The Dinaric Alps, Croatia - 2053 AD
Sergeant First Class Matt Bainbridge peers through his binoculars at the ragtag enemy unit below. Higher up the ridge, Matt wonders if the Croat guerrillas are warmer than he is. Laughing to himself, he realizes that they must be, since the Croats have several small fires going.
"Mostly asleep," he whispers to the man next to him, Master Sergeant Chris McAllister, who is lying on his back, eyes to the stars.
"Figures. You see the weapon?" Outwardly, Chris is confident in his men - and rightly so - and knows that his lackadaisical demeanor keeps his team calm and in good spirits. There is, however, little that escapes his notice and he knows that it is not yet time to worry.
"Nope," Matt replies as he continues his scan. "Wait. There it is."
Chris rolls over into the prone position and Matt hands the binoculars to him.
"Wood crate near the middle of the camp." Matt points in the general direction.
"Got it." Chris looks again to the stars. "How long until daylight?"
Matt checks his watch. "Hour-fifteen to BMNT."
"Plenty of time. Call it in."
Matt's fingers press a transmitter on his neck. "Marauder Flight, Wolf Romeo. Hotel Gulf, over."
His receiver crackles to life. "This is Marauder 6. Roger, Hotel Gulf. Fireworks inbound. Watch your heads."
The explosions barely have time to subside before Chris and his men rush the camp. The smart bombs landed precisely where they were supposed to - on the edges of the camp - and the fires that remain silhouette most of the guerrillas that survived the blasts. Night vision goggles would not be needed.
Higher up on the ridge, Edward Mulcahy begins tracking moving targets and firing them up. Mulcahy acquires and fires on his targets so rapidly, his spotter, Tyler Hassinger - the team's medic - doesn't even have time to relay the enemy ranges.
Moving in on Chris and Matt's flank is the fire team responsible for ensuring the objective is disarmed and secured, or so the theory goes. Bryant Eick, Chris' demolitions sergeant, is accompanied by his assistant, Peter Nimac, and the team's warrant officer, Nathaniel Dawson. Nathaniel should be in charge of the assault, but he joined the team mid-mission and wisely allowed Chris and Matt to assume leads. For now, he's just another gun on a team desperately in need of guns.
Guerrilla resistance takes some form of organization and Bryant and his crew's progress stops in the face of an enemy firing line. Chris and Matt silently curse their luck and fire into the rear of the enemy line, creating enough of a distraction that Bryant and the others clear their obstacle in seconds. As their support elements line the perimeter and begin mopping up the guerrillas, the group of five American operators reach the wood crate.
"It's empty," Bryant relays as he inspects it, a dour tone to his voice.
"Empty?" Chris asks, not believing it and believing it all at once.
"That's not good," adds Matt.
Chris keys his transmitter. "All stations this net, weapon in the open." He motions for the others to spread out in a search pattern.
Matt taps Chris' shoulder and points to the wood line.
The two soldiers follow what Chris thinks is a trail and, coming over a small hill, wind up face to face with three guerrillas. One of whom is bent over the nuclear warhead, furiously connecting a computerized detonator. Chris and Matt each fire a single round, each killing one of the standing guerrillas. The third stands, holding the detonator.
"Spusti." Drop it. Matt has never sounded so commanding in his life.
The guerrilla hesitates and Chris fires twice into his chest. The detonator falls to the ground. Matt rushes to it and begins to disconnect it from the warhead.
"Eick," Chris calls into the radio. "Get the fuck over here."
"No need," Matt says, holding up the wires. He wears a grin that suggests one part stupidity and one part insanity. "It's done."
Matt glances at the counter. "Twelve seconds."
Chris laughs, from both relief and anxiety. "I need a new job."
American special operations men scour the camp, searching for more usable intelligence. Peter Nimac, a second-generation Croat, helps prepare three captured guerrillas for transfer. Four utility helicopters rest on the ground in formation a few hundred yards away, engines alive and protected by circling attack bird and, the men know, an AC-24 gunship somewhere over the horizon.
The sounds of more approaching helicopters force the men to scan the skies. In the distance, a black executive helicopter approaches, escorted by over a half-dozen attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
"Who the fuck is this?" Chris asks, aware that no combatant would fly around so conspicuously. Must be VIPs.
The executive bird lands, a crew chief disembarks and heads toward Chris and Matt. "Sergeants McAllister and Bainbridge?"
"Yeah? Who's asking?" His tone is sarcastic and disrespectful, but Chris knows whoever is in that bird outranks him to high heaven.
"Assemble your tactical element and come with me, please."
Chris laughs. The crew chief is merely a sergeant and, in spite of Chris' revelation, he has no plans on making this comfortable for a subordinate. "We've already got a ride."
"We're taking you to the Abe."
Chris pauses and glances at Matt, who shrugs. Fort Abraham Lincoln is a top-secret facility in the middle of Nowhere, Nevada. Rumors abound concerning the type of projects and experiments that go on there. "What for?"
"We were told to," replies the crew chief.
Colonel Richards sits in his office, anxiously awaiting the report on today's test-run. Almost on cue, Dr. Abram Altshuler, a brilliant man in his late 70s, waddles in.
"Well?" Richards asks, glancing up at the physicist while sipping a cup of coffee.
"We need to carbon date to be sure, but preliminary data suggest an aging of approximately 30 years." Altshuler barely conceals his excitement. "Greenlight the operation, Colonel."
Richards leans back in his chair and returns the smile. "Already have."
*To be continued...