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The pharaohs secret, p.1
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       The Pharaoh's Secret, p.1

           Clive Cussler
 
The Pharaoh's Secret


  ALSO BY CLIVE CUSSLER

  DIRK PITT® ADVENTURES

  Havana Storm (with Dirk Cussler)

  Poseidon’s Arrow (with Dirk Cussler)

  Crescent Dawn (with Dirk Cussler)

  Arctic Drift (with Dirk Cussler)

  Treasure of Khan (with Dirk Cussler)

  Black Wind (with Dirk Cussler)

  Trojan Odyssey

  Valhalla Rising

  Atlantis Found

  Flood Tide

  Shock Wave

  Inca Gold

  Sahara

  Dragon

  Treasure

  Cyclops

  Deep Six

  Pacific Vortex!

  Night Probe!

  Vixen 03

  Raise the Titanic!

  Iceberg

  The Mediterranean Caper

  FARGO ADVENTURES

  The Solomon Curse (with Russell Blake)

  The Eye of Heaven (with Russell Blake)

  The Mayan Secrets (with Thomas Perry)

  The Tombs (with Thomas Perry)

  The Kingdom (with Grant Blackwood)

  Lost Empire (with Grant Blackwood)

  Spartan Gold (with Grant Blackwood)

  ISAAC BELL NOVELS

  The Assassin (with Justin Scott)

  The Bootlegger (with Justin Scott)

  The Striker (with Justin Scott)

  The Thief (with Justin Scott)

  The Race (with Justin Scott)

  The Spy (with Justin Scott)

  The Wrecker (with Justin Scott)

  The Chase

  KURT AUSTIN ADVENTURES

  Ghost Ship (with Graham Brown)

  Zero Hour (with Graham Brown)

  The Storm (with Graham Brown)

  Devil’s Gate (with Graham Brown)

  Medusa (with Paul Kemprecos)

  The Navigator (with Paul Kemprecos)

  Polar Shift (with Paul Kemprecos)

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  White Death (with Paul Kemprecos)

  Fire Ice (with Paul Kemprecos)

  Blue Gold (with Paul Kemprecos)

  Serpent (with Paul Kemprecos)

  OREGON FILES ADVENTURES

  Piranha (with Boyd Morrison)

  Mirage (with Jack Du Brul)

  The Jungle (with Jack Du Brul)

  The Silent Sea (with Jack Du Brul)

  Corsair (with Jack Du Brul)

  Plague Ship (with Jack Du Brul)

  Skeleton Coast (with Jack Du Brul)

  Dark Watch (with Jack Du Brul)

  Sacred Stone (with Craig Dirgo)

  Golden Buddha (with Craig Dirgo)

  NONFICTION

  Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt

  The Sea Hunters (with Craig Dirgo)

  The Sea Hunters II (with Craig Dirgo)

  Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed (with Craig Dirgo)

  G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

  Publishers Since 1838

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street

  New York, New York 10014

  Copyright © 2015 by Sandecker, RLLLP

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Cussler, Clive.

  The pharaoh’s secret : a novel from the Numa files / Clive Cussler and Graham Brown.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 978-0-698-19126-6

  1. Austin, Kurt (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Marine scientists—Fiction. I. Brown, Graham. II. Title.

  PS3553.U75P48 2015 2015026300

  813’54—dc23

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  CONTENTS

  Also by Clive Cussler

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Prologue

  CITY OF THE DEAD

  Abydos, Egypt

  1353 B.C., the seventeenth year of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s reign

  The full moon cast a blue glow across the sands of Egypt, painting the dunes the color of snow and the abandoned temples of Abydos in shades of alabaster and bone. Shadows moved beneath this stark illumination as a procession of intruders crept through the City of the Dead.

  They traveled at a somber pace, thirty men and women, their faces covered by the hoods of oversize robes, their eyes locked on the path before them. They passed the burial chambers containing the pharaohs of the First Dynasty and the shrines and monuments built in the Second Age to honor the gods.

  At a dusty intersection, where the drifting sand covered the stone causeway, the procession came to a silent halt. Their leader, Manu-hotep, gazed into the darkness, cocking his head to listen and tightening his grip on a spear.

  “Did you hear something?” a woman asked, easing up beside him.

/>   The woman was his wife. Behind them trailed several other families and a dozen servants carrying stretchers that bore the bodies of each family’s children. All cut down by the same mysterious disease.

  “Voices,” Manu-hotep said. “Whispers.”

