Javelin Rain

Being a US Navy SEAL was Jim Schweitzer’s life right up until the day he was killed. Now, his escape from the government who raised him from the dead has been coded “Javelin Rain.” Schweitzer and his family are on the run from his former unit, the Gemini Cell, and while he may be immortal, his wife and son are not.

Jim must use all of his strength to keep his family safe, while convincing his wife he’s still the same man she once loved. But what his former allies have planned to bring him down could mean disaster not only for Jim and his family, but for the entire nation…

Myke Cole’s Javelin Rain—the fast-paced, adrenaline-filled sequel to Gemini Cell—is set in the same magical and militaristic world of the acclaimed Shadow Ops series. Available March 29th from Ace Books.

 

 

Chapter One

James Schweitzer’s bare foot came down on a splintered root that punctured his sole, digging an inch-deep furrow in the gray flesh. His senses registered the cut, assessed the damage, dismissed it.

He felt no pain. The furrow in his flesh didn’t bleed.

Schweitzer knew he should be horrified by what he had become. What little clothing remained on him was shredded, filthy, and stinking. The body beneath was a landscape of puckered purple-white scars, dotted with darker gray rents, wounds that would never heal, revealing the yellowed articulation of the bone beneath. His face was a dark horror, a parody of his features stretched over a skull that was mostly metal.

His eyes were gone. In their place burned twin silver orbs, thimbles full of metal-colored fire.

He was a Hollywood zombie. No, movie zombies shambled. Schweitzer picked his way through the forest as nimble as a cat, his body instinctively low, hands up and bone claws extended, ready for the fight that might find him at any moment.

His wife came behind him, their son slung across her chest. Schweitzer had tried to carry him, but Patrick wouldn’t have it. Sarah Schweitzer knew her husband despite what death had made of him, years of love bound up in the magic that linked their souls, but Patrick was just a boy. Maybe, one day, he would develop the arcane sympathy that connected Schweitzer and his wife, but he hadn’t yet, and he squalled and fought whenever Schweitzer came near.

Keep them alive. The words were a mantra, repeating in his mind. Over and over again, Keep them alive. His magically augmented hearing picked up the steady beating of Sarah and Patrick’s hearts, the rhythm keeping him from panic, reminding him that he hadn’t lost them. Or had he? He listened to Sarah’s panting breaths as she struggled to keep up. She was alive.

He wasn’t. His embrace was cold, his skin hard from the glycerol they’d used to keep his veins inflated and resistant to wear. Even if they shook off the Gemini Cell, found a way to escape them forever, he couldn’t stand at her side at art shows, laugh with her at parties, take her out to dinner. No matter how much he loved her, he couldn’t be a husband to her anymore.

He glanced back over his shoulder, and his spiritual stomach seized as he realized how far behind him she was. Sarah was young and fit, but the monsters pursuing them were immortal, needing neither rest nor food. She stumbled, wheezed. Schweitzer forced himself to slow, to wait for her. The need to run was almost overwhelming; the dead muscles in his legs twitched with the desire to move on.

For the hundredth time since they’d fled together, he considered telling her to leave him, to take Patrick and find some place to lie low, to start over. He dismissed the idea as soon as it arose. He was the Gemini Cell’s primary target, but they would never suffer someone knowing as much as Sarah did. As for Patrick, they’d either kill him or take him as their own, and Schweitzer wasn’t going to let either of those things happen. The Gemini Cell had all the resources of a special operations regiment and intelligence service combined, but that paled in comparison to their Gold Operators, feral monsters, all as immortal and superpowered as Schweitzer himself.

No, Sarah and Patrick were safest with him. Only Schweitzer was strong enough to protect them. Grief for all he had lost ripped through him yet again, and yet again he quashed it. Grief was an emotion for the living. As was anger, or regret, or joy. He couldn’t afford those luxuries now. He could take one thing from his former life: his oath as a Navy SEAL. So others might live.

