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The Jungle : Oregon Files Series : Book 8 - Clive Cussler

The Jungle

Oregon Files Series : Book 8

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A brand new Oregon File, The Jungle, from Clive Cussler, written with Jack Du Brul.

Jungles come in many forms: there are the steamy rainforests of the Burmese highlands; then there are the lies, deceit, and betrayal of the world of covert operations; and there are the dark and twisted thoughts of a man bent on near-global domination.

To pull off their latest mission, Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon must survive them all.

A devastating new weapon unleashed in thirteenth-century China . . . a daring rescue mission in the snowbound mountains along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border . . . a woman gone missing in the jungles of Northern Thailand and Myanmar . . . For Juan Cabrillo, intrepid captain of the state-of-the-art fighting ship Oregon, all of them will come together – and lead to the greatest threat against US security that the world has ever known.

'Clive Cussler is hard to beat.' Daily Mail

'The guy I read.' Tom Clancy

'Frightening and full of suspense . . . unquestionably entertaining.' Daily Express

'All-action, narrow escapes and . . . unrelenting plot tension.' Observer

About the Authors

Clive Cussler is the author of over twenty-five internationally bestselling books, including the Dirk Pitt adventure series, the NUMA FILES novels and the Oregon Files Adventures.

Cussler began writing in 1965 and published his first novel featuring Dirk Pitt in 1973. His first non-fiction work, The Sea Hunters, was released in 1996. Because of this work the Board of Governors of the Maritime College, State University of New York considered The Sea Hunters in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis and awarded Cussler a Doctor of Letters degree in May of 1997. It was the first time since the College was founded in 1874 that such a degree was bestowed.

Jack Du Brul is a graduate of the Westminster School and George Washington University. Trying to add as much adventure to his life as he does to his novels, Du Brul has climbed Masada at noon, swam in the Arctic Ocean off Point Barrow, explored war-torn Eritrea, camped in Greenland, and was gnawed on by piranhas in the Amazon River. He collects zeppelin memorabilia and when not writing or traveling (25 countries and counting), he can be found in a favorite chair with a book and a brandy. Jack Du Brul lives in Burlington, Vermont.

Extract

Prologue

Eastern China

1281 a.d.

A thick fog filled the valley and spilled out over the surrounding mountains. Borne on a slight breeze, the mist made it look as though the peaks were breathing. From the ground, the dense forests were just shapes and silhouettes rather than individual trees. No animals scurried on the carpet of leaves and pine needles, and no birds were heard crying out. All was eerie silence. Even the army's horses were subdued by the impenetrable gloom. An occasional muted hoof stomp was all that betrayed their presence.

Slowly the sun began to burn away the haze, and like something rising from the depths, the topmost section of the castle's roof emerged out of the fog as though suspended above the ground. The fired-clay-tile roof glistened with moisture. Next to be revealed were the towering walls that surrounded the town. The rampart's crenellations were as even as dragon's teeth. From a distance it was easy to see guards patrolling along the tops of the walls, long spears laid casually over their shoulders. They knew the Great Khan's army was nearby, but they appeared confident that the town's fortifications were more than adequate.

It was said that in China a village without a wall was like a house without a roof, thus every hamlet, no matter how small, had protective bulwarks of stone or at least stockades of wood. Siege and counter-siege became the preferred method of warfare, and its tactics had been honed over a thousand years of conflict.

Before their conquest of China, the Mongols had fought as light cavalry, sweeping off the Steppes and decimating their enemies in lightning raids. But they adapted to the Chinese method of battle, albeit reluctantly. The weeks and months, and sometimes years, it took to breach the walls of a fortified city, using captured slaves to fill moats and man battering rams under withering barrages of arrows from the parapets, went against their ingrained desire for a quick victory.

If things went as planned, and the sun burning through the fog indicated it would, a new strategy would be employed this day that would make every walled citadel a trap from which there was no escape. The few warlords in the region who had not yet proclaimed their fidelity to the Khan soon would, or face swift annihilation.

