Doreen heard the crack of the weapon, felt her body flung backward, then the world was gone.

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8:15 P.M. PST (6:15 P.M. Local Time)

Aleutian Islands, Alaska

As night approached, Jimmy Pomautuk clung to the totem pole depicting his ancestors’ gods. Where once it had stood proudly atop the heights of Glacial Point, it now floated in the sea, bobbing in the waves. Jimmy clung to it. He tried his best to keep his body above the waterline, but the waves constantly tried to wash him from his perch atop the totem.

Hours ago he had hacked the totem from its cement base as the water rose up the cliff face of Glacial Point. The island had sunk surprisingly smoothly, giving him plenty of time to use a hand ax from the warming shed to free the length of wood. Once the waters had neared the summit, he flung it over the edge. The trio of English tourists had long since fled down the path toward Port Royson. Jimmy had tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. Panic had made them deaf.

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Alone, he had leaped from the cliff and swam out to the floating totem. Only Nanook, the large malamute, had remained at the cliff’s edge, unsure what to do, stalking back and forth. Jimmy could not save his old dog. He knew it would be hard enough for him to survive.

With a heavy heart he had straddled the totem and begun paddling toward the distant mainland. Nanook’s bark echoed over the waters until the island vanished fully behind him.

As if his guilt plagued him now, he heard the barking again. But it was no ghost. Twisting around, he saw something splashing toward him from several yards away. Jimmy spotted the flash of black and white fur.

Joy and concern mixed in his heart. The old dog had refused to give up, and as much as Jimmy tried to remain practical, he knew he would do what he could to rescue it. “C’mon, Nanook!” he yelled through chattering teeth. “Get your wet butt over here.”

A smile cracked his blue lips as a bark answered him.

Then he saw something rise from the waves behind his paddling dog. A long black fin, too tall for a shark. Orca. Killer whale.

Jimmy’s heart clenched. He reached a hand toward his dog, but it was useless. The fin sank away. Jimmy held his breath, praying to the old gods to spare his companion.

Abruptly, a burst of whitewater erupted around the dog. Nanook whined, sensing his doom. Then the great dog vanished into a surge of bloody froth. The black fin rose briefly, then sank away.

Motionless, Jimmy floated on his man-made log, fingers clinging to images of his ancestors’ gods: Bear, Eagle, and Orca. Silence loomed over the sea. The ocean had quickly settled, leaving no evidence of the savage attack.

Jimmy felt hot tears flowing down his frozen cheeks. In grief, he rested his forehead against the wood.

The character of the light changed then. Jimmy lifted his face. The darkening skies now blazed an unnatural red. Craning his neck, he saw the source off to the left. A rescue flare high in the sky. And in the glaring brightness, he spotted a Coast Guard cutter gliding through the waters.

He sat up, waving an arm and yelling. “Help!” He fought to keep his balance on the bobbing wood.

A short beep of a horn answered him. Then faint words reached him from a megaphone. “We see you! Stay where you are!”

Lowering his arm, Jimmy settled closer to his pole. He let out a long sigh of relief. Then he sensed it. The presence of something nearby. He turned his head to stare forward.

Another long black dorsal fin surfaced directly in front of him, its forward edge brushing the end of the wood, nudging it, testing it.

Jimmy slowly pulled his feet from the water.

Then on his left, another fin arose…and another. The pod of killer whales slowly circled him. Jimmy knew the cutter would never arrive in time. He was right. Something struck the underside of the totem, jolting it a full yard into the air, and he went flying, fingers scrambling for wood.

He struck the ocean and sank. He was already so cold that he barely felt the icy chill. He opened his eyes under the water, salt burning. In the flare’s fiery light, Jimmy saw the huge shadows still circling. He tried not to move, though his frozen lungs screamed for air. He allowed his natural buoyancy to float him toward the surface.

Before he reached the waves, one of the shadows moved nearer. For a moment he stared back into a fist-sized black eye. Then his head broke the surface. Jimmy bent his neck and gasped for a breath of air.

The Coast Guard cutter bore toward his position at full speed. The crew members must have seen the attack.

Jimmy closed his eyes. Too far.

Something clamped on his legs. No pain, only a fierce tightness. His limbs were too frozen to feel the teeth. As the Coast Guard spotlight swept over him, his body was yanked away, dragged into the depths by the gods of his ancestors.

10:56 P.M. PST (6:56 P.M. Local Time)

Boeing 747-200B, cruising at 30,000 feet, en route from Guam

In the paneled conference room aboard Air Force One, Jeffrey Hessmire watched the President respond to the worldwide emergency. Gathered around the table were his senior staff and advisors.

“Give me a quick summary, Tom. How extensive were the quakes?”

