(an excerpt) by Malcom Massey
El Mayab es Tierra de Cosas Misteriosas y Antiguas en que Todo Habla en el Silencio
~Mediz Bolio, Historiador Yucateco
(Mayab is a Land of Mysterious and Ancient things,
where Everything Speaks in the Silence)
~Mediz Bolio, Yucatecan Historian
“In the nineteenth century, it was called treasure hunting – you would go
to foreign lands far and wide and you would gather what was
going to be destroyed and bring it back to a safe place.”
~Carlos Picón, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Martin Culver looked out over the well-dressed audience, took a sip of water and waited for the applause to subside. He then looked at his wife Sandy, who was smiling and giving him a subtle thumbs-up from their table. It was 9:15 in the evening.
Martin was bringing his remarks to a close. As the keynote speaker for the 2012 International Antiquities Conference, which was being held in the Twenty-First Century Conference Center in Merida, capital city of the State of Yucatan, Mexico, Martin was the first speaker of the evening. Tonight’s program included the opening ceremonies, complete with a five course typical Yucatecan dinner and traditional Mexican dancers.
The conference activities had started before noon that day, for the early conference arrivals, with exhibits of Mayan historical antiquities recovered in the Yucatan peninsula, both above and below ground, as well as from underwater caves. Hosted by the International Antiquities Foundation, this international conference drew 300 archaeological and museum delegates from more than 100 countries. In addition to the speakers, the attendees would participate in a variety of forums and workshops providing training and education in their appropriate fields of expertise. Martin faced his audience, and continued his comments.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I conclude by asking you to consider that we now find ourselves in a unique position. As we enter this New Year of 2012, we find our world changing, and what we are losing can never be replaced. We must identify, preserve, and restore to their original condition and location, the historical and cultural antiquities found around the world. These objects are our joint heritage, and as such, we must act without delay, because every day more cultural treasures are lost to progress and development, and to wait even a single day, might be too late. Please watch the screen now.”
The LED screen behind the podium, which ran from floor to ceiling in the large conference room, flashed brightly, showing a slide of a pipeline operation in Bolivia being laid through a rural area. The first slide showed the people of the village welcoming the workers on a typical sunny day for that area of the world. The scene looked peaceful and serene.
“The Cuiabà Pipeline Project in 1999 was necessary for Bolivia to sell its abundant natural gas supply to Brazil,” said Martin. “Both countries benefitted from the transaction.”
The Bolivian and Brazilian representatives raised their glasses in a salute to each other.
Martin clicked to the next slide. Local people were shown standing next to the huge trench that cut through their yards, their houses separated from their gardens, schools and outbuildings by a 20 foot wide, 15 foot deep open ditch. Another forty feet on either side of the trench was nothing but dirt, dead trees, and debris. Electric poles leaned at precarious angles nearby, the electric lines themselves hanging dangerously low to the ground. The glasses that had been raised in a victorious salute were quickly lowered.
“But what happened next was a complete tragedy,” Martin continued. “The pipeline separated whole communities along hundreds of miles from necessities, from their way of life, even from their soccer fields. More to the point of why we are here tonight, this next slide shows the irrecoverable damage that occurred on this project, from an archaeological standpoint.”
Clicking to the last slide, Martin withheld further comment. The crowd was silent. In the bottom of the pipeline trench, and all along the sides, broken ceramic funerary jars and painted service vessels such as bowls and vases, as well as skulls and other human bones, were thrown about with complete abandon and utter disregard for either the cultural or historic value of such objects. He waited for the image to have its expected impact.
“At the final tally, 617 cultural heritage sites from Bolivia to Brazil were disturbed or destroyed by this one project,” Martin said finally. “The bones and objects destroyed in the pipeline right-of-way cannot be replaced. We have no way to know what information was there to be learned. Indeed in many cases the artifacts and remains were so pulverized as to leave insufficient clues as to the people groups represented. No recourse is possible against the company bearing the primary responsibility in this disaster, because it has now quite famously gone out of business. You know it as the former Enron Corporation.”
“There are organizations dedicated to the preservation of ancient historical sites, but no organization specifically focuses on the antiquities themselves. As independent nations we each have laws protecting our own treasured cultural and historical objects. I am asking you tonight to become a part of the International Antiquity Foundation and join with us in our mission to foster cooperative identification, preservation and repatriation of antiquities among all nations.”
Martin waited for the substantial applause to subside.
