Camp Bandit, Western Virginia
Tilted mountains surrounded the valley like massive firing berms. Gravel slides had wiped out whole glades of the second-growth forests that clung to their rocky slopes. Clouds drifted ghost-white against shadowed hollows. Each time Team Charlie had gone out on the range, their gunfire had echoed in those hills as if lost divisions were still locked in battle, the Blue against the Gray.
.ing, the team’s drab digital-pattern battle dress was hard for the eye to focus on. They wore black nylon knee and elbow pads, black tactical vests, ballistic eye protection, belts of fat red twelve-gauge shells, and nine-millimeter SIGs in thigh holsters. They held pump shotguns with black nylon stocks muzzle down. Their shoulders were aching, chests heaving after two hours of running, climbing, and thinking around corners against their trainers.
One of whom barked, “Next problem. Lenson, you got six guys. Task: assault and clear that green building. What’s your plan?”
.cepts only oozed through his brain, like used motor oil. They hadn’t gotten much sleep the past few nights. And it felt .ing around one who stood. He noted another instructor headed for the control booth. “Uh, my plan . . . I need to dominate the path with two shooters at, uh, that sandbag pile and behind the black tank. . . .”
.structor was in black BDUs and peaked cap. The name tape on his blouse read whalen. The night before, Dan’s team had discussed how much more they’d take before they shot him themselves. “Think fast, Team Leader! You’re not gonna have time to cog-itate out in booger-eating country.”
“Flash-bang through the window. Push in a four-man .daddlers?”
“Don’t ask me, tell me. If you don’t know, for Christ’s sake, don’t advertise the fact! Positions! Fifteen rounds sabot slug, fifteen rounds of buck, lock and load. Keep in mind your tactical reload drills. A dry weapon is no weapon. And remember, the problem goes from whistle to whistle; you’re not done till the signal goes.”
.sis Group, Team Charlie had been running and shooting since before dawn. But his guys were looking at him. He cleared his throat. “I’ll go in first and take position on the sandbags. Covering fire on my signal. Donny, break right, suppression position behind the tank. Teddy, you take point on the stack, with Yeong-Min, and Monty, and Rit. Live rounds, guys! Take your time and make sure the line of fire’s clear before you shoot.”
Waiting for the whistle, he mopped his face again. He still wasn’t sure why a U.S. Navy tactics development team needed two weeks of pistol and shotgun training, house clearing, CQC and CQM—mil-speak for close-quarters combat and close-quarters marksmanship—including low-light and target identification drills. They weren’t exactly Marine Recon material. Some of his guys weren’t even on active duty anymore. But Captain Todd Mullaly had insisted. “Team Charlie’s new for us, Dan,” he’d said. “You did all right in Korea, but there at the end—it wouldn’t have hurt to have more tactical training, would it?”
And he’d had to agree. Taking out an AK-armed North .faced sub, with a pistol he hadn’t even been sure how to fire—yeah. He’d been lucky to come out alive.
“You’ll have a great time,” Mullaly had said, closing the .tion.”
Right. Two weeks of sixteen-hour days more like Marine boot camp than any Navy school he’d ever been to. Range training and quick reaction drills, dry firing, and tactics and .nating the environment, cover, travel, clearing rooms and hallways, and his personal least favorite, stairwells. In the evenings they played a video game “Obie” Oberg had brought, pursuing faceless enemies through mazes of abandoned, smoking ruins till the world itself seemed less real than digital, and the game more real than reality.
He’d gotten stuck, forced to replay one scenario over and over. His teammate, behind him, had shouted, “On your six, on your six!” And Dan had wheeled, trying to fire past him at a figure that suddenly appeared out of a side corridor. But his buddy had moved, and Dan’s bullet had blown apart his head. The screen had frozen to the accompaniment of a scream, and mission failed pulsated in red letters. He’d failed over and over, until the blank face of his computer-generated teammate had begun to haunt his dreams—
He realized they were all looking at him, still waiting. His real team members. The whistle went, a blast that pierced ear protectors like a high-velocity bullet. He shook off the unease that lingered from the dream, twisting his voice into something approximating their instructor’s gravelly snarl. “All right, goddamn it. Taggers, move!”
