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AN INCREDIBLE DISCOVERY.
A MERCILESS FOE.
A DEADLY RACE FOR THE TRUTH.
Off a remote stretch of the Indonesian coast, archaeologist Nina Wilde has made an astounding discovery: an artifact that will rewrite everything that's known about human history. But before she can return to tell the world of her find, her ship is brutally attacked, her crew is ruthlessly murdered, and the artifact is stolen. Someone wants this secret to stay hidden-and will do anything to keep it that way.
From the depths of the ocean to the Australian outback, to the halls of the United Nations, Nina and her fiance, ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase, embark on a quest to stop the all-powerful Covenant of Genesis, a clandestine group sworn to keep Nina's discovery a secret. Nina and Eddie have faced tough adversaries before, but the relentless Covenant is always two steps ahead of them-and more than willing to kill again. Who will be the first to expose the truth-and the first to claim the most valuable archaeological prize of all time?
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Andy McDermott is the New York Times bestselling author of the Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase series of adventure thrillers, which have been published in over thirty countries and twenty languages. A former journalist and movie critic, he lives in Bournemouth, England, with his wife and son.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Eight Years Later
Shark!” At almost a hundred feet beneath the Java Sea, daylight was diffused to a dusky turquoise cast, but there was still more than enough illumination for Nina Wilde to see the predator turn toward her. “Shark!” she repeated, her voice rising in pitch. “Eddie, do something!”
Eddie Chase swept past her, using the thrusters of his deep suit to place himself between his fiancée and the shark as he brought up his speargun. He aimed the .357 Magnum cartridge forming the spear’s explosive powerhead at the approaching creature . . . then lowered it again.
“What are you doing?” Nina asked, green eyes wide with fear. “It’s coming right at us!” “It’s only a thresher. Don’t worry, it won’t do anything.”
“But it’s fifteen feet long!”
“It’s not even six. I know the helmet magnifies things, but Jesus!”
The shark came closer, mouth gaping to expose ranks of sharp triangular teeth . . . then turned its head almost dismissively and powered off into the murk.
“See?” said Chase. “Nothing to worry about. Now, if it’d been something like a tiger shark, you’d know about it.”
“ ’Cause I’d be shouting ‘Shit, it’s a fucking tiger shark, aargh!’ and firing off spears as fast as I could load ’em!” The balding, broken-nosed Englishman turned so that the lights on his deep suit’s polycarbonate body lit up the redhead’s pale face through her transparent bubble helmet. “You okay?”
“Yeah, fine,” Nina answered, with a slightly embarrassed smile. She had undergone dive training off the coast of Long Island, near her native New York City, and was still getting used to the enormously more varied marine life of Indonesia. “It’s just that to me, ‘shark’ equals ‘severed head popping out of a boat.’ ”
Chase chuckled; then a hint of concern came into his voice, even through the distortion of the underwater radio system. “How’s your leg?”
“It’s . . . okay.” That wasn’t technically a lie, as the bullet wound she had received to her right thigh four months earlier, now more or less healed, wasn’t actually hurting. But it had definitely stiffened up during the dive.
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t believe her. “Look, if you want to go back to the ship—”
“I’m fine, Eddie,” Nina insisted. “Come on, let’s carry on with the survey.”
“If you’re sure.” Chase managed an approximation of a shrug through the deep suit’s bulky casing.
She gripped the flexible control stalk on her suit’s chest and engaged the thrusters to lift herself off the seabed, using her finned feet to bring herself to a horizontal position before zooming away, Chase behind her.
Their survey led them along a circular route, taking twenty minutes to complete. Nina was disappointed that she failed to discover anything new—but that feeling vanished as they returned to the center of the circle.
Almost a year earlier, a local fishing boat had, by chance, dredged up a handful of wood and stone artifacts from the seafloor. The Indonesian authorities quickly realized they were very old and hence potentially extremely valuable; the lucky fishermen had received a payment to persuade them to “forget” exactly where they had made their discovery, so the site could be properly examined before opportunistic treasure hunters picked it clean.
The job of exploration fell to the United Nations’ International Heritage Agency. Nina, at the time the agency’s director of operations, had already been engaged in a project to chart in detail humanity’s expansion across the world in prehistory; the Indonesian find had the potential to pinpoint a date with great accuracy. It had taken several months for everything to be arranged, but now they were here.
And had made a discovery.
“Nina, look at this!” called Marco Gozzi over the radio. He and another scientist, Gregor Bobak, were using a vacuum pump to clear away the layers of sediment and vegetation that had built up over millennia.
“What is it?” Nina asked. She switched off the thrusters and swam the last few yards to join them: stirring up the bottom would wipe out visibility and cost them valuable time. The deep suits could operate underwater for longer than traditional scuba gear but still had their limits—and on an operation like this, time was money. The research vessel anchored a few hundred yards away, the Pianosa, was privately owned, with other clients waiting to use it after the IHA.
Gozzi aimed a light at what had been exposed. “It’s a net!” said the Italian.
