TOM SWIFT LIVES!

TOM SWIFT AND HIS

DIVING SEACOPTER

 

 

This unauthorized tribute

Is based upon

the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters

 

SCOTT DICKERSON, AUTHOR.

 

As of this printing,

copyright to

The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures

is owned by

SIMON & SCHUSTER

 

 

 

This edition privately printed by

 

RUNABOUT

2011

www.tomswiftlives.com

 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

          A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT

 

 

 

 

TOM SWIFT surveyed the gathering crowd in the Shopton Astronomy Club meeting hall with excited eyes, knowing that the eyes of the crowd were gazing back with equal excitement mixed with curiosity. The usual contingent of twenty-odd monthly attendees had swollen fourfold in response to the announcement that Damon Swift and his famous son would be addressing the group “on a matter of great scientific interest,” as the invitation had put it.

If they knew what this is about, you wouldn’t be able to fit the crowd in a football stadium! thought Tom with an inward grin.

The club president introduced Tom’s father to warm applause. As Damon Swift approached the lectern microphone, a cameraman, supplied by the Swift Enterprises Office of Communications and Public Interest, pivoted his videocam, ready to immortalize the historic moments to follow. Seated in the first row, Ladeen Coverley, chief reporter for the Shopton Evening Bulletin, poised her pen over her notepad.

“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished visitors, fellow club members—you all know that my son and I have belonged to the Astronomy Club in a tradition going back to my grandfather’s time― ” At the mention of Tom’s famous great-grandfather, the original Tom Swift, the meeting room again erupted in applause. “Because of this sentimental attachment, we wanted to make our announcement here, rather than issuing a statement to the world press in the usual manner.” He paused dramatically. “We are here today to announce the confirmed discovery of extraterrestrial life!”

A roomful of jaws dropped floorward. But there was no sound save an intake of the room’s collective breath.

“And as startling as that announcement may be, what I am about to tell you is more startling yet.” All the attendees leaned forward in their seats expectantly—except Ladeen Coverley, who adjusted her bifocals and leaned back. “Ladies and gentlemen, our discovery consists in contact with a civilization of intelligent beings—ongoing contact that continues even as we speak!”

As anticipated, Mr. Swift’s calm declaration caused a sensation bordering on hysteria. There were gasps, shouts, and more than a little laughter. Chairs tumbled over on the tiled floor as several members of the audience rose to their feet. Skepticism competed with enthusiasm.

Mr. Swift motioned for Tom to join him at the lectern. “It’s no joke!” Tom insisted with a broad grin. “We’ve been in touch with scientists from another planet for months now!”

“Does this have something to do with that meteor?” a club member called out over the din.

The previous year a meteorlike object had flashed through the skies of Shopton, gouging deep into the earth within the grounds of Swift Enterprises, the research and invention installation presided over by Damon Swift. Shopton and the world had been given an abbreviated explanation of the nature of the object, one that neglected to mention that the object was clearly of intelligent design, purposefully directed to its destination and bearing a message from its creators.

As planned, Tom now took over the presentation. “The meteor was an artificial device, propelled to our world in some manner that we have yet to understand. We have only a very partial, incomplete grasp of the object’s structure and material composition. Nothing will penetrate its outer shell, including X-rays and gamma rays. We have no idea what sort of mechanism is inside it.

“But the important thing is what was on the outside,” the young inventor continued. “The missile, if we can call it that, was covered in symbols representing universal mathematical concepts, which seem to stand for ideas that we can express in ordinary language. In time― ”

“What do they want?” came a demanding voice. “Can we trust them?”

Tom frowned. “I’m sure they wonder if they can trust us—and with good reason.”

“We call them our Space Friends,” added Mr. Swift reassuringly. “There is every indication that they are friendly and nonviolent, motivated by scientific curiosity.”

“Where exactly do they come from?” asked Ladeen Coverley.

“We believe they have a scientific station of some kind in orbit around the planet Mars,” Tom answered. “We presume their home planet is somewhere else, probably in another solar system, but we really don’t know.”

Christine Eggleman, the club recording secretary, called out from the back of the room, “Did you say Mars? Is this another one of those Tom Swift life-on-Mars claims?”

Decades before, Tom’s great-grandfather had endangered his public reputation by claiming to have observed signs of Martian civilization through his extraordinary giant telescope, under phenomenal atmospheric conditions that had never recurred. The world press had treated the unprovable claims as a scandal.

“That is precisely why I withheld making this announcement to the world,” said Mr. Swift with quiet dignity. “Until recently it remained possible that we were victims of an elaborate hoax, perhaps orchestrated by a foreign power seeking to discredit American scientific methods. But after making a thorough review of the data, we think all rational doubt can now be excluded.”

A young boy rose to his feet in the crowd. “What do they look like, Tom? Like us, or like—aliens?”

Tom laughed. “Well, Jase, they really are aliens, you know. But we don’t know anything about their appearance. They don’t seem to grasp the concept of visual images in the way we do, and they haven’t yet succeeded in telling us much about their biology. We do know that they have some sort of difficulty surviving in our surface environment.”

That’s a relief!” muttered a woman, provoking chuckles in the crowd.

Tom and Mr. Swift went on to explain how their communication with the space friends had developed over the ensuing months, to the point where they had learned to exchange brief messages by radio, using a special video-oscillograph device—essentially an imaging oscilloscope—connected to the experimental magnifying antenna on the Enterprises grounds. The beings had demonstrated their nonhostile nature on more than one occasion, warning Tom about a deadly space phenomenon during his first orbital flight.

Ladeen Coverley waved a hand in the air and asked, “Do they have their own rockets, or flying saucers, or whatever? Can’t they come to Earth themselves?”

“We think they have space transport vehicles of some sort,” replied Mr. Swift.

“I saw something myself,” Tom continued, “just recently, during the construction of the outpost in space. But it wasn’t a rocket, as we have; it didn’t even seem to be a solid object. Dad and I think they planned to meet up with us at the space station, but it didn’t happen—something went wrong, which they are unable to explain to us.”

Mr. Swift said, “You all have to realize, these are not just people from a foreign culture, or even another species—but products of an entirely different biology. It’s a miracle that we’ve been able to break through the conceptual barrier to even a small extent.”

At this point in the presentation, Tom and his father had planned to illustrate the lecture by projecting some of the symbolic messages that they had translated on the big video screen at the front of the hall, which they had plugged directly into the laptop computer that held the “space dictionary” of translated symbols. But Tom’s brow furrowed as he worked the keyboard, and the screen remained blank.

“What’s wrong, son?” asked Mr. Swift in a low voice.

“I don’t know,” said Tom. A moment later he looked up and said, “Dad, the hard drive reads blank.”

Blank? Are you sure?”

“I sure am. And the backup datadisk is also empty!”

As the audience commenced to murmur, Tom said, “We’re having some technical problems, folks. But we’ll be releasing samples of the messages to the press.”

“Make sure the Bulletin gets one,” demanded Ladeen Coverley in curt tones.

