"A superb non-stop action thriller" —Milo's Rambles (UK)
"A 40 frames per second video type experience right into your brain."
"This book had so many twists and turns that I think I came out of it with whiplash!"
Somewhere near Grozny, Chechnya
The blow to the side of his head dropped Ridley Fox to the floor. The cold surface against the side of his face, the jarring pain and the spinning were the last things he remembered before he blacked out. When he awoke, the throbbing pain remained, as he was dragged by his legs across the floor, the concrete scraping the back of his scalp. He opened his eyes, to stare into the barrel of a Russian AK-108 assault rifle less than a foot above him.
His fiancée, Jessica, had died at the hands of his captors, two years before, just hours after he had proposed. Unlike her, he knew they’d torture him first. He had promised to give up his career in the Joint Task Force Two (JTF2)—Canada’s equivalent to America’s SEALs—to settle down with her. After she died, the heavy drinking and bar fights began, and then ended shortly after, with Fox in prison. That’s where he met his current CIA superior, General Paul Downing, and learned everything about the weapons consortium known as the Arms of Ares—his captors.
Fox mentally shook away that memory, as he watched a tangled web of exposed pipes and cheap wire mesh-covered light bulbs that ran along the ceiling while he was dragged along. One of the guards yelled at him in Russian. Although Fox was fluent in Russian, as well as several others, he was too disoriented to listen. All he did was concentrate on getting his strength back. But even if he got most of it back, he still would’ve been mentally unable to focus on overpowering his captors.
Moments went by, and Fox felt his legs being dropped just as he succumbed to the blow of a boot tip to his side. The kick forced a loud grunt out of him as the guard yelled profanities at him. Fox blinked rapidly as the pain subsided, taking slow deep breaths and waiting for the guard to kick him again. It didn’t come. Above him he couldn’t see much but a yellowish flickering reflection of light. Then he heard footsteps walking away from him. The thundering boom of the slamming metal door was accentuated by its echo in the cold, dry room.
“Is that it? Why don’t you come back and finish me off?” At least that’s what Fox wanted them to understand, even though it came out sounding different. Except for the occasional knocking within the pipes that snaked throughout the structure, there was silence.
The ceiling spun above him. Fox closed his eyes, but the throbbing in his temple and his side continued. He thought back to three days before, when he was contacted by a man named Gregor Sokolov—a scientist working for Ares—who offered him the opportunity to put Ares out of business. In return Fox would help him and his wife defect. It was an offer Fox couldn’t refuse. Presently, he was in the underground facility where Ares was developing something so deadly that Sokolov didn’t even want to discuss it in their correspondence.
He heard a metallic creaking sound as the door was reopened. Fox noticed that the person who entered the room was a bit more discreet, right down to the sound of the latch to lock it. When he opened his eyes he saw the silhouette of someone kneeling beside him, seconds before he tasted a dry cloth being tied around his head, covering his mouth. Although he was trained not to panic in such a high-stress situation, his breathing intensified when the individual pulled Fox’s shirt up high enough to expose his chest and held a needle inches above it.
He struggled to move his arms and legs, as the person lowered the needle, the sharp edge touching his skin—but his damn limbs weighed a ton. He made one last attempt to move, and the needle thrust into him, puncturing deep into his heart. The simultaneous mixture of pain and rush of energy he felt brought instant flashes. It was though the goddamn room was in flames around him. He felt the burning inside of him, coursing through his veins to his arms and legs, at such speed that he was literally thrown up off the ground.
“Fuck!” The gag muffled his curse along with the screams. Seconds went by before he stopped.
“Mr. Fox, thank God.” It was a woman’s voice. Her thick Russian accent added to her broken English. “I just shot you with adrenaline. Oh my God, I thought they would kill you.”
Fox clutched the syringe that protruded from the left side of his chest and pulled it out gently, waiting a bit longer until the sharp pain subsided. His hands quivered as he undid the cloth that was tied around his mouth and looked around him—it was all concrete from floor to ceiling. It all came back to him—even his strength. He touched the bruise on his temple, his hand jolting away as he felt the sting. Fortunately the guard did not strike him too hard with the butt of his gun, or else he could’ve been left with a concussion. A well-informed guard would’ve known to have done so, considering how much of a threat Fox posed to these people.
