December 19, 2010 Leave a comment
War Games Series #3
January 18, 2010
Captain Katherine Kane is summoned by a field tactical team member to a highly classified location to investigate a possible GRID connection to a bio-weapons cache, but finds far more–and someone wants her to die for it. Now. When she most wants to live. When she’s finally found love–the most powerful weapon of all.
“Impressively researched and engagingly written military thriller is quintessential Hinze. Prepare to be swept into the intrigue, the drama, and the action. Hinze is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best military romance author out there.”
— A Romance Review
“An action packed military thriller [with] a near perfect villain.”
— The Best Reviews
“…a horrifyingly frightening master plot…”
— Jennifer Bishop, Romance Reviews Today
“Air Force explosives specialist Captain Katherine Kane is in the Middle East trailing after a dangerous terrorist Thomas Kunz, a cunning person who runs GRID as a means to destroy America who he obsessively loathes. Thomas has replaced agents with doubles loyal to him. Katherine realizes she can only depend on herself, but the stakes are raised when Thomas abducts Americans to use as hostages. Realizing she has no choice, Katherine turns to an outpost base commander Major Nathan Forrester for help. He is willing to work with her in freeing the hostages and capturing Kunz, but he also tries to hide his desire for the captain with a gruff exterior; in fact he fears commitment since his wife died a few years ago. However, as the danger mounts for Katherine and Nathan he realizes he can no longer ignore his heart’s insistence that he loves his teammate. DOUBLE VISION is an action packed military thriller that starts at high octane adrenalin levels and never slows down even when Katherine and Nathan display their growing love for one another. Surprisingly, even with the non stop action, the cast is solid and believable. Especially so is Thomas, a near perfect villain whose hatred of America and willing to do anything to harm Americans seems so genuine that he makes the tale even with two delightful opponents challenging his every move.”
— Harriet Klausner
A thrill-a-minute read. The action never stops, and Hinze does a great job of showing the attraction between her main characters. — Romantic Times
Awards & Honors:
Winner of the CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award for Silhouette Bombshell for best book read and reviewed by CataRomance in the first half of 2005.
Awarded the Blether Silver
“Okay, Home Base.” Staring through her diving mask, Captain Katherine Kane swam toward the rocks above the newly discovered underwater cave. Cold water swirled around her. “I’m almost there.”
“Roger that, Bluefish.” Considering the distance between Kate and Home Base, Captain Maggie Holt’s voice sounded surprising clear through Kane’s earpiece. “I don’t like the idea of you diving alone. The boss would have fit.”
The boss, Colonel Sally Drake, would understand completely. “Sorry, no choice.” Captain Douglas and his tactical team had been diverted. “If we want to find GRID’s weapons cache, then I’ve got to do this now—before they have time to move it.”
Douglas and his men had assisted Kate on a former mission, intercepting GRID—Group Resources for Individual Development—assets, and when he’d summoned Kate to the Persian Gulf, she’d known he suspected a GRID presence and needed help. All the key players in the Black World community knew that pursuing GRID, the largest black market sellers of U.S. intelligence and weapons in the world, was Kate’s organization’s top priority. And it had been designated such by presidential order.
“I still think we should follow the usual chain of command,” Maggie said. “If the boss were here, you know she would agree with me.”
If Colonel Drake was there and not at the intelligence community summit meeting coordinating on the war on terror, Kate and Maggie wouldn’t be having this conversation and there would be no debate. Kate resisted a sigh.
Maggie was new to this level of covert operations and still adjusting to tossing out standard operating procedure and assuming command in critical circumstances. But she had all the right stuff; she’d grow into the job eventually. Nothing taught operatives better than experience, and she’d get plenty in their unit. Still, for everyone’s sake, including her own, Kate hoped Maggie adjusted and grew into it soon.
“Look,” Kate said, speeding the process along. “Ordinarily, Douglas would have worked up the chain. This time, he came straight to us.” Secret Assignment Security Specialists, S.A.S.S., were the last resort, and Douglas respected that.
