Book: Callsign: Deep Blue - Book 7
Callsign: Deep Blue
By Jeremy Robinson and Kane Gilmour
© 2011 Jeremy Robinson. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information e-mail all inquiries to: [email protected]
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Ebook layout by Stanley J. Tremblay, www.findtheaxis.com
FICTION by JEREMY ROBINSON
(click to view on Amazon and buy)
The Antarktos Saga
The Last Hunter - Pursuit
The Last Hunter - Descent
The Jack Sigler Thrillers
Callsign: King - Book 1
Callsign: Queen - Book 1
Callsign: Rook - Book 1
Callsign: Knight - Book 1
Callsign: Bishop - Book 1
Callsign: King - Book 2 - Underworld
Origins Editions (first five novels)
Raising the Past
The Didymus Contingency
The Zombie's Way (Ike Onsoomyu)
The Ninja’s Path (Kutyuso Deep)
FICTION by KANE GILMOUR
TABLE OF CONTENTS
About the Authors
Sample - Secondworld by Jeremy Robinson
Sample - Resurrect by Kane Gilmour
Sample - The Sentinel by Jeremy Bishop
CALLSIGN: DEEP BLUE
Post 3, Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Tom Duncan knew he was in trouble when the door slammed shut. His assistant, Lori Stanton, screamed as the thunderous boom echoed around the hangar. Duncan couldn’t blame her—he’d practically jumped out of his own skin at the sudden noise.
“What the hell?” she asked, her embarrassment over her scream now manifesting as anger.
“I don’t know. Let’s take a look.” Duncan walked across the hangar’s concrete floor to the entrance that should have remained unobstructed.
The hangar door was massive at over a hundred feet wide and thirty feet high. The door was steel and several inches thick. Hidden hydraulics raised and lowered it, and it must have weighed a ridiculous amount. There was no way it should have just snapped and fallen down as hard as it had.
Duncan quickly checked the electronic keypad at the side of the door for an error code, but the LCD screen was dark. It also had a built-in intercom system for communicating with the similar pad on the outside, but that too wasn’t working. No way to contact Carrack.
Matt Carrack led the security team Duncan had brought with him. He’d asked Carrack to wait outside the door with his men, and Carrack had been fine with that. Duncan was just grateful none of the security team had been under the door, when it fell. They would have been turned to greasy paste.
“What are we gonna do?” Lori wanted to know.
“Relax, it’s probably some glitch. Remember that the whole computer system was wiped at one point. Lemme call White One, so he doesn’t worry.”
Matt Carrack was designated with the callsign: White One. Most of the support team did not know each other’s names. They just knew each other by their callsigns. Carrack had the security team of himself and White Two through White Five. They were all outside the door, and probably wondering what was going on.
Duncan tried to reach the man with his cell phone, but there was no signal through the thick steel door. He noticed that Lori was trying her phone as well, but the frown on her face told him she’d lost her signal too.
“Alright, we’ll try this another way,” he said, as he strode across the concrete floor of the hangar toward a glassed-in control room at the far end. That was where the nearest computer was, and computers controlled everything in the place. As he walked, and Lori fell in step with him, he mentally catalogued the equipment that was stacked on pallets and was still wrapped in plastic on the hangar floor. Literally tons of equipment. Weapons, computers, lab components and vehicles. Even two stealth modified MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters sat lonely on the floor of the massive echoing space, their rotor blades secured down by straps, as they had been transported on the backs of eighteen-wheelers. Everything was new and it was all still in its original packaging. They had a lot of work to do setting this place up, but most of the staff wouldn’t arrive until the next day. Duncan had wanted to come poke around a bit with just a couple of helpers. He had Lori with him for some computer work, and he’d sent the other assistant on a mission deeper inside the facility a half hour ago. He hadn’t been planning to stay all day, and he certainly hadn’t planned to spend time troubleshooting the damn security doors. Oh well, Duncan thought, new facility, new glitches.
As they entered the glassed in office at the far end of the hangar, Duncan was about to slip into the chair in front of the computer there, but Lori slid into the chair first. Duncan was smiling and she was furiously typing already. He had hand picked Lori, callsign: White Zero, just as he had chosen all the other members of the support team. She was brilliant, determined and a magical touch on a computer—much like himself. The only downside for Lori was that she was a bit meek in social interactions and she had no physical training to speak of. She wasn’t in bad shape, but neither was she athletic. And should the shit ever hit the fan, she’d be useless in a fight. Duncan knew he’d have to get her some physical training, but for now, she was strictly a computer tech, and in that capacity, she was flawless. Put the meek girl with the mousy brown hair near a CPU and a monitor, and she came to life with personality and flair. He was smiling at how quickly she had transformed from somewhat tentative and scared in the hangar to a vicious keyboard hound as she ran through the system searching for reasons why the hydraulics on the door had failed. He watched fascinated, as she ran through several troubleshooting protocols he might not have thought of.
As the former president of the United States, there were of course, many things he hadn’t done for himself at the White House, but as Deep Blue, the mysterious support person for the former Delta Force team known as Chess Team, he was used to being the one doing the typing on the computer keyboard. After the recent fiasco with the team’s nemesis, Richard Ridley of Manifold Genetics, bringing golems to life, Duncan realized he wasn’t giving the team all he could, because his duties as president had become more of a hindrance than a help. His own inability to provide support on matters the team were involved in—matters that affected the security of not just America, but the globe—had become more and more of a frustration for him, and he had yearned to be free to act, as he had in the old days when he was an Army Ranger. In the end, he had opted for a carefully orchestrated political suicide, so he could neatly step out of the spotlight.
There would always be someone lining up to be the president, but only Duncan could be Deep Blue. He had cultivated contacts all over the world, and had had plenty of time to set the team up as a completely black operation, burying the financing at the Pentagon and arranging for the team to take over the Manifold facility they had captured during the Lernian Hydra incident.
Duncan watched White Zero come to the same conclusion he had, although she was maybe a half a second slower in reaching it. The hydraulics hadn’t failed. All doors to the facility had been security locked. Half the computer system was locking her out. All methods for communication with the outside world were cut off. She knew, just as Duncan did, that they hadn’t yet set up a new system to go with the security cameras that peppered the facility—it was still packed in boxes on the hangar floor. Someone had fried the last control center with an electric baton during the Hydra battle. So Duncan watched as White Zero tried the same alternate technique he would have used. She started checking motion sensors for the three main branches of the facility, and when she got to the section of the base hidden under Fletcher Mountain, his suspicions were confirmed.
The base had been infiltrated.
They were not alone.
Matt Carrack acted quickly. Within seconds of the huge hydraulic door slamming shut, he was at the control pad mounted on the wall to the side of the hangar’s entrance. As soon as he determined it was dead, he was speed dialing Deep Blue on his satellite phone, but there was no reply. He shut down the phone and turned to his four men.
Each man, White Two through White Five, without being told to, had assumed a defensive posture around the closed hangar door. They were good. Each man had automatically determined that they were under attack and had dropped to a crouch, forming a small semi-circle around the door and pointing their Mk 17 FN SCAR assault rifles outward toward any potential enemies. Carrack was pleased. He and Deep Blue had chosen each member of the security force from 10th Mountain Division men at Fort Drum. They were all natural climbers and excelled at alpine war craft.
“White Two and White Three, air vents. Go.”
Carrack wasn’t done barking the order when two members of the team slung their weapons, ran to the side of the massive metal door and began scaling up the rock wall toward the summit of the mountain. Although trained to utilize all types of climbing apparatus and safety equipment, many 10th Mountain troops were avid free solo rock climbers, and the rocky terrain outside the hangar hardly presented any challenge to the two security members. Within 30 seconds, they had already moved above the height of the top of the door set into the rock. Carrack knew that each man had scanned the rocky wall the first time they had seen it, and would have mentally catalogued where all the best holds were, and how best to ascend the climb. He knew he had. White Two and White Three made it look like a walk in the park. The hangar had two exhaust vents concealed in its roof near the summit of Mount Tecumseh. The climbers would find the vents and infiltrate the hangar from above.
“White Five, get to Post 2. If it’s locked down like here, blow the door. Rendezvous inside the hangar. Four, you’re with me.”
White Five raced away from the looming steel door and down toward the security team’s parked, matte black, HDT M1030M1 all-terrain motorcycles. HDT had manufactured the bikes for the US military to run on JP-8 fuel or diesel. But Deep Blue had had these retrofitted to run on biofuels. Carrack didn’t know how much better for the environment they were, but he knew they were wicked fast. In seconds, White Five was astride the bike and tearing off down the unpaved road toward NH49, which would take him down to the small hamlet of Campton, and then on to Pinckney. The journey by the curving mountain roads was 18 miles, but Carrack knew the distance was a lot shorter via the straight underground rail tunnels Ridley had installed to connect the three sections of the facility. If White Five could get into the base down in Pinckney, he’d be back in less time than it would take for him to get down there.
The hangar door Carrack remained in front of with White Four, was set into the side of a mountain, about 10 miles northwest of the Pinckney Bible Campground, where Chess Team had discovered entrances into the facility. Those entrances were now designated as Post 1 (a concealed vehicle tunnel leading to a loading dock) and Post 2 (a door next to a helipad that Manifold had cleverly placed under a canopy of trees, where the pilot of a helicopter would have to fly in and out of the trees at a 45 degree angle). After the Lernian Hydra episode, and the subsequent cleanup, Deep Blue had arranged for the military to purchase the campground and had paid off the families of those affected for their silence about the incident. The last thing the US government wanted was a bunch of families on the news yelling about seven-headed monsters in New Hampshire and a giant military cover-up, so people had been paid well.
The exploratory team sent in to sanitize the Manifold facility had eventually discovered that the portion of the facility Chess Team members had seen only made up a third of the overall compound. On a map, the three main sections of the facility formed a capital letter A, with the section under Fletcher Mountain that had its access at the campground forming the lower left point of the letter. Deep Blue had designated that section of the compound Labs, because it was where Richard Ridley had conducted his experiments into regeneration. Labs also contained a full gymnasium, barracks, an armory that Manifold had been kind enough to leave behind and access to a cavern that ran deep under the building.
This section of Alpha, designated Central, contained the hangar Chess Team would use for its vehicles, the computer rooms and surveillance equipment that Deep Blue would use to orchestrate Chess Team field operations and a variety of smaller labs and offices. Central sat at the top point of the letter A.
Finally, the lower right leg of the A-shape was the Dock. Carrack couldn’t believe it when he had actually seen the place. A full-fledged submarine dock, hidden in an underground complex, some 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Ridley had apparently discovered and augmented a natural cavern that ran under the New Hampshire seacoast and all the way up to Lake Winnipesaukee, where the underground Dock had been constructed on its northern end. Longer than the Panama Canal, Deep Blue had called the tunnel an ‘absolute genius work of engineering,’ and Carrack understood that it wouldn’t have even been possible for Ridley to construct the tunnel, if it hadn’t mostly been in situ as a natural cavern. Carrack was still blown away by the man’s audacity, and his execution of the project in total secrecy.
Like with many large lakes in the US, local residents had constructed legends about a sea monster in Lake Winni. Carrack had heard about them since he was a kid and wondered how many people had really seen a glimpse of Ridley’s 575-foot long decommissioned Russian Typhoon submarine and thought it was a living creature. The thing had been retrofitted for cargo hauling with approximately 15,000 tons of cargo space after the removal of its ballistic missiles. Deep Blue hypothesized that Ridley had managed the construction of much of the compound by smuggling equipment and supplies in and debris out, with the massive sub. When Carrack had seen the beast in the concrete underground dock a few weeks ago, he had been so stunned that his mouth had fallen open like some cartoon character. Deep Blue had clapped him on the back saying, “You’ll get used to wacky shit like this, son. It’s what we do.”
Now Carrack suspected he was seeing the start of more wacky shit. He had been fully briefed on the Alpha compound, and then had taken it upon himself in his spare time to study some of the information about the place Deep Blue had been able to obtain while mining Manifold’s old data architecture. Carrack knew about the hydraulics on the hangar door, and he also understood that several redundancies were in place in its mechanical make up to prevent a failure that would result in the door slamming shut from its recessed place in the rock above the entryway. He understood automatically what it took Deep Blue a few minutes to figure out on the other side of the door—the doors had been security locked. What he did not understand was why. He knew that Deep Blue would not have locked him out. Either there was a glitch in the computer system or they were under attack. Carrack assumed the latter. That’s what he got paid to do.
“Four, I’m going to check Post 4, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be the same story. You get to Dock and get in that way. Any way you can, understood?”
Carrack knew that White Four, a former 10th Mountain sergeant named Ravenelli understood completely. He’d trained with the short man for weeks and knew he would move Heaven and Earth to get into the facility through the Dock.
“Sir.” White Four was already heading toward his own waiting biofuel-powered dirt bike.
Everyone on Carrack’s team, Carrack included, would willingly give his life for Deep Blue. There was no hiding the fact that the man was the former president of the United States, and for that reason alone, probably any US military member would have willingly gone to work for him. Duncan had been good to the armed services while he was in office. But after vetting each man and explaining why the man had engineered his political demise, what Chess Team was and what their ultimate goals were—protecting the US and the world from threats too outlandish for the normal military—each security solider would have been crazy not to sign on.
As Matt Carrack raced along a dirt path around the base of the mountain to another door into Central, designated Post 4, he reflected on his own meeting with Tom Duncan and the revelations the man had provided.
“Your job as head of security, Matt, will be to overreact to the slightest hint of danger. Don’t ever fear making a mistake erring on the side of caution or worry about accidental property damage. If you even have a slight hunch that something has gone hinky, you leap into action. The five prime members of Chess Team will always look after themselves. Your job is to protect every man and woman in our support team, including me. Our enemies cover the range of terrorists, foreign governments and even mythological creatures. If you think something smells funny, you boys go into action mode long before everything turns FUBAR.” Tom Duncan’s face had turned serious when he had said it, and even though Matt Carrack hadn’t seen the mythological threats, he had read the files and he knew they weren’t bullshit.
“Yes, Sir. If you ever need me in that capacity, I’ll bring the hellfire.”
As Carrack approached the door to Post 4, a much smaller door disguised to look like the entryway to an abandoned mine tunnel into the side of the mountain, he turned his mind back to the job at hand. He quickly unlocked the chain-link fence gate across the entryway to the mine tunnel, pulled it back and ran down the 40-foot long damp tunnel, with the flashlight mounted on the barrel of his FN SCAR leading the way. At the end of the tunnel was a miniature version of the steel hangar door, this one designed only to admit a vehicle the size of a small truck. It too was locked tight and the control pad mounted on the wall to the side of the gleaming door was dark and unresponsive just like its twin outside the main hangar door.
Carrack returned to the bright daylight outside the tunnel and carefully scanned the pine trees that studded the hillside below the entryway. No movement. He pulled back the sleeve of his MO5 digicam woodland camouflage BDU blouse and checked his Suunto Vector wristwatch. Both the camo and the watch were not standard US military items—Deep Blue acquired the best equipment he could for the team. In this case, the uniforms were from the Finnish military, because their woodland patterns better matched the foliage in New Hampshire than standard US woodland gear. The watch was also from Finland—but only because Suunto was renowned for the quality of their marine compasses long before they started manufacturing wristwatches, and the company had been smart enough to put compasses into their watches, when companies like Casio were still patting themselves on the backs for stopwatch functions.
It would be twenty minutes or more before Carrack heard from White Three at Labs or White Four at Dock. He stepped back into the shadow of the tunnel opening, keeping his weapon trained on the forest around him, and contacted White Two with a small tactical throat microphone.
“Two, position? Over.”
“Approaching target now,” White Two’s voice came in clearly.
“Let me know when you’re inside.”
“Acknowledged, One, we’re at the vents now. When we get in, we’ll open the door for you.” Two’s voice had picked up some static, and Carrack figured the man had entered the vent already.
“Good enough, White One out.”
Carrack made his way back down the trail toward the hangar door, his eyes still scanning as he went and his nose breathing in the deep robust scent of the dense trees. When he reached the sealed hangar door, he again did a visual check of the area and then tried the control pad mounted on the wall to the left of the door again. It was still dark. He tried the satellite phone again, and as before, he could not reach Deep Blue. His next call was to General Keasling. The General was at the Pentagon and was one of only two people in active service to the US Government that knew about Chess Team—the other was the director of the CIA, Domenick Boucher. Both were friends of Deep Blue’s and both had been involved with Chess Team since its inception.
Keasling answered on the second ring. The secured line was reserved for Deep Blue, and Carrack had received the number and instructions to call Keasling if necessary, when he had taken the job. Carrack had yet to meet the General, but he understood that the man would know who he was.
“Talk to me,” the General’s no-nonsense voice was gruff, but he seemed in a good mood. That was about to change.
“General, this is White One. Please confirm your identity for me.” Carrack spoke clearly and quickly.
“Shit,” the General said, and he stretched it out so it sounded like sheee-it. “Authorization Code Delta Romeo Bravo Alpha Kilo Papa India Tango, General Michael Keasling, come back.”
“Tango Lima Hotel, Captain Matthew Carrack,” Carrack provided the return code to authenticate his own identity for the General.
“Talk to me son, what the fuck is going on?” All signs of the General’s mirth were gone.
“General, how soon can you get me an Abrams tank up from Fort Devens? I might need to blow some shit up.”
Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Anna Beck swung precariously in the dark. The cavern around her was a natural system that ran almost a mile underground. Far above her, almost half a mile up the rope, was the entrance to the Labs section of the facility, but the halogen bulb of her headlamp only illuminated a short distance up the rope. She took another breath from the facemask of her closed circuit rebreather and squeezed the Petzl descender on the line. She resumed her descent into the depths of the cavern.
The cavern was filled with natural gas. Richard Ridley had planned to utilize the natural feature as a slash and burn technique for the compound. At the slightest hint of danger, he and his Manifold flunkies would have evacuated and an explosive device would have been remote control detonated from Ridley’s smartphone. But Chess Team and Anna Beck had put a dent in that plan. The smartphone had been remotely prevented from detonating the explosion. Ridley had escaped, but an Army cleanup team had later deactivated the explosive device. That was a few years ago, and now here she was back in the same facility she had escaped from along with Ridley; although when she had escaped, she had done so on the side of the angels.
The disappointment about Ridley and Manifold Genetics still stung. She had left the Army and Iraq disappointed enough, and she had gone to work for Gen Y, a security firm, whose sole client was Manifold Genetics. Manifold had seemed like the real deal—a biotech company that actually cared about people and about saving the world. Only a short time after going to work for them though, Beck had learned the truth. Manifold had been run by a megalomaniac that was obsessed with learning the secrets of human regeneration and immortality, at any cost. When it came down to it, she switched sides and helped Chess Team take him down. But at the end of the battle, she had taken the opportunity to slip away, unsure of her next move. She had traveled around a while, until running into a member of Chess Team once again, and this time, the team had had a job offer for her.
As Black Zero, she was Deep Blue’s right hand assistant in all things non-technical; White Zero handled the tech stuff along with Lewis Aleman and Deep Blue himself. Beck was computer proficient, but she was far better in the field. The Black side of the support organization was all pilots, mechanics, spooks and her. Deep Blue had told her she was to be his assistant in things logistical as well as an assistant to the team in field support matters, but she was also tasked with acting as Deep Blue’s personal bodyguard, and it was a task she took to heart. It didn’t take long to learn to like the guy. He was a natural and charismatic leader, calm and good natured, but startlingly brilliant in his ability to see the bigger picture. Beck hadn’t paid that much attention to the man when he was president, but when she was brought into the team, she quickly gained a huge respect for him as Deep Blue. She rapidly gleaned that this time, there was no mistake—Chess Team were the good guys, and Deep Blue was one of the best. The man had given up everything so he could keep his fingers in the game and make the most amount of difference. Within weeks, Beck went from enjoying the new job, to considering her role to be more of a calling, like a position in the priesthood. Tom Duncan was her guy, and she was dedicated to the core.
She continued her descent on the line, her climbing harness digging into her crotch. The rebreather equipment was a bit awkward—she’d never rappelled wearing it before—but she was still enjoying herself. She had always been up for adventure. That was why the Army had called to her, why she had gone to work for Manifold, why she had eventually bailed on them and ultimately why she had accepted the position with Chess Team’s support organization. She wanted to be on the side of the angels, but more than that, she wanted action. She knew helping a group that had recently dealt with creatures from Greek mythology, worldwide contagion and murderously animated rock monsters would put her in the thick of it. She slowed her descent as the floor of the cavern came into view below her in the small pool of LED light from her headlamp. The dark outside the circumference of the headlamp was complete, and she could hear nothing but the sound of her own breathing.
When she reached the floor, she unclipped her harness from the line, pulled out a strong Wagan 2057 12-volt halogen spotlight and swung the beam in a wide arc around her. The cavern was cold and damp, yet the heat from the contained air of the rebreather’s mask against her face had caused her to perspire slightly. The cavern was immense, with small tunnels and areas that weren’t quite tunnels, but rather smaller caverns, leading off in all directions. The beam of her spotlight could reach almost a mile, but there were sections of the chamber the beam could not reach, the distant darkness impenetrable. She turned the beam down to her feet. She could see the scuffle marks in the sand on the floor from where the Army team had come in and removed the explosive device.
Today, Deep Blue had tasked her with taking a look around, in case Manifold had left any other surprises in the cavern. The clean up team the Army had brought in years ago had only had retrieval of the device on their minds. Now that Deep Blue was going to make the Alpha facility into Chess Team’s permanent base of operations, exploration was warranted—or at least as much exploration as she could perform given the hour or so of fresh air her breathing apparatus contained. She checked the air gauge and again checked her wristwatch. The thing was bulky as hell, but she loved it because it was like a badge of honor—the first piece of team equipment she had been issued. Everyone got a Suunto. It wasn’t a watch she would have picked for herself, but she had come to love the day-glow yellow plastic around the bezel and the little level-bubble set into the plastic face of the device. The company that manufactured the watch called it a wrist-top computer, and she agreed with that assessment after Deep Blue had given it to her and handed her an inch thick instruction manual to go with it. Right now though, she was only concerned with the compass feature on the watch.
She took a bearing and started roughly northeast. She knew that over a mile above her, the Labs section eventually connected with an underground electric train that ran a ruler straight rail 10 miles deeper into the mountains and directly into the Central section. Her first goal was to determine whether there was access to the rail tunnel from this cavern. She started hiking across the sand, soil and rock of the cavern floor, scrambling where necessary over boulders and, she was surprised to see, the vegetation that resembled roots on a large tree. The roots came in and out of the rock all over the floor, reminding her of the mangroves she had seen in Florida.
Beck didn’t think that giant tree roots grew in caves, but she didn’t know for sure. She pulled out a digital camera and snapped a few pictures of the roots just in case. Ridley had been experimenting with all kinds of genetic muck in the labs above her head and the gun battle that had led to the capture of the base had resulted in a chemical soup of ungainly hazmat proportions spilled all over the place. While it wasn’t part of her mission today to look for environmental problems, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility in Beck’s mind that some of that chemical goo could have seeped down into the cavern and mutated harmless lichen into arm-thick roots. She might get back to Central only to have Deep Blue inform her that there were hundreds of subterranean plants that might fit the bill and there was nothing to worry about. If that happened, she’d be fine with it. But she’d rather be overly cautious where anything concerned Richard Ridley. The camera’s flash made a feeble attempt to light the darkened space, but the bright glare from the flashlight would be more than sufficient to capture the pictures. That task completed, she slipped the camera back into a nylon zippered case and deposited it in her black BDU cargo pocket on the side of her leg.
She took a sip of water from the CamelBak pouch’s straw that was embedded inside the facemask, and wiped a stray wisp of her long brown hair away from the Plexiglas shield over her face. She should have worn a hood, but the thought of neoprene headgear, when she was already sweating, made her glad she hadn’t.
She was about to continue deeper into the cavern when something brushed past her ankles and calves, hard enough to cause her to lose her balance and fall over backwards. She rolled backwards with the fall, coming up in a crouch, her Beretta M9 already out of her tactical leg holster and aimed in the direction of whatever had hit her. In the other hand, she played the spotlight in a slow arc, but to her consternation, she didn’t see anything.
A small scritching noise came from behind her and she rolled again, blasting the beam of light into the shadows behind her. She thought she had seen something move at the edge of the beam’s radius of ambient light, but every time she moved the beam further, whatever it was, seemed just out of reach.
More shuffling to the side of her, and again, behind her.
She started breathing heavily and swung the beam of light in a full circle, fast.
Movement on three sides of her—the things were black and shiny, and huge and fast.
She checked her Suunto’s compass, and started hauling ass back toward the rope. She didn’t know what it was that was down here with her, but she knew there was more than one of them, and she knew they were hunting her in the dark. Whatever the things were, they seemed to be confined to the ground, so the rope was her salvation. She spun a 360 turn a few times while running, playing the arc of the spotlight all around the cavern, but she still caught no more of a glimpse of her attackers than just shuffling movement in the shadows, just beyond the edge of the light.
Whatever they were, they were damn fast.
As the rope came into focus in the beam of the spotlight ahead of her, Black Zero knew she had made it, and she would get out of the cavern to return with more light and bigger weapons.
Until she saw the rope move, that was.
She thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, because the rope was moving and moving quickly. And it was moving in the wrong direction—down. She leapt aside as nearly a mile of 11 mm black climbing rope came pooling out of the air and slamming to the ground at her feet.
Someone had cut her rope.
Then the scritching noise came from behind again.
Post 2, Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
The infiltration team made short work of the door at the helipad. After all, even though it was a few years after Manifold had abandoned the place, they still had the original security codes for the entrances. It was an easy task for Martin Damien’s Gen Y security team to slip past the guards stationed at the front of the former Bible campground, unlock the helipad door and then send all entrances and exits into all branches of the facility into lockdown. Of course, the new residents had changed the basic entry codes for the security doors, but they had yet to mine through the former data architecture of the base deeply enough to discover the override codes that Gen Y had installed back in the day. Now it was too late.
Damien was the eldest member of the security team at twenty-four and the only member of the infiltration squad that had been employed by Manifold at the time of the Hydra incident. He absently rubbed a hand over the cruel scar that marred his otherwise boyish good looks, and then continued to run his fingers up and through his thick shock of black hair. He’d been waiting for a chance to get back at the bastards that had scarred him. Although intel suggested that the field team was not on site yet, meaning that jackrabbity Korean wouldn’t be here, Damien would still be more than happy to inflict a little pain on Chess Team’s support members.
