Clint floated easily on top of the waves, staring into the almost cloudless sky. The brilliant blue seemed to envelop him.
The com had gone quiet after Molly chewed him out for no better reason than her own insecurities. That’s what he figured, anyway. It would take time for the boat to arrive. Or chopper. Whatever was fastest and available.
He let the waves take him where they would. They would find him regardless. He was property of the United States government, and the GPS tracker embedded in his skull kept it apprised of his location.
“It’ll be a bit yet. The panic over the missile disrupted most of the normal channels. We’ll get Coast Guard out to you soon. You’re still pretty far out.”
“You all right, Clint?”
“Yeah. Saved the world. Job well done and all that.”
Usually that convinced her. Usually, but not always. “You always get like this. What’s the matter?”
“Reporting to the brass today and what to make sure I’m still stable?”
“I reported to the general yesterday, that you very much. Gave you flying colors. After today, they’ll believe for sure.”
Clint was becoming bored with the conversation. He didn’t want to argue. He didn’t much care to talk. The sky was like a painted ceiling, impossibly high, or perhaps just within reach….
He lifted his mechanical arm. He could hear the servos as his fingers stretched. He launched his fist skyward, just to see if he could grab the sky.
“…answer me, Clint!”
“I need a way to shut your voice out.”
“What’s the matter? I know it’s not easy being…what you are. Are you in pain? Your system should be administering low doses of morphine if your ribs are actually cracked. I added that last upgrade. It’s not an elegant solution, but when I ran the models, it showed that a hint of painkiller helped your performance in extreme circumstances.”
“I’m fine.” He had forgotten completely about his ribs. He supposed it should frighten him, what the implanted parts of his body did without his knowledge, but it didn’t. He didn’t consider himself a monster or a freak. He thought his “upgrades” were pretty sweet. He wouldn’t tell Molly that in so many words, of course.
“I want to help you, Clint. You just saved New York from a nuclear explosion. No one else could have done that. Let me help you.”
“It’s nothing.” Really, it wasn’t. “It’s just that…saving the world’s kinda a bummer.”
Silence. Of course Molly wouldn’t understand that.
“I…um…you’re sad you defused a nuclear missile?”
“I’ll see you at debriefing,” Molly said stiffly before cutting the connection.
Clint smiled. It was too natural for Molly to guess. When you’re jumping from airplanes and thwarting evil plans, there’s only one way to go after the excitement ends. Down. But at least he had the sky. What was it he’d read somewhere? Happiness is a sad song, Charlie Brown. It was melancholy joy to be alone in the blue sea, beneath a blue sky, separated from everybody and everything. He was glad Molly was gone.
He wasn’t alone for long.
He heard the boat a distance away. That wasn’t a mechanical enhancement; he’d always had sharp senses. They’d saved him more than once in combat, even before his encounter with the mine. He tuned the noise out like he used to when the alarm went off during his high school years. But it made him tense, waiting for them to find him, and it destroyed his peacefulness. They were earlier than Molly had suggested.
He tried connecting to base. No answer. Busy with the aftermath of paperwork, probably. Even top secret military programs needed files to black out. He tried again on Molly’s private line, using satellite links with a thought with the same technology that allowed parapalegics to communicate. He wasn’t sure why. He wouldn’t admit to wanting another hour of lounging time.
No connection. That was strange. Molly lived with her technology at her fingertips.
Abandoning his hope of reprieve, he raised his head and began treading water. The boats were closing fast. But they weren’t Coast Guard. Speedboats on steroids, they zipped across the water, something like gatling guns posted on front and back. The nearest opened fire.
Clint dove beneath the water, the bullets slicing through the water. He saw the trail of one pass before his eyes. One hit his metal leg. Another brushed his chest, drawing blood. MOLLY! he transmitted, using his brain like a text pad. The method hadn’t been perfected, but a single word should come across clearly he he kept repeating it. MOLLY! It was hard to concentrate on the word when his reflexes had taken control.
He pulled himself deeper, his lungs already aching for air. A boat passed overhead, churning the water above into a mass of froth. Bullets lanced toward him from another direction, ineffective at his depth, but keeping him below.
The rain of bullets stopped suddenly. His infrared sensor alerted him to the new arrivals. Three men in scuba masks, harpoon guns in hand, reoriented themselves from their quick entry into the water. The boat passed over again.
His chest was going to explode. Next time Molly asks for upgrade suggestions, he was asking for a reserve tank of air.
Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure any of his weapons worked underwater.
He kicked for the surface, engaging the short burst thruster installed on both feet. They’d been meant to cushion jumps from absurd heights. An indelicate operation, to be sure.
He shot upwards, broke through into air, and gasped. Both boats were circling back toward him. He released two of his magnet missiles. Again, experimental tech—what about him wasn’t experimental? He dove below again, pushing away from the scuba hunters who had closed the distance. Even through the water he felt the concussive boom! as one of his missiles exploded.
A harpoon speared past him, nicking his shoulder. That shoulder was metal, too, but it tore through it effortlessly.
The second boat jetted close by. Desperate, Clint released his retractable hand. It sped through the water, slowing quickly, but managed to break the surface just as the boat passed. It grasped the mount of the rear gun. The metal cable tightened. Clint braced himself. He hated the—
Whiplash. From zero to ludicrous speed in a moment, the power of the boat’s engine jerked him out of the water. He skipped like a stone on the wake, twisting wildly at each smack against the water. He couldn’t separate up from down. Even with his infrared, he could only tell which way was forward. Two men were moving on the boat.
“Clint!” Molly’s voice broke urgently through the roar of engine and water.
“Not now!” he spluttered.
“I don’t have much time. We’ve been infiltrated. New York was a diversion.”
If she said anything else, he didn’t hear it. The machine gun opened fire, racing steadily closer with its aim. He tried to release his grip on the mount. It wouldn’t budge. They’d fastened it somehow. Not good.
He threw himself to the side, rolling into the outer wake, and retracted his hand at full speed. This heaved him violently forward, around and in front of the searching bullets. The force of the boat’s jets threatened to pull his arm from the socket. And it was a metal socket.
He bounded into the back of the speedboat at full blast, crashing into the gun mount and knocking the gunner to the ground. If his ribs hadn’t been broken before, they were now. The gunner was rising as Clint got his bearing. Metal hand plastered with some instantly hardening foam, he was like a dog on a leash, but he had plenty of leash. He kicked the man in the stomach, and wrenched him overboard. Another had his gun raised. Clint raised his leg and activated the thrusters just in time to disorient him. Lengthening his arm cable, he leapt forward, knocking the gun from his hand. In a quick succession of moves, he took him down too and launched him overboard.
The driver jerked the boat to the left, hoping to knock Clint off his balance, but he tightened his arm cable to steady himself. Running forward at full speed, he leapt over the driver onto the platform where the front gun mount stood. He turned it back on the boat. That was enough for the driver, who scrambled overboard. Clint took the wheel, spun it in a 180, and rocketed off toward the American coast, directed by the GPS in his head.
He took a deep breath and began conscious thought again. What had Molly said? Blowing up New York was a diversion?
This was some bad sushi.