“Explanation for what?”

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“For this.” Weintraub crossed to the fuselage and slapped a wrench against the surface. He removed his hand, but the tool remained in place, hanging there.

David’s eyes grew wide.

Weintraub tapped the plane’s side. “It’s magnetized.” He waved a short arm to indicate the entire warehouse space. “All of it. Every bit of metal shows a magnetic signature to some degree or other. It might be the reason for the data recorder’s corruption. Strong magnetic exposure.”

“Could the effect be due to the electromagnet used to haul the pieces topside? Kirkland swore it wouldn’t damage anything.” David’s voice caught on Jack Kirkland’s name. During the past three days, both men had kept their distance. In the evening’s postdive debriefing, David made sure he and Jack were at opposite ends of the room.

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“No. Mr. Kirkland was quite correct. The electromagnet did not cause this. As a matter of fact, I can’t explain it.”

“What about some weapon?” David entertained the thought that maybe the Chinese were actually to blame.

“Too soon to say. But I doubt it. I’d imagine the effect is due to something after the crash. I’ve measured the lines of polarity on adjacent sections that were fractured apart. They don’t line up when I reassemble the pieces.”

“What are you saying?”

Weintraub sighed, clearly exasperated.

David’s hand twitched into a fist; he had to forcibly restrain himself from smashing the condescending expression from the investigator’s face.

“It means, Commander Spangler, that the magnetization of the airplane’s parts occurred after it had broken apart. I doubt it played a role in the crash, but it must have interfered with the flight data recorder.” He pushed his glasses up again. “What I don’t understand is why the cockpit voice recorder was unaffected. If the flight data recorder was corrupted, the other should have been damaged, too.”

David directed the conversation away from this query. He frowned at the wrench. “If the magnetization occurred after the crash, why are you investigating it at all? Our shared orders are to bring a speedy conclusion to this investigation. To bring answers to Washington, to the world.”

“I know my duty, Commander Spangler. As I said before, my initial findings are conjecture. I cannot rule out the possibility that some EM pulse or some other external force brought down Air Force One until I examine this phenomenon in detail.” Weintraub removed a smudged handkerchief from a breast pocket. “Besides, I’ve seen the reports on CNN. It seems Washington has its own ideas. Rumblings about an attack or sabotage by the Chinese.”

David feigned disinterest. He knew Nicolas Ruzickov had been using any and all bits of information to seed suspicion on the Chinese. Already in the United States public sentiment was riddled with finger-pointing. The rattling of swords would not be far behind. David cleared his throat. “I don’t care what the news media is reporting. All that matters is the ultimate truth.”

Weintraub wiped his nose. His eyes narrowed as he stared at David. “Is that so? Were you ever able to find out who leaked the voice recorder’s transcript? It seemed many of these so-called news reports are using the transcript as fodder to support claims of an attack upon Air Force One.”

David felt his cheeks growing hotter, but his voice hardened. “I don’t give a shit about rumors or gossip. Our duty is to get the truth back to D.C. What the politicians do with it is their business.”

Weintraub pocketed his handkerchief and plucked the wrench from the wreckage. “Then you’ll have no objections if I investigate this odd phenomenon.” He slapped the tool on his palm. “To discern the truth.”

“Do your job and I’ll do mine.”

Weintraub eyed him silently for a breath, then turned away. “Then I’d best get back to work.”

David watched the investigator leave, then turned back to the large chunk of wreckage. He placed his hand on its smooth surface. For a moment he wondered what really had happened to the great aircraft. With a shake, he dismissed this line of inquiry. It didn’t matter. What mattered was how the facts were spun by Washington. Truth was of no importance.

Turning away, he left his concern behind. He had been trained well in the old school. Obey, never question. He crossed back through the hangar and up the ramp. Outside, the winds were kicking up. Rain pelted the flight deck, sounding like weapons’ fire. David nodded to his men and hurried across to the ship’s superstructure. He knew he had better let Ruzickov know of this new finding.

Passing through the hatch, he shivered against the cold and pulled the door closed behind him. Once out of the wind, he shook the rain from his clothes and straightened to find a large form approaching.

“Commander Spangler,” Admiral Houston said in greeting, stopping before him. Dressed in a nylon flight jacket, Mark Houston filled the passage. David found himself rankling at the man’s air of superiority.

“Aye, sir.”

“Have you heard the newest?” Houston asked. “The magnetization of the airplane’s parts?”

David’s thin lips sharpened to a frown. Had everyone been informed before him? He forced down his anger. “I’ve heard, sir,” he said stiffly. “I went to check it myself.”

