The Watchers II: Exiles

When Dr. Claire Collins and her sister, Dr. Madelyn Heinlein, make a mind blowing discovery in the desert, they find themselves neck deep in a battle for power between their own government, the aliens known as the watchers, and their overlords.

Life becomes a battle for survival, a race to survive and discover what it is the overlords are determined they can never know--and live to tell about it.

The angels Dante and Galen are determined to protect Claire at all costs--even if that means the ultimate sacrifice.

But the knowledge has been jealously guarded for centuries and it could end up costing all of them their lives.

 

 

The Watchers 

Their civilization was as old as time. No one knew where they came from or how long their kind had existed, but once they gained the knowledge to leave their home world they spread throughout the universe like a plague. They were the most cunning of predators. Their intelligence was only exceeded by their avarice, their narcissism, and their deadly charm.

They were a plague, a blight upon the many civilizations of the universe. Sweeping across the cosmos, they laid waste to all who opposed them, conquered any who dared to fight them, took what they pleased and discarded it once they’d enjoyed their fill of it.

In time the tide turned against them, however. The people of the conquered civilizations banded together and fought back, defeated them, and then banished them to a small corner of the universe where they could do no harm to anyone beyond themselves. The Watchers were sent to guard them, to make certain they were never again a threat to other intelligent life forms. And for a time they were contained ….

Publish Date: 12/15/2014
Length: Mid-Novel
Word Count: 58,266
Genre: Science Fiction/Futuristic Romance
Rating: Spicy
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)

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The Watchers II:
EXILES
By
Kaitlyn O’Connor
( c ) copyright by Kaitlyn O’Connor, October 2014
Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-60394-647-6
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636

This is a work of fiction.  All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact.  Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

 

Chapter One

Dominick ‘Nick’ DiCarlo rolled out of the dingy and onto the beach, ignoring the water that splashed in his face as he belly crawled out of the surf, across the short beach, and then scrambled up the first dune to scan the terrain through his night vision goggles.  Surrounding him was his own S.E.A.L. team and three others that had been pulled in for this ‘special emergency’ mission.

He wasn’t in the habit of questioning his orders—and he hadn’t this time despite the fact that he’d been thoroughly pissed off about having his leave canceled—but he had a bad feeling about the latest mission and his brain wouldn’t stop turning it over and over in an attempt to figure out what just didn’t freaking fit. 

Truthfully, he’d been stunned but more than a little excited when he’d discovered the general area where things would go down—the Persian Gulf—because it would put him in pretty damned good shape to take care of his own personal mission once he’d done Uncle Sam’s job, eliminating the cost of transportation in one direction anyway—always assuming he could convince them to allow him to take his leave there.

The tale they’d cooked up didn’t fit, though, he decided, and that was why he felt distinctly uneasy, not just wound tight with nerves because of the possibility of a firefight, which was so typical of his job that he hardly paid that any attention anymore.

Of course, he was always scared spitless at the thought of a firefight.  He wasn’t stupid.  But he was accustomed to the adrenaline rush that accompanied it and it was familiar enough to feel ‘right’.  This damned well didn’t feel ‘right’. It felt very, very wrong.

The Middle East was a hot bed of terrorists.  Not the sort of place one would expect to find spies or stolen technology.  If they’d been told they were raiding a terrorist stronghold for stolen weapons, he would’ve bought it.  Or if they’d dropped them in Russia or China to look for stolen technology—or to steal technology ….

The story just didn’t fit the circumstances in his book and that was what felt so very wrong that uneasiness was struggling to surmount the anticipation he generally felt, distracting him when he didn’t need the distraction—couldn’t afford it.

In the foreground, he saw what looked like a vast basin of crumbling ruins that seemed to fit the satellite images they’d been shown.  And on the far side a jumble of tents that was the secondary target for this part of the mission that might house trouble with a capitol T.  They’d been told there might be armed guards stationed there and they should be ready for trouble, but that resistance wasn’t expected and the objective was to take the insurgents alive.

What?

