Los Angeles, California.
“I hate these things!” boomed Mike’s static-filled voice.
Cooper grinned and adjusted the earbud radio receiver in his ear as he watched the dark surf flash by under his feet. He loved the feeling of freedom that filled his being when he was sitting in on the platform strapped to the side of a Killer Egg. He turned his head to look through the open cavity body of the MH-6M Little Bird as it hugged the coast heading towards Los Angeles.
“No better way to see the sights, Beaver,” was Jax’s scratchy reply from the other side of the small special operations helicopter.
“Hooyah!” someone yelled.
Cooper checked his dive watch and noted the time. 18:49. He glanced straight out to sea and could see the vestigial glow of the sunset over the long horizon line. A little behind and to the port side, the second fireteam of his platoon flew along in formation. Four more SEALs were siting on that small helicopter. From his vantage point could not see, but he knew two other Little Birds were on the starboard side of his own, carrying 8 more SEALs. Team 9 was called in as a whole for this mission.
He could barely hear himself think over the roar of the six-rotor engine a few feet above his head. That was fine, actually. He rather enjoyed the relative calm of this part of a mission, whether he was flying in the back of a heavy transport ready to do a HALO jump, or clinging to the side of an SDV fifty feet below the ocean surface. Or sitting on a bench on the outside of a helicopter racing along the Pacific Coast. God, what a job. He regretted knowing this may be his last mission. He tightened the brace on his right knee.
If it weren’t for the fact that the President’s personal security was at risk, he doubted he would have been tapped to lead his fireteam one last time. But Ell-Tee was adamant to the higher-ups. It was Cooper or bust.
The pilot swung wide out over the ocean, about a half mile off shore of downtown L.A., dipping the starboard side down and rotating Cooper onto his back so he could get a good look at the night’s crop of stars popping out of the deep purple sky.
Something caught his eye. “You see that, Beaver?” he asked Mike, sitting next to him on the Little Bird’s port outrigger bench. “Shapes on the horizon…”
“I can’t see shit out there, man.”
“I thought I saw ships on the horizon…”
Mike leaned forward, looking. He shook his head. “There’s nothing there. Better get you some bifocals when we get back, old man,” he chuckled. Cooper held up his middle finger.
“Coming up on final approach,” crackled the pilot’s no-nonsense voice. “Viper flight, Hit the deck.”
In perfect formation, Cooper watched the trailing Little Bird swoop gracefully through the turn and then angle down to where it, along with Cooper’s vehicle, was skimming the ocean swells, just fifteen feet above the waves. He leaned out and around Beaver and could see the lights along I-10 rapidly approach as they roared towards the glittering line of white that was Santa Monica State Beach.
“Anyone want to stop at Pacific Park?” asked Charlie from the second bird as they gained altitude and flew over the park. Cooper grinned, watching the few people walking around The Pier look up in surprise as the four small black helicopters split the peaceful evening air and flew overhead in an arrowhead formation.
“Nest, Viper Lead. Viper flight is feet dry,” reported the pilot.
“Roger that, Viper Lead.”
They followed I-10 for a few minutes before approaching their destination. “Two minutes,” reported the pilot.
“Get your shit wired SEALs, this is the real deal,” Cooper called out using his throat mic.
He looked to his own load-out and checked his HK MP5 submachine gun. Integrated red-dot/laser and a rail-mounted tactical flashlight, were all functioning properly. The front grip was secure and ready. One magazine fully loaded, a round in the chamber, and 4 more across the front of his armor plate bearing vest. He had his radio, a pouch loaded with M-79 rounds for the ‘pirate gun’ he had strapped to his pack, and an old K-Bar that had been handed down to him from his father, a Marine in the First Gulf War.
“There’s the interchange…forty seconds…” announced the pilot. “Viper Two, on me. Viper Three and Four, take the triangle and call it.”
“Roger that, Viper Lead.”
“Shifting for approach on your starboard,” answered one of the pilots behind Cooper’s aircraft.
