The Moses Virus is a thriller primarily set in modern day Rome. Two American archaeologists die suddenly in an underground passageway in the Roman Forum leading to the buried rooms of Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace. The Italian authorities conclude that the deaths were caused by a devastating and highly contagious virus. Tom Stewart, an NYU forensic archaeologist who was present when the deaths occurred, becomes entangled in the race to find the supply of the virus—a race involving many powerful players desperately seeking the deadly contagion. Stewart must find and destroy the virus before others harness its sinister power.
The Vatican, foreign groups, the world’s largest genetically-modified seed manufacturer—all have their reasons, and none will stop until they succeed, no matter what the cost or risk to millions of people if the virus escapes and causes a pandemic.read an excerpt
Praise for The Moses Virus
Jack Hyland has written a dramatic novel, rivaling the amazing adventures by author Dan Brown. Mr. Hyland gives us a scenic view of the streets of Rome, as well as the countryside, with the use of magnificent, descriptive language. There is an architectural history lesson penned throughout the pages of THE MOSES VIRUS, as well as a European geography lesson. The action is fast-paced and transforms Dr. Stewart from archaeology professor to investigative sleuth in an adventure you do not want to miss.
“I really enjoyed The Moses Virus. While I think its narrative could do with tightening up and focusing, I thought the author’s enthusiasm for archaeology and for telling a good tale shone through and I was won over by the plot and by the leading characters. This is also a thriller that is more careful about throwing away human life. I liked that, too. The Rome setting is second to none and is a great backdrop for a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing tale about the hunt for an ancient virus with the potential to outkill even the Spanish Flu.”
A review to follow closer to publication on www.forwinternights.wordpress.com
“While working in the Roman underground, two archaeologists are hit by an extreme and very fast working deadly virus. The Italian authorities shut down and seal the site. The virus, that might be traced back the Egypt of Moses, becomes the top priority on the wishing list of one of the world’s biggest genetically-modified seeds manufacturer. Tom Stewart, an American forensic archaeologist, who happened to be near the deadly site, becomes willy-nilly involved in the further investigation. Not that easy when you have to deal with a ruthless cooperation and with hidden secrets of the Vatican. Pretty good mystery with a nice dose of history, action, romance, and the beauty of Rome”
“Do you enjoy the thrill of danger? Discovery of the unknown? Potential world disaster? Ancient history? Big Business vs The Church? I think you’ll definitely want to join in on this one!”
“This is a terrific read—an intelligent thriller that captured my attention from the first page. I couldn’t put it down.”
“Throughout this story, the author presents a lovely description of all the main sites of Roman history in an enticing way that makes the reader want to visit this famed city…The central conflict is similar to most ‘virus or secret weapon’ plots but is unique in its intelligent and sensitive presentation. One suspects that there will be a follow-up to his very interesting piece of criminal fiction. Nicely done, Jack Hyland!”
Excerpt from The Moses Virus
“And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.”
- Exodus, 12:29
Sunrise crept across the red tile rooftops, washing away the blues and grays that had hidden Rome during the night. From the terrace of his apartment on Via Gregoriano near the top of the Spanish Steps, Tom Stewart watched as the city started to come to life. Shops opening. Bread deliveries being made. People beginning their work day. He imagined that the rhythms of this eternal city remained unchanged for two thousand years. The bells chimed six in the tower of the Trinita dei Monti, the church at the head of the Spanish Steps, and the sounds were echoed by church bells across the city.
In the distance, Tom saw the majestic dome of St. Peter’s. It dominated the skyline, casting a shadow over the remnants of the ancient empire. It had become the symbol of Rome to the world and the center of faith for tens of millions of believers. Tom’s sense of awe in seeing the basilica remained as inspiring and humbling as it had the first time he saw it as a student over twenty years ago.
Tom was a trustee of the American Academy in Rome, a scholarly organization, located on the Janiculum, the highest of Rome’s hills. Each year, the twenty-five American archaeologists, artists, architects, writers, musicians and scholars who had won its coveted Rome Prize spent time in its palatial residence, free to pursue their various fields of study. As a trustee, Tom spent every other summer there to attend administrative meetings. On this particular June trip to Rome, Tom was also busy editing the most recent draft of his new text book on forensic archaeology.