“It is,” Nina said in awed agreement. “Wow, this is incredible!”
Chase, hanging back, was less impressed. “Ooh. A net. Just like the thing that found this lot in the first place.”
“Eddie,” Nina chided, “this isn’t exactly a nylon drift net we’re talking about here.” She reached out with a gloved hand, gently brushing sand off the crudely knotted strands. “Looks like they wove it from the local rain-forest plants. Palm strands, maybe?”
“Or vines,” said Bobak in his strong Polish accent. “Strangler figs, perhaps. There are many on the islands.”
Gozzi dug a finger into the gray sediment. “The mud must have buried it and stopped it from rotting. Could have been caused by a tsunami, or a volcanic eruption.”
“Mark the position,” Nina told them. “If it’s a fishing net, they would have kept it close to the shore.” She checked the little display in her helmet to get their exact depth. “Ninety-eight feet. If I put that into GLUG, I’ll be able to work out exactly how long ago this spot was last above water.” She saw a yellow mesh bag on the ground nearby. “What else have you found?” “Stone tools, we think,” Gozzi told her. He pointed to a spot behind Chase. “We found them there.”
Chase turned in place. An orange-painted stick marked where the other divers had been working. Near it, a little mound of round-edged stones stood out above the seafloor.
He looked back at Nina, who was using a smaller version of the vacuum pump to clear silt away from the net. He swam to the stones, the deep suit’s neutral buoyancy letting him hover just above them. “Anything under these?”
“I don’t know, we didn’t look,” said Gozzi.
“Mind if I do?”
“Wait, you want to do some actual archaeology?” Nina asked, amused. “I guess my influence is finally rubbing off on you.”
“Nah, it’s just that if you’re going to keep oohing and aahing over a bit of old net, I’ll need something to keep me occupied. It gets boring just watching out for sharks.”
Bobak spun in alarm. “Sharks? Where are sharks?”
“There aren’t any sharks, Gregor,” said Nina as Gozzi suppressed a laugh. Still, Bobak surveyed the surrounding waters with deep apprehension before finally returning his attention to the net.
“We have cataloged there,” Gozzi said. “Go ahead.”
“If you find anything, tell us,” Nina added.
“If it’s just some stone knife, then yeah, I’ll tell you,” said Chase. “If it’s a pirate treasure chest, I’m keeping that to myself !” Quickly scanning for sharks or other potentially dangerous marine life—despite his earlier jokiness, part of his job was to look after the rest of the team, a responsibility he took very seriously, especially where Nina was concerned—he prodded at the nearest rock with his speargun. Satisfied that a moray eel or similarly nasty surprise wasn’t going to spring out, he pulled the stone free of the sediment.
While the exposed end had been smoothed off, the rest of it was flat-faced and hard-edged, reminding him of a large brick. Putting it aside, he aimed a light into the new hole. It was sadly lacking in pirate treasure, or even stone knives: nothing but thick sediment and the chipped corners of more blocks.
He extracted another brick, which came stickily free of its home of untold centuries like a bad tooth from a gum. A couple of colorful fish came to investigate the resulting hole, but like Chase they, too, were disappointed to find only more bricks.
“No treasure chest?” Nina asked as he rejoined her.
“Narr, me hearty. Didn’t find anything except some old bricks.”
Nina exchanged shocked glances with the other two archaeologists, then slowly faced Chase. “You found what?”
The brick sat on a table in Nina’s lab aboard the Pianosa. Slightly over a foot in length and about five inches to a side in cross section, slightly curved, it hardly seemed remarkable.
Except for the mere fact that it existed.
“It’s a brick,” said Chase, not for the first time since Nina had raced past him to the pile of stones. “What’s the big deal?”
“I’ll tell you,” said Nina, turning around the Apple laptop on which she had been frenziedly working. On its screen was a map of part of Indonesia and the Java Sea, with Sumatra and its myriad surrounding islands on the left side. “This is the sea level today, right?”
She zoomed in on one area. “This is us, here. The depth of the site is ninety-eight feet below sea level. But if I wind back time to show the last time the site was above sea level . . .”
The program she was using was called GLUG, for Global Levels of Underwater Geology—its full name contrived after the developers had come up with the jokey acronym. Using the most up-to-date radar and sonar maps, the program allowed members of the IHA and its sister agencies to see the topography of the entire planet, above or below the waves, with an accuracy previously available to only the best-equipped militaries. But GLUG could do more than simply show things as they were in the present: using data gleaned from geological and ice-core surveys, it could also raise or lower the sea level on a map to match that at any point in the past . . . or, by a simple reversal of the algorithm, list all the times when the sea had been at a specified level.
Which Nina had done. “This is what Indonesia looked like when the sea level was ninety-eight feet lower,” she said. As Chase watched, the map changed, new islands springing up around the coast. She pointed at a yellow marker on the edge of one of the freshly revealed landmasses. “See? That’s the dig site, right on the coast—sixty thousand years ago.”
