Firestorm: Book III of the Wildfire Saga (8 page)

"Two, we ready?”

“Good to go,” replied Charlie.

“Copy that.
All units, breach in three…two…one…breach!"

"Go, go, go!"
crackled Switchplate's voice.

Cooper heard two muffled pops before a plume of dark smoke blossomed into the sky on the other side of the chalet.
He ducked under the eave of the south face and watched as Jax turned away from the main door.
The door exploded in a flash of light and disappeared, turning it into shrapnel.

"On me!" called out Charlie as he jumped through the smoke-wreathed opening.
Jax spun on his heel and disappeared behind Charlie, followed by Sparky and Clutch.

Cooper squatted and cupped his hands.
Juice took a running start, placed one boot on Cooper's palms and launched himself up and over the edge of the roof.
Without looking back, he scaled the roof through the snow.
Cooper switched his helmet to night vision and stepped into the chalet.

Overwatch in position
," reported Juice.

Cooper scanned his immediate surroundings and spotted the bodies of three men in business suits surrounded by blood and debris near the far wall.
All three had carried HK sub-machine guns.

Jax stood guard by the room’s only exit.
Cooper hurried past and knelt to investigate the three corpses.
All three sported the same close-cropped haircut and two of them had several scars on their face.
These men were pros.

We caught them off guard—that's something.

" called out Charlie from the next room.

"First floor clear!
" announced Switchplate.

Cooper tapped his mapscreen and pulled up the blueprint schematics for the building.
He switched from the first floor to the second floor.
"Switchplate, you head up—I'll take the basement."

," replied Switchplate.

"Jax, Sparky—go!"

Jax stepped away from the door he had been guarding and kicked it open.
Sparky was right behind him and they charged through the door and vanished into the gloomy darkness of the stairwell.

Charlie and Clutch appeared from the other side of the room a few moments later and nodded as they trotted by.
Cooper waited for everyone to enter the stairwell then followed.

"Command, Actual, be advised we are negative on the HVT, repeat Striker is negative on the HVT so far.”

The scratchy reply echoed through his helmet from 3,000 miles away: "
Acknowledge Actual, Command copies all.

"Got a few stragglers on the second floor!"
called out Switchplate's voice.
In the background, Cooper heard the sound of automatic rifle fire.
Someone screamed before the transmission cut off.

"On your left!"

"I see him—take ‘im out!"

“Switching mag–“

Cooper focused on the transmissions from the other squad as he followed behind his own, heading deeper into the bowels of the chalet.
The staircase looped around one empty landing and descended further into the darkness where pair of glowing lights lit the bottom of the stairwell.

"Hey, I thought that EMP bomb knocked out all the power?" asked Charlie, somewhere down below in the stairwell.

"Yo Coop, these lights aren't electrical–they’re chemical.
Somebody dropped two glow sticks in these bulbs…" announced Jax from the bottom.

Cooper changed frequencies to communicate with Switchplate.
“Switchplate, you okay?"

," grunted Switchplate.
One of these fuckers grazed my leg, but we got ‘em all.
Second floor’s clear."

“Actual, Overwatch—I got movement on the south ridge.
Looks like climbers coming up the side.
Foot mobiles with weapons."

Fuck me sideways…"
muttered Switchplate.

They sure got reinforcements up here fast.”

“We just walk into a trap?” asked Charlie.

"Take up defensive positions!" ordered Cooper.
He glanced down the last few steps to see the rest of his squad stacked up on the door at the base of the stairs.
"The HVT’s gotta be behind this door.
Think you can handle the climbers?"

Fuck yeah we can handle these assholes,"
retorted Switchplate.
But that don't mean I want you to take your time down there…"

Cooper grinned.
"I love your pillow talk."

Switchplate laughed and signed off.

Cooper changed frequencies back to his squad.
"Full court press, ladies—breach on three.
I want flash bangs as soon as the doors open.

"Hooyah," replied Charlie.
Cooper watched as he pulled a canister off his chest rig.

"On three…two…one," said Cooper.

Jax and Charlie kicked the door at the same time and smashed through cloud of splintered word.
They both dropped and rolled out of the line of sight.

"Flash bang out!" called Charlie as he lobbed the stun grenade through the open door.

"Tossing!" announced Jax a split second behind Charlie.
Cooper turned from the door and closed his eyes.
The last thing he saw was the rest of his team averting their vision.
He saw a tremendous flash, even behind his closed eyelids and his HAHO helmet’s auto-opaque visor.

"Go, go, go!" shouted Charlie.

Gunfire erupted as soon as Charlie and Jax dove into the room.
Jax hit the floor to the left and Charlie to the right, both of them firing at the stumbling shapes on the far side of the room.

Cooper had a hand on Sparky's back as the team sniper stepped in and fired a short burst from his MP-5 before ducking to the left.
Clutch followed Cooper to the right.

The new room had been a guard position.
Fifteen feet from the door, a long, low desk sat surrounded by monitors.
Behind the desk was another door and to the left, a larger one.
Both the metal doors were set in simple cinderblock walls.

One guard already lay dead across the desk, arms hanging limp and dripping blood on the hardwood floor.
Blood splattered the wall behind the desk, where two other guards been taken out.

"One more behind the desk," warned Charlie.