After answering a few more questions, Tom and Mr. Swift drew the meeting to a close, explaining that George Dilling at the Enterprises plant would be available to respond to further inquiries, and that a detailed report was being transmitted to scientific journals the world over, as well as to the United States government. Then they left quickly with the rest of the Swift family, followed by several personal friends who had been invited to join the audience.

“I think I should get a medal, keeping this a secret for all these months,” commented Sandy Swift, Tom’s sister, as they took the elevator down to the parking garage.

“And from me!” added Bashalli Prandit, her friend and Tom’s frequent date. “It must have been torture for you, Sandra, withholding such news from your closest friend!”

“We practically had to sew her lips together.” The voice was that of dark-haired Bud Barclay, Tom’s best pal and personal pilot.

“You were very stoic, dear,” Tom’s mother said to Sandy. “I’m proud of you.”

Tom smiled faintly but did not comment.

“Tom, what’s wrong?” asked his sister.

Mr. Swift responded for his son. “I’m afraid Tom has the same thing on his mind as I do—the space dictionary code.”

“It’s been stolen!” murmured Tom in quiet dismay. “I feel it.”

“That’s impossible!” exclaimed his father, “How could such a thing happen? The space dictionary files were in the computer only yesterday, when we prepared at Enterprises for the presentation.”

“Why would anybody want to fool around with those space-symbol files, anyway?” Bud asked as the elevator doors opened. The powerfully-built eighteen-year-old pilot grinned. “Webster’s dictionary is tough enough for me!”

Ordinarily Tom would have smiled, but now he was very serious. “Bud,” said the blond-haired youth, “this may be a matter of life and death!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

 

          DELETED FILES

 

 

 

 

BUD REACTED with astonished apology. “Good night! I didn’t realize that. Don’t forget, I just flew in from S’Fran this morning.”

“Okay,” Tom said with a wry smile. He waited until all had entered the large Swift automobile, which was sealed against external listening devices, before continuing. “This is the story. Our mysterious space friends are planning to send us a rocket with planetary life aboard.”

“What!”

“Yes. And any time now. We’re waiting for a message telling us the crucial details, including when they propose to land it at Enterprises. Then we’re to tell them if the arrival time will give us long enough to prepare. That’s why we need the space dictionary so desperately.”

Sandy leaned forward. “Isn’t it exciting? A rocket from another planet!”

“And this time we all know about it!” observed Bashalli with an ironic smile.

Bud gulped. “Jetz!—exciting isn’t the word for it! If someone else on Earth should send phony signals to these space people, they might drop the rocket in the wrong place!”

“Exactly,” said Tom as Mr. Swift drove out into the bright Shopton sunlight. “That’s why I said ‘life and death’.”

“But Thomas, answer me this,” Bashalli interrupted. “Did you not say that these space people couldn’t live here on our planet?”

Tom nodded and explained that the vessel would not contain any higher forms of life, and would be remotely guided to Earth by some unknown means. The mysterious beings had indicated that they were launching the craft in order to send the Swifts a sample of the basic biological structure and organic composition prevalent on their home planet. In turn, the two inventors were to relay instructions about how the friendly planeteers might survive Earth’s surface environment. Then they would visit this planet. But with the space dictionary gone, however, the entire project might take a different twist with disastrous results.

“It’s not so much that we’re missing the files themselves,” Mr. Swift explained. “This was only a convenient compilation, which can be re-created. The main concern is that the code may be in the hands of someone whose motives are unknown.”

“I see,” Bashalli said. “Wicked foreigners in touch with super-spacemen. Just saying the words makes me nervous!”

Bud gave a low whistle. “Have you any hunch who might have done it?”

In the front seat Tom and his father exchanged troubled glances before the younger inventor replied. “The last outsider in our office was Munson Wickliffe.”

“But he’s a topnotch scientist himself!” Bud pointed out. “He wouldn’t stoop to such a thing.”

“That’s just it.” Tom frowned. “He’s a man with a fine reputation in research. I just can’t believe he would get involved in scientific theft!”

Munson Wickliffe presided over a well-equipped laboratory complex in the nearby town of Thessaly, where he kept a corps of eager young scientists working around the clock. He was affluent, and had earned a national reputation beyond reproach.

“Just the same, you might pay him a visit, Tom,” said Damon Swift, whom Tom greatly resembled.

“But carefully, please,” added Tom’s mother.

“We’ll find out what we can,” Bud said, emphasizing the word we. As Tom’s close companion, it was a rare adventure that Bud did not have a part in.

“And I’ll pass the word to our security division,” Bud offered. “Harlan Ames will want to get to work on it right away.”

“First we’d better examine the laptop in my lab,” Tom cautioned.

Two hours later, in Tom’s sophisticated underground laboratory on the Swift Enterprises grounds, the young inventor unplugged the computer from a bank of test instruments and gave Bud a look that spoke volumes.

“Not good news, is it.”

“It confirms what I suspected,” Tom replied. “This was deliberate sabotage. Some sort of hyper-complex virus program was entered into the laptop. Everything is gone! And that’s not the worst, pal. It looks like the virus routine was specifically designed to temporarily copy the files to an unreadable drive sector, which was subsequently downloaded and deleted.”

Bud shook his head angrily. “So someone has a copy of all your space-symbol translations!”

Tom rammed a fist into the palm of his hand. “And ‘someone’ must be Munson Wickliffe! He’s visited us twice during the last week—Monday, then again yesterday. I’m sure he introduced the virus into the machine the first time, then made the download yesterday afternoon.”

“I knew he was a physicist and chemist,” Bud mused. “Is he also a computer genius?”

“No,” answered Tom. “But he has a large workforce of experts, just as we do here.”

The two eighteen-year-old companions hurried off, heading for the plant’s security office in the main administration building, where they described the matter to Harlan Ames, the chief officer.

“Well,” said Ames glumly, “I suppose it has been a few weeks since our last security breach here at Enterprises, so we’re about due.”

Leaving the building the boys hopped into a waiting nanocar—a midget electric vehicle used for quick transport within the walls of the experimental station—and whirred across the grounds of the vast, four-mile-square enclosure of flat-topped modern buildings and gleaming white airstrips.

At the north end of the station, Tom and Bud climbed into one of Enterprises’ VTOL jet heliplanes and roared aloft. A few minutes after landing on Wickliffe’s airstrip in Thessaly they were ushered into the president’s office.

Wickliffe, a six-foot, slender man, with sparse black hair and a high forehead spreading above thick glasses, stepped awkwardly from behind his desk to shake hands. “Hardly expected to see you again so soon, my dear fellow. I was just watching the news account of your announcement. What an incredible moment in human history! Please sit down. What has brought the two of you here?”

As Tom politely explained about the deleted space dictionary, Wickliffe seemed to freeze. He glared at the young inventor coldly. “And you are bringing this matter to my attention because—?”

“Well, sir,” said Tom cautiously, “we’re a little stumped at Enterprises over the technical end of the—the incident. With your scientific expertise, I― ”

“No,” interrupted Wickliffe. “Don’t patronize me with foolishness, Tom. Are you by any chance implying that I might have something to do with destroying your code files?”

“Not at all,” said Tom with a frown. “I haven’t said anything of the kind!”

