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THE 13TH TRIBE
By ROBERT LIPARULO
Thomas Nelson Copyright © 2012 Robert Liparulo
All right reserved.
Chapter One Eddie Rollins didn't believe in ghosts or phantoms or the boogeyman, but at that moment he felt a chill run down his spine like a drop of cold water. Gun in hand, he inched through the darkness between two bulbs mounted above doors on the backside of MicroTech's large, squat building. Thirty yards ahead, a keypad beside one of the metal-skinned doors had just beeped and lit up. Seeing no one standing before it, despite the brilliance of the halogen lamp directly overhead, he'd drawn his weapon.
Unusual things made him nervous: eight years on the force had taught him that shifting shadows in a dark alley or unlocked doors that should be locked meant trouble. He believed it was this suspicious nature that had kept him alive and earned him the security position at MicroTech when he went out looking for a job to supplement the pittance Baltimore paid its finest. In all the times he'd made this late-night circuit around the building's perimeter, none of the keypads had ever beeped or lit up of its own accord. Then there were the noises: a faint whispering that could have been the wind, but his instincts told him wasn't.
He considered radioing for backup or at least asking Larry, who sat in front of a bank of monitors, to put down his ever-present magazine and tell him if the cameras were picking up something Eddie's eyes weren't. But until he knew more he didn't want to risk looking foolish or, worse, giving away his presence if someone was back here and hadn't already seen him.
He swept his gaze across the large parking lot, half full with only the night shift's cars. The few lights scattered around on high poles were dim and useless. Still, he thought he might spot something interesting—a dome light, a commercial vehicle—but nothing jumped out at him.
He smiled a little: nothing jumped out at him—not the best choice of words in this situation.
At the far back of the parking lot and circling around the sides of the building, a grassy berm rose to a tall chain-link fence topped with loops of concertina wire. Years ago, in an attempt to keep the employees from feeling like prison workers, the company had planted a row of trees midway up the berm. Pretty, but stupid from a security standpoint.
He scanned the trees, mostly defoliated this time of year. Something glinted in one of them, and he squinted at it. He could make out the fence through the branches and was thinking that's what had caught his eye when the keypad beeped again. Six beeps, actually, and the door's bolts disengaged with a metallic thunk. As the door swung open, Eddie crouched and hurried toward it, watching the lighted area draw closer over the sights of his revolver.
The light shimmered, a rippling current of air like heat waves coming off hot asphalt, then it was gone. The door was swinging closed now, and Eddie bolted for it.
It slammed shut.
He was almost to the door, recalling the code that would open it, shifting his gun into his left hand, when he tripped over something and crashed onto the concrete pad at the threshold. He rolled to see what he'd stumbled over and almost screamed—would have screamed, had his lungs not frozen solid.
A pair of eyes stared down at him. Just eyes, shaped by unseen lids, floating in the glow of the light. Where a head and body should have been ... nothing. Beyond the eyes he could see the building's white-painted bricks, a crack running up from the foundation. The eyes blinked and moved toward him.
The same fear that had paralyzed him a moment before now spurred him to action. He scrambled backward, pushing himself away from the approaching eyes. He leaned on one elbow, swung his gun up and fired, instinctively aiming eighteen inches below the eyes, a centermass shot—if whatever this thing was had mass.
The eyes sailed back and disappeared. A gout of blood appeared in the air and gushed down and around the point of impact in a thin sheet, coating a chest and stomach Eddie could not see. He gazed in awe as the eyes reappeared, this time as narrow crescents. They—and the growing sheet of blood—descended slowly, as though the invisible being was sliding down the brick wall.
The door burst open, fluorescent light from an empty hallway exploding over him. But the hallway wasn't empty: more eyes rushed out of it, bobbing up and down, coming toward him. And another object, floating, circling, as though dancing on the waves of light—a long blade: a knife or sword. It glimmered and sparked as it came at him. In the speed of it all, everything slowed down in the way wheels spin so fast they appear not to be moving at all. He swung the gun toward the eyes, the blade, and felt something strike his hand hard. He fired into the night sky.
A pair of eyes, angry slits with dark irises, stopped over him, and he felt a blow against his chin, knocking his head back. He felt the back of his skull collide against the pavement and an explosion of pain, making his vision go white. Then he felt no more.
Chapter Two Nevaeh knelt and grabbed the security guard's hair, yanking his head sideways as she brought her dagger to his neck. A firm hand gripped her shoulder and pulled her back.
"Nevaeh," Ben said behind her. "He's an innocent."
The blade shook under the strain of her anger. "He got in our way," she said, her gaze focusing on the man's carotid artery, pulsing just below the skin. "He shot Elias."
