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Alien Hunter: Underworld

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Alien Hunter: Underworld

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Author: Whitley Strieber
Publisher: Tor, 2014
Series: Alien Hunter: Book 2

1. Alien Hunter
2. Alien Hunter: Underworld
3. Alien Hunter: The White House

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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Alien Hunter: Underworld, The searing sequel to Alien Hunter from bestselling author Whitley Strieber

Flynn Carroll works for the most secret police unit on the planet, seeking the most brilliant and lethal criminals who have ever walked free: thieves and murderers from another world.

As part of a top secret CIA alien communications project, Flynn's unit has been tasked with tracking down rogue agents from the planet Aeon. While Aeon claims to be a free planet desiring open communications with humanity, Aeon criminals have committed a series of brutal and bizarre murders on Earth. Flynn has been forbidden to take lethal action against the alien murderers--but as the bodies begin to pile up, something must be done.

Flynn finds himself cut off from his team, struggling to unearth Aeon secrets while protecting Earthling civilians from the deadly creatures. But as Flynn gets closer to the truth, he finds himself facing not only some of the most dangerous and frightening criminals ever seen on Earth, but also questions about his own existence. In order to crack the case, Flynn must come to grips with the greatest mystery he has yet confronted: who--or what--is he?



AS HE did every morning, Flynn Carroll was going through police reports on his iPad, reading them quickly. Then he stopped. He flipped back a page. As he reread, his eyes grew careful.

He didn't look the part of a careful man. His appearance--ancient chinos and a threadbare tee--was anything but. Duct tape repaired one of his sneakers. His hair was sort of combed; his beard was sort of shaved. But the stone gray eyes now stared with a hunter's penetrating gaze.

In two respects, the report was right in line with the others that were of interest to Flynn. A man had disappeared--in this case, two days ago. This morning he was discovered murdered in a characteristically brutal and bizarre manner. What was different was that the body had been found very quickly. Usually, corpses were located days or weeks after the murders.

Not only was this a case for him, but it also represented a rare chance. The killers would generally do two or three or more victims over a period of a few days. The first body would rarely be found until at least two or three more killings had been done. There had been no other disappearances or characteristic murders reported anywhere in the area. If this was the first in a new series, it represented both a major change and perhaps a major opportunity.

The change was that this victim wasn't an anonymous homeless person picked up off the street. This was a citizen with an identity and people and a place in the world. The opportunity was that the killers might still be operating in the area, and Flynn might have a chance to get them.

He unfolded his lean frame and got to his feet, striding off between the rows of consoles and neatly dressed technicians who manned the command center.

As he passed one of the linguists, he asked, "Got any new messages?"

"This week? Two lines."

He stopped. "And?"

"A complaint, we think. They seem to be saying that you're too brutal."

"Me? Me personally?"

He laughed. "All their messages are about you."

They'd been asking their counterparts on the other side for six months for more information about these killers. All they had been told was that it was a single, rogue band. From the amount of activity Flynn guessed that it consisted of about seven individuals.

Another of the techs sat before a strangely rounded device, beautiful in its darkness, but also somehow threatening, a glassy black orb that seemed to open into infinity.

Flynn went over to him. "Jake? Got a second?"

The man was intent on his work, peering into the blackness. Within this small, very secret working group hidden deep in the basement of CIA headquarters in Virginia, this device was known as "the wire." It provided communication with their counterpart police force. This other police force was headquartered on a planet our experts had decided was called Aeon, the government of which was eager for open contact with mankind. Supposedly.

The problem was--again, supposedly--that they weren't entirely in control of their own people. Aeon, our experts had decided, had evolved into a single, gigantic state, but it was free, and so, like any free country, it had its share of criminals.

Flynn's take: Let's see this place before we decide what it's like. Nobody had ever been to Aeon--except, perhaps, the people who had not been killed, but had instead disappeared without a trace ... like his wife, Abby.

"Let Aeon know we've got another murder."

"Yes, sir."

"And if there's any response, anything at all, get it translated on an extreme-priority basis."

