Seal Team Six Outcasts 1
Acquire the target. Verify the target. Get authorization for the shot. Terminate the target. Alex bared his teeth in something approximating a grin. This was going to be a good day.
In the darkness of 0530, SEAL Team Six sniper package codenamed Ambassador and comprising Chief Petty Officer Alexander Brandenburg and fellow team member and spotter Petty Officer Second Class Theodore “Smiley” Lonkowski slow-crawled across the rocks of an Afghanistan mountain overlooking the border with Pakistan. They maintained separation so they didn’t look like a huge blob to anyone scanning the mountainside. They were headed for an alcove ten feet below the peak of the mountain with a clear view of a nondescript goat path that crossed between the two countries. Alex wasn’t worried about the Pakistani border guards. They weren’t on the target list, at least, as long as they didn’t interfere.
“Home, sweet home,” Smiley whispered, sliding into the alcove and stretching out flat. Smiley got his nickname from the permanent grin on his face. Guys said that in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training his smile drove the instructors nuts. Even during Hell Week, he smiled—it got knocked a little crooked, but he smiled.
“You’re a trusting soul,” Alex said, gingerly easing himself in
beside him, all the while scanning the dirt and rocks for creepy crawlies. The men could be holed up here for hours, maybe days. He didn’t want to be sharing dirt with something that could crawl into his clothes.
They wore their ghillie suits and ghillie boonie hats—handmade camouflage clothing that looked like part of the tan mountain they hid in. The cloth was even coated with a chemical that was designed to fool infrared, although Alex wasn’t sure he trusted that. Best to stay as hidden as possible so that no one could see them, not even the RQ-170 Sentinel drone covering their area of operation from somewhere north of sixty thousand feet.
Where dark shadows normally fell on the skin around their eyes and other depressions on their faces they wore light, sand-colored paint. On their foreheads, cheeks, and other prominent features of their faces that normally shined, they wore dark gray-green face paint. They looked like shadowy ghouls, and Alex was entirely okay with that.
Alex cleared his mind and became one with the earth. He carried the .300 Winchester Magnum (Win Mag), a customized Remington 700 sniper rifle wrapped with an olive drab cravat and tied off with a square knot to break up the weapon’s outline and contrast where the scope attached to the weapon. Olive drab and tan burlap straps broke up the cravat’s solid green color, making it look like so much scrub and debris and not the deadly weapon it was. Firing a 190-grain match bullet designed to be perfectly symmetrical around its circumference, the Win Mag could reach out and touch anyone.
Alex remembered the look of bored indifference that other soldiers—nonsnipers—got when he talked about the various pluses and minuses of equipment makers and specifications, but then snipers were a special breed. Crazy, as Alex would be the first to admit, but crazy in a very, very purposeful way. The obsession with equipment spilled over into less critical areas of a SEAL’s life, like having the right trousers or sunglasses—sometimes a guy needs enough
pockets for his working tools and doesn’t want to be blinded by the sun while he’s working—occasionally, a guy just wants to look cool. Making the right equipment choice led to survival. Making the wrong equipment choice could lead to becoming a terrorist’s new plaything.
Once in the alcove, Alex and Smiley lay close so Smiley could point out something to Alex on their map. Close enough so Smiley could watch the vapor trail of Alex’s bullet splash into the target. If needed, Smiley could whisper feedback.
Smiley lasered the distances to prominent features: bend in a trail, boulder, clump of shrubs, abandoned house, etc. The boulder rested near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Alex squeezed the two-pound trigger, dry firing while listening for the firing pin’s proper operation. Then he simulated reloading: smoothly manipulating the rifle bolt with minimum movement and without taking his eyes out of the scope. In case their target ran, Alex practiced an ambush, holding his sight at a point ahead of the target’s path and waiting until the dirtbag ran into Alex’s crosshairs, then pulling the trigger.
