Discovery of the Century
dangled precariously over a jagged precipice of ice.
A yanking of thin lines
stretching above followed in final test of readiness. The ropes appeared too thin for the task. In truth they
were strong enough to hold a mammoth.
Then came the command: “Lower away!”
Slowly the figure in the orange down jumpsuit descended from the icy ledge into the
no-man’s-land of space. Five hundred feet of nothingness spread under the crane arm holding him. Beneath that,
mountain peaks and glacial ice extended in all directions.
Far below the daring
mountaineer a black mouth in the glacier overlooking Ahora Gorge on the north slope of the mountain—appearing
tiny, but wide enough to receive him—possessed a secret about to be exposed to a waiting world.
The target hole, toward which he was being lowered through space, stretched across a mere six
feet in diameter. It had been melted through the ice with state-of-the-art torches lowered by the same crane on
the ends of two large cables. A third simultaneously sent oxygen into the recess to keep the flame alive, even
as the melted water thus produced was suctioned out with a gigantic dentistry tube attached to a fourth. One of
the lines also held a remote television camera to guide the efforts of the team perched safely in the
encampment above. Coordinated by a sophisticated computer program designed specifically to Livingstone’s
specifications, the operation combined large-scale NASA engineering with intricate medical ingenuity to perform
a space-age archaeological arthroscopy on one of the most remote glacial packs on the globe.
The only potential glitch that neither men nor computers could control was the winds.
Always unpredictable at 16,000 feet, they were especially treacherous here in the eastern Turkish highlands. If
they whipped up, neither astronaut nor heart surgeon, with any number of computers at their command, would be
able to prevent the cables from flailing about wildly.
The winds, however, had behaved
according to the optimistic forecasts of the team’s resident meteorologist.
burning was carried out in the early morning hours on two successive days of calm. They then prayed that no
unforeseen storm moved in suddenly to dump snow into the void thus created and that the weather would hold for
yet a third day.
That would make it possible for a man to be lowered in place of torches. He would witness the discovery up
close with his own eyes and feel with his own fingers what everyone on the mountain hoped the spectrographic
images from the previous spring had indeed discovered, and the subsurface interface radar from two weeks ago
confirmed and pinpointed more precisely. He would conduct what tests were possible at the base of the
six-foot-wide well, remove a few samples, and then recommend to the overseeing committee how to proceed.
No storm had come. The winds remained at bay. And now, at a little after seven o’clock on the
morning of the third bright day in a row, the much anticipated moment had at last arrived.
From the cliff’s edge precisely above the target hole, the orange figure slowly descended. No
less than fifty video and television cameras recorded the moment from various vantage points of safety about
the mountain above.
Archaeologists, historians, and preachers had dreamed of this
moment for centuries. Now the potential discovery offered an exquisitely fitting climax to a millennium of
technological advance, briefly diverting man’s focus from what he might become to where he had come from. For if the predictions were indeed correct, the seed of all
humankind on the globe may have originated right here.
Whether anyone would be the
first in the modern era to actually set foot in that ancient place—a site of legend and myth to some, of fact
and divine intercedence in man’s affairs according to others—probably few of those dreamers in their heart of
hearts realistically imagined possible.
Yet modern man’s resourcefulness had a way of
making impossibilities happen. The foot of a human being had indeed ventured out of a spaceship called
Eagle to plant itself onto the surface of the moon. In that
instant had impossibility become history.
Now had a similar moment of destiny arrived.
To archaeologists this day was surely no less significant than in July 1969. Whether the name Adam Livingstone
would be known to posterity with the same prominence as Neil Armstrong only the future could determine.
On this morning, decades after the American spaceman, an adventurous Englishman,
archaeologist, explorer, and daredevil dangled in midair at the end of the tether controlling his life.
Certainly he occupied center stage of the world’s collective attention no less than had Armstrong during his
rendezvous with history.
Adam Livingstone’s thoughts, however, were preoccupied with
the task at hand. Closer and closer, he now approached what signified a major fulfillment of the objective he
had set for himself ten years earlier. That was to see, to discover, to set foot inside places unknown to any
mortal before him. His dream was to represent to the field of archaeology what Alexander did to conquest, what
Columbus did to sailing, what Edison did to technology, what Einstein did to nuclear physics.
At thirty-four he was already well on the way toward achieving that goal. If yesterday’s
dig—more accurately “melt”—and today’s exploration of the shaft were successful, the resultant fame would
surely catapult his growing reputation into yet more lofty realms of worldwide renown.
Livingstone glanced below him. The essence of his chosen field of endeavor was digging holes
into the past, yet now he was about to enter the most remarkable such tell imaginable. It was one he hoped would take him back to the earliest
of all beginning points known to man . . . to the sixth chapter of the book of Genesis itself!
