Feb 9 2017 11:00am
Testament: New Excerpt
Testament is the latest in the Jack Howard series from David Gibbins, who uses his real world experience as an archaeologist to write thrilling historical novels (available March 14, 2017).
Read this exclusive excerpt from Testament, and make sure to sign in and comment at the bottom for a chance to win the latest Jack Howard historical novel!
The ancient world is in meltdown. In desperation the priests of the Temple look to the greatest navigators ever known to save their treasures. On a far distant shore, after a voyage more astonishing than any ever undertaken before, a Phoenician named Hanno flees for his life from a terrifying enemy, the place the prophets called the Chariot of the Gods…
In the darkest days of the Second World War, Allied codebreakers play a game of life and death. For some, the stakes are even higher, a top-secret exchange of deadly materials between the Nazis and the Japanese that must be stopped at all costs. Yet even they know nothing of the ancient artifact hidden on board a ship whose fate they have just sealed…
Marine archaeologist Jack Howard and his friend Costas undertake one of the most perilous dives of their lives, hunting for Nazi gold. What they glimpse there, before a cataclysm that nearly destroys them, sets Jack on one of the most extraordinary trails he has ever followed―to a Phoenician shipwreck off England, to a WWII codebreaker with an amazing story to tell, to the ruins of ancient Carthage. He pieces together the truth of one of the greatest ancient voyages of discovery, one whose true purpose he could scarcely have imagined.
The Atlantic Ocean off Sierra Leone, present day
Marine archaeologist Jack Howard stared down into the abyss, hearing nothing but the hiss of his oxygen rebreather as he ﬂoated in the deep ocean swell. Somewhere down there, somewhere in the inky blackness below, lay a prize beyond the dreams of most deep-sea salvors, a king’s ransom in gold resting unclaimed in international waters. But at the moment, Jack was far less concerned about the gold than about the diver who had just preceded him. Costas had plummeted in his usual fashion, like a sack of lead, weighed down by the array of tools on his belt. As their rebreathers produced no bubbles, he had disappeared almost without trace, barely leaving a quiver in the shot line that anchored them to the wreck. After more than twenty years of diving together, Jack had seen his friend disappear down more black holes than he cared to remember, but this time, more than ﬁfty miles from shore in the forbidding waters of the South Atlantic, it had been particularly unnerving. They had the experience to confront virtually anything the oceans had to offer, but Jack knew that what sailors used to call divine providence would always have the ﬁnal say. Not for the ﬁrst time over the last few years he shut his eyes and mouthed the words he always did before a perilous dive into the unknown: Lucky Jack.
He opened his eyes and checked the LED display inside his helmet. He remembered the last time he had watched Costas disappear into the abyss, in the Mediterranean ﬁve months earlier during their hunt for a pharaoh’s lost sarcophagus. Costas had been trapped inside a submersible that had lost its tether and was falling to the ocean ﬂoor, and Jack had made a split-second decision to freedive after it, a one-way ticket to oblivion had he failed to reach it in time. Then, there had been no time for reﬂection, no time for fear. But this time the few minutes he had spent on the surface after watching Costas go had been enough for his heart rate to increase, for his mouth to go dry. His computer had ﬂashed up a yellow warning just as they were about to descend together, too late for him to signal Costas to abort. The diagnostic in his helmet display had shown the reappearance of a glitch in the ﬁrst-stage rebreather manifold, something that Costas had tried to ﬁx in the support vessel’s repair shop before the dive, a fraught few hours during which Jack had been locked in argument with the captain about the need to keep the shot-line anchor out of the wreckage in order to avoid damaging the sunken hull even before they had begun to explore it.
All he could do now was wait for his computer to complete the diagnostic and hope that it could repair itself. Their communication system was down too, meaning he could no longer talk to Costas, a problem not with their own equipment but with the link to the ship’s control room. That and the lack of specialized tools in the repair shop had been just two of the small irritations since they had been winched down by helicopter with their equipment on to Deep Explorer the day before.
He rolled sideways, seeing the unfamiliar hull a few meters beyond the shot-line buoy. Instead of Seaquest, instead of the support divers from the International Maritime University and the submersible that would normally accompany a dive of this nature, they were operating from a commercial salvage vessel without any of the usual IMU safety backup. They were here because a landmark change in legislation had ﬁnally seen British merchant vessel wrecks of the Second World War designated as war graves. They were also here because a researcher for the salvage company had found a secret cargo manifest showing that the ship below them, the SS Clan Macpherson, sunk by a U-boat in 1943, had been carrying a consignment of two tons of gold. Without that gold, the salvors would have had no interest in the wreck. With it, they were prepared to destroy the wreck to get at the cargo.
