The Swiss Alps.
COOPER WINCED AS HE tightened the knee brace on his right knee. That had not been the smoothest landing he’d ever performed. He folded up his parachute and placed a football sized rock on top of the silk to keep it from fluttering downslope and drawing attention. A quick scan of his HUD showed the rest of the Team had dispersed.
Switchplate, in command of the surviving SEALs returned from Afghanistan, led his squad farther up the very edge of the mountain.
“Switchplate, how copy?”
After a moment, Cooper heard the other man’s voice: “Five by, Hoss. Ready on your mark.”
“Standby one,” Cooper said. He selected Charlie from the available options on his comms menu. “Two, we ready?”
“Roger that, Actual, everybody in position and parachutes secured. Let’s get this show on the road…”
“Copy that,” said Cooper. He suppressed a shiver. Their HAHO suits were excellent insulators, designed to protect the human body from the high-altitude jet stream, but typically not worn in such a hostile environment for more than half hour or so. Cooper glanced at his dive watch. They were already at the outer limits of what the suits could handle. They needed to get up the mountain and inside the chalet.
Cooper checked his wrist pad one last time. A storm front approached from the south. With high winds and possible snow on the way, he did not want to be exposed on the mountain when the storm hit. The wind shear was already strong enough to make climbing difficult.
Cooper leaned around a boulder. His night-vision revealed a rocky, partially snow-covered slope that angled up toward the flattened peak of the mountain at about 60°. Not a sheer cliff, but not walk in the park either.
He took a step and winced again at the pain that shot up from his right knee. He definitely torqued something.
Cooper struggled over and around the boulders and rocks as he moved up the slope. He had a head start, based on where he’d landed, but could tell from his HUD the others were catching up quickly.
“You okay, Hoss?” asked Switchplate.
Cooper ignored him and climbed over one last rock before catching his breath. His muscles ached and his knee screamed in pain as he drew within ten feet of the crest. He paused when he spotted movement ahead. He slowly lowered himself into the snow, ignoring the cold that seeped through his suit. At the top of the slope, he saw a head move. The target paused for a moment, then turned and disappeared.
“Guards 12 o’clock,” he whispered. He flicked his eyes to the corner of his HUD and pulled up the position of each member of his fireteam. Jax was the closest, just over his right shoulder, about ten yards back. “Jax, you up for a little tag and bag?”
Cooper raised himself from the ground and crawled the last few yards, pushing his hands into the snow to the rocks below. “Stay frosty…”
The exterior microphone on his helmet picked up the sound of feet approaching, boots crunching softly through the snow. The guard was almost back. Cooper waited in silence and saw the guard appear over the lip. The man stood at ease, carrying a Sig SG 550 in a single point sling. He wore a white ski mask and fur-lined parka and stood at ease in the position of a man who sensed no immediate threats. His hand rested on the grip of the rifle but his finger was nowhere near the trigger. The other hand lay on top of the 550’s barrel.
The guard stared out over the vastness of the Alpine Valley for a few moments. Apparently seeing nothing of interest, a large puff of breath appeared and the man turned back toward the chalet. That was all the opportunity Cooper needed.
He pulled his legs under him and launched himself straight up into the air over the protestations of his knee. He extended just high enough to grab a handful of coat at the back of the man’s neck.
Cooper let gravity do the rest. As his body fell back and down, he held on to the guard who tumbled with him right over the edge. Cooper heard a startled gasp, but no gunshot.
He felt the sickening feeling of zero gravity as he fell. He imagined tumbling down the mountainside to his death, but a split second later, Cooper saw the lip of the crest rush up to meet him. He let go of the flailing guard and used his right hand, clutching his climbing pick, to slash into the crest.
The pick caught between a few large rocks. Cooper flung his left hand into the loose snow as his body swung down and slammed into the face of the embankment, but slid no further. The guard was not so lucky.
Cooper switched to Charlie’s POV and watched the guard tumble toward Jax. The big SEAL was ready and before the guard realized he’d stop moving, he found a knife buried in his throat. It was over in less than three seconds.
Jax removed the twitching corpse’s weapon and tossed the rifle to Charlie. He pulled a piece of cord from his chest rig and hastily tied the body to one of the larger boulders.
Cooper nodded in agreement. No sense in letting the body tumble down the side of the mountain and possibly trigger some seismic sensor they couldn’t see. God forbid the damn thing caused an avalanche.
“Nice work,” Cooper said. He switched back to normal view and pulled himself up to the lip just enough for his external helmet camera to peer over the crest and scan for more guards. “All units Striker—move up.”
In the distance he saw the silhouette of the chalet, outlined by several large exterior lights. He zoomed in and the shapes of a few more guards patrolling the exterior came into focus. Turning his head, Cooper scanned to the right and noticed several large boulders ready to provide decent cover while they worked their way forward.
“Switchplate, how you comin’?”
