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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 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."

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."

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

"Anything?" Mason said to the man who carried the shotgun.

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

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

"Call when you make visual contact."

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

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.

"Call when you make visual contact."

The squads continued into the ship, and still they encountered no one. After a thorough search, they climbed back to the main deck.

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.

"Anything?" Mason said to the man who carried the shotgun.

They were seconds away from their target. At the last moment, when it seemed as if they were going to slam into the side of the ship, the Seahawks cut their speed, swooped up and over the vessel and hovered over each side of the wide stern deck. Thermal-imaging viewers scanned the ship for heat areas that would indicate human presence. Satisfied the deck was clear, the pilot maneuvered the aircraft past the masts and antennae and hovered at fifty feet.

"Roger. Hey, Zack, couldn't the navy brass come up with something more imaginative than Omega. Maybe something like the Three Bears?"

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.

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

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."

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.

Both helicopters were emptied within ninety seconds. As soon as they hit the deck, the boarders threw their gloves away. The first four men down adopted a circular formation that was reinforced as the others joined them. The helicopters darted off like startled dragonflies and hovered a few hundred yards from the ship on either side. They would await the word that the ship had been secured, or that the mission had failed. Their orders were to evacuate the assault team and sink the ship with well-placed missiles.

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."

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.

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."

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