Higher Cause, Installment #22

The exciting conclusion to Higher Cause, a serialized novel with timely sweeping themes, active free-thinking characters, conflicts affecting the world, spies, guns, explosions, new forms of energy, sinister conspiracies, government plots, nationalization, destruction, and hope!

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For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.

In recent installments…

A prior claim by Fletcher Christian, establishing the Paradise Islands to be a British possession, has thwarted the Mexican effort to nationalize the Island Project. Christian’s logbook also has provided the clue to the final resting place of the Bounty and the gravity-defying sphere Joseph has been seeking. Jeff Baddori, with the help of his brother, frustrated Juan Marcos’s attempt to compel Harrigan to provide him with the secret of the laser’s destruction of Paradise 5. Only Petur and Harrigan know what happened to Paradise 5.

Chapter 58. Treasure Ship

Petur listened intently to Joseph. The two men were sitting in the rooftop restaurant once again. The others were busily making further arrangements for the expected onslaught of shipwrecked Mexicans, while Marcos’s yacht, with Jeff Baddori firmly in command, made its way back to Paradise 1. The Royal Navy was not far behind. The Brits would be reaching the islands in less than three hours.

“Petur, this journal was a godsend, I tell you! And to think they had it all along!”

“They had been sworn to secrecy, you say?”

“That’s what Josiah Young, the innkeeper on Pitcairn, told me. He said that only a handful of the mutineers’ descendants have been allowed at any one time to know of the existence of Christian’s log. This group of men serves in some sort of protective capacity. They have a sworn duty to keep the secret of the Bounty‘s mission.”

Petur suggested, “It’s like a brotherhood.”

“More than you can imagine. It turns out that they’ve been monitoring me for over a decade because of my interest in the Bounty‘s logs. They’ve been keeping shockingly close tabs on you ever since you first went to Pitcairn. The evening you and I first met is when they started to have some real concerns. At first they tried to prevent you from setting up the Island Project here. Having failed in that, they had been hoping I would give up my search out of frustration. They even had been counting on the Mexicans to expel us from the islands in order to prevent me, or others, from ever finding proof of my theory. I wouldn’t put it past them to have been involved in this whole Mexican affair. I got the impression that they knew about the Mexican plans long before we did. Their reach seems vast. I think they have great wealth, Petur. And their commitment is intense.”

“And yet they let you read his log!”

“Well, the rules change when the circumstances change. When I appeared on Pitcairn with the Bounty‘s lamp, I suppose they realized that the Mexican takeover of the islands was not going to prevent the Bounty from being found someday. Plus, now they knew I would never give up. I think these Pitcairn Islanders knew their cause was lost. So, they cut me a deal.”

“A deal?”

“I will tell you about that in a bit.”

Petur held the leather-bound book tenderly. Old and beaten, it had not weathered the years well. “I thought you said you had sent the original off to the States?”

Joseph laughed. “How the hell was I supposed to do that? I only got back to Paradise an hour or so after those damn Mexicans came ashore. It’s not as if there are any planes leaving this place to carry mail. And Jack Gaimey has… well, had the only plane that carried mail off Pitcairn. I didn’t have time to mail anything. I faxed a few pages to the British Admiralty from Pitcairn. It’s my fax that got the Royal Navy sent here!”

Petur was confused. “How did you hook up with Jack Gaimey to get back from Pitcairn? I thought you went there on the Elijah Lewis, and that Jack Gaimey was in the Australian outback fishing.”

“I did go on the Elijah Lewis. None of us on the ship had any idea what was going on up here. Fusion, terrorists, the Mexicans. No one bothered to call us on the boat.”

Petur shook his head. “Don’t you watch the news?”

“I guess nobody did for a few days. We didn’t know what was going on until the folks on Pitcairn told us. As soon as we heard, the ship started hustling back at top speed. I left later with Jack Gaimey. What he was doing on Pitcairn, I have no idea. But there is more to him than just being a pilot, Petur. He seems to work closely with this group of mutineer-descendants. Jack Gaimey apparently got in a lot of trouble for taking you to these Islands.”

Petur did not respond to that. Instead, he said, “So, where’s the Elijah Lewis?

“On her way back. I hope she’s safe. She must have been hit by the waves when Paradise 5 disappeared.”

“I’m glad you came by plane.”

“Well, I had to get this info to you. I knew it would be important in the negotiations with the Mexicans.”

Petur replied, “Some negotiations they were! It was mostly they punching us. But your information could not have arrived at a better time. It was perfect.”

Joseph replied, with a grin. “Just protecting my investment, Mr. Bjarnasson. That’s all.”

The leather journal felt warm in Petur’s hand. He looked at Joseph hopefully. “Can I open it?”

“You know, Petur, I don’t see why not. Young knew I was faxing it to the Brits, so I suppose the cat is wholly out of the bag! Besides, you’ll discover something rather exciting. Go ahead and turn to the end. Gently. Now count back four pages. Start from the top there, on the left.”

Petur obeyed, studying the handwriting laid on paper by Fletcher Christian himself more than two hundred years earlier. The brittle yellow paper held intact as he turned the pages, and now, unlocked, it gave up its written treasure. He read aloud:

The Maori had me pinned. I have never seen such anger in men before. Their eyes were on fire. They demanded my blood. It must have been through the Grace of God that the most powerful wind then came upon us. And with it, rain as if the sky and the ocean were one. From nowhere, the seas suddenly were as high as the topgallant.

The ship was repeatedly thrown to the side. I, being the only Englishman aboard, immediately took over command once again. The Maori’s anger had been replaced with fear. For the gale that was upon us tore through sail and yard and plank. We had more sail up than was right, and with only the three of us to sail the ship at that. The two Maori climbed the rigging, brave men they. Both were hurled into the sea then and there.

The Bounty broached, over and over. The mizzen caught the peak of a wave, and broke free. The main top soon followed, but still too much sail flew. The ship was swamping and about to founder, for certain. When the mainmast buckled, I must have been struck on the head, for I know not what subsequently passed.

Through what force of nature or God, I know not, an unseen and unheard-of island saved me. But the Bounty it did not save, rather keeping her for its own. For when I awoke, I found myself on the Bounty’s aft deck. All the masts were gone, yet the Bounty still floated, ‘tho barely. But never would she move from that place.

Both I and Bligh’s ship were secured in a cove. There was no egress, for a formidable reef encircled the place. Indeed, I know not how we entered. A forceful wave must have taken the whole ship over the ridge. No such waves could come to get her back out.

The beach near where the Bounty rests is notable. Striped like a raccoon’s tail, but darker yet. I have never seen the like.

Petur looked up from the journal at the smiling eyes of Joseph. “Zebra Beach?”

