Geology instructor Alex Cave receives an urgent message about an unusual event in Iceland. What he discovers is an alien artifact more powerful than a nuclear weapon. An anti-gravity device, which begins changing the orbit of our moon.
Alex knows he must somehow find a way to return it to its original orbit, but he can’t tell his girlfriend and her daughter his reason for leaving, even though she already considers him just another adventure junkie, disappearing without any concern for her feelings.
The adventure doesn’t end when a huge emerald asteroid with a mass of solid gold is on a collision course with Earth, and will impact in six days. His only chance of changing its trajectory is with the ancient artifact, and he’s running out of time. Can he find a way to save humanity from extinction?
Targeted Age Group:: All audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
A special on TV was talking about how the gravitational pull is different for various locations here on Earth. I thought about how this would make for an interesting story and came up with the idea for this novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Alex Cave and Okana are the two main characters are used in all the Alex Cave series stories. I needed a representative from NASA in this story, so I added Jadin Avery, who is now part of Alex's team.
BUFORD GLACIER, ICELAND:
A distant noise caused Baltistan Nilsson to look up from his equipment on the northern edge of the ice sheet. There had been a larger than normal amount of ice breaking away from the face, so he was taking readings on the rate of calving, using a small quad copter with a built-in video camera. He stared in the direction of the sound, but all he could see on the other side of an ice ridge was a large, vertical white cloud against the sky blue background.
What in God’s name was that? he thought. He climbed to the top of the ridge separating him from the steam plumes. An ominous glow reflected sporadically from his sunglasses while he peered over the ridge. As he pulled them off to get a better look, his eyes widened and his jaw sagged in disbelief. He realized no one would believe this without a video recording, so he quickly turned the copter in the direction of the steam cloud and began filming.
MONTANA STATE COLLEGE, BOZEMAN:
Alex Cave sat on the edge of his old wooden desk, gazing out over his second year geophysics students, all of them feverishly trying to finish their final exams before time ran out on their last day of class. Each year the faces changed, yet the material remained much the same. Year after year, it was the same lectures, the same tests, and the same student performance. He grimaced, wondering silently about his chosen profession at the college. He loved the subject, and teaching paid the bills, but even with the occasional field trip to interesting formations, the work was becoming all too boring. He felt like a caged animal required to perform the same trick over and over again for a tiny bit of a reward.
Since the highly classified Red Energy Operation last year, he would do the occasional investigation of extraordinary circumstances for his friend, Martin Donner, who was the Director of National Security. However, occasional was the optimal word, and it wasn’t enough to get him out of his monotonous rut.
He looked up at the clock and felt a sense of relief. In a few more minutes, his classes would end for the summer. When he heard a knock on the door, he turned to look. A man in a US Postal Service uniform was standing on the other side, and he walked over to find out what he wanted. “Yes?”
The man held out an envelope. “Sorry to bother you, Professor Cave, but I need your signature.”
Alex signed for the letter and read the return address. It was from Reykjavík, Iceland, with Urgent written in red letters. “Thanks.”
The bell rang, and Alex looked at his students. “Have a great summer, everyone.”
He stepped aside while they left his classroom, then sat at his desk to grab a letter opener. Inside the envelope were a round trip airline ticket from New York to Iceland and a single page note.
I’m Jeffery Sliven, the Director of the Nordic Volcanological Center, and I need your help with an unusual geological discovery. Director Martin Donner said this might be of interest to you. Below you will find the time, date, and location of the symposium we will be holding with other top professionals in your field. I know this is short notice, but your expertise would be greatly appreciated.
Alex felt a small adrenalin rush, thinking about the potential for a new challenge. He called the airport and managed to get a connecting flight to New York, but it would leave in two hours. As exhilarated as he was at the prospect of a new adventure, Alex knew his girlfriend, Fala, would not be happy about his having to leave again. He tucked the envelope into his briefcase and headed for the door.
Alex drove into the driveway on his small ranch and parked next to his girlfriend’s SUV. When he climbed out, he heard a familiar giggle and smiled. Halona, Fala’s eight-year-old daughter, was playing tug-of-war with his dog, Barney, a mixed-breed he had rescued from an animal shelter as a pup, and who had grown up to look more like a brown bear than a dog. When Alex knelt down, Barney let go of the thick rope, causing Halona to fall on her butt. She laughed and jumped up, running after the dog. When they both stopped in front of him, Alex ran his hand through Barney’s thick fur. “How ya doing, big fella?”
Halona smiled and held the rope out for her friend to see. “I won, Alex.”
Alex grinned, swept her up onto his arm, and stood. “I saw that. You’re getting stronger every day. Has your mom been giving you some kind of magic Native American growing medicine?”
Halona laughed. “No, silly. I’m just growing tall, like her.”
“You sure are, so it’s time you do your own walking.” He set her on the grass. “See if you can beat Barney again, while I go talk to your mom.”
