“Have you even slept since I gave you that thing?”

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“How could I? It’s amazing. Nothing like this substance has ever been discovered. I’m sure of it. I’ve hit it with every test I can manage here: the mass spectrometer, the proton magnetometer, X-ray diffraction. But it defies everything. At this point I couldn’t tell you its atomic weight, its valence, its specific gravity—nothing! I can’t even get the friggin’ thing to melt.” He tapped his mini-oven. “And this thing heats to a temperature of seven hundred degrees.”

“So you don’t know what it is?” Jack leaned against the worktable.

“I…I have my theories.” Charlie bit his lip. “But you have to understand. My research is still preliminary. A lot is still speculative.”

Jack nodded. “I trust your hunches.”

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Charlie scanned the lab. “Where to begin…?”

“How about at the beginning?”

“Well, first there was the Big Bang—”

Jack held up a hand. “Not that far back.”

“The story goes that far back.”

Jack’s eyebrows rose.

“I’d better take you through it a step at a time. After I heard your description of the crystal’s effect on basalt, it got me thinking. I tried to repeat the effect on other rocks. Granite, obsidian, sandstone. No luck. Only basalt.”

“Why basalt?”

“That’s just what I wondered. Basalt is actually hardened magma. Not only is it abundant in prismatic crystals, but it’s rich in iron, too. So rich, in fact, it’s capable of being magnetic.”

“Really?”

“You remember the strange magnetization of Air Force One’s metal parts. The same thing happens to basalt when it comes in close contact with the energized crystal. When powered, the crystal is able to emit a strange magnetizing energy.”

“So how does this magnetization make the mass of the rock change?”

“The mass doesn’t change. Only its weight.”

“You lost me.”

Charlie frowned. “You’ve been in space.”

“So?”

“In space you’re weightless, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But you still had mass, didn’t you? It is gravity that gives mass its weight. The more gravity, the more something weighs.”

“Okay, I get that.”

“Well, the converse is true. The less gravity, the less something weighs.”

Jack began to catch on. “So the crystal is not changing the mass of an object, it’s changing gravity’s effect on it.”

“Exactly. Making the magnetic basalt weigh less.”

“But how?”

Charlie rolled a chunk of basalt toward Jack. He caught it. “Do you even know what gravity is?”

“Sure, it’s…well, it’s…okay, you smartass, what is it?”

“According to Einstein’s Unified Field Theory, gravity is merely a frequency.”

“Like a radio station?”

“Pretty much. The frequency of Earth’s gravity has been determined to be 1012 hertz, somewhere between shortwave radio and infrared radiation. If you could get an object to resonate at this frequency, it would lose its weight.”

“And the crystal can do this?”

“Yes. The crystal emits this energy. It magnetizes the basalt’s iron content, which triggers the crystalline structure to resonate. Vibrating at a frequency equal to gravity, the rock loses its weight.”

“And you learned all this overnight?”

“Actually, I learned it within the first hour of experimenting with the crystal. That was the easy part. But understanding the energy radiating from the crystal—that was the hard part.” Charlie grinned tiredly at him.

“You’ve figured it out?”

“I have my theory.”

“Oh, out with it already. Tell me.”

“It’s dark energy.”

Jack sighed, sensing another lecture. “And what’s dark energy?”

“It’s a force conjectured by a cosmologist, Michael Turner, in an article in the Physical Review Letters.” Charlie nodded to one of the pages taped to the wall. “After the Big Bang, the universe blew outward, spreading in all directions. And it’s still expanding. But from the newest studies of the movement of distant galaxies and the brightness of super-novas, it is now accepted that the rate of expansion is accelerating.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The universe is expanding faster and faster. To explain this phenomenon, a new force had to be coined—‘dark energy.’ A strange force that keeps the universe expanding by repelling gravity.”

“And you think this energy given off by the crystal may be dark energy.”

“It’s a theory I’m working to prove. But it’s a theory that could possibly explain the crystal’s substance, too. Dark energy is tied to another theoretical bit of physics—dark matter.”

Jack rolled his eyes.

Charlie chuckled. “What do you see when you look up at the night sky?”

“Stars?”

