The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem has been blown to bits by extremists, and, in retaliation, thousands have died in another major attack on the United States. Now the FBI has been dispatched to deal with a new menace. A plague targeted to ethnic groups--Jews or Muslims or both--has the potential to wipe out entire populations. But the FBI itself is under political assault. There's a good chance agents William Griffin, Fouad Al-Husam, and Jane Rowland will be part of the last class at Quantico. As the young agents hunt a brilliant homegrown terrorist, they join forces with veteran bio-terror expert Rebecca Rose. But the plot they uncover--and the man they chase--prove to be far more complex than anyone expects.
This thought-provoking near-future thriller from bestseller Bear (Dead Lines) focuses on two young FBI agents: William Griffin, the son of a legendary FBI lawman, struggles through training; Fouad Al-Husam, who expects suspicion for his heritage and Muslim faith, finds himself instead sent on super-secret missions to the Middle East. Playing a minor supporting role is their Quantico classmate, Jane Rowland. When a quiet man with mismatched eyes starts telling certain fanatics that he can make gene-keyed anthrax to destroy their hereditary enemies, Griffin and Al-Husam form an unlikely team, headed by veteran agent Rebecca Rose, to handle the threat. Bear's near-future science is, as always, eerily plausible, and while he doesn't stint on sharp criticism of political infighting and its potential to hinder antiterrorism efforts, his would-be terrorists become surprisingly sympathetic as the complex details of their true plan are slowly (sometimes too slowly) revealed. (Mar.)
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March 09, 2008
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Excerpt from Quantico by Greg Bear
Guatemala, near the Mexican Border
Year Minus Two
From the front seat of the Range Rover, the small fat man with the sawed-off shotgun reached back and pulled the hood from his passenger's head. "Too hot, senor?" the fat man asked. His breath smelled of TicTacs but that did not conceal the miasma of bad teeth.
The Nortamericano's short sandy blond hair bristled with sweat. He took a deep breath and looked out at the red brick courtyard and the surrounding lush trees. His eyes were wild before they settled. "A little."
"I am sorry, and also it is so humid today. It will be nice and cool inside. Senor Guerrero is a man of much hospitality, once he knows he is safe."
"Without that assurance," the fat man continued, "he can be moody."
Two Indians ran from the hacienda. They were young and hungry-looking and carried AK-47s across their chests. One opened the Range Rover's door and invited the Nortamericano out with a strong tug. He stepped down slowly to the bricks. He was lanky and taller than the fat man. The Indians spoke Mam to each other and broken Spanish to the driver. The driver smiled, showing gaps in his tobacco-stained teeth. He leaned against the hood and lit a Marlboro. His face gleamed in the match's flare.
The Indians patted down the tall man as if they did not trust the fat man, the driver, or the others who had accompanied them from Pajapita. They made as if to pat down the driver but he cursed and pushed them away. This was an awkward moment but the fat man barked some words in Mam and the Indians backed off with sour looks. They swaggered and jerked the barrels of their guns. The driver turned away with patient eyes and continued smoking.
The tall man wiped his face with a handkerchief. Somewhere a generator hummed. The roads at the end had been brutal, rutted and covered with broken branches from the recent hurricane. Still the hacienda seemed to have suffered no damage and glowed with lights in the dusk. In the center of the courtyard a small fountain cast a single stream of greenish water two meters into the air. The stream splashed through a cloud of midges. Small bats swooped back and forth across the blue dusk like swallows. A lone little girl with long black hair, dressed in shorts, a halter top, and pink sandals, played around the fountain. She stopped for a moment to look at the tall man and the Range Rover, then swung her hair and resumed playing.
The fat man walked to the back of the truck and opened the gate. He pulled down a quintal bag of coffee. It thudded and hissed on the bricks as the beans settled.
"Mr. Guerrero uses no drugs but for coffee, and that he drinks in quantity," the fat man said. He squinted one eye. "We will wait for you here." He tapped his platinum watch. "It is best to be brief."
A small old woman wearing a long yellow and red cotton dress approached from the hacienda and took the tall man by the hand. She smiled up at him and led him across the courtyard. The little girl watched with a somber expression. Beneath a fine dark fuzz, her upper lip had the faint pink mark of a cleft palate that had been expertly repaired. The bronze gates before the hacienda's patio were decorated with roughly cast figures of putti, little angels doing chores such as carrying fruit. The angels' eyes, sad but resigned, resembled the eyes of the old woman and their color was a good match for her skin. Beyond a serious iron door and then a glass door, the hacienda's centrally cooled air stroked the tall man's face. Music played through the broad white rooms--light jazz, Kenny G. The old woman showed him to a white couch and pushed him back until he sat. She knelt and removed his shoes, replacing them with sandals from a pouch concealed in the folds of her dress.
Mr. Guerrero appeared alone in the doorway to the dining room. He was small and well-formed and he wore a yellow and black Hawaiian shirt tucked in and white linen pants and a rope belt. His hair was thick and dark. He looked like a well-to-do man pretending to be a beachcomber.
"Mr. Santerra, welcome," Guerrero said. "I trust your ride was sincerely terrible."
The tall man, whose name was not Santerra, held up a small cloth bag. Glass vials jingled softly inside. "At least nothing broke."
Guerrero's cheek jerked. "It is done, then?"
"Proof of concept," the tall man said. "Pure and lethal. Try it on someone you no longer need."
Guerrero held up his hands. "I am not that kind of man," he said. "We will test it in a lab, with animals. If it is what you say, you will be given your next money at a place of our choosing. Money is not safe here or in the islands. Terrorism has forced your nation to pay too much attention to world banking."
A large balding black man in a black suit entered from the kitchen and walked around Guerrero. He stood in front of the tall man and held out his hand. He received the bag and opened it carefully. Three vials filled with fine powder tinkled into his pink palm. "You realize this is not the final product," the black man said in a reedy voice with an Austrian accent, to Guerrero. "It proves nothing."
Geurrero waved his hand, dismissing that concern. "You will tell me if they have proven good faith before the next payment. Correct, Senor Santerra?"
The tall man nodded.
"I may never see an end to this trouble," Guerrero said. He had not taken a step closer since the tall man held up the cloth bag. "But I hope my children will. Have you viewed the movie, M, Senor Santerra?"
The tall man shook his head.
"The underworld of Germany seeks out a child molester and puts him on trial because he is bringing down so much heat on their operations. It is so here. If you keep your promise, we will give those thoughtless monsters what they deserve." He paused, allowing the black Austrian to leave the room with the bag. Then he sat on a heavy wooden chair. His face was lined with years of worry. "You have a dangerous quality. It makes me want to trust you."
The tall man did not acknowledge this compliment, if it was one.
"I appreciate that you have come in person. When can I expect news?"
"Within three months, at most six." The tall man held out his hand to shake on their deal.
Guerrero looked down at the hand. His cheek twitched once more. He looked decades older than his forty years. "Now you will go," he said.
The old bronze woman hustled into the room again and knelt to replace the tall man's shoes. He stood and walked to the door.
In the courtyard, they had kept the engine running. The little girl had gone inside. The driver extinguished his cigarette and deposited the butt in a tin he drew from his pocket.
The fat man opened the door to the Range Rover and dangled the hood from one hand, smiling. "There are too many bats around here," he said. "I suppose it is because there are so many insects."