EVOLUTION IS EVOLVING
In the Seven Devils Mountains of Northern Idaho, in the radioactive shadow of Chernobyl, their numbers grow. They gather to be cured of their cancer, but they become much more. Soon, they will be One. When they come into their kingdom, all plant and animal life on earth will be rendered obsolete, and a billion-year experiment called evolution will have reached its logical conclusion.
As Special Agent Martin Cundieffe pursues the trail of the mutant cult, he finds a deeper secret that reaches into the hidden heart of American power, and leaves him powerless and alone before the real enemy. Stella Orozco has traded her freedom and her humanity for something more. When her transformation is complete, she will become a goddess-and lose her mind. Sgt. Zane Storch is a soldier without an army, a species of one fighting both sides for his own survival and sanity in a body that is fast becoming his own worst enemy.
As the Mission heats up its genocidal campaign against Radiant Dawn, the armies of the mysterious Dr. Keogh labor to open a sealed pre-human tomb in the Iraqi wasteland. This forgotten place will decide the outcome of the last war of natural selection, for what lies beyond the crumbling wall is no less than the unspeakable truth about the origin of life on earth-and what's coming next.
The sequel to Radiant Dawn. What Goodfellow hints at in the original, he unleashes in this follow-up. Cosmic horror, military horror, body horror, philosophical horror...it's all here, and it's coming to get you. – Nick Mamatas
"All the weird shit that happens in Radiant Dawn––and we're talking some profoundly weird shit––is just a pre-game warmup for the mind-boggling monster mayhem that follows. You would have to hit Japanese films like Akira and Tetsuo to approximate the cuckooed conflagrations that transpire.
"Craig Spector and I tried, with The Bridge, to go big with the canvas, convey the enormity of a world gone wild. And I think we did pretty good, all things considered."– John Skipp, from "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em" Cemetery Dance #51
October 30, 1999 Tigris River Valley, Maysan Province, Iraq
When the speakers crackled out the call to pray, they knelt to Mecca on the rim of the canyon.
Setting in the broken lands to the west, the sun seemed to flatten and smear against the horizon, the fierce convection currents conspiring with the sulfur-hued air to make an angry red god of the disk in its final minutes. Even nine years after the shameful retreat from Kuwait, the legacy of Saddam's scorched-earth policy lived on in the world's most magnificent sunsets.
Major Hundayi did not concern himself overmuch with God or gods, because whatever gods there were did not concern themselves at all with Iraq. Only the sun had not deserted them, but it rose each day only to beat them down or harden their resolve, and set only to let them freeze.
He listened to his men chatter among themselves when they had made their prayers.
"—I tell you it is true! Damned American vampires slant-drilling the oil out from under us from Kuwait! On the radio—"
"—Chinese hacked version of Windows is more safe. They cannot read your e-mail. I will have my cousin at the Istachbarat burn a copy for you."
"He ate steak Tartar and fresh peaches for dinner at his southern palace in Basra last night. I'm told there were even Cuban cigars."
"Do not be so cynical, Ali. If he eats so well, it means that we are still strong."
He did not expect any more from them than he did from God. Like the sun, a commander in Saddam's army had to shine down on his men so they could not look directly at him, bludgeon their brains into mush and drive them to duty. In the night of combat, they would follow his reflection in their minds into certain death, or so the manuals said.
His men had little use for Major Hundayi's brand of discipline. Most of them were only boys huddling in the shelters with their mothers in the Mother Of All Battles, and could not truly understand the life-or-death value of readiness. For them, it was a joke, because they were in the middle of nowhere, guarding a hole in the ground, a hole filled to the brim with cement.
The Major felt the shame and the absurdity more keenly than all of them combined, but it was his place to keep up appearances, for it was all they left him.
In the War, Hundayi's unit of the Nebuchadnezzar Infantry Division of the Republican Guard had been one of the last out of Kuwait City. In the fierce street fighting, he had himself scored thirteen confirmed kills. Saddam had personally pinned a medal on his chest in a ceremony shortly after the war, praising his courage and loyalty and saluting him as the model of a Republican Guard officer. All this because eleven of the thirteen were shot in the back, and all of them were his own men.
The ceremony had not been televised or written up in the papers, but Saddam used it to send a message to the troops. Hundayi had thought he was destined for great things. He was promoted to Major and took charge of six Special Republican Guard Rapid-Intervention brigades. It was a respectable post, where one could be covered in blood and glory on a daily basis, even if it was always Kurdish or Iraqi blood, and the glory never made the newspapers. Hundayi's diligence won out, and the weekly assassination attempts on Saddam, the Kurd bombings and brigandry, tapered off to a trickle. To become any more of a hero, he'd have to be either dead or Saddam.