As far as Flynn knew, only one remaining alien--a creature that looked human--was responsible for the original crimes, the disappearances. These new crimes--all killings--were being done by things that looked, frankly, alien. They weren't the "grays" of popular imagination, with their huge eyes and secretive ways. Flynn had never encountered one of those creatures. Apparently, they weren't from Aeon. With such a big universe, so incredibly ancient and complicated, who knew what they really were or where they were from?

The ones he was trying to take off the map were wiry creatures with narrow faces and blank shark eyes. They had four supple fingers and long, straight claws that could also be used as knives or daggers. They were biological but not alive, he didn't think, in the same way that human beings were. Their rigid determination and ritualistic, unvarying murder techniques suggested to him that they must be robotic.

He did not hate them. His objective was to clean up the alien criminal element on Earth so that the public could safely be informed that contact was unfolding. To the depths of his soul, Flynn wanted open contact.

There was one exception to his dislike of killing them. The first alien criminal known to have arrived on Earth had called himself Louis Charleton Morris. He used a highly sophisticated disguise that gave him human features that were regular and spare. His hair was black, his lips narrow but not cruel. His expression was open, even friendly. If you encountered him in a dark alley, you wouldn't think you had a problem. You'd also be just as wrong as a person could be, because Louis Charleton Morris could do far worse than kill you. He could take you into the unknown and do to you there whatever he had done to Abby and so many others.

There had been a police officer here from Aeon, until he was killed. He had two legs and two arms, and a face with lips that were somewhat human, but the eyes were those of a fly. Oltisis could not expose himself to our atmosphere, and had worked out of a hermetically sealed office in Chicago.

Disguising oneself as Morris did was, it seemed, so illegal that not even a cop could get a clearance to do it. Since Oltisis's murder, though, Aeon had apparently changed that policy. No replacements had showed up, however.

Flynn's theory was that the killers belonged to Morris. They were something he had created and was using to get revenge.

Flynn's previous life as a detective on the police force of the city of Menard, Texas, had hardly prepared him for this work. Get your wife taken right out of your marriage bed in the middle of the night, though, and you'd change, and change a lot. You would go on a quest to find her, or find out what had happened to her. To serve that quest, you would learn whatever you needed to learn, and do whatever you needed to do. You would push yourself hard. You would not stop.

He walked across the room to a door marked only with a plastic slide-in sign: DIRECTOR. On the other side, there were more desks; more computing equipment; more quiet, intense men and women. Saying nothing, moving with the supple energy of a leopard, he went through into the inner office.

"I've got one I want to move on right now."

Operations Director Diana Glass said, "Okay, what are we looking at?"

"Town in Pennsylvania. Guy disappeared yesterday. He's been found. First report from the area."

"They could still be there."

"That's what I'm hoping. There's a strange kicker, though. He's a neurologist. Dr. Daniel Miller."

She raised her eyebrows in question.

"It gets more interesting. He worked at Deer Island."

"On the cadavers?"

"Possibly. There's a neurobiology unit there." He paused. "So maybe he hit on something somebody would rather we didn't know."

"Official Aeon would never do this."

"You sure?"

"Maybe it has to do with his work, but I also think a citizen was involved to make sure you'd come. It could be an ambush, Flynn."

"Probably is."

"How did it go down?"

"He went out on a mountain bike. When he didn't return at sundown, his wife called for help. The bike was located at dawn. The cops brought hounds, but his scent was only on the bike."

"But they found the body anyway?"

"In a wetland a few hundred feet from his house. Same condition as the derelicts. Lips cut off, genitals and eyes dissected out, drowned." So far, more than twenty homeless people had been taken off the streets, mostly in the northeastern United States, brutally and bizarrely mutilated, then drowned in the Atlantic and returned to locations near where they'd been picked up.

"We need some advice from Aeon," Diana said.

"And how are we going to get that?"

"The two police forces, working together--"

"Don't even start. There's one police force: us. Ever since Oltisis, Aeon's side has been all smoke and mirrors."

"For God's sake, don't do any more killing."

He locked eyes with her.

She looked away. "The other side objects more strenuously every time you kill another one, Flynn. They want them back."

He said nothing.

"They have laws just like we do! They want these creatures back for trial and punishment."

"No, they don't. They're not creatures."

"That's a matter for debate."