“This is important,” Martin said, “because knowledge is being lost. Resources are being lost. Because somewhere, in the record of time, there may be information that can prevent disaster in the future, some detail that will permit our future to be reckoned with, and perhaps save lives. Our ancestors on this earth, no matter which nation we have originated from, had experiences that we could learn from today. Do we benefit from knowing how they lived, how they solved problems, built structures that still stand today? I believe the answer should be a resounding yes.”
“The IAF also believes that the only way to extract the full library of knowledge contained in these ancient items, be they swords, golden idols, or simple ceramic vessels, is to study them in their original setting. That is why we formed the International Antiquities Foundation, to preserve and repatriate these banks of knowledge back to the countries of origin that have been distributed throughout the world by trade, by theft, and by other means.”
Martin’s speech concluded with a slide of the IAF logo, mission statement, and the three words: Identification, Preservation, and Repatriation in English, followed by the translation of the three words in Spanish, French, Hebrew, Hindu, Farsi and Arabic, for all the delegates in attendance.
The audience stood and applauded, some talking to each other and nodding their heads. Martin held up his hands to thank them, and then leaned to one side to hear from a convention center aide who had approached the podium. Turning again to the audience, Martin held up his hands, and indicated to the audience that they could again take their seats.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” he said. “I have been advised that the next speaker is in the building, and will be joining us momentarily, as he has just returned from field work today and is changing attire as we speak. In the meanwhile, does anyone have any questions for me as the President of the IAF?”
The local and international press were providing excellent attention to the cause of the IAF as well, and several reporters stood up when the floor was opened for questions, but were interrupted by a dignified, well-dressed man to Martin’s left, who stood and introduced himself as the representative to the IAF conference from Spain.
“Permit me to introduce myself, Mr. Culver, I am Andres Sanchez Medina of Seville, Spain,” the delegate said by way of introduction, bowing slightly forward as he spoke. “With much respect, we can all see that what you are saying is a very worthy goal,” the man began. “Can you tell us, if you will, upon what moral ground do you walk, to justify leading such an effort, when you are such a hypocrite, living well from the proceeds of gold that rightfully belongs to Spain, or as some might say, to Peru or other countries? Why should my country return any historical objects that may be in our possession to their origin countries, when you are doing the same as we have done, or perhaps even worse? You are like a man who seeks absolution for his sins, but is unwilling to stop sinning.”
The room buzzed, and Martin paused to collect his thoughts.
“Thank you for your question, Mr. Medina,” said John Robert Chartwell, bounding up onto the stage. Martin looked at Chartwell in surprise, as Chartwell continued to speak.
“As we have been preparing for this conference, Mr. Culver has frequently reminded the staff that this conference is about getting to the tough questions that each of us must ask if we are to do a better job of protecting and preserving our cultural antiquities. Isn’t that correct, Mr. Culver?”
Martin tried not to show his genuine irritation at this unexpected interruption from Chartwell.
“You are correct Mr. Chartwell, and I would like to answer the question from the gentleman from Spain, but at my table if you please, sir. Then if my response is satisfactory, we will address the conference as a whole. Señor Medina, please join my wife and I at our table and we can discuss your concerns further, agreed?”
“That will be acceptable, Mr. Culver,” answered Sr. Medina. “I will join you at your table for dinner.”
“And so ladies and gentlemen,” Martin said, “that concludes my remarks for this evening. I invite you to enjoy your dinner and I trust you will find your time at the conference beneficial and educational. I look forward to personally meeting each one of you at the reception following dinner. Permit me now to introduce our next speaker, Dr. John Robert Chartwell, PhD., one of the leading authorities in the field of Pre-Columbian Artifact Fraud. Many of you know his work, and many of you know him personally. Please welcome Dr. Chartwell.”
“Okay, that was quite a buildup, boss,” said Chartwell quietly, as he and Martin shook hands at the podium. “I’ll try to live up to it.”
“Don’t call me boss,” Martin said under his breath, smiling. “And thanks for helping with that question, but I was doing fine.”
“You know me, always the rescuer, never need rescuing,” said Chartwell as Martin turned to leave the stage.
“Martin,” he whispered, grasping Martin’s tuxedo sleeve. “I have found it, right where I thought it would be.”
Offshore a steady wind continued to blow in the dark, and waves were building upon waves all across the Gulf of Mexico. Typical of the January “norte” storms known to this area of the Gulf, this particular storm packed an extra punch, the result of two low pressure weather systems that had brought freezing conditions as far south as Alabama and Florida. This extra-tropical storm had already reached tropical depression strength, driving extremely wet and windy weather across Cuba and westward toward the Yucatan coast. Barometric pressure had been measured by Air Force reserve flights to be below 1000 millibars and falling. It was 10:00 PM CST.