He was two-thirds of the way down now . . . another two hundred feet to go. As he
gazed below him, all was white, save his two dangling orange legs. Above, the sky shone pale blue in the
dazzling autumn morning’s sun, only just creeping above the peaks at his back.
was breathless. The whole world was quiet. Except for the slight pressure and an occasional tug upon his
shoulder straps, he felt nothing. Only a slight sensation of updraft against his cheeks betrayed his downward
Slowly he turned his head around toward the mountains of ice and snow.
This was spectacularly peaceful, he thought. He felt as if he were floating weightless in
the air. It was cold. Probably he should be wearing his goggles. But nothing was going to keep him from
witnessing every second of this momentous day with eyes wide open.
He had been waiting
a long time for this moment.
The daring archaeologist was not
given to premonitions or angst. They were a liability in his line of work.
But as he
glanced down into the void below him, the thought flitted through Livingstone’s brain—What if something goes wrong?
What if he tempted
fate once too often? Was he ready to face death? Was he prepared, as they said, to meet his Maker?
He laughed the idea off.
This was too beautiful and triumphant a
moment to spoil. He didn’t believe in immortality anyway, so what difference did it make? Life was life. This
was it. Live it to the full. When you died you died. That was it. No need to worry about it ahead of time. As
to meeting his Maker, Adam Livingstone was too thoroughly a modern to give the idea a second thought. Once his
time came, he didn’t plan on meeting anybody. He would get his living done on this side of death and waste no time thinking about the other.
Besides, Livingstone thought, he had himself designed this whole apparatus holding him. He
had supreme faith in the equipment, in his team, and in himself.
His thoughts turned
momentarily to Candace.
Did the living he intended to do include marriage and a
family? he found himself wondering. What did he want for himself, for his future—however long or short that
future happened to be?
They had lunched together at Harrods two weeks ago, where
Livingstone had appeared to dedicate an archaeology display in commemoration of his upcoming Turkish
“You’re quite the talk of London, Adam,” she said across the most secluded
table they could manage to find once the festivities were concluded. “How lucky of me to have you all to
“You could have any man in England, Candace,” Livingstone said with
“Maybe I don’t want just any man,” she rejoined, glancing into his eyes with a teasing smile. “You
simply must come round to Swanspond soon,” she added. “Daddy is dying to see you again.”
Livingstone laughed once more. “I shall try the instant I am back from Turkey.”
“Daddy will be disappointed not to see you before your trip.”
father is too important a man to expend his energy waiting to see me,” he replied. “Are you sure you are not
using him to gain your own ends, Candace, my dear?”
“And so what if I am?” she
replied, allowing her lower lip to protrude slightly. “Is that so unreasonable of me? A woman can wait only so
long, you know, Adam.”
He really ought to marry her, Livingstone thought. But did he
want to bring a wife into the midst of such a consuming career? Was he ready for marriage? Did he even have
time to fall in love?
All these thoughts flitted through his brain in the merest
second or two.
A brief flash of light shone below and far to his left, waking the
descending archaeologist from his momentary reverie. No doubt a reflection of the morning sun off an ice
What am I doing! he said to
himself. This was not a convenient time to consider such questions as marriage and death!
It was time to get on with the business at hand.
Again Livingstone looked down. Only fifty feet more. The excavated flue of blackness was directly
below him and steadily enlarging. From a mere dot as he began, it now showed itself as a duct into the heart of
the otherwise unreachable glacier. Everything was going exactly according to plan.
“Easy now . . . I’m nearly there,” he said, speaking into the tiny microphone
embedded in the suit under his chin.
Immediately a slight tug came upon his shoulders
signalling a slowing of descent. Then a stop.
“Are you over it?” came a voice through
a miniature speaker attached to the headgear near his right ear.
. . . only two or three feet.”
“Draw in the crane—can you see me clearly—backward and to my right?”
“Yep, good—making the adjustment . . . v-e-r-y slowly.”
Livingstone felt himself swing
slightly from the pull at the top of his tether .
“Good, that’s it,” he said. “I’m
over it—wait a minute till I’m steady again. . . .”
“. . . start easing me down gradually.”
The downward motion resumed.
“All right . . . about
twenty-five feet . . . twenty . . . now fifteen . . .”
Again he slowed.
“Ten feet . . . eight . . . six
. . . four, three, two, one—stop.”
The downward motion ceased.
“Where are you?” came the voice at his ear.
“I thought you were
watching me from up there!” said Livingstone. “What do you mean, where am I!”
see you fine,” replied Scott Jordan, Livingstone’s closest friend, an American who had served as his lifeline
and confidant on more adventures and projects than either could count. “We want to know how it looks on
“I’m exactly at the top of
the shaft. My boots can touch the ice around the edge.”