Wickliffe gave a cool smile. “No. Of course you haven’t. Well, I don’t believe I can be of any use to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some important work of my own to take care of.”

Tom flushed. “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he said, rising. “Dad and I feel this is a very important matter.”

Flying Tom back to Shopton, Bud was steaming. “He just about admitted doing it, Tom! He was toying with you the whole time.”

“I can’t waste any more time on it, flyboy. Whatever happened, we’ll have to put it aside for now and work on reassembling the space dictionary before the critical time comes.”

“Right—the rocket!” Bud nodded. “Do you have any idea when it’ll get to Earth?”

“Very soon. But whether that means days or weeks, we don’t yet know.”

When Tom returned to Shopton, he gave his father a quick report on the unsatisfactory interview while Bud stopped off at Ames’ office.

“Too bad Wickliffe took the wrong attitude,” the elder inventor said. “Leaves us as much in the dark as ever.”

“Have you started working on another dictionary, Dad?” Tom inquired.

“Yes, I’m scanning-in all the symbols and meanings that I can recall or find in my notes. Of course, we still have the meteor-missile with its inscribed symbols. That will help us, though it won’t be complete. Suppose you gather all you can think of. We certainly were foolish not to make additional copies of our compiled translations.”

As Damon Swift exited the office, Bud walked in to report to Tom that the security police were launching a full-scale investigation of the vandalism and apparent theft. Then, trying to cut through the gloom, he asked: “But anyway, genius boy, any new inventions up your sleeve? Remember, I’ve been out of town since we got back from the space outpost with our hides more-or-less intact.”

Instantly Tom’s eyes twinkled. “Well, it’s a little too big to go up my sleeve, but I am working on something over in Hangar Four. You ought to like it, Bud—it can fly or swim.”

“You mean a sort of flying aerosub?”

“No. A diving seacopter.”

“Cut the kidding,” Bud retorted.

“It’s the truth,” Tom continued. “It’ll even crawl around if necessary on tractor treads.”

“No fooling!” Bud stared in amazement. “So it’s a ground-crawling helicopter that can travel underwater?”

“Right. In the air the rotor blades drive the air downward, allowing it to hover over the surface of the ground or water on an air-cushion, at a height of about two yards. In water the pitch of the blades is reversed for submerging—like a helicopter pushing down instead of up.”

Bud wrinkled his brow humorously. “Okay, that much is clear. But why do it that way? Let me break this to you gently—in boat-building the goal is to keep the ship from sinking, not make it sink faster!”

Tom laughed heartily. “The big advantage of this kind of submersion,” he continued, “is that these blades give the ship tremendous agility and maneuverability under water.”

Bud perched on a stool. “Your jetmarine was plenty agile, Tom.”

“I’m not aiming at raw speed this time, flyboy. You see, this approach eliminates the need for ballast tanks. With the rotors, the seacopter can easily stay at any level beneath the surface the navigator chooses, merely by adjusting the blade pitch. She’ll be wonderfully nimble down in the depths, too, thanks to the interplay of the downward push of the rotors with the ship’s upward buoyancy. Just like the way it’s easier to pull a string than to push it!” Tom now warmed to his subject. “The seacopter has a lightweight, ultrastrong hull constructed on the same principle as our rockets—layers of Tomasite over a rigid mesh of magtritanium alloy.”

“She’ll need to resist some real pressure.”

“Up to 18,000 pounds per square inch!”

Bud boggled. “It’s not that I don’t want to be a hero, but I’d prefer to be a three-dimensional one!”

“But think of what we could accomplish!” continued Tom. “Humans have rarely penetrated more than three and a half miles beneath the surface, but in places the depth of the ocean floor is almost twice that. The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the planet, but we’ve only mapped about 5 percent of the bottom. Who knows what mineral, chemical, or archaeological secrets might be hiding down there—not to mention unknown life forms, as many as two million of ’em!”

Walking over to his sliding workbench, Tom touched a concealed button. Instantly a drawing board, with a large blueprint of the seacopter, slid out from the wall.

“Wow!” Bud exclaimed, admiring the drawing of the sleek forty-foot craft. Discus or saucer-shaped, but smoothly tapering fore and aft, the submersible had a wide, circular opening in its center that penetrated the hull from top to bottom. The adjustable propeller-screw, twelve feet in diameter and mounted on a vertical pivot, occupied this space.

Bud noticed that the body of the seacopter was divided into two self-contained sections. Cabins at either end, labeled Compartments A and B—each of which would accommodate three people—were linked by narrow corridors on each side of the rotor well, allowing passengers to walk from one compartment to the other.

The young pilot looked puzzled. “Which is the front end and which is the rear?” he asked.

“Take your choice.” Tom laughed. “The ship can travel in either direction. This feature will come in handy should we get into a submarine cave, or other spot in which it’s impossible to turn around. And speaking of safety, the seacopter has positive buoyancy. If the power fails, she’ll just bob up to the surface.”

“Great,” Bud said with enthusiasm. Then he looked at Tom inquisitively. “But how do you do all this? I mean, how do you propel this contraption once you’re under water?”

Tom pointed to the undersides of the two compartments. In the middle of each section were streamlined, triangular units attached to the craft by a swivel coupling.

“These are jets,” he said, “powered by super-heated steam created by atomic reactors, one for each compartment. The seacop won’t be as fast as the jetmarine—no Mach 1 for this baby—but she’ll really move.”

“I see,” said Bud. “And they’re your steering apparatus?”

“Yes. The jets are on a gimbal system, so they can be rotated through 360 degrees. The steam pressure also drives the turbine that powers the blades, which is inside this thick hub.”

Bud nodded. “Very clever, pal—as always.” Then he grinned. “So let’s get down to the meat. Or in this case, the fish! What’s all that nimbleness for, anyway? Herding whales? Or are you going on an oyster-hunting expedition?”

“You’re nearly right.” Tom chuckled. “But instead of diving for pearls, we’re going after gold.”

“Explain, chum!”

As Tom stowed the blueprints away, he said, “Well, it’s not entirely a treasure hunt. It’s half undersea exploration, half archaeology. In any event, it’ll take the seacopter into some pretty rough terrain on the ocean bottom.”

“Rough terrain?” Bud looked at his friend suspiciously. “Just what is it you plan to go looking for, Tom?”

The young inventor smiled dreamily. “Oh, some old ruins—very old, in fact. You might have heard of the place. It’s called Atlantis!”



 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

 

          THE PRESSURE TANK

 

 

 

 

 

“ATLANTIS? Come on!” Bud responded as if suspecting a gag. “You’re beginning to sound like that Russian kook who thought she’d found a lost city under the Caribbean! Atlantis is just a myth.”

“More than one old ‘myth’ has turned out to be founded on fact,” Tom observed. “Troy, for example.”

“Well—okay. But does any scientist or archaeologist or anybody have a clue where it might be?”

Tom nodded soberly at his friend. “A couple friends of mine, George Braun and Hamilton Teller, who are expert oceanographers, have a theory that there may be ancient cities buried under the Atlantic Ocean seabed off the coast of Portugal.”