Secretary of State Elliot, his left arm splinted and carried in a sling, sat to the President’s right. Jeffrey noticed the morphine glaze to Tom Elliot’s eyes, but the man remained remarkably alert and sharp. One-handed, he shuffled through the ream of printouts atop the table. “It’s too early to get any clear answers, but it appears the entire Pacific Rim was affected. Reports are coming in from as far south as New Zealand and as far north as Alaska. Also from Japan and China in the east, and from the entire western coast of Central and South America.”

“And the United States? Any further word?”

Tom’s face grew grim. “Reports remain chaotic. San Francisco is still experiencing hourly aftershocks. Los Angeles is burning.” Tom glanced down at one sheet and seemed unwilling to report what lay there. “The entire Aleutian Island chain of Alaska is gone.”

Shocked murmuring rose from around the table.

“Is that possible?” the President asked.

“It’s been confirmed by satellite,” Tom said softly. “We’re also finally getting reports from Hawaii.” He glanced up from his pile of papers. “Tidal waves struck the islands forty minutes after the initial quakes. Honolulu is still underwater. The hotels of Waikiki lay toppled like dominoes.”

As the litany of tragedies continued, the President’s face drained of color; his lips drew in, to tight lines. Jeffrey had never seen President Bishop look so old. “So many dead…” Jeffrey heard him mutter under his breath.

Tom finally finished his report, detailing the explosion of a volcanic peak near Seattle. The city lay under three feet of ash.

“The Ring of Fire,” Jeffrey whispered to himself. He was overheard.

President Bishop turned to him. “What was that, Mr. Hessmire?”

Jeffrey found all eyes turning to him. “Th-The Pacific Rim has also been nicknamed the Ring of Fire, because of its extensive geological activity—earthquakes, volcanic eruptions.”

The President nodded, swinging back to Tom. “Yes, but why now? Why so suddenly? What triggered this geologic explosion throughout the Pacific?”

Tom shook his head. “We’re still a long way from investigating that question. Right now we must dig our country out of the rubble. The Joint Chiefs and Cabinet are convening by order of the Vice President. The Office of Emergency Services is at full alert. They just await our instructions.”

“Then let’s get to work, gentlemen,” the President began. “We’ve—”

The plane bucked under them. Several members of the staff were thrown from their seats. The President kept his place.

“What the hell was that?” Tom swore.

As if hearing him, the captain came on the intercom. “Sorry for that little bump, but we’ve run into some unexpected turbulence. We…we may be in for a rough ride. Please secure your seat belts.”

Jeffrey heard the false cheer in the pilot’s voice. Worry rang behind his words. The President, whose eyes were narrowed, glanced at Tom.

“I’ll check on it.” Tom began to unbuckle his seat belt.

The President put a hand on Tom’s injured arm, restraining him. He turned instead to Jeffrey and motioned to a member of his security team. “You boys have better legs than us old men.”

Jeffrey unsnapped his seat buckle. “Of course.” He stood and joined the blue-suited Secret Service agent at the door.

Together they left the conference room and worked their way forward, past the President’s suite of private rooms and toward the cockpit of the Boeing 747. As they neared the cockpit door, Jeffrey caught a flash of brilliance from out one of the side windows.

“What was—” he started to ask when the plane tilted savagely.

Jeffrey struck the port bulkhead and crashed to the floor. He felt his eardrums pop. Through the door to the cockpit, he heard frantic yells from among the flight crew, screamed orders, panic.

He pulled himself up, his face pressed to the porthole window. “Oh my God…”

11:18 P.M. PST (2:18 A.M. Local Time)

Air Mobility Command, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

Tech Sergeant Mitch Clemens grabbed the red phone above his bank of radar screens. He keyed in for the hard-link scrambled and coded to the base commander. With Andrews on full alert, the phone was answered immediately.

“Yes?”

“Sir, we have a problem.”

“What is it?”

Sweating, Mitch Clemens stared at his monitor, at the aircraft designation VC-25A. Normally it glowed a bright yellow on the screen. It now blinked. Red.

The tech sergeant’s voice trembled. “We’ve lost Air Force One.”

1

Nautilus

July 24, 3:35 P.M.

75 miles SW of Wake Island, Central Pacific

Jack Kirkland had missed the eclipse.

Where he glided, there was no sun, only the perpetual darkness of the ocean’s abysmal deep. The sole illumination came from a pair of xenon lamps set in the nose of his one-man submersible. His new toy, the Nautilus 2000, was out on its first deep-dive test. The eight-foot titanium minisub was shaped like a fat torpedo topped by an acrylic plastic dome. Attached to its underside was a stainless steel frame that mounted the battery pods, thruster assembly, electrical can, and lights.

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