Subterraneanby James Rollins
Beneath the ice at the bottom of the Earth is a magnificent subterranean labyrinth, a place of breathtaking wonders—and terrors beyond imagining. A team of specialists led by archaeologist Ashley Carter has been hand-picked to explore this secret place and to uncover the riches it holds. But they are not the first to venture here—and those they follow
Beneath the ice at the bottom of the Earth is a magnificent subterranean labyrinth, a place of breathtaking wonders—and terrors beyond imagining. A team of specialists led by archaeologist Ashley Carter has been hand-picked to explore this secret place and to uncover the riches it holds. But they are not the first to venture here—and those they follow did not return. There are mysteries here older than time, and revelations that could change the world. But there are also things that should not be disturbed—and a devastating truth that could doom Ashley and the expedition: they are not alone.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 4.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.50(d)
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Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Ashley Carter knocked trail dirt from her boots before climbing into her rusted Chevy pickup. She threw her dusty cowboy hat on the seat next to her and swiped a handkerchief across her brow. Leaning over the gear shift, she popped the glove compartment and removed the snakebite kit.
With a knuckle, she tapped the radio. Static rasped from the handheld receiver. Humming, she peeled back the wrapper from the syringe and drew the usual amount of venom antiserum. By now she could gauge it by sight. She shook the bottle. Almost empty. It was time to run into Albuquerque for more.
After cleaning her skin with an alcohol swab, she jabbed the needle into her arm and winced as she administered the amber fluid. Loosening her tourniquet a notch, she wiped iodine over the two punctures in her forearm, then applied a bandage.
Cinching her tourniquet a bit tighter, she glanced at the dashboard clock. Ten minutes, and she'd loosen the tourniquet again.
She picked up the radio handpiece and pressed the button on its side. "Randy, come in. Over." Static as she released the button.
"Randy, please pick up. Over." Her neighbor, Randy, was still on disability from a back injury at the mine. For the past ten weeks, he had earned a few extra bucks under the table by supplying day care for her son Jason.
She started the engine and pulled back onto the parallel ruts that constituted a road. The radio belched agarbled blast of noise, then she heard, "... up. Ashley, what's going on? We expected you back an hour ago."
She raised the handpiece. "Sorry, Randy. Found a new room in the Anasazi dig. Hidden by a rockfall. Had to check it out before the light went bad. But a diamondback had other ideas. I've got to check in with Doc Marshall now. Be back in about an hour. Could you pop the lasagna in the oven? Over." She hooked the receiver back on the radio.
A squelch of static. "A bite! Again! This is the fourth time since Christmas. You're pressing your luck, Ash. This solo venturing is going to get you killed someday. But listen, after you get checked up by Doc Marshall, hurry home. There's some Marine types here waiting for you."
She furrowed her brow. Now what did she do? She groaned and grabbed the handpiece again. "What's up? Over."
"D'know. They're playing dumb," he said, then added in a lower voice, "and they're damned good at it. Real G.I. Joes. You'd hate 'em."
"Just what I need. How's Jason handling it? Over."
"He's fine. Eating it up. Talking the ear off of some corporal. I think he almost got the jarhead to give him his gun."
She smacked the steering wheel with the flat of her hand. "What are those bastards doing bringing guns into my home? Damn, I'll be there straightaway. Hold the fort! I'm out."
She never carried a gun. Not even into the badlands of New Mexico. Damned if she was going to allow some overgrown boys to bring weapons into her home. She slammed the truck in gear, her wheels clawing at loose rock.
* * *
Ashley jumped from the truck, arm tucked in a blue sling, and crossed through her cacti garden, hurrying toward a group of uniformed men huddled under the small green awning over her porch, which offered the only shade for a hundred yards.
As she stomped up the wooden steps, the men in front backed up. Except for one man, who sported bronze clusters on each shoulder and stood his ground.
She strode right up to him. "Who the hell do you think you are, barging in here with enough arsenal to blow away a small Vietnamese village? I have a boy in there."
