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A wealthy American financier disappears on a
treasure hunt in an antique blimp. From Cuban
waters, the blimp drifts toward Florida ...
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A wealthy American financier disappears on a
treasure hunt in an antique blimp. From Cuban
waters, the blimp drifts toward Florida with a
crew of dead men -- Soviet cosmonauts.
DIRK PITT discovers a shocking scheme: a
covert group of U.S. industrialists has put a colony
on the moon, a secret base they will defend at any
cost. Threatened in space, the Russians are about
to strike a savage blow in Cuba -- and only
DIRK PITT can stop them. From a Cuban torture
chamber to the cold ocean depths, Pitt is racing
to defuse an international conspiracy that
threatens to shatter the earth!
"Anyone who can put CYCLOPS down has a stronger will than I have. Cussler at his best."
United Press International
"Downright good adventure... A sure winner!"
New York Daily News
"Get-to-the-next-page excitement... Dirk Pitt is a combination James Bond and Jacques Cousteau...."
"Nobody does it better than Clive Cussler. Nobody."
The sleek hull of the sailboard skimmed the choppy water with the graceful elegance of an arrow shot through mist. Its slick and delicately curved shape was as visually pleasing to the eye as it was efficient in achieving great speed over the waves. Perhaps the simplest of all sailing systems, the board was built with a polyethylene shell molded over an inner core of rigid plastic foam to give it lightness and flexibility. A small skeg or fin protruded from below the stern for lateral control, while a daggerboard hung down near the middle to prevent the board from being swept sideways by the wind.
A triangular sail, dyed purple with a broad turquoise stripe, clung to an aluminum mast that was mounted onto the board by a universal joint. An oval tubular wishbone or boom circled the mast and sail, and was tightly gripped by long, slender hands that were coarse-skinned and callused.
Dirk Pitt was tired, more tired than his dulled mind could accept. The muscles of his arms and legs felt as though they were sheathed in lead and the ache in his back and shoulders grew more intense with each maneuver of the sailboard. For at least the third time in the last hour he fought off a growing urge to head for the nearest beach and stretch out in the sand.
Through the clear window of the sail he studied the orange buoy marking the final windward leg of the thirty-mile board- sailing marathon race around Biscayne Bay to the Cape Florida lighthouse on Key Biscayne. Carefully, he chose his position to arc around the buoy. Deciding on a jibe, the most graceful maneuver in windsurfing, he threaded his way through the heavy traffic, weighted down the stern of hisboard, and aimed the bow on the new course. Then, gripping the mast with one hand, he swung the rigging to windward, shifted his feet, and released the boom with his other hand. Next he pulled the fluttering sail against the wind and caught the boom at the precise moment. Propelled by a fresh twenty-knot breeze from the north, the sailboard sped through the choppy sea and soon gained a speed of nearly thirty miles an hour.
Pitt was mildly surprised to see that out of a field of fortyone racers, most of them at least fifteen years younger, he was in third place, only twenty yards behind the leaders. The multicolored sails from the fleet of windsurfers flashed across the blue-green water like a prism gone mad. The finish at the lighthouse was in sight now. Pitt closely watched the boardsailer ahead of him, waiting for the right moment to attack. But before he attempted to pass, his opponent miscalculated a wave and fell. Now Pitt was second, with only half a mile to go.
Then, ominously, a dark shadow in a cloudless sky passed overhead and he heard the exhaust of propeller-driven aircraft engines above and slightly to his left. He stared upward and his eyes widened in disbelief.
No more than a hundred yards away, shielding the sun like an eclipse, a blimp was descending from the sky, her great bow set on a collision course with the sailboard fleet. She appeared to be drifting out of control. Her two engines were barely turning over at idle speed, but she was swept through the air by the strong breeze. The sailboarders watched helplessly as the giant intruder crossed their path.
The gondola struck the crest of a wave and the blimp bounced back into the air, leveling off five feet above the water in front of the lead boardsailer. Unable to turn in time, the young boy, no more than seventeen, dove from his board an instant before his mast and sail were minced to shreds under the blimp's starboard propeller.
Pitt nimbly carved a sharp tack and swung on a parallel course with the rampaging airship. From the corner of his eye he noted the name, Prosperteer, in huge red letters on her side. The gondola door was open, but he couldn't make out any movement inside. He shouted, but his voice was lost in the exhaust of the engines and rush of the wind. The ungainly craft skidded across the sea as though it had a mind of its own.
Suddenly, Pitt felt the prickle of disaster in the small of his back. The Prosperteer was moving toward the beach, only a quarter mile away, and headed directly at the broad terraced side of the Sonesta Beach Hotel. Though the impact of a lighter- than-air ship against a solid structure would cause little damage, there was the ugly certainty of fire from ruptured fuel tanks spilling into the rooms of dozing guests or falling onto the diners on the patio below.
Ignoring the numbing drain of exhaustion, Pitt angled his sailboard on a course that would cross under the great rounded nose. The gondola danced into another swell and a spinning propeller whipped a cloud of salt spray into his eyes. His vision blurred momentarily and he came within inches of losing his balance. He settled in a squatting stance and steadied his tiny craft as he narrowed the distance. Crowds of sunbathers gestured excitedly at the strange sight rapidly approaching the hotel's sloping beach.
