Paleontologist Cameron Malone has discovered a 500,000-year-old man. Renegade scientist Dr. Noel Anderson has plans for the ancient man. When Anderson steals tissue from the frozen corpse, he uses the DNA to create a modern Ancient Man. Now, Dr. Malone must stop this waking nightmare of genetic engineering.
"Paleontologist Malone discovers a 500,000-year-old man, only to have a rival scientist defile the find in his search for genetic material to implant in an unsuspecting woman. What grows from the ancient DNA is a twin horror so unpredictible and terrifying that it shakes modern science and those who try to control the new arrivals." -- Midwest Book Review
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
National bestselling author Charles Wilson has become known for edge-of-your-seat tension and fast-paced action in his novels. His first work, Nightwatcher, a psychological thriller, was called "splendid" by John Grisham and "quite an achievement" by the Los Angeles Times. Ed Gorman, publisher of Mystery Scene magazine says, "Wilson might flat-out be the best plotter of our generation." Wilson's Direct Descendant and Extinct, novels exploring the chilling consequences of so-called scientific advances, have been optioned by Hollywood filmmakers. Other Wilson novels are Game Plan, Fertile Ground and Embryo; three suspense novels, When First We Deceive, Silent Witness and The Cassandra Prophecy; and Deep Sleep-- a psychological thriller set in a Voodoo-influenced swampy parish in South Louisiana. Charles Wilson currently lives with his wife and three children in Brandon, Mississippi, where he is at work on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Charles Wilson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1995 Charles Wilson
All rights reserved.
"He was angry, Mother." The little girl, her blonde curls hanging in front of her face, stared down into the glass display case at the shriveled body of the Ancient Man. Around her, dozens of people milled about the big exhibit room, most of them perusing the prehistoric artifacts arranged in long lines against the walls. A few were looking at the equipment used on the expedition that made the discovery. An elderly couple stared at the large mounted placard next to the main entrance. On it was a photograph of Dr. Cameron Malone, the paleontologist who had led the expedition.
Cameron Malone himself, in his early thirties — and looking even younger with his thick, dark hair hanging nearly to the collar of his sport coat — stood back at the center of the room, on the opposite side of the case from the little girl. He had been amused at her remark, and now watched her stare at the Man's drawn face, where his mouth gaped wide and his lips pulled back from his blunt, cracked teeth. Then she moved her gaze to the great slashes across the stomach and the deep holes dug into the thighs, narrowed her eyes, and looked up over her shoulder at the heavy-set woman standing behind her. "He was angry, wasn't he, Mother?" she repeated. "He didn't like the people hurting him at all."
Now Cameron saw the woman look across the case at him. "What did cause his wounds?" she asked.
He shook his head slightly. "At this point we're not certain, except possibly the wounds to his thighs. Since each of them has an almost identical amount of flesh removed, we believe they occurred during some type of burial ritual."
The woman nodded, looked down through the glass for a moment more, then caught her daughter's hand and directed her toward the main exit. The child glanced back at the case and then up at her mother. "He was angry," she insisted. "He was very angry."
At that moment, Dr. Baringer came back from the water fountain with a paper cup in his hand. Middle-aged, slightly overweight, and wearing a plaid coat and red bow tie over white slacks, he looked much more the stereotyped image of a paleontologist than Cameron did, and most of the visitors with questions about the exhibit had directed them to him. Having overheard the child, he looked at her and her mother on their way across the floor, then dropped his gaze to the Ancient Man's gaped mouth.
"He does look a bit put out, doesn't he, Cameron? Reminds me a lot of my brother-in-law — always has his mouth flapped open complaining about something. The way the skin is starting to crack, that reminds me of my brother-in-law, too. Name's Fred. Drinking is what did it according to my sister. But I don't know. She married him over in the Middle East when she was a nurse there. I'm not so certain he didn't always look like that."
Cameron smiled, and looked toward the little girl and her mother stepping from the room out into the hallway, then had his view of the pair blocked as a tall, thin man passing behind them stopped and stared toward the case. Dressed in a black suit that fit too tightly, he resembled something between a too-thin English butler and Ichabod Crane. Cameron nearly smiled again, then had his attention drawn to the announcement it was closing time being broadcast through the room.
