From Chapter Two
Within the week, Dr. Monica Bettlheim set up the new apparatus on Sebastian Pinto’s yacht Dracula. For months seismographic studies, sediment corings, and remote-control cameras had been tantalizingly suggesting the presence of manmade structures on the seabed, but concrete evidence was still lacking. She feared that if they failed to find any this time, her patron would lose patience and abort the project.
Then, after a systematic two-year search around the coast of Malta, she had located a rock formation that she could no longer dismiss as natural. At 110 meters it was beyond scuba-diving depth, but the new atmospheric diving suit, virtually a manshaped submarine, allowed Joe to dive deeper without needing decompression, and to work in wired communication with the control center on the yacht.
The suit’s twin thrusters wafted him slowly among the immense stones jutting up out of the bedrock, while Monica followed his progress through a camera attached to his diving helmet. She strained to resolve the shapes that loomed through the sediment-heavy water. Could this be a monumental gateway? Was that a collapsed roof, or a solitary monolith? The voice of reason cautioned her imagination. The prehistoric temples on Malta and its daughter island of Gozo had indeed sprung up, fully formed in style and technique, a thousand or more years before Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt, but this seabed had not been dry land for ten thousand years before that.
When Joe surfaced from his fourth descent, he had not been empty-handed. Now, in one of the ship’s cabins, adapted as a laboratory, Monica and Pinto were working on his astonishing discovery: three rounded jars made of black basalt, a stone harder than steel but nonetheless favored and worked by stone-age peoples. Wearing surgical gloves, Pinto focused the halogen lamp on the first vase, and gently inserted a circular blade around its stopper. With a screwing motion, he loosened the basalt plug, breaking its resin seal.
“Nothing but mud in it,” observed Joe.
“Prehistoric mud has many tales to tell,” replied Pinto, gently emptying it into a laboratory dish, and turning to the next vase.
“Hold it a moment,” said Monica, setting aside the brush and scoop she had been using. “I heard something outside.”
The three people in the cabin listened.
“What sort of sound was it?” asked Pinto.
“It sounded like… screaming.” She paused, held her mane of black hair away from her ears, and turned to and fro. “There it is again. Listen… Did you hear that?” After another silence, Joe shrugged. “Seagulls.”
“No,” Monica insisted. “I’m sure it’s human voices. Come up on deck, Joe, Sebastian.”
“You go, Joe,” said Pinto to the wiry ex-Royal Marine. “I’ll keep working on these vases, then we can all turn in for the night.”
Joe, once on deck, made straight for the captain’s bridge and asked him to shut the engines down.
“Sorry to trouble you mate, but Monica thinks she heard noises outside. You’d better come and listen, to calm her down.”
The captain was reluctant. It was difficult sailing, as a thick fog had descended and he was steering blind, relying on radar and the GPS. At this rate they were an hour from their dock in Marsaxlokk Bay, and he had counted on spending the night at home in his own bed. Still, he stopped the propellers and came outside. Two sailors joined him. Leaning over the rail, they could hear the waves slapping as the ship slowed down, but could see nothing. Monica shivered.
“There! Did you hear it this time?”
The others were silent, straining their ears. Monica spoke again, almost in a whisper: “Those aren’t birds. They’re human voices. Can you shine a fog-light or something? We should tell Cavalier Pinto.”
“Whatever you heard, there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Joe.
“You make me feel as though I’m imagining things,” said Monica. “But I suppose you’re right. Go back to the cabin, and yes, do start the engines.”
As Joe disappeared down the companionway, Monica hesitated, then turned and stayed a while at the rail, looking into the impenetrable mist. She needed a moment to collect her thoughts.
This discovery was going to drop a bombshell on the complacent world of the pre-historians. The seabed on which the jars had been found had been dry land during the Ice Age, when Malta, Sicily, and Italy were a single landmass. Then, beginning about 16,000 years ago, the European icecap had melted and poured into the Mediterranean basin. Over five or six millennia the sea level had risen in a series of catastrophic floods, submerging whole civilizations.
It had taken Pinto’s faith in her, and his money, to make this breakthrough. And now that objects were coming up, what further secrets would be revealed? Under the specialist’s microscopes, three basalt vases full of dirt could speak volumes.
Monica descended the stairs and entered the cabin. The light of the halogen lamps dazzled her vision, and through a subtler sense she could tell instantly that the atmosphere was charged. Pinto was beaming, leaning forward on his arms over the workbench. Joe Dagenham was looking from one to the other with an expectant expression.
“Monica, my dear,” said Pinto, “I think you should sit down.”
“Why, what’s happened?”
“It’s time to break out the champagne.”
“What do you mean?” said Monica. She felt her heart beginning to pound. “I’m sorry that I was the one to open the last vase. It should have been yours to discover, instead of hunting for ghosts outside. But now, look--we’ve found the forbidden fruit!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Monica unsteadily. “Then come here,” said Pinto, indicating a stainless steel tray, “and take a look at it.”
In size and shape, it resembled an apple--no, a pomegranate, for it had five rounded sides and a calyx on top. To judge by its weight, it was made of solid gold.