Relative calm had descended upon the clearing. Halam Ghumani’s wrists and ankles were now shackled with the same kind of lock ties that had secured Team Uniform. He was wounded but alive, bleeding badly from the face, leg, and arm. Adams kicked Halam’s shattered gun away. Isaac kicked its owner’s crotch. It was small consolation.
Friday night’s long journey into hell now seemed like ancient history. The outcome of their battle with nature had been a bad omen. Adams wished he could turn back the clock, rewind the tape, and start all over.
Isaac noted the severity of Thor’s wounds. "You okay?"
"I’ll live," he said, hobbling to the nearest cross. Both men had removed their helmets. Thor had slithered out of his pack as well, keeping it attached to the helmet cam. It was his only link to salvation.
Adams looked up at the dark body of his best friend. He screamed inside. With only one foot attached to the upright, Kyle Stanley had been unable to push himself up and breathe. He was nearly dead. "We’re going to get you off that thing, pal. Hold on."
Using his good arm and leg, the Captain leaned his shoulder against his friend’s cross and lifted as the Major, broken ribs and all, mustered what strength he could. They strained and grunted but to no avail. The base of the wooden beam had swollen within its snow-filled recess. The men repositioned themselves. "On the count of three," Thor panted.
"One, two, lift!" they grunted in unison. They gave it all they had. It began to break free, but as it did the top-heavy cross tilted backwards. Isaac threw his body underneath it to deaden the blow. The heavy beam caught him squarely in the back, pounding him into the snow.
The wind rushed into Kyle’s lungs and out of Isaac’s. Stanley tried to speak, but his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. The fluids had drained from his body and pooled in his lungs. He managed to croak out a word fragment, "thirs...."
Hoping he had understood, the Captain pulled his canteen tube from his side and leaned over, giving his friend a drink.
"Thought I was gonna die," he coughed, involuntarily trying to remove the fluid from his lungs. "Get...others," he panted.
With Thor’s help, Newcomb was able to crawl out from under the cross. But the impact had forced one of his broken ribs into a lung, puncturing it. Gasping for air, it took all the strength he could muster just to climb to his feet. Bent over, hands on his knees for support, he staggered toward McCaile’s cross.
Adams looked on in amazement. "You gonna be able to do this?"
Isaac swung his head, motioning Thor over. "No choice."
The Captain limped into position. "One, two, lift!" They both groaned in pain as they struggled with the rough timber. Adams thought about the logs he’d had to lift to prove himself at BUD/S. He thought about Kyle, still nailed to one. Reaching deep down, he summoned more strength. The cross slowly began to rise. Unlike the one before it, Bentley’s cross tumbled forward, out of control.
The two men did all they could to arrest the fall, but the farther it leaned the faster it plunged. If it had not been for the eight inches of powdery snow, Bentley would have been crushed. Thor used his left arm to raise and twist the crossbar. As the beam settled back, facing the sky, Adams apologized, "Sorry, McCaile. We’re not very good at this."
Being dumped face down in the snow hadn’t been all bad. Melted ice crystals had moistened McCaile’s parched tongue enough to release it. "Cut...hand free. Fix...shoulder. I’ll do...the rest."
"Your hacksaw," Newcomb choked out. "Still have it?"
"Yeah. Right front pocket...but, um, can you give me a hand? I can’t get to it," Thor said, trying to reach around with his left hand. If the situation hadn’t been so dismal, they would have laughed at their predicament.
Isaac removed the all-purpose tool and unleashed the hacksaw as he had seen the Captain do earlier. He leaned over Bentley’s upper torso, placing his hands on his knees. Looking at McCaile, he wheezed, "Right or left handed?"
"Right." There was no need to tell him that his left wrist had been crushed by Aymen’s errant hammering.
The Major moved into position and began sawing. It took less than a minute to sever the spike where it was the thinnest, just below Bentley’s right wrist. The metal was old, brittle, and corroded. He carefully lifted his hand and jerked the nail free.
"Now this is gonna hurt," Thor said as he worked McCaile’s rotator cup, forcing the ball back into its socket.
Bentley hardly grimaced, chewing on a mouthful of snow. "You do good work, sir. I’ll take it from here. Get the Israelis down ’fore they die. Ghumani axed their legs."
With his feet still affixed and a hole in his wrist, Bentley awkwardly sawed his other hand free. He wondered where his strength had gone. It felt as if his heart had melted within him.
Yacob Seraph was next. The two men assumed the same positions they had used to free Stanley and McCaile. At first they failed. Moving down lower on Yacob’s cross and trying to use the larger muscles in their legs to lift, they threw themselves so aggressively into the second attempt, the cross broke loose and went airborne. Somehow Isaac was able to pull the base toward him, causing man and tree to settle a bit more gently, this time facing up.
Yacob made an ungodly sound as he gasped for air. The pain was overwhelming. His cry was long overdue. He was surprised his vocal cords still worked after having been rearranged by Ghumani’s jab.
"We’ll cut you...." Isaac was unable to complete his sentence. He looked down at the ground. His punctured lung was killing him.
"Let me." With his "good" hand McCaile sat Isaac down near his comrade. "I’ll take over as soon as you reset my left shoulder."
"Where’s...saw?" Isaac’s voice was barely audible.
"With Kyle. I cut a hand free and set his shoulder. He’ll bring it to you when he’s done with the other nails."
With hammered feet, two strong legs, and one functional hand, Bentley helped the Captain lift the next cross, the one tormenting Moshe Keceph. He had been the third up and would be the fourth down. As Moshe’s cross fell softly into the snow, Adams stared at his crushed hand.
"What kind of animal would do this?"
"That kind," Bentley said, pointing toward Halam Ghumani. "Evil."
They gave Moshe water, but he didn’t speak. Rage consumed his words. He craved revenge. Nothing short of the deaths of Kahn and Halam would satiate his blood lust.
Nearly nude, Kyle Stanley crawled to Joshua’s cross. He had managed to yank what was left of his underwear up to cover himself. With one good leg and lots of heart, he tried to lift the cross himself, but he’d lost too much blood. The knife wound he had suffered at Ghumani’s hands had taken its toll. Hanging on a cross hadn’t helped much either.
Seeing Stanley struggle, McCaile and Adams moved in. With the strength of three, they were able to control Joshua’s cross as it came down. Unfortunately, he wasn’t breathing. Like Moshe before him, his legs had been broken. The pounding mallet blows Halam Ghumani had given his heart had nearly killed him.
Adams responded immediately. He knelt beside Joshua and gave him mouth to mouth, filling his lungs with air. It did no good.
Knowing his own experience, McCaile coughed, "We need to drain his lungs."
