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Almost seven weeks have passed since the Hemorrhage Virus ravaged the world. The remnants of the United States military have regrouped and relocated Central Command to the George Washington Carrier Strike Group. It’s here, in the North Atlantic, that President Jan Ringgold and Vice President George Johnson prepare to deploy a new bioweapon and embark on the final mission to take back the country from the Variants.
With his home gone and his friends kidnapped, Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his remaining men must take drastic measures to save what’s left of the human race.
The end is here. . .
If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Sheets of rain poured down, half blinding Dr. Kate Lovato as she stared up into the swollen, dark sky. A clap of thunder echoed through the derelict city streets. In the respite from the noise came the squawks of starving Variants and the screams of their human prisoners.
It took Kate a moment to remember she was one of those prisoners.
All around her, she saw the distorted, skeletal shapes of Variants. They clambered over abandoned vehicles and skittered up the walls of nearby buildings. Snapping joints clicked and popped as the monsters lugged their prey through the dark streets.
At first Kate didn't even recognize her own wailing voice. She felt disconnected from everything, like she wasn't even there. She couldn't feel much besides her irregular heartbeat and the cold rain pattering against her clammy skin.
As Kate struggled to focus, everything came collapsing down around her. After all she had been through, it was now, as she was being carried through the ash-covered streets of New York City on the back of a Variant, that she had finally lost her sanity. Memories flooded her mind from the attack on Plum Island just hours ago. She'd lost a piece of her soul when Staff Sergeant Alex Riley had been killed by the gargantuan beast covered in bone-plated armor.
Everything seemed so surreal, and as she slipped deeper into shock, the city, the Variants, and the prisoners became more and more distant.
It was the screams of Tasha and Jenny that yanked Kate back to reality.
"Daddy!" Jenny shrieked.
"Tasha, Jenny!" Kate yelled back. Staff Sergeant Parker Horn's girls were back there. Kate couldn't see them, but when she twisted around, she saw Meg Pratt. The firefighter was to Kate's right; a pair of male Variants with long limbs and hunched backs were dragging her through the streets by her injured legs. Meg was still fighting—squirming and swatting at her captors, screaming, "You killed Riley! You killed Riley!"
Kate reached over to her when she heard Jenny wail for her sister.
The voices broke Kate's heart. Upside down, she raised her head to scan the darkness for the girls, gasping in air that smelled of sour lemons and rotting fruit. The monster carrying her bled the wretched scent. She held her breath and looked to the skyline.
Reed, where are you?
Even now, when all seemed lost, her thoughts gravitated to the father of their unborn child. The Delta Force Operator had saved her so many times before. And while she knew he was out there fighting his way to New York, the chances of him arriving in time …
Kate's thoughts drifted to the other people Reed hadn't been able to save. Riley was gone. They'd lost Fitz and Apollo. It was just a matter of time before she and the other prisoners were killed too.
The click-clack of snapping maws and the screeches of the monsters rose into an evil cacophony as the small army worked deeper into Manhattan. They had been on the move for what felt like hours, but Kate wasn't sure what time it was. It could be the middle of the night, or nearing sunrise. She shifted in and out of reality, lost in memories.
Sometimes, in order to kill a monster, you will have to create one.
Dr. Michael Allen's final words echoed in her thoughts. In her mind's eye, she watched her mentor and boss sacrificing himself by jumping out of the Blackhawk onto the lawn outside the CDC building, Variants closing in from all directions.
Her eyes snapped open to see the moon peeking through the clouds drifting over Manhattan. The rays carpeted the streets, and Kate finally glimpsed Tasha and Jenny in a fleeting moment before the clouds swallowed the glow. The girls were both slung over the back of the same beast. It sniffed at their tiny legs with a nose frayed down the middle, flesh hanging loosely to both sides. A pointed tongue shot out of the monster's wormy lips, circled, then licked Tasha's right leg.
Kate reared in disgust. She had to do something. She wouldn't let the abomination kill the girls.
"Let me down!" she yelled, pounding the beast's lower back in a fit of rage. The creature howled and tightened a talon around her ankle, slicing into her flesh.
