BY: JOHN HEGENBERGER
It’s 2020. The race is on to find the cure for a deadly disease targeting women of color. But a hidden side-effect might kill us all. Time to call in the twenty-first-century Robin Hoods to locate, assemble, and decode The Pandora Block.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Pandora Block by John Hegenberger, a virus has been released in 2020 that is targeting women of color. An elite team of covert operatives, modern-day Robin Hoods, is struggling to find the scattered pieces of a puzzle-like block with encryption that can give them a cure for the virus. But the team has troubles of their own, not to mention the evil forces aligned against them who want the block for their own ends.
Although present tense is not my favorite, I quickly got past that and just enjoyed the characters and the story. Well written, fast paced, and intriguing, it’s a great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Pandora Block by John Hegenberger is the futuristic story of people with means screwing over the little guy. In 2020, a deadly Black Sea Virus is devastating Middle-Eastern countries, killing women and newborn children. Into all this chaos, the Russians are moving in and occupying these countries. The bombing of a Turkey prison allows Johnathon Boyd to escape and call together a team of elite operatives who worked with him before, one of whom was responsible for him going to prison. Still, Johnathon puts the past behind him in order to help save the world. But how are they going to do this? Their only hope is the Pandora Block, one piece of which was given to each member of Johnathon’s team. Now he needs to get all the pieces back together and decode the encryption on it in order to find a cure for the virus—if he can get his rogue team to cooperate.
Like all of Hegenberger’s books, The Pandora Block is intense, fast paced, inventive, and well written, catching and holding my interest from the very first page to the very last. I found I couldn’t put it down.
October 10, 1950, Washington, DC:
President Harry S Truman called the air force general on the carpet in the Oval Office. “These operations of yours with Wild Bill have got to stop. Don’t think we’re not appreciative of your detecting firm evidence of the Russian A-bomb test, but we can’t have another screw up like that time your balloon device came down in Roswell. All we hear now, even three years later, is UFO-this and UFO-that.”
“You’re a loose cannon, General. And it stops here and now.”
The air force officer held his braided cap tightly under his left arm and deliberated about informing the president of the recent deaths in Turkey. The situation seemed to have ended now of its own accord and was already classified. Better to keep quiet for the time being and not upset Truman any further.
“Yes, sir,” the general repeated, sighting above the shorter man’s head.
“That’s exactly the right attitude,” the president snapped and then smiled. “You are dismissed—until tonight’s poker game.”
The general covered up, saluted his Commander in Chief, and briskly about-faced, knowing that his personal journal contained a full accounting of the disease’s outbreak in Turkey.
Friday, July 10, 2020, Trabzon, Turkey:
The sudden concussion blows out part of the concrete wall, twisting the cell door open at the Yildizeli prison to reveal a hallway filled with smoke and flickering neon light.
Jonathan Boyd’s ears ring from the deafening explosion that had shaken him from a deep, troubled sleep. In a panic, he claws his way from under rubble to escape the effects of the blast’s impact. Hope pounds in Boyd’s chest. This Turkish hellhole was never been designed to withstand the assault that must have come from the Russian Aerial Command.
Still groggy, Boyd stumbles up and begins to explore. Cautiously. Those low-grade drugs they have squeezed into my veins made me sleep through the partial evacuation.
The entire compound has been taken out during the strike. All around him, walls have crumbled upon both prisoners and guards. An evil gray cloud of chocking dust and ash drifts from a massive blast crater and hangs in the air like a gritty fog.
Boyd limps gingerly on his wounded right leg. Slowly he descends a rickety, twisted metal staircase to the building’s half-buried ground floor. He picks his way through the rubble that has been his prison for the last five years.
An armed guard lurches from behind a pockmarked pillar and fires a stream of deadly lead chest-high in all directions from his AK-47.
Boyd drops flat to the filthy ground and grasps a two-foot length of battered steel. Only one chance. He throws the metallic fragment along the corridor wall. The panicked guard immediately lets loose with a dozen rounds, targeted where the metal clangs, and Boyd is up, staggering ten feet forward. He crashes into the guard and drives him to the floor. The man’s head strikes the concrete with a sickening crack.
Shaken and sweating, Boyd clutches the automatic weapon and fires a round to check that it is still in working order. “I’m getting far too old for this nonsense,” he wheezes with fatigue. Patting down the guard’s pockets, Boyd finds a mobile phone and a spare clip for the rifle.