Stanley feverishly went to work cutting Abrams’ wrists free. It took several minutes. All the while, Adams continued breathing for him. Once he was released, they bent Josh over the best they could. His feet were still nailed. Lifting him at the waist, Stanley was able to eliminate some of the bodily fluids that had pooled in his lungs. Then, in a frantic rush to save his life, Thor resumed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The contusions on Joshua’s chest precluded shifting to CPR. Over time, success came - slowly, but it came. Joshua coughed, smiled weakly, and tried to give his friends a thumbs-up. His thumbs worked no better than his lungs.
As Thor worked on Joshua, Kyle and Bentley tended to the first of the Brits. They looked up at Blake Huston. There was no rank anymore, no national favoritism. The nearest cross was brought down first. The freed simply made their way down the line.
The Americans lifted the Major’s cross with relative ease. They had developed a system, and it appeared to be working. As they laid Huston back into the snow, he quickly filled his lungs with a deep breath. Adams gave him a drink. "I’m probably in the best shape." He wasn’t bragging. "If you can get me off this thing, I can help."
"Major Newcomb, do you still have the saw?" McCaile asked.
"Yeah," he wheezed. He had just finished freeing Yacob. Isaac tossed the tool to Bentley, who went to work freeing Huston’s right wrist. When he had finished, he and Kyle set his shoulder and moved on.
There were only three crosses remaining - all bearing Brits: Childress, Powers, and Sullivan. Bentley and Kyle stared up at them for a brief moment. The image was unmistakable: Golgotha, Calvary, the place of crucifixion in Jerusalem. There, two thousand years ago, there had been three crosses like these, also erected on a Friday afternoon in April.
In position, Stanley, the Navy SEAL, and McCaile, the Army Ranger, began to lift. But as they did, a hellish barrage of gunfire whistled past them. The only men standing, they were the best targets. The second burst found them. Stanley was creased in the side; McCaile was hit in the thigh. Both men fell.
Adams had left his rifle on the north ridge. Cursing his carelessness, he reached around his body with his left hand and grabbed his Beretta. Lying in the snow, gun pointed in the direction of the incoming fire, he searched for the enemy.
Isaac had brought his rifle with him off the ridge. It was now leaning against the base of Kyle’s cross. Having just finished cutting Moshe loose, he wheezed, "Cap’n, my gun...first cross." It was all he could do to get the words out.
They were in trouble. The situation had gone from bad to worse. Two had broken legs. Joshua was breathing, but barely. Moshe was still affixed to his cross. Isaac’s concussion, broken ribs, and punctured lung had rendered him more liability than asset. The three Americans had but three fully functional legs between them, if you didn’t count nail holes. Two of them had but one arm that still worked; the other had a bullet wound in his side. Huston was feverishly trying to extricate himself. He had been nailed to a cross for what seemed like hours.
"They’re on the south ridge," Bentley coughed out. That was the farthest from the three remaining crosses. As they began to fire again, Isaac remembered that his 15mm fragmentation weapon was still strapped to his wrist. Perfect. The Afghanis were hiding behind rocks high up on the ridge and would be tough to hit any other way. Both the Captain and the Major still had standard grenades strapped to their belts, but there was no way to throw them, not that far, not in their condition.
Propping himself up on a fallen cross, Isaac aligned his right wrist with his right eye. He set the laser rangefinder for the rocks just beyond the gunman, but his vision was badly blurred. There were two of everything. Except terrorists - there were six of them. Firing the first fragmentation round, he watched as it splintered on a rock outcropping.
Sitting up so he could saw his feet free, Huston was now an ideal target. The Afghanis nicked him twice - in the left arm and shoulder.
McCaile dragged himself toward the nearest pile of dead Afghanis and searched their remains for a suitable weapon. He had heard automatic rifle fire as they’d cavorted in ecstasy over the plight of their captives; he hoped the Afghanis hadn’t wasted all their ammo in celebration. Crawling through the bloody snow, the Lieutenant was almost as disappointed as he was cold. The first three guns were little better than clubs, their clips empty. Bentley began pushing dead bodies around in hopes of finding something that would shoot back. Having been rendered one-handed didn’t make the task any easier.
Adams hadn’t discharged a shot. Unless the robed men charged, his pistol would be of little value. Rolling on his side, then his back, side, and stomach again, Thor negotiated his way toward Newcomb’s rifle.
Isaac picked a different focal point. He sent the second fragmentation round on its way. It was no more effective than the first. The assailants had found a perfect position, surrounded by boulders on all sides. They were free to rain fire upon those below without being targets themselves.
McCaile found an AK-47 with a nearly full clip and began to fire up into the rocky fortress. It did no damage, but at least it kept the Afghanis from shooting back as freely. Within moments, Yacob joined him.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Adams pulled Isaac’s rifle to his chest and continued rolling toward the south ridge. As he did, he compounded his agony, separating the bones in his broken right arm. Newcomb, McCaile, and Seraph followed his progress and provided cover.
Now on the backside of the ridge, Adams was in familiar territory. This is where he had first seen the living trees and their hideous silhouettes. With his good leg and arm, he pulled himself up as his comrades kept the Afghanis pinned down. There was still plenty of return fire, but it was less focused now that their foe was distracted.
Thor reached a vantage point on the knoll. He unstrapped the first of his three grenades. Quickly glancing over a protective rock, he located his target and lobbed it with his left hand. It bounced off an outcropping and exploded harmlessly in front of the makeshift bunker, cascading rocks everywhere. While causing an ear-piercing barrage of echoes, it did little more than frighten the gunmen. He tossed the second as the Afghanis turned to shoot him. It fared no better. With two grenades gone, the good guys were in trouble.
Adams, now visible with his SFG pack down in the clearing, dragged himself higher while the ambulatory members of Team Un-uniformed provided covering fire. He knew he would have to find a spot closer to the enemy. With just one grenade left, his last toss would have to be perfect. As time ticked relentlessly by, his men began to take more hits. Between nails and bullets, they averaged nearly five holes per man.
Isaac fired his last two fragmentation rounds. They were ineffective. Bentley was now on his second rifle, having shot the first clip dry. Freed at last, Huston joined him, providing additional cover.
Growing more brazen, almost as if they wanted to die, the robed men sprayed a concentrated volley. They hit Newcomb and Stanley. Then for good measure they raised their sights and began to shoot at the three Brits still hanging on crosses. Now bleeding profusely, they would die if not brought down.
Adams continued to struggle with rocks and snow as he crawled up the back side of the ridge. He redoubled his efforts, summoning strength from deep inside. He even offered a prayer to a God he didn’t know. Ignoring the pain, the debilitated Captain succeeded in reaching the summit of the imposing crest. From this spot, directly above the Islamic warriors, Thor prepared to drop his last grenade. He pulled the pin, released the handle, and counted, "Muslim one, Muslim two...." With that, he dropped his surprise package into their rocky sanctuary. It exploded a second later, killing the robed riflemen, the last of the enemy, he hoped.
