Authors: Robert Ludlum
Covert One 5 - The Lazarus Vendetta
Saturday, September 25
Near the Tuli River Valley,
The last rays of the sun were gone, and thousands of stars shimmered weakly
against a dark sky high above a rugged, arid land. This region of Zimbabwe was
dirt-poor, even by that troubled nation's rock-bottom standards. There were
almost no electric lights to illuminate the night, and there were few paved
roads connecting southern Matabeleland's
isolated villages to the larger world beyond.
Twin headlights suddenly appeared in the darkness, briefly illuminating
thickets of gnarled scrub trees and scattered patches of thorn bushes and
sparse grass. A battered Toyota
pickup truck swayed along a worn dirt track, gears grinding as it bounced in
and out of a series of deep ruts. Drawn by the flickering beams of light,
swarms of insects flitted toward the pickup and spattered against its
“Merde!” Gilles Ferrand
swore softly, wrestling with the steering wheel. Frowning, the tall, bearded
Frenchman leaned forward, trying to
see past the swirling cloud of dust and flying
bugs. His thick glasses slipped down his nose. He took one hand off the wheel
to push them back up and then swore again as the pickup nearly veered off the
“We should have left Bulawayo
sooner,” he grumbled to the slender gray-haired woman beside him.
“This so-called road is bad enough in daylight. It is a nightmare now. I
wish the plane had not been so late.”
Susan Kendall shrugged. “If wishes were fishes, Gilles, we'd all be
dead of mercury poisoning. Our project requires the new seeds and tools we were
sent, and when you serve the Mother, you must accept inconveniences.”
Ferrand grimaced, wishing for the thousandth time that his prim American
colleague would stop lecturing him. Both of them were veteran activists in the
worldwide Lazarus Movement, working to save the Earth from the insane greed of
unchecked global capitalism. There was no need for her to treat him like a
The truck's high beams silhouetted a familiar rock outcropping next to the
track. The Frenchman sighed in relief. They were close to their destination—a
tiny settlement adopted three months ago by the Lazarus Movement. He didn't
remember the village's original name. The first thing he and Kendall had done
was rename it Kusasa, “Tomorrow” in the local Ndebele dialect. It was
an apt name, or so they hoped. The people of Kusasa had agreed to the change
and to accept the Movement's help in returning to a natural and eco-friendly
method of farming. Both activists believed their work here would lead a rebirth
of wholly organic African agriculture—a rebirth rooted in absolute opposition
to the West's toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dangerous genetically
modified crops. The American woman was certain that her impassioned speeches
had won over the village elders. Ferrand, more cynical by nature, suspected
that the generous cash grants the Movement offered had carried more weight. No
matter, he thought, the ends in this case would amply justify the means.
He turned off the main track and drove slowly toward a little cluster of
brightly painted huts, tin-roofed shacks, and ramshackle cattle pens.
Surrounded by small fields, Kusasa lay in a shallow valley edged by
boulder-strewn hills and tall brush. He brought the truck to a stop and lightly
tapped the horn.
No one came out to meet them.
Ferrand killed the engine but left the headlights on. He sat still for a
moment, listening. The village dogs were howling. He felt the hairs on the back
of his neck rise.
Susan Kendall frowned. “Where is everyone?”
“I do not know.” Ferrand slid cautiously out from behind the
wheel. By now dozens of excited men, women, and children should have been
thronging around them —grinning and murmuring in glee at the sight of the
bulging seed bags and brand-new shovels, rakes, and hoes piled high in the Toyota's cargo bed. But
nothing stirred among Kusasa's darkened huts.
“Hello?” the Frenchman called. He tried out his limited Ndebele. “Litshone
Njani? Good evening?”
The dogs only howled louder, baying at the night sky.
Ferrand shivered. He leaned back inside the pickup. “Something is very
wrong here, Susan. You should make contact with our people. Now.
As a precaution.”
The gray-haired American woman stared at him for a moment, her eyes suddenly
wide. Then she nodded and climbed down out of the Toyota. Working swiftly, she set up the
linked satellite phone/laptop computer they carried in the field. It allowed
them to communicate with their home office in Paris, though it was mainly used to upload
photos and progress reports to the main Lazarus Web site.
Ferrand watched her in silence. Most of the time he found Susan Kendall
intensely annoying, but she had courage when it counted. Perhaps more courage
than he himself possessed. He sighed and reached under the seat for the
flashlight clipped there. After a moment's reflection, he slung their digital
camera over his shoulder.
“What are you doing, Gilles?” she asked, already punching in the
phone code for Paris.
“I am going to take a look around,” he said stiffly.
“All right. But you should wait until I have a
connection,” Kendall told him. She held
the satellite phone to her ear for a moment. Her thin-lipped mouth tightened.
“They've already left the office. There's no answer.”
Ferrand checked his watch. France
was only an hour behind them, but it was the weekend. They were on their own.
“Try the Web site,” he suggested.
Ferrand forced himself to move. He squared his shoulders and walked slowly
into the village. He swept his flashlight in a wide arc, probing the darkness
ahead. A lizard scuttled away from the beam, startling him. He muttered a soft
curse and kept going.
Sweating now despite the cool night breeze, he came to the open space at the
center of Kusasa. There was the village well. It was a favorite gathering place
for young and old alike at the end of the day. He swept the flashlight across
the hard-packed earth . . . and froze.
The people of Kusasa would not rejoice over the seeds and farm equipment he
had brought them. They would not lead the rebirth of African agriculture. They
were dead. All of them were dead.