That had really thrown everybody and was the main reason Nick felt so uneasy.

That was for ‘Delta’ team, though.  Alpha, Beta, and Gamma teams were to recapture the technology and destroy everything they couldn’t take with them.  While they were taking care of retrieving their property at the land base, a second group of four S.E.A.L. teams would proceed to the underwater base just off the coast, wipe out any resistance they encountered there, and collect anything else that they found in the way of ‘stolen’ technology.

It took them almost an hour to get into position.  Once they had, they had to wait for a go from the Delta team since they didn’t want to spring the trap before Delta had secured the insurgents and make their job harder.  

The minute Delta swarmed the tents, Nick and his team shot for the edge of the basin, went over it on ropes and raced toward the pyramid shaped structure at the center.  Nick’s uneasiness grew as they made their way through the land based ‘camp’.  It looked awfully fucking old for a government facility of any kind.

Of course that didn’t entirely rule out the scenario they’d been given—these were poor, war-torn countries and not much looked, or was, new.  But it was damned weird.

He closed his mind to the doubts, focusing. 

He felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him, though, when he and the others swarmed inside and got their first look at the ‘map room’ they’d been told about.  For a handful of minutes, all any of them could do was stand and gape at the ceiling, the map of the universe—not the known universe, the ‘unknown till now’ universe!

It sure as well wasn’t stolen technology—at least Nick wasn’t buying that it had been stolen from Uncle Sam anymore. 

He could believe they were about to steal it, though.

“Hump it!  We only have about an hour and we need to get this recorded and everything we can carry moved to the ship!” the CO bellowed.  “G team … spread out and search the rest of the place for anything else we might need to retrieve!”

Actually, Nick wasn’t certain of whether he’d bellowed the order or if it had just echoed through the room, but he jumped to obey like everyone else.  He didn’t know about the rest of them, but the sooner they collected the stuff and got the hell out the better he would feel. 

* * * *

Dante was wrestling with what he perceived as two divergent desires/needs as he emerged from the sea near the fortress—the need to protect Claire and the need to discover what had happened to Gaius to turn him into a mindless killing machine.  He hadn’t had to see the vacancy in his old friend’s eyes to know that Gaius was no longer ‘there’.  The vicious attack on Claire was sufficient to convince him this was not the man he had known no matter that he appeared outwardly to be.  He had wondered, at first, if this actually was a cyborg made in the image of Gaius, but there was no doubt in his mind since he had examined him that this was no counterfeit, no facsimile made to appear to be what it was not. 

Gaius had tried to kill Claire and when he had leapt in to protect her, Gaius had not only shown no recognition at all, he had made it clear that he was completely willing to kill anything or anyone in his path.  

Gaius’ brain appeared to be intact, healthy—without defect of any kind and he had not been able to find that a mechanical or chemical device had been used to manipulate Gaius as if he was a mindless puppet.  The only foreign object that he had found was the implant that all of them had had to allow when they were sent to Earth as Watchers and he had not been able to determine that it was malfunctioning in any way that might account for the dangerously bizarre behavior Gaius had exhibited.

He needed answers but he did not like leaving Claire alone in the fortress.

He thought that his uneasiness was driven less by logic and more by emotion than anything else, but he could not be easy in his mind no matter how hard he struggled to convince himself that Claire was safer in the fortress than anywhere else.

Claire had inadvertently triggered a security feature of the old lab when she’d entered it without proper identification—which, naturally enough, she didn’t have—and the incident would not have occurred at all if she had not.  He knew she was not likely to decide to explore that particular area again and there were no other highly restricted areas in the fortress that she might inadvertently trip that would get her into trouble.

There could not be a safer place to leave her on this world! 

And his presence, despite recent events, could not be more of a guarantee of her safety. 

He could not take her where he needed to go—to the fortress currently occupied by the watchers.  The gods had targeted her for death and even if the other watchers were reluctant to carry that out, he could not trust that they would not turn her over to the gods. 

And he might have the strength of ten men, but he did not have the strength of ten angels.

