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Check out another excerpt of MEG: Generations by Steve Alten!

Placeholder of  -12Need more motivation to grab a copy of MEG: Generations by Steve Alten? Today, as a part of MEG Week: A 7-Day Period of Shark-Related Content, we’re sharing another excerpt with you!

About MEG: Generations:

DUBAI: An impossibility is being taken to the Middle East. The transport vessel Tonga is carrying a liopleurodon to the City of Gold. But while investors gawk at the prehistoric creature, any even more dangerous creature is beginning to stir.

The megalodon shark that Jonas Taylor worked so hard to capture is coming out of it’s drug-induced stupor and refuses to be contained. No both ancient creatures, older than mankind itself, are loose in the waters of the Arabian Sea, and the region will never be the same.

Head here to read the rest of the MEG Week content!


The disgruntled naval engineer plugged his headphones back in as the helicopter began its vertical descent over the Tonga’s helipad, their arrival having done little to slow down the crown prince’s pitch.

“. . . That’s the beauty of internal fertilization. All the pups are female, each a genetic clone of their mother. That means our Liopleurodon pup will grow into a thirty-seven-meter monster, just as Angel’s daughter, Zahra, will be her mother’s mirror image.”

A smattering of applause was followed by the chopper’s landing gear touching down. One by one the men climbed out, crossing the tanker’s enormous deck to where a set of bleachers had been set up before a three-story-high, five-hundred-thousand-gallon aquarium.

Bin Rashidi was the last person to deboard. As he stepped down from the helicopter he was met by the crown prince. His cousin’s personal attorney, Kirsty Joyce, was standing two paces behind him hold- ing a leather briefcase.

“Fiesal, things have changed. Our costs have skyrocketed, and I need to recapitalize the venture or we’ll be bankrupt before we open.” He turned to the British woman, who handed him two copies of a legal document. “I’m releasing another ten million shares of the company—” “Diluting my twenty percent to . . . ?” Bin Rashidi scanned the five- page addendum, his hand shaking. “A buyout? I was the one who came to you with this idea . . . the location of the Panthalassa Sea . . . the design of the tanks. Cousin, how can you do this to me?”

“I am offering you ten million dollars for your stock. Most people would be grateful.”

“Once it’s open, the park will make that every hour.”

“You mean, if it opens. My accountants estimate our start-up costs will exceed twenty-four billion before we book our first reservation. Will you be putting up that money, Fiesal?”

“We’re already booked three years in advance.”

“And those deposits must all be returned if I cannot recapitalize the venture. Sign the contract and Ms. Joyce will wire the funds into your account. Don’t sign, and my next offer will be half that amount.”

Fiesal bin Rashidi felt the blood rush to his cheeks. Taking the pen from the blond attorney, he signed the two signature pages, the crown prince’s authorizations already stamped and notarized.

Kirsty Joyce filed one of the copies in her brief. Removing her iPhone, she quickly texted instructions to the crown prince’s bank. “The funds have been wired.”

“Plans within plans, eh, cousin?” “Excuse me?”

“It’s been nine days since the Tonga arrived, nine days since the blood sport occurred in the Tanaka Lagoon. And yet the Miocene whale has still not been released, the contract to sell the Taylors’ facility to Agricola Industries is yet to be signed.”

“As Ms. Joyce will tell you, there are still several deal points being negotiated.”

The attorney nodded. “There is a legal question as to which party owns the teeth from the two deceased Megalodons, as well as the adult Lio. As you can imagine, each tooth can bring in quite a lot of money. Mr. Agricola is claiming owner’s rights to the albino Megalodon, Lizzy, since he captured the shark after it had escaped—”

Fiesal held up his palm. “There is an old Arab saying, ‘Avoid the com- pany of liars, but if you can’t, then be sure you never believe them.’ I may not be royalty, Ms. Joyce, but do not take me for a fool.” He turned back to his cousin. “I see Governor Skinner is among your entourage.” “Is it a crime to extend the courtesy of an invitation to a political ally?” “You mean a future bedfellow, don’t you, cousin? There will be no deal with the Canadian. You mean to keep the Tanaka Institute for yourself, along with the Miocene whale, which will occupy the lagoon.” “And will I also be spending half a billion dollars to place a dome over this thirty-year-old facility?”

“The sale of the two Megalodon siblings’ teeth alone would cover that expense.”

“And when the bull dies?”

“You have a living specimen and a modern relative in the sperm whale. Cloning the species would be a relatively easy task for our genetics team, on par with what the Russians are doing to bring back the woolly mammoth. The bigger concern is one of real estate. How much land will the governor make available for you in Carmel and Monterey to build your hotels and theme park?”

