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Valhalla rising, p.20
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       Valhalla Rising, p.20

           Clive Cussler
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  Captain Burch crouched low on the bridge wing, staring through the darkness at the hijackers' workboat. He held the ship's portable phone to his mouth and said softly, "Ready when you are, Chief."

  "Then bring up the anchor," replied House. "Soon as it's off the bottom, call me and I'll give her every pound of torque these engines got in them."

  "Stay tuned," said Burch. There was a time when anchors were brought up by crewmen operating switches and levers. All Burch had to do with the modern systems on board the Deep Encounter was punch a code into the computer. Then it was all automatic. But there was nothing he could do, there was nothing anybody could do, to muffle the rattle and clank as the chain scraped through the hawsehole into the chain locker.

  His years of experience told Burch the instant that the anchor broke free of the bottom. "Okay, Chief. Full speed. Take us the hell out of here."

  Down below in his kingdom, House's hands played over the control panel. He felt a measure of pleased satisfaction as he felt the propellers bite the water and drag down the stern as the ship lurched forward.

  Giordino took the automatic rifles gathered from the two hijackers he and Pitt had overpowered and stationed himself behind the gunnel a few feet away from the gangplank leading to the pirate ship. He lay on the deck, one rifle held in the crook of his arm. The other rifle he laid on the deck beside him next to the revolver. He didn't fool himself into thinking he could win a heavy firefight. But his line of fire could easily keep boarders off the survey vessel once it got under way. He could have pushed the gangplank between the two ships into the water, but thought better of making any unnecessary sound. It would fall of its own accord after the Deep Encounter began to move away.

  He felt the vibrations through the deck as Chief Engineer House switched on the big generators and set the diesel electric engines at full speed. Two of the survey ship's crewmen crawled along the deck under the steel gunnel shields and cast off the mooring lines to the work boat from the starboard bollards, before scrambling back inside the undercover of the superstructure.

  Now comes the fun part, Giordino thought to himself, as he heard the clatter from the anchor chain. To the people on board Deep Encounter, the sound came like twenty hammers striking an anvil. True to expectations, three of the hijackers rushed out of the mess room to see what the noise was about.

  Confused at seeing the anchor of the Deep Encounter being raised and unaware that their partners in crime had been subdued, one started yelling at the top of his voice. "Stop, stop! You can't leave ahead of schedule. Not without a crew!"

  It was not in Giordino's nature to lie quiet. "Don't need no crew,"he said, in a grating voice, still mimicking the frog-throated hijacker. "I'm gonna do the job myself."

  There was growing confusion as more of the hijackers burst out onto the deck. Then a familiar rasping voice shouted out, "Who are you?" "Sam!" "You're not Sam. Where is he?"

  Giordino could feel the beat of the engines increase as the ship began to make headway. Another few seconds and the gangplank would be pulled off the ship. "Sam sez you're a drooling imbecile who can't be trusted to raise a toilet seat."

  Curses and shouts erupted as a crowd of hijackers made a run for the gangplank. Two of them made it and were halfway across when Giordino took careful aim and shot them in the knees. One hijacker fell backward on the work boat, the other sagged, clutching the railing on the gangplank, crying out in pain. At that moment, the end of the gangplank fell away as the survey ship got under way and began her dash through the channel.

  The hijackers rallied in the blink of an eye. Before the Deep Encounter had covered a hundred yards, the anchor was hoisted on the workboat and her stern dug in the water as she leaped to the pursuit. A volley of shots rang out and echoed off the lava rock hills, answered by Giordino, who unleashed several shots through the bridge windshield of the workboat.

  Rounding the bend into the channel, the survey ship was temporarily out of sight of the hijackers' guns. Giordino took the lull in the firing to run up the stairs to the pilothouse.

  "They're not happy campers," he said to Burch, who was manning the helm.

  "All they can do is bounce bullets off us," Burch said through teeth clenched on a pipe that was turned upside down. "They won't be boarding us as easily as they did the first time."

