All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire's richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world's largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.
But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta's sixty-mile main linesomewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.
Attiliusdecent, practical, and incorruptiblepromises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at workboth natural and man-madethreatening to destroy him.
With his trademark elegance and intelligence, Robert Harris, bestselling author of Archangel and Fatherland, re-creates a world on the brink of disaster.
22 August. Two days before the eruption
CONTICINIUM [04:21 hours]
A strong correlation has been found between the magnitude of eruptions and the length of the preceding interval of repose. Almost all very large, historic eruptions have come from volcanoes that have been dormant for centuries.
- Jacques-Marie Bardintzeff, Alexander R. McBirney, Volcanology (Second Edition)
They left the aqueduct two hours before dawn, climbing by moonlight into the hills overlooking the portsix men in single file, the engineer leading. He had turfed them out of their beds himselfall stiff limbs and sullen, bleary facesand now he could hear them complaining about him behind his back, their voices carrying louder than they realized in the warm, still air.
"A fool's errand," somebody muttered.
"Boys should stick to their books," said another.
He lengthened his stride.
Let them prattle, he thought.
Already he could feel the heat of the morning beginning ...
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