"You haven't fought them. I know when I'm dealing with a machine--believe me. No matter how high-end its brain is."

"They don't want them killed. Bottom line."

"If they want them back, tell them to damn well come and get them."

"If you're wrong about what they are, you're committing murder."

"We're disabling machines, not killing people. Anyway, this is our planet. So, our laws."

"Which don't include blowing away perps like--" She hesitated, unsure of how to continue.

Flynn knew exactly how. He said, "Like they're broken machines and cannot be stopped in any other way."

"Aeon is far in advance of us technologically, Flynn. Far more powerful. When they complain, we need to listen."

"'Aeon' consists of messages translated from a language we barely understand, coming from someplace we can't even find, that will not send a replacement for the one policeman they did give us, or even explain what they think happened to him."

"Oltisis was killed in Chicago, not on Aeon."

"And what about a replacement? Or, God forbid, even two. Or fifty? Why don't they send us a whole team of detectives and a nice chunk of SWAT? Seems the logical thing to do."

"They regard this as a small problem. One we can handle ourselves. They haven't sent support, out of respect for us."

"Have you ever told them the truth?"

"What truth?"

"That only one person is able to even get near these critters? I need support, Diana. The risk is just incredible."

"We have messages that specifically forbid you to kill, as you know. You've got to promise me you'll abide by them."

"So what do I do? Bag them up? Drag them off to a supermax?"

She sighed. She knew perfectly well that they could not be contained.

"Over the past nine months, I've done four. If Aeon's telling the truth and this is a rogue band, maybe I can wrap the problem up on this mission. Finish the thing."

She leaned far back in her chair, her long dark hair falling behind her, her green eyes, so deceptively soft, filling with uneasy calculation. Her face, an almost perfect oval, took on an expression that Flynn knew all too well. When she was twenty, it must have been a soft face, sweet with invitation. Her journey to thirty had been a hard one, though, during which she'd seen death and done some killing. Her face still said angel, but now it also said soldier. Hidden behind that cloud of Chanel was a woman with a tragic secret: The blood of some of her own cops was on her hands. Flynn knew she was as haunted by the deaths of members of their original team, who had been killed by Morris and his group, as he was by Abby's disappearance.

"Losing you would be a phenomenal disaster, Flynn. You're right about that. I'm going to have to order you to stand down on this one."

For a little while in the dangerous period when they had been tracking Morris, the two of them were together twenty-four hours a day, sleeping in the same room for mutual protection, and they got to be a thing--sort of, anyway. They had wanted each other, but he was not able to dismiss Abby's ghost. Four years ago, their affair was an act of desperation, which had faded when the threat became less. With her sitting in the boss's chair and him married to a ghost, he considered it entirely over.

"Time, Diana. I've gotta move."

"You heard me."

As he walked out, he called Transportation and told the operator, "I want to be in Mountainville, PA, in best time."

Diana came up behind him.

He walked faster.

"Flynn, at least wear the rig."

The rig was designed to record his moves, to be used in a training film. "Nope."

"Unless you wear it, we can't hope to teach others. You can't work alone forever, Flynn."

"Fine. Hire Mac." MacAdoo Terrell was an old friend from Texas. He'd worked the Morris case with them. He was among the best sniper shots in the world, if not the best, and Flynn could use a sniper in this.

"You know I can't."

"No rig. Forget the rig."

She hurried along, working to keep up as he strode out of the command center.

"Flynn, please!"

He stopped. "The rig contains electronics. As I have previously explained, when I wear it, the electronics will be detected, and therefore, I will fail to engage the perpetrators. Of course, they may well engage me, in which case, I'm done."

"Do not go out there."

"I could end this!"

"Flynn, it's a trap, and you're completely buying in to it. I don't get why you don't see this."

"If you know you're entering a trap, it's not a trap--it's a mistake on the part of your enemy. So I'm gonna walk into their mistake--and they don't make many--and I will not lose this chance."

"Flynn, will you grant me one favor? A small one?"

"I'm not gonna wear the rig--but, yeah, something else."

"Come back alive."

"Fine. Done. Good-bye."

