Joe Ledger and the DMS (Department of Military Sciences) go up against two competing groups of geneticists....
One side is creating exotic transgenic monsters and genetically enhanced mercenary armies. The other is using twenty-first-century technology to continue the Nazi Master Race program begun by Josef Mengele. Both sides want to see the DMS destroyed-and they've drawn first blood. Neither side is prepared for Joe Ledger as he leads Echo Team to war under a black flag.
About the Author
Jonathan Maberry is the New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award--winning author of Fall of Night, Rot & Ruin, the Pine Deep Trilogy, Zombie CSU and The Nightsiders. He writes comics for Marvel (Captain America: Hail Hydra, Black Panther, etc), Dark Horse (Bad Blood) and IDW (V-Wars, Rot & Ruin). His Joe Ledger series is in development for television.
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The Dragon Factory
By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland Saturday, August 28; 8:04 A.M.
Time Remaining on the Extinction Clock: 99 hours, 56 minutes
"Detective Ledger?" he said, and held out an ID case. "NSA."
"How do you spell that?"
Not a flicker of a smile touched the concrete slab of his face. He was as big as me, and the three goons with him were even bigger. All of them in sunglasses with American flags pinned on their chests. Why does this stuff always seem to happen to me?
"We'd like you to come with us," said the guy with the flat face.
"Why?" We were in the parking lot of Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore. I had a mixed bunch of bright yellow daffodils in one hand and a bottle of spring water in the other. I had a pistol tucked into the back of my jeans under an Orioles away-game shirt. I never used to bring a piece to Helen's grave, but over the last few months things have changed. Life's become more complicated, and the gun was a habit 24/7. Even here.
The Goon Squad was definitely packing. Three right-handers and one lefty. I could see the faint bulges even under the tailored suits. The lefty was the biggest of the bunch, a moose with steroid shoulders and a nose that looked like it had been punched at least once from every possible angle. If things got weird, he'd be the grabby type. The guys on either side of him were pretty boys; they'd keep their distance and draw on me. Right now they were about fourteen feet out and their sports coats were unbuttoned. Smooth.
"We'd like you to come with us," Slab-face said again.
"I heard you. I asked, 'Why?'"
"Please, Detective —"
"It's Captain Ledger, actually." I put a bit of frost in it even though I kept a smile on my face.
He said nothing.
"Have a nice day," I said, and started to turn. The guy next to Slab-face — the one with the crooked nose — put his hand on my shoulder.
I stopped and looked down at his big hand and then up at his face. I didn't say a word and he didn't move his hand. There were four of them and one of me. The Nose probably thought that gave them a clean edge, and since NSA guys are pretty tough he was probably right. On the other hand, these guys tend to believe their own hype, and that can come back to bite you. I don't know how much they knew about me, but if this clown had his hand on me then they didn't know enough.
I tapped his wrist with the bunch of daffodils. "You mind?"
He removed his hand, but he stepped closer. "Don't make this complicated."
"'Why?'" I said, "is not a complicated question."
He gave me a millimeter of a smile. "National security."
"Bullshit. I'm in national security. Go through channels."
Slab-face touched the Nose's shoulder and moved him aside so he could look me in the eyes. "We were told to bring you in."
"Who signed the order?"
"There you go again,"
Slab-face took a breath through his nose. "Captain Ledger." He poured enough acid in it to melt through battleship armor.
"What's your name?" I asked. He hadn't held the ID up long enough for me to read it.
He paused. "Special Agent John Andrews."
"Tell you what, Andrews, this is how we're going to play it. I'm going to go over there and put flowers on the grave of my oldest and dearest friend — a woman who suffered horribly and died badly. I plan to sit with her for a while and I hope you have enough class and manners to allow me my privacy. Watch if you want to, but don't get in my face. If you're still here when I'm done, then we can take another swing at the 'why' question and I'll decide whether I go with you."
"What's this bullshit?" snapped the Nose.
Andrews just looked at me.
"That's the agenda, Andrews," I said. "Take it or leave it."
Despite his orders and his professional cool, he was a little off-balance. The very fact that he was hesitating meant that there was something hinky about this, and my guess was that he didn't know what it was — so he wasn't ready to try to strong-arm me. I was a federal agent tied to Homeland — or close enough for his purposes — and I held military rank on top of it. He couldn't be sure that a misstep here wouldn't do him some career harm. I watched his eyes as he sorted through his playbook.
"Ten minutes," he said.
I should have just nodded and gone to visit Helen's grave, but the fact that they were accosting me here of all places really pissed me off. "Tell you what," I said, stepping back but still smiling. "When it gets to ten minutes start holding your breath."
I gave him a cheery wink and used the index finger of the hand holding the bottle to point at the Nose. Then I turned and headed through the tombstones, feeling the heat of their stares on my back like laser sights.CHAPTER 2
Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland Saturday, August 28; 8:06 A.M.