A few hundred miles to the northeast of the Yucatan peninsula, a giant oil drilling platform, the Scarab, was on her maiden voyage. She was being towed into position near the northwest coast of Cuba, in this strengthening winter storm under deteriorating conditions. After 20 days of calm seas along the coast of Brazil, the two tugboats pulling the drilling rig were regretting signing on for this job.
The pedigree of the Scarab read like the menu at an international buffet. The rig had been commissioned by a Spanish company, fabricated in a Chinese shipyard, registered in Liberia with a Malaysian crew. The Scarab was scheduled to begin drilling in 5500 feet of water near Cuba by the end of the January, giving the crew only 10 more days to get into position to begin drilling operations.
As the storm intensified, seven wave height buoys were either lost or ceased functioning in the eastern half of the Gulf of Mexico, their last transmitted readings near the shipping lanes showing seas in the range of 30 feet. The oceangoing tugboats pulling the square semi-submersible rig were doing their best to maintain forward motion. The oil rig itself was very stable due to its design; it was the two ocean-going tugs that were in the greatest danger of capsizing. Although unable to propel itself, the Scarab was outfitted with positional control, 10 propellers in housings below the ballast tanks that could turn the rig from side to side. Those systems were not being used at this time, however.
The three struggling vessels were being pushed closer to the Cuban coast, and the pilots had jointly decided to run west to avoid the coral reefs of the Colorado Archipelago, heading for the calmer waters of Guadiana Bay. There they would be able to ride out this storm, and then ride the current back out to their intended position in a day or two at the most. At this point all three vessels were still outside the archipelago channel, and in international waters. Another hour and they would be nearing safe harbor in Cuba.
The 2,000 foot tow lines hung low in the water as the powerful tugs dropped into the wave troughs ahead of the immense drilling platform, and snapped skyward when the vessels rose up on the next mountainous wave, sending drenching arcs of water hundreds of feet into the air amid the wind and spray of the storm. At this rate, even 17 inch thick tow lines could not last forever. Both pilots made the decision to “shorten up” the lines until calmer water was found, knowing that to shorten up under these conditions would provide better control, but would at the same time stress the tow lines and lead to potential cable failure. The other danger was that with even 500 feet less tow line, the tugs would be that much closer to the oil rig if anything happened to go wrong.
The Dutch deck officer on the bridge of the Intrepid 6 looked back at the lights of their unwieldy cargo towering 100 feet above the waves. Without warning a missile shot out of the sea directly in front of the Scarab, launching a column of water higher than the deck of the rig, fire trailing below the missile. The unexpected projectile arched away from the vessels and fell back harmlessly back into the sea a quarter mile away. The next missile was more accurate.
A second burst of water exploded upward, again just ahead of the bow of the oil drilling platform, and this time it scored a direct hit on the 400 lb. mooring hook at the southeast leg of the platform, the intense explosion severing the 17 inch nylon and steel reinforced tow line.
“Cut engines to full slow!” the deck officer shouted, knowing that without the load friction, his tug would uncontrollably speed up, launch over the next high wave and possibly capsize.
The deck officer of the second tug, the Wave Ruler, called over the radio,” What’s going on over there, Intrepid 6? Did you lose positive cable control?”
“We have experienced cable separation. Repeat we have experienced cable separation,” came the distressed reply from the Intrepid 6. “An explosion on the rig separated our tow cable. Our line is loose in the water; avoid crossing our trajectory at all cost. We may have to cut it loose if we cannot haul it in.”
“Intrepid 6, this is Wave Ruler. How much line did you have played out? Over.”
“Nearly 1500 feet. Over.”
“Intrepid 6, send out a Mayday call on channel 70. The Wave Ruler will not be able to control the Scarab on our own,” called the Canadian pilot. “We are steering North at this time, repeat we are steering a course for 350 degrees to keep our load from ending up on the beach.”
“Call the Wave Ruler back,” said the deck officer of the Intrepid 6 to his pilot. “Warn them that if they steer that course, in this much wind, they have 3 minutes before the rig will pass them and begin to tow them backwards. They will founder unless they ditch the tow cable.”
“Wave Ruler,” deck officer called out, “This is Intrepid 6, release your tow cable. Repeat, release your tow cable.”