  They were pounding through the channel now. House was running the big electric diesels as fast as they could turn. The channel looked like a black pit. Only the vague shapes of the cliffs soaring above them, silhouetted against the stars, offered any visual sense of direction, but Delgado was bent over the radar screen quietly giving course changes. Everyone else in the pilothouse was casting anxious glances through the rear ports as the lights of the work boat came into view as she entered the channel.

  She was coming on at nearly twice the speed of the Deep Encounter. Black and sinister in the night, she loomed against the ragged outline of the palm trees on shore. Then all eyes turned and looked upward toward the steep cliffs and the tiny light that shone from the security guard's watch house. All in the pilothouse wondered if Pitt could get there before they reached the channel entrance. Only Giordino seemed confident, as he blasted the last of his ammunition at the rapidly approaching workboat.

  The path, if you could call it that, was barely a foot wide and twisted tortuously up the rising cliffs from the lagoon. Pitt ran as fast as he was able to push his body. His feet ached from the pounding on the lava rock and had begun to bleed. He had worn only sweat socks under the dive fins he'd borrowed from the old man, and they were soon reduced to shreds. He ran hard, his heart pounding faster with every stride, never once reducing his pace to a trot. The sweat quickly burst from his pores and ran down his face and upper torso in streams.

  He shaded the penlight with his hand to keep the beam from being seen by the guard in his watch house. It was during times like this that he wished he had indulged in more workout projects. Sandecker could have made the run without breathing hard, but Pitt's only exercise was his physically active life. He was gasping now and his feet felt as if they were treading on hot coals. He threw a quick glance back over his shoulder at hearing the sound of gunfire. He was confident that his friend of thirty years would never allow any attackers past the gangplank. The movement of the lights shining through the ports and flickering on the waters of the lagoon told him the Deep Encounter was under way. The shouting that echoed up the rock walls also told him the pirate ship was rapidly taking up the chase. Then came more gunfire as Giordino peppered the pursuing ship's bridge.

  He was less than fifty yards from the guardhouse. He slowed to a walk and then froze in position as he saw a shadow pass in front of the light streaming from a window. The watch guard had come out of his house and was standing on the edge of the cliff, staring down at the survey ship surging through the channel. Pitt moved forward, making no attempt at concealment. He ran crouched from behind the guard, whose concentration was focused on the events unfolding below. The door of the guardhouse was open, and enough light filtered out to reveal that the guard was holding some kind of weapon in his hands. Either he was alerted by the shattering echo of the gunfire in the lagoon, or he was warned by radio that the NUMA crew had somehow managed to escape in their ship and were coming through in an attempt to reach the sea.

  Moving closer, Pitt tensed as he recognized the weapon as a missile launcher. There was also a small wooden crate sitting on the ground next to the guard that held a supply of missiles. He watched as the guard raised the missile launcher to his shoulder.

  All thought of stealth was forgotten. He doubted that he could close the distance and rush the guard without being detected, even coming out of the night. His rush was an act of desperation. If the guard fired a missile into the Deep Encounter before he could be stopped, fifty innocent people would die, including his closest friend. Recklessly, he hurled himself across the final ten yards.

  Pitt materialized out of the night like an angel of death, running wi
th all the determination he could gather. The agony that erupted from his cut and torn feet was willed away as he sprinted the final few feet. He neither flinched nor faltered. Too late, the guard became aware of Pitt's assault. He was in the act of activating the firing mechanism of the missile launcher when he sensed a figure hurtling toward him. Pitt leaped and launched himself through the air, striking the guard just as he fired the missile.

  The blast from the launcher flashed over Pitt's head, singeing his hair as he smashed his head and shoulder into the guard's chest. They crashed to the ground as the missile, its aim altered by the impact of Pitt's body into the guard, flashed through the night and struck the side of a cliff fifty feet above and slightly behind the stern of the Deep Encounter. The explosion sent lava rock bursting across the channel, fragments raining down on the survey ship, but causing no casualties and little damage.

