Karen sat up straighter. “Gabriel, can you pinpoint the location in any finer detail?”
Though Jack had known Karen less than a day, he sensed that she was on to something.
The other islands of Micronesia faded off the screen as the outline of Pohnpei filled the monitor. Individual villages and towns grew clearer. The blinking red marker hovered near the island’s southeast coastline.
Jack leaned toward the screen. He could just make out a name written beside the red marker. “What does that say?”
Karen remained stiff in her seat. She was hardly looking at the screen. “It’s Nan Madol.”
Jack glanced over at her. “A village?”
“Ruins,” she answered. “One of the most spectacular set of megalithic ruins in all the South Pacific. The site covers eleven square miles of coastline, an engineering marvel of canals and basalt buildings.” She turned toward him. “To this day no one knows for sure who built them.”
Jack sat back and nodded to the neighboring screen, where the glyphs continued to scroll. “Maybe now we do.”
“I have to know more!” Karen said, grabbing Miyuki’s sleeve.
The computer scientist frowned. “I’m sorry. That’s all I have. After Gabriel double-checks his own work, it’ll still take at least a day to begin any significant decoding. With these new additions, the total number of individual glyphs is now over five hundred, and the list of compound glyphs has grown into the range of ten thousand. This is no easy language.”
“How long do you think it’ll take?” Karen asked, breathless.
“Try me late tomorrow afternoon,” Miyuki said. “I might—and I repeat might—have something then.”
“A whole day,” Karen groaned. “What am I going to do for a whole day?”
Jack knew the anthropologist needed something on which to focus her energy. “How about your promise to me?”
Karen’s brows bunched up, not understanding.
“The ancient city off the coast of Chatan. You promised to tour me through there.”
She brightened, but not for the reason Jack had hoped. “You’re right. If the ruins of Nan Madol are referenced, some other clues may still be hidden out at Chatan. It’s worth investigating again.”
“And this time out, you’ll have better company than me,” Miyuki added. “A strong man to guard your back.”
Karen looked at Jack, as if finally seeing him again. “Oh.”
In her green eyes, Jack recognized her burning passion for this newest mystery. He searched for something more…but came up empty.
He smiled weakly. So much for romance.
On the Run
August 5, 9:15 A.M.
Salvage site of Air Force One, Central Pacific
David Spangler glided his submersible in a slow dive around the steel support base of the deep-sea research station. Each of the frame’s four alloy legs were solidly bolted to the seabed floor with ten-foot-long metal spikes. None of the stout legs even budged when the first section of the four-ton research station settled atop the landing base.
“Looking good from up here,” a topside technician radioed to him. “How’s it looking down there?”
David continued his survey. The laboratory had the appearance of a twenty-meter-wide white doughnut sitting on a raised platter. He dove underneath the section, craning his neck to make sure the piece was properly seated, then keyed his transmitter. “All clear. Perfect landing. I’ll unhook the winches and lines.” David goosed his thrusters and swung around, aiming for the four thick cables that had been used to lower and guide the laboratory section into place.
“No need. We’re getting good video from the ROVs, Commander. Our team has practiced this a thousand times. All we need you to do is monitor from there.”
On the seabed floor, David watched as a pair of boxy robots slowly lurched forward, churning up silt behind them. The pair, named Huey and Duey, were remotely operated by the topside technicians. They set about the task of latching the first section to its support base.
Over the next day, the team would lower the other two sections, secure them together, one atop the other, and then evacuate the water from the drowned labs. The plan was to pressurize the facility to one atmosphere, exactly matching the surface pressure, thus allowing the scientists to journey up and down in their own submersible without the need to decompress.
So far, everything was proceeding smoothly. David had to give some credit to the Mexican leader of the research team. With a fire lit under his ass, Cortez ran a tight ship himself. As such, perhaps the scientist deserved a bone tossed in his direction. Since yesterday, Cortez had not stopped nagging him for a closer peek at the crystal pillar. Perhaps it was time to oblige him a little.
After giving the developing station one final pass, David circled out in a widening spiral. About fifty yards away rested the graveyard of Air Force One, many of its parts still strewn across the seabed floor. In the distance giant flat-topped seamounts shadowed the site, while surrounding it all lay the twisted forest of lava pillars. David could not imagine a more inhospitable place on Earth.
