Bravo Team went up and over the ship’s hull, Bravo One – Chief Master Sergeant Jason Hayes – leading the way as usual. One by one, the rest of the team followed.
They split off as soon as they cleared the hull and landed on the deck. Senior Chief Ray Perry and Bravos Three and Four turned to the left and headed for the engine room. Bravos Six and Four, along with Cerberus, took the stairs and the most direct path they could find to the bridge.
There was complete silence as they moved through the ship’s superstructure. They communicated through hand signals and head jerks, hoping to keep their presence quiet for as long as possible. They reached the bridge in no time and fanned out on either side of the door.
Cerberus gave a low growl as SO1 Clay Spenser pulled out the infrared device in his pack. He flicked the switch and pointed it at the room beyond the door. There were two heat signatures inside, in virtually the same positions they’d been in during their final check-in with TOC before they’d boarded.
Clay nodded at Jason as he stowed the device and took hold of his gun. They had no way of knowing which man was the ship’s Captain and which was the Somali pirate, but it had been a long time since any of the Team had accidentally shot an innocent bystander, so Clay wasn’t particularly worried.
Well, not entirely true. He glanced at Jason, opening up his empathy just a bit to assess the man’s state of mind. He was hyper-focused but edgy, which was a bad combination. Not that Jason would shoot a hostage, because Sentinels weren’t wired that way, even if they were still latent. But Clay still worried how Jason might respond if the hostage were harmed in any way when they came through the door, no matter who’s fault it was.
Jason held up three fingers, dropping each one by one until only his closed fist was raised. He opened his fist and waved them forward, kicking the door open as they breached. Two shots, center mass, and the pirate was down, the ship’s Captain standing with his hands up looking scared but holding it together.
Jason keyed the mic on his radio. “Bravo Two, this is Bravo One. Bridge is clear.”
“Good copy, Bravo One,” Ray returned. “Engine room is secure.”
“Roger that,” Jason said. “Head for the hostages. We’ll meet you there.”
They turned as one and made their way down two flights of stairs to where the rest of the team was waiting. Jason stopped outside the door to the storage area. There’d been a concentration of heat signatures in that room, so they assumed it was where the hostages were being held.
He paused and laid a hand on the door, his eyes closed as if he were listening for any noise coming from the other side. Clay saw Ray glance at him, but he shook his head minutely; Jason wasn’t online, but his every move screamed Sentinel, so he couldn’t blame Ray for being concerned. He pulled out the infrared device again. Sure enough, there were a number of heat signatures on the other side, though how many were hostages and how many were hostiles was anyone’s guess.
Finally, Jason stepped back and Sonny moved in with the battering ram. One swing and the door shattered. They poured into the room, shouting and shooting. All four hostiles dropped within seconds, and none of the hostages had been shot, either by a pirate or by Bravo Team.
The lights went up as the hostiles scrambled to their feet, congratulating Bravo Team as they filed out of the room, followed by their hostages. Every member of Bravo Team relaxed, smiles all around at the successful completion of the shoot house.
“Alright, let’s reset and we’ll run it again,” Jason said as he followed the others out of the room.
“What?” Sonny said, confusion writ large over his face. “That’s three perfect executions in a row. We got this.”
Ray tapped him in the chest with the back of his hand. “And when the boss says run it again, we run it again. We need to be at least five seconds faster on the way down, just in case there are any hostiles we haven’t accounted for.”
“Man, my ass is killin’ me,” Sonny muttered as he followed Jason and left the room.
The Team made their way over the side of the mocked-up ship and down to the staging area. Clay grabbed a water bottle and wandered off to lean on one of the posts holding up the second-story observation deck. He watched his teammates scatter themselves around the space, each lost in his own thoughts.
“He doin’ okay?” Ray asked. He leaned a shoulder on the opposite side of the post Clay had chosen and took a drink from his own bottle.
Clay glanced over at Jason, who was pacing and muttering. He didn’t need to reach out empathically to know the man was walking a knife’s edge right now.
“He’s hanging in there,” Clay said. “This is pushing his buttons, but you already know that.”
“No kidding,” Ray said. “What happens if he…”
“Comes online?” Clay asked. He shrugged. “Stay out of his way. I doubt he’d go after any of us. Even in a feral state, most online Sentinels are aware of friend or foe. But, don’t get between him and any of the hostages. It won’t end well.”
“Jesus,” Ray muttered as he rubbed a hand down his face.
“Yeah,” Clay said. He glanced at Ray, not sure if he should say anything, but he figured that Ray wouldn’t hold it against him if he overstepped. Before he could even open his mouth, Ray was talking again.
“Given that, maybe you should be directly on Jason’s six. I’d feel better if I knew you were right there, just in case he blows.”
“I can do that,” Clay said, relieved that he hadn’t even had to ask.
“Is that why you joined the team?” Ray asked. He waved a hand just as soon as the words were out of his mouth. “Nevermind. None of my business, brother.”
“It’s okay,” Clay said. “From what I understand, they’ve tried throwing other Guides at him in the hopes he’d come online, but he never has.”
“It’s unusual, right?” Ray asked. “Being his age and not being online.”
Clay waggled a hand in the air. “Eh, sort of. There’s no firm timeline for it. Some people come online young and some when they’re older. There’s a lot we still don’t understand about how and why Sentinels and Guides come online. But for someone in our line of work, it’s highly unusual to not be online.”
Clay wasn’t going to speculate about why he thought Jason hadn’t come online, but he could make some guesses, based on what he knew of the man after having worked with him for almost a year. He thought maybe it had something to do with Jason’s family. That coming online meant having a Guide and to a man like Jason, that would feel like a betrayal of his marriage vows, even if the bond were platonic.
He’d seen it before, during training just after he’d completed BUDs and before he joined his first Team. BUDs had been where he’d come online, which wasn’t at all uncommon for a Guide, or so he’d been told. The high-stress environment was apparently the perfect breeding ground for an empathic overload. Clay was just glad he’d come online at BUDs instead of at home.
“Well, I know I don’t need to tell you this, but keep an eye on him,” Ray said. “This thing could go sideways real fast.”
“Any idea when we’re gonna get the call?” Clay asked.
“No idea,” Ray said, shaking his head. “They’re still gathering intelligence. The shipping company is negotiating with the pirates, but I think that’s just a stalling tactic until we’re ready to go.”
“Right,” Clay said.
“Alright, let’s run it again,” Jason yelled out.
Clay took one last drink from his water bottle and pitched the empty container into the trash bin near the table. He followed Ray back to the hull of their ship mock-up. Ray subtly slotted Clay into place between Jason and the rest of the team, giving Clay an eyebrow when Jason merely nodded at them as he turned and began scaling the rope ladder they’d left in place from their last run-through.