The Devil Colony: A Sigma Force Novel
Released on 06.21.2011
Deep in the Rocky Mountains, a gruesome discovery—hundreds of mummified bodies—stir international attention and fervent controversy. Despite doubts to the bodies’ origins, the local Native American Heritage Commission lays claim to the prehistoric remains, along with the strange artifacts found in the same cavern: gold plates inscribed with an unfathomable script.
During a riot at the dig site, an anthropologist dies horribly: burned to ash in a fiery explosion in plain view of television cameras. All evidence points to a radical group of Native Americans, including one agitator, a teenage firebrand who escapes with a vital clue to the murder and calls on the one person who might help: her uncle, Painter Crowe, director of Sigma Force.
To protect his niece and uncover the truth, Painter will ignite a war across the nation’s most powerful intelligence agencies. Yet, an even greater threat looms as events in the Rocky Mountains have set in motion a frightening chain reaction, a geological meltdown that threatens the entire western half of the U.S.
From the volcanic peaks of Iceland to the blistering deserts of the American Southwest, from the gold vaults of Fort Knox to the bubbling geysers of Yellowstone, Painter Crowe joins forces with Commander Gray Pierce to penetrate the shadowy heart of a dark cabal, one that has been manipulating American history since the founding of the thirteen colonies.
But can he discover the truth—one that could topple governments—before it destroys all he holds dear?
PAPERBACK EDITION INCLUDES THE SKELETON KEY: A SHORT STORY EXCLUSIVE
or visit the general buy page by clicking HERE
The skul l of the monster slowly revealed itself.
A shard of yellowed bone poked through the dark soil.
Two muddy men knelt in the dirt to 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 alwa ys 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 for so long.
Over the passing weeks, Billy had watched the surrounding foliage slowly turn from shades of copper to fiery crimson. The past mornings had begun to frost. At night, winds stripped the trees, leaving skeletal branches scratching at the sky. Each morning, 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.
t;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 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. “Naturellement. 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 carried by 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 bee n buried where it fell.
Billy had heard about such earthen mounds. Embankments such as these, along with many more manmade 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 Indian burial mounds, sacred to them. Different stories were told about these barrows, how 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.
Billy shifted closer as his father unearthed the object, wrapped in what appeared to be a thick hide of skin, the black coarse fur still intact. A musky scent—a heavy mix of loam and beast—welled up, overpowering even the smell of venison stew from the neighboring cook fires.
“Buffalo hide,” his father determined, glancing over to Fortescue.
The Frenchman nodded for him to continue.
Using both hands, his father gently peeled away a flap of the hide to reveal what lay hidden for ages.
Billy held his breath.
Since the founding of these lands, many Indian mounds had been dug up and looted, only to confirm his father’s assessment. All that had been found were the buried bones of the dead, along with a few arrowheads, hide shields, and shards of Indian pottery.
So why was this particular site so important?
After two months of meticulously surveying, mapping, and digging, Billy was still none the wiser as to why they had been directed to come here. Like the looters of other barrows, all his father’s team had to show for their meticulous work was a collection of Indian tokens and artifacts: bows, quivers, lances, a massive cooking pot, a pair of beaded moccasins, an elaborate headdress. And of course, they found bones. Thousands and thousands of them. Skulls, ribs, leg bones, pelvises. He’d overheard Fortescue estimate at least a hundred men and women and children must have been buried here.
It was a daunting endeavor to collect and catalog everything. It had taken them all the way to the edge of winter to work from one end of the winding mound to the other, painstakingly stripping down the Indian burial mound layer by layer, sifting through dirt and rock—until, as the Frenchman said, they’d reached the head of the serpent.
His father folded the buffalo skin open. Gasps spread among those gathered here. Even Fortescue took a sharp intake of breath through his pinched nose.
Across the inner surface of the preserved hide, a riotous battle had been drawn. Stylized figures of men on horseback raced across the hide, many bearing shields. Spears stabbed with splashes of crimson dyes. Arrows flew. Billy swore he could hear the whoop and war cries of the savages.