Baringer glanced at his watch. "Well, that's it," he said. "I suppose I need to be on my way."
He held out his hand and Cameron grasped it and shook it firmly. "Have a good flight."
"And you a good meal," Baringer said, and then chuckled. "I'll bet it's chicken." The two walked to the room's main exit, paused to shake hands a last time, then went in opposite directions, Cameron moving up the hallway toward the front of the center while Dr. Baringer moved down it, toward his car parked at the rear of the building.
* * *
A hundred feet ahead of Baringer, Dr. Noel Anderson, tall and thin in his tight, black suit, hurried around a corner into an intersecting corridor, ceased his long strides and looked back over his shoulder. No one was in sight.
He strode quickly to a closed door a few feet away. The rectangular sign on it read: EMPLOYEES ONLY — STORAGE ROOM.
He opened the door, stepped inside the dark space and closed the door behind him.
A moment later, a uniform-clad night watchman came by the door, nodded at Dr. Baringer as they passed in the hall, and walked on toward the exhibit room where the Ancient Man was displayed.
* * *
Stepping outside the center into the humid air that had hung heavily over Memphis all day, Cameron glanced at a group of older patrons boarding a tour bus parked at the curb, then walked toward his car, a white Maxima sitting under the glow of a street lamp.
A few minutes later, he had driven the short distance to the Peabody Hotel. Once inside the Memphis landmark, he crossed a carpeted hallway into a sprawling lobby and lounge area, the plaza where guests could lounge and have a drink as they watched the famous parades of the Peabody ducks on their way from the elevators to the ornate water fountain at the plaza's center.
He entered the Chez Philippe through a doorway situated past the big bar in the plaza, and was shown by a waiter to a table on the second level of the three-tier restaurant.
A half dozen men came to their feet at his approach. The pudgy, red-haired man who had been sitting at the head of the table turned back to face the others. "May I introduce Dr. Cameron Malone," he said.
Cameron held out his hand first. "Dr. Jensen."
The man shook it warmly. "Dr. Malone." Then Cameron reached across the table to shake each professor's hand in turn. Dr. Jensen motioned for him to sit in the chair next to his, then remained standing as the other professors settled into their seats.
"And now, as dean of the science department and host of this welcoming dinner," he said, "it falls to me to give a brief background of our guest and new colleague." He pulled a sheet of paper from inside his coat and unfolded it.
"Born on a farm outside of Greenwood, Mississippi," he started, then looked at Cameron.
Feeling a little awkward at so formal an introduction, Cameron nodded.
"His family still lives there — the fourth generation, I believe."
He looked again, and Cameron nodded again.
"Dr. Malone attended prep school in Missouri — Missouri Military Academy, known for its academics; went on to the University of Missouri, obtained his doctorate at Berkeley, then returned to Missouri where he lectured at the university for three years. He relinquished that position when he undertook the expedition to Italy. His contract at Memphis University is for this year ..." Jensen looked directly at him. "... and we hope he enjoys his stay so well that he continues on with us."
Someone near the end of the table clapped lightly and Cameron smiled politely in that direction. Dr. Jensen folded the paper and replaced it inside his coat.
"Now I suggest we order dinner. Then I am sure Dr. Malone will be happy to answer any questions you might have."
One person didn't wait. "Dr. Malone. There has been quite a raging controversy in regard to your discovery's age. Could you comment on that?"
Cameron realized from her voice that the speaker was a woman. With no make-up on her broad face, her short brown hair cut and combed like a man's, and dressed in a tailored, boxy pantsuit, he had completely missed that when shaking hands. He looked down the table at her.
"Dr. Higgonbotham," the woman said.
He nodded. "Yes, doctor. While I don't know if you could quite term the controversy raging, there has been some initial skepticism. But I can assure you there is no way our original dating is going to be found faulty. Of course that's not to say there won't be some continuing dispute as to other aspects of his existence."