The Frenchman stood frozen, his mind reeling in horror. There were corpses
everywhere he looked. Dead men, women, and children lay in heaps across the
clearing. Most of the bodies were intact, though twisted and misshapen by some
terrible agony. Others seemed eerily hollow, almost as though they had been partially
eaten from the inside out. A few were reduced to nothing more than torn shreds
of flesh and bone surrounded by congealed puddles of bloodred slime. Thousands
of huge black flies swarmed over the mutilated corpses, lazily feasting on the
remains. Near the well, a small dog nuzzled the contorted body of a young
child, vainly trying to rouse its playmate.
Gilles Ferrand swallowed hard, fighting down a surge of bile and vomit. With
trembling hands, he set down his flashlight, took the digital camera off his
shoulder, and began taking pictures. Someone had to document this terrible
slaughter. Someone had to warn the world of this massacre of the innocents —of
people whose only crime had been to side with the Lazarus Movement.
Four men lay motionless on one of the hills overlooking the village. They
wore desert camouflage fatigues and body armor. Night-vision goggles and
binoculars gave them a clear view of every movement made below while audio
pickups fed every sound into their headsets.
One of the observers studied a shielded monitor. He looked up. “They
have a link to the satellite. And we're tapped in with them.”
His leader, a giant auburn-haired man with bright green eyes, smiled thinly.
“Good.” He leaned closer to get a better view of the screen. It
showed a series of gruesome images—the pictures taken only minutes before by
Gilles Ferrand—slowly loading onto the Lazarus Web site.
The green-eyed man watched carefully. Then he nodded. “That's enough.
Cut their link.”
The observer complied, rapidly entering commands on a portable keypad. He
tapped the enter key, sending a set of coded instructions to the communications
satellite high overhead. One second later, the digital pictures streaming up
from Kusasa froze, flickered, and then vanished.
The green-eyed man glanced at the two men lying flat next to him. Both were
armed with Heckler & Koch PSG-1 sniper rifles designed for covert
operations use. “Now kill them.”
He focused his night-vision binoculars on the two Lazarus Movement
activists. The bearded Frenchman and the slender American woman were staring
down at their satellite hookup in disbelief.
“Target acquired,” one of the snipers murmured. He squeezed the
ger. The 7.62mm round hit Ferrand in the forehead.
The Frenchman toppled backward and slid to the ground, smearing blood and
brains down the side of the Toyota.
The second sniper fired an instant later. His bullet caught Susan Kendall
high in the back. She fell in a heap next to her colleague.
The tall green-eyed leader rose to his feet. More of his men, these wearing
hazardous materials suits, were already moving down the slope carrying an array
of scientific equipment. He keyed his throat mike, reporting through an
encrypted satellite link, “This is Prime. Field One is complete.
Evaluation, collection, and analysis proceeding as planned.” He eyed the
two dead Lazarus activists. “SPARK has also been initiated ... as
Tuesday, October 12
Teller Institute for Advanced Technology, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan (“Jon”) Smith, M.D., turned off Old Agua Fria Road
and drove up to the Institute's main gate. He narrowed his eyes against the
early-morning glare. Off on his left, sunlight was just spilling over the
dazzling snowcapped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range. It lit steep slopes
carpeted with gold-leafed aspens, towering firs, ponderosa pines, and oaks.
Farther down, at the foot of the mountains, the shorter pinon pines, junipers,
and clumps of sagebrush surrounding the Institute's thick sand-colored adobe
walls were still cloaked in shadow.
Some of the protesters camped out along the road crawled out of their
sleeping bags to watch his car go by. A handful waved handmade signs demanding
STOP KILLER SCIENCE, NO TO NANOTECH, or LET LAZARUS LEAD. Most stayed put,
unwilling to face the chilly October dawn. Santa Fe was at seven thousand feet and the
nights were growing cold.
Smith felt a momentary twinge of sympathy for them. Even with the
heater in his rental car going, he could feel the
cold through his brown leather bomber jacket and sharply creased khakis.
At the gate, a gray-uniformed security guard waved him to a stop. Jon rolled
down his window and handed over his U.S. Army ID for inspection. The photo on
his identity card showed a fit man in his early forties — a man whose high
cheekbones and smooth, dark hair gave him the look of a haughty Spanish
cavalier. In person, the twinkle in Smith's dark blue eyes shattered the
illusion of arrogance.
“Good morning, Colonel,” said the guard, an ex-Army Ranger staff
sergeant named Frank Diaz. After scrutinizing the ID, he leaned forward,
peering through the car windows to make sure that Smith was alone. His right
hand hovered warily near the 9mm Beretta pistol holstered at his side. The flap
on the holster was unsnapped—freeing the Beretta for a quick draw if necessary.
Smith raised an eyebrow at that. Security at the Teller Institute was
usually more relaxed, certainly not up to the level of the top-secret nuclear
labs at nearby Los Alamos. But the president
of the United States,
Samuel Adams Castilla, was scheduled to visit the Institute in three days. And
now a huge anti-technology protest rally had been organized to coincide with
his speech. The demonstrators outside the gate this morning
were just the first wave of thousands more who were expected to pour in
from all over the world. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Are you
catching flak from those people, Frank?”
“Not much so far,” Diaz admitted. He shrugged. “But we're
keeping a close eye on them anyway. This rally has the folks in Admin spooked.
The FBI says there are some real hard-core troublemakers heading
this way—the kind who get their kicks tossing Molotov cocktails and breaking
Smith frowned. Mass protests were a lure for anarchists with a taste for
violence and property destruction. Genoa, Seattle, Cancun, and half
a dozen other cities around the world had already seen their streets turned
into battlegrounds between masked rioters and the police.