“An interesting theory, Fiesal—one I’d advise you to keep to your- self. You wouldn’t want to violate the nondisclosure section of the buy- out agreement you just signed.”

“Is that it then?”

“I see no reason for you to attend tonight’s festivities. Gather your belongings and the pilot will take you back to San Francisco.”

The crown prince turned to his attractive personal attorney. “Come, Ms. Joyce . . . let us introduce the Lio to our new partners.”

At eleven hundred feet from bow to stern and a hundred ninety-six feet wide, the Tonga was as large as an aircraft carrier, and when her hold was filled to capacity, she displaced more weight. A floating steel island, the Malacca-class crude tanker was anchored less than a mile of shore, her starboard flank several hundred yards from the entrance of the canal that led into the Tanaka Institute’s man-made lagoon.

The ship’s superstructure towered twelve stories above the stern,  the Lio’s holding tank erected in its shadow. Sixty feet in diameter and thirty feet high, the circular Lexan aquarium had been flown in from the Dubai-Land resort and assembled by Jacqueline Buchwald and her staff to better care for the Lio pup during the anticipated three-week voyage to Dubai.

Like excited children on Christmas Day, the crown prince’s entourage hurried across the deck to join the other invited guests and members of the media, all of whom were busy snapping photos and taking video of the star attraction.

While the business pitch from their billionaire host had certainly been convincing, it paled in comparison with actually seeing the Liopleurodon circling within its tank. Only a month old, the pliosaur was already a dangerous predator, its jaws sporting two-to-five-inch dagger-like teeth, the largest of which jutted outside of its mouth. Flapping along its short, powerful neck were six gill slits. While the creature’s ancestors that had dominated the Late Jurassic seas were air- breathing marine reptiles, the subspecies that had escaped extinction in the Panthalassa Sea had adapted to their new deep-water environment by growing gills, rendering them “reptilian fish.”

What really surprised the crown prince’s  guests  was  how  large  the Lio had grown in such a short amount of time. When the public had last seen the pliosaur, it had measured eight feet from the tip of its crocodile-like snout to the point of its stubby tail and weighed just under two hundred and fifty pounds. Its transformation during this past week in captivity had been startling. While its length had increased by 50 percent, its girth had more than doubled. The marine biologists on board the Tonga theorized the pliosaur’s incredible growth spurt could be credited to a diet much higher in fat content than the prey the juvenile might normally find in the Panthalassa Sea, combined with the aquarium’s increased oxygen content. The latter also helped to explain the creature’s hyperkinetic movements.

Lead-gray on top with a speckled belly, the juvenile killer glided around the tank on a single burst from its paddle-like forelimbs with the dexterity of a seal, using its hindquarters as a rudder from which to steer. With both sets of limbs pumping in open water, it could give a speedboat a run for its money.

The animal remained close to the inside of the glass, the dark pupil of its yellow right eye appearing cold and calculating as it circled counterclockwise, watching the watchers.

A few of the VIPs had brought their children to the event. When a six- year-old boy went running toward the tank, the Lio banked on a dime to intercept, its jaws wide and outstretched and ready to swallow the shrieking child down its hideous pink gullet, had the three-inch-thick, bulletproof Lexan glass not been in the way.

This reaction naturally spurred a dozen copycats, and within minutes, the videos had gone viral.

Fiesal bin Rashidi entered his stateroom, not surprised to find his be- longings already packed, his two suitcases and duffel bag tagged, the airline ticket left on top of his laptop. He checked the itinerary. San Francisco to Dubai, leaving at eleven-thirty tonight, with a layover in New York. Not only does he have me on the red-eye, he has me flying coach . . .

“No good deed goes unpunished, eh, cousin.”

Whomp!

The jolt felt as if the Tonga had run aground, only Fiesal knew that was impossible, as the tanker was poised over the depths of the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon. A quick glance at his watch confirmed it was only 12:52 p.m.

I told Buchwald 2 p.m……. I was very clear—

His walkie-talkie buzzed and he grabbed it of its charger. “Bridge to Mr. bin Rashidi.”

“I’m here. Go ahead, Mr. Slatford.”

“Sir, did you feel that jolt? The captain’s concerned the whale may be attempting to break out of the hold. I tried to raise Ms. Buchwald, but she hasn’t responded. The skipper wants me to send an armed detail below—”

“That’s not necessary. I’ll check on Brutus; you can send one of the crew to my quarters to load my belongings on board the chopper.”

