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

Both Kurt and Joe looked up, their eyes tracking the tube to the surface.

“Where do you suppose that’s going to end up?” Joe asked.

Kurt didn’t reply, but both of them knew the answer. The only question was whether the bomb would travel all the way to the surface in forty seconds or get stuck in the line somewhere. Kurt kept the suction on full power, hoping the package would reach its destination.

On the surface, the rattling compressor that powered the vacuum excavator had gone from a low idle back to a full roar. The man in charge of it, whose name was Farouk, seemed pleased. He’d begun to think work had stopped down below.

So far, they’d recovered a few trinkets, but nothing major. He was beginning to worry. Every time a ship passed in the distance, he wondered if it might be NATO or a patrol vessel from Malta.

He moved over to where the excavator’s exhaust port pointed toward the metal screen, watching happily as the trickle of water flowing onto the grate became a torrent, mostly water, with little sediment. But that could change at any minute. Finally, a wave of silt poured through and then something solid. It caught on the grate and one of the men reached for it.

“No!” Farouk shouted.

The explosion drowned out his cry and blew both Farouk and the other man off the barge. The grate, the compressor and a large section of the barge’s hull took the rest of the blast.

Water began to swirl in and the stern of the barge dropped quickly.

The only surviving man on the barge picked himself up from a spot on deck near the bow. His ears ringing, his head spinning, he saw the green water rush over the deck, felt the boat tilting and wasted no time worrying about anyone else. He dove overboard and began swimming for the other boat.

As he reached the ladder, one of the men came toward him to help him out, but before he could get a foot on the lowest rung, something sharp dug into his legs, clamping around them and dragging him back. He was pulled from the ladder.

Shark, he thought, fearing the worst kind of death. But when he looked back, he saw a yellow blur. It was a submersible, moving in reverse, its gripper claws latching onto his legs and pulling him underwater.

“Do you see anything?” one of them shouted.

“Check the other side.”

“Over there!” the second one replied.

He opened fire on what he thought was the submarine, his bullets lacing into the water. Whatever he’d fired at, it quickly vanished.

“There!” the first man shouted, spotting a blur of yellow.

The submersible was running just below the surface, heading right for them, its hull easy to see in the sunlight. Both men aimed and began firing, the shells throwing up ribbons of water as they hit the sea.

Still the yellow beast charged. Its hull broke the surface, an easy target. The two men poured ammunition into it, but it kept on, until it slammed into them.

The impact rocked the boat, but they kept their balance as the machine was forced sideways. It skittered along their hull and moved off into the distance.

Only now did they realize there was no one on the submersible.

A wolf whistle from behind them brought the point home. They turned to see a man with silver hair, standing, in a wet suit, aiming one of the APS rifles their way.

Kurt had surfaced behind them and made it up onto the deck while they were preoccupied with the attacking yellow machine.

“Toss the guns in the ocean,” he demanded.

They did as ordered and then put their hands up.

“Facedown on the deck,” he said. “Hands behind your head.”