When ex-Navy SEAL Nick Foley travels to China to find purpose and escape the demons of his past, he instead stumbles into a conspiracy his Special Forces training never prepared him for. A mysterious and deadly outbreak ravages a remote area of western China, and Nick finds himself the lead suspect in a bio-terrorism investigation being conducted by China's elite Snow Leopard counter-terrorism unit.
To clear his name and avoid prosecution, he must team up with beautiful Chinese CDC microbiologist Dr. Dazhong “Dash” Chen to find who is really behind the attack. As their investigation proceeds, their budding friendship is tested by nationalistic loyalties and suspicion.
In a race against time, Nick and Dash must risk everything to stop a mad man before he unleashes the world's next super-weapon in Beijing.
About the Author
Alex Ryan is a pseudonym for authors Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson. Both are US Navy veterans: Andrews served as an officer aboard a 688 class nuclear submarine and Wilson as a combat surgeon on multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan supporting U.S. Naval Special Warfare (SEALs). They have written 4 books individually and live in Kansas and Tampa, FL, respectively.
Read an Excerpt
Rural irrigation project
Fifteen kilometers outside of Kizilsu
Kashgar Prefecture, Xinjiang
0730 hours local
When he was a boy, his father gave him a John Deere toy tractor set for his fifth birthday. Die-cast construction, green paint, rubber wheelsa toy that could actually dig up dirt, not the plastic crap they pawned off on kids today. His favorite piece had been the front-end loader, the one that came with an articulating shovel and a spreader in back. He’d played with that toy for hours in the backyard, scooping up dry, west Texas earth and redistributing it. “Nick Foley Demolition and Construction,” his father had declared with pride upon seeing his son’s massive earthworks project, albeit executed at 1/32 scale. From that day on, his father had encouraged Nick to pursue a career in construction.
He’d become a Navy SEAL instead.
Now here he was, twenty-eight, out of the Navy, and back playing in the dirt. He surveyed the partially completed irrigation trench stretching off into the distance. Then he looked at the broken-down backhoe thirty meters away. Not a John Deere, he mused, reading the word “SUNCO” emblazoned on the side of the bright-orange earthmover. He squatted and scooped up a handful of dry, western China dirt and crumbled it between his fingers. ’Bout the same as West Texas dirt, he thought. Same kinda desert here, just on the other side of the world. He’d always liked the feel of soil in his hands. It made him feel connecteda kinship to the earth and every living thing that struggled to make this planet a home. There was far more to life than living, he knew. Life was about stewardship, doing something good with the body and mind God had given. For Nick, stewardship meant serving and protecting others without the caveat of personal gain. He hadn’t spoken openly about his philosophy during his time in the SEAL teams, but it was this simple ideology that had led him to join the Navy in the first place.
And then later, it had led him away.
But today was today, and there was an irrigation ditch that needed digging. He picked up a shovelone of many leaning against the defunct backhoeand headed toward the group of NGO volunteers and paid laborers milling around the water station. This was not a happy lot, and he didn’t blame them. Digging by hand was brutal work, but he knew from experience it would be days before the backhoe got fixed. In Navy speak, the machine was tango uniform“tits up”for the foreseeable future. What this gang needed most was motivation.
He stepped up onto a large, rusted toolbox.
“Good morning,” he announced, smiling.
The paid Uyghur laborersindigenous Muslims from villages outside Kashi and Kizilsugave him their attention. Everyone glanced over at him with a perfunctory pause before resuming their grumbling.
“Must have been made in the USA, right?” he chuckled, gesturing with a thumb at the filthy orange machine behind him.
“Sounds about right, mate,” said Ian, the Aussie, with an exaggerated grin.
Nick winked at his straight man. He could always count on Ian in a pinch. Since they’d shared their first pint of beer in China, their Aussie-versus-Yank banter had raged unabated, entertaining anyone and everyone who cared to listen.
“They tried to get a replacement,” Nick went on, “but the company couldn’t arrange the necessary vaccinations to bring in an Australian earthmovertwo old mules and a plow, I believe.”
There was a smattering of laughter from the other NGO volunteers, mostly Europeans and a couple of Brits, but only blank stares from the Uyghurs.
“Look, guys, I know this situation stinks, but if we wanted ordinary, we’d be working for multinational companies, making pointless widgets for myopic bosses who can’t remember our names, right? If we wanted ordinary, we’d be sitting on our asses watching television, smartphones glued to our hands, tweeting about celebrity gossip.” They laughed, and he knew he had their attention. He understood his audiencemostly young, motivated idealistsbut sometimes even idealists need a kick in the ass. “Now, I realize that backbreaking manual labor in the desert is stretching our charter. And anyone who’s not up for today’s task can opt out. Nobody here is going to hold a grudge if you want to take the truck back into town. But me, I’m gonna dig, and anyone who’s here with me at quitting time drinks beer on my tab tonight.”
Nick stepped down, grabbed a shovel, slung it over his shoulder, and headed toward the irrigation ditch. The Uyghurs, who Nick knew did not comprehend a word of his little pep talk, mobilized en masse toward the trench, shovels in hand.
Nick glanced at Ian as he walked by the waffling group of NGO volunteers.
Ian winked at Nick. “I, for one, can’t pass on free beerespecially when a yank is paying.”
Five minutes later, they were all down in the ditch, standing waist-deep and digging, with two dozen young, strong backs in the mix. As the dirt flew, Nick wondered if they weren’t making better progress than yesterday, when the damn backhoe had actually been operational.
“Good working, Mister Nick,” came a voice beside him.