  “But the city is abandoned,” she said. “To enter the necropolis has been made a crime by Pharaoh’s decree. Even we risk death to set foot on this ground.”

  He pulled back the hood of his cloak, revealing a shaven head and a golden necklace that marked him as a member of Akhenaten’s court. “No one is more aware of that than I.”

  For centuries, Abydos, the City of the Dead, had thrived, populated by priests and acolytes of Osiris, ruler of the afterlife and the god of fertility. The pharaohs of the earliest dynasty were buried here, and though more recent kings had been buried elsewhere, they still constructed temples and monuments to honor Osiris. All except Akhenaten.

  Shortly after becoming pharaoh, Akhenaten had done the unthinkable: he’d rejected the old gods, minimizing them by decree and then overthrowing them, casting the Egyptian pantheon down into the dust and replacing it with the worship of a single god of his choosing: Aten, the Sun God.

  Because of this, the City of the Dead was abandoned, the priests and worshippers long gone. Anyone caught within its borders was to be executed. For a member of Pharaoh’s court like Manu-hotep, the punishment would be worse: unrelenting torture until they prayed and begged to be killed.

  Before Manu-hotep could speak again, he sensed movement. A trio of men came racing from the dark, weapons in hand.

  Manu-hotep pushed his wife back into the shadows and lunged with his spear. It caught the lead man in the chest, impaling him and stopping him cold, but the second man stabbed at Manu-hotep with a bronze dagger.

  Twisting to avoid the blow, Manu-hotep fell to the ground. He pulled his spear free and slashed at the second assailant. He missed, but the man stepped backward and the tip of a second spear came through his back and protruded from his stomach as one of the servants joined the fight. The wounded man crumpled to his knees, gasping for air and unable to cry out. By the time he fell over, the third assailant was running for his life.

  Manu-hotep rose up and flung his spear with a powerful twist of his body. It missed by inches and the fleeing target disappeared into the night.

  “Grave robbers?” someone asked.

  “Or spies,” Manu-hotep said. “I’ve felt as if we were being followed for days. We need to hurry. If he gets word to Pharaoh, we won’t live to see the morning.”

  “Perhaps we should leave,” his wife urged. “Perhaps this is a mistake.”

  “Following Akhenaten was the mistake,” Manu-hotep said. “The Pharaoh is a heretic. Because we stood with him, Osiris punishes us. Surely you’ve noticed that only our children fall asleep, never to wake; only our cattle lie dead in the fields. We must beg Osiris for mercy. And we must do it now.”

  As Manu-hotep spoke, his determination grew. During the long years of Akhenaten’s reign, all resistance had been crushed by force of arms, but the gods had begun taking revenge of their own and those who stood with Pharaoh were suffering the worst.

  “This way,” Manu-hotep said.

  They continued deeper into the quiet city and soon arrived at the largest building in the necropolis, the Temple of Osiris.

  Broad and flat-roofed, it was surrounded by tall columns sprouting from huge blocks of granite. A great ramp led up to a platform of exquisitely carved stone. Red marble from Ethiopia, granite infused with blue lapis from Persia. At the front of the temple stood a pair of mammoth bronze doors.

  Manu-hotep reached them and pulled the doors open with surprising ease. The smell of incense wafted forth, and the sight of fire in front of the altar and torches on the walls surprised him. The flickering light revealed benches arranged in a semicircle. Dead men, women and children lay upon them, surrounded by members of their own families and the muted sounds of quiet sobbing and whispered prayers.

  “It appears we’re not the only ones to break Akhenaten’s decree,” Manu-hotep said.

  Those inside the temple looked at him, but otherwise they didn’t react.

  “Quickly,” he said to his servants.

  They filed in, placing the children’s bodies where they could find space as Manu-hotep approached the great altar of Osiris. There, he knelt, head down beside the fire, bowing in supplication. He withdrew from his robe two ostrich feathers.

  “Great Lord of the Dead, we come to you in suffering,” he whispered. “Our families have fallen to the affliction. Our houses have been cursed, our lands have turned to worthless chaff. We ask that you take our dead and bless them in the afterlife. You who control the Gates of Death, you who command the rebirth of the grain from the fallen seed, we beseech you: send life back to our lands and homes.”

  He placed the feathers down reverently, sprinkled a mixture of silica and gold dust across them and stepped back from the altar.

  A gust of wind blew through the chamber, drawing the flames to one side. A resounding boom followed and echoed throughout the hall.

