HOLY FIRE
The Raptor Force Trilogy, Book 2

A Novel by Bill Yenne

Copyright © 2013 by Bill Yenne



When there was nowhere else to turn, President Tom Livingstone called his old friend General Buck Peighton, and from the shadows, Peighton called on the Raptor Force. . .


***

Excerpts:

April 24
12:55 p.m. Brunei Time


“Have you ever heard of Suvarnadvipa?” Professor Anne McCaine asked.

“Suvarnadvipa? No, that is not familiar to me,” Sultan Omar Jamalul Halauddin replied, his interest piqued.

“It’s a fabled golden kingdom referred to in ancient Hindu texts, Your Majesty.” interjected the minister of heritage.

“It’s the Southeast Asia equivalent of El Dorado,” Dave Brannan said, showing off his newly acquired knowledge and underscoring his credibility as part of the professor’s team of archaeologists. “It’s legendary.”

“What does this have to do with Tutong?” the sultan asked.

“We think that the Tutong site, which you want the UN to declare as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, might actually be Suvarnadvipa,” Anne told him.

Really?

The sultan was incredulous. He considered Tutong to be worthless, and he was merely running an elaborate deception -- until this moment.

“Obviously, we won’t know until we get out there, and we may not know until there has been quite a lot of excavation, but I’ve done some preliminary calculations based on the descriptions of distances and travel routes in the old texts and. . .”

“I can see it now,” the sultan gushed, suddenly captivated by the possibilities. “We’ll build a huge museum and a hotel. People will come from all over the world. It will be as great as Ankor Wat, or the Taj Mahal.”


***

April 25
8:25 a.m. Brunei Time


The helicopter came in low over the treetops, banked, and circled. It was not Boyinson in the Little Bird, but a Bell 214 in the markings of the Tentera Udara Diraja Brunei, the Royal Brunei Air Force. The pilot located a level spot and set the large aircraft down in a cloud of loose leaves and debris. The side door popped open and out hopped Awang Uhtaud, the heritage minister.

“His Majesty is quite interested in what you’ve found,” he said eagerly as he approached the Americans.

“We’ve only been here for about an hour,” Anne told him. “It’s really too early to tell, but I was just saying that it looks very promising.”

“Promising? Wonderful. He has asked me to keep track. He wants daily briefings while you’re here.”

The Suvarnadvipa ploy had apparently worked better than even Anne had hoped. The sultan’s interest in the project had definitely been whetted. It had been evident when they met him at lunch yesterday that Omar had originally seen the archaeological site only as another element in his manipulation of the world community. However, the more they had discussed the mythical Suvarnadvipa, the more he had become interested in the site’s potential, and in using it to further his long-range scheme of making his tiny country into a major player in the world. For the Americans, however, his new infatuation meant that they would have him where they wanted him. They had, as Anne had intended, conned a con man.


***

April 26
1:38 p.m. Brunei Time


The sultan lowered himself into his chair and snapped his fingers for dessert to be served. The Americans looked at one another. They had been eating for more than an hour. Never, on any operational assignment, had these former Special Forces comrades eaten so much and so well. They had barely touched the last two courses, and now more. Thinking to himself, Jason Houn wondered if perhaps they could wait long enough and the sultan would simply eat himself to death.

Brannan glanced at the professor. She winked, nodded to the sultan, and glanced down into her bag. He understood and stifled a grin. Yes, it would soon be very surreal.

Sultan Omar enjoyed the spice cake and the papaya ice cream, and didn’t notice, when he asked for seconds, that the rest of the people at the table had barely touched their firsts. He did notice how terribly rich the light in the room had become. Could it be sunset already?

Instinctively, he glanced out the window. The sky was very dark and very blue, and the clouds were very distinct shapes. He remembered as a child, when he had looked at the clouds and had imagined elephants and tigers. He couldn’t remember when such images had ever seemed as clear as they did today. The clouds appeared so real, so distinct, and so perfectly focused, and when he glanced back to the people in the room, everything in the room was clearer than it had been just a moment ago. Everyone was in perfect focus. No, they were in more-than-perfect focus. It was as though he could see inside them. He felt as though he could read the minds of the people in the room.

He looked at Professor McCaine and saw the most beautiful woman in the world. She smiled, and the radiance of her smile bathed him in the most satisfying warmth. She was his. He could tell by the way that their eyes met. She was more than his museum director, she was his goddess.

He started to laugh. He had always imagined himself as a rather clever man. He had easily seized power in a coup d’etat. He had easily blackmailed the United Nations and had humbled the United States. He had always imagined himself as a rather clever man, but he was just now beginning to realize how truly brilliant he really was.

Ambassador Pehin Dato Hudim Incpaduka stood and excused himself, but instead of walking out the door, he appeared simply to melt into the wall. What a coward! The sultan thought this was incredibly funny. He leaned back in his chair and laughed even louder.

He looked around the room again. Everything was so perfectly clear. Outside the window, he saw the swaying palms and realized that they were part of him. They had no existence without him. He had not been conscious until that moment that they were really identical to him, as though they were all part of the same living being. He had not realized this before, but now it was perfectly clear. Their souls and his soul were but one soul.

He had just passed through what Aldous Huxley characterized as the “Doors of Perception.”

As he looked around the room, he realized that his body had dissociated itself almost completely from his mind. He felt as though he was no longer primarily a physical organism. His arms and legs and his enormous body were inconsequential.

The man who had accompanied the professor to the dinner last night came over to him and sat beside him. He could see the details of his face and the rich color of his auburn mustache. It was like burnished copper.

The man took something from his pocket. It was a photograph. The sultan glanced at it and tried to reach for it, but his inconsequential arm did not answer his omnipotent mind. The man held the picture up for him to see. It was a baby. At first glance, just a little baby, but on second glance, he saw that the little brown eyes bulged goblinlike from the face. The expression was so horrifying that it brought chills to his spine.

He earlier had passed through Huxley’s “Doors of Perception,” and now he moved through the room to the doors on the opposite wall. They opened, and Sultan Omar stepped though the gates of hell!

The baby’s mouth seemed to scream in terrible agony. Sultan Omar could hear the screams. The piercing shriek was deafening and terrible. He opened his mouth to demand that it stop, but he could not find the words. He could feel his tongue so clearly that he could almost see it. It had become a huge slug, coiling and squirming inside his mouth. It was a huge and disgusting slug. How did it get there? Did it crawl up from his stomach. He bit down on it in an effort to kill it or force it away, and he could feel it biting back. The pain was unbearable.

He looked back at the room. Everyone was looking at him, their faces so clear and so transparent that he could see their bones and blood vessels. Their faces became that of the baby. Each and everyone was screaming at him.

On the table, the spaces between the dishes and the silverware seemed to turn into objects. It was as though the shadows were coming alive. They skittered about the table like cockroaches, moving so fast that he could not follow their movements. He felt a prickling sensation all over his body, as though the roaches were attacking him.

Between the roaches and the screaming, he forgot that he was brilliant. He forgot that he was omnipotent and he forgot that his soul was one with that of the trees. He felt only unspeakable horror, and the flames of Holy Fire that lapped at his body. Sultan Omar Jamalul Halauddin saw only an avalanche of stinging, colored light spilling over him.