Seconds later a swarm of killer drones descend upon the picnicked crowd, each one carrying a powerful bomb. All across the country artificial intelligence drive systems in cars, commuter trains and even fighter planes go out of control. The death toll soars as the machines we depend upon every day are turned into engines of destruction.
Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences go on the hunt for whoever is controlling these machines, but the every step of the way they are met with traps and shocks that strike to the very heart of the DMS. No one is safe. Nowhere is safe. Enemies old and new rise as America burns.
Joe Ledger and his team are back in Jonathan Maberry's seventh book in the series. They begin a desperate search for the secret to this new technology and the madmen behind it. But before they can close in the enemy virus infects Air Force One. The president is trapped aboard as the jet heads toward the heart of New York City. It has become PREDATOR ONE.
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By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
When the technology of war becomes so easy anyone—and I mean anyone—can use it, then we are in deep shit.
And we are in deep shit.CHAPTER 2
208 Nautical Miles West of Chile
October 12, 9:41 P.M.
We dropped like dead birds from the clouds.
Four of us.
Top and Bunny. My right and left hands. The guys who have been with me since I started this game. Brothers who have walked through the valley of the shadow with me so often we'd carved our initials in the landmarks.
And Sam Imura. Our sniper. Cool, quiet, lethal at any distance. Handgun, long gun. If he wants to punch your ticket, then don't double-park your car.
Four of us.
"HALO" is a nice word. Calls to mind angels and the glow around the heads of saints in old paintings.
In military parlance it's an acronym for a specific kind of parachute jump. High altitude, low open.
Those are two concepts that are antithetical to a quiet life. I am not, as I believe I've told you before, a fan of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. Neither God nor evolution saw fit to give me wings. I'm not made of rubber, so I don't bounce worth a shit. Skydiving is a sport for madmen. Anyone who says different should switch to decaf. Diving from so far up that you can't even breathe, so far up that you need to wear an oxygen tank? That's just nuts on too many levels to contemplate.
The "low open" part of this was just as bad. The whole science of landing safely after you throw yourself out of that nice, safe airplane is to open your chute in plenty of time for physics to waft you down like a goose feather. That is the only reasonable way it should be done, right? Oh, not so. Some genius in the military long ago reasoned that if you fly the plane so damn high that radar can't see it and then you fling yourself out and wait until you're close enough to the ground so you can count the cigarette butts in the gutter, then no one will detect you. Personally, I think they'd hear the big splat when you hit the ground. It took some convincing at jump school to prove to me that low-open jumps can be done safely. Or, as they added with tight little smiles, with a measure of safety.
We needed to get onto this piece of real estate without being spotted. There were radars looking for us. There were guards and watchtowers and all that shit. The people at the facility did not want visitors and were willing to be real damn nasty if any showed up.
We were on our way to showing up.
I hate my job.
Before a jump like this, you do forty minutes of breathing pure oxygen to chase the nitrogen from the bloodstream. You also have to dress for it. It's about minus forty-five up there. Frostbite is a real risk, even though we were dropping down toward Chile. I had a set of polypropylene undies under my battle-dress uniform and other gear.
We dropped from thirty thousand feet.
They call the rate of fall "terminal velocity." Unless the word "bus" or "train" is in the mix, no phrase using the word "terminal" offers any comfort. Not to me. In regular jumps there's a margin for error, time to open the backup chute if there's a failure with the main chute. In HALO drops? Not so much.
Despite all of that, we rolled out and fell into the midnight blackness at 122 miles per hour.
We deployed our chutes, and there was that moment when the differential between your mass falling at uncontrollable speeds meets a degree of resistance. Slam your necktie in the side door of a race car and see what happens when it goes from zero to sixty. Feels about the same.
The ground still seemed to be coming up way too fast.
Too fucking fast.
It never feels like the chute is doing enough of its job on a HALO drop.
I shifted my position and tried to land the way Top and Bunny landed. Like a professional who isn't afraid of heights and isn't a hiccup away from crying for his mommy.
You're a big, tough, professional soldier, Ledger, I told myself. Stop acting like a pussy.
I told myself to shut the fuck up.
And then I was down.
I went limp and fell sideways, doing everything right. But I was convinced I'd ruptured everything, including the tonsils I no longer had.
But I was down.
Sam Imura touched down twenty feet away. He landed at a walk, turned, gathered his chute, detached, bunched it up. All with complete calm. I wanted to shoot him.
I didn't think kissing the ground beneath me would do anything to inspire confidence in my subordinates, so I scrambled to my feet and stowed my chute and began a rapid postlanding equipment check. Top and Bunny appeared out of the gloom, and the four of us knelt, each facing outward in a different direction, flipping on our night-vision goggles. We were using a new prototype developed for the Department of Defense by, of all people, Google—an advanced variation on their Google Glass. The goggles had interchangeable lenses for different kinds of light and could be controlled by light touches to the temple, a trackball on our belts, or—in a pinch—voice control. A nonmilitary version is scheduled for the public market under the name Google Scout. However, we had them exclusively for eighteen months.
Developed by one of Mr. Church's friends in the industry. He seems to have friends in every industry.
