When a massive amount of gamma radiation is detected somewhere beneath the desert of Iran, the world is on edge. Is it a nuclear weaponor worse? Alex Hunter and his highly trained incursion team is on a mission to find out. When they arrive at the ruins of Persepolis, they find an underground facility but no lab, no weapons, no scientistsnot even radiation. A black hole has taken everything…
Meanwhile, Iran is preparing for the return of the prophet. Israel is threatening nuclear war. And the details about Alex's special U.S. military venturecode name: Arcadianhave been stolen. Then another gamma spike is detected…and someone, or something, is draining the fluids from the bodies of Iranian soldiers in the desert.
Now it's up to Alex to follow the traces of radiation all the way to the ancient caves of Arak, where he'll come face to face with a creature from his darkest nightmares. Is it game-over for Alex and his team? Or are greater forces at work as the world reaches its natural endand mankind casts its final judgment?
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.25(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.69(d)|
About the Author
Greig Beck grew up across the road from Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. His early days were spent surfing, sunbaking and reading science fiction on the sand. He then went on to study computer science, immerse himself in the financial software industry and later received an MBA. Greig is the director of a software company but still finds time to write and surf. He lives in Vaucluse, Sydney with his wife, son and an enormous black German shepherd. He is the author of Beneath the Dark Ice and Dark Rising.
Read an Excerpt
By Greig Beck
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Greig Beck
All rights reserved.
Beneath the ruins of Persepolis, modern Iran
"Are you ready to witness history being written, my friend?" Mahmud Shihab appeared from the back of the canvas tent like a ghost. "Salem Agha-ye, Hakim," he said softly and kissed the military man on each cheek before grasping his upper arms and looking earnestly into his face. "History being written in this, the very cradle of Persian antiquity — it is fitting, yes?"
"Salem mamnoon, Shihab. Yes, inshallah, God willing." The soldier nodded and parted his dry lips in a yellow smile, showing rows of teeth stained by decades of smoking the pungent local Marlleak cigarettes.
Mahmud Shihab led Hakim to the back of the tent, where a modern metal door was embedded incongruously in the ancient stone wall. He entered a code into the recessed keypad and the heavy door swung inwards soundlessly. As Shihab escorted the military man down a dimly lit corridor carved into the interior of the ancient Persepolis ruins, a proud smile curved his lips at the thought of the design and engineering feat he had mastered beneath this once great city of the kings. Above them, its mighty stone skeleton still dominated the landscape and had survived twenty-five centuries of rain and rock-cracking heat — a powerful symbol of a time when Persia had commanded the world.
And now Shihab had been chosen to oversee a project so important that its success would shape Iran's place in the world for the next century, or perhaps even forever. The operation was codenamed Zirzamin Jamshid, The Basement of the Kings. Shihab liked the name — Jamshid was a mythical king who, legend had it, had buried his amassed treasures throughout his mighty empire. The president had chosen the name himself, and had told Shihab that there was no more valuable treasure than the capability to produce nuclear weaponry beneath the scorching earth of the Iranian desert. Shihab recalled that first meeting with the great man, his intense countenance and his softly spoken command. "Bring me success and you will bathe in riches in this life and the next." He had been too nervous to reply and had only nodded and bowed.
Hakim sneezed, interrupting Shihab's thoughts. Beneath the ruins, the temperature was pleasantly cool, but the atmosphere was dry and filled with fine powdery dust that sparkled in the cones of light thrown down from the low- wattage ceiling lamps.
Shihab smiled. "Ah, Hakim, it is impossible to keep the dust out at this level. But just think — those very particles could be all that remains of a former king or prince of Persia."
Hakim blew his nose — Persian king or not — on a dirty brown handkerchief. He had just pushed it back into his pocket when they came to a steel miner's cage floored with thick rubberised matting. They entered the cage and Shihab pushed the single smooth lever to the downward position. The cage dropped silently into the darkness. Shihab smiled with pride, counting the passing layers of toughened concrete and lead shielding. The facility was all his own design, built to give off as small an energy signature as was possible. He knew full well the capabilities of the US spy satellites — high-resolution digital images were only one of their talents. These days they could sniff out heat, power and radiation signatures to fifty feet below the surface. So the Iranians needed to be careful, needed to go deeper.
