In Extinction Machine, the fifth Joe Ledger book by Jonathan Maberry, the DMS must go up against someone—or something—in search of new technology that could bring about world war
The President of the United States vanishes from the White House.
A top-secret prototype stealth fighter is destroyed during a test flight. Witnesses on the ground say that it was shot down by a craft that immediately vanished at impossible speeds.
All over the world reports of UFOs are increasing at an alarming rate.
And in a remote fossil dig in China dinosaur hunters have found something that is definitely not of this earth. There are rumors of alien-human hybrids living among us.
Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences rush headlong into the heat of the world's strangest and deadliest arms race, because the global race to recover and retro-engineer alien technologies has just hit a snag. Someone—or something--wants that technology back.
About the Author
JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Deep Silence, Kill Switch, Predator One, Code Zero, Fall of Night, Patient Zero, the Pine Deep Trilogy, The Wolfman, Zombie CSU, and They Bite, among others. His V-Wars series has been adapted by Netflix, and his work for Marvel Comics includes The Punisher, Wolverine, DoomWar, Marvel Zombie Return and Black Panther. His Joe Ledger series has been optioned for television.
Read an Excerpt
By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
The word "impossible" used to mean something. It was a line that couldn't be crossed. It was the outer edge of the safe zone.
I can't find that line anymore.CHAPTER 2
Wolf Trap, Virginia
Thursday, October 17, 10:36 a.m.
It started with a door knock.
It was the last time it would be knuckles on wood. Next time I'd pound with my fist.
"Nobody's home," said Bunny. Not for the first time.
"Parking lot's full of cars," said Top.
"They're here," I grumbled.
Master Sergeant Harvey "Bunny" Rabbit popped his chewing gum. "Then how come they're not answering the door?"
I gave him a withering stare. He's six seven, so I had to look up to do it. "Do I look like Carnac the Magnificent?"
"Cap'n's telling you that he's not psychic, Farmboy," said Top. Full name was First Sergeant Bradley Sims. He currently held my old spot as leader of Echo Team. "And I believe he's saying something to the effect that if you keep telling him no one's here he's going to kneecap you."
"Words to that effect," I said.
I knocked again. Louder. With the side of my fist.
This was not how I planned to spend my vacation. Sure, I love my country and yes I would die to protect her ... but this was my first vacation since dinosaurs ruled the earth.
I had today planned out, too. It was a very well-constructed plan, starting with lots of sleep, followed by the kind of diner breakfast that would keep my arteries nice and hard. Then take Ghost, my white shepherd, for a long walk in the park where he would help me appear irresistible to pretty women. Then I'd catch the first part of an Orioles doubleheader in the afternoon, ideally to see them make the Phillies weep and gnash their teeth. Then back to planning the greatest bachelor party in the history of personal excess.
My best friend and occasional shrink, Rudy Sanchez, was getting hitched in two months. His fiancée, Circe O'Tree, was away on a book tour, and Saturday night was the party. I already had Sunday set aside for whatever was required after the party: medical attention, psychological counseling, or bail hearings.
Instead, where was I at ten in the morning on a glorious Thursday?
Stuffed into a suit, not flirting with girls in the park, standing outside of Shelton Aeronautics with Top and Bunny who were every bit as disgruntled as I was.
And nobody was answering the goddamn door.
We were out on one of those busybody projects that are often immense time wasters. We were out doing legwork to try and track down some cyber-terrorists. Yeah, I know — that battlefield is online so why were first-team shooters knocking on doors?
Like everything else in my life, it's complicated.
The short version is that over the last few months there have been some significant attacks on the computer systems of several of the most important defense contractors. These were all private corporations who used intranet rather than the Internet for all the important stuff, so Web access to their research records was supposed to be impossible.
Well, virtually impossible. We could do it. By "we" I mean my team, the Department of Military Sciences. The DMS has the MindReader computer system and MindReader is to other computers what Superman is to the spandex crowd. MindReader can intrude into any other system, read and copy its data, and exit without a trace. Its superintrusion software package is unique and it rewrites the target system's software to erase all tracks. Other invader systems leave some kind of detectable scarring, no matter how subtle. MindReader doesn't.
The attacks began small. Some cute little viruses that were more nuisance than threat. Like jabs a boxer throws when he's trying to get the measure of his opponent's timing and reflexes. You're not really trying to score with the jab, but by learning how the opponent reacts you set yourself for the hard right.
The hard right came around the first of the month.
Someone hacked the security computers at a Lockheed Martin plant in New Jersey and accessed the fire control system. The virus told the system there was a major fire in the labs and that tripped the halon fire retardant. Without a single warning bell, the security doors autolocked and massive white clouds of toxic gas began jetting into the labs. The fully staffed labs. Thirty-eight people wound up in the hospital.
Two days later a missile in a test silo in Kansas tried to launch itself. Luckily the warhead was a dummy and there was only residual fuel in the tanks, so the damage was minor. The implications, however, sent shock waves throughout the Department of Defense and Homeland.
