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A diagnosis of terminal cancer crushes fighter pilot Jake Bronson's dream of a long career in the United States Air Force. But a medical accident gives him an astonishing gift by inexplicably launching his brain into overdrive, making him a human super-computer with extraordinary psychic powers.
And while the wondrous new abilities are cold comfort to a man about to die young, an ocean away they're the answer to the unholy prayers of arch-terrorist Luciano Battista. He's planning the ultimate jihadist attack and creating an army of mind-controlled super agents to carry it out. All he needs to make his monstrous crusade a reality are the secrets of a genuine superior brain. Using a beautiful woman as bait and innocent children as blackmail, Battista will lure Jake toward a fate far worse than an early death--by making him the ultimate weapon in the slaughter of millions.
"A terrifically entertaining thriller with three finely executed set pieces strung together with nice characterization. Especially successful is Bronson, an amiable, low-key tough guy able to rescue his princess, survive brutality, and retain a sense of humor." - Publishers Weekly.
Veterans Administration Medical Center
Santa Monica, California
JAKE BRONSON SPENT THE PAST two weeks preparing to die. He just didn’t want to do it today, trapped in this MRI scanner.
The table jiggled beneath him. He was on his way into the narrow tube like a nineteenth-century artillery round being shoved into a cannon. The glassy-eyed gaze of the bored VA medical technician hovered over him, a yellow mustard stain on the sleeve of his lab coat.
“Keep your head perfectly still,” the tech said.
Yeah, right, like he had any choice with the two-inch-wide strap they had cinched over his forehead. Another wiggle and the lip of the tunnel passed into view above him. Jake squeezed his eyes closed, anxious to ignore the curved walls sliding by just an inch from his nose. Three deep breaths and the table jerked to a stop. He was in, cocooned from head to toe. He heard the soft whir of the ventilation fan turn on at his feet. The breeze chilled the beads of sweat gathering on his forehead.
The tech’s scratchy-sounding voice came over the speakers in the chamber. “Mr. Bronson, if you can hear me, press the button.”
A panic switch. Hadn’t he been in a constant state of panic ever since the doctors told him his disease was terminal? He’d agreed to this final test so he’d know how many months he had left to live, to make at least one positive difference in the world. After today, no more doctors. After today, he’d focus on living. Jake pressed the thumb switch gripped in his hand.
“Got it,” the tech said. “If it gets too confining for you in there, just press it again and I’ll pull you out. But remember, we’ll have to start all over again if that happens, so let’s try to get it right the first time, okay? We only need thirty minutes. Here we go.”
Jake’s thumb twitched over the panic button. Crap. He already wanted to push it. He should have accepted the sedative they had offered him in the waiting room. But his friend Marshall had been standing right there, chuckling under his breath when the tech suggested it.
Too late now.
Why the hell was this happening to him again? Cancer once in a lifetime was more than enough for anyone. But twice? It wasn’t right. He wanted to lash out, but at what? Or whom? This morning he’d smashed the small TV in his bedroom over a movie trailer for Top Gun 2. “Coming next fall.” He hated that he was going to miss that one.
The chamber felt like it was closing in on him. A claustrophobic panic sparked in his gut, a churning that grew with each pound of his heart, a hollow reminder of the crushing confines of the collapsible torture box he’d spent so many hours in during the air force’s simulated POW training camp.
Come on, Jake, man up!
Thirty minutes. That was only eighteen hundred seconds. He clenched his teeth and started counting. One, one thousand; two, one thousand; three—
The machine started up with a loud clanking noise. The sound startled him, and his body twitched.
“Please don’t move, Mr. Bronson.” The tech was irritated.
The tapping noise sounded different than he remembered from the MRI he had ten years ago. “Lymphoma,” the flight surgeon had said. “Sorry, but you’re grounded.” And just like that, Jake’s childhood dreams of flying the F-16 were cut short on the day before his first combat mission. The chemo and radiation treatments had sucked. But they worked. The cancer was forced into remission—until two weeks ago, when it reappeared in the form of a tumor in his brain.
The annoying rattle settled into a pattern. Jake let out a deep breath, trying to relax.
Eight, one thousand; nine, one thousand—
Suddenly, the entire chamber jolted violently to the right, as if the machine had been T-boned by a dump truck. Jake’s body twisted hard to one side, but his strapped head couldn’t follow. He felt a sharp pain in his neck, and the fingers on his left hand went numb. The fan stopped blowing, the lights went out, and the chamber started shaking like a gallon can in a paint-store agitator.
A keening whistle from deep within the machine sent shooting pains into Jake’s rattling skull. A warm wetness pooled in his ears and muffled his hearing.
He squeezed down hard on the panic button, shouting into the darkness, each word trembling with the quake’s vibration. “Get—me—out—of—here!”
No one answered.
He wedged his palms against the sidewalls to brace himself. The surface was warm and getting hotter.
The air felt charged with electricity. His skin tingled. Sparks skittered along the wall in front of his face, the first sign in the complete darkness that his eyes were still functioning. The acrid scent of electrical smoke filled his nostrils.
Jake’s fists pounded the thick walls of the chamber. He howled, “Somebody—”
His body went rigid. His arms and legs jerked spasmodically in seizure, his head thrown back. He bit deep into his tongue, and his mouth filled with the coppery taste of blood. Sharp, burning needles of blinding pain blossomed in the hollow at the back of his skull, wriggling through his brain. His head felt like it was ready to burst.
The earthquake ended as abruptly as it started.
So did the seizure.
Jake sagged into the table, his thumping heart threatening to break through his chest.
Faint voices. His mind lunged for them. He peered down toward his toes. A light flickered on in the outer room. Shadows shifted.
The table jerked beneath him, rolling out into the room. When Jake’s head cleared the outer rim of the machine, two pairs of anxious eyes stared down at him. It was the tech and Jake’s buddy Marshall.
“You okay?” Marshall asked, concern pinching his features.
Jake didn’t know whether he was okay or not. The tech helped him sit up, and Jake spun his legs to the side. He turned his head and spat a bloody glob of saliva on the floor. Holding the panic switch up to the tech, he said, “You may want to get this thing fixed.”
“I’m s-so sorry, Mr. Bronson,” the tech said. “The power went out, and I could barely keep my balance. I—”
“Forget it,” Jake said, wincing as he reached over his shoulder to massage the back of his aching neck. He gestured to the smoking chamber. “Just be glad you weren’t strapped down inside that coffin instead of me.” He slid his feet to the floor and stood up.
The room spun around him.