Walkie-talkie in hand, Fiesal left his suite and headed down a corridor to the stairwell. He descended three flights, exiting to a small corridor which led to a watertight door set inside the bulkhead.

 

STARBOARD WALKWAY

Keep Door Closed at All Times

Fiesal selected one of the fur-lined parkas hanging from hooks along the wall and slipped the coat on. He grabbed a flashlight from a footlocker and tested it to make sure the batteries were good. Then he pressed down on the steel handle of the watertight door, wrenched it open, and entered the hold, pulling it closed behind him.

Stepping out onto the walkway, he was greeted by a howl of chilled air. The narrow steel path ran from the stern to the bow, hugging the starboard bulkhead.

Fiesal aimed the beam of his flashlight at the water, surprised to  see an enormous wake rolling away from him toward the bow. Why is there a wake in the hold? We’re not moving; there should be no—

“Hello?”

The voice was female and faint, coming from somewhere up ahead. He proceeded down the walkway, guided by the strand of Christmas lights until he reached the catwalk’s bridge or what remained of it.

“Down here!”

Fiesal aimed the beam of his flashlight below, where Jacqueline Buchwald was holding on to the guardrail.

“Get a rope!”

Before he could reply, an immense silver-gray mass raced beneath the collapsed catwalk—

followed by a massive swell that swallowed the bridge, and the female biologist with it, the wave cresting three feet over the starboard catwalk, soaking Fiesal’s lower torso as it rolled in the direction of the stern.

Whomp—boom!

The enraged whale struck the keel’s steel plates with the force of a train hitting a brick building—

while the swell climbed the far end of the tank to blast the under- side of the deck five stories overhead, the displacement of ballast actually raising the Tonga’s prow three feet out of the sea.

Fiesal ran toward the impact as the swell receded beneath his perch in the opposite direction, the retreating depths revealing the creature’s midsection as Brutus squeezed through the gap it had created in the hull, its wriggling torso pushing the opening wider—

until the leviathan’s fluke disappeared into open ocean.

The Pacific rushed into the tanker, the water level rising quickly. Yanking open the watertight door, bin Rashidi stepped out into the corridor and resealed it behind him. He tossed the coat on the floor and hurried up six flights of stairs, his mind racing.

Get to the chopper; don’t create a scene. As long as the watertight  doors remain sealed, the ship will stay afloat.

He emerged on the main deck, realizing his pants and shoes were dripping wet. He slowed his pace to a natural walk, watching the producer of Dubai-Land’s reality show stalking him in his peripheral vision.

“Mr. bin Rashidi!”

He struggled to recall the man’s name. Barry . . . Tucker? Barry Walker? He spotted the Star of David hanging around his neck. “Yes, Mr. Zuckerman?”

“What just happened? It felt like we ran aground.” “Nonsense.”

“Then what was it?”

“It was Brutus. Our marine biologist had to add seawater to his pen to bring him out of his stupor. He’s getting a bit agitated; she may have to release him earlier than we planned.”

“Why wasn’t I told? There’s a ton of shots we still need to get on video.” He retrieved a walkie-talkie from his Windbreaker pocket. “Pony- boy, it’s Barry. Get your second unit down to the hold—the whale is conscious. Is that British MMA actor on board yet?”

“Lee Shone? He’s posing by the Lio tank.”

“Bring him below and get his shots.” He looked at bin Rashidi. “How much time do we have?”

“Not much. “Turning on his heel, bin Rashidi headed for his cousin’s helicopter, his soaked shoes and socks leaving a trail of wet marks.

The swell had hit the catwalk like a thirty-foot-high tsunami, the cur- rent stripping the sneakers and socks from Jackie’s feet as she held on to the guardrail for dear life—until the entire span of twisted metal was swept away, dragging her with it.

She released the anchor of steel and fought her way to the surface, only the wave refused to let her go, carrying her a hundred feet be- fore lifting her straight up the stern bulkhead to the ceiling. Flailing blindly, she managed to grab hold of a ceiling strut and hold on as the swell suddenly fell back into the tank, leaving her dangling from a new perch—seventy feet above the retreating waters.

Grunting and shaking from the cold, she raised her right leg up to the ceiling’s steel framework, her bare foot snaking its way atop a sup- port beam until she was able to pull herself into a seated position.

Jackie looked down. As she watched, the water level rose above the starboard walkway’s rail, causing the Christmas lights to spark and short.

Brutus must have punched through the hull. . . .

“Oh, Jesus, I’m going to drown.”

Order Your Copy of MEG: Generations

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How Would the Forge Team Survive a Shark Attack?

