Excerpt: Omega Rules by Eric Van Lustbader

Omega RulesEvan Ryder returns to uncover an international conspiracy against American democracy in this white-knuckle new thriller, Omega Rules, by New York Times bestselling author, Eric Van Lustbader.

Evan Ryder was once a field agent for a black-ops arm of the Department of Defense. Now she works for Parachute, a cutting-edge quantum-computing firm whose private espionage network exceeds any government spy agency. But her mission remains the same: seek out and destroy Omega, a fanatical global cult intent on destroying democracy. The fight against Omega has already cost Evan dearly but she will not stop until she has torn out the conspiracy by its roots, no matter the risk.

In Omega Rules, the assassination of a Parachute agent in Vienna sets Evan on a dangerous, world-wide hunt for answers and on a collision course with forces so powerful they may be beyond her abilities to annihilate.

Omega Rules  will be available on May 24th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


Vienna, Austria

Armistad was in the cemetery when the hammer came down. He’d been expecting it, sooner or later, but still . . . It happened very quickly, which, now that it had begun, was a blessing, as his assignment was at an end. During this last week in Vienna, he’d come here at the same time each weekday. In field agent terms it was sloppiness, at least to an outsider. To him, it was an invitation, and in Armistad’s line of work, the opposition never passed up an invitation. They might have held second thoughts except, having anticipated his Vienna endgame, he’d spent increasing time with Sofia, a definite vulnerability for a field agent. During the previous weeks he’d packed on a few extra pounds just to complete the picture of boredom and incipient indolence.

Now his meticulous preparations were about to bear fruit; he’d drawn out the opposition at last.

He’d been drifting through the narrow leaf-strewn path between the iron grave markers of drowning victims and those denied a Christian burial. Forgotten in life, hidden in death. Despite being so near the Danube, the Friedhof der Namenlosen cemetery was difficult to find along Alberner Hafenzufahrtsstrasse, squeezed as it was between the Alberner canal and a looming building materials storehouse with its signature triple yellow silos, visible through the miserable stand of willowy tree trunks. The grass at the entrance was unmowed, patchy as a mangy dog’s flanks.

He liked to come here at dusk when the shadows were long and the air melancholy with the ghostly voices of the unremarked dead. Not that Armistad believed in ghosts or any such paranormal claptrap. Still, he had to admit the silence within this cemetery was different from all others he’d visited, completely undisturbed by the noises of the city. Despite the intimate proximity of the industrial complex, it was almost palpable, lying against his skin like a drift of leaves.

Armistad loved cemeteries, loved their silence, their proximity to eternity. Within their grounds he could think perfectly clearly, could parse the events of the day, set them into the framework of the past week, consider his progress, the advances along with the missed opportunities.

During this time, he found the voices of the dead helpful, wise as they were, outside time and the fretfulness of human existence. They gave him perspective, the ability to turn off the constant torrent of minutia he was trained to glean from his environment. Wedded to Parachute, a massive corporation even by the standards of the gig economy, he was on the surface indistinguishable from a field agent in the employ of any clandestine government agency.

But the truth was Parachute was an animal of an altogether different nature and working for it was a blessing for someone like Armistad, who could not abide bureaucracy and the fools who made it their life’s work. Parachute was richer, more powerful, and far more influential than any government on earth. Its internal patterns, rules, and code of ethics were set by Marsden Tribe, the company’s founder, himself an eccentric. He had over a million avid Twitter followers; often his tweets moved the equities markets.

It was through his eccentricities that he created the revolutionary breakthroughs in quantum computing that formed the foundation of the present company. Before Tribe quantum computers needed to be cryogenic, using qubits requiring a temperature of around-460 degrees Fahrenheit to operate, a lethal environment for humans. Somehow Tribe got his quantum computers to work at thirty degrees Fahrenheit, moving an infinite number of qubits one hundred times faster than all those lagging him in the field. This was the first in a long line of proprietary breakthroughs. In other words, Tribe had ensured for Parachute a wide and unassailable business moat. Subscriptions to its online software suites were in ultra-high demand by the largest, deep-pocketed corporations across the globe; Tribe refused to sign a single nation-state client. He had also resisted the calls to take Parachute public—the infusion of money this would bring meant nothing to him; total control meant everything. The thought of Marsden Tribe reporting to a board was ludicrous.