"Another one disappeared through that door," added Jax.

“They’re going for help!” announced Cooper.

In answer, the surviving guard raised his gun and fired
-style over the desk.

"Draw his attention—I’ll flank him," offered Sparky.

"Firing!" said Charlie as he peppered the left side of the desk.
Cooper trained his own weapon on the desktop, waiting for the guard to appear.

To the right, Sparky ran a few steps and slid, slamming his body against the wall. He aimed and fired a single three-round burst, sending papers into the air like frightened birds.
He crouched and disappeared behind the desk.
After a moment, he stood, relaxed.


As one, the SEALs rose and took defensive positions around the large steel double doors.

“These may be too thick for the det-cord I have left,” muttered Jax as he ran a hand over the thick, steel door.
"Maughan has he rest."

Cooper examined the exposed hinges.
“Sparky, break out the give glue.”

long, dimly lit hallway at the wreckage in front of him.
His hopes of finding Reginald evaporated.
He decided the mission was a complete failure.

"Damn, what a mess,” said Jax.

Cooper sighed and lowered his rifle.
"Command, you seein’ this?" Cooper called out.

Static interfered with the transmission, but the message was still clear enough to understand:
“Looks like a collapsed tunnel—any signs of life?"

"Negative, Command,” Cooper said as he walked down the tunnel, boots crunching on crumbled rock and plaster.
Once-upon-a-time,the walls had been perfectly smooth.
The arched ceiling easily reached up to nine feet high.

Cooper turned and looked back at Jax.
The tunnel was wide enough for three men to walk abreast.
Regularly spaced fluorescent lights had been embedded in the ceiling.
Cooper reached out and traced his hand along the wall.
The tunnel sloped down at a slight angle, leading deeper into the mountain.

"There's no sign of the medical lab,” observed Jax.

“Then where does—did—this go?” Cooper asked, staring into the murky, clouded distance.
As far as his night vision could penetrate, all he saw was rubble and debris.

Cooper approached the cave-in that blocked off the hallway.
He knelt and picked up a few of the chunks of rock and concrete, intermingled with broken wire and twisted rebar.
Cursing under his breath, he pulled out a small camera and took several pictures of the damage for the debriefing.

“She said this is the only entrance.
There should've been at least 25 people working down here,”
Charlie observed from the tunnel entrance.

Cooper looked around.
"Well, I have to say if anybody's still in there, they aren’t getting out anytime soon…"

“Action’s gettin’ a little stiff topside, Actual,"
called out Juice from the chalet's roof.

Cooper turned and made his way back from the rubble pile.
"Command, Striker 2-1 Actual.
Be advised, Team 2 is engaging enemy reinforcements that came up the mountain."

“Copy that, Actual, can you gain access to the lab?
The images we’re getting from your helmet-cam look grim.”

Cooper turned and glanced at the pile of rock that blocked the end of the corridor.
"Negative, Command—not without some heavy equipment and a lot more men."

"Copy that, Actual, standby one."

Cooper tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling, hands on his hips.
Switchplate's fighting reinforcements topside, the whole reason for the mission is blocked by a pile of rocks, and Command wants me to sit on my thumb.

As Cooper struggled to contain his frustration, he noticed one crack in the ceiling looked wider than the others.
He took a closer look.
Not only was it wider—it was glowing.
He zoomed in and noticed light escape through the crack.

"What the hell is this?”
It was too high for Cooper to reach with his hands, so he drew his dive knife and probed the crack.
Bits of the ceiling trickled down onto his helmet like chalk.
Cooper jumped out of the way, assuming the ceiling was about to cave.
When nothing happened, he reached down and picked up a rock.
It crumbled easily between his fingers—the rock turned to powder.
…" he muttered.

"What you got, Hoss?"

"I don't know,” he said to Jax, “but the ceiling is hollow."
Cooper used the barrel of his rifle to expand the hole.
He quickly exposed thick bundles of insulated wires.
Cooper looked up and down the hallway.

Well, it makes sense.
If there's a lab further down there, they’d need data and power…

Cooper reached up and noticed a large trunk of wires branched off from the main line and disappeared into the wall.
Cooper glanced at the sides of the tunnel.
It didn't appear to be any different—solid rock, just like the rest of the corridor.

"Something doesn't add up here…" Cooper rapped his fist along the wall, and heard a hollow sound directly underneath where the wires disappeared into the side of the tunnel.
"Jax—get over here!
We got a hole to make."

"What's the sitrep, Actual?”

Cooper stepped back to allow Jax room to apply a rope of detonation cord along the wall.

"Command, I think I've located a false wall.
Could be a door, but I can't figure out how to open it.
Got a lot of wires in a false ceiling heading off to the side.
Could be something—could be nothing.
We'll know in a few seconds.
Standby one."

Cooper stacked up on the left side of the explosive, Jax turned and leaned against the right side.
"Fire in the hole!" he called out.
Jax flipped a switch on the transmitter in his hand and pushed the red button.

Cooper heard the familiar muffled crump and a cloud of dust enveloped the hallway.
Not for the first time he was glad he wore a self-contained HAHO suit.
Cooper stepped through the hole in the wall before the dust cleared.
Another corridor stretched off into the murky distance.

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