Clint jolted awake to the sound of soldiers shouting. He sat bolt upright, sprang to his feet, and took a defensive stance before realizing the sound was in his head.
“Stand up! The Doctor wants to see you.”
It took a moment to reorient himself. They were talking to Molly, pulling her to her feet.
Did they say the Doctor? The Doctor? These goons were working for Doctor Destructo? The man had been smashed beneath two tons of brick after their last battle. Why were all these super-villains like cockroaches—no matter how many times you smashed them, they came back for more?
The harpoon thugs that had attacked Clint weren’t Doctor Destructo’s style, though. Had that been yet another group? Who was in charge here?
“Get your hands off me. I’ll come peacefully.”
Clint sat back on the edge of the chair, waiting to see how this unfolded. After some walking, he heard quick commands between the soldiers, then one of the base’s tightly sealed door moaning as it opened.
“In there. He wants to speak to you alone. But we’ll be watching, if you make any sudden moves…”
“I’m here,” Clint whispered. “Be brave.”
“I’m not a frightened girl,” Molly replied—to the soldier. “Can I enter, please?”
The door shut behind her with a metal slam.
Doctor Destructo’s thin, wilted voice whispered through the recesses of his brain. Clint hated that voice. It reminded him of his European history teacher freshman year. “Molly Hendricks. I have waited so long to meet you.”
“Do you like my new body? It isn’t much, but it’s all I have left, you see. Perhaps you can understand why I have so wanted to meet you, Doctor Hendricks? May I call you Doctor? We are equals here, I think.”
“Is this why you want Clint? You want his body? He’s probably at the bottom of the ocean by now.”
A soft, snide laugh. “No, no. I couldn’t care less for that mechanical puppet. It’s you I want. I want something better than you gave him. And you are certainly capable, Doctor Hendricks.” He paused. “Oh, and I wouldn’t place too great a hope of your little toy boy. He will be eliminated shortly.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Perhaps you don’t. It doesn’t matter. What matter is that you are still alive because I have a use for you. I have materials and money at my disposal. Anything you need, I can get. You have your files and your lab available to you. I will ensure no one bothers us. This so-called secret base is now under my control, and the government will not waste too much effort to save a base that never existed in the first place. In any case, the President and I have an understanding.” Clint could well envision his arrogant twist of the mouth.
“You might be able to blackmail the government, but you can’t blackmail me. I won’t help you.”
“Molly, Molly,” Clint cautioned. She was putting on a brave face for his benefit. “Play along.”
“I won’t play your game,” she added.
“Stupid woman,” Clint muttered. “Stupid, stubborn—”
Suddenly, he felt coils about his ankles. He struggled against the cilia forming around his boots. With a blast of thruster, he broke free, but the cable tied around Conrad had no give and he crashed into control panel. He felt a tug on that cable, and he realized in a moment what had happened. Conrad Alimar had come to while Clint had been distracted with Molly and activated some of the ship’s controls.
Doctor Destructo was wheedling in his crackling voice: “Your face says otherwise. What is that? Surprise? Shock? Disgust?”
Clint retracted his hand, pulling Conrad bodily toward him. Forcing one of the madman’s arms behind his back, he slammed the other palm in the approximate area that controlled the cilia, enough so the fibers trying again to surround his feet halted, as if waiting for a command.
“Sit down!” Clint shouted, throwing Conrad into the chair. The man, mid-30s, sported one of those thin beards men that the mock-intelligensia wore to show the world how smart they were. His face was contorted in a grimace of amazement and injured pride.
“Stand up, please, Doctor Hendricks,” Doctor Destructo commanded lightly. “I do hope my men have treated you well.”
“I’m just dizzy,” Molly said lamely.
“Let’s have no more prison breaks, okay?” Clint said, wrapping the cable of his arm around the chair and Conrad’s chest. “You’re lousy at it. I don’t care to harm you. You’re as delusional as Wile E. Coyote, but, hey, you’re free to believe what you want. Tell me what I want to know, and your can return to your octopus garden, or wherever it is you live. Got that, Mr. Alimar?”
“Doctor Hendricks? Are you well?” Doctor Destructo asked. It was not concern, but bitter glee, in his voice.
“I’m considering your proposal,” Molly said carefully. “Despite its distaste.”
“Say yes,” Clint said. “It’ll buy you time. The more concerned he is with you, the less he is with me.”
“And you call me delusional!” Conrad sneered, but it was halfhearted. He watched Clint talk to the air with wide eyes.
“Let me have an hour to consider,” Molly said.
“You may have two minutes,” Doctor Destructo allowed.
Clint needed to prove to Molly the seriousness of the situation. “All right, Conrad, prove to me you’re willing to cooperate. How did you find me?”
“By your GPS transponder.”
“The code’s classified. Only a handful have access to it.”
“Everyone has access to it now. A gift, from an unknown source.”
“When you say everyone…”
“Everyone, you abomination. Every cult, every faction and religious zealot, every idealist who will stop at nothing to make his vision a reality, every two-bit crook with the right connections. Someone out there wants you dead. You were nearby. I thought I’d have a go of it.”
“And how’d that work out?” Clint turned away. “Molly, I can’t get to the transponder to remove it. I need your help. You need to stay alive, all right?”
“I’ll do it, Doctor,” Molly said. “I need my lab, my computer, and your most recent medical work up. Agreed?”