This had been the ﬁrst case since the legislation had been passed, and Jack had agreed to spearhead the UN monitoring program, knowing that his clout as archaeological director of IMU would ensure that the wreck would be front-page news if things went awry. The salvage company knew that too, and apart from this morning’s spat over the anchor chain, relations had been businesslike. They may have thought they were on an easy ride, with two of the world’s foremost maritime archaeologists here to verify the wreck and provide guidelines for the salvage, a token requirement that they could make a great show of following while they went ahead and ripped the wreck apart to get at the gold, something the world’s press were hardly going to see more than a hundred meters below the sea. Jack was determined to do anything he could to prevent that from happening.
He heard the roar of an outboard engine, and moments later saw a Zodiac swing out from the stern of the vessel with several crew on board and head toward him. He motioned for them to come between him and the ship, a safer option in the mounting swell than being trapped in a narrow space between the two vessels. The crewman at the tiller throttled down and put the engine in neutral as he came alongside. Jack grabbed the rope around the edge of the inﬂatable and hung on as the project logistics director, a former oil-rig foreman named Macinnes, leaned over. “What’s the problem?” he shouted.
Jack was wearing a full-face mask as part of his IMU e-suit, an all-environment drysuit with integrated buoyancy system that Costas had perfected over the years. He was not willing to raise the mask while he was in the water, but he clicked open a one-way valve beside his mouthpiece that would allow him to be heard without letting water in. “Same problem as before with the regulator manifold,” he said, bracing himself to stop the swell pulling him under the boat. “My computer’s running a diagnostic.”
“I thought Kazantzakis had ﬁxed it,” Macinnes shouted, staring imperiously at Jack.
“He did the best he could with the available tools.”
“Don’t blame us. Our remit was to host you, not to provide logistical backup. That’s your call.”
Jack gritted his teeth, trying to keep his cool. ﬂoating here with a faulty regulator and his friend on the seabed more than a hundred meters below was not the time or place to bicker with these people. He strained his head back upward. “Costas programmed the computer to self-repair if it happened again, so I’m just waiting for it to ﬁnish.”
The man jerked his head toward the empty ocean beyond the shot-line buoy. “Does he always go off alone like that? Not the best buddy.”
Jack ignored the comment. Macinnes and Costas had barely been on speaking terms since they had arrived. Macinnes had made a big show of bowing to Jack’s superior archaeological knowledge, but had decided that he knew more about submersibles and remote-operated vehicles than Dr. Costas Kazantzakis, a big mistake. The fact that he had been unable to put down an ROV to do the preliminary recce or to accompany the dive would seem to have proved Costas’s case. Jack swung sideways in the swell, holding on with two hands. “What’s the story with the comms?”
“It’s the same story. You brought your own equipment, it didn’t match ours. Not our responsibility.”
“Is anyone on to it? I can’t communicate with Costas.”
“It’s irrelevant, with the weather getting worse. The forecast has upped from Force 4 to Force 8 in the next few hours. The last thing we need is a botched inspection and a fatality to cloud our press reports. We’ve come to pick you up.”
“Negative. I’m not leaving Costas to do the dive on his own.”
“Looks like he was quite happy to leave without you.”
Jack tried to restrain his anger. The last thing he needed before a deep dive was aggravation like this. He clicked shut the valve and pushed off from the boat, making a circular motion with his hand and pointing away as he ﬁnned back to the shot-line buoy. The crewman at the tiller looked at Macinnes, who raised his hands theatrically and shrugged. He sat back down and the crewman ﬂipped the engine into forward, driving it in a wide arc around Jack and back toward the entry platform at the stern of the ship.
Jack reached the buoy, holding himself against the current, and looked up to see a line of crewmen wearing Deep Explorer caps along the foredeck rail. Dealing with these people over the last twenty-four hours had taught him one thing. He had seen more dull eyes and lassitude among this team than he had ever seen on a project before. He was fortunate that IMU had been a purely scientiﬁc endeavor from the outset, funded through an endowment from a billionaire software tycoon who also happened to be one of Jack’s oldest diving friends. Being here, and witnessing every discussion fall back on the hard ﬂoor of proﬁtability, he had seen how the quest for ﬁnancial gain ultimately drew the ﬁre out of people. What drove Jack on was the urge for adventure and discovery that had pushed humans to explore since earliest prehistory, and a passion for revealing the truth about the past that could make the lowliest potsherd more valuable than any amount of gold that these people might rip out of wrecks like the one below him now.