Kate bit back a scream of agony. She needed a plan—a way out of this. There had to be a way to escape. She looked back to Meg. The monsters had pulled her onto the sidewalk, but she was still fighting. Meg kicked one of the beasts in the face and crawled away. Her fingernails dragged across the concrete as the second Variant reached out with a skeletal arm and grabbed her feet.
"No! No!" Meg screamed.
A high-pitched wail from the monster carrying Kate answered. It was then Kate realized she was still pounding the beast with her fists. Meg wasn't the only one fighting.
Thunder cracked like a bomb exploding in the clouds. Kate paused her futile assault to look skyward, her gaze flitting up the sides of dark buildings. The towers extended to the heavens, and there, in the meat of the bulbous clouds, soared a winged creature.
An angel watching over them.
Kate was hallucinating. The shock was too much. She couldn't concentrate. She couldn't …
"Help me!" Tasha shouted.
"Let them go!" Meg screamed.
Kate kneed the Variant holding her in the throat. The impact caught the beast off guard. It swung her to the side, loosening its grip around her ankles. She reached out to brace herself with her right hand, and covered her stomach with her left as she plummeted to the concrete.
The fall happened in slow motion, the ash and ground slowly rising toward her. She landed on her right palm and rolled to her back. She was kicking as soon as she was on the ground.
"No!" she shouted. "Leave us alone!" She knew how insane the words sounded. The Variants couldn't reason. They wouldn't show mercy to her or anyone else. They were designed to kill—designed to feed. And her bioweapon had only made them stronger.
The beast perched in front of her. Rain pattered on its bald skull as it tilted its misshapen head from side to side. It blinked, thick eyelids clicking over yellow eyes. Kate scooted backward across the concrete, prompting the creature to slash at her with one hand. It grabbed at her feet with the other. Talons scraped her shoes just as the beast carrying Tasha and Jenny lumbered by, tongue swaying from its mouth like the thumping tail of a dog.
A rattling sound pulled Kate's gaze to a third creature that strode away from the pack. The beast limped into a sliver of moonlight. Kate brushed her wet hair from her face, gasping when she saw the macabre armor plates of human bones covering the monster that had killed Riley.
The grip of talons pulled on her left boot again, but Kate was barely paying attention. A guttural roar louder than the others sounded through the city as the creature grasping Kate's feet dragged her across the ground.
The armored beast lumbered over on two feet, raised an arm severed at the elbow, and jammed the jagged bone into the skull of the beast holding Kate's left boot. The sharp tip popped through the monster's lips, a gurgling sound reverberating from its throat.
Kate pulled free of the dead creature's grip and fell to her back. The Alpha limped over to her and towered overhead, a thick strand of saliva dripping from its open lips.
Defeated, Kate didn't fight back. Her mind disconnected from her body. She just stared at the clouds, praying and searching for an angel that she knew wasn't coming.
Drops of rain plopped on her face. She flinched as one landed in her eye, blurring her vision. Above the ethereal screeches from the Alpha and the screams of the other prisoners came a different noise—a deep rumble, growing with every second.
The cloud cover split in two as if a curtain had been pulled back to expose a window. In the moonlight soared the same winged creature she had seen before. Two others flew into view, their wings gliding through the darkness.
Heart pounding, breathing labored, and body shivering, Kate knew she was slipping back into shock. This was nothing but a hallucination.
The Alpha grabbed her with its good arm and lugged her over its shoulder. Kate's face hit the plate of human bones draped over the monster's back, air bursting from her lungs. She put her hand on her stomach to protect the little one growing inside her, praying that it hadn't been hurt. Then she looked skyward to watch the angels that she knew couldn't be real.
A raucous roar split the air overhead as the winged apparitions soared past once again. She blinked the rain from her eyes, and stilled her breathing, but her heart continued to thump loudly in her ears, relentless. Steam rose off the bloody flesh of the creature carrying her. Kate caught a drift of the rancid, sour scent radiating off the wounds that should have killed it.
The Alpha suddenly stopped mid-stride to look at the sky. In a moment of clarity, Kate saw the winged creatures for what they really were.
An entire squadron of them.
