It was 0200 hours. Parker Gamble tried to catch glimpses of whitecaps and waves pounding against the Oregon coast as he stared out the window of the Osprey. Suddenly, a cloud that had been blocking the moon drifted away, painting the entire ocean in a hypnotic soft white, the reflection of the lunar light creating a shaft of iridescence running down the center of the water.
The lean, 5'10" 24 year old glanced at his OPSAT as the aircraft banked and began turning east, heading into the heart of Oregon. The moonlight was refused entrance into the Osprey, blanketing the hull in darkness. Gamble grasped his iPod and turned up the volume. He didn't usually listen to music, but, before ops, he would turn on a mix between opera and instrumental rock. He found the mixture to be soothing. Gamble closed his eyes and allowed himself to focus on absolutely nothing. The briefings, the walkthroughs, the training. He dropped everything and found lucidity.
Then, Colonel Irving Lambert's voice echoed in his cochlear implant, and Gamble's eyes sprang open.
"Good morning Parker," the director of Third Echelon said.
"Morning Colonel, what's up?" Gamble said, removing his ear bud headphones and shutting down his iPod.
"Nothing new. You should be half an hour away from your drop. We will drop you off two miles south of the compound. You know what to do. That is, if you paid attention during the brief," Lambert said, a hint of sarcasm radiating.
Gamble suppressed a smile. When Gamble first joined Third Echelon, he was quickly labeled as someone who didn't listen. In every class and every meeting, Gamble looked dazed and confused, his eyes wandering around the room and his hands making mindless doodles with his pen on his papers. Inside the mind, however, Gamble was focused and intent. He never needed someone to repeat something. He never needed to look at someone's notes. Gamble took everything in. It didn't take long for his lackadaisical persona to be shed by his peers; They still teased him about it though.
"Actually, I have no idea what I'm doing," Gamble said, standing up and stretching out in his black Mark V Tactical Operations Suit.
Gamble's suit was the pinnacle of stealth technology. The fabric of the suit is interwoven with Kevlar, RhinoPlate, and seventh generation Gore-Tex. It's designed to withstand pistol fire, and will stop most assault rife ammunition if fired from far enough. While thin and flexible, the suit is tested to maintain core body temperatures. The suit can keep its owner comfortable between 15 degrees and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The suit enables its wearer to blend into the darkness very well, and works to partially diffuse any light that hits it. Furthermore, the placement of pockets and equipment works to break up the human silhouette, making it even more difficult to see. If careful, Gamble could sneak around practically any environment and, as long as he remained still in the shadows, would remain virtually invisible.
Lambert forced a chuckle. "Get with your team Gamble. I'll get back with you soon," the Colonel said.
Gamble switched on a light, and grabbed his multi-vision goggles, holstered his FN Five-SeveN pistol, and slung his SC-20K behind his back. He opened the door to the Osprey's computer room. There, Gamble's field runners were working on the specifics of the op.
Gabe Campbell, formerly with the CIA, stood at a tall 6' 3". Like Gamble, he had short blonde hair and blue eyes. He slapped Gamble on the back.
"How's it goin' kid? First op, can you believe it? You excited?" Campbell said, his voice dripping with an English accent.
"Yeah, it'll be fun," Gamble said, trying to scratch his head under the tough Kevlar padding of his suit.
"I got everything you'll be needing on that table over there. Sarah will make sure all the bases are covered before the drop," Campbell said.
Sarah King, 26, was another field runner. She was about as tall as Gamble, with dark hair and a soft, attractive face. Yet, she was able to harden it at a moment's notice, though she never seemed menacing. She made sure everything was updated and relayed any information to Gamble. She was also the techie of the group. She would be able to do just about anything in front of the stack of computers in the Osprey. Besides Lambert, King would be the one talking in Gamble's ear the most.
"Parker, I made sure the map on your OPSAT was updated. Satellite surveillance has confirmed the layout of the compound," King said without looking up at Gamble.
"Sounds good," Gamble said. Leaning over King's shoulder and looking at the multiple computer screens in front of her.
"Gamble. Bubble. My bubble," King said, spreading her arms out wide. Gamble stepped back.
It wasn't a secret that King didn't care for Gamble. Was it that he was deemed reckless? No. That couldn't be it. Gamble didn't consider himself reckless. He was always under control. Still, when King learned that Gamble was a full-fledged Splinter Cell and that she was assigned as a part of his remote team, she made sure he knew she didn't like it.
"I think you're cocky. No, not that I guess. You're brash. You don't think things through," King said in a break room at NSA headquarters in Fort Mead, Maryland. All Gamble did was say he was looking forward to working with her. "Yeah, I read about you in Iraq. Yeah, you saved those Rangers' lives. But you got lucky. And goddamn it, I swear to God if you get me killed...," she suddenly left her words hanging there awkwardly and left the room. Since then, they didn't talk much.
The incident she was talking about was what peaked Lambert's interest in the young operative and jettisoned Gamble into Third Echelon. Gamble had graduated United States Army Ranger School at the very young age of 19, and at the top of his class to boot. He was then stationed in the mountains in Iraq. His convoy was ambushed by insurgents. An RPG was fired into Gamble's Humvee. Miraculously, he survived, the heap of twisted metal from the vehicle surrounding his unconscious body. The enemy, presuming him dead, took Gamble's fellow Rangers and detained them. When Gamble came to, he tracked the insurgents to their cave and, armed with only his sidearm and a combat knife, dispatched a dozen enemies and freed his comrades. It was after this that Lambert recruited him into the NSA and Third Echelon, where he was trained to become a Splinter Cell. This was his first mission.
The op was to investigate a suspected terrorist cell that mainly operated in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Third Echelon had reason to believe that a major compound was located in the woods in south Oregon. Gamble was to infiltrate the compound and determine their agenda, all the while leaving behind no trace that he was ever there. If he deemed necessary, he was authorized to eliminate any threat to the United States. There were other details, but, essentially, that was his mission.
Gamble walked to the table where different gadgets were strewn about. His SC-20K was fitted with a GL1 multi-purpose launcher, capable of firing an array of lethal or non-lethal devices. Gamble grabbed a handful of each thing: ring airfoil rounds, capable of knocking out a target cold, sticky cameras, a device that is able to stick to any surface and give Gamble an instant view of what camera sees on his OPSAT, and sticky shockers, a high voltage device that releases an electrical surge when fired at a target's body, rendering them unconscious. Gamble grabbed two extra 20 round magazines for his Five-SeveN and an extra 30 round magazine for his SC-20K.
"Bloody marvelous," Campbell said, admiring the killing machine standing before him.
"Right," Gamble said in a mock English accent.
"Focus children," King said. The pilot's voice came on the loudspeaker on the ceiling.
"Two minutes!" he said.
The trio walked through the door and to the loading bay of the aircraft. Gamble turned to face his team.
"I just want to say I'm honored to be working with you two," Gamble said, especially eying Sarah. "I'm dedicated to this op. It's going to run smooth, and I wouldn't want anyone else behind be but you guys. I'm serious."
"We got your back mate," Campbell said.
"Just don't do anything stupid," King said, handing Gamble his parachute pack. "Remember your training. Think. Your OPSAT is your best friend. Lambert and I will be watching you and talking to you."
"One minute!" The pilot said. The Osprey's rear door began to open.
Gamble threw on his parachute pack and double checked his gear.
"Thirty seconds!" The pilot said. A light behind them began blinking red.
"Get ready!" Campbell said. Gamble shuffled over to the edge of the open door. He closed his eyes and allowed the wind to lash at his face for a brief second. Then he opened his eyes and look back at his team and smiled. The light turned green. Gamble jumped.