The Tomb of Hercules_A Novel, Page 2Andy McDermott
Then they slumped back down as the two gas cylinders rolled through the room, spewing invisible death.
The second team of two headed for the front of the rig and the command section on A Deck. This area was always guarded, four Marines stationed at the entrance.
Poison gas was not an option in this part of the rig; there was one man who needed to be kept alive at all costs, and gas was too indiscriminate and unpredictable a killer. The dart guns were also unusable, too slow to reload and carrying the risk that a dart might embed itself uselessly in a target’s equipment. At this critical stage of the operation, instant kills had to be guaranteed.
So the two men simply walked around the corner and shot each of the Marines in the head with silenced pistols before any of them had a chance to respond.
The corpses would have to be removed when the attackers left the rig—a body with a bullet wound would give everything away. But that had been planned for.
One of the men clicked his radio. In position.
A single click came from the huge man’s radio. He nodded to himself, then cautiously looked around the edge of the rain-streaked window.
There was only one person on watch in the bridge, a young female lieutenant. Since the SBX was stationary and the Command Information Center behind the bridge acted as the vessel’s nerve center, there was no need for anyone else. He could see more people through the glass doors to CIC, including the platform’s commander.
It was time.
Lieutenant Phoebe Bremmerman looked up from her console at the bridge windows. There had been a noise, something other than rain pounding against the glass.
And there was something on the glass itself, a dark gray object the size of a large coin.
She stood, about to call out to her commander in CIC—
The window exploded.
Fragments of glass sprayed into the bridge, the muffled rumble of the storm outside instantly rising to a howl. The lieutenant screamed as a chunk of the broken window slashed her cheek.
A huge black man in a wet suit leaped through the window, a pistol aimed at her. Simultaneously, more wet-suited men burst into CIC, weapons raised. One of the radar operators jumped up, only to fall back over his chair, a dart protruding from his neck.
The giant grabbed Bremmerman and dragged her into CIC, the noise of the storm dropping as the bridge door thumped shut.
“Commander Hamilton,” he said to the SBX’s commander, shoving the woman to join the other occupants of the room in a group surrounded by four armed men. “Sorry for the intrusion.” He smiled, the diamond glinting in his flawless teeth. His Nigerian accent was smooth and sonorous. “My name is Joe Komosa, and I’m here for one thing only.” The smile reappeared, but with menace behind it. “Where is Dr. Bill Raynes?”
The remaining crew of the platform were taken to the large lab on B Deck assigned to the IHA team and forced to kneel in the center of the room.
None of the Marines had survived the assault. The navy crew had also suffered severe losses; aside from Hamilton himself, there were now only ten alive, including the five others from the CIC. Of the ten members of the IHA contingent, three were missing.
The attackers had been joined by another three men, who had brought in the other survivors at gunpoint. Whoever they were, Hamilton realized, they were utterly ruthless; another sailor had protested when he’d been shoved into the lab—not even fighting back, just shouting—and been shot in the chest at point-blank range, dying on the deck right before Hamilton’s eyes.
And there had been nothing he could do.
Komosa pulled off the headpiece of his wet suit, revealing a gleaming shaven head with a row of piercings, silver studs, running back from each temple. Then he pulled down the zip to expose his bare chest, which was marked by lines of more glittering piercings. Pausing for a moment to admire his reflection in a glass partition, he slowly strode back and forth before the prisoners without a word, arousing nervous glances, then rounded on Raynes with his dazzling smile.
“Dr. Raynes,” he said, “as I told Commander Hamilton, I have come here for one thing only. Do you know what this is?” He held up a small white object he had taken from a waterproof pouch.
Raynes peered uncertainly at it as if being asked a trick question. “It’s … a USB flash drive?”
“It is indeed a flash drive.” Komosa went to one particular computer in the corner of the lab—Raynes’s own workstation. “And I would like you to fill it for me.”
Raynes swallowed, voice dry. “With—with what?”
“With certain files held on the IHA’s secure server in New York. Specifically, those concerning the lost works of Plato held in the archives of the Brotherhood of Selasphoros.”