Placeholder of  -6Since Forge is publishing a book about a giant shark, you’d think that we’d know all the tips and tricks on how to survive a shark attack. That being said, we’ve probably spent more time reading about the Meg than swimming in shark-infested waters.

To test our coworker’s survival skills, we asked them how they would fend off a shark attack, and the answers ranged from sensible to, well, a bit out-of-the-box.

(Spoiler-Alert: the answers include a lot of firm snoot-booping and fast swimming.)

Head here to read the rest of the MEG Week content! 


Chris Morgan, Editor

Look, if Flipper taught me anything, it’s to punch ’em the gills or nose. 

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Rachel Taylor, Tor Marketing Manager

I would give the shark a light but firm *boop* on the nose to startle them then paddle myself away as fast as humanly possible–that works in real life right?! :’)

(Also, I am MORTALLY and irrationally afraid of sharks, so if I actually did see a shark IRL i would probably drop dead of heart failure first, not going to lie.)

 

Jordan Hanley, Nightfire Marketing Manager

As an ocean-dwelling sea-person (aka, I grew up near the ocean), I think the most rational way to survive a shark attack would be to kindly and compassionately smack that cartlidge puppy on the snoot with a foot, and then doggy paddle away with the least amount of splashing possible. I’d then get out of the water immediately, never to return to my sea palaces. 

 

Jennifer McClelland-Smith, Forge Marketing Manager

Well, as the second-place finisher in the butterfly in the Central Ohio 10 & under swim team championship in 1987, I would use my superior swimming abilities to escape a shark attack. Of course, there were only 2 people in that particular event, so I guess what I’m saying is that I would not survive a shark attack.

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a bunch of raccoons in a trench coat, Tor Marketing Manager

The best way to survive a shark attack is to make yourself appear larger. Then, play dead. It’s foolproof.

 

Sarah Pannenberg, Digital Marketing Coordinator

I would look directly at the shark and stare deep into its soul, in the hopes that it reevaluates its decision to attack a random, innocent human. While it’s in the middle of an existential crisis, I’d jump on its back and ride off into the sunset. Now we’re best friends!

 

Matt Rusin, Editorial Assistant

Well, I think it depends on what kind of shark we’re talking about here. If it’s a Great White, kicking it in the nose or gills would be my first thought. But if it’s a rogue dogfish nipping my heel I’d probably just shoo it away like a fly.

 

Order Your Copy of MEG: Generations

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The Great Sharks of Pop Culture

Image Placeholder of - 64By Jennifer McClelland-Smith

It’s unanimous here at Forge… we love the MEG. The prehistoric giant shark star of Steve Alten’s thrill-ride of a book series and a hit movie tops the list of our favorite sharks. What’s not to love about a 2 million-year-old monster seven miles below the surface striking terror in the hearts of all who encounter him? In celebration of MEG: Generations, the latest in the series, we’re taking a look at some of our other favorite sharks in pop culture.

Head here to read the rest of the MEG Week content! 


Jaws (Yeah, we know, his name is Bruce)
First introduced in Peter Benchley’s book and made legendary by Steven Spielberg, that famous “duh-nuh, duh-nuh” will forever be the first thing we think of when we see a shark fin in the water. The curiously determined sharks of the Jaws franchise tormented the Brody family over multiple films, featured in an infamously ridiculous 3D adventure, and inspired the infamous tagline “This time it’s personal.” Jaws is the original reason not to go in the water.

Land Shark
Chevy Chase was Land Shark, one of the first Saturday Night Live characters that got people talking around the watercooler. He may strike “at any place, at any time,” most famously on the fourth episode of SNL, in which he menaced an unwitting Candice Bergen. Land Shark has us double-checking the peep hole whenever we hear the word “Candygram.”

Left Shark
It was a simple enough task. Wear a shark costume and dance to the left of Katy Perry at the 2015 Super Bowl. Despite this humble assignment, Left Shark created a legacy that will last a Halftime. The millions watching that night reveled in the hapless, flailing motions of a giant, distracting cartoon shark. Dreams can come true.

Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached to Their Heads
As Chekhov taught us, if in the first movie you mention Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached to Their Heads, by the third movie you better have Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached to Their Heads. Dr. Evil is promised the aforementioned creatures in the original Austin Powers, but is forced to make do with ill-tempered sea bass. It wasn’t until the third movie, Austin Powers in Goldmember, that Dr. Evil and audiences alike were finally able to witness these weaponized predators of the deep.

