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Sandecker didn't immediately reply. Pitt swore that he could almost hear the wheels turning inside the admiral's head eight thousand miles away. Finally, Sandecker spoke slowly "Atlantis." He repeated the name as if it were holy. "Strange as it sounds, you may be closer to the mark than you think."

Their long, shimmering silk gowns with dyed fox trim were identical except for color. Sitting in a semicircle in the box, they radiated like yellow, blue, green, and red sapphires. They were bejeweled in a glittering display of comparable diamond chokers, earrings, and bracelets. Strikingly sensuous and sultry, they had an ethereal, untouchable goddess quality about them. It seemed unthinkable, but they were all married and each had given birth to five children. The women were attending the opening night of the opera season as a family affair, graciously nodding and smiling to the man who sat in their midst. Ramrod-straight, the male centerpiece possessed the same hair and eye color as his sisters, but there any further resemblance ended. He was as handsome as his sisters were stunning, but ruggedly so, with thin waist and hips accented by lumberjack shoulders and a weight lifter's arm and leg muscles. His face was square-cut, sporting a chin indented with a dimplelike cleft, an arrow-straight nose, and a head jangled with thick blond hair through which women dreamed of running their fingers. He was tall-- at six-feet six-inches, he towered over his five-foot ten-inch sisters.

"Yaeger and Dr. O'Connell have also made headway in deciphering the alphabetic inscriptions. It's beginning to develop as some kind of record describing an early worldwide catastrophe."

A few seconds before the houselights dimmed, a party of one man and four women flowed unobtrusively into the remaining empty box and sat in the maroon velvet chairs. Unseen outside the curtains, two bodyguards stood alert and fashionably dressed in tuxedos. Every eye in the opera house, every pair of binoculars, every pair of opera glasses automatically turned and focused on the people entering the box.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A few seconds before the houselights dimmed, a party of one man and four women flowed unobtrusively into the remaining empty box and sat in the maroon velvet chairs. Unseen outside the curtains, two bodyguards stood alert and fashionably dressed in tuxedos. Every eye in the opera house, every pair of binoculars, every pair of opera glasses automatically turned and focused on the people entering the box.

The horseshoe interior is decorated on a grand scale that boggles the eye. Incredibly intricate brass molding on the upper railings, sweeping tiers with velveted chairs and gold brocaded curtains, spanned by ceilings filled with masterworks of art. On dazzling opening nights, the society elite of Argentina sweep through the foyer with its Italian marble and beautiful stained-glass dome up the magnificent stairways through the glitter to their luxuriously appointed seats.

The horseshoe interior is decorated on a grand scale that boggles the eye. Incredibly intricate brass molding on the upper railings, sweeping tiers with velveted chairs and gold brocaded curtains, spanned by ceilings filled with masterworks of art. On dazzling opening nights, the society elite of Argentina sweep through the foyer with its Italian marble and beautiful stained-glass dome up the magnificent stairways through the glitter to their luxuriously appointed seats.

They ignored the stares of the audience, who were torn between observing the elusive Wolf family and the singing and acting on stage. The curtain for Act III had just risen when one of the bodyguards entered from the rear hall and whispered in Wolf's ear. He stiffened in his chair, the smile vanished, and his facial expression turned grave. He leaned over and spoke softly. "My dear sisters, an emergency has come up. I must go. You stay. I've reserved a private room at the Plaza Grill for a little after-show dinner. You go ahead, and I'll catch up later."

April 4, 2001

"Yaeger and Dr. O'Connell have also made headway in deciphering the alphabetic inscriptions. It's beginning to develop as some kind of record describing an early worldwide catastrophe."

"An unknown ancient civilization wiped out by a great catastrophe. If I didn't know better, Admiral, I'd say you were talking about Atlantis."

TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY ARK

When Karl and his four sisters showed up on opening nights at the opera, it was a major gossip event. The overture ended and the curtains pulled open and the audience reluctantly turned their attention from the stunning and resplendent brother and sisters sitting in the premier box and gazed at the singers on the stage.

Premier opera houses throughout the world are judged by singers and musicians for their acoustics, the quality of sound that carries from the stage to the box seats and then to the gallery far up in the stratosphere. To the opera lovers who buy the tickets, they are ranked and admired more for their elegance and flamboyance. Some are noted for their baroqueness, others for pompousness, a few for trappings and festoons. But none can hold a candle to the unmatched grandiloquence of the Teatro Colon on the Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires.

"I haven't sat through a course in ancient history since Annapolis," said Sandecker, "but as I recall, I was taught the same lesson."

Karl Wolf was a very wealthy and powerful man. The chief executive officer of a vast family-owned financial empire that stretched from China through India and across Europe over the Atlantic, and from Canada and the United States into Mexico and South America, he was stupendously rich. His personal wealth was estimated at well over a hundred billion dollars. His vast conglomerate, engaged in a multitude of scientific and high-technology programs, was known throughout the business world as Destiny Enterprises Limited. Unlike his siblings, Karl was unmarried.

April 4, 2001

"I haven't sat through a course in ancient history since Annapolis," said Sandecker, "but as I recall, I was taught the same lesson."

When he turned and spoke to his siblings, he smiled, flashing brilliantly white teeth framed by a friendly mouth that found it impossible to turn down in a grimace. The eyes, though, showed no warmth. They stared as if they belonged to a panther gazing over the grasslands in search of prey.

April 4, 2001

Construction began in 1890, and no expense was spared. Completed when Puccini reigned supreme in 1908, the Teatro Colon opera house stands sidewalk to sidewalk on one entire block of the city. A spellbinding blend of French art deco, Italian Renaissance, and Greek classic, its stage has felt the feet of Pavlova and Nijinsky. Toscanini conducted from its podium, and every major singer from Caruso to Callas has performed there.

"I haven't sat through a course in ancient history since Annapolis," said Sandecker, "but as I recall, I was taught the same lesson."

Maria Wolf, the sister sitting immediately to Karl's left, leaned over and whispered, "Why must you subject us to this terrible ordeal?"

The horseshoe interior is decorated on a grand scale that boggles the eye. Incredibly intricate brass molding on the upper railings, sweeping tiers with velveted chairs and gold brocaded curtains, spanned by ceilings filled with masterworks of art. On dazzling opening nights, the society elite of Argentina sweep through the foyer with its Italian marble and beautiful stained-glass dome up the magnificent stairways through the glitter to their luxuriously appointed seats.

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