“Secure the barracks,” Damien murmured the command into a tactical throat microphone, and his men branched out down the short hallway off the helipad and into the section that had formerly been used to house Damien and his fellow Gen Y security members, when the facility had been Manifold’s. Gen Y, a security firm comprised mostly of former military members, was a company with just the one client—Manifold Genetics. Manifold had been Richard Ridley’s baby, with locations all over the globe and cutting-edge research into biotechnology. Damien had been happy to work for them, first in a post in Iran, then later at Tristan da Cunha and here at the former Manifold Alpha base in New Hampshire. Anything to get away from his native Ireland. But things had gone to hell, first in the Atlantic, and then here too. That bitch, Anna Beck, had gone over to the other side, and the hopping Asian wonder, the Chess Team member named Knight, had ruined the Hydra lab, setting off all kinds of crazy. The base was lost to the military and Ridley was gone—Gen Y took their orders from another leader now.
“Sir,” Adrian Kepler, Damien’s second in command was calling him over, startling him out of his remembrances.
“What is it?” Damien walked over to the doorway leading off the barracks, to an unfinished surface of rock walls that led down to the caverns below Alpha. Most of the rest of this level had floors under it as well, but this closet went right into the rock of the mountain under which this section of the base was built. Kepler was pointing to a thick climbing rope that had been secured to the anchor at the top of the vertical tunnel going down into the depths. “Is someone on the line?”
“Hard to tell, sir. It goes down a ways.” Kepler replied.
“You don’t have to tell me, Adrian. I was down there. Cut it and let’s move on.”
Kepler pulled out an SOG Seal Pup knife from the sheath attached to the front of his black BDU blouse and in one slick swipe, cleaved the rope. The tail of the rope quickly slithered off the floor and down the hole like a retreating snake.
The other twenty team members had moved further into the complex toward the freight elevator, past the gym. Each team member, in their solid black BDU uniforms, and armed with Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, staggered themselves along the hallway, covering both ahead of them and behind, as they had been taught. Damien doubted whether the feeble five-man Chess Team security force on site would pose any threat. They’d probably have a hell of a time just getting into the base. By that time, Damien and his men would have what they had come for and would be long gone. Then Damien would take the utmost pleasure in finally destroying the base, as it should have been destroyed years ago.
En route to Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Tom Duncan smiled broadly.
Although concerned about being trapped inside the base with a probably hostile invading force, he grinned at being back in action. He throttled the HDT motorcycle and sped down the underground train tunnel toward Labs. The invaders had secured all the doors and shut down local control of the electric trains that connected the three different sections of the base as well. As soon as he had discovered that, Duncan had told Lori to leave the glassed in office on the edge of the hangar and get into the main computer lab in Central. They hadn’t set up everything they would need there yet—and miles of cables were clustered sloppily on the floor until they set it all up correctly, but she would be safer there and she would have more computing power at her fingertips. Hopefully she would be able to crack the encryption keeping them out of half of the system.
After Lori was on her way, Duncan had headed to the weapons pallets on the hangar floor and unwrapped the plastic from a few. He selected an M4 carbine that got strapped over his back, an M9 pistol that went into a holster on his hip and an M11 bayonet knife. In their former lives as Delta Force operatives, Chess Team members had picked and chosen their tools from all the armed services. They all seemed to favor the KA-BAR knife the Marines and Navy used, but Duncan preferred the explosive ordinance disposal variant of the Army’s standard M9 bayonet. The KA-BAR always felt too slippery in his hand, and as a former Ranger, he was used to standard Army tools.
After arming up, Duncan had taken an already fueled up HDT dirt bike through the corridors and down to Central’s electric train terminal. He drove the bike right off the platform and down onto the concrete beside the two sets of rails—one for trains heading to Labs and one for trains returning from Labs—Ridley had thought of everything—and had roared off into the darkness of the tunnel. It was a ten-mile straight shot to Labs. Halfway there, with the breeze blowing in his face and the occasional LED security lights whizzing past him on the walls of the tunnel, the smile had crept onto his face. He was back in action again.
Even with the thrill of racing down the darkened tunnel on a dirt bike and the adrenaline coursing through his veins at the thought of confronting an incursion force, Duncan’s strategic mind was at work in the background. He was cataloguing the entry and exit points to the base, recalling exactly where everyone on his team was—even the field members of Chess Team that were away, thinking of choke points in the Labs section and mostly pondering what the goal could be. Was this Manifold after something they had left behind? Was it a revenge tactic on the part of some nation or organization Chess Team had done wrong? Could it possibly even be a non-military incursion? Burglars? He dismissed that thought with clinical precision. The facility was too complicated for an average burglar to have gained entrance. He quickly boiled things down to three possible sources. Manifold, Russians upset with the team over recent antics in their country or King’s clash with them over the hitman business or perhaps most upsetting, this incursion could be from US military or Homeland Security personnel that had no knowledge of Chess Team’s new black status. If it was the latter, Keasling would be able to sort things out, but it would be sticky for a while. If it was the Russians, unless they had sent in Spetsnaz troops, Duncan was confident he and Black Zero could handle things just fine until the security team found their way inside.
Duncan’s true concern was if this was a Manifold team. He couldn’t imagine why they would be back here at Alpha after the base had been dormant for so long. He’d had the place guarded all this time, of course, but the optimal time to strike the facility would have been when it was mostly empty. Or even when as president, Duncan had ordered Eli Jacobs and his cleanup team to scour the site for records and the warped remains of Richard Ridley’s genetic experiments—most of which ended up under lock and key at the CDC complex down in Georgia.
A half mile from the train platform in the Labs section, Duncan released the throttle and coasted to a stop. He turned the bike off and climbed off of it, keeping to the shadows. He leaned the bike in a concrete alcove—both to hide it and to prevent it from causing a wreck should either of the trains be activated again. He unslung the M4 and took a light jog toward the end of the tunnel, remaining close to the wall and the cover of darkness it provided.
‘A brisk pace’ indeed, he thought, his former campaign slogan running through his head, as he raced into what was likely to be danger.
As he approached the end of the tunnel, Duncan passed the bio security doors—installed at each section of the base to completely seal that section off from the rest in case of a biological or chemical accident. Duncan had seen in Manifold’s records that the doors were identical to those used at the CDC. He eased past the thick white steel, plastic and Plexiglas door with its immense rubber seal, and stepped closer to the edge of the tunnel and the open cavern beyond. Duncan paused, crouching down under the concrete lip of the train platform. One of Ridley’s shiny white electric trains sat parked at this end of the line, waiting to take passengers from Labs to Central or Dock. After the intermittently lit tunnel, the bright lights in the station made Duncan squint his eyes. He heard hushed voices at the far end of the platform, but stayed in his crouch until he adjusted to the florescent glare. The barrel of his M4 leading, he slowly peeked over the rim of the concrete.
Duncan immediately recognized the black Gen Y uniforms with the stylized logo of the security firm on the chest. Men were streaming across the platform toward the train, and he quietly swore under his breath. He counted at least fifteen of them. He watched as two of them boarded the train, while one squatted down and opened a portable laptop. Duncan overheard the man speaking to his nearby superior.
“Just give me a moment to activate the train, sir.”
The man standing near the laptop user just nodded curtly. The other remaining men had taken up defensive positions around the train and Duncan had to slowly duck back down under the concrete lip to avoid being spotted. He moved slowly because the human eye tended to notice rapidly moving objects in the periphery. But slow moving objects often went unnoticed. Crouching along the rails, he retreated to the shadow of the mouth of the tunnel. He could still see the platform from here, but not as well. He aimed the M4 along the edge of the wall, ensuring the tip of the barrel did not protrude into the light of the station, where it might be seen. He adjusted his footing on the concrete floor for a better stance and felt his right foot slide slightly. He glanced down and lifted his foot, seeing some kind of sticky and viscous slime attached to the bottom of his shoe. What the hell? But the situation on the platform demanded his attention more then the slime. A problem for another time, he thought.
He aimed for the laptop the Gen Y man was using, thinking that must be how they were controlling the computer systems and the doors. Lori still might not be able to open the doors if Duncan destroyed the man’s laptop, but he and Gen Y would be on equal ground with regard to controlling the facility around them.
Just as he was about to fire, the rapid-fire staccato sound of MP5s came from the far hallway, across the cavernous space around the train platform. Another Gen Y man came rushing out onto the platform and whirled around, firing his weapon back the way he had come. The others on the platform all turned their backs to Duncan’s location and focused on the current threat. More fire was still coming from the hallway as well. Someone was engaged in a battle.
Duncan had flinched down at the sound of the automatic weapons fire, but now resumed his stance, thinking it must have been Beck on the other end of the hallway beyond the platform. Excellent. We have them in a crossfire.
Then the screams began and Duncan realized it wasn’t Beck at all.
Mount Tecumseh, above Section Central
White Two was not a bulky man. Neither was his partner, White Three. They had been dispatched to the top of Mount Tecumseh, to seek access to Central through the vents for that very reason. They were both wiry, thin rock climbers with hardly any percentage of body fat. Both men were blonde haired and blue eyed, although their facial structures were different enough that they were never mistaken for one another. Both men loved to climb and both men loved adventure. The chance to come work for Chess Team had been a dream for both of them, friends and climbing partners since their days together at Fort Drum in 10th Mountain.
White Two, whose name was Austin Mealey, was reconsidering his decision to enter the ventilation shaft headfirst and without a line. It was a narrow shaft of reinforced aluminum with the occasional seam where sections of it had been fitted together. The vent had seemed so tight, that despite his slight size, Mealey had figured he could arrest his descent as he progressed deeper into the vent by simply widening his arms and legs. The friction alone against the wall would do it. Plus there were the occasional ridges at the end of each section of the rectangular tube that while only a quarter of an inch in width, were like a huge shelf to a rock climber. He guessed correctly that he was about a third of the way down the shaft now and he felt the need to rest at each tiny ledge.
He and White Three, whose name was Bryan West, had used a small hand-held blowtorch to cut through the grills at the tops of the ventilation shafts. Then they had each taken a shaft and started their respective descents. Bryan was the only other team member whose name was known to Mealey. Well, of course he had recognized Deep Blue as the former president as well. Tom Duncan was well regarded in Mealey’s family as the best president since Kennedy. Mealey hadn’t gone in for politics much himself, even though he came from a political Massachusetts family. But as far as Mealey could tell, Tom Duncan had done right by the military as a president and he was still doing right as Deep Blue. Mealey had been thrilled to meet the man and had been excited with the offer to join Chess Team.
Now Duncan was trapped inside the new base, possibly with hostiles inside, and White Two was determined to get inside and offer help if needed. He took a breath and brought his arms in again to move past the ledge and lower into the shaft. It was a repetitive task of expanding his shoulders and upper arms against the walls of the shaft while bringing his legs in and his knees up slightly. Then he would open his legs like a pair of scissors, pressing the sides of his legs and his combat boots against the aluminum walls, and move his arms forward again. Tiring and boring, but the repeated action of his stilted shuffle was doing the job. He moved deeper down the shaft toward the thin grate he knew was far below him. There he’d clip into an anchor on a small shelf just above the gate that he knew from Deep Blue’s computer schematics. He would pull the rope out of the small rope bag he had removed from his larger backpack on the summit and strapped to his midsection before the descent. His plan was to rappel down to the hangar floor from the edge of the vent shaft, after first checking that no hostiles were present.
At about the halfway point, he knew there was a bend in the vent that wasn’t quite an S-bend, and the low light from his red LED headlamp showed a dim reflection up ahead. He knew he was getting close. Shortly before the bend, he knew there would be another small ledge based on the frequency with which he had encountered them so far. He was breathing hard and looking forward to the little rest stop. Then he would take a longer break on the bend, which was about a 45-degree angle, and would feel like lying in a bed compared the vertical feet of metal above him.
At least the air was fresh. He always expected cramped dark spaces to smell bad too, like a cave or the smell of rotting vegetation in a damp forest, but the metal of the shaft only conducted blessedly cool, fresh mountain air.
His arms were getting tired faster than his legs—rock climbing is mostly a delicate balancing act with the legs. Only fools tried to power their way up climbs with their arms. As a result, the bulk of Mealey’s strength was in his quads and not his biceps and triceps. He was an excellent climber and good with balance and position, but not so good for sheer strength and long endurance. He preferred the shorter and more technically challenging climbs to long drawn out big walls.
Where the hell is that damn ledge?
Mealey continued his shuffle, sure that he must have passed the point where the last seam should have been. At least the bend was coming up. He lowered his arms and drew in a breath to expand his shoulders and elbows, wedging himself in yet again, when his elbow slipped.
He started to slide down, even though his boots were scissored out tightly against the walls. No seams came up to stop him. He gulped out his breath involuntarily, unintentionally bringing the pressure off his upper body and his slide sped up. He was heading fast toward the bend and struggling to get purchase again, when his body slammed into the bend hard and picked up speed. The walls were no longer offering friction of any kind. He thumped through the bend, literally bouncing off the walls, and Austin Mealey realized in a moment of utter horror why he couldn’t find purchase. The walls had been coated in grease. All of four of them.
He was in the straightaway below the bend, with nothing but two hundred feet of vertical drop below him until the grate in the ceiling of the hangar—and then another fifty feet of open hangar below that! His body was picking up speed like a runaway train and his limbs slid down walls of the vent like a kid on a Slip N’ Slide. He knew his only chance was to get his knees up to his chest and then lunge out laterally, hopefully forcing his way past the grease and denting the thick aluminum outward with the force of his body’s thrust. There was no way he’d be able to snatch the small anchor before bursting out of the hangar’s ceiling. But it was hard to raise his legs at his speed of descent and with the disorientation of being upside down and falling fast.
He had almost done it and he thought it was going to be close when the glare from his headlamp reflected off something just up ahead and above the grate at the bottom of the shaft. He recognized it for what it was a half a second before he hit it.
Manifold had intentionally greased the ventilation shafts as a security procedure. When the security override was initiated, a second grate extended from the vertical walls and latched into place. It was like a manhole sewer cover grate that you could see though—the kind with bars. Designed not to impede the flow of air into and out of the facility. But this grate’s bars weren’t flat like those on a manhole cover. They tapered upward into razor sharp blades.
White Two’s body slammed into the death trap at close to forty miles an hour. His clothing, skin and the skeleton beneath it were all no match for the steel razor-grill. One hundred and sixty pounds of human being and military equipment were diced into small chunks and soupy muck by the razor-grill, then crashed into the actual grate that was set into the ceiling of the hangar of Central. If anyone had been in the hangar at that moment, they would have seen the grate on the ceiling explode open and a red and brown burst of human debris splatter through the air and onto the concrete floor fifty feet below. If White Two had made it successfully into Central, he would have seen the similar remains of White Three on top of a pallet of cardboard boxes, thirty feet across the hangar.
Lake Winnipesaukee, White Mountains, NH
Well, I’m in the shit now.
White Four, a short broad-shouldered New York Italian, looked down into the massive cistern and frowned. It was probably twenty feet tall and about five feet in diameter, and the bottom third of it was filled with liquid sewage, a few chunky fecal bits floating on top. The smell was strong enough to make his eyes water.
White Four, known as Gino Ravenelli until his transfer from 10th Mountain to Chess Team’s Security Force, was peering down at the heady brew of human waste from an access tunnel near the top of the cistern, where a rusted ladder led down the wall and submerged into the slime. He now realized that the access tunnel wasn’t strictly for the purpose of access, but rather was primarily intended as an overflow tunnel. If the cistern filled to its top with sewage, the tunnel would direct the overflowing waste out of the cistern and directly in the lake. Gino was outraged.
“That bastard,” he said aloud, the sound echoing around the mostly empty chamber.
Richard Ridley had been nothing if not extravagant with regard to his own comforts while cutting corners in every other area that he deemed nonessential. The man had apparently saved money on costly sewage treatment or removal by simply choosing to contaminate the local environment.
Gino had arrived at the edge of Lake Winnipesaukee on his HDT dirt bike just about twenty minutes after White One had dispatched him here from the outside of the hangar door. The road at the north of the lake led to a small, seemingly abandoned cabin, which Deep Blue had discovered was owned by Manifold through several dummy companies. The cabin was strictly camouflage though. Gino had entered it and attempted to gain access to the underground section of the Alpha base known now as Dock, but the door at the top of the stairs down to the huge dock with the massive submarine was covered by a thick steel security door, which was usually retracted and hidden inside the wall like a pocket door. Gino knew how thick the door was, and he reasoned that he didn’t have enough explosives on him to get through it. He had expected the door though. If all the security doors at the base had slammed shut like the hangar door had, he knew he’d have a challenge ahead of him in getting into the Dock. But the stair inside the abandoned cabin made the most sense to check first. It was the easiest possible way in.
Next, he had gone back to his HDT and opened a small equipment case that was attached to the rear. It contained all kinds of useful items such as a small blowtorch, a small fire extinguisher, MREs and the items he had retrieved—a diving mask and small pony bottle of oxygen that could be used in a pinch, as a SCUBA tank. Not bothering to remove his BDUs or his boots, Gino had taken the pony bottle with him and dived into the lake, not yet using it to breathe.
He had aligned himself with the deck off the camouflage cabin and had dived under the water, using only the mask and his own lungs first. He would save the pony bottle for when he needed air. There were only a few minutes of air in it anyway. Although he wasn’t a big swimmer, he had large lungs and could hold his breath for a long time. He was easily able to swim down far enough to see the top of what would normally be the massive underground doorway leading into the submarine dock that was hidden under the cabin. The door itself stretched into the depths of the lake farther than he could see. A Typhoon class sub ran a draught of almost forty feet, with almost 60 feet of hull and sail above the water. They also had a beam of around 75 feet. Gino didn’t know just how much bigger than the sub the underwater tunnel was, but he knew it was the biggest damned door he’d ever seen—above water or below it. And right now, the door was locked tight, just like the rest of the facility. He had taken one small breath from the pony bottle, and ascended back up to the deck that hung out over the water off the decrepit cabin.
He had had only one option left. Back on land, fifty yards off to the side of the cabin in the woods, was a small storm drain grate set in front of a tunnel that laid horizontal to the ground and pointed toward the lake. Gino had seen the tunnel on the schematics of the base and had figured the tunnel and the cistern it led to was a storm drain that would deliver overflowing rainwater running off the road to the lake. He knew a small portion of it ran under an office in the Dock section of the base. That was how he would get in. He had used the blowtorch on the grate and slithered through the tight confines of the tunnel to the top of the cistern.
That was when he had realized what the cistern was really for, and when he remembered that the tunnel off the bottom of the cistern didn’t just lead under an office in the Dock section—it ran under a bathroom.
“This is gonna suck so friggin much.”
Gino slowly descended the rusted ladder, promising himself he was going to bathe for a week once he got out of this mess.
Pinckney, near Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
A sentry post had been installed at the gate on Gilford Avenue, the entrance to the former Pinckney Bible Conference Grounds. The entire campground and surrounding area where Chess Team had battled the Lernian Hydra was now owned by the US Army. A tan concrete wall, with a fence of concertina wire on top, had been constructed around the entire 15-mile perimeter. The public had been told there was initially a toxic leak that had occurred on the site, and that while cleaned up now and safe to the locals and the water supply, the Army had purchased the land and was keeping folks out on general principal. The local population of the town bought the story and secretly hoped that the site housed some cool, top-secret Special Forces training center.
The two guards stationed at the sentry post knew better than to think any cool spec ops stuff was going down. They had strict orders to rotate out every eight hours and to never enter the site at all. They figured it was still a hazmat site and hadn’t been cleaned up properly, although the Army had guaranteed them they were safe in the guard shack. The MPs stationed in the shack were two of the total of 12 men and women stationed in Pinckney to guard the site. The Army had purchased a large Victorian house in the local community, and much like the Marine Corps did with their Embassy Guards in non-hostile foreign countries, had housed the MPs inside the rambling structure, turning oddly shaped bedrooms into a dormitory under the eaves of the house. Every day MPs would journey from the house in town to the guard shack at the front gate of the Army site and to the wall around it.
Sergeant Mark Greene and Private First Class Ryan Davis had the guard shack duty today. The guard duty was better than the perimeter duty. At any given time, two MPs were in the shack at the gate on Gilford and three MPs were doing a walk around the huge perimeter. The perimeter duty sucked, because 15 miles was a long way to go on foot for anybody, and there was nothing out there on the wall but the surrounding woods. In the winter, they had to cross-country ski the circumference of the fence line and that was considered to be a bitch, but it was also the Army.
Besides the physical labor involved in the perimeter duty, the job was dull. Guarding a big empty patch of forest and former campground in the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire. Nothing ever happened. The previous year a few of the very limited number of people authorized to visit the site would arrive and get passed through the gate. They would go in unescorted. The MPs had no idea what they did in there, but they would come out again sometimes hours later or sometimes days later. Then things had quieted down for months. Now the only people that would come were the five members of a security team that was guarding a different, but nearby facility. They were known only by their callsigns; each had a “White” in the name followed by a number. All twelve of the MPs had met the security team, and wondered about the callsigns and the lack of rank on their uniforms. Davis and Greene had spent long hours discussing whether those guys might be Delta, but ultimately they decided that the “Tightie Whities,” as the MPs referred to them, were probably just more security guards, based on the way they each held themselves and the kinds of questions they asked on their infrequent visits to the guard shack on Gilford.
It seemed like it was going to be another boring day of standing or sitting in the guard shack when Davis called out to his sergeant.
“There’s a Tightie Whitey coming. Look alive.”
Greene leapt to his feet and they both stepped out of the shack, their M4 carbines held formally across their chests.
White Five made the turn onto Gilford so hard on the HDT dirt bike that he left a skid mark on the asphalt of the entryway. The road had been dirt before the Army, but the Army liked things tidy and they had paved every road inside the facility before they had even finished building the wall. White Five rebalanced, and raced up to the gate and the guards in front of it. He slammed the brakes hard enough to gently pop the rear wheel off the pavement and startled both of the Army MPs. Neither of them was privy to Chess Team information of any kind.
White Five pulled an ID card out of his BDU blouse’s chest pocket and held it up for the guards. Before they had even stepped closer to examine the badge, he barked an order at them.
“Get it open fast, Sergeant. If anyone other than me comes toward this gate from the inside, you detain them at gunpoint, you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Greene clearly didn’t know White Five’s rank—in fact, when White Five was in 10th Mountain, he had been of equal rank to Mark Greene—but the man understood that the White Security Force was in charge. Without any rank insignia on their uniforms, the MPs weren’t required to salute or call them “sir”, but White Five knew Greene hadn’t just called him the same kind of “sir” he would have used for a civilian either. The chain of command was clear here, and the fact that White Five had just intimated that trouble might be coming seemed to have put the young sergeant on alert. That was good.
The gate opened and White Five raced inside along Gilford Avenue. He throttled the HDT hard, popping a front wheelie as he went. He wasn’t showing off though—he was just in a damn hurry. He raced right up the hill to the former abandoned campground and drove toward the vehicle entrance to the secret underground Labs section of the Alpha base. This was the same door that Knight, of the Chess Team field members, had used to gain entrance a few years previously, and which led to the defeat of Manifold and the acquisition of the property. The vehicle entrance, designated Post 1, was sealed with a thick steel door that looked just like a miniature version of the one that had slammed down over the hangar, nearly scaring White Five half to death. White Five, known as Pete Johnson until signing on with Chess Team’s Security Force, had expected no different. Without slowing the bike, he turned and made for the dirt path that would take him around the side of Fletcher Mountain to the helipad that was hidden by the canopy of trees above it. Johnson knew that the door off the helipad hidden under the trees with the diagonal approach would be likewise locked. However, he also knew that the steel security door at that location would be thinner than the others. And while the small amount of C4 explosive the team members normally carried on them wouldn’t have even put a dent in the security door now obstructing the hangar back at Central, the door over the entrance at the helipad would be shredded to razor thin slivers of shrapnel once Johnson was done with it.
A few hundred yards out from the concealed helipad, Johnson dismounted from his bike and took the path slowly, moving from cover to cover behind the maples and pines scattered across the hillside. He didn’t know if an actual hostile force was present or not, and if they were, he had no idea whether they might have left sentries, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Johnson had started seeing a local girl in town named Shelly. The sex was hot and the conversation was scintillating—she had studied philosophy at Dartmouth before coming back to town and taking over a small book store that her grandfather had run. Johnson was not about to get himself killed, not with a great woman like Shelly waiting for him each night.
He crept up to the edge of the clearing under the trees, again marveling at Ridley’s ingenuity at creating such a perfectly camouflaged helipad, and also at the skill needed by the pilots to land on such a site. Chess Team’s own helicopter pilots, formerly with the 160th and known as “Nightstalkers,” were able to stick the landing like it wasn’t a thing, but Johnson wondered what Manifold’s pilots had been like. Or maybe they had been former Nightstalkers themselves. Johnson knew from the files that Gen Y had liked to hire former US military members. Maybe Manifold’s pilots were all mercenaries too.
Johnson scanned the clearing and the entrance to the Labs section. Its steel door was in place as he had expected. He spent a long minute searching the trees opposite the door. That’s where he would have set up an ambush if he had been left to defend the door from possible intruders. He remained perfectly motionless, hunkered down on the forest floor. He spotted a chipmunk darting through the undergrowth, but otherwise everything was still. Convinced he was alone, Johnson made for the steel security door and quickly squatted down and faced back the way he had come, again searching the trees. He felt a bit uncomfortable going it alone, but White One had explained to them all the rationale for a small five-man security team—small, lightweight, fast, mobile. Each man was a self-contained unit, armed with a variety of objects to be used in their mission of defending the base and the people stationed here. They were not meant for an offensive role, but if any of Chess Team’s enemies—human or otherwise—were to assault the base, the gloves were to come off and each man was expected to deliver their weight in a shitstorm of violence. Scanning the tree line on the edge of the clearing for the final time, Johnson wondered if this was indeed the day.
He pulled out a small mound of C4 plastic explosive and a tiny pouch with detonators. He planted the explosive on the door and then high-tailed it to some cover behind a nearby tree. The door exploded inward, and true to Johnson’s expectations, it resembled a nest of metal angel hair pasta on the floor of the corridor, once the smoke cleared.
He stepped into the hallway with his FN SCAR at the ready and immediately discovered a body. The man had blood down one side of his face and was clad all in black BDUs. He had been holding an MP5 submachine gun, which was now across the hallway on the floor. His left arm was twisted at an unusual angle reminding Johnson of one of those wind-spinners with the shiny foil. On the breast of the BDU blouse was a logo Johnson had seen in the files. This man belonged to the Gen Y security team that worked for Richard Ridley’s manifold company.
Cocky sons of bitches, wearing that patch like a badge of honor.
Johnson leaned in close to examine the body and check for a pulse. A hand reached up and grabbed him by the throat.
Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Lori Stanton hammered furiously at the keyboard. She had moved to a large computer lab in Central, with wall displays, tabletop monitors and about a million feet of wiring and Ethernet cable lying around the room. The room hadn’t been set up properly yet, but Deep Blue had assured Lori it would be completely state of the art once they were done. She could believe it from the equipment arrayed around her.
