To save the world and our future, Sigma Force must embark on a dangerous odyssey into an ancient past whose horrors are all too present in this page-turning thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author James Rollins that combines cutting-edge science, historical mystery, mythology, and pulse-pounding action.
For eons, the city of Troy—whose legendary fall was detailed in Homer’s Iliad—was believed to be a myth, until archaeologists in the nineteenth century uncovered its ancient walls buried beneath the sands. If Troy was real, how much of Homer’s twin tales of gods and monsters, curses, and miracles—The Iliad and The Odyssey—could also be true and awaiting discovery?
In the frozen tundra of Greenland, a group of modern-day researchers stumbles on a shocking find: a medieval ship buried a half-mile below the ice. The ship’s hold contains a collection of even older artifacts—tools of war—dating back to the Bronze Age. Inside the captain’s cabin is a magnificent treasure that is as priceless as it is miraculous: a clockwork gold map embedded with an intricate silver astrolabe. The mechanism was crafted by a group of Muslim inventors—the Banū Mūsā brothers—considered by many to be the Da Vincis of the Arab world—brilliant scientists who inspired Leonardo’s own work.
Once activated, the moving map traces the path of Odysseus’s famous ship as it sailed away from Troy. But the route detours as the map opens to reveal a fiery river leading to a hidden realm underneath the Mediterranean Sea. It is the subterranean world of Tartarus, the Greek name for Hell. In mythology, Tartarus was where the wicked were punished and the monstrous Titans of old, imprisoned.
When word of Tartarus spreads—and of the cache of miraculous weapons said to be hidden there—tensions explode in this volatile region where Turks battle Kurds, terrorists wage war, and civilians suffer untold horrors. The phantasmagoric horrors found in Homer’s tales are all too real—and could be unleashed upon the world. Whoever possesses them can use their awesome power to control the future of humanity.
Now, Sigma Force must go where humans fear to tread. To prevent a tyrant from igniting a global war, they must cross the very gates of Hell.
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“Sigma Force roars back into action...Rollins is a master of the genre, able to sweep us up and carry us along until he brings the story to a riveting conclusion.”— David Pitt, BOOKLIST (Reader Review)
“Rollins…marries nail-biting action with a highly imaginative premise…This is a thoughtful, nonstop thrill ride that’s an exemplar of an escapist page-turner." *Starred Review*— Publishers Weekly (Reader Review)
“Rollins takes his readers to hell…spins an entertaining thriller.”— Kirkus Reviews (Reader Review)
Q. As this is the 15th novel in this series. Does a new reader have to have read the earlier books?A. Not at all. I tailor each story so a new reader could jump into the series at any point. In fact, on ... Read MoreA:
Not at all. I tailor each story so a new reader could jump into the series at any point. In fact, only a small fraction of my readership have read my series in order. For anyone interested in this unique set of heroes and the troubles they face, THE LAST ODYSSEY is a perfect place to jump on in.
Q. What’s this latest Sigma thriller about?A. The story starts when a group of researchers stumble upon a shocking find: a centuries-old medieval ... Read MoreA:
The story starts when a group of researchers stumble upon a shocking find: a centuries-old medieval ship buried a half-mile below the melting ice. The ship holds a collection—both wondrous and horrific—dating back to the Bronze Age. Including a clockwork gold map crafted by a group of Muslim inventors, considered to be the Leonardo Da Vincis of their time. It is a map rumored to lead to Tartarus, the Greek version of Hell featured in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. And in order to stop zealots from breaking those gates open and unleashing an apocalypse, Sigma Force must go where humans fear to tread—to cross through the very gates of Hell to save the world.
Q. From the title, it sounds like this novel is connected to Homer’s Odyssey.A. Definitely. The novel is my attempt to expose the dark truths hidden in our mythologies. For eons, t ... Read MoreA:
Definitely. The novel is my attempt to expose the dark truths hidden in our mythologies. For eons, the city of Troy—whose fall was detailed in Homer’s Iliad—was believed to be myth, until archaeologists in the nineteenth century uncovered its ancient walls buried beneath the sands. And just like that, myth became history. And if Troy was a real place, how much of Homer’s twin tales of gods and monsters,curses and miracles—The Iliad and the Odyssey—could also be true and awaiting discovery? That’s what this book explores, crossing from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, revealing how history and mythology blend to reveal the hidden truths of our past.