There was no hope for it.  He had to leave her because he had to know what had happened to Gaius—whether it was something that might become a broader threat or not.  She would be safe enough in the fortress until he returned.

He was not certain even that determination would have made it possible to push his anxieties about Claire to the back of his mind, but he made a discovery when the ship emerged from the sea that effectively did so.

There was a small fleet of ships lying between the fortress and the shore.

And all bore the emblem of the United States Navy.  

Dante almost literally felt his hackles rise at the sight. 

* * * *

Claire paced the confines of Dante’s apartment, uneasily aware that her sister, Madelyn, was probably going to be fit to be tied if Dante transported her from her research camp/dig site to the alien fortress without first discussing with her whether or not she actually wanted to be rescued/protected.  And she had a bad feeling that Dante wouldn’t see it as his place to ‘discuss’ the matter at all.  Most likely he was just going to pluck her up with that damned particle beam of his and deposit her at the base. 

He hadn’t said anything about bringing her back or suggested that she meet them in the hanger so she was pretty sure his plans didn’t include escorting Maddie to his apartment.

Which meant she was going to catch the brunt of Maddie’s temper when Dante zapped her into the fortress under the sea.

Of course it was her place to handle it and not something Dante would feel equipped to deal with.  Maddie was her sister—and a woman—and human, and Dante well, male, angel—it stood to reason he wouldn’t have a clue.  If he’d been human and male she doubted he would have known what to say that wouldn’t set Madelyn’s back up but would convince her of the advisability of it.

She was so wrapped up in her internal debate over what to do about her situation—and how she was going to convince Maddie to be reasonable about it—that she completely lost track of the time.  After a while, though, she began to feel the effects of her restless pacing and it occurred to her that she shouldn’t be tired.  When she realized that she was she also realized that she must have been pacing a lot longer than seemed reasonable given the fact that they were very close to Madelyn’s encampment and Dante had light speed capabilities—or at least his ship did.

Why hadn’t they returned?  Or at least Maddie beamed in if Dante had decided to go off on his own business? 

For once, no scenario instantly filled her mind with frightening and/or impossible images.  Generally, she could think up all sorts of possibilities for why something had or hadn’t happened as expected, but this one stumped her.

Mostly because it was Dante and she couldn’t see that much would stop him.

Maybe he’d run into another berserker?

She didn’t believe that!

One, she could see.  Two different angels going off the deep end so closely together?

Unless the one Dante had subdued had escaped?

Wouldn’t he have come after her, though, if he had?

Or would he?  She was pretty sure he’d appeared to start with because she’d breached the lab’s security and that that was why he’d come after her.  He had no reason to be so determined to hack her to pieces otherwise.

Neither scenario, she decided, was likely. 

She supposed she could see where the strain of being on an alien world for who-knew-how-long might get to someone, the isolation, and they might crack. 

Actually, she didn’t suppose they would necessarily have been particularly isolated.  Dante hadn’t said how many others there were on Earth but the facility where she was staying damned sure indicated a large number of them!  So—not really cut off from others of their kind and they could walk among humans any time they liked without being spotted as aliens because she was sure all of them, and not just Dante, had that ability to ‘disguise’ themselves.

She still didn’t know if this ability to appear human when they wanted to was a natural thing or a technical/mechanical manipulation.  She didn’t know if Dante—the angels—were actually capable of physically changing their appearance or if they just used their minds to control what everyone around them thought they were seeing.  If it was natural, though, rather than something mechanical, then maybe that would have taken too much effort for them to really mingle with humans? 

But they were not alone or even few in numbers if the size of the fortress was any indication.  It was ludicrous to imagine more than one of them going off the deep end for any reason, certainly not because of isolation, and she was sure Dante had adequately restrained his friend so that he wouldn’t be able to escape.

And she couldn’t produce any other event that seemed likely to stop Dante or even slow him down.

