Deep in the Rocky Mountains, a gruesome discovery—hundreds of mummified bodies—stir international attention and fervent controversy. Despite doubts about the bodies’ origins, the local Native American Heritage Commission lays claim to the prehistoric remains, along with the strange artifacts found in the same cavern: gold plates inscribed with an unfathomable script.
During a riot at the dig site, an anthropologist dies horribly: burned to ash in a fiery explosion in plain view of television cameras. All evidence points to a radical group of Native Americans, including one agitator, a teenage firebrand who escapes with a vital clue to the murder and calls on the one person who might help: her uncle, Painter Crowe, director of Sigma Force.
To protect his niece and uncover the truth, Painter will ignite a war across the nation’s most powerful intelligence agencies. Yet, an even greater threat looms as events in the Rocky Mountains have set in motion a frightening chain reaction, a geological meltdown that threatens the entire western half of the U.S.
From the volcanic peaks of Iceland to the blistering deserts of the American Southwest, from the gold vaults of Fort Knox to the bubbling geysers of Yellowstone, Painter Crowe joins forces with Commander Gray Pierce to penetrate the shadowy heart of a dark cabal, one that has been manipulating American history since the founding of the thirteen colonies.
But can he discover the truth—one that could topple governments—before it destroys all he holds dear?
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 20, 1961
Place of Birth:Chicago, Illinois
Read an Excerpt
The Devil ColonyA Sigma Force Novel
By James Rollins
William MorrowCopyright © 2011 James Rollins
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePresent Day
May 18, 1:32 P.M.
Rocky Mountains, Utah
It looked like the entrance to hell.
The two young men stood on a ridge overlooking a deep, shadowy
chasm. It had taken them eight hours to climb from the tiny burg of
Roosevelt to this remote spot high in the Rocky Mountains.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Trent Wilder asked.
Charlie Reed took out his cell phone, checked the GPS, then examined
the Indian map drawn on a piece of deer hide and sealed in a clear
plastic Ziploc bag. "I think so. According to the map, there should be a
small stream at the bottom of this ravine. The cave entrance should be
where the creek bends around to the north."
Trent shivered and brushed snow from his hair. Though a tapestry of
wildflowers heralded the arrival of spring in the lowlands, up here winter
still held a firm grip. The air remained frigid, and snow frosted the
surrounding mountaintops. To make matters worse, the sky had been lowering
all day, and a light flurry had begun to blow.
Trent studied the narrow valley. It seemed to have no bottom. Down
below, a black pine forest rose out of a sea of fog. Sheer cliffs surrounded
all sides. While he had packed ropes and rappelling harnesses, he hoped he
wouldn't need them.
But that wasn't what was truly bothering him.
"Maybe we shouldn't be going down there," he said.
Charlie cocked an eyebrow at him. "After climbing all day?"
"What about that curse? What your grandfather"
A hand waved dismissively. "The old man's got one foot in the grave
and a head full of peyote." Charlie slapped him in the shoulder. "So don't
go crapping your pants. The cave probably has a few arrowheads, some
broken pots. Maybe even a few bones, if we're lucky. C'mon."
Trent had no choice but to follow Charlie down a thin deer trail
they'd discovered earlier. As they picked their way along, he frowned at
the back of Charlie's crimson jacket, emblazoned with the two feathers
representing the University of Utah. Trent still wore his high school
letterman jacket, bearing the Roosevelt Union cougar. The two of them had
been best friends since elementary school, but lately they'd been growing
apart. Charlie had just finished his first year at college, while Trent had
gone into full-time employment at his dad's auto-body shop. Even this
summer, Charlie would be participating in an internship with the Uintah
Reservation's law group.
His friend was a rising star; one that Trent would soon need a telescope
to watch from the tiny burg of Roosevelt. But what else was new? Charlie
had always outshone Trent. Of course, it didn't help matters that his friend
was half Ute, with his people's perpetual tan and long black hair. Trent's
red crew cut and the war of freckles across his nose and cheeks had forever
relegated him to the role of Charlie's wingman at school parties.
Though the thought went unvoiced, it was as if they both knew their
friendship was about to end as adulthood fell upon their shoulders. So as
a rite of passage, the two had agreed to this last adventure, to search for a
cave sacred to the Ute tribes.
According to Charlie, only a handful of his tribal elders even knew
about this burial site in the High Uintas Wilderness. Those who did were
forbidden to speak of it. The only reason Charlie knew about it was that
his grandfather liked his bourbon too much. Charlie doubted his grandfather
even remembered showing him that old deer-hide map hidden in a
hollowed-out buffalo horn.
