The Genesis Plague (2010)

The Genesis Plague (2010) by Michael Byrnes

Book: The Genesis Plague (2010) by Michael Byrnes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Byrnes
detonator.
    The explosion was fierce, lifting Stokes into the air and throwing him back against the Humvee. He dropped to the ground at the same moment a combat boot smacked the window above him, spraying blood. The boot plunked into the sand beside him. He remembered seeing the jagged bone and stringy meat sticking out above its laces. Only when he looked down at what remained of his right leg - nothing but peeled raw flesh just inches below the knee - did he realize that the boot was his own.
    There was no pain. Just the woozy haze from shock and an overwhelming urge to vomit.
    The boys scattered as the trio of militants broke cover to ambush the Humvee. With their machine guns raised up, they shredded the Humvee’s interior, before Riggins could escape or return fire.
    Then they circled around Stokes, jeered him as he spat bile into the sand. Since his eardrums had been blown out, he couldn’t hear what they were saying, and his eyes, coated in blast residue, struggled to focus.
    Then came the beating.
    The Arabs mercilessly kicked him about the face until he spat out teeth. Next, they simultaneously pummelled his ribs and testicles. When they began stomping on his bloody stump, Stokes passed out.
    They’d done everything possible to maim him. Yet for some reason, no doubt wicked, they let him live. Perhaps they’d determined that his mutilation was punishment far greater than death.
    Big mistake.
    For hours he lay there, bloodied and beaten, cooking in the sun. Onlookers came and went, going about their business, some stopping to spit on him. All he could think was how he’d given his life to save these people - the great liberator - and not one came to his aid.
    Was this how the freedom fighters were to be repaid? he’d wondered.
    Finally, when he’d given up hope, one person did come for him: the man who would for ever change Stokes’s life; the man who would confide in him a divine secret protected since the beginning of recorded history … and who would guide him down the path to ultimate retribution.
    As Stokes continued to stare in wonderment at the clay tablet, he recalled a second set of playing cards issued to Iraqi ground troops by the Department of Defense - tips on how to sensitively handle Iraq’s archaeological treasures.
    He thought about the omnipotent words on the three-of-spades: ‘To understand the meaning of an artifact, it must be found and studied in its original setting.’
    Equally telling was the message from the six-of-diamonds: ‘Thousands of artifacts are disappearing from Iraq and Afghanistan. Report suspicious behavior.’
    But the Jack-of-hearts seemed to know his future best: ‘Local elders may be a good source of information about cultural heritage and archaeology.’
    Indeed, Randall Stokes’s destiny certainly was ‘in the cards’.

17
IRAQ
    ‘Give it some more gas!’ Jason yelled down to the driver.
    The MRAP’s 450-horsepower Mack diesel engine rumbled. The winch’s braided steel cable stretched even tighter, straining to pull free a mammoth mountain chunk that easily weighed ten tons. The rock was wedged in tight, anchoring the debris pile that had slid down to block the cave entrance. Even larger boulders had toppled almost twenty metres down the slope before coming to a rest.
    Jason’s thinking was simple: pull this Big Mama out from the bottom of the heap, let gravity do the rest.
    While the MRAP continued to pull, Jason monitored the two cable loops that Crawford’s marines had managed to lasso around the boulder, hoping they wouldn’t slip or snap under the extreme pressure.
    ‘Come on, Big Mama …’
    Some gritty scratching.
    A sharp pop.
    The marines retreated further along the slope’s thin ridge.
    ‘Come on …’ He kept his hand raised and kept his finger spinning in circles so the driver knew not to ease off the gas.
    The first steel loop suddenly snapped and whipped out on a wide arc. Jason managed to duck and weave before it lashed his

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