“Viper Four has starboard flank.”
“Here we go ladies…stay frosty,” said Cooper. The silence he received by way of reply was expected and comforting. His men were locked, cocked and ready. Nothing else need be said. They had done this before in enemy territory, under fire. Here, flying over Los Angeles at sunset, would be pure cake, but no one was slacking off.
As he focused on the odd, arrow shaped building in the rapidly decreasing distance that was All Saint’s Hospital, the sky behind him suddenly lit up to noon-bright.
“Missile!” someone yelled.
“Holy shit!” screamed Charlie.
“SAM lights, Viper flight, evasive! Scatter!” yelled Cooper’s pilot. Without further warning, he pulled the Little Bird into a gut wrenching spin and dive that caused the world to spin past Coopers head in a way he’d never seen before. The other pilots responded, creating a confusing jumble of chatter in Cooper’s ear.
“Nnnnnh…” someone grunted.
“Hang on!” roared Cooper.
“Rooftop, two o’clock low, here comes—”
Another explosion lit up the early evening sky, this time right in front of Cooper. Two screams were cut off in a hiss of static. As his own pilot forced the little helicopter to gyrate and drop even lower, he could see parts of the unfortunate vehicle and it’s passengers shoot out in all directions from the fireball.
“No!” someone roared.
“Ell-Tee!” Cooper heard himself scream.
“Taking small arms fire,” warned the pilot. “Hang on back there.”
“I got targets on three rooftops – aaah!” yelled Jax.
“Jax’s hit!” said Petty Officer Alexander Knuteson from the other side of the helicopter.
Cooper was desperately scanning the buildings blurring past his field of view looking for targets. The pilot was flying forward even faster now, nose down, zipping in between buildings. Muzzle flashes to his left caught his eyes as he struggled to keep his head level in the wind.
“Tangos, seven o’clock high, the rooftop! Light ‘em up!” Cooper called out. He pulled his MP5 to his side and fired a burst in the general direction of the figures on the roof of the apartment building they roared past. He had little hope of hitting anything with the pilot jerking the aircraft like he was flying drunk, but at least it gave the enemy something to think about. Three more weapons spat fire and bullets from his helicopter. He could see flashes coming from behind them and knew Charlie’s fireteam was shooting back as well. The broad flash of Jax’s M60 shredded windows where someone had taken a few pot-shots at their aircraft.
The pilot came to an intersection and dove for the street, causing Cooper to feel like he was going to throw up. That had never happened to him before. Making a hard bank to port, the pilot hung Cooper and Mike almost low enough to touch the cars that were squealing out of the way of the black helicopter cruising through the intersection at close to 80 miles per hour, ten feet off the deck. He got a glimpse of windows exploding and more muzzle flashes.
“They’re everywhere!” someone called out. Loud metallic pings and pops echoed around Cooper.
“We’re taking damage,” grunted the pilot. “Losing hydraulics…hang on!” The helicopter was smoking now, leaving a curling black trail in the air about ten feet above street level. Cooper could see people running for cover.
“Three-story building dead ahead. Hit the roof, Viper Two!”
“I’m right on your six…”
“Ten seconds,” warned the pilot.
As the Little Bird flared out over the roof of the small building, dirt, gravel, and thick acrid smoke flew up into the faces of the four SEALs. Cooper ignored the stinging from his face and was thankful he had his clear goggles on. Ten feet, five…
“Now!” he called out. Safety straps were ripped clear and his SEALs leapt from the still moving helicopter and rolled clear. In a heartbeat, the pilot hit the throttle and powered the aircraft up and away, engine whining, it heading north in a cloud of smoke.
As the helicopter lifted out of his line of sight, he could see the last remaining bird perform a similar maneuver on the building across the alley. It too was a three-story office building, with a few large air conditioner units making blocky silhouette.
In seconds, the helicopters had passed from sight and slipped in between taller buildings, effectively leaving the remaining SEALs in silence.
