Drone (A Troy Pearce Novel)

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9780399167386: Drone (A Troy Pearce Novel)

"A brilliant read with astounding plot twists...Maden's trail of intrigue will captivate you from page one." —CLIVE CUSSLERWith a fascinating international cast of characters and nonstop action, Mike Maden’s Drone kicks off an explosive new thriller series exploring the inescapable consequences of drone warfare.

Troy Pearce is the CEO of Pearce Systems, a private security firm that is the best in the world at drone technologies. A former CIA SOG operative, Pearce used his intelligence and combat skills to hunt down America’s sworn enemies in the War on Terror. But after a decade of clandestine special ops, Pearce opted out. Too many of his friends had been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Now Pearce and his team chose which battles he will take on by deploying his land, sea, and air drones with surgical precision.
            Pearce thinks he’s done with the U.S. government for good, until a pair of drug cartel hit men assault a group of American students on American soil. New U.S. president Margaret Meyers then secretly authorizes Pearce Systems to locate and destroy the killers sheltered in Mexico. Pearce and his team go to work, and they are soon thrust into a showdown with the hidden powers behind the El Paso attack—unleashing a host of unexpected repercussions.
            A Ph.D., lecturer, and consultant on political science and international conflict, Mike Maden has crafted an intense, page-turning novel that is action-packed and frighteningly real—blurring the lines between fiction and the reality of a new stage in warfare.

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About the Author:

Mike Maden's lifelong fascination with history and politics ultimately led to a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Davis, focusing on the areas of conflict, technology and international relations. After brief stints as a campus lecturer, political consultant and media commentator, Mike turned to studies in theology and a decade of work with a Dallas-based non-profit where he eventually discovered screenwriting. DRONE is the result of a recent challenge by two published friends to try his hand at novel writing.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

El Paso, Texas

Cinco de Mayo was cooler than usual in the sprawling border city of El Paso, one of the poorest in America. In one of its grimmest barrios, a pink stucco house thrummed with life on a dark, narrow street. A crowd of teenagers from the nearby arts academy high school danced to throbbing music in the frame of its big picture window, their faces all smiles and laughter. The first graduation party of the year.

Out on the front porch, a knot of young men in hoodies and drooping pants stood guard, drinking beer out of Solo cups and smoking cigarettes, trying to look tough in a brutal part of town. To anybody passing by, they looked like somebody’s crew, but they were just teenagers like the kids inside, their young bodies rocking unconsciously to the beat of the music behind them.

An obsidian-black Hummer on big custom wheels slowed as it passed the house. The windows were blacked out. Death-metal music roared inside. No plates on the bumpers.

The hoodies out front pretended not to notice, playing it cool but keeping careful watch out of the sides of their bloodshot eyes.

Four houses up, the Hummer’s red brake lights flared as it slowed to a stop, then its white back-up lights lit up. The big black box of steel rolled backward. The gear box whined until it stopped in front of the pink stucco house.

It just sat there, idling.

The death-metal music still thundered behind the Hummer’s blackened glass, muffled by the steel doors.

Now the boys turned in unison, stared at it, starting to freak out. The oldest kid nodded at the tallest.

“Yo. Go check it out.”

“Me? You check it out.”

No need.

The Hummer’s doors burst open, death metal exploding into the night, drowning out the music inside the house.

Two men leaped out, strapped with shoulder-harnessed machine guns. Balaclavas hid their faces. They wore black tactical gear and Kevlar vests stitched with three letters: ICE.

The ICE men advanced in lockstep as they raised their weapons in one swift, synchronous motion, snapping the stocks to their cheeks, picking their targets through their iron sights.

The boys bolted toward the back of the house.

Too late.

Machine-gun barrels flashed like strobe lights in the dark. The air split with the roar of their gunfire.

The first rounds tore into the lead runner, then raked into the backs of the guys right behind him. They tumbled to the pavement in a heap like broken marionettes.

The gunmen advanced toward the porch, firing at the big picture window. The plate glass exploded. Panicked shouts inside.

In sync, the shooters loaded new fifty-round drum mags and fired at the house. Steel-jacketed bullets sliced through the walls, throwing big chunks of soft pink stucco into the air. One of the rounds smashed the party stereo, killing the music inside.

The shooters dropped their empty mags again and loaded two more. They advanced shoulder to shoulder onto the porch, the machine gun stocks still tight to their faces. Gloved hands tossed flash bangs through the shattered picture window. The concussion grenades cracked like lightning.

Bodies on the floor writhed in blood and glass. The killers jammed their machine guns through the window frame and cut loose until the ammo gave out and the barrels smoked with heat.

Three hundred rounds. Eighteen seconds. Not bad.

Grinning behind their masks, the two shooters high-fived each other, then scrambled back into the Hummer. They slammed the doors shut as the vehicle rocketed away, tires screeching. The roar of the machine guns and the shrieking death-metal music disappeared with it. The night was finally quiet around the little pink house.