Only one computer had yet been set up, and that was the one Deep Blue himself normally used. It stood in the center of the room, on a swiveling ergonomic chair that had her reclined at roughly the angle she would have been in, had she been reclining in a La-Z-Boy chair. Seen from the side, the computer station resembled a giant letter C lying on its curved side, with its points pointing upward. A monitor screen floated in front of her face and the keyboard was at just the right position. It was actually difficult to get your shoulders into an aggressive position in the relaxing chair, but Lori was trying.
She was trying hard to isolate the intruders into the computer system, but she wasn’t having any luck. She knew someone else was in the facility from the motion sensors that she monitored in the Labs section occasionally. The resolution wasn’t good enough to show her how many there were, just that they were present. She knew they had hacked into the system—which was built on the remains of the extant computers temporarily until they could gut the whole thing. She was going to insist the upgrade process happened immediately, now that they had been hacked. They had shut all the security doors and locked her out of the security portion of the computer system. It hadn’t taken her long to learn that much.
It also hadn’t taken her long to figure out who. It had to be Manifold agents—probably their blasted Gen Y soldiers—because they hadn’t actually crashed into the system. They had used an old extant override code that had originally been implanted in the Manifold computers. After the Hydra incident, Deep Blue and Lewis Aleman had crashed the entire base’s computer systems. Later, once Eli Jacobs and his cleanup team had been sent in, they had resurrected some of the system, to get certain parts of the base functional, and they had begun the slow and painstaking task of deconstructing (and in some cases unlocking) Manifold’s old data architecture. Sifting through thousands of computer logs, science reports, blueprints, diagrams and descriptions, files and video footage of genetic experiments had taken months. Deep Blue still hadn’t sorted through the whole mess, but they had made enough headway that Jacobs and his cleanup team had been dismissed. Deep Blue was content to slowly discover what else he could over time with the systems. The base would now be repurposed for Chess Team’s usage and people were due to start setting things up right away.
Lori had pretty quickly seen that she wasn’t getting past the override code, so she had thought outside the box—and outside the room. She had gone into the nearby server closet and rewired some of the powerful Juniper Networks routers and gateways. Where she had been locked out without access before, now she could at least get to some parts of the system with a direct connection. She knew a few things now. The intruders had gotten in using the terminal outside the door to Post 2 at the helipad attached to the Labs section. They had further controlled the system wirelessly with a laptop. She had shut that shit down, killing all the wireless access points throughout the base. She didn’t know why they were here or what they were after, but she could see some of the old data architecture they had examined from the laptop before she had killed the wireless. They hadn’t done much in the system. After locking the doors, they took computer control of the trains between the three sections of the base, and they had looked at one researcher’s notes in particular. A genetic researcher named Todd Maddox. Lori knew the name from the files Deep Blue had given her to read on Manifold. She shuddered.
The man had been instrumental in the experiments on regenerative creatures and with the Hydra, but it seemed to Lori that his true interests and talent was with his experiments with the regenerative abilities in smaller creatures. nAG proteins, pig bladder extract, blastema cells. Lori didn’t understand half of it, but what she gleaned was that Maddox had been working on a different project from the Hydra experiment on his own time. He was speeding up the regenerative abilities of ambystoma maculatum—some kind of salamander from what she could tell. He seemed first interested in applying the regenerative abilities of the creatures to humans, but was unhappy with the speed of regenerating cells in humans. A lot of his work had focused on ways to speed the process up. Maddox had started out in the Manifold Beta facility in Peru but his work had ultimately been moved to New Hampshire for access to…
Lori began to sweat as she read further in the files. The air conditioning vent directly over her head in the ceiling was doing nothing to regulate her body temperature.
Apparently, there was a massive quantity of natural Uranium in the granite of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and it off-gassed Radon. They were exposing the salamanders to Uranium radiation, just as Deep Blue’s medical staff had done to King’s friend, George Pierce, when they were trying to cure him of the affliction with which Ridley had saddled him. Deep Blue’s team had eventually been successful in healing Pierce. Unlike with George though, Maddox’s work had discovered that the uranium radiation wasn’t having the same effect on the salamanders. It was making them aggressive and Maddox saw a few inches in growth overall with all the samples, but it wasn’t speeding up their regenerative capabilities.
So Maddox had gone to the next step, without informing Ridley, apparently. He had used Wnt proteins from some of the creatures they had utilized the Hydra serum on and the regeneration began to go off the charts. He hadn’t dared to use a raw undiluted sample from the Hydra itself because the salamanders already had regenerative abilities. Unfortunately, the treatments had had yet another unintended side effect—rapid cell division. The man had had a few startling failures that resulted in melting and even exploding amphibians. Lori snickered at the thought of exploding creatures coating that lab weasel Maddox with slime. The man also couldn’t seem to get the creatures to breed anymore after he had experimented on them. He suspected it was because of the radiation but he really wasn’t sure.
This was the information the intruders had looked at. Lori wasn’t certain why. She definitely had not seen any salamanders running around the base—in fact, they hadn’t even found any in the labs. Then it occurred to her.
Wait. Why didn’t we find any in the labs?
She flipped her monitor back to a Manifold era map of the facility to figure out where the salamander lab had been. It had been on the level Manifold had called Y level. Under the main labs level, where the gun battle had taken place between Knight and Gen Y. Just one lab away from being directly under the lab in which the gun battle had taken place, in fact.
Lori wiped sweat from her brow as she recalled everything she could about the cleanup and data mining procedures. Eli Jacobs had brought in a hazmat team to clean up the chemical soup that had spilled as a result of the gun battles and the Hydra’s resuscitation and escape from the facility. And the damage had been done to the labs level and two levels below it, as cracks had appeared in the floor as after grenade damage…
The salamanders had been under the Hydra. They had been contaminated by the chemical spill. They had received a stronger dose of genetic material from the Hydra. Its blood had mixed with the spilled liquids, as had more than a few gallons of human blood.
But there were no salamanders on that level when Jacobs went in…
Like several trains all slamming into each other after speeding into a railway turntable, ideas and thoughts crunched into Lori Stanton’s brain. The cavern below the Labs section! Radiation! Genetic material from the Hydra! Black Zero was down in the cavern! Deep Blue just went to Labs! Rapid cell division! Growth! Regeneration!
Lori frantically checked the motion sensors for the Labs section of the base. Lots of moving bodies in the train platform. Even more heading toward it from the direction of the access closet that led down to the caverns.
Dear God, she thought, one creature with ultimate regeneration was insane. There’s got to be at least fifty of them.
Before she could figure out a way to contact Deep Blue to warm him though, she heard a loud metallic thumping noise. Lori’s body froze completely. She was worried about Deep Blue and Black Zero, but it hadn’t occurred to her to be afraid for herself. Until now. Everything was silent except for the hum of her CPU and the air conditioning vent.
She slowly reached for the keyboard to switch the window on her monitor from examining the motion sensors placed in the Labs section where Deep Blue had gone, to the Central section—where she sat now. The screen refreshed and all the blood drained from her face. Then the metal grill over the ventilation duct above her head clanged open, as it burst downward. She tried to scream, but she didn’t have time.
Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
The gunfire and screams sent all the men on the platform into complete panic and disarray. Duncan, however, was startled for only an instant, before opening fire on the laptop. It took him three shots to hit it and shatter the device into silicon shards and plastic fragments. The man had sprung up from his crouch and started to run, but Duncan eventually made the shot.
That was when they came streaming out of the far hallway like a wave of darkness and streaks of light. At first, Duncan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The shapes were liquid, and shiny and squirming. Easily as large as Floridian alligators, they came flowing over the floor, ceiling and walls out of the hallway and into the larger cavernous space around the platform.
Salamanders? Duncan’s mind was stunned. What the hell?
But these were not ordinary salamanders. The Gen Y team members remaining on the platform were firing at the creatures with a steady stream of MP5 fire, but the creatures seemed to suffer little damage. Mostly a shiny black with several large dinner-plate sized bright yellow spots on their backs, the creatures were moving fast with their side-to-side wiggling motion, and they seemed to be attacking the Gen Y men. Duncan could see a few had a viscous white fluid on the tops of their backs and he recalled that some species of salamanders could emit a kind of poison from their pores.
Then the first one leapt off of the wall at a Gen Y man that had gotten too close. The leap was probably over ten feet, and the beast wiggled and twitched through its jump as if it were still crawling on the wall. At the last second, the man turned and opened fire on the thing, but the bullets did nothing to stop its momentum. Its flattened black head split open like the lid of a horrifically dirty trash can and its mouth literally swallowed the Gen Y man’s face. His body began to spasm instantly and the giant amphibian clung tightly and rode the man to the concrete floor.
The men were all yelling and shouting now. Everyone was firing their weapons at the nearest wall or ceiling or floor. The only one that seemed to have any presence of mind was the man leading the Gen Y team. He strode purposely toward the waiting electric train. When the first of the giant black and yellow bodies got close enough to him on the floor, the man calmly tossed a grenade at the thing. It opened its mouth wide as the payload approached it and seemed to simply let the device continue falling right into its gullet. The man took three more calm measured steps toward the train. The salamander, almost to him at that point, exploded in a splatter of shining black chunks with a spray of liquid and fire behind the man.
He boarded the train as Duncan watched. It was then that Duncan recovered his wits enough to open fire with his own rifle on the creatures heading across the platform in his direction. Like with the Mp5s the Gen Y team had, his bullets seemed to have little effect as well. Then he noticed the spattered remains of the detonated salamander were still twitching across the ruined concrete surface of the platform for a moment.
Ridley and his damned regeneration experiments!
Duncan ceased firing at the beasts, recognizing that he was wasting bullets. Instead, he fired at Gen Y men that were already doomed to a death at the hungry maw of a violent overgrown salamander. He killed three before two of the remaining men on the platform noticed and started firing back at him in his direction. He retreated, back behind the cover of the edge of the tunnel entrance, and he realized he didn’t want to kill any more Gen Y men anyway.
If they’re gone, I’m the next food source for the salamanders!
Instead, he glanced back and watched the last living men on the platform hammering on the walls of the electric train as it began to depart the station toward Duncan’s position. The man that seemed to be their leader showed no concern for the men he had left behind to their dooms. Duncan’s mind was racing and he catalogued the man’s emotionless actions somewhere in the back of his forward cognitive processes. He leapt across the rails to the shadows of the far side of the tunnel before the train passed by him. He rejected the idea of trying to get on the train as it went by—it was already moving too fast, and he still had his HDT. Right now he had to focus on stopping or containing the giant creatures that were steadily advancing on his position and which were now feasting on the last few screaming Gen Y bodies—the matte black of their BDU uniforms jerking and heaving under the shining, undulating, black and yellow skin of the salamanders chewing on them.
Duncan turned back into the tunnel and raced to the bio door. On the far side of the door, deeper inside the darkened tunnel, was a control panel on the wall. Unlike the panels near the exterior doors, this one was still lit. He had noticed it as he had passed it before. It had several features, but the one he liked the best was a large red button with a pin through it like on a fire extinguisher. Duncan pulled the pin out and slapped his palm on the button. The huge white bio door hissed shut on its hydraulics across the whole mouth of the tunnel. The rubber seal scraped into place across both sets of rails on the floor, then inflated, sealing all air transfer between the tunnel and the station. Duncan stepped up to the Plexiglas window and peered through several inches of translucent plastic into the train platform. Two of the huge salamanders had just reached the foot of the door. The last remaining men on the platform no longer moved. Now that the door was closed, opening it would take an act of God or several hours of answering computerized sanity checks.
Duncan turned around to head back to his dirt bike and felt his stomach lurch. As if he had vertigo, he watched as the darkened walls, ceiling and floor of the tunnel shifted and shuffled around him. He instantly realized his mistake in sealing the door behind him.
Under Section Dock, Former Manifold Alpha facility White Mountains, NH
Gino Ravenelli could not believe the day he was having. He was wearing the pony bottle and the dive mask, thank God, so they kept the raw sewage from entering his nose, mouth or eyes, but he couldn’t see a thing. He had lowered himself into the muck and swum under it to a lateral tunnel near the base of the cistern. Even with the facemask blocking the stench, just the idea that he was swimming under a river of shit made his skin crawl. It was as if his body instantly recognized it was in a place it should not be. In addition to nausea, he felt wild disorientation and his muscles cramped as he felt his way along the tunnel wall with his hand outstretched in front of him. It was a standard sewer tunnel—just large enough for him to wriggle through it, the mushy solids and slime easing his passage. He found it easier on him if he closed his eyes as he went. It wasn’t as if he could see anything out the facemask anyway.
After what seemed like a lifetime, and with Gino acutely aware of the dwindling supply of air in the tiny pony bottle, he reached the end of the tunnel. It was just a flat concrete wall at the end, but as he felt along above him on the ceiling of the tubular wall, he found a smaller drain that clearly led into the tunnel at this end.
It’ll have to do, he thought.
He removed the small C4 charge he had set before descending into the cistern, twisted a manual dial that acted as a detonator, and pushed the device against the side of the drain wall, just over the drain’s entrance to the tunnel. Then he began to wriggle his bulk back the way he had come. It took a long time and he was aware that the small pony bottle’s air was nearly up, when he felt his legs were no longer constrained by the walls of the tunnel. He shoved off with his arms and his body was floating freely in the large cistern. He swam to the surface and wiped the slime from the front of his mask’s faceplate. The rusted metal ladder was within arm’s reach. He grabbed it and began climbing, not stopping to take the mask or the pony bottle off.
At the top of the ladder, Gino threw his body into the original access tunnel he had used to reach the cistern. He cinched his eyes shut, and covered his ears with the palms of his hands. He held his breath.
The explosion was gentler than Gino had expected. He felt a distant rumbling deeper in the facility, but the only effect near him was a loud belching bubble of sewage that spayed up nearly to the ceiling of the cistern behind him. Then all was quiet.
Gino shuffled backward out of the access tunnel, grabbed the flaking rungs of the ladder and twisted around to peer down at the bottom of the cistern through his smudged facemask. The level of fecal matter had dropped by probably 70 percent at the bottom, but he still couldn’t see the entrance to the sewer tunnel submerged beneath the surface. He rapidly descended the ladder and swam to the far wall, once more diving under the surface and feeling his way to the tunnel. Then he shuffled down its length again. When he reached the end this time, the drain that had been above his head the last time now felt like a large open area. He swam upward and in a short time, his hand no longer met resistance and he realized he had broken the surface of the nasty substance.
Gino Ravenelli wiped the muck a final time from the faceplate of his mask and his thoughts lightened. He scrambled up over the broken concrete and porcelain remains and found himself on the tile floor of the bathroom. A bathroom that looked like it had received a visitor with the worst case of explosive diarrhea in history. The walls and ceiling were splattered and coated with raw sewage and the detonation of the C4 had destroyed a significant number of fixtures in the room. The metal stall dividers had been blow across the room and now rested against the far wall, blocking the exit from the room The floor was coated under nearly two feet of sewage.
But Gino had eyes only for the sink.
He raced over and turned on both taps full blast. The water was flowing and sprayed so hard off the porcelain of the sink that it splashed back up and all over Gino’s chest. He smiled around the mouthpiece of the pony bottle. He didn’t care in the least. He dunked his head in the sink and scrubbed at his short hair and his face until he was sure the now warm water had washed most of the muck from him. Then he removed the pony bottle and took a breath of the air in the room. It was stale and he could almost taste the nastiness all over the place, but he continued with his scrubbing, taking large handfuls of the liquid soap from the dispenser that hung slightly askew on the wall. When he felt his head was clean enough, Gino removed his facemask. The large quantities of shit and muck on the rest of his body would have to wait, but at least his head and hands were cleaned off.
Gino had covered the tip of his FN SCAR with a small plastic baggie and had sealed it off with a rubber band before descending into the cistern. Now he waded through the knee-deep muck toward the door out of the bathroom and into the submarine dock, the plastic-covered tip of the weapon leading. He grabbed the metal bathroom stall divider and heaved it away from the door. Then, with effort, he was able to manhandle the bathroom door open against the tide of sludge that weighed against it. The brown liquid surged around the door as soon as he had cracked it and spewed out across the floor on the other side.
Gino Ravenelli, White Four, stepped out into the submarine dock expecting an enemy force. He just wasn’t expecting an enemy force that wasn’t human. After the horror of the sewer, his nerves were already frayed. But as hundreds of creatures raced and slithered toward him, the bullets from his FN Scar having no effect, Gino began to scream. He was still screaming as the salamanders began to eat him.
Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Matt Carrack was definitely having a bad day. He hung on a supple, black, 11-mm climbing rope that spooled out of the small satchel around his back as he descended the ventilation shaft with a repelling device. His LED headlamp was illuminating the grease smeared on the wall of the shaft and the blood spatter all around him. He had stopped just above the murderous razor grill that had made short work of White Two.
After no word back from White Two and White Three on their mountaintop mission, Carrack had become concerned. When he couldn’t reach White Four out at the Dock or White Five at labs via his satellite phone, Carrack began to get pissed off. The only thing going well so far is that Keasling really was sending the tank.
Carrack had scaled the mountain himself and gone to check out the vent shafts down which Two and Three had presumably descended. The lids to the vents were lying on the ground near the top of each vertical shaft, but he didn’t see any ropes or anchors. The shafts were narrow enough that the men had probably muscled their way down. His most powerful flashlight did not show any sign of the men, but that was to be expected with the pseudo S bend halfway down each shaft.
Carrack had set an anchor and slowly rappelled his way down into a tight shaft, his rope spooling out from a nylon bag on his back as he had gone. Shortly before he reached the S bend, he noticed the slippery substance on the walls, but thought it was just a fluke. After sliding down the S and into the lower part of the shaft, Carrack could see that the substance on the walls increased and he recognized it for what it was. Lower down, his light illuminated the razor grill and Carrack understood the trap and what had happened to his men. The deathtrap had not been present when he had inspected the shaft from below a few weeks earlier. He could see the section in the shaft wall where the razor grill had been recessed and camouflaged. Now dented badly, it still held some of the remains of one of his men, as well a mangled FN SCAR and a few other bits that hadn’t sluiced through the grill.
Now, he leaned down and used the small blowtorch he had taken with his other gear from his own HDT dirt bike, and began to cut through the blades below him. When the last cut was made, the grill fell down, but did not fall out of the opening where the vent’s true grill hung askew from the impact of his man’s remains. There was a 1-inch diameter hole in the side of one of the blades and Carrack had clipped an aluminum carabiner through the hole and connected the ‘biner to a short length of cord. He wouldn’t risk the noise if the cut grill were to fall the fifty feet to the concrete floor of the hangar below. He had likewise secured the other metallic remains. Carrack’s suspicion that they were under attack had been confirmed by the deathtrap. He needed to play his next moves very quietly. The murder grill would stay attached to his waist by the four-foot length of cord and the biner, and he would lower it softly to the ground as he finished his rappel.
Carrack didn’t know if he would be rappelling into a room full of hostiles, but it was too late for him to flip around and come out the vent head-first. So he did the next best thing. He released his grip on the rappel device, and slid rapidly down and out of the vent. He braked when his head had cleared the ceiling by a few feet, and his FN SCAR was up and leveled, as he scanned the hangar around him.
Mercifully, it was empty.
He quickly descended the rest of the way to the floor, laying the razor grill next to what he assumed were the remains of one of his men. He quickly detached from the line and crouched down behind a nearby pallet that had had its plastic stripped off. The light in the massive space was low—it wasn’t really necessary to have your parked helicopters and pallets full of stuff lit up like Christmas, so Deep Blue was saving the electricity.
Carrack knelt down and examined the remains of his soldier.
Son of a bitch.
The murder grill had done its evil deed well. Most other people would have been ferociously sick at the nearly liquid remains of a human being, but Carrack had a strong stomach. He’d seen some bad things in Afghanistan, but he wasn’t sure if he had ever seen worse. He quickly scanned the distant ceiling of the hangar and located the second vent.
Checking carefully for hostiles, he moved quickly from pallet to pallet, taking brief cover at each until he came to a pallet that was coated in the remains of his other soldier. Neither man had stood a chance against their respective murder grills and the velocity of a human body in freefall. Carrack wondered whether White Four and White Five had met similar fates at their respective points of attempted ingress.
He moved cautiously through the remaining rooms in this section of the facility, one after the other. All of his senses were heightened. His pupils had dilated to take in the maximum vision in the dimly lit rooms and hallways. His ears were attuned to the slightest sounds from the air conditioning. He carefully smelled the sterile air, searching for a hint of cologne, the scent of nicotine exuded through the skin, sweat or anything else that might indicate a threat before he could see it.
By the time he got to the room that would be the main computer center once the base was fully operational, he was certain he was alone in this section.
When he stepped into the room, he saw motion though, and then his eyes opened up like saucers. He had never seen anything like this in Afghanistan.
Someone was sitting in the computer chair with the unusual design. It looked to him like White Zero, the shy computer girl. Her head and part of her shoulders were covered, so he couldn’t be sure at a glance. Covering her head and sticking straight up into the air, was the biggest fucking spotted salamander he had ever seen. It appeared to have come out of the air conditioning vent above White Zero’s head and it had tried to eat her. Her head and shoulder were completely inside of the creature, and its upper body stood straight up off the top of her head like a grotesque hat. About half way up the thing’s body—and it had to be at least seven feet long without the tail—the sheer weight of the slimy black body had made the creature bend over, almost in half. The tip of its long tapering tail nearly reached the floor. The beast’s bright yellow spots over its back screamed a hideous contrast to the horror of what he was seeing.
Strong or not, White One turned and vomited the contents of his stomach onto the floor.
As he was wiping a strand of drool from his mouth, he saw movement in the chair. He turned back to see the salamander twitching and seemingly struggling to free its immense mouth from its attempted meal.
That thing is still alive?
It was bucking in a frenzy now, and Carrack understood that it had heard him and was now looking for another snack.
“Not this time, fucker.”
He opened fire on it with the FN SCAR, then blinked his eyes in wonder as it continued to move. He lowered the weapon at the creature’s hind quarter and fired a long burst, sweeping the gun in a horizontal arc. The tail fell off and landed on the floor with a smacking noise. Both the tail-less creature and its tail were moving now. And to his astonishment and horror, Carrack watched as a new tail began to grow on the body. He guessed it would be no longer than ten minutes before the thing was back to its original size. He checked the tail on the floor to see if it would grow a body. If it did, there was no way to beat the things. But it didn’t. It twitched a few more times and then it lay still. Carrack vaguely remembered hearing about salamanders and geckos that could drop their tails to attract predators, allowing them to escape unharmed. The tails would still wiggle for a while to provide a healthy enticement for the predator.
Carrack was no scientist, but he was intelligent enough to figure that the regeneration capabilities had to be controlled by its consciousness—it didn’t just occur automatically at the cellular level, or the tail would be growing a body.
“Okay. Let’s see if you can grow back a whole body from just a head.”
He opened fired again in a horizontal arc, this time at the creature’s neck, well aware of the damage he was probably doing to White Zero’s corpse, but it was necessary for him to determine how to beat the thing—especially if there might be more of them. Carrack was a cautious and very pessimistic man. He assumed there were probably hundreds more of them somewhere. After all, once he got over his initial shock at the sight of this thing, he remembered where he was and what the job entailed. Chess Team dealt with the wacky.
Eventually, the sawing buzz of bullets severed the creature’s head from its torso. The huge body thumped to the floor next to the tail. Carrack was relieved to see that it did not move. The head was also not re-growing a body. He stepped closer to see if the head looked like it was even still alive. It didn’t seem to be.
That was when he had noticed the computer monitor that White Zero had been reading. He probably would have passed it by as unimportant as he went on to search for Black Zero and Deep Blue, but the irony of his peripheral vision noticing the word salamanders, caught his eye and dragged it back to the screen.
Carrack read what White Zero had been reading. He didn’t understand everything he read, but he got the gist of it. One of Manifold’s flunkies had experimented on harmless, small salamanders and these monstrosities were the result. He got the high points: aggressive, enlarged, rapid, could secrete a poison from the skin, radiation, regeneration, and they needed dampness in their environment—they were averse to light and fire could damage their ability to regenerate.
He knew where they were coming from and he knew how to deal with them. Rifle fire was clearly going to be ineffective.
He headed back to the hangar and made for the pallets containing weapons. He was about to unwrap the one he wanted when he heard voices coming.
Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Damien was not pleased. The mission was supposed to be a simple infiltration. Get in, get the sample, leave the bomb and get the hell out. He knew the damned creatures were active. They had told him that. They just conveniently neglected to tell him that the damned things were psychotic and hungry to boot. They hadn’t told him the blasted things could leap. He’d lost a lot of men back on the train platform. They were fodder, of course. Poorly trained and likely to come apart at the seams at the first hint of danger—well, most of them. A few were solid soldiers. Still, Damien didn’t like to have to sacrifice them needlessly.
Damien also wasn’t expecting much resistance from Chess Team personnel. He knew that most of the team—active members and support—were away still. Chess Team didn’t plan to occupy the facility for a while yet. Gen Y had only been alerted to Chess Team’s plan recently when they had inadvertently allowed Gen Y computer access, as a number of systems had been partially reactivated. Manifold had been content to leave the abandoned base in the hands of the US military after it had been captured. “Not worth it,” was the official call. But then the systems had been reactivated, and it became clear that Chess Team planned to use the facility for something. A few Gen Y men had been tasked with keeping an eye on the computer systems. It was only much later, when the motion sensors had suggested that Maddox’s experiments were still inhabiting the base, that the powers that be had ordered Gen Y to go back in.
Maddox. That damned fool. Vicious man-eating salamanders. For fuck’s sake.
Damien had lobbied for setting a far longer timer on the device he was to leave behind, in the hopes of catching most of the Chess Team bastards inside the facility when it was destroyed, but that wasn’t how he had been ordered to handle things. They just wanted their sample, and then the base was to be destroyed. Immediately.
But things had gone pear-shaped almost immediately. More than half his force decimated on the train platform, loss of control over the computer systems, giant bastard amphibians on the loose and someone armed and fighting back. Damien hadn’t gotten a clear look at the man with the bald head that had opened fire on his men during the salamander skirmish, but he looked familiar. He wasn’t one of the normal Chess Team operatives and he wasn’t one of the new security team. Damien’s spotter had confirmed by radio that all five of the security men had been outside when they had activated the steel security doors. So the man with the rifle had to be one of their few tech people that were supposed to be inside.
Damien looked out the window of the moving train, as it sped down the underground tunnel to the section of the base with the aircraft hangar. All he had wanted to do was blow the shite out of this place, but now he had to try to get computer control back from one of the computer rooms, or he and his last few remaining men wouldn’t be able to get out after they had what they had come for.
