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The Seventh Plague

James Rollins


  Thanks to my Mom and Dad,

  Ronald and Mary Ann,

  For their inspiration, their unconditional support, and their lifelong

  example of how to love . . . now together again, forever in peace.





  Notes from the Historical Record

  Notes From the Scientific Record



  FIRST: Mummification

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  SECOND: Egg of Columbus

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  THIRD: The Dreaming God

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  FOURTH: The Painted Jungle

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28


  Eternal and Unknowable

  Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction

  Also by James Rollins



  About the Publisher


  A long litany of people helped make this book better—through their help, guidance, criticisms, encouragement, and, most important, their enduring friendship. I must thank my critique group, that close-knit bevy of readers who serve both as my initial editors and who are not above holding my feet to the fire to make me push farther and dig deeper: Sally Ann Barnes, Chris Crowe, Lee Garrett, Jane O’Riva, Denny Grayson, Leonard Little, Judy Prey, Caroline Williams, Christian Riley, Tod Todd, Chris Smith, and Amy Rogers. And, as always, a special thanks to Steve Prey for the great maps . . . and to David Sylvian for making sure I put my best foot forward at all times . . . and to Cherei McCarter for the many great historical and scientific tidbits found within these pages! And of course, to everyone at HarperCollins for always having my back, especially Michael Morrison, Liate Stehlik, Danielle Bartlett, Kaitlin Harri, Josh Marwell, Lynn Grady, Jeanne Reina, Richard Aquan, Tom Egner, Shawn Nicholls, and Ana Maria Allessi. Last, of course, a special acknowledgment to the people instrumental to all levels of production: my editor, Lyssa Keusch, and her colleague Priyanka Krishnan; and my agents, Russ Galen and Danny Baror (along with his daughter Heather Baror). And, as always, I must stress that any and all errors of fact or detail in this book, of which hopefully there are not too many, fall squarely on my own shoulders.



  And Moses said unto his people, “Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for the LORD brought you out of here by the strength of His hand. . . .”

  —Exodus 13:3

  Few stories in the Bible are as harrowing or as often retold—both in print and on screen—as the story of Moses. Starting with his fateful salvation as a baby, when he was floated in a reed basket into the arms of Pharaoh’s daughter, to his later confrontation with that same Pharaoh’s son, Moses became a figure of legend. To free the Jewish tribes from slavery, he afflicted Egypt with ten plagues and eventually parted the seas and led his people through the desert for forty years, delivering the Ten Commandments as a template for a new system of laws.

  But did any of this truly happen? Most historians, even many religious leaders, have discounted the story of Exodus as a myth, a moral lesson rather than a historical reality. As support for this stance, skeptical archaeologists point to the lack of Egyptian sources in documenting any series of plagues or a mass exodus of slaves, especially within the time frame indicated in the Bible.

  Yet now, recent discoveries along the Nile suggest that such naysayers may be wrong. Could there truly be evidence supporting the story of Moses, of a great exodus from Egypt, of miracles and curses? Could the ten plagues of Egypt have truly occurred? The startling answers found within these pages are based on facts as solid as the name Israel found carved into the stela of Ramesses the Great’s son.

  And if the plagues of Egypt could have truly happened—could they happen again, only on a global scale?

  The answer to that is a frightening . . . yes.


  Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.

  —attributed to Mark Twain

  Things are heating up of late—not just in regard to global temperatures but also in regard to the debate about climate change. In the last few years, the question has evolved from Is climate change real? to What is causing it and can anything be done about it? Even many former skeptics now recognize that something is happening to our planet, what with glaciers melting worldwide, Greenland’s ice pack vanishing at a breakneck pace, and oceans steadily warming. Even the weather is growing more extreme, from persistent droughts to massive flooding. As reported in February 2016, Alaska experienced its second-warmest winter on record, with temperatures more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit above average, and in May of that same year, satellite measurements of the arctic ice cap revealed that it had dwindled to the lowest level ever recorded.

  But the more frightening question—and one explored in this novel—is Where are we headed next? The answer is a surprising one, little talked about, but based on concrete evidence and science—and most shocking of all, it’s happened before. So whether skeptic or believer, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. It’s time to learn the staggering truth about the future of our planet.


  And the LORD spake unto Moses, “Say unto Aaron, ‘Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.’ ”

  —EXODUS 7:19

  Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.



  Spring, 1324 B.C.

  Nubian Desert, South of Egypt

  The high priestess knelt naked in the sand and knew it was time. The omens had been building, growing more dire, becoming certainty. To the west, a sandstorm climbed toward the sun, turning the day’s blue sky into a dusty darkness, crackling with lightning.

  The enemy was almost upon them.