Fortescue spoke as he knelt down. A hand hovered over the display. “I’ve witnessed such handiwork before. The natives would tan the buffalo sk in with a mash of the beast’s own brains, then apply their pigment with a hollowed-out piece of its own bone. But, mon Dieu, I’ve never seen such a masterpiece as this. Look how each horse is different from another, how each warrior’s garb is painted in such detail.”
The Frenchman’s hand shifted next to hover over what the hide had protected all these years. “And I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The skull of the monster was laid bare. Earlier, they had exposed the broken tusks of the beast, but its skull had been wrapped in the buffalo hide. It was as large as a church bell, the dome of its cranium bared to the world. And like the buffalo hide, the skull had also been adorned, become a canvas for some prehistoric artist.
Across its surface, figures and shapes had been carved into the bone and painted so brightly they looked wet to the touch.
Billy’s uncle spoke, full of awe. “The skull. It’s a mammoth, isn’t it? Like those found over at Big Salt Lick.”
“No. It’s not a mammoth,” Fortescue said and pointed with the tip of his cane. “See the curve and length of the tusks, the giant size of its masticating teeth. The anatomy and conformation of the skull are different from the mammoth specimens of the Old World. Remains such as these—unique to the Americas—have been reclassified as a new species, a beast called a mastodon.”
“I don’t care what it’s called,” his father commented forcefully. “Is this the right skull, or not That’s what I want to know.”
“There is only one way to find out.”
Fortescue reached and ran a finger along the bony crest of the skull. The tip of a finger sank into a hole near the back. Over the years, Billy had dressed enough deer and rabbit carcasses to know the hole looked too clean to be natural. The Frenchmen used that purchase and pulled up.
Another round of gasps spread outward. Several of the slaves fell back in horror. Billy’s eyes widened as the top of the monster’s skull split into two halves, opening like the doors of a cabinet. With his father’s help, Fortescue gently folded back the two pieces of the cranium—each two inches thick and as large as dinner platters.
Even in the meager sunlight, what lay inside the skull glinted brightly.
“Gold,” his uncle choked out, shocked.
The entire inside of the skull had been plated in the precious metal. Fortescue ran a finger along the inner surface of one of the bony platters he had pulled open. Only now did Billy notice the engraving across the gold surface. It looked to be a crude map, with stylized trees, mountains, and rivers. The surface was also inscribed with hen-scratches that might be writing.
Leaning closer, he heard Fortescue mumble one word, full of awe and a flicker of fear. “Hebrew.”
After the initial shock wore off, his father spoke at Billy’s elbow, “But the skull is empty.”
Fortescue turned his attention to the open cavity of the gold-lined cranium. The space was large enough to cradle a newborn baby inside, but as his father had noted, it was empty.
Fortescue studied the cavity, his face unreadable, but behind his eyes, Billy saw his mind churning on unfathomable calculations and speculations.
What had they expected to find?
Fortescue stood up. “Close it back up. Keep it wrapped in the hide. We need it ready for transport to Virginia within the hour.”
No one argued. If word spread of gold here, the place would surely be ransacked. Over the next hour as the sun sank below the horizon and torches were lit, men worked quickly to free the massive skull. A wagon was prepared, horses readied. Billy’s father, his uncle, and the Frenchmen spent much of that time with their heads bent together.
Billy crept close enough with his broom to eavesdrop on their conversation, pretending to keep busy. Still, their voices were too low to pick out more than a few words.
“It may be enough,” Fortescue said. “… a place to start. If the enemy finds it before us, your young union will be doomed before it has even begun.”
His father shook his head. “Then maybe it best be destroyed now. Set a bonfire here. Burn the bone to ash, melt the gold to slag.”
“It may come to that, but we’ll leave such a decision to the governor.”
His father looked ready to argue with the Frenchman, but then caught Billy hovering nearby. He turned and lifted an arm to scold Billy off.
Those words never came.
Before his father could speak, his throat exploded in a spray of blood. He fell to his knees, clutching at his neck. An arrowhead poked from under his jaw. Blood poured between his fingers, bubbled from his lips.
Billy ran toward his father, aging backward from young man to child in a dark instant. “Papa!”
