Excerpt 2 from The Panama Contagion - The Attack | Verso.ink

Excerpt 2 from The Panama Contagion - The Attack

Book 3 in The Net thriller series

By DM Coffman

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CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (CIA)
LANGLEY, VIRGINIA
October 27

Ross Pomero pressed the button on his console for the Southeast Asian intelligence division. “Bring up all we have on the Net organization since the Operation April Fools Hainan conflict.”
He quickly scanned through the documents before placing a call to Yi in Guangzhou, China.
“This is Yi.” He answered his cell phone on the fourth ring, a slight hint of grogginess in his voice.
“Sorry to wake you, Jason. This is Director Pomero at the CIA.”
“No problem, sir.” Yi sat up and rubbed his eyes. What can I do for you?”
“I know this isn’t directly related to your mission, but it’s a rather urgent matter that I’m hoping you can help me with.”
“Okay. Sure.” Yi put his phone on speaker, reached over and turned on the light, swung his legs over the edge of his bed and sat up. Given that it was still dark outside, he looked at the time: 3:17am on Sunday, October 28th.
“There’s been a possible virus outbreak here in the States, directly linked to the flu virus found in the Net’s bioweapons lab in Hainan.”
Yi pushed strands of his thick black hair back that had fallen onto his forehead. “I don’t understand. I thought the CIA controlled all there was of that virus.” Yi was now wide awake.
“I thought so, too.” Pomero cleared his throat before continuing. “We’ve since learned that after the island was destroyed, the Net somehow consolidated their operations to a shipyard and training or testing facility somewhere on the Indochina peninsula. We believe that it may be located somewhere near Thailand. Anyway, Jason, somehow some of that virus found its way to Panama and onto two cruise ships that docked in Los Angeles and Miami.”
Yi muttered something under his breath.
Pomero hesitated, unsure if asking him to get involved might turn into a fiasco. Afterall, Yi was not a trained CIA agent.
“I’m hoping your research skills could be used to quickly determine where the Net might have such a facility? I’m assuming it would be near your location.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “And then, . . . I know there may be some risk, . . . but if you could attempt to . . . possibly access that facility. I need to know if they have a bioweapons laboratory there.”
Pomero cleared his throat again anticipating silence while Yi thought about what he was proposing.
“That’s not a problem, sir,” Yi immediately replied with a yawn. “I happen to know right where their facility is and I’ve already been in the . . . ”
“What?!” Pomero shouted. “What?!”
“It’s a long story.” Yi smiled at the effect he knew he was having on Pomero. “Let’s just say that I became acquainted with someone with Net connections when we were both supposed to be on that Hainan flight that they deliberately crashed into the South China Sea. Somehow, avoiding that fate created a bond between us.”
“So that plane crash was deliberate after all?”
Yi knew Pomero hated acknowledging what the CIA had been unable to prove.
“Yes, sir. In any case, when you ignored my warning about the cargo ship attacks in July . . .”
“What cargo ship attacks?” Pomero interrupted; this time annoyed at Yi’s arrogance in implying that he would ignore a valid warning.
“The fourth of July explosions.”
“There is no proof, or any intelligence reports suggesting that those explosions were deliberate,” Pomero postured with confidence.
“Sir, I spoke with the demolitions expert myself. He described with detailed accuracy how the Net carried out those attacks.”
Yi could almost hear Pomero’s gasp.
“You did what?! . . . Wait. . . . You better start from the beginning, Jason. How did you locate their facility, and how the hell did you gain access? And don’t tell me there was an underwater entrance and you just swam in!”
“No, sir,” Yi laughed, remembering how he had gained access to the Net’s hidden cave on Wild Boar Island. “I contacted this acquaintance—a casino owner—because I suspected he had connections to the Net, which he did. I told him there were some Guangzhou shipping violations that I needed to clear up through their headquarters. He told me about their Thailand facility and even helped me gain access. I was there earlier this month.”
“That was brilliant, Jason.” Pomero scratched his head. “So it is in Thailand.” Maybe Yi was a better undercover agent than he had thought or given him credit for.
“Yes. It’s a shipyard and navigational training facility at the port of Laem Chabang. But they also conduct explosives testing from that facility. That’s how I happened to speak with the demolitions expert. They have a crew that operates from there.” Yi paused as a nagging reality set in. “Sir, I emailed you about this early in the month. More importantly, I told you in that email that they were planning an explosives attack on the Panama Canal on October 31st. That’s only three days away. Certainly you’ve made plans to stop that attack.”
Silence on the line.
“We have received no intelligence reports that those July explosions were deliberate strikes, or that this organization has any plans of attack on the 31st.”
“Sir, I was there! And I saw those same plans on their computer screen in Hainan. I sent photos of those screen shots to Senator Woodbury. I’m sure he gave you copies.”
“We could not confirm those photographs. Our intel does not support your findings—then or now.”
Yi could not believe what he was hearing.
“If they released their virus, sir,” Yi emphasized the word sir, “it’s a good indication that they intend to execute their plans.” He then paused before pointing out the obvious: “It would appear that your intelligence on this group is severely lacking.”
Pomero was silent. Yi knew he had to be fuming. Let him stew awhile, Yi thought. Maybe now he’ll take the Net seriously.
Pomero disconnected the line. The next call he made was to his boss—the head of the CIA and Director of Central Intelligence, Mark Stanton.
“Hello, director. This is Ross. I have just verified urgent information from the field that in addition to the Net releasing a deadly contagion on unsuspecting tourists here in the States, they are planning to use a cruise ship loaded with explosives to attack the Panama Canal the evening of October 31st.”
* * *
THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, DC
October 29