“See anything inside?”
“Just blackness. Wait a minute—I’m going to turn on my spotlight.”
Livingstone reached for the halogen lantern strapped to his side, flipped it on, and sent the
high-powered beam straight down below him.
“Nothing,” he said. “It’s deep,” he added
with a laugh.
“You getting cold feet, Adam!”
“Did I say that!
Come on, Scott—Eagle Two to Mission Control . . .
let’s get this show on the road. Start me moving again. I want to see what’s down there.”
“All right, you’re the boss—here we go.”
the archaeologist resumed his descent, Jordan’s private satellite line rang in the tent high above. “Get that,
will you, Jen?” he said, keeping his eyes on the monitor in front of him.
Washington, Scott,” said Livingstone’s other trusted assistant in her musical Scandinavian accent.
“Right. What shall I tell him? Surely, you don’t
“You bet I want to talk to him,” interrupted the handsome black man with a
flashing smile of perfectly set teeth. “That man’s going to be president someday. I want him on our side when
it comes to research appropriations. I told him to call. Put the phone to my ear—I can’t take my hands off the
Jen did so.
“Marcos—you there?” said Jordan, still
eying the monitor carefully.
There was a brief pause as he listened.
“Yeah, well you almost missed it, old buddy. Look, I can’t talk. I’m sort of in the middle of
the greatest discovery of all time. I’ll have Jen hook you into the line. You won’t be able to say anything,
but at least you can hear Adam and me live . . . right, good . . . okay, talk to you
Jordan nodded. Jen removed the phone from his ear and did as he had indicated,
while Scott returned his full attention to the task at hand.
feet slowly entered the cylindrical well of ice. Now knees . . . shoulders . . . finally
his entire body descended below the surface and out of sight from above.
from view now,” came Jordan’s voice in his ear.
“I’m still here,” returned Adam.
“Got room to maneuver?”
“How deep is it?”
. . . still no sign of the bottom. The lantern’s picking up only frozen wall. Looks like I’m inside a
vertical pipe of ice—a slight bluish tinge around the edges wherever the light hits.”
“I’ll turn on the helm-cam.”
It fell silent for a few moments.
Livingstone continued lowering into the chilly blackness. It was eerily quiet. If anything went wrong now, he
was a dead man. But nothing would go wrong. This was the
moment, the triumph.
He arched his neck to see above him where the six-foot-round
circle of faint blue light grew smaller and smaller.
He turned off the lantern
briefly. Blackness engulfed him. The quiet inside the ice shaft was entirely different than that of open space.
The air was dead, cold, empty. How old were these frozen walls, he wondered.
been in dozens of cramped, unusual, and dangerous places in his life. He had studied scores of ice-core rods
drilled into glaciers. Now he was inside a hollow ice core. This
was a sensation entirely new . . . uncanny, full of mystery.
going on down there? The lights went out!”
“Don’t worry, Scott. I wanted to see how
dark it was.”
Livingstone flipped the lantern back on, then reached up to adjust his
helmet lamp. He squinted straight down, following the beam of light. The bottom was somewhere below him. He’d
seen it on the monitor yesterday. Yet he could not escape the thrill of adventure, knowing his eyes would be
the first to actually see it.
lingering question remained: Might what they observed when they’d cut off the torches and siphoned out all the
water from the bottom of the well . . . might it be only a horizontal slab of rock? Or perhaps a
chunk of prehistoric tree? Only personal inspection could answer those questions.
“Wait . . . I think I see something!” Livingstone cried, surprised at the dull echo
of his voice from inside the thin black cavity. He was probably two hundred feet below the opening now. Below
him . . . yes, he could make out an end to the round cavity through which he had come!
“It’s the bottom . . . . another seventy-five feet.”
“We’ll slow you up,” said Jordan.
“Not yet—get me down there!”
“Give us a countdown then. I don’t want to send you crashing onto it.”
“Ten-four, Mission Control,” said Livingstone excitedly, trying to imitate a NASA accent,
“—about fifty feet now.”
. . .”
His descent eased. Was this how Armstrong felt creeping down
Eagle’s ladder onto the moon, wondering if the moondust would
support him? What would his feet find when they touched down on
the surface below?
“Twenty feet . . . fifteen . . . ten
. . .”
Heart pounding with anticipation, Adam Livingstone awaited the final
His searchlight now clearly revealed to his eyes the ancient timbers upon
which his feet were about to strike. Was he about to become the first human being to stand upon those
miraculously preserved planks, or so he hoped . . . since Noah himself!
“Hold it just a second, Scott—I need to tighten one of these straps.”
Eight hours to the west, it yet remained night.
