Pushed by the wind, the Black Mist swept along the island and off to the west. It left behind only silence and a landscape littered with unmoving bodies.
Mediterranean Sea, seventeen miles southeast of Lampedusa Island
He touched down, approximately fifty feet from the lighted work zone, and tapped the intercom switch on his right arm.
“This is Austin,” he said into the helmet-mounted microphone. “I’m on the bottom and proceeding toward the excavation.”
“Roger that,” a slightly distorted voice replied in his ear. “Zavala and Woodson are awaiting your arrival.”
So far, Kurt found the suit easy to use and comfortable. Not surprising, it was also a little bulky. As he reached the lighted zone, Kurt passed a tripod mounted with an underwater floodlight. Similar lights were set up all around the perimeter of the work zone. They were connected by power cords to a group of windmill-like turbines stacked up a short distance away.
As the current flowed past, it moved the turbine blades and generated electricity to power the lights, allowing the excavation to proceed at a much quicker pace.
Kurt continued on, passing over the stern of the ancient wreck and setting himself down on the far side.
“Look who finally showed up,” a friendly voice said over the helmet intercom.
“You know me,” Kurt replied. “I wait till all the hard work is done, then swoop in and collect the glory.”
“Where’s Zavala?” Kurt asked.
Kurt saw Joe straighten slightl[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
y and then heard the happy-go-lucky tone of his friend’s voice over the intercom system.
“Better look busy,” Joe said. “El jefe has come to pay us a visit.”
Technically, that was true. Kurt was the Director of Special Assignments for the National Underwater and Marine Agency, a rather unique branch of the federal government that concerned itself with mysteries of the ocean, but Kurt didn’t manage like a typical boss. He preferred the team approach, at least until there were tough decisions to be made. Those he took on himself. That, in his mind, was the responsibility of a leader.
As for Joe Zavala, he was more like Kurt’s partner in crime than an employee. The two had been getting in and out of one scrape after another for years. In the past year alone, they’d been involved in the discovery of the S.S. Waratah, a ship that vanished and was presumed to have sunk in 1909; found themselves trapped in an invasion tunnel under the DMZ between North and South Korea; and stopped a worldwide counterfeiting operation so sophisticated that it used only computers and not a single printing press.
After that, both of them were ready for a vacation. An expedition to find relics on the floor of the Mediterranean sounded like just the tonic.
“I heard you two were slacking off down here,” Kurt joked. “I’ve come to put a stop to it and dock your wages.”
Joe laughed. “You wouldn’t fire a man who was about to pay up on a bet, would you?”
“You? Pay up? That’ll be the day.”
Joe pointed to the exposed ribs of the ancient ship. “What did you tell me when we first saw the ground-penetrating sonar scan?”
“I said the wreck was a Carthaginian ship,” Kurt recalled. “And you put your money on it being a Roman galley—which, to my great consternation, has been proven correct by all the artifacts we’ve recovered.”
“But what if I was only fifty percent right?”