Island of the SunMatthew J. Kirby
For my sisters,
Amy and Sarah
About the Author
Books by Matthew J. Kirby
About the Publisher
THE ROGUE PLANET WAS UP THERE.
Though Eleanor couldn’t see it, she felt its weight all the time now. An immense shadow come from the distant reaches of space to drain the life from her own planet. Her freezing, dying earth.
No one else could feel it. Eleanor was certain the only reason anyone believed her, including her own mother, was that Dr. Powers had proven the rogue planet was real. She stared at the thin strip of wild Arctic sky visible between the buildings on either side of her. The planet was lurking up there, hidden somewhere among the stars.
“Are you sure about this, Luke?” Eleanor’s mom asked. Her polar mask obscured her face and cast her voice in amorphous metal.
“I’m sure,” Luke said, his voice similarly distorted by his own mask, a layer of protection they all needed or the cold would crystallize their lungs in moments.
They all huddled together in a snowbound alleyway—Eleanor and her mom; their pilot, Luke; her mom’s coworker, Dr. Powers; and his sons, Julian and Finn—between two small warehouses in Fairbanks, Alaska, having fled Barrow and the clutches of the Global Energy Trust the day before. Outside the alley, across a narrow, empty corridor in the ice, lay a darkened dome not unlike those used by the oil companies back in Barrow. Everywhere in the Arctic, buildings bent their failing wills against an assault of wind and snow that would not relent until the structures—and any people left inside them—had been wiped away.
“But for all we know,” Dr. Powers said, “the G.E.T. has placed a bounty on our heads.”
“What’re you saying?” Luke asked.
“Well . . . just how good a friend is this Betty?”
Julian and Finn looked from their father back to Luke. Eleanor had met Betty once before, after stowing away on Luke’s plane, but didn’t know her well at all.
“She’s a good enough friend for me to suggest we hide out with her,” Luke said, sounding irritated, and even a little angry.
“Keep your voice down,” said Eleanor’s mom. “And Simon, Luke is right. We’re out of options.”
“Then let’s do this,” Luke said. “But wait here till I give you the all clear.”
He ducked away toward the street even as Dr. Powers began to protest, and scurried across to the airlock hatch. The informal Arctic Code dictated that air locks be left open at all times for emergencies, and this hatch was no different. Luke was able to open it with a turn of the lever and step inside.
“Dad?” Finn said. “You really think the G.E.T. put a bounty on us?”
“I don’t know,” Dr. Powers said.
“Couldn’t we just tell them the truth?” Finn asked. “Dr. Skinner was the criminal, not us.” Finn was twelve, like Eleanor, and in some ways much smarter than her and his older brother. In other ways, though, he wasn’t.
“You really think anyone would believe us?” Eleanor asked, but Julian wasn’t so gentle.
“Wake up, Finn,” he said. “Dr. Skinner is dead. We totally destroyed the G.E.T. research station, and all the evidence of what they were doing with that alien . . . whatever it was. To the rest of the world, we’re the criminals.”
Eleanor had to agree with that assessment.
“I’m afraid Julian is right,” Dr. Powers said. “Bounties aside, by now they will have at least issued warrants for our arrest.”
“So what are we going to do?” Finn asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” Dr. Powers said.
“We’ll hide here for now,” said Eleanor’s mom. “And come up with a plan.”
The empty street bore not a trace of life, no other people outside at this time of night, and no animals, for nothing could survive unprotected in the Arctic. Fairbanks did seem slightly less hostile than Barrow had, less lawless city and more ghost town. Luke had said that before the Freeze, the borough of Fairbanks had a population of a hundred thousand, but based on the scattering of buildings and oil rigs Eleanor had glimpsed as they’d flown in, there were fewer than a thousand people left. Everyone else had been driven south by the cold, which had buried the old Fairbanks under an ice sheet that now covered half the Northern Hemisphere under a mile-thick glacier. The Alaskan refugees had fled with the rest of Canada and the northern states to cities like Phoenix, where Eleanor was from, or even farther, to Mexico.
“It’s Luke,” said Julian, pointing as the hatch opened across the street, and their pilot peered out and waved for them to cross.
“Let’s go,” Eleanor’s mother said.
They crept from the alley, and once they’d stepped into the open, a gust of wind slammed into Eleanor’s right side, trying to knock her down. She leaned against it and pressed ahead until she reached Luke and the open hatch. Once they were all inside the air lock, Luke closed the outer door, sealing out the wind, and waved down the short corridor at Finn.
“Give that other door a smack, would you, kid?”
Finn rapped on the door with his gloved hand, and the hatch opened. A woman stood there sleepy-squinting at them, her short gray hair pressed flat against her head on one side. She appeared to be a bit older than Eleanor’s mom, and smaller, but harder, the way driftwood seems harder than a freshly cut branch, even though they’re made of the same stuff. Eleanor hadn’t seen beneath her mask the first time they’d met. The woman yawned, covering her mouth.
“Well, can’t say you’re quite the pack of dangerous terrorists they warned us about,” she said.
