The Three Secret Cities
Sky above the US Atlantic Coast
November 24, 0530 hours (US Eastern time)
Jack West’s plane shot across the sky faster than the speed of sound, rushing toward New York City.
Known as the Sky Warrior, the plane was a Tupolev Tu-144, a Russian-made clone of the Concorde. It was sleek in the extreme, clad in black radar-absorbent material, and like the famous Concorde before it, it was fast: really, really fast.
Jack had acquired the Sky Warrior from an old enemy after his previous plane, his beloved 747 the Halicarnassus, had been destroyed during a desperate mission at Easter Island.
Right now, flown by Jack’s loyal pilot, Sky Monster, the dart-shaped plane was slicing through the air at Mach 1.5 at an altitude of 50,000 feet, far above commercial airliner routes.
As a man who often ventured to some of the more remote corners of the globe, the bustling metropolis of New York City was not one of Jack’s regular destinations, but right now he was in a hurry to get there.
His haste was not just for his own reasons. It was also for the gentleman traveling with him: Mr. Anthony Michael Dominic DeSaxe, known to the regular world as one of the richest men on Earth, a billionaire shipping and mining magnate, and the fourth member of his extremely old and aristocratic family to be appointed Marshal of France.
But that was the regular world.
In more shadowy circles, he was known as one of the four eternal kings who ruled the planet: Lord Hades, King of the Underworld.
Or at least he used to be.
• • •
Things had moved quickly for Jack and Hades after they had returned to Jack’s home in the hours following the disastrous ending to the Great Games.
That Jack had won the Games was nothing short of historic, an achievement that would place him in an elite pantheon of heroes that included the mythic Greek warrior Hercules.
Indeed, as Jack had discovered halfway through them, the Games and their many diabolical challenges and prizes were the source of the myth of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. It was that very discovery that had proved crucial to his ultimate victory.
Arriving back at his home in the vast Australian outback, all Jack had wanted to do was rest. He’d never chosen to go to the Games; he’d been drugged and kidnapped, then forced to fight nonstop for his life for two days and nights, all the while wearing a Homer Simpson T-shirt and jeans.
Honestly, now he just wanted to tend to his many wounds and sleep in his own bed for about a year.
But that was not to be.
• • •
First, his wife, Zoe—with her short blond hair and bright-blue eyes—had been waiting for him, freshly returned from her own investigative trip to the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench on the planet.
Seeing the Sky Warrior making its final approach to the farm’s landing strip, Zoe had hurried out onto the tarmac to meet it.
She couldn’t wait to tell Jack of her experiences and she smiled broadly when she saw him, Lily, and Alby emerge from the plane, followed by Pooh Bear and Stretch.
“Wait’ll you hear what I saw—” she began.
Then she saw his shaved head.
And the many cuts and bruises on his face.
And the way he limped slightly and nursed his right arm. His left
arm—made of titanium from the elbow down—was covered in dirt and scratches.
What had happened?
Then she noticed Lily: she wore a floral dress that Zoe had never seen and she carried in her hands a pair of high heels. That was odd. Lily wasn’t a high heels kind of girl.
Pooh Bear and Stretch looked okay, but Alby wore a bandage on his face covering a large cut of some kind.
Then Zoe saw Jack’s mother, Mae, step out of the sleek black Tupolev.
Now Zoe felt completely on edge. If Jack’s wounds weren’t enough to whip up her anxiety, seeing Mae seized her full attention.
Dr. Mabel “Mae” Merriweather—all five foot two of her, with her short bob of hair and pixie face—was a formidable individual at the best of times. She didn’t suffer fools and she guarded her seclusion fiercely. She lived in the distant coastal town of Broome and didn’t emerge from her splendid isolation for anything but the most serious of reasons. (Birthdays and deaths were not serious enough, although thankfully Jack’s wedding to Zoe had been.) Why Mae would be here with Jack now was a clear and present cause for concern.
And then the others had emerged from the plane.
Zoe did not like the British princess at all.
Aristocratic, poised, refined—and totally self-interested—Iolanthe was everything Zoe was not. The sister of Orlando Compton-Jones, the King of Land, officially her title was the Keeper of the Royal Records for that kingdom. On several occasions, their paths had crossed: Iolanthe had once tried to kill Zoe and Jack at Abu Simbel in Egypt; she had repeatedly tried to seduce Jack; but then, surprisingly, at an ancient underground site at Diego Garcia, she had saved Jack’s life when she didn’t have to. Zoe didn’t know whether to trust Iolanthe or shoot her on sight.
And then came the two people Zoe didn’t know: Hades—he was
about sixty, tall and powerfully built—and a smaller, stocky fellow with unruly black hair, a fat nose, a thick monobrow, and deep-set brown eyes. Jack later introduced him as E-147.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Zoe exclaimed. “I go away for a week and look at you. What happened? You look like you’ve been to Hell and back.”
“That’s a very interesting choice of words, honey. Let’s go inside and sit down. I’ve got a lot to tell you.”
That was an understatement.