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Jeremy Robinson

ISLAND 731

For Dad, again, because you’re still joking about red flakes and I appreciate it.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I release something like five or six novels every year. It’s kind of a ridiculous amount, but made possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of the people who support me professionally and personally. So it is with great appreciation that I point out the contributions of the supremely helpful folks who took part in the creation of Island 731.

Thanks to:

• Scott Miller, my agent at Trident Media Group, for his tireless efforts and shrewd mind.

• Peter Wolverton, my editor at Thomas Dunne Books, for forcing me to improve with every book and for supporting my solo-publishing efforts.

• Anne Brewer, my associate editor at Thomas Dunne Books, for being speedy and delightful to work with.

• Rafal Gibek and the production team at Thomas Dunne Books, for copy-edits that always make me look like a better writer than I am.

• Ervin Serrano, art director at Thomas Dunne Books, for designing covers that stun and for including this author in the design process.

• Kane Gilmour, my solo project editor, friend, and supporter, for advance reading and comments on Island 731.

• Hilaree, Aquila, Solomon, and Norah Robinson, my four muses whom I adore, thank you for your excitement, creativity, and love.

PROLOGUE

PACIFIC OCEAN, 1942

Master Chief Petty Officer James Coffman awoke to find his leg being eaten. The pain felt dull. Distant. The connection between his mind and limb had somehow been numbed. But he could clearly see the gull tugging at the sinews of his exposed calf muscle. The wound, fresh and bloody, should have sent shockwaves of pain through his body, but he felt nothing. It’s a mercy, he decided as he sat up. He’d seen men with similar wounds—inflicted by Japanese bullets—howl in agony.

The seagull opened its wings wide and squawked indignantly as though Coffman were a competing predator. Even as he reached out for it, the bird took two more pecks at the meat of his leg. When the gull flew away, a string of muscle hung from its yellow beak.

Coffman reached down, grabbed a handful of beach sand, and flung it after the bird. He tried to shout at it, but only managed a raw, rattling sound.

Like many young men in the United States, Coffman had enlisted in the navy shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He began his naval career as a petty officer third class serving on the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier in the Pacific fleet. Through grit, determination, and several battles, Coffman had worked his way up to master chief petty officer. But he took no greater pride than when the Yorktown, with his assistance, drew Japanese blood.

He’d grown accustomed to the sounds and smells of war over the years, so when he drew a long breath through his nose, he found the fresh scent of earth and lack of machine sounds disconcerting. He’d been deposited on a peaceful, white sand beach.

Coffman craned his head around, growing dizzy as he moved. With a hand buried in the sand for balance, he took in his surroundings. That he was sitting on a beach was clear. The sand was smooth, almost soft, and stretched around a crescent-shaped cove. The water lapped at the sand just below his feet, and it appeared so calm that he nearly mistook it for a freshwater lagoon, but he could smell the salt in the air. Following the water out, he saw forty-foot, palm-covered ridges. He couldn’t see the ocean, but could see where it entered through an opening in the natural wall, sheltered from the force of the ocean.

I’m inside a volcanic cone, he thought. Coffman knew most of the Pacific islands were created by volcanoes that sprung up along the “ring of fire.” He didn’t have any real interest in geology, or island life, but since millions of soldiers were fighting and dying over islands just like this one all across the Pacific, he’d picked up on a few facts.

Coffman looked behind him and found a jungle, thick, lush, and tropical. He’d been to Hawaii on shore leave once. This looked similar. Could he be on Hawaii? It didn’t seem possible. It was too far—an entire time zone away from Midway.

Midway…

The last few days were a confusing blur. He thought back, trying to remember how he arrived on the shore of this island. The USS Yorktown had sustained significant damage at the Battle of the Coral Sea, but had come out victorious. The ship needed three months’ work to be fully functional, but aggressive Japanese tactics wouldn’t allow the respite. Undaunted, the Yorktown returned to Hawaii and yard workers completed the three months’ work in just three days. Days later, the Battle of Midway began and the Yorktown once again sustained heavy damage at the hands of Japanese dive bombers.

Covered with heavy debris and ruined planes, the giant ship began to list. The crew feared the carrier would capsize, so the ship was abandoned, the men taking refuge on the USS Hammann, a Sims-class destroyer. But the stubborn Yorktown did not sink that night. Coffman returned with a salvage and repair crew the next morning. They worked through the day, breathing air laden with smoke from the burning boiler room. Despite the conditions, the skeleton crew pushed planes and heavy equipment overboard, reducing the vessel’s topside weight. The effort began to work. The list lessened and it seemed the carrier would once again limp back to Hawaii for repairs.

But the Japanese returned, using darkness and the debris-filled ocean to cloak the submarine’s approach. Coffman, who stood on deck wearing coveralls coated with black soot and oil, saw the four approaching torpedoes first. He shouted a warning, but there was nothing the crew of the Yorktown could do. The ship was dead in the water.

But they were not alone. The USS Hammann opened fire with her 20mm guns in an attempt to destroy the torpedoes. For her effort, the Hammann was struck amidships. The explosion tore the destroyer in half and the Yorktown’s would-be rescuer jackknifed and sank, taking the rescued crew with her.

Two of the torpedoes struck the Yorktown, punching holes in the hull and flinging Coffman from the deck. He remembered the cool air as he fell from the smoky deck to the open ocean. After that, there was a lull. He woke hours later. The sun dipping below the horizon cast silhouettes of the now distant fleet. He immediately thrashed and called out. But no one would hear him. No one, but the three men adrift alongside him. They’d managed to slip him into a life jacket and had saved his life, but over the next few days he’d wondered if he would have been better off dead.

As days passed, his throat and tongue swelled from dehydration. The skin on his forehead burned with boils from sun exposure. His body ached. And as hard as he tried, he couldn’t move his legs. The last morning he remembered, he woke to find one of the men missing. They didn’t know if he’d simply died and slipped beneath the

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