That should have been comforting.  She should have been able to dismiss her anxieties and put them down to a mistake on her part as to the amount of time that had actually passed or to something very mundane—like Madelyn had insisted on packing everything up first or was arguing with Dante over the need for such a thing. 

She couldn’t.  It almost seemed that her inability to come up with any kind of potential reason for a delay made her more anxious. 

Finally, absolutely convinced that something was terribly wrong, Claire left the apartment, carefully checked her bearings, and headed toward the hanger.

Maybe Dante still hadn’t left?  Maybe he’d been doing something else—like trying to talk to his friend—and that was why he wasn’t back?

Relieved that that had occurred to her and seemed completely reasonable, but unconvinced that that was actually the case, she quickened her steps when she spied the doors to the hanger, hurrying forward in the hope of confirming that her anxieties were nothing more than the figment of an overactive imagination.

Five seconds separated her from death. 

* * * *

Madelyn was beyond tired.  She was exhausted, physically and emotionally.  She’d spent days working frenetically, far harder than usual, struggling to keep her mind on her work and prevent it from straying to her worries about Claire … and her husband, Robert, whom she hadn’t heard from since she’d contacted him about the map room they’d found in the temple.

She was sure that was nothing, that he was just tied up and couldn’t get back to her.  Like her, he was prone to get so caught up in his research that he would lose all track of time.  And he’d told her that he was certain he was on the very cusp of a breakthrough.

But his timing really stank this time!

She really, really needed to talk to him about her sister, Claire’s, abduction by aliens.

Or at least an alien, because she was pretty sure she knew who, or rather which of them, had plucked Claire up and vanished with her!

Claire had seemed to have a romantic interest in the damned alien.

Or at least a sexual one!

But it didn’t follow that the damned alien felt any of the things Claire did.  In fact, Madelyn had a hard time convincing herself that alien beings would feel any of the things that humans did.  And even if they were capable what were the odds that they’d have any sort of feelings for humans?

And beyond that, she couldn’t even be certain that it was the same alien that had taken Claire!   It certainly hadn’t been the same one that had delivered her to the ship!  They’d found him inside the temple! 

She was guessing/hoping it was the one Claire called Dante, but she didn’t know that for sure and that was yet another thing to worry herself sick over.

The bastards at the embassy had treated her like a nut case when she’d tried to get their help! 

She supposed she was lucky they’d dismissed her rather than carted her off to a mental ward, but it not only pissed her off that she’d been so cavalierly dismissed—her and the other witnesses—but she had no idea where, or who, to turn to now to try to get help to rescue Claire. 

She’d left Robert one message after another until she’d filled up his damned box and now all she could get was a recording telling her to call again.

At some point in the dizzying circle of thoughts, she lost awareness and dropped into a deep, dreamless pit so deep that her assailant was upon her before she even knew there was an invader in her tent.  She was, in point of fact, too disoriented from being jerked from such a deep sleep for her mind even to assimilate what was happening at first—although it did flash through her mind that, maybe, it was another quake. 

The dark figure manhandling her didn’t seem to fit that scenario, though.  She was whipped around dizzily, thrown face first to the ground/floor of the tent and had a knee in her back before she could even consider screaming.

And then hogtied.

And gagged.

And had a bag shoved over her face.

Full blown terror assailed her somewhere between recovering her breath from slamming into the ground and the bag that was dragged over her head as she was jerked to her feet.  She tried to scream, but the gag muffled the sound effectively enough that she doubted anyone had heard even if they weren’t similarly bound and gagged and could have come to her rescue. 

She thought there were two of them because she had someone gripping both of her arms painfully as she was hauled out of the tent. 

Terrorists came to mind and turned her bowels to water but before she could shame herself and disgust her captors she heard … English.  American English.

What the fuck?

“Targets acquired.”

“Narpnat? Argat?” Madelyn demanded against the gag.

If he understood the garbled attempt to demand to know what the fuck was happening, he didn’t reply.  He began to move rapidly and Madelyn had to concentrate to keep her feet under her.  She did, in fact, trip and stumble over and over and each time the man jerked her to keep her on her feet until it felt like her shoulder joint would separate.