“Exactly, mon, what astronomers call luminous matter. Stuff we can see. Stuff that lights up the sky. But there is not enough of the observable stuff to explain the motion of galaxies or the current expansion of the universe. According to calculations of physicists, for every gram of luminous matter there must be nine grams of matter we can’t see. Invisible matter.”

“Dark matter.”

“Exactly.” Charlie nodded, his gaze flicking to the crystal. “We know a lot of the missing matter is just run-of-the-mill stuff: black holes, dark planets, brown dwarves, and other material our telescopes just haven’t been able to detect. But with ninety percent of the universe’s matter still missing, most physicists suspect the true source of dark matter will be something totally unexpected.”

“Like our crystal that emits dark energy?”

“Why not? The crystal acts as a perfect superconductor, absorbing energy so completely that most methods for scanning for its presence would fail.”

“So astronomers have been looking the wrong way all along. Rather than in the night sky, they should have been looking under their own feet.”

The geologist shrugged.

Jack finally understood Charlie’s drive. If he was right, the answer to the fundamental mysteries of the universe’s origin lay in this room—not to mention a source of amazing power. A power never seen before. Jack pictured the massive crystal on the seabed floor. What could the world do with such an energy source?

George appeared in the open doorway behind him, shuffling papers. “Charlie, you should…oh, Jack, you’re here.” George looked disheveled and out of sorts.

“Were you able to find out what I asked?” Charlie asked.

George nodded, a glint of fear in his eyes.

Jack turned to Charlie. “What’s going on?”

Charlie nodded to George. “His graph. The fact that every eleven years the number of ships missing in the area spiked. It got me thinking. It looked familiar, especially the dates. I rechecked George’s data. His graph follows almost exactly the cycle of sunspot activity. Every eleven years the sun enters a period of increased magnetic storms. Sunspots and solar flares reach peaks of activity. These peaks coincided with the years when the most vessels vanished in the region.”

“And you knew this solar cycle off the top of your head?”

“Not exactly. I was already researching this angle. Remember on the day of the Pacificwide quakes, there was an eclipse coinciding with a major solar storm. I wondered if there might be some correlation.”

“You think the solar storms triggered the quakes—and the pillar had something to do with it?”

“Think about the platinum book. Even back then, the writer reports seeing strange lights in the northern skies before the big quake. The aurora borealis. It grows more brilliantly and expands far south during a solar storm. The ancients were experiencing a peak of solar activity prior to the disaster.”

Jack shook his head. “This is all too much.”

“Then let me put it all together for you. You remember our talk about the Dragon’s Triangle a few days back?”

Jack nodded.

“And do you remember me telling you how it is exactly opposite the infamous Bermuda Triangle? How the two create some type of axis through the planet that causes disturbances in the magnetic lines of the Earth? Well, now I think I have an explanation. I would wager there are two massive deposits of this ‘dark matter’ crystal—one under the Dragon’s Triangle and one under the Bermuda Triangle. The two poles have been acting like the positive and negative ends of a battery, creating a massive electromagnetic field. I believe it is this field that drives the Earth’s magma to flow.”

Jack tried to wrap his mind around this concept. “The Earth’s battery? Are you serious?”

“I’m beginning to think so. And if I’m right, those ancients made a horrible mistake by digging free a sliver of this battery and exposing it to direct sunlight. They made it vulnerable to the big solar storm. A lightning rod, if you will. The crystal took the solar radiation, converted it into dark energy, and whipped up the Earth’s magma core, creating the tectonic explosion that destroyed the continent.”

“And you’re suggesting something like that happened here two weeks ago?”

“A watered-down version of it, yes. Remember in the past the pillar was on dry land. Today it’s insulated by six hundred meters of water. The depths served to shield it from the strongest of the storm’s energy. It would’ve taken a significant solar event to trigger the recent quakes.”

George lifted his hand to speak, but Jack interrupted, afraid to lose his train of thought. “How does all this tie into the President’s plane?”

“If it was passing over the site when the crystal was radiating, the dark energy could have damaged the jet’s systems. I’ve noted strange fluxes myself when experimenting with the crystal: magnetic spikes, EM surges, even tiny fluctuations in time, not unlike your own short lapses in the sub. I bet these bursts of energy have been messing with vessels in the area for centuries.”

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