“Has Edwin been able to formulate any explanation?”

“No, sir. He’s still investigating it.”

Houston nodded. “He’s anxious for more parts, but another storm is blowing our way. No diving today. It looks like Jack and his crew will get the day off.”

David’s eyes narrowed. “Sir, speaking of Kirkland, there’s something I wanted to bring to your attention.”

“Yes?”

“The Navy’s submersible and divers from the Deep Submergence Unit are due to arrive tomorrow. With our own men here, I see no need to keep Kirkland, a freelancer, on-site. For security purposes—”

Houston sighed, giving David a hard look. “I know of the bad blood between you two. But until the Navy’s sub is tested at these depths, Jack and the Deep Fathom are remaining on-site. Jack is a skilled deep-sea salvager, and his expertise will not be wasted because of your past conflicts.”

“Aye, sir,” David said between clenched teeth, seething at the admiral’s support of Kirkland.

Houston waved David out of his way. “As a matter of fact, I’m heading over to the Deep Fathom right now.”

David watched the admiral leave, numb to the cold wind blowing through the open door. It clanged shut, but David remained standing, staring at the closed door. His limbs shook with rage.

Before he could move, booted footsteps sounded behind him.

David forced a calmer composure as he turned. To his relief, he saw it was another of his men. Omega team’s electronics expert, Gregor Handel.

The man stopped. “Sir.”

“What is it, Lieutenant?” David snapped at the young man.

“Sir, Director Ruzickov is on the scrambled telecom line. He wishes to speak to you ASAP.”

With a nod, David strode past Handel. It must be the call he had been waiting for these past three days.

Gregor followed, in step behind him. David strode quickly through to his own room. Leaving Handel outside, he closed the door. On his desk rested a small briefcase, opened. Inside was an encoded satellite phone. A red light blinked on its console. David grabbed up the receiver. “Spangler here.”

There was a short pause. The voice was filled with static. “It’s Ruzickov. You have the green light to proceed to stage two.”

David felt his heart beat faster. “I understand, sir.”

“You know what you must do?”

“Yes, sir. No witnesses.”

“There must be no mistakes. The security of our shores depends on your action these next twenty-four hours.”

David had no need for this pep talk. He knew the importance of his mission. Here was a chance to finally grind the last major Communist power under the heel of American forces. “I will not fail.”

“Very good, Commander Spangler. The world will be waiting for your next call.” The line went dead.

David lowered the receiver back to its cradle. At last! He felt as if a heavy stone had been lifted from his shoulders. The waiting, the kowtowing, was over. He swung around to the door and opened it. Handel waited. “Get the team together,” he ordered.

Handel nodded and turned sharply on a heel.

David closed the door and crossed to his bunk. Bending over, he hauled out two large cases from under his bed. One was packed with C-4 explosives, detonators, and electronic timers. The other held his newest prize. It had just arrived this morning by special courier. He rested his hand atop the case.

Distantly, thunder echoed from outside. The promised storm bore down upon them. David smiled. By nightfall his true mission would begin.

10:48 A.M., aboard the Deep Fathom

George Klein sat buried in the ship’s library, lost in his research, oblivious to the rocking and rolling of the ocean. For the past twenty-four hours the historian had holed up here, going over old charts and stories, searching for some clue to the origin of the strange script written on the crystal pillar. Though he had achieved no success, his research had revealed something disturbing. The discovery had kept him from his bed all night.

On the teak desk, George had splayed out a large map of the Pacific. Tiny red-flagged pins speared the map, dates scrawled on each flag. They marked ships, planes, and submarines lost in the region, going back a full century: In 1957, an Air Force KB-50 disappears near Wake Island; in 1974, Soviet “Golf II” class submarine vanishes southwest of Japan; in 1983, the British Glomar Java Sea is lost off Hainan Island. So many. Hundreds and hundreds of ships. George had an old report from the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency, listing boats lost with no trace ever found.

1968: 521 boats

1970: 435 boats

1972: 471 boats

George stood, moving back. He studied the pins. Having sailed in these waters for years, investigating shipwrecks, he had heard of the term the “Dragon’s Triangle.” It extended from Japan in the north to Yap Island in the south and trailed to the eastern end of Micronesia, a triangle of catastrophe and missing ships, not unlike the region known as the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean. But he had never given these tales much thought until now. He’d attributed the vanishings to ordinary causes: pirate activity, wicked weather, deep-sea quakes.

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