The officer's mouth flattened to a thin line. He leaned back to remove his sunglasses, revealing a cold blue stare, void of any emotion. "Major Michaelson, ma'am. We are escorting Dr. Blakely."
She glared at him. "I don't know any Dr. Blakely."
"He knows of you, ma'am. He says you're one of the best paleoanthropologists in the country. Or so I've heard him tell the President."
"The president of what?"
He stared at her blankly. "The President of the United States."
A sandy-haired juggernaut plowing through the uniformed men covered her surprise. "Mom! You're home! You gotta come see." Her son eyed her sling, then grabbed the sleeve of her other arm. "C'mon." Even though he stood only a little higher than their belt buckles, he ushered the military men aside.
Glaring, she allowed herself to be dragged through the door. As the screen door clapped shut behind her, she headed toward the family room and noticed a leather briefcase parked on the table. It wasn't hers.
The scent of garlic from a baking lasagna wafted toward her from the kitchen. Her stomach responded with a growl. She hadn't eaten since breakfast. Randy, armed with stained oven mittens, was attempting to extract the bubbling lasagna without spilling it. The sight of such a bear of a man, dressed in an apron, struggling with a pan of lasagna, brought a smile to her lips. He rolled his eyes at her.
As she opened her mouth to say hello, there was a sudden urgent tugging at her arm. "C'mon, Mom, see what Dr. Blakely has. It's bitchin'."
"Watch your tongue, mister," she warned. "You know we don't allow that sort of language here. Now show me what this is all about." She waved at Randy as she was tugged toward the family room.
Her son pointed to the briefcase and whispered, "It's in there."
The sound of rushing water from the hall bathroom drew her attention. The door opened and a tall black man, thin as a pole and dressed in a three-piece suit, entered the hallway. He was older, his close-cropped hair graying slightly. He pushed a pair of wire-rim spectacles farther up the bridge of his nose. Spotting Ashley, he broke out in a sudden smile of recognition. He stepped toward her quickly, hand proffered. "Professor Ashley Carter. Your picture in last year's Archaeology magazine failed to do you justice."
She knew a snow job when she heard one. Caked with trail dirt, arm in a sling, clad in mud-stained jeans, she was no beauty queen. "Can the crap, Doc. What are you doing here?"
He dropped his hand. His eyes widened a moment, and then he smiled even broader. He had more teeth than a shark. "I like your no-nonsense attitude," he said. "It's refreshing. I have a proposal to"
"Not interested." She pointed to the door. "You and your entourage can hit the trail now. Thanks anyway."
"If you'll only lis"
"Don't make me toss your butt outta here." She snapped her arm toward the screen door.
"It pays a hundred grand for two months' work."
"Just get your" Her arm dropped to her side. Clearing her throat, she stared at Dr. Blakely, then raised an eyebrow. "Now I'm listening."
Since her divorce, she had been struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. An assistant professor's salary barely covered their living expenses, let alone her research projects.
"Wait," she started. "Wait a minute. Is it legal? It can't be legal."
"I assure you, Dr. Carter, this offer is legit. And that's only the beginning," Dr. Blakely continued. "Exclusive authorship of research garnered. Guaranteed tenure at the university of your choice."
She had dreams like this after too much sausage-and-onion pizza. "How can that be possible? There are university statutes ... rules ... seniority ... How?"
"This is a project advocated by the highest people. I have been given free rein to hire whomever I want at whatever salary I desire." He sat down on the sofa and crossed his legs, arms spread the length of the sofa. "And I want you."
"Why?" Ashley questioned tentatively, still suspicious.
Leaning forward, he held up a hand, begging patience. He reached for his briefcase and clicked it open. Using both hands, he carefully lifted a crystal statuette from its interior. He turned it upright toward her.
It was a human figurejudging from the pendulous breasts and gravid belly, a female figure. The fading light caught the crystalline structure and reflected radiant bursts.
He nodded for her to take it. "What do you think?"
She hesitated, afraid to touch its fragile beauty. "Definitely primitive ... Appears to be a type of fertility icon."
