by James R. Hannibal
From James R. Hannibal—a veteran combat pilot with Top Secret clearance from the U.S. government—comes an electrifying high-tech thriller in the great tradition of Tom Clancy…
Over ten years ago, Air Force major Nick Baron was part of a failed special ops mission that left a B-2 stealth bomber at the bottom of the Persian Gulf. Now, leading his men—the Triple Seven Chase team—Baron must find the bomber and dispose of it for good before any unfriendly nation can steal the onboard technology for its own purposes. But as the team embarks on its mission, there are greater dangers waiting.
When the CIA intercepts a call signal from an operative in China long thought dead, the Triple Seven Chase team is given the perilous task of retrieving the lone soldier from deep within the Chinese wilderness. There is only one plane for such a dangerous mission: the Shadow Catcher, a plane with capabilities beyond anything that has ever flown.
What Baron and his men don’t know is that the enemy is already among them—and that the Shadow Catcher itself may be the ultimate prize.
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From Chapter 2
The sun burned a dull orange hue into the hazy gulf horizon as the Illustro finally slowed to a drift. Leaning against the rail next to Drake, Nick could see nothing but green water in all directions, a seductive illusion of solitude. In truth, the Iranian coast lay less than fifty miles off the port bow, far too close for his comfort. A soft whirring drifted up from below. Down at the waterline, he saw a small section of seawater bubbling and frothing against the hull like a hot spring.
“What’s that?” asked Drake, following his gaze.
“It’s a subsurface thruster,” said Nick. “The ship’s dynamic positioning system will hold our coordinates within a couple of meters. It looks like we’re over the objective.”
“That’s right.” Walker emerged from the pilothouse. “But we don’t want to hold this position any longer than we have to, so let’s get started.”
The three of them abandoned the warm glow of the Arabian sunset for the cold fluorescent light of the ship’s main lab. White powder-coated cabinets and counters stretched the full length of the room, except for the forward wall, where the Triple Seven’s lead engineer labored before a wide bank of black computers. Above him, a large LCD monitor displayed a steadily growing mosaic of tiny black and gray squares.
“Are we nearing completion?” asked Walker.
Dr. Scott Stone looked up from his keyboard and reseated the glasses that had drifted down his sharp nose. “The submersible is covering the final section now, sir. It will complete its run momentarily.” With the last word, a tiny burp escaped his lips. The engineer grimaced and raised a hand to cover his mouth. His face turned green.
“How ya doin’, Scott?” asked Drake, perching himself on a stool at the long central table.
Stone did not answer. Instead, he stood up from his workstation, stumbled out the portal, and leaned over the rail.
Drake grinned. “That good, huh?”
“Does he realize there’s another deck below that rail?” asked Nick.
“I had Doc Heldner give him some meds,” said Walker. “She even gave him some gingersnaps.”
They heard Scott let out a heaving belch, followed by a series of sickening splats from the deck below.
“I think he just gave ’em back,” said Drake.
Walker frowned at the pilot. He took a sip of black coffee from a foam cup, paused to savor the black liquid, and then turned and stretched a hand toward the large screen. “Gentlemen, this jumble of mass confusion is a photo-map. We dropped off an autonomous ROV yesterday and then moved off-site while Dr. Stone monitored its progress. It doesn’t look like much now, but once Stone’s program unscrambles the mess, we’ll get a detailed look at our objective.” He focused his scowl on Scott as the seasick engineer trudged back to his workstation. “At least that’s what he tells me.”
“The ROV is on its way back up,” said Scott weakly, dabbing his face with a small white towel. He sank into his chair. “Let me run the resolution software. We should have an image in under a minute, sir.”
Nick gazed expectantly at the screen. At first, the picture remained an incomprehensible collage of black and gray photos. Then the hundreds of individual boxes began to move. They shifted, rotated, and adjusted until finally they merged into a single, coherent image: a massive B-2 stealth bomber, the Spirit of Kansas, lying in the silt at the bottom of the Persian Gulf.
Nick glanced at Drake. Realization washed over his teammate like an angry flood. His eyes grew wide, his jaw tensed. “That’s our jet,” he exclaimed. “My jet.”
Looking back at the crisp ROV image, Nick could clearly see the blown hatch where Drake had ejected from the aircraft ten years before. Memories of their first combat mission together came racing back.
HUMINT had predicted a meeting between Saddam Hussein and Tariq Irhaab, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Triple Seven Chase, then just a test squadron, had the only reconnaissance asset that could get to the target, an experimental stealth jet called Dream Catcher. Just hours before the Shock and Awe campaign began, Drake had slipped through the enemy radar fence in the Spirit of Kansas, carrying Nick and Dream Catcher in the B-2’s weapons bay, and Danny Sharp, one of the Dream Catcher’s developers, in his copilot seat.
The mission was supposed to be a cakewalk.
The bay doors jammed half open during deployment, ruining the bomber’s stealth and sending Nick and the Dream Catcher tumbling toward the desert floor. Nick had no choice but to eject, right in the path of a platoon of Republican Guard. Drake could have left him. He should have, to save the B-2. Instead, he came back for his teammate, taking out the platoon’s missile launcher so that a rescue chopper could get in close enough to grab him. Unfortunately, the launcher got off a shot before Drake’s bomb took it down. The last time Nick saw the bomber, it was limping south toward the gulf, trailing smoke and fire.
