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Clive Cussler Fire Strike

Author Mike Maden
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Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon must battle an army of genetically engineered mercenaries to stop a hypersonic missile attack in this explosive new adventure in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

    When Cabrillo is hired to extract an undercover operative in Kenya, he finds himself on the trail of a deadly international plot. A Saudi prince seeks to unleash a deadly assault on U.S. forces, sparking a new war in the Middle East and ultimately destroying Israel.
    Cabrillo’s crew have met their most fearsome adversaries yet: a force of bio-hacked soldiers endowed with extreme strength and stamina and an unquenchable appetite for violence. The Oregon team must journey from the Amazon rainforest to an abandoned monastery in Eritrea before a final showdown in the mountains of Yemen, using every shred of courage and cunning they can muster to disable the ship-killer missile before the Arabian Sea becomes a mass grave.
PROLOGUE
Borneo, 1963

A drenching rain in the moonless night was perfect cover for the three Special Boat Section operatives.

The "wet cousins" of the better-known Special Air Service, the SBS was a commando unit of the Royal Marines specializing in coastal insertions-hence the mission tonight running a Zodiac deep upriver.

A stubborn British national named Rawlinson desperately needed an emergency exfil from his family's rubber plantation. The communist Indonesian insurgents raiding across the region were hell-bent on killing all foreigners and seizing their properties. A Dutch family just eight kilometers away had been decimated by the bandy-legged Marxists the night before and Rawlinson and his wife suddenly realized they were next on their list.

Private Desmond "Wraith" Vickers killed the Zodiac's big outboard Evinrude and the three men paddled the last five hundred meters in practiced synchronicity. They were grateful for the splattering downpour that soaked their kits but silenced their efforts. All three men scanned the dim shoreline for any sign of movement-of rebels, certainly, but also for Bornean crocodiles, thick as flies in this part of the country. So far, lady luck had paddled along with them.

The lieutenant gestured with his free hand and the men angled the rubber-hulled boat toward the shore. They slipped noiselessly out of the Zodiac and dragged it into the cover of thick brush. Each man unslung their "Silent Sten" submachine guns and checked their mags by feel. Vickers slipped his hand to his hip and patted the holster of his .38 Webley revolver, then he snaked his fingers down his thigh to the hilt of his razor-sharp Fairbairn-Sykes dagger in its well-oiled leather scabbard.

Good to go.

The lieutenant nodded in the direction of the plantation. Vickers, just eighteen years old and the youngest operator in the entire squadron, took the point, threading his way through the leaves and brush beneath the orderly rows of rubber trees. On base he carried himself with the self-possessed dignity of a landed earl, but in the field he moved with the preternatural grace and cunning of a jungle cat. His inaudible movements and sudden appearances had earned him the moniker "Wraith."

Vickers halted at the edge of the clearing that led to the darkened plantation house looming in the distance and scanned the perimeter yet again. The lights were off as per the lieutenant's instructions. So far, so good.

Confident that the way was clear, Vickers dashed for the house in a crouching run, his Sten up and his finger on the trigger guard. He silently prayed that Rawlinson remembered the lieutenant's order not to fire on them as they approached the house. A nervous British civilian armed with a loaded Lee-Enfield No. 1 could prove as lethal as any Indonesian killer.

Vickers leaped onto the porch with quiet ease and gazed into the front window. The rain hammered the sheet metal roofing like a mad drummer. He saw no signs of movement inside as the lieutenant and Corporal Sterling, a hulking Scotsman, thundered up next to him.

Vickers shook his head.

The lieutenant's eyes swept the shadowy perimeter once again before he crossed over to the front door and kicked it open with his muddy boot.

Vickers charged in first, gun up, with Sterling-his closest friend-hard on his heels, and the lieutenant right behind them.

"Rawlinson!" the lieutenant called out. "It's the Queen's own come to get you out of here!"

Nothing.

"Sterling, head upstairs. Wraith, check the back."
 
The two men sped away as the lieutenant pushed open the basement door. He pulled the light chain and called out again. "Rawlinson! Don't shoot. We're here to get you out. Are you there?" He jogged down the wooden staircase and scanned the dank room. All he found were undisturbed storage shelves laden with canned goods and household sundries.

