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ON A REMOTE PACIFIC ISLAND, SOMETHING NEW HAS BEEN BIRTHED. SOMETHING NOT OF THIS WORLD…
Dr. Holly Truong is a woman haunted by her past. Specifically, her relationship with her mother who abandoned her as a child to go do research in an obscure corner of the world. So when she receives news that her estranged parent has been found dead under mysterious circumstances in faraway Melanesia, she is compelled to put everything on the back burner and go in search of answers.
Waiting for her there is something completely unexpected. Recreation of alien life, made possible by a private SETI program called Metis Eye. Unsettling and fascinating in equal parts, the creatures represent life as never encountered before—an evolutionary pathway only hinted at but never perfected on Earth.
However, she soon finds out that there’s more to the island than meets the eye. Lurking deep within its forbidden zones is something far more terrifying than biological horrors. A secret, that if left uncovered, could spell the end of civilization itself. And there are people who seek nothing less.
As conflict over control of the island looms, Truong is on a clock to decipher the clues left by her mother and reach the prize before anyone else. But that’s the easy part.
The hard part is staying alive.
Read from the book
Hunger gnawed at Ricky Dunn’s insides as he ran. A thunderstorm had just passed, and as he crashed through the rainforest, his labored breaths rang out like little pistol shots in the wet air it had left behind. Twigs snapped beneath aching legs that had seen no respite in hours.
He didn’t know what he was running from. Only that he must get out of the jungle at any cost. That fall in the stream earlier had come as a blessing, with the cold water bringing him out of his fugue state, but much of his mind remained frustratingly blank.
What had happened back there? There had been others, he was sure. They were nothing but blurry shapes now, stripped of names and faces. Blurry shapes that ran and died helplessly while he watched from somewhere, hidden.
His last coherent memory: someone falling, a bullet screaming nearby, and then… nothing.
In the perpetual gloom of the rainforest floor, he couldn’t even guess how long it had been since the incident. Not without his wristwatch, which he seemed to have lost like the rest of his stuff. Only the white mark on his hand offered any proof that he had possessed one at all.
Surely more than a day: he remembered curling up in a hollow at night, covering his ears and trying to sleep while the jungle sang to him with the sound of flutes.
Don’t be silly. You’re imagining things. Jungles don’t sing.
There was even lesser evidence for the rifle—just the absence of weight as he ran, making him feel naked and exposed.
How on earth could he have lost a goddamn rifle?
Keep moving, the voice inside urged, which seemed to know more than it let on. Introspect later. Clock’s ticking.
Ticking to some unknown end.
If navigating the tortuous terrain was all he had to contend with, it wouldn’t have been so worrisome. But since the stream, he’d begun to notice something new. Every time he stopped to catch his breath, a sharp coppery scent would assault his nostrils, putting his senses on high alert. It felt utterly alien in contrast to the dank notes of the jungle. At first he assumed it was some flower—there were plenty in this part of the jungle—but better judgment soon dispelled him of the notion. He was being tailed. There was no other explanation. Someone—or something—was in close pursuit.
Which begged another question: why was he still alive?
The answers were there, just temporarily out of reach. Temporarily, because the reptilian instinct that had kept him alive so far was receding, letting higher cognitive functions in. Even as he ran certain basic facts kept trickling into awareness.
Drip, drip, drip, like liquid into an IV line, feeding his information-starved brain.
His name was Ricky Dunn. Middle name Walter—after his father. Born in Des Moines, Iowa. He still lived there, with his wife Gail, and his son, two-year-old Jeremy. There was a baby girl on the way—they hadn’t decided on the name yet. He was an army veteran: the Rangers, 3rd Battalion. Now he worked in the private sector. As to his present whereabouts, he was on an island, somewhere in the South Pacific.
That last part needed more prying. Nevertheless, it felt good to be in charge again.
It would be another indeterminate stretch of time before his luck changed. He blinked, unable to believe it at first. But he wasn’t dreaming: the golden yellow beams of sunlight penetrating the tree trunks ahead were real. Gone was the stifling claustrophobia as well, driven away by gusts of wind laden with a salty tang.
The sea. His troubles were nearly over.
