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KADWAN. SIX MONTHS EARLIER.
The evisceration of the woman was majestic to behold. He'd delighted in her screams, relished the way her mouth opened so wide that it could have eaten the world. Her pathetic gestures as she begged for her life had almost spoiled it. Not that it had evinced any empathy on his part, but it had marred his journey to the spiritual plateau he'd been striving to reach in order to prepare himself for the transformation.
It was at once funny and sad that he'd been living such a life of somnambulant grace, pitifully ignorant of the creatures and beings that coexisted in their shared universe, kept at bay only by a paper-thin film of civilization and ignorance. If he'd only known sooner, maybe he wouldn't have wasted half his life pretending to be someone who cared about his fellow man.
CORONADO ISLAND. MORNING.
Petty Officer First Class Jack Walker felt like the crap had just been beaten out of him. Then again, he'd felt like that for the last twenty-one weeks. Since the first moment of Indoc, when Instructor Alberto Reno had slammed the door and commanded them to their feet, through the ten thousand push-ups, the twenty thousand flutter kicks, the one hundred and twenty continuous hours of training in Hell Week with only four hours of sleep each night, to the bone-numbing cold of Coronado Bay, his body had been beaten, cracked, and remolded. The pain was there when he got up in the morning. It was there when he drank his coffee. It was there when he went to bed at night. Walker pretended not to notice it, but the pain was persistent.
Which was what it was doing now—being persistent.
Instructor Kenny ran up to him. "What is it, Walker?"
"Nothing, Instructor Kenny. It's just pain leaving the body."
"If you're going to scream, then do it standing up. Get on your feet, Walker."
Walker crawled out of the sand and onto his feet. He'd just completed the final timed four-mile run. He and the other members of SEAL Class 290 had come in under twenty-nine minutes, and for the first time, they'd all made it. Part of it was that those who couldn't make it mentally and/or physically through the training had either been rolled back or had rung the bell—Dropped on Request, or DOR. Another part was that they were working together as a team. Several of his mates had seen the way he was pulling up and had helped him as the shin splints soared with the pain of running seven-minute miles. And then there was the fact that the end was in sight. He had four weeks before he could finally graduate. One week more of training, then off to San Clemente Island for the final live-fire exercise.
Instructor Howard ran up and got in his face.
"How'd you make it this far, Walker? Did you have sex with the president or did we collectively just forget what it takes to be a SEAL?"
"I didn't have sex with the president, sir."
"Why not? Isn't he handsome enough for you?"
"No, sir. I mean yes, sir."
"Make up your mind, SEAL."
"So answer my question, Walker. Do you know what it takes to be a SEAL?"
"Yes, sir!" The pain laced up and down his legs, digging through his shin and scoring the bone from beneath. He'd lived with it for weeks now and would live with it for four more.
"I don't think you know. I don't think you know anything. I think your body is ready to give up, isn't it Walker?"
"No, sir. This SEAL candidate is fit and fine!"
Instructor Howard leaned in and whispered violently. "What do you think I'm going to say next, Walker?"
Walker paused, then in a voice that was eerily calm said, "You're going to say Hooya, sir, because this candidate is going to be a damn good SEAL."
Howard hid the smirk that flashed across his face. "I don't think that was what I was going to say."
Instead of continuing the conversation, Walker hit the sand and pushed out twenty fast push-ups. When he completed them, he popped back up and said, "Petty Officer First Class Walker requests permission to rejoin the class!"
Walker eyed the others, who were already forming on Stumpy, the seventy-pound log with four handles that had become their classmate, never to be forgotten, never to be left behind. Despite the pain, despite the agony, he wanted nothing more than to stay with his class and put his arms around his best friend, Stumpy.
"Permission granted," Instructor Howard barked.
Walker ran over to the others, happy to be out from under the watch of the instructors.
"Take ten," Kenny called as he turned to Instructor Howard. Three visitors were walking down the beach toward them, including a tall red-haired woman, impeccably dressed in a gray business suit.
"How are the legs?" Meyers asked, kneeling and unlacing his own boots so he could adjust his socks.
Walker knelt to do the same. "Hurts like a big dog."
"You gonna make it?"
"Is the pope Catholic?"
"Try and stretch the Achilles tendon more and it'll give you some relief at least."
Walker nodded at Meyers, who was a Navy corpsman by trade. If anyone knew how to get more from the body, it was him.
With his shoes retied, Walker stood and stretched, grabbing the bottoms of his boots with his hands and planting his face on his knees. While he was there, he took a moment to pray. He only had four more weeks. If they'd leave him alone, he could do them on his head.
If they left him alone, that is.
Copyright © 2012 by Weston Ochse