He’d died trying to protect Sarah and Patrick. He’d been fortunate enough to get a second crack at it, and by God, he’d take it.

So others might live.

He turned his focus to the woods around him, leaping over a fallen log, landing on a stone barely larger than his foot and balancing there. The magic that animated his corpse gave him heightened senses. He could see for miles in different spectrums. He could sniff out a rose petal buried in a garbage heap. Now, he dialed his hearing out, straining to catch the sounds of dirt-bike engines or helicopter rotors, anything that might indicate that the Cell’s agents were closing in.

Nothing. His boosted senses brought him only the sounds of beetles foraging in the dead leaves beneath them, the wind rushing in the canopy over their heads. The only smells were leaf mold and wildflowers and fresh water a long way off. No trace of humanity.

They were deep in nearly two million acres of forest spanning three states. Years of running counterinsurgency ops in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan had taught Schweitzer firsthand how hard it was to locate a single man on the run, even one with a family. All the drone cameras and ground teams backed by largest defense budget in the world couldn’t make the haystack any smaller, the needles any bigger. He nodded and pressed on.

“Jim!” Sarah sounded winded and a lot farther behind him than he’d realized. He stopped, whirled.

She was bent at the waist, hands on her hips, breathing in labored gasps. Her pink hair was clotted with leaves and mud, her T-shirt ripped and filthy. Patrick flailed in his makeshift sling, all cried out but still struggling.

“Wait…” she panted. “Jesus… fucking… Christ… just wait… one… minute.”

He had pushed her too hard, too fast. He had forgotten mortal limitations. It was a reminder of the chasm that separated them, and it tore his heart anew. “Sorry.”

“Patrick and I aren’t like you.” She straightened, spat a long streamer of mucus-flecked saliva, and suppressed a coughing fit. “We can’t keep going like this.”

Her skin was pale and waxy, her eyes fever bright. He was hurting her, as his frequent absences had in life, all the missed art shows, her long nights at home alone caring for Patrick while he was away on ops. And now she was condemned to run like an animal, hounded by the undead, all because of him.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, hoping that his tone conveyed just how much. “I’ll slow down.”

But he didn’t want to slow down. The Gemini Cell wouldn’t rest until it had them. He turned to go.

Sarah didn’t move. “Where are we going?”

Schweitzer realized that he didn’t know. Since they’d won the battle at Drew’s farm and fled into the forest, his only thought had been an animal litany of get away get away get away. He cursed himself. That was feral thinking, better suited to jinn like Ninip, the monster who’d shared his own corpse. At last, he’d figured out how to exorcise the jinn and take full control of his body, but he wondered if Ninip hadn’t corrupted him, warped him with its predator lust.

“Away,” Schweitzer said. “We have to put miles between us and our last known position. They’ll be launching from that old man’s house.” Drew and Martha, kindly old retirees who had taken Sarah in, and paid the ultimate price for it. More deaths laid at Schweitzer’s door.

“Away?” Sarah asked. “That’s the plan? We have to do better than that.”

She was right, of course, but the feral side of him, the jinn side, as he was coming to think of it, snarled. She was slowing them down. “We can’t stop,” he said.

“Your goal here is to protect Patrick and I, and you’re not going to succeed at that if we both drop dead of exhaustion. We need to rest.”

“Sarah, I…”

“No, Jim. We are in this together. If you want to help me, that’s fine. I accept your help, but I won’t accept a leash. We need to come up with a plan.”

One advantage to death was that Schweitzer had no trouble keeping his emotion off his face. He swallowed his anger and frustration, doubly intense because he knew she was right.

“Fine,” he said, keeping his voice neutral. “The plan is that we keep moving as fast as we can, but slow enough that you and Patrick can keep up.”

“That’s not a plan.”

“Sarah, they’re coming.”

“How are they coming? On foot? By helicopter? On horseback? How many of them? More monsters or people this time?”

He didn’t answer, because the truth was that he didn’t know. Death had given him superhuman physical capabilities, but it hadn’t sharpened his mind. She was smarter than he was. Always had been. It was one of the many reasons he loved her.