  The guard, stunned and with two broken ribs, struggled to his feet and swung his clutched hands in a vicious judo chop, missing his assailant's neck but pounding into the top of his skull. Pitt came within a hair of blacking out but recovered in an instant, came to his knees and swung his right fist with every once of strength he had into the guard's stomach just above the groin. The guard doubled over, the air escaping out of his mouth in an audible grunt. Then Pitt grabbed the missile launcher and swung it like a club. It struck the guard in the hip, knocking him sideways. Despite his injuries, the man was tough, his body hard from years of dedicated physical training. He reeled around, straightened and lunged at Pitt like a wounded boar.

  Using brain instead of muscle, Pitt deftly jumped to his feet and stepped aside. The guard reeled past, stumbled and fell over the edge of the cliff. His unexpected defeat came so quickly, he failed to cry out. The only sound came from a distant splash far below. With cold efficiency, Pitt quickly pulled a missile from the wooden crate, shoved it in the launcher and aimed it at the pirate ship plunging through the channel no more than a hundred yards behind the Deep Encounter. Pitt thanked the gods that it didn't require the complicated procedure of a Stinger. The firing sequence was elementary enough for any retarded terrorist to operate. He aimed the barrel through the simple sights at the pirate ship and pulled the trigger.

  The missile screeched away into the night, striking the work boat square amidships of the hull, just above the waterline. For an instant the explosion came as an insignificant blast. But it had penetrated the plates of the hull before bursting inside the engine room. Then came a shrieking bedlam of roar and flame as the pirate ship tore herself apart. The entire channel was suddenly illuminated, as a brilliant orange-and-red ball painted the towering cliffs. The detonation had ruptured the fuel tanks, turning the work boat into a raging inferno. The entire superstructure seemed to lift from the hull like a toy disassembled by an unseen hand. And then the brilliant flash abruptly snuffed out and darkness fell on the channel again, except for small pieces of flaming debris that fell into the water around the dying work boat as it vanished into the black water of the channel. In one brief holocaust, the lives of the hijackers were snuffed out.

  Pitt stood erect and stared entranced into the channel where only moments before a boat had been storming through the water. He felt few feelings of remorse. The men on board had been killers intent on murdering the entire fifty-one people of the survey vessel. The Deep Encounter and everyone on her were free from harm now. In Pitt's mind, that was all that mattered.

  He hurled the missile launcher far over the cliff into the water below. The pain in his cut and bleeding feet came back to torment him, and he limped up to the guardhouse and entered. He rummaged around the cabinets until he found a first-aid kit. Minutes later, after a heavy swabbing with antiseptic, his throbbing feet were encased in bandages thick enough for him to walk on. He searched the small enclosure for any papers in the drawers of the cabinet beneath the communications equipment and found only a notebook. A fast scan told him the entries had been made by the watch guard. He shoved it in the pocket of his shorts. He emptied a can half filled with gasoline for the portable generator that provided energy for the lights and radio and lit it with a box of wooden matches sitting in an ashtray stacked with cigarettes smoked down to their filters.

  Pitt stepped from the guardhouse, fired the matchbox and threw it through the doorway. As the interior erupted in flames, he hobbled back down the path leading to the lagoon. When he arrived, he found Giordino and Misty waiting for him on the beach. Resting with its bow in the sand was a launch with two crewmen from the survey ship.

  Giordino walked up to him and embraced him. "For a while there, I thought you'd been sidetracked by a luscious native girl."

  Pitt hugged his friend in return. "I guess I did cut it a mite close."

  "The guard?"

  "At the bottom of the channel with his buddies."

  "You do nice work."

  "Any damage or casualties on the ship?" asked Pitt.

  "A few dents, a few scratches, nothing serious."

  Misty ran up and threw her arms around him. "I can't believe you're still alive."

  Pitt gave her a gentlemanly kiss and then looked around the lagoon. "You came in the ship's launch?"

  Misty nodded. "The old man brought his yacht alongside Deep Encounter and transferred me on board."