Trent had first heard the tale when he was in junior high, huddled in
a pup tent with Charlie. With a flashlight held to his chin for effect, his
friend had shared the story. "My grandfather says the Great Spirit still
haunts this cave. Guarding a huge treasure of our people."
"What sort of treasure?" Trent had asked doubtfully. At the time he
had been more interested in the Playboy he'd sneaked out of his father's
closet. That was treasure enough for him.
Charlie had shrugged. "Don't know. But it must be cursed."
"What do you mean?"
His friend had shifted the flashlight closer to his chin, devilishly
arching an eyebrow. "Grandfather says whoever trespasses into the Great
Spirit's cave is never allowed to leave."
"Because if they do, the world will end."
Right then, Trent's old hound dog had let out an earsplitting wail,
making them both jump. Afterward, they had laughed and talked deep
into the night. Charlie ended up dismissing his grandfather's story as
superstitious nonsense. As a modern Indian, Charlie went out of his way to
reject such foolishness.
Even so, Charlie had sworn Trent to secrecy and refused to take him
to the place marked on the mapuntil now.
"It's getting warmer down here," Charlie said.
Trent held out a palm. His friend was right. The snowfall had been
growing heavier, the flakes thickening, but as they descended, the air had
grown warmer, smelling vaguely of spoiled eggs. At some point, the snowfall
had turned to a drizzling rain. He wiped his hand on his pants and
realized that the fog he'd spotted earlier along the bottom of the ravine
was actually steam.
The source appeared through the trees below: a small creek bubbling
along a rocky channel at the bottom of the ravine.
"Smell that sulfur," Charlie said with a sniff. Reaching the creek, he
tested the water with a finger. "Hot. Must be fed by a geothermal spring
somewhere around here."
Trent was unimpressed. The mountains around here were riddled
with such baths.
Charlie stood up. "This must be the right place."
"Hot spots like this are sacred to my people. So it only makes sense
that they would pick this place for an important burial site." Charlie
headed out, hopping from rock to rock. "C'mon. We're close."
Together, they followed the creek upstream. With each step, the air
grew hotter. The sulfurous smell burned Trent's eyes and nostrils. No
wonder no one had ever found this place.
With his eyes watering, Trent wanted to turn back, but Charlie
suddenly stopped at a sharp bend in the creek. His friend swung in a full
circle, holding out his cell phone like a divining rod, then checked the
map he'd stolen from his grandfather's bedroom this morning.
Trent searched around. He didn't see any cave. Just trees and more
trees. Overhead, snow had begun to frost on the higher elevations, but it
continued to fall as a sickly rain down here.
"The entrance has got to be somewhere nearby," Charlie mumbled.
"Or it could just be an old story."
Charlie hopped to the other side of the creek and began kicking at
some leafy ferns on that side. "We should at least look around."
Trent made a half-assed attempt on his side, heading away from the
water. "I don't see anything!" he called back as he reached a wall of granite.
"Why don't we just"
Then he saw it out of the corner of his eye as he turned. It looked like
another shadow on the cliff face, except a breeze was combing through the
valley, setting branches to moving, shadows to shifting.
Only this shadow didn't move.
He stepped closer. The cave entrance was low and wide, like a mouth
frozen in a perpetual scowl. It opened four feet up the cliff face, sheltered
under a protruding lip of stone.
A splash and a curse announced the arrival of his friend.
"It's really here," Charlie said, sounding hesitant for the first time.
They stood for a long moment, staring at the cave entrance, remembering
the stories about it. They were both too nervous to move forward,
but too full of manly pride to back away.
"We doing this?" Trent finally asked.
His words broke the stalemate.
Charlie's back stiffened. "Hell yeah, we're doing this."
Before either of them could lose their nerve, they crossed to the cliff
and climbed up into the lip of the cave. Charlie freed his flashlight and
pointed it down a tunnel. A steep passageway extended deep into the
Charlie ducked his head inside. "Let's go find that treasure!"
Bolstered by the bravado in his friend's voice, Trent followed.
The passageway narrowed quickly, requiring them to shuffle along
single file. The air was even hotter inside, but at least it was dry and didn't
stink as much.
Squeezing through a particularly tight chute, Trent felt the heat of the
granite through his jacket.
"Man," he said as he popped free, "it's like a goddamn sauna down
Charlie's face shone brightly. "Or a sweat lodge. Maybe the cave was
even used by my people as one. I bet the source of the hot spring is right
under our feet."
Trent didn't like the sound of that, but there was no turning back now.
A few more steep steps and the tunnel dumped into a low-roofed
chamber about the size of a basketball court. Directly ahead, a crude pit
had been excavated out of the rock, the granite still blackened by ancient
Charlie reached blindly to grab for Trent's arm. His friend's grip was
iron, yet it still trembled. And Trent knew why.
