Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42
Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48 Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56 Chapter 57 Chapter 58 Chapter 59 Chapter 60 Chapter 61 Chapter 62 Chapter 63 Chapter 64 Chapter 65 Chapter 66 Chapter 67 Chapter 68 Chapter 69 Chapter 70 Chapter 71 Chapter 72 Chapter 73 Chapter 74 Chapter 75 Chapter 76 Chapter 77 Chapter 78 Chapter 79 Chapter 80 Chapter 81 Chapter 82 Chapter 83 Chapter 84
? Author’s Note Acknowledgements About the Author ALSO BY RAYMOND KHOURY The Last Templar
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Copyright ? 2009 by Raymond Khoury All rights reserved
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The sign / Raymond Khoury. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-05265-5
1. Suspense fiction. I. Title.
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This one’s for Suellen
The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christiansfrom running their own country.
My kingdom is not of this world.
—Jesus Christ (John 18:36)
I. Skeleton Coast, Namibia—Two years ago
A s the bottom of the ravine rushed up to meet him, the dry, rocky landscape hurtling pastDanny Sherwood miraculously slowed right down to a crawl. Not that the extra time was welcome.All it did was allow the realization to play itself out, over and over, in his harrowed mind.The gut-wrenching, agonizing realization that, without a shadow of a doubt, he would be dead ina matter of seconds.
And yet the day had started off with so much promise.
After almost three years, his work—his and the rest of the team’s—was finally done. And, hethought with an inward grin, the rewards would soon be his to enjoy.
It had been a hard slog. The project itself had been daunting enough, from a scientific pointof view. The work conditions—the tight deadline, the even tighter security, the virtual exilefrom family and friends for all those intense and lonely months—were even more of a challenge.But today, as he had looked up at the pure blue sky and breathed in the dry, dusty air of thisgodforsaken corner of the planet, it all seemed worthwhile.
There would be no IPO, that much had been made clear from the start. Neither Microsoft norGoogle would be paying big bucks to acquire the technology. The project, he’d been told, wasbeing developed for the military. Still, a significant on-success bonus had been promised toevery member of the team. In his case, it would be enough to provide financial security forhim, his parents back home, and for any not-too-overly profligate wife he might end up withalong with as many kids as he could possibly envisage having—if he ever got around to it.Which he conceivably would, years from now, after he’d had his fun and enjoyed the spoils ofhis work. For the moment, though, it wasn’t on his radar. He was only twenty-nine years old.
Yes, the cushy future that was materializing before him was a far cry from the more austeredays of his childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. As he made his way across the parched desertsoil, past the mess tent and the landing pad where the chopper was being loaded for theirdeparture, and over to the project director’s tent, he thought back on the experience—fromthe lab work to the various field tests, culminating with this one, out here in this lostnetherworld.
Danny wished he’d be allowed to share the excitement of it all with a few people outside theproject. His parents, firstly. He could just imagine how stunned, and proud, they would be.Danny was making good on all the promise, all the lofty expectations they’d heaped on him
since, well, birth. His thoughts migrated to his older brother, Matt. He’d get a huge kick outof this. Probably try and get Danny to back him in some dodgy, harebrained, borderline-legalscheme, but what the hell, there’d be plenty to go around. There were also a few big-headedjerks in the business that he would have loved to gloat to about all this, given the chance.
strictly —not allowed. ThatBut he knew that any disclosure outside the team was strictly—
much had also been made clear from the start. The project was covert. The nation’s defense wasat stake. The word treason was mentioned. And so he’d kept his mouth shut, which wasn’t toohard. He was used to it. The highly competitive industry he was in had a deeply ingrainedsubterranean culture. Hundreds of millions of dollars were often at stake. And when it camedown to it, the choice between an eight-figure bank account and a dingy cell in a supermaxfederal penitentiary was a no-brainer.
He was about to knock on the door of the tent—it was a huge, air-conditioned, semi-rigid-walltent, with a solid door and glass windows—when something made him pull his hand back.
Raised voices. Not just raised, but angry.
He leaned closer to the door.
“You should have told me. It’s my project, goddammit,” a man’s voice erupted. “You shouldhave told me right from the start.”
Danny knew that voice well: Dominic Reece, his mentor, and the project’s lead scientist—itsPI, short for principal investigator. A professor of electrical engineering and computerscience at MIT, Reece occupied hallowed ground in Danny’s world. He’d taught Danny in severalof his formative classes and had kept a close eye on Danny’s work throughout his PhD beforeinviting him to join his team for the project all those months ago. It was an opportunity—andan honor—Danny couldn’t possibly pass up. And while Danny knew that the professor had a habitof expressing his opinions more forcefully and vociferously than most, he detected somethingelse in his voice now. There was a hurt, an indignation that he hadn’t heard before.