“Yes, Petur, I’m sure of it. The Bounty must still be right there! But let’s not go running off. There is more to read.”

Petur obligingly continued:

The chest I had taken from Otaheiti was still secure aboard the Bounty, and, heavy as it was, once again I could move it only with great effort. The little cutter, my only chance of seeing my family again, has been a blessing. It helped me take the chest to a place where it would be safe.

I have left clues to direct those who understand the globe to find the chest in which it is contained, to the end that only those who sent me on this mission, a mission I no longer have the means to complete, will ever be able to find it.

And, I pray that earnestly even they will not find that chest. It might be best if no one should ever recover it again. For what it contains, not the globe, but the others, is assuredly the devil’s work. If the world could be destroyed by other than God, it would be with such as these.

There was no date by which my mission must be completed. Therefore I have arranged that much time should pass.

Humanity will slowly but inexorably consume the planet on which we dwell, with no thought to the future. It may be a thousand years before mankind lives upon these islands, ‘tho mark me well, someday man will be pressed into living everywhere on Mother Earth. But in those thousand years, perhaps man will mature. Perhaps he will be ready for what I have seen. The first clue is hidden well. In a thousand years, it may be found. May God save mankind then.

Petur turned the page. The next was the last, and it contained only those lines that Joseph had read earlier, claiming the Paradise chain for the king. “He didn’t trust anyone, did he?”

“Certainly not those who mutinied with him. How could he? He had concealed things such that only after the islands were populated might someone find the hidden lamp, and then, only if they knew of the sphere would the chest ever be found.”

“He was off on his dates for populating these islands.”

“He didn’t know about antibiotics, hand washing, and all the things that have conspired to make the population explode.”

“What do you think he means by ‘the others’ in the chest, Joseph?”

Joseph frowned. “I don’t know. But the chest was much bigger than necessary to contain just a sphere — or a ‘globe’ as Christian called it — that was no bigger than a man’s head. There must have been other objects in it, Petur. And I cannot begin to speculate on what they could be.” He paused for a moment. “I told you I made a deal with the mutineers’ descendants, Petur. It was the only way I could get anything from them. If we find it…if we find the chest…we can keep the anti-gravity sphere. But the other items in the chest I agreed would be hidden, under their control. Forever. And we never, ever, will know what they are.”

Join the Club

The black and white sand, in a striped pattern strangely formed by the action of the gentle surf on two different types of volcanic minerals in the small inlet, was not only on the beach, but also extended to cover the floor of the cove. On three sides, almost encircling the beach, were high, sharply peaked, and tree-covered ridges that slowly settled out to a gently sloping terrain as they approached the sand. Mist and spray from the waves that sliced into the low sharp reef perpetually surrounded the place, and served well to obstruct both the view of the ocean, and the view of the island from it. The reef took all the power out of incoming waves, leaving only tempered and contented ripples to continue on the final short trek to the shore. That same shallow reef sealed off the place completely, so that no boats could ever enter.

But a vessel once had entered the hidden cove.

Petur and Joseph struggled along the beach, examining the ripples, the contours, and the rock outcroppings. It looked different than it had when they had last visited. The destructive tidal waves from the Paradise 5 affair had overwhelmed the reef with ease, crashing up the shore. Fallen trees and torn-up brush littered the terrain. Water, temporarily trapped in depressions on the shore, had struggled to return to the sea, and in so doing had carved Lilliputian canyons in the sand.

The sands, so carefully sculptured by nature, had been tossed about destructively by similar but more powerful forces. The zebra stripes had lost their careful delineation, blurring together in intermediate shades of gray. Mounds of sand, taller than a man, lay interspersed among crevasses and valleys where water either moved slowly or pooled silently. The shape of the cove had changed, for much sand below the water had been shuttled from one side of cove to another by the temporary, but rapidly eddying, currents. Even the shoreline itself had been moved.

Joseph carried with him a metal detector. Simple and inexpensive, it could nonetheless detect metallic objects with reasonable certainty up to more than a meter below the surface. As it turned out, there was no need of it. For on the far northeastern corner of the beach, where earlier there had been a sandy peninsula extending into the little bay, there was now something else. Awash in the gentle ripples of the cove, mostly covered with sand but free of any visible marine vegetation, was a wooden pole. It was almost entirely submerged, although approximately a meter stood up out of the water, pointing at a shallow angle toward the rocky cliffs. It was blackened, and old, and had clearly been the home and food for generations of tiny wood-consuming worms. Dotting the dry end of the pole were four rusty iron fittings.

Joseph broke into a run as soon as it came into view. Petur jogged along behind, his heart was beating at an uncountable pace, his face flushed, and his stomach felt as if he had just won his heart’s desire after years of cautious romance.

Joseph was beyond excited: he was giddy. When Petur caught up to him, he stopped at the water’s edge, looking out in front of him. Then, almost blindly, despite shoes, socks, and long pants, he strode into the water. He was up to his waist by the time he reached the pole, and Petur could tell that a different sort of water, just as salty, covered his face as he reached out and touched the object. In a choked voice, tears streaming, Joseph said to nobody in particular, “The Bounty. This is the bowsprit of the Bounty.”

Join the Club

Two hours later, Petur, Heinrich Poll, and two of his engineers were diving on the wreck. Jeff Baddori was tied up keeping an eye on the Mexican soldiers. The yacht was being kept offshore, out of sight of the shipwrecked crowds of Mexican sailors. The British were highly efficient, and soon, Elisa, Sophia, Standall, and Otto would be free to come to Zebra Beach to see the famous sunken ship. For now, though, they all had to make do with occasional radio reports.

In the quiet of the shallow water, Petur listened for a moment to his own breathing. He had to be very conscientious of his breathing underwater. This had been the case each time he had dived, and was even more of an issue now. With the scuba equipment gently forcing air into his mouth with each breath, he always had a tendency to hyperventilate. The general excitement of the moment induced the same tendency.

The bowsprit sprung from a great mound of sand, the underwater residua of what had once been the larger peninsula of the beach. None of the bow could be seen at all. The water, murky from the turmoil caused by the giant waves that had crashed over the reef many hours earlier, had poor visibility. He flipped his fins slightly and propelled himself along, back in the direction the rest of the ship might lie. For a time, there was nothing visible but the sand. Then the sand started melting away, and suddenly emerging from within it, like an incorporeal spirit sliding through a wall, were the clearly delineated surfaces of the topsides of a ship. Gunwales, rough and tired, but still intact, stood high around the sand-strewn planking of a deck.