Q. It sounds like a daunting task. How did you go about researching such an epic tale?A. To accomplish this, I did extensive research. I traveled from the melting glaciers in Iceland to anc ... Read MoreA:
To accomplish this, I did extensive research. I traveled from the melting glaciers in Iceland to ancient ruins in Sardinia to museums in Athens and Olympia and Rome. I pestered historians and archaeologists and anyone else willing to answer questions. Across the Mediterranean, I studied artifacts and ancient writings dating back to a mysterious era known as the Greek Dark Ages, a shadowy time of the Bronze Age when three civilizations were laid low during a massive war, a warm any historians have dubbed “World War Zero.” One of the only accounts of this war-torn time come from those twin epics of Homer. But THE LAST ODYSSEY sheds an even greater light into that dark time—and what it means for us today.
Q. THE LAST ODYSSEY also opens with a prologue from the point of view of Leonardo da Vinci. Whatdoes he have to do with this story?A. During my research, I discovered a tantalizing connection between Leonardo da Vinci and a school of ... Read MoreA:
During my research, I discovered a tantalizing connection between Leonardo da Vinci and a school of Arab inventors from many centuries earlier, a school called the House of Wisdom which has a fascinating and bloody connection the Greek Dark Ages. From the eighth to the fourteenth century—known as the Islamic Golden Age—Arab scientists proved themselves to be masters of design and innovation. By his own admission, Da Vinci was influenced—even borrowed—from these earlier Muslim inventors. Moreover, the Arab influence over Leonardo’s work has proven to be far greater than anyone imagined. In fact, many of the startling revelations you’ll find in the book’s prologue are indeed true.
Q. During all of your research for this book, what surprised you the most?A. I think what surprised me was how much we underestimate the technology of ancient peoples. I hada ch ... Read MoreA:
I think what surprised me was how much we underestimate the technology of ancient peoples. I hada chance to study the Antikythera Mechanism at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, aGreek device from the first century B.C. Most archaeologists now accept that the device was the firstknown analogue computer. Still, the list of amazing Greek automated designs is much moreextensive. Historians and archaeologists have documented countless designs of self-operatingmechanisms, cunning automatons, and ingenious mechanical devices. And in THE LAST ODYSSEY,readers will get a better look at the astounding extent and breadth of their inventions—many will beshocking, but also true.
Q. Your book also touches upon apocalyptic cults. What did you learn about such groups?A. During my research for this book, I became fascinated by all the ways various cultures view the end ... Read MoreA:
During my research for this book, I became fascinated by all the ways various cultures view the end of the world. Especially in regard to the visions that are common among them. That said, it is worrisome that there appears to be a growing zealous view that not only are the End Times near—but that we should do everything politically and militarily possible to make sure it happens in our lifetime. That trend is growing in support both here among Western nations, but also across the Islamic world. Even the current Supreme Leader and president of Iran are believers that the End Times are upon us. So, while such apocalyptic cults featured in my novel are fiction, their existential threat is very real.
Q. Before we finish, I also understand, you are active in your support of American veterans, evenearning the Silver Bullet Award for charitable work from the International Thriller Writers.Could you tell us a little bit about your efforts with veterans?A. Sure. My support for veterans first came about after I participated in a USO tour of authors to Iraq ... Read MoreA:
Sure. My support for veterans first came about after I participated in a USO tour of authors to Iraq and Kuwait in the winter of 2010. Upon coming home, I knew I wanted to do more. First, I worked with USA Cares, which raises emergency funds for vets in need, then most recently I joined US 4Warriors as an advisory board member. The new charity started as a grassroots effort in San Diego and has since expanded nationwide. Besides helping to promote the social welfare of vets in a wide spectrum of activities, the latest endeavor also involves helping veterans tell their stories...and get published! So as a writer, I’m especially excited as US 4 Warriors expands into this adventure.
Q. Lastly, what are you working on now?A. I have an anthology of short stories coming out next September, which includes a brand-new hundred-p ... Read MoreA:
I have an anthology of short stories coming out next September, which includes a brand-new hundred-page novella featuring a pair of characters from the Sigma universe, Tucker and Kane, an army ranger and his military war dog. They’re a dynamic duo who were inspired from a USO trip to Iraq that I took during the last war, where I saw men and women working with their dogs in the field.I love trying to capture that unique bond in print. And, of course, I’m also finishing up next year’s Sigma novel, tentatively titled The Savage Zone—but further details are presently classified.
