling. “Here we go,” he said as he pushed his finger into a slight indentation and a panel popped open.
“Hodge, I want you to stay here and cover our rear. If anything approaches, I want to know about it. If anyone comes up the elevator that is not being escorted by us, consider them hostile.”
“Yes, sir,” Hodge nodded.
“Vargas, leave the MK19 with Hodge,” Stone continued.
Vargas for a moment looked somewhat sullen, but then nodded and put his weapon on the floor opposite the elevator. He preferred the big gun, it definitely came in handy in a fight, but they were going into a lab with potentially sensitive materials that could be damaged if he were to launch a few high-explosive grenades at hostiles.
“Everyone on the top of the elevator,” Stone instructed. He watched as everyone got on top, then saluted Hodge as he got into the elevator and pushed the only button: down. The doors slid shut and they began moving down to the secret facility. Clutching the edges of the opening, Stone pulled himself up to join the rest of his unit. Once he was there, Vargas slid the lid shut.
“Corgan, I want a flash grenade once we touch down,” Stone said.
“I think that can be arranged,” grinned Corgan as he removed the round grenade.
The elevator continued descending for almost five minutes before it slowed to a halt and the doors opened. Stone heard voices, the same language as those with the helicopters, but there was no gunfire in the elevator. One man stepped into the elevator and looked around questioningly. Stone sent a bullet through the panel and into the man’s chest.
Vargas slid the panel all the way off and Corgan tossed the flash grenade out. They heard some shouts, probably the hostiles yelling to take cover, and then the sound of the strobe lights erupting from the grenade. Avery was through the hole and into the elevator, his M4 ready as he touched down. He stepped to the doorway and fired several shots.
Stone dropped down next, his M4 up and ready as well. He saw several hostiles squinting and trying to see. It may not have been the fairest way to take down a foe, but he squeezed the trigger and put them down.
Santos, Corgan, and Vargas were all down, stepping into the room. There were not as many hostiles as they expected. Each had their semiautomatic rifles ready and fired at anything that resembled the hostiles. The elevator room was clear in seconds.
“Move out, secure the facility,” Stone instructed.
Shadow Recon 5 made their way out of the elevator room and found themselves in a massive structure. The place was like a hospital, with the look and feel of one, but the technology and equipment was far more advanced than anything any of them had seen topside.
Occasionally, a shot was fired as a member of the unit found and took out another hostile. Most had been in the elevator room carrying equipment. They must have gotten what they came for and were ready to leave. Perhaps that was why they had been a bit confused but not entirely surprised to see the elevator arrive.
In the hospital wing closest to the elevator room, Stone found a dozen soldiers wearing U.S. military uniforms and insignia. There were also several scientists, others who were undoubtedly lab assistants, and patients lying dead as well, either in the corridors or in the rooms.
Stone would come back and try to identify the scientists that were his primary mission objective. If the nine scientists were dead, then he hoped that their research and data could at least still be recovered. Perhaps that was what the hostiles were taking with them.
They continued out of the hospital section and into other wings of the facility. It was much larger than they expected. They found a gym that would make the training facilities at Fort Bragg seem antiquated. Attached to that was an Olympic-sized pool. They also found residential quarters, undoubtedly where the scientists, technicians, and soldiers lived. Below the main level was a stairwell going down. On the next level down, there was a research lab with biohazard signs on every window. There were no hostiles here, and Stone did not relish the thought of getting into something that he and his unit did not understand. This section would remain isolated until other scientists were available to examine the work.
The last section looked like a storage facility, but there were a dozen cages and archive boxes. Stone speculated briefly about what kind of research facility needed cages, but pushed it to the back of his mind. “This is One, facility clear. Begin examining the bodies to try and find the scientists.”
Before the mission began, each of them had been given a pre-op packet that included pictures of each of the scientists they were attempting to rescue. Stone had biographical information as well, but the rest of the unit only needed to know what they looked like.
There should have been six males and three females working on the project. Dr. Michael Pascheff was the project director, with Dr. Kathleen Viela listed as the assistant director. The other female scientists were Drs. Catherine Kerns and Susan Yabbaccio, and the males were Drs. Michael Fetherston, Bradley Harris, Julio Jimenez, Laurence Saran, and Ivan Voigt. According to the materials Stone reviewed, they were some of the preeminent minds and most gifted scientists in the United States, if not the world.
The comm-link sounded and Stone heard Lieutenant Santos’s voice. “One, this is Two. Dr. Fetherston has been identified and is deceased.” After a short pause, she added: “Dr. Kerns, too.”
Stone had that growing feeling in the pit of his stomach. They had arrived too late. They may have stopped the hostiles, but the five helicopters that got away could have the valuable secrets and research materials. Securing the facility might not have done them any good. If the scientists were all dead, then whoever had orchestrated this night’s event had the upper hand. Command would not be happy.
“One, this is Five,” began Vargas. “I found Director Pascheff. He’s dead as well.”
That was three. The other six were undoubtedly amongst the bodies as well. “Keep looking,” Stone replied as he and Avery made their way back up to the hospital wing.
