- Published: 31 May 2022
- ISBN: 9780241552346
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 400
- RRP: $32.99
Clive Cussler's Dark Vector
Numa File #19
Jun Chu stood on the deck of a three-masted junk given the auspicious name Silken Dragon. The ship was a feast for the eyes, with an emerald green hull, golden adornments and sails dyed a resplendent blood orange hue.
The ship sat at anchor in a tranquil bay. Clear aquamarine water lay beneath the hull, while a steep mountain peak rose from an island beyond.
The peak had given them some morning shade. But the sun was now high above and the temperature had soared. If not for the breeze blowing in from the west, the heat would have been unbearable. As it was, an odd sulfur- like smell could be detected. The source of the aroma baffled Jun, but he had bigger issues to worry about.
He pulled a brass telescope from a leather case. The beautiful instrument was polished and gleaming. Engraved characters on the casing reminded him that it had been given as a gift, from the powerful pirate queen Ching Shih.
The captain of the vessel moved up next to him. “What do you see?”
Jun gazed through the spyglass. His face turned grim. “It seems our escape from Macau did not go unnoticed. Three ships are approaching.”
“This is a trade route,” the captain reminded him. “Many vessels ply these waters. Do not assume danger where there is only the company of other travelers.”
“I assume nothing,” Jun said. “Take the spyglass. You’ll see that I’m not wary without reason. Those ships fly the red banner of Madam Ching. They’re hunters sent to slay us or bring us to Macau for punishments that I choose not to imagine.”
Jun focused on the nearest of the approaching ships. It was a larger vessel than the Dragon. Four sails to his three and a topmast adorned with banners red as blood.
The other ships in the squadron were farther back, too far to see any details, but they tracked the same heading. The captain offered a hopeful suggestion. “It’s said Madam Ching will spare a ship’s crew if the master surrenders their cargo without a fight.”
Jun lowered the telescope. Ching Shih had indeed created a code of honor among her pirates, but such considerations would not be extended to Jun. “Her code will not apply to us. We are thieves and traitors, not honorable adversaries.”
There was no need to say more. The treasure in their hold had been pirated by Madam Ching’s ships once already, but instead of being turned in to the collective and disbursed fairly, a rogue captain of hers had set much of it aside. He’d sold it to Jun, assuring him the truth had been hidden.
“Your friend must have been caught short,” the captain said.
Jun shivered at the man’s fate. “To withhold captured plunder is punishable by death,” he said. “To steal it outright... Beheading would be the best fate such a man could hope for. No doubt he’s been killed. Though not soon enough to keep him from speaking our names.”
“We cannot outrun them,” the captain said. “Each of her ships are larger and faster.”
“Then we must fight,” Jun said. “We have cannonades we bought from the East India Company. We have crossbows and harquebuses.”
“We’ll be outnumbered five to one.”
“They cannot come all at once,” Jun said. “And her large ships will not be able to cross the reef. If we remain here, they will have to come in small boats, hoping to climb aboard using ladders and grappling hooks. In my experience, grenadoes and flaming arrows are quite effective at such a range.”
The captain’s face began to soften. “You hope to bleed them one small group at a time.”
Jun nodded. It was truly their only hope. “And when they’ve bled enough, they’ll depart from us and return to Macau, where they’ll tell Madam Ching we burned the ship rather than surrender and face death.”
The captain’s face was inscrutable. He took the spyglass back, gazing at the red-flagged ships as they turned toward the bay. “You have a silken tongue, Master Jun. You almost make me believe we might survive.”
The Pratt & Whitney radial engines rasped and hunted as they struggled to inhale the high-altitude air.
They gave him the gun in New York, he was pretty certain, and he thought some money too.
Captain Omar Rahal tracked the small boat racing across the placid waters of the narrow strait.
Heat shimmered in waves across the Valley of the Kings as the merciless sun baked the desert sands into clay.
Through his periscope, Kapitän Hans Schultz watched the chaos aboard the schooner Carroll A. Deering and smiled.
Wails of grief drifted over the city like a black aria. The mud brick dwellings burst with anguish, as the sorrow swirled into the night desert.