Nick Díarchangelis enjoyed a cup of tea. Heíd just returned to his office and was relaxing before diving into the correspondence that had piled up while he was away. That had been his first trip to the 30th Century and he was glad to be back where he could brew a decent cup. People in the future were such flakes. Life was so much simpler without galactic conspiracies to unravel.
Nick looked up as he felt a familiar stirring in his mind. His mindís eye reviewed the security cameraís video feed. He didnít bother with his gun. In a moment there was a knock on his office door.
"Come on in. It isnít locked."
She entered a little uncertainly. He studied her face closely and started a query of one of the larger image databases.
"Mr. Díarchangelis, Iíve been told you can help me," she began. She twisted a handkerchief in her hands and eyed him nervously.
"I hope so, Mrs. Cavendish," Nick replied. The query had found a positive match.
"You know my name?" Her eyes narrowed a little.
"I like to know who Iím talking to."
Her words were slower, cautious. "We havenít met."
"I have my ways. May I get you some tea?" The database hadnít said anything about what she drank.
"No. Tell me how you know my name."
"Did you hear about the brain-to-computer interface experiments a few years back? I got one."
"Youíre a díangel?" Her voice's inflection split the difference between question and statement.
"It helps. I looked up your picture in a database to get your name. A parlor trick. Ignore it." He didn't want to trouble her with details like his risk of implant-induced insanity.
"My husband is missing."
Nick smiled. This looked to be a little less stressful than the work he was used to. Mrs. Cavendishís credit rating was Ö Hello... Yes, she would be quite capable of paying his normal rate. He could probably find her husband without having to nuke California again. Yes, quite a bit less stressful. He tried to hide his smugness.
"Tell me about your husband."
"As you may know, Leonard is the heir of the Cavendish fortune. Lately heís been having some financial trouble. When he disappeared he had something of mine. It has been in my family for generations and I value it more than anything else. Now, heís missing. So is my island."
"Your husband disappeared taking an island with him?"
"Yes. My island, Hoffa Island, is in the Caribbean, almost uninhabited. Just my grandparentsí summer home and some staff."
"Just how can an island go missing, Mrs. Cavendish?"
"I was hoping you could tell me."
Nick sat back and looked at her for a long moment. This sounded like the perfect gig. Low stress and interesting.
"Iíll take your case."
They chatted a bit more. Mrs. Cavendish had left Hoffa Island last week and the next day island and Leonard Cavendish had simply disappeared. The radiotelephone had quit working. Ships and airplanes sent to the location of Hoffa Island found nothing but open sea.
Nick flew to Miami the next day without incident and waited for a connecting flight to Havana. Sitting quietly toward the rear of the airport waiting area he recognized an attractive young woman with Asian features and large dark eyes. She was a former client and Nick started toward her.
The voice in his head stopped him.
"Nick, Iím trying not to be noticed," the voice said.
He altered his course slightly and found another lonely spot in the waiting area. He picked up the Wall Street Journal and pretended to read it. The woman appeared to be flipping through a Chinese-language woman's magazine. The pages of the magazine trembled a bit as she turned them.
"Hi, Moon. What are you doing in Miami?" He didnít say these words so that anyone could hear him. He merely thought these words and directed the thought at his implant with instructions to send those words to the person whose network address where the voice had come from.
"Iím working for Jacob."
To anyone in the airport, Nick and Moon were completely oblivious of one another. The only perceptible change to either of them was a slight smile on his face at the mention of Jacob.
"How is my favorite Mossad agent?"
"Trying to stay retired. He wanted to train one last apprentice. Me."
"How are you handling the control issue with the implant?"
"This isn't a real one, not like yours or Jacobís. Just enough for crude voice communications. The Mossad occasionally has to do things that would drive a díangel insane. Jacob asked Dr. Stephenson to design a crippled implant for me."
"That's good. If you start thinking youíre God, drop whatever you're doing and get that thing in your head checked immediately. Understood."
"I know the drill."
"I'm sorryÖ Iíve got some painful memories. You were there."
Moon had indeed been there and her memories of that time were much more acute. Nick didn't know this or he'd have avoided the subject altogether. He lost a pleasant acquaintance when the d'angel fell. She lost an exciting new friend who looked at her like Nick never would. Moon's eyes shone with excess moisture. She faced away from him and he didn't see. The implant didn't convey things like a voice breaking.
