1996, Egypt. Searching for a treasure on the Nile, DIRK PITT thwarts the attempted assassination of a beautiful U.N. scientist investigating a disease that is driving thousands of North Africans into madness, cannibalism, and death. The suspected cause of the raging epidemic is vast, unprecedented pollution that threatens to extinguish all life in the world's seas. Racing to save the world from environmental catastrophe, Pitt and his team, equipped with an extraordinary, state-of-the-art yacht, run a gauntlet between a billionaire industrialist and a bloodthirsty West African tyrant. In the scorching desert, Pitt finds a gold mine manned by slaves and uncovers the truth behind two enduring mysteries -- the fate of a Civil War ironclad and its secret connection with Lincoln's assassination, and the last flight of a long-lost female pilot....Now, amidst the blazing, shifting sands of the Sahara, DIRK PITT will make a desperate stand -- in a battle the world cannot afford to lose!
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Clive Cussler grew up in Alhambra, California, and attended Pasadena City College before joining the Air Force. He went on to a successful advertising career, winning many national honours for his copywriting. Now a full-time bestselling author, he has also explored the deserts of the American Southwest in search of lost gold mines, dived in isolated lakes in the Rocky Mountains looking for lost aircraft and hunted under the sea for shipwrecks of historic significance.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
April 2, 1865
SHE SEEMED TO float above the ghostly evening mist like a menacing beast rising from the primeval ooze. Her low silhouette stood black and ominous against the backdrop of the trees along the shoreline. Shadowy, phantom-like images of men moved across her decks under the eerie yellow glow of lanterns as moisture trickled down her gray, sloping sides and dripped into the sluggish current of the James River.
The Texas tugged at her dockside mooring line as impatiently as a hound about to be unleashed for the hunt. Thick iron shutters covered her gun-ports and the 6-inch armor on her casemate showed no markings. Only a white and red battle ensign atop the mast behind her smokestack, hanging limp in the damp atmosphere, signified her as a warship of the Confederate States Navy.
To landsmen she looked squat and ugly, but to sailors there was a character and grace about her that was unmistakable. She was tough, and she was deadly, the last of her peculiar design that set sail on a cruise to extinction after a brief but enduring burst of glory.
Commander Mason Tombs stood on the forward deck, pulled a blue bandana from a pocket, and dabbed at the dampness that seeped inside the collar of his uniform. The loading was going slow, too slow. The Texas would need every minute of available darkness for her escape to the open sea. He watched anxiously as his crew swore and strained while they manhandled wooden crates across a gangplank and down an open hatch on the deck. The crates seemed unusually heavy for containing the written records of the four-year-old government. They came from mule-drawn wagons deployed near the dock that were strongly guarded by the battle-weary survivors of a Georgia infantry company.
Tombs turned an uneasy eye toward Richmond, only 2 miles to the north. Grant had broken Lee's stubborn defense of Petersburg, and now the battered army of the South was retreating toward Appomattox and abandoning the Confederate capital to the advancing Union forces. The evacuation was underway and the city was filled with confusion as riots and pillaging swept the streets. Explosions shook the ground and flames burst into the night as warehouses and arsenals filled with supplies of war were put to the torch.
Tombs was ambitious and energetic, one of the finest naval officers in the Confederacy. He was a short, handsome-faced man with brown hair and eyebrows, a thick red beard, and a flinty look in his olive black eyes.
Commander of small gunboats at the battles of New Orleans and Memphis, gunnery officer on board the fighting ironclad Arkansas, and first officer of the infamous sea raider Florida, Tombs had proven a dangerous man for the Union cause. He had assumed command of the Texas only a week after she was completed at the Rocketts naval yard in Richmond, having demanded and supervised a number of modifications in preparation for an almost impossible voyage downriver past a thousand Union guns.
He turned his attention back to the cargo loading as the last wagon pulled away from the dock and disappeared into the night. He slipped his watch from a pocket, opened the lid, and held up the face toward a lantern that hung on a dock piling.
It read eight-twenty. Little more than eight hours left before daylight. Not enough time to run the last 20 miles of the gauntlet under the cloak of darkness.
An open carriage pulled by a team of dappled horses rolled up and stopped beside the dock. The driver sat stiffly without turning as the two passengers watched the final few crates being lowered through the hatch. The heavier man in civilian clothes slouched tiredly while the other, who was wearing an officer's naval uniform, spied Tombs and waved.
Tombs stepped across the plank onto the dock, approached the carriage, and saluted smartly. "An honor, Admiral, Mr. Secretary. I didn't think either of you would have time for a farewell."
Admiral Raphael Semmes, famed for his exploits as captain of the Confederate sea wolf, Alabama, and now commander of the James River squadron of ironclad gunboats, nodded and smiled through a heavily waxed moustache and a small goatee protruding beneath his lower lip. "A regiment of Yankees couldn't have kept me from seeing you off."
Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate States Navy, stretched out a hand. "Too much is riding on you for us not to take the time to wish you luck."
"I've a stout ship and a brave crew," said Tombs with confidence. "We'll break through."
Semmes' smile faded and his eyes filled with foreboding. "If you find it impossible, you must burn and scuttle the ship in the deepest part of the river so that our archives can never be salvaged by the Union."
"The charges are in place and primed," Tombs assured Semmes. "The bottom hull will be blown away, dropping the weighted crates in the river mud while the ship continues a safe distance away under full steam before sinking."
Mallory nodded. "A sound plan."
The two men in the carriage exchanged strange knowing looks. An awkward moment passed. Then Semmes said, "I'm sorry to lay another burden on your shoulders at the last moment, but you will also be responsible for a passenger."
"Passenger?" Tombs repeated grimly. "No one who values his life I trust."
"He has no choice in the matter," Mallory muttered.
"Where is he?" Tombs demanded, gazing around the dock. "We're almost ready to cast off."
"He will arrive shortly," replied Semmes.
"May I ask who he is?"
"You will recognize him easily enough," said Mallory. "And pray the enemy also identifies him should you need to put him on display."
"I don't understand."
Mallory smiled for the first time. "You will, my boy, you will."
"A piece of information you may find useful," said Semmes, changing the subject. "My spies report that our former ironclad ram, the Atlanta, captured last year by Yankee monitors, has been pressed into service by the Union navy and is patrolling the river above Newport News."
Tombs brightened. "Yes, I see. Since the Texas has the same general shape and approximate dimensions she could be mistaken for the Atlanta in the dark."
Semmes nodded and handed him a folded flag. "The stars and stripes. You'll need it for the masquerade."
Tombs took the Union banner and held it under one arm. "I'll have it run up the mast shortly before we reach the Union artillery emplacements at Trent's Reach."
"Then good luck to you," said Semmes. "Sorry we can't stay to see you cast off, but the Secretary has a train to catch and I have to return to the fleet and oversee its destruction before the Yankees are upon us."
The Secretary of the Confederate navy shook Tombs' hand once more. "The blockade runner Fox is standing by off Bermuda to recoal your bunkers for the next leg of your voyage. Good fortune to you, Commander. The salvation of the Confederacy is in your hands."
Before Tombs could reply, Mallory ordered the carriage driver to move on. Tombs raised his hand in a final salute and stood there, his mind failing to comprehend the Secretary's farewell. Salvation of the Confederacy? The words made no sense. The war was lost. With Sherman moving north from the Carolinas and Grant surging south through Virginia like a tidal wave, Lee would be caught between the Union pincers and forced to surrender in a matter of days. Jefferson Davis would soon be broken from President of the Confederate States to a common fugitive.
And within a few short hours, the Texas had every expectation of being the last ship of the Confederate navy to die a watery death.
Where was the salvation should the Texas make good her escape? Tombs failed to fathom a vague answer. His orders were to transport the government's archives to a neutral port of his choosing and remain out of sight until contacted by courier. How could the successful smuggling of bureaucratic records possibly prevent the certain defeat of the South?
His thoughts were interrupted by his first officer, Lieutenant Ezra Craven.
"The loading is completed and the cargo stored, sir," announced Craven. "Shall I give the order to cast off?"
Tombs turned. "Not yet. We have to take on a passenger."
Craven, a big brusque Scotsman, spoke with a peculiar combination of brogue and southern drawl. "He'd better make it damned quick."
"Is Chief Engineer O'Hare ready to get underway?"
"His engines have a full head of steam."
"And the gun crews?"
"Manning their stations."
"We'll stay buttoned up until we meet the Federal fleet. We can't afford to lose a gun and crew from a lucky shot through a port beforehand."
"The men won't take kindly to turning the other cheek."
"Tell them they'll live longer -- "
Both men swung and stared toward the shore at the sound of approaching hooves. A few seconds later a Confederate officer rode out of the darkness and onto the dock.
"One of you Commander Tombs?" he asked in a tired voice.
"I'm Tombs," he said, stepping forward.
The rider swung down from his horse and saluted. He was covered with road dust and looked exhausted. "My compliments, sir. Captain Neville Brown, in charge of the escort for your prisoner."
"Prisoner," Tombs echoed. "I was told he was a passenger."
"Treat him as you will," Brown shrugged indifferently.
"Where is he?" Tombs asked for the second time that night.
"Immediately behind. I rode out in advance of my party to warn you not to be alarmed."
"Is the man daft?" muttered Craven. "Alarmed at what?"
His question was answered as a closed coach rumbled onto the dock surrounded by a detachment of riders dressed in the blue uniform of Union cavalry.
Tombs was on the verge of shouting for his crew to run out the guns and repel boarders when Captain Brown calmly reassured him. "Rest easy, Commander. They're good southern boys. Dressing up like Yankees was the only way we could p...
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