Valhalla (A Lexy Vaughn & Steven Macauley Novel)

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9780451468727: Valhalla (A Lexy Vaughn & Steven Macauley Novel)
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Along the Greenland ice cap, an expedition team makes an astounding discovery. Buried five hundred feet below the ice cap is the wreckage of an ancient ship—and nine perfectly preserved Vikings. Rune markings indicate it went missing in 1016 BC.
 
Energized by the find, retired Air Force general Steven Macaulay assembles the foremost scholars of Norse archaeology, including Harvard academic and master decoder Lexy Vaughan. But the mission is violently sabotaged—because this discovery holds the key to a mystery that will change the human race.
 
To put together the pieces of the puzzle, Macaulay and Lexy plunge headlong into a web of chaos and betrayal—all the while hunted by a covert primeval society that will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

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About the Author:

Robert J. Mrazek is the author of the novels The Deadly Embrace, which won the W.Y. Boyd Prize for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association, Unholy Fire, and Stonewall’s Gold, winner of the Michael Shaara Prize for Best Civil War Novel of 1999. He is also the author of two works of nonfiction, To Kingdom Come and A Dawn Like Thunder.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for Robert J. Mrazek and His Novels

SIGNET

PROEM

He could no longer endure the agonizing cold.

The eternal darkness.

The ever-howling wind.

He was the last one left.

Ice particles peppered his cheeks as his bruised and aching fingers labored at their final task. He imagined the rest of them celebrating with bowls of honey-soaked mead in the halls of Valhalla. Where he would soon join them.

The rescue party would come in the spring. They would see what he had done in these last hours of mortal life. They would bring the tale back home and share it with the others. Grindl would learn of what he had done. She would always be proud.

And they would know of the hallowed place.

And go there.

THE RUNES OF THE GODS

ONE

8 November
Helheim Glacier
Greenland Ice Cap

“A toast to the crew of March Hare,” John Lee Hancock shouted above the shrieking wind as he raised his pewter Air Force Academy goblet and downed three inches of vintage 1942 Dom Pérignon champagne. “Tonight we will unearth her secrets.”

Hap Arnold, Hancock’s one-hundred-twenty-pound white Alsatian, stirred at his master’s feet as the twelve other men in the expedition joined him in the toast. Outside the operations tent, the wind was blowing forty miles an hour and the unfastened flaps were making snapping sounds like pistol shots.

“Steve and I will be the only ones going into the ship, but you’ll be able to see everything we do on the television monitors up here,” said John Lee.

In December 1942, March Hare, a newly christened B-17 Flying Fortress with a ten-man crew, had been flying from Goose Bay, Labrador, to join the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command in England when it had disappeared in a blizzard over the Greenland ice cap.

Due to Greenland’s violent weather patterns, dozens of warplanes had gone down there during the war, but March Hare was unique. Instead of bombs, it had been carrying ten wooden crates of Christmas gifts from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his European admirers, including King George VI, British prime minister Winston Churchill, the exiled monarchs of Europe, and the top Allied war commanders.

The manifest included personally inscribed books and handwritten letters from the president, a slew of commemorative gold coins and stamps from his personal collection, “New Deal” oil paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, ancient Navajo turquoise jewelry, hand-carved wooden puzzles, and a dozen cases of Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky.

March Hare captured Hancock’s interest and he immediately committed five hundred thousand dollars to locate the lost war bird. The founder of Anschutz International, a technology pioneer in the field of oil and gas exploration, Hancock was reputed to be the eighty-second richest man in the world. He found his personal pleasure in the pursuit of high adventure.

In the plane’s last radio transmission, its radio operator had reported severe blizzard conditions and that the pilot was attempting to land somewhere along Greenland’s rugged and unforgiving eastern coast.

His message had been picked up by a weather-monitoring station near Kulusuk. Based on the strength and direction of the signal, a search party set out from Comanche Bay to an area near the coastal settlement of Angmagssalik. Battling hundred-mile-per-hour winds, they discovered no trace of March Hare or its ten-man crew. The plane was never found.

Hancock’s expedition team needed just four days to locate it.

Knowing the aircraft’s original flight plan, as well as the strength and direction of the radio operator’s last transmission, they decided to start the hunt for the plane on the Helheim Glacier, to the west of Angmagssalik.

Hancock’s expedition was equipped with two Bell 206L4 LongRanger IV jet helicopters, and they began the search patterns along twenty-kilometer parallel lines at one-kilometer intervals. After completing a search pattern, the birds would then fly the same grid quadrants perpendicular to the first one.

