In The Void Protocol, New York Times bestselling author F. Paul Wilson concludes his medical thriller trilogy featuring Rick Hayden and Laura Fanning as they confront the entities responsible for the supernatural events of Panacea and The God Gene.
Something sits in a bunker lab buried fifty feet below the grounds of Lakehurst Naval Air Station.
The product of the Lange-Tür technology confiscated from the Germans after World War II occupies a chamber of steel-reinforced ballistic glass. Despite experimentation for nearly three-quarters of a century, no one knows what it is, but illegal human research reveals what it can do. Humans with special abilities have been secretly collectedabilities that can only have come from whatever occupies the underground bunker in Lakehurst.
And so it sits, sequestered on the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, slowly changing the world.
F. Paul Wilson is the winner of the Career Achievement in Thriller Fiction in the 2017 RT Reviewers' Choice Best Book Awards
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FORT DETRICK FREDERICK, MARYLAND AUGUST 12, 1984
Maureen LaVelle had spent forty minutes cooling her heels in the stuffy waiting room in a rear corner of the USAMRMC offices. The mystery man who'd summoned her, whoever he was, wasn't just wasting her time — she had work to do, dammit — he was wasting the government's money as well, because she was on the clock. If she'd known about the delay, she'd have come prepared, brought journals, or a novel. Everyone on base was reading Pet Sematary so she'd picked up a copy. She hadn't figured it for her kind of book but she was getting into it.
An MP suddenly appeared and ushered her into a tiny office.
A thin, pale man she'd never seen before sat behind a general-issue desk. Without looking up he indicated the lone chair as he told the MP to leave and close the door behind him. The desktop lay bare except for a personnel folder and a small metal canister emblazoned with the international biohazard symbol.
He opened the folder, saying, "Doctor Maureen LaVelle," in a flat, dry tone. "Your Ph.D. is in molecular biophysics, is that correct?"
He wore a gray suit, white shirt, and navy blue tie. He hadn't looked at her yet.
"That is correct. And you are ...?"
Now he looked up — puffy face with gray eyes behind rimless glasses. Add a little mustache and he could go trick-or-treating as Himmler.
"Benjamin Greve, at your service."
"Are you new here? I haven't —"
"— seen me before? That's because I'm not here." A twist of his thin lips that maybe passed for a smile. "Not officially. I came up from D.C. this morning and will be heading back tonight. To Anacostia, to be precise."
Anacostia ... she sensed he'd dropped that for a specific purpose, and then remembered the Defense Intelligence Agency was headquartered at Anacostia-Bolling. Shit. A DIA spook. What did he think she'd done?
Greve was looking at her file again. "Born in Pikesville twenty-seven years ago, blasted through undergrad in three years, then on to your doctorate. Both at UMD, I see. Don't like to stray far from the nest, is that it?"
Maureen's mouth felt a little dry. She cleared her throat. "I have family in the area and I did some research here on my thesis."
"And you stayed on."
"They made me a nice offer as a civilian employee."
Government benefits — hard to beat in the current job market.
"How do you like the work?" he said, still flipping pages. This couldn't be the first time he'd seen her file. "Challenging?"
"It's holding my interest."
Truth was, everything got routine after a while. Her work centered on defense against biological weapons — early detection and treatment — and as a result she got to work with some deadly organisms and impressive toxins. But she'd never broken security. Why was DIA here?
Finally he looked up again. "How would you like a real challenge?"
She felt her shoulders relax. So that was it: a problem that needed solving. She was sure she could handle whatever they threw at her. Well, pretty sure.
"I'm all ears."
He tapped the metal biohazard cylinder to his right, about the height and width of a half gallon of orange juice.
"We want you to identify what's in here."
"What is it?"
An impatient scowl. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be here asking you to identify it, would I?" He shook his head. "Damn! They told me you were smart, the best they had. Am I going to regret choosing you for this?"
... the best they had ? She wondered who'd said that. USAMRMC wasn't quick with the compliments.
But she was not about to apologize. "The question isn't as dumb as it sounds, Mister Greve. I'm curious as to whether it's animal, vegetable, or mineral. Because if it's mineral —"
"We don't know what the hell it is, Doctor LaVelle," he said in a testy tone. "That's the problem."