  In preparation, Sabah had shaved all the hair from her body, even the brows above her painted eyes. She had bathed in the waters to either side, two tributaries that flowed north out of the deeper desert and joined at this sacred confluence to form the mighty river that the ancient kings of heqa khaseshet called the Nahal. She pictured its snaking course as it flowed past Luxor, Thebes, and Memphis on its way to the great blue sea that stretched past the river’s fertile delta.

  Though she had never set eyes upon that region, she had heard tales.

  Of our old home, a place of green fields, palms, and a life ruled by the rhythmic flooding of the Nahal . . .

  It was from those lands that Sabah’s people had fled over a century ago, escaping the time of plagues, starvation, and death, chased by a pharaoh now long dead. Most of the other tribes in the delta had sought refuge in the deserts to the east, conquering the lands out there and creating a kingdom of t
heir own—but her tribe had lived in an area farther south along the river, near the village of Djeba, in the Upper Egyptian district of Wetjes-Hor, known as the Throne of Horus.

  During the time of darkness and death, her tribe had uprooted itself and fled up the river, beyond the reach of the Egyptian kingdom and into the Nubian Desert. Her tribe had been scholars and scribes, priests and priestesses, keepers of great knowledge. They had retreated into the empty ranges of Nubia to protect such knowledge during the turbulent times that followed the plagues, when Egypt was beset and overrun by foreigners from the east, a fierce people with faster chariots and stronger bronze weapons who conquered the weakened Egyptian towns with barely an arrow fired.

  But that dark time was coming to an end.

  Egypt was rising yet again, chasing out the invaders and building monuments to their many victories and spreading ever in this direction.

  “Hemet netjer . . .” her Nubian assistant—a young man named Tabor—whispered behind her, perhaps sensing her distress or merely trying to remind her of her role as hemet netjer . . . the maid of God. “We must go now.”

  She understood and rose to her feet.

  Tabor’s eyes were upon the storm to the west, clearly the source of his worry, but Sabah noted a wisp of smoke due north, marking the destruction of a town alongside the fifth cataract of the Nahal, the latest conquest by the Egyptian armies. It would not be long before those same forces reached this mighty confluence.

  Before that happened, Sabah and the others of her order must hide what they had protected for over a century, a wonder unlike any other: a blessing by God, a cure hidden at the heart of a curse.

  Watching the Egyptians creep and spread up along the river, consuming town after town, preparations had been under way for the past thousand days, mostly acts of purification, all to ready her and her order to become immortal vessels for God’s blessing.

  Sabah was the last to be allowed this transformation, having already overseen and guided many of her brothers and sisters on this path. Like the others, she had forsaken all millet and grain for the past year, subsisting on nuts, berries, tree bark, and a tea made from a resin carried here from foreign lands. Over the turning of seasons, her flesh had dried to her bones, her breasts and buttocks gone sallow and sunken. Though only into her third decade, she now needed Tabor’s strong back and arms to help her move, even to slip her linen robe back over her head.

  As they set off away from the confluence, Sabah watched the sandstorm roll inexorably toward them, laced with lightning born from the roiling clouds of dust. She could sense that energy flowing across the desert. She smelled it in the air, felt it stir the small hairs along her arms. With God’s will, those same blowing sands should help cover their handiwork, to bury it under windswept dunes.

  But first they had to reach the distant hills.

  She concentrated on putting one foot before the other. Still, she feared she had waited too long at the river. By the time she and Tabor reached the deep cleft between two hills, the storm had caught them, howling overhead and scouring any exposed skin with burning sand.

  “Hurry, mistress,” Tabor urged, all but picking her up. Carried now, she felt her toes brushing the ground, scribing the sand underfoot with indecipherable glyphs of beseechment.

  I must not fail . . .

  Then they were through the dark doorway and hurrying down a long, steep passageway to the greater wonder sculpted out of the sandstone below. Torches lit the way, flickering shadows all around them, slowly revealing what was hidden, what had been created by artisans and scholars working in tandem for over seven decades.

  Tabor helped her over the arcade of large stone teeth and across the sprawl of a sculpted tongue, carved in exquisite detail. Ahead, the chamber bifurcated into two tunnels: one that dove through the rock toward the stone stomach below, the other ringed by small ridges and leading to the cavernous chest cavity.

  It was the latter route they took now in great haste.

  As Tabor helped her, she pictured the subterranean complex beneath these hills. It had been dug out and fashioned to model the interior workings of a featureless figure in repose, one whose body lay buried under these hills. While this sculpture had no exterior—for the world was its skin—all of the internal details of the human body had been meticulously carved out of the sandstone, from liver and kidney to bladder and brain.

  Beneath the hills, her order had created their own stone God, one large enough to make their home within, to use its body as a vessel to preserve what must be kept safe.