Sarah sighed. “Didn’t you say they were the government?”

Schweitzer nodded.

“The government controls the entire country, Jim,” she went on. “That means that while we’re getting away from them in one direction, we’re heading toward them in another. This is their country. If they’re as powerful as you say they are, they’ll be able to tap police in any town we come to. There isn’t anywhere to run and we can’t stay in the woods forever.”

“Then we get out of the country. We slip across the border into Mexico, or make our way to Florida and stow away on a ship bound for Cuba or Haiti.”

“How?”

“I ran operations against drug cartels and human smuggling networks for years. I still know some of the players. I know how they operate. Let’s get down there and then I can figure out a way to get us across the border.”

“We need more specifics, Jim. How are we going to get across the border? I know you’re trying to protect us, but we need a real plan.”

“At least my plan comes with a direction. The plan is south. If you’ve got a better one, I’m all ears. For now, all we can do is keep moving. This forest is enormous, and that’ll buy us some time at least.”

“We can’t keep moving unless we have somewhere to move.”

“All right, then where do we move, Sarah? What place is safe for us now?”

“No place, Jim. That’s my whole point. We can’t hide from this threat forever.”

Schweitzer swallowed his frustration, the need to keep going like an itch in his soul. “Then what do you propose we do?”

Sarah swallowed. Schweitzer could tell she was choking back tears. “What do you do with a threat you can’t escape?”

The itch vanished. Schweitzer narrowed his eyes. “You stop it.”

“You stop it,” Sarah repeated. “We have to go on offense.”

“Sarah, I spent months in that facility. I saw the guns, the people, the Gold Operators. We can’t go up against that.”

“You’re right,” Sarah said. “We can’t.”

Schweitzer’s dead stomach clenched. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Sarah was silent for a long time. When she finally spoke, the defeat in her voice made him cringe. “Jim, you’re dead. Patrick and I are alive.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Schweitzer snarled, knowing exactly what she meant, knowing that she was right. He could feel the grief down the magical link between them, the desperation, but it didn’t change the sinking feeling in his own soul. She wants me to go.

“You know what it means,” she said. “It means that Patrick and I hunker down somewhere, and you find a way to make all this stop. You found me even though hell itself stood between us. You’ll find me again.”

“You saw what those things can do. You expect me to go up against an army of them by myself?”

“I saw you take on four of them and win.” Three. Sarah had destroyed one, but Schweitzer didn’t correct her.

“There are more than four! And that doesn’t even count the living enemy.”

“I don’t know what else to do, Jim. I don’t know how else we can stop this. Please… I… I love you, but you’re dead, Jim. Patrick is alive. Protecting him has to be our first priority.”

Patrick began to squall, pulling at his mother’s shirt. Schweitzer searched his own mind desperately for a retort, for a way to make her stay with him, but the grief and anger clouded everything. “You’re safest with me.”

“You can’t honestly believe that. The Cell wants you, Jim. If I go on TV, people can roll their eyes at a widow gone mad with grief, but nobody who sees you can deny what you are. Wherever you are, they will come. It’s the government. They don’t give up. They don’t run out of money. You have to stop this threat.”

“I won’t leave you.”

“Damn it, Jim,” she shouted, tears glistening in her eyes. “You think this is easy for me? What about Patrick? Are you going to drop him off at school? Are you going to help him with his math homework? Do you expect him to spend the rest of his life running?”

The grief funneling down the link between them triggered his own. His dead body still possessed the phantom limbs of life: he felt the shade of a tightening throat, the pricking of phantom tears at the corners of his eyes. His voice came out as a strangled cry. “Sarah, please. I fought so hard to get back to you. I can’t lose you again.”

She put her head in one hand, hugged Patrick tightly with the other, and wept.

“You’re dead, Jim. We can’t make love, we can’t be together. You can’t raise Patrick. We’ll only slow you down. We’re already slowing you down.”

