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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.

"Roger," Louis answered, although it must have killed him not to say "Dodger."

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

"Figures. Fly boys. T minus eight."

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

"Call when you make visual contact."

"Omega Three. All A-OK."

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."

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.

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.

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

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.

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

"Omega Three. All A-OK."

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.

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."

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

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

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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