The Last Odyssey Book Talk
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21, 9:28 a.m. WGST
The sea fog hid the monster ahead.
As the skiff vanished into the ghostly bank, the
morning light dimmed to a grim twilight. Even the rumble of the skiff’s
outboard motor was muffled by that heavy pall. Within seconds, the temperature
dropped precipitously—from a few degrees below zero to a cold that felt like
inhaling icy daggers.
Dr. Elena Cargill coughed to keep her lungs from
seizing in her chest. She tried to retreat deeper into her bright-blue parka,
which was zippered over a dry suit to protect her against the deadly cold
waters around them. Every loose bit of her white-blond hair was tucked into a
thick woolen cap, with a matching scarf around her neck.
What am I doing here?
Yesterday, she had been sweating on a dig in northern
Egypt, where she and her team had been meticulously unearthing a coastal
village that had been half swallowed by the Mediterranean four millennia ago.
It had been a rare honor to lead the joint U.S.-Egyptian team, especially for
someone whose thirtieth birthday was still two months off—not that she hadn’t earned
her place. She had dual PhDs in paleoanthropology and archaeology and had since
distinguished herself in the field. In fact, in order to work on the dig, she
had declined a teaching position at her alma mater, Columbia University.
Still, she suspected being chosen as team leader was
not all due to her academic accomplishments and field work. Her father was
Senator Kent Cargill, representing the great state of Massachusetts. Though her
father had insisted he had not pulled any strings, he was also a career
politician, serving his fourth term, which meant lying came second nature to
him. Plus, he was the current chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Whether he said anything or not, his seat on the Senate likely influenced the
How could it not?
Then came this sudden summons to fly to the frozen
wilds of Greenland. At least this request had not come from her father but from
a colleague, a friend who made a personal plea for her to come inspect a
discovery made here. Curiosity more than friendship drew her away from the dig
in Egypt, especially the last words from her colleague: You’ll want to see
this. You may get to rewrite history.
So yesterday, she had flown from Egypt to Iceland,
then took a turboprop plane from Reykjavik to the small village of Tasiilaq on
the southeast coast of Greenland. There, she had overnighted at one of the
town’s two hotels. Over a dinner of seafood stew, she had tried to inquire
about the discovery made here, but she only got blank stares or silent shakes
of a head.
It seemed only a few locals knew about the new
discovery—and none of them were talking. Even this morning, she remained none
She now sat on a boat with three strangers, all men,
sailing across a dead-calmed fjord into a fog as dense as cold paste. Her
friend had left a text this morning, promising to join her in Tasiilaq this
afternoon in order to get Elena’s assessment on whatever had been discovered
Which meant, for now, she was on her own, and clearly
out of her depths.
She jumped as a loud roar carried over the water,
shivering the flat seas around the skiff. It was as if the monster ahead had
sensed their approach. She had heard similar rumblings throughout the night,
making it hard to sleep, heightening the tension.
Seated ahead of her, an auburn-bearded mountain of a
man twisted back to face her. His cheeks and nose were ice-burned a ruddy red.
His yellow parka was unzippered, as if he were oblivious to the cold. He had
been introduced as a Canadian climatologist, but she couldn’t remember his
name. Something Scottish sounding. In her head, she thought of him as McViking.
From his cold-toughened face, she had a hard time judging his age. Anywhere
from the mid-twenties to early forties.
He waved an arm ahead of him. “Glacialquake,” he
explained as the rumbling faded away. “Nothing to worry about. Just ice calving
and shattering off the face of Helheim Glacier. That mass of ice ahead of us is
one of the world’s fastest moving glaciers, flowing some thirty meters a day
into the ocean. Last year, a huge chunk of it broke away. Some four miles wide,
a mile across, and half a mile thick.”
Elena tried to picture an iceberg roughly the size of
lower Manhattan floating past their little boat.
The climatologist stared off into the fog. “The quake
from that single break lasted a full day and was registered by seismometers
around the world.”
“And that’s supposed to reassure me?” she asked with
“Sorry.” His face cracked into a huge smile, his
green eyes twinkling even in the foggy pall, which immediately made him look
far younger. She guessed now he was only a couple of years older than her. She
also suddenly remembered his name: Douglas MacNab.