“This meeting of the National Security Council and guests has been convened to address a matter of urgency that must be resolved within the next two days,” National Security Advisor Clark Mathews stated in the John F. Kennedy conference room in the west wing basement of the White House. Known as the Situation Room, the participants sat around the mahogany table, the room darkened except for the glow of high tech flat-paneled monitors mounted on the walls around them.
“Thank you, Clark,” US President Stephen Bradshaw began. “As chairman of the council, because of the involvement of US seaports and international shipping channels in this matter, I have asked Admiral Ralph Nilsson, Commandant of the Coast Guard, to attend. Thank you, Admiral, for joining us today.” Looking around at the council members he added, “And thank you all for assembling on such short notice. I have asked CIA Director Stanton to brief us on this critical situation.”
Stanton stood. “A terrorist threat was recently uncovered by the CIA, involving planned explosions at numerous sites along the Panama Canal and several US seaports, on the evening of October 31st. The details are documented in this folder, of which you have a copy.” He held up a beige folder stamped with red letters: CLASSIFIED.
Looking out over his reading glasses at the council members and guests, he continued. “The tactical plans of this terrorist attack do not involve a military strike. In fact, the crux of the threat involves an explosives-laden cruise ship and numerous other strategically placed explosive devices as you will see on the map. We surmise that their intent is to stop passage through the canal at the peak of the shipping season; thereby impacting the international shipping industry and the world economy.”
An electronic version of the map appeared on the wall screens. Many of the council members switched from flipping through the pages of the folder to studying the electronic map.
“What do we know about these terrorists?” the president asked.
“It’s the same group that we encountered during the Hainan Conflict when we took out their communications center and bio-weapons lab,” Irving Maxwell CIA Director of Operations responded.
“The April Fools Operation, if I remember correctly,” General Waldron, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated. “A very successful joint military strike with China.”
“And how did we come by this latest information? It’s been verified?” Clark Mathews asked.
“We received the information via email from one of our Special Ops agents just this morning who downloaded the files from this group’s computer system. My department has analyzed the information and verified it to be accurate,” Ross Pomero replied.
“I was afraid you were going to say that hot-shot undercover attorney . . . Yi, I believe, . . . with the WTO program, happened to walk in and find it,” Defense Secretary Warren Stricklan interjected with a hardy laugh. “That was just the damnedest thing ever—there in Hainan.” He kept shaking his head as if he still could not believe it.
“No. Absolutely not,” Pomero responded quickly. “This was one of our agents. His email came this morning. It’s right here.” He flipped to the page in the folder.
“Several US ports are highlighted on this map,” Vice President Halverson interrupted, voicing concern while pointing at the electronic map.
“If I may?” Admiral Nilsson spoke.
“Please,” the president replied.
The admiral explained. “We have increased security at all 361 of our deep-water ports. We continue to acquire new, state-of-the-art technology and we locate and extract devices in our ports on a regular basis. In fact, several recent attempts were made at two of these locations.” He used an electronic pointer to highlight Seattle and Los Angeles. “Especially Los Angeles. It is our largest container facility. Since 9/11 we have increased our tracking of what cargo is entering US waters, and who serves on crews, as well as stowaways and individuals who appear to be surveying US ports.”
