By Clive Cussler
Thorndike Press Copyright © 2004 Clive Cussler
All right reserved. ISBN: 0786261129
August 15, 2006 Key West, Florida
Dr. Heidi Lisherness was about to meet her husband for a night out on the town when she took one last cursory glance at the latest imagery collected by a Super Rapid Scan Operations satellite. A full-figured lady with silver-gray hair pulled back in a bun, Heidi sat at her desk in green shorts and matching top as a measure of comfort against the heat and humidity of Florida in August. She came within a hair of simply shutting down her computer until the following morning. But there was an indiscernible something about the last image that came into her computer from the satellite over the Atlantic Ocean southwest of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. She sat down and gazed more intently into the screen of her monitor. To the untrained eye the picture on the screen simply took on the appearance of a few innocent clouds drifting over an azure blue sea. Heidi saw a view more menacing. She compared the image with one taken only two hours earlier. The mass of cumulus clouds had increased in bulk more rapidly than any spawning storm she could remember in her eighteen years monitoring and forecasting tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean with the National Underwater and Marine Agency Hurricane Center. She began enlarging the two images of the infantstorm formation. Her husband, Harley, a jolly-looking man with a walrus mustache, bald head and wearing rimless glasses, stepped into her office with an impatient look on his face. Harley was also a meteorologist. But he worked for the National Weather Service as an analyst on climatological data that was issued as weather advisories for commercial and private aircraft, boats and ships at sea. "What's keeping you?" he said, pointing impatiently at his watch. "I have reservations at the Crab Pot." Without looking up, she motioned at the two side-by-side images on her computer. "These were taken two hours apart. Tell me what you see." Harley examined them for a long moment. Then his brow furrowed and he repositioned his glasses before leaning closer for a more in-depth look. Finally, he looked at his wife and nodded. "One hell of a fast buildup." "Too fast," said Heidi. "If it continues at the same rate, God only knows how huge a storm it will brew." "You never know," said Harley thoughtfully. "She might come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. It's happened." "True, but most storms take days, sometimes weeks, to build to this strength. This has mushroomed within hours." "Too early to predict her direction or where she'll peak and do the most damage."
"I have a dire feeling this one will be unpredictable." Harley smiled. "You will keep me informed as she builds?" "The National Weather Service will be the first to know," she said, lightly slapping him on the arm. "Thought of a name for your new friend yet?"
"If she becomes as nasty as I think she might, I'll call her Lizzie, after the ax murderess Lizzie Borden." "A bit early in the season for-a name beginning with L but it sounds fitting." Harley handed his wife her purse. "Time enough tomorrow to see what develops. I'm starved. Let's go eat some crab." Heidi dutifully followed her husband from her office, switching off the light and closing the door. But the growing apprehension did not diminish as she slid into the seat of their car. Her mind wasn't on food. It dwelled on what she feared was a hurricane in the making that might very well reach horrendous proportions.