The lieutenant climbed back upstairs into the kitchen. Vickers and Sterling shook their heads.

Nothing.

"Rawlinson may have already bugged out without telling us," the lieutenant said. "But we can't take any chances he's still on the property. Sterling, check the storage shed out back. Wraith, head over to the machine shop. I'll sweep the perimeter. We'll meet back at the drop-off point in fifteen minutes, no exceptions. And give it some rice. Understood?"

Heads nodded. Sterling added, "Sure, boss."

***

The suffocating heat came on as suddenly as the pounding rain had stopped and raised a shroud of fog from the waterlogged ground.

The lieutenant's eyes strained in the dark as he crouched at the drop-off point near the boat. No sign of his two men. He checked his watch. Where were they?

"Boss."

The lieutenant flinched, startled by Vickers's sudden appearance behind him, seemingly out of nowhere. The boy really was a ghost.

"Any sign of the Rawlinsons?" the lieutenant asked, his whisper masked by the din of chirring insects and croaking frogs.

"Behind the machine shop. Throats slashed ear to ear."

"Dear God. And Sterling?"

Both men heard the crash of leaves ahead of them, but didn't see the-

Thump!

A Chinese-made "potato masher" hand grenade splattered in the mud at their feet.

Wraith shoved the lieutenant aside and threw himself on the explosive.

"Vickers!" The lieutenant reached down to grab him, but a bullet plowed through his skull.

His corpse thudded into the mud next to Vickers.

"Boss!"

Vickers crawled to his knees and scrambled over to the lieutenant's corpse. The Chinese grenade was a dud, but the bullets zipping overhead were very much alive and threatened to cut him down, too. No matter.

Vickers slipped away as the Indonesians advanced through the rows of rubber trees. The air echoed with the ripsaw staccato of their automatic-rifle fire as rounds splintered the bark and branches.

Vickers raced perpendicular to their advance, silent as a shadow, then turned north.

Emboldened by the lack of British resistance, the Indonesians shouted and laughed as they emptied their magazines into the bush where the lieutenant had fallen. Moments later, they stood over the commando's shattered corpse.

They had no idea that Wraith had completely flanked them from behind.

Vickers fired his silenced machine gun at the shadowy figures. His bullets found their marks as he emptied the thirty-round mag, stitching across the backs of the Indonesians from left to right, felling them like bowling pins into the mud. Two were left.

Vickers reloaded and angled his gun at the last two rebels ducking behind a tree-one a head taller than the other-and suddenly froze.

Sterling!

Vickers could now see the tall Scotsman was gagged and his arms bound behind his back, pushed along by the shorter communist, who held a pistol to the base of Sterling's spine. The smaller Indonesian hid behind the big Scot, using him as a human shield as he maneuvered between the trees.

Bastard.

Vickers circled through the trees, using the trunks for cover as he closed the distance between them, trying to flank him yet again.

Panicked, the Indonesian spun in circles, keeping Sterling close in front of him, one hand around the Scotsman's neck, uncertain where the next gunshot would come from.

Vickers rested the barrel of his Sten on the side of a tree for stability and sighted his weapon at the spinning figures, waiting for the chance-

Pop!

A single 9mm bullet tore into the Indonesian's chest and dropped him to the ground.

Vickers raced out from behind the tree and straight for Sterling.

His mouth still gagged and his hands still bound, Sterling saw Vickers emerge from the trees and shouted a muffled scream.

And then he turned, and ran.

"Sterling! It's me!"

The Scotsman took three long strides before the British L2 grenade-tied around the back of his neck-exploded.

The Indonesian had booby-trapped him. By looping his finger through the grenade pin, the Indonesian's corpse pulled it when he fell away, just as he had planned.

Vickers stopped dead in his tracks, the air ringing with the rising cacophony of insects and the distant, angry shouts of more rebels in the forest beyond.

What had he done?