She didn’t know how long she’d been dragged and prodded, but she heard the sound of the waves on the beach grow loud enough she knew they had to be almost upon it.

Just before the explosion that lit up the world outside her bag hood and the concussion wave that flattened her, deafened her, and threw her into a complete state of shock.

The soldier hauled her to her feet.

Madelyn could dimly see him through the fabric covering her head because he was lit up now by the fiery explosion.

What the hell?

Was this their answer to her request for a rescue for her sister?

Stupid, incompetent fucks!

That thought had barely formed in her mind when she felt like she was on fire herself.  She glanced down instinctively and then up when she realized that she seemed to be in the middle of a spotlight.

It hit her just before she blacked out that it wasn’t a spotlight.  It was the transporter beam ….

She regained awareness to the tune of a meaty thud followed by a meaty thud against metal and a jerk that toppled her to her knees.  The bag was abruptly yanked from her head. Her bonds were ripped away hard enough to leave friction burns where they’d been removed and she blinked … Claire’s angel, she didn’t doubt, into focus.

“Do not move!” he growled as he turned away and strode back across the room.

Madelyn gaped at him, and then down at the soldier lying unconscious at her feet.

His body began to glow before her eyes.

Just about the time she felt the stinging again.

“Fu ….”

“ck!” 

It was the most disorienting thing Madelyn had ever experienced.  In the space of seconds she’d gone from hooded captive on the ground to an alien ship and then … here, wherever ‘here’ was—a dark, windowless room that reminded her of a jail cell even though it was way bigger.

Twisting her head around on her neck, she stared around at the furnishings of the room she’d found herself in, trying to decide what sort of place it looked like. 

It didn’t look like the alien ship she’d been in just a few seconds ago, that was for certain.  But it also didn’t bear more than a passing resemblance to a human sort of abode.  Furniture being functional and made for similar beings, everything in the small … apartment? … was recognizable—bed, tables, chairs.  But it all bore a sort of institutional plainness that nevertheless didn’t look like any institution she’d ever been in. 

The sense of being in some sort of prison was hard to shake.  She wasn’t sure of why she felt that way, what it was about the place that convinced her mind that that was what it was, but the feeling became more pronounced and more of a certainty the longer she examined her surroundings.

She was wondering if she’d simply been beamed to a different part of the alien ship when she felt and heard an explosion powerful enough to send vibrations through the air around her and up through the floor beneath her feet. 

Earthquake, might have been her first thought since the most recent traumatic event prior to being captured was the earthquake and tsunami that had shaken the dig site in Kuwait where she’d been working, revealing a huge, ancient city.  But the explosion she’d felt and heard just before she was beamed up into the ship overshadowed that event.

That had been an explosion—as in with manmade explosives!

This place—whatever it was—was under attack!  And she was pretty sure it was the same group of bastards that had attacked her camp! 

She thought she must be close to her camp, which brought the realization that Claire’s alien angel, Dante, must have transported her to wherever Claire was.

Except Claire wasn’t here.

Did that mean they’d already captured Claire and were now blowing up the place to cover their tracks like they’d done when they’d captured her and her people?

That thought sent a wave of cold through her and shot her heart rate up to a crazy gallop.

“Oh holy shit!  Fuck!”  After a quick scan of the area, she located the door and charged toward it.  Fortunately, it opened, but Maddie was too distressed to feel more than a flicker of relief as she leapt through the opening and into a long—a very, very long corridor.  It went through her mind that she might encounter the same damned soldiers, or worse—the explosives they’d planted—but by far the thought that dominated her mind was the possibility that she was going to get blown to smithereens if she stayed where she was.

Or drowned when the sea swept in.

And where was Claire?

Dante could not know what was going on.  She was sure of that—or trying hard to convince herself at any rate.  He must have thought he was transporting her to be with Claire.

Shaking those thoughts off as she exited the apartment, Maddie looked both ways along the corridor, feeling a sense of doom settle over her as she took in the vastness of the place she found herself in.