“Buried cities!” Skepticism set aside, Bud’s voice throbbed with interest as he sensed the promise of a new adventure. “You mean underneath the ocean floor?”

“That’s the general idea,” Tom said. “Ham and George want to search in an area where satellites have shown a gravitational anomaly.”

“Uh-huh!” responded Bud. “What’s that, a place where gravity pulls sideways instead of down?”

Tom chuckled. “It just means that precise measurements of the earth’s pull show a sharp local variation in the density of the crust. It’s a hint that some sort of unusual geologic activity has gone on there in the recent past.”

“Like a lost continent or two?”

“Who knows? And some of the thermometric data—heat readings—could be a clue that large structures are hidden in the same place.”

“Under the ocean, even under the bottom,” mused Bud. “And way out in the Atlantic.”

“That’s right,” Tom confirmed. “Anyhow, Ham and George need some kind of versatile undersea craft in which to make their exploration, so I figured a seacopter might be the answer.”

“Good figuring, chum!” Bud exclaimed. “Count me in on that trip, will you?”

Tom’s face lit in an affectionate grin. “You’re as good as aboard, Admiral. Matter of fact, I’m making a test cruise tomorrow in one of the seacopter sections. Care to join me?”

“Absolutely! Where we cruising to, Bermuda? Some romantic, exotic spot?”

The young inventor winked. “Pressure Tank 3. Exotic but― ”

“Not so romantic,” concluded Bud with a wistful sigh.

After Bud left, Tom called George Dilling, Swift Enterprises’ chief of public communications, to ask about the public’s response to the day’s announcement of space life.

“Oh, everyone’s going crazy, as you might expect,” Dilling replied. “But the journal reports and press backgrounders all went out without a hitch, and your Dad has been talking to the Washington crowd. Thank goodness we already have our contacts in the Department of Defense.”

“Not to mention ‘Collections’,” remarked Tom. “Collections” nicknamed a mysterious government security group that seemed able to monitor the activities of Swift Enterprises at will, and had apparently known of the Swifts’ space communications for months. “Incidentally, George, I want to personally apologize for having kept you in the dark about all this until yesterday.”

“No hard feelings, Chief,” he responded. “You had your reasons. But I expect Rad to be ribbing me about it from now to doomsday!” Dilling was referring to Harlan Ames’ assistant Phil Radnor who, like Ames, had been apprised of the secret from the first.

While Tom was on the phone Mr. Swift had reentered the office with a sheaf of photos of the inscribed shell of the meteor-missile. The young inventor turned to his father. “Let’s start working on those symbols.”

In order to write down as many of them as they could from memory, he and Mr. Swift worked far into the night. Meanwhile, plant engineers stood by in case any messages started coming through from the space people. But morning dawned without any communications being received.

At ten o’clock Tom and Bud rendezvoused at the huge metal block that was Pressure Tank 3, one of several tanks used for aquatic testing. The top of the tank had been swung aside and, as Tom and Bud watched, Compartment B of the new seacopter was gently lowered inside by crane. Separated from its other half, the section had a stubby, curving arrowhead shape, a half-circular notch showing where the central well for the diving blades would be. Bud remarked on the bright crimson hue of the gleaming craft.

“That’s the look of our translucent Tomasite coating over the new alloy of magtritanium that we’re using for the outer hull.” Magtritanium was a superstrong lightweight metal developed by Enterprises materials-science technologists for Swift rocketcraft, including Tom’s Star Spear. Tomasite was a tough, flexible plastic resistant to most forms of radiant energy, as well as absorptive of radar and sonar waves.

Dropping down from a catwalk the youths strode across the flat top of the hull to a small round hatchway and entered the interior of Compartment B.

“Not very big, is it,” noted Tom apologetically. “Each compartment is designed for a crew of three.”

Bud clapped him on his T-shirted back. “Skipper, it’s like a hotel lobby compared to your jetmarine. And with picture windows!” Bud gestured at the clear plexi-quartz viewport that curved around the fore-edge of the craft.

Closing the overhead hatch, Tom contacted the support crew outside the tank. “Everything is ready,” a workman reported. The tank interior turned dark as the lid swung back into place, then light again as the seacopter’s external lamp, mounted on the hull just above the middle of the viewpane, was switched on. The tank was already filling with water, formulated to match salty oceanic seawater in chemical composition. In minutes Compartment B was completely submerged.

Seated side by side in comfortable contour chairs, which were attached to recessed tracks set in the deck that allowed them to slide right and left, Tom activated the controls in the bow. At his signal the exterior work crew fed power into the hydraulic pressure piston, and the pressure on the hull began to build.

“Well, we haven’t been squashed flat so far,” Bud remarked presently. “How far down are we?”

Reading a gauge on the control panel, Tom said, “In pressure terms we’re one hundred fathoms under, Bud!”

“That’s six hundred feet,” Bud mused. “Tom, this is great! You’ll revolutionize underwater travel.”

Suddenly Bud felt an icy-cold spray of water against his wrist. Looking down, he exclaimed in horror, “Tom! The cabin’s leaking!”

A moment later water began to gush in at a terrifying rate!


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

 

          TRACKING A LEGEND

 

 

 

 

INITIALLY a narrow jet surging into the cabin from beneath the control board, the stream of water was rapidly broadening out into a wedge-shape coming from all along the seam that joined the deck to the sloping wall of the cabin. Fragments of material, forced out of place by the pressure, were shooting into the air like shrapnel and pinging against the far wall.

Tom grabbed the microphone from its holder in front of him. “Guys—drain the tank! We’re leaking!” he shouted. But before the last syllable was sounded, the overhead lights began to flicker.

“Did they hear you?” asked Bud with a gasp.

“I don’t know,” said Tom, forcing himself to remain calm. The water inside the compartment was already ankle-deep! “Bud, stand on your chair seat. If the water’s gotten through to the generating system somehow, there’s a danger of electrocution.”

The two stood up on the seats, hunching their shoulders down as their heads bumped against the low ceiling.

Bud cast a glance at the hatchway. Set in the ceiling next to the starboard bulkhead, it was yards away. “Electricity or no, as soon as the pressure’s equalized we’ll have to open ’er up and make― ”

“The pressure!” Tom interrupted. He pointed at the gauge, which could still be made out in the dim, flickering illumination. “It’s dropping, and fast!”

Bud sighed with relief. “They got the message, pal.”

Emergency high-volume pumps were soon brought into play, draining Tank 3. Then the tank lid was unsealed and the frantic work crew made their way onto the hull and forced open the hatch.

What’s going on down there?” cried a voice.

“A major leak,” Tom called back. “We’re flooded.” Now that the cabin was open to the outside air, Tom was able to kill the electric power completely, removing the danger. He and Bud sloshed through the flooded compartment and made their way up through the hatch. In a moment they were standing in the morning sunlight.

“I was afraid the system had started shorting out before I had finished my message,” Tom told the crew chief. “Thank goodness I was wrong.”

He gave Tom a blank look. “Message? What message? We started draining the tank when Art Wiltessa came running up and told us that orders had got fouled up and the high-pressure sealant had been left off some of the seams!”