For a moment, confusion almost overcame fear on Raynes’s face. “Wait, you did all this to access our server? Why?”
“That’s my concern. Your only concern right now is to do what I tell you.”
“And if I refuse?”
Komosa’s arm snapped up. Without taking his eyes off Raynes, he fired a dart into the heart of one of the other IHA scientists. The man clutched weakly at his chest before collapsing.
Raynes flinched, eyes wide with fear. “Okay, the server, okay! I’ll-I’ll—whatever you want.”
“Thank you.” Komosa nodded, and one of his men led Raynes to the computer.
“Don’t do it, Doctor,” Hamilton warned. “You know we can’t let anyone else reach Atlantis.”
“Atlantis!” said Komosa with a dismissive laugh. “I don’t care about Atlantis!”
“I don’t believe you. Dr. Raynes, under no circumstances whatsoever are you to give this man access to that computer.”
Komosa sighed. “You will give me access, Doctor.” He crossed to the prisoners, taking Bremmerman by the arm and pulling her to her feet. She gave Hamilton a fearful look, unsure what to do.
“Leave her alone,” Hamilton barked.
Komosa moved behind the lieutenant, towering over her as he slipped one thick arm around her waist and the hand of the other to her neck. “Dr. Raynes.” He turned away from Hamilton, moving Bremmerman with him as he faced the scientist. “I’m sure you noticed this young lady around the rig before. She is very pretty.” He lowered his head, stroking her hair with one side of his chin. Despite her fear, she slammed an elbow into his stomach.
He barely flinched. The diamond smile widened. “And very spirited.” His thumb moved slowly up her neck, stopping an inch below her chin—And pressed.
Something inside her throat collapsed with a sickening wet crunch. The young woman’s eyes bulged, her mouth opening in a desperate attempt to draw a breath that could never reach her lungs. Komosa released her. She reached up to her face, fingers twitching. A drop of blood ran from the corner of her mouth as she convulsed.
“And very dead,” said Komosa, voice like stone.
“You bastard!” roared Hamilton. He tried to charge at Komosa, but one of the other wet-suited men viciously clubbed him down with the butt of his gun. The commander dropped to the floor. Bremmerman fell too—but, unlike Hamilton, she didn’t get back up.
Komosa turned back to Raynes. “I will kill one of your shipmates every minute until you give me what I want. Their lives are entirely in your hands. Are your computer files really so valuable that you’re willing to let your friends die to protect them?” He aimed his gun at the head of one of the IHA scientists. “Fifty-eight seconds.”
Sweat beaded on Raynes’s face. “B-but even if I wanted to, there’s no way I could now! The security system, it—”
“I know about the security system, Doctor. Forty-nine seconds.”
Frantic, Raynes sat down at the computer and began working, his hand so slick with frightened perspiration that it slipped off the mouse. A password box popped up. He typed a string of characters and stabbed at the return key. The box vanished, replaced by an alert: THUMBPRINT VALIDATION REQUIRED. With a worried glance back at Komosa, he pressed his thumb agains
t a black square set into the top right corner of the keyboard. A red light pulsed. The alert disappeared, replaced by another.
VOICEPRINT VALIDATION REQUIRED.
“Seventeen seconds to spare,” said Komosa, lowering the gun. “Well done.”
“I can’t get you any further. I can’t!” Raynes pleaded. “The voiceprint ID, it’s got a—”
“It has a stress analyzer, I know.” The giant moved over to the desk, his free hand reaching for something on his belt. “It denies access even to authorized users if they seem to be under duress. But don’t worry—in a moment, you’ll be perfectly relaxed.”
And with that, he jabbed a syringe into Raynes’s arm and pushed the plunger.
Raynes stared at the syringe in horror, opening his mouth to cry out… before a tremor ran through his entire body. He sagged, bones turning to jelly. What had started as a cry emerged as a long, almost orgasmic sigh.
