The three rookie FBI agents who survived the challenges portrayed in Quantico, have gone their separate ways but seem fated to be drawn back together in an alliance against a surprising challenge for which no one seems prepared. Rebecca Rose is brought back from an extended sabbatical when the President is shot and her second-in-command is implicated in an horrific crime—and all the threads point deeper into Talos’s secretive activities. Fouad Al-Husam, working undercover inside Talos, has uncovered and been forced to hide vital information of a takeover plot that threatens America’s independence.
Nathan Trace, victim of a violent incident in the Middle East, struggles with post-traumatic stress and seems to be recovering through participation in a treatment program, code-named Mariposa, which has unexpected side-effects that turn patients into brilliant, detached and sociopathic individuals—very smart and extremely deadly.
Only a desperate combination of misfits and survivors can combat an apparently inevitable collapse of American organization that will lead to the fall of democracy.
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By Greg Bear
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2009 Greg Bear
All rights reserved.
Washington, D.C. Number One Observatory Circle
Official Residence of the Vice President of the United States.
Edward Benjamin Quinn wiped his hand on a towel and stood back to survey the damage.
The woman on the floor had a slight pulse and was still breathing, but with a slow, jerked rhythm. Soft brown hair fanned in a dark halo around her contorted face.
He knew a thousand ways he could have killed her outright, and so he must have decided he was going to let her live a little longer. The question was why, of course. He and Beth-Anne hadn't argued. He wasn't drunk, he didn't feel crazy, he wasn't even upset—and he didn't think he had been drugged.
He felt fine, better than fine; he felt strong, justified, square with the big-all world. Without guilt, you learn the quality of your soul. Cross that border and you learn what you are really capable of.
There would be consequences, of course.
Outside, the president was still in the hospital, recovering from three bullets. It had happened in Dallas, of all places. Fortunately she was out of the woods—out of the hospital and out of Dallas—and able to make decisions, but for eight hours Eddie Quinn had been president. Under the circumstances he did not enjoy that honor, but nothing had gone so wrong that he needed to do this.
He couldn't feel the love or the excitement he and Beth-Anne had once known, but that didn't seem reason enough, either.
He walked into the bathroom and inspected the folds of his robe for blood. After washing his hands, he returned to pick up the towel and toss it into the laundry hamper. While he was making this circuit, Beth-Anne stopped breathing. For that he was grateful.
"You're one screwed-up bastard, Eddie," he said.
If this had happened during the eight hours he had been president ...
A full-length mirror hung on the back on the bathroom door. He let his robe fall around his broad shoulders and looked at himself as if for the first time. His was still a strong body, with thick, strong arms and short, powerful legs. A paunch had settled over his stomach, from years on the campaign trail and sitting rather than pumping iron and running. Hairs curled around his back, forested his arms, and almost hid the long, coiled scar that stretched from his neck down his right arm. A nice bit of needlework, that. A good stitch. A man's blast-sharpened rib had once stuck out of his chest, just below the clavicle. The hair on his abdomen pointed toward midline and navel, monkey's fur silky and thick. Another scar coiled there, pink and bald, like a burrowing pink centipede. He could almost imagine it creeping under his flesh. It was that vivid, almost pleasant to think about. More pleasant than remembering how the scar got there. The suicide bomber had actually bitten him. Fragments of exploded mandible. Hard to forget things like that, very hard: but he had gotten treatment and it had worked, hadn't it?
Then why this?
He tied the robe shut and sat on the edge of the antique maple-frame bed where he and Beth-Anne had made their last child, Jacob: now nine months old, asleep down the hall in the bedroom that he shared with his sister Carina. It was the nanny's night off.
Carina, eight years old, adored her new brother. In a few minutes, Edward would go in and read her a bedtime story.
On the nightstand, his security badge beeped. The house monitored it all. The children's clothing, furniture, and bedding were tagged with small sensors, but he and his wife had chosen to keep their privacy—except when wearing the badges. Still, the house knew something bad had happened. The Secret Service would be here in a few minutes.
One thing at a time.
He walked slowly down the hall to the children's bedroom, arms out like a bird, face creased by a quizzical frown. Pushing open the heavy wooden door, he smiled at Carina where she sat in the outer nimbus of her ceramic moon-glow lamp. He leaned over the crib to check on Jacob—mostly asleep and beautiful—then stooped to pick up The House on Pooh Corner and resume where they had left off the night before.
A lovely peace descended upon Eddie Quinn. The promise of Mariposa held true even now—no guilt, no borders, the past wiped away.
It was so rare that he had time to spend with his family.CHAPTER 2
FBI Academy Quantico, Virginia
William Griffin walked across the concrete to the Jefferson building, footsteps echoing in the eerie morning quiet. The air smelled sweet and cool. A few green-brown leaves whispered past in a gritty swirl between the towers.
The sun cast a long, flicking shadow.