Luke pulled off his mask, revealing his haggard face and a beard that had been only a coarse stubble when Eleanor first met him. “That’s just the disguise,” he said, and gestured toward the rest of them. “Dangerous terrorists, this is Betty Cruz.”
Betty nodded and stepped aside from the opening. “Come on in.”
They filed through the hatch into a large room that seemed to function as an office, a workshop, and a laboratory all at once. Near them, a battered wooden desk piled with papers and files squatted in the spotlight of a single lamp, while on the opposite side of the room, assorted tools hung from the wall above a workbench. A metal table nearby was spread with glass vials and instruments.
“You’re a scientist?” Dr. Powers said, removing his mask. He was a handsome man, with darker skin than his sons and a narrowed gaze that swept the room. “A geologist, it would seem.”
“Correct,” Betty said.
Eleanor and the rest of them removed their masks as well.
“Dr. Powers and I are geologists, too,” her mother said. “Who are you with?”
Luke answered before Betty could. “She’s, uh, an independent contractor. So to speak.”
“Meaning?” Dr. Powers asked.
“Meaning I analyze samples for folks who may not want the results on the books,” Betty said. “I don’t conc
ern myself over what they do with my results once I hand them over.”
“I see,” Dr. Powers said, frowning. “I’m Dr. Simon Powers. These are my sons. The older is Julian, the younger is Finn.”
Both boys nodded, and so did Betty. “Nice to meet you both.”
“I’m Samantha Perry,” Eleanor’s mother said. “And this is my daughter, Eleanor.”
“I believe Eleanor and I have met before.” Betty smiled.
“She kept Luke from throwing me off his plane,” Eleanor said, and Luke snorted.
“Damn right,” he said with a crooked smirk. “Good thing for you she was there.”
“Betty,” Finn said, “you just mentioned ‘they’ had warned you about us. What did you mean?”
“The Global Energy Trust put out a bulletin yesterday,” Betty said. “It was scarce on details but made it very clear that you all had destroyed a research station up in Barrow. If you’re spotted, we’re to call it in and make no effort to apprehend you.”
So they were all wanted now, just as Dr. Powers had feared. Eleanor imagined her face on a wanted poster, calling her a terrorist, and her throat tightened.
Betty turned to Luke. “Where’s Consuelo?”
“A hangar at the edge of town. Landed under false ID. It’s so late, they haven’t really checked us yet.”
“Won’t take long for someone to figure it out,” Betty said. “What’s your plan?”
Eleanor knew what her plan would be, but it wasn’t really up to just her anymore. She almost missed the time when she was on her own, calling the shots, back before she’d found her mom. Now she had to sit and watch her mom and Dr. Powers just look at each other for a long moment before her mom said, “To be honest, we’re not exactly sure what our plan is.”
Betty turned to Luke.
“It’s a complicated situation,” he said.
“Well,” Betty said, “you want my help, somebody better uncomplicate it.” She turned away from them toward a door to Eleanor’s right. “I’ll put some coffee on.”
“All right then,” Luke said.
They followed Betty through the door into a much smaller room that seemed to be her entire living space, crammed with a sofa, a bed, a table, and a few chairs. Several crates lined the walls. The coffeemaker sat by a single-burner hot plate on a counter, next to a deep metal basin sink. Betty lifted the lid on a crate near the sink and pulled out a tin of ground coffee.
“So?” she said. “Somebody going to start talking or what?”
Eleanor wanted to speak up, but she knew the truth would be more believable if it came from the adults first, so she decided to keep silent for now.
“I think we should all have a seat,” Dr. Powers said. Betty ushered them into chairs. Eleanor ended up on the sofa next to Luke, and as she sat down, she noticed the cushions and upholstery smelled of cedar. Betty sat on the sofa, too, on Luke’s other side, as the coffeemaker sputtered to life.
“All right, so . . . this is going to sound unbelievable,” Eleanor’s mom said. “Let’s just get that out of the way now.”
“I believe a lot of unbelievable things,” Betty said.
“Just wait,” Luke said.
Eleanor’s mom continued. “I recently discovered something underneath the ice sheet outside Barrow. An unusual energy signature. Massive. Dr. Powers came in to help me investigate, and we found a very large . . . device.”
“A device,” Betty said. “What kind of device?”
Eleanor remembered the towering Concentrator, a black metal tree with impossibly twisted branches, a visual maze that could trap the eye and confuse the mind.
“Are you familiar with the work of Johann von Albrecht?” Dr. Powers asked.
Betty raised an eyebrow and pulled her mouth into a one-sided frown. “Work? I suppose, if that’s what you want to call it. Guy’s a crackpot.”
“But the telluric currents he writes about are real,” Dr. Powers said. “And the device we found under the ice concentrates those currents into usable energy.”
“How much energy are we talking about?” Betty asked.
“Enough to power a very large city?” Eleanor’s mom said. “Ten very large cities? We don’t actually know the upper limit. But as far as we can tell, the Concentrator then converts it into dark energy.”
“What?” Betty asked. “How? Who developed it? The G.E.T.?”