“It’s all that activity that drew me up here two
years ago,” he admitted. “Figured I’d better study it while I still can.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been working with NASA’s Operation IceBridge,
which uses radar, laser altimeters, and high-resolution cameras to monitor
Greenland’s glaciers. Specifically Helheim, which has retreated nearly three miles
over the past two decades and shrunk three hundred feet in thickness. Helheim
acts as a bellwether for all of Greenland. The entire place is melting six
times faster than three decades ago.”
“And if all of the ice here vanished?”
He shrugged. “The meltwater from Greenland alone
would lift sea levels by over twenty feet.”
That’s over two stories. She pictured her dig site in Egypt and the ancient
ruins, half-drowned by the Mediterranean. Would that be the fate soon of many
A new voice intruded from the starboard side of the
skiff. “Mac, quit being such an alarmist.” The thin dark-haired man seated
across from her sighed heavily. If there was a single word to describe him it
would be angular. He looked to be all sharp edges, from elbows and knees
to the jut of his chin and high cheekbones.
“Even with current warming trends,” the man
continued, “what you just described won’t happen for centuries, if ever. I’ve
seen your data, and NASA’s, and run my own correlations and extrapolations. When
it comes to climate and the cyclic nature of planetary temperature, the number
of variables in play are too many to make firm—”
“C’mon, Nelson. I wouldn’t exactly consider your
assessment to be unbiased. Allied Global Mining signs your paychecks.”
Elena studied the geologist anew. When she had been
introduced to Conrad Nelson, he had made no mention of being employed by a
“And who funds your grant, Mac?” Nelson countered. “A
consortium of environmental groups. That surely has no impact on your
“Data is data.”
“Really? Data can’t be skewed? It can’t be
manipulated to support a biased position?”
“Of course, it can.”
Nelson sat straighter, clearly believing he’d made
his point, but his opponent wasn’t done.
“I’ve seen AGM do it all the time,” MacNab finished.
Nelson raised a middle finger. “Then evaluate this.”
“Hmm, looks to me like you’re admitting I’m number
Nelson scoffed and lowered his arm. “Like I warned
you, data can be misinterpreted.”
The fogbank suddenly brightened around them and
shredded to either side, revealing what lay ahead.
Nelson made his final point. “Look over there. Tell
me we’re running out of glacier anytime soon.”
A hundred yards away the world ended in a wall of
ice. The front of the glacier stretched as far as the eye could see. Its
shattered face looked like the fortifications of a frozen castle, with
hoar-frost encrusted parapets and crumbling towers. The morning sunlight
fractured against its surface, revealing a spectrum running from the palest
blue to a menacing blackness. Even the air scintillated with tiny ice
particles, glittering and flashing as they approached.
“It’s massive,” Elena said, though the word failed to
capture the breadth of the monster.
Mac’s smile widened. “Aye. Helheim stretches four
miles wide and runs over a hundred miles inland. In places, the ice is over a
mile deep. It’s one of the largest glaciers draining into the North Atlantic.”
“Yet, here it still stands,” Nelson said. “As it will
“Not when Greenland is losing three hundred gigatons
of ice every year.”
“Doesn’t mean anything. Greenland’s ice sheet has
ebbed and flowed. From one ice age to another.”
Elena tuned out the rest of their argument,
especially as it grew more technical. Despite the ongoing debate, she sensed
these two men were not enemies. Clearly the two enjoyed their sparring. It took
a rare soul to survive this harsh place, which likely forged a commonality of
spirit and ruggedness that bonded everyone, including these two scientists on
opposite sides of the divide on climate change.
Instead, she turned her attention to her
surroundings. She studied the silent bergs filling the channel. The skiff’s
pilot—an Inuit elder with a leathery round face and unreadable black
eyes—expertly navigated them through the maze, while puffing on an ivory pipe,
giving each berg a wide berth. She soon discovered why. As one seemingly tiny
iceberg capsized, flipping fully over, swinging up a massive shelf of ice,
revealing how much of its true mass lurked beneath the blue-black surface. If
they’d been near the berg at the time, it would have taken out their boat.
It was a reminder of the hidden dangers here.
Even the glacier’s name hinted at the threat.
