The omega project, p.1

The Omega Project, page 1

 

The Omega Project
 



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The Omega Project


  The Omega Project

  Steve Alten

  On the brink of a disaster that could end all human life on earth, tech genius Robert Eisenbraun joins a team of scientists in Antarctica on a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa to mine a rare ore that would provide for Earth's long-term energy needs. But as he and the rest of the team train under the ice shelf in preparation for the long journey, trouble erupts, and before they embark Eisenbraun is the odd man out, put into cold sleep against his will….

  When Robert wakes, he finds the ship deserted and not functional. He escapes to the surface of an Earth terribly changed. The plan has gone horribly wrong, but as he adapts to a hostile environment, he realizes that there is still a way to accomplish what his mission had set out to achieve. But he also discovers that he faces a new adversary of the most unlikely sort. For now, his own survival and that of the woman whose love has sustained him in his darkest hours depend on the defeat of a technological colossus partly of his own making. Confronting a foe that knows him almost as well as he knows himself, he faces the prospect of depending on resources that he has reason to believe will be available on one particular night of a full moon, a night foretold by a myseterious unseen ally to be a pivotal moment for the fate of the earth. The game has changed, and Earth's future depends on him and him alone.

  The Omega Project is yet another edge-of-your-seat thriller by bestselling author, Steve Alten, leaving readers looking for more.

  Steve Alten

  The Omega Project

  This novel is dedicated to

  Dr. Arul Chidambaram and the doctors, nurses, and dedicated staff at Wellington Regional Hospital.

  Thank you for saving my life.…

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  It is with great appreciation that I acknowledge those who contributed to the completion of The Omega Project.

  First and foremost, to the great staff at Forge Books, with special thanks to Tom Doherty and his family, my editors, James Frenkel and Whitney Ross, art director Seth Lerner and jacket designer Peter Lutjen. My gratitude and appreciation to my personal editor, Lou Aronica at the Fiction Studio ([email protected]), whose advice remains invaluable, and to my literary agent, Danny Baror of Baror International, for his friendship and dedication. Thanks as well to his assistant, Heather Baror-Shapiro.

  To my friend Nick Nunziata — a special thanks for your input during the writing process. Thanks as well to the talented William McDonald (www.alienUFOart.com) for the original artwork found within these pages, and to copy editor Justine Gardner.

  My gratitude and appreciation to Barbara Becker, who serves as my personal reader and works tirelessly in the Adopt An Author program, as well as to Millennium Technology Resources, for managing the SteveAlten.com Web site.

  Finally, to my wife, Kim, and my kids, Kelsey and Branden, for their love, and for their tolerance of the long hours involved in my writing career, and most importantly to my readers and fans, without whom I’d have no career.

  EPIGRAPH

  The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there’s an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth.

  — STEPHEN HAWKING, Nobel Prize — winning physicist and author of A Brief History of Time

  PROLOGUE

  JET PROPULSION LABORATORY

  CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

  MARCH 12, 1998

  The representative wearing the requisite white lab coat was not a scientist; his selection to address the media was based more on his availability than his public relations experience. Now, as he stepped out of the administration building and into a 54°F headwind, he wished he had called in sick.

  Reporters’ side conversations were replaced by a heavy silence as he approached the hastily prepared podium and its entanglement of microphones. He removed a prepared statement from his pants pocket, then paused at the whirring flutter of camera shutters to evaluate the crowd.

  Look at all of them … a herd of sheep, panicked by a lone voice yelling wolf. Don’t let them see you wipe at any sweat beads, they’ll interpret the body language. Just read the damn statement, answer a few questions, and get back inside where it’s warm.

  “Good morning. Yesterday, Harvard astronomer Brian Marsden of the International Astronomical Union issued an IAU circular about a possible very close pass to the Earth of the asteroid designated 1997 XF11. According to Marsden’s calculations, the asteroid, which is approximately one mile in diameter, will pass within thirty thousand miles on Thursday, October 26, 2028, at approximately 1:30 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time. Mr. Marsden stated that, while the chance of an actual collision with Earth remained small, it was not entirely out of the realm of possibility. A mile-wide asteroid, as most of you know, could cause quite a bit of damage.

  “Following Mr. Marsden’s announcement, JPL scientists Dr. Donald Yeomans and Dr. Paul Chodas reexamined the data on 1997 XF11. This reexamination was based on orbit calculations made in March of 1990 at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, seven years before its reported discovery by Jim Scotti of the Spacewatch group. Based on this more conclusive data, we’re happy to report that Asteroid 1997 XF11 will pass at a rather more comfortable distance of nine hundred sixty thousand kilometers — about six hundred thousand miles, approximately two moon distances away, giving it a near zero probability of impacting our planet.”

  A wave of arms beckoned for his attention amid a chorus of stated questions. Tucking the statement inside his pants pocket, he scanned the crowd, seeking a friendly face. He pointed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone’s name. Yes, the gentleman with the red-striped tie.”

  “Zach Bachman, L.A. Times. How is it that scientists at JPL were able to find this new data less than a day after the IAU’s announcement?”