"Letís change the subject. You havenít told me where Nick Díarchangelis, private investigator has been for the last few months. Jacob was wondering."
"Sorry, canít say. It was a government job."
"Nope. It was the Sirian Confederacy."
"Jacob wouldnít approve of you working for the Syrians."
"Not those Syrians. I meant Sirian as in Sirius, the star, not Syria, the country. I canít say anything more."
"What can you talk about?"
"Iím looking for a missing person, Leonard Cavendish."
"Sounds low stress. What about him?"
"He took his wife's island with him when he disappeared."
"Just how can an island go missing?" The implant didn't betray the little smile Moon hid, indicating she knew more than she was letting on.
"Thatís what Iíve been hired to find out."
The announcement of the flight's departure for Havana interrupted them. Nick and Moon gathered their carryon luggage and made their way to the jet. Federal regulations did not explicitly prohibit the use of direct brain-to-computer implants while the airliner was airborne. Nick didnít want to chance it, so he took a nap.
He sipped tea at the airport bar and watched the other passengers on his flight walk through the airport. He saw Moon and sent a message through his implant.
"You never told me what Jacob wants you to do."
Moon kept walking. She smiled a little Mona Lisa smile at him.
"No, I didnít."
Nick sipped his tea and enjoyed the uncertainty that her reply caused him. Moon had always been stereotypically inscrutable. He finished his tea and remembered that nobody was paying him to wonder what she was doing. He checked into his hotel room and returned to the problem of finding out what had happened to Leonard Cavendish.
His implant scanned records. Air lines and cruise ships had recently been experiencing certain navigational anomalies. Compasses were acting funny in a roughly trapezoidal area southwest of Jamaica. Some cruise ship captains had started making superstitious references to a Jamaica Trapezoid. Someone had called a nationwide all-night talk show with rumors of the disappearance. Cruise ships had begun to avoid the area. Airliners flying over the Jamaica Trapezoid were burning more fuel than they ought and reporting unexplained inconsistencies in their navigational gear. Hoffa Island was in the middle of all these anomalies. He checked the latest satellite imagery of the area. The ocean where Hoffa Island had once been was now completely empty. Something unexplained was happening and it all began the night Leonard Cavendish disappeared.
What of Leonard Cavendish himself? Nick checked into Leonardís background. He had grown up doing little except clipping coupons on various long-term bonds that were the Cavendish fortune. Heíd been interested in a number of scientific and pseudo-scientific pursuits and heíd spent most of his fortune on. The latest was some crazy theory of interdimensional travel to parallel universes. This last hobby had managed to deplete most of Leonardís fortune. He had been living on his wifeís money for the last few months.
Nick made plans for a little Caribbean cruise to check things out. He chartered a Jamaican ship and crew and made plans to fly there the next day.
He found the ship and then found an older man in a hat.
"Hello, I'm looking for Captain Smithers."
"You've found him. Who are you?" the man growled.
"I'm Nick D'archangelis and you are working for me for the next week or so."
An electric charge seemed to pass through Michael Smithers straightening him. "I hadn't expected you for hours."
"Are you ready to sail?"
"Yes, sir. We've been all set since dawn. Shall I fetch the crew?"
"I'll go with you."
Nick wanted to size up the crew and followed Captain Smithers away from the ship to a seedy looking bar. They found the crew huddled around intensely watching the ship's cook with a cocktail waitress. The couple was so totally absorbed in what they were doing that they were completely unaware of anyone else was in the room. Captain and customer approached and the crew parted noiselessly in front of them.
The d'angel assessed the situation and rendered judgement.
"Black mates in eight moves."
The cocktail waitress giggled and flashed a grin. Her opponent sighed and tipped over his king.
"Want to play, handsome?" she asked, dark eyes flashed with the invitation.
"Maybe when I get back. But it wouldn't be fair."
The defeated cook laughed. "That's true, she's unbeatable."
"Come on lads, duty and Mr. D'archangelis calls."
"Where you boys going?"
"We're going into the heart of the Jamaica Trapezoid. Have you heard anything?"
