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Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal
By Eric Van Lustbader
Warner BooksCopyright © 2007 Myn Pyn, LLC
All right reserved.
PrologueTHE CHINOOK CAME beating up into a blood-red sky. It shuddered in the perilous crosscurrents, banking through the thin air. A web of clouds, backlit by the failing sun, streamed by like smoke from a flaming aircraft.
Martin Lindros stared intently out of the military copter carrying him upward into the highest elevations of the Semien mountain range. While it was true that he hadn't been in the field since the Old Man had appointed him to the position of deputy director of Central Intelligence four years ago, he'd made sure that he'd never lost his animal edge. He trained three mornings a week at the CI field agent obstacle course outside Quantico, and every Thursday night at ten he washed away the tedium of vetting electronic intel reports and signing action orders by spending ninety minutes at the firing range, reacquainting himself with every manner of firearm, old, current, and new. Manufacturing action of his own served to assuage his frustration at not being more relevant. All that changed, however, when the Old Man approved his operations proposal for Typhon.
A thin keening knifed through the interior of the CI-modified Chinook. Anders, the commander of Skorpion One, the five-man squad of crack field operatives, nudged him, and he turned. Peering out the window at the shredding clouds, he saw the wind-ravaged north slope of Ras Dejen. There was something distinctly ominous about the forty-five-hundred-meter mountain, tallest in the Simien range. Perhaps that was because Lindros remembered the local lore: legends of spirits, ancient and evil, who supposedly dwelled on its upper reaches.
The sound of the wind rose to a scream, as if the mountain were trying to tear itself from its roots.
It was time.
Lindros nodded and moved forward to where the pilot sat strapped securely into his seat. The deputy director was in his late thirties, a tall, sandy-haired graduate of Brown who had been recruited into CI during his doctorate in foreign studies at Georgetown. He was whip-smart and as dedicated a general as the DCI could ask for. Bending low so he could be heard over the noise, Lindros gave the pilot the final coordinates, which security dictated he keep to himself until the last possible moment.
He had been in the field just over three weeks. In that time, he'd lost two men. A terrible price to pay. Acceptable losses, the Old Man would say, and he had to retrain himself to think that way if he was to have success in the field. But what price do you put on human life? This was a question that he and Jason Bourne had often debated, without an acceptable answer being reached. Privately, Lindros believed there were some questions to which there was no acceptable answer.
Still, when agents were in the field, that was another matter altogether. "Acceptable losses" had to be accepted. There was no other way. So, yes, the deaths of those two men were acceptable, because in the course of his mission he had ascertained the veracity of the report that a terrorist organization had gotten its hands on a case of triggered spark gaps somewhere in the Horn of Africa. TSGs were small, ultra-highenergy switches, used to turn on and off enormous levels of voltage: high-tech escape valves to protect electronic components such as microwave tubes and medical testing devices. They were also used to trigger nuclear bombs.
Starting in Cape Town, Lindros had followed a twisting trail that led from Botswana, to Zambia, through Uganda, to Ambikwa, a tiny agricultural village-no more than a fistful of buildings, a church and a bar among them-amid alpine pastureland on the slope of Ras Dejen. There he had obtained one of the TSGs, which he had immediately sent back to the Old Man via secure courier.
But then something happened, something extraordinary, something horrifying. In the beaten-down bar with a floor of dung and dried blood, he had heard a rumor that the terrorist organization was transshipping more than TSGs out of Ethiopia. If the rumor was true, it had terrifying implications not only for America, but for the entire world, because it meant the terrorists had in their possession the instrument to plunge the globe into nightmare.
Seven minutes later, the Chinook settled into the eye of a dust storm. The small plateau was entirely deserted. Just ahead was an ancient stone wall-a gateway, so the local legends went, to the fearsome home of the demons that dwelled here. Through a gap in the crumbling wall, Lindros knew, lay the almost vertical path to the giant rock buttresses that guarded the summit of Ras Dejen.
Lindros and the men of Skorpion One hit the ground in a crouch. The pilot remained in his chair, keeping the engine revved, the rotors turning. The men wore goggles to protect them from the swirling dust and hail of small pebbles churned up by their transportation, and tiny wireless mikes and earpieces that curled into their ears, facilitating communication over the roar of the rotors. Each was armed with an XM8 Lightweight Assault Rifle capable of firing a blistering 750 rounds per minute.
Lindros led the way across the rough-hewn plateau. Opposite the stone wall was a forbidding cliff face in which there appeared the black, yawning mouth of a cave. All else was dun-colored, ocher, dull red, the blasted landscape of another planet, the road to hell.
Anders deployed his men in standard fashion, sending them first to check obvious hiding places, then to form a secure perimeter. Two of them went to the stone wall to check out its far side. The other two were assigned to the cave, one to stand at the mouth, the other to make certain the interior was clear.
