“If these ancient people were so skilled, what happened to them?”

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Karen grew thoughtful, eyes glazed. “I don’t know. Some great cataclysm. My great-grandfather believed, from studying Mayan tablets, that a larger continent once existed in the middle of the Pacific. He called it Mu…after the Hawaiian name for this lost continent.”

“Your great-grandfather?”

“Colonel Churchward.” She smiled back at him. “He was considered…well, eccentric in most respectable scientific circles.”

“Ah…” Jack rolled his eyes.

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Karen scowled good-naturedly at him. “Regardless of my ancestor’s eccentricities, myths of the lost continent persist throughout the Pacific Islands. The Indians of Central and South America named these lost people the viracocha. In the Maldive Islands, they are the Redin, their word for ‘ancient people.’ Even the Polynesians speak of ‘Wakea,’ an ancient teacher, who arrived in a mighty ship with massive sails and oarsmen. Across the Pacific, there are just too many stories to dismiss it out of hand. And now here we have another clue. A sunken city rising again.”

“But this is just one city, not a whole continent.”

Karen shook her head. “Twelve thousand years ago these seas were about three hundred feet shallower. Many regions now underwater would have been dry land back then.”

“Still, that doesn’t explain the disappearance of a whole continent. We’d know about its presence, even if it was under three hundred feet of water.”

“That’s just it. I don’t think the continent’s disappearance was due only to a change in the water table. Look at this city. An earthquake shoved this section of coastline up, while in Alaska the entire Aleutian chain of islands sinks. There are hundreds of other such stories. Islands sinking or rising.”

“So you think some great cataclysm broke up this continent and sank it.”

“Exactly. Around the same time, twelve thousand years ago, we know a great disaster occurred, a time of major worldwide climatic changes. It happened suddenly. Mastodons were found frozen on their feet with grass in their bellies. Flowers were found frozen in mid-bloom. One of the theories was that a massive volcano or series of volcanoes erupted, casting enough smoke and ash into the upper atmosphere that it caused dramatic climatic shifts. If such an extreme seismic event truly happened, perhaps the quakes were bad enough to break up and sink this lost continent.”

As Jack listened, he remembered the crystal column six hundred meters under the sea. Could this have once been dry land? he wondered. A part of Karen’s lost continent? He pondered her theories. They seemed far-fetched. But still…

Karen glanced at him, blushing. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bend your ear like that. But I’ve been buried in books and historical texts all week. It helps to voice some of my theories aloud.”

“Well, there’s no doubt you’ve been doing your homework.”

“I’m just following up on my great-grandfather’s research.” She turned her attention forward. “He may have been crazy. But if we can decode the language here, I believe we’ll have our answer—one way or the other.”

Jack heard the frustration in her voice. He wanted to reach out to her, to reassure her. But he kept his hands on the boat’s wheel. The best way to assist her was to help solve this mystery.

As he glided up to and between the two pyramids, he put Karen’s theories together in his mind: a lost continent sunk during an ancient cataclysm, an ancient seafaring race who demonstrated mysterious powers, and at the center of it, a crystal unlike anything seen before. As much as he tried to dismiss it all, he sensed that Karen was on the right track. Still, a critical question remained unanswered: How did any of this explain the downing of Air Force One?

He had no answer himself—but he knew this intriguing woman was closer than any of them to solving it. For now, he would follow her lead.

A whining roar cut above the rumble of their boat’s engine. It drew their attention around. Low in the sky, a military jet sped toward them. Jack recognized its silhouette as it shot past and screamed south—an F-14 Tomcat—from one of Okinawa’s military bases.

Frowning, Karen followed the path of the plane. “This war is gonna get ugly,” she said.

11:45 A.M., aboard the Maggie Chouest, Central Pacific

David stormed into his cabin. Two men jumped to their feet at his arrival: Ken Rolfe, his second-in-command, and Hank Jeffreys, the team’s communications officer. In the center of the cabin, the table was covered with various communication tools: two satellite phones, a GPS monitor, and a pair of IBM laptops trailing both modem cables and T-lines.

“What have you learned?” David demanded.