The pilot of the Wave Ruler looked to his port side, and saw the huge oil rig eclipse the lights of the other tug, then turned to his deck officer. The deck officer knew what had to be done.
Calling for all crewmen to meet him on the rear deck to release the hawser cable the deck officer donned his coat on the run. In conditions such as these, all hands were required to remain in foul weather gear, with safety harness and jackets at the ready. In the scant 45 seconds it took him to descend the bridge ladder, snap safety harness to rail, and work his way to the pitching rear deck, the other hands were there. They looked up into the wind as the oil rig passed their vessel and began to pull the tug sideways through the water.
“Release the hawser!” the deck officer, shouted into the wind, as water began to pour over the port side, “or get ready to swim for shore!”
The Intrepid 6 had circled around and was now facing toward the Scarab and the Wave Ruler as the towering rig began to pull the Wave Ruler in reverse. A wake-wave was building behind the Wave Ruler, threatening to swamp the tug from the stern. The pilot adjusted his engine speed to match the speed at which the rig was now towing the tug, about 14 knots, providing extra tension to the cable. He knew he had to avoid catching the slackened tow line underneath his tug in the next wave trough, or his tug could be flipped over if the cable popped up beneath his vessel, pulled tight by the next mountainous wave crest.
“Mayday, Mayday. This is PV Intrepid 6, we are in international waters, location 22.8 degrees North, 84.8 degrees West, we have experienced cable separation and are unable to maintain our cargo under control. All vessels in the area, be advised and take evasive action.”
Onboard the Wave Ruler, the deck officer and two deck hands pulled the chain lanyard of the quick release pelican hook, attempting to release the thick hawser cable. The rear deck was now awash in sea water. Due to the tremendous strain on the hawser, the lanyard could not be moved. Finally the deck officer grabbed a fire ax from the bulkhead, and clearing the deck hands out of the way, struck the pelican hook with the blunt end and released the tow line with a resounding clang. The hawser whipped across the fantail and lifted 25 feet in the air before skittering across the waves toward the runaway oil rig. Its deadly load released, the Wave Ruler slowed, changed direction and turned to face the waves, shedding tremendous volumes of seawater that were about to wash over the boat.
“PV Wave Ruler, please be advised, we have heard your Mayday, are all your crew onboard and safe?” came a radio reply from an unidentified vessel.
“Yes, hailing vessel, our crew is safe. We have released cables on our cargo, it is loose in the wind. Use extreme caution. Hailing vessel, please identify yourself.”
There was silence for about 15 seconds, then a cryptic response.
“PV Wave Ruler, you are advised to leave the area. You are in restricted waters. This is a military testing zone. Please instruct your companion vessel to leave the area as well.”
The captain of the Wave Ruler took the radio. He scanned the horizon between wave crests. They were still in deep water, and he could only see the lights of the Intrepid 6 and the fading lights of the Scarab as it continued moving west. No other vessels could be seen.
“Unidentified vessel, please identify yourself. We cannot spot you, what is your location? How do you know we have a companion vessel? Over.”
The two wallowing tugs waited and rolled between the waves. There was complete radio silence. Then after several minutes, the radio crackled to life again.
“PV Wave Ruler, this is the captain of the Intrepid 6, we are low on fuel. We are seeking storm shelter, repeat, we are seeking storm shelter. We cannot delay. Advise that you return with us. Over.”
The captain of the Wave Ruler took one last look in the direction of the giant oil rig, now beyond his view due to darkness, wind and weather. It was headed through open water towards Mexico. I don’t know how we are going to explain this one, he thought.
“Roger that, Intrepid 6, we will be on your starboard beam, bearing 170 degrees. Over.”
On screen, a satellite image of the drifting oil drilling platform was enhanced and magnified, the infrared screens showing the glare of the lights of the rig as it moved past the coast of Cuba and into the Yucatan channel. The room was otherwise dark, save for the recessed lights over the credenza along one side of the huge conference table.
“So you have achieved your objective, Inspector Hall?” the Director’s voice asked through the computer speaker. “I need to get back to this boring dinner.”
“Yes sir,” replied the Inspector, leaning back and putting one high heel on the conference table. No one else was in the room. “We established positive control of the asset at 11:09 PM EST. You can see the satellite feed images in the upper corner of your screen. ”
“Was there any trouble with the Cubans?” the Director asked.
