At a research station in Antarctica, five of the world’s top scientists have been brought together to solve one of the greatest mysteries in human history. Their subject, however, is anything but human . . .
THEY ARE NOT NATURAL.
Deep beneath the ice, the submerged ruins of a lost civilization hold the key to the strange mutations that each scientist has encountered across the globe: A misshapen skull in Russia. The grotesque carvings of a lost race in Peru. The mummified remains of a humanoid monstrosity in Egypt . . .
THEY ARE NOT FRIENDLY.
When a series of sound waves trigger the ancient organisms, a new kind of evolution begins. Latching onto a human host—crossbreeding with human DNA—a long-extinct life form is reborn. Its kind has not walked the earth for thousands of years. Its instincts are fiercer, more savage, than any predator alive. And its prey are the scientists who unleashed it, the humans who spawned it, and the tender living flesh on which it feeds . . .
Praise for Michael McBride
“A fast-paced and frightening ride. Highly recommended for fans of creature horror and the thrillers of Michael Crichton.”—The Horror Review on PREDATORY INSTINCT
“McBride writes with the perfect mixture of suspense and horror that keeps the reader on edge.” —Examiner
“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
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Queen Maud Land, Antarctica Modern day: January 13 — 8 months ago
The wind howled and assaulted the command trailer with snow that sounded more like sleet against the steel siding. What little Hollis Richards could see through the frost fractals on the window roiled with flakes that shifted direction with each violent gust. The Cessna ski plane that brought him here from McMurdo Station was somewhere out there beyond the veritable armada of red Kress transport vehicles and Delta heavy haulers, each of them the size of a Winnebago with wheels as tall as a full-grown man. The single-prop plane had barely reached the camp before being overtaken by the storm, which the pilot had tried to use as an excuse not to fly. At least until Richards made him an offer he couldn't refuse. There was no way that he was going to wait so much as a single minute longer.
It had taken four days, operating around the clock, for the hot-water drill to bore through two miles of solid ice to reach a lake roughly the size of the Puget Sound, which had been sealed off from the outside world for an estimated quarter of a million years. They only had another twelve hours before the hole closed on them again, so they didn't have a second to waste. They needed to evaluate all of the water samples and sediment cores before they lost the ability to replenish them. It wasn't the cost that made the logistics of the operation so prohibitive. The problem was transporting tens of thousands of gallons of purified water across an entire continent during what passed for summer in Antarctica. They couldn't just fire antifreeze into the ice cap and risk contaminating the entire site, like the Russians did with Lake Vostok.
Richards pulled up a chair beside Dr. Max Friden, who worked his magic on the scanning electron microscope and made a blurry image appear on the monitor between them. The microbiologist tweaked the focus until the magnified sample of the sediment became clear. The contrast appeared in shades of gray and at first reminded Richards of the surface of the moon.
"Tell me you see something," Richards said. His voice positively trembled with excitement.
"If there's anything here, I'll find it."
The microscope crept slowly across the slide.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?" Friden said.
Richards leaned closer to the monitor, but nothing jumped out at him.
"Right there." Friden tapped the screen with his index finger. "Give me a second. Let me see if I can ... zoom ... in ..." The image momentarily blurred before resolving once more. "There."
Richards leaned onto his elbows and stared at what looked like a gob of spit stuck to the bark of a birch tree.
"Pretty freaking amazing, right?" Friden said.
"What is it?"
"That, my friend, is the execution of the bonus clause in my contract." The microbiologist leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head. "What you're looking at is a bacterium. A living, breathing microscopic creature. Well, it really isn't, either. We killed it when we prepared the slide and it's a single-celled organism, so it can't really breathe, but you get the gist."
"No one knows exactly how many species of bacteria there are, but our best estimate suggests a minimum of 36,000 ..."
Richards smiled patiently. He might have been the spitting image of his father, from his piercing blue eyes to his thick white hair and goatee, but fortunately that was all he'd inherited from his old man. He could thank his mother — God rest her soul — for his temperament.
