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Navy Petty Officer First Class Reid Galvin hopped off the idling Black Hawk with three of his teammates and trudged across Bagram's baking tarmac to the cinderblock building that loomed before him. The intense August sun beat down on his shoulders, but it did nothing to melt the ice inside him.
Shoving open the door with one arm, he didn't look back at the others as they unloaded the body bags from the Chinook. Twenty-four of them. Five more bodies and other remains were still being recovered from the mangled wreckage at the crash site.
He'd done his job for the momentsecured the crash site and helped with the recovery effort. All of the victims had been in pieces, burned so badly they were beyond recognition. Each body part would have to be examined forensically to identify the charred remains in the bags.
In some ways, that was the hardest part to take. Knowing the family members would have to wait for the gruesome identifications to be completed before funeral arrangements could be made stateside. This loss was a huge blow to the SPECOPS community. To the U.S. military as a whole, and its role in the War on Terror. And though they'd been hit the hardest, the SEAL community didn't have time to mourn its fallen brothers.
He'd nearly been one of them. He'd originally been slated to be on that mission in Wardak province the day that Chinook had been shot down. Instead he'd been reassigned at the last moment with a few of his teammates. Fate had a goddamn twisted sense of humor sometimes.
Compared to the arid heat outside, the interior of the building was chilly from the air conditioning, bathed in a bluish glow from the fluorescent lighting. Reid rubbed a weary hand over his face. He hadn't slept in almost three days. Had barely eaten.
Beside him, one of his teammates started taking off his gear and stowing it in his locker, his movements rife with frustration. "Tonight can't get here fast enough."
"Tell me about it." Once night fell they'd be on the hunt for the ones responsible for the crash. In the darkness they'd be in their element, finally doing something about avenging their fallen brothers. Hell, they'd all go out again right now in spite of their exhaustion if their commander hadn't ordered them to get some rack time.
Reid dropped his ruck and took care of his M-4 before peeling off his dirty BDUs that stank of jet fuel and scorched metal. He couldn't get the stench of burned flesh out of his nostrils. The short, hot shower awaiting him wouldn't help much either. All the soap in the world wouldn't take that smell away completely.
The smell of two dozen SEALs' blood spilled into the Afghan soil.
Tired to the bone, Reid stripped and stepped into the shower, only to find the spray was lukewarm at its hottest setting. He scrubbed himself down with the strong soap before toweling off and pulling a fresh T-shirt and cammies on. Behind some of the others he walked the length of the hall to their temporary barracks and crawled onto his cot as someone hit the lights. After a few minutes the sound of slow breathing and the occasional soft snore of one of his teammates filled the dark, quiet room.
Despite the fatigue pulling at his heavy eyelids, sleep wouldn't come. The need for action hummed in his veins, the sense of raw frustration and impatience demanding he do something. People were working on the situation right now, he reminded himself. His brothers' deaths would not go unanswered.
When he finally closed his eyes, it wasn't his fellow SEALs' faces he saw. It was Becca's.