The sun sparkling off the glacial pack into which Adam Livingstone was at this moment boring
like a human ice mole had set only a few hours before. U.S. Senator Marcos Stuart sat in his Washington office
riveted in front of a television screen. The speakerphone on the desk beside him, turned to full volume,
relayed the historic and dramatic conversation between his friend and the archaeologist.
A knock sounded on the outer door.
“Come in!” he called without
turning his head.
The door behind him opened. Stuart heard footsteps cross his
secretary’s office and walk through the open door into his own. He knew well enough who it was. He would rather
enjoy what was left of this evening alone. But his visitor was more responsible for securing him his present
position than anyone, and he could not refuse him . . . at any hour.
“Working late, Senator?” said the new arrival.
“Just keeping tabs on
events in Turkey.”
“Ah, yes—I’d forgotten your predilection for the sciences.
What’s going on?” asked Stuart’s importune guest. He squinted at the monitor but was unable to make heads or
tails of the images being relayed into space and back to earth.
“Adam Livingstone is
about to prove that Noah’s flood may be more than a fairy tale,” quipped the Senator.
The other man did not reply. Stuart did not observe the creasing of his visitor’s eyebrows at
“What’s your interest?”
“This man Jordan—who’s at
the controls—he and I go way back.”
“What’s the connection?”
“We majored in geology together at Colorado. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“What about Livingstone?”
“What about him?”
“You know him well too?”
“Well enough, I suppose. Look at this—it’s
“How’d you meet?”
“When Jordan and I went to
Cambridge to study for a year.”
shook his head. “Livingstone was working on his master’s in archaeology. He wrote a paper Scott showed me once.
Other than that I was busy with my own studies.”
“We keep loose tabs on one another through Scott.”
“Not especially. Scott’s a good mutual friend, that’s all.”
other took in the information thoughtfully. “Well, no matter—all that’s in the past, Marcos,” he said. “You’re
an important man now. Your star is only beginning to rise. You can take my word for that. And some of my people
are at last ready to meet you.”
“Can’t you call my secretary tomorrow and arrange
something?” rejoined Senator Stuart. Frustration was evident in his tone as he tried to keep his attention on
the set in front of him. The man’s timing could not be worse.
“I don’t think I need
remind you, Marcos, that we do not go through public
Stuart nodded and muttered a few words. Just then the voice of his
long-distance friend sounded on the table.
“Can’t this wait?” Stuart said impatiently,
nodding at the screen. “Look, he’s moving again.”
His visitor did not reply
immediately. He listened for a moment, intrigued with the telephone exchange crackling through the night.
“. . . okay ten feet . . . five . . . three feet
. . .”
The office fell silent. The only sound was the static over the
“I’ll be in touch,” said the man after a moment. He turned quickly and
moved toward the door.
“And, Senator,” he added, pausing briefly and glancing back
with narrowed eyes, “when my people are ready, I suggest you give them your full attention.”
something in reply. But already his visitor was gone.
place at the immediate focus of the world’s attention sat squarely in the center of a nose-shaped bulge in
east-central Turkey, twenty miles from the Armenian border, fourteen miles northwest of Iran. The mount of
activity lay also within just a few miles of Gruziya and Azerbaydzhan—known to westerners as Georgia and
Azerbaijan—and Iraq. It would have been difficult to find a place on the globe more central to forces of change
and ancient conflict, sitting at the very hub between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Though sought after through the years by thousands of would-be fame-seekers and
Bible-provers, in recent decades the region had remained largely off-limits to adventurers and
There had been, of course, rumors and legends of numerous sightings
through the years.
A shepherd lad named Jacob was said to have stumbled upon the ark
in 1905 while searching for his lost goats. He drew a picture of a boxlike boat sticking out of the ice near
the edge of a steep drop-off. Another young Turkish shepherd named Georgie was reported to have climbed the
mountain twice a few years later and actually climbed up onto the structure and peered into its windows.
In 1916 and 1917, Russian soldiers and scientists made one of the first documented
expeditions specifically to find the ark. They were said to have walked inside the enormous mythical ship, seen
the animal stalls, taken photographs of their discovery, and mapped the area in great detail. Upon returning
home, however, they found themselves engulfed by the Russian Revolution. All photographs were lost.
Through the years such stories proliferated, added to by pictures taken from a U.S. Navy
plane and many other so-called eyewitness accounts. The navy pictures too, like those of the Russians decades
earlier, were never made public.
Somehow photographs always turned up missing, adding a certain dubious quality to their
authenticity. Thus the exact spot upon the mountain where sightings were said to have occurred could never be
pinpointed with accuracy.
At last that uncertainty seemed about to be put to rest.