For a week the army of five hundred mounted warriors and another thousand foot soldiers waited in the forests just beyond the city's fields. The harvest was in, leaving the fields cut low and yellowed. It would give the archers within the citadel an excellent opportunity to slaughter anyone foolish enough to launch a direct attack. Just as critical for the defenders, it meant that they had enough food to wait out a long siege. If winter came before the walls fell, it was likely the Mongols would return north to their capital and not come back until spring.

General Khenbish had orders from the Khan to take this town before the first snows dusted the roof of his palace. Though the general had never been graced by the Khan's presence, he would no more disappoint his king than if the man were his best friend. He only wished the Great Leader had not sent an emissary to witness the battle. And such an ugly man at that, with his sallow skin and great hooked nose—plus he had the devil's eyes. Khenbish did give him credit for his beard. While he himself could only grow a drooping mustache and a wispy few strands from his chin, the lower half of the observer's face was hidden behind thick dark curls.

General Khenbish, unlike in any other siege, had not constructed dozens of scaling ladders and towers or built trebuchets and catapults. He'd brought only enough slaves to tend to his soldiers' needs and build but two wood-framed towers placed in the field just beyond the reach of the town's archers. Atop the towers were large copper cones opened to the sky. The inside of each was layered with a fine coat of silver that was polished until it shone as dazzlingly as the sun itself. Under each, a barrel like that of a small cannon protruded from the wooden box supporting the eight-foot cone. The whole upper assembly, held fifteen feet off the ground by a timberwork truss, could be pivoted and elevated on a sturdy gimbal. Four of Khenbish's best men stood on top of each structure.

Had the Khan's ambassador any questions about the strange towers, he held them to himself.

For a week the red ger had stood outside the town's tall and tightly sealed gates. As was Mongol tradition, a white tent was erected first and the town's leaders given the opportunity to discuss their surrender without fear of death. When the red woolen tent, the ger, replaced the white tent, that indicated an attack was imminent. When the red tent was dismantled and a black tent took its place, that indicated all within the walls would die.

In the days since the red ger began swaying and billowing as it abutted the road leading to the gate, rains had fallen or the sky had been heavy with clouds. Today promised the first clear weather, and as soon as Khenbish was certain the sun would burn through the last of the haze, he ordered slaves out across the fallow fields to tear down the red tent and set up its more ominous counterpart.

Archers fired at the slaves as soon as they were within range. Flights of arrows so thick they seemed to swarm peppered the ground around the men. And met flesh as well. Four slaves dropped where they were hit; two more struggled on with thin wooden shafts protruding from their bodies. The others ran unimpeded, protected by the bulk of the bundled black tent.

Replacements were sent out immediately. They zigged and zagged, trying to throw off the archers' aim. Most were successful but a few went down, driving arrows deeper into their bodies as they plowed into the earth. In all, it took twenty men to erect the tent, and of those only five made it back to the Mongol lines.

'Seems a bit wasteful,' the observer remarked in his thick accent.

'It is how it is done,' Khenbish replied without turning his horse. 'White tent, red tent, black tent, death.'

'The Khan never mentioned why this town is being attacked. Do you know?'

Khenbish wanted to answer, curtly, that the Khan's reasons were his own, but he knew he had to treat the man with the respect due his status. He said, 'The local warlord didn't pay the Khan all of his taxes last year. The amount was trivial and might have been overlooked by the Khan's generosity. However, he was overheard by a royal post messenger bragging of his thievery.'

The Empire was famous for its postal service, with strings of rest houses along all major routes so riders could either switch horses and keep going or pass along messages to rested carriers who were already waiting. In this way news from all reaches of the Khan's vast holdings could reach him in weeks, sometimes mere days.

'Such a transgression,' Khenbish continued, 'cannot go unpunished.'

'Render unto Caesar,'' the emissary said.

The general ignored the unknown reference and glanced skyward. The last of the mist was almost gone, leaving a blue dome over the battlefield. He reined his horse around to check on the men waiting behind him. They all wore full bamboo armor and were mounted on sturdy ponies, descendants of the animals that had allowed the Mongol hordes to attack and then hold the breadth of a continent. Each rider had a special oilskin bag hanging off the side of his saddle. The cloth was completely waterproof, and the contents had been carefully mixed and measured by Khenbish's best alchemist. Behind the cavalry were ranks of foot soldiers armed with pikes nearly twice as tall as the men. The keen blades were honed to a razor's edge.

