Taking a desperate breath, Clint dove beneath the water again, kicking fiercely. Self-preservation drove him downward into the water. These wouldn’t be discount thugs. Doctor Destructo ran a top-notch organization. Before the philosophical epiphany that had led him to a worship of the honed moment of chaos, he had been a Fortune 500 CEO. He knew how to create wealth, how to control a large operation with innumerable moving pieces, and how to hire dependable help.
Doctor Destructo was widely regarded as the most powerful villain on the planet, with the possible exception of Arturo Darnov the Mystic.
“Restrain her,” he commanded.
Above Clint, armored jet skis spun to a stop and waited for him to emerge. Not good. They had his position pinpointed within feet.
Molly grunted but seemed not to resist. “Let Clint live and I will do whatever you ask.”
“You think you have room to bargain,” Doctor Destructo said. “But you will do what I ask whether he lives or dies, and I am smart enough to realize that letting him live can do me no good. Strap her to the table. We will see how she is contacting Clint.”
Six jet skis idled above him. They weren’t wasting effort coming after him. He’d have to come to them eventually.
Molly was struggling now, not screaming—she was too proud for that—but groaning in her resistance. Clint’s lungs ached and screamed for release. There was only one way out.
I’m coming, Molly. He willed the words through the connection, trying to imagine her round face. I’m coming.
The two words floated half-heard in his head. He didn’t know if he invented the response, or of somehow….
Gunfire erupted above the surface, and four of the armored jet-craft streaked away, guns blazing. Clint pushed the final distance to the surface, covering his head with his metal arm. At the same time, he magnetized his body. The force of the sudden attraction jerked the remaining two crafts toward him. This was enough to throw off the aim two thugs, each a passenger in one of the jet skis. A glance suggested and a quick identification screening confirmed that they held shock guns. They were something like tazers, designed to shut down his systems on contact; he’d encountered them once before. It had ended badly.
The arcs of energy barely missed him. With a burst from his thrusters, he shouldered hard into the first armor craft, grabbed the driver’s foot, and yanked with the full strength of his mechanized arm. The driver was good and managed to rev the motor and jam the handle to the right, causing the jet ski to turn in a tight circle away from Clint. It saved the man from being pulled out of the seat and loosened Clint’s grip.
The craft snapped to a straight course. Clint regained his grip on the edge just as he saw the second heading straight toward him. The two were going to passed within a hair of one another, smashing Clint between. At the last moment, he released his hold, firing his hand at the approaching jet ski. His fist slammed into the passenger, knocking him off, and his fingers closed over a bar along the back seat that passengers used to steady themselves.
He maneuvered in the water, bracing himself for a sudden burst of speed. He was ready this time.
The cable went taut. He leaned back, knees bent, and let it raise him out of the water. His metal soles bounced over the water, and he skimmed like a skier over the surface. The driver swerved over the water, trying to throw Clint off balance.
“Is that the best you’ve got?” Clint mocked. “Is this a battle or a vacation?”
The other jet ski was racing up beside him now, dangerously close. Clint decided to try an older attachment. It took a few seconds to warm up, and that usually was the problem with it—the man with the shock gun aimed and fired. Clint reeled in his hand-cable quickly, the water’s drag almost sending him head over heels. The energy arc skimmed his back side. He felt his joints twitch, but control remained.
The flare shell was ready.
Taking aim with his free hand, he launched it. A bolt of plasma energy shot out from a barrel above his shoulder. He felt the heat of it as it left him. It slid through the armored shell of the pursuing jet ski, sliced through the interior, and set the water on the other side steaming.
He had energy for one more. He let loose. The bolt ripped through interior of the craft, melting the engine. The craft sputtered to a halt.
Suddenly, Clint began to sink into the water as the other jet ski came to a halt as well. He retracted his cable, giving him a short burst of speed, but he still found himself adrift off the craft’s back end. The driver had stopped to retrieve the passenger who had tumbled off, grabbing first the shock gun from his soaked comrades hand. He pointed it at Clint.
“I’m up for a promotion, it seems.” And he fired the weapon.
The arc entered the water short of Clint, but the shock entered his system, overwhelming it. His limbs ceased to function. His sensors and reading went blank. One of his eyes went black. His organs would start shutting down within minutes if he failed to reboot.
He flopped helplessly, some of his nerves still responding. He sank into the water, struggling to keep his head above water. The two thugs watched him, laughing.
“What’s this, Doctor Hendricks?” He only now heard the conversation that had surely been transpiring during the last minutes. “I think I understand. It’s intertwined into your neural cortex.”
Molly did not answer.
“It was painful to point in, I expect?”
His nose was barely above water. He didn’t want Doctor Destructo to be the last thing he heard before shuffling off this mortal coil. He wanted to hear Molly’s voice one last time.
“It was worth it.”
“It will be painful for you when he dies. You have been creating a psychic link. When that is suddenly severed, what will you feel?”
“It was worth it,” she repeated.
Clint sank slowly beneath the water.