***

With the bodies of Sterling and the lieutenant safely secured in the Zodiac, Vickers gunned the throttle, not caring about the roar of the big Evinrude motor nor the splash of bullets geysering the water around him. The boat rose high out of the water as it rocketed away, his tear-streaked face cooled by the warm air beating against it.

***

Her Majesty's Naval Base, Singapore
Two weeks later

Admiral Bromley glanced up from the file folder on his burnished teakwood desk and crushed out his cigarette in a silver art nouveau ashtray.

Vickers sat upright in his crisply ironed Royal Marine uniform, its creases sharp enough to shave with. His shoes were polished to a gleaming mirrored gloss in stark contrast to the blank expression on his handsome face.

"I refuse to sign this," Bromley said, stabbing a letter in the file. "You're one of our finest soldiers and a tremendous asset in Her Majesty's service. We can't afford to lose you."

"I believe I've made my reasons clear, sir."

"Nonsense. The board of inquiry found you completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever. No one holds you accountable in the least-except yourself."

"My best friend is dead because of my actions."

"Your best friend is dead because a fiendish communist cutthroat killed him. I urge you to see things as they truly are."

"I've tried, sir."

"Tell me, Vickers. Do you like military service?"

"All I ever wanted to do since I was a young schoolboy was to serve my country. The day I earned the Bootneck green beret was the greatest day of my life."

"Your uncle, Sir Edmund Vickers-Hart, was the finest officer I ever had the privilege to serve with. Judging by your exemplary service record, it's clear you and he were cut from the same jib."

"I take that as the highest compliment, sir, though I doubt I deserve it."

"Would you consider a transfer away from your beloved Bootnecks and into the Royal Navy?"

Vickers frowned. "I could never allow myself to be put in a position where I might risk the lives of my comrades ever again."

"I quite understand." The admiral held up his pack of cigarettes. "Care for one?"

"No, thank you, sir."

"Good for you. Filthy habit."

The admiral lifted a silver Dunhill lighter and lit another cigarette. He blew a cloud of blue smoke as he studied Vickers's file again.

"I noticed here a number of letters of support from your commanding officers and enlisted comrades." He held one up for closer inspection. "This one says you are 'well liked, and highly commended for his manners, deportment, and diction.'"

"A reflection of my Eton education, I'm afraid."

"It also seems as if you have quite a flair for the finer things in life." Bromley held up another letter. "Something of an amateur sommelier" this officer states."

"One of the many privileges of my upbringing as the son of a landed viscount."

"Frankly, I could use someone like you on my personal staff."

The admiral came out from behind his desk.

"Sir?"

"It's a position as far away from close-quarters combat as I can imagine. But it is honorable service in Her Majesty's Navy. It's a position that requires discretion, tact, and taste. I think you'd be perfect for it. Shall I tell you about it?"

"Please do."

Vickers's eyes narrowed as he listened to the job description. It only took him a moment to decide.

"Honorable service, indeed, sir. I had never considered it before."

"I only foresee one difficulty."

"Sir?"

"You served with one of the finest commando units in the service, and participated in several top secret missions. Missions that were, shall we say, off the books?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, when you transfer to another branch, so will your records, and we can't have unauthorized eyes raking over them. To avoid that, we'll have to seal your records permanently so that no one may know of your service with the SBS. In fact, we'll have to terminate the service of Private Desmond Vickers. He'll disappear to 'parts unknown,' so long as you're in uniform. After you retire, you may resurrect him if you wish."

"I understand."

"That means, of course, we'll have to create a entirely new service record for you. A new name, background, everything. How do you feel about all of that?"

"If it gives me the freedom to serve Queen and country, I'm all for it."

"Excellent. I'll have my adjutant make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime, take a few days off and enjoy Singapore. It's a truly marvelous city."

Vickers stood, a smile creasing his face for the first time in weeks.

"Thank you, sir."

The admiral extended his hand. Vickers shook it.

"I look forward to our relationship, Vickers- Oh, say. While you're gallivanting about for the next few days, you will need to conjure up a new name for yourself. A nom de plume, as it were. Something quite the opposite of your given name."

Vickers frowned, his mind racing for an answer.