Halona looked up at her friend and frowned. “You’re leaving again, aren’t you?”
Alex knelt down in front of her. “I’m afraid so.”
“Will you be back for my birthday party on Sunday?”
Alex loved Halona as much as he loved her mother, who had planned the party several weeks ago, and he dare not miss it. “I promise I’ll do my best to be here.”
Her lower lip fell into a pout. “All right.”
Alex stood and climbed the three steps onto the back porch, then went into the house. He set his briefcase near the hallway and found his girlfriend sitting in a chair in the living room. Because of her raven black hair, her parents had named her Fala, a Native American word for crow.
Fala looked up from her laptop when she heard the door open. The moment she saw Alex, she smiled. “Somebody sure looks excited. I bet you’re pretty happy to be done with classes for the semester.”
“Definitely, but that’s not why I’m excited. I’ve been asked to attend an urgent geological meeting in Iceland.”
Fala’s smile was immediately replaced with a scowl. Nearly slamming her laptop on the coffee table, she stood. “Iceland? Are you kidding me, Alex?”
“You just got out for the summer. I thought we might finally be able to do some traveling together. All three of us, or maybe you and I could go somewhere. Between classes and your mysterious rock excursions, I feel like we don’t see you enough. I don’t see you enough.”
Alex walked over, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her close to him. “Fala, you know I love you.”
Fala smirked slightly and rolled her eyes, “You have a funny way of showing it, traveling around the world, leaving me here to feed your dog and bring in your mail.”
“How about this? Whenever I get back, we’ll make time for us. We’ll take Halona to your parents’ and we’ll go on a little trip. Just the two of us.”
“Of course,” he said and kissed her on the lips.
“Why wait, Alex?” she said as she kissed him back. “There are thousands of perfectly qualified geologists in the world that can handle a little rock crisis in Iceland. Let one of them handle it.”
“I can’t. Not this time. I have to go.”
Fala pulled out of his grasp. “No, Alex. You want to go. There’s a big difference.”
Alex stared after her as she stormed into the kitchen to start dinner. He knew she was right, but he still wanted to go to Iceland. Something about the urgency of the message gnawed at him.
“Will you be joining us for dinner or will you be leaving right away?” Fala said as she slammed cupboard doors and silverware drawers.
Alex stood in the kitchen doorway, watching her slam the oven door closed and toss a pot of water on the stove to boil. “My flight leaves in less than an hour, so I’ll leave as soon as I finish packing.”
Fala stopped in her tracks, crossed her arms, and stared at Alex. “Well, when do you plan on being back? You do know Halona’s birthday party is on Sunday. She’ll be so crushed if you’re not here.”
“I know, and I promise I’ll try to be back on time.”
“Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep, Alex. The last time you went off on one of your geological symposiums or digs or whatever it is you keep running off to do, you said the exact same thing. You know, my parents went to a lot of trouble arranging the ceremony with the Cherokee leaders to welcome you into our tribe.”
“I know, and I apologized to them, but this time it’s different. They just need my opinion about a geology problem.”
Fala uncrossed her arms and went back to fixing dinner. As she searched through the cupboards, slamming the doors as she went, she shook her head, “Yeah, right. The last time you came back from one of your “geology” trips, your face was all bruised and you had three broken ribs. Since when did studying rocks become so dangerous?”
Alex stepped into the kitchen and smiled as he grabbed Fala’s hands. “I’ll be in an auditorium on a university campus this time.” He felt Fala’s hands relax slightly in his and looked into her dark brown eyes. “Are we okay?”
When Fala nodded hesitantly, he kissed her on the cheek and walked down the hallway to his office to grab a suitcase from the closet and his passport from the desk drawer. He continued to the master bedroom, and after packing for a short trip, he returned to the living room. “I’m all set.”
Fala stood in the doorway of the kitchen, her disposition having softened considerably since he had packed. “Do you need a ride?”
“No thanks. Actually, I don’t think I’ll be gone more than one night, and I’m not sure what time I’ll be getting back. I’ll take my truck so you don’t have to leave your veterinary clinic to pick me up.”
“All right. Just give me a call when you get back.”
“I will.” He turned and headed for the back door.
Fala followed him out to his car and waited while he said goodbye to Halona. When he was through, Fala wrapped her arms around his neck. “Be careful, Alex.”
“I will.” He kissed her lips. “I’ll call when I’m headed back.”
When Alex drove away, Fala climbed the steps up to the deck and sat in a chair. She knew about Alex’s past of working for the CIA. He had promised never to work for them again, but for the last eight months, she had a suspicion that on some of his supposed field trips, he was really doing some kind of secret mission for the Director of National Security. Whatever he was doing on those occasions, it sure wasn’t studying rock formations. She wanted a comfortable family life, with a husband who doted on her, a father who adored her daughter and family dinners together every night. She wanted a chance to travel across the country on summer vacation like a normal family, not stuck here alone for weeks at a time while Alex ran off on some adventure. This new trip to Iceland didn’t sit well with her. She had a bad feeling that this excursion was some type of secret mission, and Alex would wind up getting hurt again, or worse, killed.