Fragments of tired rope from the ancient, long-collapsed rigging were still tied to stanchions. Petur was amazed that any rope — any rope at all — could still be intact. The sands that had covered it for two hundred years must have protected it from the rampages of hungry sea life. The wood had not been so lucky. The same tiny creatures that had decorated the bowsprit with thousands of tiny grooves and tunnels had obviously proliferated in the salty environment in which the ship lay. The copper sheathing used by the builders was not sufficient to repel the worms for two centuries. Although preserving its shape, Petur doubted the wood could hold much weight. He watched as the sand moved slowly but inexorably to again cover those decks. The minimal effect of each tiny ripple on the surface was enough to move one sand grain a centimeter. The combined effect of all of the surface-water motion would within days bury the ship completely once more.

The sandy bottom dropped down suddenly. The water became cooler, as Peter came into the effluent of an underground stream. Redirected by the sudden change in the sand’s topography, the cool water, which came from the surrounding ridges and worked its way underground to the sea, seemed to be keeping the progression of sand at bay here. His view improved dramatically and he could see that the whole stern section of the ship was free of the volcanic sediments, jutting outward at a slightly downward angle.

He dove down along the planking of the starboard quarter of the ship. Following the path of a man being keelhauled, he swam directly under the ship near the stern. The uppermost portion of the rudderpost was visible, although the rudder itself was gone. In the poor visibility, the ghostly form of the ship above him seemed to close in, falling downward. Petur gave a strong kick and propelled himself out from under her. He scratched the back of his leg on the ancient hull and realized that that contact was the first time he had touched her.

He turned left, and swam upward, exhaling as he rose. The ship’s transom was completely free of silt and stood strong and bold. Three men — Heinrich and two surviving engineers — were floating behind it. Heinrich was augmenting the gradually diminishing sunlight with his own small underwater flashlight. Petur joined them. The light panned slowly along the stern of the vessel. The letters were dimly visible, only dark impressions on the gray wood. None of the color of the initial calligraphy remained. Dim though they were, the tall letters, each almost half a meter high, still proudly proclaimed the name Bounty.

Heinrich popped his head above the surface, inflated his buoyancy-control vest, and spit the regulator out of his mouth while flipping his diving mask down below his chin. He bobbed easily on the gentle waters. He swam in to shore until the water was too shallow, then pulled off his fins and weight belt. Joseph helped him with his equipment.

Heinrich said, “The sand is covering most of the vessel still, and what is exposed is already beginning to be covered up by the sands again. You can watch the sands moving themselves back into position. I bet in another few days, only the bowsprit will be visible.”

“What do you think of her?”

“It will be easier to see when the water clears more. It’s still pretty murky from all the turmoil. A little bit of the bow is above the sand. You can see that for yourself. The midsection is completely buried. But the stern section is clear. About two meters of the keel is actually above the sand. I hope she doesn’t break there.”

“What about the bell?”

“I haven’t looked too closely yet.”

“We have to find that bell!”

Heinrich asked, “Where exactly would you expect to find it?”

“It should be just forward of the mizzen mast. Right there on the aft deck.”

Heinrich turned to look back over the cove. The three other men were all floating on the surface now, talking among themselves. He called out, saying something in German.

The reply came back in English, with Petur yelling back, “It’s there, Joseph! Hanging just where it’s supposed to be!”

Join the Club

The bronze bell had not survived unmarred. It had been oxidized profoundly, and, after gentle removal from the salty water, was entirely green. When Petur walked into Joseph’s small study later that evening, he found him rubbing at the now-more-gleaming metal with a toothbrush.

“Are you planning on using that thing on your teeth later, Joseph?”

“I’ve got to get two-hundred-plus years of accumulated crud off without injuring anything.”

“Off your teeth? I didn’t think you were that old.”

Onbacher declined the parley.

“Do you have a deadline for getting this done?”

“No. Except, it will be clean before I go to sleep tonight.”

Petur scratched his scruffy face lightly and leaned against the doorframe. He looked at the back of Onbacher’s head while attempting to figure out if the man was serious. His face was close in to the bell, studying some tiny scratch or dimple.

“I’ll need to interrupt your work for about fifteen minutes tonight, at 2 AM,” Petur said.

Onbacher replied with an absent-minded “Hmmm.”

“Joseph, I need you to be on the front porch of the Guest House at 2 AM, on the dot. Not a moment later.”

Onbacher put down the toothbrush and picked up a Q-tip. He dipped it into a plastic cup partially filled with a clear liquid and began gently scrubbing at the bottom rim of the bell.

“The British Navy has left the uninjured Mexicans on Paradise 4, but supplied them with shelter and food and latrines. Dr. Standall bandaged up Juan Marcos’s hand. Marcos is getting surgery on board the British carrier soon. They keep an orthopedic surgeon on board all the time, apparently, and the fellow they have now is a hand specialist. Unfortunately, they do not have anyone who can adequately fix up Professor Harrigan’s broken face. There is a Medevac arranged that will be picking him up in a few hours to go stateside. He wanted to stay for my late-night meeting, but his pain is getting worse. Oh, and the island is pretty much a mess. Most of the windows in all the houses and buildings are shattered. Rather like the windows in your house. There’s glass everywhere. Bare feet won’t be safe for ages around here. We’re going to make some windowpane manufacturer very happy next week. Also, planes are already warming up on runways all over the world, and awaiting orders from us. That is, in regard to getting everyone back here.”

Onbacher responded with a guttural noise of noncommittal affirmation while delicately turning the bell on its side and peering within. The clapper was absent and, despite several more dives on the Bounty and the combined efforts of the German engineers and Petur, had not yet been recovered. He grasped a flashlight and aimed it about the inside.

“Joseph! Joseph, are you with me at all?”

Something clicked within Onbacher, and he quickly put down the Q-tip and spun around in his chair. The tip of his nose had a prominent olive-brown smudge. He had been getting a bit too close to his work.

“Petur, I’m sorry. I haven’t heard a word you’ve said.”

“That’s okay. What are you finding on that bell?” Petur walked over to his side. He was impressed at how much cleaner it now appeared. There were areas where the yellow metal was as if newly forged, although most was still patchy.

“It has the Bounty‘s name and commissioning date, just like the lamp. You see this here?”

Petur noted the meticulous carving where Onbacher pointed. It was still difficult to read, but where Onbacher had performed some feats with the Q-tips, it was becoming both legible and, indeed, clean.

“But maybe the most interesting part is inside here. I knew there had to be something here, so I started cleaning more aggressively. Look what I just found!” He shined the light inside the bell and motioned him in closer to look. “See this here. Someone has carved figures into the bell. They’re faint. No way they would be seen unless you are really looking. From what I can tell, these few are numbers. I think I see a five and an eight and a three. Oh, there are words too! Yes, definitely words. Not sure, yet, though.”

