Clive Cussler Condor's Fury

Clive Cussler Condor's Fury

by Graham Brown
Clive Cussler Condor's Fury

Clive Cussler Condor's Fury

by Graham Brown

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Overview

Kurt Austin faces mind-control technology and cutting-edge weaponry in the latest novel in the #1 New York Times-bestselling series created by the “grand master of adventure” Clive Cussler.

On a NUMA training mission in the Caribbean, Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala catch a distress call from a nearby freighter. Leaping into action, they locate a damaged vessel and a dead captain clutching a shotgun.
While searching the freighter for clues, Kurt and Joe are ambushed by crew members who seem terrified and disoriented, almost brainwashed. The trawler they were hauling has vanished, taken—the men say—by baffling lights that circled the ship.
Kurt and Joe deduce that the men are suffering from Havana Syndrome, which deepens the mystery and raises the stakes. Soon, they’re confronting Cuban mercenaries who plan to use magnificent modern airships to hijack a nuclear submarine—culminating in a life-or-death showdown in the skies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593716731
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/07/2024
Series: NUMA Files Series , #20
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 35,175
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Clive Cussler was the author of more than eighty books in five bestselling series, including Dirk Pitt®, NUMA Files®, Oregon Files®, Isaac Bell®, and Sam and Remi Fargo®. His life nearly paralleled that of his hero Dirk Pitt. Whether searching for lost aircraft or leading expeditions to find famous shipwrecks, he and his NUMA crew of volunteers discovered and surveyed more than seventy-five lost ships of historic significance, including the long-lost Civil War submarine Hunley, which was raised in 2000 with much publicity. Like Pitt, Cussler collected classic automobiles. His collection featured more than one hundred examples of custom coachwork. Cussler passed away in February 2020.

Graham Brown is the author of Black Rain, Black Sun, and Clive Cussler's Dark Vector, and the coauthor with Cussler of Devil's Gate, The Storm, Zero Hour, Ghost Ship, The Pharaoh's Secret, Nighthawk, The Rising Sea, Sea of Greed, Journey of the Pharaohs, and Fast Ice. He is a pilot and an attorney.

Read an Excerpt

Chpater 1
 
A hundred miles northeast of Nassau
Present day

Captain E. F. Handley stood on the bridge wing of the MV Heron, squinting into the distance behind the ship. His dark eyes focused on the line running from the Heron's stern to the dilapidated fishing trawler she was towing.

He grunted a note of displeasure. "We've got a situation brewing."

Handley was a lifelong sailor in his early sixties and the captain of the midsized freighter that made runs between the Bahamas and various American ports. His face was a weathered mix of sun-damaged skin and a bristly beard. It was deeply tanned with a hint of carmine red in the palette. His hair was wild and unruly, a nest of coarse grays that stuck out from beneath an old ball cap, which he repeatedly removed and repositioned in hopes of corralling the bushy mess.

"What kind of situation?" a taller, more kempt individual asked.

Handley looked over at the man in khaki pants and a blue windbreaker. Gerald Walker was not a member of the crew but had chartered the voyage and come along to supervise, taking them to a random spot in the eastern Atlantic, where they'd found the damaged trawler and taken it under tow.

Walker claimed he wanted to take it back to Nassau, but he would allow no radio calls or other forms of transmission, and Handley expected he had another destination in mind.

As a pretense, Walker pretended to work for a big insurance company, but Handley knew an American Navy man when he met one. Walker was too squared away to be a civilian. Too tight-lipped to be telling the whole story. Besides, the trawler was of negligible financial value, cheaper to sink than to save. And then, of course, there were the bodies...

"See our towline?" Handley said. "It should be dipping into the water halfway between us and the trawler, but it's pulling up. The sag has gone out of it. The strain on the line is growing."

"Current or wind?" Walker asked, showing he knew a thing or two about towing a derelict.

"Neither," Handley said. "She's taking on water. She's sinking. We're gonna have to go back on board, set up pumps, and see if we can find the leak."

"I can't allow that," Walker said with a firm but polite tone.

