New York City Present day
Claudia Gonzales flashed her ID badge at the security checkpoint outside the United Nations General Assembly building. There was no real need to do so; the guards knew her well and at this hour of the morning—just after six on the East Coast—she was one of the few diplomats on the scene.
They waved her through posthaste.
With a briefcase in one hand and a tall mocha latte in the other, Gonzales made her way to a secure elevator and up to the eleventh floor of the iconic monolith.
Reaching her office before any members of her staff did was a habit she’d kept since graduating from law school. For one thing, it set a good example; it was difficult for her staff to slack off or complain when the boss was working harder than anyone else. It also had a practical purpose. Not only did the early bird catch the worm, but for the busy people of the world, the early morning hours were often the only available moment to actually look for the proverbial morsel.
In an hour the phones would start ringing. Shortly after that, the appointments would begin and then the afternoon teleconferences, followed by press briefings and public hearings. In the blink of an eye it would be closing time, and the pile of work on her desk would look exactly as it had eight hours before.
To Claudia Gonzales, that was the equivalent of running in place.
She stepped into her office, set down the latte, and turned on her computer. As the machine booted up, she stepped outside, checking the items on her assistant’s desk that had come in during the night hours. The world ran 24/7, even if government offices didn’t.
There was a report on the continuing blockade of Gaza, another on a human rights situation in East Timor, and an internal-use envelope that lay unopened.
It read “Diplomatic Materials, Private and Confidential.” It was listed as coming from the secretary general’s office, with Gonzales’s name scrawled in the recipient’s slot. She grabbed all three items and returned to her office.
Fairly certain there were no earth-shattering details in the two reports, she placed them in her inbox and proceeded to open the big manila package.
Inside was a legal-sized envelope on the secretary general’s stationery. Intrigued, she took a sip of her latte, placed it down, and used a letter opener to slice the top of the envelope. There was an odd rubbery feel to the envelope, almost as if it were waterproof. It made her wonder how much the secretary general spent on his office supplies.
She pulled out a folded sheet of paper and began to read.
You will be punished. You will all be punished. We have waited and suffered too long.
Her mood instantly changed. The UN got a hundred threats per week, mostly from crackpots and mentally unstable individuals who imagined the UN taking over the world with black helicopters. What made these people think the UN was even remotely capable of dominating the world boggled her mind. In the best of times, they had trouble keeping the peace in remote, undeveloped areas.
She read on.
Your efforts have not helped us. You plunge us deeper into despair every day. In the name of progress you enslave us, in the name of charity you starve us, in the name of peace you slaughter us. We can no longer wait for your help, we will change the world ourselves.
Normally Claudia took these threats with a grain of salt, but this letter had come to her internally. Whoever sent it had access to things they should not have had access to. She began to feel sick, her face and hands flushed and sweating.
In our pains we have grown. And you have fed off us. You think you have beaten us, but he who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.
We cannot reverse what you have done but we mete out your portion of suffering, we bring you down with us. And it is you who will deliver the master stroke for us. That is correct, Ambassador Gonzales, you are the method of our vengeance. If you have read this far, you are carrying the plague already.
Her heart went cold as she read the words. With her hand shaking lightly, she jabbed at the intercom switch on her phone.
“Security,” a voice said.
“This is—” She stopped midsentence, noticing some type of reddish liquid left behind on the phone key. She glanced at her hand, turning her palm up. The tips of her fingers and her thumb were stained reddish brown.
She noticed a strange smell and heard a quiet sizzling sound. Her left hand, still holding the sheet of paper, felt as if it were burning. She flung the letter to the floor with a shout, pushing her chair backward. She jumped up out of the seat, knocking the latte off her desk.
Her palm and fingers were red and bubbling with the crimson liquid. Her heart was pounding.
“Madam Ambassador?” the voice called over the phone. “Are you okay? Madam Ambassador?”
Unable to speak, she stared at the sheet of paper, watching as a red stain soaked through the page from the corners like blood or dye. Despite this strange effect, the words remained clearly readable. The last sentence, in large bold font, read:
Welcome to Hell.
Excerpted from The Eden Prophecy by Graham Brown. Copyright © 2012 by Graham Brown. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.