Guardian of the Strait

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Guardian of the Strait

Postby LilJennie » Fri Oct 21, 2022 8:55 pm

Guardian of the Strait
By Miki Yamuri and Jennie Flint

It had been a long time in coming. I had finally reached the place where I had enough money to do as I pleased and quit the high-stress job I’d worked. It was true that the money was really good, but the gut-wrenching stress was the killer, as the many heath issues of the employees within my section proved.

One sad thing that happened that nevertheless facilitated my huge purchase was the inheritance I got from my very wealthy uncle when he passed. He had no other family of his own to leave his estate to, so he gave it to me. It included several sport aircraft including the newest sport helicopter called a Scorpion.

I was perusing a travel magazine one afternoon when I saw an advertisement that offered a tropical island for sale. The island was uninhabited, for one thing, five miles wide, twelve miles long, full of lush tropical growth and wildlife, including a large freshwater pond, and long white sandy beaches. There was a large three-level dome home, fully solar and wind independent. It even had a fueling location for rotorwing aircraft. From the photos, it would be perfect, and it was dirt cheap, considering.

Of course, I refused to put down that much cash sight unseen, so I contacted the broker and arranged for a small trip out to see for myself. A photo can be so misleading.

I owned a 45-foot sloop sailing vessel I had named Thor. I had seen that there was a large dock and a lagoon that would be perfect for mooring it. I had to be careful; Thor had a keel that required fairly deep water.

So, after getting the owner’s permission with the incentive of a deposit, I took Thor on a long ocean voyage to the South Pacific to see this island paradise that was so remote that the only other way there was by helo, for which there was even a pad and a flight control center.

I did have to avoid a large typhoon before I got there, but no big headache, just rough seas, high winds, and torrential rain. My sloop handled it with the easiest of grace.

It took a few days of travel on the open ocean before my satellite tracking indicated I was approaching the island’s coordinates. I set the wheel with the relieving tackle, went to the fore deck, and looked through my binoculars. What I saw was lush, tropical, and extremely beautiful. I could also see the house and solar arrays sitting on a cliff high above any storm surges. It would take an apocalyptically large tidal wave to even water the grass around it. The beaches were sparkling white, the water deep blue and teeming with fish.

I slowly approached the channel that led into the lagoon where the dock was. The bottom was many miles down, and this island rose from the bottom of the abyss to twenty five hundred feet above the surface. Even the lagoon was seriously deep.

Mooring the ship to the dock was easy. Water was deep and the docking area was well made. Once the lines were secured and I had stowed all the sails, I stood on the dock for a minute and breathed deep. The air was clean, fresh, and perfumed with many exotic flowers. I could hear the sounds of the indigenous wildlife off in the bush too.

I could see the large freshwater pond in the near distance, with hundreds of colorfully plumed fowl of every description. The pond area itself was like a large park complete with a fishing dock. I knew in my soul those pictures didn’t hold a candle to the beauty reality held. I couldn’t figure out why the price was so low. There must have been some reason.

One downside was the isolation. To call someone would involve using either the sloop’s short wave or the satellite internet connection I could see the huge dish for on a tower next to the dome. If there were a real emergency, it would be a long time before any help arrived, even by air.

But that wasn’t enough to explain the price. Why was the current owner selling this paradise so cheaply? Except for the isolation, it didn’t seem to add up.

I walked up the stone path from the dock to a small outbuilding that actually had a cable car that would take me to the house. Ok, I really wanted to look at the inside of that magnificent dome, so I got into the car and pushed the lever. It rapidly and very smoothly took me to the top and stopped at a small outbuilding at the house.

The home consisted of one large three-story dome with a few smaller dome-shaped buildings connected by enclosed walkways. There were round windows at aesthetically pleasing angles to let in light. The whole was painted a slightly off-white color that was still brilliant in the tropical sunlight. I walked up to the front door, which was metal but ornately decorated and had inset windows of beveled cut glass.

The sunlight dimmed a bit just as I stepped into the overhang before the door. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it – it was as if a cloud had briefly gone across the sun – except that the sky was absolutely clear. There was nothing that could have dimmed the sun.

I even looked up; there were no birds or planes in sight overhead that could have cast a shadow. Still, a small cloud could have dissipated just before I had looked up … I supposed. Odd, but I didn’t let it bother me.

I rang the doorbell. I heard it from outside. It was working. That was a good sign. So many people didn’t maintain their doorbells.

A mostly bald man with wire-rimmed glasses and a Hawaiian shirt opened the door. This was Charles, the real estate agent; I’d met him via video call. He must have arrived via the helicopter I had seen on the helipad as I’d approached. “Here’s the intrepid sailor now,” he said. “Welcome to O Fortuna.”

“Oh that’s right, the place has a name,” I said. “I didn’t look it up.”

“Its first owner named it,” he said. “It means ‘O, Fortune,’ of course – from the Carmina Burana.”

“Well, it must have cost a fortune to build,” I remarked as I stepped inside and closed the door. There was actual air conditioning. I’d gotten used to the oppressive humidity of the tropical day. The air was suddenly not weighing down upon me like a giant damp blanket.

“I’m told it did,” said Charles. “But it’s Fortune as in luck, or fate. Anyway, I came a few hours ago to get everything turned on so you could see the place in operation. How was your trip here?”

“Oh, typhoon-adjacent storms, rough seas, torrential rain, but then smooth sailing once I was through that,” I said. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Seriously? You’re a hardy one, Mr. Merricks.”

“Not my first adventure, but please call me Neil.”

“As you prefer, Neil. Well, as you can see, this is the living room; you passed through the vestibule on the way in. Through here is the kitchen …” He showed me the home’s many rooms. There wasn’t much furniture; I assumed the seller had shipped most of it to their new abode, wherever it was. No problem; if I bought the place, which I was leaning toward doing, I’d just have my own things shipped here.

But everything was in fine shape. I checked for wear, cracks, chipped paint, appliance age, and nothing was out of the ordinary. The air conditioner would probably need replacement within a decade, but that was hardly atypical and wouldn’t explain the low price. I finally had to ask.

“So my main question is one I’ve asked before,” I began.

“Why’s it so cheap?” Charles interrupted, nodding. “I … am not exactly sure. The previous owners told me very good things about their experiences here. But they are very interested in getting the place off their hands, and they haven’t explained why. Since they’re going through a divorce, I had assumed that was it – full of bad memories, so that might explain it, but they’re each going to get half the proceeds of the sale, which would suggest they’d want to sell it for more. But perhaps they need it sold soon because of the timing of the legal proceedings?” He shrugged.

“Oh, I see, I didn’t even know there was a divorce in progress,” I said. “I guess that makes me lucky. Fortune smiling on me.”

“You don’t have to call the place by its original name,” Charles said, “but it’s somewhat famous in certain wealthy circles, so there are going to be people who will always call it that.”

“And nobody’s snapped it up yet, even just to resell it for more?” I wondered.

“No, nobody’s tried flipping it, and that is a bit odd,” said Charles. “I suppose it’s possible that nobody’s noticed it’s on the market, but that seems unlikely. Maybe there’s something going on I don’t know. Some kind of backroom deal? Maybe he’s making deals with people to keep the price low so she doesn’t get more money from it? Or vice versa? Or both ways? I can only speculate, though.”

“So nothing bad about it? No sign of the island crumbling and falling into the sea? No witch doctor’s curse?” I asked facetiously.

“Well, the island’s uninhabited,” Charles reminded me, “so there aren’t any witch doctors, or anybody else.”

You know what? Right then I should have wondered why the island was uninhabited. But I didn’t. I wish I had.

“Does this island even have a name?” I asked.

“Well, the charts call it Aitumoku, but I don’t know who would have named it,” said Charles, “with nobody living here. I suppose the inhabitants of other islands know it exists.”

Again, another great opportunity for me to ask why they didn’t live here. But Charles probably didn’t know anyway.

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I had found my way to the room that contained the home’s computer system. I was stunned at the size and advanced complexity. It not only accessed the internet, it also monitored and controlled the wind and sun power production systems and insured the system batteries were properly charged.

The computer also was the island’s only phone and used an advance satellite dish system to maintain constant contact with one of the geo-sats high in orbit. This allowed access to the most up-to-date weather data I had ever seen, as well as all current news feeds from around the world.

Charles gave me the nickel tour of the solar farm. Once again, the advanced nature and the expense of this system amazed me. It also made me wonder why the cost of this island was so low. I especially wondered as I stood on the back pad and looked out to sea at the wind generators in the near distance off shore.

I went back to the computer control center. I was really curious about the low cost of this place. It was not only a tropical paradise, but it had only top-notch items and equipment. I researched the title and the line of ownership. As far as anything notable, there was nothing.

I began to look up the name of this island ... what was it? Oh, yeah … Aitumoku. I typed in the island’s name into the search engine. Due to latency (it took a bit for the signals to travel to the satellite, then back to the earth-based receiver, search, then do the reverse bounce) it took a bit longer than the connection at my house on the mainland, but it brought up several links to old Polynesian myths and fables.

The island’s name, Aitumoku, was said to be the place semi-ghost-like creatures named Taotaomona lived, according to one of the oldest of old legends. It was said they were the lost unbaptized souls of the people who lived before in the old times, before man. It was said that they would chase those who angered them to the ends of the seas. People before man? That made no sense.

The only other hit I could find about the island said that it used to also be a remote research station for the USGS before the current owner purchased it, also at a steal. It was still a mystery why the price was so low, but I could find no reason not to purchase it. This was the perfect place. No taxes (it was technically part of Micronesia, but its government hadn’t bothered to levy taxes on this remote place), no rush hour traffic (or in fact any traffic), and no crime (what with the place being uninhabited). The nearest land was over 800 miles away across one of the deepest oceans on the planet.

I sought out Charles. He had already wandered back to the helipad and was preflighting his chopper to leave. I told him I would take the island, whipped out my trusty checkbook, and paid the remainder of the balance. He had me sign all the various deeds and other paperwork, which I did. I told Charles I would be here for the next several days if there was any need to contact me.

Now this remote paradise was all mine. I sat in a folding chair on the afterdeck of my sloop and drank a nice glass of burgundy while I watched the gorgeous sunset. The ocean and sky seemed to merge into a beautiful panorama of oranges, reds, purples, and then a mysterious flash of green all across the horizon just as the sun vanished and night began.

I leaned back and listened to the relaxing sounds of the night creatures off in the thick, verdant bush on shore as a full moon rose and spread diamond like sparkles across the lagoon.

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I awoke and noticed that the moon was higher. I must have dozed off. I wanted to get back up to the house and spend my first night there. I stowed everything below decks and locked up on ship, then made my way to the cable car’s call station. There wasn’t much of a jungle on this small island, but what there suddenly seemed bigger and darker at night. I checked the time. It was only 10 p.m., local time.

The natural noises of the island’s wildlife seemed innocuous enough … until they suddenly all went quiet at once; then it was the silence that was eerie. What would cause that? Were they so unused to people that my movements would so disturb them into total silence? And then … I felt a chill. The humid tropical night air suddenly turned cold. I saw the outbuilding ahead and quickly entered, shutting the door after me, and got into the cable car.

For no reason I could name I wished the device would go faster as it climbed the cable, agonizingly slowly, toward the house on the cliff. I once again thought of how far away I was from any help, only now, this wasn’t a comforting feeling. I looked back down through the moonlit air, expecting to see something, some explanation for the feeling of being chased away, but I saw nothing but the cable and the tiny building I had left, growing smaller in the distance.

With a sudden clunk, the car stopped. It had reached the upper terminal and locked into position. Emerging, I exited the upper outbuilding and locked its door as well, then hurried in a brisk walk toward the house. Once inside, I locked the doors. Against what? No living human existed on this island but me. But I locked them anyway, going to every exterior door in the house and ensuring it was fully closed and locked. I considered closing the hurricane shutters on all the windows, but then realized that I was being ridiculous. Buyer’s jitters? Or perhaps my imagination running away with me because my subconscious mind worried over the serious remoteness?

I settled down into doing some business with the computer. I arranged to have my belongings brought in via helicopter the next day and groceries delivered each week. What little trash I generated and couldn’t compost could be taken away by return helicopter; I had no desire to despoil this beautiful place with a landfill. What if I could rent the beach to the occasional vacationer? That was an interesting prospect.

I looked out the window for a moment. From this room, out this particular window, I couldn’t really see anything but the vegetation growing up on this plateau and the stars. The moon wasn’t even visible; this window was facing the wrong direction. I was suddenly possessed of a strange desire to look down and make sure my boat was still in the lagoon.

Rushing to the dining room windows, I looked out upon the lagoon. The ship was there, in the bright moonlight; I don’t know what had made me worry.

Then a shadow moved across the window. For a few moments the view was nothing but blackness. Then it was over. But I could have sworn that I couldn’t even see the greenery of the cliff. Whatever had blocked my view hadn’t just been some sort of fog obscuring the view of the lagoon. It had been up here, just outside the window. Up here with me.

But now it was gone, and I wasn’t sure what it had been. A night bird or bat the size of the window? A cloud going over the moon? A very small but very dense fog bank? A malfunction of the hurricane shutters?
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Fear tingled up my spine, then reason began to take over. I realized I was acting just like a kid who was afraid of the dark. Ok, I decided, if some spook is out there after me, I might as well go spit in its eye and inform the ghoulie that this was my place.

I stormed out of the back door onto the deck. Everything was bright and bathed in the light of the full moon. The soft sounds of the night creatures could be heard off in the bush. The feeling of trepidation vanished. I couldn’t be certain, because there were too many shadows, but I could have sworn I saw some kind of large bipedal creature walk into the darkness of the growth and vanish.

I stood and shook my head as I leaned against the rail around the deck. What I thought I’d seen had a very high probability of just being a trick of the moonlight and the shadows. I laughed at myself, as I felt silly. The remoteness of this place must be getting to me. I turned and went back in.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but, from the deep blackness of the thick foliage, two glowing red eyes peered towards the house and watched for a few minutes before blinking out and vanishing.

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After I came back inside, my feelings of trepidation and anxiety seemed to have vanished. I had brought some food and other items from the boat and decided to cook my first meal here.

