Captain Lanyard bent over a yellowed chart: “There’s death at every bend of this blasted river. There are treacherous sandbanks that can sink this tin-pot vessel in seconds and bandits that will slit your throat for a song. Here,” he pointed a bony finger at the chart, “is the passage of Is Geria. Winds can funnel between those rocks like the fiends of hell.”
“Aye, on top of that, the very guards appointed by the museum trustees who sponsor these excavations deal in the illicit trade of artifacts. Their collusion with Turkish authorities can land innocent shippers like us in jail. Are ye ready to ship out on such a mission, lad?”
He turned again to the window and said:
“The illicit trade in antiquities is nearly as old as civilization itself. These sites had already been plundered in ancient times by nomad treasure seekers who sold to dealers in Bagdad. Babylon was already a ruin when Alexander the Great tried, unsuccessfully, to restore the glories of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.”
“Now the plunder is conducted on an industrial scale by the Levant Company. The stones of Ishtar’s Temple are looted to build the brutal towers of Tomorrowland and the stolen images of the Holy Immortals now entice consumers, like sheep, into endless malls of mediocrity. This must be stopped.”
The Samamaris steamed past the tents of goat herds and armed horsemen whose dark eyes followed her wake with unconcealed contempt.
At last, we came the to archeological site led by the Reverend Cornelius Pritchard who, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Academy, had undertaken excavations to find physical verification of Biblical scripture. The sensational finds of British archeologists had awakened an American interest in antiquity, and this, along with a fervor to prove the superiority of the Christian faith, had led these august bodies to sponsor digs in Mesopotamia.
Captain Lanyard yelled out the wheelhouse door: “Man the docklines! Ya swab!”
He then hailed the engine room:
“Slowly now, Mister Budge…”
I threw the docklines to a stout man on the dock who I took to be Reverend Pritchard.
“Welcome Brethren,” he called.
We made fast, and walked up the bank toward the encampment while the Reverend held forth with pious, stentorian eloquence:
“Yes pilgrims, We’ve found potsherds in an alluvial deposit at 60 feet. Below that, with God’s blessing, we are certain to find the lost city of the Nephilim– those whose evil ways brought down God’s wrath with a devastating flood!”
Just then, there was the loud report of a gunshot. A bullet whizzed overhead.
“Hit the deck!” yelled Captain Lanyard. We dove behind a low dune.
The Reverend said: “It’s the blasted French atheists!”
He grabbed a carbine and returned fire, all the while expostulating in fine preacherly style:
“The nihilist heretics are encamped yonder. Thy want to reach the pre-deluvial city in a missguided effort to prove that the Good Book is fiction–that the site proves the layers below the silt deposits are merely evidence of a recurrent, natural phenomenon. They will soon regret the errors of their blasphemous ways when they are consigned to eternal hellfire!”
With that, he fired a volley into the mud brick of a distant mound.
There was silence. Then a loud oath was heard from the opposite camp: