Authors: Ryder Stacy
Following Russia’s thermonuclear first strike, America is a shattered wasteland, its survivors crushed under the iron fist of the brutal Soviet invader. But some have chosen to continue the fight for freedom’s cause under Ted Rockson, the ultimate soldier of survival. And when Rockson receives a strange visitor who is near death, a long-rumored legend suddenly comes alive.
Built by American millionaires generations ago beneath a remote Mexican mountain range lies an underground city with artificial sunlight, forests and lakes known as Eden. Life is sustained by Factor Q—a new technology that could restore America’s nuke-ravaged eco-system. But the negative forces of Factor Q are capable of destroying mankind, and the Russians are as eager to obtain its secrets for their deadly reasons as Rockson is to save the world. It’s a race against time between the forces of good and evil—a race for the survival of the world that must be won by the . . .
PROGRAMMED FOR DEATH
Caught in a half-dozen flashlight beams, the advancing horde of three-foot-high, eight-legged walking robot bombs from the twentieth century approached the Freefighters. They beeped happily, their atomic-cell batteries feeding them power to move their sharp clawlike legs. They had found victims at last.
“Everybody run!” Rockson shouted. But the minute the Freefighters took off, the insidious metal things took off after them, like voracious insects that had spotted red meat.
Rockson, concerned for the others, should have paid more attention to his own bootheels. A scabie-bomb was suddenly on him, grabbing hold of his left hoot. It was beeping faster and faster.
It was going to explode!
are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
475 Park Avenue South
New York, N.Y. 10016
Copyright © 1987 by Ryder Stacy
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
First printing: June 1987
Printed in the United States of America
A lone figure, hunched down against the howling winter wind, moved step by frozen step through the Colorado wilderness. He was ill clad for such a winter trek, wearing soft thin boots and a clinging mauve with-sparkles tunic. His only defenses against the cold were an engineer cap on his platinum-blond thin hair and a scarf made of an old piece of furniture fabric wrapped several times around his thin pale neck.
The wanderer was nearly frozen to death, his cracked and bleeding gloveless hands shoved into small pockets lined with tissue paper. His pale face, buried in the fabric of the scarf, was likewise a mass of cracks. His reddish albino eyes were swollen. Anyone could tell by his shaky steps that he didn’t have much more left in him. He was living out the last bitter cold moments of his unfathomable life.
I am ready to die, he thought. I have seen wonders . . . I have achieved what no man of my generation has—I have lived. Lived not like a ground rat, but like a human being. I have breathed real fresh air, smelled real smells, touched real plants and flowers. I will join my companions, who fell long before me, join them in the warmth of death, away from this bitter coldness.
But such a calm numbing death would not be. The wanderer would not die of the cold. His weary bones would not rest peaceful on the whiteness. No. For a stalker approached the man. A stalker of powerful sinewy presence, a slinking nightmare called the Rocky Mountain snow leopard. It was sniffing the staggering man’s footprints, just a hundred yards behind. Just a mere three seconds of unbelievable feline speed and the man would be a morsel, a victual, a nourishing treat for its ravenous desire for sustenance.
The cat had caught the scent miles away—its large nostrils could do that, pick up the scent of a human-thing, home in on it like a radar-tracking robot, until it was close enough to pounce. This had been a hard winter, with few prey to feed the twelve-hundred-pound, sixteen-foot-long mutant leopard’s stomach. At last, it thought, at last I will eat.
And it dug its six-toed, double-clawed feet into the snow and took off along the footprint path, determined to end its desperate hunger. In a second, coming over a small hill, it saw the prey. Not big, not a whole stomachful, but big enough. Its huge jaw, like the watery opening of a tractor’s jaw, filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth, let out a growl.
The creature saw the figure stop, turn, saw the human-thing’s long thin arms raised to shield itself from the roaring, snarling death approaching. Adrenaline ran into the cat-creature’s body; digestive juices poured into its gullet. Thirty feet from the man-prey it leapt high in the air, sailed out toward dinner, confident it would devour—
gasped the man, falling back into the snow, the creature flying at him. He closed his eyes, as if it would cease to be, as if the hurtling monster would not be there if he just shut his eyes.
And then there was a loud machine-like report. The sound of a revving combustion engine? The fall of a hundred rocks down a mountain cliff? No.
Automatic weapons firing.