“Who would have thought keeping track of stowaways would be necessary?” Secretary of State Tyler Jameson said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“How could a terrorist group even get explosives into a US port? Don’t we have x-ray scanning devices?” Dave Halverson inquired.
The admiral answered. “Not everything gets scanned. Only about two percent of containers actually get inspected. Most tracking is done by the shipping manifests filed before the ship sails.”
“So, a shipping container could be used as a Trojan horse to smuggle anything from a dirty bomb to a nuclear weapon into one of our ports,” General Waldron commented.
“There are any number of ways,” the admiral replied. “For example, we’re on alert for signs of use of exotic craft for launching underwater attacks like small submarines and human torpedoes—underwater motor-propelled sleds that divers use. Terrorists can even pose as crewmen on freighters carrying dangerous chemicals, then commandeer one and slam it into a harbor.”
“My god,” Jameson muttered under his breath.
The admiral went on. “Coast Guard and Naval intelligence officials keep track of ships we think have questionable intentions or sketchy ownership. Now that governments are increasing homeland security against terrorism, nautical attacks are becoming more prevalent.”
“We have confirmed intelligence reports that the multiple July 4th US cargo ship explosions were deliberate attacks by this group,” Pomero interrupted, almost boasting.
The admiral nodded his acknowledgment of Pomero’s comment then continued. “We use satellite tracking and surveillance planes, we coordinate with allied navies, seafarer unions, even informants, to track these suspicious vessels and organizations, but we can still lose track when they are continuously given new names, are repainted and re-registered under fictitious ownership. It’s largely an unregulated and secretive global maritime industry.”
“What can be done?” Clark Mathews asked.
“To start, since 9/11 the Coast Guard has set new rules for medium and large-size ships. Ninety-six hours before reaching a US port, they now must provide data about their cargo, and they must provide the names and passport numbers of all crew members, their ship’s corporate details, and recent ports of call. This information is then tracked by computer at our intelligence facility in West Virginia.”
“Getting back to this map,” Warren Stricklan queried, “what’s being done at these specific ports to protect against an attack?”
The admiral responded. “Security has been increased on incoming traffic both from land and sea, reviewing documents and scanning all questionable containers for the next seventy-two hours. And, at the Los Angeles port, Port Authority has added explosive sniffing K9 teams.
“Wasn’t there a recent cruise ship incident at the port of Los Angeles?” Tyler Jameson questioned.
“A possible virus outbreak,” Pomero spoke up. “The CDC has it under control.”
“The CDC is conducting an investigation,” the admiral concurred.
The president spoke up. “Director Stanton and I met with the CDC just two days ago. Preliminary findings by the CDC indicate a possible connection between this virus and the one confiscated in Hainan at this group’s communications center.”
“That would be an act of war, if they’ve released a bio-weapon here,” the general declared.
“The CIA hasn’t verified the CDC’s findings in that regard,” Stanton countered.
“But there could be a connection between this virus and these planned explosions. If it is the same group.”
“Yes,” Stanton replied.
“How bad is this virus, and what could happen if it gets out in the public?” Halverson asked.
“The CDC thinks it’s more deadly than the Hainan strain, and it could become a pandemic,” the president replied.
“But the CIA has not confirmed those findings,” Stanton responded.
“When will we know?”
“At most a few days.”
“We’re still recovering from 9/11, we’re facing terrorist attacks at home ports as well as the Panama Canal, and now we may have a potentially deadly pandemic on our hands?” Jameson said, his voice now raised.
The room fell silent.