“I know this man and he knows us. He’s got a fix on GRID.” Kate couldn’t resist an impatient huff. “No offense intended, Home Base, but you’ve got to learn to trust your allies.” That included Douglas, his team and Kate.
“Yeah, well. I’m gun-shy. You have to prove you deserve it.”
That response surprised Kate. “How?”
“Don’t get yourself killed today. Do you realize how much paperwork I’d have to do?”
Kate smiled. Okay, she’d cut Maggie a little slack. The woman was trying. “Waking up dead isn’t my idea of a fun way to start the day, either, Base.” She reached the finger of rocky land jutting out into the gulf and, treading water, removed the black box from her tool bag.
Stiff-fingered from the cold chill, she flipped the switch to activate the C-273 communications device and affixed it to the rock just below the waterline. If this leading-edge technology worked as promised, she would still be able to communicate with Maggie at Home Base via satellite. Supposedly, the water would conduct the signal from Kate inside the cave to this box and then transmit via satellite to Home Base, completing the link to Maggie. Kate hoped to spit it worked. “Okay, C-273 is seated. We’re good to go.”
Looking up, she again checked the face of the rock above the waterline. Worn smooth and scarred by deep gouges. Definite signs of traffic.
That oddity had caught her eye initially and led her to dive here for a closer look. Otherwise, even with Douglas’s coordinates, she never would have found this particular cave—and she seriously doubted anyone short of an oceanographer charting the gulf floor would have, either.
“Bluefish?” Worry filled Maggie’s voice. “The guys at the lab swear this device will work, but if it doesn’t and we lose contact, I want you out of there pronto. I mean it.”
“Here we go again. Trust a little. Remember, no guts, no glory.” Kate adjusted her diving headgear, checked to make sure her knife was secure in the sheath strapped to her thigh, pulled her flashlight from her tool belt, turned it on, then dove.
“Glory?” Maggie’s sigh crackled static through Kate’s earpiece. “What glory? You’re a phantom. Less than three hundred people know you exist.”
S.A.S.S. were a highly skilled, special-detail unit of covert operatives assigned to the Office of Special Investigations and buried in the Office of Personnel Management for the United States Air Force. The unit didn’t exist on paper, its missions didn’t exist on paper—the unit’s name even changed every six months for security purposes, which is why those who knew of S.A.S.S. operatives referred to them by what they did and not by their official organizational name.
“Personal power, Home Base.” Kate had learned from the cradle to expect no other kind. “Doesn’t matter a damn who else knows it as long as I do.”
At the mouth of the cave, she paused to scan the rock. More of the same worn smoothness and deep gouges. Even considering tidal fluxes, too many deep gouges rimmed the actual opening. Water action alone couldn’t explain it. She swam forward, entering the cave.
“Are you inside?”
“Yes,” Kate whispered, keeping her voice as quiet as possible. Snake-curved, the inner cave was about three-feet wide. She swam close to the ceiling. Suddenly the width expanded to nearly ten feet. “The cave’s opened up.” She lifted her head above water, cranked her neck back and shone the light above her. “This is bizarre.”
“I dove a solid twenty feet to get to the mouth, then swam a couple football fields to get to this point. The water rode the cave ceiling the whole way. Now I’m seeing a stretch of wall that’s exposed a good nine feet above the waterline.” She stopped treading water and tested for bottom. Her fin swiped the sand and she stood. “Water level’s dropped. It’s chest deep.”
“I’m plotting your GPS,” Maggie said.
“Good, because even considering an umbrella effect, this shouldn’t be possible.” Kate kept her diving mask on in case she was standing on a shelf or sand bar. False bottoms had proven common in her explorations. She then looked down the throat of the cave. Diffused light emanated from somewhere far ahead, creating a haze. The rocks jutting out from the cave walls cast deep shadows. Reflections shining through the water or cracks in the rock? Neither seemed possible, but the alternative… “Oh, man.”
“What is it?” Anxiety etched Maggie’s voice.