Nick glanced right and saw Batura Uyghur he had befriendedstanding in the ditch beside him. Batur’s face and neck were dappled with sweat, despite the cool morning air. With a medic’s discerning eye, Nick observed that his friend’s deep-caramel-colored skin had taken on an uncharacteristic grayish tinge.
“You okay, Batur?” Nick asked.
Batur stared back with a blank expression that, from their many past conversations together, Nick understood meant incomprehension. Befriending Batur had been an interesting challenge. Nick didn’t speak a word of Batur’s native Karluk, and neither man had mastered Mandarin, so English had become the de facto language between them. As they got to know each other, Nick realized how desperately Batur wanted to learn English. In Batur’s mind, speaking English was a prerequisite for a better lifea prerequisite for someday leaving China. And so Nick made an effort to have conversations with the man whenever possible and subtly tutor his Uyghur friend on the basics of American English.
“Are you sick?” Nick asked, trying again. This time, he pointed to his stomach and made a sour face.
Batur nodded, getting it, and pointed at his own stomach.
“Batur eated some nasty bad shit, him thinking,” the small, powerful-looking Uyghur said with a forced grin.
Nick couldn’t help but laugh. “Been there, buddy,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t work too hard today. Take a rest if you need to.”
“Batur okay. Rest later,” Batur said and went back to his digging.
Since his friend wasn’t feeling well, Nick decided not to push an English lesson today. Both men worked in silence, and soon Nick had his own glisten of sweat going. He pulled his Texas A&M sweatshirt off over his head and tied the arms around his waist. He found a comfortable rhythm and moved load after load of dirt up and out of the trench. After a while, his shoulders and back began to ache, but it was a good ache. In fact, he relished the feeling. He was using his body, and he took guilty pleasure in letting his mind drift aimlessly. Eventually, his thoughts wandered to Afghanistan, and suddenly the dirt felt heavier.
A powerful moment of déjà vu washed over him. It wasn’t just the barren landscape and craggy mountain peaks on the horizon. It wasn’t how the Chinese security forces walking the streets of Kashgar reminded him of US Marines patrolling the villages in Helmand province in Afghanistan. No, this déjà vu was a product of the peoplepeople like Batur, who worked and sweated beside him in this ditch. The Uyghurs, like the Pashtun in Northeastern Afghanistan, had endured thousands of years of relentless conflict. Wars, persecution, and would-be conquerors scarred their history. Through centuries of aggression and infiltration, the Pashtun had remained steadfastpathologically undisturbed by the miserable lot in life they had been dealt by being born in the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia. For the Afgahnis, the choice was simplelose their culture or die fighting to preserve it. With the influx of Chinese and the modernization of Kashgar, the native Uyghurs now believed they were being forced to make the same choice.
Nick’s shovel clanged as it hit a large stone just beneath the surface. The vibration rang up his arm, and a flash of white-hot pain flared in his left shoulderan unpleasant reminder of the wound he received on his first tour with the SEALs. But the physical injury was the least of the damage he suffered at the base of the Hindu Kush. The invisible wound, the one he carried inside, had yet to heal. Strange that a single night, in a life of so many nights, had made him into the man he was today. He had left the Navy and gone home, only to leave and fly to a place so much like the one he was trying to forget. He shook his head at the irony. Kabul was roughly five hundred miles from Kashi. That was closer than Dallas was to El Paso. Strange that he had wandered back to the crossroads of humanity. Why had he come here?
“So what is that tattoo, Nick?” asked a female voice, shaking him out of his thoughts.
He turned to find Yvette, a blond Belgian co-ed who’d been chatting him up lately, staring at the patch of body art that decorated his right shoulder. He’d gotten the tattoo in Virginia Beach after returning from his first deployment to help conceal a nasty patch of scar tissue. While he rarely thought about the shield and frog on his deltoid, he was proud to wear a visible reminder of his association with his brother SEALsthe bravest men he’d ever know.
“Oh, this?” he said, craning his neck to look at the tattoo. “It’s a reminder not to get drunk in a Navy town.”
The blond laughed, but he wasn’t sure she really got the joke. Nick watched a drop of sweat trickle down her neck and disappear in the cleavage between her modest but shapely breasts. Yvette was young and had the figure of an endurance athlete. She caught him looking, and it seemed to please her.
A shovel clattered in the dirt, and Nick heard a heavy thud behind him.
Yvette hollered, "God, oh God!" in her Belgian Dutch accent as Nick spun around. At his feet, Batur lay face down in the dirt. He knelt beside his friend just as Yvette regained her composure and dashed over, kneeling on Batur's other side.
"Help me," Nick said, and he grabbed beneath one armpit as Yvette did the same. Together they heaved the stout little man up onto the side of the ditch and rolled him onto his back.
Yvette screamed and bicycled her feet, propelling herself backward away from Batur like a crab. Nick choked back bile at the face no longer recognizable as his friend's. Batur's cheeks were hollow and sunken, like the gray skin of a corpse. In horrible contrast, the man's purple lips had swollen to the point where the bottom lip split in two places and impossibly dark blood leaked across his chin. Like his lips, Batur's eyelids were like two bulging balloons, hematomas swollen to enormous size and expanding away from his face. The skin seemed so thin that Nick imagined a single touch would cause the eyelids to explode in a gory puff. The slits between the upper and lower lids were barely visible, like lines painted on as an afterthought, and from the misshapen corners of the eyes came a trickle of dark blood.
"What's wrong with him?" Yvette sobbed from somewhere behind him.
For a moment, Nick thought he was looking at a corpse, but suddenly the body twitched. Batur's chest heaved as he tried to suck air through his impossibly swollen lips. An awful, wet, snorting sound came from his mouth but then abruptly stopped. Nick inched closer. He needed to clear Batur's airwaytilt the head back, tip the chin up.