Methods of infrared and multispectral photography had been greatly improved through the years, recently
revealing tantalizing clues that could not be ignored. Now the Turkish government, under initial prodding from
well-connected political friends and, ultimately, in a deal brokered by Livingstone himself, had two years ago
granted its approval to the project now reaching culmination. It was far more extensive than anything yet
attempted—a quid pro quo arrangement between several Western governments, three unnamed American firms, a
French professional consortium, and four British cabinet ministers, likewise unnamed.
No financial specifics had been disclosed. But Turkish officials expected the windfall to
accomplish for their sagging economy—beleagured by factional strife, weakened by the Kurdish refugee problem,
and having a difficult time finding a national compass in the post-Soviet new-world order—no less than what the
Marshall Plan had for postwar Germany. If allowing international explorers to poke around in the ice could
substantially fatten their nation’s treasury and line the pockets of a few of those same officials in the
meantime, what could it hurt?
Nor did the Livingstone Cartel, as it was unofficially
styled, peer too closely into whatever graft might be involved in the arrangement. Too many questions in this
part of the world had never been a wise practice. As long as they were allowed access to the mountain, they
considered their investment secure. They would not quibble over details or whatever local politics resulted
They had been granted five years to conduct their research. After that time
all would be renegotiated. It was what amounted to a five-year “lease” of sorts on the 16,946-foot mountain
known to Turks as BÜ Agri Dagi.
Livingstone, it was reported, had been involved in a
daring rescue of several high-placed Turkish officials who had fallen into misfortune in Baghdad a couple years
earlier. Details of the incident were confidential and sketchy, though there was a clear linkage between it and
the sudden relaxation of policy regarding Ararat exploration. If said officials owed Livingstone their lives,
after this he would consider himself repaid many times over for his bravado.
governing committee of seven had been appointed to oversee the interests of the cartel. But Livingstone,
ostensibly a nonvoting eighth member, was recognized as calling the shots.
It was his
brainchild. Without his prestige, knowledge, experience, and reputation, the expedition would have little
chance of success. Livingstone’s presence and charisma provided the central ingredient making a lucrative
For anything to capture the public fancy, a personal element was
required. The comptrollers for this profit-sharing cartel recognized that Livingstone himself was it—handsome,
famous, rich, one of England’s more eligible bachelors, and by any standards a brilliant man with visionary
objectives. He had received more press recently than the royal family.
American support and enthusiasm, a shrewd media blitz on U.S. television had elevated the status of
Livingstone’s right-hand man to a near equal level of importance. Most U.S. citizens were unaware that the
project was international in scope. Thinking it entirely an American affair, they followed it as eagerly as
they had the moon landing. In the States Scott Jordan would no doubt wind up being the more famous of the two
Jordan’s ethnic background drew high interest from the African-American
community, offering beneficial PR antidote to recently growing polarization between whites and blacks,
accomplishing for archaeology what Tiger Woods had for golf. And with blond, blue-eyed diminutive Swede
Jennifer Swaner—about whom lingered a faint air of the counterculture from her years of schooling in northern
California—completing the Livingstone trio, the entire project could not have been more perfectly cast by a
Hollywood master scriptwriter.
If Livingstone returned to England with what his
backers hoped were pieces of antiquity itself in his hand, his fame would eclipse that of his Scottish namesake
for his African exploration a century before. Moreover, the treasures of unearthed (or “un-iced”) wood would be
as valuable to science as the moon rocks. According to the few metaphysicists among them, that wood could
become even more significant in divulging the meaning of that science.
interests conspicuously unrepresented in the project were Jews and evangelical Christians, both of whom it
seemed would possess a great stake in the potential discovery. Any number of evangelicals had clamored to get
in once news of the project broke on CNN. But several of the principle financial players were outspokenly
opposed. They would open no door that allowed religion a role in the expedition. Especially, they said,
Christian fundamentalists whose agenda could hardly be considered scientific in nature. Whether Jewish and
Israeli interests had been considered or rejected for similar or other reasons was not known.
Motives on the part of all but Livingstone himself were purely financial. Since the fall of
the Soviet Union, all the adventure seemed gone out of the world. There hadn’t been a good crisis you could
sink your teeth into for years. Space stations weren’t all that interesting to most people. Mars remained a
remote possibility at best.
But Noah’s ark!
something to capture the attention of the world. And hopefully pay rich dividends later for those who knew how
to exploit the business aspects of archaeology. It was personal, televisible, and tailor-made for this era of
heightened spiritual interest. Columbus had brought gold into the coffers of Spain and Portugal. Why might not
the discovery of the century likewise yield handsome rewards?
As a historic find, this
would surpass King Tut’s tomb. It would be greater than the ark of the covenant or the chalice of the Last
Supper, if either of them were ever unearthed.