Once again able to move, Isaac finished cutting Joshua’s feet free. It was slow going - his right arm had been hit in the last attack. After releasing him, he directed his attention to damage control. Everyone was still alive, but barely. He had no idea how they were going to get the Brits down. "Who can still walk?" the Major choked out.
"I can," Huston said, setting down his borrowed rifle.
"So can I," McCaile and Seraph coughed in unison. In reality, they could barely limp.
Stanley was in bad shape. So were the Israelis. That left the walking wounded to do the impossible. Grabbing the base of Lad Childress’ cross, they gave it all they had, but it didn’t budge. Figuring it had swollen in the wet snow, they moved on to Cliff Powers. They failed again.
At the base of Captain Ryan Sullivan’s tree, they prayed silently. His cross at least moved. They redoubled their efforts, moved lower, and lifted it. But as before, they lost control of the heavy beam as it worked free. It crashed back into the snow. Sullivan was so dazed he didn’t seem to care. The first to be crucified, he had hung there longer than anyone. Isaac gave him water from his canteen, then worked to cut him free.
By the time McCaile, Seraph, and Huston returned to Powers, they were joined by Adams. Now, with four good legs and four strong arms, they managed to extract Cliff’s cross before he bled to death. As each man was lowered, the others cut him loose and set his shoulders. They used the material in Newcomb’s first-aid kit to treat the worst of the injuries.
And then there was one. Childress alone hung from his cross. Rising and falling, he fought for his life. But try as they might, the combined strength of Adams, McCaile, Seraph, and Huston was insufficient. The base had swollen too large for the men to remove.
"Isaac, give me my saw." Thor limped over to his friend. "Huston, I need you down on your hands and knees in front of Lad’s cross. I’m going to climb on your back, step on the spikes sticking out of his feet, and then cut his arms free. Lad, are you listening?" the Captain asked.
"Good. When I cut the heads off the nails, don’t slide your wrists forward until I free your feet. Otherwise, who knows what’ll happen."
Thor managed to climb up on Huston’s back, stepping on his hips to avoid aggravating his dislocated shoulders. He lifted his injured leg, balancing himself with his left arm. In position, he wrapped it around the cross so he could raise his left foot and hang it precariously over both nails. He hoped they’d be sturdy enough to hold his weight.
Ignoring his own pain, Adams did the impossible. He used his fractured right arm to brace himself and cut with his left. As he did, Lad continued forcing his body up to exhale, letting it down to breathe in.
"Hang in there, pal." Probably not the most sensitive thing I ever said. "I’m halfway through the second nail."
Childress tried to smile. Blessed relief was but a five convulsive rises away. Even with the Captain draped over him, he knew he could endure the additional pain.
With the second spike headless, Huston resumed his position. The Captain stepped off the nails onto Blake’s back. Once down, he handed his saw to McCaile. Bentley did the honors, slicing both spikes above Lad’s feet. Thor and Bentley held his ankles. Blake and Yacob reached up to catch Childress.
"Okay, Lad. Pull your wrists off the nails and lean forward. We’ll catch you." Thor couldn’t even imagine how much pain he was asking his comrade to bear.
Lad took in one final breath, gritted his teeth, pushed up on his feet, released his hands, and threw his body forward, hoping his friends would lift his feet from the spikes as others caught him. It worked exactly as Thor had hoped. They were all down, all alive. He nearly cried.
"Oww!" Bentley yelled, stepping away from Lad’s cross.
"What?" His companions turned to look.
He held up his index finger. "I got a splinter!"
Somehow, at that moment, they all knew there was hope.
Although they were down, they were nowhere near out. It wouldn’t be long before the sun would descend beneath the towering peaks to the west, casting long chilling shadows over the clearing. The men now had a new enemy. They prayed they had not endured all this pain only to freeze to death in the end. It would still take a miracle to survive. Just two of the eleven were wearing clothes.
The four semi-ambulatory men worked together, dragging the others to the relative comfort of the barracks. They pulled Joshua and Moshe in first, trying to figure out how they were going to splint their broken legs. The Brits were hauled in next. The wounds they’d sustained in the final gun battle were as life-threatening as the crucifixions had been. They wouldn’t survive long without rescue.
Isaac and Kyle were the last of the non-ambulatory men to be pulled into the shelter of the faux barracks. Thor Adams, Bentley McCaile, Yacob Seraph, and Blake Huston headed back outside. It was still snowing as late afternoon segued into early evening. The temperature had dropped from its balmy high of 34 degrees Fahrenheit, to a damp 26.
"McCaile, Huston," Adams said. "See what you can take from the Afghanis. Clothes first. We need to get you and the others covered. Then guns, ammo, water, whatever. Even if a rifle is old, we can use the stock as a splint. Yacob, let’s go see what we can find in the other barracks."
It was sort of like Valley Forge. Washington’s Colonials had only tattered clothing, worn boots, and precious little ammunition. They didn’t have the sustenance to fight off the cold, much less the Hessians. But the German mercenaries who had been hired to fight on behalf of the British had the best of all these things. So the audacious Washington crossed the nearly frozen river and took them. It was his first victory in what had already been a long war of retreat and attrition. And so it was for Thor Adams. The Captain needed a victory this cold day, no matter how small.
Thor and Yacob learned that every building was constructed in a similar fashion. They were amazed they hadn’t blown away. The winds were howling through the mountain passes as the men ripped down the brown drapes that had comprised the back "walls" of the barracks. Adams and Seraph figured they could be used to cover the floor - and the wounded. They would provide insulation until McCaile and Huston could retrieve enough of the slain Afghanis’ robes.
Back with his men, the Captain said, "Guys, we’re gonna pull you aside for a minute. We found some large sheets. We’ll spread one out as a carpet; the other will serve as a blanket." Those that could, moved; others were helped. Thor handed a corner to Yacob.
As they spread the first sheet, the Israeli spoke softly to himself, just loud enough that others could hear. It was scripture, eerie and appropriate: "Like the whirlwinds sweeping through the southland, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror. A dire vision has been shown to me. The traitor betrays; the looter loots. I will bring an end to all the groaning they have caused."
The Captain was mesmerized by the poignancy of Seraph’s words. But he wasn’t done. As they moved the wounded back into position and spread the second brown sheet-like blanket over them, he continued from memory. "My body is racked with pain. I am staggered by what I hear. I am bewildered by what I see. My heart falters; fear makes me tremble. The twilight I longed for has become a horror to me."
"Is that from the Torah, Yacob?" the Captain asked, staring at the gash Halam Ghumani had carved in the Israeli’s throat.
"The Prophet Isaiah. Appropriate, isn’t it?" Yacob coughed.
"Sounds like it was written for us, right down to being staggered and bewildered by what I’ve seen and heard."
"It goes on, Captain. It talks about spreading rugs, like we’re doing now. That’s what brought it to mind. Then it says the officers are to get up, prepare their shields, and go and be on the lookout."