  “If you’re suggesting a conspiracy, Mr. Bachman, you may want to check with the producers of those two new asteroid-impact movies.” He smiled at the effectiveness of the rehearsed line, using the interruption of the laughter to casually brush at the moisture beading over his brow. “Actually, the asteroid had been photographed by JPL scientists at Palomar in 1990 but never named. Had it been named I suspect there would have been less of a panic and I’d be enjoying my breakfast in the commissary. Yes? You, with the paisley shirt.”

  “Tom Cubit, USA Today. According to Jack G. Hills of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this is the most dangerous near-Earth asteroid ever spotted and its impact would be the equivalent of two million Hiroshima-size bombs. How does this new threat compare with the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago?”

  “The asteroid you’re referring to was probably three times the size of 1997 XF11. Again, the chances of it striking the Earth are minimal. We’re not downplaying the danger; we’ve simply recalculated the asteroid’s orbit based on more accurate, reliable data. Yes, the young lady from CNN?”

  “Are there any factors that could alter the asteroid’s projected orbit over the next thirty years? For example, could the Earth’s gravitational pull affect the asteroid’s orbit on its next pass, which I believe is on Halloween in 2002, effecting a change in 2028?”

  Sweat had soaked through the back of the administrator’s dress shirt. “While it’s true that gravitational interaction with a larger object can alter an asteroid’s orbit by approximately a quarter of one degree, JPL calculations confirm that the influence of the Earth’s orbit on 1997 XF11 on its next pass in 2002 should be minimal. In a worst-case scenario, Asteroid 1997 XF11 will come no closer to Earth in October 2028 than a moon’s distance away. Thank you, that’s all for now.”

  The JPL representative waved to the crowd as he exited the podium, his thoughts lingering on his last statement. A
moon’s distance away.… Has anyone bothered to plot the moon’s orbit when 1997 XF11 passes Earth in 2028?

  PART ONE

  GDO

  (The Great Die-Off)

  2020–2025

  1

  Strong and healthy, who thinks of sickness until it strikes like lightning?

  Preoccupied with the world, who thinks of death until it arrives like thunder?

  — SUTTA NIPATA II, discourse collections of the Buddha, fifth century B.C.

  MARCH 12, 2022

  I didn’t know much about guns. The one I’d been gripping in my sweaty palm held four bullets in its clip and one in the chamber — same as it had when I’d removed it from the corpse I’d come across two weeks ago. It was rare these days to find a dead body that hasn’t been skinned and stripped of its meat. Thankfully, I’d never been forced to consume human flesh, which was why I was here … out in the woods, hoping to shoot a deer before the last deer was taken, before the last of my supplies ran out and hunger drove me either to cannibalism, suicide, or starvation.

  I’d arrived in the woods before dawn, having ridden all night on my motorcycle. No lights needed, thanks to my night-vision glasses, no sound since the bike was powered solely by batteries. I’d been staked out in this blind for the better part of eight hours. Sweat continued to pour down my face and soak my camouflage clothing, and the bugs were relentless, but I’d chosen this spot because it was only twenty paces from the creek, offering me a clear shot at anything or anyone that ventured by. Truth be told, I’d never shot anything more lethal than a BB gun, but desperate times required desperate measures.

  When I was younger, my father had taken me camping with the Cub Scouts. The closest we’d come to hunting game was roasting marshmallows. A real hunter wouldn’t have been hunting deer with a handgun. A real hunter probably wouldn’t have had ant bites all over his ankles or mosquito bites on his arms, and he wouldn’t have been so scared.

  I wasn’t scared of the woods. I was scared of being lost in the woods, unable to find my way back to the main road and the brush where I’d hidden the bike. Mostly, I was scared about what else might be in the woods hunting the deer hunters.

  I called them the “SS”—sociopathic survivors. Rapists, murderers, cannibals — the SS were soulless beings hell-bent on enjoying their final fleeting moments on Earth. I’d never seen them in action, but I’d seen the forensic evidence of their depravity and it terrified me.

  The last bullet in my gun’s chamber was reserved for my brain should those pack animals hunt me down.

  The SS were bottom-feeders before the Die-Off, which is why they’d survived. They lived off the grid. Same for the fortress farmers, bunker clans, conspiracy theorists, and other whack-jobs who could read the tea leaves and had known the world’s oil reserves were running out.

  Note to any future generations listening to these audio tapes: The powers-that-be knew the world’s oil reserves peaked in 2005; in fact, they knew how things would end as far back as the 1970s when Jimmy Carter was in office. And still the assholes did nothing.

  My father had known, which is why he left his tenured position at the University of Virginia and moved us to a small rural community in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No Internet connection, no cable TV. We went from being a normal modern-day household to twenty-first century pioneers, gradually inching our way off the grid. None of us was thrilled; my mother had contemplated divorce, my younger sisters labeled Dad the new Unabomber and threatened to run away from home. As for me, if my father had told me a flood was coming then I would have been outside with him building an ark.