“This is more than we bargained for.” Kate’s heart beat hard and fast. “A whole lot more.”
Rushing water poured in with the incoming tide, nearly knocking her off her feet. Kate braced against it, hunkered down until the water swirled around her chin, her wet suit and oxygen tank. Once it was calm, she removed her mask. “The salt in here smells strong, too strong. Saline content has to be off the charts here.”
“If so, it should be strong enough to burn your nose,” Maggie responded.
“It does.” Kate’s nostrils stung like fire. “But it’s still too strong. Note that and my position on the plotter.” After putting her mask back on to block the smell, Kate depressed a sensor embedded under the skin at the base of her neck to pulse a signal the operatives had dubbed “Big Brother.” Only Home Base could activate it, but Kate could transmit her location at a given time with a pulse signal.
“Roger. Home Base is now plotting.” A pause, then, “Do you see any reason for the olfactory oddity?”
Looking through the water droplets spotting her wide-angle vision screen, Kate scanned the cave but saw nothing to account for the intense smell. One hundred percent saline content couldn’t take it to this level, and there was no way the cave water could be a hundred percent. It would show in the rocks.
“No, not a thing,” Kate admitted, expelling an impatient breath through pursed lips. “Maybe it’s just me.” Diving alone wasn’t unusual for S.A.S.S. operatives, but the increased risks and dangers definitely heightened awareness. Maybe she was hyper-alert and extra-hypersensitive.
She rounded a bend. The dim haze shone brighter. A chill crept up Kate’s back and tingled the roof of her mouth. “There’s light in here, Base. I’d hoped it was a crack in the rock or some weird reflection caused by my flashlight, but it’s not.”
“You’re under water. It should be dark—all the other caves were dark. Briefing reports have been consistent on that.”
“Yeah, well, this cave didn’t read them. There’s always that ten percent that doesn’t get the word, you know?”
“But why would this one be different?”
“Don’t know. Do know it’s not dark.” Kate moved slowly down the tunnel, hugging the rough cave wall, the swift water pushing her along faster than she wanted to go. She turned off her flashlight. Double-checked. “Definitely not a reflection. It’s light, Base.”
“Wait,” Maggie said. “I’m running the topography on your coordinates.” A few moments later she added, “Your cave is located under a finger of land that juts out into the gulf. It’s hilly in your immediate area, and the hills are full of man-made caves. Maybe one of them leads to your location and the light is filtering through from above ground.”
“Maybe.” The eerie light was actually a series of dim rays; glowing beams that hindered her sight despite her gear being night-vision equipped. Kate’s mouth went desert-dry. “On second thought, that’s unlikely.” To be certain, Kate lifted off her headgear and checked again.
She could see no better. That was the worst news yet. Rattled, her nerves tingled, prickling her skin, and her voice shook. “Visual observation is distorted with the night-vision goggles and the naked eye.”
“What are you telling me?” Maggie asked.
“Getting this perfect balance to blind you with both the naked eye and your NVG isn’t a natural occurrence. I’m telling you that the spectrum’s too narrow for this light to be natural. It’s not achieved by accident, Base.” U.S. scientists had spent years and millions of dollars identifying the perimeters of that spectrum.
“So your determination is that it’s man-made and deliberate, correct?”
“Affirmative. At this point, that’s my take on it.” Only a few groups outside the U.S. government had access to specification technology—the span of the spectrum—but only one had a reason to corrupt it. S.A.S.S.’s nemesis. GRID.
So far, Kate had been involved in taking down three GRID compounds. But with Thomas Kunz, the sadistic German and anti-American at GRID’s helm, there would always be another compound to be taken down.
Kunz blamed America for Germany’s troubled economy and, in a twisted quest for revenge, acquired members for GRID from all nationalities and devoted himself and his massive resources to using the organization to drag down America’s economy by selling classified intelligence on U.S. assets, technology and personnel. Unfortunately, Kunz had proved to be expert, cunning and creative. He was more devious and deadly than anyone Kate had ever known. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to achieve his goals.
