Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743463980
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 01/31/2003
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Sound waves gain wavelength and lose frequency as they travel through dense materials," Dr. Joshua Keyes said, pointing at one of the large boulders sitting on the demonstration bench, then glanced back over the small audience.

Eighteen students had signed up this semester, actually more than he had expected for an advanced geophysics class. But the eighteen students were dwarfed by the large lecture hall, with tiered seating. It seemed that the University of Illinois only had large lecture rooms.

This one had to have a hundred seats, all anchored to the wooden floor, all with their seats in the up position. The room had high ceilings and a large area in the back, so big that his voice echoed. The entire place smelled of some sort of floor polish, and he could tell the small stage where he stood had been recently waxed, since it looked slick. The people in charge of room assignments had to know that this class never drew enough to even halfway fill this room.

He had been teaching this course now for three years, and this was his largest class yet. And from the looks of the students, the most interested. However, this was the first real day of class, and that interest might change as the semester wore on. For some reason this year the students looked even younger than usual.

As professors went, he wasn't the most conservative, or the most liberal the university had. He taught only three classes and spent the rest of his time on research in his lab. But when he did teach, he liked to involve his students in the classes, entertain them, and speak to them as adults instead of students. He figured at this point in their education, they'd better be interested, or be finding something else to do. But just because they were interested didn't mean he had a license to bore them. So even though the subject was hard, and often dull, he did his best to keep the humor in it.

Around campus he was hard to tell from a student, and was often asked for his student identification. He usually wore jeans and a button-down shirt, sometimes plaid. With his slightly longer hair, at thirty he looked more like a farmhand than a professor.

Today, he had had Acker, his grad student assistant, put three large rocks on the demonstration desk. Acker had told him before class that he had had to draft two football players to help. Josh didn't want to ask how Acker, a tall, skinny nerd of a kid, got football players to help him with anything.

Josh had all three rocks wired up to an oscilloscope with a readout large enough for the entire class to see. This was one of the most basic lectures he would give in this class, yet a needed one. If these students were going to make it to the end of this semester, they had to understand the principles he was going to show them today. Most of them would already know everything he was going to cover, but by coming up with a way to make this lecture entertaining every year, he made sure none of them forgot it.

"The anomalies in low frequency sound waves are the means by which we can surmise the fundamental architecture of our planet."

He patted the boulder, his voice making the oscilloscope needle move a little faster than it had been.

"Allow me to demonstrate," he said. He reached in under the desk and pulled out a trumpet.

A couple of the students laughed, the rest smiled. He was famous around campus as being the worst trumpet player to ever pick up an instrument, and that reputation came mostly from this first basic lecture every year.

Josh pointed to the first boulder. "Now, Mr. Limestone, being the softy he is, loves Miles Davis. Observe how he just sits there and soaks up the sounds."

Josh leaned forward and did his best imitation of a jazz trumpet player. He had taken two years of trumpet lessons when he was seven and eight, and then never touched the instrument again until he started teaching this class. Needless to say, everyone believed that fact.

The oscilloscope needle vibrated wildly, and the students laughed.

Josh stopped, took a slight bow, hamming it up for his audience, then stepped to the next boulder. "Whereas, Mr. Granite, being of rather denser molecular structure, is much less receptive to such fine music."

Again the students laughed.

Josh again did his awful impersonation of Miles Davis. The oscilloscope vibrated much less, but the students laughed even more. Good, they were getting the point.

"Ah, come on Mr. Granite!" he shouted at the boulder, "this is good stuff!"

Josh, playing to the audience, blew even harder into the granite boulder, and the students laughed even louder, some covering their ears.

Then suddenly the only sound in the room was his playing. The students had stopped laughing.

Josh quit and turned to find two men in dark suits striding down through the students toward him. He wanted to blow a note at them to break up the now tense silence, but he didn't. Clearly they were federal agents of some sort. They didn't have a sense of humor.

"What?" Josh asked, "is it a crime to play trumpet to a rock these days?"

A few students snickered.

"Dr. Joshua Keyes?"

Josh glanced at his students and winked. "Mayyy-be."

"Yes or no, sir," the leading agent said, his face showing no signs of humor at all.

"Yes," Josh said.