  Like I must do now . . . to make of my own body a temple for God’s great blessing.

  Tabor led her to where the ridge-lined passageway split yet again into two smaller tunnels, marking the same division of airways found in her own chest. He took her to the left, requiring that they duck slightly from the curved roof of the smaller passage. But they did not have far to go.

  Torchlight grew brighter ahead as the tunnel ended and opened into a massive space, seemingly supported by stone ribs that arched up to the carving of a mighty spine overhead. In the room’s center sat a stone heart, rising four times her height, again rendered in perfect symmetry, with great curving blood vessels that fanned outward.

  She glanced to the handful of other Nubian servants, all on their knees, who awaited her in the chamber.

  She stared over to the colonnades of curved stone ribs. Between those ribs, fresh bricks had been used to seal the many alcoves hidden there. They marked the tombs of her brothers and sisters of the order, those who had preceded her into the future. She pictured them seated or slumped on their chairs, their bodies slowly finishing their transformations, becoming vessels for the blessing.

  I am the last . . . the chosen maid of God.

  She turned from the walls to face the stone heart. A small doorway opened into one of the chambers, a place of great honor.

  She shook free of Tabor’s arm and took the last steps on her own. She crossed to the doorway, bowed her head low, and climbed inside. Her palm felt the cold stone as she straightened. A silver throne awaited her inside, equally cold as she sat upon it. To one side rested a bowl of carved lapis lazuli. Water filled it to just shy of its silver-embossed brim. She lifted the bowl and let it rest on her thin thighs.

  Tabor leaned toward the opening, too pained to speak, but his face was easy to read, full of grief, hope, and fear. Matching emotions swelled within her own breast—along with a fair amount of doubt. But she nodded to Tabor.

  “Let it be done.”

  Grief won the battle in his face, but he matched her nod and bowed out.

  The other servants came forward and began sealing the entrance with dry bricks of mud and straw. Darkness fell over her, but in the last flicker of torchlight from outside, she stared down at the bowl in her lap, recognizing the dark sheen to the water. It was colored a deep crimson. She knew what she held. It was water from the Nahal, from when the river had been cursed and turned to blood. The water had been collected ages ago and preserved by their order—along with the blessing held at its cursed heart.

  As the last brick was set, she swallowed hard, finding her throat suddenly dry. She listened as a fresh coat of mud was smeared over the bricks outside. She also heard the telltale scrape of wood being stacked under the base of the heart, encircling it completely.

  She closed her eyes, knowing what was to come.

  She pictured torches igniting that bonfire of wood.

  Slowly came confirmation as the stone grew warm underfoot. The air inside the heart—already stifling—did not take long to become heated. Any moisture dried away, escaping up the flue of the sculpted vessels. In moments, it felt as if she were breathing hot sand. She gasped as the bottoms of her feet began to burn. Even the silver throne became as hot as the scorched lip of a dune under a summer sun.

  Still, she kept quiet. By now, those outside should have exited this underworld, sealing the way behind them. They would leave these lands under the c
over of the storm, vanishing away forever, letting the desert erase all evidence of this place.

  As she awaited her end, tears flowed from her eyes, only to be dried from her cheeks before they could roll away. Through cracked lips, she sobbed from the pain, from the certainty of what was to come. Then in the darkness came a soft glow. It rose from the basin on her lap, swirling the crimson water with the faintest of shimmers.

  She did not know if it was a mirage born of pain, but she found solace in that glow. It granted her the strength to complete her last act. She lifted the bowl to her lips and drank deeply and fully. The life-giving water flowed down her parched throat and filled her knotted stomach.

  By the time she lowered the empty bowl, the heat inside the stone heart had intensified to a blistering agony. Still, she smiled through the pain, knowing what she held within her.

  I am your vessel, my Lord . . . now and forever.

  9:34 P.M. EST

  March 2, 1895

  New York City

  Now this is more like it . . .

  With his goal in sight, Samuel Clemens—better known by his pen name Mark Twain—led his reluctant companion through Gramercy Park. Directly ahead, gaslights beckoned on the far side of the street, illuminating the columns, portico, and ironwork of the Players Club. Both men were members of this exclusive establishment.

  Drawn by the promise of laughter, spirits, and good company, Twain increased his pace, moving in great, purposeful strides, trailing a cloud of cigar smoke through the crisp night air. “What do you say, Nikola?” he called back to his chum. “According to my pocket watch and my stomach, Players must still be serving dinner. And barring that, I could use some brandy to go with this cigar.”

  Younger by almost two decades, Nikola Tesla was dressed in a stiff suit, worn at the elbows to a dull sheen. He kept swiping at his dark hair and darting glances around. When he was nervous, like now, the man’s Serbian accent grew as thick as his mustache.