Edgy, she tensed and immediately rolled her shoulders to release it. “You’d better notify the program honchos that they’ve got a security breach,” she told Maggie. The light spectrum technology had been developed under a top secret classification. That the security had been violated meant bad news for the program.
“Um, just a second.” Maggie hesitated and, when she returned, her voice sounded like tin. She was obviously very uneasy. “You do know where you are, right?”
“On the border between Iraq and Iran?” Purely speculation. But wasn’t she? “You’re looking at the GPS coordinates, you tell me.”
“You don’t want to know,” Maggie assured her. “I’m calling the boss.”
Damn it. Kate had crossed a freaking national boundary line. She should tell Maggie not to bother Colonel Drake; she knew the drill. Get in and out. Avoid detection by any means necessary. But she was just edgy enough and eager enough to stay quiet. She hadn’t seen any evidence of detection and the idea of maybe exposing another Kunz operative carried many positives in her book and no negatives. Obviously the operative, who had infiltrated a top-secret program and successfully occupied a classified position by impersonating a legitimate U.S. government employee, would be the nature of the security breach required to get such technology out of the lab and into GRID’s greedy, grimy hands.
Three minutes past, then Maggie returned. “The boss feels breaching security, stealing and using this light-spectrum technology in this manner is right up Big Fish’s alley. Intel says he’s the only current prospect capable of that deep a penetration into our programs.”
Kate agreed with Intel, a.k.a. Captain Darcy Clark. Darcy had total recall, thanks to a head injury that had taken her out of the field as an active operative. She now worked solely on intelligence assimilation for the S.A.S.S. unit. The recall challenge that kept her isolated to avoid sensory overload had repeatedly proved to be a lifesaver for the other S.A.S.S. operatives still in the field.
“The boss is notifying the honchos in the need-to-know loop,” Maggie said. “She wants you to pull out, return to the outpost and wait for backup to go in with you.”
Before Kate could think of a way to sidestep the order, something alerted her honed instincts. Some sound or sense of movement. Some… something. Whatever it was had her attention. The hair on her neck prickled. “Stand by, Base.”
An internal alarm flashed Danger! Kate’s heart kicked into overdrive, thumping hard against her ribs. With her thumb, she unsnapped the loop on her knife’s sheath and slowly scanned the rock walls, then the water’s shimmering surface. Shadows. Dull beams. No odd ripples or breaks in the water. “Okay,” she said, calming down. “Okay, we’re fine.”
Kate sucked in a steadying breath. Strange for her instincts to be wrong; they rarely veered off target. Yet logic insisted that the odds of anyone else finding this uncharted cave were slim to none. The water blasting the rocks could have sanded them smooth, but it hadn’t caused the gouges. Those could only have come from fast-moving water sending something heavy crashing against the rocks.
That anomaly warranted investigation. But this perfect spectrum of light added another complex layer to the reasons she must keep investigating.
“Bluefish?” Maggie asked. “Did you hear what I said?”
Great. A classic catch-22. If she acknowledged, she’d have to disobey a direct order. If she didn’t acknowledge, the lab would be informed that its new C-273 communications device had failed its field test. Kate decided to ignore the question and the order, and turned the topic. “This perfect illumination proves Captain Douglas was on the money.”
“Oh, no. You’re not pulling this on me. Acknowledge the order, Bluefish,” Maggie insisted, her tone short and sharp. “Get out of there, go the outpost and wait for Douglas and tactical. Then return with them and investigate.”
Kate frowned. Damn it. Any other S.A.S.S. operative—Amanda, Darcy, Julia—any of them would have let that slide.
But then, they all had more experience than Maggie. Just Kate’s dumb luck that Amanda was out on a mission for the next few days and Maggie was manning the watch. “I won’t say I can’t hear you. The C-273 device is working great and I don’t want it reported that it’s not. But I can’t acknowledge that order.”
“Damn it, Kate.”
Now Maggie was transmitting her name! “Hey, don’t let your temper put a target on my back. Just calm down, okay?”