Friden pushed his glasses higher on his slender nose. The thick lenses magnified his brown eyes.
"I don't know," the microbiologist said. "I haven't seen anything quite like it before."
Richards beamed and clapped him on the shoulder.
"That's exactly what I wanted to hear. Now find me something I can work with."
Richards's handheld transceiver crackled. He snatched it from the edge of the desk and already had one arm in his jacket when he spoke into it.
"Talk to me."
"We have eyes," the man on the other end of the connection said.
Richards's heart leapt into his throat, rendering him momentarily speechless.
"Don't go any farther until I get there."
He popped the seal on the door and clattered down the steps into the accumulation. The raging wind battered him sideways. He pulled up his fur-fringed hood, lowered his head, and staggered blindly toward the adjacent big red trailer, which didn't appear from the blowing snow until it was within arm's reach. The door opened as he ascended the icy stairs.
"You've got to see this," Will Connor said, and practically dragged him into the cabin. The former Navy SEAL was more than his personal assistant. He was his right-hand man, his bodyguard, and, most important, the only person in the world he trusted implicitly. The truth was he was also the closest thing Richards had to a friend.
The entire trailer was filled with monitors and electronic components fed by an external gas generator, which made the floor vibrate and provided a constant background thrum. The interior smelled of stale coffee, body odor, and an earthy dampness that brought to mind memories of the root cellar at his childhood home in Kansas, even the most fleeting memories of which required swift and forceful repression.
Connor pulled back a chair at the console for Richards, who sat beside a man he'd met only briefly two years ago, when his team of geologists first identified the topographical features suggesting the presence of a large body of water beneath the polar ice cap and he'd only just opened negotiations with the government of Norway for the land lease. Ron Dreger was the lead driller for the team from Advanced Mining Solutions, the company responsible for the feats of engineering that had brought Richards to the bottom of the Earth and the brink of realizing his lifelong dream.
The monitor above him featured a circular image of a white tube that darkened to blue at the very end.
"What you're looking at is the view from the fiber-optic camera two miles beneath our feet," Dreger said. He toggled some keys on his laptop, using only three fingers as he was missing the tips of his ring and pinkie fingers, and the camera advanced toward the bottom. The shaft was already considerably narrower than when the hot-water drill broke through, accelerated by a surprise flume of water that fired upward as a result of the sudden change in pressure, which had inhaled fluid from the surrounding network of subsurface rivers and lakes they were only now discovering.
The lead driller turned to face Richards with an enormous grin on his heavily bearded face, like a Viking preparing to pillage.
"Are you ready?"
Richards stared at the monitor and released a long, slow exhalation.
"I've been waiting for this my whole life."
The camera passed through the orifice and into a vast cavernous space, the ring of lights around the lens creating little more than a halo of illumination. The water had receded, leaving behind icicles hanging like stalactites from the vaulted ice dome. There was no way of estimating size or depth. There was only up, down, and the unfathomable darkness in between.
"Should I keep going?" Dreger asked.
Richards nodded, and the camera slowly approached the surface of the lake, which remained in a liquid state due to a combination of geothermal heat rising from beneath the mantle, insulation from the polar extremes by two vertical miles of ice, and the pressure formed by the marriage of the two. The image became fluid. When the aperture rectified, it revealed cloudy brownish water through which whitish blebs and air bubbles shivered toward the surface. A greenish shape took form from the depths, gaining focus as the camera neared. The rocky bed was covered with a layer of slimy sediment, from which tendrils of sludge wavered. It looked like the surface of some distant planet, which was exactly what Richards hoped it was.
There were countless theories regarding the origin of life on earth, but the one that truly resonated with him was called lithopanspermia and involved the seeding of the planet by microbes hitchhiking through space on comets and asteroids, whether having survived on debris ejected from a collapsing planet or by the deliberate usage of a meteorite to plant life on a suitable world by some higher intelligence. Fossilized bacteria of extraterrestrial origin were found on a meteorite recovered from this very continent less than twenty years ago, but it wasn't until living samples were collected from Lake Vostok that Richards realized what he needed to do.