"Please come with us, sir," the agent said, flashing the FBI badge Josh knew he would be carrying.

"Can't this wait?" Josh asked, indicating the students, all staring in shock.

"Now, sir," the agent said, stopping in front of Josh and indicating that Josh should move toward the door.

"Sorry, gang," Josh said, tossing the trumpet to Acker. "The rock concert will have to be postponed until next class. Acker will get you your assignments."

A couple of the students laughed nervously as Josh stepped out in front of the agent and headed for the door. Acker nodded to him and stood from where he had been sitting off to one side.

Outside the lecture hall, Josh fell in step with the lead agent as they headed down the Earth Sciences building's empty main hallway. Today the place smelled of sulfur and burnt sugar, more than likely from some experiment. Every day this building smelled different.

"Guys, what's going on?"

"We don't know, sir," the agent beside him said.

"You don't know?" Josh asked, actually surprised, looking up at the agent's face. The guy could blend into a crowd and no one would remember him. He had brown eyes, a plain face, and seemed to not even wear an expression.

The agent waited for a student to pass before answering. "Your security clearance is higher than ours, sir."

"Oh, right," Josh said, following the agent out into the warm sun. "I have security clearance."

"We're just here to bring you to your jet, sir," the agent said, pointing down the sidewalk toward an official-looking car parked at the curb.

"Oh," Josh said. Then what the agent had said finally sunk in. "I have a jet?"

The agent said nothing more.

The skyline of Washington, D.C., was stunning in the clear noon sun. In all his times in and out of the nation's capital, Josh never tired of seeing the monuments, the Capitol dome, the White House. It helped him to keep perspective on some of the stakes he had fought for over the years.

Now, for some reason no one seemed to know, they had hustled him out of class in Chicago and onto a very comfortable, unmarked private jet. A steward had served him a quick lunch and a soda, and then offered him magazines to read for the remainder of the hour-long flight. Josh had chosen to just sit and stare out the window. It wasn't often a geophysics professor like him had his own plane. He wanted to enjoy the moment.

A black limo met his plane right on the runway, as two different agents whisked him into the car. Neither of them knew anything either.

Finally, after a quick, police-escorted trip through the D.C. traffic, they pulled into an underground entrance at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Now Josh was really confused. Why would the government take him out of a class to bring him to a hospital?

They passed quickly through two security checks in the basement area, and then went down into the center of the complex, descending at least three more floors.

Guards were everywhere, and guys in Hazmat suits as well, which didn't bode well for what Josh was going to face. He wasn't real thrilled with the idea of going into an area of a hospital where some people thought it necessary to wear those suits.

Then, Josh saw a familiar sight. His old friend, Serge Leveque, stood banging on a soda machine, swearing at it in graphic French. Serge was, without a doubt, the strangest Frenchman in the world of science, and maybe the most brilliant. He and Josh had gotten to know each other over the years, becoming unlikely best friends.

Serge was a heavyset man, and almost always wore a topcoat of some type, no matter what the weather. He had that same dark coat on now, even though it had to be eighty degrees outside. He was about eight years older than Josh, gaining quickly on forty, something Josh had fun not letting him forget. He lived in Washington with his wife and worked on God-knew-what secret weapons projects for the government.

"Serge!" Josh shouted.

Serge turned, grinning. "About time. They would not brief me until you got here."

Serge wrapped Josh in his normal bear hug greeting.

"Any idea what's going on?" Josh asked as the agent led them even farther into the middle of the hospital complex.

"Big panic," Serge said, shrugging. "Biochemists, lots of military. How are you, mon ami?"

"Great," Josh said. "Did you know I had a jet?"

"I think they are going to want it back," Serge said, laughing.

"How's the family?" Josh asked as they moved through two more security checkpoints.

Serge waved his hand as if swatting at a fly in front of his face. "Madeleine is well, but the children have become foul American brats. They like Burger King and cartoons and have forsaken all French culture."

Josh laughed. "Who can blame them?"

The agent kept leading them deeper into an area of the hospital that Josh had no doubt very few people had ever entered. The halls were a dull gray, the floors smooth and polished, the soldiers stone-faced and posted at every intersection. Some of the halls even smelled musty, as if they were seldom used.

