Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
The limbs of the tall pines hung heavy with ice. When they snapped, they gave off cracks that echoed through the forest like gunfire.
With each one, the small counterterrorism team from Norway’s Police Security Service, known as the PST, halted its advance and froze in place.
Seconds—sometimes even entire minutes—passed before they felt comfortable enough to begin moving again.
No one had expected the storm to be this bad. Ice covered everything and made the sloped ground almost impossible to walk on.
Several of the team members had wanted to wait. Their leader, though, had ordered them forward. The assault had to take place tonight.
Backing them up was a contingent of Norwegian Forsvarets Spesialkommandos, or FSK for short. Their commander wasn’t crazy about hitting a target under these conditions either, but he had reviewed the intelligence and had come to the same conclusion.
The two outsiders, sent up from North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters at the last minute and forced onto the team by the Norwegian government, didn’t get a vote. Though the American looked as if he could handle himself, and probably had on multiple occasions, they knew nothing about his background or the woman he was with. Therefore, the pair from NATO HQ also didn’t get any weapons. None of the Norwegians wanted to get shot in the back.
Encrypted radios, outfitted with bone conduction headsets, kept them connected to each other and to the PST operations center. They wore the latest panoramic night-vision goggles and carried a range of firearms from H&K 416s and MP5s to next generation Glock 17s and USP Tactical pistols. Theirs was one of the best-equipped, best-trained teams the country had ever fielded for a domestic counterterrorism operation.
Their target was a weathered cabin in a remote, heavily wooded area. It had a long, grass-covered roof pierced by a dented black stovepipe. A season’s worth of firewood had been chopped and stacked outside.
Even if the weather hadn’t gone bad, conventional unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance was worthless. The density of the trees, combined with the shrieking, bitterly cold winds, also meant that the nano drone the FSK carried was impossible to fly. They had been left with no other option than to go in “blind.”
As the team slowly picked their way through the forest, sheets of snow and ice blew at them like shards of broken glass.
The last five hundred meters were the worst. The cabin was built in a wide ravine. Maneuvering down, several team members lost their footing—some more than once.
Because of the trees, the FSK’s snipers couldn’t find anywhere to set up. There were no clean lines of fire, and they were forced to move closer to the cabin than they would have liked. The operation was feeling more and more like a mistake.
Ignoring the trepidation sweeping through the ranks, the PST leader pushed on.
Three hundred meters from the cabin, they could make out light from behind the shuttered windows.
Two hundred meters away, they could smell the wood smoke pouring from the stovepipe.
With one hundred meters left to go, the signal was given to halt. No one moved.
Something was wrong. Everyone felt it. Heart rates increased. Grips tightened on weapons.
And then, all hell broke loose.