The train pulled into the platform and the men debarked, looking far more skittish than when they had arrogantly infiltrated the laboratories. Damien stepped out in front of the men and strode down a hall toward the hangar space and the computer rooms. His men followed behind him, and his new number 2, a man named Jameson, approached him.
“What do we do now, sir?”
“We leave someone to get into the computers and then we head to the sub as planned.” Damien stepped into the hangar and scanned all the equipment that had been stored there. Chess Team were planning to use the base for themselves. Cocky bastards.
Jameson looked nervous, the square cut of his jaw almost pouting. “And the explosive device sir?”
“O’Brian will have taken care of that, don’t you worry. He stayed behind to get it into the cavern when the time is right.” Damien looked the man in the face and noted that he had trouble looking at Damien’s scar. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you go back through all those salamanders just to leave the bomb.”
Jameson sighed audibly; his relief was palpable.
“Oh, no, my little shite-eel. I’ll need you to come with me to the submarine dock to fight off hundreds of the buggers and get our sample.”
All the blood drained from Jameson’s face.
En Route to Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Tom Duncan saw a piercing light. He had, of course, heard all the stereotypical hackneyed clichés about death and seeing a light before you die. But he didn’t think they were usually talking about the sparkling orange brilliance of a road flare. And this sizzling light was coming right at him.
At the last second, Duncan dodged to the side and the light sailed past him and smacked hard into the plastic and Plexiglas of the bio door that had been at his back. There was a loud thwacking noise then the projectile fell to the tunnel floor and Duncan saw that it was indeed a road flare.
He quickly turned his attention upward again, but all the shifting salamander shapes he had seen in the darkness of the tunnel were gone now. There was a hard blue-white light ahead of him, facing away down the tunnel, and then it turned to him briefly before turning away.
“You okay, Boss?”
Anna Beck stepped into the glare of the flare and was illuminated for Duncan to see. Her black uniform was a bit disheveled, but otherwise she seemed fine.
“Anna, am I glad to see you. I thought I was done for,” Duncan let out a sigh.
“They don’t like light and they really don’t like heat and fire. The cavern was filled with them. Also, as we suspected, several crevices and passages lead from the cavern up to these rail tunnels,” all business, Beck had stepped up to Duncan and was attaching a glowing LED lamp to his shirt, and handing him a spotlight and some flares.
As they started walking toward the HDT dirt bike, Duncan thought of something.
“What the hell were you doing with flares down in the cavern? You knew it was filled with gas.”
“I like to be prepared for anything, Boss.”
Duncan smiled. He’d told her she didn’t need to call him ‘Boss’ several times now, but she insisted on doing it. He quickly briefed her on what he knew of the situation, and they got onto the HDT. He let her drive. As he was swinging his leg over the bike, he saw some shifting in the shadows ahead, despite the glow from the headlamp on the bike, and the spotlight he now held in his hand.
“They’re still up ahead in the shadows,” he told Beck.
“Yeah, the light won’t make them go away, but it will keep them at bay a little,” she replied.
“Hold on a second,” Duncan made her get off the bike and he opened the storage compartment under the seat. He removed a small cutting torch. “This might not be much, but if they don’t like heat and fire, it might be better than the spotlight.”
They got back on the bike and Black Zero turned her head back to him. “Are you ready? This is likely to be one hell of a ride.”
“Let’s get it done.”
Beck gunned the throttle and the dirt bike took off down the tunnel. Almost immediately, Duncan could tell things weren’t going to go well. The walls shifted and slid with the concentration of Salamanders he knew were there, despite the fact that he couldn’t see them. The headlamp from the dirt bike kept the path in front of them clear, but he could tell they were on the walls around the bike, and soon the first one leapt at the riders.
Duncan swung the cutting torch, its blinding white-hot flame spitting through the air. He scored a hit and the attacking creature darted away. He felt things brush by him as the bike raced into the darkness. He kept his knees locked tightly to the frame of the bike for balance and swung the spotlight with his left hand as rapidly and as unexpectedly as he could. He still never saw more than a tail rapidly retreating into the gloom. His right hand waved the torch—most often toward the right side of the vehicle. He didn’t want to bring his arm over and risk burning Beck.
Beck was hunched forward over the handlebars and laying on the speed, when Duncan felt something wrap around and grab his right arm. He blasted the beam of the spotlight on his arm and saw a long pink strip of meat wrapped around his arm in a spiral, and below it was one of the salamanders. This one wasn’t as large as the others he’d seen on the train platform. He guessed it was an adolescent. It was riding on the side of the bike frame, its head facing forward and the rear of its body wrapped over the back fender. The meat on Duncan’s arm was a tongue that must have been at least four feet long.
Duncan rotated his wrist and neatly sliced through the tongue with the cutting torch and the great beast leapt away from the side of the bike and into darkness. He glanced up just in time to see another of the pink tongues stretching out into the light from the wall. He ducked his head under it and then saw a few more of the tongues ahead. He raised his arm and held the torch high. Beck seemed to understand and steered the bike a bit closer to the right wall and away from the tongues on the left wall. Still, the move brought them closer to the tongues coming off the right wall. And now he saw some coming from the ceiling too.
Duncan focused on the creatures, noting their size, distance and movements, visualizing each strike. Then he began to slice off tongues with the cutting torch as the bike raced past the bodies in the dark.
Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
White Five slashed out with his M9 bayonet. His Gen Y opponent merely took a step backward. The man that had been playing possum was huge—at least six inches taller than White Five’s five-foot-eleven. On the plus side, the Gen Y giant really did seem to have a broken arm. On the negative side, the man was wielding a ridiculously large Rambo knife in his other hand. Pete Johnson hated those things, as did many active duty U.S. military members. They were so large as to be useless in survival situations, despite being labeled as survival knives. They also sucked for utility purposes; although the blades were frightening and beefy looking, they didn’t have the tensile strength for true field craft. Pete Johnson preferred his M9 for such purposes. Unfortunately, in a straight knife fight against a longer-armed opponent, the serrated weekend-warrior knife worked just fine. A little too well, for Johnson’s taste.
The big man in black lunged forward, his huge blade coming in straight at Johnson’s midsection like a spear. Johnson parried the blade with his M9 and stepped to the side before attempting a similar lunge, but the big man was too far away. They had traded slashes a few times now, and Johnson was no closer to ending this fight. The initial scuffle when the Gen Y man had been playing possum under the detonated door had cost Johnson his sidearm and his rifle. The Gen Y man had stood in his dusty black BDUs and produced the large knife, holding it up for Johnson’s inspection. Johnson had glanced to the floor of the hallway and seen his own pistol ahead and behind his opponent, and he knew the MP5 and his FN SCAR were on the floor well behind him. No choice but to pull his M9 and wade into it with the Jolly Green Giant.
The larger man lunged again, but it was a feint. He turned his blade sideways and targeted Johnson’s defending knife arm. The blade of the oversized knife tore into Johnson’s digicam woodland sleeve and cleaved into the skin beneath it. Johnson yanked his arm back and glanced at the wound. Deep, but not life threatening. He took a step back and used his left hand to unbutton the BDU blouse as the men slowly circled each other, keeping their eyes on their opponents. In a fluid movement, Johnson shed the blouse from his uninjured arm, and wrapped the jacket around his knife forearm. The move was so slick, it looked practiced, even to Johnson, but he’d only just thought of it. His opponent smiled appraisingly. Then the man made his mistake. The one Johnson knew a crappy Gen Y soldier that would think a Rambo knife was a good choice was likely to make. The man changed his grip on the huge weapon, so that the blade pointed downward, as if he were going to be attacking Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene in Psycho.
Finally, Johnson thought.
The problem with such a hold is two-fold. The first is that you have to get in close to use it. The tall man rushed in to do so and Johnson demonstrated the second issue. He raised his uninjured arm and blocked the overhead stab by crossing his forearm under his attacker’s, then he dropped low and spun, slashing laterally with his M9. By the time Johnson had darted away from the reach of the Gen Y man, the top of his opponent’s black trousers were already damp with abdominal blood. Johnson’s cut had gone deep.
The Gen Y man staggered backward a few steps, dropping the foolish knife while trying to keep his organs from spilling out. Blood dripped onto the floor. As he neared the fallen pistol, Johnson’s level of alert increased, but the man was looking on the floor for something else. Johnson was about to wonder what it could be. The man had passed up the knife and Johnson’s pistol. But before White Five could do more than begin to form the question, something freakishly bizarre interrupted the conclusion of the knife fight.
Three shiny black heads poked around the far corner of the corridor and looked at Johnson. The Gen Y man didn’t see them—his back was to that end of the white corridor. Johnson’s attention picked up the movement immediately.
“What the f—” he started to say.
Then everything happened at once. The bleeding Gen Y man lunged for a small backpack that was leaning on the floor, further back toward the new arrivals. The three creatures darted out into the corridor, looking for all the world to Johnson like black speckled alligators. Big ones. Johnson himself was in motion—diving forward into the corridor, but away from the Gen Y man. Johnson was going for his SIG Sauer P226. Two human bodies slid along the linoleum floor while three amphibian bodies glided across the walls toward the two men. Time seemed to slow to a crawl for Johnson. His perception moved into bullet time.
Johnson snatched up the handgun and let off a few shots at the crawling intruders up on the walls. He rolled into a back flip, and landed crouched on his toes as he fired three more shots. Nothing. He turned back toward the Gen Y man in time to see the taller man flinging his retrieved knife at Johnson. Johnson ducked and rolled forward, the whirling oversized knife passing overhead and sticking hilt deep into the skull of one of the huge salamanders on the wall behind him. Johnson came out of his roll and shouldered the Gen Y man to the side of the corridor before turning to fire more at the attacking beasts on the walls. He took a breath and lined up the shots carefully, targeting one of the dark creature’s silver-dollar-sized black eyes.
As the beast with the knife stuck downward through the top of its head leapt off the wall toward the Gen Y man, Johnson watched as the taller man turned and kicked out with one leg, his combat boot connecting soundly with the front of the leaping creature’s flattened looking head. In the man’s functioning hand, he tightly clutched the backpack from before. One of the other two salamanders was initiating its own leap toward the Gen Y man, as Johnson noticed in the slowed-down passage of time that the beast whose eyes he had shot out was still approaching him and the eyes were sealing up.
Time almost ground to a stop for Johnson as several thoughts jammed into his skull at once. The backpack was a bomb. The salamanders were regenerating. The door to the utility closet with the hole leading down to the cavern below Labs was open and just a few feet to his left. He didn’t have any grenades on him and even if he did, the resulting explosion from the backpack bomb might kill everyone and everything in the corridor. It might even ignite the natural gasses down in the cavern and destroy the whole base. No matter what, Johnson was screwed.
Where time had been slowed to a crawl before, now everything kicked into hyper-motion. The Gen Y man tossed the backpack and it slid across the corridor’s linoleum toward the natural rock hole in the floor of the closet. Two of the salamanders lunged at the Gen Y man, one landing on his chest and taking him down, and the one with the knifehead latched its huge mouth, knife blade and all, around the man’s thigh. When the mouth opened, it looked like the creature’s entire head had split open like a trash can lid coming off the can. The third salamander was leaping for Johnson.
Johnson lunged laterally for the backpack to the strains of the Gen Y man screaming, as the two creatures began to devour the bleeding man. Johnson dropped his handgun, but held onto his knife as he scrabbled for the straps on the backpack. His body slid headfirst across the slick white floor of the corridor. At the last second before the backpack dipped into the gaping hole in the closet’s floor, Pete Johnson snagged the tailing strap on the canvas-covered bomb. Unfortunately, his body was still sliding and moving so fast that by the time he attempted to arrest his momentum, the pack, his arm and part of his torso had all already fallen into the hole. Johnson was just about to accept the inevitability of the fall to the cavern floor, nearly a mile below him, when he felt a strong tug on his leg.
He twisted as he fell and looked back up the hole into the closet. The heel of his combat boot had stopped at the lip of the hole. He was hanging upside down, the bomb dangling in the yawning abyss below his head. The salamander that had come for him began to slide into the hole with him, its tongue tightly wrapped around his leg like the stripes on a candy cane. When the beast’s shoulders jammed against the edges of the hole, they both came to a jerky halt. Johnson looked up at the creature in astonishment as it opened and closed its massive maw, scrabbling backward with its suction cup-like toes. For a second, it seemed like a stalemate to Johnson. They were stuck, with the salamander jammed into the hole and Johnson’s body dangling over the cavern like the Sword of Damocles.
Then the salamander found its purchase and began moving backward, hauling Johnson’s leg up out of the hole.
“Oh for the love of…” He pushed against the lip of the hole with his other foot, halting his ascent.
Johnson quickly ran though his choices. Plunge to certain death with a bomb that might destroy everything or get hauled up and eaten by a mutant monster. There was no guarantee if he got the bomb back up into the corridor that it would minimize the effects of the detonation. On the other hand, if he managed to survive the fall for even a few minutes after the impact, he might be able to defuse the bomb. Unless it went off while he was fighting the salamander.
There was no choice after all.
Johnson shoved his leg hard, dragging the Salamander’s head back into the hole. It opened its mouth again and made a noise that sounded to Johnson like a growl as it struggled to regain its footing. When they stopped descending again as the creature’s shoulders lodged against the edge of the hole, Johnson brought his bayonet up. The salamander growled at him even louder.
“Wanna impress me, fucker? Follow me down.”
Pete Johnson, White Five, swiped at the long pink tongue wrapped around his leg with the knife, and the sharp edge split the meat and tissue with ease. The salamander retreated back out of the hole as Johnson started to fall into darkness. As he fell, he pulled the backpack with the bomb to his chest and hugged it tightly, ready for the ride.
Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
White One had heard enough. He had peeked around a pallet and seen the black uniforms and the chest emblems. He knew the men in his hangar were Gen Y. There were about ten of them and he’d overheard that at least one of them was heading into the cavern below the Labs to plant another bomb down there like Ridley had done. This group was heading to the computer lab and then the submarine dock. And the Irishman was their leader.
Carrack seethed. These scum had casually strutted into his base, killed his men with deathtraps and planned to blow the place off the face of the planet when they were done. So much for going into action before things turn FUBAR, he thought.
At least I can still bring the hellfire.
Carrack stood up from behind his pallet and pulled the safety clip off of an M67 fragmentation grenade. As a lefty, he held the device upside down. He pulled the pin out and let the safety lever flip into his right hand. He paused one second and then lobbed the device through the air of the hangar at the cluster of Gen Y men by the corridor leading down to the train platform. He squatted down behind the protection of his pallet just as the device detonated. The resounding boom of the explosion echoed loudly in the confined space and the smoke from the Composition B detonation filled the space between the corridor and Carrack’s cover.
Men were screaming and Carrack heard MP5 fire. He had no idea whether his opponents knew the general direction from which the grenade had come. He figured they didn’t. It was panic fire. He glanced around the side of his pallet, with his head no more than a foot off the ground. The smoke was rising in the hangar’s air—he wouldn’t be able to see the corridor at head height but he could see their ankles. It looked like his blast had killed at least five of the men. Then he corrected his assessment when he saw that one of the men on the floor was moving and hollering at the damage to his leg.
“Shut it!” Carrack heard the Irishman shout at the wounded man, a moment before the loud report of a 9mm handgun went off. The injured man stopped moving and made no more noise.
Son of a bitch. He just killed his own man!
Carrack opened fire with his FN SCAR at the calves of the men he could see. Panic erupted as another of the men fell to the low angle of fire. From the cloud of smoke, the Gen Y men returned MP5 fire at Carrack’s position. Carrack retreated behind his pallet and ran in a squat for another pallet across the hangar floor. Between the smoke and the confusion, there was no way the Gen Y men could see him yet. He peered out from his new hide and watched as gunfire impacted against the pallet where he had hidden. As one man foolishly stepped out of the cloud of smoke, Carrack moved the firing selector on his FN SCAR to single shot, took and released a breath and then fired off a round. The bullet found the middle of the Gen Y man’s forehead and the exit wound spread brain and bone backward into the still dissipating cloud of smoke. Carrack was behind another pallet before the man’s body hit the floor.
“The train. Now! Move yer bastard arses!” the Irishman screamed, and Carrack watched as the dark shapes he could see through the low light and smoke turned tail and fled down the corridor. He took that as his cue to abandon cover. He stood and raced toward the first pallet behind which he had hid and moved his firing selector to A for automatic. He leaned around the stack of plastic wrapped boxes and let a full auto burst follow the retreating men down the corridor.
No one returned fire, but he could still hear the men shouting as they ran away. He stepped away from the pallet and out into the open, firing the last bullets in his magazine down the corridor, then swiftly ejecting the spent cartridge and loading another. He moved forward in a squat and saw that his grenade had in fact taken down four of the Gen Y men, although the fifth man had a handgun wound in the top of his head. Carrack had taken the sixth down with the single shot to the head as well. That left four including the leader. Carrack was disappointed to see that while there was a trail of blood leading down the corridor from where he must have wounded one or more or the men in the legs, none of his targets from that attack had fallen. Still, one against four—with a fifth and possibly more in another section of the base—was far better odds than it had been a few minutes ago.
He was debating whether to give chase to the escaped Gen Y men or try to contact Deep Blue again, now that he was in the facility and whatever interference or jamming had prevented communication from outside the hangar door might no longer be as effective. Motion in his peripheral vision caused him to dive back under cover. Across the hangar from where Matt Carrack had stood, another corridor led to the train platform that would take you to the Labs section of the base. Two of the hideously large salamanders had just crawled out of the corridor on the walls and were now wiggling in bursts up the walls of the hangar.
Now he rejected the idea of contacting Deep Blue and tried to make his choice between pursuing Gen Y or pest control. Before he had long to ponder the thought, another two of the sleek black, yellow polka-dotted monsters came racing out of the corridor. Then another two came lunging out of the hall on the floor. Then a whole stream of them came pouring out of the corridor, filling every part of the corridor’s walls, ceiling and floor. They spread out over the walls and floor of the hangar like inky liquid, reminding Carrack of a swarm of angry black insects, as they filled every space at the mouth of the corridor. Many of the creatures were darting for the corridor to the other train platform that led to the Dock, where the Gen Y men had fled. Carrack turned and headed into the hangar space, toward the front, and the only pallet that held the one item that might save his life.
En Route to Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
“Seal off the tunnel?” Beck wanted to know.
“Hell no!” Duncan had made that mistake at the other end of the rail tunnel, ten miles back. He wasn’t about to do it again. “Take the stairs.” They raced out of the rail tunnel and into the platform at Central. At this point, hordes of the creatures were fleeing in front of the dirt bike, the signal somehow having gone through the mass of bodies that something on the bike was painful to the creatures and they were currently as much prey as predator. More salamanders were still pursuing the bike back in the tunnel—many, Duncan assumed, in a rage at the loss of their tongues from the cutting torch he still wielded in his right hand. The light in the platform seemed to offer little additional deterrent. Duncan let go of the spotlight with his left hand, the lanyard on its end allowing it to swing off his forearm. He wrapped his arm around Black Zero’s mid-section as she accelerated the dirt bike up a short set of concrete steps to the top of the platform, crushing the wheels over the limbs of two the beasts that had been crawling up to the platform.
The bike launched off the stairs and from his brief moment in the air, Duncan could see at least forty or fifty of the things scrabbling all along the floor of the platform and starting to take to the walls in an effort to escape the airborne dirt bike and its fire-wielding passenger.
The bike landed with a heavy jolt as it impacted the floor, two salamanders lunging away from the landing site so as not to get crushed by the fast moving vehicle. Anna Beck, Callsign: Black Zero, steered the bike for the corridor that would lead them back to the hangar where all this had started for Duncan. He was eager to get Lori to safety but he wasn’t sure yet how to do so. He hadn’t come up with a survival plan in case he was locked in his own base with enemy combatants and murderous amphibians—and certainly not before he had even taken up occupancy in the damn place.
The bike raced down the corridor with salamanders skittering everywhere, both looking to escape and attack. Duncan was struck by inspiration. “Stop outside the restroom!”
To her credit, Beck didn’t argue. She just pulled the bike up against the restroom door, put her feet down on the floor and cracked a flare to throw behind them and stall their pursuers. Duncan launched off the bike and sprinted into the women’s room. He came to a sliding stop on the tile floor, facing a white tile sink with pink accents. He quickly snatched the tall can of hair spray on the counter that Lori was fond of using. He turned and started to race out the door when he heard Beck calling from the corridor. “Bad time to take a leak, Boss!”
Duncan leapt out of the doorway to the women’s room in time to see an overly large salamander falling from the ceiling and twisting as it fell to attack Beck. Beck was pulling her M9 bayonet from a sheath on her leg—the only weapon she had left.
In mid air, as Duncan leapt, the salamander fell and Beck began her thrust with the knife, Duncan held out the can of hairspray in one hand and the still lit cutting torch in the other. He sprayed the noxious flammable chemicals and the resulting ball of flame engulfed the salamander. It squealed loudly, flipped over and bounced off the bike’s handlebars. Beck’s swing with the knife completely missed and Duncan’s arc through the air took him crashing into the far corridor wall, but as he slid down it, he rotated his torso and fired another blast of flame back down the corridor behind the bike, causing the pursuing amphibians to retreat in a frantic scrambling herd.
He stood and turned back to face the other direction and fired another blast down this direction of the corridor, singing a few salamanders as they retreated toward the hangar at the end of the hallway. The first salamander he had blasted was on the floor and curled as if in a fetal position. It was no longer shiny and slick looking and it was clearly dead. The smell of the cooked meat reminded him of the smell of grilled hot dogs, and he made a mental note to chastise himself later for how hungry the stench made him.
“I don’t want to know how you knew there was hair spay in the women’s bathroom, do I?” Beck said, as she replaced her knife in its sheath.
Duncan climbed onto the bike beside her, preparing to fire more blasts from his makeshift flamethrower as they went. “Just drive, smartass.” Beck chuckled and gunned the engine. Duncan glanced back and saw that the pursuing salamanders had already regained their courage and were coming back after the dirt bike again. He hoped the fleeing creatures ahead of them would run for longer, but if they didn’t, he had enough of the lacquer to roast a few dozen of the things.
As it turned out, he only had to fire one more blast and the remaining creatures fled at top speed, wiggling side to side ahead of them as the dirt bike raced toward the hangar. Duncan heard a rumble ahead that sounded to him like an explosion, followed by small arms fire. Beck heard it too.
“Faster or slower, Boss?”
“Faster!” Before Duncan had gotten the second syllable out of his mouth, Beck had gunned the throttle and the bike was racing close to top speed for the hanger. Duncan raised the torch and the can of spray to let a few blasts off at the ceiling and the swarm of wriggling beasts ahead of them raced away down the corridor.
Then the dirt bike was launching out of the corridor into the open space of the hangar. Before they had cleared the opening by more than a meter, a salamander came springing off the right wall of the hangar and knocked Beck completely off the bike to their left. Duncan watched in horror as she and the salamander blasted left and the runaway dirt bike popped a wheelie and went launching out from under his knees. As he fell backward and looked up, he saw at least a hundred of the things fleeing across the hangar walls. Then he saw one of the black and yellow creatures was falling on top of him. He let a burst of fire loose and the thing crisped up before he hit the deck on his back. The fall blasted all the air out of his lungs and then the charred body of his attacker fell on top of him, doubling the insult to his chest.
Duncan rolled sideways, shoving the cooked carcass off him in time to see Beck rolling over backward with a frantic salamander attacking her from the front. It went into the roll with her. As they came up out of the roll, Beck twisted and stabbed upward with her bayonet, driving the blade through the amphibian’s lower jaw, up through the top of its head and into the linoleum of the floor outside the door to the glassed in office Duncan had used earlier with Lori. Beck rolled away and the salamander was pinned to the floor by the top of its head. It twisted its body and managed to get its legs on the floor properly. Its neck twisted at an almost impossible angle as it struggled to pull itself free from the blade.
Duncan stood and launched another fire blast at some of the salamanders that had followed him out of the corridor. Then he swung back to Beck as he heard her exasperated voice.
The salamander had tugged its head away from the pinned knife blade, allowing it to cut through the front of its face so it could escape. With a final tug, the persistent creature pulled free from the knife and scrambled toward Duncan, opening its mouth wide, the four segments of its head now moving independently. Duncan lurched forward, stumbling on the carcass of his first attacker, the burst of fire from his improvised weapon ending up firing directly into the split-headed salamander’s mouth instead of on its back, where Duncan had intended to target. The creature stopped moving before Duncan landed on the floor.
As he glanced up at Beck, he saw yet another of the wiggling assailants flying through the air at Beck from behind. Before he could recover from hitting the floor again, he saw a blur of woodland camouflage—Matt Carrack was flying through the air toward the salamander’s back.
Duncan’s wind came back just in time. “Duck!” he shouted.
Beck dropped to all fours and rolled out of the way, as Matt Carrack wrapped a wire garrote around the flying salamander’s head. When it hit the ground, Carrack held on and rode the creature as it raced toward the wall. Carrack leaned back and started to pull on the wooden handles of the garrote, as the salamander reached the wall and started up it. Carrack held on tightly, choking the life out of the amphibian as it raced up the wall. Carrack was pulled up the wall, and he looked to Duncan like some absurd vertical rodeo rider. As they reached a height of about four meters off the floor, Carrack successfully pulled the choking wire clean through the salamander’s body, and fell, the head of the creature following him down, while the body stayed attached to the wall with surreal obstinacy. Carrack’s feet hit the floor and he dropped into a crouch and rolled, but the plummeting head hit him anyway, bouncing off his shoulder.
Beck was tugging her knife from the floor and Duncan climbed to his feet. Most of the flood of salamanders was retreating now down the corridor leading to the train platform for the Dock. Duncan was about to thank Carrack for his timely intervention, but the man was sprinting across the hangar floor toward one of the pallets. Duncan’s keen mind sussed out the man’s plan seconds before he reached his targeted stack of boxes. From atop them, the man pulled down the backpack portion of an M2A1-7 portable flamethrower. They only had two of the antique items that Deep Blue had been able to secure. The devices were not used in modern warfare anymore, but Duncan had felt that they might be a useful item in Chess Team’s arsenal. He’d wanted the Vietnam era M9A1-7s but hadn’t been able to find any, so he’d had to settle for the devices used as far back as World War II. Duncan had forgotten he’d ordered them and they were sitting on the hangar floor along with tons of other unwrapped Chess Team weaponry. With the fuel tanks securely on his back, Carrack pulled the business end around in front of him and started for the wall where the last of the salamanders were retreating to the far corridor.
“Matt,” Duncan called. Carrack stopped and faced Duncan and Beck. “Let them go for now. Let’s trade intel and get the other one of those out of the wrapping.
“Yes sir,” Carrack answered, and he began to scan the walls and the ceiling all around them for any salamanders that might not have decided to flee. Beck raced over to the cartons on the pallet behind Carrack. “Oh yeah, you know I want one of those suckers.”