"Where did you get it?"
"That I can't tell you."
"Can I ask you why Fort Detrick?"
"Because you have a level-four biosafety lab."
"So it's toxic?"
A dramatic sigh. "We don't know for sure. So far there's no indication that it is, but it might be. We expect you to tell us if it is and, if so, exactly how toxic."
"Fair enough. But why me?"
"Besides coming highly recommended as a researcher, another of the reasons you were chosen is because, in a very short time, you have built a reputation for taking anti-contamination and security protocols very seriously."
"That's simple common sense."
"Which many people lack. Also you appear devoted to your work. I can tell by your frumpy clothes and lack of makeup that you're not on the hunt for a husband."
Maureen couldn't help bristling, but she refused to acknowledge his words' sting.
"I call them 'comfortable' clothes, and makeup bores me."
She might have added that her hair was short and simply styled because she couldn't be bothered fussing with it. Her mother had forced her to wear it long during high school and it had annoyed her to no end. And as for a man ... true, she wasn't on the hunt, but if the right one came along — and he'd have to be very right — she'd be game.
He tapped the container again. "I cannot impress upon you strongly enough how highly classified this substance is."
Okay, now she was really interested.
"Does it have a name?"
"It's been designated 'Substance A.' "
A? she thought. As in the letter A?
"Does that mean there are substances B and C and so on after it?"
" 'Substance A' is all you need to know."
"Well, can you tell me if it's liquid, gaseous, or solid?"
"Semi-solid. It pours."
Good. Now we're getting somewhere.
"Synthetic or natural or —?"
He held up a hand. "It is. That's all I can say. You will gain firsthand knowledge while you are investigating its properties."
"When do I get started?"
"In a few moments." He lifted a briefcase onto the desk and removed a sheaf of documents. "But first, some NDAs for you to sign."
She'd signed a ream of nondisclosure agreements when she'd done her thesis research here, and even more when she'd hired on.
"They're already on file."
That non-smile again. "Not these. These are ad hoc documents."
* * *
"The first thing I want you to do is weigh it," Greve said. "Then I'll leave you to your investigations."
Well, that was a relief. He'd followed her to the BSL-4 lab and she'd been afraid he'd be keeping watch over her shoulder for as long as this took — which might stretch to days or weeks. He gave her the creeps.
The sealed specimen cylinder sat on the other side of the glass. Maureen slipped her hands into the gloved sleeves that stretched into the containment area and placed a 600-milliliter glass beaker on a scale. After zeroing it out, she unscrewed the cylinder top and gently tilted it over the beaker.
A glistening, viscous substance, reddish-purplish-blackish — the color of a bad bruise — began to ooze out. When it reached the 400-milliliter mark on the beaker it stopped. Maureen examined the inside of the cylinder and saw no trace of residue.
She checked the scale. The LED display read zero. She tapped it. Still zero. She pressed gently on the top of the beaker and the numbers climbed, but when she removed her hand, back to zero.
"That can't be."
"At this point, that's the only thing we know about it," Greve said, literally hanging over her shoulder.
"But that's impossible. It has mass, it pours, it obeys the pull of gravity, so it can't weigh nothing."
"You checked your scale. It's working."
"But if it were weightless, it wouldn't pour, it would ... float."
"So one would think." He bent and lifted his briefcase. "I leave you to your work, Doctor LaVelle. My secure fax number is on my card. I expect a report every evening by five P.M."
Maureen nodded, his words barely registering. She couldn't take her eyes off the bruise-colored mass in the beaker.
Where on Earth do you find weightless slime? Or maybe not on Earth.
She shook off the discomfort and reached for the radio. She liked music while she worked. A top-forty DJ announced the number-one song in America, and "Ghostbusters" began to thump through the tiny speaker.
The line about "something weird" that "don't look good" struck her.
How appropriate, she thought. Almost prescient.
And who y'gonna call?
Moe LaVelle, of course.
"Okay, you slimy mess. Let's see what other spookiness you're hiding."CHAPTER 2
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Rick Hayden clung to an overhead grab handle as the Volvo sedan raced along Eastern Parkway.