It wasn’t anything elaborate, just beef stew and rice, homemade of course. To add a little to it, I also baked a loaf of bread. Let me tell you, coupled with the fresh coconut milk I had collected from the palm trees earlier before it got dark, in my opinion it was a meal fit for a king.

After that, I watched a movie on a streaming service called “Ghosts of the Night.” It was a really good and intense sci-fi adventure.

When the program had ended, I took a shower, which was also really nice, and went to bed. I remember having dreams, but not nightmares, although the entire night was filled with them – strange images just out of reach, whispers telling me things I almost could hear.

When I awoke the next morning, I was refreshed and eager for the helos to arrive with my things. I knew one would be my inherited Scorpion, and the other would be the cargo and the return ride for the pilot of the Scorpion.

While I awaited the arrival of the helos, I made breakfast, cleaned up, and went out the kitchen door onto the deck. It was going to be really hot – not surprising for a tropical island – but a beautiful day. That’s when I noticed, there on the wooden deck outlined in piles of sand, what looked like some kind of large footprints. I could clearly see that whatever it had been had come by the kitchen window before wandering off across the lawn, where I found what might have been similar-sized areas of flattened grass, and seemingly stepping down the cliff somehow into the bush below, where I could see more flattened vegetation. The trail in the crushed grass was still visible.

This really got me to thinking. Those footprints, if that’s what they were, were each some three feet long, at a conservative estimate. Whatever had made them would have to have been huge. Enormous. And extremely heavy, enough to smash the deck with one dainty step – but the deck was unharmed. It’s unlikely that it had come by to look in my window, because its eyes would have been far above my roof. But even if there were some sort of creature that large, how had it stepped onto and off of the cliff?

I was distracted from my thoughts by the faint sound of arriving aircraft. The helicopters were incoming. I turned toward the northwest, which was the direction they were supposed to be coming from, and saw them in the distance. There would have to be two on the pad at the same time, which was tricky but possible; the Scorpion wasn’t that large, and its rotors could fold into a stow configuration. It could land first, out of the way, so the cargo helo could fit on the pad. And that’s what happened.

The really nice thing about the Scorpion helo was that it was very sleek, modern, fast, and maneuverable. It had all the bells and whistles and was all mine. I guess that’s more than one thing. What was more, it was now here. I watched it land with joy in my heart. I was already licensed to fly it because of some of the responsibilities of a previous job, but I had kept my license current because I loved flying.

Once the pilot had shut the engine off, I went up to the Scorpion to help fold the rotors and to engage them in small talk. They emerged from the cockpit – and I noticed she was beautiful. I know there’s nothing preventing women from flying aircraft, but they’re definitely a minority in today’s world, so I was taken by surprise. We got the rotors folded first, because the cargo helo was only a few minutes behind, but then we had a moment to chat.

“So this place is yours, is it?” she asked.

“Signed the papers yesterday,” I said. “Got a really good deal.”

“I didn’t even know it existed,” she said. “Hawking – Wendy Hawking.” She put out her hand, saying, “Good to meet a fellow pilot. Guess that boat down there is yours too?”

“Neil Merricks,” I said, shaking her hand. “Yeah, I also sail. I suppose getting supplies here by boat might be cheaper – except there’s the question of how to get them up the cliff once they’re here. Fantastic place, but really strange.”

“I get jobs flying all around all different islands,” said Wendy, “but I’ve never been to this one. It’s called what, Aitumoko? That’s what the chart says, anyway.”

“Aitumoku, yeah,” I said. “Supposedly nobody lives here but me, and that’s only been since yesterday, so that’s probably why there isn’t much call for you to fly here. I guess there was a couple who owned it before, but I bought it through brokers and never met them – I don’t know how much time they actually spent here.”

“Looks like the other helo’s coming in,” she said, as the sound of its engines and the beat of its rotors were getting louder.

“I’d better get the doors open to carry things in!” I said and went to do just that – I had no idea if she’d heard me, but she could certainly see what I was doing. The cargo helicopter with my boxes and groceries was landing, and soon its pilot had emerged and was opening its cargo bay.

The next half hour or so was devoted to carrying things into the house. The cargo craft’s pilot was a Polynesian named Konane Iokua, and he was very focused on getting the job done and getting back to Papeete. “So you own this whole island now?” he asked me right after meeting me.

“As of yesterday,” I said.

“Seen anything … unusual overnight?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, it’s not like I’ve heard any stories, but it’s the name of this place. I’m Palauan, but even so, it’s a spooky name. Like out of a ghost story. A place with a name like this has bad mana. Bad luck that will follow you if it gets stuck to you.” Konane was looking uncomfortable, always looking around.

“Well, I wish you nothing but good luck,” I said. I wasn’t going to begrudge him his superstitions. I stayed away from black cats and stayed home on Friday the 13th, so who was I to criticize?

“Thanks,” he said. I gave him a good tip because he helped carry things in, but it was all done via credit card, so he wouldn’t know about the tip until he got back.

“So what does the name imply?” I aksed him as he did the through flight on the chopper.

“Well …” he started slowly, “The name basically means a place where spirits live.” he looked nervously around, “There’s a few places like that on Guam island and on Ponape island. Legend has it giants lived there before the time of men.”

I thought to myself, “Ok … if that ... whatever it was was a giant … but how much would something like that weigh?” I said out loud, “I suppose the giants weighed tons.”
The man climbed into the pilot’s seat and began flipping switches as Wendy climbed in and fastened her harnesses, “From what the Chamorro tell, they could almost walk through solid rock.”

I snorted a laugh, “Really? I suppose they can fly too?”

This time, Konane laughed, “No, not fly, per se, but apparently they have a means of moving around that is silent. The stories the old men tell the children around the evening fires is that the spirits are neither good nor bad, although they can do great evil and great good at times.”

He then engaged the starter. I heard the whine of the turbine winding up, then the roar of ignition. I waved goodbye, and they lifted off and left me alone with my deep thoughts.

“So … do I have a friend, a foe, or a figment?” I said to myself as I went inside, locked the door without really thinking about it, and got on with unpacking.
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I had finally unpacked and arranged all my things in the house. I stood and sipped on a ginger ale as I looked around and admired the way the place looked. I wasn’t an interior decorator, but this was sharp.

I decided to go down to the dock and see if I could catch any fish. From what I saw when I arrived, the place was teeming with them. I gathered my tackle together, checked to make sure the leaders and everything were good, grabbed some of the other items, and a large bottle of water.

I took the cable car down the side of the cliff to the dock below. I moved to a small place where grass was growing and took out my bait catcher. One ingenious item I had made, I called a worm getter. Basically it was simply two straight pieces of a metal coat hanger attached to a rather large capacitor type energy storage battery. It would deliver 120 volts sustained for about 4 hours.

I took hold of the heavily taped end the wires attached to and pushed the other end into the ground. When I flipped the power switch, it only took a few minutes before I had enough bait to fish for a while.

When I walked onto the dock, that’s when I noticed Thor. She had been removed from the water and seemingly placed on shore on her side. She basically looked like some child had been playing with her like she was a toy. I couldn’t see any obvious damage as I ran over to check her.

The sand looked as if some over large child had been making sand castles or something, then knocked the whole thing down. I could now see very definite prints in the sand and in the smashed grass leading off towards the thick brush. There were two trails, in two different sizes, although both much larger than I.

I had the startling thought that it could be an adult and a child before having the second startling thought that the trails were leading toward the cliff, and with the tendency to play with vehicles, I had the third startling thought that they might become interested in the helipad … and the Scorpion!

I ran as fast as I could to the cable car enclosure and started it up the side of the cliff. When it got to the top, I made a mad dash to the pad … No! The Scorpion wasn’t on the pad. Something had moved it and set it between two of the hangar buildings in such a way that the rotors couldn’t be engaged for flight. It didn’t look damaged, but it would be a struggle to move it far enough into the clear for takeoff.

Now a real fear tingled up my spine. If there was a creature large enough to lift a forty-foot sloop with over two tons of keel … I began to have serious thoughts. I also wondered why no one had made anything resembling a mention of this in the entire history of this island I had researched.

It was then that I heard a very strange and loud keening noise. Then came another from a different direction, only farther way. I immediately got into the Scorpion and turned on the radio. I was going to call for help. Darn, I would have to wait … the satellite was in the wrong place for the radio to work on the ground. I still had the internet, though, and I knew it was time to make a call for some kind of help.

As fast as I could, I got back to the house and sat at the computer. I made the emergency call. As you would imagine, it was met with serious skepticism, and several questions about alcoholic boonie punch and other herbal types of smokable mixtures … before the internet connection died.

“What the …?” I said quietly before examining the router and discovering that it was indeed not making contact with the satellite. There was no signal. It wasn’t the power. But what could make the system lose contact with the satellite? I’d been right here in the house. I went out and looked at the dish – it looked the same as always. Some kind of jamming?

I rummaged through my boxes and got out an EMF meter that I’d used while looking for homes, to measure electromagnetic radiation from power lines. Maybe there was a jamming signal. A powerful enough signal would drown out the delicate signals from the satellite out in space. I turned the device on … and the meter pegged. I lowered the sensitivity and tried to move around and get a fix on where it was strongest.

The edge of the cliff farthest from the rest of the island was where it was weakest. Was it coming from somewhere on the island? First giant ghosts and now some kind of signal jammer? This island was far from uninhabited. I just wasn’t sure it was inhabited by anything human, other than myself.

I took the cable car back down. The signal got steadily stronger. I walked from one end the beach to the other. It got weaker only when I moved away from the very center of the island.

So I moved toward the bush. Somewhere in the jungle was a device able to emit a powerful enough signal to wipe out my internet connection. But still, the island wasn’t that large, so it couldn’t be too hard to find.

It took me hours. I searched and searched. The EMF meter wasn’t directional; all I had to go on was the signal strength. But I finally found the area where it was strongest anywhere. Bugs bit me and snakes and lizards scurried away as I made my way to a clump of … shrubbery? I wasn’t a botanist.

A cluster of jungle growth that didn’t include any trees but seemed to have bushes and vines. Everywhere around it the signal was the same. I looked more closely, and although it seemed covered with soil, there were no actual bushes growing on it – just branches and vines from plants whose roots were near it. I hadn’t brought a machete or even a shovel down with me, but when I pushed aside some of the greenery I discovered that it was a small hill. Climbing on top of it, I realized that beneath the soil was something very solid. Some kind of huge boulder?

I kicked at the soil, hoping to get at whatever the hard surface was beneath … and uncovered a layer of smooth, gray metal. What? Maybe some sort of old military installation?

I took the time to go back for tools. Coming back with a shovel, I was able to uncover a large patch of it … and after a while something that looked like an entrance. At least, there was some kind of circular seam in the metal, about two feet across. I pushed at it with my hand, I tapped it with the shovel, I dug around it looking for some kind of access panel, keyhole, or doorbell … nothing. “What are you?” I asked aloud. And then something happened.

A ring of unfamiliar symbols lit up around the circular seam, glowing with a cool white light. It then dimmed to blue, green, red, and faded away. Thinking that the ring around the seam where the symbols were must be weaker than the surrounding metal, I hit it with the edge of the shovel right there, but it did not appear to be any weaker. As before, the shovel bounced off with a clang, making no visible mark.

But the symbols came back. I didn’t know whether they were the same unfamiliar markings or different ones, but this time they were red and flashing. And they kept flashing. There was something foreboding about this, although there was no audible alarm sound. I had the impression that I’d triggered something.

And sure enough, I could feel a thumping on the ground before I heard anything, then a whisper of trees on the edge of the jungle, then it got closer. I got out of there. It was coming from the direction of the beach, so I ran the other way, hoping to at least get out of sight before the … whatever they were … arrived. I soon saw the trees thinning as I reached the other side of the island, where there was no beach, just a sheer drop into the ocean and an unpleasant swim around the island in store if I fell. I found some dense trees to hide behind.

But the thumping and rustling had stopped. Apparently there wasn’t a directive to hunt for me, just to protect the … door? Was it even a door? By definition, a door opened, and this thing showed no sign of doing that.

I lay low and stayed quiet until the sky started to get orange. What I was facing was apparently huge, very strong, and yet very light when it wanted to be. And there were more than one of them – their exact number was still unknown. And they were also very good at hiding when they wanted to. Oh, and their objective was unknown too. They had seemed playful, but now it also seemed they were here to protect the metal thing in the ground.

Did I dare go back to the thing? Or were they warier now that their alarm had gone off? I decided to approach carefully with what daylight I had left.

I made my way back to a spot where I could see the strange hill in the distance. There weren’t any giant creatures that I could see. I approached the strange metal hill and realized that it didn’t look that different from my dome on the cliff. I touched it with my hand and said, “Easy there. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot.” The symbols appeared again, white as before. Then they faded. “What are you? Aliens? Last remnant of a lost civilization?” The symbols stayed lit up as long as I continued to talk, but nothing opened or made a sound. I took out the EMF meter. It was still emitting a strong signal. No internet for me, I guessed.

Where did the creatures go when they weren’t picking up my ship and helo like they were toys? Probably not through that door. It was only two feet wide. There was no way they would fit. Not with footprints the size of what I’d seen. And where were they now? At some point I had to get back to … the house.

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I went back to the cable car. Would it be intact? Or had they made a toy of it too? I arrived back to the cable car, and it was still intact. As it crawled along, I was so antsy and kept urging it faster, although I knew it wouldn’t help.

When I arrived back at the stop-off place at the house landing and left the cable car, I noticed Thor below had been set back in the water and, although I couldn’t really tell from this distance, it seemed it had been re-moored to the dock. I was truly amazed at that, but I suppose if a child had been playing with it, the parent may have came back and put the toy back where it came from … I was happy about that.

Would have been a real problem setting it back up right in the water with just the Scorpion. My hope now was that things were not too much in disarray from the vessel’s being on its side. Then again, I regularly kept things stowed away, because travel in stormy seas didn’t exactly make for a level deck.

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Unknown to me, while I was having major fear issues with the events transpiring around me, the call for aid I had sent earlier, and had been seriously mocked for, had started to be discussed and researched, since the scientific data feeds had all gone dark.

From what I was later told, it had all started at the employee’s lounge in Papeete late one night over coffee. Two men were discussing some of the calls they had received over the course of the last week that they had thought were really odd. Also, the loss of the satellite uplink to the equipment on my island was a major concern.

