The waters beneath the little boat were clear enough to see the bottom fifty feet down, but dark clouds were in the sky out near the horizon.
Doctor of Archaeology Megan Lee looked from the ominous clouds to her companion, who was piloting the boat.
"Zack, look at those clouds. Should we maybe blow off the diving for today?"
Zacharias Torres was a tall, lean man with salt and pepper hair. He handled the boat effortlessly as he looked over at the horizon.
"It doesn't seem to be coming this way, and, of course, no storm was in the forecast," he replied, smiling ironically.
"Yeah, right. Like I'd believe any weathermen anyway, especially here. How they get away with calling meteorology a science, I'll never understand," Megan replied.
Zack looked over at her, a wider and slightly devilish smile on his face. "There are those who question archaeology being a science, you know. Physicists, for one."
She rose to the bait. "Physicists don't study anything smaller than a galaxy or larger than a molecule. What do they know?"
Their sixteen-foot Sea Ray was the property of a local dive shop in Sliema, on the east coast of Malta. The two Americans had rented the boat and air tanks from them in anticipation of diving on some rumored underwater ruins off the northeast coast. Unfortunately, their guide, a smarmy expatriate Brit by the name of Hutchinson, had bowed out at the last minute, saying he was sick. Megan suspected that his "illness" was more the result of too much gin the night before than any bug. The man had sworn up and down that he'd tracked down what appeared to be the ruins of a megalithic temple about one hundred yards offshore of the little island of Comino, which was situated between Malta and its northwestern neighbor, the island of Gozo.
"Interesting choice of vacations you have," commented Zack. "First we go look at ruined temples in Egypt, then Roman temples in the south of France. Now this. Where's the romance in our relationship gone?" he ended plaintively.
Megan punched him in one sinewy, tanned shoulder. "Where's the romance? What was that last night, tiddly-winks? Besides, we not only visited ruined temples, we also spent time on the beach of the French Riviera and dined at the most exotic restaurants in Cairo and Toulon. Where's the romance? Have I missed something?"
"Don't forget my James Bond imitation at the casino in Monte Carlo. Was I Joe Cool or what?"
"You did look scrumptious in that tux."
"I did my best. Jaws hit the floor when you walked by in that backless evening gown. No one would have ever guessed that you were a stuffy archaeologist, and I was a bourgeois shop owner. I wonder how the shop's doing by the way? I know it's nothing for you scholastic types to take a month off in the summer, but I need to keep some money coming in."
Megan laughed as she pulled her sun-streaked blonde hair back into a ponytail. "As I recall, when you went on vacation last year, the shop actually made more money than when you were there. I trust Alec to run things to your satisfaction."
"Oh, I guess so," he replied with mock reluctance. "Of course, Alec wound up getting in a heap of trouble at that same time. This year should be calmer. I hope."
Motoring roughly northwest, they had passed St. Paul's Bay and were now past the main island of Malta, making toward the second largest island in the chain: Gozo. In between was the little island of Comino, no more than a few miles across, and near the reported site of a megalithic stone circle that rested beneath the waves. Supposedly.
Megan and Zack wanted to take a personal look at the theoretical stone circle, to see if it really existed. There'd been rumors of underground ruins around Malta for some years, but nothing had ever been officially confirmed. If such a circle did exist, history books might gain a footnote, and Megan might gain a grant. Megan's specialty was Meso-American archaeology, but her interests ranged over the whole field. Thus, they had interspersed their Mediterranean vacation with visits to various sites that she found particularly interesting.
Along with a growing number of young, somewhat-maverick researchers in the field, Megan had come to the conclusion that human history went back a lot farther than the conventional wisdom decreed. Of course, she was careful about announcing that fact, at least before she had enough evidence. The previous year, she had set the archaeological world on its collective ear when she found irrefutable proof that the Egyptians had visited, and even set up a colony, in Central America over a thousand years before Columbus.
To her dismay, Megan's boss had not taken her success well. Megan had always regarded him as something of a self-important twit, but with a basically good heart. That had changed after Megan's discovery in the Yucatan. Professor Michael Cox had become withdrawn, even nasty, once it became obvious that all the magazine and TV interviewers weren't interested in him at all. They wanted to talk to his wunderkind, Doctor Megan Lee. Cox chose to credit Megan's success to the fact that she was a tall, sleek blonde with a killer figure. He never even considered that she was simply smarter than he was.
Cox was not a happy man.
Tough shit, Megan thought. Get your ass out of your office and make your own discoveries.
Zack said, "Look, I get that you're fascinated with ancient ruins, and you have this harebrained idea that civilization goes back a lot longer than the five thousand years that most historians or archaeologists believe possible. I also get that Malta is lousy with ancient architecture, like Gigantija on Gozo or that one at Tarxien on Malta. So what exactly does this have to do with this possible underground dance hall? I mean, it's underwater, after all. For one thing, there's no way you could do a Carbon-14 analysis on it. I don't think you could do that sort of testing on stone, anyway. Doesn't it require organic material?"
"That's all true, you big lunk. I'm glad you've been listening. The thing is," she said, "that if this ruin really exists, it's in a place that's been underwater for over ten thousand years. That can be proven using some of the latest computer modeling that our friends the geologists have developed. The models take into account the slow rise of the oceans worldwide, as well as any land that has risen or fallen due to seismic activity. This area off the coast of Comino hasn't been dry land since the end of the last ice age."
She held up one fist, and he mock cringed, holding his hands up in surrender.
