Red Star Falling

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Release Date: 6/11/24

From New York Times bestselling authors Steve Berry and Grant Blackwood comes an action-packed adventure: in the waning days of the Cold War, Luke Daniels embarks on a quest in search of the legendary library of Ivan the Terrible--the unlikely key to ending a looming threat orbiting two hundred miles above the earth.

Wrapping up his latest assignment for the Magellan Billet, Luke Daniels receives a surprise visit from the head of a former-CIA operation named Sommerhaus -- a failed attempt to assemble an espionage network within the Ukraine on the eve of the Russian invasion.

Sommerhaus ranks high on Luke's list of painful regrets for it was during this mission that his friend, CIA case officer John Vince, was captured by Russian operatives and supposedly executed. But Luke is provided some shocking news. Vince is alive, in failing health, locked behind the walls of Russia's brutal Solovetsky Island prison, and has a critical message he'll give to no one but Luke. Needing no further convincing Luke vows to bring Vince home.

However, just as he manages to extract his friend from prison Vince tragically dies and his final words are rambling and incoherent. Just bits and pieces. But enough to plunge Luke into a hunt for something lost since the 15th century. The legendary library of the first Tsar of All Russia, Ivan the Terrible.

Within that priceless collection of rare manuscripts is the key to unraveling a modern-day cipher and stopping a secret Soviet satellite program that still exists. But Luke is not the only one on the trail. Others, both inside and out of Russia, want the library for a totally different reason -- to re-start the Red Star program and finally unleash its destructive potential. Luke's mission is clear. Find the lost library, solve the puzzle, and prevent Red Star falling.



Moscovy – January 1584



Ivan Chetvyorty Vasilyevich was not a cruel man.

Far from it.  More careful.  


He was in his fifty-third year of life and thirty-sixth year of rule.  He’d inherited a territory from his father vast in space, but lacking any semblance of unity or harmony.  Moscow, at its center, was girdled by a ring of fortified posts, an open town, like a temporary settlement.  The city proper, its kreml, existed behind tall battlements straddled with towers.  Further out, spreading in ever expanding concentric circles, were lands which bore no resemblance to organized provinces.  More like independent states, constantly warring with each other, accomplishing nothing.  But he’d changed all that, forcing them all under his singular rule and bestowing upon himself a new title.  His grandfather, Ivan III, now called Ivan the Great, speaking of Moscow, had long ago proclaimed, Two Romes have fallen, but the third now stands, and a fourth there will not be.  So he thought it only fitting to merge the secular and the sacred into one name.


He’d been born to the House of Rurik in the grand duchy of Moscow, only three years old when his father died and he was proclaimed grand prince.  His mother, the blessed Elena Glinskaya, served as regent for the first five years until she was poisoned by enemies, dying in agony.  With her protection gone he’d been treated cruelly by the boyers, trotted out for official functions then locked back away.  Rarely was he fed.  Often neglected, both mentally and physically.  And while subjecting the country to an intolerable tyranny those same boyers taught him a valuable lesson.

Fear was good.

He grew up in an atmosphere of perpetual conflict, learning that brutality and mercilessness were pre-requisites for strength.  

No one fears a weak soul.

His earliest pleasures, shared with companions chosen for him, were unique.  His great amusement had been to throw dogs from the top of the terraces, enjoying their anguish as they tumbled through the air and smashed onto the ramparts.  He once ordered a friend executed over a petty argument.  He cut off the tongue of another friend for cursing at him.  He grew to manhood watching men being tortured and killed.  Finally, at age eighteen, he was crowned grand prince.

Ivan IV.

And his revenge began. 

Nobody was spared.  All his debts, especially the death of his mother, were repaid in blood.  There came a saying.  Closer to the Tsar you are, the closer you are to death.  

Thankfully, he’d always been blessed with a strong constitution.  He was tall, stoutly built, high-shouldered and broad-chested.  His nose was long and flat, turned up at the tip, his eyes an icy blue, small, but restless and ever observant.  He’d come to sport a long beard, reddish with shades of black, and a thick mustache.  But, like most of his subjects, he shaved his head.  

He was both common and noble.

“Is all ready?” he asked his bodyguard.

Bogdan Belsky had been with him a long time, through nearly every challenge.  He may be the only person left alive Ivan truly trusted. 

“As you ordered,” Belsky said.