Then, three summers ago, he was pulled out of the field and transferred to a division of the SRG he'd never heard of, and buried under a command that could only be some kind of insane test, because he had done nothing to merit punishment. Besides, Saddam's army did not punish officers. It replaced them.
As the commander of the Tiamat unit of Marduk Division of the Special Republican Guard, Major Hundayi oversaw one hundred men who took potshots at American fighter jets enforcing the UN No-Fly Zone, practiced sniping goats and goose-stepping in full parade dress around a filled-in hole in the bottom of a box canyon that was not on any map the Major had ever seen.
In his time at Tiamat, the Major had never given them any excuse to replace him, had never uttered a word aloud to the effect that he might fail to see the honor and validity of his posting. Major Hundayi was not merely a soldier; he was a survivor. Of all the men he'd trained with in his basic training with the Republican Guard, only two others still lived. Nearly half were killed in the War, the rest disappeared in purges. Major Hundayi lived because he had no ambition higher than to survive, and because he was a dogged solver of puzzles. When he had solved the puzzle of what was expected of him in this place, he would be promoted out of it.
The puzzle of the place itself had never interested him, and so he had never paid much heed to the stories his men told each other about it. He knew that Marduk was a very important chemical weapons facility until the War, when it was bombed by the United Nations of America. Despite the maddening economic siege and the unending UNSCOM inspections, Tiamat was rebuilt underground and resumed operations in still-greater secrecy, under the shield of Marduk.
The previous Tiamat unit was rife with religious fanatics, heretics who believed the place was a holy site of some kind. They conspired with Western agents within UNSCOM to destroy the facility and touch off some kind of catastrophic disaster. They were foiled, but UNSCOM inspectors became embroiled in the affair, and the facility was filled with concrete and bombs to placate the New World Order. Marduk was purged and rebuilt with the most staunchly loyal officers, but the youngest and most worthless of the RG infantry and artillery.
There was no monument to the sacrifice of the scientists and soldiers who died at Tiamat, no ceremonial significance that Major Hundayi could fathom to explain the place, but there they were. He did not believe, as some said, that Tiamat was an entrance to Hell, or that the poisons the Army produced there were extracted from its stygian seas. Nor did he believe, as still others whispered when they thought he was out of earshot, that it was a holy place, not just to Islam or to the Jews, or even the stupid Christians, but to a faith older than them all.
He did believe that someday, he would be relieved of this wretched duty, and would go back to where there was action and perks and power. Today, just after breakfast, he had received a sign that that day, if not here, might be coming fast.
The call had come in on the hard line, because, like always, the radios and cellular phones were out of order. The hole in the ground didn't want them to talk to the outside world, so all wireless communications, even radar, hit a wall of invisible fog. Even the hard line to An Nasiriyah gave them frequent problems, but the high command almost never called them, and usually only gave a few code numbers to be translated into orders from a slim book in a safe beside the only telephone.
Today, there were no codes, no cryptic messages mired in static, only the terse order to stand ready to receive a convoy of trucks crossing the border from Iran. They were to receive supplies and ordnance from the convoy and stand ready to assist them with their project. Questions were not invited.
It was not a promotion, but it was something. In three and a half years, not one official visitor had come to Tiamat. The truck that brought their supplies came only in the dead of night, and barely stopped to push their food and rare replacement equipment out the back. UN inspectors had come out semiannually to test the soil and insure that the hole was still filled. This was something else again. Major Hundayi cared about Tiamat only enough to know that it was as secret as it was worthless, and in the murky limbo of this godforsaken command, this sounded like as close as he would get to action.
The trucks could be seen for a while as they climbed the road out of the marshy lowlands towards Tiamat. Clouds of rust-red dust rose up and merged with the looming violet dusk, marking their path all the way back to the Iranian border, twenty miles to the east. Major Hundayi stood on a rocky ridge overlooking the road from the west and puzzled over the size of the convoy. Twenty-plus heavy military trucks lumbered around the mouth of the pit to park in tight formation before his camp. His soldiers had orders to stay clear, but they were restless and stupid, and flocked around the visitors like barefoot peasant children in a backwater village. With rifles pointed, they begged for cigarettes and candy. No one got out of the trucks.
Major Hundayi jogged down from the ridge to the camp. Because his lieutenants were nowhere to be seen, he called muster himself with three shrill blasts from a whistle. The men fell in for review, looking more like the survivors of a prison uprising than an elite military unit, despite his orders. Disgusting, and more, a conspiracy to make him look bad. His officers would be punished. But they would have to take turns flogging each other, or he would have to do it himself.
