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"Doubt if the admiral would like being called Goldilocks. Besides, it was the air force's turn to name this mission."

"Omega Two. Stern secured. No one home, so we will roam."

"Roger," Louis answered, although it must have killed him not to say "Dodger."

"Roger," Louis answered, although it must have killed him not to say "Dodger."

"Boiler room. Engines are purring away. No one here either."

A voice crackled in Mason's earpiece. "Up Squad. Gone through the crew and officers' quarters. Beds all made. No one here. Spooky as hell."

"Doubt if the admiral would like being called Goldilocks. Besides, it was the air force's turn to name this mission."

A voice crackled in Mason's earpiece. "Up Squad. Gone through the crew and officers' quarters. Beds all made. No one here. Spooky as hell."

"Omega Two. Stern secured. No one home, so we will roam."

Mason ordered the teams forward. They broke into two squads on both sides. One squad formed the base element, taking up firing positions to protect the other group as it raced forward. Then the assault team became the fire team and the other squad leapfrogged ahead in a maneuver that quickly covered ground.

They were seconds away from their target. At the last moment, when it seemed as if they were going to slam into the side of the ship, the Seahawks cut their speed, swooped up and over the vessel and hovered over each side of the wide stern deck. Thermal-imaging viewers scanned the ship for heat areas that would indicate human presence. Satisfied the deck was clear, the pilot maneuvered the aircraft past the masts and antennae and hovered at fifty feet.

Mason ordered the teams forward. They broke into two squads on both sides. One squad formed the base element, taking up firing positions to protect the other group as it raced forward. Then the assault team became the fire team and the other squad leapfrogged ahead in a maneuver that quickly covered ground.

"Doubt if the admiral would like being called Goldilocks. Besides, it was the air force's turn to name this mission."

"T minus four," the pilot's voice droned.

Mason donned his night-vision goggles and ordered his platoon to do the same. He made out the silhouette of an enormous ship plowing wake through the sea. He called the other teams to report visual contact. Both had sighted their targets. He said he would call as soon as he was aboard the LZ, military shorthand for landing zone, and quickly slipped his phone back into its pouch.

Mason knew from hard experience that dropping out of the sky onto a huge and possibly heavily armed moving ship in open ocean and disarming an unknown explosive was not exactly a piece of cake. They had rehearsed boarding vessels at sea dozens of times, but this was the real McCoy. The mission depended on delaying detection until the last possible moment. The HH 60-H helicopter was ideal for the job. It was relatively quiet, had an infrared jammer and suppressor system, a radar threat-warning receiver and other electronic eyes and ears. In addition, the helicopter had sharp teeth: two M-60 machine guns and a Hellfire missile system.

"Figures. Fly boys. T minus eight."

"Doubt if the admiral would like being called Goldilocks. Besides, it was the air force's turn to name this mission."

Within minutes, they had rendezvoused in the bow of the ship with the port team. Mason ordered his 2IC to probe the bridge and superstructure while he took his squad to the decks below. Using the same leapfrog technique, Mason and his men made rapid progress through the storage areas and holds. They stopped in front of one door that was welded shut. Since they couldn't get in, no one could get out, so they moved on. They burst into the boiler room with guns ready. The engines were going, but there was no sign of boiler men or engineers.

A voice crackled in Mason's earpiece. "Up Squad. Gone through the crew and officers' quarters. Beds all made. No one here. Spooky as hell."

Mason swept his eyes around. He was glad to see that the ordnance expert, Joe Baron, had made it safely. Mason could handle explosives in a pinch, but Baron was a pro. The lieutenant pulled a light stick from his vest and snapped it back and forth so that the chemicals inside mixed and glowed a cold blue. He waved the light stick to let the port team know all was well. His signal was returned a second later. Radio talk would be kept to a minimum as they swept the ship from one end to the other.

A voice crackled in Mason's earpiece. "Up Squad. Gone through the crew and officers' quarters. Beds all made. No one here. Spooky as hell."

"Call when you make visual contact."

"Boiler room. Engines are purring away. No one here either."

Both helicopters were emptied within ninety seconds. As soon as they hit the deck, the boarders threw their gloves away. The first four men down adopted a circular formation that was reinforced as the others joined them. The helicopters darted off like startled dragonflies and hovered a few hundred yards from the ship on either side. They would await the word that the ship had been secured, or that the mission had failed. Their orders were to evacuate the assault team and sink the ship with well-placed missiles.

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