that keeps the reader on edge.” —Examiner
IT HAS SURVIVED
At a research station in Antarctica, scientists discovered a strange and ancient organism. They thought they could study it, classify it, control it. They couldn’t.
IT HAS THRIVED
Six months ago, a secret paramilitary team called Unit 51 was sent to the station.
They thought the creature was dead, the nightmare was over. It wasn’t.
IT HAS EVOLVED
In a Mexican temple, archeologists uncover the remains of a half-human hybrid. They believe it is related to the creature in Antarctica, a dark thing of legend that is still alive—and still evolving. They believe it needs a new host to feed, to mutate, to multiply. They’re right. And they’re next. And the human race might just be headed for extinction . . .
“Highly recommended for fans of creature horror
and the thrillers of Michael Crichton.”
—The Horror Review
“Thriller powerhouse McBride begins his Unit 51 series . . . neatly executes a sudden shift of mood and tone toward frantic horror when the story flips into a race to escape from savage human-alien hybrid predators in a confined space, evoking feelings of shock and terror.”
—Publishers Weekly on Subhuman
“This novel is for everyone who’s still a little scared of the dark . . . a very good sci-fi/thriller; I’ll read whatever McBride writes next.”
—Ken Raymond, The Oklahoman on Subhuman.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Subterranean ice caverns,
"This way, sir."
Director Cameron Barnett fell into stride beside Special Agent Rick Donovan. The earthen walls of the tunnel were smoothed by eons of running water, which had taken a serious feat of engineering to divert so they could drain these passageways. Residual puddles splashed underfoot and echoed ahead of them beyond the range of sight. LED lights were mounted to the ceiling and spaced so far apart that they had to walk through walls of darkness between the glowing auras, but they were already taxing the limits of their ability to produce enough electricity, especially with the increased demand provided by the discovery of new tunnels seemingly on a daily basis.
"What do we know about it?" Barnett asked.
"Nothing at this point."
The two men veered to the left and into a narrow corridor. The outlet was so small they were forced to crawl more than a dozen feet, which was made even more awkward by the full-body isolation suits. The Plexiglas shields covered the better part of their faces and upper chests, revealing only a hint of their black fatigues.
Barnett stood and checked the seals around his wrists and hood. Such precautions might have seemed like overkill, but with everything he'd seen in the years since cofounding Unit 51, he'd learned to never leave anything to chance.
"How much farther?"
"Maybe a hundred feet through that tunnel to the left."
Barnett didn't wait for his escort, who carried a SCAR 17 semiautomatic assault rifle slung over the shoulder of his yellow suit, and headed directly toward the passage. He hadn't been this deep into the warrens before, but he made it his business to commit every new inch of the map to memory as they discovered it. As with each new cavern they explored, they'd placed a small black mousetrap in an inconspicuous place, just in case they got lucky and finally caught the escaped rodent belonging to his former microbiologist, Dr. Max Friden. Assuming it wasn't dead already, which he sincerely hoped. It had been infected with the same alien microorganisms as the creature responsible for the deaths of their earlier scientific team, but they hadn't seen any sign of it since first penetrating the research complex, following the extraction of the survivors.
The sloped ceiling was spiked with stalactites that grew longer and longer until they became columns where they reached the ground at the back of the chamber, leaving barely enough room between them for the men to squeeze into the rugged hole at the base of the rear wall. The light on the far end shimmered from standing water so cold that Barnett's entire body clenched when he slid down into it.
He cleared his mind so as not to form any preconceptions. If there was one thing he'd learned on this job, it was that an open mind was critical when it came to rationalizing the inexplicable.
The tunnel terminated at the base of a crevice so narrow he could barely force his shoulders through. He emerged into a frozen cavern the size of a two-car garage and paused long enough to gather his bearings. He was roughly a quarter-mile southeast of the main entrance beneath the pyramid and seventy feet below the bed of the drained lake.
Donovan sloshed from the orifice behind him.