After many minutes, the cage slowed with a hiss and stopped at a darkened corridor and a fortified steel door, considerably stronger than the one they had come through at the surface. Shihab entered another code and hidden rollers pulled the large metal slab out of the way. He closed his eyes briefly as a blast of negative air pressure rushed past him, only opening them when he perceived strong light on his eyelids. Before them was a chamber of almost surgical whiteness.
Shihab and Hakim knew what was expected, having performed this ritual many times. They both sat on the benches provided and removed their shoes. From a recessed cupboard they drew out particle-free garments, donned lightweight polymer all-over suits, pulled rubber-soled shoes over their feet, and used a small towel lightly moistened with demineralised water to wipe their faces, neck and hands.
When Hakim had finished, Shihab clipped a small radiation badge to the soldier's breast pocket. "They're the latest — each one contains a small sheet of radiation-sensitive aluminium oxide. When it's exposed to radiation, the tag shines with a visible blue glow. We all have to wear them now. Let's hope they don't shine for us today, yes?"
The two men moved to the facility's final access stage: a glass booth with another metal door beyond. The entry requirements here were far more stringent — as well as keying in a numeric code, Shihab had to lick his thumb and place it over a small mesh circle on the entry pad. Fingerprints and DNA were obtained, scanned and verified before the curved glass door slid back. Anyone trying to access the facility without proper authorisation would find himself locked in the chamber as it rapidly filled with lethal tabun gas. Clear and odourless, the gas immediately shut down the human nervous system, and then just as quickly dissipated, allowing safe removal of any bodies.
Red lights turned green and the metal door hissed open. Shihab entered first, then stood aside, allowing his companion to see the progress achieved since his last visit to the Jamshid I facility.
They were in a round, gleaming laboratory, 500 feet from one end to the other with a ceiling height of at least another 100 feet. The walls were covered in banks of computers and monitors, all online and glowing gold or green. The entire area was a sea of electronic chattering and blinking lights, save for one large window overseeing the chamber.
Shihab gestured towards the centre of the circular laboratory. "This is it, my friend, the sphere. This day will mark the first steps in the rise of the new Persian caliphate, Allahu Akbar."
"Allahu Akbar," Hakim repeated automatically.
Shihab watched Hakim's face as he stared at the giant silver orb that looked like the planet Saturn. It was fifty feet around and circled by a waist-thick polished cylinder.
"It is magnificent, Mahmud, you are to be praised," Hakim said as he slowly moved his eyes over the strange device, and then around the chamber.
Dozens of Iranian, German and North Korean scientists buzzed around the banks of computer monitors and the sphere itself, preparing for the first live test of the device. One of the Germans, a tall, bespectacled man with a blond toothbrush moustache, gave Hakim the thumbs up. Rudolf Hoeckler was being paid a Persian fortune to bring the laser-enrichment technology models to working status. Shihab knew that Hakim disapproved of mountains of Iranian money being paid to anyone from the West, but it was difficult not to like the tall German. Hoeckler was in a constant good humour and had made amusing attempts to learn Farsi.
"Blue hair eels in the morning, Herr Hakim," Hoeckler said now with a grin, obviously pleased with himself for mastering yet another phrase in their language.
Shihab chuckled and took Hakim by the arm to lead him towards a small set of steel steps. "We're just about ready," he said. "Let's go up to the observation room and have some tea. We have been requested to call the president the moment we have the results."
* * *
Shihab handed Hakim a small, gold-rimmed glass of the steaming local tea. He knew that after the dry of the desert, the soldier's mouth would be watering in anticipation. "You know, my friend, a successful production run today will be good for both of us, inshallah."
Shihab hoped the test run's success would not benefit the soldier too much. He liked Hakim's quiet presence and his stay-out-of-the-way approach to managing the security of the site. A big promotion would mean reassignment, and the facility may end up with a more intrusive guard. Shihab would take one Hakim over a hundred of those psychopathic Revolutionary Guard any day.
He put down his cup and wiped his hands down his sides; it was nearly time. On the computer screen nearby, a single line of ten glowing circles were all green except for one — and then this too changed to green, indicating a positive all systems go sequence. Shihab started the image recording of the laboratory floor and commenced the data transfer program to distribute the information back to their sister facility. The second site was a few months behind Jamshid I, so if anything went catastrophically wrong with this test they would learn from those mistakes. Please, oh merciful Allah, don't let there be any mistakes, Shihab prayed.
He keyed in a few commands and the overhead lights in the laboratory dimmed. The technicians and scientists pulled protective visors over their eyes and the observation window darkened to deflect any laser scattering. Shihab pressed the microphone switch down and his voice echoed over the floor of the chamber. "Is everyone ready?"