“I can keep you both safe.”

“Jim, please. Please don’t make this harder. If you push me, I’ll just stay, and that’s no life for either of us. Just… just… go and find a way to make them stop. Patrick and I are only human. We can’t fight them. You can.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. When this is over, you’ll find me again, and we can… figure something out.”

With that shred of a promise, thin as tissue, Schweitzer’s SEAL side took control. She’s right. If you want to keep her, keep Patrick safe, you have to find a way to shut the Cell down. “Chang.”

“What?” Sarah asked.

“We can trust Steve Chang. He has the training. He has steel. He can keep you safe while I finish this. I wouldn’t ask him to turn his coat, and I don’t know that he ever would, but he loves you and Patrick as much as I do. He’ll protect you.”

“Jim,” Sarah sobbed anew. The feelings along the link between them were tangled now, a riot of terror and love and grief and rage.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Steve’s dead.”

Schweitzer’s mouth hadn’t had saliva since the day he died, but he felt it had gone dry just the same. More phantom limbs, shades of the life he’d once had. “No.”

Sarah was too overcome with weeping to answer. She only nodded.

“Did you see a body?”

“I don’t need to.”

“Then how do you know?”

“I know, Jim. The same way I knew that you were alive. I could feel it.”

“Are you sure?” Schweitzer could hear the anger in his voice, the desperation, couldn’t stop either. “Sarah, are you sure?”

She wept again, nodded. “Completely.”

Schweitzer was too crushed by his own loss to focus on the tangle of emotions coming down the link from her. Steve Chang, his best friend, his teammate, gone. He struggled for a long moment before he found his voice again.

“How did he die?”

“I don’t know. I just know that he did.” Sarah’s emotions became pinched, frightened. “He came around a lot at first, when we thought you were dead, but then he just disappeared. Chief Ahmad said he’d been deployed.”

“And then you just felt it? He was gone?” Fear came flooding along the link from her. Schweitzer smelled the slightest hint of adrenaline in her bloodstream.

She nodded. “He’s gone, Jim. That’s all I can tell you.” No, that’s bullshit. There’s more. Something between her and Steve.

“Sarah, there’s something wrong here. What aren’t you telling me?”

She only shook her head and wept. “I just… I just know he’s gone, Jim. Please, just leave it at that.”

And now Schweitzer’s grief came on him like a wave, so strong that his legs shook. He grit his spiritual teeth and pushed it down, swallowed it. The questions rioted, the urge to interrogate her so strong that he suppressed a growl. There was something wrong with the way she was feeling, something more complex than the simple grief of someone mourning a passed friend.

Enough. Steve would have wanted him to be strong. He’d shown Sarah and Patrick enough of his underbelly for one day. When she was ready to tell him what she was thinking, she would. “He was our best option.”

“I know,” Sarah said, mastering her tears, drawing strength from Jim, as she had when he was alive.

“There are no good options here, Sarah. We can’t go to a family member, no matter how far removed. Family’s the first thing a targeter diagrams out. Close friends will be next.”

He would have trusted his brother, Peter, to protect Patrick. Peter the golden boy, the model SEAL Schweitzer had aspired to be. Proud of you, bro. But Peter was dead, his body shredded in the wreckage of the downed helo in Afghanistan. He’d died when Schweitzer was still alive, before he’d known that death wasn’t the end. He supposed Peter twisted in the soul storm now, or maybe there was somewhere else beyond it. It didn’t matter. There was no way to know, and knowing wouldn’t help him now anyway.

Sarah swallowed, nodded. “I’ll think of something, but we’re not going another step until we rest. That’s not negotiable. You want to go on, you go ahead. Patrick and I are getting a few hours sleep.”

“Sarah, I don’t know that we have a few hours.”

“Well, we damn well have to. We can’t keep going. I can’t see straight, Jim.” She sat down where she was, not bothering to inspect the ground beneath her. She flopped over on her back, cradling Patrick against her chest. Her voice was already sluggish as fatigue wrenched her down into drowsiness. “And we could use something to eat.”