She was never going to find her way out of this damned maze!

“Claire!” she screamed, choosing a direction and starting to run.

* * * *

If Claire had moved any faster, she would’ve been inside the hanger when the bulkhead blew.  As it was, she’d already lifted her hand to open the door.  Fortunately, the inner hull held but it did buckle.  It did make an ungodly screeching noise.  The concussion of the blast was still sufficient to knock her to the floor. 

By the time she’d managed to gain her feet again, she saw men swarming the hanger and something far more strange!  The hole they’d blasted in the side of the fortress was closing—healing itself—and the water appeared to be receding!  That peculiar circumstance so thoroughly captured her attention that the soldiers were upon her before she even realized the threat.

They reached the door where she stood and began to alternately pound on it and then pry at it while she stared at them in dawning horror.  Abruptly one pulled a packet of C-4 from a duffle he was carrying and stuck it to the other side of the door. 

Claire gaped at him for a split second and then whirled and ran as fast as she could.  She didn’t manage to make it far enough down the corridor to reach the turn before the blast and the resulting concussion knocked her flat.

She didn’t manage to get to her feet unaided that time.  As she struggled to get up, both of her arms were grabbed near the elbow and she was hoisted upright. 

“U.S. Marines, ma’am.  Who else is here?”

Claire whipped a look toward the man who’d spoken, gaping at him blankly for a moment before she could gather her wits.

He shook her.  “Who else is here?” he bellowed.

“No.. nobody!”

He didn’t actually call her a liar but his expression did.  He turned, jerking her around as he did so and shoving her at another soldier.  “Take her to the ship.  The rest of you, fan out, keep a sharp look out for insurgents.”

“What?” Claire demanded.

The man she’d been handed off to gave her a jerk to get her going and marched her back through the now open door to the hanger. 

She saw she hadn’t been mistaken about the water.  It was barely ankle deep when she and the soldier ‘escorting’ her stepped inside the hanger area.  By the time they’d waded across to the spot where the men had left their underwater scooters the water was barely deep enough to splatter as they walked.

“What’s going on?” Claire demanded when she finally regained enough of her equilibrium to begin to assimilate that this sure as shit wasn’t like any sort of ‘rescue’ she’d ever heard of!

Not that she’d needed to be rescued!

“You’ll have to ask the CO that, ma’am.  I’m just a grunt.”

“Am I being … arrested?” she exclaimed indignantly.  “Because I haven’t done a damned thing!  And I demand to know what the hell is going on here!”

Instead of responding, the soldier grabbed underwater gear and started suiting her up.  That threw her into another tailspin of confusion, sent her fear soaring upwards, as well.  Between the barked instructions and his pulling and pushing at her as he fitted her with oxygen tanks and a mask and breather hose, she didn’t get the chance to ask anything else.

Not that he seemed the least bit forthcoming!

She didn’t believe for a second that he had no clue of what was going on!

She was being treated like a criminal, however, and that realization so unnerved her that she lost any ability to think straight. 

It flickered through her mind that it might be in her best interests to escape, but, even assuming she could, where to go?  They’d breached the fortress.  There wasn’t any place inside that would be safe.  And they had to be at least a couple of miles from the coast.

Besides, directly behind the survival inspired mental prompt a vision filled her mind of the scenario playing out with her being filled full of holes by the man who was currently holding her in his custody.

The trip from the underwater fortress to the surface where a monster ship waited was nightmarish in itself for someone completely unaccustomed to underwater diving gear.  She felt as if she was on the verge of mindless panic all the way up—one breath away from it!

She was so weary with effort and felt so heavy after the buoyancy of the water, that she didn’t really have the strength to put up any sort of resistance once she was hauled aboard and she was marched down into the bowels of the ship so quickly, shoved into a tiny cell, and locked in that she barely had time to mouth a handful of disjointed questions—all of which went unanswered.