"Yeah. Good idea," Adams answered. "That Isaiah guy’s right. Who can go with me?"
Before anyone could volunteer, Bentley McCaile and Blake Huston hobbled through the door carrying their first load of Afghani clothing. "It ain’t much, men, but it’s gotta beat bare skin," McCaile said.
Seeing that the purloined clothing was frozen stiff, the Captain headed back to the far barracks where he had noticed a small stash of firewood. He would ready his shield and post a lookout when he returned. Right now, they needed a little heat to keep the twilight from becoming a horror.
The draped side of the "infirmary" was downwind. Thor built his fire a few feet beyond using a flint implement that was part of his collapsible ‘toolbox’. He raised and parted the drape as the blaze grew large enough to provide warmth.
Bentley and Blake continued to "requisition" all they could from the dead Muslim warriors. They found thirty-one rifles, some of which were antiques - World War II vintage. Many, however, looked reliable enough to keep the bad guys at bay should there be another attack.
Adams delivered more firewood as Huston and McCaile attempted to thaw and dry clothing for their comrades. Yacob Seraph tore some of the robes into bandages. But he knew his efforts would be in vain if they were not rescued soon. Most every man needed a transfusion, and in these filthy conditions their wounds would soon become infected.
The Israelis still had fishhooks hanging from their noses. The barbs had made them difficult to dislodge. As McCaile made tasteless jokes about Jewish punk rock musicians, he used the needle-nose apparatus on Adams’ tool to cut off Yacob’s hook. Then Yacob removed the others’ Assyrian facial jewelry.
The Captain dragged himself back to the north rim of the clearing. He wanted to retrieve his assault rifle before it was dark. He had picked up his helmet and pack on the way, tossing Isaac’s helmet toward the barracks. Climbing the lower part of the ridge was more difficult than he remembered. He had lost a great deal of blood, and the bullet wound in his leg was now debilitating. With a God-given ability to tolerate pain, Adams, still running on adrenaline, made his way to the top of the ridge, picking up his rifle along the way.
From his perch he scanned the horizon. Remembering for the first time in hours that there was a world beyond this place, he began to broadcast their dilemma. "Captain Thor Adams to Pentagon. I sure hope you can hear me. All eleven members of Team Uniform are alive. I repeat, all men are alive. Every man has been shot, at least once, some multiple times. We have busted legs and shattered arms. Nine were being crucified when we found them. Yeah," he said, collecting himself, "you heard me right. They crucified nine of my men. Whatever we’ve come to believe about these people is wrong. If we don’t make it out of here, learn that from our sacrifice."
The Captain caught his breath and started in again. "It is early evening, snowing, ceilings are still low, maybe fifty feet AGL in the valley. The wind is strong and variable, swirling in all directions. Extraction at this time is impossible."
Impossible or not, Thor needed to get his men out. He hated the idea of asking others to risk their lives, but he couldn’t just watch good men die. "HALO jumpers would help, but the terrain, low viz, and flukie winds are a problem. Hopefully, conditions will improve. I’m going down to the clearing now. The open area between ridges is two hundred meters wide. I will broadcast my GPS coordinates from its center. Even with poor visibility tomorrow, choppers, one at a time, should be able to hover above the debris and extract our team. Adams out."
Before he descended, the Captain put his SFG through all of its functions. He looked over the back side of the ridge. Using the infrared mode, he saw several small red blobs moving in the distance. They would soon have visitors.
In half the time it took him to ascend the craggy incline, Adams made it back to the valley floor. He limped to the center and picked up the grenade launcher he had tossed near the cross that had once held his best friend. "Captain Adams to Pentagon. GPS coordinates are...." He read them off carefully, down to the fraction of a second. "There is but one cross still standing. It is set along the northern ridge." He didn’t want a chopper blade clipping it.
"On infrared I spotted what looked like three men at a range of two miles headed in this direction. They are currently zero five zero degrees from my present position. We will try to hold them off." Before he turned and headed inside the barracks, he added, "Their behavior seems irrational. When we attacked, some stood and walked toward us like they wanted to die. Others ran. Now they’re returning. Doesn’t make sense."
Inside, the scene looked like the aftermath of Gettysburg. Broken and bloodied bodies littered the ground. Silhouetted by a raging fire, Adams began a roll call. "Kyle?"
There was no answer. "He’s unconscious, sir," Bentley said. "He was shot in the side and in the buttocks. His left leg’s got a nasty wound. He’s not gonna live if we don’t get him out of here."
Adams would have given his life to save any man under his command. But in Kyle’s case he would have done so without regret. "How are you holding together, McCaile?"
The Army Ranger did an inventory. "My left wrist is shattered. Bullet wounds in my right thigh and left shoulder. Superficial. My feet are pretty busted up and...well, you know about the rest." McCaile was as tough as the nails that had pierced him.
"Can you shoot a gun?"
"Yeah. Who do you want me to kill?" The bravado was endearing but unrealistic. Had it not been for Bentley’s relative strength, Adams would have looked for another volunteer.
"We’re expecting company. Three men at less than two miles. Who else can shoot?" the Captain asked.
"I can," Major Blake Huston answered.
"What kind of shape are you in?"
"Just the regular stuff. You know, nail holes in my wrists and feet. Bullet holes in my left side and arm. Can’t breathe real well. Other than that, I’m good to go. Got a gun?"
"Use mine. I’ve got Newcomb’s. How you making out, Isaac?"
"Bad. The lung..." he hacked. "No more gun fights for me. Things’ll kill ya."
"You still seeing double?"
"Yeah, unless you got a twin."
"Okay. Just stay put, pal. I figure we’ve got enough enemies as it is."
"Captain," Yacob Seraph hacked. "I can shoot. Got a busted foot, but my eyes are good. My thumb’s screwed, but nothing’s wrong with my trigger finger." His voice sounded peculiar. The wound to his throat had damaged his vocal cords.
"Mine’s fine too, sir." Powers, had a hacking cough as well. Fluid had gathered in everyone’s lungs. "But I’m the last of it. Sullivan’s unconscious. So is Childress. They lost too much blood. I know they’ve got to be thirsty, but I can’t get any water in ’em. Moshe and Joshua are in worse shape. We’re all weak. Something about hanging there wiped us out."
Thor just shook his head. Cliff Powers, like the others, wasn’t going to be much good in a fight. "Man, I’m proud of you guys." Regaining his composure, he added, "Here, use my knife to cut some holes to shoot through down low in the front wall. These thin boards aren’t going to provide much protection."
"Captain, we could use the crosses as barricades." Huston volunteered. "Let’s drag a few over."
