It took Clint a few minutes to organize his thoughts. Before the explosion that had ruined most of his body, he had been a marine. He was used to reacting instinctively in battle. Sometimes he only remembered what had happened after the fact. The pain would set in soon, too, unless the pain relief Molly had implanted was stronger than he suspected.
Wind ran through his closely shaved black hair and whipped the black operations outfit that covered his patched together body. It was hard to tell sometimes what was original and what was new; the skin grafts were very good. It all felt like him, in any case.
“Molly?” He tried to connect again. No luck. He needed someone to look him over and repair the damage, but if headquarters had been infiltrated….
“Molly?” Nothing. He didn’t like being the one in the dark.
Suddenly, intense pain pierced his head and shot down his spinal column. His whole body stiffened. He kept his hands steady on the wheel, forcing his eyes open against the pain. Was it another attack?
A barely contained shriek filled his head and reverberated in his chest. It wasn’t his. Something was in his mind—not his mind, his data core. They were distinct, but the two folded together into his sensory experience. Robocop, Darth Vader, Inspector Gadget…there was nothing that quite captured the essence of what he was. He was a biological machine, and something inside him was stifling a scream.
“Who is it?” Clint demanded. Verbalizing his desires and commands was essential to his makeup. Molly had been insistent that the man be separated from the machine wherever possible. Clint wasn’t sure if she admired her handiwork or feared it. She surely pitied it. “What are you?”
“Not so loud,” came a weak voice.
“I only have a few minutes. They’re searching for me and I won’t be able to hide forever.”
“Who? And why do I feel like you shoved an ice pick up my nose?”
“Sorry. I meant to perfect it, but there’s no time. New mode of communication. It’ll take some time to sync up.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You know how when you have a computer problem—not you. Other people. Civilians. They call up a tech who dials into their computer and takes a direct look. Something like that.”
“You’re in my brain?”
“No! I mean, not technically. This was only meant for diagnostic purposes, but they’ve taken the satellite offline. I needed to talk to you.” Her whispered voice broke. He could hear her crying. He felt almost as if he saw them, in his mind’s eye.
“Quiet,” he ordered, more harshly than he had meant. That everyone at headquarters had been killed didn’t sink in. He would process it at another time. But he didn’t like to hear Molly cry. If anyone in the world attempted to treat him like a neighbor and not as a soldier, it was Molly. “Who did this?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did they know where the base was? Most of the military doesn’t know its location.”
“I don’t know.”
“Same group as the missile?”
“Probably. But we don’t know who that is.” Suddenly: “Clint, you’re hurt.”
“I got into a scrape.”
“You’re functioning at 70%.”
“I’m coming after you. Then you can fix me.”
“They’ll kill you.”
“Seriously? Is that all the confidence you have in me?”
“Hide the communicator.”
“They won’t find it. Trust me.”
She went silent. Clint pushed the boat as fast as it would go. It would take at least 30 minutes to reach shore. He had no transportation. According to Molly, the entire support staff was dead. But Molly did exaggerate.
“Don’t move!” The voice came echoing in his head, a command to be obeyed. Molly had been discovered.
“Stand up. Are you Dr. Molly Hendricks?”
“Yes,” she said, with only a slight quaver. Good girl. He tried to will her strength.
“Come peaceably and you won’t be harmed.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“You are the head scientist of Project Buckethead?”
Buckethead? Clint grimaced. This was about him. The stupid name had been concocted by a general skeptical of Molly’s work. He thought he was clever, too, deriving it from the term jarhead.
“I prefer if you call him by his real name. It’s Clint. And I was project manager until about an hour ago. He died defusing a nuclear missile.”
A shock of sound, and a faded echo of pain. Molly had been slapped. “Lies! We know exactly where he is. Take her.”
Listening to the sound of her being escorted, to some holding place, no doubt, Clint tried to place a call to the Pentagon. Nothing. Maybe onshore he’d have a cellular connection. He didn’t know how he worked; maybe he only had satellite connection.
And they knew where he was. If they weren’t bluffing, that was bad news. His GPS transponder code was top secret and changed very two hours. But if they had gotten a hold of that information, it would explain how those thugs had found him in the middle of the ocean.
He began to whistle Ode to Joy. He didn’t do it very often, and only when things got bad.
He was whistling very loud and thinking furiously.