Petur peered over Joseph’s shoulder. Although he, too, found it very exciting, he could add little to Joseph’s efforts. “Please keep me closely informed. In the meantime…” He interrupted himself, as Onbacher seemed to be getting lost in fascination with the bell. Sharply, he said, “Joseph! I need you at the Guest House at 2 AM. Not a second later. OK? And don’t fall asleep!”

Joseph started at the forcefulness of the request and removed himself from the bell. “Petur, I’m with you. Guest House at 2 AM. Why? What’s going on?”

“Something I am sure you will not wish to miss.”

“Damn, Petur. You are always keeping secrets. You’re not supposed to do that, you know.”

“You’ll be there?”

“I’ll be there!”

Chapter 59. Hope Lost

The small cottage that Elisa had acquired as her own had suffered the same damage as almost every other building on the island. The shards of glass that littered the ground reflected the light that emanated from inside, as if the ground were actually covered in thousands of Christmas-tree lights. There was no safe path to avoid the debris, so Petur crunched through them as delicately as he could, to approach the front door.

A rap on the door led quickly to its opening by a smiling Elisa. She was beautifully attired tonight in a blue sleeveless dress that ended enticingly above her knees. It fit her form nicely. There was no sign of burlap anywhere.

Her hair was down to her shoulders, flowing and dark and gleaming. There were no glasses anymore to block the view of her wide hazel-green eyes. Her style was extraordinary without even a hint of her usual awkwardness. The only defect in her appearance was the unfortunately obvious evidence on her face of the abuse inflicted by Marcos.

“Petur, I’m so glad you came by.” Her voice was smooth, gentle, but somehow still retained its commanding and authoritative quality. She held the door wide open for him to enter. “Isaac is here visiting as well.”

Petur smiled at that. For some reason, he was not all that surprised that he would find his good friend and long-time partner here at this house. The inside was clean and debris free. Petur had come to expect this after his wanderings of the evening. The damage caused by the sudden drop in air pressure was almost entirely restricted to the windows of the buildings, and all that glass had been propelled outward. The only other damage seemed to arise from some shampoo bottles, window cleaner, and the like, many of which had spewed their contents out in various locations throughout peoples’ homes. Due to the vacuum lock on the doors, items in refrigerators had maintained their integrity, fortunately. Otherwise, the floor soon would have become malodorous as well as messy.

Isaac was sitting on a small reclining chair, sipping at a cocktail. He smiled as Petur entered. There was some hesitation behind the smile, though — perhaps the product of a bit of guilt. “Amazingly good work today, Petur. I am most impressed! You stood up against the Mexican Navy with a handful of nerdy scientists and a couple of engineers, and won!”

“I can’t take credit for these events, Isaac. Nothing, nothing at all, went as I had planned.”

“Yes, it does seem that some caring eyes were watching over us today. I still don’t understand most of what happened.”

Petur nodded. “I’m still trying to put the pieces together myself. That’s why I’m here, actually.”

Elisa had retreated to the kitchen, bringing back with her a pewter mug for Petur.

“Isaac, what brings you by Elisa’s place this evening?”

Isaac immediately winked. “I find it very difficult to stay away from beautiful women. Some sort of magnetic attraction between us, I imagine. Wouldn’t you say, Elisa?”

Elisa threw Isaac a glaring, but exaggerated, frown of disapproval. “Hardly,” was her petulant reply.

Isaac pretended to be dismayed. He pouted, his lower lip protruding. With his hair in disarray as usual, and his clothes somewhat worse for wear from the events of the day, Isaac presented the appearance of a street bum.

“Please, Isaac. I’m trying to piece things together here.” Petur looked at Elisa. “And you are one of the big pieces that makes no sense to me. I’ve been talking to some people about you.”

Elisa sat down confidently on the sofa. She crossed her legs in a motion that was both seductive and self-assured. “Let me guess. Sophia and Jeff.”

Petur nodded. “Sophia first, actually. Do you mind if I speak freely in front of Isaac?”

Elisa did not have time to answer, for Isaac interjected, saying, “I know when I’m not wanted. And I know when I need another drink. Please excuse me.” He departed for the kitchen.

Petur spoke quietly. “It took a great deal of torture and psychological manipulation, but Sophia finally recognized that it was okay to tell her brother your little secret. I would like to, first, thank you for so generously investing in the Island Project. You were the only one who demanded anonymity, and I have been eager to meet my one secretive financier. Little did I know that I already had.”

Elisa replied, “It has been my greatest pleasure. My money is derived from my father. He would have provided it to you himself had you ever asked him.”

“I look forward to meeting him someday.” Petur continued with a nod. “Next, I would like to relay the thanks of the whole Project for your undercover work within Juan Marcos’s organization. And also, once again to pass on our thanks for somehow saving the life of another of our biggest assets, Jeff Baddori, while on some mysterious escapade of yours in Russia, of which I know nothing. Quite the secret agent you are!”

She took the effort to make an exaggerated look of innocence.

“And finally, I would like to tell you” — Petur’s face became flushed suddenly — “that I have been thinking of you ever since I first saw you in that hotel elevator in Amsterdam, and again in the lobby of another hotel in Mannheim, Germany. Although over the years the details faded from my memory, the overall image has stayed with me always.”

Elisa spoke now, some of her appearance of self-command fading. “Please accept my apologies. I didn’t think you or Dr. Standall would recognize me, but I was much more concerned that I might bump into Jeff. He certainly would have. As you may have realized, I always tried to leave the island whenever I knew he was coming.”

“He did think it strange that he had never met you. I mean, met you as Elisa, that is.”

“I have good sources of information. I knew when to stay and when to go.”

Petur nodded his head knowingly. “And now, please tell me who you are?”

Elisa sat back farther into the couch and crossed her legs in the other direction. She reached for her glass and took a sip. She looked at her toes for a moment, and then back at Petur. She was just about to speak.

“She is my daughter.” Isaac walked in through the kitchen door. “And her name really is Elisa. It was her grandmother’s name. My mother’s.”

Petur sat stunned. For a moment, the only thing he could think to say was, “Why, Isaac?”

Isaac moved across the room to sit near Petur. He put a hand on his knee. “Because I was convinced that we needed her. And I was convinced that we needed someone like Jeff Baddori.” He looked away from Petur’s piercing stare. “I told you once that we needed a secret service of sorts — a spy network. You refused rather adamantly.”

“But you did it anyway.” Petur could hardly be mad.

“I have the benefit of being a great deal older than you. With age comes, among other things, a great deal of cynicism. I do not trust the world. You trust too much. I did what I thought was best.”

“And you were right. Deviousness is not in my nature, but today, I’m sure glad it’s in yours.”

