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

Joe nodded. “It’s odd, though,” he added. “Natron is usually found where water enters and then dries up.”

“Maybe it’s being pumped out,” Renata suggested.

Kurt wondered. “Why make it into a tomb?”

ill two birds with one stone. By putting the tomb here, they could excavate the salt and the natron and then bring in the dead and use the materials here to mummify them right at the site.”

“Imagine,” Renata said. “A lost tomb with more gold and art than Tutankhamun’s and no one knows about it.”

“Because Osiris International found it first,” Kurt said. “This place must have something to do with the Black Mist.”

“Maybe they found what D’Campion and Villeneuve were looking for down here.”

“That would make sense,” Kurt said. “And when they found the secret, and learned that it actually worked, they put a lid on this place, dug that tunnel and made sure no one was ever seen coming or going.”

The sound of a small engine came from down below. Kurt pulled back into the shadows as a wide-tracked two-man ATV came out of one of the tunnels. It had a pair of seats, a roll cage and a flat shelf at the back.

Two men in black fatigues sat up front. Behind them, on the shelf, were two passengers in lab coats. Each of them had one hand on the cage’s roll bar and the other wrapped around a small cooler as if they were trying to keep it steady.

The ATV crossed the floor beneath them, drove past the golden Sphinx and off into another tunnel.

“Unless those guys are taking a twelve-pack to some secret underground ballpark, I’d say that was a pharmaceutical setup,” Kurt said.

“My thoughts exactly,” Renata said.

Kurt was about to go after them when he heard voices echoing through the burial chamber. A group of men could be seen crossing the floor in front of the Sphinx, headed past the row of stone coffins and toward the pit of crocodiles.

They stopped right beside it and were soon joined by two more men.

“Hassan,” Kurt whispered.

“Who’s the guy next to him?” Joe asked.

Kurt said, “I have a feeling that’s Shakir.”

“The three of you have an opportunity to rebuild Libya,” Shakir told his guests.

“As what? Your satraps?” one of them said. “And then what? We bow to your demands? You wish to rule us as the English once ruled Egypt? And you, Piola, what is this for you: a new attempt at colonialism?”

“Listen to me—” Piola began.

Shakir silenced him. “Someone will rule over you,” he told the three men from Libya. “Better for you that a fellow Arab does it than the Americans or the Europeans.”

“Better that we decide for ourselves,” the Libyan man said.

“How many times must I explain?” Shakir asked. “You will die without water. All of you. If necessary, I will allow that to happen and repopulate your nation with Egyptians.”

The three men went silent. After a moment, two of them began to confer.

“What are you doing?” their leader said.

“We can’t win this fight,” they responded. “If we don’t give in, others will. In that scenario we’ll lose all power instead of just some.”

“I’d listen to them, if I were you,” Shakir said. “They’re talking sense.”