Louis took a swig of his overcooked coffee and said, “I got this weird call from some dude who had just purchased the island our system IDed as the old Ghost Island Weather station located on the island of Aitumoku.” They were French, so this was probably originally in French, but I’m imagining this conversation anyway.

Jean laughed, “Some rich weirdo high on some kind of homemade brew, more than likely.”

Louis sat back in his chair after setting his cup on the table. “That’s actually what I thought too, when I first got the call. It started me thinking about some of the old rumors and tales that had circulated over the old station. Another thing was the loss of all the telemetry from our equipment on the island.”

Jean smiled as he opened his Twinkie and took a bite, “What kind of stories? This sounds like it might make a really good sci-fi thriller, especially losing comms mysteriously.”

Louis replied as he opened his pack of cornchips, “Well, from what I have read so far, way back in 1949 when they first built the station right after the war, it was hard to keep personnel there, both due to the extreme remoteness of the island and the serious lack of solid communications. From what I found in the archives, there were many mysterious unexplainable happenings and vague reports of strange sightings. That’s one way the place got the name Ghost Island Weather Station – also it’s the name the locals gave the island. It’s basically what Aitumoku means.”

Jean sat back as he munched. “Okay, I love a good ghost story; tell me more.”

Louis stuffed a few more chips in his mouth before he replied, “Well, from what I remember, the personnel stationed on the island got to be so afraid of whatever it was they thought they were seeing that they actually hijacked the very next supply ship that came and forced the captain to return them to the mainland. Not a single one of them would even entertain the idea of returning, even on being forgiven of their crimes if they did. Of course, all of them were eventually exonerated although released from their jobs over it. That’s not a story. That really happened. I saw the release papers.”

An expression of total incredulity spread across Jean’s face. “That’s ... incredible. What happened after that? Did anyone get some kind of clue as to what they were afraid of?”

Louis replied, “Well, from what I read, what the people told the investigators, it was mostly dismissed as isolation hysteria, and perhaps a bit of overuse of alcohol. After that, the station and all its equipment were sold for almost nothing with the permanent stipulation for the monitoring equipment to remain the property of the OSTPM with a routine maintenance and upgrade schedule – that finally turned into IFREMER, of course. There have been several owners, then there was a multi-billionaire who basically built himself a remote garden paradise all for himself. He left it to his oldest kid, who got married, moved in, got divorced, and sold it to the current owner dirt cheap. Apparently, no one but he held it longer than a few years before basically giving it away. An interesting thing – none of them would tell why they wanted to sell it so cheap except to say they wanted to unload it quick. No other explanation was offered.”

As he stood, Jean asked, “This data is recorded in the historical archives? I’m amazed no further investigations happened.”

Louis stuffed the last chip in his mouth as he stood, “Not sure if there’s a complete chronological record, but there was an investigation into the technician's claims that resulted in the sale of the station. However, the BRGM still has monitoring equipment on the island, taking readings of ground movement, ocean currents, temperature, and so on … or at least they did, until all signals were lost.”

Jean said as the two men left the cafeteria, “Signal loss is something we should look into. I’m not real certain the current owner of the island is aware the satellite link his computer’s connected to belongs to the BRGM.”

It wasn’t long after the two men began reviewing the archived data that they decided to send a few support ships to the island to check things out. Due to the maintenance agreement and the total loss of all feeds, the request was approved.

There was no direct evidence from the original incident, but due to the overturned cars, the damaged equipment, and the fear the technicians of the time had shown, it would be prudent under the current circumstances to have a technical team’s boots on the island to investigate.

Both men were amazed at the lack of investigation at the time the first evidence appeared, and how the incidents were originally mostly ignored or discounted as hysteria. Of course Jean and Louis both were the lead coordinators of the team as they left port for the island.

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Of course, I knew nothing of any of this as I hunkered down in my house on the cliff for the night. I pulled the levers that closed the hurricane shutters on each window. The walls were concrete, and those steel shutters were meant to keep out Category 5 winds. If anything got through all that, I guess there was nothing I could do.

I need not have worried. It was quiet. I finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion sometime after 2 a.m.

There was a thumping noise on the sun room shutters sometime after that, and it woke me up. I looked at the security cameras, which of course showed me nothing. I rolled back the recording until I saw something. It was vague, but it was very large and humanoid. That thump on the shutters wasn’t an attack, though – if it had wanted to attack, there’d have been nothing left of the house in the morning.

Instead I heard the cable car running and a knock on my door at some time the next day – it was about 9:30 a.m. local time, though it was still dark in the house because of the hurricane shutters. Straightening my hair and clothes a bit after having slept in them on the couch in the lounge, I went to the door and opened it. I saw a man of about my own age with a small but neat mustache wearing khakis and a French ID of some kind. Who this was I had no idea. “Er, good morning?” I said.

“Good morning, Monsieur,” he said in English with an obvious accent. “There has been a report of a loss of satellite communication. We have come from Papeete to repair the satellite link. We are from IFREMER – technicians from the Oceanographic Institute. My name is Jean Lavigne.” He indicated his ID badge.

“Oceanographic?” I asked. “I didn’t know there was scientific equipment on the island. What do you need?”

“If I could just look at the equipment connected to the satellite dish?” he asked. “From here it appears the dish is fine, but I will need to check its alignment and connection. The equipment is technically French government property – but all we monitor is weather, ocean currents, seismology, and so forth. The connection was lost yesterday, and I understand you reported that there had been trouble?”

“Oh, I see! Of course,” I said. “Here, let me show you where the data equipment is.” I looked below toward the dock. Sure enough, across from Thor there were two small powered technical ships, and there was a third anchored out in the lagoon. Some other people were examining some of the marks in the sand on the beach, which were still there. I was not crazy.

He took out several tools from his bag once I showed him to the small closet-like room where all the telecom equipment was. But he immediately frowned and tapped on one of his test meters. “This cannot be right,” he said. “There is a strong signal. But it is … encoded wrong. It is like … jamming? Something is jamming the signal? I do not see this often. It is like – wartime.”

“Signal jamming?” I asked. “I haven’t done wartime communication work. What do you do when that happens?”

“Switch to another frequency band,” he said. “But … this is jamming all bands. All across the radio spectrum. Even emergency bands. This is a violation of international agreements and treaties. No one is supposed to do this.”

“I am doing nothing,” I said. “I swear. I tried to find the source of this. I found something strange in the jungle. I think it’s coming from there.”

“Can you show us?” he asked.

“I can try to find it again,” I said, with a bit of reluctance. I got my EMF meter.

“How is your helicopter not on its pad?” he asked as we rode the cable car down to the dock. The Scorpion was right where it had been the night before, unlike Thor.

“I wish I knew the answer to that question,” I said.

When we got to the dock, the others were taking photographs and measurements of the marks in the sand and talking to each other in French, which I didn’t understand. Jean said something to them, and then to me he said, “OK, Louis will come with us … can you try to find the place in the jungle again?”

“I can try,” I said, and turned on the EMF meter. As I had before, I followed the signal to where it was strongest, and Jean and another technician followed, looking at their own equipment and sometimes talking to each other. Soon I came to the strange hill. It had been completely covered again with dirt and leaves.

“This is not natural,” said Louis.

“No, and I had uncovered some of it, but it’s been covered again,” I replied.

Jean took a folding shovel from his bag and assembled it. “Well, we can find out what you found, at least.”

“Uh, I noticed what you were looking at on the beach,” I said. “When I disturbed this place, I think it also … disturbed whatever made those prints.”

“What?” asked Louis as Jean cleared away the dirt. “How could that be?”

Jean’s shovel thunked against the hard surface I knew was there. “What is this?” He cleared away more dirt. “What in the world? What are these letters?” Louis looked at them too. I didn’t. I was looking into the jungle, trying to see through the trees.

“It is no language I have ever seen,” said Louis.

“Is this some kind of … door?” said Jean, trying to pry at the apparent seam with his shovel. The symbols lit up in red and flashed.

“That is what it did last night, and then there was trouble,” I said, alert for any sign.

There was a shout in the distance, from the direction of the docks. From another direction there were sounds of something moving in the jungle. There were gunshots from the docks.

“Please, I don’t want anyone to be hurt,” I said. “I don’t know what any of this is, but they react badly when that thing is tampered with.”

“There must be an answer inside,” said Jean, trying to insert his shovel’s blade into the groove. The red symbols flashed menacingly.

“Something is happening at the dock,” said Louis.

“Something is coming this way,” I said.

“Very strange,” said Jean, but we all left the weird hatch alone and went back to the dock. But what we found was horrifying.

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Before the group of us even got close enough to beach to see the lagoon, we knew something major had happened. A large plume of black smoke billowed skyward and smudged the otherwise clear sky.

We came to the beach and looked out at the dock. Thor was still moored where it had been left. The larger of the other boats looked as if something had picked it up, torn it in half, then tossed the pieces on shore.

When we got to the dock, we could plainly see that many of the people who made up their expedition were so badly injured that I became nauseated.

Jean placed his hand on my back and said softly, “I didn’t realize you had a real problem. Now I understand why the original research team did as they did. It was a real fear.”

Louis asked one of the men, who was wandering around in a semi-dazed way with a rifle of some sort in his hand that had been twisted like a pretzel, “Can you tell me what happened? What did this?”

The man stopped and looked at Louis for an instant before he smiled and snorted a laugh, “I ... I’m totally nuts. What I saw were men ... like us ... only huge.”

Louis asked, “Huge? Can you be a tad bit more descriptive?”

The man pointed to the ship pieces lying all over the beach and shouted, “How about large enough to pick up a full sized research vessel, tear it in half, and toss it on the beach like a soda can? Is ... that descriptive enough?”

Louis managed to pry the twisted weapon from the man’s hands. “Did they do this too?”

The man nodded. “They also took out all our defenses. How that happened …” He pointed to the pretzeled weapon in Louis’ hand. “I was shooting at one of them. It pissed him off. He grabbed it and did that like it was nothing and dropped it at my feet.”

Louis asked as the man began stumbling off towards the area set up for emergency medical, “What made them stop? Obviously it wasn’t anything you did.”

The man shook his head, “Don’t know what stopped them. After the ship was destroyed and they made a huge mess of us and our weapons, they just left.” He pointed off towards a place further down the beach. Very large footprints made it easy to locate.

I commented with awed horror, “Why … why did they attack? Why did they destroy that ship?”

Louis came up to another of the many men and said, “I need to know what happened here. No fairy tales ... fact.”

The man’s appearance was bloodied and ragged. He replied in a surprisingly calm voice, “From ... what I remember before all hell broke loose, one of those huge men appeared over towards the jungle thatta ways. Next thingy I knew, the idiot on the forward deck gun opened fire. Musta really pissed em off good, cuz they basically wiped us up like stains. Only ... those of us in the water, after they had ripped the ship in half, a smaller one came and scooped us up and put us on shore. Then, they all left suddenly.”

“This makes no sense!” said Jean. “This is a tiny island. How can giants live here without being noticed? How can they just vanish when they want? How can they even exist?”

“They got angry when I found that strange object in the jungle and hit it,” I said. “Now you tried hitting it, and they got angry again. It suggests that they don’t like anyone interfering with it, whatever it is.”

“But we have to restore communications!” said Louis. “That’s what we were sent here to do, and that object is where the jamming signal is coming from, right?”

“Yes,” said Jean. “All my readings say this. Whatever it is, it is disabling all communications. And it is made of a metal I have never seen, and it uses a technology I don’t understand.”

“We have injured people,” said Louis. “We must leave here and get them medical attention. We still have two ships. We will report this, and the Board will decide what to do. It may be that the readings from this small island are not worth risking lives. I do not know what they will say.”

“Yes,” said Jean. “We will come back, one way or another, to tell you what has been decided. Unless you wish to come with us and give your own report firsthand.”

“Did anyone actually get any video or photographs of the … giants?” I asked. “Because if you didn’t, I doubt any Board will believe you.”

“I … will ask,” said Louis. “But I took photos of the jungle object. And of the destroyed ship. What you may get next is a science team, not a technical team. But we must go.”

“I will meet you in Papeete,” I said. “One way or another.” I knew where their building was. I would go to them.

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I managed to get the Scorpion out of the spot where it was wedged between two buildings – I used some spare pipes as rollers and a long tow cable that I ran over the edge of the cliff and pulled using Thor and some wind power. Once I judged that the helo had moved far enough for the rotors to be unfolded, I just detached the cable and took the ship back to the dock. When I went back up to the house, sure enough, the Scorpion was far enough away from the buildings to take off, though not exactly on the helipad. I put my makeshift tools away and got ready to go.

“This is Sierra One Niner Four to Papa Papa Tango Control, requesting helipad landing, over.”

“Papa Papa Tango Control to Sierra One Niner Four, we have you on vector three seven, come around to vector niner five approach and land on pad three, over.”

“Roger that, Control,” I said as I changed course to the recommended direction and continued my approach to the airfield. Touching down at about 9:30 at night, I got a cab to a hotel on the island of Tahiti and couldn’t help feeling that I’d been driven out of my house.

I showed up at the IFREMER building bright and early in the morning and of course got the bureaucratic runaround. Naturally they had no idea who I was and didn’t think I should be allowed to enter the building if I had no official business there. It didn’t help that I didn’t speak French. But finally Jean and Louis appeared, got me a guest badge, and ushered me into an office.

“We just want to get your account of what happened, Monsieur Merricks,” said Jean. “Our reports and photos have already been emailed to all the Board members. But only you know what happened before. You filed a report, which was ridiculed at first, I’m afraid, but not anymore. Your island is a dangerous place.”

“Well, I’m here to tell you what I’ve seen,” I said, “in hopes that we can figure out what’s going on and stop it. I own the island, and it’s supposed to be, well, my island. So I’m ready whenever you are.”

They set up a camera and told me once it was recording, and I told them what I’d seen and done between the time I first took possession of the place and when their team had arrived. They asked questions, and I answered them to the best of my ability. And then they were done.

“So now what happens?” I asked.

“Now … we wait,” said Louis. “The Board is all around the world, many time zones. They all have to have a chance to watch the videos and read the reports. And there are many other matters requiring their attention. So I don’t know how long it will be. But thank you for adding more information to the report.”

“OK … what do you think will happen?” I asked.

