The Final Chapter
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Warning!! Certain plot secrets are given away below. Do not proceed unless you have already finished the novel!

Here, and nowhere else, you can read the chapter that was originally intended to conclude MOUNT DRAGON--but that never appeared in the published book! Lincoln Child explains:

"We were just finishing up work on MOUNT DRAGON, and were wrapping up the loose ends. Carson, De Vaca, Scopes, and Levine were all taken care of. But Doug and I wondered about the need to give the reader some kind of (forgive the word) closure on the rest of the people who had been working at the Mount Dragon facility. Singer and the rest had run off in Hummers in search of Carson and De Vaca--with the contaminated blood raging in their veins. Nye had staggered off to find his 'treasure.' We figured readers might wonder what had happened to them all. So I wrote a rough draft of a final scene, showing Singer and the rest in the desert. We also added a very brief scene, written by Doug, alluding to Nye's own fate. But our publisher, Tom Doherty, suggested we leave these out, and after thinking about it we agreed the book was better off without these admittedly grim scenes. And so the scenes were scrapped."

These scenes are reprinted below. They are rough, and have never been reworked or edited, since they were originally written.


 

The last engine ran dry at noon.

Now, it was sunset. The violent globe of fire was sinking behind a black scribble of lava. In the driver's compartment of the lead Hummer, Singer sat very still. The desert was cloaked in a listening silence.

For the first hour, he had listened to the inner tickings of the big diesel as it cooled. The noises had seemed soft, almost organic, soothing in their regularity. He found himself timing the rhythm of his breathing to them. When at last they stopped, he had unsnapped the Army-issue Colt .45 from his belt, opened the cylinder, and shaken the bullets into his hand. Their smooth copper jackets, the exquisite golden arch of their tips, had fascinated him. Replacing them in the chambers, twirling the cylinder, removing the slugs again, had been the delicious work of several hours.

But now the revolver, too, lay forgotten by his side, glowing a burnished crimson in the last rays of the sun. Slowly, he followed the rays from west to east as they angled horizontally in at the driver's window, striped across the passenger compartment, and moved out the passenger's window and on toward the horizon.

His eyes fell on Ducely, security officer second grade, seated next to him. The rays of light traced a sheen across his still features, a corona of golden hue. He looked like a saint. Ducely's gibbering cries had ceased some time ago, and now his head was bent slightly forward, as if in meditation. The sun refracted through the single drop of sputum that hovered delicately on his chin, turning it the color of woodsmoke.

Looking away, Singer gazed restlessly over the compartment, looking for something out of place. He would have liked to arrange the maps and charts that lay in a riot across the dashboard, but he was not sure he would be able to keep from looking in the rear-view mirror as he did so.

A faint crackling sound from behind caused him to look over his shoulder. In the far distance to the south was the skeleton of Harper's vehicle, canted upward at a crazy angle, the black ribs of its belly exposed. The fierce gush of smoke had now died to a wisp as the last of the emergency gas rations burned down. The smoke would bring Nye soon. As the sun disappeared, the dying flicker that played across the sand was comforting, and Singer turned away, following the desert with his eyes. It spread before him like a boundless sea, coming to rest against the broad shoulders of the lava flow to the west.

Atop the lava sat another Hummer. A figure--Singer thought it was Endine, the video technician--labored along its white flanks. The sound of a loud expectoration reached Singer's ears. When Singer had pulled up alongside the lava that morning, Endine had just finished cleaning the inside of the vehicle and begun the outside, using bits of his clothing as rags. Now, his nude body was still diligently at work, glistening under a sheen of sweat. Early on, Endine had run out of water and begun using his saliva as a polishing agent. The front fenders of the Hummer gleamed brilliantly in the last glow of the dying sun. The bright sheen began to turn a dull copper near the vehicle's midsection as Endine's spittle had grown increasingly sanguinated.

There was a crunching noise in the sand, and a security guard approached Singer's Hummer. "John?" came the voice. "Mr. Singer, sir?"

"I told you to stay in your vehicle," Singer said, careful not to look in the man's eyes. Another five minutes and it would be too dark to see. For that, he was grateful.

"Sir, I'm begging you to use the radio. We have no food, no water, and no gas."