"Through that crevice over there," he said The walls were coated with a layer of ice so thick it appeared almost blue and refracted the brilliant glare of the lighting array in such a way as to grant it the opacity of diamond. The nature of the running water and the pressure at this depth combined to keep this cavern relatively dry and just warm enough to cause the ice to grow incrementally thicker with each passing year. His team hadn't even been able to enter the passageways concealed behind it until their third day of going at it with flamethrowers. Even now, the ice created an illusion reminiscent of a hall of mirrors, which made it appear as though there were no way through, until he found himself standing in the mouth of a tunnel so tight he had to turn sideways.
He was barely five feet in when the muscles in his lower back tightened and goosebumps rippled up the backs of his arms. He stopped and scrutinized his surroundings. His primal instincts had been honed to a razor's edge during his years as an Army Ranger and an intelligence operative with the NSA, and served as an early-warning system he trusted with his life.
"Sir? It's —"
Barnett raised his hand to silence Donovan.
Something wasn't right.
The sound of dripping water echoed from ahead of him with a metronomic plink ... plink ... plink. He could feel the heat from the adjoining cavern even through his isolation suit.
"Who's in there?" he whispered.
"Berkeley and Jonas."
Every one of his men had been selected as much for their mental prowess and discretion as their physical abilities, which was the reason they'd been brought to his attention in the first place. Not only were they all highly trained intelligence officers, they were battle-tested under conditions that would have broken lesser men. Berkeley had survived in the Koh-i-Baba Mountains outside of Kabul for more than a month after his platoon was ambushed and Jonas had single-handedly kept a half-dozen wounded soldiers alive under a collapsed building in Fallujah for three days while he tunneled through the rubble to freedom.
Barnett had memorized the dossier of every man in his unit for this precise reason, so that when placed in a situation of complete uncertainty his actions would be appropriately measured. And he knew, based on his observations, that both men were already dead.
"Give me your rifle," he whispered.
Barnett reached behind him, without taking his eyes off the sliver of light at the end of the crevice, until Donovan thrust the rifle into his hand. He braced it across his chest and sighted over his shoulder as he inched sideways, one silent step at a time.
The isolation hood dulled his senses. He couldn't smell anything and worried it masked the sounds at the lower range of hearing, but the last thing he wanted was to end up like Dr. Dale Rubley, or his former partner, Hollis Richards, whose remains they had yet to find despite six months of exhaustive searching.
Plink ... plink ...
The view into the cavern widened with every step. There was no sign of movement, at least not from what he could see, although an inestimable amount of the cavern remained hidden from sight. His position was too compromised to risk a direct confrontation, so he hastened his advance.
The ice abruptly gave way to a cavern smaller than the last, although it was hard to accurately gauge its size since the ice had effectively sealed off the back half. His men had widened the existing passages through it with their flamethrowers and essentially cleared out enough space for the body strewn across the ground. Its isolation suit was torn and the flesh underneath it rent by such deep lacerations that Jonas's face was nearly unrecognizable behind his cracked, crimson-spattered visor. There was so much blood that the pool underneath him had yet to freeze all the way through.
Two rifles lay beside him. Neither appeared to have been fired.
"What in the name of God ... ?" Donovan said.
"Call for backup."
Barnett tuned out Donovan's voice as he spoke into the transceiver and focused on the carnage.
At a guess, his man couldn't have been dead for more than twenty minutes. He knelt and examined the remains. Jonas's wounds looked like they'd been inflicted by a wild animal, although he could think of no species capable of overcoming two highly trained soldiers without them being able to fire a single shot in their defense.
Indistinct tracks led deeper into the cavern. Most were smeared by what he assumed to be Berkeley's dragged body.
Barnett stood and seated the rifle against his shoulder.
Whatever animal did this might still be in there with them.
He followed the passage deeper into the ice until it became too narrow for him to pass.
The bloody tracks on the ground were sloppy, smudged, and already frosted white. Those ascending the sheer wall of ice were even less distinct, although the punctures and gouges from what appeared to be claws were readily apparent. As was the hole leading up into the frozen ceiling, through which he could see only darkness.
