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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:06

“He’s too weak to do it himself,” Hassan suggested.

Shakir considered that. “I agree. Send a group of the new agents to back him up. With orders to make him disappear when it’s over or if he becomes a liability.”

Hassan nodded. “Of course. I’ll choose them personally,” he said. “In the meantime, the others have arrived, they’re waiting to speak with you down in the bunker.”

Shakir sighed. As distasteful as it was, even he had to answer to someone. Osiris was a private military force, the beginnings of an empire that would control governments instead of answer to them. But in many ways, at least until this plan came to fruition, it was also a corporation, with Shakir as its president and CEO.

The others, as Hassan had called them, were the equivalent of stockholders and members of the board, though all of them had bigger goals than mere success in business. Even unfathomable wealth was not enough for such men. They lusted for power and control, they wanted empires of their own, and Shakir was just the man to give it to them.

Shakir marched toward the shimmering pipeline and the long cinder-block structure that contained one of his many pumping stations. Two of his men stood guard there. They opened the doors and held them wide, keeping their eyes straight ahead. They knew better than to look Shakir in the face.

Once inside, Shakir walked to the rear of the building. A caged door separated him from a mining elevator. He opened it, stepped inside the car, which was designed to carry large groups of men and heavy equipment, and pressed the down button.

Two full minutes and four hundred feet later, the doors opened and Shakir stepped out into a cavernous subterranean compound illuminated by lights hidden in the floor and the walls. Part of the cave was natural, the rest carved out by Shakir’s mining team and the engineers. It ran two hundred yards in length. Most of it was filled with monstrous pumps the size of small houses and dozens of large pipes that twisted and snaked across the huge cavern before meeting at a central point, plunging into the ground and vanishing.

Shakir removed his sunglasses, impressed, as always, by the work. He moved past the oversize machinery to a control center, where large screens displayed the outline of Egypt and much of North Africa. A series of lines crisscrossed the map, ignoring all borders. Numbers beside each line indicated pressures, flow rates and volumes. Tiny flags blinking green pleased him.

Finally, he arrived at the plush conference room. Aside from the view—there was none—the room was the equivalent of any corporate meeting space in a high-rise office tower. The mahogany table in the center was surrounded by plush chairs filled with corpulent men. Screens on the wall displayed the Osiris logo.

Shakir took a seat at the head of the table and studied the group, who waited for him. Five Egyptians, three from Libya, two Algerians and one representative each from the Sudan and Tunisia. Shakir had taken Osiris from nothing and turned it into a major international corporation in a few short years. The formula for success required four primary ingredients: hard work, ruthless cunning, connection and, of course, money. Other people’s money.

Shakir and his cronies from the Secret Service had provided the first three parts, the men around the table had provided the last. All of them were wealthy, most had once been powerful—had once been because the Arab Spring that had tossed Shakir out had affected them even more acutely.

It all started in Tunisia, where an impoverished street vendor who had been abused by the police for years set himself on fire in protest.

It seemed so impossible at the time that this act would have any lasting effect, that it would be anything more than another life burned up and discarded. But as it turned out the man not only lit himself on fire, he became the match that set the Arab world alight and burned half of it to the ground.

Tunisia fell first and those who’d run the country for decades escaped to Saudi Arabia. Algeria suffered next. And then the fire spread, engulfing Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi had ruled longer and more harshly than anyone: forty-two years with an iron grip. Those close to him had grown rich and powerful on oil wealth. When the civil war came, many did not escape with even their lives, but those who’d been smart enough to send money and family overseas were luckier—though, like their Tunisian compatriots, they soon became refugees, men without a country or a purpose.

Egypt came apart after that and the reverberations took down Yemen, Syria and Bahrain to varying degrees. All from such a tiny spark.

Now that the flames had burned out, the men who’d survived the blaze wanted to reassert their control.

“I trust you all had a pleasant journey,” Shakir said.

“We don’t wish to make small talk,” one of the Egyptians said, a man with white hair, a sharp Western suit and a large Breitling watch on his wrist. He had made his money being paid vast sums by the Egyptian Air Force to use planes they’d sold to him for pennies. “When will the operation begin? All of us are anxious.”

Shakir turned to another subordinate. “Are the pumping stations ready?”

The man nodded affirmatively, tapped the keyboard in front of him and brought up the same schematic of Africa that had been on display in the control room.

“As you can see,” Shakir said, “the network is complete.”

“Any indication that our drilling has been noticed?” one of the former generals from Libya asked.

“No,” Shakir insisted. “By using the construction of the oil pipe to conceal our underground work, we’ve been able to keep anyone from being suspicious while we tap into every important section of the deep sub-Saharan aquifer. Which, as you men know, feeds every spring and desert oasis from here to the western edge of Algeria.”

“What about the shallow aquifers?” one of the other Libyans asked. “Our people have been

drawing on them for years.”

“Our studies show that all freshwater sources are dependent on this deeper body of liquid,” Shakir said. “Once we begin drawing water from it in large amounts, their supplies will become unreliable.”

“I want them to be cut off,” the Tunisian insisted.

“Impossible to completely cut them off,” Shakir replied. “But this is a desert. When Tunisia, Algeria and Libya see an overnight reduction in their water supply, of perhaps eighty to ninety percent, they will be at our mercy. Even rebels need to drink. Water will be restored when you men are back in power. Working together, Osiris will then control all of North Africa.”