Bud raised his eyebrows high. “Man, I guess somebody up there was watching out for us—and I don’t mean your Space Friends.”

Tom was glad, and immensely relieved, to know that there was nothing wrong with the basic design of his seacopter.

The damaged compartment was drained and removed from the tank and returned to its berth in Hangar Four next to its twin. Tom, directing repairs on it the next day, asked Bud to check with Harlan Ames as to developments in finding the person who had sabotaged the space dictionary.

“No leads on him yet,” the security officer reported in disappointment. “But we’re working on it. If Dr. Wickliffe is responsible, I’d sure like to know how he managed it.” He added that agents of both the FBI and the Department of Defense were also investigating Wickliffe.

But lost Atlantis was the chief topic of conversation that evening in the Swift home. Bud had been invited to join them, and to meet Ham Teller and George Braun. Tom performed the introductions. As he shook hands, Bud sized up the two men.

George Braun, red-haired, had twinkling green eyes and an easy grin—and the physique of a man who rarely left his office chair. Ham Teller, a wiry six-footer, was prematurely gray except where he was bald, which was nearly everywhere. Both seemed relatively young men, no older than thirty.

Teller chuckled quietly. “S’matter, Bud? Expecting a couple old fogies?” Teller had a fairly noticeable Brooklyn accent.

“Manners, Ham!” cautioned Braun jokingly. “That word ‘fogey’ hasn’t been current for years now.”

Bud laughed in response, slightly embarrassed. “I’ll admit I was expecting someone a bit on the high-domed side.”

“Well, Ham is high-domed but nobody can call him a long-hair!” Both men smiled broadly and Bud decided he approved of their casual, bantering ways. Tom and Bud in later life, he thought.

At dinner, they introduced themselves in more detail. “George is an oceanographer with an interest in archaeology, and I’m an archaeologist with an interest in oceanography,” Teller explained. “And we both share an interest in the development of early civilization—and the persistent legend of Atlantis.”

“It was a perfect stroke of good fortune to have met Tom at an academic conference last year, where he talked about his jetmarine trip to the Caribbean,” added Braun. “We were turned on—do they still say that?—by that undersea canyon you two found.”

“I remember,” Bud said. “That’s the one that Tom thinks must have been formed in the open air.”

Teller grinned. “Yeah, ’zackly so. Open air—meaning the whole sea floor must’ve sunk, and not so long ago neither. Maybe just a few thousand years back.”

“That’s not exactly yesterday,” commented Sandy.

“Aw, in geologic time—which is the only time we worry about these days—it’s nothing at all!”

As the dinner turned to dessert, the topic turned to Tom’s new diving seacopter. Tom’s mother, an attractive, gentle person, listened attentively. As she served warm pie, she looked first at her husband and then at her son.

“I wish you two advanced thinkers would invent things that weren’t so risky!” she said.

“If my latest invention turns out half as well as this pie, Mom, you haven’t a thing to worry about,” Tom said, smiling. He knew that despite occasions of worry and, at times, real fear, she was very proud of his achievements as well as those of his father.

After dinner, the family gathered in the big, cheerful living room with Teller and Braun and talked about Tom’s promised expedition in search of ancient wealth under the sea.

“I’ve been meaning to ask about the ‘wealth’ part,” Bud spoke up, lounging back in an easy chair. “Tom said something about looking for sea gold.”

“Many of our ancient sources refer to the vast wealth of the lost city,” Braun explained. “A few even explicitly refer to it as the city of gold.”

You know, my illustrious grandfather found his own underground city of gold, in Mexico,” said Damon Swift. “That was in 1912. He was hardly older than Tom here.”

“We Swifts have a specialization in history,” observed Sandy with a touch of irony. “Namely Swift history!”

“We’re familiar with that find,” Ham Teller said. “There might be a connection between the ancient Mexican civilization and the one we usually call Atlantis. Some authorities think the forerunners of the old societies of the Americas, such as the Olmecs and the Maya, were Atlantean survivors.”

“But we leave that sort of speculation to the cultists,” put in Braun quickly. “Our ideas come from solid scientific sources.”

Mrs. Swift spoke up. “Just where is the real Atlantis supposed to have been located?”

In reply the two men rose to their feet and walked over to the wall of the room, where there was a large, detailed map of the world which showed various suboceanic features.

“Somewhere in here!” exclaimed Teller with a laugh as he made a sweeping gesture with both hands that took in the entire map. “And I'm being serious! Over the years people have ‘located’ Atlantis all over the globe.”

“We once made a list—remember, Ham? It ran on for five pages!”

Teller nodded. “Let’s see, there was Scandinavia, Cuba, Haiti, the Amazon basin― ”

“Both lower and upper California, Indonesia― ”

“The island of Santorini, near Greece; Turkey, around Mount Ararat― ”

“Central Africa, Alaska, the Gobi Desert in China, the bottom of either the Mediterranean or the Black Sea― ”

“The North and the South Poles, under the ice― ”

“Oh, and my favorite—Ireland, just off the western coast!” concluded Braun.

“My goodness!” said Tom’s mother, as Bud and Sandy chuckled.

“Basically, all you need for Atlantis is enough water to cover it over!” Teller joked.

Sandy held up a hand. “But doesn’t the legend come from Plato? And didn’t he say Atlantis was somewhere around the Rock of Gibraltar?”

Mr. Swift nodded approvingly at his daughter. “Exactly. He said it was just beyond the Pillars of Hercules, as they used to call it.”

Braun pointed at the Strait of Gibraltar, separating Spain from North Africa. Then he moved his finger a few inches westward. “That’s this area here. After having dallied with the Atlantic Ridge and the Cape Verde Islands, we took a look at the gravitic and thermal data being collected by space satellites, and guess what?—we think old Plato knew what he was talking about!”

Curious, Bud got up and approached the map, looking at the tiny lettering by the tip of George Braun’s finger. “The Horseshoe Seamounts,” he read off. “Just north of the Madeira Islands, and pretty much due west of Gibraltar.”

“About 500 miles distant,” Braun elaborated, “and about 300 miles from the southwest corner of Portugal, at a depth of around 60 fathoms.”

As the men sat down, Teller added, “Actually, the main point of interest is a lowland area between the ‘arms’ of the ‘horseshoe.’ It’s where we get the most suggestive readings, and we think it may be the plain that Plato mentions in his― ”

Suddenly a loud buzzing noise interrupted the conversation—which had turned into something of a lecture. “The alarm system!” exclaimed Sandy. “Wonder who’s calling?”

“I’ll see,” said Tom, getting up.

The Swift residence was surrounded by a magnetic field which touched off a signal when broken. The family and their friends avoided this by wearing wristwatches containing small neutralizer coils. But the alarm always sounded at the approach of prowlers or unexpected visitors.

When Tom opened the door, he was surprised to see William Clyde, the pudgy, middle-aged mayor of Shopton. The man was excited and red in the face. “Come in, sir,” Tom invited him.