Time Remaining on the Extinction Clock: 99 hours, 54 minutes
Helen's grave was on the far side of the cemetery in one of the newer sections. The whole place was flat as a pancake, but there were enough crypts and monuments to provide nominal cover. My watchdogs could see me, but I had a little bit of freedom of movement if I kept it subtle. Out of my peripheral vision I saw the Nose and one of the other guys — a blond surfer-looking dude — circling the access road in order to flank me.
I smiled. Together the four of them may have had a shot. Separated the only advantage they were leaving themselves was observation. At the current distances I could force a two-on-one situation with either Slab-face and his backup or the Nose and the Surfer. I was comfortable with those odds.
Autopilot took me to the grave. I'd switched the flowers and water bottle to my left hand so I could stick my right in my pocket. I've become adept at surreptitious speed-dialing and used my thumbnail to tap a number and a three-digit situation status code.
It always hurt to come here, but it hurt worse to miss a week. In the two years since Helen's suicide I'd missed maybe four weekly visits. Last week was one because I was busting up a lab in Virginia where a couple of absolute fruitball scientists were trying to create a weaponized airborne strain of SARS to sell to terrorists. We had to dissuade them. I figured Helen would forgive me.
As I laid the flowers on the bright green grass on her grave my cell vibrated in my pocket.
"Excuse me, honey," I murmured, placing my palm briefly on the cold headstone, "but I have to take this."
I pulled the cell out and knelt down as if praying, so that my body hid the phone as I flipped it open. There was no name on the display, but I knew it was my boss. "I'm having an interesting morning," I said. The alert word was "interesting."
"This line is secure. Sit rep?" asked Mr. Church. I've worked for him for almost two months now and I still didn't know his real name. I've heard people refer to him as the Deacon, Colonel Eldritch, the Sexton, and a few other names, but when I'd met him he introduced himself as Mr. Church, so I used that. He was somewhere north of sixty but not where it showed. My boys had a pool going as to whether he was an ex-Delta gunslinger or a CIA spook who'd moved up to management.
"Have we pissed off anybody in Washington lately?"
"Not so far this morning," he said. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm at the cemetery. Couple of NSA stiffs have asked me to accompany them saying it was a national security issue, but they dodged my questions when I tried to find out what the deal was."
"Do you have names?"
"Just one. John Andrews." I described him and the others. "They're not waving warrants around, but it's pretty clear this isn't a request."
"Let me make some calls. Do nothing until I call you back."
"These goons are waiting on me."
"Do you care?"
"Nor do I."
He hung up. I smiled at the dragonflies that were hovering over Helen's tombstone and let a few minutes pass. Inside I was churning. What the hell was this all about? Even though I knew I hadn't done anything bad enough to warrant this kind of thing, I still had that guilty feeling inside. It was weird, because I didn't think cops got that from other cops.
So far this made no sense. The book was closed on my last mission and I had nothing new on the griddle, and the last time I'd even had a brush with the NSA was last month, but that had been on a job that had ended satisfactorily for everyone involved. No stubbed toes or hurt feelings. So why did they want to pick me up?
My worry meter jumped a few points when I saw two government Crown Vics roll in through the gate and park on either side of my Explorer. Four more NSA agents climbed out and moved quickly to take up positions on logical exit routes. Four exits, four two-man teams. Slab-face was by the cars; the Nose and one other agent were between my car and the exit.
My cell vibrated and I answered it.
"Listen to me," said Church. "Apparently we have rattled someone's cage in D.C. and the situation has some wrinkles. As you know, the President is undergoing bypass surgery, and while he's out that officially puts the VP in charge. The VP has never liked the DMS and has been very vocal about it. It looks like he's making a run at dismantling it."
"On what grounds?"
"He's somehow convinced the Attorney General that I've been blackmailing the President to give the DMS an unusual amount of power and freedom of movement."
"That's kind of true, though, isn't it?"
"It isn't as simple as that, but for legal purposes the NSA have permission to arrest and detain all DMS staff, seize all of our facilities, et cetera."
"Can he do that?"
"Yes. He's the de facto Commander in Chief. Though once the President wakes up and resumes command the VP's probably going to face some heat, but that will be in a few hours and the VP can do a lot of damage in that time. Aunt Sallie says that the NSA has landed two choppers at Floyd Bennett Field and is deploying a team. They do have warrants."
Aunt Sallie was Church's second in command and the Chief of Operations for the Hangar, the main DMS headquarters in Brooklyn. I'd never met her, but the rumors about her among the DMS staff were pretty wild.
Church said, "The Veep is operating in a narrow window here. We need to stall him until the President regains power. I can stall the Attorney General."
I almost laughed. "This is really about MindReader, isn't it?"