“Breaching the crest now. Ready on your signal,” grunted the other SEAL. He was breathing hard—the other side of the mountain had much less forgiving terrain.
“Get into position, we’re ready to move. Ten seconds.”
Cooper launched himself up over the cliff and got to his feet. It felt good to use his legs to stand instead of his hands to climb. He freed his rifle from its position on his back and sprinted for the boulders. “On me!” he ordered. Cooper reached the boulder and put himself behind cover, raising his rifle and scanning straight ahead for guards as the rest of his squad stacked up behind him.
“Switchplate, you ready for the drone?” Cooper stared over the barrel of his rifle, watching for any movement. The chalet appeared deserted. Charlie tapped him on the shoulder, signaling the squad was ready to roll.
“Activating interference sweep now.”
“Got a good RF signal,” said Charlie. “They’re blind. Drone’s shut down all communications. We’re good to go.”
Doubt stirred in Cooper’s gut. He hated relying on Predators—he’d never trusted planes that flew without pilots when his ass was on the line, but Admiral Bennet had insisted. Cooper was glad he also insisted on backup measures. “All right, go on my mark. Three, two…”
A blip appeared on his HUD. “Standby one! Standby one!” he called out.
“What gives?” barked Switchplate.
“I got the drone on my HUD,” called out Cooper.
“What?” asked Switchplate. “That’s impossible—”
“If I can see it, they can too.”
“Our cover’s blown, they know we’re here,” warned Charlie.
“Missile launch!” announced Sparky. “Got a SAM—looks like a Stinger!”
“Enough of this bullshit.” Cooper switched frequencies to contact the pilot of the B-2 stealth bomber orbiting a few dozen miles away. “Reaper, Striker 2-1, Actual, how copy?”
“Actual, this is Reaper. Go ahead, got you five by five.”
“Things just went tits up–”
“Drone’s offline,” reported Sparky.
Exterior lights flicked on and illuminated the snow all around the chalet. A dozen figures emerged out of hiding spots in snow-covered bunkers between the SEALs and their target.
“Well, this just got harder,” muttered Jax.
“Reaper, be advised, we’re painting the target–” Cooper said, gesturing at Sparky.
“On it,” the sniper replied. He aimed an infrared targeter at the largest chimney on the chalet. “Locked.”
“Reaper, Actual—target painted,” Cooper said in clipped tones.
“Roger that, Actual, we got a good signal. Payload is primed and locked on. Fire on your word.”
“Fire!” ordered Cooper. He turned to the right. “Sparky, keep that signal locked on.” Snow puffed to the left of him on the other side of the boulder.
“They made us!” called out Charlie.
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” shot back Jax.
“Cut the chatter and light ‘em up!” barked Cooper.
“Team 2 moving in,” growled Switchplate. Cooper watched the blue blips on his screen representing Switchplate’s squad moving across the open snowfield east of the chalet.
“Team 1 moving!” called out Cooper. “Go!” His SEALs flanked the boulder and surprised half a dozen guards in the middle of the snowfield. Cooper’s wraiths cut the guards down with silenced weapons before they could raise an alarm. The SEALs moved past the red snow and continued toward the chalet.
In his mind’s eye, he could see the B-2 bomber dropping its ‘bunker buster’ precision guided bomb with an experimental EMP warhead. Reginald’s men had spotted their drone trying to jam their communications and shot it out of the sky. But there was more than one way to shut down the chalet without killing everyone on the mountaintop.
General Rykker had first made him aware of the bunker buster EMP. The Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds had come up with a way to attach a small EMP device to smart bombs. Instead of an explosive warhead, the bomb’s reinforced shell smashed through structures and buried itself deep under an enemy fortification. When it reached its target depth, the EMP device detonated, sending out an electronic shockwave that fried or disabled everything not hardened against a direct nuclear strike.
If Reginald found out his chalet was under attack international operations against Council assets around the world could be jeopardized. Reginald’s headquarters had to be taken out first.
Cooper had agreed with general Rykker that dropping a few Daisy cutters on top of the mountain and wiping it clean was the best plan. Cooler heads prevailed, however and the Brass concluded gathering intelligence or even capturing Reginald himself in the chalet far outweighed its utter destruction.
“Duck and cover, Striker Actual, payload is inbound your location in ten…nine…eight…”
“All units Striker, hit the deck!” Cooper called out. He dove to the snow as a new group of guards appeared and fired at random into the darkness. Cooper heard someone shout, then the ground rumbled. He looked up, half expecting to see a bright flash, but instead saw smoke curl into the sky as part of the chalet’s roof collapse. Somewhere inside a fire had started, but the bomb did its job well. The structure remained largely intact. By the time he got to his feet, every light on the mountain was out.
“It worked!” called out Sparky. “I’m not getting any signals at all—they’re blind and mute.”
Cooper picked up his rifle from the snow and shot the first surviving guard that ducked his head around the corner of the darkened chalet. “Go green,” he said switching to night vision. “Let’s clean house.”