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Authors: Jack Hyland

The Moses Virus

BOOK: The Moses Virus
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THE

MOSES

VIRUS

A NOVEL

Jack Hyland

TAYLOR TRADE PUBLISHING

Lanham • New York • Boulder • Toronto • Plymouth, UK

Published by Taylor Trade Publishing

An imprint of Rowman & Littlefield

4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706

www.rowman.com

10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom

Distributed by National Book Network

Copyright © 2014 by Taylor Trade Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hyland, Jack, 1938–

The Moses virus / Jack Hyland.

pages cm

ISBN 978-1-58979-908-0 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-58979-909-7 (electronic) 1. Archaeologists—Fiction. 2. Biological disasters—Fiction. 3. Forensic archaeology—Fiction. 4. Power (Social sciences)—Fiction. 5. Rome (Italy)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3608.Y53M67 2013

813'.6—dc23

2013014803

™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

Printed in the United States of America

And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

Exodus 12:29

Contents

1

S
unrise crept across the red tile rooftops, washing away the blues and grays that had hidden Rome during the night. From the terrace of his apartment on Via Gregoriana near the top of the Spanish Steps, Tom Stewart watched as the city started to come to life. Shops opening. Bread deliveries being made. People beginning their workday. He imagined that the rhythms of this eternal city remained unchanged for two thousand years. The bells chimed six in the tower of the Trinità dei Monti, the church
at the head of the Spanish Steps, and the sounds were echoed by church bells across the city.

In the distance, Tom saw the majestic dome of St. Peter’s. It dominated the skyline, casting a shadow over the remnants of the ancient empire. It had become the symbol of Rome to the world and the center of faith for tens of millions of believers. Tom’s sense of awe in seeing the basilica remained as inspiring and humbling as it had the first time he saw it as a student more than twenty years ago.

Tom was a trustee of the American Academy in Rome, a scholarly organization, located on the Janiculum, the highest of Rome’s hills. Each year, the twenty-five American archaeologists, artists, architects, writers, musicians, and scholars who had won its coveted Rome Prize spent time in its palatial residence, free to pursue their various fields of study. As a trustee, Tom spent every other summer there to attend administrative meetings. On this particular June trip, Tom was also busy editing the most recent draft of his new textbook on forensic archaeology.

Tom was well liked by his fellow trustees. Bright but not overly bookish, with an ironic sense of humor and an easygoing manner, he was a popular professor at New York University. A former competitive swimmer, he kept in shape by swimming nearly every day. He had dark brown hair, almost black, and a strong, classic face which some said made him look like the Roman emperors or statesmen pictured on busts carved by great Roman sculptors. He spoke Italian with a decidedly American accent, having taught himself the language over the years. Aside from New York, Rome was his favorite city, the perfect mix of ancient and modern.

This morning Tom was going to the Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum. Doc Brown, a professor of archaeology, a member of the Academy, and an old friend, invited him to observe the excavation of an underground passage discovered last year. If Doc’s theory was correct, it could lead to the rooms of Emperor Nero’s fabled imperial palace, called the
Domus Aurea
, or the Golden House. If he was right, it would be a find of historic proportions. Tom was excited for the opportunity that promised to be the crowning glory of his friend’s career.

He took his apartment building’s ornate elevator to the ground floor and passed through the genteelly run-down lobby. He had been lucky to find this apartment in such a desirable part of the city. Not only was it reasonable, but, despite its shabby appearance, it was run well. It even had Wi-Fi.

He headed into the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, in front of the Hassler Hotel, to hail a cab.

“Buongiorno,” Tom said to the taxi driver as he pulled up abruptly. “Il foro Romano, per favore, vicino al Colosseo el’arco di Costantino.”

“Sì, signore.”

The taxi lurched forward and sped down the hill, along the Via del Corso, a street full of shops and eateries, into the Piazza Venezia.

Part of Rome’s magic for Tom was that its many layers of past, present, and future were all jumbled together. Standing high on the hill overlooking the piazza was the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, ridiculed for years as resembling a white wedding cake, yet important for honoring the first king of a united Italy in 1861. Behind the monument lay the Roman Forum, once the center of the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire. On the same square, in the Renaissance Palazzo Venezia, Mussolini had had his headquarters.In the ancient palazzo, a photographer was busy shooting an impossibly thin model for some chic fashion magazine.

The taxi stopped near the Arch of Constantine. Tom leaned forward, paid his fare, got out and checked his watch: 6:35 a.m. Right on time. He looked around at the deserted area on the edge of the Roman Forum. He spotted an iron fence with a gate, behind which he could see the familiar signs of an archaeological excavation. It took him back to his own experience of being on an excavation in Arizona.