The wind, rising over the high butte that towered over them, whipped across the bare ground, penetrating their uniforms. Where the rock face didn't drop off precipitously, it towered over them, ominous, muscular, its bare skull magnified in the thin air. Lindros paused at the remnants of a campfire, his attention shifting.
At his side, Anders, like any good commander, was taking readings of the area perimeter from his men. No one lurked behind the stone wall. He listened intently to his second team.
"There's a body in the cave," the commander reported. "Took a bullet to the brain. Stone-dead. Otherwise the site's clean."
Lindros heard Anders's voice in his ear. "This is where we start," he said, pointing. "The only sign of life in this godforsaken place."
They squatted down. Anders stirred the charcoal with gloved fingers.
"There's a shallow pit here." The commander scooped out the cindered debris. "See? The bottom is fire-hardened. Means someone's lit not just one fire but many over the last months, maybe as long as a year."
Lindros nodded, gave the thumbs-up sign. "Looks like we might be in the right place." Anxiety lanced through him. It appeared more and more likely that the rumor he'd heard was true. He'd been hoping against hope that it was just that, a rumor; that he'd get up here and find nothing. Because any other outcome was unthinkable.
Unhooking two devices from his webbed belt, he turned them on, played them over the fire pit. One was an alpha radiation detector, the other a Geiger counter. What he was looking for, what he was hoping not to find, was a combination of alpha and gamma radiation.
There was no reading from either device at the fire site.
He kept going. Using the fire pit as a central point, he moved in concentric circles, his eyes glued to the meters. He was on his third pass, perhaps a hundred meters from the fire pit, when the alpha detector activated.
"Shit," he said under his breath.
"Find something?" Anders asked.
Lindros moved off axis and the alpha detector fell silent. Nothing on the Geiger. Well, that was something. An alpha reading, at this level, could come from anything, even, possibly, the mountain itself.
He returned to where the detector had picked up the alpha radiation. Looking up, he saw that he was directly in line with the cave. Slowly, he began walking toward it. The reading on the radiation detector remained constant. Then, perhaps twenty meters from the cave mouth, it ramped up. Lindros paused for a moment to wipe beads of sweat off his upper lip. Christ, he was being forced to acknowledge another nail in the world's coffin. Still-No gamma yet, he told himself. That was something. He held on to that hope for twelve more meters. Then the Geiger counter started up.
Oh, God, gamma radiation in conjunction with alpha. Precisely the signature he was hoping not to find. He felt a line of perspiration trickle down his spine. Cold sweat. He hadn't experienced anything like that since he'd had to make his first kill in the field. Hand-to-hand, desperation and determination on his face and on that of the man trying his best to kill him. Self-preservation.
"Lights." Lindros had to force out the word through a mouth full of mortal terror. "I need to see that corpse."
Anders nodded and gave orders to Brick, the man who had made the first foray into the cave. Brick switched on a xenon torch. The three men entered the gloom.
There were no dead leaves or other organic materials to leaven the sharp mineral reek. They could feel the deadweight of the rock massif above them. Lindros was reminded of the feeling of near suffocation he had experienced when he'd first entered the tombs of the pharaohs down in the depths of Cairo's pyramids.
The bright xenon beam played over the rock walls. In this bleak setting, the male corpse did not look altogether out of place. Shadows fled across it as Brick moved the light. The xenon beam drained it of any color it might have had, making it seem less than human-a zombie out of a horror film. Its position was one of repose, of utter peace, belied by the neat bullet hole in the center of its forehead. The face was turned away, as if it wished to remain in darkness.
"Wasn't a suicide, that's for sure," Anders said, which had been the starting point of Lindros's own train of thought. "Suicides go for something easy-the mouth is a prime example. This man was murdered by a professional."
"But why?" Lindros's voice was distracted.
The commander shrugged. "With these people it could be any of a thousand-"
"Get the hell back!"
Lindros shouted so hard into his mike that Brick, who had been circling toward the corpse, leapt back.
"Sorry, sir," Brick said. "I just wanted to show you something odd."
"Use the light," Lindros instructed him. But he already knew what was coming. The moment they had stepped inside the cave both the rad detector and the Geiger counter had beat a terrifying rat-tat-tat against his eyes.
Christ, he thought. Oh, Christ.
The corpse was exceedingly thin, and shockingly young, not out of its teens, surely. Did he have the Semitic features of an Arab? He thought not, but it was nearly impossible to tell because-
"Holy Mother of God!"
Anders saw it then. The corpse had no nose. The center of his face had been eaten away. The ugly pit was black with curdled blood that foamed slowly out as if the body were still alive. As if something were feasting on it from the inside out.
Which, Lindros thought with a wave of nausea, is precisely what is happening.
"What the hell could do that?" Anders said thickly. "Tissue toxin? Virus?"