He glanced up at the railing again, spotting a muscular ﬁgure in jeans and a checked shirt with close-cropped graying hair, leaning on a stick. Anatoly Landor was Jack’s oldest dive buddy, the one who had been there beside him when he had taken his ﬁrst breath from a diving tank in a pool while they had been at boarding school together. At ﬁrst they had been inseparable, joined by their shared passion for diving, but then they had drifted apart, Jack into archaeology and Landor into treasure hunting. Landor had been an outsider at school, the son of an emigré Russian aristocrat’s daughter and a shady British businessman, and that had set the pattern for his future. Early on, before IMU had been founded, he had tried to enlist Jack into his projects, but their differences had been irreconcilable. For the past three years he had been operations director for Deep Explorer Incorporated, the investment consortium that owned the ship. The walking stick was because of a severe bend that had kept him out of the water for almost two years now.
Jack looked at him, remembering the raised arm with an okay signal that would have been there in the past, but knowing that this time there would be nothing. Landor had been a changed man since his accident, still with the upper body strength he had honed at school but with severely weakened legs, and a warning from the doctors that any further exposure to nitrogen build-up in his bloodstream—even a dive to swimming pool depth—would almost certainly result in a spinal bend and permanent paralysis. But it was not so much the physical change that Jack noticed as the hardening of his soul. Landor’s knowledge that he would have made this dive himself before his accident only increased the distance between them, fueling a resentment toward Jack that had been bubbling under the surface over the years, and was now plain to see.
His monitor was still only halfway through running the diagnostic, and he looked down into the depths again. The sea here was a strange color, green more than blue, an ominous shade, as if an ugly run-off from the war-torn countries of Africa had spilled out over the continental shelf. It could not have been a greater contrast to the azure waters of Cornwall, off southwest England, where he had been diving only three days before. When the call had come through that Deep Explorer had pinpointed the wreck of Clan Macpherson, he had just spent an hour in the shallows off the western Lizard peninsula near the IMU campus, excavating a perfectly preserved elephant’s tusk that he was convinced was part of a Phoenician cargo. He had been very reluctant to leave the site, and had spent the ﬂight down to Sierra Leone reading The Periplus of Hanno, the account of a sixth-century BC Carthaginian explorer who had sailed these very waters off West Africa. It had reminded him of the extent of Phoenician exploration on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, stoking his excitement over what he had been excavating and the new story of the earliest explorers that it would allow him to tell.
The Phoenician wreck off Cornwall had been his ﬁrst big project since returning from Egypt the previous year, and he was gripped by it. But a few hours in Freetown waiting for the helicopter out to Deep Explorer, seeing the state of Sierra Leone and its people, had made him realize that his priority for now had to be here. Channeled through the right humanitarian organization, the two tons of gold alleged to be on the wreck below them could make a substantial difference. The wreck was beyond territorial limits, but the IMU lawyers had suggested that a claim of ownership could be made on the grounds that Freetown was the destination of the wartime convoy and there was no documentation to show that the gold was to be transported further. It was a shaky case, but it could buy them time. At the very least, it would garner negative publicity for the salvage company and might deter investors. Nobody would want to be linked to a company that sought personal proﬁt rather than donating a discovery of questionable ownership to one of the poorest and most war-torn countries in the world, a discovery that could provide enough to feed thousands and save countless lives.
He glanced again at his readout. Costas had been gone for ten minutes now, and still there were no comms. It would be at least another ﬁve minutes until the diagnostic was complete and he knew whether or not he could follow. He made himself focus on the objective of their dive, running through the details once more. Clan Macpherson had been a freighter of 9,940 tons burden owned by the Clan Line, one of the last of the great East Indies shipping companies. On her ﬁnal voyage she had a crew of 140 men, made up of Indian Lascar ratings, British deck and engineer ofﬁcers and Royal Navy gunners to man her defensive armament. Her master, Captain Edward Gough, was a veteran of two previous sinkings, and had been decorated for his courage and seamanship. Her voyage halfway round the world from India to Liverpool was to have been a routine one, plied by thousands of ships during the war. After leaving Calcutta, she had sailed unescorted down the Bay of Bengal and across the Indian Ocean to Durban in South Africa. From there she had joined the ﬁrst of a succession of convoys that were to take her up the coast of West Africa to Freetown, the staging port for ships heading across the Atlantic to the Americas or north to Gibraltar and home.
The ﬁnal leg of that route, as part of convoy TS-37 between Takoradi in the Gold Coast and Freetown, should have been uneventful. The weather was ﬁne, clear and overcast, and the 848-mile journey was expected to take ﬁve days at the convoy’s maximum speed of eight knots. The main focus of the U-boats was in the North Atlantic; it had been more than two years since a TS convoy had been struck. The escort for the nineteen merchantmen when they had left Takoradi on 26 April was little more than a token force—one corvette and three armed trawlers—and there was no air cover. Yet when the ﬁrst ship was hit, when the ﬁrst plume of water rose from a torpedo strike, the sight would have been sickeningly familiar to many of the seamen in the convoy. By that stage in the war the Clan Line had lost thirty-two ships—more than half its ﬂeet—and more than 600 men, a rate repeated in the other shipping companies. Many of the seamen in TS-37 would have seen ships sunk in other convoys in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and would have endured the fear of not knowing whether they were to be next.