"NEV-ee-ah." Enunciating it with that deep orator's voice of his, like a father warning a child.
She sighed heavily and jerked her shoulder out of his clasp. She plucked the gun from the man's limp hand and cracked it across his temple to make sure he stayed down, then tossed it away. Her eyes met Ben's. "Happy?" she said.
From behind Ben, Phin's voice came at her: "Come on, come on." His eyes bounced in the doorway, and she knew his invisible body was bouncing, his arms jittering in front of him the way they did when he was excited or agitated, which pretty much defined his constant state of mind.
She glanced at the camera above and to the left of the door. It was slowly panning away from them, toward the darkness. It had captured the fallen man, but clearly no one had noticed; anyone who had would have overridden its automatic movement and held the focus on them. MicroTech made products that required both sterility and security, meaning lots of hermetically sealed barriers and doors, even in the corridors. She doubted the sound of the gunshots had reached anyone's ears.
She rose, brushed past Ben, and crouched where blood appeared to float a foot away from the wall. She touched it and moved her fingers over Elias's body and down his arm. She slid a switch sewn into a tight cuff around his wrist, turning off the power to his suit, and he suddenly popped into existence, clad in a jumpsuit that appeared to be made out of sharkskin, scaly and gray. Something like a mouthless ski mask made of the same material covered his face and head, hands and feet. Constructed of negative index metamaterial, the suit effectively bent light around the wearer's body, rendering him—or her—invisible. The technology had something to do with each tiny scale transferring light to the adjacent scale, but Nevaeh didn't care how it worked, as long as it did. Ben had the brain for such things; she was much more interested in using it to rid the world of people who'd abused the life they'd been given by harming others. The mission at hand would go a long way toward that goal, and she didn't need Phin telling her to hurry.
But this was Elias—
He'd been shot in the chest. She pulled off a glove, careful not to detach the cord that kept it invisible. She probed the wound, and her finger slipped in. Something pulsed weakly against the tip, and she thought it was his heart.
"Nevaeh," Phin said, his voice squeaky.
"All right, all right." She brushed her fingers over Elias's facemask, leaving a streak of blood, and stood, slipping her hand back into the glove. She looked across the parking lot toward the trees, depressed a button in her own mask by her earlobe, and said, "Jordan."
The boy's voice came through an earbud. "What happened? Is that Elias—?"
"He got shot. I need you to hide him and the guard. Hurry."
"Both? I can't—"
"Wait." She leaned over and turned Elias's suit on again. He vanished. No way a camera would pick up the hovering bloodstain. "Okay," she said. "Just the guard. Drag him out between the cars, and don't let the camera catch you. Move it."
She watched the tree across the lot until she saw the silhouette of Jordan's eleven-year-old body descend from a branch and drop. Speaking to Ben's eyes, she said, "Let's go," then stepped toward the doorway. Phin turned away, taking his bouncing peepers with him. Nevaeh and Ben entered the hallway and shut the door behind them.
Chapter Three With the smell of Elias's blood still in her nostrils and her heart racing from the excitement of taking down the guard, Nevaeh hoped for more action—someone spotting their eyes or a security code that had changed since Ben's informant had given it to him—anything that would force them to take a prisoner and get the intel they needed through good old-fashioned violence.
And she meant good, as in God. After all, everything they did was for him. To get his attention, to please him. Anyone who had a hard time reconciling their methods with God's Word hadn't read the Old Testament. He ordered violence against his enemies, and all they were doing was carrying out those orders. Someone had to do it, and more people should; if they did, maybe the Tribe wouldn't be so necessary and God would call them home. Finally.
So bring it on, she thought. His furious wrath moves our muscles and cuts with our swords.
But there would be no cutting tonight. After the incident with the guard outside, everything else flowed without a hitch, and she supposed that was for the best. Ben had outlined a contingency plan to cover the break-in, but the farther into the building they could be traced, the more likely their true agenda would be discovered. And that would blow their grand plans to make a statement against evil that the world wouldn't soon forget.
Ben had memorized the layout, and every door opened at his digital command. They coasted past glass-walled rooms inside which workers in hazmat suits layered electronic circuitry into silicon wafers, tested them on monstrous computers, and etched or silkscreened model and lot numbers on their surfaces. The three intruders lowered their heads to keep cameras from catching their eyes and turned their faces away from assembly personnel and guards even as they breezed past them, close enough to smell their perfume, aftershave, and sweat.