“Sarah, let me carry you. I can tote you and Patrick without breaking a sweat.”

She shook her head faintly. “We need to sleep, and Patrick is going to freak if you come near him. Can you get us some food?” And then she was snoring softly, her breath lightly wheezing, thick in a way that troubled him.

“Sarah,” he said. She didn’t respond. He knelt at her side, reached out to touch her, thought better of it. Patrick’s face was turned away from him, his cheek nestled against his mother’s chest. Schweitzer could tell from his breathing that he had collapsed into sleep the moment he had stopped bouncing in the sling.

Sarah was right, they needed sleep, and they needed food. Schweitzer sat back, pushed his hearing out to its very limit. A hawk circled miles out, crying out warning to any who would seek to approach its hunting grounds. An aircraft droned miles overhead, likely a passenger airliner, moving steadily away from them. There were still no sounds of pursuit. He dialed his hearing in closer, pausing at intervals to assure himself that all he heard were the sounds of the natural world around him. When he finally heard the snuffling of a deer drinking at a stream less than a mile away, he made his decision.

“I’ll give you a few hours,” he whispered to his wife. He bent to kiss Patrick’s head, pulled back. Better not to risk waking him. “I love you,” he whispered, then stood, turned and took off running.

The wind was out of the south, blowing a steady two knots, bringing the sharp odor of the deer’s hide to him, and more importantly, carrying his own scent away. He shifted his balance up into his midsection, slowing just enough to make his footfalls light. He brushed over the leaves, barely making a sound, the forest falling away to either side as the stream grew louder. At last, he saw an elbow of the water shining silver in the failing light, broken into glowing filaments by sharp rocks and jagged twigs. He heard the deer now, nosing in the water. It was breathing in deep pants, far apart. Gulping. It was thirsty then, winded from the climb to the stream.

Schweitzer advanced at a crouch, letting his senses dial in on the deer’s breathing, concerned that the focus on the animal took so much of his concentration that it left him vulnerable to attack from another direction. He examined the branches above him, looking for a way to get off the ground and make a safer approach.

No time. Every second you’re away from Sarah and Patrick puts them in danger. Get it done.

Schweitzer gave free rein to his jinn side, letting his magical reflexes take over. His crouch turned into a loping crawl, wickedly fast, shoulders pumping as he knuckled over the uneven terrain, bone spines beginning to protrude from his head and back. This was the form Ninip had favored, an appearance in better keeping with its nature. When he’d shared the body with Ninip, to take this form had clouded Schweitzer’s mind, submerging it in a sea of predatory lust. But now the jinn was gone, and the form was just one of many tools at Schweitzer’s disposal, like his training. He put on speed, heedless of noise now, crashing through the underbrush. He heard the deer stop drinking, the creaking of its neck as it raised its head, muscles tensing as it prepared to spring away.

Schweitzer exploded from a patch of stunted trees, slamming into the animal before its eyes had so much as a chance to widen, locking his limbs around its thick body and sending it tumbling. The deer was strong, thrashing against him, the back of its skull hammering his face. It might as well have been a kitten compared to Schweitzer’s magical strength. He locked his hands around the creature’s chest, squeezing his arms together until its ribs snapped and blood fountained out its mouth and nose.

The coppery smell recalled the red joy he had known in Ninip’s thrall. He had been able to forget himself, forget those who depended on him, forget the tasks left undone. There had been nothing but the feel of his body, his enemy and the shrill joy of the kill.

But that had been before he knew his wife and son were alive.

He drove inward with his elbows, working the broken ribs until they pierced the heart and lungs, and the animal shuddered and lay still. He waited silently, listening. The forest had gone quiet around him. Still no sound of pursuers.

He rose, hefting the heavy deer easily over one shoulder, and sprinted back to where his wife and child lay. As he neared his backtrail he could hear the faint patter of their heartbeats, the slow bellows of their breathing, each gust a moment apart. They were alive and still asleep.