Tom was well liked by his fellow trustees. Bright but not overly bookish, with an ironic sense of humor and an easy going manner, he was a popular professor at New York University. A former competitive swimmer, he kept in shape by swimming nearly every day. He had dark brown hair, almost black, and a strong, classic face which some said made him look like the Roman emperors or statesmen pictured on busts carved by great Roman sculptors. He spoke Italian with a decided American accent, having taught himself the language over the years. Aside from New York, Rome was his favorite city, the perfect mix of ancient and modern.
This morning, Tom was going to the Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum. Darby Scott, a professor of archaeology, a member of the Academy and an old friend, invited him to observe the excavation of an underground passage, discovered the prior year. If his theory was correct, it could lead to the rooms of Emperor Nero’s fabled imperial palace, called the Domus Aurea, or the Golden House. If he was right, it would be a find of historic proportions. Tom was excited for the opportunity that promised to be the crowning glory of his friend’s career.
He took the ornate elevator of his apartment building to the ground floor, passed through the genteelly run down lobby. He had been lucky to find this apartment in such a desirable part of the city. Not only was it reasonable, but despite its shabby appearance, it was run well. It even had a WiFi connection.
He headed into the Piazza della Trinita del Monte, in front of the Hassler Hotel, to hail a cab.
“Bon giorno,” Tom said to the taxi driver as he pulled up abruptly. “Il foro Romano, per favore, vicino al Colosseo e al’arco di Costantino.”
The taxi lurched forward and sped down the hill, along the Corso, a street full of shops and eateries, into the Piazza Venezia.
Part of Rome’s magic for Tom was that its many layers of past, present and future were all jumbled together. Standing high on the hill overlooking the piazza was the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, ridiculed for years as resembling a white wedding cake, yet important for honoring the first king of a united Italy in 1861. Behind the monument lay the Roman Forum, once the center of the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire. On the same square, in the Renaissance Palazzo Venezia, Mussolini had had his headquarters. In the ancient palazzo, a photographer was busy shooting an impossibly thin model for some chic fashion magazine.
The taxi stopped near the Arch of Constantine. Tom leaned forward and paid his fare, got out and checked his watch. 6:35 AM. Right on time. He looked around at the deserted area on the edge of the Roman Forum. Then he spotted an iron fence with a gate, behind which he could see the familiar signs of an archaeological excavation. The ‘dig’ was located on the Palatine Hill, one of the original of Rome’s fabled seven hills. As Tom passed through the gate, he saw wheelbarrows, a rough wooden table for sorting out shards of pottery and a number of sifters, the wooden containers with bottoms made of wire screen to filter dirt removed from the dig. It felt good to be on a site again, he thought. It had been awhile.
Darby Scott gave him a welcoming wave. Darby was slight in stature, probably—Tom guessed—no more than five feet six inches, wiry, with an aesthetic face that reminded Tom of a portrait of a saint found in mosaics on some floor in a Romanesque monastery. He talked quickly and with passion. His students at Bryn Mawr College loved him. His specialty was late imperial Rome, and he was bristling with anticipation to get started.
“You made it,” Darby said, shaking Tom’s hand.
“Wouldn’t miss it. Nice day for a dig.”
“Great day. Let me show you around. We’re almost ready to start.”
At the trustees’ meeting of the American Academy at its New York office the prior November, Darby had briefed everyone about his amazing discovery of the ancient underground passage during his excavation the year before. Upon hearing Darby’s enthusiastic presentation, the trustees and patrons had agreed to provide most of the funding for this year’s dig. With the green light from the trustees and most of the money raised, Darby’s proposal went out to dozens of foundations. No one was willing and Darby despaired that his project might not go forward. Then, in a surprise development, Belagri, a global agribusiness took an interest and provided the balance of the funds needed.
Excavations in the Roman Forum were permitted to only a few qualified groups, the American Academy being one. Upon seeing Scott’s report, the Ministry of Italian Cultural Properties and Activities had approved the recent excavation, anticipating an historic find and was following the events closely.
This early, the Forum was still empty because the Roman authorities kept the tourists out until after nine in the morning. Once in, the tourists swarmed over most of the entire Forum with their cameras and their picnic lunches. Fortunately for those doing excavations, the iron gates and fence kept the tourists out.