"Sure," Thor answered as the two limped out into the snow. They were quite a sight. The Captain was wearing the best of the best, high-tech all the way. The Major was modeling a filthy Afghani robe at least three sizes too small. He was even sporting a turban. Forget about the lice; it kept his head warm. Most of the Afghanis had feet smaller than his sister’s, so he had wrapped his in strips of cloth cut from their robes.
"What do you make of these guys?" the Major asked.
Turning to answer, the Captain did a double take. Blake Huston, in his blood-spattered robe and turban, looked a whole lot like one of them. "Different species, aren’t they?"
"Got a clue what makes ’em tick? I mean, screaming out Allah’s name while they’re torturing us - that’s just too bloody bizarre."
"They believe they’ve got a mandate from Allah to kill."
"A bloodthirsty god? That’s bull." The Major was dumfounded.
"You ever read the Qur’an? Know anything about Muhammad?"
"’Fraid not. I haven’t even read the Bible," Blake confessed. "You?"
"The Bible? Yeah. The history’s interesting. But the Islamic scriptures, they’re something else altogether."
"Why’d you bother?" Huston helped Adams heft the second cross.
"Every time I was sent out, I found myself fighting Muslims. I wanted to understand them, that’s all. Suicide bombings didn’t make any sense. Nor did targeting civilians."
"Yeah, but the most bizarre thing is what we saw here. Muslims celebrate death."
After lowering the cross into place, they leaned against each other, trying to catch their breath. A moment later they went off to get another. "What’ja find in the Qur’an?"
"Enough to know we’re in trouble. It’s mostly hateful rantings, like hearing one side of an argument. No chronological order, no historical context - at least none that I could discern. But Allah - he’s got it in for Christians and Jews. He not only wants ’em dead, he can’t wait to see them roast in hell. Eye-opening garbage. And Allah’s pal Muhammad...," he just shook his head.
"So he’s a real guy, not a god or anything."
"Just a regular guy - born, worked for a living, married money, lived well, then died. But along the way he claimed to have wrestled with a spirit in some cave."
"A cave?" Blake laughed. "Some things never change. These blokes still have a thing for caves."
"Yeah, and they’re acting a lot like the Muhammad I read about. But that’s another story."
Picking up the next cross, they noticed that Halam Ghumani was still alive, whimpering in the snow. "Think we ought to drag the bugger inside?" Huston asked, pushing his tormentor with his swollen foot.
"Naah. Let him freeze. If we pull him inside, the men’ll kill him." As they walked away, something unnatural caught Thor’s eye. It was partially hidden under the snow. "Hey, what’s that, next to the rock?"
Blake leaned down to pick it up. "It’s one of those satellite cams. Do you think the guys can get it to work?"
After positioning the last of the barricades, Adams carried the high-priced gear and the antenna that had collapsed next to it inside. He handed them to Yacob. "See what you can do with this thing."
Thor and Blake went back outside to inspect their fortifications. "So what’d you mean when you said ‘they were acting like Muhammad’?"
"Their Prophet was a killer."
"No bloody way." They repositioned the top cross on the pile, making the barricade about three feet tall.
"Yeah. I’m no expert but from what I read, he was one brutal son of a gun - like these guys we saw here today."
"It goes back that far?"
"’Fraid so," Adams said.
Just then, Seraph hollered out, "Cap’n, it works! I’ve got the Mossad on the line. Do you want ’em to patch in the Pentagon?"
Moments later Chairman Hasler’s voice entered the barracks in Nowhere, Afghanistan. "Captain Adams, are you there?"
"Yes, sir, General. It’s good to hear your voice."
"Captain, we received your transmissions. I’m proud of you, son. Glad to see you got your men down. That was an ugly battle."
"Adams, we’ve got four Sea Hawks scheduled to extract you at first light. They’ve got your coordinates."
"My men are in rough shape. It’ll be none too soon."
"The Sea Hawks are being accompanied by four Cobra Gun Ships, four Wart Hogs, and two Spectre Gunships. Shoot, Captain, after what we’ve seen, I’ll send in the Marines, too, if you want ’em. All of ’em."
"Sir, what we need is a medic. If we don’t get my men stabilized, your rescue team is going to be extracting corpses. Do you have anybody crazy enough to jump in here tonight?"
"As a matter of fact, three HALO jumpers left a couple of hours ago. Every SEAL on the Ronald Reagan volunteered, son. And they haven’t seen the film. If the crew had seen what we saw, you’d already have the whole Navy in there, medics included."
"We could use ’em. The men need transfusions bad. We’ve all lost a lot of blood. We need plasma, IVs, antibiotics, bandages, clean blankets, and warm clothing. We’re all dehydrated. I don’t know what they did with our SFGs. Those who are conscious could use somethin’ to eat, and we need weapons. Looks like it’s gonna be a rough night."
"Like I said, we’ve got men airborne now. I’m told they’re well supplied. You’ll have HALO jumpers within...." the Chairman turned to his team. "They tell me less than two hours. They’ve got all they can carry. Should get you through till morning."
"Tell the jumpers we’ll keep a fire going. The clearing is thirty meters east of that. We’ll clear it of obstacles before they arrive."
"Hang in there. We’re gonna get you out."
Hasler thought he heard gunfire as the Captain spoke.
"General, I’m gonna have to go. We’ve got company."
Secretary Ditroe had fallen asleep in the President’s arms. By morning she had managed to compose herself. Over breakfast she explained what she’d seen in blood-curdling detail.
The President and her Defense Secretary walked back downstairs to the Press Room. The technicians had prepared a "highlights" videotape. Ditroe, unfortunately, had not been exaggerating.
The President sat silently as the tape ran. Her fingers and Susan’s were interlaced. She squeezed the Secretary’s hand each time a nail found its mark. It was all she could do to watch.
"Who else knows about this?" the President asked after the first man had been nailed.
"NSA, CIA, the Pentagon - the support team, that’s all."
"What are they going to do with the tape, Susan?"
"Nothing. At least, not until you release it, ma’am."
"Release it? I want it erased! Where are Richard Nixon and Rosemary Woods when you need ’em?"
"Erased?" Susan repeated in disbelief.
Just then a phone rang in the AV cubicle. A man’s voice could be heard over the speaker. "I’m looking for Secretary Ditroe. Is she there?"
"One moment," the technician replied.
"Ask who it is," the Secretary said just loud enough to be heard. She wasn’t in a very good mood.
"Tell the Secretary it’s Blaine Edwards from FOX News."
Susan stood up. Her legs were wobbly. Cautiously, she walked to the back of the room. "This is Secretary Ditroe. What can I do for you?"
"I’m the guy you kicked out of the White House Press Room yesterday, remember?"
"I was just wondering if you’d like to make a statement."
"A statement regarding what, Mr. Edwards?" She was trembling.
"The video. We’re not going to release it until you get our men out, but when they’re out, it’s out.
"No, please, no, no...."
"Secretary Ditroe, would the President care to issue a statement?"