“Cover, now!” hissed Cooper. His black-clad squad crouch-walked to the edge of the roof and ducked down below the short facade. With only one light on the roof access door at the other end of the building, they were in relative darkness.
“Ell-Tee?” He said. “Echo? Stumpy, come in…”
“What the fuck was that?” called out Charlie’s voice over the net.
“Head count,” said Cooper, angrily pulling his clear eye shield off his helmet. He looked at his fireteam.
Swede was finishing up a field patch on Jax’s left arm. The black man gave him a thumbs up with his good hand. On his other side, Mike was peeking over the edge of the building with his next gen night vision goggles already in place.
“Team 1, good to go,” Cooper said, satisfied that his squad was combat effective.
“Team 2 good to go. I think we lost both birds,” said Charlie from the next building’s rooftop.
“I know,” Cooper said through gritted teeth. Someone had been waiting for them. “Goddamn trap. In Los Angeles.” He punched the graveled roof by his side in frustration. After a second to calm himself, he called out, “Nest, this is Striker One, Actual, do you read me?”
He got no response.
“Hey Coop, I see ‘em on the building across the block to the south. I count six,” whispered Mike. “They’re definitely between us and the hospital.”
“Nest, Striker One, Actual, do you read me?” Cooper called out again. Static was the response. “Tank, keep trying to raise fleet.”
“On it,” came the deep reply.
Cooper closed his eyes tight for one deep breath. Get a hold of your emotions, Master Chief. There will be time to mourn later. You have a mission to perform. And you will exact retribution.
In two bright fireballs, he had lost half his Team, including his commanding officer and close personal friend. He was now in command of what was left of SEAL Team 9.
Two days…they were going to retire my ass in two fucking days…
“Sparky what you got?” asked Cooper, speaking to the platoon’s top sniper.
“Got a dozen more on the two buildings east of the hospital. Damn it…there’s a lot of them,” reported the deep bass voice from Petty Officer First Class John Sparks. “They look like they’re setting up some comms. Some kind of mast array. Industrious little bastards.”
Cooper leaned around Jax and Swede and could see the Nebraska native on the other building with his Mark 12 5.56mm SPR sniper rifle perched on the edge of the building, scanning threats almost half a mile away. Cooper closed his eyes again, leaning back against the facade. He needed three heartbeats.
When Cooper Braaten opened his eyes, he was the cold, hard, killing machine that the Iranians had feared for nearly a decade. The anger, remorse, grief, all of his emotions, were locked securely in the sea chest of his heart. He would deal with that post-op.
“Yo, Coop, I got Nest,” whispered Tank over the net.
Cooper switched channels on his radio. “Striker One, Actual, to Nest.”
“Go ahead, Striker One, Actual.”
“We made a hard landing with Echo platoon only, grid Poppa-Bravo-Niner. Repeat: Alpha Platoon is down. Assuming command and proceeding to objective, approaching from north. Multiple tangos on rooftops to north and east of original LZ, there’s a shit-ton of civies in between us and the object, please advise, over.”
After the briefest of pauses, he heard the reply: “Nest copies all, Striker One, Actual. You walked into a real sierra-sierra. We’re getting some interference on —” Static broke up the transmission.
“Nest! Nest, come in…” Cooper said. He looked at Swede who shook his head sadly. Sierra-Sierra. Hmph, thought Cooper. Shit-storm doesn’t begin to describe it.
“—eat: proceed to your objective post-haste. No contact with Slipknot. Repeat: WE HAVE LOST CONTACT WITH SLIPKNOT. You are weapons free to engage any enemy encountered, but watch for civilians. Just get to that hospital!”
“Copy that, Nest. Striker One, Actual, out.” Cooper switched back to his command frequency.
“Let’s get down to the street. Go, go, go!” he said, pumping his arm for the men on the adjacent building to see.
“I got a fire escape, east side,” said Mike, already running across the roof.