Baby Shark
Without a doubt the cruelest and most dangerous creature on this list… Pinkfong’s own Baby Shark. Ask any parent of a kid under 5. The mere mention of the word shark to any toddler is enough to start the cries of “Doo doo doo doo doo doo”. Even MEG might not be up for taking on the everlasting earworm power of Baby Shark.

 

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Forge Books Presents, MEG Week: A 7-Day Period of Shark-Related Content

Image Place holder  of - 4To get ready for the release of MEG: Generations by Steve Alten (swimming your way on July 21st), we’ve devised a digital celebration unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Introducing MEG Week: A 7-Day Period of Shark-Related Content!

What’s that you say? This sounds familiar? Don’t be silly, there has never been a period of 7 days to celebrate these finned creatures like MEG Week! Throughout the week, we’ll be sharing all the best Shark-Related Content on our blog and across our social media accounts. Make sure to tune in, we’ll be having a fin-tastic time!


The Great Sharks of Pop Culture

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How Would the Forge Team Survive a Shark Attack?

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Order Your Copy of MEG: Generations

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Excerpt: MEG: Generations by Steve Alten

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In MEG: Generations, Steve Alten New York Times bestselling author continues his terrifying series.

DUBAI: An impossibility is being taken to the Middle East. The transport vessel Tonga is carrying a liopleurodon to the City of Gold. But while investors gawk at the prehistoric creature, any even more dangerous creature is beginning to stir.

The megalodon shark that Jonas Taylor worked so hard to capture is coming out of it’s drug-induced stupor and refuses to be contained. No both ancient creatures, older than mankind itself, are loose in the waters of the Arabian Sea, and the region will never be the same.

MEG: Generations will be available on July 21, 2020. Please enjoy the following excerpt.


Aboard the Tonga

Tanaka Oceanographic Institute
Monterey, California

The bull was lost.

For the entirety of its adult existence it had been the master of its domain―a domain defined by sound. A simple clickety-click and the silver-gray behemoth immediately recognized its territory, be it the subglacial lake in Antarctica where its kind had survived for eons, the shallows where its harem of cows had birthed their calves, or the now-accessible depths of the Southern Ocean where the dominant male had, up until recently, foraged for food.

None were present. Nor was there a memory of how the bull had come to be in this unrecognizable sea. And so it took refuge in the shallows in a semiconscious stupor, its blowhole remaining free of the water.

Jacqueline Buchwald adjusted the hood of her parka over her shoulder-length, strawberry-blond hair, the air temperature inside the bowels of the Malacca-class oil tanker kept at a brisk 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The Tonga and her sister ship, the Mogamigawa, no longer transported crude, their enormous holds having been scrubbed and refitted with seawater pens by their new owner―a Dubai crown prince―to stock Dubai-Land, his ambitious prehistoric aquarium theme park in the United Arab Emirates. The size of the tank was a necessity―the species targeted for capture were among the largest and most dangerous life-forms ever to have existed on the planet.

The twenty-six-year-old marine biologist stood dead center of the catwalk, a narrow expanse of grated steel connecting the two walkways anchored along the port and starboard bulkheads. The hold was purposely kept dark in order to accommodate the eyes of the nocturnal species they had been hunting over the past year, the only light coming from strings of Christmas decorations wrapped around the walkway’s guardrails.

Jackie used the night-vision scope of her harpoon gun to search the dark waters forty feet below her perch for the lone animal that now occupied the Tonga’s hold. Jonas Taylor had dubbed the creature “Brutus,” and the name was apropos; at eighty feet and a hundred eighty-seven thousand pounds, the Livyatan melvillei was certainly a brute. Unlike the other prehistoric species, the Miocene whale had been discovered in an ancient habitat somewhere in Antarctica, its location safeguarded by Jonas’s colleague, Zachary Wallace, the marine biologist who, years earlier, had resolved the mystery of the monster that inhabited Loch Ness.

Capturing the Miocene whale had been an accident. Jonas’s son, David, had set the Tonga’s nets at the exit point of an Antarctic bay to capture the adult Liopleurodon they had been chasing for nearly a year when Brutus showed up, springing the trap.

Three weeks had passed since the whale’s capture. The feisty bull was not keen on being held inside the tight confines of the tanker, forcing Jackie to introduce phenobarbital into its pen to calm the beast. It was a tricky proposition; too little tranquilizer and the prehistoric mammal might go berserk, too much and it could drown.

Her employer, Fiesal bin Rashidi, had made it clear that he was in favor of the latter.

“Miss Buchwald, I did not spend tens of millions of dollars and eight long months at sea to capture a whale.”