"Just that a lot of compasses are going nuts. No ships have been lost. Nothing to be afraid of. Come back and we'll play." She winked at Nick.
Captain Smithers set course for where Hoffa Island's last known position. The ship made its way into the heart of the Jamaica Trapezoid. The sun set and stars came out.
Nick checked the position with the GPS receiver and the compass. The captain worked out their position by dead reckoning. It agreed with the GPS solution. He had been greedily anticipating the next bit all afternoon. Above decks the stars were brilliant. He reveled in the view. The stars in the Atlantic were brilliant. Nick hadn't had a chance to find dark skies and look at stars since that time when he'd stolen the freighter from the Russians. Memories of action evoked that wonderful thrill. He found Sirius and laughed at the incongruity of those flakes. Against his better judgement his eyes were drawn to the insignificant red star about which Camelot orbited. He sighed sadly and returned to work to escape self-pity.
Nick queried an astronomical database and determined exactly which stars were rising and setting at that very moment. He found Polaris and determined the identity of the stars closest to the horizon both due north and due south. He checked the time using the radio signal from an atomic clock in Colorado. A little math and he had a celestial navigation solution to his position. He'd done this before.
The next day they continued sailing in the same direction. The compass didnít go crazy, but it did briefly have a little problem and then it settled out again without anyone noticing. The captain made a minor course correction without saying anything.
That evening, Nick repeated his little ritual with the GPS receiver, the captainís dead reckoning, and the stars. This time, he noticed a little discrepancy.
"Captain Smithers, I want you to change course and start doing things a little differently."
"You're the boss."
"I want you to sit idle during the day and only cruise when the stars are out. I'll be on deck doing some stargazing."
"Pay's the same. No problem."
For the next few days Nick mapped a roughly trapezoidal area where there was a discrepancy between GPS, the compass and the celestial navigation solution. With the mapping complete, Nick spoke again to the captain.
"Sail on this heading tomorrow. And tell the crew to arm themselves. We might have to face pirates."
"Pirates? In the Caribbean?"
"Yes, it sounds silly, but someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep a little secret. I donít know how far heíll go."
"I'll issue guns to all the men."
The next day they arrived at something. The GPS and dead reckoning from the compass said they were several miles to the east of where the charts placed Hoffa Island. Nick studied the something. It was a bluish gray amorphous shape, an inflated structure. Lights mounted on it made it blend into the horizon. The ship's radar signal was absorbed by the structure. If they hadn't been looking at exactly the right spot in the ocean, they'd have sailed right past.
"What is that?" Captain Smithers asked.
"That is why nobody can see Hoffa Island. Someone has spoofed GPS satellite signals to make it look like weíre miles east of where we really are. Heís also generated a huge magnetic perturbation to throw off compasses. What you see there is designed to make the island invisible from the air.
"What are you going to do?"
"I was hired to find Leonard Cavendish and I think I have. First, I have to make sure heís on that island. I'm going; keep a low profile while I'm gone. Sail just over the horizon during the day. Come back at night with lights off. If attacked, try to get away and radio for help. Tell the Navy not to trust the GPS. But inertial nav and celestial nav will work. I've got my own radio gear, if everything works out, I'll send for you. Understood?"
"Sure. Some of the crew can fight. You want them with you?"
"Thanks, but no."
Nick loaded an inflatable Zodiac raft with communications gear and set out for Hoffa Island. He didnít approach the island directly, but circled it twice. This took enough time for the sun to go down. He approached the island in the dark. He reached the structure that covered the island. Up close it looked like a lumpy plastic tent. He was able to lift its edge up out of the water. As the edge cleared the water, a blast of air rushed out pushing him and the Zodiac away. The second time he braced himself against the rushing air and wrestled the edge of the plastic up and over the Zodiac insinuating himself inside.
Inside he was several yards from the shore. The air was hot. The structure collected the sun's heat like a greenhouse. Nick scanned the island and found a place that looked lonely. He beached the Zodiac and hid it there. He found a palm tree, and set up his communications gear in its top.
A patrol came walking down the beach. He listened carefully. They were talking in a foreign language: Arabic. What are they doing in the Caribbean? Nick thought in a particular way that his implant would understand to be a message for someone in particular.
"Moon, are you on Hoffa Island?"
"Took you long enough," came back.