Jeez! Kate licked at her lips. Make her think. Make her think. “Listen, you know the enemy,” she reminded Maggie, who had read the dossiers on Thomas Kunz and GRID. “He could shut down this operation in a matter of minutes—he’s done it before with others. If we wait, and that happens, then all we’ll find down here is an empty hole.”
“But we’ve got—”
She might be hearing, but she damn well wasn’t listening. “What we’ve got doesn’t matter. It’s what he’s got that counts.” Kate swallowed a lump in her throat. “He’s holding at least thirty Americans permanent hostage. They’re stashed for life in one of his hellholes unless we get them out. What if they’re stashed here?”
S.A.S.S. knew for fact he had at least that many American government employees under wraps at his various compounds.
They also knew those employees’ GRID operative counterparts remained inserted and undetected in classified positions within the CIA, FBI, NAS, INS and U.S. military. Those agencies had been identified and were being watched. Yet there were other GRID operatives who remained unknown and had not yet been identified by S.A.S.S.
Exactly how many? Only God and Thomas Kunz knew for sure. But they were active inside the U.S. government in classified positions, which is why the president had designated GRID as S.A.S.S.’s top priority.
The hostages had to be rescued to determine their doubles’s identities, their specific program affiliations, and to determine their access level to classified information. And hopefully this would be accomplished before those GRID operative counterparts managed to do irreparable harm to the U.S.
“What if the hostages aren’t there and you’re walking into a trap?”
“Highly unlikely, Base. The coordinates weren’t fixed and there weren’t any guideposts, leading me here. No one meant for me to find this particular cave. I literally stumbled into it.” True, thanks to high tide, swift water currents and a curiosity about defaced rocks.
It seemed vulgar in a way, to have so much technology and sophisticated detection systems available, yet if the hostages were here and rescued, or if the GRID weapons cache were found, it would be as a direct result of simple unsophisticated things and blind luck.
“Which is exactly why you need to wait for tactical. You could be walking into anything.”
It was walking into the unknown that troubled Maggie. Kate rolled her gaze ceilingward, edgy and annoyed now. Maggie’s lack of experience was weighing Kate down. The woman really shouldn’t be cutting her teeth on this mission.
But she had to cut them somewhere, and since the president had changed the unit’s priorities, there’s been no latitude or choice in the matter. Hell, Maggie probably wasn’t crazy about the situation, either.
Realizing the truth in that, Kate calmed down and dredged the depths of her soul for another helping of patience. In short supply, she grabbed the meager bits she could pull together and then explained. “No, Base. That’s exactly why I can’t wait. I’ve got to check this out now—before the enemy finds out I’m here.”
“He could already know it,” Maggie said. “The whole damn cave could be wired with surveillance equipment. He could be intercepting our communications. I know the lab says we’re secure, but this is the C-273’s maiden voyage. They can’t know it for fact. Any communications device can be intercepted—you don’t need Intel to verify that. All the experts agree. What if the guys at the lab are wrong, Bluefish? What if he’s waiting for you?”
The idea chilled Kate’s blood. Kunz looked like a sunny kind of guy. Forty, blond and blue-eyed, casual and elegant, he appeared to be totally benevolent and good-natured. But he wasn’t. He was a sick, sadistic bastard who got off on torture and stealing other people’s lives. Amanda’s confrontation with him on a previous mission had made all of that clear, and Kate definitely would prefer to avoid him on this mission—if given a choice.
“Listen,” she told Maggie. “Some risks you’ve got to take. If any of the hostages are here, I have to take the shot at getting them out.”
“And if they’re not?”
“Then we’ve still got the weapons cache to worry about. There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the enemy trying to move bio weapons systems. You’ve heard the reports. Douglas suspects they’re hidden somewhere in the area.” Darcy did, too, and Kate had a healthy respect for her deductions. She was an ace at them. “We can’t risk bio weapons getting loose on the black market. Odds are they’ll be used against us, Base. I’m not willing to risk that.” She sure as hell didn’t need to add responsibility for that to her personal baggage.
