Private Ahmed Falak of the Republican Guard holds his AK-47 rifle as he patrols the lush courtyard of the palace overlooking the Euphrates River. It is a beautiful courtyard. During the daytime the bushes and date plam trees and flowering plants are quite beautiful, though the clear night sky obscures the sight of these plants. The courtyard garden is fed with water from the Euphrates, creating this oasis in this spot in the desert about thirty miles from Baghdad.

He knows it is his duty to guard the place, and he knows this place is a palace used by one of Saddam Hussein's sons- he does not know which one. He is far from his comrades fighting in Kuwait. Occasionally, he would hear the sound of enemy warplanes as they fly to deliver their deadly payloads.

He has no idea of the secrets that lie below this palace, secrets that can put the life of a lowly soldier in mortal danger.

Suddenly, he hears ruslting in the bushes. He turns his head. He then hears the rustling again. The courtyard is not all well-lit, and he curses. Then he hears louder rustling. He swings the barrel of his AK-47 and points it to the bushes.

Then suddenly, a small figure runs out and runs far away.

"Stupid cat," he mutters in Arabic. He knows of several cats that inhabit this palace; sometimes they like to hide in the bushes.

He then hears more rustling from the bushes. He figures it is the cat again. He continues walking, looking around for signs of trouble.

He feels something grab him, and then feels a sharp pressure on his threat. He can feel the blood spurting out from his neck.

"I'm not a cat," he hears someone say in Arabic.

..........................

Lieutenant Colonel James Logan, designation Alpha Leader, watches from the bushes as one of his soldiers slices the Iraqi guard's neck wide open. The soldier gives a signal. He and other soldiers come out from their hiding places and hold their H&K MP-5's.

"It's all clear," whispers the soldier who just cut the enemy guard's neck.

One of the other soldiers take the fallen guard's radio. "Nobody's trying to call in," says the soldier.

"Then we'd better move fast," says the colonel. He and his team go to the back door. So far, there is no sign of any raised level of alertness among the palace guards. According to the latest intel, there is much more to this place than an opulent residence for the Hussein family. They just hope they do not risk their lives just to break into a wine cellar.

They reach the back door. Colonel Logan takes out his nine-millimeter Beretta semiautomatic pistol, equipped with a silencer. He opens fire on the lock to break it. He and his team of six enter the palace.

The night-vision goggles make everything appear green. They can see the shape of the architecture of the interior hallways. It would surely look better under normal light, but completing the mission is more important than admiring the interior decoration.

They make their way through the hallways, ready to open fire upon any guards who happens to be making rounds in their direction.

"You sure we're going the right way?" asks one of the soldiers.

"I have a good sense of direction," replies another soldier.

They arrive at a set of double doors. The soldiers stand against the wall. One of them slightly opens the door and peeks through.

"There's a loading bay on the other side," he whispers. "I see two guards."

"Let's take 'em, Alpha Three," says Logan.

He kicks the door open and the soldiers burst in. Before the guards can even point their weapons, bullets from the MP5's take them down.

They see a pair of elevator doors. This must be the freight elevator they heard about from the mission briefing back on base.

And of course, the elevator can only be called by inserting a key into the keyhole and turning it.

They could break open the panel to call the elevator; that might attract the attention of the guards. None of the guards still alive have any idea of their presence. No sense attracting their attention until the last possible moment.

So two of the pry open the doors using all their strength.

The doors reveal a dark elevator shaft. It is a long way down to the basement.

"Well, boys," says Logan. "Time to put all that obstacle course shit to use." He picks up his radio and presses the button. "Bravo Team, this is Alpha Leader. We are going down."

"I copy, Alpha Leader," says a voice from the radio speaker.

And so the six of them climb down the steel cable into the unknown. It is dark, and all of them get the impression that they are sliding deeper into the abyss. With the darkness, the sounds of the hands grasping at the cable, and the hearts racing, are magnified.

Finally they reach the elevator car. One of them looks for the hatch. "Here," he says, opening the hatch.

Colonel Logan and another soldier designated Alpha Six leaps down.

"Let's pry the door open and check it out," says Logan.

"Yes, sir," says Alpha Six. Together they pry the elevator car doors, revealing the elevator floor doors. Then Alpha Six pries open the floor doors a little bit. And peeks and listens.

"It's clear," he says.

Logan presses the button to open the door, and the doors open. They come face to face with the enemy.

The enemy soldier is startled. Alpha Six takes his machete and stabs the enemy. He tackles the soldier to the ground, stabbing his repeatedly, causing large amounts of red blood to spurt out.

The he hears a burst of gunfire. He looks and sees a fallen enemy soldier.

"Keep an eye out for other enemies," says Logan.