Lindros turned to Brick. "Did you touch it? Tell me, did you touch the corpse?"
"No, I-" Brick was taken aback. "Am I contaminated?"
"Deputy Director, begging your pardon, sir, what the hell have you gotten us into. I'm used to being in the dark on black-ops missions, but this has crossed another boundary altogether."
Lindros, on one knee, uncapped a small metal canister and used his gloved finger to gather some of the dirt near the body. Sealing the container tightly, he rose.
"We need to get out of here." He stared directly into Anders's face.
"Don't worry, Brick. You'll be all right," he said with the voice of authority. "No more talk. Let's go."
When they reached the cave mouth and the glare of the blasted, blood-red landscape, Lindros said into his mike, "Anders, as of now that cave is off limits to you and your men. Not even to take a leak. Got it?"
The commander hesitated an instant, his anger, his concern for his men evident on his face. Then it seemed he shrugged mentally. "Yessir."
Lindros spent the next ten minutes scouring the plateau with his rad detector and Geiger counter. He very much wanted to know how the contamination had gotten up here-which route had the men carrying it taken? There was no point in looking for the way they had gone. The fact that the man without a nose had been shot to death told him that the group members had discovered in the most horrifying way that they had a radiation leak. They would surely have sealed it before venturing on. But he had no luck now. Away from the cave, both the alpha and gamma radiation vanished completely. Not a hint of a trace remained for him to determine its path.
Finally, he turned back from the perimeter.
"Evacuate the site, Commander."
"You heard the man," Anders shouted as he trotted toward the waiting copter. "Let's saddle up, boys!"
"Wa'i," Fadi said. He knows.
"Surely not." Abbud ibn Aziz stirred his position beside Fadi. Crouched behind the high butte three hundred meters above the plateau, they served as advance guard for a cadre of perhaps twenty armed men lying low against the rocky ground behind them.
"With these I can see everything. There was a leak."
"Why weren't we informed?"
There was no reply. None was needed. They had not been informed because of naked fear. Fadi, had he known, would have killed them all-every last one of the Ethiopian transporters. Such were the wages of absolute intimidation.
Fadi, peering through powerful 12x50 Russian military binoculars, scanned to his right to keep Martin Lindros in his sights. The 12x50s provided a dizzyingly small field of view but more than made up for it in their detail. He had seen that the leader of the group-the deputy director of CI-was using both a rad detector and a Geiger counter. This American knew what he was about.
Fadi, a tall, broad-shouldered man, possessed a decidedly charismatic demeanor. When he spoke, everyone in his presence fell silent. He had a handsome, powerful face, the color of his skin deepened further by desert sun and mountain wind. His beard and hair were long and curling, the inky color of a starless midnight. His lips were full and wide. When he smiled the sun seemed to have come down from its place in the heavens to shine directly on his disciples. For Fadi's avowed mission was messianic in nature: to bring hope where there was no hope, to slaughter the thousands that made up the Saudi royal family, to wipe their abomination off the face of the earth, to free his people, to distribute the obscene wealth of the despots, to restore the rightful order to his beloved Arabia. To begin, he knew, he must delink the symbiotic relationship between the Saudi royal family and the government of the United States of America. And to do that he must strike at America, to make a clear statement that was as lasting as it was indelible.
What he must not do was underestimate the capacity of Americans to endure pain. This was a common mistake among his extremist comrades, this is what got them into trouble with their own people, this more than anything else was the source of a life lived without hope.
Fadi was no fool. He had studied the history of the world. Better, he had learned from it. When Nikita Khrushchev had said to America, "We will bury you!" he had meant it in his heart as well as in his soul. But who was it that had been buried? The USSR.
When his extremist comrades said, "We have many lifetimes to bury America," they were referring to the endless supply of young men who gained their majority each year, from whom they could choose the martyrs to die in battle. But they gave no thought whatsoever to the deaths of these young men. Why should they? Paradise lay waiting with open arms for the martyrs. Yet what, really, had been gained? Was America living without hope? No. Did these acts push America toward a life without hope? Again, no. So what was the answer?
Fadi believed with all his heart and his soul-and most especially with his formidable intellect-that he had found it.
Keeping track of the deputy director through his 12x50s, he saw that the man seemed reluctant to leave. He felt like a bird of prey as he gazed down on the target site. The arrogant American soldiers had climbed into the helicopter, but their commander-Fadi's intel did not extend to his name-would not allow his leader to remain on the plateau unguarded. He was a canny man. Perhaps his nose smelled something his eyes could not see; perhaps he was only adhering to well-taught discipline. In any case, as the two men stood side by side talking, Fadi knew he would not get a better chance.
"Begin," he said softly to Abbud ibn Aziz without taking his eyes from the lenses.
Excerpted from Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader Copyright © 2007 by Myn Pyn, LLC. Excerpted by permission.
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