The attacks escalated. A tapeworm tunneled through the mainframe at an Aurora Flight Sciences plant at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, destroying all files associated with a new unmanned aerial vehicle, and then self-deleted. Sure, there were backups to all the files concerned with the UAV, but there was a scramble to pull them off any hard drive even remotely attached to an Internet connection.
The big play had been the triggering of an autodestruct protocol at a testing facility in Poker Flat, Alaska. The autodestruct wasn't something as dramatic as a nuclear core going into the red zone. There was no automated female voice warning everyone to get to minimum safe distance. Nothing like that. This was a small series of thermite charges connected to the mainframes of the lab's supercomputers. In the case of a physical intrusion, the crucial information was supposed to be flash transmitted to a satellite uplink right before the charges blew. Only it happened the other way around — the charges blew without warning and without uploading the files. The price tag was eleven million. Supercomputers ain't cheap.
So, the industrialists called their contacts on the congressional oversight committee, who called the brass at the DoD, who called the president, who called my boss who pulled me in despite my being on vacation. Suddenly I was attached to the Cyber Crimes Task Force.
Everybody had a theory about what was happening and who was behind it. The Chinese Ghost Net got a lot of play, of course. Lot of people in Washington agreed it was exactly the sort of thing they'd do. Not only was it a cyber-attack that was so cleverly managed that it couldn't be tracked back to anyone, it also did a lot of damage to our efforts to bring the next generation of stealth and unmanned aircraft to fruition.
Of course the Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans were put on the Cyber Crimes Task Force watch list. Even some of our allies — the Israelis, the Brits, the French, the everybody else — got some play because when you're the biggest, toughest, richest kid in school nobody really likes you.
I had to admit that I wasn't in the mood to buy Uncle Sam a beer either. How the hell were the Orioles supposed to win without me watching?CHAPTER 3
Wolf Trap, Virginia
Thursday, October 17, 10:37 a.m.
"Let me knock," suggested Bunny.
He knocked really hard. The door rattled, the building shook.
It was an overcast morning and every light in the place was on. No one had answered any of the phone lines and no one was answering the door.
Top cupped his hands and tried to peer through the frosted glass of the big double doors. "Lights are on, but no movement that I can see."
Shelton Aeronautics was a sixty-person firm — twelve engineers, two metallurgists, a handful of physicists, and various support staff. Owned by Howard Shelton — yes, that Howard Shelton, the one who was on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and every talk show from Hannity to Colbert. The guy who was putting gaudy chunks of money into commercial space programs to mine raw materials from asteroids. The Sheltons were very old money, having made their consecutive fortunes from growing tobacco, importing slaves, coal and iron mining, B-52 bombers, and more recently stealth fighters and missiles. Interesting karma.
It was a four-story block building, functional rather than decorative, with big windows on the upper stories and lots of sculpted greenery. Parking lot had a bunch of cars, one motorcycle, and a late-model ten-speed bicycle chained to a rack.
Bunny ticked his head toward the camera. "Maybe they think we're the IRS."
It was a running joke with us, because when we do plainclothes scut work like this the DMS policy recommended that we wear dark navy blue or black suits, white shirts, plain ties. The outfit marked us as feds, which was an intentional move, but at a glance we could be FBI, Secret Service, NSA, or any of the many investigative arms of the Department of Justice, Homeland, or the Department of Defense. It was a way of hiding within the nondescript federal motif. Most people, when confronted by big men in dark suits and sunglasses didn't get smart-mouthed. Not since 9/11 and the Patriot Act. And, although I thought the Patriot Act was a hastily written and poorly considered rag that I wouldn't clean my dog's ass with, the fear of its nebulous but ominous powers worked magic on tight lips.
I tapped my earbud. "Bug, where are we with that eye in the sky?"
"Getting the thermal scans now," said Bug, our computer guy. "Wow. Looks like a party in there. Massed heat signatures, all in the same room. Clustered too tight to count individuals, but there's a lot of them. Maybe the whole staff. We must be getting some interference from the structure, though. Signal's weak."
"Top floor, toward the rear. Most are stationary, two are in motion on the ground floor."
"Bunny," I said, "take a walk around back."
The big young man nodded and turned to the left, heading across the manicured lawn toward the east corner of the building. Harvey "Bunny" Rabbit looks like a Southern California beach volleyball player — which he used to be — and comes off as a harmless goof — which he never was.
In a quiet voice Top said, "Not a big fan of surprises most days, Cap'n. Maybe less so on days like today."
"Hooah," I said under my breath. It's a general Ranger response that could mean anything from "yes sir" to "fuck you." Occasionally both.
I stepped directly into view of the door camera and held up my leather identification case to show the NSA credentials. Again. Then I pocketed the ID, gave the camera a look that was a carefully constructed blend of annoyance, disappointment, and a threatened ass-kicking from Uncle Sam, and stepped to the right, out of video range.
"Call it," said Top.
"Stay on the front door," I said. "I'll circle around the other way and meet Bunny."
"What do we do if no one opens a door for us? We're not here with a warrant."
I shrugged. "We'll improvise."