“There’s a hostile Gen Y presence on site that was probably about twenty strong before the salamanders attacked. Doors are all security locked and the bio door down the end of the Labs tunnel is sealed. We have no computer control.” Duncan told Carrack. “Where’s the rest of your team?”
“Just me sir. White Zero is down too. Booby traps in the ceiling vents. White Four went to Dock but hasn’t reported in. Five went to Labs but same story there. Six of the Gen Y men are down. Their objective is a sample of some kind in the Dock section. They’ve got at least one man planting a bomb in the cavern under Labs. At least five hostiles left—possibly more. The salamanders can be killed by beheading and fire. Small arms fire is ineffective. There’s a ton of scientific info on the creatures on screen in the main computer room—Zero was apparently on to them when one of them got her.” Carrack took a breath as Beck slung her own flamethrower on her back. “Oh, and General Keasling is sending support.”
“Let’s see the intel on the animal menace first, then we’ll need to spilt up. I don’t want Gen Y getting a sample of anything, and we need to stop them from destroying this place.” Duncan raced across the floor to the corridor and headed into the abattoir that used to be his main computer room. Lori’s headless corpse sat in the custom ergonomic computer station, with parts of a salamander body lying on the floor. The sight and smell assaulted him and his previously hungry stomach did a small flip.
Beck glanced into the room, hearing Duncan’s “Ugh,” then quickly excused herself to the hallway. “I think I’ll wait out here.”
Carrack strode into the room and pointed to the computer monitor for Duncan to see. “Wnt pathways stuff and blastema cells. It sounds like Maddox had a pet project. It also sounds like these things have been exposed to radiation, gases, and the chemical fallout from the Hydra battle in addition to Maddox’s genetic tinkering.”
Duncan read though the information as quickly as possible. He turned to Carrack. “Fire and dehydration are our weapons. Bright light holds them at bay a little. Thankfully, the information here indicates that they can’t breed.”
“You must have missed that part.” Carrack pointed out.
“What do you mean?” Duncan asked.
“Twenty total test subjects. But there’re hundreds of the sals. Maybe even a thousand. Either they figured out how to breed or we’re seeing creatures that received a secondary mutation—maybe from the chemical spill.”
“Great,” Duncan said. “Matt, I want you to get to Labs with Black Zero and find that bomb. I’m going to go after the Gen Y team.”
“Sir, it doesn’t take two people to defuse a bomb. I already let you out of my sight once today and look what happened.”
“I appreciate that son, but we don’t know how many Gen Y men are in Labs. We do know that the few remaining Gen Y men here went to Dock. I can handle that while you two take care of whatever’s waiting in Labs. Let me have your flamethrower.”
Beck ducked her head around the door. “Shit, and we can’t use mine in the cavern, either.” Carrack looked confused. “The natural gas is flammable.” Understanding dawned on his face. “You’re right. But I know what we can use. We’ve got some experimental, reusable, electronic LED Flash Bang grenades.” He took his backpack off and helped Duncan into the straps.
“Good idea. Go get them. All of them. I’ll take a few as well. You two get the bomb situation under wraps. Even if you can’t get the device defused, get it out of the cavern and into the Labs section. If we have to lose that portion of the base, we’ll live with it, but a blast setting off the gasses in the cavern would take out Pinckney too. And possibly a good chunk of central New Hampshire. Then try to get to me in Dock. When is Keasling arriving?”
Carrack checked his watch as they ran for the hangar again to retrieve the LED light grenades. “Forty minutes.”
“Too long,” Beck said as she started slicing plastic wrap from the side of the appropriate pallet. She had helped them pack all the supplies with another member of the Black Team a few days ago for transport here. She knew the contents of all the boxes better than the men did, but each box was also clearly labeled with its contents. A sign of Duncan’s ordered mind.
“We’ll do what we can til they get here. Just remember. Fire and light are your friends.”
Just then, the cavernous hangar, the glassed in computer room on its edge and both corridors leading out of the hangar were plunged into darkness. All the electricity in the base was out.
“If we could only keep our friends from deserting us.” Beck quipped in the low pale blue light from the tongue of flame at the tip of Duncan’s flamethrower.
En Route to Section Dock, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Tom Duncan, former president of the United States, now the leader of Chess Team under the callsign: Deep Blue, raced into darkness and certain danger. He rode the same HDT dirt bike he and Beck had used earlier. It was a little scratched and scraped from its fall in the hangar, but it was a sturdy machine and still more than serviceable.
Duncan had attached one of the reusable LED Flash Bang grenades to the handlebars and used a zip tie to permanently depress the igniter trigger to the flamethrower. He leaned the barrel of the device across the handlebars and could reach the firing trigger at a second’s notice. On his way down to the train platform leading to the Dock section of the base near Lake Winnipesaukee, the light of his dirt bike illuminating his way through the corridors, he hadn’t seen a single salamander. They seemed to have retreated down the tunnel’s ten-mile journey to the submarine station. Still, his left hand gripped the bike’s handlebar loosely, ready to spring to the flamethrower.
As he raced along the tunnel in the darkness, he remained alert, but he used the few minutes of the ten-mile drive to let all the loose fragments of knowledge in his head about the past hours roll around and bounce off each other in his brain. He liked the analogy. Some people liked to draw flowcharts and mind maps, but Duncan let all the pieces of complex problems collide in his mind’s eye like billiard balls until connections fit into place. That was how he had come up with a fairly successful peace plan for the Middle East—well, at least the Palestinians and the Israelis were speaking again, when he left office. It remained to be seen if the plan would stay in place or, more likely, if one lone soldier on either side would fire an RPG across the border and start things anew.
The first question was the lights. He had seen from the computer station that Lori had killed the wireless before her death, and the there were no hard-wired computers in Labs or Dock that could have allowed the Gen Y men additional access to the system after he had destroyed their laptop. That meant they must have left a man behind somewhere in Central to access the system and kill the lights. Damn it. He and Beck and Carrack must have missed the man. He had to have been just a room or two away from them the whole time.
Duncan slowed the bike and briefly considered going back for that man, but then he dismissed the idea. If the lights were out, that meant the computers were down too. You couldn’t selectively kill power to the whole base except for one computer station. Just wasn’t possible. That meant that other than as a gun at his back—or maybe at Beck and Carrack’s backs—the man wasn’t as large a threat as the remaining Gen Y team at the Dock. Still, he’d be wary of an attack from his rear. Duncan sped the bike up again and continued toward the Dock.
He could feel the pressure of the mountain range above the tunnel on his ears. He swallowed and his ears cleared. The Dock was at a lower altitude than the other two sections of the base. Its train platform was higher up than the rest of it, unlike the platforms in the other two parts of the base, which were the lowest points in their respective sections—well, except for the damned cavern under Labs. Just what he needed: another doomsday device to have to prevent. His negativity wasn’t helping. He took a deep breath and let it out. Then he let his mind wander again as the breeze from the sterilized air in the tunnel rushed past his face as he sped along on the bike.
The next two problems connected in his head: what are Gen Y after and why are there no more salamanders in this tunnel?
It all fell into place for Duncan. Maddox had experimented on the salamanders but didn’t see the results he wanted. Then Chess Team had invaded the base a few years ago, resulting in the mix of chemicals with the Hydra’s blood being spilled all over the floors in the Labs section. Some of Maddox’s subjects or all of them had been affected by the chemical sludge. Add that to the ambient radiation from the granite all around the facility and in the underground cavern, and the genetic tinkering Maddox had done initially, and you ended up with overgrown mutant monsters. Monsters that could now breed as well. But the hazmat team hadn’t seen them and Eli Jacobs and his research crew hadn’t encountered the beasts. No one in or out of the base in all their trips to and from it and into different portions of it had seen them. Because they were growing underground, in the cavern. And Beck confirmed that the cavern ran further afield than the Labs section of the base.
Tom Duncan didn’t know much about salamanders as a species, but he knew they were amphibians, and they laid eggs in the hundreds. Usually near a water source, which they had available in the form of the Dock. The long underwater cavern leading from the submarine dock to the ocean under 60 miles of New Hampshire had been a geological surprise to Duncan, but now it informed his assumption that the cavern under Labs must somehow connect to the Dock as well. And that explained why the salamanders weren’t around in the tunnel now. They had migrated from the depths of the cavern over the last few months to the Dock. Their home was now being invaded by Gen Y men searching for a viable sample egg. The creatures had gone back to the nest to protect it.
Then the last piece of the puzzle fell into position for Duncan. How would the Gen Y men escape with their prize? They’ll take the submarine. If they can get to it. Opening the underwater door to the Dock, allowing violent mutant monsters egress to the outside world, where they would be free to hunt and kill innocent New Hampshirites.
Duncan pushed the throttle as fast as it would go, racing into the train platform after the last mile of tunnel. The platform was above the rest of the dock itself, and had only a concrete platform with a few offices and a metal staircase that led down to the water, a freight elevator and what Duncan planned to use—metal catwalks that stretched across the entirety of the wide open area above the massive Russian submarine. He turned the dirt bike and drove it straight out onto the catwalk and straight out into hell.
Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Matt Carrack liked Anna Beck. She was pretty, she was fast and she was great with ideas. Explosive violent ideas. If he wasn’t already seeing someone, he would have asked her out. She had led him to a couple of extra crates and boxes in the darkened hangar to grab couple of extra “toys” as she put it, before they had each taken a fresh HDT dirt bike for the journey back to the Labs section.
They had not come across any more salamanders on their journey, but Beck had still wanted to pause on the journey a few time to blast forward down the pitch black tunnel with the flamethrower—just to be on the safe side. But after the first five miles of no amphibian resistance, she had stopped requesting the flamethrower breaks. At last, they came to the thick plastic and Plexiglas bio door. Beck dismounted from her bike a hundred meters from the door—just as the door was barely in the outermost reaches of the headlights from their bikes. Carrack dismounted from his own bike as Beck turned to him and said “Your turn.”
They had discussed the strategies for regaining access to the cavern below Labs. Beck had explained that there were several smaller crevices and tunnels that led off from the train tunnel into the cavern, but she had rejected those as possible means of travel to the floor of the cavern, claiming they were too twisty and would take far too long. He was inclined to agree with her, but he wondered how much his admission to her that Deep Blue had given him free reign to wreak as much havoc as he felt necessary had played a part in her decision.
He unslung the M72 LAW anti-tank rocket launcher from his back and telescoped out the inner tube, by pulling the rear of the weapon backward. He quickly aimed at the distant bio door and launched the 66mm rocket warhead. The rocket deployed its six stabilizing fins as it soared down the tunnel at a rate of 145 meters a second. The rocket hit the door and the explosion echoed back down the tunnel toward Carrack and Beck. The wave of heat and smoke flashed past them and it was over. Beck was already running toward the door, so Carrack disposed of the launcher tube and raced after her.
Beck waited for him at the remains of the ruined plastic door. “Ready?” she asked.
He aimed the LED Flash Bang grenade in his left hand and the Wagan spotlight in his right hand. “Go.”
She pointed the muzzle of the flamethrower through the remnants of the bio door and let loose a burst that lit up the darkened interior of the train platform. In the brief moment that the flames illuminated beyond the beam of the spotlight, Carrack didn’t see anything move. “Clear.”
Beck led the way and Carrack was right behind her with his backpack and hers, while she wore the flamethrower. They moved into the station and up onto the platform, stepping between the bones and tattered remains of black BDU clothing. Carrack didn’t see much of anything that looked like flesh anywhere. Beck took off the fuel tank backpack for the flamethrower and laid it down carefully on the platform floor. They couldn’t take it any further for fear of possibly igniting the gas fumes from the cavern below this section of the base. Carrack tossed her the backpack he’d been carrying for her, and she donned it before pulling out her own LED Flash Bang grenades—one for each hand.
Now Carrack led the way down the corridor toward the stairs that would take them up toward the supply closet with the access tunnel to the cavern. He ruminated on the absurdity of needing first to go up four floors to the level with the barracks room before they would then need to descend the same distance within the cavern, but this approach worked best for their plan. After no sign of the Gen Y men or any more salamanders for a while, Carrack was becoming curious. When he and Beck arrived at the top level of the Labs section and made their way to the open door to the supply closet and the gaping hole in the floor that was the entrance to the cavern, he spotted something. On the floor, not too far from the hole, was a combat boot. Easily size 15, and unfortunately, its resident foot was still at home inside it.
Carrack tilted it until it was standing upright and aimed the beam of his Wagan spot directly inside the still tightly tied boot.
“Charming,” Beck whispered. She was buckling the straps on her harness. “Ready for this shit?”
Carrack turned the beam of the light upward so she’d be able to see his face and he could see hers. “Why not?”
Beck smiled back at Carrack and then turned to the opening in the floor of the closet. She donned her facemask so she’d have a proper air supply inside the cavern. Carrack put his on at the same time. Beck then held one of her LED Flash Bang grenades over the hole.
“Three seconds,” she said. “On my mark.” She depressed the triggering button and dropped the device into the hole. “Three…two…one.”
On ‘one,’ Carrack tightly squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head away from the hole. The advanced electronic LED grenade was still bright enough for him to sense the burst of bright light, even through his closed eyelids. The sounds of squeals came up at them from below.
“That woke them up,” Beck said, then she cracked and dropped several bright orange chemical glowsticks. She turned to face him and smiled before she jumped in the hole. Pointing his Wagan spot down after Beck, Carrack followed her a few seconds later. Once he cleared the hole, he counted ‘one-Mississippi’ and deployed his chute. Beck had already deployed hers below him. The fall to the cavern floor was almost a mile below the supply closet floor—or 1600 meters—plenty of space in which to perform a successful BASE jump. Carrack blasted the Wagan spot around the cavern as he saw the walls shift in the gloom around him. Now it was his turn to let loose with an LED burst.
“Three seconds,” he called out to Beck, as she had done for him.
“Three…two…one,” he held the reusable, electronic-light bursting device behind his back and squeezed his eyes shut as it burst like a billion blinding suns. More shrieks and squeals of retreating salamanders echoed around the chamber. As the light faded, Carrack opened his eyes and swung the Wagan spotlight again, this time catching sight of several salamanders freefalling from the cavern ceiling above them.
Twenty seconds later, Beck was approaching the floor of the cavern and shouting out the repeated warning that she would be popping an LED flash. Carrack closed his eyes at the appropriate time and reopened them to discover that Beck was nearly on the ground, maybe twenty meters below him. Then he heard a thump and the lines up to his chute went slack as it collapsed, a salamander body careened off it into the darkness and Matt Carrack began to freefall.
Section Dock, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
The fighting in the dock was thick. Salamanders were on the walls and the ceiling of the massive space that acted as a dock and unloading platform for the cargo hauling decommissioned Typhoon. At over 170 meters in length, the sub’s dark and flattened hull made it look like one of the world’s longest whales. But this whale had speckled six-to-eight foot long salamanders crawling all over it.
The top of the massive sub’s sail tower abutted the bridge of the catwalk, nearly twenty-five meters above the frothing surface of the water below the dock. The walls of the dock and the floor surface as well were covered in clumps of slime and brownish white eggs by the hundreds or thousands. The water next to the giant parked sub was roiling with hundreds more swimming salamanders. But what Tom Duncan noticed first as he drove his HDT dirt bike out onto the metal catwalk was that several things around the room were on fire.
Flames had erupted from all surfaces except the catwalks. Even parts of the water were on fire. Duncan then saw why in the flickering light of the flames. The Gen Y team had poured flammable fuel over nearly everything and three of their team were firing the M203 grenade launchers mounted on the bottom of their MP5s around the space, targeting salamanders that got too close or sometimes those far away. Duncan hadn’t realized you could attach an M203 to a small submachine gun like that but he recognized the design. As each salamander got hit, it would explode and flaming chunks of its flesh would ignite pools of fuel into a new blaze. The noise from the explosions and the squealing of hundreds of mutated amphibians was deafening. Several salamanders were attempting to get at the Gen Y men, but the men had sprayed a semicircle of fuel around themselves and ignited it. The flames made a waist high fence around their position.
One of the black-clad Gen Y men was picking up a sticky egg the size of a basketball and placing it into a backpack, while kneeling on the floor, ignoring the chaos around him. The other three men were providing cover with their grenade launchers. The kneeling man shook his hand after sealing the backpack and a large line of clear viscous slime slid off it to the floor.
Duncan rode his bike to a point a few meters from the end of the catwalk that stopped at the top of the sub and quickly dismounted. So far, he hadn’t been noticed at all. He set a small fragmentation grenade with a tripwire across the end of the catwalk, by the sub’s sail, at ankle height. He then retreated to the mid-section of the catwalk on foot. He quickly set an anchor with carabiners and tossed a climbing rope over the side of the railing. One of the Gen Y men noticed the falling black rope in the middle of the air and spotted him. Before Duncan was quite ready, the man had opened fire on his position with the MP5.
Bullets clanged off the metal catwalk’s floor and the railing by Duncan’s head, as he squatted and readied his own weapon. He threw the LED flash bang off the rail and squeezed his eyes shut tightly. The burst was brilliant—even through his shut eyelids. The squealing of the frantic salamanders increased as the men on the dock also screamed out in pain. Then Duncan stood and let loose with the M202 FLASH rocket launcher. His flamethrower would only reach out to about a maximum range of 40 meters. He had brought it to deal with salamanders. The FLASH fired four 66 mm incendiary rockets filled with over a pound each of TPA—a substance similar to napalm. These, he’d brought for Gen Y.
As the first rocket hit the ground between the men and the entrance to the sub, Duncan realized it wasn’t terribly accurate—he’d been aiming for the center of the group of men. Still, they had stopped firing at him, because now they were running. The detonation threw flame and smoke all around the concrete dock. The man with the egg in the backpack was deserting the others and racing up the metal stairs to the platform. Duncan would put an end to that. He aimed the FLASH again and launched another rocket at the stairs. It hit a few meters under the man, but the effect was spectacular. He was blown up the stairs from the explosion, flying further up to the platform, which had been his intended destination. The stairs were shattered in the middle and one of the other men that had only just begun to climb the stairs got crushed as flaming metal rails and step fragments rained down on him.
Duncan turned to face the spot where the men had originally been clustered, only to see that there was just one man still there. The fourth man had run for cover on the far side of the sub. The man who was still on the dock had fired a 40 mm grenade up at Duncan, which had missed. It exploded on the ceiling of the Dock area, and the man was about to fire another projectile. Duncan launched his third rocket down at the man, then dove to the side for cover, landing heavily on the metal grill of the catwalk.
The man with the grenade launcher down on the dock exploded in a bloom of liquid fire at the same time that the forward half of Duncan’s catwalk exploded, sending metal shards flying past his face, and a few of them embedded themselves in his left arm. The wounds were shallow but they stung. The salamanders were racing all around the flames on the floor and in the water, screeching and squealing as their eggs caught fire and exploded with loud belching noises, spraying their half-solid and half-liquid innards up into the air like fountains of snot.
Duncan scrambled to his feet and checked his six—back toward the destroyed half of his catwalk and the man that had been propelled toward the platform at the top of the steps. No sign of him. And Duncan hadn’t forgotten that the man left behind in Central could still be coming from that direction. He was about to check the other end of his catwalk down by the bike and the submarine, when something at that end exploded loudly and the concussion wave knocked him back down onto the metal grill. He rolled to look down that end of the catwalk and quickly darted his head and shoulders to the side to avoid the incoming impact of a long dark shape. It hit the metal floor next to his face with a meaty thwack. Duncan saw that it was a salamander tail—easily four feet in length. The stump end was slightly singed from the detonation of the tripwire grenade Duncan had set at the end of the catwalk by the sub. He checked there and saw the last section of the metal walkway bent down and falling from support struts on the ceiling to plunge into the burning water below.
Duncan’s plan was coming apart rapidly. He hadn’t expected the fight with Gen Y to last so long and he’d hoped to be safely swinging from the rope off the catwalk, where he’d be perfectly safe from any salamander attackers and he’d be free to deal out flamethrower justice to the crawling things. Instead, both ends of the catwalk were now destroyed, he was trapped on the metal walkway above the flaming water with the dirt bike and a backpack on the floor full of explosive propellant. The room was awash in flame and his original target, the man with the egg, might have gotten away.
The salamanders were still writhing in a frenzy around nearly every surface of the enormous space, but they seemed to be converging on the sub—both in and out of the water. Duncan stood up on the now wobbly and flaming catwalk and looked again toward the train platform end, noticing the upward slant of the floor where it had buckled and twisted from the 40 mm grenade explosion. He glanced back to the HDT at the other end of the catwalk, a few meters from where the walkway disappeared and left a huge gap before the top of the sub sail.
He ducked down and scooped up the backpack for the flamethrower and slung it around his shoulders. He tossed the M202 FLASH down off the catwalk to the concrete floor of the dock far below. He wasn’t sure whether he’d get to it again or whether it would survive the impact of being thrown so far, but right now it was just in his way. He needed the catwalk floor as clear as possible. He likewise picked up the detached salamander tail and flipped it over the rail of the walkway and into the flaming water twenty-five meters below.
He ran to the end of the metal grill floor to retrieve his HDT, worried about the structural integrity of the last piece of the walkway as he ran. He got the bike started, laid the wand of his flamethrower along the improvised holster for it on the handlebars as he had done back in the train tunnel and looked at the hundred or so meters of standing catwalk he had left before the floor angled upward and twisted like ramp starting into a corkscrew. He had to clear probably a twenty-meter gap after that to reach the safety of the platform. He had considered jumping the bike the other direction toward the flat top of the sub’s sail, but discarded the idea. There was no ramp at that end and the sail was teeming with angry salamanders. Most of the beasts on the ceiling had come down the far wall and congregated on the sub as well.
Tom Duncan held in the clutch, gunned the throttle on the bike once again and once more thought of his election slogan: A Brisk Pace.
Oh yes, we’re moving along briskly now.
He popped the clutch and the bike lunged forward, Duncan holding on tightly and accelerating the whole time as he aimed for the left side of the ramp-like metal floor at the end of the catwalk. The right side had twisted into a double helix of angry metal debris that would shred his front wheel and send him cascading down to the concrete floor of the dock where he would be devoured by pissed off, flaming, mutated death engines with four foot long tongues.
As his front wheel neared the clear side of the ramp, he asked himself aloud “How the hell did I get myself into this?” and launched into the air.
Cavern under Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Anna Beck wasn’t sure what to do. She’d just touched down on the floor after clearing the immediate area with another LED burst and then twisted to look back and up at White One. She was just in time to see a plummeting salamander land on top of his chute and collapse roughly half of the cloth with its weight before bouncing off and down toward the floor.
White One’s body swung out to the left of his collapsing chute and his body began to plummet horizontally toward the top of her own still inflated chute. Beck ran under her chute and dove toward the floor on the other side of it, just clearing the body of the falling salamander, which hit the ground to the side of her with a loud thump. With Beck’s body pulling her chute as she dove, it stayed inflated somewhat. White One slammed into the top of it. The chute partially softened his fall, but he continued his plunge toward the floor, crashing hard into Beck’s back and knocking them both onto the salamander as it struggled to right itself.
Beck groaned from the impact and tried to disentangle herself from the cords and folds of two parachutes. When she crawled out from under the fabric, she saw the beam of the Wagan spotlight across the floor in the distance. The orange glowsticks illuminated the nearby area. And three large squat black heads were approaching her at eye level across the floor.
“One, eyes shut now!” she shouted.
Then she turned her head and held out the LED grenade just as the salamanders were reaching her. The burst of light caused the three to shriek in pain, and when she looked back, they were a few meters away and retreating fast.
Beck switched her experimental LED grenade to a mild strobing pattern and clipped it back to her chest. Then she tugged and pulled at the fabric of the tangled chutes to get to White One.
“You alive?” she asked him, as he was beginning to stir.
“That sucked.” he said groggily. “What happened?”
“A sal deflated half your chute and you broke your fall on me.”
She quickly ran her hands over his shins feeling for broken bones, then moved her hands up to his thighs and squeezed the meat of his muscles. White One jerked back away and shouted. “Aaahh.”
“Broken?” she asked him.
“No, just ticklish. I’m fine.”
Beck laughed and then stood and whirled, the strobing pattern of her light making the advancing salamanders retreat once again. She raced over to where the Wagan had fallen and marveled that it still worked. White One was extricating himself from the fabric, when he started shouting “What the fu—”
Oh yeah, the bastard that broke our fall.
“Forgot to mention, there’s a sal under you, One. He helped break your fall too.”
White One scrambled away from the fabric as it squirmed and thrashed on the ground. He stood and activated the spotlight function of the LED grenade he wore clipped to his jacket and pointed it at the emerging salamander, which let loose a shivering shriek that echoed around the cavern. It started to flee, dragging the tangled chutes and White One had to act quickly to detach the cords from his harness before he was tugged away with it. The fabric and cords fled across the floor of the cavern as if it was alive. Beck chuckled.
“Sweet Holy Moses, I’m gonna have nightmares after this shit. Now where’s the bomb?”
“I think that’s it behind you, One.” Beck strode over to him and pointed her strobe light down toward a body on the floor. Next to the body was a small daypack with the flap opened. Beck squatted and changed her strobe to a steady beam of LED light. Something shiny was extended from the top of the backpack. White One squatted next to her after turning his LED light in a 360° circle to ward off any ambitious salamanders. This time, none were attempting to sneak up on them.
Beck played her light along the body and saw that both of the legs were missing below the knee. They had clearly been gnawed on. “Ugh. Sorry, One.”
“It was White Five. I sent him here to Labs to find a way in.”
“Looks like he did it and tried to deactivate the bomb.” Beck stood and pointed her beam from the Wagan spotlight around the echoing chamber again. Then she looked up. “He must have fallen down here. His chest is crushed and there’s no rope or chute. That he lived long enough to try to defuse the bomb is insane.”
She turned back to White One, but he was standing and holding the device in his hands for her to see. “We have a problem.”
She looked down at the device through the Plexiglas facemask of her rebreather. A clear plastic window showed the timer counting down in red LED numbers. It was at 46:15. The rest of the device, roughly the size of a silver serving platter with a cover on it—Beck thought of a turkey like her grandmother used to make for Christmas—was sealed into its metal shell. She looked closely and saw that the seam where the top of the metal shell met the bottom had been welded shut. There was no way they’d be able to defuse the bomb.
Then a red blinking in her upper left field of vision caught her eye. The air in her facemask was compromised. She pointed the beam of the Wagan up by her face and could see the hairline fracture in the mask, no doubt caused by the impact when White One had crashed onto her.
“We have another problem. My faceplate is cracked—I’m almost out of air.” she told him.
“Forty five minutes. What the hell do we do now?”
Section Dock, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
This can’t end well.