“I think they will send a science team,” said Jean. “Probably a small one at first. They will want to get evidence of these … giants, as much as they can. How big they are, how much they weigh, where they go, what they do.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll go back to the island, then,” I said. “I’m not sure how we can contact each other, considering comms are still down.”

“Oh, but they are back up,” said Jean. “They cleared up last night. Around 20:00 hours.”

“That’s about when I left the island,” I said.

“Could it be that something on the island … just doesn’t like you there?” asked Louis. “Or perhaps anyone?”

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I stayed in the room the organization gave me instead of the hotel … hay, it was free. It was very nice too, except they were overly concerned about my health and kept sending a doctor in to examine me.

The doctor finally put his tools back in their case and said, “You will be glad to know you are in peak physical health. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were in your thirties.” He fumbled around with some kind of computer tablet for a minute, “I do see high levels of stress hormones in your blood samples – other than that, everything is peak.”

I looked at him with a really bored expression, “OK, doc. So I’m in good shape for a guy my age. Why the medical scrutiny? I don’t think I’ve been exposed to anything the rest of the team hasn’t.”

The doctor looked at me for a minute then replied, “The big problem here is that most of the board members thought you were on drugs or some kind of substance when you radioed in. This time, we have a complete search and rescue team involved with something the board still is having a hard time believing. We have before photos, and we have after photos. Out of all the commotion, and it is completely understandable, no one thought to take a picture of …”

About that time, there was an insistent knock on my door. I got up and answered it, “Yes? Who is it?”

The person responded, “I’m Ian Kerkloski. I have been sent to ask your permission to view the photo files on the security systems at your island home.”

My eyebrows went up in surprise as I replied, “Yes, of course. I totally forgot about those. It does its thing automatically and only makes noises if something happens or it needs maintenance.”

Ian repled, “Well, sir, all the red warning lights are flashing, and the message to examine the archive file kept flashing on the monitors according to the automatic data feeds now that they’ve been restored. I was sort of wanting to know if you could fly my forensics team out there to take a look? With you supervising, you will know we aren’t up to anything.”

I shrugged as I walked over to the counter and got the keys for the Scorpion. “Sure, I hope you’re not squeamish.”

“Why’s that?”

I smiled as I grabbed my leather flight jacket and pilot’s helmet as I went out the door. “My aircraft is a sport helo called the Scorpion.” I cut my eyes toward Ian, “And I know how to fly it.”

Ian obviously took a hard swallow then replied, “Just don’t kill us,” as he hurried out the door behind me.

We all piled into the Scorpion. I noticed several of the team really admiring the sleek chopper. It had a few secrets too, like it could act as a gyro copter and even had a turbofan jet engine if necessary for extra lift or speed.

Needless to say, I tried my best to see if I could get one of them to at least wet their pants. Nope, all of them but Ian seemed to enjoy it.

When I returned to the island, things looked exactly the same as when I’d left it. Thor was exactly where I’d moored it on the dock. It was as if, when there was no one around, the giants, or whatever they were, just didn’t exist. I had to wonder how long the satellite link would remain up once there were humans around again. I brought the Scorpion down dead center on the helipad and spun down the rotors.

I showed Ian and the techs to the security system, where they got to work downloading the security cam video onto their devices, but Ian immediately came back out and told me, “You have to see this.” When I followed him back to the security room, they were playing the video back again – it seemed to be of the very moment when Jean had hit the object in the jungle with his shovel. “Right here … there!” said Ian.

In the corner of the screen, the creatures just … appeared. Two of them, right on the border between the beach and the jungle, faded into existence out of nothing. I gasped. “How … how would anything, let alone something that big, just appear out of nowhere?”

“That’s a very good question, Mr. Merricks,” said Ian. “I wish I could answer you. But our job is done. We have copies of the video and have to take them back to the center to study them.”

“Oh, do you need a ride back?”

“I don’t think we’ll need one,” said Ian. “The science team is here.” On the monitors, several small ships were arriving in the lagoon and approaching the dock.

They began taking photographs of what remained of the giant footprints in the sand on the beach, the broken remains of the destroyed ship from earlier, and what else I didn’t know. Some of them fanned out into the jungle, taking more photographs and readings. Ian and the team thanked me and set off toward the docks via the cable car, momentarily leaving me alone in the security room.

Now I could think. The jamming signal hadn’t started until I’d been on the island for almost 24 hours. But now there were several people here, and they were making a lot of noise – both literally and in the sense of disturbing the vegetation and emitting radio signals. How long would it be before the jamming signal came back?

The answer was, evidently, not long. Right at that moment, the satellite link went down, and some of the security camera feeds went dark – the wireless ones, I noticed. I’d have notified the scientists down on the beach, but, well, jamming signal. Also, they’d probably already noticed. The security cameras that were connected directly via cables stayed up, though.

Everything was happening all over again. I had to get down there and keep them from messing with the strange forest dome thing. I took the cable car and immediately headed out into the jungle. By now I knew where the thing was.

When I arrived, the scientists were actually not touching the strange dome, which had been covered with dirt again. They were instead scanning it with some kind of radar … or trying to, now that there was a jamming signal. “Oh, good morning, Mr. Merricks,” said one of them. “I’m not getting any results now, but I got some readings earlier. Look at this.” He showed me his handheld tablet.

It showed that the dome was indeed hollow, and there was a great deal of space under it. It appeared to have several levels, going down far beneath the surface. “How can it go that far down?” I asked. “This is an island. Wouldn’t the lower levels be filled with water?”

“If it were a natural cavern, yes,” said the scientist, “but there’s nothing natural about this structure.”
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We were fortunate no one physically touched or manipulated the dome. We didn’t have to deal with giants arriving and doing damage in defense of it. The scientists took many readings and did as deep a scan as they could amid the the electronic interference.

Due to the close proximity of their devices, they were able to filter enough of it out to determine this whole island was a construct, and not a natural volcanic island or atoll, like so many in most Pacific archipelagos.

This particular island stood alone and was not the result of tectonic shelf collisions or volcanic eruptions like so many others in this region. Another thing was the remoteness of the island. The nearest land from here was about a hundred miles across one of the deepest oceans on the planet.

We all returned to the house, sat in the large open living room, and discussed what we thought we knew. The meeting and assimilation of the team’s data was as confusing as the many theories surrounding it.

Not one of the paleontologists nor archaeologists on the team had discovered any physical evidence of the giants, except for what had been left after the last encounter. Based solely on that evidence, it was concluded there were several larger ones, perhaps adults, with several smaller ones, perhaps children.

The total number was indeterminate, due to the lack of further empirical data. Most of this was from the measurements of the footprints, which showed the possibility of females too, based on width and length of the prints, which the scientists had made plaster casts of. Of course, that assumed that they followed human evolutionary patterns, which wasn’t necessarily so.

The science team understood and obeyed all the warnings and precautions they were told of, and I reminded them about the repercussions if they failed to comply. The junk pile on the beach that used to be a research vessel was enough incentive to make them extremely cautious in their investigations.

While they all rummaged around in the scrap on the beach, took pictures, rustled through the dense jungle growth, and did other kinds of readings, I went back to the computer room. I sat in front of the computer and opened the web browser. Just because I was bored, and the internet connection wasn’t working at this time, I typed in the search bar, “Why does the Taotaomona get so angry over its metal mound?”

My mouth fell open in total shock when I actually got this answer, “Assaulting it is a violation of the peace treaty.”

Now I’m no expert on computers, but I knew that it was incredibly unlikely for that to be random noise. On the other hand, it would have to mean that some entity was able to understand the communication protocols used by the Internet and formulate a reply – including answering the domain name query and redirecting the response to another point on a fake network it had just put together ad hoc. And that’s not even considering the fact that we were typing in English.

But if I did have communications with something, maybe I could take the opportunity to explain. I typed, “I have no knowledge of this peace treaty. How old is it?”

The response came quickly. “164,378 Earth years old.”

Part of me felt sure somebody was pranking me, and the IFREMER science team as well, but … there was just simply no way. Faced with two impossibilities, truth and falsehood, I went with truth. I typed, “I am fairly certain that no human records can survive for that long. I am sorry. Nobody knows about the peace treaty anymore. Can we renegotiate?”

I had said “renegotiate” because there was no way that anyone in the modern world would obey a peace agreement made that long ago. Nobody would believe it wasn’t made up here and now. But maybe if we could get some diplomats here from at least France, as this was technically part of French Polynesia, and maybe some other major governments, maybe the UN or something, we could work out a new agreement.

But … they didn’t seem to like that word. I got “THE TREATY STANDS.”

“What are the terms of the treaty?”

“THE TREATY STANDS.”

“But how can I abide by the treaty if I don’t know what it is?”

“THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS …” These three words filled up my screen instantly, gigabytes of it, until my browser crashed. I desperately tried to close the window, but data was coming in so quickly and memory was so full that the computer was responding more slowly than molasses. Finally the window closed and I was able to move the mouse again. I reopened the browser, and the same three words filled the window up again immediately.

I went back out and tried to explain to the scientists what I had just experienced. Ian came up to look at my computer and started doing some very technical things, but he was mystified by how this data was even coming in.

We had to accept the possibility that we were dealing with some entity that was capable of communicating but nevertheless wouldn’t listen to reason. On the other hand, perhaps it was a computer program, and my replies simply hadn’t fit into its patterns of preprogrammed responses. Or maybe I was just talking to a very angry person. Was there any way to know? Regardless, we had to remain careful.

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I thought about what I had just read. OK, whoever this was was adamant that the peace treaty remain as-is … the only problem was that I had no clue as to what it might be.

I wanted to respond, but the browser wasn’t responding to searches; it was just repeating the same three words over and over, constantly coming in, constantly repeating. But it hadn’t been doing that before, so I figured it would eventually stop. So I waited. I went to the cliff edge and looked down upon the beach below. I turned and looked down at the jungle instead. I looked up at the sky. I made sure the Scorpion hadn’t been moved while I wasn’t watching it.

Finally, after about half an hour had passed, I returned and found the message had stopped. I tried typing in, “I understand it will remain as is. I need you to realize, so much time has passed, no one knows what the treaty says. All I’m asking is for you to refresh the collective minds, so to speak. So we can honor it.”

I sat back and hoped. The cursor spun for a few minutes, then came a reply, “Understood. Lifespan is an issue with your peoples.”

The page on the screen changed character and looked more like a picture of a legal document written on some type of extremely finely textured and well tanned skin. The language it was written in was an immediate issue.

I was just about to type in that I couldn’t read the language when this response came across in a small window that opened, “We understand about the language. It is written in ancient Samoan. Do you have access to translations? If not, it will take a bit of time, but a translation can be provided in the language you are using.”

I sat back in my chair, basically watching with wide-eyed, open-mouthed incredulity. Whoever these individuals were, they had apparently created this island, since the research team had determined the island was a construct and not natural. The giants, which I now called them for obvious reasons, intended to maintain some semblance of total control, while at the same time attempting to keep some kind of peace.

I immediately took screenshots of the document, then hurried out to find Ian. He had to know of this new development. I wasn’t positive how much firepower the giants would have. Thus far, none of the weapons the teams had used had any seeming effect.

Ian was as incredulous as I was over the whole thing. “I’m not a linguist, but we have a rather large linguistic file on board the ship,” he stated as he made his way towards the dock. “I’m taking this there to see if we can translate it.”

Once we were in the ship’s research archive computer, Ian entered the data through the optical device. We sat back and waited to see if we had any results that were meaningful.

“While it’s running, I just tried to see if we had anything about a language that might be called ‘ancient Samoan,’” he said. “Whoever or whatever you’re talking to is guessing at what we people of today might call the language that the natives spoke … whenever this was written. We don’t call any language ‘ancient Samoan.’ The computer says that all the Polynesian languages are thought to descend from some hypothetical language that we call Proto-Polynesian today – though what its speakers called it, nobody can say. There are no written records of it. Before Westerners came in, they didn’t really have a written language, either – just designs that were mostly used to tattoo stories on people’s skin.”
“Oh, the Polynesian art of tatau,” I said. “I’ve read about that. Goes back 2000 years.”

“That may not be old enough, then,” said Ian. “I’m not sure the computer’s going to come up with anything.”

And, sure enough, IFREMER’s computer program finally finished its analysis, saying, “Too many unrecognized symbols – no translation possible.” There was a list of symbols it thought it recognized, but they were fairly basic ones with many possible interpretations. For example, there was a symbol like a plus sign, with suggested interpretations such as the points of the compass, a bird in flight, a tree, the two worlds of sky and earth, and a few other things.

“I guess we go back and tell … whoever it is … that we can’t translate this,” I said. Ian shrugged. There appeared to be no other choice.

We returned to my house and its computer. I typed, “We have attempted to translate the treaty, but it seems that the language is no longer known. Can you translate into English, the language I am typing in now?”

“One moment – need more samples” came the reply, and I noticed that my storage array went into a flurry of activity. Was it using whatever data it found there as examples of proper English? I hoped not. But it probably was.

Soon it came, though printed in text rather than in an image on a skin of some kind.

TREATY BETWEEN THE PEOPLE OF THE STRAIT AND THE PEOPLE OF THE ISLANDS

The People of the Strait agree to peace with the People of the Islands under these conditions:

The People of the Strait have created the Island to protect and defend the Strait.

The People of the Islands will not attempt to cross the Strait and will leave the seas beyond the Strait for the People of the Strait.

In return, the People of the Strait will not cross the Strait and will leave the rest of the Sea of Islands for the People of the Islands.

The People of the Strait will defend themselves from any assault. An assault on this island is an assault on the Strait. An assault on the Strait is an assault on the People of the Strait.

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Besides taking several screen shots and making several printouts of what we were seeing, Ian and I began to speculate over what the Strait might be. Both of us assumed at first that the Sea of Islands meant the islands around us. Later, we would find that we were badly mistaken.

Ian commented, “From what I assume now, and we both know what assume implies,” we both chuckled, “this island is some sort of waystation for a race of people from beyond Earth.”

I replied, “They apparently built this island as some sort of anchor point or transfer station. When the primitive peoples of the surrounding islands began to explore it, some form of conflict happened, and the people of the Strait made this agreement with them.”