“Helheim…” she mumbled. “The realm of Hel.”
Mac heard her. “Exactly. The glacier was named after
the Viking’s World of the Dead.”
“Who gave it that name?”
Nelson blew out a heavy breath. “Who knows? Probably
some Nordic researcher with a sardonic sense of humor and a love of Norse
“I think the source goes back much further,” Mac
said. “The Inuit believe some glaciers are malignant. Passing warnings from one
generation to another. Helheim is one such place. They believe this glacier is
home to the Tuurngaq, which means ‘killing spirit.’ Their version of
Their pilot removed his pipe, spat into the sea, and
mumbled a warning. “No use that name.”
Apparently, such superstitions had not fully died
Mac lowered his voice. “I’ll wager those old stories
were the true source for someone choosing to name this glacier Helheim.”
Elena searched around and asked the question nagging
at her since she climbed aboard the boat. “Where exactly are we going?”
Mac pointed to a black arch in the ice wall. They
were close enough now to make out an opening, a shadowy rift cut into the
glacier face. It was framed in azure ice that seemed to glow from within.
“Last week, a large berg calved off there, exposing a
huge meltwater channel.”
She noted a stream running out of the rift, strong
enough to push back the floating icy sludge that rimmed the bottom of the
glacier. As they approached, the metal sides of the boat sliced through the
loose broken ice with a scream of knives on steel. It set her teeth on edge. A
new coldness settled into her bones as she suddenly recognized the trajectory
of their boat and the lack of any beach in sight.
“Are…are we going to travel inside the
glacier?” she asked.
Mac nodded. “Straight into the heart of Helheim.”
In other words, down to the World of the Dead.
* * *
Douglas MacNab kept wary watch on his passenger as
they approached the face of the glacier. He cast sidelong glances back at Dr.
Cargill, noting how much paler her countenance had grown, how her fingers had
tightened on the boat’s gunwale.
Hang in there, kid. It’ll be worth it.
When he had first been told an archaeologist—a
woman—was coming to Greenland from Egypt, he hadn’t known what to expect. He
vacillated between picturing a female Indiana Jones and some bespectacled
academic who would prove to be ill-fitted for such a harsh landscape. He
assessed the reality to be somewhere in between. The woman was plainly
overwhelmed, but she did not balk. Past the trepidation in her eyes, he
recognized a stubborn curiosity.
He also hadn’t expected someone so pretty. She was
not overly curvaceous or photo-shopped polished. Her form was lithe, but
muscular, her lips full, her high cheeks rosy in the cold. Small lines crinkled
the corners of her eyes, maybe from too much squinting into a desert sun or
maybe from long hours of academic reading. Either way, it gave her a studious
look, like a stern schoolteacher. He also found himself unduly fascinated by
the lock of ice-blond hair poking out from the edge of her woolen cap.
“Mac, eyes forward,” Nelson warned him. “Unless you
want us to run into a submerged berg.”
Mac stiffened and turned fully forward, both to hide
the heat rising to his face and to peer into the depths ahead of their skiff.
The blue waters had turned a murky brown due to the silty melt of the glacier.
He returned to his job in the bow, watching for any
hidden dangers, both in the waters below and across the surrounding calving
face. But he knew John Okalik, their Inuit pilot, had a far sharper eye when it
came to reading the ice. The native had been plying these treacherous waters
since he was a boy, nearly five decades. And his family for generations before
Still, Mac kept a closer eye as they drew up to the
mouth of the meltwater opening. It stretched ten yards across and climbed twice
as high. Another steel-sided boat came into view. It was tucked to one side and
roped in place via ice stakes pounded into the wall. Two men sat there with
huge-barreled rifles in their laps.
John stood up at the stern and chatted quickly with
the pair, relatives of his, which pretty much defined everyone from the village
As they spoke, Mac looked back and forth, trying to
follow the conversation. He was somewhat fluent in Kalaallisut, the main Inuit
language of Greenland, but the men here were using the dialect of their local
tribe, the Tunumiit.
Their pilot finally settled back to his seat by the
“So, John, we’re good?” Mac asked.
“My cousins say yes. River still open.”
John goosed the motor and slipped past the other boat
to enter the meltwater channel. The grumble of the outboard amplified in the
enclosed space as the skiff fought the current.