The captain propped the ball cap higher on his head. "Something you don't want us to see on that ship, Mr. Walker? Something other than a bunch of dead Chinamen?"

"Dead Chinese," Walker corrected. "And I don't know what you're referring to. That ship was abandoned when we found it."

Handley laughed. "You play all the games you want, Mr. Walker. Meanwhile, that ship is getting heavier and lower in the water. She's dragging us like an anchor, which means we have to slow down or the line will snap. Reducing speed means Nassau is another half a day's sailing. The slower we go, the longer it takes. The longer it takes, the more water that trawler takes on. Forcing us to slow down even more. See where I'm going with this?"

Walker understood the predicament. "You're saying the trawler will be on the bottom before we reach the Bahamas."

"She'll be un-towable long before that."

As Walker pondered the options, Handley took another look behind them. Out beyond the trawler, something new caught his eye. An odd arc of light had appeared in the sky. It looked like the sunrise, but it was nearly dusk, and the sun was going down in the other direction.

At first, he thought it must be a reflection or a mirage. But the shimmering arc of light was moving closer. "What the devil is that?"

The apparition seemed to be approaching in silence-or perhaps just so quietly that any sound was drowned out by the wind and the waves-but as it crossed above the trawler, a humming sound became audible.

An instant later, the arc of light split into four separate orbs. Two of them branched off to the port side, while the others went to starboard. Before long they were circling the Heron like a pack of wolves.

"Captain?" one of the crewmen said nervously.

"What is this?" Handley snapped, looking at Walker. "A message from your dead Chinese friends?"

Walker was turning from point to point, trying to keep his eyes on the slowly circling balls of light. They were growing brighter with each pass, leaving streaks on his retina as they flared into spheres of gold and orange.

Walker used his hand as a shield against the light, trying desperately to block the glare. Try as he might, he saw nothing that suggested machinery or equipment behind the light. No wings, nor propellers or rotors, just glowing balls of light slowly circling the ship.

Watching them turn, his heart began to race. He knew things. Things that Captain Handley and his crew didn't. This knowledge chilled him to the bone.

The humming noise grew louder and deeper, becoming a haunting tone, like some aboriginal instrument echoing through the canyons. Walker found his skin itching and throat going dry. He stepped back against the bulkhead, his face now shaded, but lit in oscillating waves from the artificial suns dancing around them.

He scratched at his arm, casually at first and then uncontrollably, soon he was digging his nails into the skin, raking them until he drew blood. His eyes darted around, following the globes. Across and back, across and back. It was dizzying and mesmerizing all at once.
 
A pair of rough hands slammed him into the bulkhead, snapping him out of the trance.
 
"What the hell are these things?" Handley demanded.

Walker tried to answer but a shield had gone up in his mind. He tried to force the words through, but the harder he pushed, the tighter his throat cinched.
 
Realizing Walker had become useless, Handley shoved him aside. He ducked through the hatch onto the bridge, noticing that the lights overhead were throbbing in concert with each passing disk.
 
A migraine erupted in his head. A tight feeling spread across his chest. "Get off a distress call," he ordered. "Tell them we're under attack."

One of the crewmen was already fiddling with the radio, switching frequencies and trying to get a message out. He was getting feedback and interference on every channel. The noise got worse until a high-pitched squeal and burst of static blew out the speaker and the unit went dark.

The radioman stared at the ruined unit, which was mounted overhead. The microphone slipped out of his hand and dropped, swinging wildly on the looped cord that connected it to the transmitter.

Several lights blew out in sharp pops, like the flashbulbs of older days. The helmsman went still, his face catatonic, his eyes staring into the distance.

Handley pushed past his immobilized crewmen and pulled open a locker. As the door swung wide, his chest tightened again-much like it had during a heart attack he'd suffered three years earlier.

A damned bad time to be having a second one, he thought.

He pushed his thumb into his sternum to fight the pain while reaching into the locker. The first thing he grabbed was an emergency VHF radio. After lifting a plastic shield from its face, he pressed and held the distress button.
 
A tone confirmed he was transmitting. "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday," he said loudly. "This is the MV Heron out of Nassau. We're under attack and request immediate assistance."