Komosa leaned closer. “Now, Doctor, I know you can hear me, and I know you’re still lucid. There were seventeen seconds left on the clock. That is how long you have to enter the final code before I shoot your friend. Do you understand?” Raynes nodded, the muscles in his face slack. “Your time starts now.” Komosa aimed the gun back at the other scientist, taking Raynes by his shirt collar and lifting him closer to the computer.
Raynes cleared his throat, then spoke, voice low and dreamlike. “In this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire.” A small microphone icon flickered, acknowledging that the computer had heard.
Nothing happened. The man Komosa was aiming at whimpered. Then—
The screen lit up with a directory window. The satellite data link had been established. A few of the prisoners let out relieved sighs.
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Komosa, plugging the drive into a port on the computer. “I’ll take it from here.”
That was the signal.
The flat hissing thuds of dart guns filled the lab. Those people who weren’t hit by the first volley started to shout—only to fall silent within seconds as the guns were reloaded and a second round fired. Outside the main group, Hamilton jumped up with a roar of fury.
Komosa fired. The dart slammed deep into Hamilton’s right eye socket, unleashing a welter of blood. The commander instantly fell to the swaying deck, dead even before the toxins took effect.
Turning back to the computer as if nothing had happened, Komosa copied files to the drive before accessing a different directory. Even through the influence of the powerful muscle relaxant, Raynes managed a look of surprise when he saw the directory name.
Komosa caught his expression. He grinned. “Yes, IHA personnel records. Don’t worry, we’re not going to kill them.” The grin hardened as he selected two particular files and copied them to the drive. “Yet.”
The files transferred, Komosa pulled the drive from the computer and returned it to its pouch. He straightened, turning to his men. “Disperse the bodies throughout the command section—it needs to look as if they were on duty when the rig capsized. I’ll go to the bridge and flood the starboard pontoon—once the pumps start, we’ll have five minutes to get back to the sub.” They acknowledged and hurried out, dragging the paralyzed navy personnel after them.
Komosa tugged the zip of his wet suit back up to his neck and followed his men out of the lab, stepping over the slumped, helpless civilians.
All Raynes could do was stare at the computer screen as he waited to die. The names of the last two files Komosa had copied were still highlighted. He knew both of them.
CHASE, EDWARD J.
WILDE, NINA P.
New York City:
The lights of Manhattan shone like constellations of precision-aligned stars against the night sky. Eddie Chase gazed out at the spectacular panorama and sighed. He would much rather have been somewhere, anywhere, on the island—a restaurant, a bar, even a launderette—than here.
Not that the venue itself was a problem. The Ocean Emperor was their host’s pride and joy, a 350-foot motor cruiser on which absolutely no expense had been spared. Chase had been on luxury yachts before, but this one represented a whole new level of opulence. Had he just been with Nina and a group of close friends, he would have taken full advantage of the experience.
But apart from a handful of senior IHA staff, so far he didn’t know any of the hundred-plus guests. And he didn’t have anything in common with them either. Diplomats, politicians, titans of industry, all busy networking and deal-making with every handshake. Chase, on the other hand, was here merely as Nina’s “and guest.” This wasn’t his world.
It wasn’t Nina’s either, but she was doing everything she could to pretend it was, he thought with a frown. He knocked back the remaining red wine in his glass and turned away from the vista to face the crowd. Nina was standing with former U.S. Navy admiral turned historian Hector Amoros, the head of the IHA, and shaking hands with a tall, distinguished yet smug-looking man. Politician, Chase knew at a glance.
Nina glanced through the open doors in his direction. “Eddie!” she called, waving one hand to summon him. The champagne glass that had been in her other hand from practically the moment she boarded the yacht had been refilled again, he noticed. “Eddie, come here and meet the senator.”
“Yeah, coming,” he replied without enthusiasm, fingering his stiff and uncomfortable collar. A blast of noise and wind swept over the deck as he reentered the ship, another helicopter coming in to drop off more ultra-VIP guests on the yacht’s helipad. Chase and Nina had been brought to the Ocean Emperor by boat, as had most of the other guests. Even in the world of the superrich, there was still a pecking order. He imagined the only way to top arriving by helicopter would be to land in a Harrier jump jet.
