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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:21

“I was hired to work in the lab in Cairo. There’s also a lab in Alexandria,” he said. “Zia works with me.” He pointed to the unconscious woman.

“But the special projects happen down here, don’t they?” Kurt said.

“We don’t have a choice. We do what we’re told.”

“Neither did the Nazis,” Kurt said. “I’m guessing you know why we’re here and what we’re after.”

Golner nodded slowly. “Of course. I’ll show you what you want.”

The biologist led Kurt through the lab, which seemed wholly out of place in the ancient tunnel complex. It was brightly lit and filled with modern equipment, including centrifuges, incubators and microscopes. The floor, walls and ceiling were covered in shiny antiseptic plastic, which made it easier to sterilize if there was some accident. Deeper in the core, they came to a glass-walled air lock that separated a smaller section of the room from the main lab.

Then Golner walked toward the air lock and raised his hand to the keypad.

“Careful,” Kurt said, moving in behind him and jabbing the pistol in the man’s back. “Unless you can survive without your liver.”

The biologist raised his hands up again. “I don’t want to die.”

“That makes you the first nonfanatic I’ve encountered on this trip.”

Standing in front of the air lock, Kurt glanced back at Joe and Renata. “Strip the guards down,” he said. “Get into their fatigues. I have a feeling we’re going to be hightailing it out of here. Might as well look like we own the place.”

They nodded and dragged Zia and the two men deeper into the lab.

Kurt turned back to the biologist. “Slowly, now.”

The man typed in a code and the air lock opened with a soft hiss. He stepped through. Kurt followed.

Kurt had assumed he’d find refrigerated shelves lit from behind and stocked with tiny glass vials and test tubes, probably with a biohazard symbol marked on them. Instead, they passed through a second door and entered another large room in the cave with a broad dirt floor. It was sweltering inside, dry as a bone and illuminated by blazing-red heat lamps. It looked like the surface of Mars.

In the main control room, far from the lab, Shakir, Hassan and Alberto Piola stood in front of a bank of computer screens that covered an entire wall. The screens displayed the interconnected network of pumps, wells and pipelines drawing water from the deep aquifer and delivering it to the Nile.

On another wall, charts and diagrams represented a different project, one that had required Shakir’s men to map the labyrinth of tunnels around them.

“I’m amazed at this place,” Piola said. “How extensive are the tunnels?”

“We’re not certain,” Shakir replied. “They continue beyond anything we’ve explored. The pharaohs mined gold and silver from here and then salt and natron. There are hundreds of tunnels we’ve yet to explore, not to mention fissures and rooms in the cave system.”

Piola had never been here. He’d taken most of what Shakir promised on faith—with a large helping of cash. “And all of this was flooded when you found it?”

“The lower levels were,” Shakir said. “We began to pump them out and discovered ancient drawings indicating that the water bubbled up periodically. That’s how we found the aquifer—it’s fairly close to the surface here, but it runs deeper as it goes west.”

Piola’s eyes sharpened as they got down to business. “So the aquifer covers the entire Sahara?”

“Better to say that the Sahara covers it,” Shakir insisted. “But, yes, all the way to the border of Morocco.”

“How can you be sure the other nations won’t discover or tap into it? Digging deeper than they have so far?”

“The geology makes it difficult to locate,” Shakir said, “though, eventually, they’ll find it.” He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “By then, we’ll control them, directing and governing an empire stretching from the Red Sea to the Atlantic. Even Morocco will fall. My grasp will encompass all of North Africa, and you and your friends will get access to everything—for a fair price, of course.”

“Of course,” Piola said, grinning. His stake in several mining companies and an oil development partnership was hidden, but they would be very lucrative once the contracts started falling their way.

“And how did you find this tomb in the first place?” he asked. “Surely archaeologists have been looking for anything like this for the last century at least.”

“No doubt,” Shakir said. “Except that there is almost no record of this place. We learned of it only after an archaeologist on the antiquities board brought us several fragments of papyrus. That led us to search for items the French and British took, but the key was found on the bottom of Aboukir Bay. It told of how Akhenaten brought the bodies of the old pharaohs from their tombs and moved them to new places where they could be illuminated by the rising sun. And how the priests of Osiris considered this an abomination. They one-upped Akhenaten, stealing the sarcophaguses of the twelve kings in the burial chamber and bringing them here before Akhenaten’s people got to them.”

“And how did you discover the Black Mist?”