She stared at the door blankly when she heard the lock click into place, too stunned to comprehend what had happened.  Finally, she turned her head to survey the cell she’d been thrown in.  There was a narrow bunk along one wall and after a moment, she moved to it and collapsed on the lumpy-hard mattress. 

At least the smell of detergent assailed her when she landed rather than the stench of unclean body! 

There was a silver lining!

After a few moments, she scooted toward the wall and curled into a tight ball, locking her arms around her bent legs. 

Where was Dante?  And why hadn’t he rescued her?

Or at least tried?

THE WATCHERS
By
Kaitlyn O'Connor

 

© Copyright by Kaitlyn O'Connor, September 2014
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-60394-
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

 

 

Dominick ‘Nick’ DiCarlo rolled out of the dingy and onto the beach, ignoring the water that splashed in his face as he belly crawled out of the surf, across the short beach, and then scrambled up the first dune to scan the terrain through his night vision goggles. Surrounding him was his own S.E.A.L. team and three others that had been pulled in for this ‘special emergency’ mission.

He wasn’t in the habit of questioning his orders—and he hadn’t this time despite the fact that he’d been thoroughly pissed off about having his leave canceled—but he had a bad feeling about the latest mission and his brain wouldn’t stop turning it over and over in an attempt to figure out what just didn’t freaking fit.

Truthfully, he’d been stunned but more than a little excited when he’d discovered the general area where things would go down—the Persian Gulf—because it would put him in pretty damned good shape to take care of his own personal mission once he’d done Uncle Sam’s job, eliminating the cost of transportation in one direction anyway.

The tale they’d cooked up didn’t fit, though, he decided, and that was why he felt distinctly uneasy, not just wound tight with nerves because of the possibility of a firefight, which was so typical of his job that he hardly paid that any attention anymore.

The Middle East was a hot bed of terrorists, though. Not the sort of place one would expect to find spies or stolen technology. If they’d been told they were raiding a terrorist stronghold for stolen weapons, he would’ve bought it. Or if they’d dropped them in Russia or China to look for stolen technology—or to steal technology ….

The story just didn’t fit the circumstances in his book.

In the foreground, he saw what looked like a vast basin of crumbling ruins that seemed to fit the satellite images they’d been shown. And on the far side a jumble of tents that was the secondary target for this part of the mission that might house trouble with a capitol T. They’d been told there might be armed guards stationed there and they should be ready for trouble, but that resistance wasn’t expected.

What?

That had really thrown everybody and was the main reason Nick felt so uneasy.

That was for ‘Delta’ team, though. Alpha, Beta, and Gamma teams were to recapture the technology and destroy everything they couldn’t take with them. While they were taking care of retrieving their property at the land base, a second group of four S.E.A.L. teams would proceed to the underwater base just off the coast, wipe out any resistance they encountered there, and collect anything else that they found in the way of ‘stolen’ technology.

It took them almost an hour to get into position. Once they had, they had to wait for a go from the Delta team since they didn’t want to spring the trap before Delta had secured the insurgents and make their job harder.

The minute Delta swarmed the tents, Nick and his team shot for the edge of the basin, went over it on ropes and raced toward the pyramid shaped structure in the center. Nick’s uneasiness grew as they made their way through the land based ‘camp’. It looked awfully fucking old for a government facility of any kind.

He closed his mind to the doubts, focusing.

He felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him, though, when he and the others swarmed inside and got their first look at the map room. For a handful of minutes, all any of them could do was stand and gape at the ceiling, the map of the universe—not the known universe, the ‘unknown till now’ universe!

It sure as well wasn’t stolen technology—at least Nick wasn’t buying that it had been stolen from Uncle Sam anymore.

He could believe they were about to steal it, though.

“Hump it! We only have about an hour and we need to get this recorded and everything we can carry moved to the ship!” the CO bellowed.

Actually, Nick wasn’t certain of whether he’d bellowed the order or if it had just echoed through the room, but he jumped to obey like everyone else. He didn’t know about the rest of them, but the sooner they collected the stuff and got the hell out the better he would feel.