There would be books, photographs,
television specials, movies, lecture tours, and who could tell how many hundreds of ancillary products created
And the cartel owned rights to it all.
As long as
the discovery was genuine and worldwide interest proved what they were counting on, the investment—which some
sources estimated at a billion dollars for the mountain “lease” alone, not to mention funding for the high-tech
expedition—would repay itself many times over.
All this, Livingstone’s reputation, and
several personal and corporate fortunes, hung on the line with the 225-pound weight of explorer and equipment,
as all seven committee members and a dozen or more of the cartel’s investors stared breathlessly at several
television monitors under the expansive tent of expedition headquarters above. Several had been flown in
earlier by huge military helicopters from Dogubayazit as soon as morning’s light permitted. On the screens
before them passed the slowly moving nondescript surface of ice wall as seen by the miniaturized camera
attached to Livingston’s helmet light.
Within moments they would observe that which
they hoped would make them rich men and perhaps etch their names in history as a footnote underneath
Livingstone’s, or else it would send one or two of them to the bankruptcy courts of their respective countries
before month’s end.
A distant mountain climber lowered the
telescope from his eye and hastened on. The sun shone in his face. It was reflecting off the lens too much from
here to see accurately.
He had to be closer. And get the sun behind him. He needed to
see exactly what was going on. He must take a precise fix of the coordinates.
speed remarkable for his bulk and breathing heavily from the exertion, cold, and altitude, the climber hurried
up the steep rocky trail ahead of him, over the stones and around the ice floes of his own personal Mount
Maleficent. He, too, had been excluded from an event, which by all rights should have included him. Like
Maleficent, he would find a way to make them pay for that oversight.
characteristic khaki garb, he had dressed from head to foot in white climbing pants and parka so his movements
would be unseen against the snowy background. His breath, visible in the chill morning air, came in frosty
bursts. One of his gloved hands carried an ice ax, the other the telescope. Around his waist clanged an
assortment of ice screws, chocks, pitons, carabiners, harnesses, a hammer ax, and other assorted impedimenta of
the mountaineer’s craft.
He would probably need none of it. His objective on this day
was not to scale icy peaks but to gain a vantage point from which he could clearly observe the goings-on across
His smoldering resentment kept his blood warm against the elements. Did they
think they could cast him aside so easily?
He would show that he still had a few
discoveries left for the world too! He had been here before, once in the 1960s on the Lord Bode expedition and
again on several of the more recent Morris ventures into Davis Canyon. He knew Ararat better than any of them.
Once he had their location pinpointed exactly, he would return again.
He would not so
easily be overshadowed by this young upstart!
Thirty or so minutes later, upon the
ledge of an exposed projection of an adjacent ridge of Ararat’s treacherous slopes, the hefty lone figure
positioned himself on the edge of a narrow precipice. He was separated from the spectacle being played out
before the world by a distance of approximately a mile as well as by a deep glacial vault that none but an
eagle would be capable of traversing. Standing a thousand feet lower in elevation than his renowned
counterpart, he stared into the eyepiece of his high-powered telescope, which now sat on a tripod where he had
positioned it on the ledge. He was grateful that the usual cap of clouds was gone today, and visibility was
The setting was exactly as many of the sketches represented it—a
glacially encrusted overhang sitting beneath a sheer cliff of rock overlooked from above by the summit and
extending straight down from the site a thousand or more feet.
He could see nothing of
the structure from where he stood. But if it was there, Livingstone was approaching it just about the only way
possible. Sightings reported a year ago after two years of warmth and glacial meltback had no doubt exposed the
protruding end of the vessel, though it had been covered over again by last winter’s heavy snows. He was loath
to admit it, but he had little doubt that Livingstone was on to the find of all time. The thought filled him
with silent rage.
He continued to breathe heavily. The watcher was, in truth, in
better shape for this sort of escapade than his size would indicate. Until just a short while ago he had
himself been considered the foremost archaeologist in the world. The fact that such a perception was now
eroding, notwithstanding his discovery in the Rift Valley, was a bitter one for an ego nearly as large as his
frame. It made him more determined than ever to reverse the trend.
For just such an
opportunity had he hounded the Livingstone expedition since the moment he learned of its objective.
Nor was he the only one stalking Livingstone’s moves. Forces in higher realms had been
invisibly tracking the Englishman for years. The Dimension had underestimated the danger of this present
expedition, however. But it was about to wake. When they did, powers of both light and darkness would be sent
into the battle that would soon be at hand.
. . . ,” came Livingstone’s voice over the speaker in the headquarters tent.
Regulating the controls of the intricate system of wheels and ropes, cable and cranes and
pulleys, to which a thousand feet of cord was attached, Scott Jordan slowed the rate of descent to a crawl.