MindReader was a computer system that Church had either designed or commissioned — I still didn't know which — but it could bypass any security, intrude into any hard drive as long as there was some kind of link, WIFI or hardline, and get out again without leaving a footprint. As far as I knew, there was nothing else like it in the world, and I think we can all be thankful for that; and it was MindReader that kept the DMS one step ahead of a lot of terrorist networks. My friend Maj. Grace Courtland had confided her suspicions to me that it was MindReader that gave Church the clout he needed to keep the President and other government officials off his back. Freedom of movement kept the DMS efficient because it negated the red tape that had slowed Homeland down to a bureaucratic crawl.
MindReader was a very dangerous tool for a lot of reasons, and we all hoped that Church had the kind of clarity of vision and integrity of purpose to use it for only the right reasons. If the VP took control if it, we'd be cooked. Plus, Church didn't trust the MindReader system in anyone else's hands. He had almost no faith in the nobler elements of the political mind. Good call.
"Major Courtland says that three unmarked Humvees are parked outside the Warehouse," he said.
"What's the Veep's game plan?"
"I don't know. Even as Acting President I can't see him risking force to stop us. That gives us a little elbow room."
"So why's he want me? I can't access MindReader without you personally logging me in."
"He doesn't know that. There are NSA teams zeroing four other DMS field offices and team leaders. They're going for a sweep. But whatever they're doing has to be bloodless, which is probably why Agent Andrews gave you a few minutes with Ms. Ryan."
"Maybe, but he called for backup. Two other cars just rolled in. Lots of Indians, only one cowboy."
"Can you get away?"
"Depends on how I'm allowed to go about it."
"Don't get taken, Captain, or you'll disappear into the system. It'll take six months to find you and you'll be no good to me when we do."
"Feeling the love," I said, but he ignored me.
"This is fragile," Church cautioned. "Anyone pulls a trigger and they'll use it to take the DMS apart."
"I may have to dent some of these boys."
"I can live with that." He disconnected.
As I pocketed my phone I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. My ten minutes were up. Andrews and his Goon Squad were closing in.
These guys shouldn't have come out here. Not here.
"Okay," I said to myself, "let's dance."CHAPTER 3
The Deck, southwest of Gila Bend, Arizona Saturday, August 28; 8:07 A.M.
Time Remaining on the Extinction Clock: 99 hours, 53 minutes
It's refreshing to be insane. Just as it's liberating to be aware of it.
Cyrus Jakoby had known that freedom and satisfaction for many years. It was a tool that he used every bit as much as if it was a weapon. In his view it was in no way a limitation. Not when one is aware of the shape and scope of one's personal madness, and Cyrus knew every inch and ounce of his own.
"Are you comfortable, Mr. Cyrus?"
His aide and companion of many years, Otto Wirths, was a stick figure in white livery, with mud-colored eyes and a knife scar that bisected his mouth and left nostril. Otto was an evil-looking man with a thick German accent and a body like a stick bug. He was the only one allowed to still call Cyrus by his real name — or, at least, the name that had become real to both of them.
"Quite comfortable, Otto," Cyrus murmured. "Thank you."
Cyrus settled back against a wall of decorative pillows, each with a different mythological animal embroidered in brilliantly colored thread. The newly laid luncheon tray sat astride his lap glittering with cut glass and polished silver. Cyrus never ate breakfast — he thought eggs were obscene in every form — and was never out of bed before one o'clock. The entire work, leisure, and sleep schedule here at the Deck reflected this, and it pleased Cyrus that he could shift the whole pattern of life according to his view of time.
While Cyrus adjusted himself in bed, Otto crossed the room and laid fresh flowers under a large oil painting of a rhesus monkey that they had long ago named Gretel. There was a giclée print of the painting in every room of the facility, and in every room of the Hive — their secret production factory in Costa Rica. Cyrus virtually worshiped that animal and frequently said that he owed more to it than to any single human being he had ever known. It was because of that animal that their campaign against blacks and homosexuals had yielded virtually incalculable success and a death toll that had surpassed World War II. Otto fully agreed, though he personally thought the hanging of prints was a bit excessive.
On the table below the portrait was a large Lucite box arranged under lights that presented it with the same reverence as the painting. A swarm of mayflies flitted about in the box. Tubes fed temperature-controlled air into the container. The tiny insects were the first true success that Cyrus and Otto had pioneered. That team at the Institute for Stem Cell Research in Edinburgh was still dining out on having found the so-called immortality master gene in mouse DNA, though they hadn't a clue as to how to exploit its potential. Otto and Cyrus — along with a team of colleagues who were, sadly, all dead now — had cracked that puzzle forty years ago. And they'd found it in the humble mayfly.
"What's on the schedule today?"
Otto shook out an Irish linen napkin with a deft flick and tucked it into the vee of Cyrus's buttoned pajama top. "Against your recommendation Mr. Sunderland allowed the Twins to persuade him to try and capture the MindReader computer system. Apparently they feel they've outgrown Pangaea."
"Capture it? Nonsense ... it won't work," Cyrus said with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Excerpted from The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2010 Jonathan Maberry. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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