Once on the ground, in the shadow of their building, Cooper’s team took a knee, weapons up and covering all sectors as he consulted the map attached his arm guard. “Alright, we are two blocks north of the objective. We need to come in from the east. Looks like the only way they haven’t covered up. Charlie…”
“Get set up on Cameron Lane. We’ll leapfrog to the the annex building across the alley from the objective.”
“Hooyah,” was Charlie’s whispered reply from the opposite side of the building.
“Let’s go,” Cooper said and with a hand gesture, led his fireteam across the dark alley. He noticed the absence of normal civilian traffic. There were a few cars, driving by, but nothing like what he had expected for Los Angeles at sunset. It should be packed with civilians. It looked liked the general population was heeding the government’s call to stay home and avoid contact with people to try and stem the spread of the flu. Or maybe the reports that people were starting to die weren’t just media hype. Either way, Cooper didn’t like what he saw.
“Awful quiet,” Charlie whispered from a block away.
“Where the hell is everybody?” asked Tank.
“Coop, I got a body in the street. Civie,” whispered Tank a second later, “no wounds. He’s cold. Think it was the flu?”
“Damn if I know. Just keep your eyes open. Team 1 moving.” Cooper paused at the corner of a building, covering the advance of the rest of his fireteam forward to the parking garage just northwest of the hospital. In the distance, he could hear an ambulance siren echo.
He checked his frequency. “Striker One to Slipknot Support, do you read me?”
Switching back to his command frequency, he whispered, “Still can’t raise the Secret Service. Something ain’t right, boys. Stay frosty,” he warned.
“Team 2 in position,” Charlie reported in a whisper.
Cooper waited until he could see Mike, Jax, and Swede at the emergency exit of the parking garage across the street, four shadows waiting for him. Suddenly the world around him was plunged into darkness.
“Wait one,” he hissed. The ground started to rumble, then a dull, deep booooom echoed between the buildings around them. Car alarms went off and in the distance he heard glass shattering from what must have been dozens of plate glass windows.
“The fuck was that?” hissed Charlie.
“NVGs,” said Cooper in a whisper. Now that the street lights and shop signs were extinguished, he flipped down the state-of-the art wide-view night vision goggles attached to his helmet and turned them on. The world went black, then glowed green and came into clear focus. The six tube design gave him the widest possible view with the best clarity and definition available. He could see the blinking IR markers on his team across the street as they crouched, weapons out, scanning for threats. Textbook. He grinned.
“Nest, Striker One, Actual, how copy?” he whispered. Getting no response he gritted his teeth and sprinted across the street. As he took his place next to Mike, he tried again. “I say again, Nest, come in. This is Striker One, Actual.”
“I got a bad feeling about this,” whispered Charlie’s voice. “All clear from our side. Comm net totally deserted. I got a bad feeling about this, man.”
“I got a visual on the loading dock of the annex building, north side. We’re a hundred yards out. Moving now,” warned Cooper. He used hand signals to direct his squad. One by one they filed out and ran for the annex building, staying as close to walls as they could.
“No movement from the rooftops. I don’t think our tangos hung around,” reported Charlie.
“They think they got us all already,” Tank muttered, voice sounding like gravel sliding down a mountain.
Cooper paused at the corner of the Annex building to catch his breath and scan the rooftops once more. “Team 1 in position. Rooftops clear. Bring it home, two.”
Out of the green-tinted shadows of the world through night vision goggles, Cooper watched his second in command lead the last remaining fireteam along the parking garage and up the side of the annex building. Each man would sprint forward and take a knee, covering everything in front and above him. The next man would run past and find a spot further along and like clockwork, they leapfrogged past each other until the entire team was on the other side of the big steel loading dock door.
Cooper couldn’t shake a feeling that they were being watched. Something was wrong, very wrong. First they had been ambushed by men on rooftops directly on their flight path with shoulder-fired missiles that took out half his SEAL Team. There were attackers scattered everywhere along their possible evasion routes, then nothing.