That ﬁrst strike by U-515 at 8:55 p.m. on 30 April was followed within ﬁve minutes by three others, and then a further three ships were sunk in another devastating ﬁve-minute attack in the early hours of the morning. Clan Macpherson had been the last to go, straggling behind the convoy, settling down by the head and listing to starboard. Captain Gough survived, but the ship had taken almost her entire complement of engineer ofﬁcers with her when she ﬁnally plummeted to the seabed and came to rest on the edge of the continental shelf more than one hundred meters below Jack now.
Jack ran through a checklist of her cargo: pig iron, groundnuts, linseed, jute, tea. At least there was no record of munitions, other than ammunition for her own guns. Diving into wrecks with unexploded ordnance, their fuses decayed and unstable, was not usually Jack’s favorite pastime. But there was no way of knowing for sure. The discovery that she had also secretly been carrying two tons of gold had shown what could be missing from cargo manifests. For a moment, thinking of Costas somewhere below him, risking his life, Jack wished that the researcher in the archives had never found that record, and he felt a ﬂash of anger at the salvage company and its investors. He was damned if he was going to let that gold line anyone’s pockets. He would ﬁght tooth and nail to see it go to humanitarian relief, using the considerable weight of IMU’s board of directors and their legal team to drag it through the international courts as far as it could go.
And there was another factor that weighed on Jack’s mind, the ofﬁcial reason for his inspection. If Landor and the salvage company had imagined that war grave designation was something they could simply brush aside, they would be wrong. It was something else that made Jack want to spin out an ownership dispute as long as possible. New UN legislation currently in its ﬁnal reading, spearheaded by IMU, would prevent salvors who transgressed from dealing with the ﬁnancial institutions of signatory nations. To transgress would make them into pirates, only able to sell their ﬁnds and launder their money on the black market, making it easier for law enforcement agencies to shut them down. Investors lured into supporting them with promises of sunken treasure would pull out and put their money elsewhere. Jack was here today because this scheme was the best hope of protecting historically important wrecks in international waters. Above all, he would do all he could to protect a war grave from being plundered; persevering with the dive and making a case against Deep Explorer was his commitment to the memory of the men who had gone down with this ship on that terrible night in 1943.
He stared into the depths again. He had seen enough wrecked merchantmen from the two world wars to have some idea what to expect. A ship that was not heavily laden could sink slowly, allowing enough time for its interior compartments to ﬁll with water before it went down; the wreck could be substantially intact, damaged only by the torpedo strike and by the impact with the seabed. A fully laden ship that sank quickly could be another matter entirely, its compartments still ﬁlled with air and imploding as the ship sank, leaving jagged masses of metal. Clan Macpherson had been carrying more than 8,000 tons of cargo, an enormous dead weight once buoyancy had been lost.
There was one aspect of those sinkings that haunted Jack the most. Men must often have been trapped inside air pockets, alive after the ship had disappeared from the surface. Their deaths would not have been like those portrayed in Hollywood ﬁlms: a ﬁnal few moments as the churning waters rose, a gulp of seawater and unconsciousness. Instead they would have been horriﬁc, surrounded by the shrieking and cracking of the hull, the air pockets lasting long enough for the titanic pressures of the ocean to bear down on them, bursting their eardrums and collapsing their sinuses, a ﬁnal unspeakable agony as the ship plummeted to its grave.
Men who went to sea in ships knew full well the horrors of Davy Jones’s Locker. It was what singled them out, what made them tough. Jack came from a long line of such men, sea captains who had defended England’s shores at the time of the Spanish Armada, explorers and adventurers who had pushed the boundaries of knowledge during the Age of Exploration, merchants who had built fortunes on the spice trade with the East and the riches of the West. He himself was another, modern kind of explorer, one who had dared to go where his ancestors could scarcely have imagined, who had descended into the world of their nightmares, who had touched the void. His boundary was no longer the distant horizon that had beckoned his forebears, but he knew the same siren call of the unknown as he stared into the depths. He knew their excitement, and he knew their fear.
The LED display on his computer ﬂashed green. The computer had ﬁxed the fault, and the rebreather was good to go. He took a deep breath, and steeled himself. It was time to dive.
Copyright © 2017 David Gibbins.
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David Gibbins is the New York Times bestselling author of several previous historical adventure novels that have sold over two million copies and are published in twenty-nine languages, including Atlantis, Crusader Gold, and The lost Tomb. He taught archaeology, ancient history and art history as a university lecturer, before turning to writing fiction full-time. He lives in London and Canada.