Elisa laughed loudly. “Not in your nature? What do you call that stunt you pulled today with the laser in the observatory? Talk about devious!”

Petur grinned sheepishly. “I have learned from the best, if perhaps only by osmosis.”

Isaac said, “Elisa had the honor of training with both Mossad and the CIA. She found Jeff, and made sure he would meet Sophia. Nothing went smoothly, but it went. Elisa is my pride and joy. And, Petur, so are you.”

All three sipped their drinks for a moment. Petur contemplated all that he had learned today about the woman in front of him. He wondered how little he really knew her. But mostly, he thought about how embarrassed he was now that he had informed Elisa regarding his little obsession with her.

He was able to speak in a confident voice, nonetheless. “At 2:00 a.m. tonight, sharp, I would like you both to join me on the verandah of the Guest House. There will be an important announcement. I think you would both highly regret missing it.” He tossed the last of his beer back. “2:00 a.m., sharp.”

Join the Club

It was another glorious night in paradise. The cloud that hung above the island during the days was gone most nights, including this night. The air was crisp and cool, and the coolness helped to make the night sky particularly transparent. The stars seemed close enough to reach out and extinguish with a pinch of one’s fingers. A razor-thin crescent moon was just rising in the Eastern sky. It was dark enough. Evan Harrigan could not have planned it better. It was perfect.

No planes had yet arrived to deliver the first of the returning citizens of the Island Project. So it was only the same people who had been there in Science Hall early that morning who were here now to learn what Petur had to say. Some conversed among themselves, hypothesizing what the Mexicans might do next, awed at the British Navy vessels, numbering nine, which lay just to the East. However, with almost every step crunching on the shattered reminders of the havoc created from the destruction of Paradise 5, people were naturally drawn to discuss how such a thing might have been accomplished.

Petur looked around the small gathering of his people on the verandah and grass of the Victorian-style Guest House. It was not surprising that some people had not yet arrived. What was somewhat more surprising was how many people were already there, even though it was half an hour before the appointed time. Well, they would have to wait.

He had taken up accommodation in one of the rooms of the Guest House, primarily because, unlike most, he had gone home to find that some of the littered glass had indeed been thrown inward at his house, some of which now littered the floor of his bedroom. And it had been filled with the pelting drops of water. He didn’t understand why it had happened to his house and not others, but accepted it and gave it no more thought.

Stepping out of the door and onto the verandah, he caught the attention of Dr. Standall and Otto Wagner. Dr. Standall raised an eyebrow, hoping for some advance news. Petur shook his head, smiled, and pretended to look at his watch. Standall got the message.

The verandah was brightly lit, welcoming. But that changed suddenly after Petur stepped back inside for a moment, throwing all the switches down. Then the building was bathed in darkness, with only a faint glow coming from a light somewhere inside, perhaps the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Petur said as he emerged. “I want your eyes to get accustomed to the darkness. Please keep the lights off.” He walked down the wooden stairs and off the verandah. “I promise to be back by two.”

There was not a lot of time, so he walked quickly. He could have taken a cart, but he, too, did not want to be night-blinded, as would certainly happen if he used the cart with its automatic headlights. However, it was not a long walk to Joseph’s house. He was there in four minutes.

He knocked on the door briskly, and receiving no answer, let himself in. “Joseph! Hello!”

Again there was no response. Aware of the recent distractibility of the man, Petur did not lose heart. He was probably here somewhere. He made a beeline to Joseph’s study.

Joseph had his hand on his chin, his elbow resting on his desk. He was staring at a piece of paper. Petur noted the bell, gleaming as if new, but sitting alone on the other side of the room.

“Joseph?”

Onbacher turned. His face appeared ashen, as if he had just been stricken with news of a loved one’s death. The eyes were hollow, with no hint of his usual light-hearted and hopeful nature. Petur moved closer and put his hand on Joseph’s shoulder.

“Joseph, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Onbacher responded with a gentle shake of his head. “I have done the calculations over and over again. I’m not sure that I’m doing it right even now. Can you check my work?” He pulled a nautical chart across the table toward them. It was a chart of the Paradise Islands. This copy was covered with pencil marks, doodles, and calculations scrawled in the margins. There was an X drawn at the highest-elevation line of Paradise 1, with a line drawn due west to the edge of the paper. On the line, at various places were further X marks. Several were scribbled out, Onbacher having failed in efforts at erasure.

“What calculations do you need done?”

“That inscription that I showed you on the bell gives exact directions to where Christian has hidden the chest with the sphere. It took me a long time to figure what he meant, where to even start, but then it became clear.”

“What does the inscription say?”

Joseph waved his hand toward the bell, sending Petur to look for himself. Petur moved to it and picked it up reverently, turning it about in his hands. Carefully engraved over one rounded half of the bell was the name “H.M.A.V.Bounty.” Underneath was the same date that was found on the ship’s lamp on the mountain peak.

He turned it over to read the inscription on the inside. Scratched into the bronze was a freehand carving consisting of words and numbers. The first he could make out was a name: Sarah Christian; a date: 24th November 1791; and the words, Christened on this date into the Lord.

“It looks like we were right about the child.”

“Yes. It was customary to inscribe the inside of bells with the names of children who were christened on the vessel.” Joseph nodded. “Keep reading.”

Petur had to rotate the bell in his hands several times as he read through a longer inscription, a corkscrewed engraving of specific instructions. He read them aloud, partly to make sure Onbacher corrected him if he had trouble with one of the more indiscernible words.

“If you know what you seek, follow it from where the lantern hides, 42′ 36″ at twelve o’clock noon, and drop a plumb one fathom below the surface. It lies there. For eternity, but for you. Think no evil of me. F.C.'”

Joseph nodded his head. “Yep. That’s what it says, Petur. And it proves that the sphere is real.” And then he added dejectedly, “Or at least it was real, once.”

“What do you mean?”

Onbacher appeared a bit more animated as he began to explain. “These last few hours have been an emotional roller coaster. First the thrill of finding the inscription so legible under that thick corrosion, then the morose recognition that the directions seemed incomplete.”

Petur read the inscription again. “A little more than forty-two feet from where the lantern was found.”

“Yes, that’s how I was initially thinking too. I was planning an expedition up to the top of the mountain tomorrow with a long measuring tape and a shovel.”

Petur asked, “How much is a fathom?”

“Six feet. It’s usually used for water depth, but I think Christian is using it to indicate the depth the sphere is buried.”

“But forty-two feet in what direction? Twelve o’clock noon? Does that mean in the direction of the bow of the Bounty?”

“You mean like an airplane pilot might say?”

Petur shrugged, “Sure.”