"Can you elaborate on what we're up to?" he said. "Just a little, okay? Like where we're headed, for starters? And are we going to arrive alive?"
Luis Montero had the wheel. A full-blooded Cuban, light brown skin, stocky build, dark eyes, black hair gelled into some weird and glossy configuration. Rick knew all about him. He'd backgrounded the guy before Stahlman hired him. Age thirty-two, the son of Castro refugees, Ph.D. in neurobiology, supposedly brilliant. His résumé claimed he'd published a bunch of papers. Rick couldn't understand their titles, let alone what they were about, but he'd checked the journals to make sure the articles had appeared. They had. Montero could have nabbed just about any academic position he wanted, yet he was working for Clayton Stahlman. Rick didn't have to ask why. He'd seen all the zeros on the deal memo.
"Didn't Stahlman tell you?" Montero said, looking at Rick.
He was one of those guys who had to look at you when he spoke to you, even when he was driving.
"Told me you were picking up a specimen in Brooklyn and might need a little help."
Montero laughed. "'Specimen'? He really said that?"
"Could you watch the road, please? Yeah. 'Specimen.'" Typical Stahlman, he'd hung up before Rick could extract any details. "Which is about as specific as 'Brooklyn.'"
"Okay. The specimen is a human being named Ellis Reise who's in trouble with one of the local families over gambling debts."
"'Families' as in folks with vowels on the end of their names?"
"Right. Some Gambino-Mangano offshoot — I didn't bother unraveling the relationships. All I know is it's run by a guy named Vincent Donato."
Rick grunted. "Vinny Donuts."
"You've heard of him then?" Looking at him again. "Not many civilians have. He keeps a low profile."
"I'm not your average civilian."
Rick's security work for Stahlman's varied projects and operations involved backgrounding everyone he hired. Ties to organized crime were a major no-no. Vincent "the Donut" Donato, aka Vinny Donuts, had his pudgy fingers deep into gaming, ponies, numbers, and loan sharking.
"You —" he began as Montero made a screeching Ralph onto Utica Avenue, swerving across the lane into oncoming traffic. "Jesus! What the hell?"
"Sorry," he said as he pulled back into his lane and headed south. "The turn snuck up on me."
"Yeah, 'cause you're looking at me instead of the road. Talk to the windshield. I have good ears. I'll still hear you."
"Yeah. Sure. Sorry."
"Where's the next turn?"
"Remsen. Still a ways."
"You keep your eyes straight, I'll keep mine peeled. Anyway, as I was about to say before you almost killed us: You qualify as an average civilian. How come you know about Donato?"
"Only through researching Ellis and his gambling."
Strange way for a neurobiologist to occupy his time.
"So how much is this Ellis in to Vinny Donuts?"
"Well, that's where it gets tricky. Donato's operation owes Ellis over four hundred grand."
"What? How'd that happen?"
"Totally killed them in roulette — and they don't want to pay."
"Can't blame them, but welching's bad for business."
Mob-run games would fleece a tourist up the wazoo, but tended to play it straight with their regulars, paying out whatever the winnings. Otherwise high rollers would stay away.
"They say he cheats. They're going to make an example of him."
"Why is this our business?"
"Because Ellis is a valuable, um, specimen."
"Just what does that mean?"
Montero glanced at him. "If Stahlman hasn't told you, I probably should wait until he does."
Rick felt a little miffed at that. He knew pretty much everything about Stahlman's operations except ...
"This have anything to do with the Long Island City warehouse?"
Montero nodded. "You've been there?"
"Back in the spring."
"He was just setting it up then."
"Yeah, well, I was talking to Stahlman when I saw something through one of the doors ... or thought I did."
Montero was smiling. "Oh, like what?"
"Like a guy floating above the floor."
Montero laughed. "Leo! Always showing off!"
"You mean he really was —?"
"I'll defer to the boss on that, if you don't mind." He leaned forward, squinting through the windshield. "Is that Remsen ahead?"
"Yep. I was just about to —" The light went amber but Montero didn't slow. "Aw, you're not gonna —"
Yep. It turned red and he kept going, skidding into the turn as he ran through it.
"We in a hurry?" Rick said.
"Kinda. I'd like to get to Ellis while he's still alive."