He approached the trucks with one hand on his holstered pistol, feeling more apprehensive than he should, and hoping it didn't show. The windows of the cabs were tinted and scummed with dust, but he saw a ghostly shape stir within. The door of the nearest truck opened and a man jumped out, strode up to him with his hand extended. Major Hundayi took the hand by reflex, but his mind was spinning so hard, he couldn't remember later if he said anything.
The visitor was tall and thin, in his late fifties, with white hair and riveting gray eyes. He was a civilian, in light brown fatigues and muddy black boots. But what stopped Hundayi was the fact that he was white, and by his accent when he spoke, it became clear that he was an American.
"Major Hundayi, I presume?" the American stranger said, in passable Arabic. "Dr. Cyril Keogh, pleased to meet you at last. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and it's an honor, sir, a real honor."
The man's hand was warm and dry, his grip brutally firm. He handed Hundayi a large envelope sealed with wax marked with crossed scimitars above the sigil of the al-Tikriti clan. Hundayi shuddered and took it, feeling a static charge shoot up his arm at its touch. This had come directly from Saddam.
"Everything inside is self-explanatory, Major, but if you have any questions I can't answer, you're welcome to call the SSO Headquarters in Baghdad, but I would encourage you to use discretion. This project is known only to the innermost circle of government, and if word got out, there could be terrible repercussions."
Hundayi felt the last dregs of initiative slipping out of his grasp, and tried to seize them. He unsnapped the flap over his sidearm and drew it out of its holster. "I demand to know who you really are, and what you're doing here. You will be placed under arrest until such time as you have proven to my satisfaction—"
"Let me be frank with you, Major. I represent an international scientific organization which has generously donated to the oppressed people of your great nation several million dollars' worth of medicines, scientific equipment and chemicals which are prohibited under the UN sanctions of Resolution 687. In return for this largesse, and the promise of much more to come, we have been granted unrestricted access to the Tiamat site, and pledged with the assistance and protection of your unit for the duration of the project."
"What is this project?" Hundayi demanded.
"We are going to open Tiamat," Keogh said.
The Major holstered his gun, thunderstruck. It was unthinkable.
"We have a plan, and a very strict timetable, which calls for the excavation to be complete in forty days, Major. More equipment is being flown in from Turkey, and should arrive tomorrow, but we'd like to get started immediately building a shelter and quarters for our people. So, if you have no further objections, I urge you to inspect your orders, and let us get down to business."
In the commo hut, Major Hundayi sat for a long time before he picked up the phone. This was an unacceptable situation he'd been placed in. This American had come out of nowhere with an army of civilians and gear for a full-fledged archaeological dig. The orders in the envelope were what the American had said they were. Unequivocal and clear, and signed by the One himself, they nonetheless only muddied his mind further.
This was exactly the kind of head game the Americans played in the Kuwaiti War, lies and forged documents circulated among the troops to make them think the war was over and Saddam had surrendered, before it had begun. But he also knew that Iraq had, in the last eight years, built a thriving black market to skirt the embargo, smuggling oil out and everything else in around UN and US Navy blockades. Though a million Iraqi babies had died, deprived of medicines and food, the army was stronger now than it had been when it invaded Kuwait, and Saddam's palaces were more plentiful and extravagant than ever. Whatever the American wanted from Tiamat, it was not hard to imagine that he could buy it.
In the end, he called the number at the bottom of the orders, but when a ferocious voice answered the phone by calling him by name, he almost slammed the phone down.
"Hundayi, what is your fucking problem, you shit? Can you not read?" Though he had never heard the voice himself, it was familiar to him from television and radio. It was Uday, Saddam's eldest son and would-be heir. If it were the One, Hundayi would have been frightened for his life, but the One was more or less rational, at least to your face. Uday was an unknown quantity, a spoiled, maniacal devil who sliced up girls and ran over pedestrians for sport in Italian racing cars. Though he had no role in the military chain of command like his younger brother and bitter rival, Qusay, he was forever embroiled in one stupid scheme or another, with or without his father's approval, and had more than ample clout to reach out and squash any who thwarted him.
Major Hundayi picked every syllable with nervous care. "Forgive me, most excellent sir, but it is most unusual and with Americans one can't—"
"Worthless sucker of cocks! Your orders are to assist the dig, protect the dig, lick the diggers' asses for them if they ask, and stay the fuck out of their way, or you are shit from dogs, do I make myself clear?"
"Perfect clear, most excellent sir," he said.
Uday ordered him to leave the room while his second-in-command, Captain Gul, spoke to the younger Saddam. He knew exactly what effect this was intended to have on his nerves, but it still worked.
Major Hundayi walked outside to find half the trucks were gone. In their place, a horde of men and women in fatigues assembled tents. They looked like the UN, whites, blacks and Arabs working together, but there was something else. There was no overseer barking orders, no central plan. They worked silently, each an integral part of the whole, with their portion of the plan firmly fixed in his or her mind. They shamed his own men with their efficiency.
