Bloodline: a sigma force novel

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DEDICATION

To three brothers and three sisters,Cheryl, Doug, Laurie, Chuck, Billy, and Carrie.After being in the trenches this past year, it seemedfitting for us to be together here, too. Love you all.

CONTENTS

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Map

Words from Assassinated Presidents

Notes from the Historical Record

Notes from the Scientific Record

Prologue

First: Present Day

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2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

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17

Second: Heaven and Hell

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21

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24

25

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27

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29

30

31

Third: Hunting Grounds

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34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction

About the Author

Also by James Rollins

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

MAP

Horn of Africa

WORDS FROM ASSASSINATED PRESIDENTS

On the existence and threat of modern-day secret societies:

We are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence … building a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

—JOHN F. KENNEDY, FROM A SPEECH GIVEN AT THE WALDORF-ASTORIA HOTEL ON APRIL 27, 1961

On life and death:

Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.

—ABRAHAM LINCOLN

NOTES FROM THE HISTORICAL RECORD

Throughout history, conspiracy theories abound. It is only human nature. We are forever looking for patterns amid chaos, for signs of the invisible puppeteer manipulating the grand scheme of lives, governments, and the path of mankind. Some of these shadowy plotters are cast as villains; others as great benefactors. Some of these secret cabals are based on historical facts; others are mere fanciful fictions; and yet even more are a Gordian knot of the two, woven so inexplicably together that the line between fact and fiction becomes a tangled tapestry of false history.

And for no other organization in history has this stood truer than the infamous Knights Templar.

In the early twelfth century, the order began as a group of nine knights, who swore to protect pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Lands. From those humble beginnings, a great order would eventually grow in both wealth and power and spread across Europe until even popes and kings feared them. Then, on October 13, 1307, the king of France and the current pope conspired to arrest and disband the order, claiming great atrocities had been committed by the knights, including heresy. In the aftermath of that purge, legends and myths blurred the true fate of the order: stories of lost treasures abounded; tales spread of knights escaping persecution to arrive on the shores of the new World; and some reports even claim that the order still exists today, in secret and under guard, protecting a power that could reshape the world.

But let’s set aside such speculations and mythologies and go back to those originalnineknights. What many do not know is that those nine founding members were all related by blood or marriage, arising from a single family. Eight of them are recorded by name in historical documents. The ninth remains a mystery and a source of much speculation today by historians. Who was this mysterious founding member of an order that would grow in such prominence in history and legend? Why was this last knight never named as plainly as the others?

The answer to that mystery is the beginning of a great adventure.

NOTES FROM THE SCIENTIFIC RECORD

On February 21, 2011, the cover ofTimemagazine declared:2045, The Year Man Becomes Immortal. At face value, that might seem a wild claim, but other scientists have made similar statements. Dr. Ronald Klatz, in his bookAdvances in Anti-Age Medicine, wrote:

Within the next fifty years or so, assuming an individual can avoid becoming the victim of major trauma or homicide, it is entirely possible that he or she will be able to live virtually forever.

We are living in an exciting time when advances in medicine, genetics, technology, and a myriad of other disciplines are opening the newest frontier for mankind:eternity.

How will that manifest, what form will it take? Within these pages, you’ll discover that answer. The concepts raised in this novel are based on facts, on exhaustive research, going back to studies done by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. But before you turn to that first page, I must make one correction concerning the startling statements made above. They are, in fact, far tooconservativein their estimates.

For not only is immortality within our reach—it is already here.

PROLOGUESummer 1134Holy Lands

They once called her a witch and a whore.

But no longer.

She sat astride a gray destrier as the black-armored warhorse stepped gingerly through the carnage of battle. Bodies littered the fields ahead, Muslim and Christian alike. Her passage stirred the feasting crows and ravens, chasing them up into great black clouds in her wake. Other scavengers—those on two legs—picked through the dead, pulling off boots, yanking out arrows for their points and feathers. A few faces lifted to stare, then quickly turned away again.

She knew what they saw, another knight among the many who fought here. Her breasts were hidden under a padded habergeon and a hauberk of mail. Her dark hair, cropped to her shoulders, shorter than most men’s, lay under a conical helmet; her fine features further obscured by a nasal bar. Strapped to the side of her saddle, a double-edged broadsword bumped against her left knee, ringing off the mail chausses that protected her long legs.