"Stahlman sends a Ph.D. to deal with the mob?"
"I sort of have to go because I'm the only one who knows about Ellis. He sent you along to do the dealing. That is, should any dealing be needed." He glanced at Rick. "And I can see why."
"I mean, look at you. If I saw you coming I'd get out of the way."
"Hey, I know I'm not a small guy, but I'm not that big."
"It's not size, it's — I don't know. You're like a coiled spring. You look like you could be a nice guy or very dangerous — either way, depending on the situation."
Not the first time Rick had heard that.
"Whatever. So anyway, Donato's people are right?"
"About Ellis cheating?" Montero paused, looking like he had to think about that. "Yes and no."
"Gotta be one or the other. Either he's cheating or he isn't."
"Oh, he's definitely cheating, but he doesn't know it. He just thinks he's lucky."
"Winning over four hundred K in roulette? That's very lucky."
"Especially when you consider he started with a ten-dollar chip and only played three spins."
Rick tried to do the math. "Had to be letting it ride each time."
"Exactly. He won on his first number which, at thirty-five to one, netted him three-fifty for his ten bucks. They allowed him to let his winnings ride on another number, which he also won. At another thirty-five to one, the house now owed him over twelve grand."
"And they let him ride again? No table limits?"
"I'm sure somebody's in big trouble for suspending the limit, but you can see why they'd take the risk to get back their twelve grand. I mean, the chance of hitting a number on the nose is about two-point-five percent. The chance of hitting your number three times in a row is still two-point-five percent, but the house figured no way that could happen."
Montero managed to take the right fork off Remsen onto Ralph without incident or drama.
"Obviously it did. So how do they plan to make an example of him?"
"Disappear him. Crush him inside one of Vinny's scrap cars and dump him in the Atlantic along with —"
"Truck-truck-truck!" Rick shouted, pointing.
Montero had been looking at him and didn't see the big box truck backing out of a driveway. He slammed on the brakes and the Volvo screeched and fishtailed to a stop. The driver looked at them with a WDF look, as in what da fuck?
"Get out!" Rick said.
"Get out. I'm gonna drive."
"No-no-no. It's okay. I promise. Not far now."
Rick paused, then relented. He pointed at the receding truck. "Stay behind him." After a few hundred yards, he said, "What did you say about dumping him in the Atlantic?"
"Vinny owns a scrap yard and a trawler, in case you didn't know."
"Didn't. And you know about this how?"
"We've had Ellis's phone hacked for a while, and added Vinny's capo's just recently."
"How'd you manage that? Oh, Kevin Hudson, right?"
Stahlman liked to hire ex-hackers for his IT matters. He'd had a fellow named Russ Tuit for a while, but he'd left to work for the NRO, of all places. Before leaving he'd recommended Kevin. Rick had checked him out and he passed muster, so now he was Stahlman's go-to guy for IT.
"Right. Kevin's amazing. Anyway, Donato and his crew are talking about having the croupier and the guy who suspended the table limit keep Ellis company so he doesn't get lonely while he sleeps with the fishes. Ellis thinks he's meeting them at the scrap yard for his payout."
"He as dumb as he sounds?"
Montero smiled. "Don't be too hard on him. He's an astounding pool player but has a weakness for cards. He's played Donato's games before — poker and blackjack usually — and he's won and lost with never a problem collecting when he won. Last night was the first time he'd ever tried roulette and he thinks he was astoundingly lucky."
"But you say he cheated. How?"
Montero chewed his lip. "I guess I can tell you what we think. We still need to prove it."
All this beating around the bush.
"For Chrissake, spill, will you?"
"All right, all right. We think he's telekinetic."
That took a bit of digesting. "You mean he moves things with his mind?"
"Not even close. But yes, he can move things without touching them. That's how he can run a pool table every time he picks up a cue."
"And can hit a roulette number three times in a row."
"Exactly. I'm thinking he visualizes a pool ball dropping into a certain pocket or a roulette ball dropping into a certain slot, and it just ... does."
"And now he's visualizing this middle-level mob boss just handing over four hundred K?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Void Protocol"
Copyright © 2018 F. Paul Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
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The Secret History of the World,
Also By F. Paul Wilson,
About the Author,