Except for the screaming inside.


CHAPTER 2

Mogadishu, Somalia

Colonel Joseph Moi took his daily afternoon nap from exactly 3:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. It kept him sharp late into the evening when he usually did his whoring. It also gave him a reason to stay out of the withering sunlight boiling his troops in the compound outside.

The colonel’s sleep was abruptly interrupted when his silenced cell phone vibrated on the nightstand like a coping saw on a piece of tin. His conscious mind rose though the thick waves of REM sleep just enough to guide his hand to the phone and shut it off. Gratefully, the practiced maneuver spared him any significant mental effort and he was able to slip back down into the depths of perfect slumber, noting the faint breeze beating gently on his face from an overhead fan.

Then his cell phone rang.

Pain furrowed his angular face. Once again, his mind had been dragged into semiconsciousness, but now it was attended by a splitting headache. He’d been robbed of precious sleep. Rage flooded over him.

Who the hell is calling?

He forced his heavy eyes open.

It suddenly occurred to him that it wasn’t possible for the phone to be ringing like this. He’d put it on silent, as always, just moments before he lay down, and when it vibrated earlier, he’d silenced it again.

Strange.

Moi rolled over and snagged the phone off of the nightstand. The number read UNKNOWN.

That was stranger still. Only two people had the number to this particular phone and they were both well-known to him.

The first was General Muwanga, the overbearing Ugandan army officer in charge of the African Union military district to which Moi’s command theoretically reported. That was a phone call he would have to take despite its inevitable unpleasantness.

The other was Sir Reginald Harris, the English lord and bleeding-heart administrator of a charitable family trust, but that would have been a very enjoyable phone call to receive. Harris would have rung him up only if he was ready to pay the additional “security fees” Colonel Moi demanded in order to release the shipment of corn soya blend (CSB) the trust had shipped to Mogadishu two weeks ago. Harris’s CSB shipment was intended for three thousand starving Somali children at a refugee camp one hundred kilometers toward the northwest.

Colonel Moi’s compound was strategically located in one of the least inhabited suburbs of Somalia’s capital city. As the commander of a unit of Kenyan troops assigned to AMISOM (the African Union Mission in Somalia), Colonel Moi’s responsibility was to ensure the safe transport of much needed food stuffs from Somalia’s only deep water port to the hinterland where famine had once again displaced over one million starving Somalis.

The Islamist al-Shabaab militia had reinfiltrated Mogadishu recently despite the best efforts of the African Union forces that battled against them in an attempt to give the Somali Transitional Federal Government time to reestablish functioning democratic institutions in the world’s most infamous failed state. At the moment, the Shabaab militia posed the greatest threat to the safe delivery of food.

But not in Moi’s sector. His command had completely cowed the Shabaab, thanks to Moi’s aggressive tactics. Or at least that’s what Colonel Moi reported to the Western aid organizations that coordinated deliveries through him. Moi cultivated the extremely profitable fiction for naive outsiders. The Shabaab left Moi alone because he paid them in hard currency, not because they were afraid of him.

Since it was likely neither Muwanga nor Harris calling him, Moi snapped off the phone again, but now he was wide awake.

Damn it. It was only 3:22 p.m. He decided to fetch a cold beer from his refrigerator. He padded barefoot across the silken, handwoven carpet toward the tiled kitchen area. The cold marble felt good on his aching feet. He flung open the stainless-steel Bosch refrigerator and yanked out a frosty cold Stella Artois. As he was twisting off the bottle cap, the phone rang again. He took a long swig and marched back over to the phone, slamming the glass bottle down on the nightstand. With any luck, he’d have the fool on the other end of the line in chains before nightfall and a twelve-volt car battery clamped on to his balls.

Moi snatched up the ringing phone.

“Who is this?” As an educated Kenyan, Moi spoke excellent though heavily accented English. Like many Africans, he was conversant, if not fluent, in several tribal languages, but in the polyglot world of Mogadishu, the English tongue was the most commonly employed, particularly among African troops. “This is an unlisted number.”

“Colonel Moi, turn on your television set.”

Moi cursed under his breath. The voice was a white man’s. An American, he guessed. Moi stared incredulously at the phone. “My television set?”

“Yes, the big eighty-inch LCD hanging there on the wall in front of you.”

Moi glanced at his eighty-inch Samsung LCD television, a gift from a local Somali government official in his debt.

“How in the blazes do you know about my television?”

“I know a lot of things about you, Colonel Moi. Why don’t you turn it on, and I’ll tell you all about yourself.”

“When I get my hands on you, you shall learn things about me you wish you did not know.”

“Keep yammering and it’s gonna cost you one million pounds sterling.”

That caught Moi’s attention. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your bank account in the Cayman Islands. Do you want me to tell you the account number?”

Moi frowned. How could he possibly know about that? “Fine. I will turn it on.”