Ian nodded and added, “But I’m not certain that they were as primitive as we’re thinking. After all, they had a writing system at the time, although it didn’t survive into the modern era, and that makes me wonder what else didn’t survive. After all, whoever these people are, they’re advanced far beyond us – so why would a treaty become necessary? I’m sure, after what I saw they had done to a research vessel, primitive islanders could do nothing to interfere or stop anything they attempted to do. So what if they weren’t primitive islanders?”

“You mean, what if they had an advanced civilization, all that time ago?” I said incredulously. “That’s … amazing! But wouldn’t you need more evidence to prove something like that?”

Ian replied, “Well, yes, of course, but I’m not sure what could survive after all this time.”

I scratched my head in thought for a minute then speculated, “What if … there’s more to that metal thing than we know? What if there’s a possibility it might open … I don’t know, some kind of black hole that would swallow this world?”

Ian nodded as he speculated, “What if the sea reference has nothing to do with the ocean around us? …”

I interjected, “And the Island reference is about something other than what we think of as an island?”

Ian looked at me as he stood suddenly. “We have to stop the others from messing with that dome any further. From what this implies, that is thought of as an assault.”

As I quickly followed him out the door I replied, “I agree. We already know what happens if we touch the stupid thing.”

Since our radio communications were being blocked, we had to take the cable car down to the beach and then hurry through the overgrowth to the dome’s location. It had become easy now that the other researchers had hacked the thick growth and made a rather clear trail through the bush.

When we arrived, the other researchers had set up several devices around the mound, which they had cleared of all dirt and vegetation. It obviously had a hatch of some kind, and the ring around that hatch glowed softly with the strange white symbols. Thank goodness they weren’t red and flashing.

Ian shouted as we rapidly approached, “Stop! Stop whatever you’re doing and back away from there. We don’t understand exactly what that thing does, but it is called a Strait, and from what we have just discovered, it will be heavily defended.”

One of the men asked, “What about our research? We just got the equipment set up. How would you know what it is called?”

Ian replied as he turned off several pieces of equipment, “Until we learn exactly what that thing really is and what it does, we need to leave it alone. We have actually been in a form of communication with whomever is in control of the thing. Apparently, some type of treaty was formed long ago, between the people who lived here and whoever’s on the other side. Treaties are made to stop wars … and they’ve just warned us not to violate it. From what I’m speculating, if we do anything they interpret as an assault, we may reignite a war beyond anything we can imagine.”

“Why would you come to that conclusion?” asked one of the other researchers.

“You need to return to the ship. I have something that is necessary to show you, and it seems to have an unspoken meaning we need to better understand.”

The group seemed to agree as they began to disassemble their equipment and head back towards the beach.

Once everyone left, I leaned over and looked at the ring of white symbols as they slowly rotated around the ring. I realized suddenly that the symbols looked like something I had seen when I was in school. In one of my elective classes, the professor loved to put equations on the bord. Instead of numbers and lengthy calculations, he had used symbols instead to represent basic objects and already proven theories. Several of the symbols resembled the ones he had used to represent several of the planets in our solar system.

I commented to Ian, “What if those symbols … represented star systems or individual planets?”

Ian looked at me thoughtfully, “You know, that might be what the ‘Sea of Islands’ means … I mean, think about it. A civilization based on islands, made up of navigators and explorers, would mostly use nautical terminology.”

I nodded, “Exactly. We have no real way of knowing right now, but while I was in college, one of my professors used symbology to represent certain star formations and known formulas instead of writing them out.”

Ian stood and started back towards the beach, “Now, that gives me an idea on where to search for answers. If we can get enough data from the ship’s archives, we might even get a match to some of them.”

As I tagged along, I called to him, “OK, so we have a few matches, how can that help?”

As we hurried down the newly cut trail, he shouted back, “It might mean saving ourselves from a disaster.”

I couldn’t argue with that. If that stupid thing really did open some kind of black hole, we might destroy the whole planet in our ignorance. I hoped that once we arrived at the ship, the archives might hold a clue.

Instead of making the search parameters linguistic only, I added star formations to the criteria. We came up with some pretty interesting parameters. Ian and I looked at each other as each of the signs of the Zodiac were identified and placed in a star chart in their proper locations, then adjusted for galactic drift for almost two thousand years.

The normal signs of the Zodiac were roughly corresponding to the following star constellations: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. An interesting thing, a thirteenth sign was in the list, Ophiuchus. To our amazement, it was to Ophiuchus all the symbology appeared to point.

I wondered, “The constellation Ophiuchus? I mean, I’ve heard people saying it’s some kind of lost sign of the Zodiac in recent times.”

Ian replied with some disdain, “Astrology. Superstition. These constellations have nothing to distinguish them from any other part of the sky with one exception: they lie in the plane of the Ecliptic, where most of the planets in the Solar System have their orbits, or approximately so. Part of Ophiuchus also coincides with this plane.”

“The planets of the Solar System orbit in the Ecliptic Plane, and these … people … seem particularly interested in that plane for some reason,” I said. “Why could that be?”

“One possibility I can think of is that the presence of all the planets in that plane makes those directions the easiest ones to send space probes in,” said Ian. “They accelerate by gravity assisted slingshot trajectories around planets – it minimizes the amount of precious thruster fuel they have to use to maneuver, and the less fuel they use, the longer they can stay operational.”

“But why would they care about where space probes can be sent?” I wondered.

“I’m not sure,” Ian replied, “but I think we can probably agree now that ‘the Sea of Islands’ represents something beyond this literal sea full of literal islands and may indeed refer to the Solar System and its planets, or perhaps even the Milky Way Galaxy and its star systems.”

“Then who are the ‘People of the Islands?’” I wondered. “Humans?”

“That could imply humans,” said Ian, as a few of the other scientists gathered around to listen, “or it could mean the people of whatever they translated as ‘Islands.’ Were there people on other planets? Or was this ancient Earth civilization in contact with people from other star systems?”

“If they were,” I said, “wouldn’t their space probes have contacted star systems that lay along the Ecliptic Plane first?”
“They … most likely would have,” said Ian. “Those would be the systems that they had the longest relationship with – their closest allies. Those would be the people who would have supported them when the war came.”

“Then who are the ‘People of the Strait?’” I asked.

Ian replied, “Well, if that … device is the Strait, as we’re guessing, they’re the people who live on the other side of it. And that thing … if there are somehow people on the other side, what we might be talking about is a wormhole. Somehow their technology has formed a wormhole – or even discovered one – and contained it. Opening that hatch without the proper procedure could indeed suck the entire Earth through into another universe, and not necessarily in one piece either.” There was uneasy muttering among the onlookers.

“And even if we knew what the proper procedure was,” I said, “that might be viewed as an assault, and according to the treaty there would be reprisal.”

“It says just that, and fairly clearly too,” said Ian. “It’s possible that the electromagnetic jamming signals it’s emitting are already a form of reprisal – meaning that they’ve interpreted all the various electromagnetic signals we’ve been sending as an assault, and they’re responding in kind. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that’s all they’re doing. They’re not escalating unless we are.”

“And what about those – giants?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” said Ian. “Perhaps they’re the People of the Strait – or perhaps they’re their servants, or even some kind of robots, or something else we can’t even imagine. But they seem able to control them, command them, and cause them to appear and disappear at will.”

“Something I wondered was whether I was talking to some kind of computer program,” I said.

“Perhaps you were,” replied Ian. “Perhaps the People of the Strait aren’t even listening in person; perhaps they have an automated defense system, with programmed responses for most situations. It would never sleep, and it would never make a mistake – from their point of view, of course. And if things got out of control, it would raise an alarm and summon actual intelligent defenders.”

“I just had a thought,” I said. “You said they might have used nautical terminology. I sail myself. A strait is a narrow stretch of water between land masses that a ship can pass through from one larger body of water to another. If that’s a Strait …”

Ian nodded. “Then it may indeed be a narrow stretch of space that a ship can pass through … from one universe to another.”

“So then the question becomes … why Ophiuchus?” I wondered. “What does it mean that all the symbols seem to point toward it?”

“Perhaps the People of the Strait have allies in that direction?” Ian suggested. “Or perhaps they sent a probe in that direction. Or a colony vessel. Or, alternatively, what if they came from that direction? Or perhaps we should concentrate on why these symbols, indicating Ophiuchus, are on that hatch.”

“Maybe only people from their colony are supposed to be able to open it,” I said.

“Maybe that indicates something about where it’s set to open to,” said Ian. “Their technology is unknown to us – perhaps it’s adjustable. It may open to another point in our universe – or perhaps their universe has similar constellations, and it points to their version of Ophiuchus.”

“Too many possibilities, not enough data,” I said.

“But one thing is for certain,” said Ian. “This is a colossal find. We have to get this information back to the Center. The Board will have to decide how to proceed. And we can’t do anything to the Strait that their defense system will interpret as an assault – nothing further, at any rate.” To the others, he said, “Agreed? We can’t radio the Center, not with all this jamming. We’ll have to go back and deliver our report in person. Then we’ll come back.” Then, to me, he said, “Mr. Merricks, I don’t know when we’ll come back, but I have no doubt we will. I just don’t know how we’ll tell you we’re coming.”

“I can come to Papeete on a regular basis and stay in touch that way,” I said.

“All right, very good,” he said. The other scientists were already packing up the ships to leave. “Good luck, Mr. Merricks,” he said. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you to be careful.”

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The science team left as it was getting dark. I looked at the clear night sky and wondered where Ophiuchus was. Looking at my phone, I stood on the beach and used a star chart app I already had downloaded – it couldn’t contact the GPS satellites and determine my location, because of the jamming, but I could input my approximate latitude and longitude. The phone’s magnetometer and accelerometer were working, at least, so it knew where north and south were, and what direction I was holding it in. Ophiuchus was in the sky. I found it and looked at it. A conglomeration of stars, all different distances from Earth, just in the same approximate direction.

I found myself wondering how some starship hailing from one of those stars would signal to the Strait that it was here, that it was time to open and transport it to that other universe on the other side. Would it have to fly down here and fit through that tiny doorway? Would it have to be a long, very narrow ship? Or would something else happen? Could the rift or gateway open up out in space, where the ship was, due to their advanced technology? And by the way, who had built the Strait – the People of the Islands, or the People of the Strait? Its name made it sound as if the People of the Strait had, but could we really assume that?

I wandered into the jungle and looked at the Strait again. Its silvery metal glittered in the starlight, and its white symbols rotated serenely around the hatch. I walked around the Strait to look up at Ophiuchus. They would come from that direction, I thought. Then, too late, I also realized that they would block the starlight – just as I was doing right then. I turned around to look at the Strait.

The white symbols blinked rapidly and turned blue. And the hatch opened. Where there had just been silvery metal there was now a dark opening, full of stars, as if there were stars within the Earth. There was no rush of air into or out of the opening. And a blue light from the symbols played across me.

And then the symbols turned red – solid red, not flashing. The portal closed again. And there was a rumbling all around me. I couldn’t help thinking of, “The People of the Islands will not attempt to cross the Strait …”

I started running right away. I didn’t know what I had just done, but I wanted to get out of there before I found out what was coming. That cable car had never seemed slower, but I had to get up to the house and the Scorpion.

I ducked inside to try typing on the computer. “I’m sorry,” I typed. “I did not mean for that to happen. That was unintentional. I did not know that was how to activate the Strait.”

But all I got back was, “THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS THE TREATY STANDS …” Nothing I typed changed that.

There were rumbling sounds, and they were getting closer. I ran for the Scorpion and jumped inside. I took off as soon as I could get the rotors up to speed, strapping my flight helmet on as they spun up. Even so, something struck the tail before I’d gotten far, sending the whole helicopter reeling. In my haste I hadn’t strapped myself in yet, so I was thrown out of my seat, and the helo was spinning out of control. Getting back to the pilot’s seat was a struggle, and the water was getting closer, but I somehow managed to right things and speed away from Aitumoku. I’d figure out what direction I was going later. For now I had to get away.

Once I’d gone a few miles, I set it to hover, finally strapped myself in, got my bearings, and set course for Papeete. Was I safe? Whatever retaliation I had unleashed, would it remain behind on the island? I could only hope. Surely there had been accidental activations before. Surely there had been airplanes or even albatrosses that had inadvertently blocked the light of the stars of Ophiuchus, and there hadn’t been retaliation from an advanced civilization from another universe that could probably crush the Earth between its fingers. Maybe they would forgive and forget.

But I had been right there, for the automated defense system to plainly see. It could have been scanning me. Maybe that’s what the blue light had been. Maybe it knew my shape, my identity, even my DNA.

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The flight back was not comfortable and required a lot of muscle power and concentration. The Scorpion almost refused to handle, and after flying it as often as I had, the fact it wasn’t responding properly to flight controls was really concerning me. It was a top of the line sport chopper that could out maneuver many fighter aircraft due to its inherent nature. But it had taken a hit, and I didn’t know how bad yet.

I ran several diagnostics with the computer as I limped along. What it showed was some rather concerning damage just behind buttuc spar eight and just before buttuc spar ten … directly behind the cockpit. Several of the flight response actuators indicated severe damage. I was fortunate the Scorpion had adaptive flight controls, or I’m not real sure it would have even flown.

“This is Sierra One Niner Four to Papa Papa Tango Control, requesting helipad landing instructions, over.”

“This is Papa Papa Tango Control to Sierra One Niner Four, we need you to set down on the emergency pad Tango Charley one. Come about twenty three degrees North to point tango one. Do you need other assistance? We can see the external damage to the midline of your craft and the heavy smoke trail. How badly damaged are you?”

My eyebrows went up. I must have been hit pretty hard if they could see the damage from the tower. “Sierra One Niner Four, no further assistance. Not sure how much damage the craft has sustained.”

“Papa Papa Tango Control, we have notified crash control and have the area foamed for emergency landing. Are you still in control of the craft? We see some major damage about midline.”

“Sierra One Niner Four, so far, the adaptive flight controls are handling it. No further assistance required until I land and do a post flight inspection.”

“Roger that, Sierra One Niner Four; Papa Papa Tango Control out.”

The rest of the flight was just as bumpy and sluggish, but I did manage to set the craft down exactly perfect on the pad. As the control tower had promised, the emergency crews were there and the pad was heavily foamed in case of fire.

The accident investigation team was also there. I sighed, I had no clue as to how I was going to explain the damage or how it happened, although I knew I would have to come up with something reasonable to enter into the mandatory flight incident report.