Armistad was himself a nonconformist who Ben Butler, his control at Parachute, appreciated and deployed to maximum effect. Truth to tell, he wasn’t that happy with Butler being his control. Butler was a cripple and, in his opinion, a depressive; Armistad didn’t like being reminded of one of the worst outcomes of a career in the field. Death he could handle, but being a cripple, nuh uh.

These thoughts ran through his mind in a fraction of a second as he watched a slim man make his way along one of the aisles parallel to the one Armistad himself was on. He was dressed for the chilly December weather in an overcoat, a charcoal wool suit, pale-blue shirt, and paisley silk tie. He had a prominent nose, slicked-back hair, and carried a clutch of fresh white lilies wrapped in green paper in one hand. The man never so much as glanced at him, which was a tell in itself. No field agent worth his salt would check out his target directly.

Armistad felt his muscles tense in response to the perceived threat. He stopped to observe a grave marker with a poorly formed wrought-iron Christ, painted silver, here and there encrusted with rust like cankers on old flesh. Now he was a step or two behind the suit, who continued on as if he were perfectly unaware of Armistad’s presence.

The only other figure in Armistad’s field of vision was Karl, the slender caretaker, earbuds connected to an ancient iPod, wheeling his cart filled with brooms, rakes, and an assortment of clippers. A fixture at this time of day. He did not look Armistad’s way, but paused for a moment to shake out a cigarette and light it, a prearranged signal to Armistad, then pushed his cart on. He stopped to adjust one of the old wrought-iron lamps that lined the aisles, cocking his head reflectively to make sure the angle of the head was correct. Nodding to himself, he moved on again, taking out a wide-headed broom as he did so.

Meanwhile the suit had stopped in front of a grave marked by a Christ on the cross and, just below, a lantern with thick red glass panes. A breeze gusted, rattling the last of the leaves, turned yellow and rust. Birds flitted from branch to branch, last searches before moving on to their hidden nests for the night.

Karl had crossed to the path Armistad was on, head down, concentrating on clearing the cracked concrete of dead leaves. The suit, staring at the image of the crucifixion, had not moved. Unconsciously, Armistad fingered the hollow amulet hung from a thin silver chain around his neck.

Now the suit was turning away from the grave marker. Karl lifted his head, the bristles of his broom sweeping up a surf of leaves. Armistad’s right hand moved even as the suit dropped the lilies, revealing the pistol, silencer already attached. It came up aimed at Armistad’s chest. But Armistad’s throwing knife was already a blur, burying itself to the hilt, connecting the suit’s tie to his pierced heart. His arms flung outward, forming a cross like the grave markers as he stumbled, fell to his knees.

Armistad advanced through the field of graves. Behind him, Karl stood as still as all the Christs in the cemetery, gazing at the unfolding scene, cigarette ash mingling with the leaves at his feet.

The suit’s mouth was opening and closing like a hooked fish. His lips and eyes were bloody. Now he was drooling. Coming up to him, Armistad kicked him on the point of his chin and, with a sharp crack of his knees, he collapsed backward.

Karl turned away, heading back down the path, still listening only to his music. Armistad bent over the corpse, checked all pockets for any form of identification, but all he found was five thousand in euros. Nothing to identify who his would-be murderer was. But then he hadn’t expected to find anything, not on a well-trained field agent.

And yet, on the other hand, perhaps something was overlooked. Using the heel of his shoe, he pried off one of the suit’s thick-soled brogues. Maneuvering the brogue into the light with the toe of his own shoe, he peered closely at the bottom, saw imprinted there: WESTFALIKA, Москва.

Russian, he thought. Now that’s interesting.

Switching his attention, he pulled out the knife, stepped smartly back to avoid the sudden gush of blood. He wiped the blade on the satin lining of the suit’s coat. As a last order of business he sent a brief encoded text update to his control via his cell phone. He was about to turn away when he changed his mind. Stooping again, he scooped up the bouquet of lilies. It would make the perfect present for Sofia.

