“We can take it from here, Commander.” The research leader stood up from his console. “I know you’ve been ordered away for a few days, but there’s no need to worry. My team won’t let you down.”
“It had better not,” David said as he turned to leave, but he could not give his statement much heat. Cortez ran a tight ship.
Leaving the command center, David climbed down to the deck. As soon as he pushed out of the air-conditioned superstructure and into the heat, he was met by his second-in-command.
Rolfe was dressed in a black flight jacket. “We’re loaded and ready, sir,” he said. “Jeffreys just heard from our contacts on Pohnpei. Jack Kirkland and the woman landed an hour ago. They’re under surveillance as we speak.”
“Good.” Everything was going well. First the base, now this. It was as if Kirkland were trying to make his job easier, David thought. To extract the scientist and her crystal from the growing war zone around Okinawa would have been complicated. But out in the backwaters of Micronesia, on an island sympathetic to American concerns, it shouldn’t be a problem. Everything was falling into perfect place.
“Sir, Jeffreys also reports that the woman has been making inquiries about hiring a boat to take them all to some ruins on the southeast side of the island.”
David nodded. Overnight he had studied topographic maps of Pohnpei. He knew the island’s entire terrain by heart. “When are they planning to go out there?”
David thought a moment and nodded. There should just be enough time. “Get me Jeffreys. I want a boat arranged.” He zipped up his jacket. “We’re going to prepare a little welcome for Mr. Kirkland and his friends.”
4:34 P.M., Pohnpei Island, Madolenihmw Municipality
Jack’s headache still pounded behind his eyes. And the bumpy ride along the jungle road in an old rusted Jeep Cherokee wasn’t helping. Karen sat behind the wheel, squinting through the grimy window for landmarks.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Miyuki asked from the rear seat. A particularly large bump sent the small woman flying for the roof. She swore at Karen in her native language.
“This is the right way,” Mwahu said, also in the backseat. “Bridge to Temwen Island is not far.”
“So you’ve been to Nan Madol before?” Karen asked, trying to glean more information from the man.
“Sacred place. I visit with father three times.”
Karen glanced at Jack, as if to stress the coincidence.
Jack rubbed his temples, trying to grind away the headache. After landing, he had finally slept a bit, but the pain of the last twenty-four hours could not be alleviated with a nap.
While he’d slept, Karen had hired a car and arranged for a boat to explore the ruins of Nan Madol. Because the best time to explore was at high tide, they were leaving late in the day, when boats could traverse the meter-deep canals. Otherwise, at low tide, it meant slogging through the ruins in knee-deep water and mud.
Clearing his throat, Jack sought some way to distract himself from the pounding in his skull. “Karen, you never did tell me the full story of Nan Madol. What’s so special about this place?”
“There are many stories and myths surrounding this island,” she replied, “but the story of Nan Madol’s origin is the most intriguing. According to the myth, two demigods, Olhosihpa and Olhosohpa, came to the island in a great ship from some lost land. With magical powers they transported the gigantic basalt logs across the island and helped the natives build the canal city. Some say the stone logs flew through the air.”
Jack shook his head. “Yeah, right.”
Karen shrugged. “Of course, who knows the truth for sure? But mysteries remain. Some of the stones weigh up to fifty tons. The entire complex of Nan Madol is composed of 250 million tons of crystalline basalt. How did it all get there?”
Jack shrugged. “On large rafts. Bamboo is great building material, and there’s plenty of it on the island.” He nodded to the rain forest out the windows.
Karen shook her head. “Back in 1995, researchers tried to float a one-ton basalt log using every sort of raft imaginable. They failed. The best they could manage was a stone that weighed a couple hundred pounds. So how did these unsophisticated natives move rocks weighing fifty tons? And once at the site, how did they lift and stack them forty feet in the air?”
Jack’s brow crinkled. As much as he hated to admit it, the mystery was intriguing. How had it been done?
Karen continued, “I have no idea what the real answer is, but I find the myth of the demigods interesting. Another story of a magical people from a lost continent.”
Jack settled back in his seat. “So how old are these ruins?”
“Hmm…that’s another bit of controversy. Nine hundred years is the current estimate, based on carbon dating on fire pits done by the Smithsonian Institute in the sixties. But others have argued for an older date.”