Mac noted Elena staring back at the shrinking arch of
sunlight—and at the armed pair. “Why the guards?” she asked. “Do we have to
worry about polar bears swimming out there?”
It was a reasonable guess. There remained a
persistent threat of those giant white carnivores, especially with their
astounding ability to swim long distances—though the shrinking Arctic ice pack
was straining even their considerable ability.
“Not bears,” Mac answered her. “Once we get to the
site, you’ll understand.”
“It’s not much farther,” he promised. “And I think
it’s best you see it without any expectations.” He glanced to Nelson. “It’s how
we discovered it. I came in here three days ago with Nelson, mostly for the
adventure of it, but also to better understand what’s going on underneath
Helheim’s frozen white face. Drilling out mile-deep cores and analyzing the
ancient gasses trapped in the old ice can only give you so much information.
Here was a rare chance to travel to the source, to the heart of the glacier.”
Nelson spoke as he struggled to open his watertight
pack. “I came along to take samples at this depth, searching for any mineral
treasures ground up by this massive ice shovel carving its way across the face
“What’s even out here?” Elena asked him.
Nelson grunted as he finally tugged open the
wax-sealed zipper. “Greenland’s true wealth lies not in the amount of
freshwater trapped as ice, but what is hiding beneath it. A cornucopia of
untapped riches. Gold, diamonds and rubies, huge veins of copper and nickel.
Rare earth elements. It promises to be a huge boon to Greenland and those that
“Not to mention filling the deep pockets of AGM,” Mac
Nelson dismissed this with a derisive snort as he
extracted a handheld device and set about calibrating it.
Elena turned her attention to the tunnel. The blue
ice grew ever darker as they continued deeper. “How far does this tunnel go?”
“All the way to the rocky coastline,” Mac said.
“We’re traveling through a tongue of ice that extends three-quarters of a mile
out from the shore.”
* * *
Elena’s breathing grew heavier with this news. She
tried to imagine the weight of ice above her head, remembering Mac’s
description of a berg the size of lower Manhattan calving off this glacier.
What if that happened while we’re inside here?
It eventually became so dark Mac switched on a light
at the bow of the boat, casting a beam far down the tunnel, igniting the ice to
a bluish glow, revealing darker veins within, like some ancient map, marking
traceries of mineral deposits scoured from the distant coast.
She took a deep breath, doing her best to calm her
nerves. While she had no problem crawling her way into tombs, this was
different. Ice was everywhere. She tasted it on her tongue, drew it in with
every breath. It encircled her completely. She was inside the ice; the ice was
Finally, a glow appeared out of the darkness, beyond
the reach of the bow lamp.
Mac glanced back to her, confirming what she hoped.
“We’re almost there.”
With a final whine of the motor, the skiff rode up
the river to where blue ice ended in an archway of black rock. The meltwater
channel continued farther, flowing down a series of cascades formed of broken
stones and ice. But a single battery-powered lamp pole marked the end of their
journey, a lone lighthouse in a frozen world.
Elena gasped at the sight illuminated before her. It
was as if this lighthouse had lured a ship to this cold harbor.
“This is impossible,” she managed to eke out.
John angled their skiff to an eddy at the side of
the river, where Mac roped their bow to a stake screwed into the ice wall.
Elena stood up, balancing herself, oblivious to the
dangers of the icy waters. She craned her neck to take in the breadth of the
huge wooden ship, its keel and planks turned black with age.
“How could this be here?” she mumbled.
Mac helped her from the boat to a spit of wet rock.
“If I had to guess, the sailors sought shelter in what was once a sea cave.” He
waved an arm to the black rock that hung over their heads. “They must have
gotten trapped here, become frozen in place, until eventually the ice swallowed
“How long ago was that?” Elena asked.
“From the age of the ice,” Nelson said, as he climbed
out to join them, “we estimate it was shipwrecked around the ninth century.”
Mac stared back at her. “Everyone thought Christopher
Columbus discovered the New World in 1492. Then he lost that title when it was
discovered the Vikings had settled in Greenland and northern Canada in the late
“If you’re correct about the age, it would mean this
ship landed a full century earlier,” Elena said. “And this is no Viking ship.”
“That’s what we thought, too, but we’re no experts.”
Nelson nodded. “That’s why you’re here.”