And, indeed, he was correct. Sofia delivered a lingering kiss when he handed her the lilies. She held them to her breast, her eyes alight. She loved lilies. Loved the color white. It was only after she had put them in a cheap plastic vase with water, set the vase on the coffee table in the living room, that he noticed the tiny drop of crimson marring one petal, gleaming in the lamplight. Sofia hadn’t seen it as yet, and Armistad was determined that she wouldn’t. Crossing the room, he brushed the blood off the lily with the pad of his finger.

The lamplight threw a golden aura around Sofia. She was wearing a dark-red chenille robe, her pale feet padding silently across the floor of his apartment, a two bedroom in a modern high-rise on Hertha-Firnberg-Strasse, just south of Vienna’s center. It had the benefit of overlooking a small garden below the terrace outside the bedroom where he and Sofia slept, fought, made love. The apartment was bright, clean, furnished in Danish modern—simple lines, neutral fabrics—which suited him. He wasn’t comfortable living in fussy, old-world quarters, where dampness, mold, and the memories of past wars were sure to be lurking.

Sofia’s somatotype was right in his wheelhouse: a full-figured woman with the long legs of a model, blond hair blunt-cut to just above her shoulders, full lips and a sharp chin, wide-apart eyes, night dark. She was whip-smart, as well. She worked for Simon & Trebbilowe, lawyers to many in the gig economy, so Parachute was a name known to her. She even did business with a couple of Parachute people—he had checked—though not of course anyone in the secret directorate overseen by Isobel Lowe, where Armistad worked. She was familiar only with Parachute’s multifaceted public face.

As Sofia had decided to take a shower, he stripped off his outer garments, went to the sideboard, poured himself three fingers of whiskey. Drink in hand, he stepped into the bedroom just as the bathroom door closed. The shower began to run, and he sat on the side of the bed, savoring the whiskey as it burned its way down to his stomach.

Sofia’s voice drifted through the door. “Want to join me in here?”

He did, but he had some work to do while she was behind the closed door. “Give me a couple of minutes,” he called out.

“Don’t miss your chance to soap me all over,” she said. “And I mean all over.”

Smiling, he took out his throwing knife, cleaned and lovingly oiled it.

He’d met Sofia in Bar Onyx on Stephensplatz, ironically near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He favored the place; it was quite posh. Glittering like a handful of jewels, it roosted on a high floor in a corner building; it boasted floor-to-ceiling windows, affording patrons spectacular views of the city.

She had been sitting at a lounging area with a group of women more or less of her age, late twenties, early thirties. At some point, he had to pass by in order to refresh his drink—he liked seeing his drinks made, not trusting waiters to hand them to him, an old habit that had served him well. On his way back, he discovered her eyeing him and he smiled. She smiled back. He was going to invite her over to his sitting area when she rose and walked away into another area of the bar. He assumed she was using the ladies, but moments later he saw her appear on a narrow terrace, forearms leaning on the hand-worked cast-iron balustrade. As he continued watching her, she pushed both shoes off. She stood there barefoot, seemingly tense, uncertain. Then she peered down at the busy square below. Her pale hair was blowing across her cheeks and he could see that her bare skin was pebbled from the cold.

At once he rose and, following the path she had taken through the crowded bar, found the inconspicuous doorway out to the terrace. She turned her head, her dark eyes on him as he approached.

“You’re not thinking of jumping, are you?” he said when he was near enough to grab hold of her if her answer was yes.

She laughed deep in her throat. “What gave you that idea?”

He gave her bare feet a significant look.

“Oh, no.” She briefly put fingertips to her lips. “I’m just a barefoot girl at heart. I belong bicycling down a country road on my way to buy milk, bread, and butter.”

“What are you doing in the city then?”

“Making money,” she replied. “What else.” The smile on her lips went straight to his heart.

He invited her back to his sitting area. At first, she declined, but at his gentle urging she agreed, and that was it. She came back here with him that night and more or less had never left.

Soon enough, the eager blade looked just as it had before he’d used it at the cemetery, gleaming in the circle of light thrown off by the bedside lamp. The suit had not been his first kill, nor would it be his last. He rolled more whiskey around his mouth, swallowed, while briefly gripping the amulet around his neck. It was made of titanium, lightweight and durable.

