A group of anthropologists uncover strange inscriptions on the wall of a Colorado mine just as an explosion traps them deep within the earth. But their work won’t stay buried long. Dirk Pitt is on hand during the blast and quick to initiate a rescue operation. He is then tapped to lead a research crew on behalf of the U.S. National Underwater and Marine Agency to further study these uncanny artifacts. And that’s when his ship is set upon and nearly sunk by an impossibility—a vessel that should have died 56 years before.
Clearly, another group knows about the relics of this long-forgotten but highly-advanced seafaring culture. And they’ll stop at nothing to keep the rest of the world in the dark.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:July 15, 1931
Place of Birth:Aurora, Illinois
Education:Pasadena City College; Ph.D., Maritime College, State University of New York, 1997
Read an Excerpt
MARCH 22, 2001
The waning stars in the early-morning sky blazed like a theater marquee when seen from 9,000 feet above sea level. But it was the moon that had a ghostly look about it as Luis Marquez stepped from his little wooden frame house. It wore a curious orange halo that he had never seen before. He peered at the odd phenomenon for a few moments before walking across the yard to his 1973 Chevy Cheyenne 4x4 pickup truck.
He had dressed in his work clothes and slipped quietly out of the house so as not to wake his wife and two daughters. His wife, Lisa, would have gladly gotten up and fixed breakfast and a sandwich for his lunch pail, but he insisted that 4:00 A.M. was too early for anyone but a mental case to be roaming around in the dark.
Marquez and his family lived simply. With his own hands, he had remodeled the house that had been built in 1882. His children went to school in nearby Telluride, and what he and Lisa couldn't buy in the booming resort ski town, they brought home during monthly shopping trips to the larger ranch community of Montrose, sixty-seven miles to the north.
His routine was never complete until he lingered over his coffee and stared around what was now a ghost town. Under the spectral light from the moon, the few buildings that still stood looked like tombstones in a cemetery.
Following the discovery of gold-bearing rock in 1874, miners poured into the San Miguel Valley and built a town they called Pandora, after the Greek fairytale about a beautiful girl and her box full of mysterious spirits. A banking interest in Boston bought up the mining claims, financed the mine's operation, and constructed a large ore-processing plant only two miles above the more famous mining town of Telluride.
They'd called the mine the Paradise, and soon Pandora became a small company town of two hundred citizens with its own post office. The houses were neatly painted, with mowed green lawns and white fences, and although Pandora was set in a box canyon with only one way in and out, it was not isolated. The road to Telluride was well maintained, and the Rio Grande Southern Railroad ran a spur line into town to haul passengers and supplies to the mine and the processed ore across the Continental Divide to Denver.
There were those who swore the mine was cursed. The human cost of extracting fifty million dollars' worth of gold over forty years was high. A total of twenty-eight hard-rock miners had died inside the damp and forbidding shaftsfourteen in one disaster alonewhile close to a hundred were maimed for life because of freak accidents and cave-ins.
Before the old-timers who had moved down the road and resided in Telluride died off, they'd claimed that the ghost of one of the dead miners could be heard moaning throughout the ten miles of empty shafts that honeycombed the steep, ominous gray cliffs that rose nearly 13,000 feet into the lazy blue skies of Colorado.
By 1931, all the gold that could be profitably processed from the ore with the aid of chemicals was exhausted. Played out, the Paradise Mine was shut down. Over the next sixty-five years, it became only a memory and a slowly healing scar on the panoramic landscape. Not until 1996 had its haunted shafts and tunnels heard the tread of boots and the clang of a pickax again.
Marquez shifted his stare onto the mountain peaks. A four-day storm had come and gone the week before, adding four feet of snow to the already packed slopes. The increasing air temperatures that accompanied the spring turned the snow into the consistency of mushy mashed potatoes. It was the prime avalanche season. Conditions were extremely hazardous in the high country, and skiers were warned not to wander from the established ski runs. As far as Marquez knew, no major snowslide had ever struck the town of Pandora. He was secure in knowing his family was safe, but he ignored the risk to himself every time he made the drive up the steep icy road in winter and worked alone deep in the bowels of the mountain. With the coming of warm days, a snow slide was an event waiting to happen.
Marquez had seen an avalanche only once in his years on the mountain. The sheer magnitude of its beauty and power as it swept rocks, trees, and snow down a valley in great clouds, along with the rumbling sound of thunder, was something he had never forgotten.
Finally, he set his hard hat on his head, slipped behind the wheel of the Chevy pickup, and started the engine, letting it idle for a couple of minutes to warm. Then he began cautiously driving up the narrow, unpaved road that led to the mine that once was the leading gold producer in the state of Colorado. His tires had made deep ruts in the snow after the last storm. He drove carefully as the road wound higher up the mountain. Very quickly, the drop-off along the edge stretched several hundred feet to the base. One uncontrolled skid and rescuers would be untangling Marquez's broken body from his mangled pickup truck on the rocks far below.
Local people thought him foolish for buying up the claims to the old Paradise Mine. Any gold worth extracting was long gone. And yet, except for a Telluride banker, no one would have dreamed that Marquez's investment had made him a rich man. His profits from the mine were shrewdly invested in local real estate, and with the boom of the ski resort he had realized nearly two million dollars.
Marquez was not interested in gold. For ten years, he had prospected around the world for gemstones. In Montana, Nevada, and Colorado, he had prowled the old abandoned gold and silver mines searching for mineral crystals that could be cut into precious gems. Inside one tunnel of the Paradise Mine, he discovered a vein of rose-pink crystals in what the old miners had considered worthless rock. The gemstone in its natural state, Marquez recognized, was rhodochrosite, a spectacular crystal found in various parts of the world in shades of pink and deep red.