This was the part Eleanor knew no one else wanted to say. The part they believed only because they had to. The part that made Eleanor feel alone, because only she could sense it. So it was now time for her to speak up, because the others wouldn’t.
“It isn’t G.E.T.,” she said. “It’s an . . . alien device.”
“Alien,” Betty said. “As in . . . ?”
Eleanor could smell the burned, nutty aroma of the coffee now, as the pot slowly filled. “As in extraterrestrial,” she said.
Betty laughed, a warbly sound, but stopped abruptly when no one else laughed with her, and a deep scowl crept across her face, as if she suspected they were all party to some joke at her expense.
“My daughter is correct,” Eleanor’s mom said. “It is the only possible explanation that fits the data.”
“That’s right,” Finn said. “And we met Amarok’s tribe.”
Betty’s scowl remained embedded. “Amarok?”
Dr. Powers cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “I don’t know if we need to go into all that, son.”
“Oh, no,” Betty said, her hand beckoning like a crossing guard. “Let’s keep going. We’re already halfway down the rabbit hole. Who’s this Amarok?”
“Well . . .” Dr. Powers leaned forward. “You see, uh, Ms. Cruz . . . the Concentrator’s energy had a rather unbelievable localized effect. A rejuvenating effect. It created an ice cavern, and it . . . resurrected a village from the late Paleolithic that had been buried there. Amarok and his people were living in that cavern under the ice sheet, just as they had during the Stone Age. But the Concentrator had been there before them, which makes it older than the Pleistocene.”
The coffeemaker finished filling the pot and gave a final, lingering hiss, but no one rose to pour a cup. Betty’s right leg bounced up and down, but her expression was set. “I don’t know what this is,” she said. “But I think I’m going to regret letting you all in.”
“Relax, Betty,” Luke said.
She swiveled on the couch to face him. “What do you mean, relax? Are you in on this, Fournier?”
“Not in on anything,” Luke said. “I believe it.”
“You believe?” Betty stood up, took a step away from the couch, and faced them all with her hands on her hips. “Just what exactly is going on here?”
Eleanor knew how preposterous it all sounded. But the look on Betty’s face in that moment was not so different from the looks on the others’ faces when she’d told them about her connection to the Concentrator. The disbelief. The mistrust.
“We’ve uncovered a conspiracy,” Eleanor’s mom said. “The G.E.T. is involved. The UN too, we think.”
“Oh, of course. A conspiracy.” Betty threw her hands up to either side. “It would be a conspiracy, wouldn’t it?”
“We’re not crazy,” Julian said, his voice emphatic, and loud, and sounding a little angry.
Betty rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Ever notice how people who believe in conspiracies always think they’re the sane ones?”
“You think we’re delusional, naturally,” Dr. Powers said, sounding much more measured than his son.
“You’re the one who brought up von Albrecht, aren’t you?” Betty said. Then she glared at Luke. “And what about you, Fournier? You see any of this for yourself?”
Luke shrugged. “I didn’t see any cavemen, if that’s what you’re asking. But I did see a crater a mile wide appear on the ice sheet outside Barrow, overnight. Looked like a meteor had hit. I saw the G.E.T. willing to do almost anything to find and protect that site. And I know . . .” He paused and turn
ed to look at Eleanor. “I believe her.”
Betty lifted her gaze from Luke and laid it on Eleanor, and under its weight, Eleanor felt her cheeks getting hot. Compared to her mom and the others, Luke had the least amount of actual evidence for any of it, and yet he’d believed her. That meant a lot.
“I need coffee,” Betty said, and turned toward the pot. She poured a mug without offering one to anyone else. She sipped, and stared into the cup, then took another sip, then stared, then sipped. “I have no idea what to do with this,” she finally said.
“There’s more,” said Eleanor. “There’s a—”
A clanging sound echoed from the other room, in the direction of the front hatch.
“Someone’s here,” Betty said, setting down her mug.
Eleanor’s mom straightened her back. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Anyone else with you?” Betty asked.
“No,” Dr. Powers said, rising to his feet. Eleanor’s mother, and then Eleanor, Finn, and Julian, joined him.
Luke looked at Betty. “I take it you’re not expecting anyone.”
Betty shook her head. “It seems they already found you.”
DR. POWERS TOOK A THREATENING STEP TOWARD BETTY. “Did you alert them?”
“Hey!” Luke said. “Easy now—”
“No,” Betty said. “I didn’t.”
“What are we going to do?” Eleanor’s mom asked.
“Wait here,” Betty said. “I’ll see if I can get rid of them.”
She left the room and closed the door behind her; Eleanor could hear her footsteps as she crossed the workroom on the other side and the squeal of the hatch as she opened it. Next to reach them were voices, somewhat muffled by the distance and the masks. Everyone in the room with Eleanor held still, frozen as though they’d been caught unprotected on the ice sheet.
“Betty Cruz?” asked a man’s voice.
“That’s me,” Betty said, sounding groggy, as though she’d just woken up.
“We’re with the Global Energy Trust. Sorry to disturb you at this late hour.”
“Then get to the point,” Betty said.