“Okay, okay. But just do reconnaissance. Don’t approach, and don’t reveal yourself. I understand your motives, Bluefish, but you can’t prevent any crisis if you’re dead. If you find anything, get Douglas and Tactical to go in with you. I’ll put his commander on alert.”
“Who is his CO?”
Maggie answered in code.
Kate translated. Major Nathan Forester. She let his name meander through her mind. They’d never met, but his name seemed familiar to Kate. She couldn’t recall why. “Ask Intel to get me a dossier on him.”
“Stand by.” A lengthy few minutes later Maggie returned and relayed the encrypted information.
Kate automatically decoded it in her head.
“Nathan G. Forester. Thirty-one, black hair, blue eyes, solid build. No remarkable scars or identifying marks. Graduated from the Academy top of his class. Awarded a Purple Heart in Afghanistan, another in Iraq. Bio field-specialist. Expert marksman. Worked under Secretary Reynolds at the Pentagon on analysis of bio intelligence. Currently commanding the 123rd Tactical Force.”
Intriguing. “Put him on notice,” Kate said. Her heart hammering, she looked down the cave. Pale light glinted on the water’s surface as far as she could see. This compound—every instinct in her body screamed this cave was a GRID compound—appeared to be as unique as the others discovered by the S.A.S.S. unit—and as problematic to breach. Underwater entrance: one means of ingress and egress. If Kate ran into trouble, escaping would be significantly challenging, which was probably why Kunz had chosen this one.
“Okay, the commander has been notified,” Maggie said. Then her tone dropped a notch. “He also delivered some bad news, Bluefish.”
“What now?” Kate snapped, unable to keep her irritation out of her voice.
“Douglas and his team are unavailable. The commander is trying to make contact but the team’s been locked down and radio silent for almost twenty-four hours.”
“Do they need backup?”
“No. They’re functional, just out of pocket.”
Not pinned down by someone else, just locked down observing someone else, Kate supposed.
“There’s more.” Even the terminally cheerful Maggie sighed. “The commander informed me that the CIA and Special Forces have scoured the hills above you from land. Apparently there’s a maze of caves. But an intense exploration netted only dead-ends.”
Kate chewed at her inner lip, fully understanding why the compound had been nearly impossible to locate. Her mind raced ahead as she crept through the bowels of the cave, her left shoulder scraping against the jagged rock wall, her fin scouring the sandy bottom. Launching a successful attack on this place wouldn’t be a picnic. Actually, it’d be damn near impossible. Alone, her odds of success were astronomically small. And that, too, no doubt had been Kunz’s intention.
“I updated the boss,” Maggie said. “She’s ordered me to remind you that you’re under direct order to pull out now and wait for tactical assistance before reentering.”
Kate considered it. The odds for her survival, and for the survival of the American detainees Kunz was holding hostage—if in fact any of them were here—ranked a one on the colonel’s infamous one-to-ten scale: zero probability of success. The mission difficulty ranked ten. Translated and simply put, succeeding required a miracle.
And who dies if you fail, Kate?
The fears and old feelings of not being good enough to do what needed doing shot up out of a dark, secret niche inside her. She’d buried all that unworthiness baggage years ago, but the memory of it persisted, as ingrained things do, and on occasion it surfaced. Naturally, because the timing couldn’t be worse, it had chosen to surface now.
Resentment slid through her and, steeped in it, she stiffened, clenched her jaw and strengthened her resolve. Knock it off. Now, Kate. You can’t afford any doubts. Bio weapons, classified information on only God knows what programs… Millions of potential victims are depending on you, and they definitely can’t afford any doubts.
Summoning her will, which had always proven stronger than her fears, she shoved her doubts back down, burying the emotional baggage that just wouldn’t die, and then turned her thoughts back to the challenge at hand.
As well as that one means of ingress and egress through an underwater cave, and the compound being inside a hill of rock, other challenges lay ahead.