“These are not just random terrorist acts. These are coordinated. This is a sophisticated group we’re dealing with. In fact, these look like diversionary tactics,” the general said, breaking the silence.
“From what?” Mathews asked.
The general shrugged. “My guess would be our involvement in the Middle East.”
The president stood. “While we want to ensure the safety of our seaports here at home, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’ve got a cruise ship loaded with explosives headed for the Panama Canal. I want to authorize the CIA to send forces to stop that ship and disarm those explosives. Now.”
The council members exchanged looks and nodded.
“Do we know for sure there aren’t passengers on this cruise ship?” Mathews asked.
“Yes,” the admiral replied, nodding his head. “The Antavia was cleared to sail out of Los Angeles only because they were not taking on any passengers. The ship’s manifest listed a skeleton crew heading to Cartagena, Colombia scheduled to go into dry dock.”
“Can we trust the accuracy of that manifest?”
The admiral nodded. “Dock authorities do an inspection just prior to sailing. No persons are allowed on or off ship from port after that point.”
“But we now know their plan isn’t to dry dock in Cartagena,” Stricklan interjected.
“Gentlemen, I agree with President Bradshaw. The CIA should be authorized to deploy immediately its Special Operations Group (SOG) paramilitary forces to insert and extract these terrorists planning to carry out attacks on the Panama Canal and any other locations indicated, and defuse any explosive devices,” the vice president stated.
“Director Stanton, we’ll have that Council Directive to you within the hour. Time is of the essence,” the president said as he stood, signaling that the meeting was over.
“And Irv, you know the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) out of Fort Bragg will help coordinate any support you may need,” General Waldron offered as he stood and gathered his materials.
“And you’ve got the Coast Guard’s help,” the admiral added.
“We may need air support with air to surface missile capability, if we can’t stop that cruise ship in time,” Irv Maxwell commented as he stood to leave. He had a lot of preparation work to do.
“I’m sure they’d be happy to blow that boat right out of the water for you,” the general responded with a smile.
Irv Maxwell seemed to be thinking out loud. “It’s good the terrorists plan to enter the canal from the Pacific. Ships go through at night from that side. We’ll have a better chance of getting onboard under night cover. The ship will pass under the Bridge of the Americas before entering the canal. Operatives could rappel down without detection.”
The admiral whistled. “That’s cutting it close, but you guys know what you’re doing. Just remember, there’s a fifteen-foot tide differential every five hours on the Pacific side. That can really mess you up if it catches you off-guard.”
“Right.” Maxwell nodded.
“Mr. President,” Clark Mathews said as people were starting to leave the room. “What about the facility where these plans came from? Do we need to send a team in there?”
Irv Maxwell responded. “We extracted biochemical samples from a laboratory on their premises. Let’s hold off until we know just what they’ve got there.”
Mathews nodded in agreement and proceeded toward the door.
“Now how did you pull that off?” Defense Secretary Stricklan patted Maxwell on the back as they began to exit.
“Remember that hot-shot attorney you mentioned earlier?” Irv Maxwell replied with a chuckle.
“Yi? Of course.”
“Well, he and one of my Special Ops microbiologists did, in fact, walk in and take them.”
Warren Stricklan burst out laughing.
Ross Pomero, who was behind them, was fuming. This was supposed to be his moment of glory.
Once outside, Irv Maxwell pulled Ross aside and whispered, “Ed blind-copied me on that email. Seems you deleted a few things, including an email from Yi dated October 5th. You should not have overlooked that one, Ross.”
Irv patted Ross’s chest with the Classified folder then turned and walked away.
* * *
BRIDGE OF THE AMERICAS, PANAMA
October 31