Communications with Coronado just went down the toilet. Now, just as they approach their objective, power goes out to this part of Los Angeles. He could see in the distance the high-rise buildings were still lit up like Christmas trees. No, someone had taken out power to the area the Hospital was in and nowhere else. That showed purpose. It was a trap. He could feel it in his bones.
Static tickled Coopers ear. He checked his frequency. “—in, Striker One!”
Relief washed over him. “Go ahead, Nest, Striker One, Actual. What the hell is going on?” he whispered.
“—attack, say again, comms failing—”
Cooper frowned. “Say again, Nest?”
“—blind, GPS, and our satellites are being—”
“Nest!” said Cooper. “Come in!”
“—Chinese strike force! Hostiles in your—”
“Nest!” hissed Cooper. No response. He looked around. The familiar look of a major American city suddenly looked like Tehran to him.
“Coop, what the hell was that about?” asked Charlie.
Cooper checked the main, and auxiliary command frequencies. Nothing. Switching back to his squad, he sighed. “Alright guys, I think we’re on our own. Last I could tell, it sounded like HQ said our satellites have been taken out by the Chinese. I’ll bet you a case of beer those tangos on the rooftops were ChiComs, too.”
Automatic weapons fire echoed in the distance. It was joined with more, closer it seemed, to the west. Now they could hear multiple sirens and people screaming at the edge of their hearing. Horns started to honk at intersections where the stoplights were out. The panicked voices of civilians filtered in between the darkened buildings.
“I got tangos firing on the hospital’s north entrance!” called out Mike from the south corner of the annex building.
“—units this net, repeat, all units this net: Apache Dawn is in effect. This is not a drill! I repeat, all units this net, Apache-” the link went dead in a painful burst of high pitched static.
The sound of a gun battle rattled all around them. A louder bang signaled someone’s use of a grenade. Single pop-pops. It sounded like someone was shooting a pistol in between all the rat-a-tat-a-tat’s of AK fire. Screams penetrated the night, wounded men, frightened civilians. Cooper could also detect the sharp popping of M4s. Sounded like the Service had enough sense to bring a few guns, at least.
“What the hell is Apache Dawn?” asked Tank.
“That means we’re in some deep, deep shit. Listen up, Striker.” Cooper paused. “Our President is across the street, under siege in that hospital. All that stands between him and the ChiComs are a handful of Secret Service pukes. It is up to us to reach and secure him. That, gentlemen, we will do, AT ALL COSTS.”
An explosion echoed across the street and the number of screaming civilians diminished. Smoke drifted across into their positions. Cooper could see a man trying to half-drag, half-support a woman with blood covering most of her lower body. They were ducking and trying to make it across the street one building east of their position.
“From what I can tell, comms are down net-wide, and we are cut off from reinforcements. That means it’s time for us to drop the hammer and what we do best, SEALs.”
“Hooyah, Master Chief!” was the chorused response.
“Alright then,” said Cooper, checking his weapon one more time. “Let’s show these cocky little fuckers what happens when you come to play on our turf. Team 2, flank right. Team 1, left.”
“They’ve gained entrance to the hospital,” warned Mike, hidden in a little copse of decorative bushes out in no-man’s land between the annex and the Hospital.
“Alright. I want controlled bursts, and keep it accurate. We got a lot of wounded civvies on the ground. No collateral damage, right?”
“Hooyah,” someone grunted.
The ground shook violently as they started to move forward. Most of SEALs were thrown to the ground. Cooper could see somewhere on in the distance, near downtown, a huge explosion erupted, lighting up the sky briefly. The shockwave blew out windows and set off car alarms in a wave rolling towards them.
“The fuck!?” someone yelled.
Another explosion, to the north, shook the ground like a small earthquake. Glass from windows busted story’s above them rained down on the streets like some demented, sharpened rain.
“Coop!” said Mike, pointing up into the evening sky. “We got some big-ass missiles inbound!”