Fala looked away from the pasture when she felt a small hand on her shoulder. She turned to see her daughter’s troubled expression. “What’s on your mind, sweetie?”
“You looked sad, Mom, so I came over to cheer you up.”
Fala smiled. “Well, thank you, baby. You did. Shall we have some supper?”
“Is Alex going to get hurt again?”
Fala’s smile slipped away. She realized she wasn’t the only one who was worried about Alex’s safety on this new trip. “We’ll ask the Spirits to watch over him after we eat, okay?”
* * *
NordVulk, the Nordic Volcanological Center in Reykjavík, was located on the campus of the College of Iceland, on the Southern Peninsula of the island. When Alex entered the small auditorium, he recognized several of the most prominent figures in the geophysics community, and realized whatever was going on must be of great significance for all of them to arrive on such short notice. He nodded to the familiar faces and sat down in the front row.
A small man with white wavy hair stepped up to the podium and adjusted the microphone. “Thank you for coming. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Jeffery Sliven, the director of this facility. I’ll get right to the point. One month ago, one of the students discovered a strange event on the north side of the Buford glacier. If he had not been there, it’s doubtful anyone would have noticed this strange event. Rather than my trying to explain it to you, here is the video from his remotely operated aircraft.”
Sliven looked at the projectionist, the lights dimmed, and an image appeared on the screen. The motion picture showed the aircraft approaching a billowing cloud of steam rising above a glacier. When it pierced through the haze, the image caused everyone to gasp. Massive globules of glowing molten rock appeared to be floating up out of the glacier. Suddenly, they all slammed down onto the ice, sending plumes of steam hissing into the air. An instant later, the camera lens shattered.
The picture on the screen vanished, the lights in the auditorium blinked on, and Sliven stepped up to the podium. “Even stranger is the complete lack of any seismic activity that would account for lava movement. Now, this next video was taken by the same student four days ago.” Sliven nodded to the projectionist.
Once again, the picture was from a drone flying over the glacier. The camera focused on the smooth walls of a black tunnel, and the picture showed that it wasn’t straight down, but more like a corkscrew. The drone dropped down inside, showing darkness for a few moments, then the picture blinked off.
The lights came on and Sliven went back up to the podium. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact spot where the magma floated up out of the glacier. My colleagues and I are at a loss to explain either of these events.” Sliven held his palms up. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Muffled conversations quickly filled the room, and Alex sat quietly listening to the ideas offered to the Director, but none of them appeared confident in their theories. Doctor Leo Bernstein theorized that a slow moving pocket of superheated gas forced the magma up through an ancient lava tube, until Sergey Outremer reminded him that the Atlantic rift through Iceland is the result of recent volcanic activity.
Alex leaned back in his chair and looked up at the Director. He knew about Sliven’s reputation as the world’s leading volcanologist, but he had never met him in person. If he didn’t know the cause of the strange volcanic tunnel, Alex doubted the other volcanologists would know either. The only way to get definitive answers would be to get inside and take a good look around, so he raised his hand.
Sliven noticed. “Yes, Mister Cave?”
“Have you sent a team down into the tunnel?”
Sliven smiled. “No, but the student who went inside to retrieve his drone said it continued down much farther than he wanted to go without proper equipment. I was hoping you would like to lead the first team.”
Alex grinned. “Yes, thank you. I would love to. I’ll need a couple of days to get organized though, if that is all right? I have an idea, and it will let us know what we might be up against.”
“Of course.” He looked at the other hands being raised, and pointed to a woman. “Yes, Ms. Stafford?”
“I’d like to go on the expedition with Mister Cave.”
Sliven looked at Alex. “Mister Cave?”
Alex already knew this development was unusually odd, and he had dealt with strange situations before. In the past, some of the people he allowed to accompany him would usually end up dead. He wouldn’t jeopardize anyone else’s life again before he understood the situation. “My partner and I will assess the area first to make sure it is safe. Once the preliminary findings verify that there is no imminent danger, I’ll organize a larger expedition. Ms. Stafford can join us at that time.”
Sliven turned to the audience. “Are there any more questions? All right. Those who wish to be included in the second expedition, please talk to Mister Cave. Thank you all for coming.”
Sliven walked down to talk to Alex face-to-face. “I’m glad you came. You were on the top of my list of people who needed to be in on this discovery.”
“Well, thanks for allowing me to do this. I’ll head back to the States, and let you know when I’m ready.”
“All right. It is your expedition. Just let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
“I will. Thank you.”