“Our plan today is to enter the underground passage at the end of the mosaic floor, once we have cleared away the surface debris. If you don’t mind doing some crawling, you can join us,” Darby said to Tom. “That’s if you’re up to it.”
“Count me in,” Tom replied enthusiastically. Twenty-two young men and women, dressed in Tee shirts and shorts were gathered around, already engaged in their tasks. Darby’s crew included mostly American college students who paid for the privilege of participating in this archaeological dig as part of their coursework.
“Here, let me introduce you to my team. Actually, I think you know Eric Bowen,” Darby said, as he gestured in the direction of the closest of the workers.
Eric looked up from one of the laser surveying instruments that he and another student were adjusting.
“Yes. How’ve you been, Eric?”
“Good to see you again, Dr. Stewart.”
“Please call me Tom. How’s your father?”
“Okay…Tom. He’s fine. He’s supposed to visit next month.”
“Give him my regards. I’ll see him in September at the trustees’ meeting.”
Tom looked at the instrument Eric was holding.
“Is that your theodolite?”
“Yes,” said Eric, with an assurance that Tom found amusing. “Totally digital. We can download the data to model building equipment.”
“They’re getting more sophisticated every year.”
“Can’t work without high tech these days,” Darby added. With that, he escorted Tom to a number of locations where he met individuals in charge of drawing the frescoes that had been discovered, others who were marble and stone experts, and the site historian, Bill Parker, a doctoral candidate at Yale.
Darby stopped near the site. “The underground passageway—just fifteen feet away from here—may lead us to rooms of Nero’s palace that have been lost for two thousand years. His palace was a gigantic complex. It covered three of Rome’s seven hills, three hundred acres in all. Nero built furiously after the fire in 64 which devastated Rome, and he didn’t stop building until his suicide four years later. But all his work was buried or built over by the emperors that followed.
“We believe that much of Nero’s complex lies unexplored—just waiting for us at the end of the passageway.”
Tom watched the team as they worked diligently under Darby’s direction. It took a good couple of hours to remove the remaining pile of rubble around a large, flat segment of the ancient mosaic floor. Then, they broke for coffee. Tom was surprised to see an attractive Italian woman working alongside the rest of Darby’s team.
“Alexandra Consagra, a graduate student at the University of Rome,” Darby said, looking in her direction. “She signed on with the team to learn American archaeology techniques. She goes by Alex, and her English is flawless.”
“What’s her specialty?”
“Ancient European History. But archaeology is of special interest to her. She’s bright, and a whiz on the computer. Her mother’s American and her father is an Italian diplomat of some kind. Pretty well connected. Divorced. She’s been a real asset to the team.”
“I can see that,” Tom replied.
At this point, Darby spotted a man who had entered through the gate in the iron fence and was walking toward him. Darby’s face reddened slightly, and he said to Tom, “I may be stooping to a new low.”
“How’s that?” Tom asked.
“Here comes the press. My main sponsor of the excavation suggested that I get some publicity. It may help with future funding. So, I invited a reporter I met from the International Herald Tribune—one of those modern reporters who also takes his own pictures. There’s just a chance we’ll be making history today.”
“I believe you’ll be making history,” Tom replied. “That’s not what I call stooping to a new low.”
Darby relaxed. The reporter joined them. Darby shook his hand, saying, “Ed. Ed Ruchet, I’d like you to meet a Trustee of the American Academy, Tom Stewart. He’s a famous forensic archaeologist from New York, and is in Rome for the summer working on a book he’s writing.”
Ruchet, looking jaunty, was wearing a loose fitting Hawaiian shirt and white khaki trousers. He had a small digital camera in his hand and sported a wide smile. Tom thought that Ruchet looked more like a photographer than a reporter. Ruchet shook Tom’s hand, “Glad to meet you. Are you ready for history?”
Tom replied, “You bet.”
Darby said to Tom, “Ed made a name for himself as being Marilyn Monroe’s photographer.”
“That chapter is long over,” Ruchet said. “I became more interested in writing than pure picture taking.”
For the next five minutes or so, Darby briefed Ruchet, giving him the names of the members of his team and their roles. Ruchet recorded Darby’s conversation. After Ruchet had been filled in, Darby said, “Ed, we’re ready. Before I drop down into the passageway…” Darby nodded toward the opening of the passageway about fifteen feet away, “do you want to get a shot?”