In shock, his ears went deaf. The world shrank to include only his father, who stared back at him, full of pain and regret. Then his father’s body jerked, again and again, and toppled forward. Feathers peppered his b ack. Behind the body, Billy saw his uncle kneeling, head hanging. A spear had cleaved clean through his chest from behind, its point buried in the dirt, its shaft propping the dead body up.
Before Billy could comprehend what he was seeing, what was happening, he was struck from the side—not by an arrow or spear, but by an arm. He was knocked to the ground and rolled. The impact also snapped the world back into full focus.
Shouts filled his ears. Horses screamed. Shadows danced amid torches as scores of men fought and grappled. All around, arrows sang through the air, accompanied by savage whoops.
An Indian attack.
Billy struggled but he was pinned under the Frenchman. Fortescue hissed in his ear. “Stay down, boy.”
The Frenchman rolled off him and flew to his feet as a half-naked savage, his face painted in a red mask of horror, came flying toward him, a hatchet raised high. Fortescue defended with his only weapon, as meager as it might be—his cane.
As the length of carved oak swung to point at the attacker, it parted near the handle. A sheath of wood flew from the cane’s tip, revealing a sword hidden at its core. The empty sheath struck the savage in the forehead and stumbled his attack. Fortescue took advantage and lunged out, skewering the attacker through the chest.
A guttural scream followed. Fortescue turned the man’s momentum, and dropped the savage beside Billy on the ground.
The Frenchman yanked his sword free. “To me, boy!”
Billy obeyed. It was all his mind would allow. He had no time to think. He struggled up, but a hand grabbed his arm. The bloody savage sought to hold him. Billy tugged his arm loose.
The Indian fell back. Where the hand had clutched his sleeve, a smeared handprint remained. Not blood, Billy realized in a flash.
He stared down at the dying savage. The palm that had clutched him was as white as a lily, though some of the paint stuck to creases in the palm.
< p>Fingers clamped onto his collar and pulled him to his feet.
Billy turned to Fortescue, who still kept hold of him. “They…they’re not Indians,” he sobbed out, struggling to understand.
“I know,” Fortescue answered with nary a bit of fright.
All around, chaos continued to reign. The last two torches went dark. Screams, prayers, and pleas for mercy echoed all around.
Fortescue hauled Billy across the encampment, staying low, stopping only long enough to gather up the loose buffalo hide, which he shoved at Billy. They reached a lone horse hidden deeper in the woods, tethered to a tree, already saddled as if someone had anticipated the attack. The horse stamped and threw its head, panicked by the cries, by the smell of blood.
The Frenchman pointed. “Up you go. Be ready to fly.”
As Billy hooked a boot into the stirrup, the Frenchman vanished back into the shadows. With no choice, Billy climbed into the saddle. His weight seemed to calm the horse. He hugged his arms around the mount’s sweaty neck, but his heart continued to pound in his throat. Blood rushed through his ears. He wanted to clamp his hands over those ears, to shut out the bloody screams, but he strained for any sign of approach by the savages.
No, not savages, he reminded himself.
A branch cracked behind him. He twisted around as a shape limped into view. From the cape of his jacket and the glint of his sword, he could see it was the Frenchman. Billy wanted to leap off the horse and clasp tightly to the man, to force him to make some sense of the bloodshed and deceit.
Fortescue stumbled up to him. The broken shaft of an arrow stuck out of the man’s thigh, just above the knee. As he reached Billy’s side, he shoved two large objects up at him.
“Take these. Keep them bundled in the hide.”
Billy accepted the two platter-sized burdens. With a shock, he saw it was the crown of the monster's cranium, split into two halves, the two doors of that macabre cabinet, bone on one side, gold on the other. Fortescue must have stolen them off the larger skull.
With no time for answers, he folded the two platters of gold-plated bone into the buffalo hide in his lap.
“Go,” Fortescue said.
Billy took the reins but hesitated. “What about you, sir?”
Fortescue placed a hand on his knee, as if sensing his raw terror, trying to reassure him. His words were firm and fast. “You and your horse have enough of a burden to bear without my weight. You must fly as swiftly as you can. Take it where it will be safe.”
“Where?” Billy asked, clenching the reins.
“To the new governor of Virginia.” The Frenchman stepped away. “Take it to Thomas Jefferson.”
