Friday, 3 February 2017

Special offer

My novel The Gordian Knot, the second book in The Torc Trilogy will be available from Amazon as a special offer from Thursday 9th February for one week only. The price of the kindle version will be reduced to just 99p or $1.25

Here is a preview.  
The story begins with a prologue then goes back to Berlin 1943 before returning to modern day where the adventure continues.

Part One
Fountain of Life

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me
Exodus 20:3


A beautifully restored Junkers JU52, nicknamed ‘Iron Annie’ lifted her wheels from the tarmac and rose gracefully into the air.  Olga Zindel and her brother Ernst were at the controls, they were both wearing wide grins across their faces. 
‘Iron Annie’ was heavy and slow to react, but she was a pleasure to fly.  Her cockpit contained none of the refinements of a modern aircraft, but that was her charm.  Constructed in the 1930s, she had been designed using flowing lines and curves that were not just aesthetically pleasing but aerodynamically sound.  Her three BMW Hornet A2 liquid cooled radial engines were original but had been extensively overhauled and it was not just her engines that had been refurbished, her airframe had received a thorough examination and now the aircraft was once again fully operational. 
Olga eased the control column gently forward as the aircraft reached its operational height and at 4000 metres, they settled into level flight.   With the engines set for economic cruising, the vibrations running through the airframe subsided and now both Olga and Ernst could begin to relax and enjoy the ride. 
From the windows on the flight deck, they had a clear view over the mountain range that stretched out ahead of them; it reminded Olga of a wrinkled duvet.  The colour of the terrain was as varied as a patchwork quilt; rich greens indicating thick forest and vegetation interspersed with shades of brown and grey where the rocks and sandy soil formed mountaintops and valleys.
With Olga in the pilot’s seat, Ernst sat at the little navigation table situated just after the flight deck.  One of them would have to remain at the controls at all times; ‘Iron Annie’ was high maintenance, she had no autopilot or satellite navigation systems. 
Speaking into the intercom microphone attached to his earphones, Ernst gave his sister a direction heading and she made the necessary changes to their course.  The noise inside the cockpit made communication impossible; the only way they could make themselves heard was by using the intercom system. 
‘Iron Annie’s’ nose was now pointing due east and her controls were set for level flight, her trim was good and she required less muscle to hold her steady.  Glancing over her shoulder at her brother, Olga nodded her appreciation and a wide grin split her face, she would have it no other way.  She loved to fly vintage aircraft and had logged up many hours.  Ernst preferred to fly modern aeroplanes especially jets but he too had hundreds of hours logged flying old piston engined aircraft.
“Well that’s it.”  Ernst spoke into the microphone.  “I’m going to get us some coffee.”
Easing his long legs from the cramped space, he made his way back into the cargo hold and grasping at the overhead rail, ducked under a bulkhead rib before straightening up in the larger space beyond.  The fuselage resembled a long corrugated tube, the walls made from thin aluminium sheet vibrated and rattled especially when flying through turbulence, but this was nothing unusual.
There was only one crate strapped into the hold and reaching down beside it, he unstrapped his satchel containing a thermos flask and neat packs of sandwiches.
Ernst and Olga were a team, business partners struggling to make ends meet.  They were in the airfreight business but their ageing cargo jet would never pass another bill of health.  Their enterprise was sadly coming to an end as was their relationship with their financiers, so it was an opportunity that neither of them could have imagined when an organisation calling themselves the Phoenix Legion contacted them.  The job on offer was too good to miss; it was hardly a difficult decision to make.  On closer inspection, they discovered that a group of executives devoted to everything German ran the Phoenix Legion and both Olga and Ernst were patriotic enough to appreciate this. 
Glancing around the hold, Ernst had to pinch himself; he still couldn’t believe that he was actually flying a Junkers 52.  The level of restoration was breathtaking, it was as if the old aircraft had just rolled off the production line, but ‘Iron Annie’ was in fact older than he and his sisters combined age. 
He eyed the packing case.  Fabricated from wood, it stood waist high with dimensions that made it a perfect cube, but strangely, it looked a little out of proportion.  He wondered what it contained, they had documents relating to its passage, but the contents remained a mystery, the inventory simply stated archaeological artefacts. 
He was aware that the German high command during World War Two were fascinated by ancient treasures, he also knew that priceless items were stolen from Europe during the German advance.  Maybe this case contained such treasures; he frowned as his imagination threatened to run wild. 
Their destination was also a mystery; an abandoned airfield in northern Turkey, but he was professional enough not to ask questions, it was simply his job to deliver the goods.
Squeezing back into the cockpit, he sat in the co-pilots seat next to his sister and poured two mugs of coffee.  Handing her one he then turned his attention to unwrapping the packs of sandwiches.
“What do you think we are carrying?”  Olga glanced at him as she took the mug.
“I’ve no idea.”  He replied.