"So," she said, "according to conventional models of the rise of civilization, there couldn't have been any sophisticated architecture that far back. Look at it this way: if people were building temples, or even monolithic stone circles at the end of the ice age, that means that civilization must have gone back a lot farther even than that. Sophisticated building techniques don't magically appear full-blown. There had to be a period of development, centuries at least, before that. That pushes the start of the whole process back to long before the end of the Ice Age. If we can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that there were sophisticated building techniques, perhaps combined with astronomical alignments, back over five thousand years before the supposed advent of Egyptians, well, it would blow the whole conventional model out of the water."
Zack grinned. "And it would probably piss off your boss even more."
She grinned back. "That's a big plus as well, of course."
The day was hot, as only the Mediterranean can be in the summer time. The breeze and spray from the bow of the boat were very refreshing, but both Zack and Megan wore lots of sun block. Once they were beneath the waves, it wouldn't matter, but they were from the Arizona desert. Arizona has the highest incidence of melanoma in the United States. They knew all about sun block and keeping cool on a hot day.
"This looks like it," said Zack.
They were about five miles east of the North Comino Channel, and several miles southeast of Qala Point.
He cut the throttles back, and Megan helped him rig an anchor. Megan pulled on a skinsuit over her bikini, and it only took a couple of minutes for the two of them to don their masks, regulators, and air tanks.
"How come everyone in those ads for scuba looks so gorgeous? With all this stuff on, I feel like the Pillsbury Doughboy," she said.
"Don't worry, if you really looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy, I'd be sure to let you know."
"Thanks. I think."
Zack sat on the edge of the boat, put his regulator into his mouth, and flipped over backwards into the water.
"Show off," was Megan's only comment.
She was a more conservative and much less experienced diver than Zack, so she chose to step off the little platform at the end of the boat. She was immediately surrounded by bubbles from her descent and from her regulator. She looked around, got her bearings in relation to the boat and the anchor line, then spotted Zack about ten feet below her, hovering in neutral buoyancy.
Megan hadn't totally mastered neutral buoyancy as yet and tended to oscillate between sinking too low and rising too high, but she was getting the hang of it. For Zack, an ex-SEAL, it was second nature.
She pointed down, he nodded, and down they went. They both flipped around so that their fins were pointing upwards and swam toward the ocean floor, shedding air as required from their Buoyancy Compensation vests as they arrowed downwards.
At about eighty feet down, they began to feel a current coming from the nearby Comino Channel. It reduced visibility a bit by swirling up sediment from the bottom, but it wasn't too hard to counter just using fins. They began a search grid more or less in the direction of Comino, sweeping back and forth for about a half hour. They saw some large blocks, which could be badly eroded masonry, but there was no evidence of a stone circle. They left a small marker and swam back up to the boat, taking some time to decompress on the way up, even though they hadn't been down long. It was much better to be safe than sorry.
For their second dive, they started where they'd left off. Again, they swept toward Comino in a grid search. Coming back, they swung a little more north, nearer to Gozo. None of the islands were very big, nor were they very far from one another. Zack spotted something, but it was hard to make out in the murk. As the bottom shelved up toward Gozo, the water became less and less clear, requiring them to be much closer to see anything.
After a lunch and a rest, they made what was to be their third and final dive. Again, they spotted large stones, possibly stand-alone megaliths such as are found throughout Europe, but these stones seemed to be set in more or less a straight line. They were certainly no stone circle. Megan decided to follow the stones. Maybe they were from a quarry that would give them a new point of departure.
Suddenly, through the silt, a large dark opening loomed. Zack and Megan shined their flashlights into the cavity. Zack fished out his underwater slate.
He wrote, "A cave?"
She nodded, and motioned for them to explore it further. Inside, the cave passage was pretty large, which was a good thing, since the two divers took up a lot of room with tanks and all. The floor shelved up sharply, and they were suddenly near the surface of an underground pool. Just to be on the safe side, they decompressed for a couple of minutes, and then surfaced and looked around, using their dive flashlights.
Zack spit out his regulator and said, "There's a little beach over there." He pointed. He also sniffed the air. Aside from being a bit dank, it seemed quite breathable. "Let's explore a bit."
Without a word, Megan swam over to the beach, really a shelf of rock, and climbed out of the water. Zack was right behind her. Quickly, they shed the bulky tanks, masks, and fins, and moved off into the cave in their dive boots.
Megan said, "Let's not get so carried away that we get lost in here, but I would like to see where this leads to."
Zack was as curious as she was. "Okey-dokey."
They set off, their lights showing them a fairly regular passage of bare stone. They had only gone about fifty yards into the gloom when they started picking up colors on the walls.
Megan shone her light on them. "Pictographs, lots of them."
"Has anyone ever found this place before?" asked Zack.
Megan was shining her beam around at the surrounding walls. "I don't think anyone has been here since these pictures were drawn. Thank God for that. The Maltese have some history of vandalizing these ancient sites. This one looks pristine."
Zack said, "Look over there." He shone his flashlight on the far wall, which was a cascade of rock debris. "That may be why. This is a dead end. No one came in from that way."
Megan nodded, her attention on a wall to her left. Without saying a word, she walked to the base of the wall and looked up. "I have got to get pictures of this stuff."
She dug into her net bag and pulled out a small underwater camera, good for down to one hundred feet. Designed for underwater work, it had a flash, and would work perfectly well for the dim light of the cave. She began snapping pictures, the flash strobing in the darkness.
Zack said, "Uh, Megan. Is this what I think it is?"
She looked over and saw him looking up at some colored shapes on the wall, probably more pictographs. Coming up beside him, she looked up and shone her light, wondering what was so special.
"Holy shit!" she said.
"My sentiments exactly," Zack agreed.
It was a map of the world, and it showed not only both sides of the Americas but also Antarctica.
Megan's camera began flashing again.