He let go of the transmit button and heard only a loud electronic squeal.

He turned the squelch down and tried again. "I repeat, this is MV Heron, we're under attack. Our location is-"

A wave of feedback erupted from the speaker as the unit flared hot in his hand. The little LEDs that told him it was generating power. It blazed for an instant and then went dark.

"Damned useless thing."

Handley tossed the radio aside and reached deeper into the locker, grasping for a different piece of emergency equipment. He pulled out a Browning ten-gauge shotgun and ripped off the plastic trigger guard.

Flicking off the safety, Handley moved out onto the bridge wing. The balls of light continued to circle, buzzing past the ship no more than fifty feet away.

Tracking them left Handley feeling dizzy, so he braced himself and waited for another one to come around. As the next sphere appeared from behind the funnel, he raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.

The first shot either missed or had no effect, so Handley pumped the forestock, reloaded, and fired again as the next orb appeared. A third orb followed the second, and Handley emptied the weapon in its direction. Bang...bang...bang. The spent shells kicked out from beneath the shotgun, the steel pellets blasting their way across the sky.

With the shotgun empty, Handley dropped to one knee. As far as he could tell, he'd accomplished nothing. Worse yet, the pain in his chest had become unbearable. He grabbed at his sternum as the shotgun fell from his hand. As the next orb raced by, he slumped to the deck and lay there.

Standing in the shadows, Gerald Walker had watched the scene play out. The swirling lights continued to orbit the ship, moving so fast they appeared like streaks in the darkening sky.

The oscillating hum continued to haunt him, while slowly resolving into a sound like whispered speech. Confusing at first, like an announcement echoing through a large stadium, the words eventually became clear.

Cut...cut...cut... Loose...loose...loose...

With every sound and syllable the pressure in his head grew worse. His eyes began to sting. Sweat dripped down his forehead. He continued to dig at the skin on his arm.

Cut...cut...cut... Loose...loose...loose...

Stepping back onto the bridge, he found the helmsman unconscious and the radioman digging at his ear, blood running through his fingers. Without warning, the radioman shouted something, ran out onto the bridge, and vaulted over the rail. No life jacket, no hesitation, just a desperate leap into the unknown.

Walker considered following him. The veins on his forehead bulged. Tunnel vision set in. His mind spinning with the circling demons.

Cut...cut...cut... Loose...loose...loose...
 
It made no sense to him. None at all. And then he thought about the trawler they were dragging to Nassau. He turned to the stern and focused on the Chinese ship. Without a conscious thought, he began walking toward it.


Chapter 2

Thirty miles away, a two-hundred-and-seventy-foot vessel with a turquoise-painted hull was finishing a hard turn to starboard. The rakish vessel had the name Edison stenciled near the bow, directly below a set of twenty-foot-high letters that spelled NUMA, the acronym for the National Underwater and Marine Agency.

As the ship leaned over in the turn, a half dozen people on the bridge braced their legs against the centrifugal forces while gripping various handholds like riders on an out-of-control subway car.

The Edison was NUMA's primary training vessel and had graduated well over a thousand officers and crew since coming into service. The inside joke was that crews would stay on the Edison until the lightbulb went on and they were ready for frontline duty on one of the many ships in NUMA's oceangoing fleet.

This particular group was a mix of first-time officers and crewmen. They were being molded under the capable hands of Captain Steven Marks. Marks was a twenty-year NUMA veteran with eight years in the Coast Guard before that. He was known to be a stern taskmaster and he pushed the recruits to learn more than they thought they could in the shortest time possible.

"That's two hundred forty degrees," Marks called out to the helmsman. "Rudders to neutral, reduce speed, and be ready for all-stop."

Marks watched the crew act on his orders and nodded almost imperceptibly with approval. He and his trainee crew was practicing a man-overboard drill. The high-speed turn was known as a Williamson turn, which was designed to bring the ship back over the spot where the passenger or crew member had fallen. Viewed from above, the Williamson turn drew a question mark shape on the surface of the water. And the Edison had come out precisely on the line she was supposed to.

