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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:02

Reynolds shot them a stern gaze. “And how do you propose to not die of whatever it is that apparently affected the rest of the people on that island?”

“We have full-face helmets and plenty of pure oxygen. If we wear them, we should be fine.”

“Some nerve toxins react with the skin,” Reynolds pointed out.

“We have dry suits that are waterproof,” Kurt shot back. “That ought to do the trick.”

“And we can wear gloves and tape up every gap,” Joe added.

“Duct tape?” Reynolds said. “You’re going to bet your lives on the integrity of duct tape?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Joe admitted. “I used it to tape the wing of an airplane back together once. Although that didn’t work out the way we planned.”

“This is serious,” Reynolds said, baffled at what the two seemed intent on doing. “You’re talking about risking your lives for nothing. You have no reason to think anyone is even still alive on that island.”

“Not true,” Kurt replied. “I have two reasons. First, we received that radio call, which was obviously made after the event happened. That doctor and several others were alive—at least at that time they were. In a hospital, no less. They mentioned being sealed-off, presumably to keep this toxin from reaching them. Others could have done the same thing. Including our people. Beyond that, some of the squid aren’t dead out there. They’re flapping around, grabbing onto each other and moving just enough to tell me they’re not ready to be thrown onto a barbecue yet.”

“That’s pretty thin,” Reynolds said.

It was thick enough for Kurt. “I’m not waiting around out here only to find out there were people we could have helped if we’d have moved sooner.”

Reynolds shook his head. He knew he wasn’t going to win this argument. “Okay, fine,” he said. “But what are we supposed to do in the meantime?”

“Keep an ear to the radio and an eye on the pelicans sitting on that buoy,” Kurt said, pointing to a trio of white birds on the channel marker. “If they start to die and drop off into the sea, turn the boat around and get out of here as fast as you can.”

A few miles away, a brooding figure sat in a small Zodiac boat, one that he’d stolen from the doomed freighter. Ammon Ta had escaped the ship by making his way aft to the boat, complete with a radio that the freighter’s crew normally used to inspect the hull.

He’d been no more than a hundred feet from the ship when the blast occurred. Far too close. He should have been killed by the concussion wave, if not incinerated completely, but the dull thud of the explosion had only startled him. The ship hadn’t been obliterated as he’d expected.

Something had gone wrong. His immediate instinct was to reboard the ship, and despite the initial explosion, the freighter was still running flat out and the little boat he’d commandeered was too slow to catch up.

There had been little he could do but watch the ship continue on until it ran aground and finally exploded in the manner he’d intended.

Even then, things didn’t go quite right. Instead of destroying the cryogenically cooled serum, the fire and explosion had atomized it, creating a killing fog as effective as any nerve gas. He watched helpless as the fog spread to the west, engulfing the island. His attempt to hide what he and his superiors were doing had now been broadcast to the entire world.

As if to prove it, he’d overheard a call for help over the runabout’s radio. It came from a doctor trapped with a number of patients in the island’s main hospital. He heard clearl

y as she referenced seeing a cloud of gas before quarantining herself and several others.

He made a fateful decision. On the chance the doctor was still alive, he needed to eliminate her and any evidence she might have gathered.

He reached into his pocket, withdrew a prepackaged hypodermic needle and pulled the top off with his teeth. After a quick tap with his finger to make sure there were no bubbles in the syringe, he jabbed it into his leg and pressed the plunger down, injecting himself with an antidote. A cold sensation ran through his body with the medicine and for a moment his hands and feet tingled.

As the feeling subsided, he restarted the Zodiac’s motor and made his way toward the island, angling along the coast until he found a safe spot to go ashore.

Without delay, he began a brisk hike across an empty beach and then up a staircase cut into the rock and onto a narrow road above it.

The hospital was two miles away. And not far from that lay the airport. He would find this doctor, kill her and the other survivors and then make his way to the airport, where he could steal a small plane and depart for Tunisia or Libya, or even Egypt, and no one would ever know he’d been there.

“Not exactly what I’d call resort casual,” Joe said.

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“Better than choking on poisonous fumes,” Kurt said.