Tom Duncan saw that the front wheel of his HDT was dipping low and wasn’t going to stick the landing. His knees had been gripping the sides of the bike in a death-clutch, but now he loosened them and pushed off the foot pedals, launching his body upward while still holding on to the handlebars. He tried to get both feet on the seat of the bike and shove off it. He only managed one foot on the seat, but as he let go of the handles, stretched his arms forward and shoved hard with his foot, he hoped it would be enough, as his body sprang forward and the bike began its plunge.
The bike crashed into the concrete of the wall just under the edge of the platform as Duncan’s body went sprawling, the wand of the flamethrower clattering behind him as it whipped around on its hose while he rolled to a stop on the floor.
Not graceful, but any crash you can walk away from is a good one.
He got to his knees and looked around the darkened platform. The light from the raging fires in the dock behind him was enough for him to see, but just barely. Then a shape was lunging out at him and he ducked and rolled, the tanks from the flamethrower ripping free from his body as a strap broke. The salamander flew right over his head and performed a spectacular swan dive into the fiery pit below. Duncan rolled to his feet and turned to see two more salamanders rushing him and an upright form that made him think initially that one of the salamander creatures had figured out how to run upright, like that lizard that raised its feet as it ran across the desert sand to stay cool.
It was the last Gen Y man that had taken cover behind the sub. He must have used the freight elevator, Duncan thought. Its nuts that thing is still working in all this. The Gen Y man lunged at Duncan with a matte black survival knife. Duncan back pedaled and turned to see a salamander that had been behind him on the floor but was now turned and departing from the sudden movement of Duncan’s feet toward it. Duncan lurched down and grabbed the salamander under its belly and by its tail then twisted hard and sprang to his feet spinning.
He let go of the creature’s underside, and as planned, it dropped its tail as a defensive measure. The centripetal force of the spin sent the mutant beast flying straight at the Gen Y man with the blade. He started to shout “oh son of a—” before the impact took him and the salamander toward the edge of the platform. Duncan thought they wouldn’t go over the edge, but they slid just enough toward the lip that the weight of the frenzied creature on top of the man flipped them both off the edge. As they disappeared from view, Duncan rolled across the floor to the tank of the flamethrower and wiped a streak of tail slime on his pants.
“The word you were looking for son, was ‘bitch.’”
He tugged the hose, pulling the wand of the weapon toward him, noticing that the tube of the wand was bent slightly, but the igniter flame was still functioning. He aimed the weapon at the last approaching salamander, and pulled the trigger. At first the blaze sprayed wide of the target because of the bend in the pipe, but Duncan corrected before the bastard could scramble away. The liquid flame engulfed the scrabbling thing and it screamed as it broiled.
Duncan got to his feet and limped to the edge of the platform, looking down into the conflagration. His ankle was turned and his back was sore as hell—probably from one too many impacts with the tanks on the flamethrower, which he was holding now over just the one shoulder. He looked down and saw crusted, blackened salamander corpses everywhere. Gouts of thick liquid still shot up from the cooking eggs embedded on the walls as they ruptured. The bulk of the remaining salamanders—probably forty or fifty—were still clustering around the sub and were swimming into the water and under the central cargo section of the sub where the intercontinental ballistic missiles had been housed before the enormous vehicle had been retrofitted for hauling supplies and equipment.
Why the hell are you so protective of that area?
Then he understood.
Oh hell, no.
The mini-sub. One of Ridley’s many additions to the cargo sub was a tiny mini-submersible—the type used for scientific and salvage work, with mechanical claws. The bottom of the massive Typhoon’s hull had been fitted with a tiny dock of its own, so the mini sub could be raised and lower from winches inside the cargo section, from its own pressurized compartment. If the pressure in the chamber was correct, the mini-sub hatch could even be opened while the Typhoon was submerged. When Duncan had first seen it, he had assumed Ridley had primarily wanted it installed as some kind of Bond villain escape route, but the more information Chess Team had gained on Manifold Genetics, Duncan had wondered whether Ridley had been looking for some kind of underwater mythological find. Another problem for yet another day. Now, Duncan realized that the opening to the mini-sub’s hatch had been left open the last time he was in here a few months ago.
Bastards are nesting in my new submarine!
A small explosion down on the concrete dock pulled Duncan’s attention away from the sub. One of the 40 mm grenades the Gen Y team had. Things were going to hell rapidly. He scanned the enormous subterranean room below him. The M202 FLASH was still on the floor in one of the few places where the fire had yet to reach, but it wouldn’t be long before that thing exploded too.
He spun around quickly and let loose with another burst of the flamethrower—a short burst this time, more to see than to roast anything. But no one was around, and the last of the salamanders from earlier was still cooking on the concrete floor. The stench reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in a long time. He glanced to the disabled train, wishing again for the electricity, and then remembered the man with the backpack and the egg. He scanned the room but saw no sign of the Gen Y man. He was about to head for the rail tunnel, but it would be a long 10-mile run back to Central. He turned back to the raging inferno in the submarine dock.
One problem at a time.
He headed over to the freight elevator and saw that it wasn’t functioning, but the doorway was open and the car was down on the dock level, but the car had no roof and the door on the dock level was open. From the flickering light of the flames outside the door of the freight car, Duncan could see that there was a series of metal rungs embedded into the wall on the side of the elevator shaft—a service ladder. He held the flamethrower’s wand with one hand and used the other to descend quickly, allowing his hand to jump from rung to rung rapidly. Twisted ankle or not, he had been a Ranger and balance wasn’t an issue for him. After all the craziness, he wasn’t about to die going down a simple ladder.
At the bottom, he made his way past a door to a bathroom that was on fire. He glanced inside and saw the room was wrecked and looked like it was coated in feces. Charming. He continued along the concrete floor, skirting fires and leaping a few of the smaller puddles of liquid flame, landing with his weight on his left ankle instead of his injured right. He knelt down and inspected the launcher tubes on the M202. Amazing. Only one of the tubes was damaged, and that was one of the three that had already fired. He didn’t know if the fourth tube would fire correctly, but he slung the weapon over his free shoulder anyway.
He ran around the dock to the sub, letting off the occasional burst from the flamethrower to entice a stray salamander to retreat just a bit faster. As he got to the far side of the massive craft, sweat was pouring from his forehead because of the heat of the flames. He saw about thirty of the yellow and black salamanders covered the side of the sub’s hull, slithering around and over each other, hissing and spitting their tongues out to taste the acrid air. Duncan tried to fire a burst of flame, but the wand of the weapon just sputtered. He was out of fuel. He flipped the strap from his left shoulder and let the weapon clatter and bang to the floor. None of the creatures came for him—they were all operating in defensive mode, protecting the nest.
He reached for the LED grenade that had been pinned to the shoulder strap of his tactical vest and found it wasn’t there. Damn. Only one left. He reached into the side cargo pocket of his camo BDU pants and pulled out the last LED grenade. After a quick inspection to determine that it seemed to still be functioning, he raised it toward the side of the sub, closed his eyes tightly and turned his head away before firing the incredibly bright burst of LED light at the creatures swarming over the hull. The shrieks were hideous and painful with the sound echoing off the wall of the sub and the concrete wall of the dock behind him.
When he opened his eyes, the last of the salamanders were fleeing from the burst over the top of the hull and behind the sail. Duncan wasted no time in unslinging the rocket launcher and clipping the reusable flash grenade to his vest. He still had his bayonet and his sidearm too but they would be of little use against any amphibians inside the close confines of the submarine. He raced up the metal gangplank from the dock’s surface to the top of the hull and opened the nearest hatch leading to the gigantic submarine’s innards. He switched the LED grenade to its spotlight mode and shined the beam down the hatch. No sign of movement. Good. He hadn’t expected any. He had only been on one United States submarine as president, and even though he had been in the Army and not the Navy, he knew by heart the number one rule on a submarine: KFDS—keep the fucking doors shut. Subs were designed with multiple inner bulkheads so that any single flooding compartment couldn’t spread to the other parts of the vessel. Duncan had reminded Carrack of that very rule when they had last been down here a few months ago, and they had been careful to seal all the bulkheads after themselves on their tour.
Duncan expected the entirety of the vessel to be free of salamanders except for the cargo section, where the mini-sub waited. That’s where they’ll all be. He raced headlong through the body of the submarine, opening and closing compartments and bulkhead doors as he went. The rusted green paint looked harsh in the electric glow of the bright LED lights, but he counted himself grateful that squinting from the painful light was the only threat he had to face as he made his way through the tight confines of the passages leading toward the bow.
Everything was going fine until he got to the last door, which would lead him into the retrofitted cargo section—the place he suspected of being the nest. His LED was starting to dim. The power cell was dying. He knew it ran on something other than a typical lithium battery, but he didn’t know exactly what it was. Still, he wasn’t pleased to see that his last light was dimming. It was still on, but it wasn’t as bright as it had been and the circumference of ambient light around him had decreased.
He knew he had to get it done quickly and get out. He pulled the M202 down from his shoulder and prepared the weapon. Then he opened the hatch and slowly pulled the door open a just a crack. He couldn’t see any movement in the yawning space beyond. He opened the door a little wider and stepped into the doorway. Nothing moving in the nearest twenty feet or so, beyond that the cargo space was lost in shadows and darkness.
Duncan aimed the rocket launcher ahead and stepped cautiously into the chamber. This time, he left the door open behind him. It was a violation of submarine rules but he wasn’t about to close off his route of escape. He took a few more tentative steps into the darkness, the feeble glow of his LED grenade dying further. Something ahead in the gloom shifted. He knew they were there, but something was wrong. When the darkness shifted, it moved as one unit.
Can they flock like birds now? he wondered.
He strained his eyes to see in the gloom but couldn’t make out any details. He was tired, frustrated, in pain from the twisted ankle and the shrapnel in his left arm from the exploding catwalk. He took another step and then tapped repeatedly at the LED light on his chest. It dimmed further. Son of a bitch. He unclipped the device and hurled it forward into the darkness. When it hit the floor of the sub, it burst with a blindingly bright white glare, illuminating the space until its far reaches, burning the horrific image of what Duncan saw into his retinas.
In the center of the cavernous cargo bay was a gigantic oversized salamander, whose head had to be at least ten meters wide. The Godzilla-sized mother salamander was rampaging straight for him despite the brilliant burst of light, its oversized muscular legs looking like those of an enormous monitor lizard or a Komodo dragon. The walls were coated with glistening eggs and at least a hundred of the six-foot long salamanders raced along on the walls and floor behind the enormous leader.
Duncan wasted no time, he fired the last rocket from the M202 FLASH and dropped the launcher as he ran like hell back for the open hatch. He dove into the next compartment and flung his body against the door, slamming it shut as the detonation of the rocket hit the door, launching it open again and sending him flying down the narrow corridor to the next bulkhead door. He reached up and spun the wheel on the hatch as flames and smoke filled the compartment. The second he had it open, he climbed in and pulled it shut behind him, giving the wheel on the other side of the door a hard spin.
He leaned his back against the door and slid down it to the floor, as it began to warm from the raging napalm fire on the other side of the bulkhead.
Cavern under Section Labs, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Beck and Carrack ran.
Everything in Matt Carrack’s body hurt. His legs and back were sore from the parachute crash, and now his lungs were ready to burst as Beck led the way through a system of narrow tunnels she had discovered at the far end of the cavern, which she had informed him led back up to the Labs-Central rail tunnel where they had blown up the bio door. He had the black nylon backpack with the welded shut bomb in it. He was wearing it as he ran, as if he wasn’t carrying something that could destroy several square miles of everything if it ignited the natural gasses around them.
Beck slowed and passed the single working rebreather mask back to him. He pressed the facemask hard against his head and cleared the mask by exhaling strongly. He didn’t want to suck in a huge lungful of the radon gas. Once the faceplate was cleared, he greedily sucked in some fresh oxygen from the portable unit. Then he took another huge lungful of air and passed the mask back to Beck. He was probably giving her the mask more often than he should but he was worried about her, because she’d already breathed some of the gas before she realized her own mask had been damaged.
They had moved over underground vines and worked their way past boulders large and small, occasionally setting off a burst of sizzling white light from the LED grenade to ward off the salamanders in the chamber behind them as they ran. Then Beck had led him into the twisting confines of tiny crevices and tunnels that required him to stoop or sometimes crawl.
He had set the countdown timer on his forest green Suunto wristwatch before placing the bomb into the pack and slinging it over his shoulder. He checked it now. They had less than ten minutes left. Beck passed him the mask again as she bounded ahead, leaping over small rocks and scrabbling over the larger ones. He repeated the procedure with the mask and after his first few breaths shouted at her through the faceplate.
“Ten minutes! How much further?”
Without taking the mask back, she answered him. “We’re almost there. We won’t need the mask anymore.”
Carrack ripped the mask off his face and took in a lungful of the air. It was stale and smelled bad, like deep caves tended to, but it was breathable—his heaving lungs didn’t cough it out. He handed her the mask back anyway, and she took it from him. “We’re here,” she said.
The beam of her LED spotlight on her tactical vest illuminated a wall up ahead and hole in the center of it, just large enough for them to squeeze through. He took the backpack off and passed it to her after she had scampered through. Then he leaped through headfirst and rolled on the concrete floor on the other side.
They were in the tunnel.
Beck was already running toward the distant end of the rail line. He could see the ruined bio door from the beam of her LED. He got up and sprinted after her. She was fast, but he was way faster and with far longer legs. He caught up to her as she flung the backpack across the surface of the train platform. She scrambled onto the platform and he leapt up onto it ahead of her, leaning down and snatching the strap of the pack off the ground as he ran.
“Where?” she asked. She was out of breath as she staggered behind him across the platform.
“Up,” he replied as he raced down the corridor at the far end of the platform to a stairwell. He passed the first one up because it was still under construction from the Hydra incident. He spotted something in the stairwell that provided inspiration. “I’ve got an idea.”
He reached the next staircase—this one intact—and started taking the stairs up, two at a time.
“I’m so glad you have a plan, White One. I was beginning to think we were winging it.”
“Five minutes. And let’s make it Matt. I’m sick of this White One crap.” He tugged on the stair railing as he pivoted his body around the landing, launching up the next flight of steps.
“Fair enough. I’m Anna.”
She must have been getting her second wind, because Carrack noticed she was catching up with him on the stairs. “If we make it out of this alive, I’m gonna need a drink.”
“If we make it out of here without getting our asses blown off, we’re getting ripped. Drinks are on me.”
“Screw that,” Carrack said between breaths. “Drinks are on Deep Blue—for like a year.”
She laughed and vaulted a few more steps until she was now ahead of him.
“Have you noticed that the lights are back on?”
As she rounded the next landing on the laboratory level, he heard her voice cry out to him.
“Maa-aat” she stretched his name out into almost three syllables, but he was hearing her over his shoulder, because he had exited the stairway on the laboratory level. “We’re running out of time!”
“Three minutes,” he shouted back at her. He was racing back along the corridor two levels up from the one they had just run. As he darted into a lab door, he caught sight of her chasing him down the hall.
“What the hell are you—oh. Oh, you’re good.”
Carrack was kneeling beside a huge airtight chemical safe. He was spinning the dial of the lock to the combination he had memorized. He knew the code for every lock in the facility by heart. He took his job seriously, and he had done a lot of late night study of diagrams and schematics over the last few weeks. He threw the lever and the door to the large green safe opened. He dumped the bag with the bomb inside and pushed the handle and spun the dial. Beck was already turning to leave the doorway.
“Left!” he shouted. She faltered for just a second because she had been planning to turn right, heading back to the stairwell. She turned to face left, and he slammed into her from behind, shoving her down the hallway in the direction he wanted, but he held onto the strap of her tactical vest, so she wouldn’t stumble and fall. As he helped her right herself, she turned to face him as they ran for the end of the corridor.
“But out is up,” she pointed out with dripping sarcasm.
Carrack pointed to the end of the hallway up ahead at the former staircase that had been destroyed years earlier in the Hydra battle.
“More fun to go down.”
Next to the stairwell was a large pile of concrete rubble and debris that had been swept into a pile before the restoration in this wing had been cancelled. Deep Blue had been embroiled in the golem incident with Chess Team and was orchestrating his political exit strategy—there hadn’t been time to oversee things here in Labs, so they had shut down the clean-up. Beyond the rubble pile, was a large orange plastic tube. It ran vertically down the three levels to the foot of the ruined stairs that Carrack had seen a few moments ago as he ran past it. Construction crews used tubes like this one to drop debris down to the ground level. In this case, the clean-up crew hadn’t even used the tube yet.
Carrack jumped into it feet first, only widening his stance as he neared the bottom to slow his descent. Each segment of the tube was about a meter long, and the piece below it fit snugly around the outside of the segment above it. Objects going down the tube faced no resistance as the tube repeatedly widened after each joint and then narrowed slightly again. Carrack burst out of the bottom of the tube and moved away just in time to avoid getting stomped on by Beck’s boots. They sprinted back to the train platform only to find yet another surprise waiting for them.
“The train!” Beck shouted with delight.
“Hot damn. All aboard. It’s faster than the bikes!”
They jumped aboard the train that had returned in the moments they were in the upper levels of the Labs section of the base. Carrack operated the engine, setting them off past the blasted bio doors and down the tunnel, gaining speed as quickly as he could coax the train to do so.
“Time?” Beck asked.
Carrack checked his watch. “Ten seconds.”
He mashed the throttle as far as it would go and the train sped through the tunnel, the safety lights on the walls blinking past. He guessed they were maybe a quarter of a mile away when Beck leapt down to the floor and the bomb detonated. They felt it more like an earthquake than an actual explosion. He could only just see down the length of the electric train to the end of the tunnel as debris rained down onto the platform they had just vacated. A cloud of dust and rubble burst into the end of the tunnel behind them, but they were far enough away now that the train experienced no damage.
Carrack slumped to the floor next to Beck and they both breathed hard for a few minutes, neither saying anything as the train sped along the ten-mile distance to the Central section.
“How the hell did we get lucky enough that the train came back?” Beck asked.
“Maybe it was an exit for the guy with the bomb?”
“Nah, they came in this way.” She shook her head and her long brown ponytail swayed over her shoulder.
“Deep Blue then. Or an automated reset function after a power outage?” He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling of the train’s engine car. Beck leaned her body against the wall next to him and slid down until she was almost lying on the floor again.
“Mission accomplished. Well done, Steed,” she told him.
“Thank you, Mrs. Peel,” he said with a smile.
Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
When Duncan stepped into the hangar back in Central, he wasn’t surprised to find the lights still out. He had emerged from the submarine to find the flames in the dock area dying down and the lights on up on the ceiling above the twisted catwalks and the water. The salamanders were nowhere to be seen. He reasoned that the computer operator left behind in Central that had engineered the power outage had set the computer systems to reboot after a certain period of down time, and the power to turn back on in Dock at a prescribed time, so that the Gen Y men could make their planned escape out with the Typhoon. But Duncan had put the kibosh on that plan, and the salamanders had probably done enough of a job of it even before he had arrived to be the monkey in the wrench.
He assumed correctly that they would have instructed the computers to leave Central dark. When this was all done, he was going to have to rip out every last damn circuit board in the base and replace it to ensure Manifold never regained control of the computers in the base again.
After leaving the sub and stepping over the remains of charred and blackened salamander carcasses, he had climbed the metal rungs in the freight elevator shaft, back up to the train platform. He gratefully collapsed in the engine car of the train as it whisked him along the rails in the underground tunnel back up to Mount Tecumseh and the Hangar. He had hoped that Carrack and Beck would have been there already and would have successfully stopped the bomb and apprehended the Gen Y man with the egg sample. He would explain that he’d had a date with a salamander the size of a dinosaur, but as he stepped into the hangar, everything was dark and quiet.
He sensed at the last moment that he was in danger and crouched low, just in time to avoid a body in the dark, swiping at him with a knife. The room wasn’t in pitch blackness—Carrack had cracked a half a dozen glowsticks that he’d left on the floor of the hangar, but they had faded now and only provided a minimal glow. Duncan realized it was the scent of the man that had tipped him off. Cologne, sweat and something else. Nicotine? No. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it had been enough to save his life. He sprang to his feet and backward from the man as he loomed forward and took another swing with the blade. Duncan’s left arm, already injured by the metal shrapnel earlier, took the blade lengthwise. The cut felt deep to Duncan and he backed further into the darkness, pulling his M11—the EOD variant of the Army’s M9 bayonet—out of its sheath on his hip. The knife was the last weapon he had on him. He didn’t even have a flashlight.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Duncan,” came an Irish brogue from the gloom. “Martin Damien here. I could not believe me fookin eyes when I saw who it was blowing Holy Mary, Mother of God, out of me men back there. I’m a big fan. Loved your public bloody meltdown. Makes yer man William’s indiscretion with the cigar look like grammar school, it does.”
Duncan remained silent in the darkness as he circled away further into the gloom. He moved over to the pallets, careful to stay out of the small and ever diminishing circle of ambient light cast by the fading glowsticks. Still, Damien had been waiting in the dark for a while and seemed to know exactly where he was. “Come now, Tom,” the man called out. “Ye’ve got yer pokey bit there. Let’s have some fun.”
Damien rushed Duncan with his knife thrust forward like a spear at Duncan’s mid-section. Duncan moved the M11 to block the strike, but Damien turned the blade downward and slashed toward Duncan’s inner thigh. Duncan saw the attack at the last second and threw his weight over to the side, so his leg came up, the knife slashing across the front of his kneecap. The blade cut, but it was a shallow wound. Duncan followed through with the leg raise, as he fell to the side and cracked Damien in the back of the man’s head with a steel-toed combat boot.
Duncan rolled on the floor and stepped away in a crouch, with his M11 at the ready. Damien had landed on the hangar floor on all fours, but was already picking himself up. The man rolled his neck, freeing up his cervical vertebrae with loud clacking and popping noises. “That was a good one, Tommy. Very slick. Didn’t know you went in for the chop-socky action, but I suppose I should have guessed.”
Duncan stayed silent in the dark, watching Damien search for him. The man was going the wrong way. Duncan could sneak out of the room and escape, but he wanted to end this fight with Damien dead, or at least in severe pain. He crept up the side of the nearest pallet and squatted down on the top of the crates stacked on it. In a crouch, he moved to the next pallet that was also stacked with wooden crates. He would have to be careful. He knew that some of the pallets contained cardboard boxes that wouldn’t likely support his weight. Damien had moved further toward the front of the hangar. At least the Irishman had the good sense now to stop talking and giving his position away in the dark, while he searched for Duncan.
Duncan lost sight of the Irish Gen Y man in the dark, but he continued to make his way across the floor of the hangar by taking the high road on top of the piles of stacked equipment. Duncan was about to delicately test the surface of the next pallet with his toes to determine whether it contained more crates or softer cardboard boxes, when Damien popped up right next to him and slashed out at Duncan’s ankles. Duncan leapt forward over the man, slicing out at the man, from an upside down position in the air and scoring a long slash across Damien’s back. They both dropped their knives—Duncan from the impact and Damien from the pain—and Duncan completed his flip, landing off balance on his feet and stumbling forward into the dark. He stopped himself from falling with his hands touching down on the slick concrete, and he continued running into the deeper recesses the shadows. His ankle was screaming at him from the abuse.
Damien shouted in pain from the long diagonal gash on his back. “That’s it, you fookin tosser. I’m going to make you cry before I’m done with you.” He squatted down and picked up his knife, and then he stalked into the hangar again, looking for Duncan.
Duncan stayed where he was, his hand on the piece of machinery behind him, watching the Irishman hunting him before disappearing—in the wrong direction—into the dark again. Duncan turned to look at the thing he was touching and smiled in the dark. One of us is going to be crying.
Post 3, Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Outside the massive steel door, the M1A3 Abrams tank was rolling to a stop. Still classified as in design, the experimental tank weighed and looked like a regular M1A2 Abrams tank, but it had been fitted the latest technology and experimental weapons, as well as a remote-controlled .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the top of the turret. The vehicle had been driven up to New Hampshire on the back of a speeding flatbed truck with an Army escort of Humvees.
At the end of the short paved road leading to the hangar door of the Central section of the former Manifold base, the soldiers had stopped the flatbed and backed the tank down its folding ramp. Then the vehicle had raced at its top speed of 45 mph down the short private road to the massive steel security door they had been told to expect. The escort soldiers remained on the main road, while only the skeleton tank crew of two men (where the Abrams normally took four) traveled to the hangar door. General Keasling had been extremely specific when giving them his orders. They were to take just the two men in the tank to the steel security door and then blow the thing sky high with the tank’s main gun and its 120 mm shells. One shot would do it. Then they were to sit tight in the tank and wait for further orders.
It was the weirdest mission either man had ever been on, but Sergeant David Wallace and Captain Peter Jesse were both Army men through and through. Both the enlisted man and the officer were used to bizarre orders and sequences of events that made little to no sense. That was the Army. Being ordered to blow up giant steel doors in the wilds of New Hampshire would have only started to surprise them if they had been asked to do it while wearing clown outfits.
Captain Jesse sighted in on the door. He checked his scopes for motion and infrared. They couldn’t see through the thick security door, but they could scan the trees around the tank to search for hostiles. Keasling had stressed that this was a full on terrorist incident and good men were trapped inside the facility, with the possibility of multiple hostiles both inside and outside the base. With no movement and no heat signatures on the infrared larger than a ground squirrel, Captain Jesse determined they were good to go.
“Wallace, sit tight. I’m about to fire main gun on my mark.”
“Yes sir.” the sergeant replied. He was in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, strapped in and ready to watch the show through the periscopes on his hatch.
Although Jesse was the tank commander, today on his skeleton crew, he sat in the gunner’s seat of the 65 ton vehicle. The main gun was already loaded. He looked through his periscope and briefly considered the absurdity of using an Abrams main battle tank against a stationary target that didn’t shoot back.
Talk about overkill, he thought.
He spoke softly into his microphone while gripping the firing mechanism.
Section Central, Former Manifold Alpha Facility, White Mountains, NH
Duncan remained silent waiting for his chance. He sat in the dark, comfortable with his view of things. He was wearing a helmet with night vision optics attached. He could see everything in the hangar well enough. He patiently waited as Damien stalked slowly from pallet to pallet in the dark. He breathed slowly in and out, watching.
Damien worked his way around the pallets, sometimes springing up and swiping, as if he expected another attack from above. When he had made his way forward in the hangar and run out of obstacles behind which Duncan might have hid, it was clear the man was losing his patience. He broke the silence again.
“So where are ya, Tommy-boy? Don’t tell me yer too scared to keep playing our little game?”
Duncan smiled in the darkness. He had never left the game.
“You know I’m going to find you eventually, right? And then I’ll be carving me up a slice of presidential corned beef, is what I’ll be doing.”
