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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Predator One

A Joe Ledger Novel

Joe Ledger (Volume 7)

Jonathan Maberry

St. Martin's Griffin

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

Chapter One



When the technology of war becomes so easy anyone-and I mean anyone-can use it, then we are in deep shit.

And we are in deep shit.



Chapter Two

The Resort

208 Nautical Miles West of Chile

October 12, 9:41 P.M.

We dropped like dead birds from the clouds.

Four of us.

Me.

Top and Bunny. My right and left hands. The guys who have been with me since I started this game. Brothers who have walked through the valley of the shadow with me so often we'd carved our initials in the landmarks.

And Sam Imura. Our sniper. Cool, quiet, lethal at any distance. Handgun, long gun. If he wants to punch your ticket, then don't double-park your car.

Four of us.

Falling.

Falling.

"HALO" is a nice word. Calls to mind angels and the glow around the heads of saints in old paintings.

In military parlance it's an acronym for a specific kind of parachute jump. High altitude, low open.

Those are two concepts that are antithetical to a quiet life. I am not, as I believe I've told you before, a fan of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. Neither God nor evolution saw fit to give me wings. I'm not made of rubber, so I don't bounce worth a shit. Skydiving is a sport for madmen. Anyone who says different should switch to decaf. Diving from so far up that you can't even breathe, so far up that you need to wear an oxygen tank? That's just nuts on too many levels to contemplate.

The "low open" part of this was just as bad. The whole science of landing safely after you throw yourself out of that nice, safe airplane is to open your chute in plenty of time for physics to waft you down like a goose feather. That is the only reasonable way it should be done, right? Oh, not so. Some genius in the military long ago reasoned that if you fly the plane so damn high that radar can't see it and then you fling yourself out and wait until you're close enough to the ground so you can count the cigarette butts in the gutter, then no one will detect you. Personally, I think they'd hear the big splat when you hit the ground. It took some convincing at jump school to prove to me that low-open jumps can be done safely. Or, as they added with tight little smiles, with a measure of safety.

We needed to get onto this piece of real estate without being spotted. There were radars looking for us. There were guards and watchtowers and all that shit. The people at the facility did not want visitors and were willing to be real damn nasty if any showed up.

We were on our way to showing up.

I hate my job.

Before a jump like this, you do forty minutes of breathing pure oxygen to chase the nitrogen from the bloodstream. You also have to dress for it. It's about minus forty-five up there. Frostbite is a real risk, even though we were dropping down toward Chile. I had a set of polypropylene undies under my battle-dress uniform and other gear.

We dropped from thirty thousand feet.

Six miles.

They call the rate of fall "terminal velocity." Unless the word "bus" or "train" is in the mix, no phrase using the word "terminal" offers any comfort. Not to me. In regular jumps there's a margin for error, time to open the backup chute if there's a failure with the main chute. In HALO drops? Not so much.

Despite all of that, we rolled out and fell into the midnight blackness at 122 miles per hour.

We deployed our chutes, and there was that moment when the differential between your mass falling at uncontrollable speeds meets a degree of resistance. Slam your necktie in the side door of a race car and see what happens when it goes from zero to sixty. Feels about the same.

The ground still seemed to be coming up way too fast.

Too fast.

Too fucking fast.

It never feels like the chute is doing enough of its job on a HALO drop.

I shifted my position and tried to land the way Top and Bunny landed. Like a professional who isn't afraid of heights and isn't a hiccup away from crying for his mommy.

You're a big, tough, professional soldier, Ledger, I told myself. Stop acting like a pussy.

I told myself to shut the fuck up.

And then I was down.

I went limp and fell sideways, doing everything right. But I was convinced I'd ruptured everything, including the tonsils I no longer had.

But I was down.

Sam Imura touched down twenty feet away. He landed at a walk, turned, gathered his chute, detached, bunched it up. All with complete calm. I wanted to shoot him.

I didn't think kissing the ground beneath me would do anything to inspire confidence in my subordinates, so I scrambled to my feet and stowed my chute and began a rapid postlanding equipment check. Top and Bunny appeared out of the gloom, and the four of us knelt, each facing outward in a different direction, flipping on our night-vision goggles. We were using a new prototype developed for the Department of Defense by, of all people, Google-an advanced variation on their Google Glass. The goggles had interchangeable lenses for different kinds of light and could be controlled by light touches to the temple, a trackball on our belts, or-in a pinch-voice control. A nonmilitary version is scheduled for the public market under the name Google Scout. However, we had them exclusively for eighteen months.

Developed by one of Mr. Church's friends in the industry. He seems to have friends in every industry.

We each scanned 120 percent of the area around us, which meant there was a significant overlap with what the guys on either side of us were seeing. The Scout glasses recorded everything and fed it via secured uplink to a satellite that in turn bounced it in real time to the TOC-the tactical operations center at the Hangar, the main DMS headquarters located at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Church was there, along with Aunt Sallie, Bug, and all the senior staff. This was a very important mission.

It was also highly illegal.

It was unauthorized and prohibited, and, if we were captured or identified, would result in the shutdown of the DMS and lengthy jail terms for all of us. Unless the mission was successful, in which case we'd all be heroes with the thanks of a grateful nation. The middle ground between those two possibilities was about an inch wide.

So, no pressure.

The Scout glasses threw data streams onto the edges of the goggles, giving us a mission clock, temperature, info from thermal scans, specs and intelligence details sent to us from Bug, and other spiffy stuff. Remember the screen display from the Terminator movies that showed what the cyborgs were seeing? Like that. Only we weren't robot assassins from the future who had, for inexplicable reasons, Austrian accents. Instead, we were government agents going way, way off the reservation.

Breaking the law.

About to break a lot of them.



Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan Maberry