The woman's knowing nod and smug expression told him she could be counted among the skeptics, and Cameron felt a slight irritation. Damn, he thought, with all the intelligence supposedly concentrated among prehistorian scholars, one would think there would be some common sense present too. What did they think he and Baringer had done — faked the find, faked the dating? That thought made him even more irritated, for he knew such was in the minds of some scientists, and that possibility largely the reason he hadn't been offered funding for a subsequent expedition.
* * *
The storage room door slowly opened. Dr. Anderson, now wearing a black ski mask, peered down the wide, dimly lit hall. He moved quickly toward the room where the Ancient Man was displayed.
At its doorway he hesitated, staring at the glass case at the center of the room. He looked back across his shoulder down the hall. He felt his hand tremble. This was taking more out of him than he thought it would. He took a deep breath and walked toward the case.
Reaching it, he ran his eyes slowly around the rim, checking for wires, then dropped his gaze to the small refrigeration unit pumping frigid air into the foot of the case. He saw no sensor or alarm of any kind. But who would think somebody might steal a mummified man? What would they do with it?
The fools. They should have burned it and spread its ashes at sea. For now he would bring their arrogant religion down around their heads.
He stared directly at the shriveled face, drawn taut, the cheeks hollowed, the eye sockets distorted and sunk back in the head, and the nose, pulled flatter by the shrinkage of the skin than it would have been during life. And the way the mouth gaped open caused even the chin to seem less prominent, by allowing it to sag closer toward the neck. With a little imagination backward into so-called evolution — the way prehistorian scholars would be certain to guide the thinking — the face could end up being viewed as belonging to a creature not much more advanced than a hairless monkey. He could see the artists' renditions now. Even if a courageous independent tried to faithfully reconstruct the face, there would be misconceptions — there always had been before.
And finally the missing brain. He moved his eyes to the patch covering the top of the skull. If everything else failed them, they had that. At the very least they would use its absence to paint a portrait of something no more reasoning than a zombie. He wondered if the brain really had been missing when the body was discovered, as reported, or had it been removed afterward? They had had their way for so long.
But not anymore.
Feeling satisfaction in that thought, the barest of smiles crossed his face under his mask, and he closed his eyes in bliss.
Then a barely perceptible sound traveled down the wide hallways and into the great room to his ears, and he tensed — until he realized it was only the air conditioner coming on.
But the next sound might not be so innocent.
Hurrying now, he removed a pair of surgical gloves from his coat pocket and slipped them on, then pulled a screwdriver from inside the coat. He worked quickly on the screws to the thin metal strip that held the glass panels in place.
In less than a minute he had eased a panel to the side, sunk to his knees, and slipped his narrow upper body through the opening into the frigid air over the man.
* * *
"I'd be interested in how you obtained your original funding for the expedition?" Dr. Higgonbotham asked. "Your young age, your lack of previous expedition experience — there were a number of paleontologists eminently more qualified for such an undertaking. If you don't mind my asking —"
Cameron didn't. That was a logical question on its face. Though the way the woman had phrased it caused the other professors to stare in her direction. He sipped from the Jordan cabernet sauvignon Dean Jensen had ordered, then placed his glass back on the table.
"My best friend at Berkeley came from a quite wealthy family. I approached his father with the proposal that his company fund the expedition — and I lucked out."
"I see," the woman said, and nodded knowingly.
Thinking it's not what but who you know, Cameron thought — and she would be right about that. If he hadn't had the personal connection to the family, he probably never would have gotten the man to listen to his idea; no one else would.
"It certainly wasn't all luck," Dean Jensen interjected. "I would remind you Dr. Malone graduated at the top of his class at the University of Missouri, studied under the renowned Dr. Baringer at Berkeley, and, in fact, as part of the package he put forth to obtain his financing, was able to offer Baringer's accompanying him on the expedition."
He had actually graduated third, thought Cameron. But the point was well taken — especially Baringer's agreeing to co-head the expedition. He returned to his steak.
But not for long.
"Excuse me." It was Dr. Higgonbotham again. "Doesn't the fact that his cranial capacity is equal to ours cause you to have some doubts?"
And this was a welcoming dinner? Cameron thought. He had been questioned less stringently at some of the news conferences. "You mean doubts about his being dated at five hundred thousand years?"