“What would your reaction have been?” The second man’s voice, which wasn’t familiar toDanny, was equally inflamed.
“The same,” Reece replied emphatically.
“Come on, just think about it for a second. Think about what we can do together. What we canachieve.”
Reece’s fury was unabated. “I can’t help you do this. I can’t be a party to it.”
“Think about what we can—”
“No,” Reece interrupted. “Forget it. There’s no way.” The words had an unmistakablefinality to them.
A leaden quiet skulked behind the door for a few tense moments, then Danny heard the second mansay, “I wish you hadn’t said that.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Reece shot back.
There was no reply.
Then Reece’s voice came back, tinged with a sudden unease. “What about the others? Youhaven’t told any of them, have you?” An assertion, not a question.
“When were you planning on letting them in on your revised mission statement?”
“I wasn’t sure. I had to get your answer first. I was hoping you’d help me win them over.Convince them to be part of this.”
“Well that’s not going to happen,” Reece retorted angrily. “As a matter of fact, I’d liketo get them all the hell away from here as soon as possible.”
“I can’t let you do that, Dom.”
The words seemed to freeze Reece in his tracks. “What do you mean, you can’t let me dothat?” he said defiantly.
A pregnant silence greeted his question. Danny could just visualize Reece processing it.
“So what are you saying? You’re not going to . . .” Reece’s voice trailed off for a beat,then came back, with the added urgency of a sudden, horrible realization. “Jesus. Have youcompletely lost your mind?”
The outrage in the old man’s tone froze Danny’s spine.
He heard Reece say, “You son of a bitch,” heard thudding footfalls striding toward him,toward the door, heard the second man call out to Reece, “Dom, don’t,” then heard a thirdvoice say, “Don’t do that, Reece,” a voice Danny knew, a harsh voice, the voice of a manwho’d creeped Danny out from the moment he’d first met him: Maddox, the project’s shaven-headed, stone-faced head of security, the one with the missing ear and the star-shaped burnaround it, the man he knew was nicknamed “The Bullet” by his equally creepy men. Then heheard Reece say, “Go to hell,” and the door swung open, and Reece was suddenly there,standing before Danny, a surprised look in his eyes. Danny heard a distinctive, metallicdouble-click, a sound he’d heard in a hundred movies but never in real life, the all-too-familiar sound of a gun slide, and the second man, the man who’d been arguing with Reece allalong and who Danny now recognized, turned to the Bullet and yelled, “No—”
—just as a muffled, high-pitched cough echoed from behind Reece, then another, before thescientist jerked forward, his face crunched with pain, his legs giving way as he tumbled ontoDanny.
Danny faltered back, the suddenness of it all overwhelming his senses as he struggled to keepReece from falling to the ground. A warm, sticky feeling seeped down his hands as he struggledto support the stricken man, a thick, dark red liquid gushing out of Reece and soakingDanny’s arms and clothes.
He couldn’t hold him. Reece thudded heavily onto the ground, exposing the inside of the tent,the second man standing there, horrified, frozen in shock, next to the Bullet, who had a gun inhis hand. Its muzzle was now leveled straight at Danny.
Danny dived to one side as a couple of shots cleaved through the air he’d been occupying, thenhe just tore off, running away from the tent and the fallen professor as fast as he could.
He was a dozen yards or so away when he dared glance back and saw Maddox emerging from thetent, radio in one hand, the gun in the other, his eyes locking onto the receding Danny likelasers as he bolted after him. With his heart in his throat, Danny sprinted through thetemporary campsite—there were a few smaller tents, for the handful of other scientists who,like him, had been recruited for the project. He almost slammed into two of them, top mindsfrom the country’s best universities, who were emerging from one of the tents just as he wasnearing it.
“They killed Reece,” he yelled to them, pausing momentarily and waving frantically backtoward the main tent. “They killed him.” He looked back and saw Maddox closing in inexorably,seemingly carried forward on winged feet, and took off again, glancing back to see his friendsturn to the onrushing man with confused looks, crimson sprouts erupting from their chests asMaddox gunned them down without even slowing.
Danny had ducked sideways, behind the mess tent, out of breath, his leg muscles burning, hismind churning desperately for escape options, when the project’s two ageing Jeeps appearedbefore him, parked under their makeshift shelter. He flung the first car’s door open, spurredthe engine to life, threw the car into gear, and floored the accelerator, storming off in aspray of sand and dust just as Maddox rounded the tent.