Raised voices woke President Jan Ringgold. They were distant, but familiar. Exhausted and confused, she struggled to open her eyes. A shroud of overwhelming fatigue had imprisoned her. She cracked a lid to blurry tunnel vision, like she was looking into a portal framed on both sides by walls of blue. There was a potent smell—the scent of antiseptics.
"She's sleeping, Mr. Vice President, and she needs her rest."
"I need to talk to her now, Captain. I don't care if she's out, wake her up."
A hatch clicked shut, drowning out the voices.
The white light grew brighter, and the walls came into focus. They weren't bulkheads—they were curtains. Gripped by a wave of anxiety, she remembered Lieutenant Brett's haggard face in the seconds before he pulled the trigger and shot her. It was amazing what she could recall, the small details—the demented look in his eyes, the bead of sweat dripping down his forehead. Yet she couldn't remember much before that. There were fragmented memories of Dr. Carmen being stabbed to death, Kate holding her hand, soldiers rushing into the room. And blood. There had been so much blood.
Ringgold struggled to sit up in bed. Her right collarbone caught fire from the sudden movement, another reminder of the bullet Brett had fired.
The hatch to the infirmary opened again, the sound of footsteps following. Grimacing, she palmed the bed and put her weight on her good hand, using it to push herself up. By the time the drape was pulled back, she was sitting up, defiant and ready for whatever news was so important that Johnson wanted to wake her up.
The Vice President stood there sandwiched between Doctor Klinger and Captain Humphrey. All three men were staring at her with incredulous looks.
"You're supposed to be asleep, Madame President," Klinger said.
Johnson took a step toward her bed, but before he could get out a word she said, "Don't sugarcoat it. Tell me why you look like you just put down your dog."
There was no hint of amusement on Johnson's face, only the distraught look of a man who was losing a war. "I have some important news, Madame President."
Ringgold struggled to straighten her back. The EKG machine beeped faster, her heart rate elevating. Klinger walked to her side and checked her vitals on the monitor.
"Condor was a success, thanks to Team Ghost and the Variant Hunters. They succeeded where every other strike team failed. They captured a live juvenile specimen," Johnson continued.
Ringgold afforded all the men that had lost their lives a moment of silence. It was a tragic loss, but the mission had been successful. She wasn't stupid. If they had caught a juvenile offspring, then there was something else on Johnson's mind.
"Why are you really here?" Ringgold said, growing more irritated and anxious.
Johnson crunched his forehead together and tugged at his right cuff. "It's Plum Island, Madame President." There was a slight hesitation before his next words that Ringgold picked up on instantly. She gripped the bed sheets with her good hand to brace herself.
"There was a Variant attack facilitated by human collaborators."
A helpless squeak she couldn't hold in escaped her mouth. She thought of the innocents there, the women and children she had thought would be protected. Johnson continued before she could ask about Kate.
"The bioreactors are safe, and we are in the process of moving them to the GW. However, the Variants overwhelmed the island, killing Major Smith and capturing Dr. Lovato and a handful of civilians. We're still searching for them, but intel indicates they are being taken back to a lair in New York City."
Ringgold's shock turned to anger. "Why are you down here wasting time telling me? Send every damn soldier you have at your disposal to get them back."
Johnson exchanged a look with Humphrey. The Captain had his hat cupped under his arm. He took it out and flicked it with his finger, avoiding Ringgold's gaze.
"Well?" she asked. "What are you waiting for?"
"We are low on resources, Madame President. We lost almost all of our strike teams during Operation Condor—" Johnson began to say, but she cut him off.
"Do I look like President Mitchell to you, Johnson?"
"Mitchell may have written a blank check to General Kennor, but I have not given you one. Dr. Lovato is the most important piece of Operation Extinction. We have to get her back. Now, I want you to conjure up every soldier you can find and send them to New York City to rescue her."
Johnson nodded. "Team Ghost and the Variant Hunters are already gearing up."
"Good," Ringgold said, sighing. "Give them whatever they want. And tell Beckham I have specific orders for him."
"What's that, ma'am?"
"Bring Kate back. Alive."
Blood. Tears. Sweat.
Heartbreak and hope.