“One, this is Three, I found a survivor!” came the urgent report of Corgan.
“Location, Three?” asked Stone.
“Hospital wing, room number eighteen,” Corgan replied.
“I’m on my way,” Stone said.
He and Avery picked up their pace and made it back to the hospital wing. They stepped into the room and saw Santos and Corgan working on a woman. “Report.”
“We’re losing her,” Santos said. “Her vitals are practically nonexistent.”
“Yeah, and she’s pregnant,” Corgan pointed out.
Stone had been looking at her face—also Asian, like the hostiles. His eyes then glanced down at her swollen abdomen. She looked as if she was ready to give birth any day now, which was probably why she was in a room in the hospital unit. If the mother died, perhaps the child could be saved.
“The name on the file says Ashley Korin,” said Avery, who was flipping through her chart. “Her parents were both from Japan and moved to the States after the Storm. Ashley was born here and is only eighteen.”
“Eighteen,” said Stone, shaking his head. Far too young to die in an attack like this.
Vargas stepped into the doorway. “Captain, no other survivors, and no sign of the other scientists.”
Stone stored the information away. Only three of the scientists were lost. Perhaps the others were not on site tonight. If Assistant Director Viela could be found, then perhaps whatever this project was could somehow be salvaged. The other scenario, the more likely and far less enticing one: the scientists were abducted by the five helicopters. Hopefully command would be able to intercept them and recover the scientists or sensitive materials.
“We’re losing her!” barked Santos.
“See what you can do,” Stone ordered.
“That’s what I’m doing, sir!” Santos growled.
He could call Command for a medical evacuation, but Santos still needed to stabilize the girl so that she could be transported. The medical team would not be allowed into the facility.
“One, this is Six,” came a communication from Hodge.
“Go ahead, Six,” Stone said, stepping out of the room so that he could hear Hodge’s report.
“One, we have additional helicopter activity up here,” reported Hodge.
“Same type of birds?” asked Stone as he began rushing toward the elevator room.
“No sir,” Hodge replied. “Military choppers with U.S. military personnel approaching.”
Stone paused. It could be a decoy. These soldiers could be from the other five helicopters, dressed to impersonate U.S. personnel. Or, they could have been sent to provide support for the facility, though Stone was not used to having support during his missions. His unit was usually sent in when the presence of a full military force could not be seen.
“Hold your position, Six, and report back what is happening,” said Stone.
Avery stepped out of the room where Santos and Corgan were trying to save the girl. Vargas followed him over to Stone as well. “What do you think?”
“Either a decoy or possibly the unit assigned to protect this facility,” surmised Stone.
The elevator doors closed and they heard it begin to ascend. Stone touched his comm-link. “Six, report.” There was no response from Hodge. “Assume that they are hostile,” Stone said. “Take defensive positions.”
The three took up positions to defend the facility. It took ten minutes for the elevator to go all of the way up and come back down again, but the door opened and two uniformed men, garb identical to the facility’s dead soldiers’, stepped out first, followed by a man in full military dress uniform. His rank insignia of two stars indicated that he was a major general, but there were no other identifying marks on his uniform.
Stone stood up, stepping into the doorway. He saluted the major general, knowing that if this was a decoy that Avery and Vargas were covering him.
“Captain Stone?” the major general asked. The major general was a fit man with dark hair that was beginning to gray. His hairline was a widow’s peak, and he had a short and trim mustache.
“Yes, sir,” Stone said.
“Under orders of President Henry Cameron, I have been authorized to relieve your team and take over this situation.”
Stone glanced at the uniform again, seeing no sign of where the major general was from. Something about the order and the situation just did not sit well at all. “And you would be?”
“The man telling you to leave the premises,” the major general growled. “Don’t make me have to place you under arrest.”
“That will not be necessary, sir,” Stone replied, offering a quick salute. “My lieutenant is attempting to save the life of a survivor that we found. I request that she not be relieved until a proper medic or doctor become available.”
The Major General glanced at one of his men. “Go relieve the lieutenant.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” the man quickly replied as he headed into the hospital searching for the room that the patient was in.
“Room eighteen,” Avery added as the soldier hurried past.
“I do not have to remind you that this area has been designated as classified, and that if you or your team ever discuss what you have seen or know to be here that you shall be court-martialed as traitors to your country?”
“That will not be necessary, sir,” Stone said.
“Then vacate the premises as ordered,” the major general barked.
“Yes, sir,” Stone saluted again. “Shadow Recon 5, move out.”
Stone, Avery, and Vargas made their way to the elevator where a pair of soldiers stood at attention, waiting for them to leave. When Santos and Corgan joined them, they stepped into the elevator and pushed the button to ascend up to the Park Ranger station.
“What the hell was that?” asked Corgan after the doors slid shut.
“I don’t know,” Stone said. “Maybe we’ll never know.”
Some missions you just had to accept. You followed orders like a good soldier, and if the mission left you with questions, they remained unsolved mysteries. This was just one of those missions.
Review by: Namta Gupta, Bookpleasures
Review by: Jeremy Spooner, Triniricanttc.wordpress.com
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