Chase scratched at his thinning, close-cropped hair. “So? I thought that’s exactly what you were trying to prove, that early humans spread along the coastlines way back when. The whole Paleolithic-migration hypothesis thing.”
Nina gave him a surprised smile. “You’ve been reading my research?”
“Hey, I don’t spend all my spare time watching action movies. Okay, so sixty thousand years ago, Ig and Ook used to live here, catching fish and making bricks. Isn’t that what you expected to find?”
“More or less—except for that.” She lifted the brick. “You know when the earliest known bricks date from?”
“A week last Tuesday?”
She smiled. “Not quite. The earliest known fired bricks were found in Egypt, and date from around three thousand b.c. Even plain mud bricks only date from at most eight thousand b.c. Kind of a gap between that and fifty-eight thousand b.c.”
“What if it’s more recent? Maybe it fell off a ship.”
“You saw how rounded the exposed parts of the other bricks were. That’s not centuries of erosion, that’s millennia.” She turned the anachronistic object over in her hands. Though battered, its surface still retained the vestiges of a glaze, suggesting a relatively advanced and aesthetic-conscious maker. Neither concept fitted well with a Paleolithic origin.
She put down the brick. “I think we need to expand the survey parameters.”
Chase raised his eyebrows. “Oh, you do, do you?”
“Hey, I’m the director of the IHA. It’s my job to decide these things.”
“Interim director,” Chase reminded her. Nina had assumed the role four months earlier, following the death of her predecessor, Hector Amoros. The U.N.’s decision on the permanency of her appointment was pending. But it was a lock, she was sure; not bad for someone who had only turned thirty that year.
“Whatever. But I still think we should do it. Proving a theory is one thing, but making a discovery that could change everything we thought about early man . . .”
Chase stepped behind her and wrapped his thick arms around her waist. “You just want to be on the cover of Time again, don’t you?”
“No. Yes,” she admitted. “But think about what it would mean! Current theory posits that Homo sapiens didn’t develop anything but the most basic stone tools until the upper Paleolithic period fifty thousand years ago. But if they had kilns able to bake bricks . . .” She trailed off as Chase’s hands made their way up to her breasts. “Eddie, what are you doing?”
“You get so turned on when you’re talking about archaeology,” he said, a gap-toothed, lecherous smirk on his square face. “It’s like your version of porn. Your nipples pop up like grapes.”
“I do not have grape nipples,” Nina told him in a faux-frosty tone.
“Well, they’re still nice and tasty. We could just nip—fnarr, fnarr—to our cabin . . .”
“Later, Eddie,” she said, pulling his hands away. “Come on, I need to talk to Captain Branch and start a sonar survey.”
Chase rolled his eyes as she strode from the room. “Right. Because there’s nothing sexier than a sonar survey.”
Nina leaned against the railing on the Pianosa’s deck, watching the red-and-white de Havilland Otter floatplane nudge up to the L-shaped floating pontoon dock extending out from the ship’s starboard side. Chase waved at her from the copilot’s seat.
She waved back, then headed for her lab. It had taken some time to persuade Captain Branch—a stickler for adhering to the exact letter of a contract—to allow the floatplane to be used for anything other than its agreed-upon purpose of bringing in fresh food from Jakarta over the course of the ten-day expedition. But she eventually got her way . . . with the promise of some extra money from the discretionary budget going his way.
The Otter had been outfitted with a small “dunking” sonar array, then spent the next few hours making short hops along a rough spiral course out from the ship. At each landing, Chase lowered the sonar into the water to scan the surrounding seabed. In theory, if any of the results matched the reading from the dig site, there was a good chance they would find more of the mysterious bricks, perhaps even their source.
In theory. There was an equal chance that the search would uncover absolutely nothing.
Chase entered, carrying the tubular sonar array. Behind him, holding the sonar’s data recorder, was Bejo, one of the Indonesian members of the crew. He was in his late teens, and growing up on one of the vast archipelago’s many islands meant that he had spent almost as much of his life in boats as on land.
“How was the trip?” Nina asked as Chase returned the sonar to its large metal box.
“Pretty good. Hervé even let me hold the controls. For about a minute.”
“I thought I heard terrified screams,” Nina joked as Bejo put the recorder on a table. “Thanks, Bejo.”
“No problem, Mrs. Nina,” Bejo said cheerily.
“Please, I told you,” she said as she connected the recorder to one of the lab’s computers, “I’m not ‘Mrs.’ anything. Not until next May, anyway.”
“Ah! I see, then you will be Mrs. Eddie?”
“No, nonono.” Nina wagged a finger. “Then he’ll be Mr. Nina.”
Bejo erupted with laughter. “Mr. Nina!” he cried, pointing at Chase. “I like that, that is funny.”
“Yeah, hilarious,” Chase rumbled. He joined Nina at the computer. “See you later, Bejo.”
“And you . . . Mr. Nina!” Bejo left the lab, his laughter echoing down the corridor.
“Cheers for that,” said Chase, batting Nina lightly on t...
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