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Authors: Andy McDermott

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BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
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Volkov checked his watch: eleven thirty-two. The dogs were making better time on the return trip to the boat, perhaps as eager as he was to get off the bleak island—

The leaden gray clouds turned pure white.

A flash lit the landscape from high above, its reflection from the snow blinding. Steam rose around the sled, the bitter cold dispelled by a searing heat …

Volkov’s last thought was one of horrified realization—the bomber
had
been on a mission—before he and everything for miles around vanished in an unimaginable fire.

The Tsar Bomba detonated two and a half miles above the ground. Durnovtsev had done his job with great skill; even with the inherent inaccuracy of a parachute-dropped weapon, it was within half a mile of its target.

But a fifty-megaton hydrogen bomb did not need to be precise.

The nuclear fireball, more than two miles across, was as hot as the sun’s core. It never reached the ground, its own rapidly expanding shock wave bouncing back up off the surface to deflect it. But its flash alone, racing outward at the speed of light, was enough to melt rock and vaporize anything lesser in a fraction of a second. Behind it came the blast, a wall of superheated air compressed so hard that it was practically solid. What little survived the flash was obliterated moments later.

The Tu-95 was almost thirty miles from Ground Zero when the bomb exploded. Even inside the plane, its crew felt a sudden heat as high-energy radiation, X-rays and gamma rays, passed through the aircraft—and their bodies. Sparks flashed around the cabin, the nuclear burst’s electromagnetic pulse surging through the bomber’s wiring. Durnovtsev heard an unearthly squeal in his headphones as their little loudspeaker converted the electrical overload into sound.

The brightness outside faded, but Durnovtsev knew the danger was far from over. The shock wave was on its way. Even with the Tupolev going flat out, it would catch up in seconds. He braced himself, hands on the controls ready to react …

It was as if the bomber had been rammed from behind by a speeding train.

For a moment Durnovtsev was stunned by the force of the impact, his restraints cutting tightly into his chest and crushing the breath from him. He struggled back to full awareness, gasping inside his oxygen mask as he pulled up the goggles. The sky was an angry orange, the fireball illuminating it like a miniature star. A colossal booming roar filled his ears: the sound of the atmosphere itself burning.

The artificial horizon was tumbling, the altimeter needle spinning rapidly down. A sickening feeling in his stomach told him he was in free fall. The Tupolev was dropping out of the sky, swatted like a wasp. It had already fallen a kilometer, and was still plunging …

The cloud layer below had been evaporated by the shock wave. The cold sea glinted through the windows—the Tu-95 was nose down. Durnovtsev pulled back hard on the controls to level out. The engines were still at full power; he eased them off to reduce the stress on the wings. The horizon slowly dropped back down through his view.

Nausea faded, the pressure on his chest easing. “Is everyone all right?” he shouted over the crackling rumble. To his relief, all his crew replied in the positive. Next came a systems check. There had been some damage, but the aircraft was still in the sky with all four engines running. As far as Durnovtsev was concerned, that was a successful outcome.

He tried the radio. As he’d expected, nothing came through but a strange static screech. The explosion had ionized the atmosphere, making transmissions all but impossible. He had no idea how long it would take the effect to fade—all he could do was follow his orders and return to base.

The navigator provided him with the correct heading, but as he made the course change, Durnovtsev was struck by a compulsion to see what he had wrought. He turned the bomber farther so he could look back toward Novaya Zemlya through the cockpit’s side windows.

What he saw chilled his blood. The Tu-95 had climbed back to its original altitude, over six miles above sea level … but the mushroom cloud had already risen far higher, demonic fire still burning within as it roiled skyward. A ring of smoke and ash was expanding around its base.

Nothing on the ground could possibly have survived.

Durnovtsev stared at the fearsome sight for one last moment, then turned his plane for home.

The landscape around Ground Zero was now unrecognizable from what it had been just minutes before. Snow had flashed to steam, the frozen soil beneath turned instantly to cinders before being blown away by the immense force of the blast. The very rocks had melted into a glaze covering the bowl of the newly formed crater.

Nothing remained of the facility. It had been atomized, along with the two men. Even the runestone, which had withstood the harsh climate for more than a thousand years, was gone.

As was the pit.

The blast had sealed it forever, countless tons of molten and shattered rock filling it in. The dark secrets it contained would now remain hidden for eternity.

The runestone, and the words inscribed upon it, were no more. But they had been recorded, translated, and analyzed. The men who had ordered Durnovtsev’s mission knew what the stone had said.

And knew the danger it still represented. A danger they could not allow to be released.

The guide-stone has brought you here

To fight the final battle of Ragnarök

One pit of the serpent lies before you

The other awaits across the Western sea …

1
New York City
Fifty-Three Years Later

“Nina, Eddie!” cried Lola Adams—née Gianetti—across the coffee shop. “Long time no see!”

Nina Wilde hopped to her feet to greet her friend. Lola had, until a few months earlier, been Nina’s personal assistant at the International Heritage Agency. The reason for her departure was peering curiously at the world around him from a papoose on the chest of Lola’s husband. “Lola, Don, hi! Wow, it’s so great to see you both again! And to meet this little guy in person for the first time. Oh, he’s beautiful!”

Nina’s own husband also stood. “Yeah, that’s not a bad-looking sprog you’ve got,” said Eddie Chase with a grin. “Shame about the name, though.”

