Clint whirled around, gun ready, but he hesitated, not knowing what he might hit if he let the bullets fly. Not everything stored in the armory was stable.
The man before him was thin, his face hidden in a cowl. He stood with his hands folded before him, a thin shadow of a smile just visible.
“Who in the blazes are you?” Clint demanded.
“Come, Clint McCleary. Do you really not know? I’ve waiting some time for this meeting. Your handler will get it, just about now…”
“Arturo Darnov!” Molly exclaimed, grabbing Clint’s arm. The most enigmatic and unpredictable of the great villains. Rarely seen, sporadically coming to the surface, motives unknown, actions often terrible, but occasionally beneficial, bold, coldly fervent, sterilely passionate.
“The Mystic, yes.” He bowed slightly. “We have seven seconds before they bombard that door. Perhaps we should take precautions so we can talk in safety.”
Clint rushed forward, swinging his fist, but Arturo moved smoothly out of the way. “Five seconds, Clint,” he said. Clint answered with three ore swings, which Arturo dodged just as easily.
“We’ll go with you,” Molly shouted. “Clint—we’ll go with him.”
“Are you insane?”
A grenade exploded outside the door, blasting it off its hinges. Clint reacted instantly, pulling Molly to the ground. Suddenly, a succession of explosion burst the world into chaos outside the armory.
“That will hold them for another 15 seconds,” Arturo said calmly. Amidst the smoke, Clint saw the villain’s hands slip effortlessly into the folds of his robe. “Perhaps 20, depending on their courage. Come with me. We have mutual interests. I need your…assistance, and you need mine.”
“Clint,” Molly prodded.
“Yeah, yeah, out of the frying pan, and all that. You got a way out of this, Mystic Man?”
Arturo Darnov turned with a swirl of his robe, and walked quickly and efficiently along the row of guns, explosives, and partially tested hardware. Clint pulled what he could off their racks as he passed, handing three guns to Molly, taking an armful for himself, hanging several rings of explosives around his neck, and grabbing a box of mini-missiles he thought he could use in his built-in missile launcher. Before Molly could even think of commenting, he stopped her. “Hey, I’m not leaving without getting what I came for.”
“Through here,” Arturo added, walking straight toward the end wall; he seemed to pass through it and disappeared.
“This is a really bad idea,” Clint said.
“What hasn’t been, today?”
“Coming back for you.”
“We’ll see.” She was smiling. “Ladies first?”
“No way—stay behind me.” Clint walked forward, scanning the area with his sensors. The readings were fluctuating wildly. Just as he should have hit the wall, he passed through it as through an open doorway. They were in an unused dormitory room.
Clint turned in time to see Molly enter in through a solid wall. The readings leveled out.
“You are amazed. Don’t be. You understand so little of the intricacies of the world. With the proper mental concentration, one can accomplish feats once only attributed to gods.
It was definitely some new tech, Clint tried to tell Molly. He didn’t know if she heard. It was a complex thought. Deep-seated emotions, direct imperatives, seemed to transfer most clearly.
“Sit,” Arturo motioned with his delicate hands to one of the two regulation cots. Clint lowered himself slowly, unloading his supply of weapons and taking one handgun, holding it ready. He helped Molly unload her arms. Arturo sat across from the on the other cot, strangely bent, more the ghost of a man than a physical form.
“Is this going to be quick?” Clint asked. “I’ve got a lot of butts to kick. Starting with yours.”
“I will take no more time than is necessary and available. I discovered the location of this military base more than a year ago, but I have only now had reason to visit. Do you know how many of the great villains have congregated on this spot? Please, don’t try to answer. It takes unnecessary time and I find it redundant. All of them are here, right now. Seven of the minor organizations have representatives here. In the last four hours, the last of the players have walked onto the stage. It is nearly the moment when you must act.”
“I was already acting when you—”
“Quiet. Take this.” From the vast expanse of his sleeves, he presented a small data pad. “Actually, give it to your handler. She will need to make certain changes to your programming.”
“I’m here, you know.”
Clint took the pad, touched the screen to wake it up, and saw a collection of settings. He handed it to Molly.
“With these instructions, you will have the ability to use your electronic processing power, coupled to your frenetic pace of thought and reaction, to control the entire Island,” Arturo explained.
“For what purpose?”
“For the purpose of eliminating everyone. My foresight is long, but it is often unclear because of the actions of these power-hungry men. You can rid of the world of them, and we will both benefit.”
“This has been your plan all along!” Molly accused him. “You are the one who broadcast Clint’s transponder code to the world.”
Arturo gave a look of slight surprise. “No—that was quite unexpected. I believe it was an opportunity someone took when chance smiled upon him. But I am willing to use chance as well as fate in my designs.” He paused, looking hard at Clint. “Will you…will you do as I suggest?” He sounded uncertain, and eager for his uncertainty to be assuaged.
“Don’t you know?” Clint taunted. “You seem to know everything else.”
“This, I don’t know.”
Clint nodded, a plan of action entering his head.
Shoot him. Shoot him. Shoot him. He repeated the thought over and over in his head.
“Please, Clint, let’s not have violence,” Arturo cautioned. It will fare you no better than before.”
Suddenly, Clint leveled his gun at the Mystic. Shoot him, shoot him, shoot him. Arturo raised a hand. The gun flew from Clint’s grip as if Arturo had grasped it with the force.
The next moment a shot rang out. Arturo grunted in pain. A spot of blood stained his short. Molly held a gun in her trembling hands.
“I never—expected—” Arturo muttered.
“Help him,” Clint ordered, pulling the gun from Molly’s hand. “We want him alive.”
“How?” Arturo asked. “The idea never entered her head. I know. It was in yours….”
“Oh, it entered her head, just not in the normal way. Now, I have a proposal for you.”