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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:01

After a delay of several seconds, Kurt heard the hum of static and a bit of feedback before a voice could be heard speaking. Kurt couldn’t make out the first dozen words or so, but then the signal cleared and the voice became stronger. It was a woman’s voice. A woman who sounded calm and yet in great need at the same time.

She spoke in Italian for twenty seconds and then switched to English.

“. . . I say again, this is Dr. Renata Ambrosini . . . We have been attacked . . . Now trapped in the hospital . . . desperately need assistance . . . We are sealed in and our oxygen is running low. Please respond.”

A few seconds of static followed and then the message repeated.

“Any traffic on the emergency bands?” Joe asked.

“Nothing,” Reynolds said. “But out of an abundance of caution, I put in a call to the logistics team. No one’s picking up.”

“That’s odd,” Joe said. “Someone is supposed to be manning the radio at all times while we’re out here.”

Kurt agreed. “Call someone else,” he suggested to Reynolds. “There’s an Italian Coast Guard station in the harbor. See if you can raise the commandant there.”

“Already tried it,” Reynolds said. “Tried the satellite phone too, just in case the radios were being affected by something. In fact, I’ve dialed every number I can find for Lampedusa, including the local police station and the joint we ordered pizza from the first night we docked there. No one is answering. I’m not trying to sound like an alarmist, but for one reason or another that whole island has gone dark.”

Kurt wasn’t the type to jump to conclusions, yet the woman had used the word attack. “Contact the Italian authorities in Palermo,” he said. “A distress call is a distress call, even if it doesn’t come from a ship. Tell them we’re going to see what we can do to help.”

Kurt expected as much. He broke the news to the rest of the team. They quickly put their tools down, switched off the lights and began a very slow ascent, meeting up with the decompression tank, as it was lowered down on cables, in which they were hauled to the surface in pressurized safety.

Kurt, Joe and Michelle had made their way to the surface in the powered hard suits and Kurt was pulling off his gear when Reynolds gave them more bad news. Not a word had come from Lampedusa. Nor were there any military or Coast Guard units within a hundred miles of the island.

“They’re fueling up a couple helicopters out of Sicily, but they won’t be airborne for at least thirty minutes. And it’s an hour’s flying time from Sicily once they’re airborne.”

“We could be on the beach, finishing dessert and ordering a nightcap by then,” Joe said.

“Which is why they’re asking us to take a look,” Reynolds explained. “Apparently, we’re the closest thing to an official government presence in the area. Even if our government is on the other side of the Atlantic.”

“Good,” Kurt said. “For once, we don’t have to beg for permission or ignore someone’s warning to steer clear.”

“I’ll get us pointed in the right direction,” Reynolds said.

Kurt nodded. “And don’t spare the horses.”

As the Sea Dragon closed in on Lampedusa, the first sign of trouble was a pall of dark, oily smoke rising high above the island. Kurt trained a pair of high-powered binoculars on it.

“What do you see?” Joe asked.

“A ship of some kind,” Kurt said. “Sitting close to the shore.”

“Can’t tell,” Kurt said. “Too much smoke. What I can see is burnt and twisted metal.” He turned to Reynolds. “Head toward it, let’s take a closer look.”

The Sea Dragon changed course and smoke above them grew thicker and darker.

“The wind is dragging that smoke right across the island,” Joe noted.

“Wonder what she was carrying,” Kurt said. “If it was something to

He didn’t need to finish the statement.