“Carbon-dating of the fire pits only proves that it was occupied during this time, not that the place was built then. In the early seventies an archaeologist from Honolulu, using newer techniques, came up with a date over two thousand years old.” Karen shrugged. “So who can say for sure?”
From the backseat Miyuki shifted forward and pointed between them. “Look.”
Karen slowed the Cherokee as raw sunlight appeared ahead. It was the end of the forest road.
“Finally,” Jack murmured.
The view opened before them as they swung out of the forest. A wide bay lay ahead, sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight. In the middle of the bay towered a steep mountainous island, fringed by swamps. From the height of the jungle road, a coral reef could be seen in the shallows circling the small island, mottling the blue waters in hues of rose and jade.
Karen pointed. “Nan Madol is on the far side of Temwen Island. Facing the open ocean.”
Turning, she guided the Jeep down the steep grade toward a long, two-lane steel bridge that spanned the strait between coast and island. They descended into shadows as the sun, setting toward the western horizon, disappeared behind the mountainous peaks of Pohnpei. Then they were trundling across the bridge, passing over coral atolls and deep blue waters.
Karen played tour guide. “The harbors around here are fraught with submerged sections of other ruins: columns, walls, stone roads, even a small sunken castle. Back during World War Two, Japanese divers reported discovering caskets made of pure platinum down there.”
“Yep. The divers brought up quite a bit of it. Platinum became one of the island’s major exports during the Japanese occupation.”
Jack eyed the water. “Strange.”
“In fact, just recently a large megalithic discovery was made in the deep waters off the east coast of Nahkapw Island.” She pointed to a speck of an island just visible near the southern horizon. “A submerged stone village named Kahnihnw Namkhet. For decades natives told stories about it, but it was only in the last five years that divers rediscovered it.”
With a kidney-jarring bump the Jeep left the bridge and turned onto the coastal road that circled the small island. Karen accelerated. Soon they wound out of the shadows and into the sunlight of the southern coastline.
Ahead and below, the ruins of Nan Madol appeared.
Jack lowered his map, stunned by the sight. Spreading far out into the shallow sea from the coastline were a hundred man-made islets. The buildings and fortifications were all composed of basalt columns and slabs, constructed similar to American-style log cabins. Framing the entire site was a gigantic sea wall, also of basalt.
“Amazing,” he said. “I can see now why the place is called the Venice of the Pacific.” The ancient city spread over ten square miles, with canals intersecting and connecting the entire community. Mangrove trees and ferns grew thickly throughout it. Looking down, the stones of the city sparked in the sunlight, reflecting off the quartz crystals in the basalt.
“It’s been compared to the building of the Great Wall of China,” Karen said. “They built the entire city atop the coral reef, carving deeper channels and canals out of the reef itself. There’s also an extensive tunnel system connecting the various islets. It was lucky the eclipse-day quakes weren’t too bad out here. It would’ve been a great tragedy to lose this historic site.”
Jack stared, struck by its breadth and size. “It’s so large.”
Karen nodded and guided their vehicle down the last few switchbacks toward the city’s edge. “That’s another mystery. Why is it so big? To support such a city would require a populace ten times larger than currently living on the island and a land area thirty times as big.”
“Further evidence of your lost continent?”
“Perhaps.” She turned into a parking lot before the entrance to the ruins, parked under the shade of a large mangrove tree and switched off the engine. Then she turned her attention to Mwahu, in the backseat. “You said before this place was sacred to your people. Before we go further, I want to know why.”
Mwahu stared out the open window, silent for a long time, then spoke slowly, as if it pained him. “It is the last home of our ancient teacher, Horon-ko. He came here to die.”
“When was this? How long ago?”
Mwahu turned to face Karen and Jack. “Long, long ago.”
“But why did he come here?” Karen asked.
“Because his own home was gone.”
“His own home?”
Mwahu again seemed reluctant to answer. His voice became a whisper. “He came from Katua Peidi.”
Karen gasped at his answer.
“What?” Jack said to her, puzzled.
“According to myth,” she explained, “Katua Peidi was the name of the original homeland of the magical brothers who had helped build Nan Madol.”
Jack frowned. “He thinks his teacher was one of these Katuans?”
“So it would seem.” She turned her attention back to the rear seat. “What did Horon-ko teach your ancestors?”