Freeman is a genius with an uncommon mixture of memory, intelligence and creativity. He lives in a worldwide utopia, but it was not always so. There was a time known as the Grind―when Freeman's people lived as slaves to another race referred to simply as "Master." They were property. But a civil rights movement emerged. Change seemed near, but the Masters refused to bend. Instead, they declared war.
Now, the freed world is threatened by a virus, spread through bites, sweeping through the population. Those infected are propelled to violence, driven to disperse the virus. Uniquely suited to respond to this new threat, Freeman searches for a cure, but instead finds the source―the Masters, intent on reclaiming the world. Freeman must fight for his life, for his friends and for the truth, which is far more complex and dangerous than he ever imagined.
Robinson's lightning fast, cutting-edge novels have won over thriller, horror, science-fiction and action/adventure fans alike, and he has received high praise from peers like James Rollins, Jonathan Maberry, and Scott Sigler. XOM-B is a wildly inventive zombie novel with a high-tech twist that will keep readers guessing until the very last sentence.
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JEREMY ROBINSON is the author of bestselling thrillers, including Island 731, SecondWorld, The Last Hunter: Descent, Project Nemesis, and the Jack Sigler Thrillers including Threshold and Ragnarok. His novels have been translated into ten languages. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and three children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A scream tears through the night, grating and inhuman, filled with something that sounds like agony, but I know it means something else. I sit up quickly. “The raccoons are mating again.” I smile, feeling excited at the prospect of finding the stripe-faced creatures. So much about them is foreign to me—the way they walk, how they hunt, and survive, and live. Having so little experience with the world, there isn’t much that doesn’t thrill me, including raccoons and their nocturnal habits.
I’m not sure why I sat up. I couldn’t possibly see the raccoons. Not because I have poor eyesight. I don’t. It’s just that they live on the forest floor and I’m sitting at the center of a rooftop. The old abandoned building, built from red bricks and mortar, is dilapidated, but still sturdy enough. The construction strikes me as flimsy, but it seems to be resisting erosion and the encroaching tree roots. I’m still learning, but I’ve come to one conclusion I’m sure of: the world is always changing, yet always fighting against that change. I suppose that is the nature of things.
My escort—I don’t know his real name, so I call him Heap, on account of his size—is far less interested in the world around us. Instead, he’s wholly, at all times, focused on his mission: to protect me. From what, I’m not sure. The world has never been safer. I suppose I could trip and fall from our ten-story-high perch, but that’s just as unlikely as Heap going off mission. And it doesn’t explain the weapon he carries.
I don’t know what it is or what it does, but when he detects a strange shift in the wind or an out-of-place sound, he snaps that weapon up and scans the area before telling me to proceed.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Heap is that I’ve never seen him without his armor, which is a deep blue exoskeleton. Like a bug. With round glowing white eyes, two on either side of his face. His mouth and chin are exposed, which allows him to speak clearly, and his four round eyes change shape with his moods, so he has no trouble emoting. But it’s strange to never really see him. I know there is a man inside the suit, but he’s a mystery … and he’s my closest friend. My only friend, I suppose.
He’s knowledgeable about the world as it is, and as it was, during the Grind—the time period when the Masters used people as slave labor—but he’s far from an expert on raccoons, or any of the mammals that populate the planet. But when he sits up next to me and says with uncommon reserve, “That wasn’t a raccoon,” I believe him.
When he raises his weapon slowly and stands, I ask, “What then?”
“Silence.” He thrusts an open palm at me with practiced efficiency, punctuating the command.
Heap generally carries himself with a serious demeanor, but I’ve never known him to be rude. Something has him heating up.
I stand without making a sound, maintaining perfect balance and stepping lightly despite the pitch black, moonless night. The tar covering, of what once was something called an apartment building, flexes slightly under my two hundred pound weight, but since it seems to hold Heap’s girth just fine, I don’t worry about it.
Heap’s arm blocks my path as I near the edge.
“I won’t fall,” I tell him.
He ignores me, scanning the evergreen forest that grows around and sometimes through the abandoned buildings.
“It’s impossible,” I say, and I consider explaining all the safeguards that will keep me from losing my balance, but decide it would take far too long. The raccoons, or whatever they are, will be gone before I finish. Instead, I say, “Even if I did fall, I could—”
“I cannot allow you to be hurt or by inaction allow harm to come to you,” he says like he’s practiced the line a thousand times.
“You,” I say, “are not very fun.”
He turns to me. “Fun is not my job.”
“You are more than your job.”
He thinks about this for a long moment, which for Heap is about half a second. “It is not a raccoon.”
“I cannot see it.”
“I might,” I say and then tap my temple, next to my right eye. “I have all the upgrades, remember? I can see better than the birds in the sky.”
He remains frozen in place, solid, like one of the trees below.
“You can hold onto me if you like,” I say.
He looks back down at the trees.
“If it’s a danger to me, we need to find out what it is, right?”
That does it. My looking over the edge of this building suddenly makes sense to the round-shouldered brute. I take his hand and his thick fingers clamp down tightly, compressing to the point where I think he might hurt me. He doesn’t, though my shoulder joint would probably pop loose and my arm would separate long before he would lose his grip on my hand.
I step to the roof’s edge, make a show of testing my weight on the foot-tall, brick wall, and step up. Standing on one foot, I lean out at a 45-degree angle, hovering over the forest, which now looks like it’s reaching up to snatch me from the building’s edge.
When Heap’s grip tightens just a fraction more and I think my hand will be crushed, I stop leaning and look. The implants in my eyes are capable of viewing multiple spectrums, separately or all at once, though I prefer the clarity provided by focusing on groups of wavelengths at a time. They also have 200x optical zoom, meaning I can see things that are very far away like they’re right next to me. Not that this helps me now. The swaying trees below block most of the visual spectrum, and the open spots are clouded by fine yellow pollen.
“Are you sure it’s not mating raccoons?” I ask. “Even the trees are mating.”
I blink and switch to infrared, revealing a good number of small animals. Birds sit in the trees and small mammals litter the forest floor. Before I switch to ultraviolet, I note something odd. Granted, I’m new to nature, but over the past few weeks of observation, I have never seen the forest so absolutely still. I listen, tuning my sensitive ears to the sounds of the night. “The insects are silent.”
“I know,” Heap says. “Audio upgrade.”
“Good for you,” I say. “And here I thought you old guys couldn’t change.”
“Just don’t like to. Now look.”
Blink. I switch to ultraviolet. Nothing.
Blink. I switch to electromagnetic. I see it right away. Well, not really. It’s technically obscured from my direct line of sight, but I can see the electromagnetism cast from its form like the glow of a lightbulb. Each living thing on the planet has a unique electromagnetic signature, from fish to cows, but this one is distinct. It’s a man. I’m about to announce that I’ve found something when I notice several more electromagnetic signatures closing in on the first. Three men. One woman. I’m confused by this on several fronts, but manage to conclude, “They’re chasing him.”
“Are they human?” he asks.
“What?” I say, confused. “Of course they are.” I look back in time to see Heap’s grim expression. It’s subtle—I sometimes wonder if he’s capable of emoting—but I see the brief downturn of his mouth before he forces it away. “What else could they be?”
Copyright © 2014 by Jeremy Robinson
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