"I told you, we can't use the radio. We have to wait here for Nye. Another few minutes. . ." Singer's hand moved across the seat, closed over the gun, dragged it onto his lap.

"Sir, if Mr. Nye was going to join us, he would've done so by now. You've led us in a huge loop, and we're way north of Mount Dragon. We'll never catch Carson out here. We've got to call Radium Springs and save ourselves."

"Idiot!" Singer suddenly hissed. "We can't call Radium Springs. They know."

"Sir, there's nothing we can do about that. Soon the whole world will know. The facility's been completely destroyed. I can't stand waiting in this hell-hole like. . ."

Singer shook his head impatiently. "Don't you understand? They know. It told them. There's not enough sand in the desert to conceal it all. Things are better in the dark, much much better, it can't see you in the dark if you try not to think. Thinking is what brings it. They're looking for us now, and when they find us they'll let it--"

Suddenly, the guard stiffened. Singer paused abruptly. Then he heard it, too: a faint shriek in the gathering dark--a cry of pain and deep despair--wafted out of the mountains to the north until it died at last in the growing sound of wind.

Involuntarily, Singer looked up at the guard. For a terrible instant, their gazes met. Then Singer quickly looked away from the bruise-colored eyes that stared back at him.

"My God," the guard said. "That sounds human."

"No," Singer said. "I don't think so. It's--"

He stopped again, listening to the dark. The wind had grown stronger, with a heavy, thudding undercurrent. Only now he realized that it was not the wind they heard, but the rumble of heavy turbine engines, approaching from the south. With a short cry he dropped to the Hummer's floor and tried to wriggle beneath the seat.

The thudding grew louder, then fainter, then louder again. Suddenly, the Hummer was bathed in a brilliant light. Singer cast a fearful eye upward. The swollen belly of a Chinook helicopter passed overhead, then another and another, green against black, U.S. Army markings silhouetted in the bright beams of the spotlights. He whimpered and pushed himself farther under the seat.

The ground trembled and sand whipped through the open windows, stinging his cheeks and nostrils as the huge descending propellers stirred the surrounding ground into a frenzy. There was the sound of metal slamming against metal, then voices. Then there were other, stranger sounds that he could not identify. His hand spasmodically clenched and unclenched around the grip of the revolver. "I'm telling you, it's safe," a voice said, much closer now. There were other tag-ends of sentences that came to him between the throaty revolutions of the propellers: "...err on the side of caution..." "...unaccounted for..."

Then there was the sound of a door handle being grasped, and Singer pulled his knees close to his chest, shutting his eyes tight. His door opened, and suddenly the bright hateful light was all around, probing and prying, violating his hiding place.

Singer squeezed himself even tighter. Then the voice came, calm, serene, a cool gentle promise like rain on an April night.

"It's all right, Doctor Singer," it said. "You can come out now."

*

EPILOGUE

TWO DAYS LATER

THE NORTHERN JORNADA DEL MUERTO

A lone vulture cruised the updraft of a thermal, peering at the desert far below. The ground wavered and danced in the heat, but the vulture's eyes, many times keener than a human, watched intently for any sign of movement. Movement indicated life, and--more often than not in the desert--life meant the promise of death.

The sun hung low over the mountains, stretching long shadows across the sand. It was late afternoon, the time to hunt.

The vulture banked, the hot air whiffling through its extended feathers, its head scanning the featureless sands with machinelike precision.

It spied movement.

The vulture angled its wings and dropped lower, sliding through the layers of hot air. As it passed over the moving thing it banked again, coming back around and making a second pass, even lower than the first. The movements of the two-legged creature were slow and irregular, indicating distress and labor, triggering a cascade of neurological activity in the vulture's brain. An instinctual longing was generated, a primitive desire. The vulture modified its behavior patterns accordingly. The bird slowed and made a third pass, rising this time, feeling the press of air on its wings. It located a thermal convection cell rising from the hot desert floor. It spiraled slowly, feeling the air for the upwelling heat, conserving as much energy as possible.

As it circled, the bird continued to peer fixedly at the dark shape, waiting with infinite patience. Waiting for death.

 


Copyright 1999 by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


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