Ever since that fateful night sixty years ago, when he'd run into the wheat fields to escape the sound of his father raining blows upon his sobbing mother, he'd known mankind wasn't alone in the universe. He remembered every detail with complete clarity, for it was that single moment in time that altered the course of his life. He recalled staring up into the sky and begging for God to answer his prayers, to take his mother and him from that horrible place. Only rather than a vision of the Almighty, he saw a triangle formed by three pinpricks of light hovering overhead. He'd initially thought they were part of a constellation he hadn't seen before until they sped off without a sound and vanished against the distant horizon.
He'd been looking for them ever since.
"What's that over there?" Connor asked.
"Where?" Dreger said.
Connor leaned over Richards's shoulder and tapped the left side of the screen. The driller typed commands into his laptop, and the camera turned in that direction.
"A little higher."
The change in angle was disorienting at first, at least until Richards saw what had caught Connor's eye.
"What in the name of God is that?"CHAPTER 2
El-'Amarna, 194 miles south of Cairo Minya Governorate, Egypt, September 15 — 5 days ago
The tunnel was barely wide enough to accommodate his shoulders, forcing him to drag himself deeper into the darkness with his palms and push with his toes. Dr. Cade Evans could barely raise his head high enough to shine the light mounted to the side of his helmet beyond his outstretched arms. He hoped the HD video camera affixed to the other side was capturing the details that were lost to him. The bare sandstone was coarse underneath him where sections of the walls had been crumbled and furrowed by what looked like the claws of a burrowing animal of some kind. Structures elsewhere in the royal tomb complex were reinforced with gypsum plaster, which likely meant that this passage had been abandoned, incomplete, with the rest of the city of Akhetaten.
"How are you holding up in there, Cade?" Dr. Andrea Ferrence asked from the surface, where she and her graduate students monitored the live feed from his camera on her laptop.
"I'm still trying to figure out how you talked me into doing this."
"Undoubtedly my sexy British accent."
Her voice was too loud in his earpiece, but he drew a measure of comfort from it. They'd been friends — and sometimes more — since grad school. Like her, he'd studied Egyptology at Cambridge and had been well on his way to becoming one of the world's foremost authorities on the Old Kingdom — at least in his own mind — until he read about the discovery of human remains with strangely elongated craniums in Peru and mere hours later found himself aboard a plane bound for Lima. During his subsequent examination of the remains and the petroglyphs of normal and cone-headed people alike on the walls of the cave in which they'd been found, the seeds of a theory about spontaneous evolutionary divergence took root and launched a quest for answers that had taken him around the globe and exhausted the funds from the sale of his deceased parents' estate in Montana.
It had taken Andrea several days to track him down in the remote Swabian Alps of Germany, where he'd been studying skeletal remains with a marked divergence in their mitochondrial DNA that suggested the abrupt replacement of European hunter-gatherers by an unidentified mystery population in the years following the last ice age.
She'd discovered something intriguing in her current excavation of Tomb 29, on the other side of the main valley from where they were now. The southern necropolis had been carved from unstable strata, leading to the collapse of chambers they were only now finding, including one with remnants of hieroglyphics she believed had once told the story of the sudden abandonment of the El-'Amarna region. While the majority of the tale had crumbled with the sandstone walls, she was able to isolate a passage that warned of a curse that would befall anyone who disturbed a hidden tomb in the royal necropolis where — literally translated — "a devourer god" was entombed, the depictions of which immediately made her think of Evans.
Within half an hour of opening her email and viewing the attached picture, he was packed and on his way to Friedrichshafen Airport.
Using a combination of ground-penetrating and through-wall radar, they'd discovered a hollow space of indeterminate size behind the northeastern wall of Pharaoh Akhenaten's tomb and beneath the floor of the one built for his wife, Queen Nefertiti, although they hadn't been able to find a way to reach it. It wasn't until they expanded their search to the surrounding hillside that they found a mound of stones heaped against the base of an escarpment that somehow looked too purposefully stacked to have been caused by the erosion of the cliff. They had spent an entire day moving several tons of boulders and were on the verge of collapse when they finally revealed the tunnel through which he now slithered.