Hardly had the mayor entered when he burst out, “You Swifts have got to stop that rocket coming here from outer space! Otherwise, the whole town will be blown up!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

 

          A BLAST FROM SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

MAYOR CLYDE’S outburst caught Tom by surprise. Stunned into silence, he politely ushered him into the living room where the others waited expectantly. All ears had overheard what the Mayor had said.

The man nodded nervously to the others as Tom said, “Please sit down, sir.”

The caller sank into an easy chair. As he mopped his brow with a handkerchief, he reiterated why he was there. “You must stop that rocket!” he insisted tensely. “Do you understand?”

Damon Swift regarded him quizzically. “Bill, there must be some misunderstanding here. Please tell us how you got your information.”

“I received a phone call in my car just fifteen minutes ago,” the official explained. “Whoever it was gave no name, but he told me the Swifts had received a message from those space aliens of yours—a message saying a rocket from outer space would soon land in Shopton!”

“That certainly doesn’t mean it will be an explosive rocket,” Mr. Swift pointed out. “I’m quite sure from the message we received that it will not be.”

“In fact, Mr. Mayor, we really shouldn’t be calling it a rocket,” Tom pointed out soothingly. “It’s a vehicle of some kind, but if it’s like the meteor-missile that came to us last year, it doesn’t work on an external combustion principle at all.”

“Is that supposed to be reassuring? Do you expect me to stand by and do nothing when the lives of thousands of people are at stake?” the mayor stormed. “Explosive or not, that thing could cause great havoc in a town like Shopton!”

Tom glanced at his father, uncertain whether or not to reveal the secret details of the Swifts’ recent communication with their space friends.

Mr. Swift took the cue. “I’ll speak frankly, Mayor,” he said. “We have received a message from the space scientists concerning their sending us a sample of life-forms. Like the others, this message came in a mathematical symbol code, which we previously compiled into a space dictionary on computer. That dictionary has been destroyed, apparently after having been copied without our permission.”

Mayor Clyde gasped. “You mean the perpetrator is the person who called me?”

“That’s quite probable,” Tom spoke up. “The latest message was recorded in the most recent of the computer files—it was the one concerning the rocket.”

“Our security division has been working on the incident, along with various government authorities,” Mr. Swift added. “Tom, call Ames and find out if he has any news, won’t you?”

Going to the phone alcove, the boy dialed Harlan Ames’ private number, only to learn that there was nothing new to report. Tom informed Ames of the anonymous phone call to the mayor.

A worried frown creased Tom’s forehead as he hung up. There was as yet no real proof of any involvement by Munson Wickliffe. Could the theft have been an inside job by someone working at the plant—perhaps an employee? And if so, what was the motive?

Returning to the living room, he reported Ames’ failure so far to solve the mystery. From Mr. Swift’s expression it was plain that he shared Tom’s concern. Nevertheless both father and son tried to reassure Mayor Clyde. The official, however, could not be calmed. He begged them to send a message to their space friends, calling off the rocket plans.

“Very well,” Mr. Swift agreed. “We’ll try to contact them later tonight, when Mars is over the horizon.”

Tom was amazed and dismayed by this sudden decision. As the Mayor left, he turned to his father, trying not to sound accusing.

“Dad, did you really mean that about contacting our space friends? This is our chance to learn something about life on other planets, something scientists have dreamed of for centuries! We can’t throw it away!”

“Don’t worry, Tom,” Mr. Swift replied. “Our message will simply ask the space people to hold off landing the rocket for a while. That will give us time to work out more of the code and to calm down the Mayor and any others who have heard the news.”

Tom grinned sheepishly. “I should have known you wouldn’t back down.”

Mrs. Swift and Sandy had listened in alarm to the mayor’s remarks. Now Sandy burst out, “If someone’s trying to make trouble, he may do something treacherous! Please be careful, Dad. And you too, Tom!”

“How about me?” demanded Bud.

“You be careful too,” said Anne Swift. “And that goes for you boys as well,” she added, looking at Braun and Teller, who nodded vigorously.

“We’ll be on our guard, my dear,” Mr. Swift promised. “Tom, we’d better get busy on that message right away!”

Apologizing for ending the evening so abruptly, they sped to the plant with Tom at the wheel of his sports car. Darkness had fallen, but the grounds of Swift Enterprises were illuminated by powerful floodlights.

Hours later they were ready to transmit the brief message they had composed. But as they neared the room that housed the imaging oscilloscope equipment that was connected to the magnifying antenna, the employee who had been monitoring the device during the night shift ran into the hallway to meet them. “Tom! Mr. Swift! A message is just coming through!”

They dashed into the oscilloscope room. Not content to wait for the replay of the recorded message, Tom’s father began jotting down the symbols appearing on the screen. For several moments the unusual pictographs continued to march across the oscilloscope. Then the monitor went blank.

“Does any of it look familiar, Dad? Can you translate it?” Tom asked breathlessly.

“Not yet, son.” Mr. Swift thumbed through his notebook and wrote down several words, then glanced up with a worried frown. “Decoding this series will involve some hard work, especially without the space dictionary. See if you can remember any of these symbols.”

Between them, Tom and his father struggled with the message for over an hour, covering sheet after sheet in their computations. Finally they worked out the meaning:

 

EXPLODING MISSILE WILL SIGNIFY

LIFE VESSEL ARRIVAL IS IMMINENT

 

The two inventors faced each other tensely. Neither of them dared to voice the disturbing thought that raced into their minds. What if the missile exploded in the middle of Shopton!

Before the Swifts could speak, the phone jangled. The operator reported that he was relaying an outside call. Tom gulped when the operator disclosed that the call was from Mayor Clyde!

Clyde’s voice crackled over the receiver. “I just got word about that exploding missile! Confound it, Tom Swift, you and your father promised you’d stop the infernal thing from being shot at us!”

What!” Tom cried unbelievingly, putting the phone on speaker mode. “How in the world did― ”

“Don’t ask questions!” Mayor Clyde exploded. “You said you’d call off this dangerous business. Now my secret informant calls me at home to tell me about this exploding missile nonsense!”

“Bill, it takes time to put our message together in the symbol code,” Damon Swift protested. “We were about to― ”

“Never mind making excuses. Damon, you’re the CEO over there, and I’m holding you responsible for this catastrophe in the making. I’m telling you as Mayor, do something before Shopton is wiped out!”

An emphatic click told them the Mayor had hung up.

“Whoever has the space dictionary files knows how to use them, Tom.” Mr. Swift’s face was anxious. “And they’ve used the technical data to tune in on the space messages themselves.” The words were hardly out of his mouth when the phone rang again. “What’s wrong now? More trouble?”

This time the caller was Dan Perkins, editor of the Shopton Evening Bulletin. He informed Tom’s father in icy tones—yet with a certain journalistic glee—that he had been told by a “privileged source” that the Swifts were going too far in their efforts to communicate with the alien scientists. “It’s only fair to tell you that I’m preparing an editorial saying that if you allow that missile to explode in Shopton, it’ll be criminal negligence at best—and at worst, murder!”

When Damon Swift lowered the phone receiver, deeply shaken, Tom said softly, “Dad, what can we do?”

