Table of Contents
Meet the team:
lex – A quiet lad from Northumbria, Alex leads the team in survival skills. His dad is in the SAS and Alex is determined to follow in his footsteps, whatever it takes. He who dares . . .
i – Expert in martial arts and free-climbing, Li can get to grips with most situations . . .
aulo – The laid-back Argentinian is a mechanical genius, and with his medical skills he can patch up injuries as well as motors . . .
ex – An ace hacker, Hex is first rate at code-breaking and can bypass most security systems . . .
mber – Her top navigational skills mean the team are rarely lost. Rarely lost for words either, rich-girl Amber can show some serious attitude . . .
With plenty of hard work and training, together they are Alpha Force – an elite squad of young people dedicated to combating injustice throughout the world.
Alpha Force track a violent gang of child-slavers across the hostile Sahara desert . . .
Also available in the Alpha Force series:
ALPHA FORCE:DESERT PURSUIT
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Epub ISBN: 9781407049946
ALPHA FORCE: DESERT PURSUIT
A RED FOX BOOK 978 0 099 43926 4
First published in Great Britain by Red Fox, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2003
This edition published 2004
7 9 10 8 6
Copyright © Chris Ryan, 2003
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The jerboa stopped in the sand-burrow entrance and peered out across the moonlit dune. It was summer in the Sahara Desert, when daytime temperatures above ground could reach a blistering fifty degrees Celsius, and the little rodent had slept away the hottest hours in the darkness of its burrow. Now, in the relative cool of the desert night, it was awake and hungry.
A beetle scuttled across the sand towards the burrow. The jerboa held still, waiting until the insect was within striking distance before springing forward with a powerful thrust of its long hind legs. It snatched up the beetle, bit off the snapping jaws and then settled back on its haunches to enjoy the meal. In common with most desert dwellers, the jerboa required very little water and the juicy innards of the beetle would provide all the fluid it needed.
Suddenly the jerboa stopped eating in mid-bite and sat upright, using its tufted tail for balance. It had heard something. Under its snout, the beetle’s legs waved feebly, like a wind-blown moustache, but the jerboa remained frozen in place, listening intently. There were other things hunting in the dunes that night and survival meant staying alert. The sand began to vibrate as the sound grew louder, turning into a hum, then a high-pitched drone that seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The jerboa sprang for the safety of its burrow just as three quad bikes, each carrying two riders and pulling a small trailer, blasted over the crest of the dune. The combined engine noise briefly changed to a higher, whining note as the quads soared into the air, then gravity took over and the squat machines hit the downward slope with their heavily loaded trailers jouncing along behind them. The quads fish-tailed until the fat tyres got a grip, then they roared on down the dune slope in a shallow V formation, leaving three clouds of swirling sand in their wake. Alpha Force was in action.
They were travelling at night and off-road for a reason. Their mission was covert. They were in Western Sahara, a skinny little country wedged in next to Morocco on the Atlantic coast of north-western Africa. Western Sahara’s recent history had been full of violence. Morocco had invaded, claiming that the country belonged to them, and the land had become a war zone as the people of Western Sahara, known as Sahawaris, fought a long, fierce guerrilla battle against the might of the Moroccan army. Now, many years after an uneasy ceasefire had been declared, some areas of Western Sahara were still dangerous. Morocco remained in control of the little country while, just over the border in Algeria, thousands of displaced Sahawaris lived in huge refugee camps.
Earlier that evening Alpha Force had slipped across the border from Algeria and now they were pushing further and further into territory that was patrolled by Moroccan troops. If they were discovered by the soldiers, their mission would be blown. To help them to remain invisible, the headlights of the three quad bikes were covered by infra-red filters. The drivers wore night-vision goggles and the lenses glowed like green insect eyes in the moonlight.
Paulo, the most experienced off-roader of them all, was in the lead. He had been riding quad bikes since he was eight years old. Back in Argentina, on his family cattle ranch, horses, 4x4s or quads were the only way to cross the huge expanses of rough ground in order to check on the stock. He had never driven in desert conditions before but he was learning fast and his face was set in a fierce grin as he reached the base of the dune and sent the quad bike leaping forward over the open ground ahead.
Alex was on Paulo’s left flank. His shoulders were hunched and his thick, fair hair was dark with sweat as he struggled to match the speed of the lead quad. He had spent a few summers helping with the harvest on a farm near his home village in Northumberland, so he had some experience with tractors and quads, but he was nowhere near as expert as Paulo. They had been travelling for a good ten hours and his muscles were aching from the effort of keeping the quad on a steady course over the uneven ground, but the South American handled his machine with a casual ease, as though it were a part of him.
As he watched Paulo roar ahead, Alex clenched his jaw at the thought of coaxing even more speed out of his quad. Night-driving in the Sahara was tough on the nerves. The moonlight cast harsh, black shadows which played tricks with perspective. A shallow rut in the sand could look like a deep crevasse, but an axle-breaking trench might not show up until the last second. The night-vision goggles helped a lot, but Alex was still half-expecting to crash down into a hidden dry creek bed, known locally as a wadi, at any moment.
He sighed and took a firmer grip on the handlebars of the quad, preparing to go for maximum speed. He knew Paulo was right to set such a demanding pace. There were only two hours left before dawn and Alpha Force had to reach their target zone before the sun was up. The sigh turned into a grunt as his passenger jabbed him sharply in the ribs.
‘We’re losing them, you idiot!’ yelled Amber, her mouth five centimetres from his ear. ‘C’mon! Put the pedal to the metal!’
Alex did the opposite. He slowed the quad to a stop, flipped up his night-vision goggles and turned to glare at Amber. His grey eyes were steely with annoyance but Amber did not flinch. She simply stared back, looking down her nose at him in her usual arrogant fashion as though he were an unsatisfactory chauffeur. Amber was in the habit of giving orders – and usually they were obeyed. She was a beautiful black American girl, the sole heir to a fortune which had come from a software empire worth billions of dollars. Her parents had died in a plane crash two years earlier and she now spent most of her days surrounded by people who were paid to look after her.
Alex was not one of those people. He and the rest of Alpha Force never allowed Amber to get away with rich-girl behaviour when she was with them.
‘You think you can drive this thing faster than me?’ asked Alex.
‘Hell, yeah,’ sniffed Amber.