A QUESTON (V) ice-penetrating radar system was deployed under each helicopter, its antenna clusters capable of sending and receiving an ultrawide spectrum of RF energy pulses through more than a thousand feet of glacial ice, and producing clear virtual imagery.

Four days into the search, recognition signals on one of the helicopters began registering a target in the glacier. It was less than ten miles from the coast. The second helicopter converged on the location and both landed on the ice cap to take more definitive readings.

The virtual images revealed that March Hare’s pilot had made an almost miraculous landing between two jagged peaks. The Fortress was sitting primly on its wheel struts where it had rolled to a stop, but it was now encased in a solid tomb of ice one hundred forty feet beneath the surface of the cap.

“We’re going down after her,” said Hancock to his expedition leaders.

TWO

9 November
Helheim Glacier
Greenland Ice Cap

It was a calculated risk to attempt the recovery in November, but Hancock had spent his life taking risks, from the air battles he had fought as a fighter pilot in Desert Storm to the founding of Anschutz International with fifty thousand dollars he had won in a Kilgore, Texas, poker game.

They were down to six hours of sunlight each day. By November 22, it would be only three hours. By December 1, the cap would be cloaked in total darkness, and the sun would not appear again for forty-five days.

Hancock wasn’t about to wait six months to recover the plane. His men and equipment were ready to go. Worst case, they would have to abandon the recovery effort and return in the spring. He told Steve Macaulay, his second-in-command, to do whatever it took, regardless of the cost.

A day later, Base Hancock One took shape on the ice.

Two de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters had been modified to carry freight, and they began flying in supplies and equipment the following day, including two thermal meltdown generators, pumps, drilling equipment, diesel generators, spare parts, a satellite communications system, a fully equipped camp kitchen, two bulldozers, and storage containers crammed with meat, vegetables, and other food supplies.

The men quickly constructed a small complex of insulated arctic tents in a rough circle around the proposed drilling site. A helicopter pad was laid out with landing lights. A thousand-gallon tank of diesel fuel was flown in from Kulusuk, and fuel lines were run to all the tents and the modular washroom/latrine.

The effort to recover March Hare began the second day. A steel platform rig was set down over the site of the drilling shaft, followed by a thermal meltdown generator. Nicknamed the BADGER, it was twelve feet in diameter, and would melt a circular shaft until they reached the plane. At a melting rate of two feet per hour, the team members extrapolated they would reach March Hare in about three days.

Heavy snow and driving winds from the Arctic Circle hit them hard as soon as they were under way. The tents were nearly buried in the first blizzard, but the snow provided good insulation, and the expedition’s bulldozers kept the pathways open between the complex and the helicopter pad.

The temperature fell to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit and stayed there. Off duty, the men wriggled into their arctic mummy bags to keep warm. Four days after they commenced drilling, the BADGER reached the targeted depth of one hundred forty feet.

Hancock and Macaulay made plans to enter March Hare through the underbelly hatch in the forward compartment. Knowing that human remains might still be on the plane, Macaulay had arranged to have an honor guard flown up from the Mortuary Affairs Center at Dover Air Force Base to accompany the bodies home.

The BADGER was removed from the shaft and replaced with a steel elevator cage operated by a power hoist. Two men equipped with high-pressure steam hoses were lowered down the shaft. At the bottom, they began burrowing toward the forward hatch, melting a tunnel as they went.

As soon as they reached the Fortress, the men were brought back to the surface, where Hancock and Macaulay, both wearing waterproof thermal suits and insulated rubber boots, were waiting to go down.

Macaulay planned to operate a lightweight, high-definition color zoom camera designed for use in confined spaces. Hancock carried a portable floodlight. Two transceivers with voice-activated microphones were incorporated into their headgear.

“Hey . . . take a look at this,” shouted one of the engineers at the entrance to the platform rig.

Outside, the snow had stopped and the dark sky was filled with pulsating ripples of violet, red, and brilliant green.

“The goddess Aurora is trying to tell us something,” Macaulay said with a laugh.

In Desert Storm, Macaulay had been Hancock’s air squadron commander. Now their roles were reversed. In some ways, they couldn’t have been more different. Quick to laugh, Macaulay was tall and slender with an easygoing personality. Hancock was short, stocky, and intense.

“Let’s get going,” said Hancock.

When they reached the bottom of the shaft, he led the way into the tunnel to March Hare. A steady drip of melting ice wept from the frozen concave roof above them. When they reached the polished steel hatch beneath the forward compartment, Hancock reached up to turn its handle.

“Okay . . . we’re going in,” Hancock radioed to the surface.