Only a few knew she was not a man—andnoneknew she held secrets far darker than her hidden gender.

Her squire waited for her at the edge of a rutted road. The path wound steeply up to an isolated stone keep. The hulking structure, hidden deep within the Naphtali Mountains of Galilee, had no name and looked as if it had been carved out of the hill itself. Beyond its battlements, the red sun sat low on the horizon, obscured by the smoke from campfires and torched fields.

The young squire dropped to a knee as she drew her horse to a halt beside him.

“Is he still there?” she asked.

A nod. Frightened. “Lord Godefroy awaits you ahead.”

Her squire refused to look in the direction of the stone-crowned keep. She had no such reluctance. She tilted her helmet up to get a better view.

At long last …

She had spent sixteen years—going back to when her uncle founded the order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem—searching for the impossible. Even her uncle did not understand her request to join the Templars, but her side of the family would not be refused. So she had been given the white mantle of the order and folded in among the original nine, hidden away, as faceless as the helmet she wore, while the order grew around her both in number and prominence.

Others of her family, of her bloodline, continued to manipulate the knightly order from within and without: gathering wealth and knowledge, searching for powerful relics from lost crypts and ancient crèches across Egypt and the Holy Lands. Despite their best planning, they’d certainly had their failures. Just a year ago, they’d missed acquiring the bones of the magi—the relics of the three biblical kings, said to hold the secrets to lost alchemies.

She would not let today mark another failure.

With a snap of the reins, she urged her horse up the rocky path. With each passing step, the number of dead grew as the guardians of the keep put up a final and futile struggle to withstand the assault. Reaching the summit of the hill, she found the gates to the keep broken and splintered, battered apart by a massive steel-shod ram.

A pair of knights guarded the way forward. Both nodded to her. The younger of the two, fresh to the order, had sewn a crimson cross over his heart. Other Templars had begun to take up the same habit, a symbol to mark their willingness to shed their own blood for the cause. The grizzled and pocked older warrior simply wore the traditional white surcoat over his armor, like herself. The only decoration upon their mantles was the crimson blood of the slain.

“Godefroy awaits you in the crypt,” the older knight said and pointed beyond the gates to the inner citadel.

She led her destrier through the ruins of the gate and quickly dismounted with a flourish of her mantle. She left her broadsword with her mount, knowing she had no fear of being ambushed by some lone surviving protector of the keep. Lord Godefroy, for all his troubles, was thorough. As testament to his diligence, all across the open courtyard, wooden pikes bore the heads of the last defenders. Their decapitated remains piled like so much firewood along a back wall.

The battle was over.

Only the spoils remained.

She reached a door that opened to shadows. A narrow stair, rough-hewn and cut from the stone of the mountain, led down beneath the keep. The distant orange-red flicker of a torch marked the end of the steps far below. She descended, her footfalls hurrying only at the last.

Could it be true? After so many years …

She burst into a long chamber, lined to either side by stone sarcophagi, well over a score of them. Sweeping through, she barely noted the Egyptian writing, lines of symbols hinting at dark mysteries going back before Christ. Ahead, two figures stood bathed in torchlight at the rear of the chamber: one standing, the other on his knees, leaning on a staff to hold himself upright.

She crossed toward them, noting that the last sarcophagus had been pried open, its stone lid cracked on the floor beside it. It seemed somebody had already begun looking for the treasure hidden here. But the violated crypt held nothing but ash and what appeared to be bits of dried leaf and stem.

The disappointment showed on Lord Godefroy’s face as she approached the pair. “So you come at last,” he said with false cheer.

She ignored the knight. He stood a head taller than she did, though he shared the same black hair and aquiline nose, marking their common ancestry out of southern France, their families distantly related.

She dropped to her knees and stared into the face of the prisoner. His features were tanned to a burnished shade, his skin smooth as supple leather. From under a fall of dark hair, black eyes stared back at her, reflecting the torchlight. Though on his knees, he showed no fear, only a deep welling of sadness that made her want to slap him.

Godefroy drew down beside her, intending to interfere, to try to ingratiate himself into what he must have sensed was of great importance. And though he was one of the few who knew her true identity, he knew nothing of her deeper secrets.

“My lady …” he started.

The eyes of the prisoner narrowed at the revelation, fixing her with a harder stare. All trace of sadness drained away, leaving behind a flicker of fear—but it quickly vanished.