Trembling in relief, Dunn collapsed against a tree. At last! No more running. No more—
As he struggled to fill his lungs with as much of the sweet sea breeze as he could, the metallic odor came to him again. It felt close. Real close. Almost as if—
Run, you fool!
Summoning the last reserves of his strength, Dunn charged through the final stretch of trees into the open. Only to halt because there was nowhere else to go. About fifty yards ahead, the land dropped off into the vista of a wide, empty ocean. The jungle had terminated in a cliff.
On his right, the ledge climbed further into a promontory, sharply silhouetted against the orange globe of the setting sun. But it was not true about there being nowhere to go. As his dark-accustomed eyes slowly adjusted to the light, he saw that the slope on his left was navigable. It led to a muddy beach about two klicks southwest.
Dunn nodded gratefully at the welcome sight. He probably had an hour before it got dark. He could spend the night at the beach and, in the morning, hike and swim along the coast down south.
The settlement. There’s a settlement down south. People who can help.
The idea, however, instead of giving him hope made him recoil with a sense of foreboding. His mind kept returning to the rifle. He needed it—somehow, everything depended on it.
Then, acting on its own volition, his right hand traveled to his chest, where it felt something hard nestled beneath the shirt.
My other gun! I didn’t lose it after all!
Feeling giddy with a renewed sense of purpose, Dunn reached under the shirt and unclipped the holstered weapon. His trusty Smith & Wesson M&P. The weight on his practiced hand said it was loaded.
Just then the jungle behind him rustled, making him spin around. He didn’t have to search very hard to locate the source—it was standing in plain sight next to a bush, watching him watch it.
Colored beads of light moved inside its skull like fireflies doing the mating dance. Dunn stared, surprised at his lack of surprise. The alien. Not, Jesus, what the hell is that thing? As if he’d expected the creature to be there, standing on all fours just like that and bobbing its nightmare-inducing head in discontinuous little jerks just like that.
Yup. It was this abomination that had been stalking him all day and the night before. How could he have forgotten those crazy lights flipping on and off as it darted about in the dark?
He racked the gun and aimed. Time to die, freak.
But his fingers didn’t follow through. Maybe it was the sight of the bizarre creature that did it, but right then all his repressed memories came flooding into the forefront with the semblance of a dam bursting. A moan escaped his lips as he dropped his gun and staggered back a step. He now remembered every single horrible detail: his mission, those awful deaths, how the situation had turned, seemingly in the blink of an eye…
Most importantly, he remembered the real reason for his seeking the edge of the jungle.
All strength seemed to leave his body as he fell to his knees in the grass and laughed. Peals of bitter mirth rang hollowly among the trees like a bell about to shatter. It had all been for nothing. A cruel joke. All day he’d been running for nothing. He’d been tricked into coming here—and by his subconscious no less.
Reeled in like a blind fish on a hook.
The creature slunk back into the bushes, startled by his incessant cackling.
Not for nothing. Do what you came here to do.
Dunn wiped his eyes and picked up the gun, his heart suddenly heavy with regret. Right. The endgame.
He backed away, taking care not to trip on the stony ground. To his relief, the creature remained where it was. He then turned and hurried to the cliff’s edge—there was no telling how long this latest spell of lucidity would last.
As a brisk wind climbed the escarpment and ruffled his sweat-matted hair, he found a seat among the rocks and turned his gaze towards west. Towards home. The dying sun had infused the towering cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon with fiery reds and violets, lending them a desolate beauty that seemed morbidly apt. Dunn allowed himself a forlorn smile. Not bad as far as last sights go.
There was no escaping the island—he saw that now. But breathing your last while lying face down in the muck of the jungle floor, and then having your body gnawed at by those… ball things was no way for a soldier to die. This was clean. Dignified. The real reason his autopilot had brought him here.
Some sixth sense warned that the alien had stepped out from the jungle behind him. He pictured it approaching stealthily like a cat on the prowl.
Let it. I don’t care. Dunn took a final look at the ocean, closed his eyes, and stuck the pistol’s muzzle inside his mouth. He willed his last thoughts to be of his wife and kid, and the baby he would never see.
However, to his infinite frustration, what occupied his brain in the final milliseconds before the bullet tore through it was a solitary, nagging worry.
He was wrong about the island. He’d been wrong from the very beginning.
And now, no one would ever know.