“I’m sorry for your loss,” Nafe said, drawing back David’s attention.
He straightened, going cold. “Thank you, sir.”
Ruzickov spoke at his shoulder. “We just want to make sure Kirkland’s presence isn’t going to interfere with your mission.”
“No, sir. The past is the past. I understand the importance of this mission and will let nothing stand in my way—not even Jack Kirkland.”
“Very good.” Ruzickov turned toward the exit. “Then gather your team. You ship out in two hours.”
With a nod to the country’s new leader, David swung around on numb legs. He would do as he had been ordered. Omega team had never failed in a mission. But on this journey, David intended to add a side objective of his own.
To avenge his sister’s death.
July 26, 7:20 A.M.
Off the coast of Yonaguni Island, Okinawa Prefecture
With the sun yet to rise, Karen was already at the docks, bartering for the rental of an outboard motorboat. She stared out across the water. The twin pyramids lay just a couple hundred meters out past the bay. After yesterday’s discovery, she had refused to return to Naha and the university. Instead, over Miyuki’s protests, she chartered a fishing boat to drop them off at the small town of Chatan on Yonaguni Island’s coast.
“We should have returned to Naha yesterday,” Miyuki said, scowling at the condition of the boat. The old fiberglass craft showed significant wear—the metal railings dented and bent, the vinyl seats cracked and fraying at the seams—but the hull itself looked seaworthy enough to cross the hundred or so yards to the nearby pyramids. “We could have struck a better deal in Naha.”
“And lost half a day getting back here,” Karen answered. “I could not risk looters damaging the Dragons—or what if the pyramids sank again?”
Miyuki sighed, her eyes tired. “All right, but you’re driving.”
Karen, bubbling with excitement despite a restless night, nodded and climbed into the stern.
Last night, she and Miyuki had talked late into the night, sharing a bottle of saki between them. From their hotel room’s tiny balcony they had a clear view to the sea and the twin Dragons. Under the moonlight, the misted pyramids had shone damply, as if glowing with an inner light. Then, throughout the long night, Karen had risen many times from the cramped bed to stare out the window, afraid the sight might disappear. But the twin pyramids remained in the shallows off the coastline.
With the first blush in the eastern sky, Karen had hauled a grumbling Miyuki from her bedsheets. In the chilly predawn the two women had hiked the short distance to the docks and negotiated an expensive price for the day use of a fisherman’s old motorboat. An entire month’s pay. But Karen had no choice but to agree. There had been no other boat available.
She helmed the wheel, while Miyuki caught the ropes from the grinning fisherman, pleased with his profit.
“You know, of course, you’re being robbed,” Miyuki said.
“Perhaps,” Karen responded. “But I would have been willing to pay ten times as much for this chance to be the first to explore the ruins.”
Miyuki shook her head and settled into the passenger seat as Karen eased the throttle forward. The engine chugged harshly; the smell of burning oil wafted over them. Miyuki crinkled her nose. “It’s plain piracy.”
“Don’t worry, if there are any other pirates…” Karen patted her jacket, where her .38 automatic rested in its shoulder harness.
Miyuki groaned dramatically and sank deeper in her seat.
Karen smiled. Despite her companion’s protest, she had noted the twinkle in Miyuki’s eyes. The stoic Japanese professor was secretly enjoying this outing. Yesterday, Miyuki had ample opportunity to return to the university, but instead had remained with her. It was what forged their friendship. Miyuki tempered her wilder streaks, while she added a bit of spice to Miyuki’s professional routine.
Once clear of the marina, Karen sped up. The engine’s whining chatter filled the morning. As they circled clear of the breakwater cliffs, the rest of the ancient city appeared, filling the seas in front of them. Both women stared at the sight and rode the waves in silence. Behind them the seaside village of Chatan dwindled in size, fading as a morning fog settled over the island and the nearby seas.
To the east, the sun finally crested the horizon, spreading a rosy glow over the ruins. “Who built this drowned city?” Karen wondered aloud.
“Right now all I care about is my own city, my own lab.” Miyuki replied, waving a hand forward. “The past is the past.”
“But whose past?” Karen continued to wonder in awe.
Shrugging, Miyuki searched through her bag and pulled free her handheld Palm computer. She leaned back in her seat and, began tapping at the small screen with her stylus.
“What are you doing?”
“Connecting to Gabriel. Making sure everything is okay at the lab.”