"I suppose this is your little job for Jacob."
"Need to know, Nick."
"Now that's just good and fine; I need to know what Iím facing."
"About twenty Syrians, as in Syria, the country, not the star, have taken over here. They are holding Cavendish captive in the big house. Theyíre digging up the island."
"Why would they do that?"
Nick said nothing.
"Right around the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. There was a little problem in Greece at that time. It seems all the Christians were rounding up all the Muslims to kill them. Many escaped to Lebanon. Your clientís great-great-grandfather was an Armenian gold merchant. He helped some escape and he held their money, which was in gold. After they were safely on a boat for Lebanon, he just sort of disappeared."
"What has that to do with here and now?"
"The Syrians were going through some old records in Lebanon and linked your clientís great-great-grandfather to the gold. Now they want the gold. Theyíre digging up the island to get it."
"Why are you here?"
"Jacob doesnít like Syrians. He told me to 'toss a spanner in the works.'"
"Sounds like fun. How did you get here?"
"Israeli sub. They use inertial navigation systems. We came directly here. I guess you discovered the compass and the GPS arenít quite right. Did you know that they have even spoofed the Russiansí GLONASS system?"
"It's a lot of gold."
"By the way Moon, where exactly are you?"
Nick looked up and noticed a slight movement in the palm tree adjacent to the one that held his gear. Moon was down right sneaky now that she was a spook. She noiselessly dropped to the ground, landing catlike on all fours.
"May I suggest a partnership?" Nick approached the tiny woman and extended a hand to her. She paused looking distracted as if talking to someone else.
"Jacob says 'Hi,' and that we have a mutual interest in stopping the Syrians. How do you want to do this?" She took his hand.
"Well, first we have to rescue Mr. Cavendish. After that it doesnít really matter, does it?"
"You are ducking my question."
"Tell me what you brought. I need to know what we have to work with."
"Some flash bangs, one Uzi and my scuba gear."
"I've got my old Colt. You didnít happen to bring any tear gas or anything like that did you?"
"No. But I have plenty of air in my scuba tanks. It isn't exactly a gas mask but it's close."
"If I did have tear gas, we'd have to share."
"As appealing as that sounds, it's unnecessary. There are full tanks and gear in that boathouse." Moon indicated a small shack along the beach.
"Sounds good. No tear gas in the boathouse?"
"Sorry. Youíll have to work that out for yourself."
They crept to the boathouse and retrieved the scuba gear and tanks hiding it with Moon's. Then climbed back up the hill and scoped out the house. It was a grand white building built in some kind of Victorian style. A finely manicured lawn lay before it. Undergrowth filled the space just beyond the lawn. Syrian guards patrolled around the house: two in front and two in back. He sized up the beach below the front of the house. In the harbor there rode a ship; its Syrian flag hung limp.
On the far side of the house a backhoe was digging up the yard. Syrians with spotlights were looking into the hole and shouting instructions to the backhoe operator. From the looks of things, theyíd done a lot of digging and very little finding. Behind the house, the lawn was cratered from unsuccessful attempts to dig up the gold.
"Maybe this should have been named Crater Island," Nick mumbled to himself.
"Look at the craters in the back yard. I think I can get to the house using them as cover."
"What do you do then? Overcome the Syrians inside and then take out the other sixteen or so waiting outside?"
"I was thinking you might have the pleasure of entertaining the Syrians outside."
"Donít get your hopes up, I have to check something. At first light, Iíll scout around the island. If I find what Iím looking for, Iíve got a plan."
Nick and Moon retired to their respective palm trees to wait for the day. He started out at first light. Moon slept until mid morning when he returned.
"Good news, Moon, you get the Syrians outside the big house tonight."
"Perhaps you might tell me how Iíll do that?"
An armload of orange colored fruit dropped onto the ground in front of him. "First, you have to help me get some more of these. They grow wild all over here."
Moon complied and soon they had each filled a sack with the orange fruit.
"Be sure to wash your hands."
"You might rub your eyes."
"What exactly are those things?"
"Ever hear of habaneros? They are called goat peppers. So hot even goats won't eat them. Grow wild around here."
"I take it youíre planning some homemade pepper gas for the Syrians."
