The Genesis Project
“Sergeant, your best friend bled to death. Your partner was beheaded in front of you. And you have no signs of post-traumatic stress?”
Sergeant Blake Powell nodded, wondering why the unit psychologist grilled him without respite. He glanced out the window, expecting the sun to have set after hours of his legs sticking to the leather sofa, but it still dominated the evening sky and bronzed the psychologist’s milky-white skin.
Blake shook his head.
“No rage?” Doctor Kendra’s wrinkles frowned alongside her mouth, making her look alien.
Blake stood, fists clenched. “We’re done here, ma’am. Colonel Morse ordered me to report for assessment, but I wasn’t ordered to remain here all day answering the same fucking questions.” He didn’t care if his irritation came across as a sign of PTSD. Everyone tired of interrogations. Blake saluted and turned to leave.
“Sit down, Sergeant.”
Blake gritted his teeth and sat, trying to hide his outrage.
“You’ll sit here until I tell you otherwise. You’re under contract with DOD. And don’t think I won’t make a phone call and have you on indefinite leave by morning. What would your family think? Your wife relies on the income to feed your daughter.”
Blake waited, motionless.
Blake shoved his hand in his pocket and found the blade that had saved his life many times with Delta Force. It reminded him she could be dead in a heartbeat if he felt like it. “Nothing out of the ordinary.” He forced a smile.
Doctor Kendra’s expression was as boring as her chocolate milkshake colored pants. “Why do you think that is? Why do you think you feel no attachment? Care nothing for the lives of your men?”
Blake tightened his grip on his knife. “Who the fuck are you to tell me my men don’t matter to me?” He spoke through his teeth, still straining to smile. “I don’t want anyone to die. I’d love to hold my wife at night and tuck my little girl in to sleep. Am I as emotional as others? No. Blame my parents; Daddy gave me the belt too many times, and Mommy didn’t let me suck her tits long enough. Does it matter? Run all your tests. I care, but I don’t have a problem letting go. I clear emotional impact immediately. Ignore and override.”
Doctor Kendra straightened her pants and readjusted her posture. What was she struggling to fix? Maybe a stick up her ass? Her pants were ironed to precision, and she wore a blazer. She flipped open a folder.
“Tell me about Captain James Burmann.”
“He died in combat.”
“Be more specific.”
“A mission in the UK—a hostage situation. They killed him. Complete mission failure.”
Doctor Kendra stood and wandered to the window. “More specific, Sergeant. You were there. You failed the mission, and men died for it. Isn’t that right?”
Blake watched her eyes scan the parking lot. “That’s right. You asked me that already.” Is she waiting for someone?
“But they awarded you the Medal of Valor and a Purple Heart for your injuries.”
“I didn’t ask for them. The team received those medals.”
“You don’t think you deserved them?” She adjusted her blouse again.
Blake shrugged. “We failed the mission. My men died. Hostages died. Failure doesn’t deserve a reward.”
“It states in your file that you declined the medals. Because of your guilt?”
Blake straightened. “Because we failed the mission.”
“Tell me about the mission.”
Blake debated sharing. Did client confidentiality mean anything in the military? Stick to the facts. Talking gets people killed or court-martialed. What’s she after?
“Sergeant Powell, I’m ordering you to tell me the story.” She tapped the paper. “I want your version.”
“Our orders were to infiltrate Multi-Diamond. I’m sure you’ve heard of the UK pharmaceutical company? Rescue several hostages, avoid enemy contact—no footprints. Echo team got the call. There were six of us: Wade, James, Mikey, Josh, Sparks, and me. We’d performed well in a dozen missions prior to Operation Dunk Tank, so we came highly recommended.
“We were told the US government was outsourcing research because of red tape, and that research was under threat at Multi-Diamond. Terrorists took control of the building and killed hostages—cleaners, mostly. Nobody important to the government, yet. The terrorists wanted the hostages to talk. Nobody knew what for, but we all assumed to steal research. No biological or chemical threats on site, so they said. Estimates concluded there were six to ten terrorists. Some government analyst fucked up the estimate. Command wanted to use three Navy SEAL Team Six units since the plan included a sea incursion, but their teams were otherwise engaged. The information was time sensitive, and no other teams could hit the ground as quickly as us.
“Mission prep went well. We conducted rehearsals off the coast in a similar building and nailed operational guidelines—as perfect as a rehearsal goes. But no plan survives contact with the enemy.
“A Mark V Craft dropped us off at the coast. We geared up and used an SDV—SEAL Delivery Vehicle—to close in on shore. We arrived on the beach without incident at the rendezvous codenamed Alice. It was midnight, and the plan was to move under cover of darkness. The moonlight left us silhouetted no matter our approach angle, so we moved methodically. No surprises. It wasted time but kept us all alive.