Elena now understood. While she had a dual degree in
paleoanthropology and archaeology, her specialty was in nautical
archaeology. It was why she was picked to unearth the Egyptian port city
swallowed by the Mediterranean. Her field of interest was in pushing back the
date when humankind first dared to ply the seas. She remained endlessly
fascinated by such endeavors and the engineering history behind each
advancement. It was a passion likely instilled in her as a girl when she and
her father used to sail each summer off Martha’s Vineyard. She still cherished
those childhood memories, those rare moments when the two could spend quality
time together. Even in college, she had been part of her university’s crew
team, rowing skull to an Ivy League championship.
“Any guesses as to where this ship came from?” Mac
“I don’t have to guess.” She headed toward the
exposed stern of the boat. The forward bow was still encased in ice. “Look at
how the sheathing planks are stitched together. Even the bindings are coconut
rope. It’s all a very characteristic design.”
“Did you say coconut?”
She nodded and stepped toward where a pair of masts
had broken long ago and now stuck out of the cave like two flags. The torn
remnants of their sails were still preserved. “Those two lanteen sails…they’re
made of palm-leaf matting.”
Nelson frowned. “Coconut and palm leaves. So
definitely not Vikings.”
“No, this is a Sambuk. One of the largest dhows of
the Arab world. This one appears to even have a deck up there, which makes it
one of the rare oceanic merchant vessels of the Arab world.”
“If you’re right,” Mac said, “which I don’t doubt,
then this discovery could prove it was Arabs, not Vikings, who first set foot
She wasn’t ready to assert that. Not until she could
carbon date the vessel. Still, her friend—the colleague who had urged her to
come here—had been right. This discovery had the potential to rewrite history.
Nelson followed her, waving his handheld device.
“Unfortunately, these poor sailors never made it back home to tell their
“Or at least, one didn’t,” Mac added. “We
found only a single body aboard the ship. No telling what happened to the
Elena turned sharply back, nearly blinded as Mac
flicked on a flashlight. “So, you’ve been inside?”
Mac pointed toward where a boulder had cracked open
the side of the hull. “It’s the other reason you were recommended. This isn’t
all we discovered. Follow me.”
He led the way to the trapped ship and twisted
sideways to fold his large form through the crack in the hull. “Careful where
you step and try not to brush against any supports. We’re lucky this boat
wasn’t crushed flat by the ice. The roof of this cave must have protected it
all this time.”
Elena climbed in after Mac, with Nelson trailing.
John stayed with the boat, still smoking his pipe. With the motor switched off,
the place was now deathly quiet, as if the world were holding its breath. As
her ears adjusted, though, she could still hear the ice. The walls moaned and
sighed. A low grinding echoed throughout the tunnels as if some massive beast were
gnashing its teeth.
The reminder of the danger tempered her
excitement—but not enough to stop her from exploring the ancient ship.
Mac’s flashlight illuminated the main hold, which was
supported by ice-blackened timbers. They crossed quickly through this dead
forest. The air had a vague oily smell, like mineral spirits or gasoline. To
either side, giant earthenware jars stood shoulder-high, lining the curve of
the walls. One had shattered long ago, looking as if it had exploded from the
inside. She caught a stronger whiff of wet asphalt as she passed it, but any
evaluation of the contents would have to wait.
Clearly her guide had a goal in mind.
Mac led them toward the boat’s bow, where steps led
up to a door in a wooden wall. “We guessed this was the captain’s quarters.”
He climbed and entered first, bowing low to pass
through. Once inside, he stepped aside and offered his hand to help her up. She
took it, already feeling weak-kneed by the breathless excitement of it all.
Along with a measure of terror.
She joined Mac in the windowless quarters. Shelves
lined either side, where books and scrolls had long decayed into moldering
ruins. A desk filled the forward part of the tiny cabin, abutting against the
arch of the ship’s wooden prow.
“Might want to brace yourself for this,” Mac warned.
He shifted his large bulk so she would approach the
desk. She took a step forward, then back again. A chair stood before the desk.
But it was not empty. A figure sat there, nestled in a fur cloak made from the
hide of a polar bear. His upper body lay collapsed across the desktop, his
cheek resting against the surface.
