Clint leaned with his back against the control panel, staring at Conrad Alimar unflinchingly. The cultist looked away. His fingers were tapping relentlessly against the arm of the chair; he didn’t seem to notice.
Though Clint’s eyes were on Conrad, his mind was elsewhere. Partly, he was listening to Molly’s transfer back to her guards, the Doctor Destructo’s commands, the dozen half-heard sounds of her passage through the base. But even this was pushed to the background. He wasn’t sure Molly could remove his transponder. When the government spent close to two billion dollars on a piece of equipment—him—it took special pains to keep track of it. It was tied into his vital systems. But if there was any way to be rid of it, Molly would know.
“What are you going to do with me?” Conrad asked, trembling. This was the man who claimed to lead a rebellion against the hordes of destructive mankind? He must run good PR campaigns. Money could buy the illusion of character.
“What do you think?’
“If you kill me, it will be an act of war. The United Nations recognizes out—”
“I’m rogue at the moment. Perhaps I don’t care about treaties and international handshakes.”
“I’ll give you anything, tell you anything! I can hide you, make sure no one finds you.”
“No one? I thought you said—”
“I’ll hide you deep. Few have the resources to travel as far down as I can place you.” Conrad’s face was shining with sweat. His eyes flared with the passion of a salesman. “Perhaps in time you could be persuaded to abandon mankind. We are creating our own society, an equal society of peace and mutual respect. You’re a weapon. Is that what you want to be?”
“I’m a man. A weapon would be this sub. You want to live? Here’s the deal. First, compile everything you know about this unknown source who gave you my location.”
Conrad nodded energetically. “I can do that. I didn’t ask for the information. The information found me.”
“Second, I want a second sub.”
“Yes, I could certainly arrange that.”
“I want it to be as advanced as this.”
Conrad hesitated, swallowing hard. “I have put tremendous resources into the creation of this personal aquatic vessel. There is only one other—-”
“I’ll need it. And this one, too. You’ll go free with you life. Deal?”
Clint didn’t wait for a response. He turned, purposely ignoring the man’s nervous convulsions. The map showed that he would reach the coast of Florida in an hour. The next hurdle was locating the base. “I need that sub ASAP.” He turned to face Conrad, who jumped as if startled. “And one other thing. What do you know of the Bermuda Triangle?”
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Conrad was speaking expansively as he gave a tour of PAV/LOV 1 (Personal Aquatic Vessel/Long-Distance Oceanic Vehicle), smiling as if speaking with a potential buyer. He rattled through the controls so quickly, Clint was certain Conrad bathed the expression of his own intellect. Clint slowed him down, cutting him off whenever he tried to show a second or third way to accomplish the command he had just explained.
Clint was especially pleased when Conrad authorized voice commands. “That’s more like it,” Clint said, slapping Conrad heartily on the back. “These fingers aren’t meant for delicate operations.”
Just as the second sub was approaching, Clint quieted Conrad with a slash of the arm. Molly was talking.
“Preliminary report – August 21, 20—, 4:25 p.m..” Clint understood; she was recording her medical findings in the computer. He listened intently. “My lab has been returned to me. It is in disarray, but after some effort I have assured the equipment still works satisfactorily. One particularly important piece seems to be missing, but I’m sure it will show up when I least expect it. Hopefully, I find it in one piece.”
“Enough, Molly,” Clint muttered, reading between the lines. “I’ll be careful. You can trust me.”
She spoke over him as if she had not heard, but it was for show. Clint heard the subtle change in her voice. “I will begin processing current medical data for Doctor Destructo presently. A few initial reactions. Only once before have I seen a human being in such mangled condition. That he still lives is a miracle of science and will power. He is sustained in a vat of some liquid I will be most interested to examine. When you look at him, he appears to be in some sort of trance, his eyes unmoving, his form limp. But my observations indicate that he is alert and missing little. His voice he carried by a node attention to his larynx. Enabling his body to function outside of its liquid cocoon will be a arduous task, but one which I am able to accomplish, given enough time. End recording.”
This was good news. Doctor Destructo would not be a obstacle. Clint still needed on more piece of information, though.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“Addendum. There are many unknown variables in preparing for the reactivation of Doctor Destructo’s body. I will need to be sure to eliminate as many as possible before proceeding. End addendum.”
“What good are you, then?” Clint prodded. “I thought you were the brains of the operation. I’m just the buckethead, remember?”
Molly did not respond. She must suspect cameras or bugs. How was she keeping in contact with him so that no one noticed?
“PAV/LOV 2’s alongside,” Conrad ventured into Clint’s thoughts.
“You sure you’ve never notice an…anamoly in Caribbean waters?”
“The supposed American base the criminal world calls Atlantis? No—I try to stay away from top-secret military facilities. It’s not good for PR.”
“Come now. You’re codename is Buckethead. I figured you were more bark than bite.”
“Tell your friends I’m not. All right, PAV/LOV, time to surface. We’ve a passenger to drop off.”