"Something like that. As soon as it gets dark, we take some of that diesel fuel up to the brush next to the house. We start a big smoky fire using the diesel fuel and brush and peppers. That should ruin the Syriansí night. You stay back a ways and use your Uzi to keep them from putting it out too soon."
"By then the structure fills up with pepper-laced smoke."
"That's the idea. When the Syrians notice the fire, I move on the house. May I have one of your flash bangs?"
The Syrian patrols were predictable. The temperatures on Hoffa Island were normally hot, but with the inflated structure overhead, temperatures were much worse. Pleasant tropical breezes were a distant memory. They quickly learned how to avoid the Syrians who were lethargic in the midday heat.
Preparations took place as outlined. Poking around the boathouse yielded an ancient hand pumped fly sprayer. Nick pounded the peppers into a pulpy mass on a piece of sheet metal. The fumes drove Moon upwind. A scuba mask protected him from the fumes. He mixed in some diesel fuel to help extract the pepper's active ingredient. The insecticide sprayer received the peppery oil. A lawn mower contributed gasoline to thin the mix.
It was completely dark moments after the tropical sun set. Nick moved into position and signaled Moon. A flash bang grenade ignited the diesel fuel. The Syrians quit digging and went to investigate. One of the patrols guarding the house came around the house and just watched. The patrol on the beach came running. Smoke billowed up from the fire. It surged up to the roof of the structure and came down. The structure began to fill with noxious smoke. This got the Syrians attention in a serious way.
Nick crept through the back yard jumping from crater to crater. That old familiar excitement grew within him with each crater. He left the air tanks and facemask in the first crater. The stillness of the night was punctuated by a burst from Moonís Uzi. The Syrians became less motivated to put out the fire. He slipped in the back door and looked around. One of the Syrians stood at the end of the hallway watching what was happening beyond the window. Nick cold-cocked the Syrian with the barrel of the Colt. The guard was dragged out of sight. One down, three to go.
Exploring the first floor, Nick came to a parlor and peered in the door. Leonard Cavendish was sitting there. He gasped in surprise when he saw Nick. Two Syrians were in the room with Cavendish. One stood, reaching for a gun on his hip. A flash-bang grenade was tossed in the room. It rolled under the Syrianís overstuffed chair.
The noise and the flash disoriented everyone except Nick who reversed course and rushed into the room. He sprayed two disoriented Syrians in the face with the oily pepper mixture. They screamed in agony as the spray got in their eyes, as they were both thoroughly dowsed. They tried to rub the irritant from his eyes. Peppery oil was on their hands and they just made it worse. All thought of resistance fled as they writhed on the floor. Nick had mixed feelings. He felt the Syrians' pain, having once made a mistake after chopping peppers for chili. He was pleased that no lasting harm was done them. Definitely a low stress gig.
"We have to go."
"WhoÖ who are you?" Cavendish visibly trembled.
"Friend of the family. Whereís the other Syrian?"
"He's in the kitchen." Cavendish pointed toward the kitchen.
"We go back the way I came." Nick bent down and retrieved the Syriansí guns. "You know how to use one of these things?"
"No, uh, not really, I--"
"Take this." He pushed the fly sprayer into Cavendish's hands. "Try not to get any on you." Nick jammed a Syrian's pistol into his belt and filled both fists with his Colt and the other Syrian's gun. "Follow me. Stay close."
Nick got to the back door. He looked out and saw no one. Good. He pointed to the nearest crater in the back yard. "When I say go, run to that hole. Understood?"
The remaining Syrian came down the hallway. Nick shouted, "GO!" and started shooting intentionally aiming high. The Syrian dove for the floor. Good enough. He plunged out the door after Cavendish into the designated crated. Cavendish grunted as Nick landed on top of him. What a rush, Nick thought.
"Iíve got Cavendish." Nick directed a thought to Moon.
Gunfire was coming from a number of points and directed in no coherent direction.
"Thatís good. Things are getting a little hot around here and Iím not talking about the fire."
"Head down to the beach. Can you whistle up your sub?"
"Iím on it."
Nick worked his way from the house with Cavendish behind him. The smoke was worse at the edge of the cleared area. He gave the air to Cavendish. They hid there and caught their breath. The scuba mask protected Nick's sight from the effects of the pepper-laced smoke.