Curious … does he know of our bloodline, our secrets?

Godefroy interrupted her reverie and continued, “Upon your instructions, we’ve spent many lives and spilled much blood to find this place hidden by rumor and guarded as much by curses as by infidels—all to find this man and the treasure he guards. Who is he? I have earned such knowledge upon the point of my sword.”

She did not waste words on fools. She spoke instead to the prisoner, using an ancient dialect of Arabic. “When were you born?”

Those eyes bore into her, even pushing her back by the sheer force of his will, a buffeting wind of inner strength. He seemed to be judging whether to offer her a lie, but from whatever he found in her face, he recognized the futility of it.

When he spoke, his words were soft but came from a place of great weight. “I was born in Muharram in the Hijri year five-and-ninety.”

Godefroy understood enough Arabic to scoff. “The year ninety-five? That would make him over a thousand years old.”

“No,” she said, more to herself than him, calculating in her head. “His people use a different accounting of years than we do, starting when their prophet Muhammad arrived in Mecca.”

“So the man here is not a thousand years old?”

“Not at all,” she said, finishing the conversion in her head. “He’s only livedfive hundred and twentyyears.”

From the corner of her eye, she noted Godefroy turn toward her, aghast.

“Impossible,” he said with a tremulous quaver that betrayed the shallow depth of his disbelief.

She never broke from the prisoner’s gaze. Within those eyes, she sensed an unfathomable, frightening knowledge. She tried to picture all he had witnessed over the centuries: mighty empires rising and falling, cities thrusting out of the sands only to be worn back down by the ages. How much could he reveal of ancient mysteries and lost histories?

But she was not here to press questions upon him.

And she doubted he would answer them anyway.

Not this man—if he could still be called aman.

When next he spoke, it came with a warning, his fingers tightening on his staff. “The world is not ready for what you seek. It is forbidden.”

She refused to back down. “That is not for you to decide. If a man is fierce enough to grasp it, then it is his right to claim and possess it.”

He stared back at her, his gaze drifting to her chest, to what was hidden beneath hard armor. “So Eve herself believed in the Garden of Eden when she listened to the snake and stole from the Tree of Knowledge.”

“Ah,” she sighed, leaning closer. “You mistake me. I am not eve. And it is not the Tree ofKnowledgeI seek—but the Tree ofLife.”

Slipping a dagger from her belt, she quickly stood and drove the blade to its hilt under the prisoner’s jaw, lifting him off his knees with her strength of will. In that single thrust, the endless march of centuries came to a bloody halt—along with the danger he posed.

Godefroy gasped, stepping back. “But is this not the man you came so far to find?”

She yanked free the dagger, spraying blood, and kicked the body away. She caught the staff before it fell free from the prisoner’s slack fingers.

“It was not the man I sought,” she said, “but what he carried.”

Godefroy stared at the length of olive wood in her hand. Fresh blood flowed in rivulets down its surface, revealing a faint carving along its length: an intricate weave of serpents and vines, curling around and around the shaft.

“What is it?” the knight asked, his eyes wide.

She faced him fully for the first time—and drove her blade into his left eye. He had seen too much to live. As he fell to his knees, his body wracking itself to death in ghastly heaves upon her dagger’s point, she answered his last question, her fingers firm on the ancient wooden rod.

“Behold the Bachal Isu,” she whispered to the centuries to come. “Wielded by Moses, carried by David, and borne by the King of Kings, here is the staff of Jesus Christ.”

Fourth of July:Five days from now

The assassin stared through the rifle’s scope and lowered the crosshairs to the profile of President James T. Gant. He double-checked his range—seven hundred yards—and fixed the main targeting chevron of the USMC M40A3 sniper rifle upon the occipital bone behind the man’s left ear, knowing a shot there would do the most damage. Festive music and bright laughter from the holiday picnic filtered through his earpiece. He let it all fade into the background as he concentrated on his target, on his mission.

In U.S. history, three presidents had died on the exact same day, on July 4, on the birthday of this country. It seemed beyond mere chance.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe.

Today would mark the fourth.

Steadying his breath, Commander Gray Pierce pulled the trigger.

FIRSTPRESENT DAY

1June 30, 11:44A.M. ESTTakoma Park, Maryland

Gray Pierce pulled into the driveway with a coughing growl of the 1960 Thunderbird’s V-8 engine.