"When are you going to meet a nice girl?" Serge asked. "Bring her to dinner?"

Josh shrugged. At this point in his life, the last thing he was interested in was women. He barely had time to prepare for classes and do his research.

"Ahh, married to your work, eh?" Serge said, almost as if reading his thoughts. "Good, so am I, which makes my wife my mistress." He laughed in only the way Serge could laugh, his body shaking, the sound echoing powerfully through the halls. "That's why I'm still in love with her."

At that moment the agent took them through a set of double doors and into a room full of gurneys covered in white sheets. The place had a low ceiling and smelled of some sort of cleaning solution. And something else that Josh couldn't put his finger on.

He squinted, letting his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. It took him a moment to realize what he was seeing.

"Fuck, those are bodies!"

"We have taken a wrong turn," Serge said, backing toward the door that had now closed.

"No," a man said from behind them, "if you had taken a wrong turn, you would have already been shot."

Both Josh and Serge turned around.

Josh studied the man standing there. He was a three-star general, about fifty, with typical military posture and a hard intelligence in his eyes that Josh had not often seen in the military types.

"Hello to you too, mon général," Serge said.

"Serge," the general said, "always a pleasure."

Josh could tell that the two had clearly had a few meetings in the past. And from the way Serge acted, not always good meetings.

The general turned and nodded to the agent who had led them there. He snapped around and left, pulling the door closed behind him, leaving the three of them alone in the room full of bodies.

No matter how many scenarios Josh could have imagined for reasons the government needed to fly him to Washington, D.C., standing in a room full of bodies was not it. He wouldn't have driven downtown if he knew this was where he was going to end up, even at gunpoint.

As the door closed, the general turned, smiling and extending his hand. "Dr. Keyes, Thomas Purcell."

Josh hoped he managed to hide his surprise. General Thomas Purcell was one of the most powerful men in all the military. If he was the one that called Josh here, it was no wonder Josh suddenly had a jet. It also meant that whatever was going on it was big-time stuff.

"As you probably realize," the general said, jumping right to the topic at hand, "what you're about to hear is highly classified."

Both Josh and Serge nodded, so the general went on before Josh could ask for a slightly better meeting room. One with a few less dead people.

"At ten-thirty A.M., local time, seventeen civilians, all within a three-block radius, died. They did not get sick first. They simply hit the ground, dead."

The general pointed at the gurneys covered with bodies and white sheets.

Josh stared at the corpses spread out in front of him. So this morning all these people had been alive, leading normal lives, with jobs and families and friends. Now he really was going to be sick. There was a reason he studied magnetism and rocks instead of animals and humans.

"Bioweapon?" Serge asked.

"Our first guess," the general said, "but no."

Josh was glad to hear that, up to a point. He tried to focus on the task at hand. "They all died at the same time?"

"As far as we can tell, to the second," the general said.

Josh instantly knew what had happened, and now half-wished it had been a bioweapon.

"This hits CNN in one hour," the general said, staring first at Josh, then at Serge. "I need a reason."

"Variation in sex, age, body types?" Serge asked, clearly trying to make some sense out of the information.

"They all had pacemakers," Josh stated.

Serge turned to stare at Josh.

General Purcell chuckled and glanced at his watch. "Under one minute. Your reputation is well deserved, Dr. Keyes."

Josh didn't know he had a reputation in the circles that General Purcell moved in. He'd have to give that some thought.

The general moved over and pulled the sheet back from one of the victims. The man had been fairly young, not more than forty. He had a stylish, businesslike haircut. The heart operation scar ran down the center of his chest, red and angry-looking on his deathly white skin.

"Hey, hey," Josh said, looking away, forcing the lunch he had been served on the plane to stay in place. The last thing he needed was to stare at a bunch of dead bodies. He would have nightmares for a month as it was just being in this room.

"How did you guess?" the general asked, "with no clues from the victims?"

The general covered up the body as Josh answered. "Serge and I are the clue."

The general looked puzzled, so Josh went on. "Serge specializes in high energy weapons. I do geomagnetics. So calling us means you suspect an electromagnetic pulse weapon. If these are the only fatalities, they must be people susceptible to electromagnetic interference."

"Thus pacemakers," Serge said, shaking his head. "Sometimes you are spooky, my friend."