Two yards ahead of Lenson, leaning against a timber barrier so chewed by bullets it sagged as he put his weight on it, Teddy “Obie” Oberg racked the big twelve-gauge slug shells one after the other through the Mossberg. You didn’t need to precycle your ammo with a pump action, but habit was hard to break. And he’d built up a lot of habits in eight years with SEAL Team Eight, on floats in the Med, antiterror missions out of Stuttgart, trying to snatch PIs—persons of interest—in the Balkans.
Obie had studied the commander—that was what they called Lenson, “the commander”—through the two weeks at Bandit. He’d met Medal of Honor winners before, SEALs from Vietnam. But this guy wasn’t like them.
For one thing, officers hardly ever got the Medal. For another, Lenson didn’t talk about it, or about where the rest of his ribbons had come from. The Silver Star. The Bronze Star. Teddy’d heard rumors about foreign decorations, too: Israeli, Saudi, Korean. The guy moved like he’d been hurt more than once. He looked like a thinker, but didn’t act like he had all the answers, like too many fucking officers.
.fortable maneuvering a squad. Maybe you couldn’t expect that from a surface line type, what SEALs called .shoes,” usually with a sneer. It could mean trouble, if they got in a situation.
But sometimes he caught a glimpse of something else behind those flat gray seaman’s eyes, the irises like stamped lead discs in crimped copper. A detached coldness Teddy had only seen once or twice before in his life.
Who knew? Maybe the guy was a killer, after all.
The whistle. At the same moment a tracer-burst swivelled just over their heads. GrayWolf trained with live ammo. Dan thought, They must get it cheap. He racked the first round .ployee on the other end of that machine gun didn’t decide to fire low.
He squinted through a sudden stinging in his eyes as his senses ratcheted into danger gear, as the world stuttered into the tunnel-visioned slow-time of combat. The Killing House lay fifty yards ahead, surrounded by wrecked cars, piles of old tires, concertina, a rusting T-76 spray-painted black. The instructors had torched the tire-pile and the black smoke blew toward them, alternately revealing and concealing what lay .der would have brought back memories, if he’d had time for them. Syria. Iraq. The China Sea. Places he’d had to do things he didn’t like to remember. Most of those places, though, he’d had Navy deck gray under his feet. Where was Mullaly sending Team Charlie? It wasn’t how the Tactical Analysis Group had been explained to him, when he’d been assigned. Which was another whole story, why “Nick” Niles had decided he had to hide him after the debacle in the White House.
He got to the sandbags, rolled, and came up aiming not over them, where a sniper would expect you, but at the corner. Black steel popper targets jumped up by the house. He dropped them one after the other, the heavy Federal slugs slamming out of the eighteen-inch barrel with a blast that .der. He twisted to cover Wenck as Donnie broke into a run. A popper jumped up on the water tower, overlooking the house. He took careful aim and held over, guessing seventy yards, and blasted it down.
Wenck got to the tank and oriented to cover the stack. When Dan looked up from reloading, a small figure in too-large BDUs was shooting and advancing. A popper went down with each crack, but the little Korean wasn’t using cover and concealment. He was charging in the way they must have taught them to attack in the North Korean Army. “Im! Watch your cover, goddamn it!”
As Im got to the corner he picked up the hidden shooter, the one behind the tank, just before it sprang up. He took it out as Oberg sprinted past. Hesitated, then tore after him.
His name wasn’t really Yeong-Min Im. That had been his captain’s name, on the submarine the destroyers had cornered in the Eastern Sea. But his captain was dead now, shot by the political officer when Captain Im had decided to save his crew. And he couldn’t use his real name, ever again.
That was the price of living, when so many others, who’d started the voyage with him, were dead.
He was beginning to understand this strange game. The hidden angles. The all-too-obvious targets. The way everyone emphasized crouching, and hiding, and not leaving cover unless the rest of the team was firing. The Americans— except maybe Obie—were afraid of getting shot. The People’s Army trained to a different mind-set.
But he wasn’t part of the great collective anymore. This was an odd land, a curious culture. But for some reason, they valued him at TAG. Even asked his advice. They’d brought him to America, and put him in charge of “enemy” submarines in their war games. Maybe they even trusted him.