Lola pouted. “What’s wrong with Gino? It was my grandpa’s name.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not as good as my suggestion. Now, Eddie—
that’s
a name for a baby.” He frowned. “Wait, that didn’t come out like I meant it to.”

Nina laughed. “Accurate, though.” The balding Englishman pulled a face, to which Gino responded with a gurgling laugh of his own. “Aw, look at that! He’s so sweet.”

“He is,” said Lola, embracing the pair, “when he’s not occupying every moment of my time. And I thought you were demanding, Nina!”

Now it was Nina’s turn to look affronted, while Eddie chuckled. “Come on, sit down,” he said, pulling a chair out for the young mother. “So being a parent’s a bit stressful, is it?”

“You have no idea, man,” said Don as he unfastened the papoose. “I thought being a firefighter was tough, but pulling people out of burning buildings is a cakewalk compared with watching out for a baby.”

“Don’s worse than I am,” Lola said as she sat. “There’s danger everywhere, isn’t there, hon? To him, every room looks like a death trap out of a
Final Destination
movie. It drives me nuts, ’cause now I can’t even plug in my hair dryer without unlocking the gadgets he’s put on all the outlets.”

“Safety’s a serious business, babe,” Don replied, in a way that suggested it was far from the first time he had been teased.

The big-haired blonde took Gino from the papoose, settling the baby on her lap. “Anyway, we’re just about getting a handle on things, so we can finally catch up with everybody. What have I missed? What have you guys been up to? Have you found any more ancient wonders or saved the world again?”

“What, since the last time?” asked Eddie with a mocking snort. “Come on, it’s only been a few months. Give us a chance.”

“I’m enjoying the fact that we
haven’t
been running around the world being chased and shot at and having everything blow up around us,” Nina said, with considerable relief. “It means I get to do the things I joined the IHA for in the first place. Like being an actual archaeologist, you know? Overseeing digs, research, writing papers …”

Eddie yawned theatrically. “Yeah, it’s thrilling.”

“Oh, shut up,” said the redhead. “But it’s amazing how much more productive you can be when you aren’t
being attacked by helicopter gunships and hunted by assassins.”

“And ninjas. Don’t forget the ninjas.”

Don’s eyebrows rose. “Babe? You are
so
not going back to the IHA.”

Lola kissed Gino’s head. “This little guy’s going to be my boss for the next few years, don’t worry.” She looked back at Nina. “If things are nice and easy at work, is that giving you more time to plan things at home?”

“What things?” Nina asked.

“You know.” Lola held up Gino, who let out a little squeak of delight, and kissed him again. “Family matters.”

“Yeah,” added Don. “You’ve been married for, what, two or three years now? I’m surprised you don’t have kids already.”

Nina found herself feeling surprisingly defensive. “My work hasn’t been exactly conducive to it, what with all the … ninjas and world saving.”

The burly firefighter nodded. “But now everything’s quieted down, you’re thinking about it, yeah? I mean, you don’t want to leave it too late.”

Eddie huffed. “We’re not
that
old.” He put on a crotchety old man’s voice. “I’m hip to all the popular tunes of today’s young people, you know.” Lola laughed.

“You’re past forty, though, right? Me, I’ve just gone thirty and Lola’s coming up on it, and we were worried that might be pushing it—”

“Donnyyyyy,” said Lola, singsong, through her teeth. Her husband got the message and clammed up. “So, what’s new at the IHA? How’s my replacement working out?”

“Melinda?” Nina said. “She’s fine, she’s doing a good job.” Seeing Lola’s face fall ever so slightly, she continued, “Nearly as good as you.” The younger woman brightened. “Okay, what else? Al Little got a job with Apple in California, Lucy DeMille got engaged, Bill Schofield got promoted—oh, and we got a new UN liaison after Sebastian Penrose, uh, retired.” The United Nations official’s departure had been under a cloud, to
say the least, but to avoid a media scandal the details were covered up. Nina had been dismayed at that, but the decision was made at far higher political levels than she had influence over. “A guy called Oswald Seretse.”

Lola searched her memory, then nodded. “Oh—his dad’s a diplomat too, isn’t he? I met them at the UN once, before I transferred to the IHA.”

“Yeah, I think so. Anyway, that’s all the big stuff.”

“You should come ’round to the office sometime,” Eddie suggested. “There’s a lot of people who’d love to see you and your nipper.”

“Maybe I will,” said Lola. She looked down at her son. “Would you like to see where Mommy worked before she had you? Would you, little snooky-wooky?” Gino did not appear enthused by the prospect.

“Just make sure there aren’t any frickin’ ninjas there that day,” Don said.

“There won’t be,” Eddie assured him. “I shot ’em all.” The firefighter’s expression wavered between amusement and a suspicion that the Englishman was not joking.

“Everyone would love to see you. And Gino,” said Nina.

Lola smiled. “Then we’ll come.”

“Good! In the meantime, I think it’s time for some caffeine. What do you want?”

Lola and Don named their choices, then Nina turned to Eddie, only to find him looking at Gino, lost in thought. “Eddie?”

He snapped back. “Hmm?”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just thinking about something, that’s all. What?”

“Coffee?”

“I’ll get ’em. What’s everyone having?”

Nina stood. “It’s okay, I’ll go. You want your usual?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

She headed for the counter, looking back to find him again seeming preoccupied before returning to the conversation.

BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
10.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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