THREE

13 November
Helheim Glacier
Greenland Ice Cap

Hancock’s breath condensed like cigarette smoke in the frigid air as he directed the floodlights toward the bombardier’s station in the nose of the plane. Macaulay followed the lights with his camera. The compartment was empty. The bombardier’s leather data case rested against one of the anchored legs of his chair. A Red Sox baseball cap hung from the bombsight harness.

“No bombsight,” said Hancock.

“The Norden was top secret back then,” said Macaulay. “The bombardier wouldn’t have been assigned one until they got to England.”

The plane’s navigator had also worked in the forward compartment, and his metal desk was covered by a topographical map of Greenland. He had penciled in the plane’s route all the way from Goose Bay. The line ended over Greenland.

There was no corrosion anywhere, no decay of any kind. The machine guns lying on the deck were oiled and ready to fire, along with the bright copper casings of ammunition.

They climbed up to the cockpit, where the pilot and copilot had commanded the plane. It was empty too. Maybe they had all gotten out, Macaulay thought. But where could they have gone?

Macaulay eased himself into the pilot’s seat. An open pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes rested on the edge of the console by the throttle controls. The instrument gauges looked like they were waiting to be turned on. It struck him that the restoration team back in Lubbock wouldn’t have much work to do on this plane.

He and Hancock headed aft past the top-turret machine gun to the bomb bay compartment. Aside from the scrape of their ice cleats on the steel deck, it was as silent as a tomb.

The bomb bay was crammed with unmarked wooden crates still strapped into position with thick cordage. Inside were President Roosevelt’s Christmas presents to the European elite. Hancock pointed to another stack at the rear of the compartment. Each crate was labeled Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. One of them had been cracked open.

The radio compartment was next and it was as empty as the others. The aircraft’s BC-348 radio receiver was mounted to the tabletop. A Dick Tracy comic book sat on top of it. The BC-375 transmitter on the opposite bulkhead was turned to the ON position.

In the waist gunners’ compartment, they found the answer to the riddle.

The crew hadn’t gotten out after all. Nine of them lay sprawled out in the compartment, which had clearly been organized as a last redoubt against the agonizing cold.

The men had sealed the hatches of the waist guns and gathered all their clothing and blankets together to stay warm. Most were wearing their sheepskin-lined flying suits with lined bunny boots. They had all frozen to death.

Hancock directed the lights at their faces one by one, and Macaulay recorded them on his video camera. Their faces reflected a mixture of sadness, resignation, perplexity, and despair.

“Not the worst way to go, Steve.”

“Buried alive wouldn’t be my choice.”

Dick Slezak, the turret gunner, looked impossibly young for a man who would now be approaching ninety if he had survived the war. He would always be eighteen.

“Ted Morgan is missing,” said Macaulay after they examined the nine bodies.

Morgan was the pilot who had made the miraculous landing in the middle of the blizzard. He had been twenty-three years old and hailed from Macaulay’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Morgan had married an army nurse named Cherie Carter. A year later, she had given birth to a baby girl. Cherie was still alive, now a ninety-year-old grandmother. She had remarried seven years after Ted had disappeared.

They found him in the tail gunner’s compartment. He was lying on his back and staring up toward the surface of the ice cap as if visually attempting to escape from their tomb.

Macaulay remembered his face from Morgan’s personnel file. It had reminded Macaulay of himself, lean and square-jawed, with a hint of cockiness. A hot flier who had wanted to be a fighter pilot and had instead been assigned to bombers.

The cockiness was gone now.

The opened bottle of Old Forester stood next to him on the floor of the compartment. Three inches remained in the bottom. Near his outstretched hand was a leather-bound diary. Macaulay unzipped it and thumbed through the last few pages. Morgan had survived almost two weeks. He had been the last to die.

28 December ’42. Did a good job landing the plane in snow and darkness. Everyone safe. Radio not working, but Jeff hopes to fix it soon and send out our approximate position. Can’t be more than ten miles from the coast.

5 January ’43. Snow hasn’t stopped since we landed. Slezak dug his way up from the waist door and broke through the snow layer about eight feet above the top turret. Men now take turns going up with a flare gun. If one hears an airplane, he is to shoot off a flare. Brutal up there. No one can stay outside more than thirty minutes.

8 January ’43. Jacobs fired all our flares off when he said he heard aircraft.

Morgan’s handwriting began to deteriorate.

9 January ’43. Can no longer get to the surface. Slezak tried to break through but gave up at twenty-five feet. We are trapped. . . . Emergency food gone. No gas left in tanks. Flashlights dead. Total darkness.

The heat from the floodlight Hancock was holding began to melt ...

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