“Yeah, so? What happened?”
“Well, when we bombarded the pillar, the dark energy behaved as I had hoped—radiating straight back out, rather than down. But it had a side effect I hadn’t anticipated.”
“Rather than stirring up the magma, the dark energy spike triggered a massive global time flux, resetting the Earth’s battery to the moment when the dark matter had last been excited. Back to the solar storm two weeks ago. Back to the day of the eclipse.”
Jack’s voice was incredulous. “What the hell are you saying? That we’ve traveled back in time?”
“Not us, the world. Except for our local pocket here, the rest of the planet slipped back sixteen days.”
In the docking bay of the research station, Karen helped Jack out of his bulky suit. She had listened in on the geologist’s conversation with Jack.
A global time flux.
It was too wild to comprehend right now. All her mind could grasp was that they had survived. The pillar was gone. The world was safe. The mysteries of Einsteinian anomalies, dark matter, and dark energy would have to wait.
Jack groaned, climbing out of the unhinged armored suit.
Karen held his arm, assisting him. Here was what she understood: flesh and blood. Jack had survived and returned to her as he had promised.
As he stumbled free, he straightened with a large smile. “We did it.”
Karen opened her mouth to congratulate him—then their eyes met. She realized words were too weak to convey her true feelings. Instead, she threw her arms around his neck, knocking and pinning him back against the heavy suit.
Before either of them knew it, their lips sought each other out.
Karen kissed him hard, as if proving him no ghost. He pulled her closer. His lips moved from her mouth to her throat. The heat of his touch was electric, a dark energy of his own. She gasped his name, winding her fingers through his hair, tangling and twisting, refusing to let him go.
Their flaring passion was not love, nor even lust. It was something more. Two people needing to prove they lived. In the warmth of lips, the touch of skin, they celebrated life in all its physical needs, sensations, and wonder.
He pressed against her, urgent and hungry. She squeezed him harder, arms trembling.
Finally, he broke away from her. “We…we…not now, not this way. Not enough time.” He sagged back, one hand vaguely waving up. “We need to find a way topside.”
Karen grabbed his wrist. “Follow me.” She brusquely guided him to the ladder. Climbing, she still felt the heat of his touch on her skin, a gentle warmth that spread through her limbs. Reaching the topmost tier, she helped him off the ladder.
“I was given a safety briefing when I first arrived,” she explained. “There’s a built-in emergency evacuation system.” She hurried to a panel marked with large warning labels and pulled the door open. A large red T-handle lay snugly in place. “Help me with this.”
Jack moved to her side, his shoulders brushing hers. “What is it?”
“The upper tier acts as an emergency lifeboat, sort of like the sub’s evacuation system. This lever pops and separates the top level from the other two. Then, according to the specs, the positive buoyancy will float the tier to the surface. Ready?”
Jack nodded. Together they yanked the handle. A muffled explosion sounded, rattling the floor underfoot. The wall lamps blinked off as the tier separated from the main generators.
Karen found Jack’s hand in the dark. In moments red emergency lights flickered on.
The floor swayed, then tilted. Karen tumbled into Jack’s arms.
He held her snugly. “We’re free. We’re floating up.”
After a moment he turned to her, eyes bright in the weak light. “How long till we breach the surface?”
Karen recognized the hunger in his voice. She matched it with her own. “Thirty or forty minutes,” she said huskily. She slipped from his embrace and reached to her blouse. Freeing the top buttons, she stepped back toward the sleeping quarters. Her eyes never left his. “It seems I never did give you a proper tour, did I?”
He followed her, step for step. His hand reached to the zipper of his dive suit, tugging it down. “No. And I think it’s long overdue.”
Seven hours later, out on the open deck, Jack and the others sat around a makeshift dining table. Jack had broken out the champagne and pulled the last of the Porterhouse steaks from the freezer. It was to be a sunset dinner to celebrate their survival and the secret shared by the nine people gathered here.
Only they knew what had truly transpired.
Earlier, they had broken into teams to discover how the rest of the world had fared. Charlie discovered that this time around, with the pillar destroyed, the world had been spared the Pacificwide devastation. “Not even a tremor.”
George, in the meantime, investigated if there was another Deep Fathom sailing the seas, the old timeline counterparts. There wasn’t. “It was as if we were plucked from where we were and placed here.” The historian also confirmed from the Hawaiian news wires that the Neptune sea base had vanished from its dock in the waters off of Wailea. He read aloud the news report with a smile. “ ‘The head of the experimental project, Dr. Ferdinand Cortez, spoke to authorities, expressing his dismay and bafflement at the theft.’ ”
Karen was especially relieved. “He survived?”