The sun inched up the gray sky behind the thousand-foot-high, charcoal-colored mountains a couple of miles in front of the two SEALs. The long shadows, cast by scattered trees and shrubs, retracted. A light film of dirt powdered Alex’s face. Except for the whisper of a slight wind, it was eerily quiet.
Through Alex’s Leupold 10-power sniper scope, he spotted three specks in the distance. Smiley saw them, too. They came closer. Three bearded men appeared out of the gloom and walked across the border from Pakistan. They wore the traditional tribal salwar kameez combination of loose-fitting trousers and tunic and the distinctive pakol hats that reminded Alex of muffin tops. Each had an AK-47 slung across his shoulders. Alex paused. It was possible the weapons were AK-74s, the smaller 5.45mm version of Kalashnikov’s original gift of terror to the world, but in the end it shouldn’t matter.
As long as Alex and Smiley did their jobs, the terrorists would never get a shot off. Still, Alex reminded himself never to assume. It might make an ass out of you, but it could get him killed.
The men stopped four hundred yards in front of the SEALs at an abandoned house made out of mud. It was nestled among Afghan government buildings and a few empty shells that were once people’s homes. The man in the middle was their target: Abu al-Zubaydi, one of the Taliban’s leading bomb makers in Afghanistan. Al-Zubaydi first learned his trade in a Taliban training camp in Afghanistan. Recently, he had bombed the Red Cross, Afghan police, Afghan government, and others in order to destabilize the country—so he and his comrades could step in and take control. A lot of innocent men, women, and children had died because of him. The SEALs gave him the codename Half-ass because he had only one hand—the right. Even a terrorist needs both hands to be a complete asshole. On his right side stood his bodyguard, a native of Yemen according to the intel, and on his left was Half-ass’s old friend from Tunisia: Hannibal. The three men wore olive drab Chinese AK-47 chest pouches.
“Zeus, this is Ambassador,” Alex called on the radio. Zeus was the call sign for Patrick, Alex’s boss. Patrick was a SEAL officer, but he wasn’t much of a leader. He was simply a manager with no vision, reacting to events around him. Patrick maintained the status quo or whichever way the wind blew. He liked to take credit for things his men did well but blame them for things that went wrong. Patrick spent more time planning operations than operating. He preferred what looked good to what actually worked. Patrick had little vision of what the future could be. Even if he could envision the future, it was doubtful he could take his men there.
Static crackled in his earpiece. He tried again. “Zeus, this is Ambassador, over.” More static. He looked over at Smiley.
“Wiggle the little doohickey on the top,” Smiley said.
Alex shook his head. Little doohickey? This was a precision piece of
electronic equipment. Still, Alex tapped the top of the radio and gave it a little shake.
“Zeus, this is Ambassador. Primary target in sight,” Alex said.
Alex and Smiley’s asset was supposed to meet with Half-ass and signal the sniper team, verifying it was indeed their target. Unfortunately, the asset was nowhere in sight. Maybe he’d decided he didn’t need the money so much after all. Maybe he’d been captured. That thought gave Alex pause. Maybe the terrorists knew there was a SEAL Team out there. Alex banished the thought. One of Half-ass’s bodyguards went inside the abandoned house, then came out a minute later. He said something before Half-ass disappeared into the house.
“Ambassador, Zeus. Confirm main target is Half-ass, over.”
Smiley grunted. Alex took his eye away from the scope long enough to shake his head at Smiley. “Negative. Asset is a no-show.”
Alex and Smiley waited—and waited. Half-ass stepped outside. He and the bodyguards looked around, fidgeting. Still, the asset was nowhere in sight. The terrorists seemed ready to bug out.
“Confirm target is Half-ass, over.”
Alex cursed under his breath. “Asset is not available for confirmation ID, but I’m sure this is Half-ass,” he whispered into his radio.
“Did the asset give positive ID, over?” Zeus asked. Alex knew it was Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Patrick.