He grinned at that.
Behind us, the main street was mostly empty except for a few cars. No one was looking at this building, so I eased around the corner. There was nothing on the side of the building but hedges, beyond that was a narrow side street. As I passed the end of the building I saw that there was a rear entrance to the Shelton campus that spilled into a small parking lot intended for deliveries. Instead of a proper loading bay there was a walk-in entrance with a metal roll- down door. I paused. That door was up, and there was a car parked at a crooked angle in front of it.
A black SUV.
I tapped my earbud. "Cowboy to Green Giant, what's your twenty?"
"Cowboy," said Bunny, "I'm on the far side by the back corner. I can see a black —"
"I see it but I don't see you." I said quietly. There was a subtle movement to my right and I saw a muscular shoulder move into and back out of my line of sight. Bunny was at the far corner of the building, in a shaded cleft between the wall and a row of trees.
"I see you," I said. "Any movement?"
I drew my weapon and moved away from the tree, cutting through the hedges to the side street to put them between me and anyone who might be in the car. I bent low and ran fast along the pavement until I reached the driveway, then stopped for a moment to study the scene from this new angle. The windows of the SUV were smoked to opacity. Both front doors were open. I lingered at the corner of the building, searching the scene with narrowed eyes.
Bunny spoke quietly in his ear. "I can see the plate. Federal tags. Running it now."
"Copy that. I'm going to the car," I said. "Watch me."
I rose from cover and ran in a diagonal line to come up on the driver's side blind spot. I reached the car in two seconds.
"Empty," I said. "Nothing inside. Bug — what do you have on the plate?"
"Uh-oh," said Bug, "MindReader's kicking back a 'no-such-number.' These guys are either phony or deep, deep cover."
"We're not the only gunslingers investigating this thing," I said.
"I'll keep looking," said Bug.
Bunny said, "You're thinking these guys have cover that goes deeper than MindReader? Is that even possible?"
I hurried over to meet Bunny near the open back door. The big man had his gun out, too. We nodded to each other and then wheeled around the edge of the open door, bringing our weapons up in two-handed grips.
All we saw was a storeroom filled with boxes. No people.
There was an inner door at the back off the storeroom. It was closed.
We moved inside, each of us moving along one wall so our field of fire could cover a large portion of the room and offer crossfire backup. Very quietly I murmured, "Cowboy to Sergeant Rock, hold your position. We're going inside."
"Call and I'll come running," he said.
At the back Bunny and I faded to either side of the door.
"You open and cover," I said. "I'll go through."
Bunny nodded and reached for the handle. But before he could even touch it the door opened and two men stepped through into the storeroom.
Two big men. Dressed exactly like us. Black suits, white shirts, dark ties. Wires behind their ears.
The newcomers stared at Bunny and me.
Bunny and I raised our guns.
"Federal agents," we barked. "Turn and face the wall. Hands on the wall. Do it now."
The strangers did not move. If the license plates hadn't popped up as phony we might have handled this different, but my spider-sense was tingling.
"You're making a mistake," said the taller of the two. His voice was calm, his pronunciation of each word very precise.
"And you are pissing me off," I said. "I told you to face the wall."
"We're federal agents," said the shorter of the strangers. "We have identification."
"Nice to know. But the man said to assume the position, chief," said Bunny, getting close enough to fill the man's line of sight with a lot of chest. "Don't make a mistake here."
The two men looked at each other. There was no change in their expressions, no obvious exchange of signals, however without another word they turned and placed their palms against the cinder-block wall of the storeroom. They spread their feet and waited.
Bunny nodded to me and I took up a shooting position, feet wide and braced, hands holding my Beretta rock steady. Bunny holstered his piece and used both hands to do a quick but very thorough pat down of each man. He wasn't rough about it, but it wasn't a Swedish massage either.
"Gun," he announced as he pulled the first man's jacket back to reveal what looked to be a Taser in a shoulder holster. "I think."
Bunny took the gun and showed it to me. It wasn't a Taser but I didn't know what it was. It had a chunky frame with a slightly elongated square barrel. At each of the four corners of the barrel were curved metal prongs. There was no opening to the barrel, so whatever this gun did, firing bullets was not part of its function. That didn't mean it was a toy. There were a lot of variations of Tasers out there and some of them were quite nasty. A few of them were even lethal. Bunny dropped the gun into his jacket pocket, then took the man's wallet and ID case. He continued with the pat down and paused again, feeling along the agent's arms. Then he grabbed the back of the man's jacket collar and yanked the sports coat down and off.
"What?" I asked.
"He's wearing something under his shirt."
The agent said, "Don't ruin your career with a bad choice."
Bunny showed him a lot of white teeth. "How about you pour yourself a nice big cup of shut the fuck up?"
Then he hooked his fingers between the folds of the man's shirt and yanked. Fabric tore, buttons flew everywhere and Bunny stepped back to let me see. Beneath the crisp white shirt was what looked like a gray leotard. It was very thin and formfitting, and it was crisscrossed with a mesh of thin wires.
Excerpted from Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Maberry. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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