Mr. Swift began to pace about the room with clenched fists. “We must amend our message to say that an explosive missile is out of the question. It never occurred to me that these scientists wouldn’t realize― ”

“Listen!” cried Tom. A strange whistling sound seemed to be coming from somewhere outside.

An instant later a blinding flash turned night to day, followed by a terrific and frightening roar!

The force of the explosion, in the sky over Swift Enterprises, shook the buildings like the impact of a giant’s hammer. In the room where Tom and his father stood, books and small objects were tumbled to the floor. Two of the windowpanes cracked and caved in. Tom dashed to one of the windows followed by Mr. Swift. The sky above was illuminated by a strange phosphorescence, with a cloud of fine fragments raining down on the experimental station.

“The missile must have exploded just above,” said the elder scientist. “Thank goodness it was above and not among us!”

“I’m sure our space friends planned it that way,” Tom replied, racing from the room.

Outdoors pandemonium held sway as guards and night employees swarmed around the grounds. But as dawn broke hours later it was clear that the space visitor had caused no injury and done no major damage. Quick calls to Shopton, cautiously worded, indicated that the townfolk had not noticed the blast, which was highly localized.

“Well, at least we can honestly tell Perkins and Mayor Clyde that they no longer have anything to fear from the explosive missile!” Mr. Swift commented wryly to Tom.

They caught a few hours of needed sleep on cots in their shared office, and breakfasted at the plant commissary. Mr. Swift composed a reassuring notice which was circulated among the work force. As Mars was still over the horizon, they were able to transmit a revised message to their space friends urging them to temporarily postpone the arrival of the rocket, and warning them that unauthorized persons might attempt to interfere with the project by sending false or misleading information.

As the morning passed and Mars descended behind the western horizon, Tom and his father were disturbed at the lack of a confirming response to their transmission.

“They’ve had plenty of time to compose a message back to us,” Damon Swift commented.

Tom’s response was worrisome. “Dad, they may never have received it. If Wickliffe or some other technically savvy person has possession of the space dictionary data, they know enough to jam our outgoing signals.” Mr. Swift conceded the truth of this possibility.

As he often did when a problem proved insoluble, Tom withdrew to his personal laboratory-workshop, where he turned his mind to some remaining technical issues concerning his seacopter design. As noon approached, Bud dropped by.

“George and Ham are great guys,” Bud observed. “Do you think they have the real low-down on that soggy sea-city?”

“They’re on to something, flyboy.” Tom flipped open a large, detailed chart of the floor of the eastern mid-Atlantic. He pointed to a spot on the chart north of the Madeira Islands and slightly east of the Horseshoe Seamounts. “Notice this formation of underwater peaks?”

“Sure. What about them?”

“They could he more than just the upjuttings of a mountainside.”

“Meaning what?” asked Bud, fascinated by the hint of mystery in Tom’s voice.

“I believe that they may be part of a great ceremonial grounds with pyramids, buried in lava-rock and sea silt. They seem too pointed and narrow, and too regularly arranged, to be natural. This is where I think George Braun and Ham Teller ought to start their search.”

Bud bounced out of his chair excitedly. “Tom, on our next test of the seacopter, why don’t we go there and take a look?”

Tom had to grin at his friend’s enthusiasm. Bud was always ready for action!

“Slow down, boy! There’s a lot of work to do yet before the seacopter will be ready for a distance cruise. We haven’t even tested it with the pieces all put together.”

“Well, make it soon. I can hardly wait to start for the lost city!”

“Which reminds me,” added Tom, “I have another project under way that I haven’t told you about!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

          INTERFERENCE

 

 

 

 

“WHAT’S THE deal?” Bud Barclay demanded. “Show me—before I read about it in the Bulletin!”

Sure thing, Bud. It’s in the photographic department. Let’s drive over now.”

Hopping into a nanocar, the boys drove to one of the multistory laboratory buildings. Stepping onto a ridewalk they were smoothly carried down the main corridor of the quarter-mile-long plant wing by a silent conveyor belt. They stepped off near the entrance to the photographic laboratory.

Inside, experimental work on all kinds of cameras was taking place. Tom led Bud to a device which looked like a supersized television camera gimbal-mounted on a metal support column. It bristled with knobs and dials, and had what appeared to be a TV screen at the rear of the housing.

“Quite a toy!” said Bud, scratching his head. “What does it do?”

“Takes video images and picks up sounds through walls and solid objects,” Tom replied. “After a five-second processing delay, it displays the result on the screen and through the headset earphones.”

Bud nodded his understanding but said, “Can’t your TeleTec machines already do that?”

The young pilot was referring to the television detector, invented by Tom’s famous great-grandfather and namesake in the 1930’s and much improved over the succeeding decades in pace with advances in electronics technology. It was in use for security purposes at Swift Enterprises and around the world.

Tom’s answer was, “Actually, it’s a further evolution of the Swift television detector.” He explained that the device still worked by projecting an electromagnetic scanning beam through obstructions, which was reflected back by objects in the range of its focus. “But this model uses three beams that intersect at the focus-point. This allows us to use extreme low frequency waves, which can pass through water up to a distance of about 100 feet. That’s something the standard TeleTec can’t do. We can also register sounds by using a Doppler-diffraction technique to ‘read’ the molecular motions of sound vibration.”

“The all-seeing eye!” Bud exclaimed in admiration. “What do you call this super-snooper?”

Tom winked. “Well, I was going to call it a snooper-visor, but maybe I should leave the puns to you.”

Bud assumed a humorous look of superiority. “But of course. How about the Eye-Spy camera?”

“Perfect!” The young inventor flicked on several switches, and the monitor screen began to glow. “The color-processing unit isn’t ready yet, but I can show you this black-and-white job in action.” Tom wheeled the bulky camera dolly over to the far side of the room. “We’ll watch the traffic out in the hall,” he said, adjusting several control dials as Bud looked over his shoulder in fascination.

Five seconds later a clear view of the corridor sprang into focus on the screen. Along came a roly-poly figure, bald-headed and bowlegged, pushing a cart loaded with food.

“It’s the Chow Winkler show!” Tom said, grinning broadly. Chow, a happy-go-lucky former chuck-wagon cook from Texas, had met the Swifts while they were constructing an atomic research facility in New Mexico. He had returned to Shopton with them to be chef for the Swifts and culinary expert for the Enterprises plant.

“Yee-ow! Look at that checked shirt Chow’s sporting,” Bud muttered. “Good thing we’re not in color or he’d probably blow out your picture tube.” The Texan’s weakness for gaudy western apparel was legendary.

Tom panned the camera to keep the cook centered on the screen. Chow paused every few steps to sample the food from various containers. After each taste he stuck out his tongue and made a horrible face. The boys shook with laughter at the spectacle. Then Tom held the headset up to Bud’s ear, and Chow’s voice could be heard muttering a number of salty imprecations under his breath.

“It’s not Chow’s own cooking, that’s for sure,” Bud commented.

“In any case, I hope the food isn’t for us,” said Tom. “Chow acts as if it were poison!”

