The Annihilation Protocol by Michael Laurence: New Excerpt
By Crime HQAugust 12, 2020
Read on for an excerpt from Michael Laurence's The Annihilation Protocol, the thrilling follow-up to The Extinction Agenda, in a series described as “Jack Reacher falling into a plot written by Dan Brown” (James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Crucible).
REDLEAF LAKE | CRIME SCENE #2 | GREELEY, COLORADO
Special Agent James Mason struck off toward the distant police cordon, his FBI windbreaker flaring on the breeze, his sunglasses shielding his blue eyes from the winter sun. His hair had grown shaggy, but getting it cut was the furthest thing from his mind.
“Are you sure it’s him?” he asked.
“The remains have been down there under all that mud, doing little more than breeding bacteria for the last week,” Todd Locker said. He had a deep, melodic voice that sounded strange coming from someone who looked remarkably like a tall, skinny mole. “All I can say with any kind of certainty is that the decedent is definitively male and somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty years old.”
“There should be some rather unmistakable characteristics.”
“Gunshot wounds to both shoulders. Front to back, through and through. Exit wounds consistent with what one would expect from nine-millimeter rounds. He had fluid in his lungs, meaning he was still breathing when he went under. So unless you’re telling me we’re looking for more than one body matching that description, I’m fairly confident this is your guy, but that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
Mason nodded. He’d given the assistant director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Forensic Laboratory explicit instructions to call him the moment the divers recovered the body from the bottom of the frozen lake. He needed to be sure this time. He’d already buried his former partner once.
Locker led him from the makeshift parking lot toward a line of skeletal aspens, which served as the framework for a cordon of yellow police tape. He wore his dark hair in a ponytail that bisected the letters CSRT emblazoned across the back of his windbreaker. Tiny round glasses perched on the tip of his nose. His neck was tattooed with a biomechanical design reminiscent of H. R. Giger’s work on Alien. It was a carefully cultivated appearance intended to keep him out of the courtroom and in the field, where he could better utilize his skills.
Mason flashed his badge at the waiting officer, who controlled access to the site with a digital clipboard. Locker needed no introduction. He showed his ID as a courtesy, thanked the officer by his first name, and struck off through the tall weeds toward the distant lake.
Everything had changed since Mason was last here. Save for the drifts that lingered in the shade of the trees, all of the snow had melted, leaving the field muddy and choppy with the footprints of the crime-scene response team and police divers, who’d been out here dredging the lake for the past five days. Since it froze from the top down, only the surface had turned to ice. The twelve feet of water and twenty inches of sediment beneath it hadn’t even been close. Of course, the task of recovering the body would have been a whole lot faster and easier had the weather been more accommodating and their manpower not been divided between four separate crime scenes, none of which was anything resembling textbook. Between the burned ruins of the slaughterhouse, this lake, the wreckage of the tram in the underground tunnel, and the Global Allied Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals building at the former AgrAmerica complex, Locker had his hands more than full. Especially if Mason was right about the implications of the torn piece of paper he’d found.
And the chemical formula written on it.
He looked back over his shoulder to make sure he was out of earshot before speaking. Very few people involved with the investigation had been apprised of some of the more sensitive details, chief among them that the formula belonged to one of the Soviet Union’s rumored Cold War–era Novichok agents, designed to both increase the efficacy of and stabilize the ordinarily volatile German nerve gas sarin, allowing it to persist exponentially longer in the environment in both liquid and gaseous forms.
“Have you found any evidence to suggest they were successfully able to produce any Novichok?”
“We’ve scoured what’s left of the slaughterhouse with state-of-the-art carbon nanotube detectors and run thousands of soil and residue samples through the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, but we haven’t found so much as a trace of a single precursor chemical. Chances are the fire would have consumed them anyway. Assuming they were even there in the first place.”
“We can’t afford to assume anything.”
“You’re telling me. I’ve got the DHS sniffing all around the periphery of this investigation.”
Mason nodded his understanding. The Department of Homeland Security was a veritable army beholden only to the president and granted authority under the Patriot Act to do everything it deemed necessary to protect the citizens of the United States, including insinuating itself into any investigation with potential national security implications.
A gray shape appeared through the cattails, where a raft with an outboard motor had been dragged through the shallows and onto dry ground. The diver who’d recovered the remains sat on the side while he changed out of his neoprene wet suit. He glanced up at the sound of the men crashing toward him through the reeds.