Joseph smiled, something Petur felt refreshed to see. “They didn’t have airplanes back then, Petur.”

“So, I guess that’s not it, then. So, what direction? Heck, why don’t we just dig up a great big forty-foot-radius circle around that crevice where they found that lantern! It’ll be there somewhere.”

“I don’t think so,” Joseph replied. “I don’t think those numbers are supposed to be feet and inches. If it was, instead of writing forty-two feet and thirty-six inches, why not just say forty-five feet?”

Petur nodded, feeling foolish again. He looked at the inscription even more closely. “I have no idea what he is saying here.” A glint of recognition appeared in his eyes. “Wait. It’s not feet and inches, is it? Christian was an excellent navigator. Couldn’t that be distances on a map? It’s forty-two minutes. Forty-two minutes is forty-two sixtieths of a degree, isn’t it? That’s got to be it.”

Joseph was nodding his head. “I came up with that answer too. Each degree of a circle, or of longitude, is divided into sixty minutes, and each minute into sixty seconds. That’s right. But, it’s not the answer. Problem is twofold. First, look here.” He showed Petur a smaller-scale map of the Pacific, the Paradise Islands essentially only small black dots. A carefully drawn circle was inscribed on the chart, centered on Paradise 1. “Forty-two sixtieths of a degree is about seventy kilometers at this latitude. There is no landmass of any sort seventy kilometers from this island. Nothing. Not even a ledge, as far as I can tell. And if he meant that he dropped it overboard seventy kilometers away, it would take forever to find it, without knowing exactly where it was. Plus, what about the one fathom depth issue?”

“Christian sure left lousy directions.”

“He didn’t want anyone to find it. But he still had his mission for the British Admiralty, and is fulfilling it by providing these instructions. The information is there. I just had to read what the man wrote, that’s all.”

“Did he write something else in his journal somewhere? Better directions?”

“No. In fact, what you read about the globe is the only mention of the sphere. He never says anything about what it does. And I think that is the key. He doesn’t tell you what the sphere does!”

Petur looked one more time, and read aloud in a stilted and carefully enunciated manner, “‘If you know what you seek, follow it from where the lantern hides, 42′ 36″ at twelve o’clock noon, and drop a plumb one fathom below the surface. It lies there. For eternity, but for you. Think no evil of me. F.C.’ What on earth is he saying, Joseph? We know what we seek…”

Joseph interrupted. “Exactly. We do know what we seek! But Fletcher would think that only the Admiralty could possibly know, since only they knew about Captain Cook’s discovery, and only they knew about the mission on which he and Bligh had been sent. You see, that’s the key. The fact that we’re seeking the sphere contains the answer to where it’s located.”

Considering for a moment, Petur rubbed his chin. “The sphere is some sort of strange device — alien, ancient, who knows what, which seems to be able to defy gravity. What direction would it go in if we got it spinning the way the Maoris did?”

“Same way that it went when young John Carver witnessed the ceremony. It gradually drifted up and to the west.”

“Why did it do that?”

“Well, actually it didn’t. What really happened was that Earth’s rotation pulled the surface down and away, while the sphere simply kept going on in the direction it had been going when it started spinning. The net effect is the appearance of the sphere drifting to the west and upward.”

Petur nodded, trying to picture the geometry in his head, unsuccessfully. “So, ‘follow the sphere’ means, ‘go west.’ Due west, I presume?”

“Due west is correct.”

Petur pulled the chart over to him and looked closely. “Then, forty-two minutes and thirty-six seconds due west.” He found the point on Joseph’s seventy-kilometer circle due west from the observatory on Paradise 1 — the place where the lantern had been found. Sticking his finger on it hard, he said, “Right here. It’s got to be right here.”

“There’s nothing there!”

“Maybe there is something there. Maybe it’s just never been found and charted. Maybe there is a suboceanic ridge or volcano.”

“Could be, but I doubt it. There is a better explanation for where the sphere was buried.”

“Don’t keep me waiting, Joseph!”

“You won’t like it.”

Petur frowned in concern. “Why?”

Joseph stretched and said, “You have it right. Forty-two minutes and thirty-six seconds. But it’s not measurements on a chart. He really meant minutes and seconds. Time. Time is the key.”

It became clear in an instant, Petur once again ashamed that he could have missed it “And just how far would the sphere travel in forty-two minutes and thirty-six seconds?” Petur asked.

Joseph held up a stack of papers in one hand and a calculator in the other. “It took me two hours to figure out. The answer is that it would move about five kilometers west.”

“Five kilometers.” Petur picked up the local chart of the islands. The line starting at the observatory and drawn due west had meaning. He looked at the scale, then looked back at the line. Of the several X marks drawn on that line, there was one penciled in more heavily than the rest. Petur looked at that mark, then back at the scale.

“Oh, Joseph. I’m so sorry.”

The X that marked the location five kilometers due west of the observatory — the place where Fletcher Christian must have buried the chest with the sphere — lay precisely in the center of a small island labeled “Paradise 5.”

Chapter 60. Look Up

It was five minutes before 2:00 a.m. Petur placed his hand gently on his friend’s shoulder. “Joseph. You need to come with me. Everyone has gathered at the Guest House at my request. I have to go.”

Joseph shook his head. “I think I need to stay here, Petur. I have put too much of myself into this search. Too much hope. I need some time now to deal with it.”

“Yes, I imagine you do. And you will have that time. But not now. Now, you must come with me. Trust me. This is one announcement that you will not want to miss.”

Joseph sat still for a moment, looking at the small chart in his hands. Then, in one movement, he put it down on the table and stood up. It seemed to have taken every ounce of the man’s will to accomplish that simple feat, but once done, he seemed to gather energy. “We had better hurry then, hadn’t we?” he said as he led Petur out the door.

The roads were darkened, but the stars were still bright. Petur swore quietly to himself, recognizing how diminished his night vision had become simply by staying in Joseph’s well-lit office. He could shoot himself! If he didn’t have good vision in fifteen minutes, he might miss the whole thing. And that would be a terrible shame.

The two men were walking rather briskly down the road, Joseph’s shorter legs and older body struggling to keep pace. Petur slowed his walk a bit, but kept pressing on. The Guest House was further on, and people would be impatient.

“Can you give me a hint? I mean, about what you plan to announce?”

“It’s just a few minutes more. Then you’ll know.”

In three minutes, the two men were walking up to the waiting group, who had now all gathered on the grass in front on the verandah. Petur was perspiring slightly, despite the cool night. He looked at Joseph. Though the effort had been greater for him, the older man did not seem to be sweating. Petur wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

“About time you arrived!” Sophia was unconsciously, or perhaps consciously, imitating the tones their mother had used in their childhood. It relaxed him. The light here was enough to be seen, but not more. He glanced at the stars above, still close enough to touch. He fixed his gaze on a smaller star in the eastern sky, waiting to see how rapidly his eyes were accommodating to the darkness. Well, they would have to do.