“This isn’t just a whale, sir. Livyatan melvillei was a prehistoric sperm whale, only it possessed the lower jaw of an orca. Megalodon and melvillei were the two dominant predators during the Miocene era . . . maybe of all time. This creature’s teeth are actually bigger than a Meg’s teeth, and its bite is just as powerful. Your cousin just purchased the Tanaka Institute from the Taylors; the lagoon would be perfect for Brutus.”

“And what happens when it dies? All our specimens are female, capable of internal fertilization. You know firsthand that we’ve been storing eggs to ensure our exhibits’ longevity. This menace is a male. Without a female, the creature is a dead-end investment.

“The public also feels differently about penning a whale―even a prehistoric menace like this creature. Animal rights groups are staging protests outside the governor’s mansion in Sacramento. The crown prince has agreed to release the animal during this afternoon’s festivities aboard the Tonga. A special tracking device has been prepared. At precisely two o’clock, an hour before the prince makes his speech, I want you to tag the whale and prepare it to be released. Is that clear?”

“Two o’clock . . . yes, sir.”

Jackie peered through the harpoon gun’s night scope, which lifted the veil of darkness, rendering everything olive green. Bin Rashidi had given her an hour to tag the melvillei with the radio transmitter and then bring it out of its drug-induced state by adding fresh seawater to the tank so that it would be able to escape under its own power once they opened the tanker’s keel doors.

An hour’s not nearly enough time. Brutus has been drugged for three weeks; it could take several hours before he comes around. The last thing the crown prince wants is for the whale to go belly-up in front of the international news media.

She glanced at her cell phone to check the time before placing it in the ziplock bag and tucking it in the back pocket of her jeans.

Twelve-fifteen. Tag it and then wait another fifteen minutes before you add fresh water.

She located the semiconscious bull in the shallows where the keel angled to conform to the Tonga’s bow. Selecting a location between the whale’s blowhole and its dorsal hump, she

squeezed the trigger and fired. The harpoon buried the transmitter four feet inside the Miocene whale’s spermaceti organ, eliciting a stabbing pain accompanied by a burst of adrenaline that lifted the phenobarbital-induced fog.

Enraged, Brutus slapped its tail along the surface as it lurched ahead―beaching itself in

twenty feet of water.

The sensation of being trapped sent the beast into full panic mode. Whipping itself into a

barrel-roll, it attempted to dive, only to end up stuck on its side, its fluke unable to strike the hull in order to gain leverage, its ninety-three tons crushing its lungs and internal organs.

Jackie watched the Miocene whale through the night scope as it flailed helplessly on its left flank, seconds from flipping over onto its back. She reached for the walkie-talkie held snugly inside a holster clipped to her belt. “Bridge, this is Buchwald―pickup, goddammit!”

“This is Ensign Slatford.”

“Andrew, Brutus beached himself. Open the stern hatch; we need to raise the water level so he can swim free.”

“Jackie, I can’t add ballast without clearing it with the captain.”

“Then ask him; just do it fast!”

“Standby.”

Jackie removed the night scope from the harpoon gun and faced the stern. Thirty seconds passed before a stream of bubbles and foam rose to the surface, indicating the keel doors were open.

She returned her gaze through the night scope to Brutus. The water level was rising about a foot a minute, gradually lifting the beached behemoth, which was wriggling furiously while desperately slapping its fluke against the steel hull to prevent itself from going belly-up.

The rising tide finally floated the behemoth. It rolled onto its belly and wriggled away from the bow’s shallow incline until it slipped beneath the dark waters and disappeared.

“Buchwald to bridge―we’re good. Andrew, close the keel doors.”

“Roger that.”

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt

The double blast of echolocation sent Jackie’s skull reverberating as if it had been struck by a giant tuning fork. Looking down, she saw a ten-foot wake pass along the surface as Brutus accelerated toward the stern end of the hold two football fields away.

The water was rancid, permeated with the toxic scent and taste of phenobarbital, the acidic animal tranquilizer burning the delicate tissues of the whale’s blowhole. The fresh ocean water entering the tanker’s hold was a river of life.

The whale raced for it, homing in on its cooler temperatures.

Whomp!

The Miocene whale’s squared-off skull impacted and popped open a seam of rivets connecting two steel plates along the stern’s inner hull. Jackie registered the collision deep inside her bones. A moment later, she experienced a wave of nausea as the rusted grating beneath her feet began to shake and the darkness on her right squealed its final warning.

Dropping the harpoon gun, she grabbed for the safety rail and held on as the bolts connecting the bridge to the port bulkhead snapped and suddenly one side of the catwalk dropped, the grating sliding out from beneath her as it collapsed at a forty-five-degree angle.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God―”

The loose end of the bridge splashed down into the water, the starboard bulkhead holding tight.