'General,' an aide called to get his attention.

He turned to face the distant village. On each of the two strange siege towers, a soldier waved a red battle flag—the signal that they were ready.

Khenbish nodded to his own flag-bearer. The man stepped forward so he could be clearly seen and waved a silk standard over his head. Out on the towers, the men dropped their banners and concentrated on the odd machines they had brought to the field. They maneuvered the ungainly contraption so that the small bore in the coffin-sized wooden box faced the top of the fortified wall. One of the soldiers pulled a cover off the cannon-like barrel while the others slowly swung the box back and forth. When either of the two devices was aimed directly at an archer or observer on top of the castle wall, it paused for a moment.

Nothing seemed to change. There was no noise, no projectile fired, no indication at all that anything was happening, yet each time one of the barrels focused on a watchman, that man suddenly ducked away and never showed himself again.

The Khan's emissary looked to Khenbish for some sort of explanation. The taciturn general was studying the parapets through a pane of dark-tinted glass the size of a lady's hand mirror. He finally turned and noticed the look of confusion on the man's face. He kneed his horse to edge him closer, and then reached across to hand over the glass viewer.

The diplomat took it by its ornately carved ivory handle and held it up to his eye. He blinked quickly and then peered over the edge to look at the walled city unobstructed. Just as quickly he looked back through the glass.

The shaded glass cast the entire scene in an eerie twilight despite the bright sun, but that wasn't what had startled him. It was the solid rays of light, as thin as rapiers' blades, that emanated from the two towers. The crimson beams shot like lances from the odd structures and raked across the top of the walls. As he watched, a guard popped his head into the gap between two crenellations. Both beams zeroed in on him instantly. The light raked across his face, and though the distance was too far to be certain, the emissary thought the beams centered in the guard's eyes. It took only seconds for the hapless man to duck down again, his head shaking furiously.

He lowered the glass a second time. The sepia tint was gone; the ruby rays of light too. Everything was still and placid except for the movement of the two wooden boxes being turned back and forth, their purpose, without the glass, unknowable.

His expression was even more uncomprehending than just moments before.

'Dragon's Stare,' Khenbish said without turning. 'That is what my men call it.'

'And you,' the envoy asked, 'what do you call it?'

Khenbish tugged at the reins to wheel his horse around. 'Certain victory.'

'I don't understand. How does it work?'

'There is a long octagonal crystal in each device from an ancient mine far to the south. Do not ask me the science, but using a set of mirrors with holes in them, it somehow channels sunlight captured in the cone on top and focuses it in such a manner that it can temporarily blind a man who gazes directly into it.'

'Yet it is somehow invisible?'

'It appears as a small red dot when it strikes an object, but the beam can only be seen in the air through that glass you are holding.' He turned his focus back on his horsemen. 'Now is the time to end this siege.'

The Khan's man once again regarded the towering ramparts and the thick wooden gate. It seemed as impenetrable as the Great Wall to the north of the capital. He couldn't understand how blinding a few lookouts could possibly end a siege. But then he came from a family of merchants and knew nothing of warfare or military tactics.

'Charge,' Khenbish ordered.

Though the emissary expected a wild explosion of man and beast racing for the distant walls, the attack was instead a stealthy and slow walk. The horses' hooves were muffled with thick woolen sacks so they barely made a sound as they moved. Harnesses, saddles, and panniers had all been cinched so tightly that the usual creak of leather was absent, and the men urged their mounts with soft whispers. Closing his eyes, the emissary couldn't tell that fifty horsemen were trotting past. Of all his senses, only his nose detected the faint whiff of dust kicked up by the animals' muffled hooves.

Though not a military man, he knew instinctively that this was the critical phase in the general's plan. He glanced up. The sky remained clear directly overhead, but a single puffy cloud was moving toward the battlefield. Its shadow cut like an eclipse across the hills behind the town. If it swept over them, he feared Khenbish's secret weapon would be rendered useless.