His people gathered around him now. The crowd was not big, but it consisted of the most important people, save one. Sophia and Elisa were standing with Jeff Baddori slightly ahead and to the right. Otto Wagner, speaking softly in German, stood by Heinrich Poll and one of the German engineers. Dr. Standall was now chatting with Isaac. Joseph had joined them. Jack Gaimey was there also.

“Hey, Jack Gaimey. How’s your plane?”

The big man smiled broadly, “I’m working on it. It will fly again. And now, what’ve you done with my island?”

“That’s exactly why I invited you all here. But first I want to thank you all for sticking this out. It’s not been easy, I know. But, we have done well today.” Petur had everyone’s attention. He looked at his watch, the fluorescing dial indicating that it was already three minutes past two. “Today was a truly historic moment. Not just because of our success keeping our sovereignty, but for a much bigger reason.” He paused to look around a bit. Nobody, except Isaac, had a clue what was coming soon.

“I must apologize to you all for the trick we played on Governor Marcos and his gang. The laser setup in the observatory couldn’t have hurt a flea. It had no role in what happened to Paradise 5, either. We just made it look like it did.”

Joseph interrupted. “Who is we?”

Petur replied quickly. He had little time. “Professor Harrigan and I. Unfortunately, Evan cannot be with us tonight, although I hope he is out of surgery and recovered enough to be awake right now. Professor Harrigan is the man truly responsible for the most significant event of the day.

“What happened to Paradise 5 was caused by equipment placed on the island itself. Unfortunately, had I revealed the true nature of the device, Juan Marcos might not have immediately thought it a weapon at all. And we needed to have him think it was a weapon. Something that he would be able to use as an excuse to save face when he left our islands without having accomplished his mission. What men hate most is losing respect. This was too dangerous a situation. I did not want to lose our lives, and the whole Island, to the whims of a delicate ego. So we gave him a way out. That laser setup was supposed to be the way out for him: a terrible weapon against which even Mexico’s mightiest warship could not fight.”

He wiped more sweat off his forehead. “And now the news.” He took a small breath. “Paradise 5 was not destroyed today. In fact, nothing at all happened to it. Nothing at all.”

Nobody said anything for a moment. They looked at each other in bewilderment. Only Isaac sat still, looking at Petur with a knowing expression and the hint of a proud smile. Petur let everyone think about it for a moment, wondering who would ask the next question. It turned out to be his sister.

“What, Petur? Is it invisible out there? I don’t think so. There was a giant explosion out there. There had to be!”

“Not an explosion, my knowledgeable physicist sister. Perhaps an implosion is a better description.”

“The effect is the same, dear brother. The island is gone. I looked a dozen times.”

Petur responded, “It all depends on the way you look.”

Sophia replied, a bit exasperated. “We all were looking in the right place.”

“You see, that’s the problem. You were all looking in the right place.” He paused. “But not at the right time.” He looked again at his watch. Seven minutes more. He hoped his watch was not off. It rarely was.

“Professor Harrigan has been working for more than two decades to accomplish this. Few people really knew what he pursued. He never received any attention in scientific circles. But that’s going to change. Since joining the Island Project, he made the final discoveries he needed. And he’s soon going to be a very well-known scientist, perhaps the best-known scientist in the whole world. He had his laboratory built deep in the volcanic rock of this island so that the dense stone could take the energy out of the particles. He was seeking to make them more detectable, more harnessable. It worked, for he was able to make an amazing discovery. He was able to detect this particle, characterize it, and then create it. He could explain all this much better than I. In fact, he will no doubt regale you with the details in a few days. For now you have to make do with me.”

Sophia, a theoretical physicist herself, was impatient. “You said a moment ago that nothing happened to Paradise 5. What do you mean by that? What has Harrigan done, Petur?”

“Nothing has happened to Paradise 5. Nothing whatsoever. However, a lot has happened to us. I’ll explain. Evan Harrigan put together twenty years of research and his recent spectacular finding, and invented a device which, for lack of a better phrase, manipulates time.”

The silence was intense. At this moment, the usual gentle breeze chose to rest. Not a leaf rustled, and no animals spoke. People were breathing; beyond that, nothing was audible.

Joseph interrupted the silence. The cautious hope in his voice could not be hidden. “So, Paradise 5 has not been destroyed?”

Petur said, “No. It has not been destroyed. In fact, as I said, nothing has happened to it. And in about three minutes, you will once again see Paradise 5.”

Several turned and ran up the steps of the verandah, so they could see over the trees to look out over the bay. Petur grasped Joseph by the shoulder and shook his head slowly. Isaac and Sophia stayed down on the grass with Petur. Since Petur did not say anything, Sophia thought she had better.

“Umm. I don’t think you all need to be up there,” Sophia called calmly to those who had gone up to the verandah. “You’ll be able to see it fine from down here.”

Petur looked at his sister, proudly. She had figured it out.

Dr. Standall replied from up above on the verandah. “You are taller than me, young lady. I cannot see the water from down there at all.”

“You don’t need to see the water, Thomas.”

Petur chimed in. “I would like you all to look in the sky to the east.” He pointed upward, over the low trees that served to delineate the bounds of the jungle forest beyond. “You see that brightest star there?” He tried to give better guidance. “Directly above that tallest tree, about a hand’s breadth higher.” He looked at his watch. There was little time left. “It’s the top-right corner of that upside-down triangle of stars there. Do you see what I’m talking about?”

Several people acknowledged him affirmatively.

“Does anyone not see what I am pointing to?”

There was no response.

“Good. Now, look about a finger’s breadth to the right of that star. Do you see anything there?”

Isaac chimed in first. “Not a thing. Just space.”

Petur continued. “Just space. Remember, I told you that nothing whatsoever has happened to Paradise 5. What has happened is that fifteen hours has passed for the rest of the universe. Harrigan figured out a way to freeze time. Not move through it. But freeze it completely. He put a machine on Paradise 5 that froze time for it for fifteen hours. That island has not moved an inch since then. But the Earth has. The earth has rotated and moved along its orbit around the sun. Earth has left Paradise 5 behind! So watch closely there, just to the right of the bright star. That’s where the Earth was, fifteen hours ago.”

Everyone stared at the spot in the sky. One and all slowly moved back down the staircase to join Petur and Sophia and Isaac on the lawn. Elisa moved in close to Petur. She reached and found his hand. They held on tightly.

