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J. T. Brannan

Extinction

For Justyna, Jakub and Mia

About J.T. Brannan

J.T. Brannan trained as a British Army officer at Sandhurst, before deciding to pursue a writing career. A former national Karate champion, he now teaches Karate, MMA, and his own system of reality-based self-defence. He lives near Harrogate with his wife and two young children. EXTINCTION is his second novel.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to my terrific agent Luigi Bonomi and everyone at LBA; my fantastic editor Alexander Hope, along with editorial assistant Darcy Nicholson, my publicist Ben Willis and the rest of the team at Headline Publishing; my parents for their continued support and help with last-minute baby-sitting; my children for letting me write, and for telling everyone they meet that their daddy is an author; my good friend Tom Chantler for his excellent eye for detail and his scientific expertise; and most importantly, thank you to my wonderful wife Justyna, who does… well, almost everything, really! You’re the best.

Epigraph

‘Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.’

Carl Sagan
The Varieties of Scientific Experience:
A Personal View of the Search for God

Prologue

‘Ready?’ Clive Burnett asked, excitement written across his weather-beaten features, clear in the intense midday sun of the unforgiving Egyptian desert.

‘Ready,’ Tom Bowers answered, barely suppressing his own excitement. He was the archaeological team’s demolitions expert and he had rigged forty pounds of plastic explosive to a natural rock formation nestled within the country’s fabled Valley of the Kings.

Burnett had been a field archaeologist for over three decades, and he was convinced this barren desert location was hiding what he had been searching for all these years — the legendary ‘Hall of Records’. The Hall was one of those common myths of Egyptology that might just be true — a huge repository of ancient texts, including those from the Library of Alexandria, which were thought to have been secreted away in Egypt before that city had been razed to the ground thousands of years before.

Years of painstaking, meticulous research had led Burnett to believe that he had at last found the location, and high-altitude X-ray tomography had recently shown a very large structure under these sands. The only trouble was, the fifty thousand tons of granite which covered it precluded a dig further into the sand beneath.

But Burnett had presented his evidence, and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities had finally relented and authorized the use of explosives to clear the site. As Burnett watched Bowers make his final preparations, he felt a trickle of sweat slide down his face — caused by anticipation, not the fiery heat of the desert sun.

Bowers nodded to Burnett as the rest of the team stood watching behind the safety markers. Bowers smiled, one friend to another, and pushed the plunger of the demolitions box.

At first there was nothing — no sound, no explosive concussion — and Burnett feared that the charges had failed to go off. But moments later he felt the ground shake beneath his feet, and grinned as clusters of debris shot high into the pure blue sky above them, shattering the foundations of the rock formation which hid his prize.

He could see the rock shivering, resisting the power of the linked explosives, putting up one last fight, before it forever relinquished its hold on the sands and shattered.

Burnett watched as dust and debris was thrown hundreds of feet into the air and the solid rock seemed to literally disintegrate before him.

He turned to Bowers, ten feet ahead of him at the limits of the safety zone, and gave him a gleeful thumbs-up.

But something was wrong; Bowers wasn’t smiling. Instead he seemed alert, confused, scared even.

Then he turned fully to Burnett and the rest of the team. ‘Get back!’ he yelled at the top of his voice, struggling to be heard over the falling rock. ‘It’s going down!’

Burnett only had moments to consider what his friend meant. Surely the rock was supposed to be going down, wasn’t it? But then he saw what the demolitions expert meant as the remnants of the vast granite rock slipped beneath the rapidly opening ground and millions of tons of sand were pulled towards what was now a gigantic sinkhole.

Burnett saw Bowers’ legs go from under him as he was pulled inexorably towards the ravenous mouth in the middle of the valley. He instinctively made a move forwards to help his friend but then felt the ground moving once more beneath his feet, rooting him to the spot. His legs seemed useless, turned to stone by the shock of the event, and then arms grabbed him, hauling him further behind the safety lines. His breath ragged, adrenalin coursing through him, he turned and looked one last time at the place where the rock had once stood, and saw his friend’s hands disappearing over the edge, pulled deep into the sinkhole in the desert floor.

He struggled against the hands of his colleagues, straining to get to his friend, but eventually relaxed, head bowed, resignation taking him.

It was too late. Tom Bowers was gone.

* * *

It was over twelve hours later that the site was deemed secure enough to venture close to it and the first order Burnett gave was to retrieve the body.

He and his team stood at the edge of the sinkhole, which seemed to drop far, far down into the valley floor, straining their eyes to find Tom Bowers. It took several minutes, but the battered form was eventually spotted, half buried in the sand about thirty feet down, one broken arm and two-thirds of his mangled face sticking out grotesquely from the caved-in wall.

Burnett was issuing instructions to the retrieval team when he heard a cry from Claire Goodwin, a senior member of the team. ‘Get over here!’ There was a beat pause, and then she repeated the call with increased urgency. ‘Get over here! Everybody! Now!’

Burnett was the first one there. He peered down into the chasm, in the direction Goodwin’s finger pointed. ‘What?’ he asked, irritated by the interruption. ‘I don’t see any…’

Burnett’s voice caught in his throat as he saw what Goodwin was pointing at, and it didn’t take long for everyone else on the team to spot it too.

Metal, glinting dully in the glare of the sun, perhaps one hundred feet down.

There was no ancient stonework here, only a long, curved piece of metal — the outer edge of something far larger, still buried.

The discovery excited Burnett but he put aside the archaeological purpose of the mission until the body of Bowers had been retrieved, his family had been — painfully, but necessarily — informed, and repatriation arrangements had been made.

The funeral was to be held back in the US in ten days’ time, and Burnett decided to postpone his grief and concentrate on the mission at hand, determined that his friend should not have died in vain.

Some members of his team suggested the metal structure buried deep beneath the sands might be some sort of war bunker, or research facility left over from the Nazis. Hitler was known to have been interested in archaeology, looking for historical evidence in support of his ‘master race’ theories. He had authorized many digs throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and it was possible that the structure was in some way related to this.

But, Burnett argued, how would they have buried it in one hundred feet of sand — over the entire valley, he added, and not just in this one area — and then topped it off with a fifty-thousand-ton geological formation?

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