A hurricane is a hurricane by any other name in the Atlantic Ocean. But not in the Pacific, where it is called a typhoon, nor the Indian, where it is known as a cyclone. A hurricane is the most horrendous force of nature, often exceeding the havoc caused by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, creating destruction over a far larger territory. Like the birth of a human or animal, a hurricane requires an array of related circumstances. First, the tropical waters off the west coast of Africa are heated, preferably with temperatures exceeding eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Then, bake the water with the sun, causing vast amounts to evaporate into the atmosphere. This moisture rises into cooler air and condenses into masses of cumulus clouds while giving birth to wide-ranging rain and thunderstorms. This combination provides the heat that fuels the growing tempest and transforms it from infancy to puberty. Now stir in spiraling air that whips around at speeds up to thirty-eight miles an hour, or thirty-three knots. These growing winds cause the surface air pressure to drop. The lower the drop the more intense the wind circulation as it whirls around in an ever-faster momentum until it forms a vortex. Feeding on the ingredients, the system, as it is called by meteorologists, has created an explosive centrifugal force that spins a solid wall of wind and rain around the eye that is amazingly calm. Inside the eye, the sun shines, the sea lies relatively calm and the only sign of the horrendous energy are the surrounding white frenzied walls reaching fifty thousand feet into the sky. Until now, the system has been called a tropical depression, but once the winds hit 74 miles an hour it becomes a full-fledged hurricane. Then, depending on the wind velocities it puts out, it is given a scale number. Winds between 74 and 95 miles an hour is a Category 1 and considered minimal. Category 2 is moderate with winds up to 110. Category 3 blows from 111 to 130 and is listed as extensive. Winds up to 155 are extreme, as was Hurricane Hugo that eliminated most of the beach houses north of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1989. And finally, the granddaddy of them all, Category 5 with winds 155-plus. The last is labeled catastrophic, as was Hurricane Camille, which struck Louisiana and Mississippi in 1969. Camille left 256 dead in her wake, a drop in the bucket as compared to the 8,000 who perished in the great hurricane of 1900 that laid complete waste to Galveston, Texas. In terms of sheer numbers, the record is held by the 1970 tropical cyclone that stormed ashore in Bangladesh and left nearly half a million dead. In terms of damage, the great hurricane of 1926 that devastated Southeast Florida and Alabama left a bill totaling $83 billion, allowing for inflation. Amazingly, only two hundred and forty-three died in that catastrophe. What no one was counting on, including Heidi Lisherness, was that Hurricane Lizzie had a diabolic mind of her own and her coming fury was about to put the previous recorded Atlantic hurricanes to shame. In a short time, after bulking up on muscle, she would begin her murderous journey toward the Caribbean Sea to wreak chaos and havoc on everything she touched.
Swift and powerful, a great hammerhead shark fifteen feet long glided gracefully through the air-clear water like a gray cloud drifting over a meadow. Its two bulging eyes gazed from the ends of a flat stabilizer that spread across its snout. They caught a motion and swiveled, focusing on a creature swimming through the coral forest below. The thing looked like no fish the hammerhead had ever seen. It had two parallel fins protruding to the rear and was colored black with red stripes along the sides. The huge shark saw nothing savory and continued its never-ending search for more appetizing prey, not realizing that the odd creature would have made a very tasty morsel indeed. Summer Pitt had noticed the shark but ignored it, concentrating on her study of the coral reefs inside Navidad Bank seventy miles northeast of the Dominican Republic. The bank encompassed a dangerous stretch of reefs thirty by thirty square miles with depths varying from three feet to one hundred feet. During the passage of four centuries, no less than two hundred ships had come to grief on the unforgiving coral that crowned a seamount soaring from the abyssal depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
The coral on this section of the bank was pristine and beautiful, rising in some areas as much as fifty feet off the sandy bottom. There were delicate sea fans and huge brain coral, their vivid colors and sculptured contours spreading into the blue void like a majestic garden with a myriad of archways and grottos. It seemed to Summer that she was swimming into a labyrinth of alleyways and tunnels, some becoming dead ends while others opened into canyons and crevasses large enough to drive a large truck through. Though the water was in excess of eighty degrees, Summer Pitt was fully encased from head to foot in a Viking Pro Turbo 1000 heavy-duty vulcanized rubber dry suit. She wore the black-and-red suit instead of a lighter wet suit because it totally sealed every inch of her body, not so much as protection from the mild water temperature but as a deterrent to the chemical and biological contamination that she had planned to encounter during her assessment and monitoring of the coral. She glanced at her compass and made a slight turn to the left, kicking her fins while clasping her hands behind and under her twin air tanks to reduce water resistance. Wearing the bulky suit