Once I had set down and shut down the engine and awaited the rotor spin down to complete, smoke began to fill the cabin. That was when the very first tingle of fear creeped down my spine. I now knew it could have gone far differently.

I removed my flight harnesses, helmet, and exited the craft. My eyes grew large and my mouth fell open at the damage. It appeared as if some type of missile or something had impacted just behind the cockpit and detonated. There was a major gash and much damage. It was a lucky thing, it had missed the fuel storage tanks and only damaged one hydraulic tank. The smoke was caused by the hydraulic fluid leaking onto the hot turbine’s exhaust cowling.

One of the inspectors came to me and extended his hand. “My name is Joque Foupe. I’m the head of the accident investigation team here at Papeete. Did some type of missile hit you?”

He walked over to the damaged area of the Scorpion and started taking pictures and typing into his pad he had brought with him as several of the emergency crews coated the seriously smoking area with foam.

Before I could answer, Joque turned from his investigation of the damage and said, “No, this wasn’t caused by any type of explosive ordnance I have ever seen, but caused the same type of damage as if it was. Just what did you encounter?”

I stood totally tongue tied as I searched for an answer that would at least sound reasonable and not arouse suspicions.

A serious frown came to Joque’s face as he came close and spoke low enough only I could hear, “So, the rumors are true. I never would have believed it. My father was one of the original Station operators after WW2. He used to tell me and my brothers wild tales about your island. Don’t worry, my crew and I will come up with some type of explanation for you to put in the accident report that won't make you sound like a lunatic, like many of the others have.”

I paused. “I’m … actually really grateful, and amazed that you understand. My experiences on that island have been what one might call beyond the normal. Some scientists from IFREMER have been studying the place and have seen some things too, but I have a report for them.”

“Have they? Well, I doubt their office is open at this hour. Perhaps you should get a hotel room and go in the morning. But for now, we will finish our report, and you can make arrangements for repairs, hmm? Keeping busy is good.”

I thanked Joque and started contacting the usual aircraft repair shops that operate near airports. One problem with the Scorpion was that it was relatively rare, as were authorized mechanics who had access to its special parts. But fortunately this was Tahiti. I was far from the only person wealthy enough to have a Scorpion in the area. It wasn’t considered an emergency, since I wasn’t running a medivac chopper or anything life-saving like that, but they could get it in the shop first thing in the morning, which was good enough for me.

By the time I had that worked out and the hotel room booked, Joque and his team were done with their inspection and report. “We will say that the damage is consistent with a collision with a rock crag – would you say you encountered, say, a sudden blast of clear-air turbulence?”

“It was … something like that,” I said. “It certainly came out of the clear air.”

“Very good then, Mr. Merricks,” said Joque. “Sign here, and we will move your helicopter to Hangar 3, where the repair company can work on it in the morning.” I signed the paperwork. “Good luck, Mr. Merricks,” he said. “You may need it. The stories say the island … does not always let people leave.”

That was ominous. I got a cab to the hotel, checked in, and slept.

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In the morning I got breakfast, got dressed – I would have to get a few changes of clothes – and went to the IFREMER offices. I got there as some of the people I’d already met were getting to work. “Ah, Monsieur Merricks,” said Louis. “The team came back with some strange data and some stranger stories, no? But we did not expect you for a week. Did something go wrong?”

“I … have something to report, yes,” I said. “I’d rather talk about it sitting down, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well, let me get a conference room and get us some coffee, yes?” I was agreeable with this.
I explained what had happened to Louis, Jean, Ian, and several members of the research team. “And my helicopter is now undergoing repairs at the hangar for damage that the inspectors said looked like an explosive missile hit it.”

“It sounds like you’re lucky to be alive, Mr. Merricks,” said Ian. “But if what we both read is true – and everyone in this room has now read that treaty – I have a feeling that this isn’t the end of it. You may have actually opened the Strait, and their system may have interpreted that as a direct assault. It may even have flagged the incident for a real person to check.”

“Well, if they do, they’ll see that there’s no one at the island now,” I said.

“But remember – they seem to speak of planets as islands,” said Ian.

“Wait,” said Jean, “the treaty said the People of the Strait created the Island. Now you say they speak of planets as islands. Does this not suggest that they may perhaps have created the Earth?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I said. “But … I must confess that I don’t know it to be impossible.”

I felt uncomfortable. Had I just started a war between the human race and beings capable of creating a planet? Not only that, they had been capable of such a feat over 100 millennia ago; who could say what they were capable of now? The human race had gone from fire and cave paintings to worldwide information networks and space travel in that time. Or … had we?

“Well, we’ve just handed in our report from yesterday,” said Ian. “We’ll see what the Board says. It’ll probably take at least a week. As you know, they don’t work very quickly, and they’re all working on a lot of projects …”

The phone of everyone in the room made a ringtone at once. They were all different, but they were simultaneous. They looked at each other in surprise. Then they all checked their phones.

“Bloody heck,” said Ian. “Right, what I was just saying, forget that. We’ve got a meeting with the Board in five minutes. I’m afraid you’re not allowed to attend, Mr. Merrick; I’m sorry, but it’s policy.”

“I will bet you it is about Aitumoku,” said Louis.

“Not taking that bet,” Jean replied.

“Should I just … stay here?” I asked as people started to leave.

“That would be fine,” said Ian. “Have some more coffee, if you want. There are some pastries too. The restroom is down the hall to the left. I’m hoping this won’t be more than 15 minutes – but one never knows.”

Everyone was going to another conference room – I’d seen one with lots of monitors on the walls. I waited. I called the mechanics, who said they’d found my Scorpion and were working on it now. They said it looked like I’d gotten into a battle. But they could fix it.

I was looking at the latest news on my phone when I noticed something. A video someone had taken locally this morning and posted online. There was the rising sun, to the east, over the water, very beautiful. But on the horizon was the strangest cloud formation. It looked like a huge humanoid form made of clouds. It didn’t look as if it was moving, but it gave the strangest impression of looking toward Tahiti … which was, I may not need to remind you, the island I was currently on.

Was it real? Was it just a cloud? People see lots of imaginary things in clouds. It didn’t look like it was standing in the sea; it looked as if it were standing on the horizon, its arms at its sides, just watching. It didn’t seem to move in the video; there were sea birds flying in the foreground and a ship moving slowly through the water, but the giant figure didn’t move. Maybe it was just a cloud.

Except … the clouds moved, and this figure didn’t.

Then everyone came back into the conference room. “I can’t believe it!” said Louis.

“This is a bunch of inappropriate-for-work language, it is,” said Ian.

“What? What’s going on?” I asked.

“Well, Mr. Merricks,” said Jean, “it looks as if our report caught the attention of somebody who thinks it means something it may not mean. The French government is leaning on us to end our investigation of Aitumoku. Someone else is going to take over, they say.”

“Who else?” I asked.

“Yes, they did not say who else,” said Louis, “which means they are not allowed to say, which means it is secret. Possibly the GDSE, possibly NATO. What it means is, we cannot investigate any further.”

“Disappointing to say the least,” said Ian. “We were really getting somewhere.”

“Did you tell them what I told you today?” I asked.

“No, we filed our report before the meeting,” said Jean. “And that meeting, they just talked at us, not with us, yes?”

“Are they going to send a team to the island?” I asked.

“Most likely,” said Ian. “Sooner or later. I think first they’re going to want to secure the place.”

But … my house. My ship. They were going to keep me away from … the island that has things on it that want to kill me. True, I didn’t want to go back there just yet, not until things cooled down. But they wouldn’t cool down as long as there were … what, military intelligence crawling all over the island?

“I’ve got to talk to somebody!” I said. “They can’t do that. It’s my property.”

“Maybe, but it’s French jurisdiction,” said Jean. “French military, or NATO, or something. Yes, you are the owner, but they can be there. They are the government.”

I supposed I could just let them – let them go over the island with a fine-toothed comb. Let them accidentally discover how to open the Strait. Let them incur the wrath of … whatever it was. They were probably looking for something they could use as a weapon, or a defense against whatever enemy they thought they’d be facing in the next war.

But if they weren’t careful, they’d start the next war, and Earth had no weapons against what we’d be facing.

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Several days had passed with no news other than that the French government, along with several NATO allies, were sending aircraft carriers, destroyers, men with other support equipment, and battleships to my island to take care of ... this small detail.

I know it sounds like a huge attack force, but not in reality. There were one large fully complemented aircraft carrier, two destroyers, and four of what they had termed as picket ships – small, fast, heavily armed. The manpower including their support equipment consisted of one battalion of 200 special forces men. A fairly formidable force, but still small based on what they could have sent.

It was written up as a small anti-invasion exercise for the special forces unit. The time that passed until the next report seemed like an eternity. Ian and I had taken it upon ourselves to learn anything we could about wormholes and singularities.

Ian and I walked into the lounge early one morning to get breakfast on what should have been the third day of week three since deployment. For the ships, this would have been assembly and travel time.

The TV was on, and a news commentator was speaking. “ … from the spotty reports we have received over the last several hours, a special forces exercise was attacked by an unknown force. From the data we currently have, the exercise team encountered an opposing force far greater than anything the survivors had ever contemplated. According to them, their entire attack force was neutralized in under 5 minutes. Casualties and damage are severely high with the loss of several of the ships and many aircraft ...”

I turned to Ian and gasped, “Those idiots!!”

Ian had his hand to his horror stricken face, “Bloody hell! I hope they haven’t started an interplanetary war with a people we know nothing about with technology far superior to ours.”

I said with incredulity obvious in my voice, “I thought they had seen the pictures from the research expedition and the damage then.”

Ian replied, “They did see them – they read all the reports too. I cannot believe they went with force expecting to accomplish anything.”

We left the lounge and hurried to the IFREMER center – it had been commandeered by the military, but somehow Ian’s pass card still let him in. When we entered, it was a total madhouse of chaos. We could see the screens with what satellite data managed to punch though the scrambling signals. Comms were totally out, and no other data was coming in from the monitoring systems set up on my island, nor from the special forces attack group sent there to engage hostiles.

People were rushing all over the center as what I realized was a nuclear strike board lit up. My island was ground zero. I rushed in screaming and waving my hands, “Stop, you idiots! You have no idea what you are about to do!”

A man dressed in an obviously high ranking uniform, turned and pointed at me and said in angry French, “How did an unauthorized civilian get into launch control, and who in Hades is he?”

Ian spoke up, “Not only is he authorized, as you can plainly see, he has a priority VIP badge with higher authorization than yours. The other thing, the privately-owned land you are about to test France’s nuclear arsenal on belongs to him. To the best of my knowledge, unless a war has been verbally declared and documented, he has to give you permission. I know he has not.”

I retorted angrily, “And if you knew how to read, those reports you were sent told you this type of action was to be avoided at all costs due to the superior technology we encountered on my island. The end result of a confrontation of this sort is unknown and could be globally catastrophic.”

“All I know is that we are facing a hostile force that is occupying that island and has killed hundreds of French soldiers,” he said. “And by the way, there is no such thing as a priority VIP badge. Get him out of here.”

As the soldiers guarding the place converged on me, there was suddenly a hum or vibration in the air of some kind. Everybody stopped. “Report,” said the officer.

“No explanation for that yet, Sir,” said a young woman who was apparently in charge of communications. “Wait – strange report from one of the NATO nuclear submarines … the reactor is dead. It’s not providing power.”

“Well, they should fix it, then,” the officer said.

“Another report from another sub … the reactor died at exactly the same time, Sir. And more reports from fleets all over the world. Sir, nuclear reactors all over the world are shutting down. The fuel rods just went … cold, they’re saying.”

“What the …?”

“Don’t you get it?” I said, with a soldier holding each of my arms. “I’m telling you, up to now they weren’t even flexing their little finger. Now this, this is the little finger. We have no idea at all what they can do.”

Ian broke in. “Bloody hell! They’ve just stopped every nuclear reaction in the world. I have no idea how that could even be possible. But if they can do that, what’s next? They could turn off the Sun. Turn the Earth into an ice cube. Actually no, what would probably happen is it would blow a shell of gas into space that would strip off Earth’s atmosphere and then turn what was left into an ice cube, because there’d be a white dwarf where the Sun used to be. Or something like that. But I know that right now, no nuclear weapon you plan on using will work.”

The communication officer broke in. “Sir, North Korea is accusing the US of interfering with its nuclear test scheduled for today. They’re threatening to launch missiles at the US west coast.”

“Of course they are,” said the officer in charge, whoever he was. “What is that?” he asked, pointing at a screen.

“I … don’t know, Sir,” said the officer who was supposed to be monitoring it but was clearly at a loss. The screen showed a huge humanoid figure striding slowly across the sea toward the camera.

“Where is that camera?” I asked.

“Shut up!” said the officer in charge to me. “Where is that camera?”

“On the roof of this building, Sir,” he replied.

“What is that thing?” It looked like it was made of dark gray smoke. It looked hundreds of feet tall. But it walked on water like it weighed nothing. I realized that it only looked like it was walking slowly because it was so huge. It was actually moving at over 100 miles per hour ... and straight this way.

“Why is it coming here?” asked the officer. He didn’t seem to be asking anyone in particular. “Does it know this is the command center? How does it know that? Are they monitoring our comms?”

“No,” I said. I had a horrible thought. “Let me go, you want me out of here, I’ll go, just let me go now!”

“I’ll be happy to be rid of you, but why?” the officer asked.

“I think it’s after me,” I said. “I just have a … feeling.” That feeling was based on the fact that I’d opened the Strait. I was the one human they had scanned in detail.

“Well, fine then, take him outside,” ordered the officer, and that was exactly what the guards did, hustling me out of the building and blocking my return, as if I wanted back in.

I started walking along the street, parallel to the coast, and as I moved around the building I could see it, looming larger and larger over the harbor. I couldn’t tell, but it did seem to be changing direction to follow me. I got in a cab and told them to take me to the airport, and on the way I called to see if the Scorpion was repaired. It had been several days, so they were finished.

If it was really following me, I needed to get off this island. What it would do, how many people it would crush to get to me, I didn’t know. But I had to move.