"Yes, sir," Alpha Six mutters.

"Secure this hallway!" yells Logan. He notes that the hallways are brightly-lit, as he expected. Their painted faces now stand out. The time for sneaking around is over. The other four soldiers come in, ready to seize the area. "Let's do it."

They move as one cohesive unit, with the soldiers in the rear watching their backs. They read the signs written in Arabic.

They finally reach the place. It is a huge steel door, with Arabic writing on it. A card reader provides access. They expected more reistance; they figure that the Hussein regime diverted money intended for security towards personal luxury.

One of the soldiers inserts a card into the card reader. The cars is connected to a portable electronic device used to trick card readers into giving access.

Suddenly, gunfire erupts and alarms sound. The soldiers in Alpha Team know the guards will go straight to this vault. They throw frag grenades on the floor of the hallway to keep the enemy away. They use the corners of the hallways as coiver even as they open fire.

"We're in!" yells Alpha Six as he successfully opens the vault door.

"Let's go in," says Colonel Logan.

They both go into the vault. The vault is small, but it does contain what they are looking for, what the briefing said they would find. What they are looking for are steel canisters with Arabic writing on it. A pressure gauge is attached to each canister.

"Okay, let's grab one of these canisters and then blow this place," says Colonel Logan. He picks up the radio. "Bravo Team, this is Alpha Team. We have the goods and we request backup."

There is no response. The radio signal is not getting down here, he figures.

He takes the C4 plastic explosive from his pack and he and Alpha Six start planting the charges. Akpha Six then wires the denotator to the C4.

"That should be enough to blow this whole place up," says Logan. "Set it to thirty minutes."

Meanwhile, the soldiers outside hold their position.

"Alpha Three, go inside the vault and see how they're doing," says Alpha Two. "We're gonna try to secure the route back to the surface."

Alpha Three goes back inside while two of the soldiers head back the way they came as Alpha Two covers them with suppression fire. A few more shots are fired in the attempt to secure the escape route.

Suddenly, Alpha comes out of the vault with Alpha Six and Alpha Leader. "Alpha Leader's down!" yells Alpha Three. "We'd better get out of here now. This whole place will blow in less than thirty minutes!"

The six soldiers in Alpha Team make their way through the basement hallways, with Alpha Three carrying the colonel. Two more Iraqi soldiers who step in the way are gunned down.

"We can take the elevator up," says Alpha Two, looking at the freight elevator. He reaches the elevator. Unlike the first floor, the basement level does not need a key to operate the freight elevator. He presses the button and the door open.

"Everyone in!" yells Alpha Two. Alpha Three carries Colonel Logan inside, and the other soldiers follow suit. ASlpha Two sees more enemy soldiers coming after them, and he fires a burst of bullets even as he backs into the elevator.

He presses the button for the fiurst floor. The doors close and the freight elevator car rises up slowly.

After about half a minute, the doors open to the first floor loading bay. Four of the soldiers burst out, aiming their weapons.

"Alpha Team to Bravo Team," says Alpha Two. "We got the goods and the place is set to blow, but Alpha Leader is down. Let's get to the rendevous point."

They go through the palace and into the courtyard which is the extraction point. They use their night vision goggles to check for anyone. suddenly, some more people come into the courtyard.

"It's Bravo Team," says Alpha Three.

Alpha Two takes the flare gun and fires a flare into the clear night sky. The sky is soon lit up, signaling a U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to fly over here.

Within minutes, the Blackhawk arrives, its rotors chopping through the air. It slowly descends into the courtyard.

Suddenly, the soldiers hear gunfire. The remaining guards are now determinated to stop them. The soldiers return fire with their weapons even as they fall back into the helicopter. Colonel Logan goes in first. One by one, the soldiers get on board until the Bravo Team Leader gets on board. Then the Blackhawk helicopter rises.

"It's about to blow!" yells Alpha Two.

................................

Deep in the vault, a seriously wounded Iraqi soldier staggers inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. He can see the canisters. He also sees a bunch of wires.

He looks at a red LED display. He can see it is counting down.

Counting down to his death.

...............................

The palace is consumed by a fireball, as if the fires of Hell itself erupted to claim the palace. The soldiers in the Blackhawk look at their handiwork.

One of the soldiers checks on the wounded Colonel Logan. "He's dead."

................................

The UH-60 Blackhawk returns to its base in Saudi Arabia just as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. The soldiers all step out. Soldiers in Humvees arrive to greet the soldiers.

One of the soldiers from the helicopter aims his H&K MP5 at another soldier.

"What are you doing?" asks one of them.

"He killed Colonel Logan," says the soldier holding the weapon. "I saw him do it."