and AGA Mark II full face mask made it seem easier to walk on the bottom than swim over it, but the often sharp and uneven surface of the coral made that nearly impossible. Her physical contours and facial features were shrouded by the baggy dry suit and full head mask. The only clues to her beauty were the exquisite gray eyes gazing through the face mask lens and a wisp of red hair that showed on her forehead. Summer loved the sea and diving through its void. Every dive was a new adventure through an unknown world. She often imagined herself as a mermaid with salt water in her veins. Urged by her mother, she had studied ocean sciences. A top student, she graduated from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where she had received her master's degree in biological oceanography. At the same time, her twin brother, Dirk, had achieved his degree in ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University. Soon after they returned to their home in Hawaii, they were informed by their dying mother that the father they never knew was the special projects director for the National Underwater and Marine Agency in Washington, D.C. Their mother had never talked about him until she was lying on her deathbed. Only then did she describe their love and why she let him believe that she had died in an underwater earthquake twenty-three years before. Badly injured and disfigured, she thought it best that he live his life unencumbered, without her. Several months later she gave birth to twins. In memory of her undying love she had named Summer after herself, and Dirk after his father. After her funeral, Dirk and Summer flew to Washington to meet Pitt Sr. for the first time. Their sudden appearance came as a total shock to him. Stunned at confronting a son and daughter who he had no idea existed, Dirk Pitt became overjoyed, having believed for more than twenty years that the unforgettable love of his life had long since died. But then he was deeply saddened to learn she had lived all these years as an invalid without telling him and had died only the month previously. Embracing the family he never knew he had, he immediately moved them into the old aircraft hangar where he lived with his huge classic car collection. When he was told that their mother had insisted they follow in his path and become educated in the ocean sciences, he orchestrated their employment with NUMA. Now, after two years of working on ocean projects around the world, she and her brother had embarked on a unique journey to investigate and gather data on the strange toxic contamination that was killing the fragile sea life on Navidad Bank and other reefs throughout the Caribbean. Most parts of the reef system still teemed with healthy fish and coral. Brightly hued snappers mingled with huge parrot fish and groupers while little iridescent yellow-and-purple tropical fish darted around tiny brown-and-red sea horses. Moray eels looking fierce with their heads protruding out of holes in the coral, opened and closed their jaws menacingly, waiting to sink their needle teeth into a meal. Summer knew they looked frightening only because that was their method of breathing since they did not have a set of gills on the back of their necks. They seldom attacked humans unless they were antagonized. To be bitten by a moray eel, one almost had to place a hand in its mouth. A shadow crossed above a sandy gap in the coral and she looked up, half expecting to see the same shark returning for a closer look, but it was a flight of five spotted eagle rays. One peeled off the formation like an aircraft and cruised around Summer, staring curiously before swooping upward and rejoining the others. After traveling another forty yards she slipped over a formation of horny gorgonian coral and came within view of a shipwreck. A huge five-foot barracuda hovered over the debris, staring out of cold, black beady eyes at all that took place in its domain. The steamship Vandalia was driven onto Navidad Bank in 1876 during a fierce hurricane. Of her one hundred and eighty passengers and thirty crewmen, none survived. Listed by Lloyd's of London as lost without a trace, her fate remained a mystery until sport divers discovered her coral-encrusted remains in 1982. There was little left to distinguish Vandalia as a shipwreck. A hundred and thirty years on, the bank had covered her with anywhere from one to three feet of sea life and coral. The only obvious signs of what was once a proud ship were the boilers and engines that still protruded from the twisted carcass and exposed ribs. Most of the wood was gone, long rotted away by the salt water or eaten by critters of the sea that consumed anything organic. Built for the West Indies Packet Company in 1864, Vandalia was 320 feet from the tip of her bow to the jack staff on her stern, with a 42-foot beam and accommodations for 250 passengers and three holds for a large amount of cargo. She sailed between Liverpool and Panama, where she unloaded her passengers and cargo for the rail trip to the Pacific side of the isthmus where they boarded steamers for the rest of the journey to California. Very few divers had salvaged artifacts from Vandalia. She was difficult to find in her camouflaged position amid the coral. Little was left of the ship after being crushed that horrible night by the mountainous waves of the hurricane that caught her in the open sea before she could reach the safety of the Dominican Republic or nearby Virgin Islands.
Excerpted from Trojan Odyssey by Clive Cussler Copyright © 2004 by Clive Cussler. Excerpted by permission.
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