24,274
20.12.2018

Miyuki rushed over and retrieved her bag. She dragged it back, then zipped open the side pouch and pulled the star-shaped crystal out. She had to use both hands. Grunting, she hauled it over to Karen. “Here.”

Karen rolled to her belly and lugged the star into place in the depression. It was a perfect fit. She held her breath, ready for anything. Miyuki stood by her shoulder, a fist at her throat.

Nothing happened.

Karen sat up on her knees. “What’s wrong? What aren’t we doing right?”

“Maybe the mechanism is broken.”

Karen did not even want to think of that possibility. She knew that by now the lower passage must be totally flooded. There was no way back. They were trapped here. She felt tears coming to her eyes. Her throat tightened.

“How was the crystal supposed to trigger the secret passage?” Miyuki asked, still pondering the riddle.

“I…I don’t know.”

“Didn’t you say something about the other mechanism being pressure-sensitive?”

Miyuki’s words sank through Karen’s hopelessness. She remembered how the altar stone had moved back up into the ceiling after Miyuki had jumped off it. The mechanism must have been pressure-sensitive, responding to the change in weight.

Karen stared down at the crystal. It was heavy, unusually so. But if the secret door here was triggered by weight, then why hadn’t it triggered when she’d first walked across it?

Then it dawned on her.

“Get off! Get off!” she yelled at Miyuki, waving her away from the stone block and crystal. “We weigh too much!”

“What?” Miyuki said, but backed away.

Karen moved beyond the edge of the block. “It must be balanced to the weight of the crystal. No more, no less.”

Both women stepped away. Karen stared hard at the crystal. Still nothing. She felt a scream of frustration building in her chest. What were they missing?

She turned in a slow circle. The walls were blank and featureless. No answer—or was there?

She turned again. No wall sconces. No place to hook a torch. “Darkness,” she mumbled. “The belly of a snake is hidden from the sun.”

“What?”

“Turn off your flashlight!”

“Why?”

“Trust me!” Karen thumbed off her penlight.

Miyuki followed suit, plunging them into perfect darkness. “Now what are—”

A sharp grinding interrupted Miyuki. Rock on rock. Karen froze, praying she was right. In the hushed silence she reached out and fumbled for Miyuki’s hand.

Then a spear of sunlight appeared, sprouting from the floor to strike the ceiling. Blinking against the glare, Karen dropped to her knees. The stone block with the crystal was sinking into the floor.

Karen crawled to the edge and peered into the deepening hole. The shaft of sunlight came from a narrow crack in the left wall of the pit. As she watched, the block sank away and the crack grew wider, opening a side tunnel.

Light poured in.

Karen’s vision blurred with tears of relief. It was the way out!

Below, the stone block finally stopped its descent with a grating sound, leaving the side passage wide open.

Karen rolled to her side and waved for Miyuki to go first. “Let’s get out of here.” It was only a drop of a couple meters.

Grabbing her satchel, the Japanese professor, smiling with relief, clambered into the pit. She landed and crouched down, peering through the side tunnel. “It’s only a few feet! I see the sun!” Miyuki crawled into the passage, giving Karen room to come down.

Karen did not pause. She jumped into the pit. The sunlight blinded her for a moment, then she saw the blue sea beyond the short tunnel, shining bright. “Thank God!” She bent and entered the side passage. Twisting around, she grabbed the crystal star. She was not leaving behind her prize.

The star seemed much lighter now. She was able to pick it up with one hand. As she held it, the stone block ground up behind her and Miyuki, closing off the doorway back to the inner chamber. Turning to the exit, she shoved the artifact into her hip pocket. Free of her fingers, it sank like a lead weight, straining her pants’ seams. Damn, this thing is heavy. But as she moved beyond the tunnel and into the sunlight, cold metal pressed against the back of her neck, and she forgot about her burden.

“Don’t move!” someone ordered in Japanese.

She froze.

A second man jumped off the pyramid step behind her. With relief, she saw that he wore a police uniform with the Chatan emblem on his sleeve. It wasn’t the looters. She was ordered to face the stone, palms on the rock.

To the side, Miyuki spoke rapidly to another officer. He had her identification in his hand. He finally nodded, turned to the man holding Karen and waved him off.