Aided by former Soviet plastic surgeons and psychiatrists with expertise in psychological warfare and mind manipulation, Kunz had created doubles. Very well-trained, well-motivated clones. She would have to determine which people were GRID operative clones and which were true U.S. government employees.
As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge to make sane woman nuts, Kunz would more than likely spice up things to amuse himself by adding his own cloned surrogate into the mix. It would be just like him to mimmick Saddam Hussein, pose his double to GRID members and have him run operations in the compound while Kunz remained removed from the fray.
This man-made clone, without a doubt, would be surrounded by seasoned GRID operatives who existed for the sole purpose of protecting him from any enemy, including Kate.
The real Thomas Kunz—thank heaven and Amanda and Kate—had had been arrested during the last GRID compound raid. He currently sat stashed behind bars in Leavenworth. Whether he remained in command of GRID, running operations from his prison cell or had handed over power to some subordinate GRID member remained undetermined.
If betting, Kate would put her money on his empowering a double. It’d been more effective—especially if the GRID members didn’t know he was a double.
That was possible. S.A.S.S. had encountered one Kunz double already and unfortunately had no idea how many others existed. Hopefully he hadn’t copied Saddam Hussein in that, too. He had at least eight known doubles. Yet with Thomas Kunz, experience proved it wise to pray for the best but to expect the worst.
The sorry bastard probably had a dozen.
Under these circumstances, would even a single miracle do the job?
Unsure, Kate tightened her grip on her knife, dragged in a steadying breath and admitted the truth. Her odds sucked. She’d need at least a fistful of miracles to pull this off.
The back of her neck prickled. She removed her mask and opened her senses, then slowly turned in a circle and studied everything in sight. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Calm. Silent. Just her and the moving water and eerie light. Definitely hyper-alert.
Giving herself a mental shake, she finished weighing her challenges and then turned to plans. How should she proceed? What moves gave her the highest probability of success?
Water splashed and hit her full in the face. The strong salt stank and had her eyes tearing. She wiped at them with her free hand and mentally worked through potential plans of action. She couldn’t just blow the compound to hell and back as she had the first one she’d found in the Middle East. Thomas Kunz’s surrogate and the GRID operatives would die, but so would the hostages—if any of them were here—and detonating biological-laced weaponry wasn’t something she would willingly do. Not in this lifetime.
She thought on it some more, certain she could find something to better her odds… Even if the explosives were strategically positioned and fitted out with remote detonators, they could cause a collapse in the cave. Percussion alone could kill anyone inside. Water was a hell of a conductor. It would amplify the effects.
Every way she looked at it, a person attempting to escape would face insurmountable odds, including her. And she’d have to be in the cave to relay the remote or the signal wouldn’t penetrate. There were alternative devices that could be used, but she couldn’t get them down here to use them. Not without help.
She played with a few more possibilities, but none were feasible much less wise, which left her with only one viable solution: to return to the outpost and draft a plan enlisting the aid of Douglas’s commander.
What was his name? Forest? Framer?
Forester. That was it. Forester. Nathan Forester.
Conditions wouldn’t improve substantially with his tactical help, but Kate would have slightly better odds of rescuing any hostages and surviving with—
Something slammed into her back.
Hard and huge, it knocked her off her feet, hammering her into the cave wall.
Her head collided with the saw-toothed surface. Her breath gushed out. The jagged rocks dug into her face and shoulder, slicing through her wet suit and skin, tearing her flesh. Saltwater invaded the wounds, burning like fire. Seeing spots, her head swimming, she gasped in air. Focus or die, Kate. Focus or die!
Warm blood washed down her face and arm, and she forced herself to stay conscious.
Focus or die!
Pulling on reserves, she harnessed her energy, and fought until the spots started to subside and the truth dawned.
The wise move was no longer an option.
Blocking out the pain searing her face, arm, chest and thigh, she regained her footing and reacted on pure instinct. Choking the handle of her knife, she turned and swiped the air.
The fight had begun.