“Zeus, I say again, the asset is a no-show, but I can verify that the primary target is Half-ass.”
Zeus wasn’t having it. “Not good enough, Ambassador. We need positive confirmation from the asset.”
For Pete’s sake! “I’ve memorized Half-ass’s photos. Missing appendage, scar dissecting left eyebrow. I’m looking at him right now through my scope.”
“We need asset confirmation of primary target, Ambassador.”
Alex would have stood up and screamed into the morning sky if it
wouldn’t have gotten him and Smiley killed. “I say again, Zeus, the asset is a no-show.”
“You know the parameters, Ambassador. No asset, no confirmation signal—no shot!”
The asset is nowhere in sight. Half-ass and his bodyguards began walking toward Pakistan. “It’s him. Half-ass is moving toward Pakistan. If he walks fifty more yards, we lose him.”
“Understood, Ambassador, but it doesn’t matter. Without confirmation we don’t engage.”
“But he’ll be inside Pakistan in another minute. That’s why we have to take him out now.”
“Negative, Ambassador, negative! We need asset confirmation, first.”
Alex felt Smiley’s hand resting on his shoulder. “Easy, tiger.”
Alex clenched his teeth. “He meant to blow up those Red Cross nurses, Smiley. He targeted children. He’s a sick killer.”
“I know it and you know it and dollars to doughnuts, Zeus knows it, but that doesn’t change things. The asset didn’t show, so we don’t shoot. This is not worth throwing away your career for…”
Alex couldn’t believe his ears. He had one of the most evil men on the planet in his sights and he was being told not to shoot. It felt like he was choking.
Half-ass continued to walk back toward the border. He was now twenty-five yards away from safe haven.
“I understand your frustration, Ambassador,” Zeus said, his voice taking on a sympathetic tone, “but our orders are clear: do not take out the target without direct confirmation from our asset.”
“We’ll never get another chance like this,” Alex said to Smiley. “That’s what I know.”
“Let it go,” Smiley said.
“I can’t let him cross the border into Pakistan.”
“I am telling you one last time: do not take out the target without asset confirmation.”
Half-ass approached the border and began to walk faster.
“Request compromise authority, Zeus,” Alex asked, going for the final fallback position.
“I can’t accept that, Zeus.”
“It doesn’t matter what you can accept, it’s an order.”
Alex eased his face away from the scope and looked over at Smiley. “I can’t accept it.”
“What other choice do we have?”
The radio crackled. “Ambassador, confirm that you understand and will obey mission protocol. I want confirmation of that, now, or you will be finished!”
“Alex,” Smiley whispered calmly. “He’s in Pakistan now.”
Through his scope, Alex saw Half-ass walking quickly beyond the boulder at the border. All the months of work leading up to this moment… The sweat of my Teammates… Blood of the innocent… He felt numb lying there in the dirt.
Then a single thought shone in Alex’s mind. The way became clear.
“Zeus, we’ve been spotted. We’re taking fire, we’re tak—” Alex said before driving the SATCOM communications radio down onto a rock and smashing it.
“Half-ass is still in range. We’re taking him out.”
“You sure about this?” Smiley asked.
Alex reacquired Half-ass and focused on his breathing. “Always and forever.”
“You’re going to get us court-martialed,” Smiley said, but he kept the laser range finder pointed on the terrorists.
Alex’s rear elbow gave him balance. The rifle butt rested firmly in his right shoulder pocket. His shooting hand calmly held the small of the stock, finger on the trigger.
“Four hundred seventeen yards. Send… if you’re sure,” Smiley said.
Cheek touching his thumb on the small of the stock, Alex inhaled. He aligned his crosshairs in the center of Half-ass’s back. Exhale. After purging the carbon dioxide from his lungs, he held the natural pause between his exhale and inhale—long enough to keep the crosshairs steady but not so long as to cause muscular tension and blurred vision. Even though the terrorists were walking away from him, he took his time. This first shot was the cold shot. The barrel wouldn’t be as accurate because it hadn’t warmed up yet from firing. His finger gently squeezed the trigger until he heard the shot and felt the recoil. Half-ass tumbled forward into the dirt.