"No...no," she stammered, afraid. She stared blankly at the President who was shaking her head. The technician disconnected the call.
"How much time do we have, Susan?"
"Madam President," the techie spoke, knowing the Secretary was unable.
"A few minutes ago, there was a satellite phone call between Chairman Hasler and Captain Adams, in Afghanistan. We weren’t connected on the call, but we got it through the Captain’s video cam system...."
"And...?" The President was impatient, motioning him on.
"Well, they’re planning on picking them up at dawn."
"Nine this evening, ma’am," the other tech replied.
"Susan, let’s get Hasler on the line."
The President hurried into the Oval Office. A few steps behind, Ditroe paused long enough to have a secretary dial the Pentagon. By the time she entered the room, they were already yelling.
"What do you mean you’re sending in more men? On whose authority?"
"You have no authority! I’m the Commander-in-Chief."
"Your mission was supposed to be covert, General. Now the whole world is going to see just how lame you boys are. Makes me want to puke."
"At least we agree on one thing, ma’am."
"You and your testosterone make me sick," the President added unnecessarily. "You’ve got one shot at getting them out, Bill. You better not escalate this thing," she threatened. "They chose to go. It was their plan. They screwed up. You send in more than the minimum needed to extract those boys, and we’re gonna have a billion Muslims climbing up our butt. You can’t start your own war, Bill!"
"I’m just doing my job."
"Well you can stop doing your job. You’re fired!"
Hasler was calm. "After what’s happened, ma’am, you’re not going to find anyone willing to call off the rescue. So we’re going to have to work this thing through. I’m going to get our men out. Then you can fire me. Ma’am."
With the fire behind them, they felt like ducks in a shooting gallery. Ironically, the crosses that had once been their damnation were now their only salvation.
"Captain, this is no good," Yacob Seraph said between bursts of automatic gunfire. "They can see us, but we can’t see them."
Adams knew they were in trouble. "We’ve got two SFGs. Chameleon function only works on one of ’em, but since Newcomb’s failed in night mode, it should be okay."
"Major, will you trade with me? Your suit for my robe?" Yacob Seraph volunteered. "I’m shorter, so it’ll fit." Isaac’s helmet had been hammered by Ghumani’s barrage, but it was still quasi-functional.
With their gear switched on, Yacob and Thor slipped out through the draped back of the barracks. The Captain took the south ridge, leaving the enemy’s right flank to the Israeli. Adams carried two of Isaac’s grenades. Seraph took the other. Both men had fresh clips in their OICWs, NATO and 20mm fragmentation rounds. Their pistols, Glock and Beretta, were readied as well, clips inserted, safeties off, rounds chambered. With guns in hand, they went hunting.
The Afghanis were not easy to find. The children’s game of hit and run they had played earlier when tormenting their victims was revisited. The three assailants peeked their heads over the ridgeline just long enough to fire into the barracks. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they retreated.
Cranky, sore, and shot up, the Captain was in no mood for games. With each attack he pressed on, determined to find his foe before the HALO team arrived - and before he lost any of his men. Relentlessly dragging himself over rocks and ridges, he moved ever closer, following his assailants’ heat signatures and muzzle flashes.
With two punctured feet, Yacob wasn’t quite as nimble as the limping Captain. He tried to climb to a higher vantage point, but couldn’t. Using his infrared setting, he could trace Adams’ progress. On occasion, he even spotted the Afghanis as they popped their heads over the ridge. If they got careless, he would own them.
Thor climbed down the south hill and moved in alongside the terrorists. The next time they returned to take a shot, they would pay.
Seconds turned slowly into minutes, and minutes became half an hour, but his persistence was rewarded. Three gunmen in robes, a man and two boys, slowly, quietly, made their way up the snow-covered incline. Still a quarter of a mile away, the Captain switched his H.U.D. to standard vision and then to enhanced light. He wanted to see what they might be seeing from their perspective. He was pleased. It was a total whiteout.
Switching back to infrared, the Captain knew he could be patient, wait for his best shot. Without the light of the moon, the Afghani men would never see him, no matter how close they came. Minutes continued to pass like hours as the small troop picked their way up the incline. Adams switched his rifle from fragmentation to standard ordnance. Closer they came, now within a hundred yards.
They looked like a father and his sons. But this was no ordinary family. All three were carrying Russian-made assault rifles. They weren’t out on a family camping trip, a boys’ weekend. They were here to kill - or be killed. There was no other choice.
Fifty yards, then twenty-five. Thor set his rifle down and unsheathed his pistol. He could hear the snow crunching beneath their feet. At ten yards he pulled the trigger, squeezing off three rounds in rapid succession. Kush, kush, kush. There was hardly a sound. Even the normal clink of expended cartridges hitting the ground was muted in the wet snow. The man and his boys simply fell in their tracks. It was all so anticlimactic.
Adams felt for pulses, grabbed their rifles, and headed back home. Home, he thought. What he wouldn’t give to be home. The Devil himself would be embarrassed to live here.
Approaching the target, the Viking flight crew donned oxygen masks and depressurized their craft. They slowed to a crawl, just above a 100 knots. They had finished their descent out of 35,000 feet for 21,000. It would be the first HALO jump from a jet aircraft. The fastest turboprop aboard the Ronald Reagan would have taken too long to reach them.
The copilot turned to face the jumpers, telling them he was opening the bomb-bay doors. "Sixty seconds to drop."
HALO stood for High Altitude Low Opening. Today, however, it would be HAHO. Conceived during the Vietnam Conflict, the technique was designed to insert men clandestinely behind enemy lines.
"We’re overloaded," the Commander warned. "We’re gonna stress our chutes. Jumping lower’s gonna help, but to survive, you’ll need to pull your cord much sooner - nineteen thousand feet MSL - sixty-five hundred feet above the valley floor. That’s a thousand feet below the highest peaks. Altimeter is thirty point one two."
Each man checked the Coleman window on his wrist-mounted altimeter. They would freefall the first 1,000 feet in eight seconds. The second thousand would evaporate in the count of three.
"Ten seconds to drop," the copilot said. "On my mark." He held up five fingers, counting down inaudibly until there was nothing but a closed fist. Just that quickly, the HALO jumpers stepped out of the bomb-bay doors and were gone.
To Thor’s surprise, the SEALs beat him to the barracks. They had used the beacon fire and GPS coordinates to zero in on the clouded clearing. And they had come bearing gifts. The barracks was positively jubilant.
As Thor entered, the SEALs stood and saluted. Adams, however, dispensed with formalities and gave each a one-armed hug. Tonight they looked like angels. "Where’s Yacob?" he asked.
"He hasn’t returned yet, Captain," Blake answered.
Adams did an about face in hopes of finding his man. Just then the returning Israeli shouted, "Don’t shoot! It’s me. I am one of us!" The SEAL on sentry duty had heard Seraph’s footsteps in the now-crusty snow and had come within a heartbeat of firing at him. Yacob’s English wasn’t the greatest, but it was good enough to save his life.
