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'We're going?'

'You said you'd do it, sir,'

'See you, George,' Henderson said. It caused George to turn and smile one last time.

'No, Peter, you will not.' George walked down the stone steps towards Traitor's Gate. It required all of his considerable self-control not to laugh aloud at the mixture of what he had just accomplished and the thundering irony of the portcullised stone arch before his eyes. Five minutes later he stepped into a black London taxi and directed the driver to head towards Harrods Department Store in Knightsbridge.

'You got it, Dutch,' the General replied, asking no questions.

'Yes, sir?' a petty officer appeared in his doorway.

Kelly was working on his woodcraft, again, as he'd been doing for several weeks. He'd picked his weapons load-out in the fervent hope that he would not need to fire a single shot. The primary weapon was a CAR-15 carbine version of the M-16 assault rifle. A silenced 9mm automatic went into a shoulder holster, but his real weapon was a radio, and he would be carrying two of those, just to be sure, plus food and water and a map - and extra batteries. It came out to a twenty-three-pound load, not counting his special gear for the insertion. The weight wasn't excessive, and he found that he could move through the trees and over the hills without noticing it. Kelly moved quickly for a man of his size, and silently. The latter was a matter of where he walked more than anything else, where he placed his feet, how he twisted and turned to pass between trees and bushes, watching both his path and the area around him with equal urgency.

'Let my office know the details. I'm heading out now, but I'll be calling in every hour.'

At Sergeant Irvin's behest, chaplains came to the group. Consciences were cleared. A few wills were drafted - just in case, the embarrassed Marines told the visiting officers - and all the while the Marines focused more and more on the mission, their minds casting aside extraneous concerns and concentrating on something identified only by a code name selected at random from separate lists of words. Every man walked over to the training site, checking placement and angles, usually with his most immediate teammate, practicing their run-in approach or the paths they'd take once the shooting started. Every one began his own personal exercise regime, running a mile or two on his own in addition to the regular morning and afternoon efforts, both to work off tension and to be just a little bit more certain that he'd be ready for it. A trained observer could see it from their look: serious but not tense, focused but not obsessive, confident but not cocky. Other Marines at Quantico kept their distance when they saw the team, wondering why the special place and the odd schedule, why the Cobras on the flight line, why the Navy rescue pilots in the Q, but one look at the team in the piney woods was all the warning they needed to mute the questions and keep their distance. Something special was happening.

At Sergeant Irvin's behest, chaplains came to the group. Consciences were cleared. A few wills were drafted - just in case, the embarrassed Marines told the visiting officers - and all the while the Marines focused more and more on the mission, their minds casting aside extraneous concerns and concentrating on something identified only by a code name selected at random from separate lists of words. Every man walked over to the training site, checking placement and angles, usually with his most immediate teammate, practicing their run-in approach or the paths they'd take once the shooting started. Every one began his own personal exercise regime, running a mile or two on his own in addition to the regular morning and afternoon efforts, both to work off tension and to be just a little bit more certain that he'd be ready for it. A trained observer could see it from their look: serious but not tense, focused but not obsessive, confident but not cocky. Other Marines at Quantico kept their distance when they saw the team, wondering why the special place and the odd schedule, why the Cobras on the flight line, why the Navy rescue pilots in the Q, but one look at the team in the piney woods was all the warning they needed to mute the questions and keep their distance. Something special was happening.

'There is danger involved. You know that,' George warned. It was a struggle not to react, but now that Henderson was indeed swallowing the hook, he had to set it firmly.

'Aye aye, sir.'

'I'll take my chances. It's worth it.'

Cassius, he thought. No, that wasn't right. Casca, perhaps. But it was too late to change it now, and besides, who would have have seen the humor in it? Glazov reached in his pocket for his shopping list.

'I'll take my chances. It's worth it.'

'Aye.' The senior chief dropped the car into gear and headed for the river. He didn't know what it was all about, but he knew it was about something. The Old Man had a spring in his step like the chief's daughter heading out for a date.

Cassius, he thought. No, that wasn't right. Casca, perhaps. But it was too late to change it now, and besides, who would have have seen the humor in it? Glazov reached in his pocket for his shopping list.

Cassius, he thought. No, that wasn't right. Casca, perhaps. But it was too late to change it now, and besides, who would have have seen the humor in it? Glazov reached in his pocket for his shopping list.

'See you, George,' Henderson said. It caused George to turn and smile one last time.

'Make signal to Admiral Podulski on Constellation: Olive Green.'

'Aye.' The senior chief dropped the car into gear and headed for the river. He didn't know what it was all about, but he knew it was about something. The Old Man had a spring in his step like the chief's daughter heading out for a date.

'Thank you, James.' Dutch Maxwell turned in his swivel chair and looked at the side panel affixed to his wall, blue aluminium from his F6F Hellcat fighter, with its even rows of red-and-white painted flags, each denoting a victim of his skill. It was his personal touchstone to his profession. 'Yeoman Grafton,' he called.

Maxwell's car was waiting at the River entrance, a master chief aviation bosun's mate at the wheel. 'Where to, sir?'

Remarkably, their off-duty hours were more relaxed now. They knew about the mission, and the high-spirited horseplay common to young men was muted. They watched TV in the open bay, read books or magazines, waiting for the word in the knowledge that halfway across the world other men were waiting, too, and in the quiet of twenty-five individual human minds, questions were being asked. Would things go right or wrong? If the former, what elation would they feel? If the latter - well, they all had long since decided that, win or lose, this wasn't the sort of thing you walked away from. There were husbands to be restored to their wives, fathers to their children, men to their country. Each knew that if death was to be risked, then this was the time and the purpose for it.

'Yes, Admiral.'

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