By the middle of the twenty-first century, much of the world has changed for the worse. Despite advances in technology, crime has increased, drug use is rampant, and the threat of terrorism hits closer and closer to home. And in the dark days of America’s second Great Depression, the divide between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow.
Many things are different in this dark and murky future, but one thing remains the same: Navy SEALs are still Navy SEALs.
And the only easy day was yesterday.
Something in Shane Laughlin’s ankle snapped upon landing.
Or maybe it tore.
Either way, it sent him to the ground, and he bumped and scraped and bounced, jarring the injury over and over as his chute dragged him across the rocky terrain.
Shane bit back a curse. It was the least-graceful landing of his entire military career, and it took everything he’d learned in countless training sessions to get the parachute back under control, even though Magic and Owen both scrambled to help him.
“You okay?” Magic asked, as Owen took possession of all of their chutes.
Jesus, Shane’s ankle was on fire. What the hell had he done to himself? Whatever it was, it was bad. Still, he pulled himself to his feet and tried to put weight on it-and would’ve landed back in the dust had Magic not caught him-the pain making him see actual stars.
But he shook them away, giving Magic an “I’ll be fine,” because they didn’t have time for this. The mission not only required the drop-zone be fully sanitized-the SEAL team’s eight chutes rolled into vacuum packs and carried back out-but that it be fully sanitized quickly and quietly. And that meant sitting here shouting fuck was not an option.
Regardless of the studies done that proved swearing helped diminish pain.
“Yeah, I think I’ll take that as a no,” Magic said as Shane signaled his senior chief-a height-challenged but wiry forty-something named Johnny Salantino-who’d made note of the goatfuck in action and was already heading for them.
“Ankle or knee?” Magic continued.
“Ankle.” Shane dinged himself again, and again the pain was excruciating. “Fuck!”
“You okay there, LT?” the senior asked in his raspy Brooklynese as he crouched down next to Shane.
“Ankle,” Magic reported.
“Head count?” Shane asked the senior through gritted teeth.
“Eight. All here, sir, all in one piece. You’re our only casualty,” the senior replied, then turned to report as Rick Wilkie, the team’s hospital corpsman, joined them, “Ankle.”
It was un-fucking-believably inconvenient, considering they were in the middle of nowhere. It was a full-on double-fuck of inconvenience since Shane was supposed to be leading his team of SEALs both swiftly and stealthily up the nearby mountain, to a small town where a terrorist leader named Rebekah Suliman, code name Scorpion-Four, was enjoying her last supper.
But neither swift nor silent remained part of Shane’s current repertoire.
“Don’t even think about touching that boot,” Shane warned Rick. If he took it off, he’d be in far worse shape. “And keep your syringe away from me. I need a clear head and it doesn’t hurt that badly.”
Okay, so that was a lie, and they all knew it. But sooner or later, the pain would diminish. Sooner or later, he’d get used to it. Please God, let it be sooner rather than later . . .
“I could give you something local, sir,” Rick suggested.
“No, we’ll improvise,” Magic answered before Shane could respond.
But Shane outranked him. He outranked everyone here on the ground. “Do it,” he ordered Rick, pulling up his pant leg to give the medic as much access as he could without that boot coming off.
“With all due respect, LT, you run on this thing, it could end your career,” Magic said as the meds Rick injected quickly took the edge off the pain in Shane’s ankle, bringing it down to a steady but more-manageable throb.
“I’m not going to plan to run on it,” Shane told this man who’d been his confidant and friend since BUD/S training. “But I’ve gotta be ready. Because I can’t stay here.”
“I’m going to give you this to hold, sir.” Rick handed him a carefully wrapped syringe containing the heavy-duty painkiller. “Let me know if you use it.”
“I won’t.” But Shane pocketed the packet. It could come in handy, in the event they got pinned down and had to remain absolutely silent to keep from being discovered. The last thing he wanted to do was give away their position by breathing too hard.
“What is the plan, sir?” the senior asked.
Shane glanced at Magic, who had already shrugged off his pack, and was divvying up the contents, spreading the weight to Owen and the other SEALs. “The plan is to sweep and sterilize the area, and head toward the target,” Shane said. This wouldn’t be the first time Magic clocked a dozen clicks with Shane leaning heavily on him, or vice versa.
And as much as he hated the fact that he and his injury would handicap his team and slow his men down, putting this entire mission into the extremely capable hands of his senior chief while Shane spent the next two hours miserably stashed behind some brush or in a shallow cave simply wasn’t an option.
First of all, there were no caves in this particular region of this country formerly known as Afghanistan, and the sparse bushes wouldn’t have hidden a three-year-old, let alone a full grown man of Shane’s height and weight.
And recon patrols came through this area regularly.
The extraction point-the place where a helo was going to pull them out of this hellhole-was up in the mountains. In order to get there, Shane had to pass the village where Scorpion-Four was being feted.
So, nope. There was no quick fix, no easy way out. Shane was destined to be this mission’s PITA, this op’s representative from Murphyville. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, was Murphy’s Law. And he was here as living proof.