He scanned the floor for any dissent, and licked dry, nervous lips. Hoeckler turned and smiled. Shihab felt a bead of perspiration run down beside his left ear. He drew in a deep breath, feeling his heart thump sickeningly in his chest.
"Allahu Akbar," he whispered as he entered the final codes and made a single stroke on the keyboard.
An infernal shriek tore through the laboratory and permeated the thickened glass as if it were paper. In the centre of the laboratory, where the sphere had stood, there was now a blackness darker than night. At its core was a pinprick of nothingness that hurt Shihab's eyes. He felt as if he were caught in a thick mucus that trapped his limbs. Time slowed, or perhaps stretched, and a cold darkness spread out into the laboratory. It was the only thing moving; everyone else seemed frozen in time too. As Shihab watched, he realised to his horror that the growing mass of darkness was absorbing everything in its path. He watched helplessly as the bodies of his colleagues elongated and then began to tear as they were pulled towards that dark curtain of space.
His eyes briefly met those of Herr Hoeckler for a second — or perhaps it was for an eternity — before the large man was engulfed, his body stretched into a plume of flesh-coloured streamers.
We all died when I pressed that final key, he thought, and now we are in hell.
From the corner of his frozen vision, Mahmud Shihab saw his friend, Hakim, become a long white streak as he was dragged mercilessly into the void. And then his sanity left him as he saw his own tongue and the lining of his throat distend from his body and rush towards hellish oblivion.CHAPTER 2
Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska — US Military Space Command
"What the fu —" Corporal Marcs scooted his office chair across the floor of his horseshoe-shaped booth to replay what he had just seen on one of his screens. "Holy shit. Major, you gotta see this! VELA just picked up a whale of a radiation spike from the Middle East."
Offutt Air Force Base was one of the most strategically placed and defensible military bases in the world, home to the Strategic Air Command, the 55th Wing and also the primary hub of the United States military network-centric space command. Its role was to manage the constellation of military hardware orbiting the planet and oversee the billions of bits of information received from their flock of extremely attentive high-orbit birds. Normally the command centre was a place of professional calm. Today all hell was about to break loose.
"What the hell are they doing?" Marcs went on. "This is strong gamma — just gamma — where's the rest of the radiation package? Is this a detonation?"
Major Gerry Harris was instantly at the corporal's shoulder. A brilliant military specialist, Harris had been heading up the space command centre for the past eighteen months. His background in physics and information technology gave him the perfect credentials needed to understand and manage the complex information received by the satellites and translated by the sophisticated computer applications. But these signatures defied logic; they refused to make sense even to his analytical mind. The advanced VELA satellites used radiofrequency sensors to detect electromagnetic pulse prints and could measure the strength of high-intensity ionising radiation even from high orbit. If there was a higher than naturally occurring radiation signature across the X-ray, alpha or beta particle, neutron or gamma-ray spectrum, a VELA would see and taste it. But these pulses? Their sudden appearance and strength made them seem almost non-terrestrial.
"Can't be a detonation," Harris said. "These guys shouldn't even have fission capability yet. And if it's some sort of subsurface nuclear test, why aren't there any seismic signatures — and why are we seeing this single particle in such concentrations?"
Harris paced for a moment, then started yelling commands across the floor to his technicians. "I need all our birds with digital, thermal and ground-penetrating imaging capabilities looking at these coordinates now!"
Then he reached for the phone on Corporal Marcs' desk. "Get me General Chilton," he said. "ASAP."
* * *
Frank and Lorraine Beckett had been driving in stony silence for the past hour. They had left the Interstate at the Limon hub after sharing soggy, coffee- flavoured peanut butter sandwiches and disintegrating donuts — apparently Lorraine had left the top loose on the goddamn thermos, yet again.
Both in their mid-fifties and comfortably stout after years of double-portion dinners and chocolate candy in front of the TV, the Becketts were making a once-in-a-lifetime road trip, from their home in Knoxville weaving all the way to Santa Barbara on the West Coast. It was a joint gift to each other to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, but what had seemed like a magical and exciting idea when they planned it was turning out to be days on end of featureless highways, frightening-looking hitchhikers and roadside motels with orange and brown décor that should have been put out of its misery in the mid- seventies. To really ice the cake, Lorraine's stomach was acting up again and Frank was threatening that if she let loose one more fart in the car he was going to leave her at the next bus stop.
