Chief Petty Officer Brayden Sullivan hadn’t been on a single straight-forward operation in his impressive career, and this was clearly not going to be the first. He went over it again in his head. He had plenty of time to think about it. He’d be freefalling from the mesosphere for more than five minutes.
The Balena Assetata was a suezmax crude tanker bound for Porto Foxi at the southern tip of Sardinia when it was overtaken by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Normally this would be handled locally and without an orbital team, but, as it happened, the Balena Assetata was carrying more than just crude; somewhere in the belly of that thirsty whale was Dr. Mahdi Rhabar, an Iranian nuclear scientist who’d decided to defect. According to intel, half the ship’s crew were actually COMSUBIN commandos. A Raiders team would never have had their ship hijacked out from under them by a band of pirates, and so far the radio chatter was mum, so this was feeling very much like a false flag. The Italians knew something no one else did. Rhabar was largely an unknown, but it seemed like he was more than just a nuclear scientist. Sullivan’s superiors decided they’d like to meet him in person.
So that’s how he and his team found themselves dropping into atmo for a HALO space-dive.
Idea was to land on the deck of the ship, which was like trying to spit in someone’s coffee through their sunroof from the top of Sky Mile Tower, so it was expected that most of the team would end up in the drink and have to make their way to the tanker for an after-action extraction. Whoever landed successfully would have to be especially effective. And wouldn’t you know it, there was the Balena Assetata rushing up beneath his feet. Sullivan was right on target.
He waited for the countdown and then lifted the release for his pressure suit. It fell away in pieces around him while his chute got him down to the deck without turning him into spin art. Surprise was his greatest weapon, and he could maintain the advantage with speed, so he moved more quickly than quietly down the length of deck between himself and the bridge, but already he didn’t like how this felt. He swept the control rooms and then the accommodations while Winters—the only other one to land on the boat—went belowdecks. But Sullivan’s initial hunch proved to be right.
Something more was going on here. Something bad.
The Balena Assetata was completely abandoned. But where’d they all go? The sats would have seen something.
Sullivan was afraid he was about to find himself dead center in a storm much bigger than him, bigger than anything he’d found before. The kind of storm you don’t come back from.