The afternoon hung leaden with drab skies and a low heaven.  They were walking across the open space inside the kreml’s tall battlements, past an array of buildings he’d known his entire life.  Fresh dry snow had fallen during the night, now crunching under every step.  Soft winter sunshine filtered through the clouds but offered no respite from the cold that clung tight around his temples.  The crisp air mentholated his nostrils.  Armed soldiers occupied the towers and patrolled the top of the stone walls.  A necessary precaution, though no one would dare attack this walled citadel.  

He reached the outer wall and climbed the wooden ladder.  

At the top he stared out, past the moat, to the frozen river, a mass of solid blue ice which could be traveled across like hard ground.  The filtered sun ignited the snow with pinpoints of bright light and dazzling brilliance.  Toward the center of the wide river stood an iron cage big enough to hold three men.  Per his orders they were gagged, with hands bound behind their backs.  These were no ordinary men.  They were members of his private security force, specially selected a few weeks ago for a secret mission, their orders coming straight from his mouth.   

And they’d performed.

Without fault.  

Which meant they now needed to die.

He could see the three men scurrying about inside the cage, kicking the thick iron bars with their boots.  None of them wore coats or much of anything to protect from the bitter cold.  But that would soon not be a problem.  More guards stood beyond the cage, past a dense layer of kindling that had been cut and stacked against the outside.  

What was about to happen was not unusual.  In fact, it occurred most every day in one form or another.  His torture chambers created a peculiar form of hell.   Punishment there came in biblical proportions.  Sometimes he was but a mere observer.  Other times an excited audience.  On occasion he took an active role.  Today’s spectacle was a merger of the three, held out in the open for all to see, but he noticed no one on the snowy river banks watching.  Good.  He preferred this be handled quickly and quietly.  The three bound men had been chosen for their youth and lack of wives and children, all eager to please their Tsar, even less eager to question. 

He was coming to the end of his reign.  His body was beginning to fail.  Death was stalking him, but had not, as yet, caught up.  He had a little time left and planned to make the most of it.  By his first wife he had two sons.  The eldest, Ivan, had borne a considerable resemblance to his father.  They had shared many occupations and amusements.  But his heir was dead.  Gone now three years.  God help him for he’d killed the young man.   Not intentionally.  More a fit of rage.  But dead nonetheless.  The anguish from that senseless act remained.

And would never diminish.

As a boy himself he’d shunned studying, preferring instead the company of the skomorokhs, the pagan musicians.  But he eventually saw the error of that foolishness and came to embrace reading and learning.  He wrote poetry, composed music, mastered foreign languages.  At his court doctors, astronomers, and scientists found a willing ear.  He collected books.  Some of the most precious in the world, which he added to a collection that his father had passed down from his father.  He became the scourge of the Ottoman Empire and enemy of Suleiman the Magnificent, defeating and vanquishing the Golden Horde.  He’d headed the army himself, risking his own life, and his victories raised both his prestige and prowess, earning him another moniker.


Strong.  Menacing.  Impressive.

Now, at the end of his life, two things were most precious.  The mortal remains of his mother and the books from his grandfather.

“Both are safe,” Belsky told him.  “Safely hidden, where you instructed.  With the nuns at Ascension.”

He knew that, once gone, the boyars would destroy everything he’d deemed precious.  They all hated him.   His new heir, his second son Feodor, was a good-natured, simple-minded man who took no interest in politics.  He was sickly in body, weak in mind and childless.  His life was spent in prayer and contemplation.  Through him the House of Rurik would only end.  So what he’d done, and what he was about to do, was all the more imperative.  In a few short minutes only he and Belsky would know.  His bodyguard had been included in the conspiracy for a practical reason.    

“When I am dead,” he whispered, each breath smoking around him like a cloudy haze.  “Put me with them.”

“I shall.  Without fail.”

He had no desire to be buried inside the Cathedral of the Archangel where his father, grandfather, and son rested, along with all the other grand princes.

“The fortuneteller was right,” he whispered.

Seers had gathered from all over Russia, after the appearance of a comet.  One in particular uttered a dire warning.  The Tsar will die within the year.  Instead of having her executed, he’d listened.

And prepared. 

“Dress me in a monk’s habit, so I might achieve God’s forgiveness for all the bad I have done.”

His old friend nodded.

He turned his attention back out to the river and, with his right arm, slashed the cold air.

The signal.