Praise the Lord, he thought. Just one more hour on Highway 24 and they'd be in Colorado Springs — which meant warm showers, a nap before dinner and maybe even some plain, home-style food that would help slay the dragon making war in the pit of that damn woman's stomach.
The flat purple-grey highway cut through the dry and scrubby landscape like a new zipper down an old canvas sheet. Frank was starting to get his good mood back, and was about to break the silence by telling his wife a bad joke when the car died. Everything just stopped at once. Frank coasted the car to a halt, frantically pushing buttons and stamping on pedals.
"Did you see that, Frank?" Lorraine said, pointing through the front windscreen. "The sky seemed to shimmer slightly, like we were driving through a curtain of oil." She touched her fingers to her face and they came away slick and bright red. "Frank, I'm bleeding."
Frank noticed that his nose was streaming blood too. "Outta the freakin' car!" he said. He didn't want them soiling the beautiful leather seats with bloodstains. There would be a nasty amount to fork out on the insurance if there was even minor interior damage.
The dry prairie air assaulted their senses and made them grimace after the Suburban's air conditioning. Lorraine staggered and her face looked slick and waxy with shock.
As Frank went round to swing the car hood open, he spotted something lying on the road ahead. "What the hell's that? That weren't there before."
"Is it a deer?" burbled Lorraine through a handful of bloodstained tissues.
The clouds were moving rapidly across the flat land all around, and as they slowly approached the mass, a long shaft of yellow sunshine illuminated the lump on the road. It looked meaty and slightly moist. Frank had to will himself to take a step forward; his animal instincts were screaming at him to get the hell out of there.
Lorraine held Frank's arm and remained slightly behind his left shoulder as they neared the strange organic mess. "Oh my god, Frank, what is that?" she whispered.
Slight tics and squeaks emanated from the lump, and as they got closer they realised that the sounds were caused by the mass thawing in the sun — a sparkling coat of frost dripped, twinkling onto the road surface. Frank knitted his brows; the thing seemed to be sprouting up from the hard black tarmac. Not pushing up through it exactly, just ... stuck.
"This can't be real," he said. "It's some kind of sick joke."
Half of the mass looked like a man wearing a white laboratory coat, but the other half was stretched out like elongated taffy. It looked like plastic that had been heated and then frozen solid again. The face was wet-raw, like the skin under a blister, and where the eyes should have been were just hollow, ragged sockets. The mouth was intact, and above it a blond toothbrush moustache twinkled with ice crystals. But what really made Frank's stomach lurch was the pink organic matter that protruded between the bared teeth like a veined, deflated bag. It had to be the guy's lungs — pulled or blown out.
Excerpted from Dark Rising by Greig Beck. Copyright © 2010 Greig Beck. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the second Alex Hunter tale I have read (Beneath the Dark Ice) and though this book is not nearly as good as the first it is important in the evolution of Alex Hunter's abilities. The book draws a lot of similarities from the first with Alex's HAWCs paired with a scientist to get something from a foreign power with a giant creature trailing Alex's team. The creature this time is an alien entity brought to Earth from the opening of a small black hole. Scientists in Iran accidently discover the means to create a temporary black hole. This technology could be used to harness energy greater than the sun. It also could destroy everything that we know. Alex and his team are joined by Adira (an Israeli Special Forces agent) and Zach (an Israeli scientist) to go covertly into Iran and steal the new technology before Israel has no choice to launch a nuclear attack against Iran. The book moves a lot slower than Beck's first book and the creature that tracks the team bears an amazing resemblence to the creature Alex battled in the Antarctic caves. As the book evolves Alex learns about more abilities that he has and his other abilities seem to get stronger. Alex is like a super Shane Schofield (Mathew Reilly's main character, whose books are similar to these first two Beck books)always going up against the best special force agents and impossible odds. In this book we learn about three brands of Iranian black ops agents and they are so fearsome that the Mossad are even afraid. An above average action thriller which I give just above three and a half stars.
This is a great and fast pace book. I like how the author gives some real life references and theiories. Live on Alex!!!
Not as good as Beck's first Alex Hunter book, but still way above most others in this genre. The action was a bit slower and characters weren't as easy to sympathize with.
Fun, fast read. Will be reading more by this author
Slow to get on a roll but a rousing ending worth the wait. Stay with it as it slowly draws you in without you realizing it has you and then becomes difficult to put down. Give it a "read"!