The past six weeks had been one hell of a roller coaster ride. With the development of Kryptonite and the capture of a juvenile Variant, Master Sergeant Reed Beckham had thought the war was close to being over, that humanity had a hope of defeating the monsters. Then, in a night of shattering terror, the grim reality of the new world had come crashing down.
Kate, Meg, and Horn's girls had been kidnapped. Major Smith had been murdered by human collaborators, and Riley, Team Ghost's little brother, was dead. There were a hundred things going on in Beckham's head, and none of them were good.
The dream of a better life with the woman he loved and their child had been all but destroyed. He wanted revenge for Riley, but he had to save Kate and Horn's girls. If he couldn't, then there wasn't anything left to fight for.
No, you piece of shit. There's always something worth fighting for.
Every soldier surrounding him in the troop hold had something worth fighting for.
They had each other.
Sergeant Thomas, Sergeant Garcia, and Corporal 'Tank' Talon sat against the bulkhead across from him. They were down another gun with Chow back on the GW in surgery. But Corporal Fitzpatrick was here. The wounded warrior sat next to Beckham, his dented blades still covered in blood, repeating the same mantra over and over again.
"I couldn't save them. I couldn't fucking save them."
"It's okay, Fitz," Beckham said. "It's going to be okay." After a second glance, Beckham wasn't sure if his words were true.
Fitz had an MK11 between his legs, the barrel leaning against his chest, but his head was down and his fingers were laced together. Under the shadow of his helmet, his eyes were unfocused, like he had seen something he couldn't unsee—the haunted look of a Marine that couldn't save a friend.
The Variant Hunters all stared at Beckham, waiting for something. Orders? A speech? Perhaps reassurance? He had nothing to offer them right now.
He avoided their gaze by reaching down and patting Apollo's head. Learning that Fitz and the German Shepherd were still alive had given him a small glimmer of hope. Miracles did happen. But they didn't happen often.
Especially in a world overrun by monsters.
Apollo whimpered, and Beckham checked the dressing on his fur. A Variant had sliced him good, but the dog was tough as hell, and Apollo showed no sign of backing down from this fight.
Beckham shot a glance toward the open door of the Blackhawk, where Staff Sergeant Parker Horn roved the M240 machine gun across the ocean. If they lost Tasha and Jenny, Beckham feared he would also lose his best friend. Horn would never stop fighting either, but a man could only stomach so much loss. With the death of his wife, Horn was already close to the edge. Losing Tasha and Jenny at the hands of the monsters would push him into oblivion.
That's not going to happen.
Beckham gripped the strap of the M4 slung over his back. He rose to his feet and made his way next to Horn for a better look outside. The men were all loaded to the max with ammunition and weapons. They were going to need every round and grenade if they had any hope of rescuing Kate and the others.
"Be advised, Stingers squadron are reporting a group of Variants in Manhattan with civilians in tow," one of the pilots said over the comm.
Beckham's heart skipped. The F-18 Super Hornets couldn't do anything to save Kate or the others, but hearing they had been spotted out there filled Beckham with new strength.
"What's our ETA?" he asked.
"Three minutes, sir."
"Fly this tin fucking can faster!" Horn shouted. He angled the gun toward the water and looked over at Beckham, his freckled forehead scrunched together, his eyes smoldering with the pain of a father who was on the verge of losing everything. "We're going to get 'em back, right?"
Beckham glanced back at Fitz and the Variant Hunters. These men needed him now, more than ever. Even Garcia looked frightened; his eyes wide in his bruised face.
We're coming, Kate. Just hold on, baby.
No matter what he'd lost, Beckham knew he had to pull it together—he had to bury his fear in his guts, separate his personal feelings for Kate and the other prisoners from the mission at hand, and transform back into a Delta Force Operator. It was the only way he was going to rescue them.
"We're going to get them back or die trying, Big Horn," Beckham said. He clapped his friend on the back and looked out over the water, ready to give every piece of himself to save those he loved.
There was no way for Meg Pratt to tell how much time had elapsed since the attack on Plum Island. In her mind, it could have been hours or days. She could only seem to focus on one thing—Riley was dead.
It wasn't fair.
