The Storm In the middle of Indian Ocean, a NUMA research vessel is taking water samples at sunset, when a crew member spots a sheen of black oil ahead of them. Like a horde of army ants, a swarm of black particles suddenly attacks the ship, killing everyone aboard, while the ship itself goes up in flames. It will kill millions ...and it has already begun. Full description
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Indian Ocean September 1943
The S.S. John Bury shuddered from bow to stern as it plowed through the rolling waters of the Indian Ocean. She was known as a “fast freighter,” designed to accompany warships and used to traveling at a decent clip, but with all boilers going full out the John Bury was moving at a pace she hadn’t seen since her sea trials. Damaged, burning, and trailing smoke, the John Bury was running for her life.
The ship crested a ten-foot wave, the deck pitched down and the bow dug into another swell. A wide swath of spray kicked up over the rail and whipped back across the deck, rattling what was left of the shattered bridge.
Topside, the John Bury was a mangled wreck. Smoke poured from twisted metal where rockets had pounded the superstructure. Debris littered the deck, and dead crewmen lay everywhere.
But the damage was above the waterline, and the fleeing ship would survive if it avoided any more hits.
On the dark horizon behind, smoke poured from other vessels that had been less fortunate. An orange fireball erupted from one, flashing across the water and briefly illuminating the carnage.
The burning hulks of four ships could be seen, three destroyers and a cruiser, ships that had been the John Bury’s escort. A Japanese submarine and a squadron of dive-bombers had found them simultaneously. As dusk approached, oil burned around the sinking vessels in a mile-long slick. It fouled the sky with dense black smoke. None of them would see the dawn.
The warships had been targeted and destroyed quickly, but the John Bury had only been strafed, hit with rockets and left to run free. There could be only one reason for that mercy; the Japanese knew of the top secret cargo she carried and they wanted it for themselves.
Captain Alan Pickett was determined not to let that happen, even with half his crew dead and his face gashed by shrapnel. He grabbed the voice tube and shouted down to the engine room.
“More speed!” he demanded.
There was no response. At last report a fire had been raging belowdecks. Pickett had ordered his men to stay and fight it, but now the silence left him gripped with fear.
“Zekes off the port bow!” a lookout called from the bridge wing. “Two thousand feet and dropping.”
Pickett glanced through the shattered glass in front of him. In the failing light he saw four black dots wheeling in the gray sky and dropping toward the ship. Flashes lit from their wings.
“Get down!” he shouted.
Too late. Fifty caliber shells stitched a line across the ship, cutting the lookout in half and blasting apart what was left of the bridge. Shards of wood, glass and steel flew about the compartment.
Pickett hit the deck. A wave of heat flashed over the bridge as another rocket hit ahead of it. The impact rocked the ship, peeling back the metal ceiling like a giant can opener.
As the wave of destruction passed, Pickett looked up. The last of his officers lay dead, the bridge was demolished. Even the ship’s wheel was gone, with only a stub of metal still attached to the spindle. Yet somehow the vessel chugged on.
As Pickett climbed back up, he spotted something that gave him hope: dark clouds and sweeping bands of rain. A squall line was moving in fast off the starboard bow. If he could get his ship into it, the coming darkness would hide him.
Holding on to the bulkhead for support, he reached for what remained of the wheel. He pushed with all the strength he had left. It moved half a turn, and he fell to the ground holding it.
The ship began to change course.
Pressing against the deck, he pushed the wheel upward and then brought it back down again for another full revolution.
The freighter was leaning into the turn now, drawing a curved white wake on the ocean’s surface, coming around toward the squall.
The clouds ahead were thick. The rain falling from them was sweeping the surface like a giant broom. For the first time since the attack began, Pickett felt they had a chance, but as the ship plowed toward the squall the awful sound of the dive-bombers turning and plunging toward him again put that in doubt.
He searched through the ship’s gaping wounds for the source of that noise.
Dropping from the sky directly in front of him were two Aichi D3A dive-bombers, Vals, the same type the Japanese had used with deadly effect at Pearl Harbor and months later against the British fleet near Ceylon.
Pickett watched them nose over and listened as the whistling sound of their wings grew louder. He cursed at them and pulled his sidearm.
“Get away from my ship!” he shouted, blasting at them with the Colt .45.
They pulled up at the last minute and roared past, riddling the ship with another spread of .50 caliber shells. Pickett fell back onto the deck, a shell clean through his leg, shattering it. His eyes opened, gazing upward. He was unable to move.
Waves of smoke and gray sky rolled above him. He was finished, he thought. The ship and its secret cargo would soon fall into enemy hands.
Pickett cursed himself for not scuttling the ship. He hoped it would somehow go down on its own before it could be boarded.