Usually she didn’t care about such things but today was different and as Olga chewed thoughtfully on her sandwich she had no idea why her curiosity was aroused, she simply had a burning desire to know what was inside that packing crate.  Earlier she had watched from the edge of the runway as men loaded it into the aircraft and it was then that something strange happened.  The hairs on the back of her neck had stood up and she had an overwhelming desire to look inside the crate.
Curiosity was an infectious thing; she was going to have to satisfy it before long.  Olga shuddered as she checked the instrument panel.  One of the engine temperature gauges was a little high and watching it intently, she realised that the needle was climbing slowly beyond the normal operating range.  There was not yet cause for concern but instinctively she reached for the throttle and reduced the revs to that engine.  This would make little difference to their progress and with a slight adjustment to the trim wheel she nodded with satisfaction.
“Just keep an eye on that Ernst, we don’t want to break it.”  She grinned before handing control over to her brother.
They had been in the air for almost two hours and were flying over a barren mountain range with peaks reaching to just over 3000 metres.  It was not a particularly hazardous journey, there were no high winds or pockets of turbulence to send them jerking across the sky.  The aircraft rose and fell gently in the Mediterranean air, the only thing to rattle the fuselage was the vibrations of the engines.   Olga left her seat and stretched her long legs out before disappearing into the cargo hold.  She was not as big as Ernst and was able to move around much easier in the cramped space.  Once she had used the tiny chemical cubicle, which had been added especially for their convenience, she eyed the packing case with interest.  Reaching out she rested her hand on the warm wooden top and could feel the vibrations of the aircraft running through her fingers.  Pulling her hand away sharply it was as if the case was alive and looking around she mumbled something under her breath, embarrassed by her childish reaction. 
She had to know what was inside.  No one would know if she lifted the lid, she would of course replace it once her curiosity was satisfied. 
Moving towards the maintenance locker, she found a small crowbar and used it to prise off the lid.  The nails came out easily and placing it to one side, she began to feel around with her fingers.  Pushing her hands into the packaging, the shredded paper was like straw protecting the items from a hazardous journey. 
Her fingers touched something solid and lifting it carefully from its resting place, she pulled out a silver flask.  There was no indication to its contents and once she had scrutinised it she put it down carefully beside the crate.  Going in again, she found a package wrapped in greaseproof paper.  Unwrapping it carefully her eyes widened as soon as she saw the light glittering from its twisted golden surface.  A beautifully crafted neck ring appeared in her hands and lifting it higher she knew it was priceless.  It was old; she had seen such things in museums, but never before had she held an object of such ancient beauty.  She recognised it as a Celtic torc crafted from finely twisted white gold and she revelled in its magnificence.  Looking closer she could see gold threads woven together to form a rope thicker than her thumb, the quality of the workmanship was exquisite; she had never seen anything so beautifully worked.  Finials of solid gold had been crafted into the shape of horses’ heads; these adorned the ends and a chain so fine she could hardly see the links.  Although delicately made it was strong even after all these centuries and moving closer to one of the windows set into the fuselage, Olga held it up until it caught the light.  She studied the symbols carved into the gold with interest, she had no idea what they meant; its message from the past was beyond her understanding. 
After the initial shock of her discovery, a wide grin settled on her face and she experienced an overwhelming urge to try it on.  It would do no harm to slip it around her neck.  As soon as the idea flashed into her head, her fingers were unfastening the golden chain, and lifting it up she slipped it over her head. 
The weight of it against her neck was satisfying, its significance as an object of power was re-assuring and it made her feel like a queen.  Wearing such a magnificent object, she could now begin to understand how a chief must have felt. The torc represented the wealth of a nation and she was proud to be wearing it even if it was for just a fleeting moment, besides it could have been her own ancestors worshipping the bearer of such a torc.  Turning towards the cockpit, she wanted to show her brother, the power of the torc was intoxicating, she must share it with Ernst.  She could feel its force running throughout her body, it was like a weak electrical current or a vibration against her skin then suddenly from the corner of her eye, she thought she saw movement.  Turning towards the tail section, she knew it was unlikely, there could not possibly be anyone there, but her eyes widened and she drew in a sharp breath.  Standing at the end of the fuselage was a red haired woman dressed in a long white robe.  Olga blinked, it couldn’t be true, in her heightened state of excitement she realised that her imagination must be running wild, but the woman continued to stare.  Vibrations running through the metal at her throat became stronger and the torc began to feel hot.  It was as if it was alive, like a serpent encircling her neck, it drew tighter and the first glimmer of fear touched her soul.  Moving her hands to her throat, Olga tried to lift the torc over her head.  She wanted rid of it, her breath was coming in quick gasps, and as the torc wound tighter around her neck she cried out in panic, but the sound of her terror was lost in the noise of the aircraft. 