"I believe I have it."

The admiral beamed. "Excellent. Tell me, then, with whom shall I be working?"

"Last name 'Chavasse,' after an uncle on my mother's side. Killed at El Alamein."

"My condolences. Excellent choice."

"For a middle name I'll go with 'Morley' for a cousin I lost in Korea."

"We lost too many good men in those godforsaken hills. And the first?"

Vickers smiled. "My father's manservant was buried in our family plot last year. I admired him greatly. Terribly wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was awarded a Croix de Guerre with an étoile d'argent for valorous service."

"A hero by any measure. His name?"

"Maurice."


1

PRESENT DAY

Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan

The vintage Soviet-era snowcat crested the final rise on the steep climb. Its big diesel engine belched a plume of oily smoke as it roared with the effort. It had taken three hours clanking through a narrow pass high in the towering Pamir Mountains through the swirling snow to reach the ancient Tibetan fortress. It loomed above the forested valley floor, perched on the edge of an insurmountable cliff. Its sturdy walls could resist the siege weapons of its day, but the fort's remoteness and sheer inaccessibility had always been its primary defense. All but the most determined visitors were deterred from even venturing here. How the mighty stone edifice had ever been built by ancient hands in this location several hundred years ago remained a mystery.

The snowcat finally ground to a halt just opposite the short drawbridge crossing the abyssal chasm. The cab door opened and a sturdy Chechen in a sheepskin coat and boots leaped out, then opened the rear doors for the seven esteemed guests.

The passengers—six men and one woman—stretched out knotted muscles and aching backs from the long, monotonous ride. They had sat in silence for the entire trip, sizing each other up with sidelong glances in the snowcat’s spacious but utilitarian cabin. Outside in the frigid air, their breaths jetted out of their mouths but the vapors were quickly swept away by the biting wind.

The morbidly obese Venezuelan, Yeferson Osorio, was the head of security for South America’s largest drug cartel. His red-rimmed nostrils and eyes suggested he was addicted to his own product. Despite the temperature, he didn’t button up his gaudy, full-length ermine coat and his shoulder-length hair danced in the snowy breeze.

Osorio was familiar with the elegant Russian, Yakov Mityaev, and the bespectacled Chinese woman, Wu Shanshan, from the reports he’d read. Like him, they were the functional equivalents of security chiefs for their respective criminal enterprises, heading up organizations with intelligence gathering assets that equaled or exceeded the capabilities of most nations. Had Osorio known these two world-class dirt bags were attending today’s gathering he would have made other arrangements entirely.

The Venezuelan couldn’t identify the others but he assumed they were high-ranking members of their respective security departments as well. The tattoos peaking beyond the collar and sleeves of the Japanese identified him as a Yakuza even without the missing finger. A portly, clean-shaven Indian; a silver-toed, cowboy-booted Mexican; and a Thai highlander wearing a bright yellow ski parka that reached to his knees, rounded out the rest of the passengers.
A USA Today Bestseller
Clive Cussler was the author of more than eighty books in five bestselling series, including Dirk Pitt®, NUMA Files®, Oregon Files®, Isaac Bell®, and Sam and Remi Fargo®. His life nearly paralleled that of his hero Dirk Pitt. Whether searching for lost aircraft or leading expeditions to find famous shipwrecks, he and his NUMA crew of volunteers discovered and surveyed more than seventy-five lost ships of historic significance, including the long-lost Civil War submarine Hunley, which was raised in 2000 with much publicity. Like Pitt, Cussler collected classic automobiles. His collection featured more than one hundred examples of custom coachwork. Cussler passed away in February 2020.

