Authors: James Rollins
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Historical
A ∑ SIGMA FORCE NOVEL
because it’s about time (and you are too often unsung)
“Science is my passion, politics, my duty.”
—THOMAS JEFFERSON IN A LETTER TO HARRY INNES, 1791
Every schoolchild knows the name of Thomas Jefferson, the architect and scribe of the Declaration of Independence, the man who helped establish a nation out of a scatter of colonies in the New World. Volumes have been written about the man over the past two centuries, but of all the Founding Fathers of America, he remains to this day wrapped in mystery and contradictions.
For instance, it was only in 2007 that a coded letter, buried in his papers, was finally cracked and deciphered. It was sent to Jefferson in 1801 by his colleague at the American Philosophical Society—a colonial-era think tank promoting science and scholarly debate. The group was especially interested in two topics: developing unbreakable codes and investigating mysteries surrounding the native tribes who populated the New World.
Jefferson was fascinated to the point of fixation with Native American culture and history. At his home in Monticello, he put together a collection of tribal artifacts that was said to rival those held in museums of the day (a collection that mysteriously disappeared after his death). Many of these Indian relics were sent to him by Lewis and Clark during their famed expedition across America. But what many don’t know is that Jefferson sent a secret message to Congress in 1803 concerning Lewis and Clark’s expedition. It revealed the true hidden purpose behind the journey across the West.
Within these pages, you’ll learn that purpose. For there is a secret history to the founding of America of which only a few have knowledge. It has nothing to do with Freemasons, Knights Templar, or crackpot theories. In fact, a clue hangs boldly in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Within that noble hall hangs the famous painting by John Turnbull,
Declaration of Independence
(a work overseen by Jefferson). It depicts each man who signed that famous document—but what few ever note is that Turnbull painted five extra men into that painting, men who never signed the Declaration of Independence. Why? And who were they?
For answers, keep reading.
In this new millennium, the next big leap in scientific research and industry can be summarized in one word: Nanotechnology. In a nutshell, it means manufacturing at the atomic level, at a level of one billionth of a meter. To picture something so small, look at the period at the end of this sentence. Scientists at Nanotech.org have succeeded in building test tubes so tiny that 300 billion of them would fit within that one period.
And that nanotechnology industry is exploding. It is estimated that this year alone $70 billion worth of nanotech products will be sold in the United States. Nano-goods are found everywhere: toothpaste, sunscreen, cake icing, teething rings, running socks, cosmetics, medicines, even Olympic bobsleds. Currently close to ten thousand products contain nanoparticles.
What’s the downside of such a growth industry? These nanoparticles can cause illness, even death. UCLA scientists have found that nano-titanium oxide (found in children’s sunscreens and many other products) can trigger damage to animals at the genetic level. Carbon nanotubes (found in thousands of everyday products, including children’s safety helmets) have been shown to accumulate in the lungs and brains of rats. Also, weird and unexpected things happen at this small level. Take aluminum foil. It’s harmless enough and convenient for wrapping up leftovers, but break it down into nanoparticles, and it becomes explosive.
It’s a new and wild frontier. There is presently no requirement for the labeling of nano-goods, nor are there required safety studies of products containing nanoparticles. But there’s an even darker side to this industry. This technology has a history that goes back further than the twentieth century—much further. To find out where this all began and to discover the dark roots of this “new” science . . .
. . . Keep reading.
The skull of the monster slowly revealed itself.
A shard of yellowed tusk poked through the dark soil.
Two muddied men knelt in the dirt on either side of the excavated hole. One of them was Billy Preston’s father; the other, his uncle. Billy stood over them, nervously chewing a knuckle. At twelve, he had begged to be included on this trip. In the past, he’d always been left behind in Philadelphia with his mother and his baby sister, Nell.
Pride spiked through him even to be standing here.
But at the moment it was accompanied by a twinge of fear.
Maybe that was due to the sun sitting low on the horizon, casting tangled shadows over the encampment like a net. Or maybe it was the bones they’d been digging up all week.
Others gathered around: the black-skinned slaves who hauled stones and dirt; the primly dressed scholars with their ink-stained fingers; and of course, the cryptic French scientist named Archard Fortescue, the leader of this expedition into the Kentucky wilderness.
The latter—with his tall bony frame, coal-black hair, and shadowed eyes—scared Billy, reminding him of an undertaker in his black jacket and waistcoat. He had heard whispered rumors about the gaunt fellow: how the man dissected corpses, performed experiments with them, traveled to far corners of the world collecting arcane artifacts. It was even said he had once participated in the mummification of a deceased fellow scholar, a man who had donated his body and risked his immortal soul for such a macabre endeavor.
But the French scientist had come with credentials to support him. Benjamin Franklin had handpicked him to join a new scientific group, the American Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge. He had apparently impressed Franklin in the past, though the exact details remained unknown. Additionally, the Frenchman had the ear of the new governor of Virginia, the man who had ordered them all to this strange site.
It was why they were still here—and had been for so long.
Over the passing weeks, Billy had watched the surrounding foliage slowly turn from shades of copper to fiery crimson. The past few mornings had begun to frost. At night, winds stripped the trees, leaving skeletal branches scratching at the sky. At the start of each day, Billy had to sweep and rake away piles of leaves from the dig site. It was a constant battle, as if the forest were trying to rebury what lay exposed to the sun.
Even now, Billy held the hay-bristled broom and watched as his father—dressed in muddy breeches, his shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows—cleared the last of the dirt from the buried treasure.
“With great care now . . .” Fortescue warned in his thick accent. He swept back the tails of his jacket to lean closer, one fist on his hip, the other hand leaning on a carved wooden cane.
Billy bristled at the implied condescension in the Frenchman’s manner. His father knew all the woods, from the tidewaters of Virginia to remote tracts of Kentucky, better than any man. Since before the war, his father had been a trapper and trader with the Indians in these parts. He’d even once met Daniel Boone.
Still, Billy saw how his father’s hands shook as he used brush and trowel to pick and tease the treasure out of the rich forest loam.
“This is it,” his uncle said, excited. “We found it.”
Fortescue loomed over the kneeling men. “
Of course it would be buried here. Buried at the head of the serpent.”
Billy didn’t know what they were seeking—only his father and uncle had read the sealed letters from the governor to the Frenchman—but he knew what Fortescue meant by “the serpent.”
Billy glanced away from the hole to survey the breadth of the site. They’d been excavating an earthen mound that wound and twisted away through the forest. It stood two yards high, twice that wide, and ran two thousand feet through the woods and over the gentle hills. It looked like a giant snake had died and been buried where it fell.
Billy had heard about such earthen mounds. Embankments such as these, along with many more man-made hills, dotted the wilderness of the Americas. His father claimed the long-lost ancestors of the region’s savages had built them, that they were sacred Indian burial mounds. It was said that the savages themselves had no memory of the ancient mound builders, only myths and legends. Stories continued to abound of lost civilizations, of ancient kingdoms, of ghosts, of vile curses—and, of course, of buried treasures.