“Target is approaching,” Paramilitary Ops commander and rappel master Theo Walker whispered into his helmet’s throat mic. He watched the lights of the cruise ship Antavia against the darkened sky through night vision binoculars, crouched on a steel beam on the underside of the Bridge of the Americas—the gateway to the entrance of the Panama Canal. The humid salty mist of the Pacific Ocean mixed with dirt and bird droppings left a slippery sludge everywhere. Vehicles rumbled overhead on the bridge’s road surface, echoing within the massive steel structure, but caused no distortion in Walker’s mic or distraction to his laser-sharp focus.
“Teams prepare to insert,” Walker commanded.
Three ops teams crouched with Walker at various locations within the bridge’s under-beams and listened to his instructions through ear buds inside their night vision helmets. These were not uniformed military forces. These experts wore plain black. Nor were these guerrilla mercenaries recruited in back alleys. These forces were well educated—most with advanced degrees—and highly skilled, considered the most elite of the US special missions paramilitary force.
“Air Ops acknowledge,” Theo Walker commanded into his mic.
“Roger.”
“Standby. If target does not begin turn-around maneuver before reaching San Juan Hill, fire air-to-surface missiles until target is destroyed.”
“Understood.”
“All Ops,” Walker continued, “if operations go as planned, we will remove target to a safe area outside the harbor and assess explosives onboard. If they are deemed unsafe to dismantle, target will be taken out to sea and destroyed.” He then commanded, “Sea Ops, acknowledge.”
“Roger.”
“Standby for sea coordinates. We may need a ride back.”
“Understood.”
“Ground Ops, recover bridge gear then proceed to assigned locations.”
“Roger that.”
They waited.
Walker ordered, “Ready. All teams drop to 30 feet and hold for the Go.”
The teams started their rapid rappel as the cruise ship began to move slowly beneath them, passing under the Bridge of the Americas heading for the canal’s entrance. Each member had been strategically positioned at a spot under the bridge to land in an area on the ship necessary to quickly take control and carry out their mission.
“Go!” Walker barked.
Team 1 dropped first at the closest point of the ship’s bow on its highest deck. Upon landing and detaching from their retracting ropes, they split up and proceeded down both sides of the ship. With weapons drawn, they descended down the staircases marked “Crew only.” These passages would take them down the fifteen decks to the central corridor of the ship (referred to as the I-95). Because the ship’s manifest listed a barebones crew, the risk of running into someone was low. Nevertheless, the team members each carried a modified Honey Badger low visibility carbine assault rifle.
“On your right!” Team 1’s leader captain Jake Davis yelled. Three enemy crewmen walking along the corridor were caught off-guard as members of Team 1 stepped off the bottom steps. Two of the crewmen dropped immediately as bullets cut through them. One darted behind a pillar.
Davis dealt with the third crewman while the rest of Team 1 spread out down the storage areas that ran along the I-95 corridor. As experts in all three categories of explosives—nuclear, mechanical, and chemical—since the type or types of explosives onboard were unknown, their job was to assess and deactivate all explosive devices. And, if possible, dismantle.
“Three enemy crew down,” Davis radioed to Walker. “Assessment underway.”
“Great,” Walker replied.