A quiet voice rose from the handheld computer, synthetic and tinny: “Good morning, Professor Nakano.”
Karen grinned. “You two really should think about tying the knot.”
Miyuki just frowned at her and continued working.
“You’re already connected at the hip,” Karen teased.
“And you’re just jealous.”
Karen snorted. “Of a computer?”
“Gabriel is more than just a computer,” Miyuki countered, her voice strained.
Karen held up a hand to ward off a diatribe. “I know, I know.” Gabriel was a sophisticated artificial intelligence program designed and patented by Miyuki. The development of its theoretical base algorithms had won Miyuki the Nobel Prize. Over the past four years, she had turned theory into practice. Gabriel, named after the fiery Archangel, was the result. “How’s he doing?”
“He’s categorized all my e-mail and is still monitoring the Emergency Broadcasts across various international websites.”
“The quakes have ended throughout the Pacific, but there seems to be a massive mobilization effort by American forces in the Central Pacific, though the details are sketchy. He’s been attempting to worm his way into the D.O.D. network.”
The answer came from the small computer: “D.O.D. is the acronym for the United States Department of Defense.”
Karen glanced in shock at her friend. Not only did it unnerve her when Gabriel answered one of her questions, but sniffing around a military computer network…that could bring down serious trouble. “Should Gabriel be doing that?”
Miyuki waved away her concern. “He’ll never be caught.”
“You can’t catch what doesn’t exist. Though my mainframe birthed him, Gabriel lives within the framework of the Internet now. He has no specific address to trace back to.”
“A ghost in the machine,” Karen mumbled.
“More precisely, Dr. Grace. I am the ghost in the machine. I am the only one of my design.”
A shiver traced up Karen’s back. Miyuki had tried once to explain Gabriel’s looping algorithms and self-learning subroutines—a form of synthetic intelligence—but it quickly went over her head. She had always felt uncomfortable around Miyuki’s lab. It was as if invisible eyes were staring at her all the time. She felt that way now.
“Darn it!” Miyuki swore under her breath.
“What is it?”
“The university is shutting down for the month. The chancellor just sent e-mail to all the department heads. Students are being allowed to return home to help their families.”
Karen’s brows rose. “And how is this bad news?”
“With my aides gone, it’s going to significantly set back my research. I’m supposed to complete a progress report on my grant in three weeks.”
“Considering the circumstances, I’m sure you can file an extension.”
“Maybe.” Miyuki snapped her stylus back in place. “Thank you, Gabriel. I’ll be streaming you digital video throughout the day. Please record the data to the mainframe’s hard drive and back them up to the DVD drive.”
Miyuki glanced at Karen. “Dragon.”
“Opening data file Dragon now. I await your next transmission.”
“Thank you, Gabriel,” Miyuki said.
“Good-bye, Professor Nakano. Good day, Dr. Grace.”
Karen cleared her throat, feeling awkward. “Good-bye, Gabriel.”
Miyuki lowered the Palm unit to her belt, clipping it in place.
By now they had neared the edge of the half-sunken ruins. Karen slowed the boat. “Miyuki, can you get an overview shot of this for me?”
Her companion shuffled through her bag, removed and hooked a compact video camera to the Palm computer at her belt. Standing, Miyuki scanned the view of the ruins, feeding the digital image through her portable computer back to her office computers. “Got it.”
Karen edged the motorboat slowly forward, the engine coughing as it idled. She knew she had to be careful. Near the risen ruins, the water was shallow, less than six feet deep. As she drifted forward, columns rose around them, green with algae. Pale crabs scuttled away as they neared. Drawn into this ancient world, she quickly forgot about Gabriel and advanced computer algorithms. “This is amazing.”
In the distance, a few other boats wove among the ruins. Excited voices echoed over the water, too distant to make out any words. As a nearby punt poled past, a trio of dark-complexioned men, Micronesian in heritage, stared out at the ancient columns and sea-drowned homes.
Could ancestors of these men have built this site? Karen wondered. And if so, what happened?
The punt vanished as Karen edged the boat slowly past a low roofless building, window openings gaping at them as they drifted along. All the structures seemed to be similarly constructed, of stacked and interlocked blocks and slabs. All the same dark stone. Volcanic basalt. Some of the slabs had to weigh several tons. Here was architectural skill seldom seen in the South Pacific. It rivaled the vaulted skill of the Incas and Mayas.