Mike Maden
is the author of Clive Cussler Fire Strike, Clive Cussler's Hellburner, the critically acclaimed Drone series, and four novels in Tom Clancy’s #1 New York Times bestselling Jack Ryan Jr. series. He holds both a master’s and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Davis, specializing in international relations and comparative politics. He has lectured and consulted on the topics of war and the Middle East, among others. Maden has served as a political consultant and campaign manager in state and national elections, and hosted his own local weekly radio show for a year. View titles by Mike Maden

About

Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon must battle an army of genetically engineered mercenaries to stop a hypersonic missile attack in this explosive new adventure in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

    When Cabrillo is hired to extract an undercover operative in Kenya, he finds himself on the trail of a deadly international plot. A Saudi prince seeks to unleash a deadly assault on U.S. forces, sparking a new war in the Middle East and ultimately destroying Israel.
    Cabrillo’s crew have met their most fearsome adversaries yet: a force of bio-hacked soldiers endowed with extreme strength and stamina and an unquenchable appetite for violence. The Oregon team must journey from the Amazon rainforest to an abandoned monastery in Eritrea before a final showdown in the mountains of Yemen, using every shred of courage and cunning they can muster to disable the ship-killer missile before the Arabian Sea becomes a mass grave.

Excerpt

PROLOGUE
Borneo, 1963

A drenching rain in the moonless night was perfect cover for the three Special Boat Section operatives.

The "wet cousins" of the better-known Special Air Service, the SBS was a commando unit of the Royal Marines specializing in coastal insertions-hence the mission tonight running a Zodiac deep upriver.

A stubborn British national named Rawlinson desperately needed an emergency exfil from his family's rubber plantation. The communist Indonesian insurgents raiding across the region were hell-bent on killing all foreigners and seizing their properties. A Dutch family just eight kilometers away had been decimated by the bandy-legged Marxists the night before and Rawlinson and his wife suddenly realized they were next on their list.

Private Desmond "Wraith" Vickers killed the Zodiac's big outboard Evinrude and the three men paddled the last five hundred meters in practiced synchronicity. They were grateful for the splattering downpour that soaked their kits but silenced their efforts. All three men scanned the dim shoreline for any sign of movement-of rebels, certainly, but also for Bornean crocodiles, thick as flies in this part of the country. So far, lady luck had paddled along with them.

The lieutenant gestured with his free hand and the men angled the rubber-hulled boat toward the shore. They slipped noiselessly out of the Zodiac and dragged it into the cover of thick brush. Each man unslung their "Silent Sten" submachine guns and checked their mags by feel. Vickers slipped his hand to his hip and patted the holster of his .38 Webley revolver, then he snaked his fingers down his thigh to the hilt of his razor-sharp Fairbairn-Sykes dagger in its well-oiled leather scabbard.

Good to go.

The lieutenant nodded in the direction of the plantation. Vickers, just eighteen years old and the youngest operator in the entire squadron, took the point, threading his way through the leaves and brush beneath the orderly rows of rubber trees. On base he carried himself with the self-possessed dignity of a landed earl, but in the field he moved with the preternatural grace and cunning of a jungle cat. His inaudible movements and sudden appearances had earned him the moniker "Wraith."

Vickers halted at the edge of the clearing that led to the darkened plantation house looming in the distance and scanned the perimeter yet again. The lights were off as per the lieutenant's instructions. So far, so good.

Confident that the way was clear, Vickers dashed for the house in a crouching run, his Sten up and his finger on the trigger guard. He silently prayed that Rawlinson remembered the lieutenant's order not to fire on them as they approached the house. A nervous British civilian armed with a loaded Lee-Enfield No. 1 could prove as lethal as any Indonesian killer.

Vickers leaped onto the porch with quiet ease and gazed into the front window. The rain hammered the sheet metal roofing like a mad drummer. He saw no signs of movement inside as the lieutenant and Corporal Sterling, a hulking Scotsman, thundered up next to him.

Vickers shook his head.

The lieutenant's eyes swept the shadowy perimeter once again before he crossed over to the front door and kicked it open with his muddy boot.

Vickers charged in first, gun up, with Sterling-his closest friend-hard on his heels, and the lieutenant right behind them.

"Rawlinson!" the lieutenant called out. "It's the Queen's own come to get you out of here!"

Nothing.

"Sterling, head upstairs. Wraith, check the back."
 
The two men sped away as the lieutenant pushed open the basement door. He pulled the light chain and called out again. "Rawlinson! Don't shoot. We're here to get you out. Are you there?" He jogged down the wooden staircase and scanned the dank room. All he found were undisturbed storage shelves laden with canned goods and household sundries.