When Sliven walked over to join a small group of people, Alex noticed the young woman who wanted to go with him speaking into her phone, and decided to walk over to talk to her. When she noticed he was moving in her direction, she quickly hung up, and hurried out of the auditorium. He followed her out to the parking lot, wondering if she wanted to talk outside, but she climbed into a car and drove away.
That was strange, he thought.
Stacy Stafford drove off campus to a small Internet café, and hurried inside to a vacant table. She brought out her smartphone, took a quick look around, and pressed one of the contacts. “Hey, Janice, you’re not going to believe this. I’m sending you a recording showing you why I was called to this meeting. I think your legend might be true after all.”
“When are you coming home?”
“I’m not sure. Sliven put some geologist named Alex Cave in charge of forming an expedition, but this professor insists on doing a preliminary assessment by himself. If he finds what you’re after before anyone else, you’ll never get your hands on it.”
Janice Sloan knew a little about Cave’s reputation and his connection with the CIA, so he would have all the resources he would need to go down the tunnel and take her prize. “When is he starting?”
“He didn’t say, but he’s headed back to the States right away. He’ll call Sliven when he’s ready, so use your contacts to tap into the Director’s phone service.”
“Okay, I’ll call if I learn anything new.”
When Alex boarded the airplane back to the States, he felt the familiar adrenalin rush of being on the hunt again. He sat down next to the window, and thought about the best way to survey the tunnel before he entered. What he couldn’t figure out was the smooth surface. It reminded him of black volcanic glass, called obsidian, but that would be impossible. The material needed to make the glass was silicate sand, and it wasn’t native to that region of Iceland. He leaned his seat back, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep, but couldn’t stop thinking about the tunnel. The flight seemed to take forever before the pilot finally announced they were on final approach to LaGuardia International Airport. As the plane taxied to the air terminal, Alex had an idea about how he could survey the tunnel before going down. The only problem was he didn’t have the resources to make it happen. He smiled and brought out his phone to ask for Director Donner’s assistance.
When Alex walked into his office, Director Donner stood from behind his desk, and held out his hand. “Welcome back. Have a seat and tell me more about this unusual lava tube.”
Alex sat down. “You didn’t have to send your private plane to pick me up, Martin. We could have done this over the phone.”
“I know, but this sounds important. Just like the missing oil in the Dead Energy Operation, and the sudden polar vortex issue in the Cold Energy mission, you seem to have a knack for discovering and solving problems that have never been heard of before. I just want to make sure you get everything you need.”
“All right.” Alex told him what he saw in the movie. “I’m not positive it was created by lava, but for the moment, I don’t have an alternate theory. I think I know how to check the interior before I go down, but I’m going to need your help procuring these items.” He slid a sheet of paper across the desk. “Here’s what I need to make this work.”
Donner’s eyes went wide when he learned what Alex had in mind, then he smiled. “Good grief, Alex. I’ve never heard of one being used for that purpose, but I’m sure it can be arranged. Where are you going to build it?”
“The Naval Test Facility in Keyport, Washington, but I need to return home first. It’s Halona’s birthday tomorrow.”
“Of course. Fala sounds like a wonderful woman. One of these days, I’d like to meet your new family.”
Alex smiled. “She is wonderful. Amazing actually. You’ll have to come out sometime. For leisure, of course, not business.” Alex stood. “I’d better get going or I’ll miss my flight.”
Donner stood and walked him to the door. “I’ll set everything up for when you’re ready. Just let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.”
As Alex walked down the hall and out of the building, his thoughts immediately went to Fala. In all the excitement of the floating lava, he had completely forgotten about his promise to her. Crap, he thought. Now how am I going to explain this to her? She is going to wring my neck.
Janice Sloan stepped through the open doorway of a small private airplane and stared out across the desert. On the other side of the runway was a pyramid-shaped building with three glass spires. A green lawn and flowers surrounded the building, and ESSEX SPACE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION was carved into polished green granite blocks near the entrance. She could see several aircraft hangars located on other parts of the compound, and the one alongside the runway had an odd-looking railing protruding from one side.
When Sloan climbed down the steps, a short man with thinning hair greeted her. “Hello, Essex. I’m glad you accepted my offer.”
John Essex smiled. “Hello, Janice. I just hope it’s worth the trouble. Are you certain about this? Because if you’re correct, it would solve my problems for inexpensive space travel.”
“I’m certain. We’ll need to have a jet ready to take us to Iceland on a moment’s notice.”
“I have the right connections to get us anywhere, at any time.”
“Good. Now take me to your living quarters. I need a drink.”
Essex indicated the car parked a short distance from the plane. He knew a little about Sloan’s illegal operation. He also knew she was a ruthless woman and had some deep-seated psychological need to be in charge of her situations. He would just have to trust her about this opportunity if he wanted a viable means for launching his space vehicles.
* * *
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