The kid had died in a battle against a monstrosity that shouldn't have existed, a beast wearing a plate of human bones. The only consolation, if she could call it that, was the way his life had ended. Despite the wheelchair and the casts covering his shattered legs, he had gone down the way he had lived his life—fighting to the very end.
Meg's heart was bursting at the seams. Nothing made sense, and she couldn't seem to escape her thoughts. But that's what nightmares were. That's why they were so terrifying. Nightmares didn't end. Minutes earlier she'd given up struggling against the creature lugging her through the ash-covered streets. She had to conserve her last dregs of energy to try to save Tasha and Jenny. She told herself she was going to go down fighting like Riley, but how could she fight so many of the beasts without a weapon?
In the glow of moonlight, she counted fourteen Variants of various shapes and sizes, with two human collaborators leading the pack into Manhattan. The creatures were so filthy and deformed she couldn't identify their gender. She thought the beast carrying her might be a male, but its narrow shoulders and a few long strands of straw hair had her reconsidering. Whatever it was, it was strong.
All around her, the beasts hurried through the streets with their human cargo slung over shoulders and scarred backs. Even those that were injured didn't seem to slow their relentless pace. The monsters swarmed over the charred hulls of cars and scaled the toasted sides of buildings to scout for threats.
A jet roared overhead, sending whirlwinds of ash into the air. Grit peppered Meg's face and stung her eyes. The Variants darted toward the sidewalks, squawking in their evil language.
Meg dug her fingers into withered skin as the beast carrying her leapt onto a curb and lumbered toward the protection of an awning. Bouncing up and down, she focused on the familiar green canopy.
Could it really be?
The creature hunched next to the cherry-wood frame of a door Meg had walked through hundreds of times. This was Mickey's Irish Pub. The same bar where she had been known to slam down bottles of Jameson and Templeton Rye with her firefighter friends and her husband, Tim.
A flashback from those days caught in her throat, and she couldn't hold back the tears. It was all too much. First Riley, now the memories …
Tears fell from her eyes as the jets came in for another pass. The sight did nothing to inspire confidence. In a few hours she and the other prisoners would be underground. Then there would be nothing Team Ghost could do, no matter how much blood they spilled.
She couldn't go back to those dark tunnels.
I'll die first.
The rumble of the jets faded into the night, and the sounds of human engineering once again left the city, replaced by the sounds of monsters.
Tasha and Jenny's sobs were the only thing that kept Meg from giving up. That wasn't her. She wasn't a quitter. She was a fighter, just like Riley had been, and she wasn't going to let those little girls die. With their protector Riley gone, she was all they had left.
The thought of losing them sent a spike of adrenaline through her. She remembered her favorite quote:
Firemen never die, but burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved.
Meg was going to save Tasha and Jenny, even if she died trying.
She grabbed at one of the poles holding up the awning and wrapped her fingers around it. Using all of her strength, she pulled herself up and kicked at the same time. Her injured legs burned as her shoes smacked the beast. It reared back in anger, shrieking. She swung free, then dropped to the ground. The impact sent a second jolt of pain ripping up her legs.
The Variants in the street looked away from the sky and focused on her, apparently just as shocked as she was. Those that weren't carrying human prisoners slowly dropped to the ground and skittered around her. The beast she had kicked squatted, hunched its back, and planted its fingers like a lineman waiting to strike. A large diamond on its left ring finger caught Meg's eye.
A female after all.
The abomination stared at Meg with reptilian yellow eyes, the lids clicking open and shut. There was no comprehension in the creature's gaze. No memories of the fiancé that had put the ring on its finger, no empathy for the children the other Variants were about to kill.
Meg took a step backward, her heart racing. The other beasts formed a perimeter around her. In the middle of the street, behind the monsters, stood the Alpha with Kate still slung over its back. The doctor was docile, her body unmoving.
To the right, a half block down, the children were hanging over the shoulders of emaciated Variants. They'd taken not only Horn's girls but the little boy, Bo, as well. Rain rushed down the creatures' naked flesh, bones protruding under pale, stretched skin. If it weren't for the Alpha, Meg was certain the starving creatures would have already devoured the kids.