Rhodochrosite is seldom seen in cut or faceted form. Large crystals are in great demand by collectors, who have no desire to see them sliced to pieces. Clean, clear gems from the Paradise Mine that had been cut into flawless stones of eighteen carats were very expensive. Marquez knew he could retire and spend the rest of his life in style, but as long as the vein continued, he was determined to keep picking the stones from the granite until they petered out.
He stopped his battered old truck with its scratched and dented fenders and stepped out in front of a huge rusty iron door with four different chains attached to four different locks. Inserting keys the size of a man's palm, he unsnapped the locks and spread the chains. Then he took both hands and tugged the great door open. The moon's rays penetrated a short distance down a sloping mine shaft and revealed a pair of rails that stretched off into the darkness.
He fired up the engine mounted on a large portable generator, then pulled a lever on a junction box. The mine shaft was suddenly illuminated under a series of exposed lightbulbs that trailed down the shaft for a hundred yards before gradually growing smaller, until they became tiny glimmers in the distance. An ore cart sat on the rail tracks, attached to a cable that led to a winch. The cart was built to last, and the only sign of hard use was the rust on the sides of the bucket.
Marquez climbed into the bucket and pressed a button on a remote control. The winch began to hum and play out the cable, allowing the ore cart to roll down the rails, propelled by nothing more than gravity. Going underground was not for the fainthearted or the claustrophobic. The confining shaft barely allowed clearance for the ore bucket. Timbers bolted together like door frames, known as a cap and post, were spaced every few feet to shore up the roof against cave-ins. Many of the timbers had rotted badly, but others were as solid and sound as the day they were set in place by miners who had long since passed on. The ore car descended the sloping shaft at a rapid rate, coming to a stop 1,200 feet into the depths. At this level there was a constant trickle of water falling from the roof of the tunnel.
Taking a backpack and his lunch pail, Marquez climbed from the car and walked over to a vertical shaft that fell away into the lower reaches of the old Paradise Mine until it reached the 2,200-foot level. Down there, the main drift and crosscut tunnels spread into the granite like spokes on a wheel. According to old records and underground maps, there were almost a hundred miles of tunnels under and around Pandora.
Marquez dropped a rock into the yawning blackness. The sound of a splash came within two seconds.
Soon after the mine closed down and the pumps at the pumping station below the base of the mountain were turned off, the lower levels had flooded. Over time, water had risen to within fifteen feet of the 1,200-foot level, where Marquez worked the rhodochrosite vein. The slowly rising water, spurred on during a particularly heavy wet season in the San Juans, told him that it would be only a matter of a few weeks before it reached the top of the old shaft and spilled over into the main tunnel, spelling the end of his gemstone-mining operation.
Marquez set his mind on extracting as many stones as he could in the brief time he had left. His days became longer as he struggled to remove the red crystals with nothing but his miner's pick and a wheelbarrow to carry the ore to the bucket for the ride up to the mine's entrance.
As he walked through the tunnel, he stepped around old rusting ore cars and drills left by the miners when they had deserted the mine. There had been no market for the equipment, since nearby mines were closing down one by one at the same time. It was all simply cast aside and left where it was last used.
Seventy-five yards into the tunnel, he came to a narrow cleft in the rock just wide enough for him to slip through. Twenty feet beyond was the rhodochrosite lode he was mining. A lightbulb had burned out on the string hanging from the roof of the cleft, and he replaced it with one of several he kept in a backpack. Then he took his pick in hand and began to attack the rock that was embedded with the gemstones. A dull red in their natural state, the crystals looked like dried cherries in a muffin.
A dangerous overhang of rock protruded just above the cleft. If he was to continue to work safely without being crushed by a rockfall, Marquez had no choice but to blast it away. Using a portable pneumatic drill, he bored a hole into the rock. Then he inserted a small charge of dynamite and wired it to a handheld detonator. After moving around the corner of the cleft and into the main tunnel, he pushed down on the plunger. A dull thump echoed through the mine, followed by the sound of tumbling rock and a blanket of dust that rolled into the main tunnel.
Marquez waited a few minutes for the dust to settle before carefully entering the natural cleft. The overhang was gone. It had become a pile of rocks on the narrow floor. He retrieved the wheelbarrow and began removing the debris, dumping it a short distance up the tunnel. When the cleft was finally cleared, he looked up to make certain that no threatening section of the overhang remained.
He stared in wonder at a hole that had suddenly appeared in the roof above the crystal lode. He aimed the light atop his hard hat upward. The beam continued through the hole into what appeared to be a chamber beyond. Suddenly consumed by curiosity, he ran back up the tunnel for fifty yards, where he found the rusty remains of a six-foot iron ladder among the abandoned mining equipment. Returning inside the cleft, he propped up the ladder, climbed the rungs, and pried loose several rocks from the rim of the hole, widening it until he could squeeze through. Then he thrust his upper torso inside the chamber and twisted his head from shoulder to shoulder, sweeping the beam of his hard hat's light around the darkness.
Marquez found himself staring into a room hewn in the rock. It looked to be a perfect cube approximately fifteen by fifteen feet, with the same distance separating the floor and roof. Strange markings were cut into the sheer, smooth walls. This definitely was not the work of nineteenth-century miners. Then, abruptly, the beam of his hard hat's light struck a stone pedestal and glinted on the object it supported.
Marquez froze in shock at the ungodly sight of a black skull, its empty eye sockets staring directly at him.
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