Authors: Andy McDermott
The Valhalla Prophecy
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.
A Dell Mass Market Original
Copyright © 2014 by Andy McDermott
Kingdom of Darkness
© 2015 by Andy McDermott
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Originally published in the United Kingdom by Headline Publishing Group, a Hachette UK Company.
This book contains an excerpt from
Kingdom of Darkness
. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53705-8
Art Direction: Carlos Beltrán
Cover design: Marc Cohen
Cover illustration: Chris Titze
Dell mass market edition: October 2014
The temperature was below freezing, but Dr. Serafim Volkov was sweating.
Part of the reason was purely physical. The pit from which he had just emerged was deep, and even though he had not descended all the way to the bottom, leaving the most dangerous part of his mission to his younger conspirator, he had still felt compelled to observe. Any mistakes could have deadly consequences.
But Surnin had secured the sample without incident, and was now making his way back up the series of ladders to the surface. Volkov waited for him, unpleasantly clammy inside his thick clothing even in the chill wind.
Not so much from the climb, but from fear.
Merely by being here, he was violating the orders of the most powerful man in the Soviet Union: Nikita Khrushchev himself. That alone would have led to life in the gulag, but if anyone discovered the reason for his unauthorized visit, it would mean a guaranteed death sentence.
Echoing clanks reached him from below as Surnin ascended
the last ladder. Volkov tugged at the top fastener of his coat to let in a little cold air around his neck, then surveyed his surroundings. The sky was a solid dreary gray over the barren, snow-covered plain. A few hundred meters to the west stood the charred remains of several buildings: Volkov’s workplace for the past several years, now nothing but fire-blackened hulks. The thought made him scowl. The facility had been destroyed on Khrushchev’s orders—along with everything inside. All of Volkov’s research, his experiments, his discoveries … reduced to ash.
All that the government
about, at least. His secret experiment could still bear fruit.
If he escaped the Soviet Union alive.
He was sure that he could. The fact that he had made it back to the pit undetected proved that the exclusion zone around the islands of Novaya Zemlya, high above the Arctic Circle in the Barents Sea, was not impregnable. Volkov’s pilot was a Samoyad, a former native who had been forcibly resettled when the long archipelago was designated a nuclear test site. He was waiting with his small fishing boat in an inlet a few kilometers to the northwest; the wily old man was the scientist’s best hope for returning safely to the mainland with his precious cargo.
After that, he was entirely in the hands of the CIA. But so far, they had done everything they promised. His wife, now seven months pregnant, was already in West Berlin; once he joined her, they were only a jet flight away from a new life in the United States.
And his work could continue. He would have a new paymaster; a far, far more generous one. But the money, while certainly welcome, was not why he was transferring his loyalties. It was the promise of what he would be able to achieve in America, freed of limits. The world would change forever … and it would be to his design.
He glanced into the pit. Surnin was nearing the top of the ladder, the thick steel cylinder of the sample container slung from his shoulder. Volkov backed away to give him room to climb out. The sled dogs waited patiently
nearby, their leather reins looped around a rock standing out of the ground like a gravestone.
The rock was the reason he was here—the reason anyone had taken an interest in this desolate patch of land. The entire archipelago had been photographed from the air as part of the preparations for nuclear testing, so the effects of the detonations on the landscape could be seen. Someone with sharp eyes had spotted both the unusual standing stone and the black hole in the ground nearby, and a survey team was sent to investigate.
What they found was almost beyond imagination.
Seven years of work had followed; seven years of Volkov’s life poured into his research. At first he had been following orders. Stalin might have been dead, but his legacy lived on: The Soviet Union needed weapons, so powerful and terrible that no enemy dared attack for fear of utter obliteration in reprisal. Atomic and hydrogen bombs were the most destructive, but there were others, in their own way even more frightening. Volkov’s task had been to turn what lay at the bottom of the pit into one of these nightmares.
He had succeeded. But in the process, he’d realized that his research had the potential to produce something more fearsome than death itself. Quite the opposite, in fact. Whoever controlled it would have a power previously only in the hands of God.
, he mused, walking to the stone. He couldn’t read the ancient runes carved into its face, but he didn’t need to; they had been translated from Old Norse years before, and he now knew them by heart.
You great warriors, who have traveled far from Valhalla
Across the rainbow bridge and through the lake of lightning …
A crooked smile. The Vikings who’d visited this land more than a thousand years earlier were barbarians, unable to comprehend what they found in the pit. So
they had fitted it into their primitive mythology—or, more accurately, had shaped their mythology around
. It was almost a shame that no archaeologists would ever be allowed to visit the site; gods and monsters awaited them below.
. Another scowl. That one word had ended everything.
A curse under his breath at the thought of Eisenhov. He knew the younger scientist had no proof of his secret experiments—if that were the case, Eisenhov would surely have reported it, and arrest and execution would have followed—but had probably suspected after Volkov had subtly, but still foolishly, tried to sound him out as a potential ally. Eisenhov’s reaction had made it very clear that he was opposed to—appalled by—the mere idea of Volkov’s covert work. So he had continued alone, making discoveries he dared tell no one about while getting ever closer to his goal …
Then came the accident. The deaths. The
. An entire town wiped from the map as if it had never existed. After that, Eisenhov had poisoned Khrushchev against the whole project, emotion and spurious morality being placed above scientific discovery and reason. Everyone at the Novaya Zemlya facility was taken back to the mainland. And the buildings and their contents were burned.
All that remained of Volkov’s work was his final, greatest experiment, and the knowledge in his head. The Soviet Union had turned its back upon him—but America was more than keen to continue his research. And the contents of the steel cylinder would allow him to do that.
Breathing heavily, Surnin reached the top of the ladder. Volkov strode to him. “Turn around,” the scientist ordered. “I need to check the sample container.”
“I didn’t hit it on anything, Comrade Doctor,” Surnin objected, but he still meekly turned to present the cylinder. Obedience was one reason why Volkov trusted the big man to help him, along with his staggering lack of
initiative. He would do what he was told by a superior and not even think to question.
The scientist examined the container, paying particular attention to the seal around its lid. There was no sign of any leakage. “All right. Load it onto the sled. Carefully.”
“Yes, Comrade Doctor.” Surnin tramped through the snow to the runestone, petting one of the dogs before hesitantly lowering the cylinder into a padded metal case.
Volkov watched closely, finally satisfied that it was secure. “Let’s get back to the boat.” He was about to board the sled when he noticed that Surnin was staring at the dogs. “What is it?”
“They hear something.” The animals had pricked up their ears, looking to the southwest.
Volkov strained to listen. All he could hear at first was the wind, but then he picked up a faint, distant rumble. “It’s a plane,” he said dismissively. “One of our bombers.” The buzzing drone of eight mighty propellers was a familiar sound on the military-controlled islands. “Don’t worry, it’s a long way off. It won’t see us through these clouds. Now let’s go.” He took his seat and gestured impatiently for Surnin to do the same.
The other man unlooped the reins from the runestone and climbed aboard. At a tug on the leather straps, the dogs set off across the snowy ground, towing Volkov and his prize behind them.
The scientist’s assessment of the sound had been correct. Its source was indeed a bomber, a Tupolev Tu-95 flying high above the clouds as it approached Novaya Zemlya from its base on the Kola Peninsula six hundred miles to the southwest.