Clint descended slowly through the water. He forced his eyes open despite the stinging salt. He had a sudden desire to see everything one last time. He flailed with all the effort he had, but it hardly disturbed the water.
A certain peace came over him, not unlike the blue melancholy earlier that day as he gazed into the limitless sky. He’d prepared for death long before; he felt a sudden piercing gratitude for having survived so much longer than he had expected. Jesus Christ, forgive me. He meant to add more but let the thought linger. It was enough.
What he could not face was leaving Molly. He redoubled his effort, but it made no difference. He had to tell her the one thing he had never thought proper to say. She would have misunderstood. He wasn’t sure he understood. Now there was no more time.
I love you, Molly.
He was starting to black out.
He felt something tugging at him. He fought to open his eyes. The late afternoon light was approaching, the surface coming closer. He broke through. He managed a struggling half-gasp. He felt as if his windpipe was clogged.
He heard shouting. A shadow stretched over him. New forces pulled him, dragging him up out of the water, onto some hard surface. A fist hammered his chest. He inhaled painfully, his ribs bruising. Then the rhythmic pressure, activating his lungs, reminding his heart how to pump. It activated a slight current to his system, as well, an insightful addition by Molly, who had wanted his mechanical half to respond as biologically as possible.
With his one good eye, he found the man resuscitating him. Crew-cut, strong angular face, Kevlar vest. He had no idea who the guy was.
“Just stay still. I’ve been briefed on your systems. Two more minutes, and you’ll start self-generating power again.”
Clint didn’t argue. Soon, his other eye flickered to life and he began to breathe regularly. He felt indescribably exhausted. Turning his head, he saw four others standing nearby, watching. He felt the rumble of the craft’s engine and could feel its bouncing as it cut through the uneven sea.
When the man who had saved him stood, Clint grit his teeth and pulled himself to a sitting position. The other men watched.
“Buckethead, right?” one said, grinning.
“It’s Clint,” he replied. His voice sounded rusty.
The men all laughed. The one who had saved him held out a hand. “Briefing told us you hated the name Buckethead.”
Clint waved off the offered hand. “Give me a moment. Who are you guys?”
“New transfers to the Island. That was the plan at least, but someone beat us there. We thought it prudent to avoid landing during the take over and wait for orders. Orders were to wait for you. Reached you just in time to save you from those thugs.”
Bracing himself, Clint pulled his feet under him and pushed himself up. He waited a moment to make sure he still had a sense of balance. His strength seemed to be returning. “So you were the backup plan if the torpedo failed.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Never mind. Thanks for the help. You took care of the other jet skis?”
One of the others mocked a gun. “Ka-boom!”
Clint smiled. “Nice.”
“I’m Commander Greg Detmeyer.” The commander extended his hand. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
Clint shook his hand. “Your orders are to return me to the nearest base, am I right?”
The other men looked at each other. Greg answered: “That’s correct.”
“Have they told you who’s commandeered the Island?”
“No, sir. We’re under the impression no one knows.”
“They probably don’t.”
“But you do.”
“I’ve inside information.” Listening, he realized his link with Molly had gone offline. He hoped it was a temporary lapse due to his system failure. “I’m heading back in. I’ve unfinished business. You have two options. You can either get me the Island’s coordinates and let me go on my merry way, or you can take your chances at restraining me. Which is it?”
“Our orders are to return you to base.”
“So if you happen to steal one of the jet skis we’re dragging along with us, we’ll have to report that you slipped through our fingers.”
Clint looked over the men. Greg’s face was a mask of inscrutability. The other men were nodding. Suddenly, Greg broke in a smile. “We’ve been following rumors of your work for a long time. Get going!”
“Charlie!” Greg commanded.
The bespectacled young man jotted down a few numbers on a notepad he had in his pocket, tore it off, and handed it to Clint. “That should do it, Buckethead. Give the no-good scoundrel who did this a one-two Rock’em Sock’em Robot punch, all right?”
Clint shook his head slightly. He hated these fanboys. Once they got to know him a bit, they’d realize he was just some regular Joe. “Will do,” he said.
They pulled the captured jet ski alongside the prototype hovercraft the men had used to transfer to the Island and Clint situated himself, familiarizing himself with the controls with a glance. “We’ll play a game of pool when this is all over,” Clint said.
“And you’ll use your electronic brain to project the ball’s path! That’s real fair,” Greg joked.
That’s not how it worked—but Clint let it be.
“Tell General Hugh you analyzed the make of the jet ski and determined Doctor Destructo’s behind the Island’s capture.”
Clint tore off into the horizon, leaving the disbelieving voices behind.