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Every man knew that this was when the teams were at their most vulnerable. As they had practiced dozens of times, the SEALs dropped a two-inch-thick rope that was secured to the hoist bracket down to the deck, then they donned heavy welder gloves. Mason stood in the door, got a good grip on the line and jumped. Using the upper body strength that was a product of rigorous SEAL training, he checked his controlled fall before his feet touched the deck, quickly moving aside to avoid the next man down.

Mason swept his eyes around. He was glad to see that the ordnance expert, Joe Baron, had made it safely. Mason could handle explosives in a pinch, but Baron was a pro. The lieutenant pulled a light stick from his vest and snapped it back and forth so that the chemicals inside mixed and glowed a cold blue. He waved the light stick to let the port team know all was well. His signal was returned a second later. Radio talk would be kept to a minimum as they swept the ship from one end to the other.

A voice crackled in Mason's earpiece. "Up Squad. Gone through the crew and officers' quarters. Beds all made. No one here. Spooky as hell."

"Boiler room. Engines are purring away. No one here either."

The voice of the 2IC came onto Mason's radio. "Lieu tenant, I think you should get up to the bridge as quickly as possible."

"Figures. Fly boys. T minus eight."

"Call when you make visual contact."

Mason turned and held up four fingers. It was an unnecessary gesture because all his men were plugged into the helicopter's communications system, but he did it for emphasis. The tension was so thick he could have cut it with the knife at his belt. It seemed only seconds passed before the pilot said, "Visual contact."

Mason punched another button and got Will Carmichael, leader of Omega Three. In contrast to Louis, Carmichael went by the book. Even his spontaneous comments seemed to be programmed. He reported that his team was right on schedule, then added, "Pieceacake."

Mason donned his night-vision goggles and ordered his platoon to do the same. He made out the silhouette of an enormous ship plowing wake through the sea. He called the other teams to report visual contact. Both had sighted their targets. He said he would call as soon as he was aboard the LZ, military shorthand for landing zone, and quickly slipped his phone back into its pouch.

"T minus four," the pilot's voice droned.

Mason ordered the teams forward. They broke into two squads on both sides. One squad formed the base element, taking up firing positions to protect the other group as it raced forward. Then the assault team became the fire team and the other squad leapfrogged ahead in a maneuver that quickly covered ground.

"This is Omega One. Proceed according to plan and cut out the lousy poetry."

"When we do, I will call you. Over and out."

Every man knew that this was when the teams were at their most vulnerable. As they had practiced dozens of times, the SEALs dropped a two-inch-thick rope that was secured to the hoist bracket down to the deck, then they donned heavy welder gloves. Mason stood in the door, got a good grip on the line and jumped. Using the upper body strength that was a product of rigorous SEAL training, he checked his controlled fall before his feet touched the deck, quickly moving aside to avoid the next man down.

"Doubt if the admiral would like being called Goldilocks. Besides, it was the air force's turn to name this mission."

Mason punched another button and got Will Carmichael, leader of Omega Three. In contrast to Louis, Carmichael went by the book. Even his spontaneous comments seemed to be programmed. He reported that his team was right on schedule, then added, "Pieceacake."

Mason donned his night-vision goggles and ordered his platoon to do the same. He made out the silhouette of an enormous ship plowing wake through the sea. He called the other teams to report visual contact. Both had sighted their targets. He said he would call as soon as he was aboard the LZ, military shorthand for landing zone, and quickly slipped his phone back into its pouch.

"Omega Two. Stern secured. No one home, so we will roam."

"T minus four," the pilot's voice droned.

Moving quickly, Mason led his team to the wheelhouse. On the way, they passed men who were stationed on the decks and wings of the bridge keeping watch.

Within minutes, they had rendezvoused in the bow of the ship with the port team. Mason ordered his 2IC to probe the bridge and superstructure while he took his squad to the decks below. Using the same leapfrog technique, Mason and his men made rapid progress through the storage areas and holds. They stopped in front of one door that was welded shut. Since they couldn't get in, no one could get out, so they moved on. They burst into the boiler room with guns ready. The engines were going, but there was no sign of boiler men or engineers.

"Call when you make visual contact."

Within minutes, they had rendezvoused in the bow of the ship with the port team. Mason ordered his 2IC to probe the bridge and superstructure while he took his squad to the decks below. Using the same leapfrog technique, Mason and his men made rapid progress through the storage areas and holds. They stopped in front of one door that was welded shut. Since they couldn't get in, no one could get out, so they moved on. They burst into the boiler room with guns ready. The engines were going, but there was no sign of boiler men or engineers.

Mason knew from hard experience that dropping out of the sky onto a huge and possibly heavily armed moving ship in open ocean and disarming an unknown explosive was not exactly a piece of cake. They had rehearsed boarding vessels at sea dozens of times, but this was the real McCoy. The mission depended on delaying detection until the last possible moment. The HH 60-H helicopter was ideal for the job. It was relatively quiet, had an infrared jammer and suppressor system, a radar threat-warning receiver and other electronic eyes and ears. In addition, the helicopter had sharp teeth: two M-60 machine guns and a Hellfire missile system.

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