What do you do when the power goes off?
Terrorists have acquired a terrible new weapon that can crash the power grid and plunge America into a new dark age. A coordinated attack is planned to shut out all lights and emergency services to ten major cities. Planes will fall, hospitals will go dark, no help will come.
And in that terrible darkness, a dreadful plague will be released. If the lights go off, nothing can stop the bioweapon from killing millions.
At the same time, the intelligence services are being torn apart from within by a plague of betrayal, murder, and suicide. Even the Department of Military Sciences is stumbling in its response to the growing threat.
Time is running out, and Joe is being hunted by a terrifying new kind of assassin. A team of remote viewers have the ability to take over any person and turn ordinary citizens into killers. Where can you turn when there’s nobody left to trust?
Joe Ledger faces his deadliest challenge as friends and allies become enemies and all of the lights begin to go out…
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By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
DMS SPECIAL PROJECTS OFFICE
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
For the record, I don't believe in this stuff.
No goddamn way.
There's possible, there's improbable, there's weird, and there's no-fucking-way. This is a mile or two past that. So, no, I don't believe in it.
What pisses me off is that it seems to believe in me.CHAPTER 2
DMS SPECIAL PROJECTS OFFICE
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
AUGUST 19, 11:41 A.M.
I was four minutes away from calling it a day and cutting out early to catch an Orioles-Padres game at Petco Park here in San Diego. Hot dogs loaded with everything that's bad for me, ice-cold beer in big red cups, and the opportunity to spend a few hours yelling at a bunch of young millionaires trying to hit a little ball with a big stick. Baseball, baby. The American pastime.
It was the first game I'd managed to catch since the craziness at Citizen's Bank Park last year. You know what I mean. The drone attacks on opening day. I'd spent a lot of the rest of the spring in hospitals. A bunch more time in rehab, then way too much sitting behind a desk doing paperwork and feeling my ass grow flat. Then I went back into the field and since then I've done nothing but run.
The Big Bad for us right now was ISIL. The press writes about them like they're a disorganized goon squad who are only a threat to the notoriously unstable governments in the Middle East. They're not. They're a whole lot scarier than that. Most of the people running them are former officers from Saddam's army. These are experienced soldiers who have been nurturing grudges. That was bad enough, but now they've upped their game and have put several special ops teams in the field. Real pros, too, and they managed to scoop up leftover Kingsmen from the ruins of the Seven Kings organization. Was it weird that ISIL was using shooters who were not Muslims? Yup. Very weird. And very scary, too, because it allowed them to come at us in unpredictable ways. A bunch of their SpecOps fighters were Americans, so even with the heightened security and paranoia here in the States following the drone stuff, we were feeling some rabbit punches from them. Attacks on power grids, an attempted sabotage of a nuclear power plant. Like that.
And our super-duper computer system, MindReader, has been picking up some hints about a really big attack planned for the US of A, and if the rumors were true then it was going to involve some kind of electromagnetic pulse weapon.
So, yeah ... bad guys. Really scary bad guys, and they were causing a whole lot of very serious trouble. We had DMS teams running joint ops with the CIA and Homeland, with Barrier in the UK, with Mossad in Israel, and with a dozen other special operations crews.
Overall, I was busier than a three-headed cat in a dairy. That's not to say I spent all of my time in the field kicking terrorist ass. Mind you, I'm still a gunslinger for Uncle Sam, but now that I run the Special Projects Office I'm also management, which sucks six kinds of ass.
Baseball kept calling to me, though, and today was the first time I could reasonably justify leaving the shop early to have some actual fun.
The phone began ringing while I was tidying my desk.
If you work in a bank, an insurance company, or pretty much most jobs, you can pretend you don't hear that call. I know cops at the ragged end of a long shift who swear their radios were malfunctioning.
But when you do what I do, you have to drop everything else — your time off, your family, your friends, even baseball — and you take the call. Kind of like the Bat-Signal. You can't just blow it off.
So I answered the call.
It was my boss, Mr. Church.
"Captain Ledger," he said, "I need you on the next thing smoking. Dress warm, it's going to be cold."