Duncan raised his hand and the object he held. He pointed it at Damien but didn’t turn it on yet. No, no yet. Wait for it to be perfect.
Damien stepped backward in the dark. The faint glowsticks had finally died completely and the man’s pupils—no matter how dilated—could not see in the total dark of the yawning hangar’s space. The man spun suddenly, slashing out with his knife at nothing. He dropped slowly to the floor and crawled in the total dark toward the steel security door. When his outstretched fingers in the dark brushed against the door, Damien stood and put his back to it. He waved out in the dark again with the blade of his knife. Then he slid his back along the door, moving toward the center of the giant steel obstacle.
Just where I want you to go. Duncan thought. Just a few more feet.
“Come on, Duncan! Come out and fight!”
The cockpit of the stealth modified MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was perfectly comfortable as Tom Duncan, callsign: Deep Blue, raised and fired the handheld laser target designator, painting Damien with an invisible beam of light that the Black Hawk’s systems could use to lock in on the man. He was standing no more than four meters in front of the helicopter, but he couldn’t see it because Duncan was running the controls in night-vision stealth mode.
“Haven’t you got anything to fookin say?”
Duncan toggled the loud speaker. “Yes, actually I do.” His voice boomed across the hangar and echoed hard, sounding like it came from everywhere at once.
Then he flicked open his night vision goggles and toggled the powerful klieg spotlights on the ESSS stub wings to either side of the helicopter’s body. The lights threw the entire hangar into a bright white wash. Even though the rotor blades weren’t spinning, the vehicle must have looked like doom to Damien with its four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, two to a side.
“Goodbye,” Duncan said. He pulled the trigger, launching one of the Hellfires on the left port stub off its hardpoint. The solid-fuel rocket activated, propelling the missile forward across the 4 meters at a speed of 145 meters a second—Damien didn’t even have time for the thought go through his brain that he was about to die. The rocket blasted through him and into the steel door. Its 20 lb anti-tank warhead blew the door clean off the opening to the hangar and sent it blasting out into the daylight. The door slammed hard into the front of an Abrams main battle tank that was stationed just a few further meters away, where the steel door crumpled hard against the main gun of the tank, leaving a situation that looked like the tank had tried to drive through the door and failed miserably.
Tom Duncan exhaled and smiled.
“Ahh, Hellfire. Best damn $70,000 I ever spent.”
Deep Blue smiled. He was about to get a promotion.
They were at Keasling’s place in Virginia, enjoying another Chess Team barbeque—something that was turning into a regular event. A few team members were absent, but Jack Sigler, callsign: King, the leader of the field team was here. Knight and Bishop were also present, comparing notes on their recent missions in China and Iran, respectively. General Keasling was working the grill like a master chef of the macabre, ensuring that the burgers and hot dogs would be coated in a shell of black. Anna Beck and Matt Carrack were here along with Lewis Aleman and a few of the other support members of the team that hadn’t been with him when Gen Y attacked the base.
Duncan, Carrack and Beck had contacted Keasling on the satellite phone in the tank. The General had made some moves to send some good men to assist with the cleanup. The base was searched from end to end, and the few living salamanders left in the base were exterminated. The eggs were destroyed—even the one in Damien’s backpack, which he’d left in the hangar. And on Duncan’s orders—anything that smelled remotely like a computer component that came from Manifold’s time in the facility was destroyed. They’d already downloaded the sum total of manifold’s data from when they had originally captured the base. He didn’t want any more back doors or remote monitoring to occur in the future.
Now a few weeks later, Duncan eased back in his lawn chair and watched Sigler examine the chessboard on the table between them. Duncan’s pawn was a step away from reaching the 8th rank, which would allow him to promote that piece to a queen, which he’d had to sacrifice earlier in the game. The problem for Sigler was that Duncan’s knight had just put him into check.
“We’re going to need to discuss the Brainstorm situation.” King said, referring his latest solo outing in Arizona.
“Let’s finish the game and eat first. Then on to business,” Duncan looked down at the board. He had King just where he wanted the man. He pointed at the board and said, “It’s a shitty situation son, but you’ve got no move other than to step out of check. You’ve been playing sloppy, Jack. No way my pawn should have gotten that close.”
Sigler, in his customary black Elvis t-shirt and jeans, leaned forward and took a swig from his bottle of Sam Adams, before moving his king out of check. He placed the bottle back on the table by the pieces of Duncan’s he’d captured, and leaned back in his chair, letting his arms fall to his sides, as if in defeat.
Duncan leaned forward in his chair and moved his pawn to the 8th rank. Beck and Carrack stepped over to watch the game. “I’ll take a queen, I do believe.”
Sigler reached under his chair and produced a black lacquered wooden box. “I think I have a better piece for you.” He leaned forward and handed Duncan the box.
Sigler just smiled.
Duncan opened the box. Inside, nestled in a velvet-lined cutout was a small black wooden chessman. But it was unlike any chess piece Duncan had ever seen. It stood as tall as the king piece on the set they were playing with, but its head was hand carved to look like an eagle’s head in flight. The tip of the beak was even pointed and sharp to the touch. The whole thing had been hand carved, yet it was perfect in every detail. Duncan looked up and saw the smile on Sigler’s face. Keasling had stepped over with Aleman too. Bishop stood nearby with his normal solemn look, but Knight had a large grin on his face. They were all in on it.
“Thought you’d take all damn day to get that pawn to the back rank,” Sigler said. The admission that King had been throwing the game made Duncan laugh.
“Voluntarily throwing away your position as the president of the United States to lend them the support they need means a lot to them, Tom.” Keasling said.
Sigler grinned from ear to ear. “Plus, we figured that with you taking a more active role in things now, you needed your own symbol. It’s good to have you as a part of the team.”
Tom Duncan, callsign: Deep Blue, looked at the chess piece in his hand and felt a warmth in his throat. It was one of the best presents he had ever received, and as president, he had received gifts on a nearly daily basis. Most of them were status items or things designed to impress. But this small piece of wood wasn’t meant to impress. It was eternal gratitude, inclusion, loyalty and trust all wrapped up into one tiny symbol.
He looked up at everyone and smiled warmly. “It’s good to be a part of the team.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
JEREMY ROBINSON is the author of numerous novels including PULSE, INSTINCT, and THRESHOLD the first three books in his exciting Jack Sigler series, which is also the focus of and expanding series of co-authored novellas deemed the Chesspocalypse. Robinson also known as the #1 Amazon.com horror writer, Jeremy Bishop, author of THE SENTINEL and the controversial novel, TORMENT. His novels have been translated into ten languages. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and three children.
Visit him on the web at JeremyRobinsonOnline.com
Kane Gilmour has visited over 40 countries around the world. When he hasn’t been pounding he keys until his fingers bleed, he has been rock climbing in Arizona, mountain biking in the Midwest, exploring ancient cities in Sri Lanka, hiking in the mountains of Western China, ice-climbing in Scotland, and exploring abandoned buildings in Eastern India. His first action/adventure thriller, RESURRECT, is available now. He currently lives in Vermont with his wife and son.
Visit him on the web at KaneGilmour.com
SECONDWORLD by JEREMY ROBINSON
Hardcover and e-book editions available on May 22, 2012. Click here to buy!
Lincoln Miller, an ex-Navy SEAL turned NCIS Special Agent is sent to Aquarius, the world's only sub-oceanic research facility located off the Florida Keys, to investigate reports of ocean dumping. A week into his stay, strange red flakes descend from the surface. Scores of fish are dead and dying, poisoned by the debris that turns to powder in Miller's fingers and tastes like blood.
Miller heads for the surface, ready to fight whoever is polluting on his watch. But he finds nothing. No ships. No polluters.
Instead, he finds a cloudless sky full of red particles dropping like snow and coating the ocean with a thick film that stretches to the horizon. When a dead blue whale collides with Aquarius, Miller begins a harrowing race to escape the affected area. Cut off from the rest of the world and surrounded by death, Miller makes his way to Miami where he discovers just one survivor, and the awful truth: the strange phenomenon that robbed the air of its life giving oxygen was an attack by an enemy reborn from the ashes of World War II. And they're just getting started. Miami, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo have all been destroyed. Millions are dead.
And if Miller can't track down and stop those responsible in seven days, the rest of the world is next.
Nine Miles South of Key Largo, Florida – Atlantic Ocean
Saturday - August 11, 2012
Fifty feet below the surface of the tropical ocean, Lincoln Miller cringed as his eyes locked onto the cracked portal window. A spider web of fissures spread out from the center, reaching for the edge like desperate fingers. He knew the glass would give way at any moment and ocean water would rocket into the research station, drowning whoever was inside.
Despite the dire circumstances, he had more urgent needs to attend to. He picked up the TV remote and paused the DVD before heading to the bathroom. The picture froze on the screen, stopping the first jet of CGI water as it rocketed through the portal.
As a NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service) Special Agent currently tasked with investigating recently reported acts of ocean dumping over the coral reefs, Miller was technically hard at work. There were only three other people in the world that knew he wasn’t—the Director of the NCIS, the Deputy Director, and the Executive Assistant Director for Combating Terrorism—his bosses. He had balked at the assignment when it landed on his desk. His skills were better suited to tracking down Navy criminals on the lamb or tracking down sea-faring terrorists. As a former Navy SEAL, now Special Agent, his skills seemed a gross overkill in the battle against glorified litter-bugs. It wasn’t until he arrived on site that he realized the true nature of his assignment—a vacation.
He was scheduled to spend two weeks in the NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Aquarius, an underwater research station—the world’s only underwater research station. He was required to patrol the reefs surrounding laboratory twice daily, searching for signs of recent polluting, and if possible, apprehend the culprits in the act. As a SCUBA enthusiast and lover of all things ocean, he looked forward to each and every “patrol”.
Because Miller was an extreme work-a-holic, the NOAA assignment was the only way his superiors could get him to take his first real break in five years. It wasn’t that Miller was performing poorly; quite the opposite, they simply believed that no engine could run forever without a respite. In truth, their actions were selfish. Were Miller to burn out, the loss would be significant to the organization. Not only was he a consummate investigator, but his time with the SEALS made him a man of action as well. The NCIS had plenty of both, but rarely in the same package.
With his first week of forced vacation over and his second week just beginning, he was feeling pretty good. The laboratory was cramped, but he had traveled by submarine several times as a SEAL and had no problems with claustrophobia. The lab was well-stocked with every deep-sea movie and novel available. The lab’s full refrigerator, air conditioning, microwave, shower and high tech computer system, complete with video games, not to mention unlimited time to swim or even spearfish, made this place Miller’s dream come true. Of course, he’s spent the last few days lazing about, watching movies, playing games and reading books. He suspected the “ocean dumping” investigation was just a clever cover story for his vacation and had taken a break from his scheduled Scuba patrols. There was plenty of time left to dive, he just needed some couch potato time first.
The facility was a forty-three foot long, nine-foot in diameter, 80-ton cylindrical steel chamber separated into two different compartments, each with its own air pressure system and life support. There were living quarters for sleeping and eating, and labs for work. At the far end, off the lab, was a wet porch with an open moon pool for entering the ocean. Miller had all of this to himself, plus—and this was the best part—not a peep from the outside world for three days.
It’s not that he didn’t like people. It’s just that people liked to talk, and after his first day aboard had decided the break would be good for him. Quiet was bliss. Years of pent up tension he hadn’t realized he carried began to melt away. So when the NOAA staff stopped checking in on their laboratory, he didn’t think twice about why. Instead, he allowed himself to undergo an emotional re-adjustment. He went over years of cases, of killers caught, of terrorists exposed, and the few who slipped away. Then he moved further back, to the SEALs, and the event that etched a long scar into his leg and left a little girl dead. The tragedy ended his career with the SEALs, but down there, fifty feet beneath the surface of the ocean, he thought he might finally make peace with his past.
After he finished the movie.
Finished relieving himself, Miller hustled back to his seat without washing his hands. Why bother? Urine was sterile. More important, no one was here to judge him. He’d let his appearance slide over the past week, as well. His black hair was uncombed, his face unshaven. Being half-Jewish and half-Italian, Miller’s week’s worth of facial hair was damn near a beard now.
The chair beneath him groaned as he leaned back and propped his legs up on a work desk. With the remote back in his hand, he waited, held his breath and listened.
No worried NAOO voices. No traffic. No cell phone calls. He thought about telling the Director that the time off had convinced him to retire. Sure, he was only thirty-nine, but life without responsibility was fun. He held out the remote, positioned his thumb over the play button and—
The noise wasn’t loud, but was so unexpected that Miller flinched, lost his balance and toppled over. He struck his head hard on the metal floor.
“Son of a bitch!”
He lay there for a moment, wondering exactly how he’d ended up on the floor, and then felt the back of his head. One area, the size of an apple, was swollen, pulsing with pain, but there was no blood. He wouldn’t need stitches, which was good because he couldn’t get them here. In fact, if there was any kind of emergency, he was pretty much screwed. A nine-mile boat ride, and a fifty-foot dive, did not make for an easy 911 rescue.
He was on his own.
With a sigh, he rolled his head to the side and caught his reflection in the polished stainless steel base of a workbench. He grunted at the sight of himself. He flashed what he thought was a winning smile, sharpening the fine spread of crow’s feet around his blue eyes, but his current disheveled appearance hid his good looks. He hadn’t seen himself look this bad since just after...
He pushed the images from his mind, still not fully prepared to deal with his past—not with a movie to finish, and a mysterious noise needing investigating.
He sat up. Pain surged through his head twice, following the rhythm of his heartbeat, and then faded away. When he stood, the pain rose up again, but only momentarily. Shuffling over to the fridge to grab an icepack, he passed by the small bedroom containing six bunks, three on each side, with a large viewing portal between them. He stopped suddenly, his eyes focusing on the glass portal.
Something wasn’t right.
It was a fish, not an uncommon sight, but something was odd about this one. Its movements were all wrong. He squeezed between the beds to get a better look.
The fish was back, this time smacking hard against the window.
Miller blinked a couple times. The fish, a black grouper, wasn’t moving on its own. The ocean’s currents were pushing it up against the hull.
Well, that’s damn annoying.
He was about to head back to the fridge when something else flitted by the window. It looked like a large piece of fish food. This time, Miller focused on the water beyond the dead fish. There were other fish out there—scores of them—and they zipped through the water in a miniature feeding frenzy. The fish, normally concealed by the reef that Aquarius had been built to study, had come out of hiding, drawn by what looked like a Jolly Green Giant-sized handful of TetraMin. Most of the fish snatched up the flakes with gaping mouths, then spit the reddish stuff back out. If they were smart, anyway. Many fish, dumb enough to swallow the ‘fish’ food, floated belly up. Poisoned.
Not seeing any large green legs in the vicinity, Miller searched his mind for answers and came up with only one—some jerks were actually dumping waste on top of the research station. Not only were they polluting and killing wildlife, they were also ruining his vacation. Why couldn’t you have waited just a few more days? He was as pissed at these polluters as he was the terrorists he helped track, and a piece of his mind was just the beginning of what he was going to give them.
Miller ran to the wet porch and hastily pulled on a full tank of air, dive fins and a mask. In these tropical waters, he didn’t need a wet suit, plus he was already dressed only in shorts—another perk of solitary living on board the Aquarius.
He slid into the water and took in the scene around him. The flakes were falling everywhere. Fish, thousands of them, were either eating eagerly, twitching in violent death throws, or already dead. A few small, white-tip sharks picked off the twitchers in the distance. The sharks didn’t pose much of a threat, but he would have to watch out for tigers and bulls. All this action could draw their attention, which meant he could easily be mistaken for one of the twitchers—not that tiger sharks cared. He could be a car and they’d still take a bite.
He kicked out from under the Aquarius cylinder and looked up. What he saw made no sense.
The normally blue surface of the ocean...
Miller scanned the fuchsia waves above, looking for some sign of dumping—a thicker plume of material, for example, or better yet, a ship’s hull. When he found what he was looking for, he intended to rise from the depths like the Kraken and bring a world of hurt to the people responsible. But he could see nothing to direct his anger towards, just an endless sea of red. Visibility had been cut in half, not just by the fog falling from above, but because much of the sun’s light was being blocked by the maroon film covering the ocean’s surface.
Miller looked down. The normally sandy brown seabed was coated in the ruddy ash; the coral reef had been buried. Dying fish thrashed about, sending plumes of the foreign substance upward like dust.
How had he missed this? It couldn’t have just started. There was too much. He hadn’t been outside Aquarius for days, but had he really not bothered to look out one of the portals?
A ladyfish struck his side, its silver body twitching as the last of its neurons fired. He took the fish by the tail and pulled it closer; its body went rigid, giving way to death. Pulling its mouth open, he peered inside. Red sludge lined the dark cave, thick as paint. He checked the gills and found the same phenomenon.
His eyes darted back to the snowy scene of death surrounding him. Some fish and the sharks in the distance had taken to eating the recently dead instead of chasing after the poisonous flakes. Perhaps they would survive? He hoped so. A massive die-off in the Florida Keys would have a profound effect on the surrounding ecosystems, not to mention the many migratory species that passed through. A pod of blue whales had recently been spotted heading north. The red cloud, which looked like krill, would be absolutely irresistible to the 100-foot giants.
A fluttering piece of red material, about the size of a cornflake, caught his eye. He reached out and caught it in his palm, then grasped it between two fingers. It was surprisingly firm. He squeezed and it broke apart. He rubbed his fingers together, releasing a blood-like cloud as the material dissolved.
He took a deep breath from his regulator, tasting the metallic flavored air, and let it out slowly, releasing a cascade of bubbles, which fled to the surface. His eyes followed them. He knew the answer to this mystery lay up there. The more he saw, however, the less he wanted to know what was happening.
But he had no choice.
He kicked hard, pumping his muscles, an action that ate up the air in his tank more quickly than would a leisurely swim. He checked the pressure gauge—still plenty of air remaining. This would most likely be a short dive, so he could take the risk. Besides, the wet porch was only fifty feet below and he could free dive that if he had to. Holding your breath for long periods of time is a handy talent to have as a SEAL, and one he had worked on over the years. The skill had yet to save his life, but he had a feeling it would, eventually.
As he neared the surface, the material grew dense, which meant it was definitely coming from above and not being pushed into the area by ocean currents. The material had to be coming from a boat, or a plane, or... Well, he didn’t want to consider the last possibility, and wouldn’t, until he confirmed it with his own eyes.
Through the haze he found the umbilical cord that connected Aquarius to its Life Support Buoy, or LSB. The LSB supplied power and provided wireless communications and telemetry to the station and held air compressors, as well. It also made for a convenient viewing platform. While standing on top of the LSB, which was shaped like a super-sized, yellow chess piece, Miller would be able to see from horizon to horizon. If someone was dumping this garbage, he’d spot them.
Approaching the buoy, Miller kicked harder, building speed so he could launch himself onto the platform. As he broke the surface, clumps of wet slime slid from his back and arms. A glob clung to his hair, but he paid it no attention. What he was seeing distracted him from doing anything else. He didn’t stand, remove his goggles or take out his regulator. He simply gaped.
The world was red. As far as he could see, a crust, like refrigerated pudding, coated the surface of the ocean. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen, yet crimson flakes fell like snow from a sky that looked more purple than blue.
Heart beating hard, he stood up and looked in every direction. He spotted a sailboat off to the north, its sail limp as wilted lettuce, but nothing else caught his eye.
Miller tentatively held out a hand and caught another flake. Its surface felt rough and porous to his touch, like a petrified snowflake. Curious, he removed his regulator and placed the flake on his tongue. The flavor of blood struck him immediately. He gagged and spit several times, then took a deep, shaky breath. The air did no good. He felt winded, as though he’d just run a sprint.
He took another breath. His chest began to ache. He grew lightheaded.
He took a third, deeper breath—
—and fell to his knees.
Was it poison? Could these flakes kill so quickly?
Spots danced in his vision as he realized the truth.
He was suffocating.
Drowning in the open air like a fish.
He shoved the regulator back into his mouth and breathed deeply, this time relishing the metallic tasting air. He continued taking deep breaths until his head cleared and he felt relatively normal again. It wasn’t until then that he let his mind fill in the blanks.
He couldn’t breathe in the open air! What did it mean? What...
Oh shit! Miller thought. I can’t breathe because...there’s no oxygen!
RESURRECT by KANE GILMOUR
Available for $2.99 on Kindle: Click here to buy!
In the 1850s, a madman proclaims himself the Son of God and raises an army, taking over half of China.
A century and a half later, his descendent and legions of devoted followers plan to take over more than just China.
When alpine engineer and mountaineer Jason Quinn, a man with a past mired in tragedy and violence, meets archeologist Dr. Eva Rayjek after a plane crash in the high Himalaya, neither of them are expecting wave after wave of Chinese assassins.
Pursued to America, the frozen ice of the Gulf of Finland, and the heights of Hong Kong, Quinn and Eva connect her investigations with the machinations of charismatic shipping magnate and cathedral-builder, David Hong. As a scheme to obtain a private audience with the Pope at the Vatican comes to fruition, Hong’s fanatical followers are preparing for global warfare.
If Quinn fails to stop Hong’s plan, the entire Catholic Church just might crumble.
RESURRECT is the first book in the Jason Quinn series. Fans of Matthew Reilly, Jeremy Robinson, James Rollins, and Clive Cussler should all enjoy this first adventure in the exploits of mountaineer Jason Quinn.
“Doesn’t he look like a damn gunslinger?” Curtis asked Eva with a smile.
They had been hiking for a while. Johnson carried the backpack with the climbing gear, and Quinn was loaded up with the camping equipment, two ice axes hanging from the waist belt of his harness by short slings with carabiners. These axes had been specially designed for him with carbon-fiber blades made from Buckminster-Fullerene, a special form of carbon reputed to be harder than diamond. On his feet were huge clunky white plastic boots that looked to Eva like skiing boots, but these had metal teeth that retracted into the toes and soles. Eva knew what ice-climbing crampons looked like, but she had never seen any that were a part of the shoe itself. Usually, she knew, they resembled a foot-shaped metal cage with teeth, and were attached to the bottom of climbing or hiking boots. What she didn’t know was that the boots on Quinn’s feet had also been made specifically for him, and to his own original design specs. The climbing crampon teeth were spring-loaded and could be ejected from the soles of the boots at the push of a button.
Eva had protested the fact that the men hadn’t given her a pack to carry, but the men had looked at each other and then proclaimed that there wasn’t anything left to carry—almost as if they had planned it that way.
“Yes. But he’s a cute gunslinger. More young Clint Eastwood than Jack Palance,” Eva replied, loud enough for Quinn to overhear as he walked slightly ahead of the other two.
“Hear that? She thinks I’m the cute one.” Quinn added. “Guess that makes you scraggly ol’ Lee Marvin.”
They all chuckled at that one. They had been joking like this for a while, as the terrain was becoming more and more bleak and depressing. They had seen no signs of any kind of life. No plants or trees grew in this part of the Himalaya. The mountains were a palette of muted brown and gray colors—when they did actually show through the ice and snow. As they progressed along the barren winter landscape, they encountered the brown less frequently as the drifted snow became more difficult to negotiate, often getting waist deep.
After a night camping, they moved on again. By the middle of the day, the level of accumulated snow was decreasing, and the browns and grays were more apparent once again. The three lunched by a frozen river, and soaked in the sun, which was warming in spite of the altitude. The conversation focused on guessing the origin of their dehydrated packaged food.
When they had finished and Quinn and Johnson had packed the gear and hefted their backpacks, Eva sauntered off ahead of them as they neared the frozen river. Earlier, Johnson had suggested a way through the hills that followed a valley on the other side of the river. When Eva reached the edge of the stream, she took a tentative step on the surface of the ice, finding that it held her weight nicely.
“It should be fine. We’ll go across one at a time though,” Johnson told her.
She was about three quarters of the way across when Quinn and Johnson watched her plunge clean through the ice, and into the rushing waters below, disappearing instantaneously.
“Not good,” Quinn said calmly as he began sprinting toward the ice. Curtis was right behind him, running hard. Quinn lunged from the shore landing on his knees on the ice about ten feet downstream of the spot where Eva had gone in. He frantically swept the snow aside to find that he was right on top of her. She was moving fast, being slid along the underside of the ice by the current. Quinn hacked at the ice above her with his ice ax, but the ice was too thick at this part of the river, and he was barely making a dent, as small chips and flakes of ice flew in an arc behind each swing. She was moving too fast.
“I can’t get her, Curtis! She’s getting away!” Quinn was nearly panicked. The strain in his voice was apparent to Johnson, who was already sprinting along the edge of the stream, past Quinn. Johnson was anticipating where the current would take Eva, and trying to get there first.
“Move your ass, Quinn!” Curtis yelled. Quinn was up and chasing Curtis along the bank. Curtis was well ahead by now, and removing his pack. He clipped a carabiner to his belt, and tossed the pack onto the ice as he kept running. Quinn could see that the neon green and pink climbing rope from the pack was spooling out as Curtis ran. The other end was now clipped to Johnson’s belt. Then Quinn watched in awe of his friend, as Curtis leapt from the riverbank and pulled his knees to his chest in mid-air. Curtis Johnson executed a perfect cannonball directly into the center of the frozen stream, and crashed through the ice, leaving behind a nearly perfect, round hole in the surface. He disappeared and Quinn understood as the climbing rope quickly slithered into the hole.
“Got it,” Quinn said, as he leapt headfirst out over the ice as if to dive into the shallow end of a swimming pool. He hit the ice smoothly and his yellow environment suit’s nylon surface slid across the ice with little friction. He was moving fast, head first, across the ice toward the pack Curtis had dropped. But now the rope pulled taught on the other carabiner that secured the rope to the inside of the pack. The pack began to slide toward the hole at an amazing speed.
“Current’s picked up. Damn it!” Quinn reached for the pack with his left hand and still clutched the ax in his right. He was a few feet from the hole when his finger felt a nylon strap. He clenched his fist and swung the ax down hard. It sank into the surface up to the shaft, and his body pivoted from the momentum. He clutched the pack firmly and let his body jerk to a hard stop. His shoulder felt torn, but he gripped the pack strap as hard as he could. He looked behind him to see that his feet were now dangling over the hole Curtis had made. Another second and they all might have been dead, their corpses washing ashore somewhere in India. Now Quinn pulled a leg up by the sunken head of the ice ax and clicked a plastic button on the side of his boot by smacking the boot on the ice. The spring-loaded climbing crampons extended with a snapping sound. Then he brought the boot down hard, digging the metal teeth into the ice. Next, he pulled the pack to his body, and wrapped the rope around his arm twice. Now he was an anchor. Curtis would have to do the rest.
It took a few seconds that seemed longer, before Quinn felt a steady pull on the rope. He waited. It seemed to take forever. His right arm ached, as he clutched the ax, and he prayed that the ice below him didn’t crack. A minute passed, and still there was nothing.