Drake tore his eyes away from the monitor to glare at Walker. “Of course, that can’t be my jet,” he said, tilting his head. “While medevac took Nick, Danny, and me back to the States, you salvaged my jet and towed it out to deep water. You scattered it into a thousand pieces over the Arabian Basin.” He gestured at Nick, his volume beginning to build. “Nick and I sat next to you while you testified before the oversight committee. We corroborated everything you told them!”
Nick winced. Drake still hadn’t put it all together, that Nick had kept the truth from him almost as long as Walker had.
“Stand down, Major,” Walker fired back. “What would you have me do, tell a pack of two-bit politicians that we left a stealth bomber at the bottom of the Persian Gulf?” He folded his arms and snorted. “They can’t keep their mouths shut. The Iranians would have picked the wreck clean by now, two billion dollars’ worth of stealth technology out in the open. We had to keep it need-to-know.”
The colonel’s scowl deepened as he took another sip of coffee. “The first salvage op went bad, very bad. We started to bring her up, but one of the main cables snapped, then the other one. Two divers were killed immediately. The third was pinned under the bomber. I went in to get him out, but there was nothing I could do. I lost the entire team.” He cast a glance at Nick. “After that fiasco, Major Baron and I decided it was better to leave the bomber where it lay.”
Drake turned to Nick in shock, suddenly grasping the full truth. “You knew about this the whole time?”
Nick opened his mouth to respond, but after a decade of knowing this day would come, he could not find the words to say.
“I brought Major Baron into the loop as soon as I returned to Washington,” said Walker. “I needed a sounding board, and I wanted a member of the ops team to be prepared in case word got out about the asset. Baron is the team lead. He had the need to know. You didn’t.”
The revelation that even Nick had kept the secret from him robbed Drake’s anger of its fire. He shifted his gaze to the floor. “Did Danny know?”
“No,” answered Nick quietly. And he would never know. Danny had died the previous September. This lie was only a small part of the guilt that Nick still harbored in the wake of his death.
“If it’s been safe this long, then why recover it now?” asked Drake.
“An Italian marine science group is planning to map the gulf floor,” said Nick. “We can’t wait any longer.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry we kept you in the dark.”
“Get over it, both of you,” said Walker coldly. “We need to get this done. I don’t like digging up graves in the Iranian’s backyard. We’ve kept that bomber quiet for a decade, but now that we’re out here, I feel exposed.”
Nick placed a hand on his teammate’s shoulder and looked up at the ghostly image of the B-2. A chill swept over him. He thought of the horror that lay beneath: the crushed body of a forgotten patriot and two fully armed five-thousand-pound bombs.
James R. Hannibal is a former US Air Force Stealth Bomber pilot with over a thousand hours of combat experience including over-watch, close air support, and HVI captures. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1997 with a Bachelors of Science in Middle
Eastern Studies and earned a Masters of Science from Central Missouri State University in Aviation Safety Sciences. His flying career included the A-10 Warthog, B-2 Stealth Bomber, MQ-1 Predator, T-38 Talon, T-37 Tweet, and the Boeing 737, 757, and 767. When he is not flying or writing thrillers, James occasionally reviews for the New York Journal of Books.
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Website – http://stealthcommand.com/
How far will collateral damage from a CIA drone strike reach?
When a suicide bomber shatters the peace of a winter afternoon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., former pilot and undercover Cerberus operative Nick Baron receives an eerie invitation from the chess app on his phone—a mysterious figure named The Emissary wants to play.
Nick and his covert unit—the Triple Seven Chase team—soon find themselves drawn into battle against an unknown opponent who has resurrected an ancient order of assassins: the legendary Hashashin. And there is a long-awaited prophecy being fulfilled by a series of violent attacks which may culminate in a final apocalypse over Jerusalem.
As the Triple Seven fight to stop each attack, Nick tries to keep The Emissary on the hook by playing their digital chess game. The lines between the game and the fight begin to blur, as every time Nick loses a piece on the board, he loses one of his men. And if Nick cannot find a way to stop the terrorist mastermind, a checkmate may kill millions…
After the towers fall on 9/11, Lieutenant Nick Baron and the rest of the 81st Fighter Squadron are desperate for action. But CENTCOM puts them on the sidelines, leaving the young Warthog pilots restless—and reckless. Then the unthinkable happens. During a high-risk training flight, a rookie wingman slams into the ground.
In the darkness that follows, Nick wonders if he will ever learn to trust a wingman again—or even learn to trust himself. He will soon find out. Despite the black mark on his record, Nick’s application to the elite Stealth Wing is approved. A recruiter for a new covert team has taken note of Nick’s unique combination of skills. Suddenly Nick is swept into Operation Cerberus—a top secret mission that will take him from a harrowing flight over a black testing facility to a fight for his life on the Iraqi Dunes.
“Hannibal brings together a terrific mix of real air technology with intrigue and nonstop action. A true suspenseful story that will keep you turning the pages until the exciting finale; it really is a great tale.”—Clive Cussler
“Get out of the way, Nelson DeMille. Brad Thor—you’ve got competition!”—Raymond Benson
“A feast for thriller lovers!”—Grant Blackwood, New York Times bestselling author of The Kill Switch
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