He pushed the throttles on his sub and swept toward the wreckage site. In the center, the strange crystal obelisk thrust up from the seabed floor. He gave it a wide berth in the Perseus, still nervous about getting too close to the giant structure that had demonstrated such odd properties during Kirkland’s dives. Even from ten yards away he could appreciate its size. The top of the spire disappeared into the inky gloom far overhead.
Hovering in place, David guided his lights along its length. Its faceted surface seemed to absorb his lamplight and cast it back tenfold. Undoubtedly a marvel—and if his boss was correct, also potentially one of the world’s most powerful energy sources.
With care, David maintained his distance. Using the touchpad on his video monitor, he zoomed in on the crystalline surface. Tiny scratches focused into row after row of small figures and geometric shapes, etched and shining silver. His eyes grew wide. It was writing!
“Goddamn you, Kirkland!” he mumbled.
“What was that, sir?”
“Nothing. Continue securing the station!” David thumbed off the transmitter. He needed to think. Jack Kirkland had not mentioned writing on the crystal in any of his reports, and David knew he’d been close enough to see this. He couldn’t have missed it. The silver symbols practically glowed on the crystalline surface. So why hadn’t he reported it? What was he up to? David gripped the throttles tightly. What else was Jack Kirkland keeping secret? Every instinct in him screamed with suspicion.
On his touchpad, he activated his private encrypted line to the surface. He had it implemented after running into problems communicating directly with his team through an open channel.
It was answered immediately by his second-in-command. “What is it, sir?”
“Rolfe, we may have a problem. I need access to all communication into and out of the Deep Fathom since it first arrived here.”
“Sir, we didn’t tap the ship’s communication system.”
“I know that. But it’s a goddamn boat. Any telephone communication would’ve passed through a traceable satellite system. We may not know what he said, but I want to know who he said it to.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll put Jeffreys on it right away.”
“I’m coming topside immediately. I want some answers by the time I’m on deck.”
David switched channels and hailed the sub’s technician. He repeated his plan to surface earlier than scheduled. “Get Brentley suited up,” he finished brusquely. “The lieutenant can finish babysitting the robots down here.”
Without waiting for an assent, David flicked off the radio and blew the ballast on his sub. He shoved both throttles forward. The Perseus shot upward, its thrusters whining as they were fully engaged.
What was Kirkland up to?
9:42 A.M., off the coast of Yonaguni Island
With the sun hovering above the eastern horizon, Jack stood behind the wheel of the sleek nineteen-foot Boston Whaler. “I’ll be damned,” he muttered as he cut the motor and glided around the headlands of Yonaguni Island.
Ahead, the small coastal city of Chatan lay nestled along the shore, a ramshackle village of cheap hotels and seaside restaurants. But it was not the town that captured Jack’s attention. It was the pair of terraced pyramids towering above the waves offshore.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Karen said.
Beyond the pyramids, more of the ancient city appeared: basalt columns, roofless homes, sharp-edged obelisks, worn statues. The city spread toward the horizon, fading into the morning mists.
“ ‘Amazing’ hardly describes this sight,” Jack said. “You told me what to expect, but to see it…” His voice dwindled away in awe. Finally, he settled back into the pilot’s seat and throttled up. “It was worth the hassle getting here.”
“I told you it was.” Karen remained standing as the boat sped toward the city, her hair blowing back, her cheeks rosy in the wind as the boat bounced through the chop. Her figure was framed in sea spray.
Jack studied his companion from the corner of his eye. At the port of Naha, he had spent an aggravating hour scrounging up this boat. With the island’s U.S. military bases at full alert because of the Chinese, sea traffic had been congested and chaotic. Jack was forced to pay an outrageous rental fee for the day use of his boat. Luckily, they took his American Express. Still, as he watched Karen, he knew the trip was definitely worth the hassles.
As they neared the first pyramid, Jack cut the engine and slowed the boat into a gentle glide.
Karen settled into her own seat. “Once you see this city, how can you not believe that a prehistoric people once lived among these islands?” She waved her arm to encompass the spread of ruins. “This is not the work of early Polynesians. Another people, an older people, built this, along with the many other megalithic ruins dotting the Pacific: the canal city of Nan Madol, the lattes stones of the Mariannas, the colossal Burden of Tonga.”