The guards with torches approached the kindling that engulfed the cage and set it on fire.  It took only a few short moments for the bone-dry wood to catch and dense smoke curled into the afternoon sky.  The men inside the cage moved away from the bars, toward the center of their prison, trying to escape the flames but also surely wanting to soak in some of its warmth.  The idea was neither to burn nor suffocate them.  They were gagged so they could not cry out anything they knew, their hands bound to prevent them from removing the gags.  No explanation had been given as to why they were being punished.

But none was needed.

Licks of fire played through the bars.  Surely welcomed at first, but growing in intensity to become unbearable.  

A loud crack echoed across the river.  The ice was beginning to weaken. That had not taken long.  The guards with torches retreated backwards, away from the cage.  The fire around the cage kept raging.  Another crack.  He stared up at the sky, which cast no depth, no hidden places, no shadows.  A chilling breeze caused him to shiver under his cloak.  A final crack, like that of a tree snapping under an axe, and the cage became an island.  But its weight was too much for the floating ice supporting it and the entire thing sank in one quick motion, disappearing beneath the river water, only a hiss of steam left in its wake.  


All was safe. 
























Lisbon, Portugal

Monday – May 19 – 4:00 a.m.


Luke Daniels knew there was a saying among mountaineers that reaching the summit was but the halfway point.  Hard as hell to do.  No question.  But once you were at the top the job wasn’t over.  Not until you made it back down to basecamp, safe and sound.  Then, and only then, were you finished.  And while this, his latest assignment for the Magellan Billet, a simple escort job across the Spanish border, was no mountain climb, the metaphor definitely applied.  He’d successfully completed his mission yesterday and was now headed home. 

The problem?  

In staggered formation the two dark sedans behind him had matched his last four turns on his way to the airport.  They’d also kept their distance, like two fighter pilots flying on his wings.  

And making no real secret of the fact.

Dawn was still two hours away, so Monday morning rush hour hadn’t yet begun.  The four-laned, median highway was largely deserted, though having never been to Lisbon before he had zero idea what busy meant here.  All he knew was what he could see.  Those two black sedans.  And whoever was inside them.  Behind him.  A mile or so ahead he spotted the twinkling of the airport runway lights and navigation beacons.  

Base camp.  Almost there.

His options were to either make a run for the airport or find out more about his inquisitive friends.  He decided on the latter.  Why?  First, the soldier in him didn’t like being stalked.  Army Rangers were the ones who did that, not the other way around.  So, being a former-Ranger, it was the principle of the thing.  Second, he had no idea what these people wanted.  Were their intentions hostile?  Were they armed?  No way to know.  But he couldn’t risk gunplay at an airport crowded with innocent bystanders.  The downside though was that he was unarmed.  If it came to a gunfight he’d be little better than a bystander himself.  To top it off he was sleep-deprived, grumpy, and wasn’t looking forward to a seven-hour flight, in coach, across the Atlantic back home to D.C.  You would think the United States government could spring for business class for its intelligence officers.

But that wasn’t the case. 

He took a moment to glance at his phone’s map then speed-dialed the Magellan Billet’s operations desk.  The line clicked open and he said, “I have followers, in two cars, parties and intentions unknown.”  

Then he rattled off the MGRS coordinates.  

The Billet often coordinated with U.S. military assets, so it used the Military Grid Reference System, which was accurate down to three feet.  He knew it well.  Back in Afghanistan, during his Ranger days, knowing your exact location meant the difference between calling in a Hail Mary artillery barrage or a helicopter evac for a gravely wounded comrade. 

“Are you requesting support?” the voice asked.

“No.  But put me on the clock.  Sixty minutes.  After that, come looking.”

He ended the call and glanced in the rearview mirror.  The cars were still there, now only a hundred yards back, staggered like a pair of hungry sharks.  

You wanna play?  Okay.  Let’s play.

He stomped the gas pedal, gaining twenty miles per hour.  Then, at the last moment, he swung hard right onto the upcoming exit and accelerated again, taking the curving off ramp as fast as he dared.  Behind him the two sedans were skidding to a stop.  

He smiled.  

His pursuers had been caught napping and overshot.  

The downside?

Now they knew their quarry was onto them.  Almost certainly their tactics would change, perhaps becoming more aggressive.  At the bottom of the ramp he tapped his breaks and glanced left to make sure he wasn’t going to t-bone an unsuspecting motorist.  

The way was clear. 