"Now I need to know if some sort of weapon killed these people," the general said.

"Three-block radius?" Josh asked.

The general nodded.

Josh worked to compute the amount of energy it would take to cover an area of that size. It would have to have been a very large amount.

"Any tremors detected from a detonation?" Serge asked before Josh could.

"No," the general said.

"Too much power," Josh said. He didn't say that it would take a small nuke to generate that kind of EM blast, powerful enough to shut off pacemakers in a three-block area.

Serge nodded. "I agree. Too much."

"It's no weapon I've ever heard of," Josh said.

"He is right, General."

"You're not seeing an EM pulse weapon here?" the general asked, his gaze intent on Josh, then on Serge.

Both shook their heads no.

"Thank you," the general said, indicating they should head for the door. "We're done here."

"We're not done," Josh said, stunned at the general's sudden action. "There's nothing on the other side of the equal sign."

"I agree with Josh," Serge said. "Something caused this."

Josh had a few ideas of what it might have been, but he needed far more information.

The general stopped at the door and faced the two scientists. Josh could see the intensity in his eyes, the focus, and the relief. "Our greatest concern, was that this may have been an act of war. As long as it's not, we can all breathe a little easier, can't we?" He turned and pushed open the doorway, nodding to the agent there.

Serge and Josh followed him into the hallway. The quicker Josh got away from those bodies, the happier he would be. But he didn't want to leave everything yet. The general had given him a puzzle; he had answered a question. But there were a thousand more questions that needed answering.

"Thank you, gentlemen," the general said, then turned and strode off as the agent indicated Serge and Josh should go in another direction.

Josh glanced back at the seventeen bodies on the gurneys filling the room just before the door swung closed. He had no doubt that he was not going to breathe easier, as the general had said, any time soon.

Or sleep well, either. Not with this many unanswered questions.

Copyright © 2002 by Paramount Pictures Corporation

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Core 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, which is based on the screenplay of the movie, is chock full of pseudo scientific jibberish. As a geologist, I was curious to read a book about the core. Here was an opportunity to educate as well as entertain. Sadly, many details which were not vital to the plot were simply invented. A few specific issues: 1. As they travel through the ocean crust, which through drilling among other things we know to be made of basalt, the comment that it is ¿granite, as expected¿ 2. Air in a geode would not survive at the high pressures experienced in the mantle. The cobalt shell, which would have a hardness of about 5 on Mohs scale(diamond, which tops the scale has a hardness of 10) would not be able to prevent the pressure from crushing the geode. 3. When going through the (as they say) ¿granitic¿ oceanic crust, which in the Marianas Trench would be 180 million years old, you would certainly not find mammoth fossils because: Granite is an igneous rock which forms from the crystallization of a magma. The tremendously unlucky Mammoth who somehow wandered several km below the surface of the earth to the magma chamber would have been completely melted Mammoths were not alive 180 million years ago. Even if they had been, the ocean floor seems an unlikely habitat for such land loving creatures. 4. There is no predictability with regard to the pole reversals. They do not switch every seven-hundred-thousand years. They do switch, but not with any regularity or pattern that we can discern. 5. Anyone who thinks ¿boron nitride crystals¿ are six times harder than diamonds has another think coming. And if there was a substance so hard, you can bet we would have figured out a couple uses for it by now!!! In fact pure hexagonal boron nitride crystals have a hardness on Mohs scale of 1.5, making it one of the softest substances! Also, industry has found many uses for boron nitride. 6. ¿Theoretically¿ things get weaker under heat and pressure, not stronger! 7. The mantle is not a liquid, it behaves more like window glass- it flows over very long periods. This is known through seismic studies, which have also shown the outer core to be liquid and the inner core to be solid. 8. Plates move at a rate similar to the rate that your fingernails grow. Therefore, if you were watching converging plates, you probably would not be able to discern them closing. I am will to overlook one or two impossibilities, but it is irresponsible of the writer to throw out so many things as fact, especially when they are not necessary to the plot. Also, a difference between this book and many other science fiction books that ask you to believe something which is impossible, is that those books tend to take place in the future, another dimension or are more obviously based completely in fiction. Reader beware: Don¿t believe what you read.