Moi picked up the remote control and snapped on his television. It was linked to a satellite service. What he saw made him nearly crap his camouflaged pants. It was a crystal-clear infrared image of his compound from several thousand feet above.

The colonel quickly pulled on his combat boots and laced them up without taking his eyes off of the screen. When he finished, he approached the television and studied the image closely from just inches away. It was a live feed and he could make out each of his twenty soldiers at their various stations around the compound, even the ones loafing in the barracks. There was even a glowing gray image of him located in his second-story penthouse.

“Satellite imagery. Impressive,” Moi acknowledged. Obviously, the white man had some sort of satellite reconnaissance capability at his disposal. That likely meant he was with the American government.

“What does the CIA want with me? And what is your name?” Moi asked again, but in a less threatening tone.

“I’m not with the CIA. I’m a private citizen. A businessman, to be specific. As far as you’re concerned, my nationality is money, and my name isn’t important.” This time the American’s voice boomed out of the television’s surround-sound system. “And you can turn your phone off now. No point in running up your bill.”

Moi shut his phone and pocketed it. “Then what do you want, Private Citizen?”

“I’ve had my eye on you for a while, Colonel,” the voice on the phone said. “You’re a man of routine, like most military men are. Routine makes men predictable. It also makes them targetable.”

Red target reticles suddenly appeared on each of the men visible in the high-definition video image and tracked them as they sauntered through the compound. Fortunately for Moi, no reticle appeared over his image, at least not yet.

“Not satellite. Predator,” Moi confidently concluded with a smile. Satellites couldn’t target men on the ground like that.

“Bingo. And what I want from you is to deliver the CSB shipment to the refugee camp as you promised, and I want you to do it right now.”

“Oh, so you are a Good Samaritan as well?”

The American laughed. “Me? Hardly. The Good Samaritan gave his money away.”

“It sounds to me like you want the CSB for yourself, Private Citizen. It is worth quite a bit of cash.”

“I was hired to make sure you fulfilled your contract, nothing more. One way or another, the CSB will be delivered today.”

“That is not possible. The Shabaab militia would like nothing more than for me to expose this shipment to one of their terror squads who would either steal it or burn it.”

“There hasn’t been a Shabaab militia unit in Mog in over six months. You know that better than I do.”

“African politics are quite complicated. Since you are a foreigner, I can hardly expect you to understand,” Moi insisted. He kept his eyes glued to the television set. He was glad that his image still wasn’t targeted.

“To tell you the truth, I hate politics, African or otherwise. I’ve lost way too many friends because of it. And we both know you’re stalling. You’re holding the CSB shipment hostage. My employer wants to know why. He’s already paid you to ensure safe delivery of each shipment.”

“I have broken no agreement. The food is safe here with me and will be shipped out when the conditions warrant.”

“What conditions? And don’t hand me any Shabaab bullshit either.”

Moi quickly weighed his options. He could bolt out of the room, but then what would he do? His unit didn’t have any antiaircraft weapons to speak of. If he entered the compound, there was a chance he’d be targeted and taken out by a Predator. But if he could get to his Land Rover, he might be able to escape, but then again, a Predator could easily track that, too.

“Colonel, you’re pissing me off. The clock’s ticking.”

“My apologies.” Moi swallowed hard. He hadn’t apologized to any man in over twenty years, even when he was in the wrong. “My expenses have gone up. There are more government officials to bribe. And the roads are increasingly dangerous. Not from Shabaab, of course, but from street gangs and even those filthy Djiboutis.” He was referring to one of the other AU peacekeeper nations with forces stationed in the sprawling city.

“So you want more money? Jeezus. How much is enough?”

“A question for the ages, Private Citizen. But I might ask you the same. What is Harris paying you? I shall double it.”

“With what?”

“With the money I have in the Caymans account.”

“You mean the one million?” the American asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Or did you mean the three million? There are three accounts in three separate Cayman banks, each worth just over a million. Look.”

Moi gulped when his three separate account statements were displayed on the big plasma screen.

“The only problem, Colonel Moi, is that you don’t have any money. At least not anymore.”

Moi watched the balances of each account zero out.

“You are no businessman. You are a thief!”

“I only returned the money to my employer for your failure to abide by the terms of your contract. He’ll use it to buy more food supplies, which will probably be stolen by some other petty tyrant.”

“Tell Lord Harris that if my money is not returned immediately, I shall order my men to dump the CSB into the ocean, and I shall not let one grain of food pass on to the camps in the future.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Colonel.”

Moi smiled. “Thank you. I take that as a compliment.”

“You shouldn’t.”

Muffled thunder boomed overhead. Moi instinctively flinched. He recognized the sound of large-caliber rifle fire and the whir of rotor blades. Moi watched in horror as the plasma screen switched to multiple live video images from several overhead cameras, all of them at much lower altitudes, swooping and careening over the compound.

One by one, Moi watched his men fall, each dropped by a single shot fired from a laser-targeted sniper rifle mounted on one of several Autonomous...

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