The red haired woman moved slowly towards her and with every step, the illusion became more realistic.  Reaching out, her ice-cold fingertips stung Olga’s cheeks and moving backwards Olga almost stumbled.  She couldn’t pull her eyes away from the woman’s stare, her rich green eyes seemed to burn into her very soul and Olga shuddered as evil thoughts filled her head.  She had no idea where they came from but they occupied her mind until she could think of nothing else.
  Suddenly as if unable to support the overwhelming burden, her legs gave way and she struggled for breath.  The woman looming over her reached out and placed her hands on top of Olga’s head.  She could no longer move and as her eyesight began to fade the red haired woman seemed to enter her head, her evil grin devouring her soul and unable to resist, Olga took her final breath.
In the cockpit, Ernst felt the aircraft lurch and his eyes flew to the instrument panel.  The gauge registering the nose engine’s temperature was dangerously high and it no longer sounded smooth.  Gripping the throttle handle, he eased it back reducing power to the engine and immediately the noise began to subside as the engine responded.  Nudging the two remaining throttles forward, he increased the revs to both wing engines and resumed level flight, he then adjusted the trim wheel to compensate for the distribution of power before shutting down the ailing engine.  As soon as this was done, he opened the cowling flaps to allow cool air to rush into the engine compartment; this would help cool the overheated engine before any more damage could be done.  Slowly the needle on the temperature gauge edged away from the danger zone and Ernst sighed with relief, but then another shudder ran through the aircraft.  Suddenly the port wing rose as it rode an invisible cloud of turbulence and gripping the control yoke tightly, Ernst was experienced enough not to fight the aircraft.  Feeling for its movements, he coaxed it gently until the airframe settled down.
“Olga,” he called over the intercom, “I need you here sister.”  His voice was edged with urgency but there was no response.  Ernst frowned, and thinking the worst wondered if the sudden movement had unbalanced his sister, maybe she had fallen.  If she was injured, there was nothing he could do to help her, he had to remain at the controls his hands were full with flying the aircraft. 
Glancing worriedly over his shoulder, he could see nothing beyond the bulkhead separating the cockpit from the cargo hold.
“Where are you Olga?”  He spoke into the intercom again more urgently this time.
Suddenly the starboard engine began to clatter and glancing at the control panel Ernst turned his head to look out over the wing.  Smoke was billowing from the engine cowling, curling back in dirty black clouds over the wing and he could hardly believe what he saw.  There had been no indication that the engine was about to fail.  Instinctively he reached for the fire extinguisher switch and once activated he watched as black smoke turned to grey.  Ernst held his breath, the next few seconds were critical but with a sigh of relief, there were no flames, the extinguisher had done its job.  The temperature gauge was reading normal and the engine was still running, but he would have to close the cowling louvres.  If there were sparks around the engine the blast of air moving over it may fan them into something more serious, however by doing this the engine would soon overheat just like the first one.  All this ran through his head in a second.  Ernst reduced power to that engine and immediately the propeller began to lose momentum.  He checked his altitude, it was holding at just under 4000 metres, the peaks below fluctuated between 2000 and 3000 metres, this gave him an operational height of just a 1000 metres.  It was a slim margin but if the situation did not become any worse, he was prepared to live with it.  He knew that at some point he might have to trade altitude for airspeed, but with the engines in their condition increasing power and trying to climb was out of the question.
He adjusted the inner flap section of the wings, this effectively lowered the stalling speed and now the aircraft should remain airborne even if it lost more momentum then, easing forward on the throttle, he coaxed a little more power out of the remaining good engine.  The nose began to creep round so he applied pressure to the rudder bar to counter the yaw. 
He had no idea what was going on, what had caused the engines to overheat was a mystery; there must be some mechanical anomaly because none of them were running at full power.
“Olga, I really need you now.”  He shouted into the intercom.  His heart was hammering inside his chest and his mouth had gone dry.  Tightening his grip on the yoke, he could feel every vibration running through the aircraft, then without warning the starboard engine coughed and its propeller seized.  Pushing the emergency stop button he shut the engine down before it could destroy itself and damage the aircraft, then pushing the throttle on the remaining engine all the way forward the nose slewed sideways.  Using all of his strength, he fought against the pull and applying more rudder the aircraft began to side slip.  Frantically he searched for somewhere to land, they would not remain in the air for long, the strain on one engine alone especially at full power was too much. 
The terrain below was mountainous and barren, nothing was level and he realised there was little hope of getting down in one piece.  Turning the dial on the radio, he selected an emergency channel and began to send out a mayday.

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