Dr. Blakely nodded his head vigorously. "Right, right ... Here, look closer." He raised the heavy statue, arms shaking with the strain. "Please examine it.
She reached to take the statuette.
"It's sculpted out of a single diamond," he said. "Flawless."
Now she understood the armed escort. She withdrew her hands from such a priceless object as she pondered the implications. "Bitchin'," she whispered.
* * *
Across the kitchen table, Ashley Carter watched as Dr. Blakely flipped the cellular phone closed and returned it to his breast pocket. "Now, Professor Carter, where were we?"
"Is anything the matter?" Ashley asked, sopping up tomato sauce from her plate with a piece of garlic toast. The two of them sat at her green metal kitchen table.
The doctor shook his head. "Not at all. Just confirming the addition of one of your potential teammates. An Australian caving expert." He smiled reassuringly. "Now, where were we?"
She eyed him warily. "Who else will be joining the expedition?"
"I'm afraid those names are confidential. But I can tell you we're talking to a leading biologist in Canada and a geologist from Egypt. And a few ... others."
Ashley could tell this line of questioning was futile. "Fine. Back to the diamond statue, then. You never told me where the artifact was discovered."
He pursed his lips. "That information is also confidential. Only for those involved with the research." He folded the gingham napkin on his lap.
"Doctor, I thought this was going to be a discussion. You're rather lean on your answers."
"Perhaps. But you still haven't given me a concrete answer yet either. Are you willing to join my research team?"
"I need more details. And more time to reorganize my work schedule."
"We'd take care of such minor concerns."
She thought of Jason, who was eating dinner from a rickety tray in front of the television. "I have my son. I can't just up and leave. And he's no minor concern."
"You have an ex-husband. A Scott Vandercleve, I believe."
"Jason's not staying with him. Forget it."
Blakely sighed loudly. "Then we do have a problem."
This point was going to be a stickler. Jason had been having trouble at school, and this summer Ashley had vowed to spend some time with him. "This is not up for debate," she said with as much conviction as she could muster. "Jason accompanies me, or I have no choice but to decline."
Blakely studied her silently.
She continued, "He's been on other digs with me. I know he can handle this."
"I don't think that would be prudent." He smiled wanly.
"He's a tough and resourceful kid."
Blakely grimaced. "If I agree to this point, then you'll join the team?" He paused, removing his glasses and rubbing at the indentations on the bridge of his nose. He seemed to be thinking aloud. "I suppose he could stay in Alpha Base. It's secure." Replacing his glasses, he reached across the table and held out an open palm. "Agreed."
Relieved, she let out her breath and shook his dry hand. "So why so much effort to get me on your team?"
"Your specialty. The anthropology of cliff-dwelling primitives. Your work on the Gila dwellings was brilliant."
"Still, why me? There are other paleoanthropologists with similar interests."
"Several reasons. One"he began ticking off the points on his fingers"you've demonstrated you can manage teams on other digs. Two, your nose for detail is superb. Three, your perseverance in solving mysteries is bone-hard obstinate. Four, you're in excellent physical shape. Five, you've earned my respect. Any other questions?"
Satisfied for now, she shook her head, slightly embarrassed. She fought back a blush. Rarely did one hear praise in her field. Uncomfortable, she changed the tack of the conversation.
"Now that we're partners, maybe you can tell me where you discovered this unique artifact." She rose to clear the dishes. "Somewhere in Africa, I'd guess.
"He smiled. "No, in Antarctica, actually."
She glanced over her shoulder, trying to judge if he was testing her. "There are no primitive cultures on that continent. It's a barren glacier."
Blakely shrugged. "Who said on it?"
She rattled a dish in the sink. "So where, then?" She turned to him, leaned back against the sink, and dried her hands with a damp dish towel.
He just pointed a single finger toward the floor.
Meet the Author
James Rollins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers that have been translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People magazine). In each acclaimed novel, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets—and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.
- Sacramento, California
- Date of Birth:
- August 20, 1961
- Place of Birth:
- Chicago, Illinois
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