I managed to get the repairs paid for and get the Scorpion moved to one of the helipads, then got in and made sure it was fueled up. I ran through the pre-flight checks quickly, not skipping them, because this wasn’t exactly like my previous takeoff. I got strapped in, I got my helmet on, I confirmed takeoff with the tower, and I got going. They weren’t happy that I hadn’t filed a flight plan, but fortunately that was optional for helos.

I flew west, hoping to make it to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. The nav system said I should make it. I had extra fuel in case I needed it. I had to get the thing away from Tahiti. The Scorpion was fast when it wanted to be. It had an extra turbofan jet engine for extra thrust if needed. I saw the island and the giant monster receding in the rear camera. It was clear that the monster was following me.

It took hours, but I soon landed at Aitutaki for a refuel. I didn’t plan to stay long, but I got a text message on my phone from Ian once my phone was in range of a tower. He said the military wasn’t in charge of the situation anymore, and it had been given back to the scientists to figure out what to do. I said I was going to keep running until the thing stopped following me.

I filed a flight plan this time and took off west-northwest toward Pago Pago. One hop and then another, and eventually I should be able to either lose the thing or get enough distance that I could catch some sleep, at least. I figured I was flying at least twice as fast as the thing could walk. But I wasn’t sure, because it could walk across the sea.

Fiji … Vanuatu … the Solomon Islands … finally I set down in Kokopo, in Papua New Guinea. It was well and truly dark by then, and I was tired. I hoped I was outrunning the thing. I found a hotel with small but clean rooms and no air conditioning, but I didn’t care.

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It was such a strange night. The heat and humidity didn’t bother me, but the vague feeling of something going on I wasn’t aware of became very strong. My dreams were filled with vague images and whispers just out of my understanding. Several flashes came through strong, like the one where I was falling through a deep tunnel filled with stars. I could feel something like wind in my face as I fell into a soft misty place.

Then I heard this weird ethereal voice say very plainly, “Awaken to me.”

My eyes popped open and I sat up in bed. The bed was familiar, but that was the only thing. The room seemed to be filled with some sort of light mist. Off a short distance was some sort of light that created an eerie glow in the mist. Its light didn’t travel far and was absorbed leaving only a small area with a dim sort of misty light like a street light in a heavy fog.

Something that looked like a humanoid male sat in a chair slightly obscured in the foggy shadows to the point I couldn’t make out any facial features. He held in his hand something that looked like a small tablet computer.

In a soft ethereal voice that held great unused power and authority it said, “Greetings, humanoid of the Earth Islands. We have awaited you for uncounted spans of time. Do not fear, the trial protocol has been neutralized, and those on the island you call Earth are safe.”

Let me tell you, I felt fear rushing all through me. It was like electricity. I managed to say, “Who are you? Why was that … portal to the Strait there in the first place?”

The being seemed to laugh softly before it said, “For all things that bring great power and greater understanding, a champion must arise and be tested. With great knowledge comes an even greater responsibility. Therein lies our dilemma. It had never occured to any of us over the long millennia we have awaited for the champion to arise that they would come from an island as violent and primitive as yours. But … you did manage to open the Strait, even with the deterrence protocols enabled, and you did manage to figure out who it was we wanted.”

I gasped in shock, “Me? A champion? No way José, I’m just a retired stockbroker who manage to make enough money to buy an island … unfortunately.”

The being seemed to type on his tablet for a minute, then responded, “Did you, or did you not open the seal to the Strait? And was it not you personally who got the system to give you a translation of the treaty that was made thousands of years ago?”

I said, “Wait … it wasn’t on purpose; it was a complete accident.”

The being chuckled in its way. “I’m sure it was. You just happened to be standing in exactly the proper place with the proper star alignment at exactly the time required to end the test and open the Strait. We are very glad you didn’t fall in – your corporeal form wouldn’t have survived the hard vacuum of interstellar space, nor the transition to the N dimension.”

My mouth fell open in shock. “N dimension?” I looked around. “Is that where we are?”

The being replied, “It is where I am, and it is where your consciousness has been temporarily projected so that we may communicate. Now, according to part two of the treaty, when the champion is revealed, he must then find the proper way to subdue … the thing.”

“Wait a minute, I’m no one’s champion, and I’m darn sure not going to face a thing.”

The being replied in an ominous tone, “I do not recall anyone asking you. You chose to complete the trial, and therefore you are the one, like it or not.”

Everything began to become clouded as the mist thickened and swirled all around me. When it cleared, I was sitting in the bed in the small hot and humid room I had rented.

On the night table by the bed were several objects that hadn’t been there when I’d gone to sleep. There were some things that looked like two wrist bracelets and a very expensive looking collar of some sort covered in strange glowing gemstones.

The mysterious voice said inside my head as it faded away, “Take heed, Earth man. The fate of your archipelago is in your hands. With great power comes even greater responsibility, which now falls on you and you alone. The artifacts we have left for you are the only things you may use to stop the thing. Nothing else will have any effect. Have fun.”

It was like a loud popping noise, and all I could hear after that were the normal noises coming in the window from the street below.

Wait … second part of the treaty? So we hadn’t gotten the whole thing? How many parts were there? It wasn’t as if I could find out now. But it did seem that the Strait’s automated defense system had successfully gotten the attention of a sentient being. But … a thing? Was that the strange giant-made-of-smoke creature that I had been running from? I was going to have to fight … that?

I really had two choices, didn’t I? I had to either keep running from it, or I had to turn and fight it, using … I guessed they were weapons … that I didn’t know how to use. The running option I could keep doing until something in the Scorpion broke down, which would happen sooner or later. The fighting option would require me to choose a battleground where I could turn and fight. But for both options, I needed to know where the thing was now.

My phone was charged … I checked my messages. Ian said the French military had chase planes following the giant smoke thing, but they weren’t sharing its location. He said they still had troops stationed on my island, but things seemed quiet there now. He also said the world’s nuclear reactors were back online. I guess they send their message, and now we knew they could shut them down again anytime they wanted.

OK, so they thought I was some kind of champion. Like in the old days, when one knight fought for the honor of the kingdom. What did these things do? Were they bracelets and a collar, like they looked?

I tried putting one of the bracelets on. It was made of something as light as plastic but as strong as steel, and it had an invisible hinge. When it closed, I had to look twice, because it had become invisible. I could still feel it, but I couldn’t see it. The other bracelet did the same thing.

As for the collar, I had to use a mirror. I put the thing on and closed its clasp in back, and it vanished. Even the large sparkling lights or gemstones on it were now invisible. I didn’t know what good invisible lights were. But the thing was … as soon as I closed it, I had an impression of where the thing was. I just sort of knew. I called up a map of the western South Pacific on my phone, and I could just sense where the thing was, no doubt walking across the sea, straight toward me. But it was still half a day away, and more if I got in the Scorpion and kept flying.

Would I have to fight it in the water somehow, swimming in the ocean while it was walking on the surface? Or would I have to fight it on land, where its steps could easily squash innocent people and destroy their homes? Could I fight it in a desert, where I could at least stand, and it would have minimal chances of doing harm? Well, the fact was that it was coming to me, so wherever I was, that was where the fight would happen. I started looking at maps.

Deserts near coastlines were hard to find. I quickly found that they were only found on the west coasts of continents. That wasn’t going to work. What if we fought on an uninhabited island …? I personally knew of an uninhabited island that would work just fine, if I could only get the military forces off it.

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By this time I was really frustrated. I was surprised, but my cell actually worked here, so I took it with me to the beach where it was quiet and I could think. Ian had called me while I was on the way and informed me the shadow thing had stopped moving and had done nothing since about the time I had put on the bracelets and neckpiece.

Damn, I was so frustrated. I want those stupid military people off my island now! I stomped my foot. It was like an earthquake as a loud rumbling noise echoed and the ground trembled like jello for a minute. Even the water receded far from shore, then came rushing back like tidal surge before a hurricane. Needless to say I stood with wide eyed surprise for a bit while many jumbled thoughts rushed through me.

I turned and headed back towards the hotel while I tried to reason this out. On the trip back, my cell rang – it was Ian.

His excited voice said quickly in a jumble of words, “Mr. Merricks! Something totally amazing has just happened!”

I replied, “Calm down, Ian. It’s hard to understand you when you talk that fast. Now, what happened?”

I heard him take a few deep breaths before he replied, “All the military that had been stationed on your island, including their support equipment, has been somehow … teleported back to their home base. The entire French Armed Forces are in complete and total disarray over this. The NATO supporting troops that were with them are in about the same shape, as they too appeared with the French forces at the base.”

I stood in total shock for a minute before I replied, “That’s a good thing. Now, I’m headed back to my island. It’s mine, and I refuse to be run off it.” I headed towards my room to pack what few things I had with me.

Ian said with worry obvious in his tone, “According to the chase ships, the shadow thing has actually started heading back towards the island as well. I’m not so sure it’s a smart or safe thing to do.”

Before I hung up, I said with conviction, “Don’t worry over it. I feel I will be able to handle this and solve the problem there once and for all.”

Ian started to say before I ended the call, “Don’t do anything stupid. That thing is as big as …”

I ended the call and quickly entered my room. I threw all of the little bit of things I had with me into my zipper bag, grabbed my flight helmet, then called a cab to take me to the airport. It was time to see if I was the actual champion I was supposed to be.

Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t stupid, and I was definately afraid. From what I knew, however, this was all my fault, and I had to resolve it one way or the other.

I had them overfill the the two auxiliary fuel tanks. The extra four thousand pounds of fuel wouldn’t be used up, but I intended to use the turbofan jets for extra speed. After takeoff, I flipped the enable switches and watched the RPM gauge until it reached 40% speed, then hit the ignite button.

I waited until the panel lights for the ignition sequence turned green and the tach showed the engines were running smoothly at idle, then pushed the two quads forward all the way. The turbines screamed as I was pushed back into the flight couch and the Scorpion leapt very rapidly forward toward my island and whatever fate was in store for me.

I now knew what the armbands and collar were for and had a very good idea about how to make them work. That was when I realized that I wasn’t afraid anymore, just very angry. I had led the thing away from Tahiti and other inhabited land, but I couldn’t stay in Papua New Guinea; it would just follow me and be a threat to the people there. No, I had to finish this. These people wanted some kind of test, some sort of gladiatorial combat. Was this for their entertainment?

Well, I was no longer leading the thing away; I was leading it back. The French and NATO ships might come back, but I knew what to do with them now. Getting back still took hours, but it was one-way. I wouldn’t have enough fuel to go anywhere once I got there – I’d have to wait until a ship delivered more.

I had that ongoing feeling that I knew where the thing was, and I felt when I was getting closer to it, and when I passed it. I felt when I started getting farther away from it. I would get there first, and I would be ready for it.

Setting down on the pad outside my house, I first went to Thor and cast off, sailing it out to sea a good ways, then set its beacon and let out the sea anchor. The waters were deep, but that would keep it from moving far, and I’d be able to find it. But this way it wouldn’t get damaged by whatever fight was about to ensue. I got into an inflatable dinghy and rowed back to the island – the rowing seemed to take no effort whatsoever.

Next I made sure I was well fed, making a hearty meal of the frozen and preserved food I’d laid in earlier. I wasn’t getting any communications, of course, but I still had electricity thanks to the solar panels.

I knew where the thing was, and I could feel how fast it was moving and how long it would take to get to me. It would still be over 12 hours. I got a good night’s sleep, as I was exhausted – not from labor, but from stress. When the sun rose, I could feel that I still had hours, so I prepared.

I chose some light exercise clothes, just a tank top and some shorts, and some waterproof deck shoes. And then I scouted locations. The island was small – for an island – but there were still some open areas that would make decent combat arenas. And I always kept in mind where the Strait was. I didn’t know how, but it might be important.

Noon finally arrived. The tropical sun beat down, but I was used to it, and I waited beneath the edge of the jungle canopy. I watched the huge figure as it strode out of the far distance, deceptively slowly, like a stick figure made of black smoke, 400 feet high. It knew where I was too, and it was coming straight for me.

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I waited in the thick humid tropical heat for the thing to arrive for long enough that I became frustrated. I realized I was no longer fearful, but had a rather large anger boiling up inside me, more than likely caused by the heat.

This was when I realized the thing had stopped several miles from shore and was seemingly waiting for something. This only made me more angry as I stormed off to the cable car and descended to the beach.

I walked to where the high water mark was and planted my feet. I remembered the stomp I had done a while back and the end result. I wanted to do something that would wake the critter up and start it moving in my direction once again.

I remembered reading a Namor comic when I was a teenager, and how he could control the sea. I smiled as I raised both my hands above my head palms up like it had shown Namor do in the comic. Somehow I just knew what to do.

Some type of energy began to surround my hands as a huge wave about 200 yards wide and hundreds of feet high formed in front of me. Some form of energy surged throughout the wave. Like I was throwing some kind of bundle with both hands, I tossed my hands in front of me.

The wave roared off as fast as my Scorpion did under full jet power. The water on the beach vanished and left it high and dry as the massive wave rushed off towards the critter. Of course, more water rushed in and filled the beach. I got my feet rather wet in the back wash, but nothing major happened around me.

I’m not sure how I knew the wave was upon the critter. I could sort of see off in the far distance, but this was more accurate, I knew exactly where both were. When this I know it was in the right place feeling came over me, I slapped my two hands together. Even at this distance, the resulting impact and watery explosion of energy was super spectacular. I could even see what looked like large bolts of lighting dropping from the sky on top of the critter.

When all cleared, I saw the creature slowly, and seemingly painfully, standing up once again. This time, however, it wasn’t as big and bulky as it had been, and I had accomplished my goal; the creature was now approaching my island rapidly.

I again took the cable car to the top, and walked back to the clearing I had chosen for battle. I heard a loud huffing noise as I saw the creature walk from the water onto land. It very definitely wasn’t as large as it had been, but it was still obviously over 100 feet in height – much less than 400 feet, but still nothing to be sneezed at.

About that time, a huge wind began to blow carrying large amounts of sand, all creating a huge static charge within a tornadic swirling. I temporarily lost my footing as I started to be sucked into the huge sand blaster like cyclone. The sand was as nasty as any weapon as it began to abrade my skin and rip my clothing.

I dug my heels in and shouted “STOP!”

There was a huge crack of what sounded like thunder, then only the normal sounds of the jungle and the hissing sound of falling sand. Of course, I also got hit with some kind of energy blast that knocked me back … and buddy, let me tell you, it hurt.