The female Variant in front of her popped its lips together and let out a high-pitched squeal that sent slobber splattering onto Meg's shirt. She took another step back until she hit the shattered front door. A piece of glass crashed to the ground, breaking into jagged slivers.
A pair of Variants dropped to all fours and skittered across the sidewalk, leaving tracks in the mushy ash. They stopped ten feet away, cracking their heads from side to side.
What were they waiting for?
For a fleeting moment, Meg considered retreating into the building. She knew the layout, and could possibly escape or at least hide, but the thought vanished as quickly as it had emerged. She couldn't pull her gaze from Tasha and Jenny. The girls were still screaming for their dad and …
"Help us, Miss Meg!" Tasha shouted. "Please!"
Meg nearly choked on a surge of adrenaline. It was the same thing she felt before running into a burning building. Fueled by the rush, Meg bent down, scooped up a shard of glass, and lunged for the female Variant. She caught the beast off guard, jamming the tip into its right eye. The glass cut into Meg's hand, but she continued driving it through the monster's soft tissue.
It unleashed a piercing howl as Meg pushed deeper. With a frantic swipe, the Variant knocked Meg's hand away and scrambled into the street, squawking in agony.
Meg limped after it into the road, gripping her injured hand in a daze, the adrenaline wearing out as the pain from the laceration and her legs took over. She shuffled toward the beasts holding the children, yelling in a voice she didn't recognize, "Let them go!"
"Please help!" Tasha yelled back.
The Alpha directed a horned finger toward Meg. Before she could react, she was tackled from the side and pinned to the ground. Her head hit the pavement with a crack, and the air burst from her lungs. Stars crawled before her blurred vision. She sucked in a breath of air that tasted like rotting fruit and squinted to see past the curtain of wet hair hanging in front of her face.
High-pitched wails amplified all around her. The sounds echoed and rose into a chorus that sounded like an army one hundred Variants strong.
Closing her eyes, she let out a breath, took in another deep gasp, and tried to focus. She opened her eyes to the stars still floating across her vision. Beyond them, the Variant she had stabbed suddenly barreled toward her, the piece of glass still jammed in its right eye. It slashed at the creatures holding her down and then climbed up and straddled Meg, popping its lips.
Meg had seen the look before. It was preparing to strike. She closed her eyes again, weak in her final moments, unable to watch. The adrenaline was gone, and with it her final shreds of courage.
She wanted to fight like Riley had, but it was all too much, and when she tried to move she couldn't budge. Her arms and legs were clamped down by the beast. The pain was agonizing. No matter how hard she pushed, she couldn't get free.
No. Please. No.
She squirmed again, and again.
The screeching intensified, filling the city with the cries of the monsters that had claimed it as their home. There were faint traces of adolescent voices. Tasha, Jenny, and Bo screamed for help that would never make it in time.
Meg took in another long, deep breath. A final attempt to find the courage she needed—the courage that would make Riley proud. She forced her eyes open and looked at the shard of glass in the beast's eye, and then to the row of gargoyles on the roof of Mickey's Irish Pub.
- "Nicholas Sansbury Smith combines plausible science with fast-paced military action in an epic juggernaut that races along at supersonic speed. Fans of the genre are sure to love it!"—Russell Blake, New York Times bestselling author on The Extinction Cycle
- "A blistering, high octane thrill ride to the brink of humanity's extinction. Nicholas Sansbury Smith plunges the reader right into the middle of the action, alongside a cast of unforgettable characters, as they fight tooth and nail to survive one impossible mission after another-to stop an extinction level virus. The Extinction Cycle series is post-apocalyptic, military science fiction at its best. Highly addictive!"—Steven Konkoly, USA Today bestselling author
"Fast-paced military action meets cool, cutting-edge science. Extinction is no longer a Darwinian battle of the fittest. It's a race for survival."
—E. E. Giorgi, author of Chimeras on The Extinction Cycle
"Extinction Horizon is a roller coaster ride of fear and adrenaline that you will not want to put down. Nicholas Sansbury Smith once again separates himself from the masses with a brilliantly entertaining post-apocalyptic thriller."
—W. J. Lundy, author of Only the Dead Live Forever on The Extinction Cycle
- On Sale
- Sep 26, 2017
- Page Count
- 480 pages