  "Where is he?"

  Misty shrugged. "After talking briefly with Captain Burch, he sailed off to continue his round-the-world cruise."

  "I never got a chance to thank him," said Pitt regretfully.

  "He was a funny old guy," said Giordino. "He said we'd probably meet up again."

  "Who knows," Pitt said wistfully. "Anything is possible."

  Part Two

  GUARD OF HADES

  21

  JULY 25, 2003 NUKU'ALOFA, TONGA

  Under orders from Admiral Sandecker, Captain Burch steered a course straight to the port city of Nuku'alofa, the capital town of the island nation of Tonga, the only remaining Polynesian monarchy. A car was waiting for Pitt and Giordino to rush them to the international airport at Fua'amotu, where they could immediately board a Royal Tongan airliner for Hawaii. From there, a NUMA jet would take them on to Washington.

  Fond and tearful farewells were said with the men and women from the Deep Encounter. Despite their hair-raising ordeal, almost all of them had voted to return to station and continue their deep-ocean survey of the Tonga Trench. Misty cried, Giordino kept blowing his nose, Pitt's eyes were moist, even Burch and House looked as if they had lost their family dog. It was all Pitt and Giordino could do to break away and jump in the waiting car.

  After boarding a 747, they just had time to settle in their seats and fasten their seat belts before the big jet was thundering down the runway and rising in a lazy climb. The lush green landscape of Tonga quickly vanished behind them, and then they were climbing over an indigo sea above scattered clouds that looked thick enough to walk on. Thirty minutes into the flight, Giordino had drifted off to sleep in the aisle seat. Sitting by the window, Pitt retrieved Egan's leather case from the floor beneath the seat ahead of him and flicked open the clasps. He lifted the lid carefully, leery that it might be filled with oil again. A ridiculous idea, he thought with amusement. There was nothing magical about a prankster doing the deed.

  The case was empty except for a towel and the cassettes containing the video taken of the Emerald Dolphin by the cameras of the Abyss Navigator. He gently unwrapped the towel until he held the strange-looking misshapen object with the greenish tint they had picked up from the chapel floor. He turned it over in his left hand, using the fingers of his right. This was the first opportunity he'd had to eye it up close.

  There was a strange kind of greasy feel about it. Instead of being jagged and coarse, like most badly incinerated inorganic material, the object was rounded and smooth and twisted in a spiral. Pitt didn't have a clue as to its composition. He rewrapped the object in the towel and set it back in the case. He was certain the chemists in the NUMA lab would identify it.
Once he delivered the material, his part of the mystery was finished.

  Breakfast came, but he begged off, and had only tomato juice and coffee. Hunger eluded him. As he sipped the coffee, he again stared out the window. An island was drifting under the aircraft far below, an emerald speck set on a blue topaz sea. He studied it for a moment and recognized the shape as Tutuila, one of the American Samoan islands. He could make out the harbor of Pago Pago, where he'd visited the naval station many years ago with his father, then a United States congressman on a junket around the Pacific.

  He recalled the trip well. He was a boy in his middle teens and he'd taken every opportunity to dive around the island while his father was inspecting the naval facilities, gliding among the coral and the brilliantly colored fish with a spear gun. He'd rarely released the old surgical rubber sling, sending the thin spear shaft at a fish. He'd preferred simply to study or photograph the wonders beneath the surface. After a day spent enjoying the water, he would relax on the sandy beach under a palm tree and contemplate his future.

  And then, he remembered another beach, this one on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. He was still in the Air Force then. He saw himself as a young man with the woman whose memory had never left him. Summer Moran was the loveliest woman he'd ever known. He could recall in vivid detail the first time they'd met in the bar at the Ala Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach. Her enchanting gray eyes, the long fiery red hair, the perfectly shaped body in a tight oriental silk green dress slit on the sides. Then came the vision of her death as it had a thousand times. He'd lost her during an earthquake in an underwater city built by her mad father, Frederick Moran. She'd swum down to save him and never returned.

 
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