The foregoing is excerpted from The Devil Colony by James Rollins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
PAPERBACK EDITION INCLUDES THE SKELETON KEY: A SHORT STORY EXCLUSIVE
or visit the general buy page by clicking HERE
"Terrible secrets, the sweep of history, an epic canvas, breathless action...nobody—and I mean nobody—does this stuff better than Rollins." — Lee Child on The Devil Colony
"From the hidden Indian treasure, to the Fort Knox secrets, to the conspiracy at the beginning of the United States The Devil Colony gives you every reason why you'll want to be a member of Sigma Force." — Brad Meltzer, New York Times bestselling author of The Inner Circle on The Devil Colony
"James Rollins delivers one of the best thrillers of the year in The Devil Colony, an amazing amalgam of history, science and adventure." — Associated Press on The Devil Colony
"Riveting....Rollins gets better with each book, and his position at the top of this particular subgenre remains unshaken." — Publishers Weekly on The Devil Colony
"A first-class, breathtaking adventure that will have readers whizzing through the pages. The only thing wrong with this tale: it has to end." — Romantic Times (4 1/2 stars) on The Devil Colony
“Magnificent….This is wild, unrestrained storytelling at its level best, and Rollins is the best pure action writer out there today, bar none.” — Providence Journal
“His books have everything….Yet it works, because Rollins is a master of controlled chaos.” — Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"An amazing amalgam of history, science and adventure….A great page-turner." — Gloucester County Times
Q: THE DEVIL COLONY explores the surreptitious link between the Book of Mormon, the lost tribes of Israel and Native Americans and how those three groups tie to the founding of America. What was the starting point of this high-concept plot?
A: It started with an argument. I have several friends who are Mormons, and at a dinner, I overheard a heated discussion among them about a controversial and contested section of the Book of Mormon: specifically that the Native Americans are said to be descendants from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. While on face value this seems like a wild claim, and genetics certainly seems to dismiss this possibility, I was intrigued—and it started a yearlong investigation into Native American history, Jewish lore, and the early founding of America. To my total surprise, gathering information from disparate sources, pieces began to fall together in a most startling fashion. Why hadn’t anyone put these pieces together before? Not only were these resources valid and the facts gathered backed by solid research, but they came together so perfectly that the picture that finally came to light had to be true—astoundingly and disturbingly true. It alters all we understand about American history. I knew I had to tell this story.
Q: Thomas Jefferson—while he never appears in this story—plays a significant role. Why Thomas Jefferson? What intrigues you about him?
A: Everyone knows Thomas Jefferson as the architect of the Declaration of Independence. 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. He was both politician and scientist.
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 a colleague who shared a passion for secret codes. Jefferson was fascinated to the point of fixation on Native American culture and history. At his home in Monticello, he put together a collection of tribal artifacts that was said to rival 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.
In The Devil Colony, you’ll learn that purpose—and so much more about the founding of America. And it has nothing to do with freemasons, Knights Templar, or crackpot theories. The truth is as illuminating as it is disturbing.
Q: What in your SIGMA Force novels do you think has the deepest resonance with readers: the cutting edge scientific details, the breakneck adventure, or the threads of modern and ancient faith and/or spiritual beliefs woven throughout?
A: I hope all three. History raises many unanswered mysteries, questions into where we came from, who we are as a people. Science offers a peek at who we will become, where mankind will move next, and the dangers inherent in that venture. I love to merge the two together in a great adventure, to take readers on a journey that’s as much inward as it is a wild and exciting thrill ride. A reviewer once wrote that I “don’t write novels, so much as build roller coasters.” I certainly hope that’s true.
Q: There are some pretty fantastic settings in THE DEVIL COLONY, all pretty much right here in the good ol’ US of A. Was it nice to be able to set a book mainly in America? Were you able to visit the stunning locations in the book, such as the Arizona desert and the Rocky Mountains?
A: I had a great fun researching this novel set in my own backyard (so to speak). For the past decade, I’ve been fielding questions from readers about setting a Sigma novel within the United States. But I knew it had to be the perfect story, a novel thrilling enough to justify coming home. I’ve been searching for that story for about five years, and when I finally discovered it, the book still took me a full two years to write. It’s one of the biggest and most shocking of my novels. It took me trekking across the country and back, from Washington, D.C. and Fort Knox out east, to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park out west. I interviewed Mormon scholars, read scientific and historical abstract, and studied ancient petroglyphs. It is a story never told—but one that needs to be finally revealed after two hundred years of secrets.