Charlie answered, “I guess the currents must have dragged his body beyond the zone around the pillar. When the flux occurred, he simply popped back into the old timeline, a timeline where he never came out here, never died.”
“And he has no memory of what happened?”
Charlie shrugged. “I doubt it. Maybe somewhere deep inside. Something unspoken. More an odd feeling.”
“But what about Lieutenant Rolfe? His body is still down there.”
“Exactly. He remained within the zone. So he stays dead. I bet if you checked on him you’d find him missing from the real world, plucked out of the timeline just like the Fathom and the sea base had been.”
Intrigued, Jack had taken it upon himself to check this angle. He had dialed Admiral Houston and found him still in San Diego. The admiral had been thrilled to hear from him after so many years. “Goddamn if I wasn’t just thinking about you today, Jack. During the eclipse.”
After exchanging pleasantries and a promise to get together, Jack hurriedly explained how he wanted to check into a friend’s whereabouts—Lieutenant Ken Rolfe. After a couple hours, the admiral had called back, suspicious. “Jack, do you know something you’re not telling me? A report came in an hour ago from Turkey. It says your friend went missing during a special ops mission at the Iraq border—along with another old friend of yours.”
“An old friend?”
Jack had to cover his surprise and talk his way off the phone. Once free, he sat quietly for several moments. So David had stayed dead, probably still in the belly of the giant squid. The great beast must have nested close to the pillar. Jack felt a twinge of regret. Alive and free, he allowed himself the luxury of pity for the man. David had been warped by his upbringing, his father’s unspoken abuses. So where did the true blame lie? Jack knew such answers were beyond him.
Later, as the afternoon had worn on, Lisa suggested the special dinner, to toast their survival. It was heartily agreed upon by all.
Now, with the sun sinking into the western ocean, Jack settled to the table and the celebration. From across the way, Kendall McMillan caught his eye. The accountant wore shorts and a loose pullover, extremely casual for the man.
“Captain,” Kendall said, “I have a request to make.”
“What is it?”
He cleared his throat and spoke firmly. “I’d like to officially join your crew.”
This news surprised him. Kendall had always maintained an officious distance from the others. Jack frowned. “I don’t know if we have the need for a full-time accountant.”
Kendall glanced to his plate and mumbled, “You will when you’re all millionaires.”
“What are you talking about?”
He looked around the table, then spoke loudly. “I’m talking about the Kochi Maru. If Mr. Mollier is correct in his assessment that there were no quakes this time around, there is a good chance the previous volcanic eruption that swallowed the treasure ship may not have occurred. The ship may still be down there.”
Jack’s brows rose and his eyes widened. He remembered the ship’s hold full of gold bricks. At least a hundred tons. Jack stood and reached across the table. He took the accountant’s hand and pumped it vigorously. “Welcome to the crew of the Deep Fathom, Mr. McMillan. For that timely observation, you just earned yourself a tenth of the haul.”
Kendall grinned like a schoolboy.
Jack lifted a glass of champagne. “We’ll share equally. Everyone. That includes our newest shipmates: Karen, Miyuki, and Mwahu.”
Kendall looked down the table. “But you said a tenth. There are only nine of us here?”
Jack patted the tabletop. The old German shepherd, squatting at his feet, jumped up, his paws on the table. He ruffled the dog’s thick mane. “Anyone object to Elvis getting his fair share? After all, he did save all your asses from being blown to Kingdom come.”
Kendall was the first on his feet, raising his glass. “To Elvis!”
The others followed suit. The old dog barked loudly.
Jack sat back down, smiling.
Slowly, as dinner became dessert, people began to wander away into private groups to discuss the day and their futures, all happy to still have one. Jack spotted Karen by the starboard rail. She stared into the sun’s last glow.
He pushed to his feet, feeling slightly tipsy from the champagne. He crossed to the rail and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. As he did, he saw she held the broken shards of the crystal star in her palms.
She spoke, her voice melancholy. “With the revelations of these past days, my research is over. My great-grandfather was right. There was a lost continent. I now know the ancients truly existed.” She looked up at him sadly. “But if we are to keep the secret of the dark matter hidden, then none must ever know the truth. Look how close we came to destroying ourselves with the mere power of the atom. Can you imagine what we’d do with the power of an entire planet?”