Alex pulled the bolt back and removed the spent shell. With a smooth movement of his wrist and fingers that he’d practiced thousands of times, he moved the bolt forward, chambering a new one.
The bodyguards hugged the ground next to Half-ass. The one from Yemen was experienced enough for his eyes to follow the sound of the shot and the sound of the projectile flying through the air that took out his leader. He aimed his assault rifle—definitely an AK-47 by the sound—in the SEALs’ direction and sprayed, but his shots weren’t even close. He was shooting at ghosts.
Alex capped him in the forehead. The man’s pakol popped into the air like a muffin flung from a baking pan.
Half-ass squirmed, his one hand flailing at the air. Bastard’s still alive. Hannibal, the third terrorist, hopped to his feet and sprinted toward cover. If Hannibal hooked up with his comrades, they’d come looking for Alex and Smiley. Their evac route was a long hump up and down two mountain valleys crawling with Taliban. Hannibal couldn’t get away.
Alex aimed at the middle of his back. As he squeezed the trigger, Hannibal tripped and fell. The shot missed. Damn. Alex had only two more shots in his Win Mag. He put a new round in the chamber. Hannibal stood and ran, but before he could gain speed, Alex caught him in the back, dropping him to his knees. The terrorist crawled,
trying to get up again. Alex chambered the last round and put a bullet into the base of Hannibal’s skull.
Smiley handed Alex a new round.
Alex calmly chambered the round in his empty Win Mag.
“Main target at four hundred eighteen feet. Send,” Smiley said.
Alex reacquired the fallen terrorist and shot. He didn’t pause, he didn’t think of a cool line to say, he just shot. Three bodies lay still. Birds, scared by the gunfire, continued to fly north.
Although Half-ass wouldn’t be terrorizing anyone anymore, Alex would have to face the consequences of disobeying a direct order. The enormity of what he had just done came crashing down on him.
“I enjoyed Team Six while it lasted,” Smiley said.
“My call, my fall.”
“I could have stopped you,” Smiley said.
Alex blinked and lifted his face off the stock of his rifle. “No, you couldn’t.”
WHEN ALEX RETURNED TO their Afghanistan base, the shit didn’t so much hit the fan as pile up all around it. Smiley, his grin never wavering, described in colorful detail the appearance of a group of Taliban that proceeded to open fire on them. Alex nodded and verified everything Smiley said.
Patrick didn’t believe them. Alex knew damn well their mission had probably been monitored from at least two different platforms high in the sky, but he also knew there was enough truth in their story that it would be hard to disprove. And whatever else, three terrorists were dead.
Finally, Smiley was dismissed with no charges. Patrick waited until Smiley was out the door and then he walked right up to Alex.
“You think I don’t know what you did? You failed to follow the protocol and you disobeyed a direct order.” The words were clear,
but Alex heard the wariness in Patrick’s voice. He’s not 100 percent sure. He can’t prove it.
Alex knew enough to say nothing. Patrick barked for another ten minutes. If he thought Alex might break and admit everything, he didn’t understand shit. From the first day of BUD/S, Alex had been prepared to go black. It happened when they made them swim and perform tasks under the water with no oxygen tanks. Your lungs would start to burn, then your vision would start to get gray at the edges before finally going all black and you went unconscious. It was terrifying, but it was also the only way. If you weren’t prepared to go black, why the hell were you there?
Finally realizing the futility of haranguing Alex, Patrick ordered him to pack his bags and return to Dam Neck, Virginia, home of Team Six. Shit. He knew his days were numbered. Administrative duty if he was lucky, maybe even transfer him out of the Teams altogether. What if they kick me out of the navy? If I can’t hunt terrorists, what can I do?