The old FBI Academy in Quantico—the Q—was practically empty. Just a few administrative offices remained, everything else boarded up, mothballed, or on the move to Alameda, where the jewel in Hoover's tarnished tiara was supposedly being reanimated—if congress approved a massive appropriation. Twenty-five billion dollars. But that was looking less and less likely, stalling the Bureau's transfer indefinitely.
For the moment, that was its name—simply the Bureau.
The Academy buildings had suffered neglect: peeling paint and cracked concrete, patchy brown lawns on the surrounding low slopes, varmint mounds and runnels everywhere. Last year, movers had hauled away the monuments to 9/11 and 10/4, the simple black stone replica of New York's twin towers, rising from a Pentagon base, and a donut of twisted steel from the Seattle ferry Duwamish. The Duwamish had been blown up not by Muslim terrorists but by a demented creep from Missouri, infuriated by gay marriage.
All the old signs had been covered with plastic or pulled out, leaving pits in the walls.
For now, the Bureau was divided like the Roman Empire of old into East and West: two competing directors, two budgets, and next to no money.
Another day older and deeper in debt.
A tall, graying security guard unlocked the heavy glass door as he approached. "You know where to go, Agent Griffin," the guard said. "Don't get lost. Mr. Hoover's still spookin' around. I hear he's been getting the goods on a few devils, kicking butt and takin' names."
William chuckled. "What's he got on you, Clarence?"
"The ladies, my man." Clarence winked. "Sleek, smart ladies in tight-fittin' power suits. Black or white, Hispanic or Asian, I love 'em all."
"And they love you."
"No time, and still I wish they was more!" Clarence called after him.
While the investigative divisions of other agencies—ATF, Homeland Security, Diplomatic Security, Treasury, even the IRS and the Postal Service—had been happy to suck up some high-profile, high-publicity cases, none had the forensic expertise or the laboratory throughput, and crime never slept.
Nobody knew how that song would end.
Much of top FBI management had evacuated to sunnier positions, leaving behind a few dedicated souls and some spectacular incompetents. William was fortunate that his boss, Alicia Kunsler, fell into the first category.
He hung a left past the broad conversation pit, empty but for two upended couches and rolls of old carpet, and walked along a hallway now bereft of J. Edgar Hoover's favorite pastoral prints. Just a long row of rectangles on a sunned and peeling wall.
Kunsler kept her lonely office at the end of an empty corridor. The overhead lights had been dimmed or removed, but the glow from her half open door guided him around an abandoned desk, a few old gray steel swivel chairs, a tied stack of cardboard, and a bin filled with newspaper clippings someone had deemed unnecessary.
William wondered how much history had already been lost.
Brain transplant. That's what the fetch bloggers called the move to Alameda. Zombie Bureau. Shoot it in the head and put it out of its misery. Serve it right for surveilling Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, the Dalai Lama, and, of course—at the request of a former Attorney General, now serving time in Cumberland federal prison—for keeping extensive "Patriot" files on the current president of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and six ranking senators.
Burn the old FBI, then jolt it back to life on the operating table of national bankruptcy.
William knocked lightly on the jamb. Kunsler saw his shadow in the doorway, held up a long, thin index finger, then crooked it—come in—and resumed typing in the empty air over her desk. An angular, black-haired woman of forty-one with a hook nose, big hands, and small, dark, intelligent eyes, she sat behind an old avocado-green steel desk, staring through a pair of projector glasses—her spex—and air-typing on a virtual keyboard, fingers jabbing two inches above the antique blotter.
Kunsler had proved herself a master at gathering power and influence in a vacuum. After the firing of four directors in the last two years, she had assumed the task of deputy director of the Bureau in Transition East, or BITE, and had moved into this old, stripped-down room in a deserted, musty building filled with unhappy ghosts.
Not the sort of woman—nor the sort of agency, now—that William had thought would have the balls to conduct a months-long, clandestine investigation into the doings of one of the most powerful and secretive men on the planet.
She finished tapping her line, pulled off her spex, and focused full attention on him. "Tell me something cheerful," she said in a small, precise voice.
William sat. "The president has relieved her Secret Service detail."
"Do you blame her?" Kunsler asked.
"She's considering hiring Talos executive security to protect her."
Kunsler sniffed. "I've asked to meet with her twice—and been refused both times."
"Daniel Haze went to congress asking them to override the hire. They can't, of course."
Haze was director of the Secret Service—one of the branches competing with the Bureau for funding and cases.
"The fox will be in the cluck house," Kunsler said. "I'm not feeling the cheer, Agent Griffin. Price's octopus arms are slithering through every branch of government, and I know that bastard is about to make his move. I just wish I knew what it was."
"What about Nabokov?"
This was the code-name for an agent who had already spent a year in Lion City, infiltrated into Talos. Kunsler told William what she thought he needed to know, and nothing more.
"On schedule. He's going to have to act fast, though. Someone's spreading manure. Price hires a lot of retired agents."
Kunsler took a zip page out of her desk drawer and passed it across. "I'd like you to look into this personally," she said. "Keep you busy until we know what's up with Nabokov. It's a long shot, but it feels hinky.