The lieutenant climbed back upstairs into the kitchen. Vickers and Sterling shook their heads.

Nothing.

"Rawlinson may have already bugged out without telling us," the lieutenant said. "But we can't take any chances he's still on the property. Sterling, check the storage shed out back. Wraith, head over to the machine shop. I'll sweep the perimeter. We'll meet back at the drop-off point in fifteen minutes, no exceptions. And give it some rice. Understood?"

Heads nodded. Sterling added, "Sure, boss."

***

The suffocating heat came on as suddenly as the pounding rain had stopped and raised a shroud of fog from the waterlogged ground.

The lieutenant's eyes strained in the dark as he crouched at the drop-off point near the boat. No sign of his two men. He checked his watch. Where were they?

"Boss."

The lieutenant flinched, startled by Vickers's sudden appearance behind him, seemingly out of nowhere. The boy really was a ghost.

"Any sign of the Rawlinsons?" the lieutenant asked, his whisper masked by the din of chirring insects and croaking frogs.

"Behind the machine shop. Throats slashed ear to ear."

"Dear God. And Sterling?"

Both men heard the crash of leaves ahead of them, but didn't see the-

Thump!

A Chinese-made "potato masher" hand grenade splattered in the mud at their feet.

Wraith shoved the lieutenant aside and threw himself on the explosive.

"Vickers!" The lieutenant reached down to grab him, but a bullet plowed through his skull.

His corpse thudded into the mud next to Vickers.

"Boss!"

Vickers crawled to his knees and scrambled over to the lieutenant's corpse. The Chinese grenade was a dud, but the bullets zipping overhead were very much alive and threatened to cut him down, too. No matter.

Vickers slipped away as the Indonesians advanced through the rows of rubber trees. The air echoed with the ripsaw staccato of their automatic-rifle fire as rounds splintered the bark and branches.

Vickers raced perpendicular to their advance, silent as a shadow, then turned north.

Emboldened by the lack of British resistance, the Indonesians shouted and laughed as they emptied their magazines into the bush where the lieutenant had fallen. Moments later, they stood over the commando's shattered corpse.

They had no idea that Wraith had completely flanked them from behind.

Vickers fired his silenced machine gun at the shadowy figures. His bullets found their marks as he emptied the thirty-round mag, stitching across the backs of the Indonesians from left to right, felling them like bowling pins into the mud. Two were left.

Vickers reloaded and angled his gun at the last two rebels ducking behind a tree-one a head taller than the other-and suddenly froze.

Sterling!

Vickers could now see the tall Scotsman was gagged and his arms bound behind his back, pushed along by the shorter communist, who held a pistol to the base of Sterling's spine. The smaller Indonesian hid behind the big Scot, using him as a human shield as he maneuvered between the trees.

Bastard.

Vickers circled through the trees, using the trunks for cover as he closed the distance between them, trying to flank him yet again.

Panicked, the Indonesian spun in circles, keeping Sterling close in front of him, one hand around the Scotsman's neck, uncertain where the next gunshot would come from.

Vickers rested the barrel of his Sten on the side of a tree for stability and sighted his weapon at the spinning figures, waiting for the chance-

Pop!

A single 9mm bullet tore into the Indonesian's chest and dropped him to the ground.

Vickers raced out from behind the tree and straight for Sterling.

His mouth still gagged and his hands still bound, Sterling saw Vickers emerge from the trees and shouted a muffled scream.

And then he turned, and ran.

"Sterling! It's me!"

The Scotsman took three long strides before the British L2 grenade-tied around the back of his neck-exploded.

The Indonesian had booby-trapped him. By looping his finger through the grenade pin, the Indonesian's corpse pulled it when he fell away, just as he had planned.

Vickers stopped dead in his tracks, the air ringing with the rising cacophony of insects and the distant, angry shouts of more rebels in the forest beyond.

What had he done?