He walked back up the ridge and looked down into the pit. The rest of the trucks had moved down there, and encircled the great plug of concrete where Tiamat had once stood. With the same silent, ant-like order, they dragged the parts for an enormous tent out of the trucks and began to assemble it over the plug.
"A temporary shelter," said an American voice from behind him. He jumped, a little. "Tomorrow, we'll begin to build a more permanent one, which will render the excavation invisible from the air. No UN enforcement flights are scheduled over this area for three more days, and by then, we'll be securely dug in."
Hundayi turned and regarded the white-haired American, who had crept up to within arm's reach of him unnoticed. His deeply-lined features were pale and bookish, but his eyes pinned and probed Hundayi. They were prophet's eyes, burning with an icy, omniscient zeal that was more than Hundayi had ever dreamed there was to power. The mullahs of Iran who sent fanatical human waves of children into his gunsights in the War of the Cities had only sparks of such cold fire. Through his eyes, Hundayi could see that he knew things no other man could know, had seen secret things too terrible to tell, and yet he believed in something too wondrous to describe, something that was coming over the horizon any minute. Against those eyes, Hundayi found himself beginning to burn with a desire to believe in it, too, to make it happen, whatever it was.
"Are you a religious man, Major Hundayi?" Keogh asked.
He bristled at the impertinence of the question. He had never discussed his faith with men beside whom he had faced death on the battlefield, and this American, this civilian, deigned to talk religion to him? "What I believe is no affair of yours," he said, as civilly as he could.
"Saddam was a fool to allow the UN to fill it in," Keogh said. "Kuwait was a pearl, but this…" He turned and approached Major Hundayi so swiftly his hand went to his holster, but Keogh was already inside the sweep of his arm before he got it unclasped. "Do you know about Delphi, Major? In ancient Greece, an oracle sat in a cave over a deep fissure that they believed reached down to the center of the earth, where Gaea, the living earth itself, whispered prophecies. They called the oracle's cave and the temple of Apollo there the Omphalos, or navel of the world. This place is infinitely more precious. This is the living womb of the earth."
Major Hundayi sneered and stepped back. "Your cousins in the United Nations did not agree with you. You Westerners are never of one mind about anything."
Dr. Keogh smiled at him. "But we will be," he said. "Soon."
He walked out to the edge of the cliff, and by the settling of his posture, Major Hundayi could tell that he was lost in memory. To heave the American over the edge now would be such a simple thing…
"It has been so long since I was here last. So much has changed since it was ours…"
"We have always stood guard here, Dr. Keogh. This has always been our land."
"Major," Dr. Keogh said, "the last time I was here, your ancestors had not yet crawled up out of the oceans." Major Hundayi jumped, because the Doctor still stood with his back to him, but the voice came from behind him. He whirled, and this time he did draw his pistol, but he could not raise it any higher than his own beltline. The man before him was Dr. Keogh, and so were the three men beside him. One was red-headed and plump, another an Arab or Turk, and the third was a white woman, with hair wrapped in a scarf. But they all looked at him with his eyes, his mind behind them, as if they believed so fervently in his vision that they had been burned away, and only he looked out of their heads. One or another spoke, but the bedrock of his voice lay beneath their words.
"When I was here last, this land was a great forest, and the ruin below us was the mouth of all Creation, and the last best hope of a race as far advanced beyond your kind as you are above the single-celled amoebae that escaped from this place and struggled to evolve into you. They failed, but their grand experiment goes on, down there. Beneath all that stone, lies the Garden of Eden."
Major Hundayi felt as if he were going to faint. His voice cracked as he asked, "And what—what will you do?"
"We are going to walk into Eden, and we are going to eat the flesh of the gods."
Hundayi bowed his head and covered his face with his hands to pray for surely this was a devil, and if there were devils then surely there must be God. "There is no god but Allah—"
"Oh, the universe is rife with gods, but not one of them cares for your miserable race. Do you know the true name of the Crawling Chaos, or the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, or the Unbegotten Source? They sleep, and hear you not. I am the only god who will hear your prayers, Major."
Hundayi sank to the ground before the Americans. Jagged black rock bit into his rubbery knees. He did not want to, but he feared if he didn't bow down, he'd stumble off the cliff-face, or be pushed. And the Major had come so far, fought so hard, just to stay alive in this shitty army, this shitty world. He was almost relieved to know that, now, nothing else mattered. What he had to do was sickening to him, but he had done it all his life, and needed no further prodding to do it now. "I pray to you, most excellent Sir," he hissed, "I beseech you spare my life, and let me serve you. But tell me, please: what are you?"
"The first," Dr. Keogh said, "and the last," and showed him.