The Academy’s “dig” was located on the Palatine Hill, one of Rome’s fabled seven hills. As Tom passed through the gate, he saw wheelbarrows, picks, shovels, and brushes of various sizes; wooden tables and plastic tubs filled with water for processing pottery; and a number of sifters, containers with bottoms made of wire screen to filter dirt removed from the dig. It felt good to be on a site again, he thought. It had been a while.

Dr. Robert Brown gave him a welcoming wave. Brown was the senior archaeologist at the American Academy and highly admired in his profession. Despite his imposing reputation, everyone called him by his nickname, “Doc,” which gave him the informality he preferred. Doc was slight in stature, probably—Tom guessed—no more than five-feet, six inches, wiry, with an aesthetic face that reminded Tom of a portrait of a saint found in mosaics on some floor in a Romanesque monastery. Doc talked quickly and with passion. His students at Bryn Mawr College loved him. His specialty was late imperial Rome, and he was bristling with anticipation to get started.

“You made it,” Doc said, shaking Tom’s hand.

“Wouldn’t miss it. Nice day for a dig.”

“Great day. Let me show you around. We’re almost ready to start.”

At the trustees’ meeting of the American Academy at its New York office last November, Doc had briefed everyone about his amazing discovery of the ancient underground passage during his excavation the year before. Upon hearing Doc’s enthusiastic presentation, the trustees and patrons had agreed to provide most of the funding for this year’s dig. With the green light from the trustees and most of the money raised, Doc’s proposal went out to dozens of foundations. No one was willing, and Doc despaired that his project might not go forward. Then, in a surprise development, Belagri, a global agribusiness, took an interest and provided the balance of the funds needed.

Excavations in the Roman Forum were permitted to only a few qualified groups, the American Academy being one. Upon seeing Brown’s report, the Ministry of Italian Cultural Properties and Activities had approved the excavation, anticipating a historic find, and was following the events closely.

The Forum was still empty because the Roman authorities kept the tourists out until after nine in the morning. Once in, the tourists swarmed over most of the Forum with their cameras and their picnic lunches. Fortunately for those doing excavations, the iron gates and fence kept the tourists out.

“Our plan today is to enter the underground passage at the end of the mosaic floor, once we’ve cleared away the surface debris. If you don’t mind doing some crawling, you can join us,” Doc said to Tom. “That’s if you’re up to it.”

“Count me in,” Tom replied enthusiastically. Twenty-two young men and women, dressed in T-shirts, coveralls, and work shoes were gathered around, already engaged in their tasks. Doc’s crew included mostly American college students who paid for the privilege of participating in this archaeological dig as part of their coursework.

“Here, let me introduce you to my team. Actually, I think you know Eric Bowen,” Doc said, as he gestured in the direction of the closest of the workers.

Eric looked up from one of the laser surveying instruments that he and another student were adjusting.

“Yes. How’ve you been, Eric?”

“Good to see you again, Dr. Stewart.”

“Please call me Tom. How’s your father?”

“Okay . . . Tom. He’s fine. He’s supposed to visit next month.”

“Give him my regards. I’ll see him in September at the trustees’ meeting.”

Tom looked at the instrument Eric was holding.

“Is that your total station?”

“Yes,” said Eric, with an assurance that Tom found amusing. “Totally digital. We can download the data to model building equipment.”

“They’re getting more sophisticated every year.”

“Can’t work without high tech these days,” Doc added. With that, he escorted Tom to a number of locations where he met individuals in charge of drawing the frescoes that had been discovered, others who were marble and stone experts, and the site historian, Bill Erickson, a doctoral candidate at Yale.

Doc stopped near the site. “The underground passageway—just fifteen feet away from here—may lead us to rooms of Nero’s palace that have been lost for two thousand years. His palace was a gigantic complex. It covered three of Rome’s seven hills, three hundred acres in all. Nero built furiously after the fire in 64 that devastated Rome, and he didn’t stop building until his suicide four years later. But all his work was buried or built over by the emperors who followed.

“We believe that much of Nero’s complex lies unexplored—just waiting for us at the end of the passageway.”

“What did the superintendency do to protect the underground passageway from ‘visitors’ over the winter?” Tom asked Doc.

Doc replied, “They installed a security cover after we finished our campaign last year and removed it just prior to our starting up again.”