And then, like a giant firework exploding in the sky, the night was alight in a spray of multicolored fire originating from the point at which they had all been staring. It was bright enough that Petur had to shield his eyes. Streaks of white, blue, and red light shot in all directions, filling a quarter of the sky. Within thirty seconds, again just like a firework, the colors were gone. But, unlike a firework, something remained.

For the sky did not darken after the blast. A glow persisted, radiant enough to make fully visible the faces of each person standing there on the grass. A finger’s breadth to the right of a bright star, a round circle of light remained. It was nowhere near the size of the moon, but many times more luminous than the brightest planet roaming through the sky. Paradise 5 shined on brilliantly over the Earth.

Epilogue

The alarms went off on the computers at the National Aeronautic and Space Administration in Houston, creating a great uproar. The militaries of the major countries all went on alert. Astronomers throughout the western United States turned their telescopes upon the new object in the sky. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and every other city, town, and farm in that corner of the globe, people were aroused by their neighbors to gaze upon the new wonder in the heavens.

Over the next hours, it became clear to everyone that the bright light in the night sky was not going to fade. Pentagon officials wrote press releases informing the public that the event was unprecedented, but seemed to pose no danger. Scientific theories ranged from a comet that suddenly fell into Earth’s gravitational influence to a fragment of a Jovian moon that had been shaken away by seismic activity. Less-scientific theories considered it a sign from God, a signal from aliens, or an interdimensional portal. But regardless of the theories, it appeared as a diamond in the rough in the heavens, and the people of Earth were instantly enamored.

Although no information had yet been released by the Island Project, somehow the new object assumed the name Paradise. Astronomers told the world that Paradise was somewhat larger than a kilometer in diameter — a near-perfect sphere, which was following behind the Earth in its orbit about the sun. Theoretically, and by all observations thus far, it was going to stay on that path for more than a thousand years before gradually being pulled by the Moon into a safe orbit around Earth.

Twice as far away as the Moon, with only a small fraction of the mass, Paradise nonetheless reflected almost as much light. The scientists attributed this to the fact that its surface was entirely made of ice. Almost every beam of light that hit it was reflected back. None was absorbed by any dust or rocks on that pristine surface.

It was midmorning on Paradise 1, and Petur and Joseph lay back on lawn chairs on the grass outside the Guest House. Low in the clear blue western sky, the bright light of Paradise was shining just above the horizon.

Neither man had slept that night. Petur was looking up at the sky, imagining distant scientists staring back at him. Joseph, although less than a meter away, was somewhere else altogether.

“Petur, it’s up there. The sphere, it’s up there in that new star. We can get it.”

“Yes, Joseph. We can get it. It won’t be easy, but nothing we have set out to do has been easy.”

“But it’s worth it. Can you imagine how close we were to harnessing gravity? The sphere that Fletcher Christian so carefully kept hidden holds a secret that is key to mankind’s future. With it, we won’t need rockets; we won’t consume tons of energy just leaving the gravity hole of the earth. We will have spaceships that laugh at gravity. We must make every effort to get it back! We’re planning on doing that, aren’t we?”

Petur replied lazily. “I doubt anyone could stop you. We have to join the space race ourselves now. Haven’t done much of that yet. All of our accomplishments, and we haven’t given nearly sufficient thought to the next frontier. I wonder who will be the Island Project’s first astronaut.”

“Let’s get working on it. The sooner the better, because we need that sphere. From here on, with nuclear fusion harnessed, energy will be unlimited. But getting mass into space is an entirely different matter.” Joseph squirmed uneasily in his chair. “I wish Harrigan had picked another island for his experiment.”

Petur smiled at his friend. “Christian’s sphere is exciting to you and to me both. And I feel terrible that, after being so close, it may now take us years to get it. But I’m not as concerned as you are about getting mass into space.”

“Why not? That has always been the problem — getting mass out of Earth’s gravity.”

“The worry is gone now, Joseph. Don’t you see? Harrigan’s little trick of interfering with time won’t be useful for changing the past, or even viewing it to see what really happened in history. We won’t be able to go back and kill Hitler before he invades Poland. Or see why King Tut died. In fact, for years, all the science fiction that dealt with time travel was missing the most important point of it. Harrigan didn’t develop his theories and put them into practice to be able to manipulate the past. We wouldn’t have brought him into the Project had that been his goal.”

“So, what was it all about?”

“It’s about that great shining light up there in the sky — that ball of ice and water and rock, Joseph. You see, Harrigan has made rockets unnecessary. He has taken an enormous amount of matter, and simply placed it in space. Paradise 5, and the billions of tons of water that went with it, is now in a wonderful location to be used by people who wish to expand into the galaxy. Joseph, we no longer have a problem getting mass into space. We can reach the next big frontier, the next huge source of wealth, and access to resources unlimited. Our planet will be able to rest, while the people thrive. Alongside Sophia’s nuclear fusion, Harrigan’s discovery has created the huge new sources of wealth that the world needs to pay off its accumulated debt to the future. That’s what it was all about.”

Joseph said nothing at first. Several minutes passed. “So, we may not need the sphere at all?” There was something between sadness and hope in his voice.

Petur gently answered, “We need the sphere more than ever, Joseph.”

“Why? If we can get into space with ease now, why do we need it?”

“Because we need to learn about who built it, Joseph. Before we run into them, somewhere in space.”

Joseph nodded.

The two men stared at the horizon.

Joseph said, “We have to get into the spaceship business.”

“Guess so.” Petur smiled. He turned to his friend then, and with just a faint twinkle in his eye, asked, “Got any money I can borrow?”

Paradise 5 was setting now. It was fitting that as it set, it seemed to be diving straight for that point in the ocean from which it originally came, due west. For a fleeting moment, the ugly little island, now a beautiful beacon in the sky, was back where it belonged.

Join the Club

From the vantage of Paradise 5, Earth never set. Paradise 5 had opened its eyes to gaze down upon the half-lit blue planet whence it came. The outer shell of the small orb of water and land had already frozen to a depth of twelve meters. The long process of radiating heat outward would slow down now, and it would take years more for the newly created asteroid to turn completely to ice and rock.

One hundred meters below that thick layer of new ice, a large, gray, metal mass floated freely in the darkness. Inside, there was a man.

That man lay, neck deep in water, in a sunken submarine. He could not move anymore. He could barely breathe. The submarine’s Indonesian skipper had succumbed to his injuries and the water a few minutes earlier. On the verge of death, Khamil took solace in his knowledge that he had successfully achieved his revenge upon the people of the Island Project. It never crossed his mind, nor would he ever discover, that quite to the contrary, he was an integral part of their greatest success. Never would he learn that he was the Island Project’s very first astronaut.

End