Karen stepped away from the wall. “They got Gabriel’s warning over the teletype about the looters and were just under way when they heard the explosion,” Miyuki told her. “By the time they got here, the looters had already taken off. There was no sign of them, so they staked out this second pyramid, meaning to protect it.”

“And they found us crawling out and thought we were the looters.”

Miyuki nodded. “Luckily, Gabriel had transmitted our names, saying we were in danger.” Miyuki put away her identification. “We’ll have questions to answer, but there’ll be no charges.”

Karen took a deep breath. “Answers? I have more questions than answers.” She pictured the looter’s tattoo, a pale winding snake against his dark skin. Another serpent. In the light of the day, it seemed too much of a coincidence.

Karen wandered to the corner of the pyramid so she could see the other Dragon. Miyuki followed. Across the hundred meters, the Dragon’s summit was a cratered ruin. Smoke curled into the sky, a man-made volcano.

Why had their attackers done that? It made no sense.

And where had they gone?

“What’s wrong?” Miyuki asked. “We’re safe.”

“I don’t know.” Karen could not escape the feeling that the true danger was just beginning. “But let’s go back to the university. I think it’s time we tried to put a few pieces of this mystery together.”

“No argument from me.”

They turned away from the smoking pyramid and crossed back to the officers. The white and blue police motorboat waited in the water below, its lights blinking.

Karen sighed with shaky relief. “Remind me I owe Gabriel a great big hug.”

“And you owe me a new pair of Ferragamos.” With a tired grin, Miyuki swiped her hair from her damp forehead. “After all this, I’m holding you to your promise!”

Northwest of Enewak Atoll, Central Pacific

Ensconced in the ship’s geology lab, Jack and the others sat staring at the frozen video image of the inscribed obelisk: metallic symbols etched crudely into the crystal’s surface. “Who could have done this?” he asked.

George took off his bifocals. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But I’m going to get on-line and post some questions to various archaeology websites. See if I get any bites.” He picked up a legal pad with a handwritten copy of the writing. “But it would help if we had more data.” The historian glanced meaningfully at Jack.

Charlie clicked off the monitor. “I agree with the professor. We need more information.”

Jack found all eyes on him.

George spoke first. “You’ve got to go back down there.”

“I…I haven’t made a decision on that yet.” He was in no hurry to return to the deep-sea graveyard.

Lisa added her support. “We should just take the money and run. We’ve met our obligation to the Navy. We’re not required to haul pieces of the plane to the surface…and I don’t like what happened when Jack was near that pillar.”

George crinkled his brow. “What do you mean? What happened?”

Lisa turned to Jack, allowing him to explain, but he remained silent. He felt foolish discussing his vague misgivings while down there.

“The Nautilus checked out fine,” Lisa explained, filling in for him. “Instruments, computers, radios, power supply…all get clean bills of health. But during Jack’s communication blackout, when he was near that pillar, he reports sensing vibrations coming off it.”

Charlie offered a more plausible explanation. “If the sub’s batteries were malfunctioning, the thrusters might have become misaligned, tremoring the vessel.” He looked at Jack. “Or maybe you were picking up vibrations from the slight seismic readings. They occurred the same time as the blackout.”

Jack, embarrassed, felt heat rising to his cheeks. “No, it was not vibrations from the ship. It felt…I don’t know, more electric…”

“Then a short in a system somewhere?” Charlie persisted.

Lisa shook her head. “I found no evidence of any electrical problems.”

George pocketed his paper. “So what are you saying?”

By now Jack’s face was red. He could not meet the others’ gazes. “It was the pillar. I can’t explain how I know this, but it was. The crystal was giving off some type of…I don’t know…harmonics, vibrations, emanations.”

George and Charlie stared at Jack. He recognized the doubt in their eyes. Charlie spoke first. “If you’re right, it’s even more of a reason to go down and do a little private snooping.”

George nodded. “And if there’s more writing, I’d like a complete copy.”

A firm knock on the door saved Jack from having to answer. “It’s Robert,” the marine biologist called from beyond the door.

“What is it?” Jack asked, relieved at turning aside more questions from the others.

“Word has come over from the Gibraltar. They have news about the crash.”

Jack unlocked the door. He hoped some concrete answer had been discovered, something that would dismiss the need to go back down.

Robert stood outside. He waved them all out. “They’re faxing over a copy of the cockpit voice recorder.”