Walker and the rest of Team 2 dropped to the ship immediately following Team 1 and proceeded down the bow stairs to deck 12 where the navigational bridge, or command center, ran the full width of the ship. This area operated twenty-four/seven, so it was always manned and highly secured. Team 2 needed to breach the center’s security doors and take control of the ship.

Team 3 dropped midship and proceeded down to the lower aft area where the engine room was located. Led by naval engineer Stu “Cranny” Crandall, they stormed the engine room, anticipating one or two enemy crewmen. One mechanic was on duty, who was taken out without incident.
“Secure the area,” Cranny ordered his team. They then began familiarizing themselves with the nuances of the diesel electric engine of the Antavia.
“Team 3 reporting,” Cranny radioed to Walker. “One enemy crew down. Engine room secured. This baby’s lookin’ good.”
“Got it,” Walker replied.

Team 2 split up going to each side entrance of the secured command center. Networks expert Jan Jenkins and ops commander Walker looped the security camera feeds above the doors while other team members used C-4 with coordinated timer blasting caps to take out the locked doors on each side of the command center. Entering from both sides, they fired their rifles taking out everyone on the bridge, then spread out to the captain’s quarters and other rooms taking out more crew for a total of ten. The ship’s filed manifest had listed a skeleton crew of sixteen. That left two enemy crewmen somewhere onboard the ship.
“Reverse engines!” Special agent and certified ship captain Brian Lindorff shouted.
Team members immediately began the process of stopping the ship’s forward motion as it drew closer to San Juan Hill.
“Air Ops disengage! I repeat, disengage!” Walker ordered into his mic.
“Roger that,” the Air Operations fighter pilot replied as he pulled up on his F-35 Lightning jet, engaging 40,000 pounds of thrust behind him. He would stay in the area in case they needed him to sink the ship at sea.
As Team 2 slowly brought the ship around, Team 1 continued their assessment of the explosives onboard.
“No nukes,” Davis reported. “Most of the explosives are chemical. Very high powered and a lot of ‘em. But stable. They knew what they were doing when they set these babies. These can be dismantled. Timers are being deactivated.”
“Jan,” Walker called to the networks expert who was now pushing keys at a console of computer screens, “what eyes do we have around the ship?”
Jan nodded as she quickly scrolled through the different camera feeds. “Besides the command center, . . . most decks, the engine area, down the I-95 corridor, and several in the crew’s quarters.”
“Any sign of our missing crewmen?”
She shook her head. “Screens are clear.”
Walker acknowledged her reply then radioed all of his teams.
“All Ops standby,” he instructed as he reviewed again the manifest’s number of crewmen. “There are enemy still onboard with possible portable explosive devices. Locations unknown. So, we are heading out to sea. All teams secure your areas. Team 3 also secure fuel tanks. Air and Sea Ops standby for destination coordinates.”
After a brief moment the navigator read off the coordinates in longitude and latitude.
Air and Sea Ops confirmed.
Walker continued, “Sea Ops, prepare for extraction of teams at destination.”
“Roger.”
“Air Ops, hold for instructions.”
“So, you think there’s a possibility those missing crew members have access to portable explosive devices?” the navigator asked Walker.
“I’d say it’s a strong possibility. As a suicide crew, my guess is they’ve equipped themselves with explosive vests. We need to keep them away from the chemicals and fuel tanks downstairs. If we can do that, at most they might do some structural damage.”
Walker then spoke into his throat mic. “Team 1, what part of the ship is over the most volatile chemicals?”
“That would be aft, sir. On the starboard side.”
Walker tilted his head toward the door and ordered, “Jan, you and seven others secure that area for at least three decks above. More if you can. We need to stop these guys before they get near the lower decks.” He then took over scanning the camera screens.
Jan nodded and her group headed out. They divided and moved down the stairways on both sides and in the center of the ship.
As Jan reached the starboard side on the exterior of deck 7, she saw one of the enemy crew members wearing an explosives vest about a hundred feet in front of her. She crouched in the stairwell below the deck landing and fired her Honey Badger assault rifle, hitting him just before he started down the stairs to deck 6.
The vest exploded. The blast wind propelled her back down the stairwell shielding her from the full impact of the discharge. The explosion seemed to be echoing within the metal walls surrounding her. Or is that ringing in the ears? she thought, trying to take an assessment of her condition. It certainly was taking much longer than she wanted to suck air back into her lungs. Even having anticipated the blast thump to her chest, she could not compel her lungs to inhale. A punctured lung? Just then, her lungs filled with air and she let out a gasp. Yeah, there’s that C-4 motor oil smell. Except for the chest pressure and ringing in her ears, and probably a lot of bruises from hitting stairs in the fall, she concluded that she was no worse for wear and slowly got to her knees. As the debris settled and smoke began to clear, she crawled back up what was left of the stairs to survey the damage. The explosion took out three to four levels of decks in the aft starboard side of the ship—parts of decks 5, 6, 7, and part of deck 8; most of which looked to have been restaurants, shops, and lifeboat areas. All well above the waterline. No severe structural damage.
“What the hell was that?” Walker shouted into his mic.
In a hoarse whisper she replied, “One enemy with a vest on 7. I got him. He took out a good portion of 4 decks aft on the starboard side. Above the waterline.”
“You okay?”
She coughed. “Sure. I’m going to have to find another way out of this area. There’s a lot of heavy debris. I’ll handle it.”
“Keep me posted. Team 1, how are those chemicals?”
“Still stable.”
“Sea Ops, how far out are you?”
“I have you in sight. Arrival two minutes.”
“All teams prepare for extraction. Deck 4 port side. Two minutes,” Walker ordered.
“What about the last enemy crewman?” someone asked.
“Keep an eye out, but it’s a chance we’ll have to take. The sooner we get off this boat the better. Move!”