The cavern wasn't empty.
Positioned along the walls and spread across the floor was a field of
bodies, men and women, some upright and cross-legged, others slumped
on their sides. Leathery skin had dried to bone, eyes shriveled to sockets,
lips peeled back to bare yellowed teeth. Each was naked to the waist, even
the women, their breasts desiccated and lying flat on their chests. A few
bodies had been decorated with headdresses of feathers or necklaces of
stone and sinew.
"My people," Charlie said, his voice croaking with respect as he edged
closer to one of the mummies.
Trent followed. "Are you sure about that?"
In the bright beam of the flashlight, their skin looked too pale, their
hair too light. But Trent was no expert. Maybe the mineral-rich heat that
had baked the bodies had also somehow bleached them.
Charlie examined a man wearing a ringlet of black feathers around his
neck. He stretched his flashlight closer. "This one looks red."
Charlie wasn't talking about the man's skin. In the direct glare of the
beam, the tangle of hair around the dried skull was a ruddy auburn.
Trent noted something else. "Look at his neck."
The man's head had fallen back against the granite wall. The skin
under his jaw gaped open, showing bone and dried tissue. The slice was too
straight, the cause plain. The man's shriveled fingers held a shiny metal
blade. It still looked polished, reflecting the light.
Charlie swung his flashlight in a slow circle around the room. Matching
blades lay on the stone floor or in other bony grips.
"Looks like they killed themselves," Trent said, stunned.
Trent pointed to the only other feature in the room. Across the chamber,
a dark tunnel continued deeper into the mountain. "Maybe they were
hiding something down there, something they didn't want anyone to
They both stared. A shiver traveled up from Trent's toes and raised
goose bumps along his arms. Neither of them moved. Neither of them
wanted to cross this room of death. Even the promise of treasure no longer
held any appeal.
Charlie spoke first. "Let's get out of here."
Trent didn't argue. He'd seen enough horror for one day.
Charlie swung around and headed toward the exit, taking the only
source of light.
Trent followed him into the tunnel, but he kept glancing back, fearing
that the Great Spirit would possess one of the dead bodies and send it
shuffling after them, dagger in hand. Focused as he was behind him, his
boot slipped on some loose shale. He fell hard on his belly and slid a few
feet down the steep slope back toward the cavern.
Charlie didn't wait. In fact, he seemed anxious to escape. By the time
Trent was back on his feet and dusting off his knees, Charlie had reached
the tunnel's end and hopped out.
Trent started to yell a protest at being abandonedbut another shout,
harsh and angry, erupted from outside. Someone else was out there. Trent
froze in place. More heated words were exchanged, but Trent couldn't
make them out.
Then a pistol shot cracked.
Trent jumped and stumbled two steps back into the darkness.
As the blast echoed away, a heavy silence was left in its wake.
Charlie . . . ?
Shaking with fear, Trent retreated down the tunnel, away from the
entrance. His eyes had adjusted enough to allow him to reach the chamber
of mummies without making a sound. He stopped at the edge of the cavern,
trapped between the darkness at his back and whoever was out there.
Silence stretched and time slowed.
Then a scraping and huffing echoed down to him.
Trent clutched his throat. Someone was climbing into the cave. With
his heart hammering, he had no choice but to retreat deeper into the
darknessbut he needed a weapon. He stopped long enough to pry the
knife from a dead man's grip, snapping fingers like dried twigs.
Once armed, he slipped the blade into his belt and picked his way
across the field of bodies. He held his arms ahead of him, blindly brushing
across brittle feathers, leathery skin, and coarse hair. He pictured bony
hands reaching for him, but he refused to stop moving.
He needed a place to hide.
There was only one refuge.
The far tunnel . . .
But that frightened him.
At one point, his foot stepped into open air. He came close to
screamingthen realized it was only the old fire pit dug into the floor.
A quick hop and he was over it. He tried to use the pit's location to orient
himself in the darkness, but it proved unnecessary.
Light grew brighter behind him, bathing the chamber.
Now able to see, he rushed headlong across the cavern. As he reached
the mouth of the tunnel, a thudding, tumbling sounded behind him. He
glanced over his shoulder.
A body came rolling out of the passageway and sprawled facedown on
the floor. The growing light revealed the embroidered feathers on the back
of the body's crimson jacket.
Excerpted from The Devil Colony by James Rollins Copyright © 2011 by James Rollins. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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“From the hidden Indian treasure, to the Fort Knox secrets, to the conspiracy at the beginning of the United States The Devil Colony gives you every reason why you’ll want to be a member of Sigma Force.”