“None, sir,” replied Inspector Hall. “We did not enter Cuban waters, although we were close by. There were two ocean-going tugs, the Intrepid 6 and the Wave Ruler. We parted the cable to one vessel at the oil platform’s west mooring hook, using short range missiles launched from the MINR IV. The other vessel cut its lines voluntarily. All civilian hands and assets were safe following the operation. We now have the Scarab in tow to our destination.”
“Was there any communication or interaction with the crew of the tow vessels?” the Director asked. “I don’t want any civilians involved, that just messes up everything.”
“We are good on that point sir,” answered Hall confidently. “The only communication from my crew to theirs was to warn the tugs off after the cable separation was complete. We kept it to a minimum, and explained the missiles by telling them they were in a testing area. They wasted no time heading for port.”
“Are you going to keep the MINR IV until the operation is complete? That is an expensive piece of equipment and I need to get it back before it is missed.”
“We may keep it a few days,” replied Inspector Hall. “We need the power it has to maneuver the oil platform into position without being seen. No surface tug could accomplish this mission. Another 48 hours maximum.”
The MINR IV was an experimental vessel, a submarine tug, which resembled a whale shark when seen out of the water. A huge mouth-shaped port set into in the bow of the vessel took in great volumes of sea water and forced it through a series of three impellers, each smaller and set in a narrower chamber than the previous one. The MINR IV was able to tow two hundred times its own weight, possessing its own winches and heavy wire cables to do the job right. Best of all, it could operate in virtual secrecy, and was outfitted even at this experimental phase a proper array of investigative and defensive tools. It was the most complete underwater research and deployment vessel the CIA had ever commissioned.
The Director took a breath, trying to think of any further questions.
“I just want to ask one more time,” he said. “Is there any other way to accomplish the objective? I trust your judgment completely, but are you sure there is no other way?”
“No sir, there is no other way,” Hall stated. “Ever since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when oil platforms started relocating due to the oil drilling moratorium, the Agency has been trying to get a rig down there, just watching as these are moved to see if we can get one into those waters. We need a one week window, to locate the element, drill, and get out. Then they can have the Scarab back too.”
“Well, I tried to get Mexico to assist us,” the Director said. “After some of the things we have tried in Mexico recently, I am not surprised they turned us down.”
“Then I am leaving tonight to join the salvage team, I already have my invitation to join them.” Hall said, lighting a cigarette and leaning back in her chair. She watched the smoke drift upward into the vent. “Repsol YPF, the Spanish oil giant that commissioned the asset has already called for a salvage team, and I have a standing invitation to cover their major projects. We will all meet in Miami tomorrow morning.”
“Will you be using the usual cover?” the Director wanted to know.
“Yes,” said Hall, “I will use the Clarisse identity, French photographer on assignment to Oceanographic Magazine.”
“Very good,” he replied. “Keep me posted. Oh, thought you should know, the PV Shutterspeed is out of commission until next week. We are doing some refitting to add…”
“New magnetic sensing modules, yes sir, I am aware of that,” Hall responded, completing his thought. Just the mention of the Shutterspeed started her adrenalin pumping.
“Well, get what we need, Hall, and let’s get this done. I needed to provide the analysis of that element to DISC last month. That was the Agency’s commitment to the project. Then they can move ahead and our part will be completed.”
“DISC, sir?” Hall inquired.
“The Defensive International Space Consortium, Hall, but that is for your ears only. I’ll forward you the latest report. NASA answers to them now, so do the Canadian, Chinese and European Space agencies. They are the ones who requested an urgent sampling and analysis of the meteor element. With that analysis they can set their lasers to deal with the threat and no civilians will ever have to know about it.”
The Director then added, “Let’s all hope they are correct.”
Malcom Massey was born in Annapolis, Maryland, USA where his father served at the U.S. Naval Academy. Growing up Malcom devoured stories of ancient cultures, lost treasures and exciting adventures from around the world, and wrote his first stories at while still in elementary school. His first novel was published in 2000.
Malcom has lived in Costa Rica, in Bolivia, and has traveled throughout South America and the Caribbean. He recently returned to Virginia after living for 16 months in the Yucatan area of Mexico in the cities of Merida and near Progreso. He still lives and writes near the coast.
Malcom’s latest fiction novel is “The Lost Calendar of the Maya: The Return of Kukulkan,” a novel set in the Yucatan during 2012. “The Lost Calendar” is the third novel in the Martin Culver Series. Malcom’s first novel “Holiday in Havana” is available on Kindle and in print. The second novel in the series is “The Lost Ark of the Incas” also available on Kindle and in print.
For more information go to Malcom’s author page at: http://www.amazon.com/author/malcommassey