No lookout had shown himself for many minutes. He could imagine the anxiety and confusion among the defenders, not knowing what had struck them or how it had rendered them blind. This wasn't a particularly large community, and he knew from his travels that rural people tended to be superstitious. To what manner of witchcraft had they ascribed their sightlessness?

Like an army of ghost soldiers, the column of horsemen was making deceptively good time across the fields. The mounts were so well trained that none whinnied or neighed.

The cloud was still several minutes away. The emissary did some quick calculating in his head. It would be a near thing, and yet the riders didn't quicken their pace. The general instilled discipline above all else.

A head popped over the wall, and both light cannons swung on him so quickly that he got the barest glimpse of the battlefield before his retinas were seared by the invisible beams. Khenbish stiffened on his horse, waiting for a cry of alarm that would signal unseen archers to release their arrows. A scream from above caused him to suck air through his teeth. It was nothing more than a crow in the branches of a tree behind them.

The lead rider reached the wooden gate and casually tossed the bag he'd been carrying in the dirt at its foot. A moment later another joined it, and another. And another. The pile grew until it was a misshapen hillock pressed up against the stockade.

Finally someone within the walls showed some intelligence. When he raised his head over the battlements just to the right of the gate, he kept one hand shaded over his eyes and his gaze downward. His warning shout carried clearly across the field. The element of surprise had been shattered.

The riders abandoned their pretense at stealth and quickly had their horses at full gallop. The last few hurled their bags at the gate and wheeled around. They scattered as arrows fired blindly from within the walls once again darkened the skies.

But it wasn't so much the arrows blotting out the sun as it was the cloud that had been so silently approaching. And by some twist of fate the winds that had sustained it ceased, and it hovered like an enormous parasol over the village. Without direct sunlight, Khenbish's ray guns were nullified.

Alert sentries realized what was coming and started throwing buckets of water onto the pile of bags that reached almost halfway up the thick wooden gate. The general had anticipated this and made certain each had been coated with a thick layer of resin so the water couldn't permeate it.

Motivated by desperation, archers appeared along the wall and took careful aim before loosing their arrows. The horsemen wore armor on their chests, and helmets covered their heads, but their backs were exposed, and soon arrows found their marks. In moments there were several jockey-less horses milling on the field, their riders lying sprawled on the ground, some writhing in agony, others ominously still.

One of Khenbish's men raced parallel to the wall, standing high in his stirrups, a nocked arrow ready in his short cavalry bow. Rather than a sharp bronze point, the arrow's tip was a pitch-soaked wad of cloth that burned brightly. He fired and immediately pulled hard on the left rein. The horse knew the signal and went down onto its flank in a cloud of dust, its legs kicking awkwardly while its heavy body shielded the rider from what was to come.

The arrow hit the pile of bags near the base of the gate at the same moment a bucket of water was tossed off the parapet. The flame turned to white smoke and steam, and then nothing. Time on a battlefield has an elasticity that defies all logic. It seemed forever elapsed, but it was less than a half second before the last dying ember of the arrowhead burned its way through the bag and touched off the contents inside.

Alchemists searching for the Elixir of Life had stumbled upon the ratio and composition of chemicals, and so it was called huo˘ yào, or Fire Medicine. The world would later know it as gunpowder.

Because it is a slow-burning explosive, gunpowder needs to be compressed to do much more than flash and sizzle. The first bag burst into smoky flame, igniting others on the outside of the pile, until flames were shooting dozens of feet into the air. The pyre was enough to detonate the bags buried at the base of the mound, and the weight of the sacks above tamped the expanding gases long enough to produce a titanic explosion.

The concussion wave rippled across the field, sending a wall of hot air as far as the general and his remaining foot soldiers. The blast knocked the ambassador off his horse, and to him it felt as though he'd stood before a potter's kiln. Flame and smoke rose high into the air, while on the other side of the wall the gates were blown inward and shredded. The debris scythed down anyone in its way, while archers and lookouts along the parapet were tossed like limp dolls, their cries shrieking over the roar of the blast.