Seraph sat down, exhausted. One of the SEALs tended to his wounds. He even shared some of his unspent oxygen.
The rescue mission was carried out with flawless precision. Fresh bedding was spread, IVs inserted, wounds dressed, bandages applied. Soon every man was wearing military fatigues. They burned the robes. Team Uniform once again looked like a team, sort of. You had to overlook the busted limbs and a myriad of body piercings. Cleaned, splinted, and fed, most were even conscious. The plasma, combined with the HALO jumpers’ bottled oxygen, had done wonders.
Surveying it all, Thor Adams came as close to tears as he could remember. As horrible as the sight was, it was far better than it had once been, a world better than what it might have been.
"We were as good as dead," Bentley reported to one of the SEALs. "Looking at us, it’s hard to believe we won."
"I think even Stanley’s gonna make it, sir," Huston said.
"Thank God." The Captain surprised himself. "How’d you guys get here so fast, anyway?"
"S3 Viking. We stepped out of the bomb-bay door."
"No way." He stared in disbelief.
"Just another day at the office, sir" the SEAL Commander replied calmly. They had brought good news. Major Cole Sumner was alive. But this wasn’t the time or place for the bad news. They had been sworn to secrecy on the fate of the pilots who had brought them to this foreboding place. A man can only handle so much torment.
As his men were nursed back to life, the Captain allowed himself to relax. Soon the SEALs were focusing their attention on him, no matter how vociferously he protested. They fussed all over him, patching his wounds and setting his broken right arm. They pumped in a pint of fresh plasma and prepared a Ready-to-Eat.
The bullet in his leg had passed cleanly through the muscle and out the other side. The medic found the spent cartridge in the pant leg of the SFG and handed it to him. "A souvenir from hell, sir."
"Captain, they showed us the video before we took off. They wanted us to know what we were up against." The Commander was moved. "The most incredible thing I ever seen. I’m proud to be here, sir."
"You’re the heroes," Yacob told the SEAL HALO jumpers. "We didn’t know what we were getting into - you did. It takes balls of bronze to jump in here like Jack Wayne. We wouldn’t have made it without you."
No one even bothered to correct him. Shoot, John Wayne would have changed his name for the privilege of serving with these guys.
"Now, tell me the truth. How’d you guys get here, really?" The Captain was having a hard time buying their Viking story.
"Bombs away, sir," one of the SEALs grinned. "I did a triple tuck, jack-knife, with a twist on the way down."
"It had to be done, sir," another answered somberly.
So it was with thankfulness in their eyes and visions of homecoming dancing in their heads, the men settled down for some much-needed shuteye. Dead to the world, they knew nothing of the skirmishes continued throughout the night. The SEAL HALO jumpers were not only superb with their medical care, not only was their culinary prowess with an MRE a thing of legend, but they were also warriors. The odds could have been fifty to one. It didn’t matter. As dawn broke over the Hindu Kush, the allied force was alive. All of them. A considerable number of Islamic militants, however, were not.
The Sea Hawks arrived at dawn, looking more like limousines than military hardware. The men could hear the sounds of rockets being launched and cannons fired. The Cobras, WartHogs, and Spectre Gunships were doing their thing, and they were close by, from the sound of it. The good guys were winning this round.
"Welcome aboard," the Sea Hawk pilot said as each man was loaded. Ryan Sullivan, Moshe Keceph, Joshua Abrams, and Lad Childress were carried onto the first chopper. Cliff Powers, Kyle Stanley, and Isaac Newcomb were placed on the second, a minute or two later. Under their own power, Yacob Seraph, Blake Huston, Bentley McCaile, and Captain Thurston Adams hobbled aboard the third bird.
The SEAL HALO jumpers boarded the last ride out. They had a guest, a shackled and sullen Halam Ghumani. They had given him just enough care to keep him alive.
The clouds had lifted during the night. It had finally stopped snowing. Thor looked down over what had been the most horrific place he had ever been. Their fire was still smoldering. The fallen crosses were clearly visible as was the one that remained erect. So were the naked and bloodied bodies of thirty-five Islamic terrorists. The hills around the ravine were littered with others.
As the helicopter rose, Adams took in the scene, observing every detail. He closed his eyes for a moment to verify how accurate his mental etching had been. Opening them again, he compared reality to the vision he had recorded in his brain. He wanted to retain it all. He knew that the scourge of Muslim madness was something few understood. He had just been on the front lines of a battle that was reshaping the world.
"What do you make of it, sir?" Yacob asked, trying to get comfortable. Filled with fluids, food, and pain medication, he was rarin’ to go.
"Scary. Like kamikazes - the ‘Divine Wind’ - in World War II. They’re dying to die. Hard to fight that," the Captain said through the pain.
"But the Japanese Emperor was no more God than I am," Yacob Seraph moaned. "Dying for him was just dying. What about those boys down there? What’s their excuse?"
"If I had to guess, I’d say it was Muhammad’s fault," Adams shifted to his good side. The pain of his injuries slowed his speech. "I’ve got a lot to learn, but from what I’ve read, Muhammad was a terrorist."
"That would explain it," Bentley said. "But it still doesn’t make any sense. How’s a guy like that start a religion? Why so many followers?"
Blake knew. "Look at Hitler, Mao, Lenin. They weren’t exactly choir boys, but look at how many followers they had."
"Follow or die," Yacob coughed. "It’s the same with these guys, only worse. They think dying is good. They’re promised virgins in paradise." Like most Israelis, Seraph knew what drove the Islamic faithful to madness. Living in the shadow of the Palestinians, it was hard to miss.
McCaile was also drugged enough to be chatty. Compared to a few hours ago, he felt great. "Captain, I heard you and the Major talking about the Qur’an and the Bible last night. Everybody says they’re similar, that we worship the same God. What do you think?"
"I’m no Christian, Bentley. I wouldn’t know God if I saw him." Had they not just left hell, speaking of heaven would have seemed odd. But it’s times like these that give rise to wisdom. It’s why there are no atheists in foxholes. "I’ve read the Old Testament, though, you know, for the history."
"And..." the Captain drew a deep, painful breath, "the only similarity between the Bible and the Qur’an, from what I can tell, is that one is based loosely on the other. But the stories are different. If one got ’em right, the other got ’em wrong. If one’s inspired by a real God, the other one ain’t."
He shifted, trying to get comfortable. "All I know for sure is that the jerks who nailed you to that cross were singing Allah’s praises. You don’t have to be a religious nut to know that Allah’s no friend of ours."
Adams was quiet for a while, thinking. "If I were to guess, I’d say Muhammad’s a fraud. The Bible was written before the Qur’an, and it’s full of stories he obviously lifted. But he got ’em all fouled up. At least that’s what it sounds like to me."