Then she was there. Eva broke the surface with a gasp, sucking in air, and clinging to the pack that Quinn held. She was about to say something to Quinn, when to his surprise, she literally launched out of the hole, and over Quinn, where she landed on the ice in a crumpled wet mess. Quinn’s eyes shot back to the hole where Johnson’s arm was extended after having shoved Eva up and out of the water. From the position of the hand, Quinn guessed that it had been on Eva’s backside, and he barked a harsh laugh, as Johnson hauled himself out of the hole and gulped in frigid mountain air.
“Good thinking,” Quinn told him.
Johnson took in the scene with the pack, the ice ax, and the boot crampons, and nodded. “Good save.”
“Good teamwork,” Eva managed through her violent shivering. “Now let’s get off this damn ice and get warm.”
Curtis thought Quinn’s shoulder looked terrible. It was obviously dislocated. The flesh had turned purple from torn blood vessels, and the head of the humerus, the long bone in the upper arm, was now located about a fist’s width to the front of Quinn’s shoulder joint. In all their years of climbing together, it was the worst injury he had ever seen Jason Quinn sustain.
Curtis had always held a secret belief that Quinn was charmed with regard to personal injury. The man rarely got injured, and when he did, he tended to heal extremely fast. One time when climbing on Pinnacle Peak in Arizona, Johnson looked on in concern as Quinn showed the 6-inch gash to his forearm he received on a tough lieback crack called “Lizard’s Lips”. Quinn had wrapped it in gauze and they had headed home. The next day, Johnson was stunned to see Quinn’s cut sealed, and a week later, it was gone, with hardly a trace of a scar. As a result, Johnson was rarely alarmed when Quinn got slightly injured. But this one looked harsh.
“Oh, it looks fine. I don’t think we need to do anything with it,” Curtis commented nonchalantly.
Quinn was lying on the snow-covered ground with the top of his environment suit off, and pulled down to his waist. He wore only a thin Capilene tank top, and he was already beginning to shiver from the cold.
“Can the sarcasm and just do it,” he said.
“I can’t watch this. This is just too gross.” Eva said as she turned away.
Curtis held Quinn’s outstretched hand, pulled the arm outward slightly, and raised the heel of his mountain boot. In one swift movement he brought his foot down on Quinn’s disfigured shoulder joint, driving the head of the humerus down into the joint where it belonged. The sound reminded Johnson of the report of a Colt 44 pistol. The crack was loud, and Quinn cringed at the pain but didn’t cry out. He refused to let his pain do anything other than make him angrier at the killers who had murdered his team. His resolve to get answers and justice only grew stronger with the blaze of red and black that filled his vision as the pain vibrated through his whole skeleton.
After a moment of breathing heavily, Quinn got up and helped Johnson set up their tent. It was another garishly bright yellow TNF geodesic-dome tent. Quinn’s pack contained a miniature version of the futuristic stove Eva had seen back at the Sunnydale camp. After it was set up in the tent, the heat from the stove took only a few minutes to dry Curtis’s and Eva’s still damp synthetic fiber clothing after Quinn had wrung the garments out. In the meantime, they huddled in compressible micro-fiber fleece blankets. Since he wasn’t wet, Quinn hung his blanket from the gear loft near the tent’s ceiling, effectively creating a wall separating the tent into two halves, so that Eva could undress in private.
They sat in silence. Eva thought about her deceased colleagues. Johnson thought about the seismologist Val, and how he was supposed to have had a date with her once they had all returned to the States. That wouldn’t be happening now. Instead, he would be attending a lot of funerals—if they made it back to the States.
Quinn saw only a blistering haze of crimson as his thoughts turned repeatedly to revenge. He hadn’t been truly involved in his heart or his head with Eva’s mysterious plane crash, although he was attracted to her. He had been willing to believe that there was some explanation for the plane crash. But now there was no mystery. Someone had deliberately tried to kill Eva and the other two archeologists. And now the bastards that were after her had come back and tried again. Only this time they had murdered his entire team. Eight people whose lives were entrusted to him were dead, he himself had been buried alive three times in one day, and Johnson and Eva were nearly drowned.
Oh yes, he thought. I am completely involved now.
He went out of the tent and filled a small plastic resealable bag with snow and chunks of ice he carved out of the frozen ground with the retractable spikes on his boots. When the bag was full, he used a roll of neon green duct-tape to strap it to his aching shoulder and pulled his environment suit on over the improvised ice pack. He thought dark and grim thoughts the whole time. He wanted answers. He wanted names. He wanted to see someone bleed…
After Curtis and Eva were just finished dressing and Quinn had come back into the tent, Eva heard the sound.
“What’s that noise?” she asked.
“Helicopter.” Quinn frowned as he went back out again.
The other two followed him out and scanned the skies for the distant thumping sound. Snow was beginning to fall again. They were close to the river they had just escaped, and as Quinn searched the sky for a helicopter, he realized they were completely hemmed in on all sides by the dusty brown hills and brilliant blue and white snow covered mountains. They were in a valley, and they were sitting ducks if the chopper wasn’t friendly. He was about to suggest they try to find some cover somewhere, but it was too late.
The twin-turbine Bell 214 helicopter came screaming over a low range of hills and into the valley. It was the regularly scheduled ARGO supply helicopter that was supposed to stop by the Sunnydale camp. The logo on the side of the white fuselage simply said ARGO with a stylized mountaineering ice ax underlining the acronym. But it was a day early, and it was moving way too fast.
“Crap on toast!” Johnson clearly understood the implications of the helicopter’s untimely arrival.
They were all running in different directions when the angry sputtering blizzard of gunfire began. The line of fire ripped right through their tent, and the spot where they had all been standing just seconds before. Quinn recognized the sound. It was the almost leisurely cycle of an AK-47 assault rifle. The chopper blazed past on its first attack run, and Quinn caught a glimpse of both the unfamiliar Chinese pilot and the gunman in the open side cargo door with the Russian-designed weapon. Quinn continued his sprint back toward the river, hoping the helicopter would follow him.
Eva had changed her path to catch up with Curtis, and the two of them scrambled frantically for the cover of some small rocks and boulders. The helicopter had turned and was coming in fast and low, straight toward Quinn, since Johnson and Eva were now crouched down and out of sight. The rifle burst to life again, and a series of what looked like fountains of snow erupted straight up out of the ground, as bullets swept in a line toward Quinn. Just as the line of fire was about to rip him in half, he leapt up and sideways, landing hard in the snow, on his already injured shoulder. He swore, rolled, and sprinted in the other direction, back toward their camp. The helicopter banked sharply, and came at Quinn again. This time as the line of fire raked near to Quinn, he leapt into the air and performed an excellent back flip, landing in the snow on his stomach. The bullets grazed by close enough for him to smell the scorched air in their trail. He was getting tired and knew he had to do something about the shooter first.
As the helicopter raced skyward to perform another twisting banking maneuver, Quinn sprinted for all he was worth toward the frozen river, and dove head first into a slide across the ice. When he hit the other bank, he scooped up a rock the size of a melon, rolled, got to his feet, and stood perfectly still on the ice with an angry, defiant look on his face. The rock, held slightly behind his thigh, was concealed from the view of the approaching helicopter.
Quinn made no move and the approaching helicopter slowed. He could see the shooter replacing the curved magazine on the rifle, and chambering the first round. The helicopter slowed to a crawl, hovering over the frozen river, and turning broadside toward Quinn, so the open cargo door faced him head-on. The Chinese rifleman just looked slightly puzzled. Quinn didn’t move. He just breathed in slowly, readying himself for the task ahead. Curtis and Eva looked on in frightened silence from their hiding place.
“What the hell is he doing?” Curtis asked.
When it happened, it was like a slow motion scene from a fast-paced Hong Kong action movie. Curtis could swear that both Quinn and the Chinese shooter moved in perfect unison like gun-fighters in the Old West. The shooter had switched to single-fire, leveled the rifle and fired a round in one fluid motion. Quinn sprung into the air horizontally, and launched his rock with his injured right arm. The bullet grazed Quinn’s shoulder as he was in mid-leap. The plastic sack of snow and ice sprayed outwards away from Quinn’s body, as did a small arcing spurt of blood. About a fraction of a second later, the rock smashed into the shooter’s face, which burst in a geyser of twinkling maroon droplets. The man’s body pitched forward, rifle and all, plunged downwards, crashed through the frozen surface of the river just a couple of feet below the helicopter, and disappeared from view completely. Quinn crashed into a crumpled heap in the snow on the bank, and Curtis came rushing toward him. Eva remained behind and watched as the confused helicopter pilot suddenly banked the craft hard and raced away from the scene. At first, it looked as if the man would completely retreat, but then the vehicle turned again, and launched forward as if fired from a large slingshot, only this time it was coming in at a steep bank, as if the pilot hoped to slice Quinn and Johnson to pieces with the rotor blades.
“Un-imaginative fuck,” Quinn shouted. Curtis, who had just arrived as Quinn was getting to his feet, chuckled as he had been thinking the same thing when he saw the pilot dip the blades and launch his new action-movie-inspired attack. The men both dove in opposite directions into the snow to escape the roaring blades, as the craft shot over them.
“Nice move with the AK. Now what?” Curtis yelled over the roar or the attacking chopper, as they stumbled to their feet in preparation for the next pass.
“Keep him guessing.”
Quinn sprinted away from Curtis, and the pilot now found he had to choose a target. He went for Johnson. As soon as Quinn saw, he shifted the direction of his run, back toward Johnson, and the helicopter bearing down on him. Johnson dove laterally into the snow and Quinn came into the pilot’s view long enough to catch the pilot’s eye. The chopper shifted direction wildly. Quinn sprinted again, and then dove to his right into a deep snowdrift as Johnson was again coming into the pilot’s view. The tactic was working. The pilot couldn’t decide who to chase and was getting frustrated. Finally, he decided on Quinn and stuck with him. Quinn knew it wouldn’t take long. The dance between the slicing blades and the running man continued, and Johnson took advantage of his own brief respite to run toward the shredded campsite. He grabbed a climbing rope with an aluminum carabiner attached to it and began swinging it overhead like a lasso. He really didn’t expect it to work, but thought: What the hell?
Johnson ran toward the battle scene, most of the rope trailing behind him, and a ten-foot long section of it swirling over his head with the weight of the aluminum biner. Eva thought momentarily that he looked like he was trying to become some kind of human helicopter, to battle the maddened pilot of the ARGO supply vehicle. As Quinn once again checked his running in time to dive away from the rotor blades, Johnson reached the distance he needed, and launched his makeshift bolas weapon. The rope sailed through the air, biner first, but as it approached the rotors, they sliced the rope into an array of short lengths, and the flight of the craft wasn’t even affected.
The craft aimed at Johnson next, and Quinn just managed to escape the horrible blast of the blades. Quinn was up on his feet again and running toward the helicopter as it banked. This time the pilot banked so that the rotor blades were closer to the ground. He knew Quinn would try to leap aside at the last minute, and the pilot planned to yank hard on the control stick as soon as he detected which direction his quarry would turn—which is exactly why Quinn’s plan worked. As the craft almost smashed head on into him, Quinn flung himself backwards onto the ground. He landed on his back with a bone-jarring thump, and the whirl of the blades was over his face almost instantly. A second later, Quinn reached up.
Then the world was flying by. He had grabbed the landing strut with both arms and gotten his left leg hooked around it as well. The timing was split second—but it had worked. Quinn was now hitching a free ride, just a few feet off the ground as the helicopter raced ahead and prepared to make its turn for the next attack run. As the craft began to gain altitude for its turn, Quinn released his grip. The ride had landed him on the hard packed snow close to the ruins of the campsite. Johnson saw the unusual stunt and ran a little slower, acting as a lure for the chopper. He suspected Quinn had something up his sleeve. He just hoped it worked and that it worked quickly.
Johnson and Quinn were in their 30s. Both men were at the peak of human fitness from mountaineering and non-stop training for their climbing trips. But even those in excellent physical shape can only take so much. Johnson was huffing and puffing heavily, as the sustained running and jumping had nearly worn him out. A plume of breath came out of his nose and mouth as he ran. He scanned the ground and found what he was looking for. He lunged downward, scooped up his own good-sized rock, turned, and launched it toward the cockpit of the helicopter as it roared at him. The rock smashed into the Plexiglas and sent out fracture lines, but the pilot of the craft wasn’t fazed. The damage was certainly not enough to be cause for ending the chase.
The pilot banked once again, and was planning to bring the rotor blades within inches of the ground. He was tiring of the game, and wanted the infidels to die already. As he brought the vehicle up to turn, Quinn was running away from the ruins of the camp and toward the chopper again. But this time his hands were full. In his left, he held the flare gun that had been in his pack, and in his right, he held the twin ice axes connected by the nylon webbing. He brought the flare gun up and fired it at the chopper during its bank. The flare went right into the cargo compartment. The interior burst into flame. There was no big Hollywood-style explosion as Eva had expected, as she watched the craziness from the shelter of her boulder. Just some small flames in the interior of the bird as it raced again at Quinn.
The pilot was distracted by the flame. Concerned, if not panicked. It was all Quinn had been hoping for. His next trick would be tough and would certainly be harder if the pilot was hell bent on killing him with the blades. Jason Quinn waited as long as he could. The helicopter was coming for him. Slower than it had been perhaps, but the rotor blades would carve him up at any speed. Instead of the bolas-style attack Curtis had used, Quinn just threw the axes straight at the rotor blades, aiming for the motor mount. The blades and the core of the ax shafts were made from one of the hardest substances known to man. If they won’t fuck up the damn blades, then I don’t know what will. He just stood still watching the damage unfold, waiting to see which direction he should dodge to avoid any shrapnel if there would be time. As it turned out, he decided to stand perfectly still.
The axes didn’t glance off the blades as Quinn feared they might. They plunged right into the rotation of the blades, and ripped one of them right off the mount. The nose of the craft made a sudden dip and slammed straight downward into the frozen ground. The long rotor blades all slammed the ground at the side of the bird, digging deep into the ground before snapping off, one after the other. Naturally, it all happened in the blink of an eye. Again, no huge explosion. No shrapnel. No flying debris. Just a shriek of sound like a car accident and it was over. The craft sat crunched into the ground less than three feet in front of where Quinn stood bleeding and breathing hard.
THE SENTINEL by JEREMY BISHOP
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In the frigid waters off the Arctic Ocean, north of Greenland, the anti-whaling ship, The Sentinel, and her crew face off against a harpoon ship in search of Humpback whales. When the two ships collide and a suspicious explosion sends both ships to the bottom, the crews take refuge on what they think is a peninsula attached to the mainland, but is actually an island, recently freed from a glacial ice bridge.
Seeking shelter, the two opposing crews scour the island for resources. Instead, they find Viking artifacts, the preserved remains of an ancient structure and a stone totem warning of horrible creatures buried in the island's caves. Facing violent, frigid storms, a hungry polar bear and the very real possibility that they are stranded without hope of rescue, Jane Harper leads the two crews, who must work together to defend themselves against an ancient evil upon which the modern stories of both zombies and vampires are based upon.
The original undead are awake and hungry. Beware the Draugar.
Whales. What can I say about them? As an anti-whaling activist, I'm supposed to have this shtick memorized, supercharged, cocked, locked and ready to fire across the bow of anyone who looks at a whale the wrong way. But here's the simple truth: while I share the same mild affection for the world's largest creatures that most people do, I sort of just fell into this job. I needed work out of college and answered an ad in the paper. Turns out what I lacked in passion, I made up for by having an analytical mind and a knack for pretending to be someone I'm not—a lifetime of moving around the world and trying to fit in can do that to a girl.
So when I take the glass jar filled with red paint and lob it toward the Bliksem, one of Greenland's few whaling ships, I'm fairly indifferent to whether or not it hits the mark. But I'm currently incognito, so I need the effort to at least look genuine.
Red gore explodes across the Bliksem's gray hull. I let out a genuine whoop. Some suppressed side of me finds this fun, and for a moment, I understand the appeal that has thirty, mostly college dropouts, heading out to sea to combat whaling for months at a time. It feels like when I egged Jimmy Sweedler's house after he left the prom with Susan Something. A part of me hopes he got her pregnant, was forced to marry her and now lives in a trailer infested by rabid chipmunks. But the thirty-three year old, responsible part of me just feels bad for his parents who had to clean up those two dozen eggs.
Yeah, two dozen.
I had anger issues.
Still do, actually, but I can keep it in check when I'm undercover, or use it to fulfill the act.
"That's right, you whale killing sons-a-bitches!" I shout, shaking my fist at the Bliksem, which is just a hundred feet away.
Cheers rise up from the deck crew—aka: my fellow paint bombardiers—standing by my side. There are three men and two women on the deck with me—all at least ten years younger than me. In fact, other than Captain McAfee and his one-man "security" team, an Australian known only as Mr. Jackson, I am the oldest crewmember on board. Much of the young volunteer crew sport dreadlocks, not simply as a fashion statement, but also because fresh water showers are rationed while at sea. As a result, the Sentinel—the anti-whaling ship that's been my home for the past month—smells like it must have when it was an active duty Norwegian whaling ship.
"Nice shot!" shouts Greg Chase, the scrawny first mate. He's got a big awkward smile on his face, which is covered in patches of facial hair struggling to proclaim him a man. Complimenting his shaggy face is a pair of glasses that sit askew on his nose. The kid—he's twenty three, but I can't help thinking of him as a kid—looks like he should be in his parent's basement playing Dungeons & Dragons, not attacking whaling ships in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Greenland. That said, his brown eyes absolutely gleam with excitement, and he's by far the smartest person on this ship, which makes him a threat. Because if anyone is going to figure out I'm not who I claim to be, it's him.
So when Chase hands me a second glass jar, I take it with a double flick of my eyebrows that says I'm getting my rocks off, too. Before my first attempt, the other deckhands had loosed a barrage of nearly fifteen paint jars, all of which fell short of the mark. So much so, that the crew of the Bliksem had begun to laugh and mock us with an assortment of hand gestures that universally translates to "cocksuckers."
They're all frowns now. Dressed in thick sweaters and winter caps, some of the Bliksem's crew leans over the rail to see my handiwork. The crimson stain, which looks eerily like blood, covers the ship's name stenciled on the side and runs in red rivulets toward the sea. It's a gruesome sight, which I suppose is the point. A dead and bled whale pulled into port doesn't do much to turn the stomach, but a ship covered in blood from the hunt might not be so kindly received. And the images being captured by the Sentinel's crew will make great PR. Bold? Yes. But effective? I'm not convinced.
But judging the effectiveness of the Sentinel's tactics isn't why I'm here. My job—my true job as an undercover investigator for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)—is to observe and record the less noble actions, if any, of the Sentinel and her crew. The allegations leveled against the Sentinel and her captain are sullying the whaling debate and making the anti-whaling community look like zealots. So I'm here to either vindicate them, or expose them as pirates, turn my evidence and testimony over to the international and Greenland authorities and clear the good name of other anti-whaling organizations. On top of that, I'm tasked with the job of recording the effectiveness of the whaler's hunting techniques. Greenland only recently started hunting humpbacks again and their whalers are out of practice. Many whales take a half hour to die—some as long as six hours (experienced whalers can put a whale out of its misery inside of one minute). Given the dual nature of this mission, the WSPA needed someone with both undercover experience and a level head.
Translation: my lack of passion keeps me from freaking out at the sight of whale blood. Call me a cocksucker in sign language and I'll throw red paint at you—or worse if I can get my hands on you. Kill a whale and I'll take notes. I believe in the cause—in a world full of cows, why hunt endangered or even threatened creatures? But I've lived all around the world, have eaten most meats imaginable, including—gasp—whale, and I've seen more than a few animals slaughtered.
It's the circle of life.
Pass the A1.
I haven't had a bite of meat since stepping foot on the Sentinel, which runs a vegetarian galley. I've lost five pounds and have more energy, but damn, I could go for a cheeseburger. I force the thought of cooked meat from my mind and focus on the task at hand.
With all eyes on me, I raise the jar over my head, take aim and see a tall man with long blonde hair on the deck of the Bliksem. He's pointing a video camera in my direction. I flinch away from the lens. "Shit!"
If my face is caught on camera while taking part in this act of high seas vandalism, it could destroy the validity of my testimony. I can see it now; The violence needs to stop says the fist-shaking, paint-throwing, crazy lazy. But they called me a cocksucker by thrusting their hands toward their open mouths and pushing their cheeks out with their tongues! Like this! Sorry, that was rude. We were implying you needed to brush your teeth, say the whalers. Fresh breath is important to a seafood eating culture.
"What is it?" Chase asks. "You all right?"
His concern is nice, but fades quickly when I say, "They're recording us."
"They always record us," he says. "This is what you signed up for, Harper. You're here to take a stand. To go on record against these murderers. If you go to jail, so be it. That's what we do. I've been in jail four times already."
How Chase could survive in jail is beyond me. I can think of ten raunchy inmate nicknames for the kid off the top of my head. He doesn't give me time to test them out in my mind.
"Look," he says. "I know this is your first time out. And it can be intimidating. You're not used to this kind of action. I get it. You can cover your face if you want, but eventually you'll have to make a stand and reveal yourself."
I contemplate making a joke about revealing myself, but that would either turn him on or piss him off—neither of which is something I want happening, so I hold my tongue.
He reaches past my head, pulls up the hood of my bright red jacket and ties it tight so only my eyes can be seen. "These guys are amateurs. They've never had to face us before. This isn't like the Japanese. They have no LRAD, no flash-bangs, no water cannons. They don't even have a loudspeaker to shout at us! But you've got the best arm on board and I want you to fuck their shit up!"
He's got a bigger smile now. Couple his grin with the goofy face and passion stolen from a Braveheart speech and I can't help but laugh. He takes my chuckle for excitement and I play the part. With my face concealed, I turn and send another jar sailing across the hundred-foot divide between the Sentinel and the Bliksem.
But I've put a little too much pepper on this pitch, and instead of striking the hull of the whaling ship, it soars toward the wheelhouse. The tall blond man, who looks like some kind of modern Viking, ducks, and for a moment I think I've been saved. Then the distinctive sound of a breaking window fills the air. I cringe, thankful that the cinched hood hides my face from their crew and ours.
A battle cry rings out from all around me. Not just from the crew on deck, but also from the Sentinel's wheelhouse. The whole crew has seen what I just did.
Chase gives my shoulder a hearty shake like he's Captain Blackbeard and shouts, "They're not going to want to pilot that ship for weeks!"
"From paint?" I ask. I imagine that some of the instruments got splattered in red, but I can't see how a single bottle of red paint thrown through the wheelhouse window could disable a two hundred foot ship.
Chase's smile turns fiendish, and I know I've been duped.
I curse myself for not looking at the bottle before I threw it and ask, "What was it? What did I throw?"
"Butyric acid," he says.
He's laughing now, and I suddenly wonder if he's sane. The FBI might have been a better choice for this undercover mission. Of course, we're in Greenland's waters and the Sentinel is registered in the Netherlands so I think this would actually be the CIA's jurisdiction. But the CIA is too busy keeping people from blowing up buildings. They probably don't think twice about whales, unless they can beweaponized, which I'm sure someone somewhere is working on. So that leaves me, Nancy Drew of the seven seas.
"Don't worry," he says. "It's no more acidic than orange juice. It's essentially rotten butter. Slippery as hell and smells worse than a point blank blast from a skunk's ass. Worst thing you could ever smell."
Chase's nose must not work, because the people on board this ship are the worst thing I've ever smelled. I look to the Bliksem and see the wheelhouse crew stumbling and slipping out of the cabin. The tall Viking man with the camera catches an older, chubbier version of himself wearing a captain's cap, and helps the man down the stairs leading toward the main deck. I'm thankful that the man is no longer recording, but my relief is short-lived. The old man I suspect is the captain of the Bliksem collapses at the bottom of the stairs.
The cheers around me grow louder still and I feel sick to my stomach. Opposing the killing of whales does not justify harming people. It's just not the same. That's an opinion that could get me thrown off this ship, but the man could be having a heart-attack. And it could be my fault! What if the jar hit him? What if he got a dose of the vile smelling acid in his face? As panic grips me, I fear that Chase will ask me to throw more bottles. I feel so weak with worry I doubt I could do it. Thankfully, the captain's voice booms from the wheelhouse window before more bottles can be thrown.
"Time to send the message home!" Captain McAfee shouts. The man is tall and skinny, but has the voice of a baritone. He's all contradictions. Sixty-five, but full of energy. A full head of hair that's stark white. Went through knee surgery after an accident, but walks like a middle-aged mom trying to regain her figure. Preaches love for the Earth's creatures, unless you include humans. "Get away from the rail and hold on tight!"
The crew around me jump away from the rail like it's been electrified. But I stand dumbly in place.
"Harper!" Chase shouts. "Get away from the rail!"
"Why? I don't—" But then I see it. We've changed course and are closing the distance to the Bliksem at a sharp angle. The Sentinel was an ice breaking whaling ship before it was bought and outfitted for anti-whaling missions. It sports multiple hulls and its bow is strong enough to slice through icebergs. I imagine ship hulls aren't too dissimilar.
"McAfee's going to ram them?" I ask no one in particular.
But Chase has heard me and shouts, "Yes! Now get down here!" He takes hold of my jacket and yanks me back. I fall to the black deck and am pinned down by the malodorous Chase. A moment later, an impact shakes the ship. The groan of metal on metal drowns out the shouting voices of both crews and lingers for what feels like minutes.
When it ends, I'm pulled to my feet. The deck crew rushes back to the rail and lets out a cheer. I stumble up behind them and catch site of the Bliksem. Its port side hull has a long dent that isn't nearly as bad as I expected, but that's probably only because it's also designed to take on icebergs. A lesser ship would have no doubt been sunk.
I marvel that the Bliksem's crew hasn't taken aim with their harpoon or tried to ram us in return. At first I think they're incredibly patient people, but then I remember the captain. It's possible they're preoccupied with saving the man's life. In fact, as the Bliksem languishes behind, I wonder if anyone remains in the wheelhouse. The Arctic is a bad place to be on a boat without a pilot. But then I see the Viking man with a bandana wrapped around his face. He climbs the stairs to the wheelhouse and pauses at the top to look at us—at me. The Sentinel's crew shouts obscenities at the man until he enters the wheelhouse.
As the voices fade and calm returns to the Arctic sea, I let slip my true feelings, "He's fucking insane."
It's just a whisper, but Chase hears me. He spins around, eyes ablaze, and says, "I know. He's amazing."
The fact that "fucking insane" is taken as a compliment is nearly the last straw, but I manage to swallow my revolt and say, "So what next? Is that it? Mission accomplished?"
"No, no, no," he says, licking his lips like a hungry dog. "We've only just begun."
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