Jackie pulled herself up, managing to straddle the rail. Realizing she had dropped the walkie-talkie, she looked down in time to see an undulating gray mass pass twenty feet beneath her unsteady perch―

Brutus heading back to the bow to make another assault on the stern.

The Bell 525 helicopter soared south above the Pacific coast on its short excursion from downtown San Francisco. Among its thirteen passengers was the CEO of the Emirates National Oil Company; one of the presidents of the National Bank of Fujairah; Ryan Skinner, the newly elected governor of California; a half-dozen chairmen representing three of the largest construction companies in Dubai; and a reporter with the Gulf News.

There were also two Arab security men, their Glocks bulging beneath the jackets of their dark suits.

The man seated alone in the last row unplugged his headphones, cutting off the voice of his first cousin. Crown Prince Walid Abu Naba’a had been pitching his entourage of financial backers about “his” aquarium and “his” juvenile Liopleurodon from the moment they had taken off from the rooftop of their hotel, and Fiesal bin Rashidi could not handle another Word.

Your Liopleurodon? Was it you who spent the last eight months aboard the Tonga, chasing that creature’s mother across the Pacific Ocean? Was it you who had to deal with a mutinous crew after you threatened to cancel their bonus checks?

The only reason we captured that monster’s offspring is because I held the mission together. . . me, cousin. Not you. Instead, you’ve reduced me to an afterthought. Do you think that I cannot hear the whispers of deceit coming from back home . . . your discussions to buy out my twenty percent? To replace me as director of Dubai-Land?

Without me, there would be no aquarium . . . there would be no Dubai-Land!

Fiesal bin Rashidi massaged the tension knotting beneath his unibrow. The Dubai-Land Resort and Aquarium was on the verge of becoming the entertainment mecca of the world. Yet by the time the park opened, he would be as forgotten as Billy Wilkerson, the man who had lost the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas to Bugsy Siegel.

Like his father before him, Fiesal bin Rashidi was an engineer, earning his degrees from Cambridge, his field of interest targeting naval applications.He had been working on the Chunnel when a friend introduced him to a marine biologist in need of someone with his Expertise.

Dr. Michael Maren had been as paranoid as he was brilliant―an odd chap who had avoided eye contact when he spoke and trusted no one. His mother had died recently, leaving him an abundance of wealth with which to pursue his scientific endeavors. Maren had been interested in exploring the deepest ocean trenches in the world and was looking to hire a naval engineer who could design a deep-water habitat possessing a submersible docking station capable of withstanding water pressures in excess of nineteen thousand pounds per square inch.

The challenge had been enormous, the requirement a bit baffling, since the Mariana Trench, the deepest known location on the planet, possessed sixteen thousand pounds of pressure. Still, the job paid well and Fiesal could work on it while he completed his work on the Chunnel.

Over the next three years the naval engineer had tested half a dozen different designs before coming up with one that had proved stable enough to flood and drain a docking station nine miles beneath the surface. Two titanium habitats had been built while Maren’s research vessel was fitted with an A-frame, winch, and steel cable strong enough to lower and raise the enormous weight. After five years of construction and tests, the marine biologist ad been ready to set sail to “an unexplored realm.” Fiesal had been offered a position on the maiden voyage, but the thought of spending upward of a year at sea with the volatile scientist and his lover/assistant, Allison Petrucci, held no appeal. With the Chunnel complete, Fiesal had accepted an offer from his father’s firm, returning to Dubai to work on the emirate’s new airport.

Eighteen months later, he had been contacted by Allison Petrucci, who informed him Dr.

Maren was dead. After coercing the engineer into signing a nondisclosure agreement, the woman had presented him with evidence of an unexplored sea that dated back hundreds of millions of years, possessing ancient marine life that could be captured and placed on exhibit. For a seven-figure sum she would provide Fiesal with the coordinates of an access point into the realm her fiancé had referred to as the Panthalassa Sea.

Bin Rashidi had needed more convincing. He got it when the woman had produced a map of the Philippine Sea Plate, indicating that the ancient sea actually resided beneath the Mariana Trench. Years earlier, Jonas Taylor had theorized that these same depths harbored a warm-layer habitat that supported a subspecies of Megalodon, a sixty-foot prehistoric cousin of the great white shark. He had proven it to the world when one of the monstrous sharks―a pregnant female―had risen to the surface. Taylor had been forced to kill the beast, but its surviving pup, Angel, had grown into a seventy-four-foot monster, and for years was the star attraction of the Tanaka Oceanographic Institute.