The creature fell just to the side of the man-prey, yellow globe-eyes open and staring at nothing in this world. Its body was riddled with grapefruit-sized evenly-spaced holes oozing blood. Explosive-bullet holes. The man lay as still as the dead thing alongside. They lay like some weird mother and child in the red-stained snow. Blood pumped weakly through the holes in the giant cat’s pelt. It steamed in the below-zero air, quickly coagulating into brown muck.
Two figures in heavy winter parkas, carrying the smoking hot Liberator rifles that had done the damage to the creature, approached. They slid easily along over the two feet of snow, gliding elegantly on short steel skis. Jeffers and Blythe of the Century City patrol corps. Men who knew these mountains and the dangers they held—men equipped to deal with that danger.
Cautiously they walked up to the strangely garbed man and the creature sprawled out there on the blood-speckled whiteness. They had watched a bit before coming down the slope. Making sure. The big cat hadn’t stirred except for a few trembles. Nerves settling down after violent tension.
Certain that the creature wouldn’t rise again to threaten, their attention shifted to the man. What the hell was he doing out here? And why was he dressed so inadequately for the weather?
“Is he dead?” Blythe asked his companion, the icy wind half whipping away his words.
Jeffers, who sometimes doubled as a medic, bent to feel the throat of the prone human, searching for a pulse in his jugular. For a second, there was nothing. Then he felt one slow weak blip of the vessel. “I think he’s alive—though barely. Come on—we’ve got to get him inside the mountain.”
appy New Year,” everyone gathered in Century City’s vast underground Lincoln Square shouted. Rona clinked her crystal champagne glass against Ted Rockson’s.
“To us,” Rona said, pushing her long red hair away from her forehead with her other hand, and taking a long sip.
Rockson’s mismatched light blue and violet eyes flashed, and he said, “Yes, to us, and to a peaceful New Year.”
The twelve-piece dance band was playing “Auld Lang Syne”; confetti and streamers flew through the semi-darkness. Horns were nearly drowning out the music. A set of streamers fell and decorated the couple’s hair, the white tablecloth.
Rona stood up on her long sparkle-stockinged legs and leaned over the table and kissed her lover. The redhead lingered, but shouts of “Rockson, Rockson” made her finally desist. Her hero was being called on to make a speech.
Rockson demurred, waving his hands, shaking his head
, but to no avail. McCaughlin, the massive Freefighter who sat looking ridiculous in a white tuxedo at a nearby table with Shannon and Detroit Green and his wife, shouted. “Go ahead, Rock, speak. It’s the only way to quiet them and get on with the party. Stand in the spotlight and say a few words.”
Rockson put the crystal glass down on the table and rose to wild cheering, brushing confetti out of his hair. The tall bronze-skinned man with the white streak in the middle of his jet-black hair, the man the world knew as the Doomsday Warrior, strode to the stage. The spotlight changed to plain white, and focused in uncomfortably on him.
“Citizens of Century City,” Rockson began. “This is the best New Year’s Day we’ve had in decades.”
“The Russians are—at least temporarily—vanquished; the caverns containing this great city have been restored and expanded; and Killov, the KGB madman, our greatest enemy, is dead.” More cheers. “We look forward to a prosperous and victorious new year. The tide has turned. The Soviet occupation forces, not we Americans, are on the run now. So we should all enjoy ourselves. That’s all I have to say.”
They shouted, “More, more,” but Rockson just smiled. Finally, they let Rockson sit. A loud off-key chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” began, then the ten-piece orchestra started playing a waltz. Rona pulled Rockson up to dance, and before he could object, they were out on the floor.
She was a smooth dancer; he managed. He pressed against her. Full-bosomed Rona was quite spectacular in her low-cut gold gossamer gown. He was a lucky man. And it was a wonderful New Year, he thought. The best in his whole life. Years of struggle against the hated Soviet occupiers of America, years of death and desperate combat, were finally bearing fruit. Perhaps the worst days of America were behind them now. He and Rona swirled with the music, sank into each other’s arms.
Then Rockson caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. It was a somber, hawk-nosed man in a desperate hurry, weaving erratically across the dance floor, cutting between dancers who deferred to the intruder. “Uh oh,” Rockson said, “Here comes Rath.”
“Oh no.” Rona knew what that could mean. The head of Intelligence Operations and Security always had work for Rockson. “Not now,” she muttered. “Oh God, not now.”