From here on, he would take it inch by inch.
Not a head moved from the screens.
Scarcely a sound could be heard, save a few mumbled comments.
“Look down at your feet,
Adam—let us see too!” came a whisper.
Almost as if he had heard the words, though the
chief project engineer had spoken nothing into his microphone, Livingstone’s helmet camera swung down,
revealing the floor of the ice chamber.
A few gasps sounded, followed by exclamations
“Okay, nine feet . . . five . . . three feet
. . . two . . . ,” came Adam’s voice again.
returned. Not an eye moved from the monitors.
“One . . . gently
. . . that’s it—hold it there.”
“What is it, Adam?” asked Jordan.
“I’m down, Scott—I’m touching. I want to test it to make sure it’s solid and will support
. . . seems fine . . . frozen solid—let out a little more line . . . fine
. . . all right, good—I’m standing firmly on the bottom.”
At last a cheer
went up inside the tent.
“I heard that!” laughed Livingstone.
“Everyone up here is proud of your accomplishment, Adam. So is the watching world. But you
must know the question on everyone’s mind—”
“What historic words I am going to utter
for posterity—let me see, that’s one small step for an archaeologist—”
that!” interrupted Jordan with a laugh. “What is it you’re standing on!”
I came down here to find out,” replied Livingstone. “All right, I suppose we’d better get on with it. Let out a
little more line so I can move about freely.”
On the monitors, observers and investors
now saw Adam kneel down.
“The surface is a brownish gray,” he said. “I’m sure you can
see too that it doesn’t appear at first glance to be any kind of granite, at least nothing I’m familiar
with. It’s uneven, though not pitted like stone. There seem elongated depressions, a graininess such as you
would expect from wood. It obviously appears to be wood—solid, frozen . . . and I would have to say
it does not look like a mere tree. It’s flat, as would be a cut timber of some kind.”
They could see Adam scanning the interior of his tiny cave of exploration.
“I’m taking off one of my gloves. . . .”
in silent expectation. They saw a hand rub back and forth across the floor.
tell . . . , ” came the voice from below after a moment. “It feels no different than ice.
It’s covered with a thin layer of the refrozen meltwater from yesterday. The surface isn’t exactly level. Up at
one end it’s pretty clean, and the ice is thicker down at the other end where the residue from the burn drained
He paused a moment.
“What’s peculiar, though,” he
added, “—look here, do you see that . . .”
His finger pointed for the
“. . . a few spots of blackening. It’s almost—but that could hardly
be . . . I was about to say that it’s almost as if the torches had actually burned the wood in
“Try your hand-burner.”
Livingstone stood again, unfastened the small propane torch from his waist, ignited it, and
knelt again. Carefully he fanned the flame across a small section of surface. He paused to feel it, then burned
at the ice again. After two minutes he turned off the burner and set it aside. He removed a small hammer and
pick from the equipment strapped to his side and began chipping at the section of floor his flame had probed.
The observers saw him reach down and grasp something between his gloved fingers and examine it carefully. He
turned it over two or three times.
“Scott, you’re not going to believe this!” he
exclaimed. At last his voice displayed genuine excitement. “The petrification is not complete! This is wood all
right—real, genuine wood . . . the black spots are burn marks—our torches actually burned the surface
of this wood!”
Astonished exclamations nearly raised the canvas roof of the
“Adam . . . Adam, can you hear me above this hubbub here?
Everyone is shouting only one question—is it the ark?”
The tent grew silent again.
On the screens Adam knelt again and appeared examining the floor very carefully.
“We’ll have to do more tests,” came his voice at length. “But it is wood, of that there can
be no doubt. That leaves but two possibilities—that somehow an immense tree utterly nonindigenous to this
region wound up here. The fact that we are four to six thousand feet above Ararat’s tree line would make such
an occurrence impossible under any other conditions than a cataclysmic flood of unbelievable proportions. Even
if this is a mere tree, its presence here would appear to confirm the flood theory. But the second possibility
seems far more likely.”
“What possibility!” came the eager voice from above.
“I am standing on a flat, not a round, surface. It can’t be a tree. Unless I miss my guess,
there are detectable markings different from the grain itself—which to me indicate that I am not the first man
to touch this wood.”
“What kind of markings?”
Adam bent close
to the floor and again pointed below him.
“Such as would come from a crude cutting
instrument of some kind—I’m not sure if it was a saw or ax,” he replied. “I don’t know if you can see what I’m
pointing to here, but to my eyes I think it is clear that something or someone actually cut this wood into the
flat boards upon which I am standing. And the irregularity of the grain in places gives the appearance of
lamination. In other words, it’s not just one large plank. Whether it is the ark, I cannot yet say
. . . but I would stake my reputation on the conviction that these are certainly boards hewn by
The cheering that went around the tent of headquarters now did not stop for
three or more minutes.