The Khan's man slowly regained his feet. The ambassador's ears were ringing, and when he closed his eyes, the afterimage of the explosion was burned on the inside of his lids. This was the second miracle weapon he had seen today. First the light gun and now some means of containing fire in bags and unleashing it all at once. Truly this was an amazing land.

On the battlefield, the scattered horsemen turned as though a shoal of fish and began charging for the destroyed gates, where wood smoldered and the dazed defenders ambled in shock. Swords were unsheathed and reflected the sunlight brightly now that the cloud had moved on. The men in the towers searched for victims, but the explosion had taken the fight out of the garrison.

General Khenbish released his reserves of foot soldiers to follow after the cavalry. With a roar almost as loud as the blast of gunpowder, the men tore off across the field, eager to do the Khan's work and restore his honor from being robbed and, worse, made to look weak because of it. They would spare the comeliest women, and boys who could be used as slaves, but everyone else in the town would be put to the sword and the entire village razed. The local warlord's head would be placed on a pike in the nearest settlement as a reminder for those who thought their Khan's wrath was not swift and all-consuming.

'I wish to know more of your amazing arsenal,' the ambassador said as he and Khenbish dismounted. It wasn't common practice for the general himself to take part in the slaughter, and the ambassador had no desire to see what was happening on the other side of the wall.

'I will introduce you to my alchemist. He can explain both in greater detail than I. For me it is enough that they work.' An aide handed him a bone-porcelain cup of strong tea.

As they started off toward the copse of trees where camp servants and staff waited to treat any wounded from the battle, the ambassador mused that there were so many remarkable things that he'd witnessed during his years roaming this strange nation. Some things he would never reveal, like the intimacies he'd enjoyed with some of the Khan's concubines. And some things he would never discuss because they were just too bizarre to be believed. Like the Great Wall—it had the height and breadth of a five-story stone building and yet it stretched from horizon to horizon and beyond. It alone dwarfed every bit of Roman engineering that lay across Europe. There were the rocklike bones of dragons he'd been shown in the central desert, skulls as big as wine barrels, with teeth like daggers and femurs as tall as a man. And then there was what he saw today: a device capable of throwing light intense enough to blind a man.

For his own sake he wanted to know how this weapon operated— Khenbish had mentioned a crystal of some sort—but he knew that this was one more mystery he would take to his grave.

Marco Polo strode alongside the general, unsure that his fellow Venetians would believe even the more banal stories he could tell about his travels in China.
Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler is the author of over twenty-five internationally bestselling books, including the Dirk Pitt adventure series, the NUMA FILES novels and the Oregon Files Adventures.

He grew up in Alhambra, California. He later attended Pasadena City College for two years, but then enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War where he served as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer in the Military Air Transport Service. Upon his discharge, he became a copywriter and later creative director for two leading ad agencies. At that time, he wrote and produced radio and television commercials that won numerous international awards, one at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Cussler began writing in 1965 and published his first novel featuring Dirk Pitt in 1973. His first non-fiction work, The Sea Hunters, was released in 1996. Because of this work the Board of Governors of the Maritime College, State University of New York considered The Sea Hunters in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis and awarded Cussler a Doctor of Letters degree in May of 1997. It was the first time since the College was founded in 1874 that such a degree was bestowed.

Cussler is the founder the National Underwater & Marine Agency, (NUMA), a non-profit organisation that dedicates itself to American maritime and naval history. In addition to being Chairman of NUMA, Cussler is a fellow in both the Explorers Club of New York and the Royal Geographic Society in London.

A noted collector of classic automobiles, Cussler owns 85 of the finest examples of custom coachwork and 50's convertibles to be found anywhere. They are garaged near Golden, Colorado. Today, Cussler divides his time between the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of Arizona.

Visit Clive Cussler's Booktopia Author Page


ISBN: 9780718156930
ISBN-10: 9781760064150
Series: Oregon Files Ser.
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 406
Published: 28th February 2011
Dimensions (cm): 23.000 x 17.0  x 2.9
Weight (kg): 23.5
Edition Number: 1