***

With the bodies of Sterling and the lieutenant safely secured in the Zodiac, Vickers gunned the throttle, not caring about the roar of the big Evinrude motor nor the splash of bullets geysering the water around him. The boat rose high out of the water as it rocketed away, his tear-streaked face cooled by the warm air beating against it.

***

Her Majesty's Naval Base, Singapore
Two weeks later

Admiral Bromley glanced up from the file folder on his burnished teakwood desk and crushed out his cigarette in a silver art nouveau ashtray.

Vickers sat upright in his crisply ironed Royal Marine uniform, its creases sharp enough to shave with. His shoes were polished to a gleaming mirrored gloss in stark contrast to the blank expression on his handsome face.

"I refuse to sign this," Bromley said, stabbing a letter in the file. "You're one of our finest soldiers and a tremendous asset in Her Majesty's service. We can't afford to lose you."

"I believe I've made my reasons clear, sir."

"Nonsense. The board of inquiry found you completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever. No one holds you accountable in the least-except yourself."

"My best friend is dead because of my actions."

"Your best friend is dead because a fiendish communist cutthroat killed him. I urge you to see things as they truly are."

"I've tried, sir."

"Tell me, Vickers. Do you like military service?"

"All I ever wanted to do since I was a young schoolboy was to serve my country. The day I earned the Bootneck green beret was the greatest day of my life."

"Your uncle, Sir Edmund Vickers-Hart, was the finest officer I ever had the privilege to serve with. Judging by your exemplary service record, it's clear you and he were cut from the same jib."

"I take that as the highest compliment, sir, though I doubt I deserve it."

"Would you consider a transfer away from your beloved Bootnecks and into the Royal Navy?"

Vickers frowned. "I could never allow myself to be put in a position where I might risk the lives of my comrades ever again."

"I quite understand." The admiral held up his pack of cigarettes. "Care for one?"

"No, thank you, sir."

"Good for you. Filthy habit."

The admiral lifted a silver Dunhill lighter and lit another cigarette. He blew a cloud of blue smoke as he studied Vickers's file again.

"I noticed here a number of letters of support from your commanding officers and enlisted comrades." He held one up for closer inspection. "This one says you are 'well liked, and highly commended for his manners, deportment, and diction.'"

"A reflection of my Eton education, I'm afraid."

"It also seems as if you have quite a flair for the finer things in life." Bromley held up another letter. "Something of an amateur sommelier" this officer states."

"One of the many privileges of my upbringing as the son of a landed viscount."

"Frankly, I could use someone like you on my personal staff."

The admiral came out from behind his desk.

"Sir?"

"It's a position as far away from close-quarters combat as I can imagine. But it is honorable service in Her Majesty's Navy. It's a position that requires discretion, tact, and taste. I think you'd be perfect for it. Shall I tell you about it?"

"Please do."

Vickers's eyes narrowed as he listened to the job description. It only took him a moment to decide.

"Honorable service, indeed, sir. I had never considered it before."

"I only foresee one difficulty."

"Sir?"

"You served with one of the finest commando units in the service, and participated in several top secret missions. Missions that were, shall we say, off the books?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, when you transfer to another branch, so will your records, and we can't have unauthorized eyes raking over them. To avoid that, we'll have to seal your records permanently so that no one may know of your service with the SBS. In fact, we'll have to terminate the service of Private Desmond Vickers. He'll disappear to 'parts unknown,' so long as you're in uniform. After you retire, you may resurrect him if you wish."

"I understand."

"That means, of course, we'll have to create a entirely new service record for you. A new name, background, everything. How do you feel about all of that?"

"If it gives me the freedom to serve Queen and country, I'm all for it."

"Excellent. I'll have my adjutant make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime, take a few days off and enjoy Singapore. It's a truly marvelous city."

Vickers stood, a smile creasing his face for the first time in weeks.

"Thank you, sir."

The admiral extended his hand. Vickers shook it.

"I look forward to our relationship, Vickers- Oh, say. While you're gallivanting about for the next few days, you will need to conjure up a new name for yourself. A nom de plume, as it were. Something quite the opposite of your given name."

Vickers frowned, his mind racing for an answer.