"How’s that possible if he got it from God?" Yacob questioned.
"Guys, at this point I don’t know enough to be dangerous. But there’s a skunk in the woodpile someplace."
"Then follow the stench," Bentley suggested, holding his nose.
"Yeah. I think Prophet-boy’s full of it," Yacob voted.
McCaile pushed it. "Where does that leave Jews and Christians, Cap?"
Adams didn’t answer right away. He was comfortable being an agnostic, happy not having to deal with anybody’s religious mumbo-jumbo. "Like I said, I’m not the religious type. So you’re asking the wrong guy." Thor swallowed hard. "But, somebody was watching out for us down there."
The four Sea Hawks finally rose above the high mountains of the Hindu Kush. The sun rose in a cloud-dappled sky to the East. It was Easter Sunday. Resurrection day.
"We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this Fox News Alert." Viewers saw headlines screaming, "Men Crucified."
Blaine Edwards began at precisely nine o’clock. He had prevailed. FOX’s management had decided it was in the public’s interest (or at least in their interest) to release the tape they had bootlegged from the White House Press Room.
"Good evening." Edwards was a proud as a peacock. "The most recent battle in the war against terrorism has been won, but at what cost? International terrorist leader Halam Ghumani is in custody, currently aboard an American helicopter flying over India. Yet in the mission to apprehend him, nine men under the command of Navy Captain Thor Adams were captured and crucified. Yes, crucified. Ironic, considering we’re reporting this on, of all days, Easter Sunday. In a moment we will show the most incredible war film ever recorded. But first, a warning: the footage is graphic. It is not suitable for children." That remark was calculated to superglue every viewer over the age of seven to the set.
Edwards sat up a little straighter and turned to the camera on his right, suppressing a grin. "Our story begins with the death of two American pilots over the disputed territories between India and Pakistan. This unbelievable video was shot by an American serviceman, Major Cole Sumner. I will let it speak for itself."
FOX News broadcast the sights and sounds captured by Sumner’s SFG satellite cam. The world saw two men, one jumping, the other diving, out of a crippled military helicopter. The undercarriage was ravaged and the blades were barely turning, as if in slow motion. As the first pilot jumped, the audience heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire. They saw his body swing backward and spin as the assailants’ bullets pierced him. Then they saw the second pilot’s desperate leap, saw him pulling the ripcord with his teeth as he hung by one arm. Finally, they saw him fall to his death after another volley of automatic weapons fire.
There was no need for commentary. The whole world held its collective breath, terrified, mesmerized.
"What you are going to hear next are the words of Army Ranger Cole Sumner." FOX ran the audio of Cole telling the pilots of Sea Hawk Two that their comrades were down, that they were dead. They played a slow-motion sequence of the doomed Sea Hawk’s final moments as the audience heard the heroic Ranger tell his would-be rescuers to leave the area, to abandon him. It was the stuff of legend.
Edwards had arranged for the editors to stop the tape when the Islamic militants began storming the downed chopper. Showing the post-attack festivities wasn’t worth the risk of upsetting the Muslims upon whom FOX relied to grant their news crews access. They had learned what happened to film crews who captured and broadcast such celebratory images.
Following the opening salvo of Islam’s war on America, September 11th, Muslim men, women, and children had been ecstatic. Spontaneous parties had burst out around the globe. But the media had decided that it wasn’t in anyone’s interest to broadcast their celebrations. The executives chose to protect their access to Islamic sources instead. It was a case of economic self-preservation. Besides, they knew these boys played rough.
"We are pleased to report that Cole Sumner, the Army Ranger whose voice you just heard, is safe. The men you saw jump out of the helicopter are both dead. Their names have not been released."
Edwards was cued to face the center camera again. Holding his typed script, he read from the teleprompter, "Normally, the capture of the world’s most celebrated terrorist leader, Halam Ghumani, would be our top headline, but not tonight. The film you are about to see is more gruesome, more violent, than anything this reporter has ever witnessed."
With that, FOX News ran an edited tape of Team Uniform’s excursion. They compressed the timeline of the hike toward the terrorist base, choosing video from whatever helmet cam provided the most interesting perspective. Blaine Edwards provided a running commentary.
"This team is comprised of three Americans plus the injured Major Sumner, all Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. There are four British Royal Marines - SAS - and four Israelis, Mossad and IDF Special Forces. What you are looking at are enhanced light, infrared, and terrain modes, broadcast by the latest high-tech military gear. These images and sounds were sent via satellite to the White House earlier today.
"As you will see in a moment, all but two of the eleven soldiers were trapped in a large pit. The explosions overwhelmed the men and their gear. The images we are showing you now came from the camera of the mission’s leader."
Thor Adams, Edwards explained, wasn’t your average Naval officer. The quick bio the news staff had prepared revealed that he was highly decorated, had received a Fleet Appointment to the Naval Academy as an enlisted man, had become a Naval Aviator, and had achieved celebrity of sorts when he had become a SEAL at thirty-two, a good four years older than any previous survivor of the grueling BUD/S training. As the leader of a dozen Task Force 11 operations, he had been interviewed so often that America had become familiar with his rugged, no-nonsense style, his courage, and candor. Thor was a Navy recruiter’s dream.
"What you are seeing now is incredible footage. The satellite cameras worn by the captured incursion force were set up to broadcast this elaborate plan, allegedly designed to punish us for waging war on al-Qaeda." Blaine concluded his opening remarks and fell quiet again. The sights and sounds being sent around the world needed no explanation. The film was edited only in choosing the best camera angle as the terrorists moved from cross to cross, finally raising them. The video ran for the better part of fifteen minutes before Edwards interrupted with commentary.
"The rescue was orchestrated by Captain Adams and an Israeli Mossad officer, Major Isaac Newcomb. Roll tape."
For the next fifteen minutes, the world was at war. Christians and Jews were praying for Thor and Isaac. Muslims were rooting even more passionately for Halam Ghumani and his Afghani Freedom Fighters.
Those espousing the "peace process" were simply critical of the whole mess, though they, too, were glued to their televisions. Sanctimonious, they knew better: violence would only beget more violence. This was all so childish, they thought. Negotiation was the answer. We just needed to understand these people, appreciate their problems, see them as victims, and everything would work out fine. Appeasement was so much more enlightened, so much more civilized than all this testosterone-soaked barbarism on the screen.
With divided interests, polarized perspectives, and separate agendas, the world watched in morbid fascination. The most appalling sights and sounds ever captured on film made Blaine Edwards an instant star, a media celebrity - and a traitor, willing to imperil the lives of men far more courageous than he for his fifteen minutes of fame.
Men like Blake Houston, Isaac Newcomb, and Cole Sumner became heroes this night. But Captain Thurston Adams had become the most celebrated, most newsworthy, most interesting man in the world.