  It had been shortly after the first mushroom cloud bloomed over Tehran that my father explained his motives. “Robbie, life is a test, and humanity is about to face a big one. Unfortunately, when it comes to facing the unthinkable, most people prefer to remain in denial. You saw the movie Titanic, right? When the ship hit that iceberg, some passengers headed for the lifeboats, while the majority of people were so convinced the ship couldn’t sink they either stayed in bed or went back to the bar to have another drink. When you get older you’ll learn two hard facts: You can’t save people who don’t want to be saved; and preferring to remain ignorant when faced with a catastrophe demonstrates a lack of intelligence.”

  Dad could have added human ego to the equation.

  I’d grown up in a world of bank bailouts, recessions, unemployment, collapsing economies, and endless wars; my country embattled in a perversion of democracy where corporations had been granted the same rights as citizens. Corruption overruled any sense of justice, the radicalization of the political system preventing the few true representatives of the suddenly impoverished masses from enacting solutions that could have reversed the eventual collapse of society. As my father said, “Human ego created these problems, and human ego will drive us over the cliff. The world would be better off if a computer ran everything.”

  Computers.… The next computer I own will be implanted in my skull.

  A sound! My heart skipped a beat. It was an animal, approaching the creek from the thicket to my left.

  Quietly, I wiped fresh sweat beads from my already moist brow and palms, shifting my body weight to aim the pistol, my eyes focused on the clearing. It was a deer, a young male, maybe eighty pounds, as anxious and as thirsty as yours truly. My hand trembled as he glanced in my direction, my body shook as he turned, offering me a clean shot at his flank.

  I hesitated, drawing a breath, suddenly fearful of the gunshot and who might hear it …

  Thwaap!

  The buck collapsed upon its forelegs in silence, the arrow having appeared seemingly from out of nowhere, its tip passing cleanly through the startled animal’s spine and out its chest cavity.

  Leaving my makeshift hunting blind, I approached the dying beast. The angle of the arrow’s entry indicated the archer had shot from the trees.

  “Touch the venison and you’ll die where you stand.”

  I turned slowly, my heart racing as she emerged from the forest like an erotic female warrior from a Luis Royo painting. Her ebony hair flowed nearly down to her waist in a curly tangle camouflaged in twigs and leaves, every inch of her flesh concealed in green and brown paint or beneath a skintight matching bodysuit. Ten paces away and I could smell her scent — a heavy animal musk. She looked about my age. The quiver was strapped to her thigh, the muscles of her upper body taut as she aimed the graphite bow’s arrow at my heart.

  I was as stunned as I was smitten. “The deer’s yours. Take it.”

  “I intend to. Drop the piece.”

  “The what? Oh, the gun. Seriously, you can have it. I doubt I could even shoot the damn thing straight.” I lowered the weapon, placed it on the ground, and backed away. “What’s your name?”

  “Shut up.” Quivering the arrow, she grabbed the gun, expertly ejecting the clip to check the chamber. Reassembling the weapon, she shoved it into a satchel concealed around her waist, hoisted the dead deer over her shoulders, and was gone.

  Alone again, I waited thirty seconds, then followed her through the dense brush, losing her trail within minutes.

  Who was she? Was she alone? Part of a group? Her attitude suggested otherwise. My guess? When the lights went out and the grocery store shelves were rendered bare, she had fled to the mountains — or more likely her family were mountain folk. Whatever the case, she was everything I was not; ruthless, cunning … a hunter who showed no mercy.

  And yet she had spared me.

  Well, dork-wad, you did give her the gun. Practically curtsied as you laid it on the ground.

  I paused again to listen to the forest; heard nothing.

  By her scent, I knew she lived in the woods, probably a cave. Heading for higher ground, I followed a path of ferns and moss-covered rocks that emptied into a clearing of tall weeds.

  To my left, the Blue Ridge Mountains caressed the setting sun between its peaks and valley. With darkness a mere ninety minutes away, I had to
choose — the woman or sanctuary?

  It had been twenty months since I’d carried on a conversation with another living person. I might be an introvert by nature, but listening day and night to the voice in my head had been maddening, leading to the creation of these recorded journal entries. But seeing her … she was a thunderbolt, a goddess. I knew I had to find her, even if it meant risking an encounter with the SS.

  Pausing at the edge of a clearing, I retrieved water and an apple from my knapsack, consumed a quick snack, buried the evidence, and continued my trek up the mountain.

  After three hundred feet the woods began anew. The shadows of pine trees were closing in, dusk coming fast. For half an hour I wandered through a maze of trees, until the night was upon me and I accepted the fact I was hopelessly lost.

  Hearing men’s voices, I quickly hid.

  There were a dozen of them, more in the cave.

  The dogs had found the woman’s lair, its small entrance concealed by brush. I figured now they would stake out the area, waiting for her to return.

  I smelled her as she moved through the shadows to join me behind the bushes. I felt the gun press firmly against the left side of my ribcage. “I need a place that’s safe.”

  “Get me back to the main road.”

  * * *

  The motorcycle was hidden in a ravine behind mile marker thirty-six. Six months ago, I had replaced the engine and fuel tank with an electric motor and rechargeable truck battery, rendering it fast yet whisper quiet. We waited another hour before heading south, my night-vision visor illuminating any nocturnal predators that might venture near the highway.

 
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