He arrived at their side and slid the deer to the ground. He coaxed one of the bone spikes from his fingertips, skinning and gutting the animal, lost in the work until he heard the leaves rustle and turned to see his wife looking at him.

“Thanks, babe,” she said. Patrick stirred weakly against her shoulder.

“Don’t wake him,” Schweitzer said. “He needs all the sleep he can get.”

She nodded as he held out a long strip of thick, red meat. “Backstraps,” Schweitzer said. “Best part.”

“We can’t eat it raw, Jim,” she said.

He looked down at the steaming strip of wet flesh. “Right,” he said, feeling farther from her than ever. “I forgot, sorry.”

“I don’t have a lighter. I don’t suppose you have heat vision or something?”

“Something,” Schweitzer said, scanning the ground until he’d located what he needed. He took a slab of bark and placed a stick against it, set his palms to either side. “Watch this.”

He rubbed his hands back and forth. His magical strength and speed soon had the stick twirling to a blur, smoke rising from the friction against the bark. Within moments, it was burning brightly, and he picked it up, carrying it to a pile of leaves.

“Baby,” Sarah said, sitting up, eyes widening at the burning tinder against the meat of his hand. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

Schweitzer shook his head as the fire took, then set to clearing a ring around it. Sarah watched in silence as he built it, and the crackling flame sent embers sparking into the sky.

Schweitzer looked up at the thick canopy of trees, branches interlocking to form a green carpet that barely admitted sunlight. Even a powerful drone with an infrared camera wasn’t going to be able to spot such a small fire through that. He hoped.

As he wrestled for a way to ask her what was going on, Sarah sighed. “Okay, champ. I can take it from here. Can you give us a little privacy while I get this cooked?”

Schweitzer’s heart twisted. “Why?”

“Honey, I need Patrick to eat. He’s not going to do that if he’s… Please, Jim. Don’t make this harder than it has to be. Patrick’s had one hell of a shock. I just need him to have smooth sailing until we can figure this out.”

The anger took him by surprise. She doesn’t trust me. “Damn it, I’m going to have to leave you anyway.” Schweitzer snarled. “Let me have another second with him. He’s my son.”

Sarah gave him a hard look. “Then you’ll want him to eat without shitting his pants. Jim, I am doing my level best to accept the new reality of… what you are. You can’t expect that of a child. Work with me here.”

“You want me to leave.” Her words made sense; his logical mind, the cold professional that was the Navy SEAL, accepted the calculus without batting an eyelash. But a deeper part of him didn’t care. That part knew she was still hiding something from him. He could feel it in the sour edge of the emotions traveling down the link between them.

Sarah’s expression softened at the hurt in his voice, and he cursed himself for letting it sound there loudly enough for her to recognize it for what it was. He couldn’t control what she felt through the link between them, but he didn’t have to make it harder on her by confirming it. Peter would have been disappointed. That wasn’t the SEAL’s way. “No, Jim. I don’t. I just want to take care of our son.”

Schweitzer could see that the exchange was hurting her too, that she was trying. When she wants you to know whatever she knows about Steve, she’ll tell you. He could see himself through her eyes, a shambling horror, a walking corpse tied to her chest by the supernatural link their love had forged. There was no guile in the flow through that link now, only love, fear and exasperation. He knew he should say something, bow his head and tell he loved her, tell her that he understood.

But in the end, all he did was turn without a word, stalking off into the underbrush, letting his eyes roam the emerging heat signatures as they stood more starkly in the cooling air. Patrolling the perimeter gave the jinn part of Schweitzer his head, let the animal instinct to fight and defend take control. The sorrow and grief faded to a background buzz. Jinn Schweitzer didn’t need to worry that his wife thought him a monster, that his son would likely grow up never knowing his father, fearing him as a thing that went bump in the night. Jinn Schweitzer was busy preparing to meet the enemy.

Excerpted from Javelin Rain, © Myke Cole, 2016

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