He was still trying to decide if they were right to do so.
Donnie Wenck got to the tank and skidded into it, slamming his head on the flaking steel so hard he almost blacked out. “Damn it,” he howled.
Donnie was sweating hard and feeling like crap. It was too fucking hot, for one thing. There wasn’t even air-conditioning in the bunkrooms. And no e-mail! For two weeks! He wasn’t like Oberg, buffed and toned in black T-shirts. That asshole loved this shit, out running before dawn, shooting all day long, evasive driving, learning how to fire RPGs. Obie knew motors, cars, give him that. But hand him a circuit board to fix, or a program to debug, see how he’d do.
Still blinking through the stars, Donnie realized somebody was yelling at him. Lenson. Oberg, running past in a crouch, was shouting, too. “Wenck! Quit daydreaming. Cover the stack. Cover the fucking stack!”
He leaned out, keeping his finger outside the trigger guard, and swept the yard. Two targets, one to Lenson’s left, the other above the moving stack of guys. Fuck fuck . . . buckshot or slugs? . . . he pulled the trigger and nothing happened. The fucking safety . . . he pushed it off and fired five times and hit nothing. He pulled back and fed in buckshot rounds. That worked better but he aimed high, not wanting to endanger the guys in the open, and the targets still didn’t go all the way down. Not until Oberg drew his pistol and double-tapped them one after the other, on the run, not even stopping to aim. Donnie squeezed his eyes shut. He’d fucked up again. Fuck!
It was enough to make you want to go back to sea.
Monty Henrickson had stuck close behind Oberg crossing the open yard, but his back prickled every time he heard Wenck fire. The kid was dangerous to everything but the targets. Monty was almost forty, neither as big nor as fast as the others, but to his surprise he liked this camp. It was stressful, but different from what he usually did, which was mainly mathematics, probability, and statistical analysis.
Still, was this where a doctorate got you? He should have stayed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’d have had tenure by now. Or gone with that offer from PRC, back when they were gearing up to go public. He’d have been a partner, counting his money in the tens of millions.
He caught a flash of Oberg’s backturned face, eyes bright blue as ammoniated copper, the strange radiating scars on his cheeks standing out like a Maori warrior’s. Then they were freight-training into the side of the house, Oberg cushioning him from the front as Carpenter’s bulk slammed into him from behind. Monty took high position.
“Flash,” Im yelled, the accent making it more like “Frash,” and they ducked as the pyrotechnic sailed in through the window.
Dan didn’t see any more outside targets. Hoping they’d gotten them all, he jammed five more rounds of buck into his magazine, then jumped to his feet. Don’t shoot till you’re sure of your target. The instructor had hammered that into them. The team was its own gravest enemy; in low light and the confusion of combat, it was all too easy to target your own. He flashed Wenck the follow-me signal.
They hit the house together as Im’s flash-bang went off, a hollow crack and a bolt of lightning so bright even not looking at it seared his eyes. Oberg, the breacher, kicked the door in and the stack went in after him, high-low-high, just as the instructors had kicked it into them; number one in sweeping center to right, two sweeping the left corner to center, three sweeping right corner to center, then the breacher buttonhooking in behind. The hours in the Glass House and the Corral were paying off.
“Break right, around back,” Monty yelled to Wenck, and shuffled forward in the combat crouch, taking the lead again.
Rit Carpenter went in last in the stack. Seeing Im roll right, Henrickson left, he hustled through and swept the interior with the muzzle of his shotgun. Why did Lenson always put him last? The bastard was still pissed at him about that mama-san in Pusan. What the fuck, who could fault a fucking white hat for knocking off a little young pussy? How was he to know the fucking Koreans had MPs patrolling the ceremonial grounds? So maybe sometimes he had to stop to catch his breath on the runs. At least he paid attention to what he was doing, unlike Wenck. Now there was a space cadet. Good enough at card-swapping when a piece of gear went down, but you could never count on him.