We each scanned 120 percent of the area around us, which meant there was a significant overlap with what the guys on either side of us were seeing. The Scout glasses recorded everything and fed it via secured uplink to a satellite that in turn bounced it in real time to the TOC—the tactical operations center at the Hangar, the main DMS headquarters located at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Church was there, along with Aunt Sallie, Bug, and all the senior staff. This was a very important mission.
It was also highly illegal.
It was unauthorized and prohibited, and, if we were captured or identified, would result in the shutdown of the DMS and lengthy jail terms for all of us. Unless the mission was successful, in which case we'd all be heroes with the thanks of a grateful nation. The middle ground between those two possibilities was about an inch wide.
So, no pressure.
The Scout glasses threw data streams onto the edges of the goggles, giving us a mission clock, temperature, info from thermal scans, specs and intelligence details sent to us from Bug, and other spiffy stuff. Remember the screen display from the Terminator movies that showed what the cyborgs were seeing? Like that. Only we weren't robot assassins from the future who had, for inexplicable reasons, Austrian accents. Instead, we were government agents going way, way off the reservation.
Breaking the law.
About to break a lot of them.CHAPTER 3
Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa
849 Verdier Avenue
Victoria, British Columbia
October 12, 10:12 P.M.
His name was Doctor Michael Pharos and he was a monster.
A very select kind of monster.
He knew it. He was aware of the shape and dimensions of the thing that he'd become. He knew exactly how ruthless he was, and how ruthless he was willing to be. He understood the ways in which old splinters of regret and conscience still jabbed at him. He was fully cognizant of the steps he'd descended from the Hippocratic Oath and the rule of "First do no harm" to his present state of "Do whatever harm is necessary to get the job done."
For the last twenty years, his job had been enabling even worse monsters to do great harm to a vast number of people. Although he was a medical doctor by training, he had discovered that his genius was in organization. Management.
He seldom devised a moneymaking plan—he knew that he was not particularly inventive—but he was the man everyone counted on to make sure the plan was carried through. Dot all the Is, cross all the Ts, bury all the important bodies.
That's what Doctor Pharos did.
He managed the machineries of corruption, terrorism for profit, extortion of key figures, the transfer of stolen monies, and all the other cogs and wheels. Pharos specialized in that, and he did it, he was sure, better than anyone alive.
And he did it on a grand scale.
Not an exaggeration, though he was aware that at no point was his name ever the one to appear on a Most Wanted list, or the evening news, or a CIA kill order. He was a ghost. The password for his laptop was even zeitgeist.
The ghost in the machine.
For most of his adult life he had been managing an engine of great cultural destruction and enormous financial expansion. The people for whom he worked—the ones who designed and built the machine—asked that he ensure that the machine would continue to run despite any foreseeable disaster. Even in the event that the creators themselves were removed by death, flight, or imprisonment. Pharos did that, though he never expected such a catastrophe to occur.
When it did, the machine he'd managed kept running.
Bills were paid, paychecks cut, employee benefits seen to. Equipment and supplies were regularly purchased and shipped. Tier upon tier of lower-level management kept everything greased and tuned. The great destructive machine functioned as it always had, even though there was no one at the controls anymore. The designers, the creators, the planners were gone. The worst-case contingency had, in fact, come to pass. None of them were in prison, none were in flight.
They were dead.
All but one.
And there was barely enough of the last one to even call "human." Just a burned and crippled lump of diseased flesh hooked to devices that breathed and excreted and pumped for him.
The organizational machine did not falter. It never so much as hiccupped.
Pharos had managed it too well to allow mistakes.
It ran and ran.
Primed and ready.
Ticking like a bomb.
Ticking down to boom.CHAPTER 4
208 Nautical Miles West of Chile
October 12, 10:13 P.M.
"Clear," said Top, and the others echoed it.
"Clear," I agreed.
We were in a field of tall grass near the rocky coast of an island off the coast of Chile. Just far enough off the coast so that it rested in international waters. Way, way outside any claim of American sovereignty. Technically you could do almost anything out here and get away with it.
There were exceptions, of course. You couldn't build a nuke. You couldn't set up a lab to create doomsday pathogens. NATO would frown on it. UN peacekeepers might crash your party.
But that left a bunch of things you could do. Start a space program. Develop drugs of all kinds that could be sold to countries that don't regulate that stuff. Set up the world's biggest meth lab. Engage in illegal cloning. Build a sweatshop and use slave labor to make brand-name sneakers. Participate in the global sex trade. Establish a totalitarian dictatorship and oppress your own people. Stuff like that. Stuff that doesn't generate enough political backlash to make the superpowers feel they have to act. After all, as they see it, defending oil wells and keeping their fellow nations from becoming nuclear powers have always been far more important than freeing the twenty-plus million people who currently live as slaves here in the twenty-first century.
The whole world is bug-fuck nuts. Don't try to make sense of it or you'll hurt yourself.
Sadly, none of those things were the reason the four of us fell out of that airplane. We were not hunting mad scientists with the next superweapon. We weren't here to liberate the oppressed or overthrow a murderous dictator. That would have been much more fun. We might have even been able to get a grudging go-ahead nod from Washington. It would have made good press, and there are always elections coming up.