“Can you give us a few minutes?” Locker asked.
The officer nodded, brushed past them, and headed back toward the cordon. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
Locker climbed up onto the pontoon and leaned over the black body bag resting in the bottom of the boat. He unzipped it halfway and folded back the flap.
A horrible stench struck Mason. He covered his mouth and nose with his hand and stepped past Locker so he could better see the remains. The level of decomposition was more advanced than he’d anticipated. He slipped a nitrile glove onto his free hand, reached inside, and smeared the mud out of the dead man’s eyes and mouth. The skin was pallid and gelatinous, distended with absorbed fluids that contorted the features, and yet there was no doubt in his mind that this was the man he’d driven all the way out here to identify.
He turned away and stared across the plains toward the distant Rocky Mountains, their sharp, snowcapped peaks forming a serrated blade against the horizon. His former partner had done the exact same thing before setting into motion the series of events culminating in him shooting the ice beneath his own feet and vanishing into the dark water.
“You know how this works,” Locker said. “It’s a simple answer to a simple question.”
Mason remembered every detail of that night with perfect clarity. He’d sighted Kane down the barrel of his pistol as his former partner materialized from the blowing snow, his left arm hanging uselessly at his side, blood dripping from the gun clenched in his fist. They’d both known there was no way Mason could let him walk away, not after what he’d done, and yet he’d desperately attempted to justify his actions.
Everything I’ve done has been for my country!
His former partner had been part of a century-old plot to murder countless people with a genetically engineered flu virus. He’d conspired with Victor Thornton, Mason’s egomaniacal brother-in-law, and a seemingly immortal monster with piercing blue eyes known as the Hoyl, to integrate a bacterium that accelerated the process of decomposition into the deadly microbe’s viral envelope, preventing the threat of mutation and eliminating the need to dispose of the sheer quantity of bodies littering the streets in the wake of the resulting pandemic.
This is about survival. We’re fighting a war, whether you choose to admit it or not. A war we’re already losing.
Kane had helped track down the IRS agent who’d stumbled upon their financial trail during their plan’s lone window of vulnerability and burned her alive to cover their tracks. In doing so, he’d stolen from Mason the one thing in his life that mattered, for that investigative officer was his wife, Angie.
Our entire species is poised on the brink of extinction. We need to act decisively before it’s too late.
And he hated Kane for it. Equally, he hated him for drowning himself in the frigid water and taking the names of those who had pulled his strings to his grave with him. Men who hid behind their money and power, who believed themselves to be above the law.
I’m just a cog in the bigger machine. A machine that will continue to roll, with or without me. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
A machine known as the Thirteen.
They hadn’t just been experimenting with the Hoyl’s virus inside that slaughterhouse, Mason now knew; they’d been at some unknown stage in the production of a nerve gas deadlier than any the world has ever known, a chemical weapon of mass destruction capable of wiping out entire cities in a matter of seconds, a Novichok agent that was potentially somewhere out there right now. And Mason’s former partner had been the only man alive who could have led them to it.
“Is this the body of Special Agent Spencer Kane?” Locker asked.
Mason looked one last time at the distant horizon and started back toward his car.
“Make sure there’s nothing left of him when you’re done,” he said. “Not even ashes.”
Copyright © 2020 by Michael Laurence.
About The Annihilation Protocol by Michael Laurence:
For centuries, a mysterious syndicate known as the Thirteen has staged a silent coup, infiltrating governments and manipulating the course of world events. It’s more powerful than any nation, deadlier than any army. The time has come for it to emerge from the shadows and claim the entire world as its own. And only FBI Special Agent James Mason and his longtime friends stand in its way.
After narrowly preventing a global pandemic, Mason and his team discover an even deadlier threat has already been set into motion. An unknown adversary has produced enough of a lethal nerve gas to wipe every major city off the face of the world, and their only clue to finding it lies in a cryptic message written in the blood of a man found entombed behind a concrete wall. It isn’t until another victim appears—right in the heart of Central Park—that Mason realizes the murders are personal in nature, and figuring out the connection between them is the key to averting catastrophe.
Eight million lives hang in the balance and their only chance of surviving lies in the hands of Mason, his old friends, and a new partner he’s not entirely sure he can trust. Can his team track down a sinister agent codenamed Scarecrow before toxic gas fills the streets of New York City, or will the true power pulling the strings from behind the scenes—the Thirteen—succeed in enacting its genocidal agenda?