He blasted through the stop sign, spun the wheel hard and accelerated into a fish-tail turn.  The road curved again and almost immediately he found himself on the outskirts of a bairro.  The typical Portuguese neighborhood loomed quiet this early in the morning.  Out his window to the right was a half-mile wide area of scrub land bisected by a canal marked by a serpentine line of tall and lush trees.  Beyond that was the frontage road of another bairro, its contours lit by streetlights.  He cast a glance in the rearview mirror.  No sign of his pursuers.  He hadn’t lost them, of course, but he’d forced them into catch up mode.  Which might make them a little desperate.  

Hopefully a bit more careless too.

Ahead he saw a turn onto a dirt tract.  He slowed slightly and swung onto it.  Now he just needed the right spot.  The longer this chase went on, the worse for him.  He had to assume his pursuers could call-in backup, and he didn’t want to get pincered in a high-speed car chase.  His best chance was to make them play his game, hunter-killer, on foot, on the ground, by his rules.

The road swung right, parallel to the canal.  

He skidded to a slow roll on the shoulder, only stopping when the tall grass was slapping the car’s under carriage.  He left the engine running and the headlights on and climbed out into the cool morning. He popped the trunk and leaned in, found a tire iron, then butt-scooted under the car until he was lost in the grass.  He’d pulled this trick before, most recently in Lichtenstein outside an abandoned Wehrmacht airbase.  

Worked then.  Why not now?

Thirty seconds later a pair of headlights appeared on the road, followed by a second set.  Tires crunched on the dirt and gravel.  The lead car slowed then passed his rental and came to a stop a few feet off the front bumper.  The trail car took up position at the rear boxing him in.  Smart move, all things considered, but the wrong one. 

Doors opened.

“Check that car.  Careful,” a male voice said with authority.

Feet swished through the grass on either side of him.

“Clear,” a woman called out.  “Car’s empty.”

“Trunk’s empty,” another voice said.  “Must have taken his bags.”

“He’s in the trees,” the first voice said.  “That’s where he wants us.  Luke Daniels, come out.  We need to talk.”

The shouted voice was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.  Another pair of feet approached the trunk within arm’s reach.  

“The tire iron’s missing, boss.”

“Let’s go get him,” the female said.  

The feet beside the trunk stepped away, past him.

He quietly wriggled out from under the car, rose to his knees, then smashed the tire iron into the man’s ankle.  The guy howled and buckled sideways then hit the ground.  The gun thumped into the dirt.  He pressed the tire iron’s wedge point into the man’s larynx and whispered, “Not a sound.”  He grabbed the gun and motioned.  “On your feet.” 

“I . . . can’t.  I think you broke . . . my ankle.”

He bodily lifted the man to his feet.  The guy hobbled, listing sideways, but was stable enough for Luke’s purposes.  He jammed the gun into the man’s ear.  “Weapons on the ground, or I’m going to ruin this guy’s day.”

A figure appeared and faced him, silhouetted by the twin beams of his rental’s headlights.  “I suppose I should have seen this coming.  Classic Luke Daniels.  You didn’t have to hurt the guy.”

Now he recognized the voice.  

Sean Fernando.  

A hard name to forget for several reasons, not the least of which was that it had always reminded him of a villain from a Mexican telenovela.  Or an ABBA song.  But this man was a trained intelligence operative.  


“You should know there are only rubber bullets in that gun.”

“At point blank range it’ll still get the job done.”

“Are you really going to shoot him, Luke?”

“Depends on whether I buy your explanation for why you’re following me.”

“We’re sure as hell not here to hurt you.  Didn’t I announce our presence clear enough?”

“A little too clear.”

“I just wanted to test you a bit, see if you’re still sharp.”

“Did I pass?”

“With flying colors.  Let him go.  I’m just here to talk.”

Fernando was from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, a/k/a the Clandestine Service, a/k/a the agency’s field spooks.  They worked under the radar.  In the shadows.  If they’d wanted him dead he would have never seen them coming.  Plus, Hollywood movie portrayals aside, the CIA was relatively circumspect when it came to murder.  Fernando was here for a specific reason and, he had to admit, he was curious.  So he let his captive go, then helped him sit on the bumper.

“You broke my ankle, Daniels.”

“You’ll be fine.”

He racked the pistol’s slide, ejecting a rubber bullet.  He caught it in mid-air, popped the magazine, then pocketed both.  He handed the weapon back to the man on the bumper.

“What’s this about, Sean?” he asked.  “What’s so important that you might make me miss my flight?  I’m tired and want to go home.

Fernando stared him down.

“John Vince.”