“I was the third man in—outside guard. We moved in a single stack. Wade, James and I had HK 416s, Josh had an MK46, and Mikey favored the HK417—Mikey preferred hitting harder and doing more damage. Sparks had a SIG Sauer MCX, and a M24 strapped to his back. All weapons fitted with sound suppressors. What? Too specific? I thought we had unlimited time. Fine.
“Our target was a three-story building with a lobby on the main floor and several offices and labs on the second and third floors. Intelligence suggested the hostages were on the third floor, which is fairly typical of a hostage situation: it’s a tactical advantage and makes terrorists feel safe.
“Command suspected the enemy was Al-Qaeda, but they didn’t issue any demands and weren’t known for hostage taking. The only reason we had intel at all on the terrorists was because of an employee who had called 999. The call recording had background noise that sounded like Arabic slang.
“Command expected a bomb to go off at any minute, which was their MO.
“A hundred meters from the building, James ordered sniper support. Sparks humped it to an adjoining building down the road. He didn’t get a spotter because it would have left our team short. Sparks was our best shot, and we were confident he could spot his own targets from that range.
“We used a drone to scout the perimeter while we waited.
“‘Fox in position,’ Sparks said. ‘Third floor is tinted. No eyes on targets. No movement on first or second floor. Lights are off. Should I return to your position?’”
Blake grit his teeth. They should have waited for a second team. Goddamn government didn’t care about his men, just the protection of their research.
“‘Roger, Fox. Moving on burrow,’ James said. ‘Remain in position.’
“Only one entrance made sense—the main entrance. You can imagine how fucked that made the mission feel, but the drone revealed all other entrances were collapsed. They wanted to funnel us through the front. Warning two that this mission was FUBAR. An insertion by helicopter would have been smart, but it was red flagged because of suspected anti-aircraft weapons.
“Command updated us that the terrorists demanded the release of a UK prisoner. Not a typical Al-Qaeda request. They were wasting our time. It didn’t matter. We were Charlie Mike—continuing mission.
“We’d buy time with a story about preparing the prisoner for release. Our team would either successfully complete the mission or die. The nearest QRF—that’s a quick-reaction force—waited twenty miles out. The US and UK governments didn’t intend to meet their demands.
“James signaled our advance. We stacked against the glass pane. Wade checked the door: locked.
“‘Silent breach,’ James whispered.
“Wade nodded, pulled out a set of lockpicks, and worked the problem. An alarm went off, and the lights in the main entrance blinded us.
“‘Wade, breaching charge. Execute, execute, execute!’
“Wade slammed the breaching charge on the glass and detonated it. Shards hit all of us. Armed men threw open a door near the elevators and fired.
“We returned fire and entered the building through the broken window. I stepped inside and felt a jab in my foot. I took cover at a support beam. They probably killed the hostages, but we had to keep moving.
“Several Al-Qaeda went down hard in the exchange, but they poured into the lobby. We lost the firefight and had to keep our heads down. We already knew we faced a lot more than ten terrorists.
“‘Wade, grenade!’ James ordered.
“Wade cooked off a grenade and lobbed it. The explosion killed several of them. Some scrambled for cover. Others stood dumbfounded. I shot them before they recouped.
“Ammunition couldn’t last forever. No resupply was coming. I’d already fired three magazines and had only seven remaining in my vest.
“‘Extended line. We have to push forward and funnel them,’ James said.
“We fired from our pillars, forcing our way forward. As we hoped, the poorly trained terrorists bumbled into each other.
“‘Wade, flank left. Mikey, right. Rest, up the middle,’ James ordered.
“Wade and Mikey inched ahead, forcing the terrorists to continue converging. I pulled a grenade from my vest, yanked the pin, cooked it for a three count, and lobbed it. It fell into the group and rolled toward the back. Boom.
“When the smoke cleared, most of the terrorists were dead or wounded on the ground. We cleared the room to the back stairwell.
“‘Stack up,’ James said.
“We moved to the third floor. I heard gunshots above us. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
“‘Fox, do you see anything?’ James asked over the radio.
“‘Negative, no eyes on the burrow. I can’t get a visual through the glass. Permission to bug out and head in.’
“‘Stand by, Fox.’
“Hundreds of scattered cubicles provided the enemy with cover. ‘This place is a fucking maze,’ I said.
“‘Blake and Mikey, left flank. Wade and Josh, right flank. I’ll go center.’
“The top of their heads sailed across the cubicles as we cleared the room. Bullets whizzed past us. We shot down several terrorists in camo. An office with a stained-glass window on a mezzanine overlooked the room—probably a manager’s suite.
“Gunfire erupted from every angle. Camouflaged terrorists leaped from behind desks and filing cabinets. A near-empty room turned into a shooting gallery.
“‘Ambush!’ I’d been trained to say it, but we all knew. I raced forward, firing rounds into the enemy, ignoring everything behind me. We had to break through and gain cover.
“‘I’m hit!’ James said over the radio. I couldn’t chance a look. I had to push forward.