“How long do you think you’ll be in the passage?” Ed asked.
“I don’t have a clue,” replied Darby. “One, two, maybe three hours. Depends on what we find.”
“Uh-oh,” Ruchet said. “My editor thought I’d be here for a half hour. And I have to be at the American Ambassador’s residence in another forty-five minutes. The U.S. Secretary of State is in Rome. If you don’t mind, let’s take several shots now. Admittedly they’re ‘before’ rather than ‘after,’ but the text can cover your results even if the photograph doesn’t.”
Ruchet walked to the passageway entrance. “Darby, stand at the edge, explaining something to Tom—that’s your name, isn’t it? Tom, go shake hands with Darby. Smile, both of you. Darby, make it look like you’ve just found hidden treasure.”
“But I haven’t,” complained Darby. “Not yet, anyway.”
“C’mon,” replied Ruchet, “this is a publicity shot. For the newspapers. Stop thinking about it too much.”
Darby and Tom stood near the passage entrance, smiled and shook hands. Ed took a number of quick shots, then made a discreet exit.
Darby placed his fingers to his mouth and whistled to everyone.
“Listen up.” The entire team stopped talking and gathered around him. “We’re ready to lift the entry stone and drop down into the passageway. Take your positions. I’ll go first. Eric, you’re behind me.”
The anticipation in the group was electric. Two of the strongest workers carefully levered the large flat stone with crowbars. Slowly, the stone, which was about four feet in diameter, yielded and was moved away from the edge of the hole it had covered. Everyone took turns looking down into the dark space.
Darby dropped into the passageway, and then Eric followed him. As a precaution, both men had two-way radios and ropes tied around their waists which fed out as they moved into the tunnel. There was always the risk that the age and unknown state of the passageway could give them trouble. Kneeling by the entrance, Greg Bator, a graduate student from Boston University, was in position to pass along any of the comments that Darby and Eric called in. The rest of the crew watched eagerly gathered in a circle around the entrance to the passageway.
After a few minutes, Eric radioed to Greg, who repeated for everyone else to hear, that they had come upon some kind of wall, which blocked their way. Fifteen minutes later, Greg reported that Eric and Darby had managed to dismantle enough of the crumbling stone so that they could slip around it and advance further into the passageway.
“They’re in! The passageway seems clear,” Greg called out to the group.
Then there was silence.
Greg waited a few minutes, then called Eric. No response.
He tried again. Nothing.
“Maybe they’re busy with a major find,” Tom said, knowing Darby could get so wrapped up in his work that he forgot everything else.
“But, they’re not moving. The tie ropes went slack,” Greg said.
“Give them a tug,” Tom suggested.
Greg pulled on the ropes, got resistance which meant that the ropes were still tied to the two archaeologists, but they didn’t pull back to signal everything was fine.
Something was wrong.
“How stable is the passageway?” Tom asked Greg.
“We’ve no way of knowing. Our instruments couldn’t penetrate that far.”
Tom called down into the tunnel several times. Silence.
“We’ve got to get someone down there. If there was a cave in, they might be in trouble.”
“I’ll go,” Greg said, hooking a lead line to his belt and grabbing a flashlight.
“I’ll let you know what’s down there.” He handed Tom the radio.
“Take a mask,” Tom said. “The dust might be intense.”
Greg nodded, put on the mask offered by another team member and jumped down into the tunnel.
Every minute Greg was gone was agony for the crew. The tautness of his lead line was a good sign. Greg was still moving forward. Then, suddenly, it went slack. Everyone was paralyzed with fear.
“Greg, what’s happening?” Tom radioed in.
A few minutes later, they heard scrambling. Greg appeared at the opening. Tom gave him a hand to help him up.
Ripping off the mask, Greg said, “They’re not moving. They’re just lying there. I tried to….”
“Calm down. Tell us what you saw.”
Greg was breathing hard. “It was dark and narrow. I called to them as I went through the tunnel. I saw a light. The tunnel got bigger. I kept calling. Then, I saw them.”
“They were on the floor in a large room. I shouted. I shone the light on their faces. They were covered with some kind of green dust. Their eyes were wide open like they had seen something horrible. That’s when I knew they were dead.”