Immediately half those in the tent scrambled for their
satellite-linked cellular phones, for which provision had been made. In less than an hour, four-inch headlines
had been set at the offices of no less than five hundred daily newspapers around the world—from Tokyo to Moscow
to London to New York—proclaiming NOAH’S ARK DISCOVERED!
Meanwhile Adam Livingstone busily engaged himself in what further exploration and experimentation
were possible in his cramped six-foot circular laboratory.
“Is there any way you can
send one of those large burners and the suction cable down?” he said to his chief engineer. “How’s the wind up
“Still holding calm,” replied Jordan. “What do you have in mind?”
“If I could open up this cavity . . . burn away more of the ice. Any extra foot I
can get to might provide the evidence we’re after.”
“I’ll consult with the others. In
the meantime, take what samples you can.”
Half an hour later, torch, oxygen, and
suction cable were on their way down over the ridge, attached to the guideline that had taken the glacial
astronaut on his historic descent an hour before.
“Watch yourself, Adam,” Jordan
cautioned. “That’s a powerful torch. You don’t want to create too large a cave for fear of collapse.”
“This ice is several hundred feet or more thick in every direction. It’s not going
“There could be cracks.”
“I’ll be careful, Scott.
But this is the chance of a lifetime. I’ve got to expose as much of this surface as I can.”
“If the winds kick up, we’ll have to pull you out.”
Livingstone, “no winds are going to bother me down here.”
“If it starts blowing a
“I’m not leaving here until I’m good and ready,” interrupted Livingstone. “Try
to yank me out before then, and I’ll unhook the rope!”
“Your committee might have
something to say about that,” laughed his friend. Despite his cautions, Jordan would have trusted Livingstone’s
judgment with his own life. He had in fact done exactly that numerous times.
my committee I’m thinking of spending a day or two down here.”
“It’s actually rather cozy. You just send me down food and water.”
“You’ll need more than that.”
“Air, for one thing . . . and warmth.”
“Didn’t you say the
oxygen line is on the way down? If I get cold you can send me down another parka.”
“Some might argue you’ve lost your mind!” laughed Jordan.
worry. If the weather becomes a problem, I’m on my way up. But it’s taken who knows how many millennia for
someone to find this place . . . we have to know. The more I de-ice of this thing, the better chance
Jordan did not argue the point further. Everyone wanted the same thing—to
learn as much as they could in what time they had available. If conditions deteriorated, they would
“Matter of fact, why don’t you join me, Scott?” added Livingstone. “The hard
part’s done. Now that we have a secure line from the crane into the shaft, we can move people and equipment up
and down with relative ease.”
“I wouldn’t trust anyone else at the controls.”
“How about Figg? Why don’t you start getting him suited up? And Jen would like nothing more
than to be the first woman since Noah’s wife to set foot down here. What do you say, Jen . . . if
you’re up there listening?”
“I’m on my way!” shouted the young lady, trying to grab
the microphone excitedly out of Jordan’s hands.
“But don’t bring your Birkenstocks!”
laughed Livingstone. “It’s cold down here.”
“Let’s see how the initial work with the
torch goes first,” replied Jordan, reassuming control of the mike. “If you clear out enough room for two or
three people to maneuver,” he went on, “and if the weather cooperates, we’ll see. Figg is already getting his
In thirty minutes two cables stretched down the shaft to Livingstone, and
the suction pump was operating. Adam fired up the torch at minimum burn and set about to enlarge his igloolike
cavity. It took several accidental extinguishings and considerable tinkering with the external oxygen flow
between Adam below and Jordan at the controls before he managed to get much ice melted. Once the levels of
flame, oxygen, and suction were regulated to satisfaction, however, Livingstone began to make rapid
The splashing about of melting ice made it messy work. Within two hours,
however, the archaeologist had tripled the area of exposed wood—at one narrow point extending to some fifteen
feet against the grain. The flat expanse was clearly wider than the girth of any possible behemoth of
prehistoric tree, establishing the surface conclusively as man-made and no mere natural occurrence of a growing
By noon he had exposed enough to establish some order to the planking
structure, digging out samples between them of a crystalline resinlike substance of amber color. Though his
on-site television camera captured his every move and recorded every motion of progress, he also shot still
photographs of every inch. Color enlargements would be capable of far more detail than mere video.
But it was the discovery made by Adam Livingstone about two o’clock that afternoon as he
continued to lengthen the crawl tunnel he had begun excavating from the original six-foot opening, which
finally ensured his place in history. Anxious editors circling the globe at last possessed verification that
they were indeed on solid ground to run the headlines their papers had set that morning.