“A bullet punched me in the back of the vest. Two more followed. The impact threw me forward and knocked the wind out of me. I couldn’t recover before someone pinned me to the ground.
“‘Don’t move, or you’ll lose your head,’ a voice boomed from above me. It was perfect English. I didn’t resist.
“The overbearing gunfire ceased. The air tasted acrid.
“Al-Qaeda tied my hands with zip ties. They pulled off my equipment, cursing at me in Arabic. I couldn’t understand the details.
“‘You here kill us?’ One of the Al-Qaeda pressed an AK-47 into my eye. I wasn’t sure if he expected a response.
“He cracked the butt of the rifle into the side of my head.
“‘You speak English, stupid American? You here kill us?’
“I spit blood. ‘I saw a light out. We were coming to replace the bulb.’
“He smacked me three more times with the butt of the rifle—the third to the top of the shoulder. Each hit sent sparks to my fingers. I tried not to cry out, but the third time I couldn’t help it. The guard holding me kicked my foot, further lodging the shard of glass into it.
“‘You want funny? I show funny.’
“The Al-Qaeda leader unsheathed a knife from his side. I closed my eyes and thought a goodbye to Sophia and Clara, praying Sophia knew I had done my best. I hoped a place like Valhalla existed, although I didn’t have a weapon in my hands. On a fear scale of one to ten, I measured a solid eight. Ten is when the situation is hopeless, reserved for soldiers who can’t will themselves to move.
“Nothing happened. I opened my eyes.
“The leader stood beside James and flicked his wrist. The men jerked James to his knees and dragged him over. James looked at me, smiled, and nodded. He didn’t need to speak the words. I nodded back.”
Blake bit the inside of his cheek and squeezed his toes, trying to cut the connection to the tears burning in his eyes. If his dad could see him, he’d slap him with an open palm, call him a little bitch for sobbing like a girl, and tell him to man the fuck up.
James had meant the world to Blake. He’d selected Blake to the team when every other team leader had passed on Blake because they thought he was too cold. Wouldn’t fit in. James had been Blake’s best man at his wedding and Clara’s godfather. If Blake didn’t come home, he trusted James to look after his family.
James never should have been the terrorist’s target. Blake should have been the first to die.
“Everything okay, Sergeant?” Doctor Kendra said.
Blake covered his mouth and faked a few coughs. His dad never faked a cough to cover up tears. He went to the grave coughing blood. Blake returned his thoughts to the mission.
“The leader looked at me. I thrashed around but couldn’t escape the two men who held me.
“‘Now you watch me funny.’
“I might have chuckled at his English if I hadn’t known what he was about to do. He took James by the edge of his helmet and pressed the knife to James’s throat. Blood spattered my face, my eyes. I blinked away enough blood to see him hack James’s neck until his body fell sideways. James’s head dangled by his helmet. I thrashed again, but there was no use. ‘You fuck!’
“The terrorist laughed hysterically.
“‘I’m going to kill you!’ I said.
“Muted expressions showed the terrorists’ fear. They shifted from leg to leg. If they both leaned toward me, I could throw them off balance. I would have time to secure a weapon before they killed me—take a few more with me before I died.
“The leader punched me. Blood dripped down my head. I didn’t mind the taste of blood—it reminded me of BUDS—Basic SEAL Training.
“The leader crouched down in my face. ‘You commander?’ I tasted his breath.
“‘I was tasked with climbing the ladder to replace the lightbulb. We weren’t sure how many of us it would take.’
“His face reddened, and he pressed a pistol into my eye. The quicker our death, the better. His finger squeezed the trigger, but a bang from outside distracted him before the hammer slammed forward. Tinted glass on the right exploded.
“In SERE training, survive and escape, I thrived at escaping custody. I picked locks and stole maps with a thief’s precision. I looked at James’s corpse and tightened up—that fucker had to die. The Al-Qaeda around me must have realized it too because they reaffirmed their grips. A third man behind me yanked my helmet back, exposing my neck.
“‘No.’ The leader huffed.
“The third man wrenched my head sideways; every ligament in my neck groaned. They’d murdered most of the hostages. Two remained kneeling, their heads sagging forward. I knew a broken captive when I saw it. They knew they would die soon, and they’d seen enough shit to want to.
“Mikey, Josh, and Wade kneeled on the other side of the room in the same position I was. Blood dribbled off Mikey’s head. A gunshot? I couldn’t tell. He wouldn’t be walking out of here. He needed a medic.
“The leader stormed over to them and stood behind them, pointing at the paned glass. He barked Arabic at a chaos of activity on the other side.
“‘Corporal Johnston, United States Army. Serial number two, two, three, five, seven, niner, six, three, eight, eight.’ Fuck, don’t die boys.
“‘Raven, this is Fox. The rabbits have control,’ Sparks said over the radio. ‘Mouse, this is Fox. I have eyes on. Going hot in five…four…three…two…’ “I relaxed my muscles to lull the terrorists into a false sense of security before I sprang.