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“It’s nonnegotiable, and I know you can do it if you want to. It’s one plane. You want me involved in leading this place and keeping things in line, I need to know you have my back. I believe I’ve proved I have yours.” The governor was still listening. “I want six men and the designation of Blake as my lieutenant. I’ll train him myself, and he’ll be my responsibility.”

“Anything else?”

I was still waiting for the objection that hadn’t come. “Matter of fact…this team of mine is exclusively under my control. I answer to you, but they don’t. I need my guys to be protected and to have carte blanche to do what they need to do whenever they need to do it.”

“Like ‘Hawaii Five-O,’ is that what you’re saying?”

“Sure,” I nodded, hoping I wasn’t going too far with this. “Works for me.”

The governor walked over to the window and looked up at the sky. “Danny, you need to know I have your back. Baker is going to hate this idea.” He looked back at me. “Let me think about it, okay?” As I opened my mouth to object, Barnes waved me off. “Okay, hang on. If you promise you will continue to back me as I’m backing you, I’ll green-light all of it—everything you asked for. You don’t question me. I won’t question you…okay? It has to work both ways. Absolute trust.” I was nodding, so the governor continued. “I need you to understand one more thing though.”

Here it comes. But it didn’t.

“I don’t have a fancy car for you to drive around.”

Not at all what I was expecting. I smiled. “Darn.”

“And if you’re Danno, then is Blake—”

“No, sir.” I laughed, grimacing at the resulting pain in my rib cage. “Don’t confuse my given name with our roles in this. I’m in charge.”

“Okay. So, who do you want?”

I requested the two Navy SEALs from the lost platoon, Trigger and Twix; the two Army Rangers who had stood up to Baker, Deacon and Royce; a former Air Force pilot and paratrooper—who was also vocal in the meetings—Dane “Axel” Axelrod; and a local Air Force technology instructor—a genius—and friend of Blake and Kaci’s, Keena Malikalani.

“But you know she’s a—”

“A she?” I smiled. I hadn’t taken the governor as a sexist. “Yes, I know. But she’s the most tech-savvy person I’ve ever met, and Blake trusts her.”

“Okay then. No problem. Consider it done.” The governor shook my hand.

There was a knock on the door, and I opened it. Deacon and Royce stood there with all their gear. “What do you need from us, sir?” Deacon asked.

“You’re coming with me, guys. Thank you, Governor. I’d appreciate a transcript of every meeting Baker has from here on out. However you have to do it, make sure someone you trust is with him at all times. This mission is critical to all of our futures, whether they succeed or not.”

“Don’t make me regret this.” Barnes placed his hand firmly on my shoulder which suddenly felt very connected to my ribs.

“Don’t worry, sir.” I winced. “I won’t.”

We picked up Axel, Trigger, and Twix on our way to the marina to find our plane. Then Axel flew us all out to Redemption Island.

---------- (Wednesday. July 20, 2022.) ----------
----- (Ryan) -----

That had been nearly two months ago. Baker, as expected, fought the even split of troops. In the end, the decision was listed as “voluntary.” Right. Whoever wanted to go with Baker could. Whoever wanted to stay with Danny—as homeland security—could. Fifty-nine people joined Baker; thirty-five stayed in Hawaii with Homeland Security—with Danny.

Baker and his fifty-nine men had spent the past eight weeks training the 288 volunteers who would be operating the aircraft carrier. Those 348 people would have their hands full, considering a typical carrier crew exceeded 5,500—and those crews usually trained for years. This was the very definition of a skeleton crew.

The target date for shipping out was August 1, twelve days from now. The head count in Cheyenne Mountain was down to thirty-six—three more lost to the flu—and now that the general had connected with us he was growing more and more impatient. Captain Baker didn’t need any more prodding, but the general was verbally poking him anyway.

To all of us on Redemption, the general’s apparent need for self-preservation was disturbing. As a five-star general it didn’t make sense for him to be asking Baker and his men to do this, to risk so many lives for so few. The twenty-one months in the bunker had surely compromised his sense of reason—and perhaps even his sanity. The Pack—the six people Danny had handpicked to bring out to the island—was in complete agreement on that. There was almost no way to execute this plan well enough, no way to come out ahead. But even more disturbing was Baker’s desire to make a name for himself with this mission—to be the hero—and his naïve assertion that he and his men were enough on their own to pull this off. SEALs were gladiators, no doubt, but most of the ones Danny knew were rational as well. Rational was definitely not an accurate descriptor of this madman.

Whatever the case, we were glad Danny wasn’t going to be a part of this rescue attempt, although we were curious to see how the mission unfolded over the next month. If all went as planned, the rescue team would be back in Hawaii before September. But if everything went as we expected, they’d never come back. Then what?

FIVE – The Prisoner

---------- (Wednesday. July 20, 2022.) ----------
Fort Morro Prison. San Juan, Puerto Rico

A guard banging his nightstick on the bars, announcing breakfast, woke Eddie up, but he didn’t move. He remained seated in the corner, hidden in the shadows, far from the room’s only window and light. A metal tray was tossed into his cell through a slot in the door. He watched it clatter across the cold concrete toward his feet, spilling the hockey-puck biscuit and brown soggy rice. Rats scrambled from the darkness for his food, and he let them take it. He never ate breakfast here.

This dark musty hole in San Juan—a former Puerto Rican tourist trap—had been his home for the past fifty-one weeks and three days. His captors had never once let him leave—he hadn’t even been outside. Best as he could tell there were only twenty guards here, and he’d overheard one of them say there were a hundred or so prisoners. Who else would they be keeping here? Supposedly, there were three other similar prisons on the island, and an officer headquarters an hour west of here. But that was it for Puerto Rico.

He stood slowly and stretched his massive six-foot-seven frame, his limbs spreading like thick branches across the narrow room. He kicked a rat that got a little too close and took a few slow steps to the latrine under the cell’s only window. As he relieved himself, his eyes scanned the horizon. Nothing but blue sky and clear Caribbean waters. He sighed and shook his head. Same old, same old. A woman’s scream echoed down the hallway. Then another. The guards were back at it. He wondered if any of them had ever had consensual sex. Doubtful.

As long as it wasn’t Mali. He and his wife had been flown here together from Lake Powell, and that was the last he’d seen of her. He knew she was here somewhere—supposedly his girls were too—and the Mexican general had assured him they wouldn’t be touched, but Eddie didn’t know if he should believe anything that man said. Eddie should have killed him when he had the chance. Eddie had no doubt the general, likewise, wanted him dead. It seemed unimaginable that any better fate awaited him, no matter what he had been promised. But something wasn’t right. What were they waiting for? No one visited him here. No one talked to him. Why did they even need him alive?

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