He watched the seven spacecraft lift out of the top of the palace, the rays of the rising sun absorbed by the black metal of their lean shapes. He looked down, trying to orient his sudden awareness. His hands were gripping the wooden railing of a three-masted ship. All the sails were set but there was little wind. In the belly of the ship he could hear the beat of drums as rowers pulled in unison, straining against long oars.
He felt out of place, out of himself. The contrast between the seven spacecraft that were now nothing more than rapidly fading dots high above and the technology of the sailing ship only added to the strange feeling.
The hairs on the back of his neck rose and a shiver ran down his spine. He looked over his shoulder and his eyes widened at what he saw. Even the rowers paused as they saw it. He felt the displacement of the air as the massive mothership passed by overhead. The rowers went back to work, pulling even more furiously on their oars. He watched as the mothership stopped and hovered over the island the ship had left from, blocking out the sun.
It was all laid out before him in perfect detail. He was amazed how he could see the entire island, yet also focus on individuals who were many miles distant. Concentric rings of land and water surrounded the capital city in the center of the island. Rising up, on the central hill, was the palace where the rulers had governed from. A golden palace, over a mile wide at the base and stretching over three thousand feet into the sky, it was a magnificent spectacle, but one that was all too easily overshadowed by the dark craft that was now centered above it.
Outside the palace, the streets in the city of the humans were choked with people fleeing toward the sea, to their sailing ships. He could look to the ocean around him and see other sails here and there on the blue water, some already going over the horizon.
Gazing back at the city, he saw that there were those who had fallen to their knees in the shadow of the ship, heads bowed, hands raised in supplication, praying that new rulers might replace the old. His gaze knew no bounds, going through walls and seeing inside houses, where others huddled in fear, mothers clutching their children close, men holding useless metal swords and spears, knowing that there was nothing they could do against the power from the sky.
He looked up at the ship. The air crackled. Those others who also dared to look saw a bright golden light race along the black skin of the mothership in long lines from one end to the other. The light pulsed off the ship downward into the palace in a thick beam, a half mile thick.
He flinched, even though he was many miles away. But nothing happened. Those on their knees prayed harder. Those fleeing ran faster. Every muscle in his body tensed as he waited.
Again the light pulsed. And again. Ten times the golden light hit the center of the island and passed through.
He staggered back as the Earth itself exploded. Tens of thousands died in an instant as the core of the island blew upward, the very essence of the planet beneath blasting through. Hot molten magma sprayed miles into the sky, mixed in with rock and dirt and remains of the palace. The scale of the explosion stunned him.
But it was the people that drew his attention. On the main jetty a mother covered her daughter as the magma came down, searing the skin from their bones in a flash. A warrior turned his shield upward in a futile gesture and disappeared under tons of rock. Docked ships burst into flame, the roofs of outlying buildings collapsed under the impact, crushing those hidden inside.
The entire island buckled, then imploded inward and downward. The surrounding sea had spasmed from the power of the blast, rushing outward in a massive wave that enveloped those who had not left soon enough. He felt the wave lift his ship up, teetering it precariously, then pass by. He fell against the railing, his knuckles white from clutching the wood.
Then the sea surged back, racing in where the island had been. Water met magma, and steam roared into the air, but the water won as the island disappeared into the depths. A boiling cauldron of water was all that was left of the mighty kingdom.
Again, he looked up. The mothership was slowly moving. Toward his location. Golden light began racing along the length of the ship.
Nabinger staggered back, as if hit in the chest by a powerful blow. He felt hands grab him and prevent him from hitting the rock floor of the cavern. He shook his head, trying to clear it of the images that the guardian had just shown him. He opened his eyes and returned to his time and the place he had fought so hard to find, deep under an extinct volcano on Easter Island.
The guardian, a golden pyramid twenty feet high, lay before him, the surface rippling with the strange effect he had been under the spell of. Nabinger shook off the helping hands of the scientists and stared at the machine. His mind could still see the faces of the mother and the daughter as they were burned alive on the quay.
"What happened?" a UN representative asked, but Nabinger ignored them. He stepped forward, hands open, palms forward, and placed them on the skin of the guardian, waiting for the mental contact. Nothing.
He did it again.
After the third attempt he knew that there would be no more contact. Beyond the images of the people who had died, though, another vision was very clear in his mind's eye: the sails that had been over the horizon; the ones who had escaped.
Mike Turcotte stared out the window of the BOQ room. Through the gates of Fort Meyers he could make out the very top of the Marine Corps Memorial and beyond that the Capitol dome.
He didn't turn when there was a knock on the door to his room. "Come in," he called out.
The door opened and Lisa Duncan walked in. With a deep sigh she dropped down into one of the hard chairs the military had furnished the room with. Turcotte half turned toward her and smiled. "Long day on the Hill?"
Duncan barely topped five feet in height and Turcotte very much doubted her weight made three digits. She had dark hair cut short and a slender face that was now drawn with exhaustion.
"I hate telling the same story five times," Duncan said, "and answering stupid questions."
"The American public is not happy it was deceived by its own government for decades," Turcotte said, assuming a southern drawl. "At least that's what the senator who questioned me this morning said. Add in some kidnappings made to look like abductions, cattle mutilations, disinformation campaigns--"
"Let's not forget the crop circles," Duncan added. "There's a congressman from Nebraska who is trying to get legislation through to get all those farmers reimbursed for the circles Majestic burned in their field."
"Jesus," Turcotte said. He took off his Class A green uniform jacket and threw it on the bed. He paused by the small brown refrigerator. "Want a beer?"
Turcotte grabbed two cans and popped the top on one, handing it to her. "They've got the mothership, the bouncer, the guardian on Easter Island. What more do they want?"
Duncan took a sip. "A scapegoat."
"They've got General Gullick dead. They've got the surviving members of Majestic being held in the federal pen," Turcotte said. He opened his can and took a long, deep drag. "The list of charges against those guys is thicker than the phone book."
"Yeah, but people can't believe it didn't go higher than that."
"It did go higher than that," Turcotte said. "But that was fifty years ago. Seems like there's more important stuff going on right now."
"Speaking of what's going on," Duncan said, "I just found out that the guardian's ceased contact with Nabinger."
That was the first interesting thing Turcotte had heard in the past two days, since arriving in Washington from Easter Island. "Any idea why?"
Turcotte rubbed his chin, feeling the stubble there. It felt strange to be in uniform after working classified assignments for so long. His jump boots, spit-shined this morning for his congressional testimony, now wore a layer of dust. His battered green beret was tucked into the back of his belt. He pulled it out and threw it next to his jacket as he sat down across from Duncan, next to the window.
A cannon barked a sharp report, followed by the faint strains of "Taps" as the post flag was lowered. Turcotte had heard that sound on many different posts around the world during his time in the army, but it never failed to touch him and make him think of comrades lost. Turcotte looked out at the bronze figures representing the Marines who'd raised the flag on Mount Suribachi.
Duncan shifted her seat slightly and followed his gaze. "Ahh, glory and honor," she said.
Turcotte tried to figure out if she was being sarcastic or serious. "They...