As his eyesight began to fail, the sound of more dive-bombers caught his ear. The roar grew louder, the banshee scream from their wings calling out and announcing the terrible inevitability of the end.
And then the sky above darkened. The air turned cold and wet, and the S.S. John Bury disappeared into the storm, swallowed up by a wall of mist and rain.
She was last reported by a Japanese pilot as burning but sailing under full power. She was never seen or heard from again.Chapter One
Northern Yemen, near the Saudi border August 1967
Tariq al-Khalif hid his face behind a cloth of soft white cotton. The kaffiyeh covered his head and wrapped around his mouth and nose. It kept the sun, wind and sand from his weather-beaten features as it hid him from the world.
Only Khalif’s eyes showed, hard and sharp from sixty years in the desert. They did not blink or turn away as he stared at the dead bodies in the sand before him.
Eight bodies in all. Two men, three women, three children; stripped naked, all clothes and belongings gone. Most had been shot, a few had been stabbed.
As the camel train at Khalif’s back waited, a rider moved slowly up toward him. Khalif recognized the strong, young figure in the saddle. A man named Sabah, his most trusted lieutenant. A Russian-made AK-47 lay slung over his shoulder.
“Bandits for certain,” Sabah said. “No sign of them now.”
Khalif studied the rough sand at his feet. He noticed the tracks disappearing to the west, headed directly toward the only source of water for a hundred miles, an oasis called Abi Quzza—the “silken water.”
“No, my friend,” he said. “These men are not waiting around to be discovered. They hide their numbers by sticking to the hard ground, where no tracks are left, or they walk on the softest sand, where the marks soon fade. But here I can see the truth, they’re heading toward our home.”
Abi Quzza had belonged to Khalif’s family for generations. It provided life-giving water and a modicum of wealth. Date palms grew in abundance around its fertile springs, along with grass for the sheep and camels.
With the growing number of trucks and other forms of modern transportation, the caravans that paid for its gifts had begun to dwindle, and the role of camel-raising Bedouins like Khalif and his family were fading along with them, but they were not yet gone. For the clan to have any prospects at all, Khalif knew the oasis must be protected.
“Your sons will defend it,” Sabah said.
The oasis lay twenty miles to the west. Khalif’s sons, two nephews and their families waited there. A half dozen tents, ten men with rifles. It would not be an easy place to attack. And yet Khalif felt a terrible unease.
“We must hurry,” he said, climbing back onto his camel.
Sabah nodded. He slid the AK-47 forward to a more aggressive position and nudged his camel forward.
Three hours later they approached the oasis. From a distance they could see nothing but small fires. There were no signs of struggle, no ripped tents or stray animals, no bodies lying in the sand.
Khalif ordered the camel train to a halt and dismounted. He took Sabah and two others, moving forward on foot.
The silence around them was so complete, they could hear the crackle of wood in the fires and their own feet scuffling in the sand. Somewhere in the distance, a jackal began to yelp. It was a long way off, but the noise carried in the desert.
Khalif halted, waiting for the jackal’s call to fade. When it died away, a more pleasant sound followed: a small voice singing a traditional Bedouin melody. It came from the main tent and fl owed quietly.
Khalif began to relax. It was the voice of his youngest son, Jinn.
“Bring the caravan,” Khalif said. “All is well.”
As Sabah and the others went back to the camels, Khalif walked forward. He reached his tent, threw open the flap, and froze.
A bandit dressed in rags stood there, holding a curved blade to his son’s throat. Another bandit sat beside him, clutching an old rifle.
“One move and I slice his neck,” the bandit said.
“Who are you?”
“I am Masiq,” the bandit said.
“What do you want?” Khalif asked.
Masiq shrugged. “What don’t we want?”
“The camels have value,” Khalif said, guessing what they were after. “I will give them to you. Just spare my family.”
“Your offer is meaningless to me,” Masiq r...Biographie de l'auteur :
Clive Cussler is the author or coauthor of fifty previous books, including twenty-one Dirk Pitt® adventures, eight NUMA® Files adventures; eight Oregon Files books; five Isaac Bell thrillers; and three Fargo novels. His most recent New York Times bestsellers are Crescent Dawn, The Jungle, The Kingdom, and The Race. His nonfiction works include Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt®, plus The Sea Hunters and The Sea Hunters II; these describe the true adventures of the real NUMA, which, led by Cussler, searches for lost ships of historic significance. With his crew of volunteers, Cussler has discovered more than sixty ships, including the long-lost Confederate submarine Hunley. He lives in Arizona.
Graham Brown is the author of Black Rain and Black Sun, and the co-author with Cussler of Devil’s Gate. A pilot and an attorney, he lives in Arizona.
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