Tighe said, “Last time I was on this trail was forty years ago today.”
We had met by happenstance, as it seemed, and were hiking upslope together under the ponderosa pines. I said, “You know it to the day? August 11th? Must have been memorable.”
“Well, I came up from Boulder and hiked up to the peak with a girl I knew. We had a nice interlude watching the sunset.”
“Pretty place for it.”
“Was. Unfortunately, we argued on the way back down. She asked me my sign, started talking astrology. That got my back up, so I turned the question around on her. If there was anything to it, she should have been able to guess my sign from knowing me, right?”
“Eh, she couldn’t get it in ten goes, so I considered that pretty conclusive. However, I crowed a bit too much. By the time we got back to the parking lot, Amity said she never wanted to see me again, and she got in her car and took off spraying gravel.” He frowned. “She never did, in fact.”
“Well, I hope it’s the good memories that come back up there.” So I said farewell—actually neither of us had given our true name—and let him go on past. It was just us on the trail, apparently. If Tighe had any security at all, it was way back. Peculiar for a billionaire.
I called Central. “Ruby, see if you can find anything about a woman named Amity that Tighe knew in the old days.”
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree… Peter Tighe had made his first fortune in the original dotcoms, amplified it hopping cryptocurrencies, got out before the crash, and tripled it again in PV and nano. But it was his Domes that got the Agency’s attention, and the world’s. Over the last five years, he had erected in various locations gigantic hemispheres of nanoengineered polymer over carbon-fiber lattice, featureless and doorless, milky-translucent, ranging in diameter from seventy meters to over a thousand. The Tighe Foundation had bought off and relocated communities, infused cash into national elections, developed a suspiciously opaque arrangement with the Chinese government. In India and Paraguay and Uganda, fields and forests were cleared; foundations were poured and the hill-sized structures erected. And then there were the marine operations. A vast dome emerged from the South China Sea. Immense, pale shells rested submerged on the seabed in the central Pacific and off the coast of Chile. All executed with rigorous security and without any hint of the project’s purpose. Biosphere III? Armageddon bolt-holes? Modern art? Ultra-weapon? The Foundation was utterly close-lipped. The Agency became concerned and assigned our team to investigate.
Tighe profiled as personable, bright, apolitical, and pragmatic, but prone to obsession. He guarded his privacy. He had romantic involvements with a string of minor celebrities, mostly kept out of the tabloids, but had never married. An enigma.
Within the last week, two drone fleets based on Tighe-owned ships in the remote Pacific had been systematically sowing hydrophobic smart-powders over hundreds of square miles of ocean—vantablack and retroreflective prismatics. They formed two smeared circles, one bright and one dark, vaguely visible from space. A few Japanese fishermen and geoengineering watchdogs had posted complaints, which were being professionally neutralized by botnet swarms and strategic charitable donations, and had gained no traction. Tighe had cleared his business calendar and disappeared to the Colorado Rockies.
Above, Tighe wandered over the granite knob, a mere red-jacketed fleck. The sun was lowering over the Rocky Mountains, silhouetting the far ranges, peak rising above peak on the western horizon.
My phone pinged and began to stream notices. Worldwide, every visible Dome had suddenly bloomed with inner light. Images from the far side of the world: a half-illuminated white hemisphere amid rain falling on the South China Sea; the Dome in Africa shining ruddy, mottled light reflected from Lake Victoria’s nighttime waters; and the largest, over a kilometer across, rose up and up against the overcast sky of India showing turbulent, swirling bands, cream against brown, a vast, reddish oval upon its flank.
A long moment before I recognized them: Venus. Mars. Jupiter.
The Domes shone for an hour and then went dark.
A while later, Ruby called me back. “He knew an Amity Betancourt in college. But she’s deceased. Head-on car crash in Colorado. Evening of August 11, 1988.”
Eventually it was shown that the global placement pattern of the Domes precisely specified a particular moment in history. Each planet, at 01:15 GMT just forty years before, had poised exactly at the zenith as seen from a specific place on Earth. The angular size of each corresponded to the dimensions of the Domes. And, of course, the sun and the new moon over the Pacific. Thus, the celestial sphere mapped upon the terrestrial one.
At that moment, the local time in Colorado had been 7:15 PM. Not yet the moment of the accident, but just before sunset. Nearly time for watchers on the peak to rouse and consider going back down.
Tighe came back to the parking lot by moonlight. I asked him, “Did you find what you’re looking for?”
He smiled ruefully. “Not this time.”
Three months later, we learned Tighe was dispatching couriers across every sea and continent. I followed one to the fringes of the Gobi Desert and, by telescope, watched her anchor a baseball-sized sphere upon a barren hillside. For one hour the next August, it blazed as blue-white as Algol.
For four years now, Tighe has returned to Colorado each August, but his work remains incomplete. They have not yet emplaced the stars below the third magnitude.