I jolted awake tied to a chair. Even though the room I was in was dark, I could tell that I was blind in my left eye. There was one light, and it was shining directly in my face. After a few seconds, I could make out the silhouettes of two men behind it.
"What was your mission here?" one of them said. His English was flawless.
"Chief Petty Officer Roger Daniels, serial number 586-4277B," I croaked. My throat was dry, and I could taste congealed blood.
"You've got three bullets in you, Chief Petty Officer Roger Daniels," the man said.
"They will refuse you medical attention until you answer my questions. Now, again. . . what was your mission here?"
"Oh, that. OK. Chief Petty Officer Roger Daniels, serial number --" I cut off as a fist slammed into the left side of my face.
I swallowed a molar.
* * *
[Two Days Earlier]
"SEAL Team Four?" the Admin clerk asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
"Yeah. That's me," I said.
The Admin was a young guy, maybe 19. He didn't look anxious or afraid -- just a little confused as to why a SEAL team, a Delta detachment, and a Ranger chalk were hanging out at his otherwise-sleepy little duty station.
"Call from the States for you, sir. On the secure line," he said, motioning to an office behind him.
"Thanks much, Airman. Track down the Ranger Chalk Leader and have him join us, will you?"
"Of course, sir."
I motioned to Master Sergeant Yates, who was talking with one of his Delta guys across the hangar. He nodded and started heading my way. I like the Deltas -- they're pretty laid-back. Fun guys. Not like those damned *hoo-ah!* Ranger types. Those kids have no sense of humor.
"What's up, Rog?" Yates asked as he walked up to me. His voice was quiet -- but then, his voice was always quiet.
"Secure call," I answered, smirking.
"And you think it's *the* call?"
"Better be. Hate to think they flew us out all this way for nothing."
"CPO Daniels. Flyboy said you needed to see me?"
It was the Ranger Chalk leader, a Sergeant First Class named Harrison Shobe. For a Ranger, Shobe wasn't too bad -- he seemed like an angry guy, but at least he had a personality. I'd read his file on the flight over -- he'd been in Afghanistan about the same time I was (right up to the bitter, clusterfuck end), and left the Army soon after. He came back in and joined the newly formed 138th Ranger Regiment two weeks after Los Angeles.
"Call from CENTCOM," Yates told him. "Rog thinks we're going in."
"Copy that," Shobe nodded. I led the two other team leaders into the secure office, which was empty save for a large flat-panel monitor on the far wall. As soon as the heavy metal door locked behind us and beeped to indicate the room was secure, the screen came on.
General Weston appeared on the screen, sitting behind his desk in Tampa -- that part, I expected. What I didn't expect, and what let me know we were on instantly, was the image inset in the bottom left of the screen. President Crozier was sitting behind his desk in the White House.
* * *
The plan wasn't necessarily simple, but it was straightforward. Intel from on high had it that Jae Han Park, the suspected mastermind behind the Los Angeles attack, was holed up in North Korea. He was also the son of some Minister in the NoKo government -- agriculture, I think -- so he'd have guards. My team and Yates' were on snatch-and-grab, with Shobe's Ranger chalk on standby to back us up if things went pear-shaped.
Jumping out of the back of a C-130 with an inflatable raft strapped to my chest isn't something I do every day, but I've been a SEAL for 17 years -- I've done it dozens of times. Yates and his boys, though, were a different story. The jump was no problem for them -- they'd all started their careers in Airborne.
"It's the boats, man," Yates had bitched during the mission briefing. "I just hate fucking boats. I woulda joined the Navy if I wanted to ride around in boats all goddamn day. No offense, Rog."
"Ah, come on. It's just a half an hour in a cushy, inflatable speedboat. It'll be fun," I'd said.
Didn't go that way, of course. Flight took off from Misawa Air Force base two hours after dark the day after we got the call. The jump was fine -- me and three of my guys, Yates and three of his. All of us jumped at the same time and made a perfect splashdown in the Sea of Japan 15 miles offshore from Wonsan. The raft I was carrying inflated just fine -- Delta's didn't. Something must have happened in the plane, because it was fine when I checked it, but it had a huge fucking tear in it when Yates tried to inflate it.
Four SEALs in a raft, four pissed-off soldiers floating in the nice, chilly sea. It wasn't hard math to do. Our raft only held four, but two of my guys immediately jumped out. Yates and one of his guys got in, and we started up the motor with the other two SEALs and D-boys hanging on to the side. It was slow going, and we switched off positions after the first hour. A journey that should have taken a half an hour took two and a half.
We couldn't communicate to anyone that we were running behind -- we were on radio silence. That meant we had to hump it as soon as we hit the shore -- and when you rush, you make mistakes, no matter if you're an office drone or a highly-trained death dealer. And make mistakes we did.