“Listen to me. Do you remember where you are?”
Of course he remembered. He didn’t even look at her as he breathed hard. He couldn’t fathom how he could’ve been so sloppy. There was no room for mistakes in his line of work. He didn’t have a wife and kids to go home to. There were definitely no colleagues an outsider could call and expect to get an honest answer as to his current whereabouts.
“Fox,” the woman said again as she grabbed his shoulders tightly.
Fox looked into her pale, white face. The coffee stench in her breath caught him head on.
“Yes, I know where we are,” Fox said, referring to the underground facility they were in.
“Yes, but we don’t have much time. Somehow they knew you were coming, but I couldn’t warn you. So I come back. Oh my God. I had to be sure you were okay.”
Fox’s left hand lashed out and clutched her throat.
“Fox...please...I cannot breathe.”
“That’s the whole idea. Now tell me who you really are.”
“I’m Sveta,” she struggled, “Doctor Gregor Sokolov’s wife. The late Dr. Sokolov. I’ve been using his name to contact you. I didn’t know what else to do. It’s the truth.”
Fox unclenched her neck slowly, just enough so that she could breathe easier. “The code.”
“I won’t repeat myself.”
“One tulip in May for every hundred raindrops of April past.”
That’s good enough. He released her. She gasped for air and cupped both hands over her mouth. Her eyes watered as she coughed.
Fox looked at his watch. It was 12:52 AM. “Wipe your face. It’ll draw attention to you.”
She sniffed as she took a tissue out of her lab coat pocket and dabbed her eyes. “Do you have backup?”
There was no sense patting himself down. He knew his weapons were gone. “I’m here alone.”
“You can fight six armed guards by yourself?”
“You have a better idea?” She didn’t answer. “Yeah, I didn’t think so. I’m going to need my weapons. Where are they?”
“They’re in storage. Make a left outside and they’re in the third door on the right-hand side.”
Fox heard the clacking sound of the lock on the door. Shit, someone’s coming in. Without a moment’s hesitation he dropped to the floor, tucking the syringe under him and he assumed the same position he was in before Sveta revived him. He closed his eyes while he listened to the sounds of footsteps. There was the clapping of heels as they hit the floor. The sound was familiar—it was the boots the guards wore. One set was heavier than the next—there were two of them.
“What’s going on? What are you doing here?” said one of them in Russian. The proximity of his voice alerted Fox that the guard stopped within two feet in front of him. His cue would come at any moment now.
Sokolova placed a hand on her hip while she pointed at herself with the other. “I should be the one to ask you what this man’s doing in here.” She then pointed to Fox. “How could you allow him to get in here undetected?”
The guard seemed to be at a loss for words for a moment. “We’re not sure as of yet.”
“Not sure? You mean you don’t know. Do you happen to know who he is or who sent him? No, I guess you wouldn’t know that either. Not after you nearly killed him.”
“He...uh...we were given last-minute warning. We took necessary action.”
A raging fire burned within Fox as he kicked out his left leg in a semi-clockwise rotation, hooked the guard’s ankles and swept him off the ground. Using the momentum from the kick, Fox sprang up just as the guard hit the ground. He quickly lunged towards the other guard, whose first instinct was to reach for his AK-108 Assault Rifle. Fox struck him in the forearm, making him lose his grip on the rifle. He followed with a palm-heel strike to his nose—breaking the cartilage. The blow snapped the guard’s head backwards and left his neck exposed. Fox followed through with an edge hand blow and shattered his trachea. As though his skeleton had lost its density, the guard folded over like a wet towel and dropped to the floor.
Fox didn’t have to hear the other guard’s movements to know that he should re-engage him. The guard didn’t have a moment to get up before Fox slammed the heel of his boot onto his solar plexus. He then turned to Sokolova who stared at him wide eyed while she took two steps back. A few weeks ago he would’ve killed her too, and the bitch would’ve deserved it. He saw the fear in her eyes and the paleness of her face. Woman, you better not slow me down.