On the right-hand side of the bridge, up near the glass, a pair of observers watched. One was tall and lanky with a rugged face, deep blue eyes, and prematurely silver hair. The other man was shorter, stockier, with a T-shirt stretched over curved muscles of someone who spent plenty of hours in the gym.

The taller man was Kurt Austin. "You can let go now," he said to the man next to him.

Joe Zavala shook his head. "The way these guys drive? Sorry, I'm not taking any chances."

That brought a slight laugh from Kurt. Truth was, the Edison was a little top-heavy. She rolled into the turns with the pace of a sports car but the lean of an old city bus. Still, Kurt suspected the hard maneuvers were over, especially as the vessel reduced its speed.

"Lookouts report," Captain Marks ordered.

Men stationed on the bridge wings, the bow, and amidships were scanning the waters with binoculars.

"No joy on Oscar," the bridge lookouts reported. Similar reports came over the comms from the other lookouts.

It was nearly dusk, a tough time to spot a man floating on the dark sea, but Marks wasn't cutting the crew any slack. "Open your eyes," he snapped. "He's only wearing a bright orange vest."

The Edison had slowed substantially now. The plot showed them closing in on the exact spot they'd been at when the drill commenced.

Kurt looked forward, squinting as he studied the sea. A veteran of numerous drills and a fair number of live action searches, he was more attuned than the new crew to techniques of spotting a man against the swells. A quick scan told him they were closer than they thought.

Before he could say anything, the radio began to chirp on the emergency frequency. A signal came through garbled and spotty.

Kurt heard the caller shouting out Mayday. He glanced at the captain. "Is that part of the drill?"

"No," Marks said, as he looked over at the radio operator. "What frequency is that on?"

"Channel 16," the radio man said. "Emergency only."

After a burst of static the mayday call was repeated and some of the words came through more clearly. 

"…under attack…request assistance…"

Marks looked both aggravated and concerned. They were halfway between Florida and the Bahamas; not the type of waters they expected to hear of someone being attacked.  He wondered if it were a prank. He looked at his guests. "Either of you responsible for this?"

Both Kurt and Joe were known pranksters. But this wasn’t their doing.

Kurt shook his head firmly and looked over at the radioman. "Is there an ID on the call?"

The radio operator glanced at a code appearing on his screen. "M.V. Heron," he said. "A bulk freighter out of Nassau."

"How far off?"

"I’m getting a locator signal showing her about thirty miles to the south of us."

The emergency tone ceased, and the radio went quiet. But that didn’t mean the emergency had ended.

"Captain," Kurt said quietly. "Unless there’s a closer ship…"

Marks nodded. Both of them knew the rescue drill was over. "Plot a course and turn towards the source of the signal," he ordered. "As soon as it’s laid in, take us all ahead flank speed."

"What about Oscar?" another crewman asked, referring to the mannequin they’d thrown overboard at the beginning of the drill.

"He’ll have to tread water until we get back."

"Unlikely," Kurt said. "Considering we ran him over a half mile back."

The captain grunted his displeasure, but that’s why they trained until they got it right: so that everyone could learn from their mistakes. He grabbed the microphone and switched the output to ship-wide intercom.

"This is the captain speaking. The M-O-B drill is over. We’re about to respond to a genuine distress signal. All hands brace for a hard turn and remain at your emergency stations. This time it’s not a drill."

The Edison cut into another hard turn and began to shudder as it picked up speed. 

Thirty miles was a fair distance at sea, but the Edison would cover it in less than an hour.

"So much for the easy shakedown cruise," Joe said, easing up beside Kurt and the captain.

The captain nodded and gave both men a grim look. "I heard the word attacked on the call," he said. "That’s a different kind of emergency than engine failure, a ship taking on water or even a fire at sea. Half of this crew are fresh out of the academy and most of the others are new to the ship. I hate to ask this of you, since the two of you are only supposed to be observers here, but if we have to do anything out of the ordinary, I’d appreciate it if you’d take the lead."

Kurt nodded. If the captain hadn’t asked, he would have suggested it. "We’ll be ready to make ourselves useful."

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