I looked out the window. This was August and the Southern California summer was cooking. Temperature was eighty-eight in the shade. I was wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a Hawaiian shirt with surfing pelicans on it.
"How cold?" I asked.
"This morning it was minus fifty-eight."
I closed my eyes.
"I hate you," I said.
"I'll manage to live with your contempt."
"Okay," I said, "tell me."
OFFICE OF DR. MICHAEL GREENE
EAST HAMPTON, NEW YORK
WHEN PROSPERO WAS ELEVEN
"Are you going to talk today?" asked the psychiatrist. "Or are you still mad at me?"
The boy sat in the exact middle of the couch even though it was not the most comfortable place. He was like that, preferring precision over comfort. It was reflected in the number of pieces of food he would allow on his dinner plate, the number of tissues he would use no matter how many times he sneezed. Numbers mattered in ways that Dr. Greene was still discovering. So far the psychiatrist had been able to determine that Prospero Bell believed that math, in all its forms, was not merely a way to calculate sums, but was in fact tied to the very structure of physical reality. He'd even made himself a hand-drawn T-shirt last year that had a quote from mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss: "God arithmetizes," itself a variation of a quote Plutarch famously attributed to Plato: "God geometrizes continually."
Prospero was very tall for his age, but thin as a stick. As he perched on the couch, his long body seemed to be temporarily suspended, as if he was about to slide down between the two big leather cushions but chose not to fall. Always awkward and always strange, and he did not seem to ever fit into the world as it was. Dr. Greene knew that this reflected the boy's inner life. After four years of therapy, the doctor was quite convinced that this boy lived in two entirely separate worlds. The one inside, where Prospero clearly felt he belonged, and the one outside that he loathed and resented. That discomfort, and the resulting disconnect from ordinary social interactions, was the basis of their frequent sessions.
"I never said I was mad at you," said the boy. He was eleven and his voice was beginning to deepen. No cracks or squeaks, just a timbre that hinted at the baritone to come.
"You threw an apple at me last Thursday," said Greene.
"It was handy."
"That's not my point."
Prospero gave him a microsecond of a sly grin. "I know."
"I didn't want to talk about my father anymore and you wouldn't shut up. I didn't hit you with the apple."
"You tried. I ducked."
"No," said Prospero, "I missed. The fact that you ducked says more about you than my 'missing' says about my aim. I wanted to miss. You didn't want to duck, but you did anyway because you didn't know that I wouldn't have hit you."
Today the boy wore a green cloth jacket that he had systematically covered with symbols from cabalism, magic, and alchemy. Greene knew this because there had been three full sessions about those designs. Now there was a gray hoodie under the jacket, the top pulled up to throw shadows down over Prospero's thin, ascetic face. The boy had painstakingly drawn an elaborate and technically excellent monster on the hood. The thing had a bulbous, flabby body, stubby wings, and a beard made from writhing tentacles that trailed from the gray hood onto the green material of the jacket.
Greene met with Prospero three times a week, down from the five talks per week that marked the boy's most extreme phases, up from the twice weekly of last year when Prospero seemed to be balancing out. Greene was therapist for the whole Bell family, including the father, Oscar Bell, a major defense contractor; Oscar's current wives; and his long line of ex-wives. Greene also did occasional check-ins with Prospero's older brother from Oscar's first marriage. Greene's sessions with the rest of the family were routine, sparse, and almost pointless. They didn't need him and he privately found them intensely dull. The older boy was a clone of his father and would doubtless become fabulously wealthy building secret, terrible things for the American military. As the Bell family had since the Civil War.
Of all the Bells, Prospero was the one who logged frequent-flyer miles on Greene's therapy couch.
Greene asked, "What would you have done if I wanted to keep talking about your father after you threw that apple?"
"No," said Greene, "tell me."
The boy nodded to the coffee table. "There were five other apples in the bowl. I can throw pretty good." He shrugged again, point made.
There was no bowl on the table now. There was nothing there, not even magazines. Greene was moderately sure the boy wouldn't throw the table itself.
"Is it your opinion that hitting me with an apple is the best way for us to proceed?"
"We didn't have that conversation, did we?"