Moon was waiting for them where Nick stowed the Zodiac. She was shivering despite the heat. Nick didn't say anything about how pale she looked.
"Who is that?" Cavendish asked when he saw Moon. He shivered from his own delayed adrenaline reaction. Nick started to come down from the high that action caused in him. The implant was particularly dangerous at times like this.
"Sheís a former client of mine. But tonight, sheís my partner."
"Can we go?"
"First we create another diversion. Besides, I donít want the Syrians to get away." Nick paused and began concentrating.
Cavendish got a little nervous. "Whatís he doing?" he asked Moon.
"Nick is talking to the Syrians' computers." Moon spoke aloud to Cavendish, her voice cracked.
"That is your guardian d'angel."
Cavendish didn't understand.
Nick looked up and grinned. The software controlling the transmitters spoofing GPS was now hopelessly wedged. He'd learned that submerged buoys were responsible for the magnetic distortions fooled the compasses. They couldn't be completely disabled, but they could be told to generate fluctuating magnetic fields that'd make their batteries fail in a few days. According to GPS, Hoffa Island reappeared at its ordained latitude and longitude. Until those batteries failed, magnetic north would appear to be wandering quite far afield. Moments later, a distant crash shook the island.
The three of them hurried the Zodiac into the water. There were no Syrians to be found. They had all rushed to the other side of the island where the Syrian's ship had grounded.
The Zodiac took them to the edge of the structure. They lifted the plastic edge of structure and a blast of noxious smoky air blew them into the night. Nick radioed his chartered ship. They were on their way and would be there in a few minutes. Moon signaled with a small penlight. Another penlight signaled back. He guessed the other penlight was the sub and steered the Zodiac in that direction.
"I think Jacob would prefer that I call the Navy for the Syrians."
"That was exactly what I was hoping youíd say."
"Have Jacob give me a call when you get home. You did good, Moon."
"Try not to lay it on too thick."
Nick grinned and waved good bye.
"Jacob is her Rabbi."
Cavendish gave Nick a strange look. Rabbi means teacher. Technically, it was the truth. After a bit the ship picked them up. The captain met him at the gunwale.
"Mr. Díarchangelis, itís good to see you. Who's that?"
"May I introduce to you Mr. Leonard Cavendish."
"I think they are going to be in need of rescue. May I use your radio?" Nick only pretended to use the shipís radio. What he really did was use his implant to send an email to a friend of his, an Air Force Colonel living in Maryland. He made a full report of what heíd discovered. Syrians and everything.
When a díangel emails a member of the United States Government, the timeliness response is proportional to the importance of the person receiving the email. This Colonel was fairly important, so he quickly acknowledged that the Navy had Nick's report. He promised that they'd send a cruiser to investigate.
A few days later, Nick was giving a chess lesson to a cocktail waitress when Mr. and Mrs. Cavendish walked in. Nick excused himself and sat with his clients in a booth.
"I hear that the Navy has classified this entire affair secret."
"That's a problem," Cavendish replied.
"Leonard is worried that we won't find the gold."
"Yes, I'm afraid this puts a pinch on my finances. The island is trashed. It will cost a fortune to put right again. I had hoped to sell the movie rights to my little adventure."
"You won't have any trouble."
"How in the world can I? I canít even talk about that woman with you. Moon?"
"Look at it from another angle. For a few weeks, Hoffa Island disappeared. While this was going on, rumors sprung up about a Jamaica Trapezoid complete with strange goings on, unexplained phenomena, mysterious disappearances, and an even more mysterious reappearance. A number of records show that Hoffa Island disappeared. Right now, Internet news groups are all abuzz about how you were doing research in some kind of interdimensional travel to parallel universes. As we speak, satellites are taking pictures of those mysterious craters that appeared on your island and magnetic anomalies are being measured all over the Jamaica Trapezoid. What Iím suggesting is that you exploit all those rumors flying around the southern Caribbean. All you have to do is tell the truth. You tell people that you were doing experiments in interdimensional travel on the night the island disappeared. Then just say that the Navy has classified secret everything that happened after that and that you can't disclose the classified details."
"But, but the Navy, they'd never..."
"They'd never give the press a straight answer. Add a government cover-up. Youíll be on Art Bell for decades."