Rolfe visibly swallowed. “Sir, we’ve traced all telephone communication from the Deep Fathom.” From the clustered worktable, he found a sheet of paper and looked at it, saying, “Calls were sent to First Credit Bank of San Diego…a private residence in the suburbs of Philadelphia…an apartment building in Kingston, Jamaica…a Qantas Airline office on Kwajalein Atoll, and—” Rolfe looked up at David. “—several calls to Ryukyu University on Okinawa.”

David held out his hand for the list.

Rolfe passed it to him. “We have it correlated by date and time.”

“Very good.” David scanned the list to the bottom. Ryukyu University. A woman’s name was listed with the connection: Karen J. Grace, Ph.D. “Do we know who this woman is?”

Rolfe nodded. “We connected to the university’s Internet site and downloaded a fact sheet on Dr. Grace. She’s an associate professor of anthropology, visiting from Vancouver.”

“What’s her connection to Kirkland?”

Rolfe flicked a nervous glance at Jeffreys. “We’ve been working on that, sir. We noticed the first communication between the Deep Fathom and the university was the day after the ship sailed from here.”

“Any idea why Kirkland was calling this woman?”

“Actually, that’s what we were just working on when you arrived. It seems it was not the Deep Fathom that made the initial contact call, but the other way around. She called him.”

David frowned, lowering the sheet of paper. “She called him?”

“Yes, sir. We found it suspicious, too. So Lieutenant Jeffreys spent the last half hour gaining access to all e-mail coming and going from the ship. It took a bit of time to convince their ISP to allow us access.” Rolfe swung one of the laptop computers around so its screen faced David. “We downloaded the e-mail. There were five exchanges between the two parties.”

David leaned his palms on the table and bent nearer the computer.

Rolfe continued, “All the mail dealt with some cryptic language.”

David slammed his fist against the table. “I knew it. The bastard did discover the inscription!”

Reaching over, Rolfe clicked on one of the e-mails. The page opened up on the screen. “Here’s a bit of the language. It seems the naval historian aboard the Deep Fathom had blanketed the Internet news boards, inquiring about the origins of this language.”

On the screen, David stared at the five tiny icons included in the e-mail. He recognized their similarity to what he had seen below. “And this professor from Okinawa responded to the inquiry?”

“Yes, sir. She answered, saying she had more examples of the language and wanted to meet.”

“So Kirkland went out there. The bastard is investigating this lead.”

“That’s not all, sir.”

David turned from the computer screen. “What else?”

“You’d better read her response yourself.” Rolfe clicked open a second piece of mail.

David leaned over and read the message. As he scanned the e-mail it was clear the woman knew more than she was willing to divulge. But one item caught his eye. She hinted at the discovery of a crystal that exhibited unusual properties. He straightened up. “Goddamn it! She must have some of our crystal.”

“That’s what we thought, too.”

“If she has some of it, our mission here is compromised. No one was supposed to know of the crystal deposit. If Kirkland goes blabbing about it and they have a sample of the crystal…” David’s voice trailed off. This was bad. He waved his men away. “Clear out. I need to talk to Ruzickov.”

“Aye, sir.” Both men quickly left the cabin.

Alone, David crossed to his bunk and pulled out his personal scrambled phone. It was late evening in Washington, but he knew this information was too vital to sit on overnight. He opened a channel and keyed in the number for the head of the CIA. With the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, he suspected that the director would still be in his office. He was not wrong.

“Ruzickov here.”

“Sir, it’s Commander Spangler.”

“I know who it is,” the director snapped at him. Even over the encrypted line, David could hear the exhaustion in the man’s voice. “What do you want? I have a war about to erupt out here.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve been following the reports.”

Nicolas Ruzickov sighed. “It’s worse than in any reports. The Chinese know of the President’s intention to seek a declaration of war. It’s chaos out there. The Chinese navy has already secured a blockade around Taiwan—from Batan Island to the south and swinging full around the Taiwanese coastline.”

David gripped the phone’s receiver tighter. “And our forces?”

“The USS John C. Stennis is already in the region, just awaiting word from us. But with tensions so high out there, the whole mess could explode before Washington officially responds. As you can imagine, I’m up to my neck with problems. So your call had better be important enough to interrupt me.”

“I think it is, sir. The security of this site may be compromised.” David related the discovery of the communication between Kirkland’s ship and university on Okinawa. “If other parties gain wind of the crystal’s properties, we could lose our edge here.”

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