"As a point of fact, doctor, his cranial capacity is actually not the same as ours. At over fourteen hundred cubic centimeters it is slightly above the mean for Homo sapiens — modern man, if you will. But there is a precedent for that in the Heidelberg jaw, dated at over four hundred thousand years, and the occipital bone found in Vértesszölös, Hungary."
"Yes, Dr. Malone, but neither of those demonstrated the large cranial capacity in combination with a high forehead and prominent chin — as in your discovery's case."
"Maybe and maybe not. There was not enough evidence to interpolate with certainty that they didn't come from a human closely resembling us. It was only assumed they didn't."
He waited a moment, until the woman's mouth started to open again, then added, "And those who assume often make fools of themselves."
He caught a glimpse of white teeth across the table as one of the professors smiled. The other men dug into their plates. Dr. Higgonbotham stared for a moment, then returned to her salad.
* * *
Perspiring profusely beneath his mask, Dr. Anderson slid his thin body out of the display case.
Working hurriedly, he fitted the glass panel back against the side of the case, aligned the metal strip over the holes in the glass and tightened the screws into place. Pausing a few seconds, he looked around to see if there was anything he might have dropped. Satisfied he had left no traces, he turned and hurried toward the room's main exit.
"Don't move!" came a hoarse voice from behind him. "Don't you even twitch."
He didn't hesitate, dashing through the doorway and out into the hall. The night watchman pounded after him. A room to the right was completely darkened and he sprinted inside it. He saw the dim opening of another exit at the back of the room and ran toward it. Just before reaching the opening, he suddenly angled to the right and crouched behind a display case of ancient rocks.
The watchman dashed into the room and stopped. Gray-haired and breathing hard from the run, he held a big black revolver out before him as he slowly scanned each shadowy exhibit. His gaze moved to the light switches on a panel near a door at the rear of the room — and he started toward them.
As he passed the case of ancient rocks, he glanced at it then reached for the light switch.
Dr. Anderson wrapped his hands around a clay bust on the floor at the side of the case and stood. The watchman spun around — too late. The clay bust shattered as it smashed into his face and he fell backward to the floor. His heels kicked twice against the tile. Then he was still.
A minute later, a door at the rear of the center opened and Dr. Anderson strode from the building. Brushing clay dust from his dark suit as he walked, he hurried through the night toward his car parked near the Mid America Mall. The bright lights of downtown Memphis illuminated his way.CHAPTER 2
They all stood around the table now. The sound of a harp wafted gently through the restaurant. Dean Jensen laboriously filled out the credit card slip. Dr. Mildren, a squat man with a pleasant face and flecks of gray dotting his black hair, walked around the table to Cameron.
"I don't mean to impose, but I, uh, wonder if you might do me a favor."
"I have a son — sixteen — quite a good football player." Dr. Mildren looked sheepish, as if embarrased that his statement might be taken as a father's bragging. "He's so into football, he's beginning to let his grades slide noticeably. And, quite frankly, he looks upon what I do as the most boring thing in the world. So it doesn't do me a lot of good to talk to him. At least it hasn't to date. If you could speak to him for me, show him it doesn't have to be one or the other, that he can do both, like you did."
Excerpted from Direct Descendant by Charles Wilson. Copyright © 1995 Charles Wilson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Lean, tight, and compelling. You barely have time to catch your breath -- and they're back again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good read packed with action, murderous aliens, and an anthropologist attempting to stop an experiment gone berserk. The pacing is great, prompting you to keep turning the pages until the final resolution.
Highly implausible story about beings brought back through the sperm of a 500,000 year-old man. Although the book keeps you reading, the author was somewhat cowardly by never offering a final explanation for the origin of these beings. Aliens? Highly developed ancient race of people? You decide. The setting is also questionable. I mean, would you believe all this took place in Memphis of all places? Obviously, a city the author was familiar with, but come on. I do have to say it was a good read, the pacing pushing you to keep the pages turning. But don't expect any point being made about human nature, evolution, or anything else. The author is merely attempting to entertain you for a few diverting hours.