The elite Gamma Strikers were even more expendable than usual, especially since the organization that had arranged for the operation did not even have any direct ties to the military. The mission did not have its origins in a CIA office; instead it came directly from the desk of what conspiracy theorists would call the New World Order. The real reason for Operation Bring Freedom Forever was a covert NWO investigation of a suspected alien crash site. There was no Pablo Ortez or an Ortez drug cartel. There was no Al-Qaeda link to discover. It was just a radar anomaly followed by scattered reports of a bright flash on the horizon that the NWO wanted fully investigated without dirtying its hands directly.

And Captain Patrick "Liberty" Henry was a real favorite among the top brass at the NWO. He had unwittingly done their bidding on three previous operations. He had mistaken bizarre extraterrestrial encounters and pitched gun battles with cryptozoological freaks as the products of North Korean super science and terrorist bio-warfare. Operation American Flag Shirt had killed ten of his best men and he was determined to use Operation Bring Freedom Forever as a springboard for his personal revenge agenda. The NWO was hoping he either died after completing his mission or was stupid enough to once again fail to understand what was going on.

The trees of the jungle struggled ever higher, an endless march upwards, a battle to grab the shreds of light that winked between branches. Just above, the Mark Seven floated silently; eighty meters below, Captain Henry and his men slogged along a path invisible to their eyes but clearly marked on their GPS units.

Captain Henry considered his current commando team to be the best that he had ever gone into action with. They were all stone cold killers, trained to a razor's edge and then strapped with more firepower than an entire squad of Army Rangers. Most carried heavily customized AR-15s with sound suppressors and 8x scopes, a few were brandishing SAWs and sweeping the barrels of their machineguns back and forth as they searched for targets.

Captain Henry carried a Vietnam era M-60 machinegun in his right hand with the 200 round belt of ammunition draped over his left arm. He had mounted a high-powered laser sight beneath it and bolted a 16x starlight sniper scope to the top even though it interfered with reloading. Captain Henry had taken an IMI Desert Eagle and a roll of black electrical tape and disappeared into a supply closet just before the mission. When he had emerged the huge pistol was attached to left of the bipod on the M-60 with roughly thirty feet of tape. He had also taped a HC green smoke grenade to the opposite side, claiming that it "balanced the weight" of the .50 caliber pistol. Captain Henry had also tried hot-gluing an M-203 grenade launcher to the weapon, but had ripped it off in the helicopter en route to the insertion area citing "creative differences".

"Movement ahead," hissed the point man Corporal Rodriguez.

The entire unit formed into a fighting wedge and advanced more slowly, crouching low to reduce the size of target their body presented. Corporal Rodriguez, still in the point position, was the first to go "eyes on" the cartel compound.

It was a metallic cylinder as large as the biggest zeppelin put into the sky during the golden age of the majestic airships. It was slightly bent in the middle and crumpled at the end that was half buried beneath a mound of dirt. The rear of the cylinder was covered with clusters of strange faintly luminescent spheres that made the air around them hazy with heat. The clearing surrounding the cylinder was made recently and the ground was littered with the scarred trunks of fallen trees. Around the periphery of the clearing the standing trees were smoldering and stripped of limbs and bark.

Captain Henry went prone and crawled ahead of the rest of the Gamma Strikers. He lifted a pair of digital binoculars to his eyes and surveyed the crash site. There was an open hatch about three times the size of a man visible in the side of the cylindrical cartel compound. Near it were three mysterious heaps covered with shimmering silver tarps. To the left of these heaps Captain Henry could see a pair of figures. He adjusted the binoculars and the figures came into focus, twice as tall as a man, hunch-backed with wide yellow eyes, gaping mouths that worked rhythmically, and a rubbery hide of purple mottled with greens and yellows. One of the figures was sitting on a branch and the other was extending a long clawed hand to its lumpy shoulder.

Something moved at the hatch and Captain Henry quickly shifted his view through the binoculars to watch. It was much taller than the other two, so tall that it had to stoop as it emerged through the large portal. It had a head that resembled a snake's and two small black eyes situated on either side of its face. It was extremely thin and covered with tiny beige scales that exploded symmetrically into bright patterns of yellow and orange. It was wearing a garment that extended from below its long neck down to just above its inverted knees and seemed composed of the same shimmering silver material as the tarps.

"Al-Qaeda operatives sighted." Captain Henry muttered the phrase contemptuously into his throat microphone.

He returned his digital binoculars to their Samsonite fanny pack and belly-crawled back to the Gamma Strikers to begin planning the specifics of the attack.

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