  Manu-hotep spun just in time to see the huge doors at the far end of the temple slam shut. He looked around nervously as the torches on the wall flickered, threatening to go out. But they stayed lit and the flames soon straightened and burned brightly once again. In the restored light, he saw the shape of several figures behind the altar where no one had been standing just moments before.

  Four of them were dressed in black and gold—priests of the Osiris cult. The fifth was clothed differently, as if he were the Lord of the Underworld himself. The fabric used to mummify the dead had been wrapped around his legs and waist. Bracelets and a necklace of gold contrasted with his greenish-tinted skin, while a crown replete with ostrich feathers adorned his head.

  In one hand this figure held a shepherd’s crook, in the other a golden flail, meant to thrash the wheat and separate the living grain from the dead husk. “I am the messenger of Osiris,” this priest said. “The avatar of the Great Lord of the Afterlife.”

  The voice was deep and resonant and almost otherworldly in its tone. Everyone in the temple bowed and the priests on either side of this central figure proceeded forth. They walked around the dead scattering leaves, flower petals and what looked to Manu-hotep like dried skin from reptiles and amphibians.

  “You seek the comfort of Osiris,” the avatar said.

  “My children are dead,” Manu-hotep replied. “I seek favor for them in the afterlife.”

  “You serve the betrayer” was the response. “As such, you are unworthy.”

  Manu-hotep kept his head down. “I have allowed my tongue to do Akhenaten’s work,” he admitted. “For that, you may strike me down. But take my loved ones to the afterlife as they had been promised before Akhenaten corrupted us.”

  When Manu-hotep dared to look up, he found the avatar staring at him, its black eyes unblinking.

  “No,” the lips said finally. “Osiris commands you to act. You must prove your repentance.”

  A bony finger pointed toward a red amphora resting on the altar. “In that vessel is a poison that cannot be tasted. Take it. Place it in Akhenaten’s wine. It will darken his eyes and deprive him of sight. He will no longer be able to stare at his precious sun and his rule will crumble.”

  “And my children?” Manu-hotep asked. “If I do this, will they be favored in the afterlife?”

  “No,” the priest said.

  “But why? I thought you—”

  “If you choose this path,” the priest interrupted, “Osiris will command your children to live in this world once again. He will turn the Nile back to a River of Life and allow your fields to become fertile. Do you accept this honor?”

  Manu-hotep hesitated. To disobey the Pharaoh was one thing, but to assassinate him . . .

  As he wav
ered, the priest moved suddenly, thrusting one end of the flail into the fire beside the altar. The leather strands of the weapon burst into flame as if they were covered in oil. With a snap of his wrist, the priest flicked the weapon downward into the dead husks and leaves scattered by his followers. The dried chaff lit instantly and a line of fire raced along the trail until a circle of flame surrounded both the living and the dead.

  Manu-hotep was forced back by waves of heat. The smoke and fumes became overpowering, blurring his vision and affecting his balance. When he looked up, a wall of fire separated him from the departing priests.

  “What have you done?” his wife cried out.

  The priests were vanishing down a stairwell behind the altar. The flames were chest-high and both the mourners and the dead were now trapped in a circular blaze.

  “I hesitated,” he muttered. “I was afraid.”

  Osiris had given them a chance and he’d thrown it away. In mental agony, Manu-hotep glanced at the amphora of poison on the altar. It blurred in the heat and then vanished from sight as the smoke overcame him.

  —

  Manu-hotep woke up to a stream of light pouring in through open panels in the ceiling. The fire was gone, replaced by a circle of ashes. The smell of smoke lingered and a thin layer of residue could be seen on the floor as if the morning dew had mixed with the ash or perhaps a thin, misty rain had fallen.

  Groggy and disoriented, he sat up and looked around. The huge doors at the end of the room were open. The cool morning air was wafting through. The priests hadn’t killed them after all. But why?

  As he searched for a reason, a small hand with tiny fingers trembled beside him. He turned to see his daughter, shaking as if in a seizure, her mouth opening and closing as if she was fighting for air like a fish on the riverbank.

  He reached for her. She was warm instead of cold, moving instead of rigid. He could hardly believe it. His son was moving also, kicking like a child in the midst of a dream.

  He tried to get the children to speak and to stop shaking but could accomplish neither task.

  Around them, others were waking in similar states.

  “What’s wrong with everybody?” his wife asked.

  “Caught between life and death,” Manu-hotep guessed. “Who can say what pain that brings?”

  “What do we do?”

 
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