Outside, beyond the fence, the sunlight feels wonderfully warm on his face. A shattered I-beam makes good leverage against an abandoned open-top Land Rover tilted on its side. The effort to right the vehicle intensifies the pain in his leg. Oof! Boyd’s lower back begins to ache. Jumping the ignition and grinding the gears, he navigates across a city gone mad with fear.
The invading Russians appear to have bulldozed their troops four hundred kilometers west in a savage land-grab toward Ankara, the Turkish capitol. Navigating over ruined highways past shattered buildings and distant gunfire, Boyd intends to steer away from danger.
He looks up and sees a haggard face in the rearview mirror. He hasn’t seen his reflection, except dimly at the bottom of a water bowl, in over a year. It gives him pause. His features have aged a decade in that time. Hair almost completely gray. Face lined and bearded. Eyes, once clear and blue, now muddy, runny and shocked. A bead of sweat gathers and scrolls down his left temple.
The urge to whisper, “Boo,” overcomes him. Well, maybe not too old. Boyd slams the car in gear again and drives on, making his way to an estate in the northern sector of the bombed-out city near the Universite Mahallesi, only to discover that the main building is now a pile of smoldering ruins. Damn! Boyd had hoped to find someone alive at this sheltered location, someone important, but the military must have already been here and gone.
Now, Boyd searches for and skillfully unseals the safe room hidden beneath the rear of the five-car garage. This was where the art treasures had once been stored. He locates a cabinet of castoff clothing, some stale food, and six bundles of euros, plus a small case containing sixteen small, perfectly cut diamonds. Right where he’d left them years earlier.
A photo of the bearded Iman and gold verses from the Koran embroidered on maroon velvet hangs framed but canted on the cracked wall. Reluctantly, Jonathan Boyd leaves a cache of worn Ottoman coins in their cloth bag. They’re precious, but of little immediate use in this war-torn country.
The working battery in a tablet computer is of more value, and Boyd takes a moment to coax the device to life. He sends two cryptic messages, praying that the connection holds and the recipients will understand. Are they even alive?
From what he’d heard rumored while still in prison, the flood of Syrian refugees had weakened Turkey’s position with the European Union. Then an even worse disaster occurred. The origin of the deadly Black Sea Virus was pin-pointed on the county’s southern shore. In less than nine months, the deadly virus had forced more than one nation to its knees. During that time, Boyd had heard that panic spread, borders decayed, and the Russians began moving in with a forced occupation.
Boyd knows he’d be extremely lucky if anyone responded to his urgent missives. He leaves the ruined villa and drives south, away from the country’s northern shore. Even in a world where tens of thousands are dying, basic daily commerce has to continue. Mankind is not at an end quite yet, is it? Life still has to go on in the smaller cities, despite the hardship, doesn’t it?
Arriving in the village of Silvas, Boyd spends a few hundred euros renting a room for the night. He eats the best meal he’s tasted in five years at a tiny restaurant. His elbows hunched forward on the bar, Boyd keeps his face shielded from scrutiny with a tan homburg and someone’s cast-off pair of reading glasses. He sits next to a stranded businessman who speaks desperately into a battered iPhone.
A twenty-four-hour news channel plays on a black-and-white television behind the bar. The iKK Kurdish party has joined with the Russian troops. An announcement airs from the IOC that the 2020 Olympic Games have been canceled due to fear that the disease might continue to spread during the event. Who the hell cares?
Women are dying the world over. In child birth. And so are their newborns. The effects on the Black race are devastating, and the reporter speculates that the BSV might soon infect anyone—everyone. In three generations, human life could become extinct.
Boyd’s heart begins to race in his chest. He checks the time displayed at the bottom of the television screen. Six-forty-three p.m. It’s time. The mobile phone he’d acquired from the prison guard starts to buzz.
© 2018 by John Hegenberger
Baron R. Birtcher:
“The Pandora Block opens with the world engulfed in a deadly pandemic. Jonathan Boyd reaches out to a team of reluctant colleagues in the search for an ancient puzzle/relic that might hold the key to the cure. From Cape Town to Columbia, Busan to Paris, LA to St. Croix, John Hegenberger takes readers on a globe-trotting ride that is part action/adventure, part spy thriller, and part theft caper. Meticulously researched, the book combines the best elements of Clive Cussler and Ian Fleming, with a dash of Dan Brown and Michael Crichton. A fascinating story.” ~ Baron R. Birtcher, award-winning author of Rain Dogs and South California Purples