If Fiesal could bring such an attraction to Dubai . . .

The Middle East was a battleground. America’s military interventions in Iraq and a failed Arab Spring had only added more fuel to that fire. Democracy had been subverted in Egypt, autocratic rule festered in Syria and Iran, and ISIS militants were threatening both Arab states and the West.

Three months after his meeting with Allison Petrucci, Fiesal bin Rashidi had presented his first cousin, Crown Prince Walid Abu Naba’a, with a business plan for Dubai-Land, a marine theme park featuring a dozen five-star hotels centered around massive aquariums stocked with real prehistoric sea monsters. The popularity of the Tanaka Institute had proven the public’s love of aquatic beasts; Dubai-Land would take the concept multiple steps further, making their country the number one tourist destination in the world. Just as important, the aquarium would present Westerners with a more positive opinion of Muslims, while inoculating the UAE against the threat of radical Islam.

Bin Rashidi had designed the supersized aquariums himself. He had also identified two Malacca-class crude oil tankers, the Tonga and the Mogamigawa, that could be purchased from the Japanese. All that was needed was the crown prince’s capital and someone to lead the underwater safari to stock their exhibits.

Jonas Taylor was the unanimous choice—only the former Navy submersible pilot and marine biologist had flatly refused. He and Dr. Maren had crossed paths before, the last time culminating in Michael’s death. The Tanaka Institute did agree to sell two of Angel’s four surviving Megalodon offspring to the crown prince, along with four of its deep-sea Manta Submersibles.

But there was another Taylor who had captured Fiesal’s eye―Jonas’s son, David. The cocky twenty-one-year-old was not only a highly skilled Manta pilot, but he seemed fearless around the Megalodons. A lucrative summer job offer in Dubai to stabilize the two Meg runts in their new aquariums was the lure to bring David to the UAE; but it was a summer romance with one of their pilot candidates―Kaylie Szeifert―that would send him into the depths of the Panthalassa Sea searching for ancient prehistoric monsters.

Locating the Panthalassa life-forms had been easy; drawing them into the surface ships’ nets had proved to be a bit more challenging. After several months, the submersible crews had managed to capture four different species, two of which perished inside their tanker Pens.

And then Fiesal bin Rashidi had laid eyes on the Liopleurodon.

The creature was an aberration of evolution—a specimen that Fiesal knew would easily become the identity of the aquarium. While the rest of the crew aboard the Tonga remained mesmerized by the Lio, Fiesal had fired a tracking device into the animal’s back as it surfaced, ensuring they would not lose their prized quarry.

For the next eight months, the aquarium director and his crew aboard the Tonga had chased after the hundred-twenty-two-foot creature as it trekked across the Western Pacific and south to Antarctica. The Lio had refused to surface, and Fiesal’s team of submersible pilots had been too afraid to venture close enough to engage the goliath and lure it into the tanker’s nets. Compounding the problem was the failure of bin Rashidi’s second unit aboard the Mogamigawa to capture a pod of Shonisaurus that had escaped the Panthalassa Sea. With only three of the twelve exhibits occupied, the crown prince’s initial excitement about the aquarium had waned, turning Fiesal’s optimism into doubt, his joy festering into resentment, frustration, and bitterness.

A sense of gloom seemed to hang over the Tonga. Desperate, lacking a game plan, and clearly out of his element, Fiesal bin Rashidi had lost the respect of his crew. The driving force behind the aquarium had spent his days alone in his stateroom, a prisoner to his own ambition. Women no longer interested him, gold no longer shimmered. Stuck on a seemingly endless voyage of damnation, Fiesal bin Rashidi, once the favored cousin of the crown prince, had become his albatross.

And then David Taylor had arrived on board the Mogamigawa and lady luck had returned. Three prehistoric sea creatures had been captured within thirty-six hours, including a Mosasaurus.

It was as if the sun had shone for the first time in almost a year.

The crown prince arranged for a helicopter to transport David, his friend Monty, and the ship’s female marine biologist, Jacqueline Buchwald, to the Tonga. A buzz of excitement had spread through the crew―David Taylor would take charge of the mission and capture the Lio. The Tonga would return home with its prize, families reunited, bonus checks cashed.

But was the son of Jonas Taylor to be trusted? The Liopleurodon had savagely taken the life of David’s girlfriend, and the young man was clearly haunted by her death.

Was he out to capture the Lio . . . or kill it?

In the end, the answer had turned out to be both.

Copyright © Steve Alten

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