Q: Your books often include high-concept scientific theory. While not wanting to spill any secrets about the plot of THE DEVIL COLONY, what are some of the breaking-news scientific concepts laced through the pages of this book?
A: The science in this novel addresses the next big leap in scientific research and industry. It 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. The nanotech industry is exploding. It is estimated that this year alone $70 billion worth of nanotech products will be sold in the U.S. alone: toothpaste, sunscreen, cake icing, teething rings, running socks, cosmetics, and medicines.
What’s the downside of such a growth industry? These nanoparticles can cause illness, even death. UCLA scientists have found that nano-titantium oxide (found in children’s sunscreens) can trigger damage to animals at the genetic level. Carbon nanotubes (found in thousands of everyday products) have been shown to accumulate in 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, no 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. The Devil Colony explores those dark roots of this “new” science.
Q: In THE DEVIL COLONY you have created one of your most complex and depraved villains to date. He has a unique disease that almost makes him a scientific exploration himself. Where did his character stem from?
A: Rafael Saint Germaine came about because this story centers on old family secrets—and by old, I mean a family that can trace its roots to the Middle Ages. And in such aristocratic families—whose lineages are tightly bred—it is not uncommon to see genetic abnormalities crop up among their offspring: hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and other congenital and birth defects. Rafael suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, which a defect in collagen production, leaving him thin-boned and prone to fractures. I wanted a character who compensates for his physical weakness by honing a sharp and cunning mind, one who can match wits with the best of the book’s heroes. In the end, he is one of the most challenging villains of any of my books.
Q: THE DEVIL COLONY is filled with information about the Book of Mormon; how did you research this topic and what drew you to this sometimes mysterious religion?
A: I’ve always been fascinated with those moments in time where religion and history merge, where mankind’s path makes sudden turns. Being raised Roman Catholic, I was not that familiar with Mormonism, but a part of me always wanted to learn more. When I heard that dinnertime argument among a few of my Mormon friends, I knew this was a chance to educate myself and to begin an investigation that would lead me to such startling conclusions. I interviewed both devote Mormon and those who had abandoned the faith. I read articles by Mormon apologists and non-Mormon historians and geneticists. It’s been a fascinating journey—and I believe that what I learned will shock many readers.
Q: As a reader, it’s a huge treat to re-connect with the Sigma Force team, all of whom are such beloved characters. As an author, is it a similar experience for you to write about them? Do you feel like you’re visiting with dear friends?
A: Definitely. I’ve been living and breathing these characters for going on a decade. We’ve seen them grow, have children, face the challenge of balancing work with family, and deal with losses. While the Sigma team is chocked full of talented and dedicated people, they are still people with real-life challenges alongside the world-spanning adventures. In this book especially, those two worlds collide in a harrowing manner for one of my characters. To me, that’s what makes these characters feel so alive in my heart. They are not a static team who run into adventure after adventure. Instead, they change, they mature, they get life-altering injuries—and yes, they also die. It’s that fragility, that mortality, that breathes life into a character.
Q: I understand you got back recently from the Persian Gulf as part of a USO tour.
A: I did. It was a great honor to be invited to participate in Operation Thriller. I got a chance to visit and thank the wounded warriors at Bethesda and Walter Reed military hospitals—then flew off to Kuwait and Iraq to visit bases throughout the Persian Gulf. I was able to experience a sliver of life out there: from wearing thirty-pound flak jackets while boarding C-130 transport planes to sharing stories with fire-fighting crews, explosive ordnance disposal units, and the teams that control unpiloted drones. And so much more. It was a life-altering experience, one I will cherish always.
Q: What’s next for James Rollins?
A: I’m currently working on the third book in my middle-school series, featuring boy-explorer, Jake Ransom, and of course, the next Sigma novel, which picks up right after this novel’s shocking ending. And if that’s not enough, I’m also finishing up a brand-new secret project, the first of a trilogy. So there is much more mayhem to come!