A spider crawled over the back of his hand. He reflexively jerked his arm, hit his head on the low roof, and cursed.
"We can edit that out, right?" he said.
Andrea merely laughed in response.
Evans dragged himself through the webs and tried not to think about the countless tons of earth above this ancient tunnel carved by primitive men without any formal training in structural engineering. Not that the Pyramids of Giza wouldn't still be standing long after the last skyscraper had fallen to ruin. Of course, they were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, while Akhetaten was a hastily erected cultural and architectural anomaly that served as the capital city for little more than the blink of an eye during the Eighteenth Dynasty.
Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, was considered a heretic. He shunned polytheism and the traditional pantheon of gods in favor of the monotheistic worship of Aten, who he claimed appeared to him in a vision as a disk descending from the sky. So powerful was this vision that he changed his name to Akhenaten, which meant "Of Great Use to Aten." Seemingly overnight the capital city of Thebes was deserted in favor of a site nearly two hundred miles away on the eastern bank of the Nile, where the city of Akhetaten — Horizon of the Aten — rose and fell in little more than a decade, leaving behind some of the most fascinating, yet least understood ruins.
Following his death, Akhenaten's son Tutankhaten — "the Living Image of Aten" — not only moved the capital back to Thebes, but had his family's remains disinterred and brought with him. The worship of Aten was abolished and Amun, their forsaken creator-god, and his pantheon were restored to supremacy. He even changed his name to further distance himself from his father's misguided devotion to this disk from the sky and became Tutankhamun, millennia later to be shortened to King Tut.
Or so the story went.
The hieroglyphics Andrea unearthed spoke of the vengeance of renounced gods and the abandonment of a city besieged by devourer gods.
The tunnel wound to the left and opened into a natural formation Evans estimated to be approximately the size of Akhenaten's tomb, roughly six feet away through solid rock. He stood and surveyed his surroundings, slowly tracing the earthen walls with his light so the camera could record them for posterity. Motes of dust sparkled in his beam as it passed over sandstone adorned with petroglyphs that were markedly different from the hieroglyphics throughout the city.
"Do you recognize any of these symbols?" he asked.
It took Andrea several seconds to reply.
"No, I don't believe so."
They were symmetrical and reminded him of stylized suns. There was something strangely familiar about the pattern in which they'd been carved into the walls and ceiling of the cavern, almost as though in an attempt to mimic the pattern of the stars in the sky.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Subhuman"
Copyright © 2017 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
1 - RICHARDS,
2 - EVANS,
3 - JADE,
4 - ROCHE,
5 - KELLY,
6 - ANYA,
7 - RICHARDS,
8 - EVANS,
9 - JADE,
10 - ROCHE,
11 - KELLY,
12 - ANYA,
13 - EVANS,
14 - JADE,
15 - KELLY,
16 - ROCHE,
17 - RICHARDS,
18 - ANYA,
19 - RICHARDS,
20 - EVANS,
21 - JADE,
22 - ROCHE,
23 - KELLY,
24 - RICHARDS,
25 - ANYA,
26 - ROCHE,
27 - KELLY,
28 - FRIDEN,
29 - EVANS,
30 - JADE,
31 - ROCHE,
32 - EVANS,
33 - FRIDEN,
34 - RICHARDS,
35 - DREGER,
36 - KELLY,
37 - ROCHE,
38 - EVANS,
39 - ANYA,
40 - MARIAH,
41 - ROCHE,
42 - JADE,
43 - EVANS,
44 - KELLY,
45 - RICHARDS,
46 - ROCHE,
47 - ANYA,
48 - FRIDEN,
49 - JADE,
50 - EVANS,
51 - ANYA,
52 - RICHARDS,
53 - KELLY,
54 - RICHARDS,
55 - ROCHE,
56 - EVANS,
57 - JADE,
58 - ROCHE,
59 - EVANS,