Pitt's timing would have to be near perfect; there would be no second attempt. If he missed, there was every chance his body would end up in pieces behind the propellers. He was beginning to feel lightheaded. His strength was nearly sapped. He sensed that his muscles were taking longer to respond to the demands of his brain. He braced himself as his sailboard streaked under the blimp's nose.
Then he leaped.
His hands grasped one of the Prosperteer's bow ropes but slipped on the wet surface, scraping the skin from his fingers and palms. Desperately he swung a leg around the line and held on with every scrap of energy he had left. His weight pulled down the bow and he was dragged under the surface. He clawed up the rope until his head broke free. Then he was gulping air and spitting out seawater. The pursuer had become the captive.
The drag from Pitt's body wasn't nearly enough to stop the air monster, much less slow its momentum from the wind. He was about to release his precarious hold when his feet touched bottom. The blimp carried him through the surge of the surf and he felt like he was riding a roller coaster. Then he was hurtled onto the warm sands of the beach. He looked up and saw the low seawall of the hotel looming a scant hundred feet away.
My God! he thought, this is it — in a few seconds the Prosperteer would crash into the hotel and possibly explode. And there was something else. The whirling propellers would shatter on impact, their metal fragments spraying the awestruck crowds with a force as deadly as shrapnel.
"For God's sake, help me!" Pitt shouted.
The mass of people on the beach stood frozen, their mouths gaping, held stupefied in childlike fascination by the strange spectacle. Suddenly two teenage girls and a boy sprang forward and grabbed one of the other tow ropes. Next came a lifeguard, followed by an elderly heavyset woman. Then the dam broke and twenty onlookers surged forward and gathered in the trailing lines. It was as though a tribe of half-naked natives had challenged a maddened brontosaurus to a tug-of-war.
Bare feet dug into the sand, plowing furrows as the stubborn mass above their heads tugged them across the beach. The drag on the bow lines caused the hull to pivot, and the huge finned tail swung around in a 180-degree arc until it was pointing at the hotel, the wheel on the bottom of the gondola scraping through the bushes growing from the top of the seawall, the propellers missing the concrete by inches and chopping through the branches and leaves.
A strong gust of wind blew in from the sea, shoving the Prosperteer over the patio, smashing umbrellas and tables, driving her stern toward the fifth story of the hotel. Lines were torn from hands and a wave of helplessness swept over the beach. The battle seemed lost.
Pitt struggled to his feet and half ran, half staggered to a nearby palm tree. In a final desperate act he coiled his line around the slender trunk, feverishly praying it wouldn't snap from the strain.
The line took up the slack and stretched taut. The fifty-foot palm shuddered, swayed, and bent for several seconds. The crowd collectively held its breath. Then with agonizing slowness, the tree gradually straightened into its former upright position. The shallow roots held firm and the blimp stopped, its fins less than six feet from the east wall of the hotel.
Two hundred people gave out a rousing cheer and began applauding. The women jumped up and down and laughed while the men roared and thrust out their hands in the thumbsup position. No winning team ever received a more spontaneous ovation. The hotel security guards materialized and kept stray onlookers away from the still-turning propellers.
Sand coated Pitt's wet body as he stood there catching his breath, becoming conscious of the pain from his rope-burned hands. Staring up at the Prosperteer, he had his first solid look at the airship and was fascinated by the antiquated design. It was obvious she predated the modern Goodyear blimps.
He made his way around the scattered tables and chairs on the patio and climbed into the gondola. The crew were still strapped in their seats, unmoving, unspeaking. Pitt leaned over the pilot, found the ignition switches, and turned them off. The engines popped softly once or twice and went silent as their propellers gave a final twitch and came to rest.
The quiet was tomblike.
Pitt grimaced and scanned the interior of the gondola. There was no sign of damage, the instruments and controls append to be in operating order. But it was the extensive electronics that amazed him. Gradiometers for detecting iron, side-scan sonar and sub-bottom profiler to sweep the sea floor, everything for an underwater search expedition.
He wasn't aware of the sea of faces peering up into the open door of the gondola, nor did he hear the pulsating scream of approaching sirens. He felt detached and momentarily disoriented. The hot, humid atmosphere was heavy with a morbid eeriness and the sickening stench of human decay.
One of the crewmen was slouched over a small table, head resting on arms as if he were asleep. His clothes were damp and stained. Pitt placed his hand on a shoulder and gave a slight shake. There was no firmness to the flesh. It felt soft and pulpy. An icy shroud fell over him that lifted goose bumps on every inch of his skin, yet the sweat was trickling down his body in streams.
He turmed his attention to the ghastly apparitions seated at the controls. Their faces were covered by a blanket of flies, and decomposition was eating away all traces of life. The skin was slipping from the flesh like broken blisters on burns. Jaws hung slack with mouths agape, the lips and tongues swollen and parched. Eyes were open and staring into nothingness, eyeballs opaque and clouded over. Hands still hung on the controls, their fingernails turned blue. Unchecked by enzymes, bacteria had formed gases that grotesquely bloated the stomachs. The damp air and the high temperatures of the tropics were greatly speeding the process of putrefaction.
The rotting corpses inside the Prosperteer had flown from some unknown grave, a macabre crew in a charnel airship on a ghostly mission.
Copyright © 1986 by Clive Cussler Enterprises, Inc.