The target was a house four miles inland. Yates and his guys took point -- those D-boys moved like cats, silent and light on their feet. Me and my guys followed behind, keeping to the shadows and moving as fast as we could. All our gear was taped down, and we didn't think we were making any noise, but we must have been. A half-mile from the target house, the gunfire started.
North Korean soldiers started pouring at us from the alleys. I don't know how they saw us, how they knew we were coming, but there were too many of them.
"Weapons free!" I yelled, though I didn't really need to. My guys already had their MP5s up and the safety off. The D-boys were taking out NoKo soldiers right and left, but saying we were outnumbered was several orders of magnitude above understatement.
The last thing I remembered was the night lit up by gunfire, hazy from smoke, thick with aerosolized blood.
* * *
That brings us back to the tiny room and the swallowed molar.
I had no idea where Yates or the rest of our guys were -- probably in rooms just like this one, with smooth-talking, hard-hitting North Korean guys pumping them for information. I also had no idea what time it was, but I guessed Shobe and his Rangers were on their way -- and without any communication from us, they had no idea what they were walking into. I didn't expect to be rescued. I was thinking escape instead.
"Come on, Chief Petty Officer Daniels," the young man said. "I don't like hitting you.
Why don't you just answer my questions, and we'll let you go?"
I cleared my throat as the molar kicked and scratched its way down my esophagus. I looked into the light, but said nothing.
"Fine," the young guy sighed after a minute of silence. "We'll do it the hard way."
He opened a door behind him, and a little bit of light came into the room. I could see now that the light shining in my face was coming from a digital video camera held by the other man in the room. Perfect.
The young guy spoke a few words in rapid Korean and closed the door. The only Korean I speak is swear words, so I have no idea what he said. A few minutes later, the door opened again, and something was wheeled in on a cart. My vision had adjusted in my good eye just enough that I could identify it when it got close -- it was a car battery.
The young guy picked up a pair of jumper cables attached to the battery and clanged them together. They sparked loudly, and the young guy sighed again.
"Sure you don't want to answer the questions?" he asked. "Those three bullets must be hurting pretty bad by now, and I doubt they can save that eye. And I've only ever used one of these on a sheep, but he seemed to really hate it."
"Do what you have to," I said, trying to shrug. It wasn't easy with my hands tied behind my back.
"I respect you American Marines," the young guy said. "You're tough cookies, you know that?"
I resisted the urge to tell him I wasn't a Marine. He knew it, anyway -- he was just trying to get a response out of me. Instead, I just stared at him as he brought the jumper cables closer.
It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Truth be told, I got worse in SERE. When he touched the cables to my chest, my pectoral muscles involuntarily constricted and pushed all of the breath out of my lungs. If the young guy wanted me to talk, he was going about it the wrong way -- kind of hard to speak without any air.
It felt like about an hour before he gave up on poking the cables at various points on my torso and watching me jump. I won't lie -- I screamed a couple of times. Still didn't tell him anything, though.
"Let's be reasonable here, my man," the young guy said as a lackey wheeled the battery out of the room. "I could do this for days if I had to."
"Try waterboarding. I hear that works," I said, chuckling.
"Right. We move on to burning, looks like."
He opened the door again, but this time, he jerked back and hit the floor as soon as the door opened. The man with the camera turned toward the door, and his light illuminated Harrison Shobe for a half-second before Shobe shot him in the head, as well.
"CPO Daniels! Hang on, man, we're getting you out of here!" Shobe yelled as he rushed into the room. Another Ranger fell in behind him, covering the door with his M4.
Shobe had me untied and on my feet in seconds. My left leg didn't want to move -- guess that's where one of those three bullets landed. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to take a step. It hurt like hell, but I moved.
"Can you walk?" Shobe asked.
"Looks like it."
"Good. Here," he said, handing me his Beretta M9. "Blackhawks are just outside. We need to move now."
"Yates, Martinez, and Orso are dead. My guys got them on the chopper already. Other than them, you're the last one out."
"How'd you get past the NoKo guards?" I asked as Shobe and I headed down a dark hallway.
"Miniguns on the Blackhawks. We came in hard. Did a lot of fucking damage."
"Can't say I'm upset about that. We get Park?"
"Nah. He's in the wind. Looks like this one got all FUBAR, didn't it, Chief?"
"You can say that again, Sergeant."
"Call me Harrison."
* * *
Three days later, while recovering in the hospital at Inchon, I saw myself giving name, rank, and serial number on CNN. We never got Jae Han Park -- but we did get a lot more than we bargained for very soon after.
© 2010 Trace Eber