Nina looked amazing tonight, he had to admit. The sweeping scarlet off-the-shoulder dress was a world away from the ruggedly practical clothes she had worn when he first got to know her a year and a half before, or even the Italian suits she’d adopted more recently in her role as the IHA’s director of operations. Her normally red hair had been dyed a richer, darker tone for the occasion, swept and styled to highlight her carefully made-up face.
Chase ground his teeth at the mere thought of her hair. He’d complained about it all day before Nina finally made him promise to shut up.
But still… five hundred dollars for a fucking haircut?
“Eddie,” said Nina, “this is Senator Victor Dalton. Senator, this is Eddie Chase, who works for me at the IHA. And he also happens to be my boyfriend,” she added.
“Nice to meet you, Senator,” said Chase, shooting Nina a subtly annoyed look as he shook Dalton’s hand. He recognized the name—Dalton was in the running to be the next president of the United States. That explained the two stone-faced men in dark suits watching him coldly from nearby: Secret Service agents.
“You too, Mr. Chase,” Dalton answered. “English, huh? Not a Londoner, if I’m right about the accent.”
“Too blood—I mean, yeah, that’s right. I’m from Yorkshire.”
Dalton nodded. “Yorkshire, right. Nice part of the world, I understand.”
“It’s not bad.” Chase doubted the senator knew where Yorkshire was, or cared.
“Senator Dalton’s on the IHA’s funding committee,” Amoros told him.
Chase smirked. “That right? Any chance of a pay raise?”
Nina’s glossily lipsticked mouth shrank into a tight line, but Dalton laughed. “I’ll see what I can do.” He looked past Chase, his eyebrows flicking in recognition. “Say, our host approaches! Monsieur Corvus, good to meet you again!”
Chase turned to see a sleekly groomed, black-haired man in a dinner jacket. He looked to be in his mid-fifties. “Please,” he said to Dalton as he shook hands, “René. This is a social event, yes? No need for tiresome formality!”
“Whatever you say …René!” Dalton chuckled.
“Thank you …Victor! And Nina,” Corvus continued
as he turned to Nina, taking her hand, “such a pleasure to meet you again.” He leaned forward and kissed her on both cheeks. Nina blushed. Chase glared at the Frenchman, quickly forcing a neutral expression when he turned to face him. “And you, you must be…”
“Eddie Chase,” Chase announced brusquely, sticking out his hand. “Nina’s boyfriend.”
“But of course,” said Corvus, smiling as he shook his hand. “René Corvus. Welcome aboard the Ocean Emperor.”
“Cheers.” Chase looked around at the oak-paneled room. “It’s a really nice boat you’ve got here. I suppose being a shipping magnet has its perks.”
Dalton suppressed an amused noise, while Nina let out a fluttering, slightly desperate laugh. “René’s not just a shipping magnate,” she said to Chase, emphasizing the pronunciation of the word through clenched teeth, “he’s also one of the IHA’s directors.”
“Nonexecutive, of course,” Corvus added modestly. “It’s only proper that the experts like Nina should make the decisions about protecting the world’s archaeological wonders.”
“Yeah, well,” said Chase with a big fake smile, “she really does like to be in control of everything, I can tell you.”
Nina took a gulp from her glass before treating Chase to an equally false grin. “Honey, sweetie?” she said, tugging at his jacket sleeve. “Can I speak to you? Over here?” She tipped her head towards the doors.
“Of course you can, darling,” he replied. He nodded to the other three men. “Excuse us for a second.” The trio exchanged knowing looks as he and Nina backed away.
“What the hell are you doing?” Nina hissed as soon as they were what she mistakenly thought was out of earshot.
“What’re you talking about?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about! Making an ass of yourself and embarrassing me!”
“Oh, I’m embarrassing you?” snorted Chase. “What about you and your ‘Here’s Eddie, my dogsbody at the IHA—oh, and he’s sort of my boyfriend as well’?”