Painter and Jack had already worked out an alternate entry point—but first they had to reach it.
The Ghost traveled another twenty minutes, soaring swiftly with the quiet burble of its engines. Jack worked his pedals and joystick to glide them along the seabed, riding over teeming reefs and across stretches of open sand.
Positioned ten miles from shore, Utopia had been built in waters eighty meters deep. It was an engineering marvel, the first deep-sea artificial island. The heads-up display continued to track their path away from the coast, mapping a bird’s-eye view of their passage. At the top of the screen, the tip of one leg of the star-shaped island poked into view and slowly stretched downward as the Ghost closed in on its destination. More of the island appeared, revealing its unique shape.
But its shape was the least unique feature of the island.
As they neared the tip of one corner of the star, a massive concrete pylon appeared out of the darkness, twenty yards wide. A forest of such towers lay farther ahead. This was the secret behind the engineering of Utopia.
It wasn’t so much an island as a massive fixed platform with a landmass sitting on top of it.
Gray had read the history of Utopia. Its engineering was not new or groundbreaking, but based on technologies developed many years ago, patterned after the Hibernia oil platform constructed off the coast of Newfoundland in 1997. The same engineers and construction company had been hired as consultants for this Dubai development.
In many ways, Utopia was an easier project. The Hibernia platform had been built in deeper waters and constructed in seas prone to rogue waves, Atlantic winter storms, and floating icebergs. The waters here were calmer, and the environmental threats less severe. On top of that, this location had been chosen for Utopia because of a natural coastal ridge. The outcropping had been reinforced and built up with boulders and compacted sand to form a protective crescent, stretching four miles wide.
Within those sheltering arms, Utopia was slowly constructed. Like Hibernia and other oil platforms, the island was basically a gravity-based structure, meaning the more weight on top, the more stable and secure it became. So, while Hibernia was taller, Utopia was wider, the equivalent of twenty such platforms connected in a honeycomb cluster to form a star-shaped base. Atop this massive foundation, whose upper surface lay submerged to the depth of five meters, the same engineering techniques that built Palm Jumeirah were employed here: laying down a thick base of massive boulders on top of the platform, then flooding and covering it with dredged sand and compacting it all to the hardness of concrete.
And within five years, a new island had risen out of the sea.
“Now comes the tricky part,” Jack said.
He guided the Ghost into that Brobdingnagian forest of massive steel-reinforced concrete pylons that supported the island. The columns rose from the seabed, set amid piles of boulders and mountains of ballast. He slowed their pace to a crawl.
Gray craned his neck, staring up through the clear roof. In the distance, he could make out the bottom of the foundation platform. He imagined the crushing weight overhead, pictured the stack of corporate towers topside.
This time, Seichan didn’t tease him.
The sub suddenly rolled, heaving to one side.
Jack swore, fought his controls, and righted them. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Currents are tricky under here. In fact, one of the auxiliary power sources for the island is a series of tidal turbines, driven by the daily ebb and flow of the ocean. That same flow makes maneuvering through here a thorny bitch.”
They continued on for five more excruciatingly long minutes. The star-shaped island was two miles wide, but they only had to delve a quarter of that distance under its bulk. Still, that journey was nerve-wracking enough.
“Sonar says we’re here.” Jack pointed up.
Everyone searched in that direction. Far overhead, a tiny star shone in the darkness. Jack aimed for it, spiraling around one of the columns as he headed up.
As they rose, the star grew larger and brighter, revealing itself at last to be a crack in the foundation platform. A handful of such breaks had been engineered into the project, serving as pressure-relieving points. In turn, the city planners had taken advantage of those construction necessities and turned them into various urban design features.
“I’m turning off the IR emitters,” Jack said. “You can take off your goggles. You should have plenty of ambient light to see.”
Gray pulled his night-vision headgear off. The black-and-white world brightened into shades of aquamarine. The pool of light overhead bathed them in its glow.
Jack set the sub to hovering in one spot. He dumped ballast to adjust their buoyancy, and the Ghost floated smoothly upward, rising through the crack in the foundation platform, a six-meter-thick wafer of concrete and steel. Once through, those industrial walls tilted back, sloping into sandy beaches.
The sub slowed its ascent and glided forward until sand once again swirled a few feet under Gray’s boots. Jack studied a small monitor on his control console. Spying over his shoulder, Gray caught a glimpse of the world topside as Jack employed a digital periscope.
“Looks clear,” the pilot concluded.
The burble of the engines faded to nothing—then a few seconds later, the sub’s nose gently ground into the beach.
“That’s as far as I go,” Jack said, twisting around. “The top hatch is poking a couple of inches out of the water. You should be able to reach the shore without getting more than your boots wet.”
That proved not to be the case. By the time Gray reached solid ground, he was soaked from the knees down. Seichan fared no better. Tucker disembarked last, assisted by Kowalski. The pair worked together to get Kane out of the sub.
Gray had his team assemble beneath a grove of palms planted at the edge of the dark pond. It was hard to believe what lay hidden beneath that placid surface: an industrial hell of pylons, boulders, and ballast. It stood in stark contrast to the world above.
Kowalski joined them. His gaze swept the landscape surrounding the pond, his face shining with awe.
Gently rolling hills spread outward, covered in manicured lawns and dotted by other stands of palm trees. Beyond the parklands, towers and spires rose, forming a palisade of glass and steel. Some of the buildings were dark, girdled by cranes, under various phases of construction. Others thrust brilliantly into the sky, windows aglow, their exteriors flooded by lamps, amply demonstrating signs of life and occupation.
Closer at hand, the rolling park was broken by patches of close-cropped greens, feathered with numbered flags. Elsewhere, silvery patches marked moonlit sand traps.