He held out his right hand, saw there wasn’t a trace of a tremor. He had been unnerved by his first kill, which had come upon him all at once. He did what he had been trained to do without conscious thought. Muscle memory. But afterward, the nightmares had started. They kept up until his second kill. It was as if the two canceled each other out, and from then on he was golden, working his way across Europe as needed. You would not think a gig economy corporation would need people like him—and certainly the thought would never occur to anyone on the outside looking in—but nowadays espionage was not the sole province of governments. Governments could no longer be trusted except with incompetence. And since Parachute, like most gig companies, lived on the bleeding edge of constant breakthrough innovation, it required heavy protection from hackers and corporate spies. These days if you wanted something done you needed to do it yourself. That was Isobel’s philosophy and he happened to know it came straight from the top, from Marsden Tribe, Parachute’s once-in-a-generation genius.

“Love,” Sofia called, “are you coming? It’s lonely in here.”

He laughed, put away the knife, and rose, shucking off the rest of his clothes. He was padding toward the bathroom when the slider to the terrace exploded inward. Instantly, he grabbed the necklace, buried it in his fist. Seconds later the figure was on him. A knee slammed into his testicles and with a groan he doubled over. Head pressed into the carpet, the muzzle of a pistol pressed against his temple, Armistad prepared himself for death.

“Where is it?” the male voice grated.

“Where’s what?” Armistad figured he had nothing to lose by lying.

The muzzle pressed harder. “We know you have it. Tell me where it is.”

“I have no idea what—” He broke off as the barrel of the pistol whipped against his cheek, opening skin and the flesh beneath. He felt the wet heat of his own blood, the warmth of it in his mouth.

“Enough bullshit.” The figure had bent low, the harsh stink of stale cigarettes and garlic sausage enveloped him.

“I guess you’ll just have to kill me,” Armistad said.

“As you wish.”

The muzzle pressed against his chest, beneath which his heart beat like a triphammer. Armistad closed his eyes and tried to catch the lingering musk of Sofia. Not a bad scent to be his last.

The percussion rocked him. A weight came down, smothering him. He had read that the brain lived on precious seconds after the body died. Was this what it was like, being smothered? Was death on the other side?

Then, at once, the weight was lifted off him and he saw Sofia, a small but deadly Kahr Arms ACP.380 in one hand, rolling the body of the intruder off him and onto the carpet. She was wearing her carmine chenille robe.

She knelt down. “Are you okay, love?” She examined his bloody cheek. “We should get you to a hospital.”

“No hospital.” With her help he sat up. His mind was still trying to process what was happening. It wasn’t every day you were on the point of death one minute and safe the next. Even for him this was a first.

“A clinic then.”

“No.” he said it firmly so she’d know he’d closed the subject.

“Okay.” She eyed him as he got to his feet. “But what the hell is going on?” She pointed at the corpse. “Who is that?”

“No clue.” Armistad sat on the end of the bed. His nerves were still twanging uncomfortably, but at least his thoughts were beginning to clear. He watched her while she went back into the bathroom, returned with a washcloth soaked in cold water. She pressed it to his face. Her eyes were cloudy with anxiety and worry.

“Why did he attack you?”

Armistad shook his head, and she sighed.

“Okay, let’s at least get you into the shower so you can clean up. Then we can figure out this puzzle.”

“Out,” he said, rising. “We need to get out of here. Now.”

She gestured. “Not with you looking like that.”

She took him into the bathroom where the shower was still running. He stepped in, the hot water sluicing over him, easing his knotted muscles. Luxuriating in the lassitude coming over him, he gestured for her to join him.

It was only when she smiled at him that he wondered what she was doing with a weapon while she was supposedly taking a shower, but by then it was too late.

“Oh, fuck,” he said, fisting his amulet tightly.

“Ah, no. Not tonight, love.”

She shot him twice between the eyes with the ACP .380.

As he slumped to the wet tiles, she pried open his fingers, releasing his death-grip on the amulet.

“Ah, so there you are, love,” she whispered as she ripped the titanium oval from its slender silver chain.

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