This island was owned, through dozens and dozens of arcane removes, by a private corporation that was actually a front for Uncle Sam.
Or, at least, a seedy, jackass nephew of Uncle Sam.
This place was a prison.
Think Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, and then lower your expectations. Go farther down the crapper. Remove all traces of sanity, compassion, common decency, and humanity. Then double that, and you have this place.
They called it the Resort.
Not sure if that was done as a joke or as cover. Either way, it made me want to hurt whoever came up with the name.
The island was three miles long, two wide, and most of it was nearly impassable volcanic hills, dense rain-forest growth, noisy parrots, and every son-of-a-bitching biting insect known to the fossil record.
We were seventy yards inland on the east side, having come in on the angle our computer models picked as the one with the worst visibility for security. The terrain to the west would have frightened a mountain goat, and foot patrols were infrequent. There were tower posts with motion sensors, but Bug made short work of those. He used MindReader to hack the feeds, created a forty-minute loop, and, as soon as we were within a thousand yards of touchdown, fed the loop into the system. Their security guys were essentially watching a DVR'd version of a quiet night. Bug did the same with the motion sensors and thermal scans. Bug loves this stuff. He's better at it than anyone, and it's a very, very good thing that he's on our side.
Even so, we moved with great caution.
"Cowboy to Deacon," I said, using the combat call signs for me and Mr. Church. "Down and safe."
"Proceed," said Church's voice. We were on a team channel, each of us with an earbud tuned to the mission channel. "Good hunting."
"Hooah," murmured Top and Bunny. Top's full handle was First Sergeant Bradley Sims, former Army Rangers. His call sign was Sergeant Rock. Bunny was an ex-marine by the name of Master Sergeant Harvey Rabbit. Real name. His father is a bit of a prankish asshole. We all called him Bunny except on a mission, and then he was Green Giant.
Sam Imura was Ronin.
Bug was Bug. He was monitoring the security room, so he'd give us a heads-up if they tumbled to our presence.
"Everything's copacetic," he said in our ears. "Two guards on duty. They're talking football."
"Foot patrols?" I asked.
"Sending you their locations, Cowboy," he said, and immediately one lens of my goggles showed a soldier walking a perimeter line. This faded back to a white dot on a satellite map of the compound. We had markers on every warm body on this island.
Top, Bunny, and Sam are all experienced operators. Each of them could lead any team of first-chair shooters anywhere in the world. The fact that they were my team, key players of Echo Team, always gave me confidence. They didn't need to be told what to do. We had rehearsed this mission fifty times, with the other members of Echo throwing all kinds of variables at us. We had it down, we knew our jobs, and we went about it like professionals.
And, yes, that still means we knew that things could, and often did, go wrong. If you do this kind of thing for a living, you accept that as part of the mission planning. You're never locked into one way of doing things. Reaction and response is every bit as important as intelligence and planning.
Like four ghosts, we left the grassy field and moved into the foothills of broken volcanic rock, following a path picked for us by a geodetic-survey software program. The easiest safe path. The path that wouldn't burn us out. Safety takes time, so we moved only as quickly as common sense allowed.
I saw an armadillo waddle into a hole, and I stepped around it, not wanting to disturb the animal. A few minutes later a chinchilla shot out from in front of Top, and he very nearly put a hot round into it.
"Fucking thing wants to be dead," he muttered.
Farther up the mountain slope a vicuña raised its ugly head and watched us go past, munching on a midnight snack of green leaves. Bunny stopped for a moment and stared eye to eye with it. The animal didn't move except to continue its slow mastication of tamarugo leaves.
Bunny blew it a kiss, and we moved on.
It took an hour to go one mile inland. Serious rocks. A lot of caution.
We fanned out to preselected spots and considered the compound.
There was a fence, which was no problem. There were guards on patrol. That was problematic. We weren't here to kill anyone.
Absolutely no one.
Let me tell you why.
We were here to break one of the world's worst terrorists out of a secret prison.
But it was a prison run by the Central Intelligence Agency.CHAPTER 5
208 Nautical Miles West of Chile
October 12, 10:17 P.M.
Sam Imura faded off to the north and vanished. He had two rifles slung over his back. Aside from his usual sniper rifle, he had one retrofitted to fire tranquilizer darts at ultrahigh rates of speed. The tranqs would drop anyone in their tracks. The darts could do some damage, but nothing that wouldn't heal. They were filled with an amped-up version of the veterinary drug ketamine mixed with a mild psychotropic. No one who wakes up from it is a reliable witness for anything within a couple of hours before or after being juiced. It has a long technical name. We call it "horsey." So, whoever got darted with horsey would waft off to la-la land and probably dream of sexy rainbow-striped unicorns. Something like that. Haven't tried it myself, but I've heard stories.
Excerpted from Predator One by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2015 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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Table of Contents
I. Ghost in the Machine,
II. Clockwork Devils,
III. Deus ex Machina,
IV. Solomon's Minefield,
About the Author,
Also by Jonathan Maberry,