Rit had retired, but still thought of himself as Navy all the way. He’d qualified in Tiru, last of the wartime “smokeboats,” as their proud crews called them; had his “diesel boats forever” pin at home; he’d stood on her deck when they hauled down her commissioning pennant in Charleston. Went to Bonefish after that, then served the rest of his time in nukes, retiring off Batfish.
All those years at sea didn’t do much for your marriage. No kids, thank God. His last active duty had been at the Sub School in New London, training the latest and greatest. Then he’d picked up this job at TAG. At first it had been routine, riding the boats during exercises, grading them. Then they’d asked if he’d be interested in something more exciting. Something he wouldn’t be able to talk about. But hey, things had happened on patrol he couldn’t talk about, either.
He trailed Henrickson, keeping an eye over his shoulder the way they trained the Tail-End Charlie, and was rewarded with a popper that jerked up from behind a stack of barrels. He blasted it down first shot. “Try that on, Lenson,” he muttered. “Not too bad for an old bubblehead pussy hound, huh?”
Donnie got to the alley and almost shot before the shape moved and he saw it wasn’t a popper. Jeez, he’d almost blasted one of his own guys. He swept and was on it when a target jumped up. He slammed it down first shot and yelled “Take that, you sonofabitch!—I got it! I got it! Didja see that, Commander?”
“Good shot, Donnie. Real good shot. Now get in the house.”
Oberg inched up the stairwell one riser at a time, a foot off the wall, to keep a close round from richocheting into him, keeping his right hand free. The staff here liked to place their targets deep in the room, but from the oil rigs he’d cleared in the Gulf, once they knew you were on your way up the bad guys put somebody at the top of the stairs with a grenade. The only chance you had in a stairwell—no place to run, and no fragment cover—was to throw it back up.
If he ever had to take these overweight, overage techies and blackshoes into combat, he’d have to carry 80 percent of the load. He didn’t look forward to it, but it was pretty clear that was why they’d TAD’d Teddy Oberg to TAG Charlie.
Just as he’d figured, there they were, deep in the room. Only he guessed they’d guess he’d guess, and instead of taking the ones at the window first he swung and there it was, in the corner behind him. He blasted it down and ducked, swung, and took out the ones at the window. Then in one fluid motion he drew his pistol and scissored up and over the banister—if they had IEDs they set them at the top of the stairs—and dropped to a knee and took out two more poppers in a side room.
Behind him came rapid blasts as Im pumped extra rounds into the targets he’d already dropped. The little Korean didn’t mind shooting a bad guy again, just to make sure. Which Oberg thoroughly approved of. Once on the beach in Kuwait, when he’d gone in with the swimmer scouts to set up the diversion, a Republican Guard had stood up from a pile of bodies and tried to gut him with a bayonet.
“Clear!” he yelled down the stairwell. He heard them repeating it, passing it on till it reached the instructor outside.
He found the camera in the corner and gave it the finger, holding his black leather shooting glove up in a contemptuous salute.
Whalen was standing easy when they filed out, hands clamped behind him. Maybe he even looked pleased. Dan wasn’t sure, since he’d never seemed satisfied before. But they’d moved fast, done well. And it was the last day. Maybe the guy would let them go on a positive note. “So, seemed to go all right,” Dan said. “Didn’t it?”
“Team was pretty hot today,” Whalen said, nodding back. He stepped forward, hand outstretched. Surprised—he’d never offered to shake before—Dan lowered his shotgun and reached out.
From the sandbags behind Whalen, two black-coveralled instructors stood up with AKs. “Bap, bap, bap,” they shouted, imitating the high-pitched bark of 7.62 × 39s.
“You’re fucking dead, all of you,” Whalen smirked. “Remember? Whistle to whistle. And I didn’t whistle. So your grade . . . let’s just say you crapheads aren’t as outstanding as you think you are. Always be ready. Never let down your guard. That’s when they’ll hit you. Believe me.”
Dan felt the guys tense around him. “Get fucking real,” Oberg muttered. “Fucking snakes,” hissed Wenck.
“Hang on to that combat mind-set,” Whalen went on. “Keep asking yourself ‘what if.’ You’re gonna fuck up, when
Excerpted from the weapon by David Poyer.
Copyright © 2008 by David Poyer.
Published in December 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
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