I stood up and dusted the sand off me. I was raw in many places and bleeding in others. This sucked. I raised both my hands out in front of me palms towards the critter and shouted, “Blow for blow, wuss.”

Another massive wave rose up in front of me, only this time it was made of sand and whatever debris had been lying about. I watched in complete amazement as it rushed off super fast and slammed into the creature creating a huge explosion and a resulting cloud of sand and debris. This time, the creature didn’t get up so fast, and it stayed where it was once again.

This kind of thing went on for about an hour. It would try to climb up the cliff to where I was, raising a leg as if it was trying to cover the distance in a single step, and then I would hit it with another wave of energy and debris. It would be knocked back, and then it would retaliate by throwing things at me. I hurt and was bleeding in several places by this time. The creature had amazingly shrunk down until it was only 8 feet tall and bulky as any elephant. Apparently, what I was doing was robbing it of the energy necessary to maintain its bulk. This pleased me, because I also noticed that when it did move, it moved as if it were also in pain.

But now it did something different. It turned and ran into the jungle. Was it running away, defeated? No, it couldn’t be. It had another idea. It was going to do something else. What was it that it could find in the jungle to defeat me?

That was where the Strait was, I realized. I had to get down there. I didn’t know what it could do if it reached the Strait, but I knew it wouldn’t be good for me, so I had to stop it.

The cable car was too slow. I looked down off the edge of the cliff. There was the trunk of a fallen tree. Good enough. I raised one of my hands up slowly, and the tree trunk rose up into the air until it was level with the cliff edge, then I stepped onto it. I lowered my hand slowly down and rode the tree trunk until it reached the ground. Then I ran into the jungle toward where I knew the Strait lay.

The area around it was still cleared away – the science team had cleared away the dirt, but it looked as if the military had cut down some trees and expanded the clearing even wider since I’d been here last.

The creature was standing near the strange dome with its symbol-encircled hatch, facing the hatch and … waiting. What was it waiting for?

I realized that I had done what it was doing now. It was waiting for Ophiuchus to rise. It wanted to be between the hatch and Ophiuchus so the hatch would open, just as it had for me. I still didn’t know what would happen at that time, but I did know that I shouldn’t just let it happen.

There were several felled trees lying around. I made a motion as if to pick one up, and it quickly rose into the air. I turned until it was pointed straight at the thing, and I threw my arm forward as if I were throwing it, like a spear, and the tree flew at the creature like an arrow loosed from a bow, penetrating right through its smoky insubstantial figure and burying itself in the soil some distance beyond it, but the figure staggered and seemed to see me.

It started trying to gather a volley of debris, but I didn’t want it to have another shot at me. I grabbed another tree trunk, thrust it at the monster, and spun it around, faster and faster, so that it was intersecting the creature’s smoky form multiple times per second. It was getting noticeably smaller. Instead of throwing its cloud of debris at me, it tried to use it to interfere with the spinning trunk.

But it hadn’t moved from its spot, and now the hatch opened.

The creature noticed, and it did something very strange, even as the tree trunk continued to spin through its substance. It dropped all its debris and changed its shape. It became a symbol, like a capital letter B but rotated diagonally. It became a triangle with one point down and the other two upward. It became a letter C facing upward and to the left with a dot inside it. It became a five-pointed asterisk.

And a column of black smoke poured out of the hatch. It resumed its humanoid form and started to grow larger. I realized what it had done. It had requested more energy from the Strait. I didn’t know how to do this, which meant that I was now at a disadvantage.

But while it was absorbing this energy, it wasn’t attacking. I had a moment to think.

I could request energy too. I ran around to the same side of the Strait, behind the monster, gathered some tree trunks, and formed the same symbols with them: diagonal B, triangle balanced on its point, diagonal C with a dot, five-pointed asterisk.

This time a beam of blue-white light emerged from the Strait, pierced the thing, and flowed into me. My skin healed, my wounds closed, and I felt less exhausted. And the Strait wasn’t filling the creature with black smoke anymore.
Suddenly the creature changed form into some kind of complex shape like an ornately decorated X, and the hatch closed. My flow of energy ceased. It was back to being about 25 feet tall, but I was feeling recharged too. I gestured and held my tree trunk weapons up like a shield.

“Not quite back to square one,” I said. “I’m all the way back, but you aren’t. Try that again and I’ll stop you.”

I had no idea if it could understand me. I turned the clearing into a storm of spinning logs, giving it nowhere to maneuver. It started raising debris to throw at me, but I kept batting it away. It shrank again, smaller and smaller as it kept trying, but I wouldn’t let it get a foothold. It was my size. It was shorter than I was. Then –

It became a symbol. It was a perfect circle of black smoke in the air. It retreated to the circle of symbols around the hatch and merged with it. And all was quiet. My wooden weapons hovered in the air for a moment, then I set them down.

The hatch opened again. Once again there were stars inside against a black backdrop of infinite space. And an image appeared, hovering in the air in front of the opening. It was the entity who had spoken to me before, apparently in a dream, but now they hovered in the air – some sort of hologram, perhaps.

The being gestured toward me with one hand and inclined its head, making a circle with its long fingers. “You have passed the test,” they said. “Well done.”

“What happens now?” I asked.

“Now,” said the being, “you take its place.”

“What?” I asked, confused. “Take its place? What does that mean?”

“Long ago,” they explained, “what you would call over a hundred thousand years ago, your ocean and our ocean met. Here, in this place – in a way. Scientists from your island and scientists from mine discovered at the same time how to open a doorway to another place, a universe with different physical laws. Their doorways opened at the same time – and were attracted to each other by a powerful force until they met in a cataclysmic explosion. Islands were nearly destroyed until the solution was found – and it had to be found on both sides. If it had not been found, your island, Earth, would not now exist, and neither would mine.”

“But both our peoples did not give up. While their islands threatened to crumble around them, they worked and tested and built, and finally they created this barrier – the Strait. It closed the doorway and stopped the destruction, and it permitted communication. However, that was not the whole story.”

“Some of the people from our side had sent a craft through the doorway before the Strait was complete. It went to your ocean, to explore distant lands in other seas.”

“Ophiuchus,” I said.

“I see in your mind the meaning of that symbol,” said the entity. “Yes, it was in the direction of that grouping of angular coordinates that they went. Perhaps they started a colony on some island in those distant waters. Perhaps they did not survive. Their fate is unknown.”

“But you wait for them to return, just in case,” I said.

“Indeed. The automated systems wait for any sign that anyone will return from those coordinates. If there is such a sign, the system will alert a watcher such as myself to examine the readings. It seems that your island has contained no one capable of operating the Strait for some time now. But the civilizations on Earth have begun to rise to the level where they soon may be able to manipulate the Strait’s technology.”

“And that would be bad, right?” I asked.

“If they are unclear on exactly what they are doing, they may deactivate the Strait, or even destroy it completely,” they said. “If either of those things happens, the result could well be the destruction of both our home islands – or even larger gulfs of our oceans, if the events are not stopped.”

“That’s what you mean,” I said. “I have to take the place of the guardian, to prevent anyone from doing that.”

“The automated systems have sufficed until now,” said the entity. “But they could not communicate with your people very effectively. Now you understand. You can speak to your people about the dangers the Strait poses. You can convince them to leave it alone.”

“I … can try,” I said. “They will come back, either with soldiers and weapons or with spies and trickery, because every nation will think that it can use the Strait’s technology to give it an advantage over others.”

“You now have the means to prevent them from doing so,” said the being. “And someone will always be here, if you send a message. Someone will always respond. We may not be able to help you directly, but we may be able to suggest a course of action. And if you are attacked, we would appreciate a warning. Just in case.”

“I don’t like not having a choice,” I said.

“But of course you have a choice,” said the entity. “Someone must guard the Strait, it is true. For the moment that person is you. But you may pass the burden on to another – simply pass along the devices we gave you. You should do whatever you can to make sure that they are a worthy candidate. The penalty, after all, could mean the death of your island and ours. And remember, we face a similar issue on our side – there are nations who wish to use the Strait as an advantage.”

“I feel like I just bought the world’s biggest white elephant,” I said.

“I sense that this expression has an idiomatic meaning,” said the entity. “Ah, yes. A gift of great honor that is very expensive to maintain but cannot be given away easily. An apt comparison. We, too, are in a similar situation, but we are a group of guardians and rotate our duties so no one of us becomes too exhausted. Perhaps you may want to search for others to share your duties. Remember; ideas are weapons … and the thoughts to arrive at them are the means to wield them.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

With that last comment, the entity vanished, leaving me alone wondering what his last statement ment. As I puzzled over it, I returned to the house and sat at the computer. I realized all the jamming signals were gone and I was getting major data updates.

I called up one of the Geos satellites to check on the weather. The images from space were crystal clear with little cloud obstructions, so it wasn’t hard to see the large contingent of warships rapidly approaching my island. I also noticed besides the several aircraft carriers, I was getting heat blooms from deep underwater of some type of power source.

I shook my head in disgust. After all that had happened, those idiots were sending a very large battle group, including what appeared to be several subs. This was totally not acceptable and I started wishing some kind of major fog bank coupled with huge waves and storms would descend on the surface ships, and hoped the subs encountered some type of obstruction to stop their approach as well.

From my vantage point atop the cliff, I witnessed some type of eruption. The sea suddenly boiled up into a large column of water then splashed out over the large area the fleet occupied. A massively thick swirling cloud of fog, filled with ice, high winds, and lightning surrounded the remainder of the flotilla. It didn’t appear to be surviving the encounter well. From what I was told later, the two subs vanished in the conflagration and were never heard from again.

Once again I waved my hand and shouted, “Enough!” The seas instantly calmed, and the fog bank lifted. The surviving ships were caked in thick crusts of ice. I could see many men in the water.

After descending to the docks, I got out the skiff that had been in storage inside the boat house and went to them as fast as I could to aid in rescue. It came as a total shock, but out of the several ships that had sunk, no men were lost. That was when I found out about the subs. They had vanished mysteriously with all hands. I felt very bad about that and resolved to be more careful with the great power I now found myself in charge of.

I did manage to speak with the mission commander. He actually sounded reasonable when I explained to him about my island. I’m sure what had happened to his attack force and the rapidity and destructiveness of it also aided in convincing him to take all he could rescue and leave the area. Besides, I pointed out to him, no one had really been to this island since the weather station had been abandoned, and those few individuals who had, told some of the strangest ghost stories ever.

“So … you’re not making any of this up, are you?” asked the commander.

“Look, Commander, I only wish you could see some of the crazy things I’ve seen since I took possession of this place … four hundred foot giants made of black smoke … huge waves and weather out of nowhere … some kind of force that wrenched the tail of my helicopter like it was a toy … it’s unreal.”

“And you’re sure you’re safe there?” he asked.

“That’s one thing I’m sure of,” I replied. “I’ve come to an understanding with it. If nobody approaches in force, there won’t be any more issues. It wants to be left alone.”

“And … if anybody does? I mean, we’re not exactly going to be able to just tell the Chinese or the Russians or whoever to stay away.”

“Yes, sadly, you’re probably right,” I said. “All you can really do is tell NATO what you know. I suppose I’ll be looking forward to visits from some other curious and uninvited folks. Oh well, they’ll probably learn what you’ve learned.”

“Hm. And if they don’t, they’ll be sorry.” The commander turned and said to his staff, “Prepare to move out. Back to base.” He turned back to me. “Sure you don’t want a ride? That’s a long way back in a little rowboat. Even for somebody who can pull two men out of the drink at a time.”

“It’s no problem for me, Commander,” I said. “Safe travels.”

“You too, Mr. Merricks,” the commander said. “I hope we meet under better circumstances in the future.”

And I did climb down the ship’s ladder and back to my moored skiff and rowed it back to the island. I still barely felt the strain of the oars.

I rowed around the island, actually, back to where I’d left Thor, and sailed her back into the lagoon. I thought it likely that she’d be safe there now. Once I moored her at the dock, a curious thing happened. A number of giants appeared, all around the island’s perimeter, just standing there, watching. Looking out to sea, they waited. They’d let me know if any uninvited guests showed up. I could already tell that there was now an interesting phenomenon that any satellites out in space would encounter, blurring any images they tried to take of the island. And already there’d been a high-altitude spy plane that had suddenly found itself back at home base in Pyongyang … at rest on the ground, instead of on the aircraft carrier it had taken off from.

I’d gotten some messages from the IFREMER techs and scientists, so I sent one back, saying we could do a conference whenever it was convenient for them. The next day, I had Ian, Jean, and Louis on my big-screen monitors, along with several others, and we talked about what I’d learned.

“So,” said Ian, “it sounds like making sure that Strait thing comes to no harm is probably the biggest bloody priority the Earth has ever known.”

“Pretty much sums it up,” I said.

“But … evidence of a globe-spanning civilization that long ago,” said one of the anthropologists. “That’s stunning. How do we corroborate it?”

“I’d be happy to help in any way I can,” I said, “but I haven’t the first idea where on Earth to look for more evidence. Now, somewhere not on Earth, on the other hand …”

“You’re thinking of those constellation symbols,” said Ian.

“They must mean something,” I said. “What if that’s where they sent colony ships?”

“Yes, but to what stars?” asked an astronomer. “We’ve discovered lots of extra-solar planets, but the ones with friendly climates for colonization tend to be really hard to spot from this distance.”

“Maybe we can learn something from the technology here,” I said. “More information about those colonies, for one thing. The Strait’s computers have information, and I’ve barely scratched the surface – too busy discouraging military forces.”

“I understand,” said Jean. “But perhaps we can help.”

I nodded. “Organize your team. Let’s learn something. I’m supposed to guard this thing, but that doesn’t mean keeping the entire human race in the dark – just no military control over the place. And I believe I can guarantee nothing’s going to rip any science vessels in half, and there won’t be any more comms jamming unless we get some military force showing up uninvited – and if we do, they won’t be staying long.”

So there would be science teams on the island, but no military occupation. Of course there were other confrontations … if you could call them that. They didn’t last. Sooner or later, I knew, we’d find out more about the ancient humans who had built the Strait – or this end of it, at least. I knew I’d have to find some other trustworthy people who could share my burden. I didn’t want to be the sole guardian.

============================= THE END =============================
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