Within minutes they'd found the company's most secure storage room and the vault inside. Ben punched in a code, passed an infrared security chip over a reader, and pressed a fingerprint on a square of transparent film against a biometric scanner. The vault door opened, revealing shelves of aluminum Halliburton cases, labeled with numbers. With his back to Nevaeh he was completely invisible, so when he pulled a case off its shelf, it appeared to spring up and dance in the air on its own. An identical case materialized, drawn from a metamaterial pack on Ben's back. It floated onto the shelf, and the original vanished into the pack.
The case contained twenty microchips that would give them access to sophisticated military weapons, enough to level a city. These chips were backups of ones already in the Pentagon's hands. Chances were they would be inventoried but never used, and the dummy duplicates Ben had left in their stead meant their theft would go unnoticed—at least until it was too late. Their tech wizard, Sebastian, had created them from specs provided by their informant, a man privy to top secret government contracts and who sympathized with their cause.
The vault door closed, and Nevaeh and Phin followed Ben back to their point of entrance. Before exiting, Phin produced a can of spray paint and graffitied the hallway wall: STOP HELPING BUTCHERS! And on the opposite wall: THIS TIME, THIS FAR. NEXT TIME, ALL THE WAY.
MicroTech had been the target of protests over their Pentagon contracts. The idea was to pin the attack on the break-in on radical peaceniks, content—this time—to demonstrate their ability to breach the company's security. The guard's claims of invisible beings would be chalked up to his head trauma, and the cameras would show that no one had penetrated any deeper than this hallway.
Ben punched in a code, and they stepped into the night.
Chapter Four Back on his perch in the tree, Jordan watched through binoculars as the rear door opened and closed. A few moments later Elias appeared, slouched against the brick wall beside the door; someone had turned off his suit, probably to check on his condition.
Lord, make him all right, he prayed. Elias was a bit scruffy, and sometimes his penchant for one-word answers came across as grouchy, but like Jordan he was partial to Western movies and comic books— Wolverine and G.I. Joe were their favorites. And over the years, Jordan had learned about God more from Elias than from any of the others, even Ben with his books and scrolls and big brain. Creed—who had remained home with Hannah, Toby, and Sebastian—once said that Elias's instruction was like God's "still small voice" coming to Elijah on the mountain, and Ben's was God's voice "like the roar of rushing waters and a loud peal of thunder" that the apostle John had heard in his dream.
Through the binocs he saw Elias rise, and Jordan's heart thumped with joy. Then he realized two of the others had lifted him, carrying him between them with Elias's arms draped over their invisible shoulders. He appeared to be skimming over the pavement, his toes dragging behind, arms outstretched and head drooped like a crucified zombie. And that was just creepy.
Jordan spoke into his mic, "Could you guys turn off your ghost suits now? You're freaking me out."
Nevaeh popped into view on Elias's left side, then Ben on his right. As they started up the berm, Jordan dropped down and looked around. "Where's Phin?" Then he jumped and yipped in surprise. Phin's suit beeped and he appeared behind Jordan, his gloved hand on his shoulder.
Jordan swatted at it and stepped away. "Don't do that!"
Phin just laughed.
X I I I
Nevaeh wanted only to get back to their rented van, then to their private jet and out of this city. Elias's weight wasn't a bother—she'd lugged much heavier things—but that guard would be waking soon. Everything had gone too smoothly to get caught now.
She and Ben carried Elias past Jordan and Phin and pushed through the hole in the chain link they had let Jordan cut, which he had thought was "totally sick": after spraying it with liquid nitrogen, the metal had broken under his fingers like ice. They traversed a park on the other side and piled into the van, laying Elias on the floor in the back. Ben and Jordan crouched next to him, Ben peeling the mask off Elias's gray-bearded face.
Nevaeh got into the passenger seat and yanked off her mask, releasing long black hair that flowed over her shoulders. She shook it out of her face and looked at Phin behind the wheel. He'd already removed his mask and was rubbing at the metamaterial paint with which they'd coated their eyelids.
"This stuff is terrible," he said. "Every time I blink, I have to force my eyes open again."
"But you're so pretty," she said. "You'd have made a beautiful glam-rocker." He scowled at her, and she could see the crazy in his eyes. She tried to remember if Phin had always been a bit bats. No, just hyper. The loony part had crept in slowly—like what, over a couple centuries? Seemed like it.
"So," she said, "what are you waiting for? Let's go."
He started the van, but before he could put it into gear, Ben stopped him. "A second, please." In the glow of the dome light he nodded at the others, bowed his head, and they began to pray. Correction: the three conscious males prayed; Nevaeh couldn't get into it, not this time. Ben intoned the same request for God to accept their work she had heard how many times? She'd lost count long ago. His voice was deep and measured, every word perfectly formed.
Excerpted from THE 13TH TRIBE by ROBERT LIPARULO Copyright © 2012 by Robert Liparulo. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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