She took a deep steadying breath. She had examined
mummies during her time in Egypt, even dissected a few. But the body here was
far more disturbing. The skin had turned to blackened leather, nearly the same
hue as the ancient desktop. It looked as if body and desk were one. Yet, at the
same time, the body appeared perfectly preserved, down to the eyelashes framing
the white globes. She almost expected him to blink.
“It seems the captain went down with the ship,”
Nelson said distractedly, his focus on his handheld device.
“Maybe he wanted to protect this.” Mac shifted his
beam to follow the corpse’s arms draped atop the desk. Skeletal hands framed a
large square metal box, easily two-feet wide on each side and half a foot
thick. Its surface was stained as black as everything else and looked to be
hinged on the far side.
“What is it?” Elena drew alongside Mac, taking some
comfort from the solidness of his presence.
“You tell me.”
He reached across the body and lifted the lid. Light
blazed forth from within—but as she blinked away the glare, she realized the
brightness was only the flashlight’s beam reflecting off the golden inner
Shocked at what was revealed, she leaned closer.
“It’s a map.” She studied the three-dimensional rendering of seas and oceans,
of continents and islands. She traced the main body of water in the center,
which was rendered in priceless blue lapis lazuli. “That has to be the Mediterranean.”
The revealed map encompassed not only the breadth of
the sea, but all of Northern Africa, the Middle East, and the full measure of
the European continent and surrounding oceans. The map extended out into the
Atlantic, but not as far as Iceland or Greenland.
These sailors traveled beyond the edge of their map.
But why? Were they explorers searching for new lands?
Had they been blown off course? Were they fleeing a threat? A hundred other
questions filled her head.
At the top of the gold map, an elaborate silver
device was imbedded there. It was spherical, six inches in diameter, half
buried in the gold map. Its surface was divided by curved clockwork arms and
encircled by longitudinal and latitudinal bands, all inscribed with Arabic
symbols and numbers.
“What is it?” Mac asked, having noted her attention.
“It’s an astrolabe. A device used by navigators and
astronomers to help determine both a ship’s time and position, even identify
stars and planets.” She glanced back to Mac. “Most of the earliest astrolabes
were simple in design, just flat discs. This spherical design…it’s centuries
ahead of its time.”
“And that’s not all,” Mac said. “Watch this.”
He reached to where the dead captain’s hand rested
near the flank of the box. He flicked a lever there, and a ticking arose from
inside. The astrolabe began to slowly turn on its own, driven by a hidden
mechanism. Movement drew her eyes to the gemstone rendering of the
Mediterranean. A tiny silver ship began to glide away from what was modern-day
Turkey and across the blue sea.
“What do you make of that?” he asked.
She shook her head, as mystified as Mac.
Nelson cleared his throat. “Guys. Maybe we’d better
leave that be.”
They both turned to him. His gaze was fixed on the
screen of his handheld device. He thumbed a dial, and a quiet clicking rose
“What’s wrong?” Mac asked.
“I mentioned all the resources buried here in
Greenland, waiting to be extracted. I failed to mention one. Uranium.”
He lifted his device higher. “I forgot to bring a Geiger counter the first time
we came down here and thought I’d use this opportunity to correct that
Elena stared upward, trying to peer through the deck
to the rock and ice beyond. “Are you saying we’re standing in the middle of a
“No. This is the first time I got a reading. After
Mac opened the box.” He reached down and held the Geiger counter closer to the
map. The clicking became more rapid and louder. “That device is radioactive.”
Mac swore and quickly slammed the box closed.
They all retreated.
“How hot is it?” Mac asked.
“About the equivalent of a chest x-ray for every
minute you’re exposed.”
“Then let’s leave it here for now.” Mac herded them
back into the ship’s hold. “We’ll continue to keep guards posted at the channel
entrance in case word of this treasure reaches the wrong ears. We can come back
later with some lead shielding and extract the device. Get it somewhere safe.”
They clambered out of the frozen ship and back to the
shore of the icy river. Mac’s plan made sense, but Elena hated any delay. She
stared longingly back at the stranded ship, anxious to know its history.
As she turned around, a thunderous boom shook through
the channel. The river sloshed its banks. Chunks of ice crashed into the water.
She hurried closer to Mac. “Another glacialquake?”
As the blast echoed away, a new noise reached them.
Rapid popping, like a chain of firecrackers going off.
She stared up at Mac.
“That’s gunfire,” he said and took her hand. “We’re