Chapter One: SEAL Training
Caroline spent the previous 30 minutes breathing 100% oxygen into her lungs to eliminate any remaining nitrogen from her bloodstream. Adjusting her oxygen bottle, she watched the ramp at the rear of the C-130 military aircraft slowly open to the night sky. At 36,000 feet, it felt like she was in space with bright stars surrounding the plane.
“10 seconds!” announced a disembodied voice.
She unbuckled the safety straps, stood up and walked to the back of the plane. Walking wasn’t the easiest thing to do wearing scuba fins. The wind howled and the temperature dropped to depths no human could tolerate. In her protective pressure suit, Caroline could handle 50 degrees below zero. Looking to her left, she watched a red light turn to green.
“I can do this,” Caroline declared out loud.
Feeling weightless as she flew through the stratosphere, Caroline did a barrel roll to face upward toward the heavens. From this vantage point, she observed Chrissie, Nick, Annie, and Mike make the same jump from the plane. Her teammates quickly disappeared as the blackness of night engulfed them all. While they fell together, each felt alone.
To Caroline, the word Halo had always meant a video game, but now it meant something new. HALO stands for High Altitude – Low Opening, where parachutists jump out of planes at heights safely above the reach of surface-to-air missiles. After free-falling most of the way at terminal velocity, which is way over 100 miles per hour, the parachute is opened at a low altitude. While it’s an effective method of stealth insertion into potentially hostile territory, the trick is slowing down at the last possible moment before running out of sky. A parachute failure or line entanglement could result in the worst possible landing imaginable.
To avoid visual or radar detection, the skydiving team of teens went into rapid freeflying mode by aiming their bodies in a downward position and pulling in their arms and legs. This dramatically increased their speed of descent by making themselves more aerodynamic. After several minutes of flight time, everyone transitioned to the traditional belly-to-earth skydiving position to slow themselves down. With just moments to spare, Mike, Chrissie, Nick, Annie and Caroline opened their parachutes and plunged into the frigid Pacific Ocean.
Everyone struggled to disentangle themselves from their parachutes while acclimating to the seawater. Skydiving helmets were swapped out for goggles. Oxygen masks that kept them alive in the stratosphere were replaced with closed-circuit Draeger rebreathers. This improved their underwater stealth by eliminating expelled bubbles.
“I know the water is supposed to be freezing, but it feels a lot warmer than the upper atmosphere,” Annie shouted to the rest of the team.
“No doubt,” Mike replied. “I just wish it was easier to change from my skydiving suit to scuba gear.”
“If it makes you feel better, we only have ten miles of swimming to make it back to the amphib base on Coronado,” Chrissie exclaimed sarcastically.
“Thanks, I’m feeling so much better,” Caroline countered.
The team of submarine warriors began their slow and steady swim toward the California coast. They were SEAL candidates making their way through the final stages of BUD/S training. The combat side stroke was the preferred swimming stroke for Navy SEALs looking to swim more efficiently and minimize the risk of being seen on the surface. As the minutes of swimming passed, the nighttime ocean began to glow with a greenish color due to the bioluminescent sea life below.
“No need to be afraid of the dark with our own personal nightlight beneath us,” Nick smirked.
“Thanks, plankton,” Annie chimed in.
About three miles into the swim, Mike glanced down through his dive mask and noticed a black figure between him and the glow below. It seemed to be moving upward toward him as it loomed larger and larger.
“I think we’ve got company,” Mike alerted everyone. “I don’t think it’s Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.
Seconds later he felt a tug on his leg.
“Help me!” Mike screamed. “I’m being attacked by a shark!”
Mike quickly stuffed his scuba rebreather in his mouth to make sure he could breathe underwater. This turned out to be a good idea because seconds later, he was pulled beneath the dark waves.
“Noooooo!” Mike’s voice bubbled through the water as he struggled and splashed violently.
“Where’s Mike?” Annie’s eyes welled up with tears as she looked around frantically.
“Does anyone see any other sharks nearby?” Caroline gurgled in and out of the water. “Mike’s blood in the water could bring more.”
Annie’s facial expression answered Caroline’s question as she felt the tug on her leg.
One by one, each of the SEAL trainees was pulled under by an unknown menace. No amount of struggle or thrashing about made a difference. The view beneath the murky waves began to reveal a different reality. This was no attack by a school of sharks. The teens found themselves fighting and struggling with a large group of scuba divers. The stronger and better skilled attackers quickly subdued Caroline, Nick and the others. One would expect to see a mass of bubbles from the struggled breathing of the combatants but there were none. The attackers were inhaling and exhaling with the same kind of bubble-free rebreathers. They forcibly pulled the young submarine warriors deeper and deeper toward a large, black, object gliding through the water.
“Is that a whale?” Chrissie asked through her underwater comm system.
“I think it might be a big a sub,” Nick countered.
“That’s no ordinary sub,” Caroline piped-up. “Look at the hump on the top.”
“It must be a SEAL team delivery vehicle,” Annie asserted.
“Wow. You know your subs, Annie,” Chrissie added. “If that’s an SDV, then these scuba divers who have taken us captive must be Navy SEALs.”
Moments later, one of the scuba divers opened a hatch on the top of the sub. Below was an escape trunk where everyone could decompress and acclimate to the pressure inside. Seawater poured through the opening as the kids and scuba divers entered and closed the hatch above them. After slowly decompressing to sea level to prevent the everyone from getting the bends, the water drained out of the trunk.
The mysterious scuba divers who captured the kids removed their masks and wet suits.
“Hey!” Annie spoke out. “You’re not SEALs. You’re women.”
“Who said women aren’t good enough to be in Special Forces?” one of the SEALs retorted. “I didn’t question why a bunch of high school kids were just allowed to make a HALO jump.”
“Sorry,” Annie replied. “I’ve just never…”
“Never seen a woman kick ass and take names?” the SEAL cut Annie off.
Just then, the lower hatch beneath their feet opened and the submarine Captain peered in through the dripping water.
“It’s time for you kids to get down below.”
Everyone climbed down the ladder and the Captain led them through the passageway toward the mess decks.
“Getting attacked while swimming back to Coronado is part of this training evolution,” the Captain looked sternly at the soaking wet group of kids. “You never know when you might be confronted by the enemy. They will use the element of surprise against you.”
“I thought I was about to be eaten by a shark,” Mike looked up at the Captain.
“Speaking of eaten, I’ve got surprise for you,” the Captain smiled. “You may have heard Navy Submariners enjoy the finest food in the military. Well, tonight is taco night. Dig in, everyone!”
Annie, Nick, Mike, Caroline, and Chrissie devoured their food as if they’d never eaten before. The exhaustion from the HALO jump, open ocean swimming, and struggling with the SEALs had depleted them. They chugged ice-cold glasses of milk and munched on the warm chocolate chip cookies the Navy Culinary Specialist prepared for them.
“Caroline, I need you finish-up your last bite and come with me,” the Captain motioned to the door. “I’m sorry to say, your SEAL training is about to become more intense.”
“What’s going on?” Caroline asked.
Without replying, the Captain ushered Caroline down the passageway through Officer Country in forward part of the sub. Upon reaching the Wardroom door and placing his hand on the knob, he looked back at her grimly.
“I need to you brace yourself.”