Tom watched as the team worked diligently under Doc’s direction. It took a good couple of hours to remove the remaining pile of rubble around a large, flat segment of the ancient mosaic floor. Then, they broke for coffee. Tom was surprised to see an attractive Italian woman working alongside the rest of Brown’s team.

“Alexandra Cellini, a graduate student at the University of Rome,” Doc said, noticing Tom’s interest. “She signed on with the team to learn American archaeology techniques. She goes by Alex, and her English is flawless.”

“What’s her specialty?”

“Ancient European history, but archaeology is of special interest to her. She’s bright and a whiz on the computer. Her mother’s American and her father was an Italian diplomat of some kind. Pretty well connected. She’s been a real asset to the team.”

At this point, Doc spotted a man who had entered through the gate in the iron fence and was walking toward him. Doc’s face reddened slightly, and he said to Tom, “I may be stooping to a new low.”

“How’s that?” Tom asked.

“Here comes the press. My main sponsor of the excavation suggested that I get some publicity. It may help with future funding. So, I invited a reporter I met from the
International Herald Tribune
—one of those modern reporters who also takes his own pictures. There’s a chance we’ll be making history today.”

“I believe you’ll be making history,” Tom replied. “That’s not what I call stooping to a new low.”

Doc relaxed. “I know, I know. I’m uneasy about seeking publicity just to raise money.”

“Don’t worry,” Tom replied. “Think of it as helping the Academy and your students.”

“Right,” Doc said.

The reporter joined them. Doc shook his hand, saying, “Jim. Jim Ruchet, I’d like you to meet a trustee of the American Academy, Tom Stewart. He’s a famous forensic archaeologist from New York and is in Rome for the summer working on a book he’s writing.”

Ruchet, looking jaunty, was wearing a loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt and white khaki trousers. He had a small digital camera in his hand and sported a wide smile. Tom thought that Ruchet looked more like a photographer than a reporter. Ruchet shook Tom’s hand. “Glad to meet you. Are you ready for history?”

Tom replied, “You bet.”

Doc said to Tom, “Jim made a name for himself for being Marilyn Monroe’s photographer.”

“That chapter is long over,” Ruchet said. “I became more interested in writing than pure picture taking.”

For the next five minutes or so, Doc briefed Ruchet, giving him the names of the members of his team and their roles. Ruchet recorded Doc’s conversation. After Ruchet had been filled in, Doc said, “Jim, we’re ready. Before I drop down into the passageway,” Doc nodded toward the opening of the passageway about fifteen feet away, “do you want to get a shot?”

“How long do you think you’ll be in the passage?” Jim asked.

“I don’t have a clue,” replied Doc. “One, two, maybe three hours. Depends on what we find.”

“Uh-oh,” Ruchet said. “My editor thought I’d be here for a half hour, and I have to be at the American ambassador’s residence in another forty-five minutes. The U.S. secretary of state is in Rome. If you don’t mind, let’s take several shots now. Admittedly they’re ‘before’ rather than ‘after,’ but the text can cover your results even if the photograph doesn’t.”

Ruchet walked to the passageway entrance. “Doc, stand at the edge, explain something to Tom—that’s your name, isn’t it? Tom, go shake hands with Doc. Smile, both of you. Doc, make it look like you’ve just found hidden treasure.”

“But I haven’t,” complained Doc. “Not yet, anyway.”

“C’mon,” replied Ruchet, “this is a publicity shot. For the newspapers. Stop thinking about it too much.”

Doc and Tom stood near the passage entrance, smiled and shook hands. Jim took a number of quick shots, then made a discreet exit.

Doc placed his fingers in his mouth and whistled. “Listen up!” The entire team stopped talking and gathered around him. “We’re ready to lift the entry stone and drop down into the passageway. Take your positions. I’ll go first. Eric, you’re behind me. Greg Bator will be at the entry, and he’ll keep you all informed with everything he hears from us over our two-way radios.”

The anticipation in the group was electric. Two of the strongest workers carefully levered the large flat stone with crowbars. Slowly, the stone, which was about four feet in diameter, yielded and was moved away from the edge of the hole it had covered. Everyone took turns looking down into the dark space.

Doc dropped into the passageway, and then Eric followed him. As a precaution, they had two-way radios and ropes tied around their waists that fed out as they moved into the tunnel. There was always the risk that the age and unknown state of the passageway could give them trouble. Both Doc and Eric also had oxygen sensors and were wearing helmets equipped with lights. Kneeling by the entrance, Greg began to pass along Doc’s and Eric’s comments as they called in. The rest of the crew watched eagerly, gathered in a circle around the entrance to the passageway.

BOOK: The Moses Virus
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