Clint left Conrad bobbing on the waves 50 miles off the Florida coast with an inflatable raft that had been stored in the sub’s emergency compartment. Clint didn’t worry much about him. If his people didn’t pick him up as soon as Clint was out of sight, Clint would retire from saving the world and take up bridge.
He considered his next move. Atlantis—as enemies and troublemakers called the floating base—was not easily found. Not only did it vary its position, it employed a variety of stealth technologies and protocols. If you combined the bulk of an aircraft carrier with the secret dream of the urban planner, and armed it to the teeth, and then placed a Teflar jacket over it, you had something like Atlantis, or as the military called it, the Island.
It sat low in the water, like an iceberg, revealing only a tithe of its workings to the sky. It housed secret projects, aborted military experiments, and a whole host of scientific geniuses. Well, it had, until Doctor Destructo somehow overran the place.
Molly—possibly the sole survivor. She had been the new kid, a genius with most of her social skills still intact, a brainiac with the face of a TV secretary.
Clint pushed away these thoughts. They only rose up now because he was stumped, and when he stopped moving, his melancholy began to creep in.
He tried the connection to General Hugh, using the sub’s communication signals. It worked. “Buckethead!”
“General Hugh, I need the coordinates to the Island.”
“Not on my watch. You’re violating direct orders. Turn around now or I’ll be forced to blast you out of the water.”
“You have a lot invested in me.”
“Every baddie in the hemisphere is heading toward your position. I’d rather destroy you than let you fall into enemy hands.”
“The correct word is kill. You’d rather kill me.”
“You have ten minutes.”
The connection ended. Increasing the range of PAV/LOV’s scanners, he found the nuclear sub following him. Sluggish compared to his PAV/LOV, a torpedo would still rip the hull to shreds.
“This had better work, Conrad.”
He connected to PAV/LOV 2’s network. Pulling a USB cord out from near the wrist of his mechanical arm, he plugged it into the controls, wiring himself into both subs’ systems.
“All right, here it goes.” He hesitated. He usually relied on Molly to take care of all the technical stuff. “Molly, this is going to work, right?” She’d certainly heard his conversation with Conrad.
She began humming Ode to Joy under her breath, as anyone might do while distracted with work.
“Well, with the doctor’s approval…” He punched the last button. The sub was making a virtual copy of his software; it wouldn’t be a complete picture, just enough to replicate the GPS signal as long as he was providing his feed. In theory. He had no way to test it until someone tried attacking him and ambushed the wrong sub. He moved PAV/LOV 2 along its own course.
He settled into the chair, rubbing his face. He was already feeling caged, his hand plugged into the system. He longed to blow something up, or at least run through the streets somewhere dodging bullets. He wasn’t designed for this cat and mouse.
The submarine was within range now. His ten minutes would be up soon. He slowed his vessel down, sped up the second, caused it to veer at a sharp angle away from the nuclear submarine. He played his as the decoy.
Five minutes passed. He thought he could feel Molly’s anxiety. “It’s not firing.” Why could he feel Molly’s anxiety? He was projecting, he must be.
Suddenly, his sub began to thrum softly with a pale white light. “What is it?” he commanded.
“There is a torpedo approaching,” it said soothingly. “Impact in 30 seconds.”
He released a string of words so fierce Molly gasped. He yanked himself out of the computer, tapped rapidly at the panel, searching for the right—there. The interior began to fill with water. The roar of a rushing river filled the space.
“Impact in twenty seconds.”
“Clint.” It was Molly, in a voice deathly quiet.
“I’ll be fine. I’m always fine. I’ve got an idea. Okay, half an idea. But it’s good. Trust me.” He had planned on the decoy working. Decoys always worked!
The water was swelling over the control deck now, surging upward past his ankles, past his knees. He took a large breath as it rose past his chest and over his head, holding himself beneath the water by gripping the chair.
Somewhere he heard a murmur of calm urgency. Ten seconds.
A slow-motion touch of the screen. Cilia converged around him, forming a protective ball. He braced himself as well as he could, grasping the squirming tentacles around him.
Force and red fire exploded into his being. In a moment, most of the protective shell had been blasted away. The impact hurled him against the remnant of a hull, but the water had slowed his movement just enough. He crashed into it, went flying along with it. He spun chaotically through swirling water, forcing his eyes open against the pressure and pain. The cilia were trying to coalesce around him again, moving in mindless spasmodic jerks. Clint tore them off, forcing himself away from the scrap of metal he was pressed against, held by the cilia’s last protective instinct. He dislodged himself, lost in the turbulent void, disoriented, clawing at the water as his lungs grew pained.
Ode to Joy was thrumming painfully in his head, Molly’s worry stinging his brain with its discordant tones.
Regaining a sliver of presence of mind, he adjusted his body vertically, aided by internal sensors. He kicked toward the surface, blasting his thrusters in quick bursts, headless of the possible repercussions. He was built differently. Surely he could handle it.
He broke the surface, gasping. Molly gasped too.
He had done this before, not too long ago. If he lived to touch dry land again, he’d be a happy man.
“I seem to have startled you, Doctor Hendricks.” Breathing hard, Clint tried to focus on the what was happening on the other side of the link.
“Doctor! I was just—”
“You have been cautious, but I miss nothing, Doctor Hendricks. You are in communication with the robot. Are you hearing this, Clint?”
Clint waited grimly.
“My men will be upon you in minutes. They will not take you prisoner. They will bring me the pieces of your body that might be of use to Doctor Hendricks in her experiment. Don’t give them too much trouble, will you?”
Just then, Clint caught the sound of high-powered jets cutting through the water.