"I believe I have it."

The admiral beamed. "Excellent. Tell me, then, with whom shall I be working?"

"Last name 'Chavasse,' after an uncle on my mother's side. Killed at El Alamein."

"My condolences. Excellent choice."

"For a middle name I'll go with 'Morley' for a cousin I lost in Korea."

"We lost too many good men in those godforsaken hills. And the first?"

Vickers smiled. "My father's manservant was buried in our family plot last year. I admired him greatly. Terribly wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was awarded a Croix de Guerre with an étoile d'argent for valorous service."

"A hero by any measure. His name?"

"Maurice."


1

PRESENT DAY

Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan

The vintage Soviet-era snowcat crested the final rise on the steep climb. Its big diesel engine belched a plume of oily smoke as it roared with the effort. It had taken three hours clanking through a narrow pass high in the towering Pamir Mountains through the swirling snow to reach the ancient Tibetan fortress. It loomed above the forested valley floor, perched on the edge of an insurmountable cliff. Its sturdy walls could resist the siege weapons of its day, but the fort's remoteness and sheer inaccessibility had always been its primary defense. All but the most determined visitors were deterred from even venturing here. How the mighty stone edifice had ever been built by ancient hands in this location several hundred years ago remained a mystery.

The snowcat finally ground to a halt just opposite the short drawbridge crossing the abyssal chasm. The cab door opened and a sturdy Chechen in a sheepskin coat and boots leaped out, then opened the rear doors for the seven esteemed guests.

The passengers—six men and one woman—stretched out knotted muscles and aching backs from the long, monotonous ride. They had sat in silence for the entire trip, sizing each other up with sidelong glances in the snowcat’s spacious but utilitarian cabin. Outside in the frigid air, their breaths jetted out of their mouths but the vapors were quickly swept away by the biting wind.

The morbidly obese Venezuelan, Yeferson Osorio, was the head of security for South America’s largest drug cartel. His red-rimmed nostrils and eyes suggested he was addicted to his own product. Despite the temperature, he didn’t button up his gaudy, full-length ermine coat and his shoulder-length hair danced in the snowy breeze.

Osorio was familiar with the elegant Russian, Yakov Mityaev, and the bespectacled Chinese woman, Wu Shanshan, from the reports he’d read. Like him, they were the functional equivalents of security chiefs for their respective criminal enterprises, heading up organizations with intelligence gathering assets that equaled or exceeded the capabilities of most nations. Had Osorio known these two world-class dirt bags were attending today’s gathering he would have made other arrangements entirely.

The Venezuelan couldn’t identify the others but he assumed they were high-ranking members of their respective security departments as well. The tattoos peaking beyond the collar and sleeves of the Japanese identified him as a Yakuza even without the missing finger. A portly, clean-shaven Indian; a silver-toed, cowboy-booted Mexican; and a Thai highlander wearing a bright yellow ski parka that reached to his knees, rounded out the rest of the passengers.

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Author

Clive Cussler was the author of more than eighty books in five bestselling series, including Dirk Pitt®, NUMA Files®, Oregon Files®, Isaac Bell®, and Sam and Remi Fargo®. His life nearly paralleled that of his hero Dirk Pitt. Whether searching for lost aircraft or leading expeditions to find famous shipwrecks, he and his NUMA crew of volunteers discovered and surveyed more than seventy-five lost ships of historic significance, including the long-lost Civil War submarine Hunley, which was raised in 2000 with much publicity. Like Pitt, Cussler collected classic automobiles. His collection featured more than one hundred examples of custom coachwork. Cussler passed away in February 2020.

Mike Maden
is the author of Clive Cussler Fire Strike, Clive Cussler's Hellburner, the critically acclaimed Drone series, and four novels in Tom Clancy’s #1 New York Times bestselling Jack Ryan Jr. series. He holds both a master’s and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Davis, specializing in international relations and comparative politics. He has lectured and consulted on the topics of war and the Middle East, among others. Maden has served as a political consultant and campaign manager in state and national elections, and hosted his own local weekly radio show for a year. View titles by Mike Maden