"Price put four million dollars into the research of a scientist named Plover—some kind of pharmaceutical wizard. Plover started with cancer drugs, then expanded into a new field called EGCT—epigenetic glial cell therapy. Does that mean Price or someone near him has cancer? If so, they're shit out of luck. Plover's foundation in Baltimore reported he left the premises last week with two and a half million in grant money ... They have no idea where he absconded to. I like that word, absconded, don't you?"
"Fine word," William agreed.
"We know where he is, of course—he may be a genius, but he's not used to acting like a bad guy. His wife bought a house in Boise four months ago.
She's still using her old credit cards. I'd like you to fly to Idaho and pay them a visit."
"For now. Maybe Plover's just tired of being a genius. If he can tell us something useful about Price, we can offer immunity and protection. If he's got nothing, take him into custody. Flight at 0600 tomorrow morning from Reagan. Hope this doesn't interfere with your social life."
"Not a problem," William said. "Haven't had a date in two months."
"Some lucky cowgirl will come along and find her buckaroo," Kunsler said, stone-faced.
William broke into laughter. "They pulled down nearly all the posters around here," he said. "But they left the ones on alcohol and domestic abuse. What's that tell you about the private life of an agent?"
Kunsler waved that away and looked unconcerned. "Let me be your matchmaker," she said. "It'll happen."
The secure phone on her desk chimed. She picked it up and listened. Her eyes wandered around the room, met William's.
"Oh my God," she said, then hung up. For a moment, she could not speak. Her eyes welled up with tears. She looked down and rearranged some loose papers. "Does the shit never stop?"
"What is it? The president?"
"She's fine." Kunsler's voice cracked. "It's Beth-Anne Quinn. The vice president just murdered his wife."CHAPTER 3
The Ziggurat Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Nathaniel Trace walked slowly to the condo window and stared out over Dubai Creek. A few dhows, pleasure boats, and light freighters plied their trade, far below.
From his perspective—six hundred feet up the side of the Ziggurat, a huge steel and glass pyramid—the morning sun burned like a blowtorch on the horizon. The twelve lanes of the Ras al Khor Bridge, mostly empty, cut through the waterway's blinding shimmer.
The strangest feeling pushed through his entire body, as if he were a giant skyscraper and all the light switches were being turned on—or off—in quick succession.
Windows bright, windows dark.
How appropriate, here in Dubai, home of ten thousand audacious, half empty monuments to the world-class architecture of a failing oil empire.
An incredibly rich city fallen on hard times, where Nathaniel had lived and worked for six months now, interacting with part of the most sophisticated computer system on Earth—and filling his accounts with cash. His work was all but finished. He would be called up if they needed him for a few last details—but that was unlikely.
No, Jones was in control now, buried somewhere in the mountains of Switzerland.
He examined his naked reflection in the glass. Pale, lumpy body. Brush of disheveled ginger hair. Round face with a bump of nose—thin bridge, bulbous tip, flaring nostrils. Smooth, round cheeks. Generous lips that had once tended to a boyish smile.
Now he looked more like a bewildered Irish car salesman.
Nathaniel shivered and refocused his eyes. He could stare and stare at the sun without blinking and it didn't hurt a bit. If he chose, he could destroy his eyes and not even feel it.
He chose not to.
Something similar had happened a year before. Like the flip of a switch—all the misery, gone. Back then, it had been the pain from a nasty run-in with the wicked old world of the Middle East. Relief from worry and torment might explain his current round of mental pyrotechnics.
But this time, it felt very different.
You will experience liberation.
That's what the doctor had told him. All his old fears and traumas wouldn't just be managed, just painted over—they would be gone. He would remember them at any level of detail he willed, like tracing scars with a finger, but the scars would mean nothing emotionally.
Freedom from all his blunders, his mistakes ... freedom from guilt.
That was what Mariposa was supposed to do. Better men, better fighters—everything better. And the doctor's promises had come true.
But now, his recovery and all his personal progress were twisting into something truly weird. Maybe what he was feeling had nothing to do with what had happened in Arabia Deserta, or with Mariposa.
Maybe it was unique to him.
But he didn't think so. His thoughts jumbled, tumbled all over each other like acrobats or hyperactive children. He felt great but he could not think straight. The confusion did not cause him actual pain but it scared him.
He felt great but he was scared to death.
He loved being scared to death.
The fear went away—but only for a moment.
A bank of dust blowing up from the south obscured the brilliant morning sun. It was going to be a murky day in Dubai. All the glittering steel and glass, and yet the desert still ruled.
Nathaniel felt a sudden urge to test himself, test this new awareness and see how physically in control and adaptable he was.
Get away from the luxury and the air-conditioning. Walk out into the desert. Feel the hot sand on his bare feet. Strip off his clothes and directly face the sun's rays. See if his skin grew a new silvery layer and his nose became broad to radiate heat.
Probably not a good plan, he told himself—the desert would leach him in an hour. He had been incredibly thirsty of late, drinking gallons of Masafi well water and peeing like a race horse.
Excerpted from Mariposa by Greg Bear. Copyright © 2009 Greg Bear. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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