Page 92

The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:20

The sound of its motor was reverberating off the walls. The strange, echoing acoustics made it hard to tell the distance, but these same acoustics would also make it difficult for the men inside it to realize they were being followed.

“Let’s take the car,” Kurt said. “I’ve had my exercise for today.”

Joe climbed into the tramcar and found the controls. As Renata went aboard, Kurt went to smash the headlights.

“Or we could use the off switch,” Joe said. “Just a suggestion.”

Kurt held back. “A good one at that.”

Joe flipped a few switches and pulled a fuse just in case. He pressed the start button. Three small indicators on the control panel lit up, but nothing more. Like a golf cart, the battery-powered motor remained off until he pressed the throttle.

Kurt joined Renata in the back as Joe eased the throttle forward and the electric motors engaged. With a soft hum, the car moved into the darkness, traveling slowly and maintaining a separation of several hundred feet from the first tram.

The tunnel never veered, and the pipeline to their left was a constant companion.

“So what’s this pipe for?” Renata asked in a hushed tone. “It’s clearly headed away from the river.”

“It could be a storm drainpipe . . . for runoff,” Joe answered quietly.

“Seems a little large for a desert city that doesn’t get much rain,” Renata said.

“Maybe the system from the city funnels into one place and then gets aggregated into this pipe.”

“It’s not a storm drain,” Kurt said. “Water was pumping out of it when we passed it in the river channel, but it hasn’t rained here in weeks.”

“Then where’s the water coming from?” Joe asked.

“No idea,” Kurt said.

“Maybe some other Osiris project we’re not aware of,” Renata said.

“Maybe,” Kurt replied and then changed the subject. “The man in the suit. One of the Arabs called him Piola. You seemed to recognize that name. Do you know who he is?”

“Possibly,” she said. “Alberto Piola is one of the leaders in our parliament. He’s been an outspoken critic of American interference in Egypt, especially Libya. It’s a sore spot for him, and for many in my country, because Libya used to be our colony.”

“What would he be doing here?” Kurt asked. “Especially now when half the continent is falling apart?”

“Assuming I heard correctly, he’s here to negotiate something. But exactly what that might be, your guess is as good as mine.”

“I think,” Kurt said, “that he’s here to negotiate some kind of tribute to Osiris.”

“Tribute?” Renata said.

“Think about it,” he said. “Based on what former major Edo told us, Osiris has risen from nowhere to become a force of power. Shakir, the man who runs it, fancies himself a kingmaker. He was connected with the old guard. And the old guard, thrown out so quickly a couple of years ago, is now in full ascendance in all these other countries, rising up with a swiftness no one could have predicted. All of it aided by a sudden water shortage that no one can explain.”

He looked at them, they were waiting for more.

“Before we hijacked Paul and Gamay from their vacation, they were working with a Libyan hydrologist. I read the report on our flight down. Geology, mostly. But according to some tests Paul rigged up, there’s a deep aquifer underneath Libya that was feeding the water table up above. Suddenly, that water was on the move, creating a negative pressure instead of a positive one and rendering the pumps all but useless. And here we are, underneath the sands of Egypt, next to a pipeline you could drive a truck through, which seems to be drawing tons of water per second and just dumping it into the Nile.”

“Are you suggesting Osiris is causing the drought to foment the upheaval?” Renata asked.

“If there’s a human cause, I don’t see anyone else with a motive. Or the means.”

[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======

“He wants influence in Libya. That costs money. He’s either here to pay or here to collect. Either way, he’s part of this. And the drought is helping him.”