Teotihuacan, 25 miles northeast of Mexico City
Dr. Cade Evans squirmed through the earthen tunnel, which was barely tall enough for him to raise his head. He was beginning to feel as though he lived underground. Six months ago, researchers at Teotihuacan had only known about two of these subterranean tunnels. It seemed like every day now they discovered a new branch in this warren they had taken to calling Mictlan, the Aztec name for the underworld, although it reminded Evans more of a primitive subway system. How anyone could have conceived of such an ambitious project so long ago, let alone convinced other human beings to excavate these tiny, suffocating tunnels, was beyond him.
He had to turn his head sideways to squeeze into the southwest cavity. There were four main chambers, much like a giant heart, buried at the precise center of the sprawling primitive complex known as Teotihuacan, the name given to the once formidable Mesoamerican metropolis by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztec warriors who discovered the ruins hundreds of years after their desertion. It meant "birthplace of the gods," although to this day no one knew who built it or where they went, only that something terrible must have happened during its final days for more than a hundred thousand men, women, and children to abandon it seemingly overnight.
The lights mounted throughout the network of tunnels were fueled by a solar generator on the surface. While it might have been green-friendly and less costly to fuel, it barely powered the LED bulbs, which cast a bronze glare across the bare earth.
Evans's sweat poured through his brows and stung his eyes. He smeared it away with the back of his wrist, leaving a muddy smudge across his forehead and the bridge of his nose.
"If it were any more humid down here, I'd have to wear a wetsuit," he said.
Dr. Juan Carlos Villarreal glanced up from where he had painstakingly cleared the dirt from a mural featuring a stylized rendition of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl. It appeared to have been painted onto a chunk of plastered adobe, but as far as Evans knew, they had yet to encounter anything resembling a wall down here.
"That might not be a bad idea, anyway," he said. "At least not where you are going."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Villarreal merely smirked in response and resumed his task.
The main corridor between chambers was tall enough for Evans to rise to his full height. He stretched his back as he walked between the four chambers, where various other researchers and graduate students excavated the gridded floor, sifted through the dirt, and catalogued their findings. Like the main road above him, colloquially termed the Avenue of the Dead, the tunnel was arrow-straight and aligned precisely fifteen degrees east of true north. They speculated it ran from the main gates of Teotihuacan all the way to the Pyramid of the Moon. Together with the Pyramid of the Sun to the east and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent to the south, the three structures were arranged in the exact same pattern as the stars in Orion's Belt, a fact Evans believed was of no small significance.
On September 20th of the previous year, an earthquake had struck this area with enough force to cause sections of the road and the surrounding structures to collapse and reveal these hidden tunnels. And yet, strangely, the event went undetected at monitoring stations in Mexico City, a mere twenty-five miles away. Coincidentally, similar seismic events had been reported in Egypt and England, where the Pyramids of Giza and the Thornborough Henges of North Yorkshire, respectively, had been built in this exact same configuration. These seemingly unrelated events all occurred within minutes of the activation of the pyramid under Antarctic Research, Experimentation, and Analysis Station 51, which Evans did everything in his power not to think about.
Of course, the presence of Dr. Anya Fleming served as a constant reminder. She poked her head out of the circular hole in the ground ahead of him. He had to shield his eyes from the light on her hard hat.
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming," she said.
Anya was one of the sweetest people on the planet, but she reminded him of the Energizer Bunny after a six-pack of Red Bull, which at times could be a little overwhelming. He envied her the exuberance of her youth, just not at six o'clock in the morning.
"What did you find?"
She grinned and ducked back into the hole.
Evans walked to the edge of the pit and watched her headlamp flash across the bare walls as she descended the aluminum ladder. The hole had been concealed beneath several feet of stone and dirt. They had only recently finished clearing the rubble at the bottom to reveal the passages fifteen feet straight down.
The ladder shook as he descended, his clanging footsteps echoing from the depths. By the time he reached the bottom, Anya was already flat on her belly and slithering into the arched orifice. Her light silhouetted her prone form, which was considerably smaller than his, and even then she barely fit inside the tunnel. She spoke over her shoulder as she crawled.
"All of the rain we've had during the last few days softened the ground enough that we were able to break through the end of the tunnel without nearly as much effort as we expected. And what we thought was just rubble was actually stones mortared together and sealed behind a wall of lime plaster."
