What We Preserve

2015 Finals: Open genre, an animal sanctuary, and a bullet-proof vest.
(The security guard here originally had a scene in which his vest was mentioned 😉 )

In the end, while I liked this concept better, I couldn’t turn it into a strong story in time, so I submitted “Missing Links” instead.
But I still love this idea…

 

What will Serena do with the find of a lifetime?


Serena ran her fingers across the stones, displacing barnacles to expose the inscriptions. At the mouth of the busiest international port in antiquity, the lighthouse had also housed the Port Authority, each of its doorways marked to indicate the room’s purpose – storage, sleeping quarters, offices.

A blinking light distracted her, as it was meant to do: the fifteen-minute warning on her air. She swam faster, turning to illuminate each inscription, looking for the clue that she must have missed.

Nothing.

She paused at the gap in the stones, taking one last look around. Her gaze illuminated a carving in the middle of the opposite wall.

In the middle of the wall? But the carvings only appear at doorways…

She launched herself to the far wall, examining the carving. The words were neither Greek nor Egyptian but stylized, blocky Aramaic. The inscription was worn by water, indecipherable in the murk. She photographed it for Holly and hovered, staring at it. This was it! The sarcophagus of history’s greatest conqueror must lie behind this wall.

This huge stone wall, that she could not possibly move. The realization brought her quickly back to reality.

So close… and as out-of-reach as if I had never found it…

*****

 “You’ll need a permit to dive Alexandria,” Holly directed, making very little effort to conceal a smug smile.

“And what might I be looking for in the most-scrutinized underwater site in the world…?” Serena asked.

Holly read aloud from a sheaf of hand-written notes. “…to protect it from the foreign horde of Aurelius, the crystal sarcophagus was moved…”

Serena mentally repeated Holly’s words until she grasped what she was hearing, then asked slowly, “you found the body of Alexander the Great?”

“Apparently, Zenobia hid it in the lighthouse.” Holly turned the notebook paper over. “…the greatest treasure of Alexandria, I have moved to a hidden room within the Pharos…”

Serena wondered for a moment why an Arab queen would consider the sarcophagus to be Alexandria’s ‘greatest treasure,’ but the inscription was clear. There was only one crystal sarcophagus, and it contained the body of Alexander the Great.

“So,” Serena raised an eyebrow. “What’s involved in getting permits to dive the Pharos?”

*****

In the end, it had involved about three years and 150 pages of applications to dive in an area that had been designated as a Marine Life Sanctuary.  When, at last, they were granted a 30-day permit, it came with a requirement that they be supervised by a security officer.

That hard-won permission expired at sundown. If she didn’t find something, this expedition was over.

Serena balanced precariously on the starboard gunwale, then dropped her body into the warm water outside Alexandria’s harbor, carrying the weight of the entire expedition with her.

*****

She placed her hands on the stone, resting her palms on two images beneath the text. Tracing them with her fingertips, she felt the water and the rough stone. She felt the weight of time and missed possibilities. Bending her elbows, she pushed off hard – and as she did, the stone began to move.  She shoved harder, kicking with all her might, until the slab moved ponderously aside.

She had expected the crystal sarcophagus – as much as one could “expect” such a thing, anyway. The remains of Alexander the Great hovered in a clouded glassy block, surrounded by large clay urns inscribed in Greek.

Greek? Alexander’s grave goods should be marked in Macedonian…

Each urn was inscribed with the name “Strabo” – the historian who claimed to have worked in the Library of Alexandria after Caesar had supposedly burned it.

Zenobia left Alexander to guard the scrolls of the Great Library!

Serena’s heart raced and her breath quickened. She had just unearthed the remains of Alexandria’s famous library – the collected wisdom of the ancient world!

The light blinked red – in her excitement, she was rapidly using up her air. She looked frantically for some way to close the door, but couldn’t see how. Nobody had been curious enough to enter and map the lighthouse’s foundation before – she’d have to trust that nobody would be curious enough to swim into it before she got permission to return.

She shimmied through a narrow gap in the stones of the wall and began her ascent, pausing at each required depth to equalize the pressure.

She stared at the pink and white sponges and thought about the Lebanese “art dealer” who had sold her the Zenobian figurine with its momentous inscription.

She rose again, admiring the changing color of the as the Mediterranean sun once more infiltrated her vision.

She thought about the Temple where the figurine had been discovered, collapsed to rubble in Palmyra by extremists heedless of its historic and cultural significance.

She rose again, and she could see the silhouette of the boat.

She thought about the years it had taken to get permission to dive here, and wondered if she would be allowed to return to study the scrolls.

She rose again, and saw Anton’s feet dangling over the edge of the boat.

She thought about the Arab Spring, the unrest throughout the region. She remembered the looting of the Baghdad Museum, and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

She rose again, and arms reached down to help her into the boat. Nobody spoke. Everyone watched her slow and deliberate movements as she removed her breathing apparatus so she could speak.

She opened her mouth to tell her team that their years of work had been rewarded, that they had discovered the greatest trove of knowledge ever to exist.

She thought about what would happen when they revealed history’s greatest treasure to the world.

She spoke slowly, deliberately.

“Sorry, guys.  Looks like we’re going home…”

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