Even after all these years and all these sessions it still unnerved Greene that Prospero never spoke in an age-appropriate way. He never had. Even when he was five years old his intellect and self-possession were remarkable. Or maybe "freakish" was a more accurate term, though Greene would never put that in any report. Freak. It was the best word, then and now.
Prospero Bell was a freak.
None of the tests Greene or his colleagues had administered had been able to accurately gauge the boy's intelligence. Best guess was that it was above 200. Perhaps considerably above that, which lifted him above the level of any reliable process of quantification. Prospero had completed all of his high school requirements last year at age ten, and passed each test with the highest marks. The boy's aptitude was odd, though. Savantism is generally limited to a few specific areas — math, say, or art. Occasionally a cluster. But Prospero seemed to excel at everything that interested him, and his interests were varied. World religions, folklore, anthropology relative to belief systems, art, music, mathematics in all its aspects, science, with a bias toward quantum and particle physics.
He was now eleven.
But he was also deeply read in areas that were built on less stable scientific ground — cryptozoology, metaphysics, alchemy, surrealist art, pulp horror fiction. The boy was all over the place. The rate at which Prospero was able to absorb information was only surpassed by his ability to both retain and process it. He had a perfect eidetic memory, and it seemed genuine, without any of the mnemonics of someone who uses tricks or triggers to recall data. Prospero never forgot a thing he learned, and because he was so observant that meant that he possessed an astounding body of personal knowledge. Greene had given Prospero tests to determine what kind of intellect the boy had, but the results had been confounding. Prospero had marked fluid intelligence — indicating that he was able to reason, form concepts, and solve problems using unfamiliar information or novel procedures — but he scored equally high in crystallized intelligence, which meant that he possessed the ability to communicate his knowledge, and had the ability to reason using previously learned experiences or procedures. People seldom scored that high in both aspects. And he did just as well with long- and short-term memory, memory storage and retrieval, quantitative reasoning, auditory and visual processing, and others.
Greene felt that his "freak" diagnosis was the most clinically accurate assessment. There was a lot of savantism in the world, but there was no one like Prospero Bell. The question that burned hottest in Greene's mind was what the boy would do with all of that brainpower. He had hinted that he had a plan, but so far had kept that secret to himself.
Prospero's intense hatred and distrust of his father was a common topic for them, and the old man wanted Greene to determine the best way for the elder Bell to gain the trust of his son. Not the love. All that mattered to Oscar Bell was a useful trust.
But that was only a secondary goal for Greene and he didn't devote much time to it. Instead he focused on something he found far more interesting. It was also the thing that most deeply concerned Prospero.
Prospero was absolutely convinced that he was not human. Not entirely.
And he was equally convinced that he was not from this world.CHAPTER 3
SEVENTY MILES NORTH OF THE VINSON MASSIF
AUGUST 19, 10:01 P.M.
"What's the op, Boss?" asked Bunny, the big kid from Orange County who looked like a plowboy from Iowa. His dog tags said he was Master Sergeant Harvey Rabbit, but not even his parents called him by his first name. Bunny was the muscle and in many ways the heart of Echo Team. "Those ISIL shooters find a two-for-one sale on snowshoes?"
"Funny," I said. "But no."
We were aboard an LC-130 Hercules, a big military transport plane fitted out with skis. None of us liked the fact that our plane had to have skis. I had a third of Echo Team with me. Two operators: Bunny and Top — First Sergeant Bradley Sims. My right and left hands.
"We going way down south to get out of the summer heat?" drawled Top.
"This is a look-see," I told them. "This gig is a handoff from our friends in the CIA."
"We're all going to die," said Bunny.
"There's a bright side," I told him. "The quarterback who handed it off was Harcourt Bolton."
Both Top and Bunny came instantly to point, grinning like kids.
"Seriously?" said Bunny, wide-eyed. "Wow. We made it to the pros."
"I thought he retired," said Top. "Glad to hear he's still in the game."
Guys like us don't much go in for hero worship. The exception is when the hero in question is someone like Harcourt Bolton. If America has ever had an agent on par with the movie version of James Bond, then it's Bolton. He's the spy's spy. Cool, suave, sophisticated, incredibly smart, and very capable. I may be one of Uncle Sam's top shooters, but Bolton is the Agency's sharpest scalpel. And it's not too much of a stretch to say I'm captain of his fan club. Harcourt Bolton, Senior, was someone I knew very well. Or, should I say, I knew of very well. His role as a semicelebrity gazillionaire philanthropist, entrepreneur, and notorious playboy was tabloid legend. He was like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne — a rich man who always seemed to be caught in a paparazzi photo with this year's supermodel while spending his days investing in worthy causes to better humanity. It was the kind of superstar status that never seemed quite real, because how could someone be that rich, that lucky, that smart, and that generous all in one lifetime?
That's the Bolton the general public knew. I've heard my lover, Junie Flynn, talk about getting him involved in some FreeTech ventures in developing countries. Using money and technology to save whole villages.
My guys and I knew the other side of him, however. We knew that the Bruce Wayne cover was just that. A cover. A brilliant cover, actually, because just as Bruce Wayne had that darker vigilante side with an obsession for flightless mammals of the family Chiroptera, there was a hidden side to Harcourt Bolton. He was, by anyone's estimation, the greatest spy who has ever worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. That is saying a lot. No matter what the public perception is of the CIA, they are not, on the whole, a clown college. There is a very effective little office within the CIA that makes sure the Company is regarded from a skewed perspective, because it lowers the expectations of the bad guys.
The other side to Bolton's career was the above-top-secret operations, the real 007 stuff. Like infiltrating and destroying a secret North Korean missile base that was primed to detonate the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which would have sent five hundred cubic kilometers of rock into the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in a two-thousand-foot-high tsunami. It would have wiped out the African coast, Southern England, and then the eastern seaboard of North America.
Then there was the bioweapons lab buried four stories beneath a Siberian work camp. Bolton went in alone, killed sixteen people, and blew the lab pretty much into orbit.
And the time he ripped apart a coalition of rogue Saudi princes who were financing ISIL. Bolton wore a disguise, spoke flawless Arabic, forged perfect credentials, and once he had ingratiated himself with the group, he shot all seven of them and uploaded a computer virus that stole their data and destroyed the target computers.
I could go on.
And on. I could obsess and go full-tilt fanboy on him. I would buy an action figure of Harcourt Bolton and, yes, I would take it out of the package and play made-up adventures with it. If someone told me he could turn water into wine, my only question would be whether it was red or white. And the answer would probably be the 1982 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Not because it's the most expensive, which it's not, but because while the 1982 is not a classic Bordeaux, it has an over-ripe, exotic quality that he's discovered would make any woman on Earth instantly disrobe. That's how Bolton would do it. Guys like him walk on water and make the rest of us look like grubby amateurs. Even my personal hero, the late, great Samson Riggs, couldn't hold a candle to him.
Excerpted from Kill Switch by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2016 Jonathan Maberry. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
While the book was definitely a good read, the events occurring within did not match the summary written for the book. Joe did not survive a plane crash, he did not land in a forest, and he did not have names, locations, and abort codes until very late in the book. It's actually rather misleading.
Great read! The JOE LEDGER series never disappoints!
Good read. I thought it sort of dragged on a little. Overall, typical Joe Ledger kicking ass.
Another great Joe Ledger Novel. In this one the DMS is more beat back than ever and under attack like never before. If you’ve read the other books in the series this one follows a similar pattern. There is tons of action, some witty comments and amazing concepts. I guessed who the bad guy was pretty early but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story. It’s well written and tons of fun. If you’re looking for a nonstop action thriller pick this up!
Fast-paced action and adventure thriller with Lovecraftian horror and science fiction woven seamlessly into the story. Usually with thrillers I get a little bored around page 300 (did we really need that last action scene?) but Kill Switch kept me engaged and fascinated for all 544 pages – and left me wanting more.
When ever Jonathan has a new book release I always stop what I'm reading and go right to it. You know its going to be an insane ride. Just when you think the bad guys can't get any worse, Maberry comes up with even crazier stuff. This is the first book in the series where at the end I actually wondered how much more Joe and Echo team can take.