This time, she stayed behind. He passed through the two departments that concealed the command center, went to the transport hub, and got in the waiting SUV.

The driver was silent. Flynn was silent. Usual routine. He spent the drive to Dulles looking at satellite views of Mountainville. Frustrated by what he was seeing, he texted Logistics: Throw me something better than Google Maps.

That's all we have. Not a strategic location.

He punched in the tech's phone number.

The answer was immediate. "Sir?"

"Get to the Pennsy Department of Geology, or whatever they call it over there. You want a map that details any isolated watercourses within two miles of the house. Mountain streams, that type of thing. Any that are spring fed and absolutely pure. And any caves, crevasses, rocky areas, especially near the good water. You want a map that shows all of that. You got it, you call me. Make it fast--it's as urgent as they come."

He put down his phone, then returned to the Google map. Steep hills, lots of cliffs, which meant exposed climbing. For them, the best terrain. For him, the worst.

The car dropped him at general aviation, and he strode quickly through to the waiting plane.

As he entered the cabin, he asked the pilot only one question: "How long?"

"An hour and sixteen minutes."

"Get me there in an hour." If this had any chance of working, he had to be ready by sunset. Maybe the aliens would be there one more night. Not two, though. Never happen.


"I know the plane. It can do it."

"It'll risk the engines."

"Do it."

Once they were airborne, he called the unit's FBI liaison officer. "Flynn here. Get the body out of the hands of the locals immediate. Standard procedure: autopsy and record, then freeze. Provide the family with stock ashes in an urn. The local cops are to be told that this is a terrorism matter. If they talk, they're gonna be spending the rest of their lives inside. Obviously, make certain there's no press."

"Got it," the liaison officer said.

The engines howled. The pilot was running them as ordered.

Flynn watched the land slide past far below, the trees tinged with autumn, little towns nestled in among them, America in its quiet majesty, her people in their innocence.

He wanted things to be right for them. He hadn't been able to protect Abby, but he could protect them, at least a little, at least for a while.

As always at such moments, he wished he had Mac with him. They'd grown up together but gone down opposite paths. Mac was a criminal, more or less, so tangled up in being a DEA informant and massaging the drug cartels, you couldn't tell at any given time which side of the law he was on.

If Flynn missed anybody besides Abby, it was Mac. He'd helped wreck Morris's operation just like he lived his generally illegal life--with skill, ease, and pleasure.

His extensive criminal record made him a security risk. So no clearance, which meant no job, despite the fact that he'd been effective and, unlike most of the others who worked on that case, lived. Morris had been running his operations out of a ranch near Austin, Texas, complete with bizarre intelligence-enhanced animals and human accomplices.

Flynn slid his hand over the butt of his pistol. What success he'd had--the killing of four of the things so far--came from one central fact: He had become very, very fast with his weapons. None of the trainees he'd been given so far were able to come even close.

It wasn't too surprising, given that a man could practice for a lifetime and never learn to shoot a pistol as fast as Flynn could. He'd always been good with a gun, but in the past few months, he'd reached a level of proficiency that was, frankly, difficult even for him to understand.

The engine note changed, dropping. The plane shuddered, headed down. Flynn looked at his watch. Fifty-four minutes.

He hit the intercom. "Thank you."

The reply was a burst of static. The pilot was probably thinking about whom he'd have to deal with if he blew his engines.

From the air, Mountainville appeared to be little more than a few stores and some houses tucked in among a low range of hills. The single-strip airfield wasn't manned. The plane could land, though, and that's all that mattered.

The place looked the picture of peace, but Flynn knew different. Somewhere down there a man had endured what was probably the worst death a human being could know.

Also down there, he had reason to hope, would be his quarry.

The plane bounced onto the runway and trundled to a stop, its engines still roaring. He got out and crossed the tarmac to the car that had been left for him. As per established procedure, the vehicle was dropped off by the regional FBI office. Nobody was to meet him. What Flynn did, he did alone.

He tossed his duffel bag into the trunk, then got behind the wheel. He sat silently, preparing himself for whatever might come. Then he started the engine.

The hunter was as ready as he could be. He headed off toward Mountainville, and whatever might linger there.

Copyright © 2014 by Whitley Strieber


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