He felt like growling himself.

“I thought the plan was to sell this place?” Kenny asked.

Gray’s younger brother sat in the passenger seat, his head half out the window, staring up at the craftsman bungalow with the wraparound wooden porch and overhanging gable. It was their family home.

“Not any longer,” Gray answered. “And don’t mention any of that to Dad. His dementia makes him paranoid enough.”

“How is that different from any other day …?” Kenny mumbled sourly under his breath.

Gray glowered at his brother. He’d picked Kenny up at Dulles after a cross-country flight from Northern California. His brother’s eyes were red-rimmed from jet lag—or maybe from too many small bottles of gin in first class. At this moment, Kenny reminded Gray of their father, especially with the pall of alcohol on his breath.

He caught his own reflection in the rearview mirror as he pulled the vintage Thunderbird into the family garage. While the two brothers both shared the same ruddy Welsh complexion and dark hair as their father, Gray kept his hair cropped short; Kenny had his tied in a short ponytail that looked too young even for someone still in his late twenties. To make matters worse, he also wore cargo shorts and a loose T-shirt with the logo of a surfing company. Kenny was a software engineer for a company in Palo Alto, and apparently this was his version of business attire.

Gray climbed out of the car, trying his best to push back his irritation with his brother. On the ride here, Kenny had spent the entire time on his cell phone, dealing with business on the other coast. He’d barely shared a word, relegating Gray to the role of chauffeur.

It’s not like I don’t have my own business to attend, too.

For the past month, Gray had put his life on hold, dealing with the aftermath of the death of their mother and the continuing mental decline of their father. Kenny had come out for the funeral, promising to spend a week helping to get their affairs in order, but after two days, a business emergency drew him back across the country, and everything got dumped back on Gray’s shoulders. In some ways, it would have been easier if Kenny had not bothered coming out at all. In his wake, he’d left a disheveled mess of insurance forms and probate paperwork for Gray to clean up.

That changed today.

After a long, heated call, Kenny had agreed to come out at this critical juncture. With their father suffering from advancing Alzheimer’s, the sudden death of his wife sent him into a downward spiral. He’d spent the past three weeks in a memory-care unit, but he’d come home last night. And during this transition, Gray needed an extra pair of hands. Kenny had accumulated enough vacation time to be able to come out for a full two weeks. Gray intended to hold him to it this time.

Gray had taken a month off from work himself and was due back at Sigma headquarters in a week. Before that, he needed a few days of downtime to get his own house in order. That’s where Kenny came in.

His brother hauled his luggage out of the convertible’s trunk, slammed the lid, but kept his palm on the chrome bumper. “And what about Dad’s car? We might as well sell it. It’s not like he can drive it.”

Gray pocketed the keys. The classic Thunderbird—raven black with a red leather interior—was his father’s pride and joy. The man had gone to painstaking ends to restore it: tricking it out with a new Holly carburetor, a flame-thrower coil, and an electric choke.

“It stays,” he said. “According to Dad’s neurologist, it’s important to keep his environment as stable and consistent as possible, to maintain a familiar routine. Besides, even if he can’t drive it, it’ll give him something to tinker with.”

Before Kenny could figure out what else to sell of his father’s belongings, Gray headed toward the door. He didn’t bother to offer to carry his brother’s luggage. He’d had enough baggage to deal with lately.

But Kenny wasn’t done. “If we’re supposed to keep everything the same—to pretend nothing’s changed—then what am I doing here?”

Gray swung toward him, balling a fist and tempted to use it. “Because you’re still his son—and it’s high time you acted like it.”

Kenny stared him down. Anger burned in his brother’s eyes, further reminding Gray of their father. He’d seen that fury all too often in his dad, especially of late, a belligerence born of dementia and fear. Not that such anger was new. His father had always been a hard man, a former oil worker out of Texas until an industrial accident took most of his left leg and all of his pride, turning an oilman into a housewife. Raising two boys while his spouse went to work had been hard on him. To compensate, he had run the household like a boot camp. And Gray, as stubborn as his father, had always pushed the envelope, a born rebel. Until at last, at eighteen years of age, he had simply packed his bags and joined the army.

It was his mother who finally drew them all back together, the proverbial glue of the family.

And now she was gone.