"Have you been down here all night?"
"Is it morning already?"
In its heyday, every building in the entire city had been plastered with lime and painted bright red. In fact, they'd required so much lime to keep the buildings looking new that they'd consumed the entire surrounding forest, burning it day and night, to fuel the fires required to make the plaster, effectively altering the landscape. The mysterious rulers of this advanced civilization even commissioned murals of their gods and sacred events to be painted on the walls inside every home, in what researchers believed were the first overt examples of statist propaganda.
"The seal. Is that what I saw Juan Carlos working on up there?"
"Did it have a really pissed off-looking Quetzalcoatl?"
"That's the one."
Evans's helmet scraped the dirt overhead. His heart leaped into his throat as clumps of dirt and rock rained down on his extended arms. The ground was disproportionately muddy. He glanced up and realized that Anya was positively soaked. Her jeans were so wet they were almost black. He recalled what Villarreal had said and shuddered at the prospect of encountering standing water in such tight confines. The San Juan River cut straight across the Avenue of the Dead. If they accidentally broke through and tapped into it, they could flood the entire subterranean labyrinth. That is, if it didn't collapse on them first.
Anya's light dimmed as it diffused into a much larger space, from the depths of which he heard the sound of dripping water. The temperature steadily dropped, causing his skin to prickle with goosebumps. It smelled damp and musty, like a cave, which was exactly what it was.
A splashing sound from ahead of him.
He wriggled from the tunnel and found himself staring out across a circular pool. Anya bobbed several feet out, her head barely breaching the surface.
"Careful," she said. "It's deeper than it looks."
Evans twisted his torso and slid his legs down into the cold water. His feet sank into the sediment, all the way past his ankles. The mud released bubbles that burst around him and produced the vile stench of rotten eggs.
"Sweet Jesus. What's in God's name is that awful smell?"
"Decomposition," she said. "Watch out for all of the bones around your feet."
"Oh, is that all? I was worried it might be something gross."
Their lights reflected from the brown water, creating golden sparkles on the stalactites above them. Stone heads protruded from the rounded walls like the numbers on a clock. They had the same faces as those adorning the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, only somehow more realistic and unnerving. Each featured the head of a dragon jutting from what looked like a giant daisy. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god, who throughout history had been worshiped by such disparate Mesoamerican cultures as the Teotihuacan, Maya, Aztec, and Inca.
"Juan Carlos said the Teotihuacano believed that man was born from the dark waters beneath a mountain," Anya said. "He thinks this chamber was designed to replicate their creation myth and that they conducted sacred rituals in here."
"The kind of sacred rituals that require human sacrifices?"
"Is there any other kind?"
"I was hoping you'd found the burial chamber of one of their kings."
Excerpted from "Forsaken"
Copyright © 2018 Michael McBride.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Table of Contents
BOOK I: MODERN DAY,
1 - BARNETT,
2 - EVANS,
3 - ROCHE,
4 - JADE,
5 - BARNETT,
6 - TESS,
7 - ANYA,
8 - BARNETT,
9 - JADE,
10 - KELLY,
11 - EVANS,
12 - TESS,
13 - BARNETT,
14 - ROCHE,
15 - ANYA,
16 - TESS,
17 - KELLY,
18 - DUTTON,
19 - EVANS,
20 - BARNETT,
21 - ROCHE,
22 - DONOVAN,
23 - BARNETT,
24 - JADE,
25 - TESS,
26 - ANYA,
27 - BLY,
28 - KELLY,
29 - CARSON,
30 - EVANS,
31 - BARNETT,
32 - ROCHE,
33 - JADE,
34 - BARNETT,
35 - MOIRA,
36 - KELLY,
37 - ANYA,
38 - RUSSO,
39 - TESS,
40 - EVANS,
41 - ROCHE,
42 - JADE,
43 - KELLY,
44 - ANYA,
45 - BARNETT,
46 - EVANS,
47 - ROCHE,
48 - JADE,
49 - TESS,
50 - KELLY,
51 - BARNETT,
52 - EVANS,
53 - ROCHE,
54 - JADE,
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