Jan found herself trapped on the starboard side of the ship, opposite where the other team members would be extracting soon. She glanced at her watch. Less than a minute. She also noticed a deep gash in her left thigh. She was losing a lot of blood. No time to deal with that. Her heart pounded and her body ached with the realization that she may not make it in time. Crawling through a small opening of a shattered wall in what appeared to have been a restaurant, Jan got to her feet and ran toward the kitchen area hoping to find clear passage to the lower decks and the other side of the ship.

The Sea Ops’ forty-seven-foot Motor Lifeboat (MLB) powerboat pulled alongside the cruise ship’s tender dock.
“Air Ops, standby,” Walker ordered, eager to be off the Antavia and away from the explosives. “Teams extraction in process. Prepare for missile strike.”
“Roger that.” The F-35 Lightning fighter jet pilot brought his aircraft around and in line with the ship, preparing for missile launch.
All team members except Jan quickly boarded the powerboat.
“Jan, where are you?!” Walker barked.
No reply.
“Jan, do you copy?”
Moments passed.
“We can’t wait,” Walker shook his head.
The powerboat’s pilot revved the engines in anticipation of a full throttle exit.
“Sir, I can go back in,” Davis shouted above the engine noise.
“With enemy access to explosives? It’s too risky!”
As the powerboat’s engines whined in high idle awaiting Walker’s command, Jan came running onto the dock—out of breath and covered in debris dust and ripped clothing, her left leg blood-soaked. She leapt into the powerboat.
“Let’s move!” Walker shouted to the powerboat pilot who shoved the throttle forward.
“Glad you could join us,” Walker high-fived Jan and smiled, genuinely relieved that all of his teams had made it. “Good job.”
As soon as they sped far enough away, Walker issued the command, “Air Ops, destroy target!”
They then watched the night sky light up as missiles struck, triggering massive explosions that obliterated all but the smallest traces of the Antavia.

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DM Coffman specializes in clean (no offensive language, graphic sex or extreme violence) quick read suspense thrillers, many of which are based on experiences while living in China. Truths are woven throughout her books. But it's up to the reader to figure out where truth ends and DM's imagination begins.

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