After the Texan had delivered the food to the metallurgy department next door, Tom went outside and called him into the photographic lab. Pretending to be stern, he said: “What’s the big idea of sampling food from that lunch cart, Chow? Don’t you get enough to eat in your own kitchen?”

The cook’s sun-bronzed face wrinkled in dismay and disgust. “Aw, Boss, brand my galley pans, I ’as jest checkin’ up on that new fry-cook Boris, who keeps mouthin’ off about working in the best hotels o’ New York and― ”

Tom interrupted in mock impatience. “Never mind that. What’s with the vulgar language, anyway?—saying such things about a defenseless bull!”

“Now Tom, I only― ” Suddenly Chow’s jaw dropped open in a look of amazed perplexity. “Say now, wait jest a minute, how’d you know I was tastin’ them vittles? Wasn’t no one else out there but me. I’m dead sure o’ that!”

Tom nodded gravely. “You really want to know?” He touched a button on the Eye-Spy camera, activating its digital replay mechanism. The entire sequence of events showed again on the monitor, complete with sound.

“More o’ your newfangled contraptions!” declared the cook with a sidewise glance, and Tom and Bud burst into raucous laughter. As Tom explained and assured Chow that he’d only been teasing, the grizzled old Westerner shook his head glumly. “This here’s like 1984 in the blame twenty-first cent’ry! From now on, a coot’ll have no privacy ’round here no-ways no-how. How’m I goin’ to cook up any fancy surprises fer you with that camera snoopin’ at me?”

Bud laughed again. “Pardner, if you’re dreaming up any more surprises like that sagebrush stew and pickled rattlesnake, I’d say Tom’s gizmo has more than proved its worth!”

The boys’ fun was suddenly cut off by a voice over the public address system. “Tom Swift, report to the master oscilloscope at once! An incoming signal has been detected!” It was the prim voice of Munford Trent, the Swifts’ efficient office secretary.

“The space scientists must finally be responding to the message Dad and I sent!” Tom cried excitedly. He and Bud hastily made their way to the oscilloscope room, which was in the airfield control tower building.

Mr. Swift was already present when they arrived. “Look, Tom—only two symbols this time, then nothing.” He gestured at the glowing monitor screen.

“Looks like Egyptian hieroglyphics to me—by way of Chinese!” Bud exclaimed.

As was characteristic of the space writing, each pictograph was actually a cluster of smaller symbols that showed the relation of the concepts. Tom pointed to one of the sub-symbols. “I remember that one. It means something not brought to completion, unfinished.”

“And this part is their sign of reversal or negation,” said Damon Swift. “And this looks to me like ‘extend’ or ‘intensify,’ don’t you think?”

In minutes father and son were agreed on the translation of the message from space:

 

CONTINUE COURSE

 

“I don’t get it,” Tom said, puzzled. “There must be more coming.” But though they waited for fifteen minutes, there were no further transmissions.

“Try sending our own message and see if they reply this time,” Mr. Swift suggested.

Borrowing the notebook of reconstructed translations, Tom sat down at the transmitter and began beaming impulses into space. Suddenly Mr. Swift, who was monitoring the signal on the oscilloscope, cried out, “Hold it, Tom! We’re getting interference!”

Instead of showing the symbols Tom was sending, the scope was acting wildly. Starbursts of light flickered back and forth across the screen.

“Someone’s jamming your signal!” Bud exclaimed.

Tom waited a few moments until the flashes died away, then tried once more to send the message. Again the scope exploded into wild flashes of light.

“No doubt about it now,” the elder inventor commented grimly. “Someone is doing his best to prevent us from contacting our space friends! It’s obviously either the person who downloaded the space dictionary or someone who obtained it from the thief.”

Tom snapped his fingers as an alarming idea occurred to him.

“Dad, maybe he’s the person who was sending that ‘continue course’ message!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

 

          EVENING ALERT

 

 

 

 

MR. SWIFT looked startled by Tom’s suggestion. “In other words, it came from right here on earth, not outer space, just like the interference signals.”

“Then it’s a lucky break!” cried Bud. “You’ll be able to home in on the source of the signal.”

Tom examined several instrument readings from the magnifying antenna and shook his head in discouragement. “No dice. The jamming signals are coming from multiple sources simultaneously, probably a dozen small relay transmitters mounted in vehicles that are on the move. And the message signal looks like a partial reflection from the upper ionosphere. What we received may be just a fragment of the original message, outgoing or incoming.”

“I see we’ve arrived at a moment of high drama!” proclaimed a feminine voice from the doorway. Sandra Swift and Bashalli Prandit came traipsing in. “But then the drama is always high here in the Fortress of Swiftitude,” Bashalli continued.

“We heard the loudspeaker announcement, so we knew where to find you,” said Sandy.

“Look at their faces,” said Bashalli. “They have no idea that they were to have a late lunch with us today.”

With a glance at Tom, Bud admitted that he had forgotten to mention the plan. “See, Tom started showing me this new invention of his that― ”

“What a pair you and Tom are!” Sandy moaned, shaking her head in mock disapproval. “All you do is eat, sleep, and work!”

“Especially work,” Bash teased. “How long has it been, Sandy, since they took us out on a date?” She looked Tom’s way and added pointedly, “I hope I don’t need to put that concept into mathematical symbols for you.”

Sandy’s blue eyes clouded mischievously. “I really can’t remember. Was it the night at TinCanz when Tom ditched us to go see that gangster?”

“No, I am quite sure it was the night Tom ditched me in the living room to chase after that Gorilla Man in the garden.”

“They’ve just been too terribly busy to bother with us, I guess.”

Mr. Swift, a slight twitch of a smile on his face, diplomatically excused himself.

The boys realized they were being needled. “No kidding, girls,” Tom spoke up, “we have been busy. The plant’s working overtime on my diving seacopter, and then there’s been all this trouble about the rocket from space― ”

“Oh, don’t apologize—it’s quite all right,” Bashalli interrupted airily. “We knew in advance you’d forget the luncheon plan. We came here merely to instill guilt. Tonight we’re going out with a couple of smart engineers, anyhow.”

“Meaning Tom and me?” teased Bud, thinking the girls were about to heckle them into a date.

But his smile faded fast as Sandy replied smugly, “No, two engineers who work for Munson Wickliffe. Very good-looking, too, and reputed to be clever conversationalists.”

“You don’t know them?” Tom burst out.

“Why I believe we have their attentions!” commented Bashalli. The young Pakistani smiled sweetly. “How very flattering it is!”

“Betty Kenwood introduced them to us at the Thessaly Library Fund dinner, and they asked us to go out with them,” Tom’s sister explained.

“And with very little prompting,” added Bash.

“With no prompting!” Sandy corrected hastily. When both boys flushed, Sandy observed with a sparkle of mischief, “My, my! Is that my jealousy detector I hear buzzing?”

Tom cleared his throat and asked, “Have you girls made any plans yet about where to spend the evening?”

“We’ll be meeting at home, and Betty spoke about a dance at the Thessaly Tennis Club,” Sandy replied. Her face grew sober. “But seriously, I guess Ferd and Kelt—don’t you say a word, Budworth!—figured having dates with us would be an easy way to pick up some inside information on Swift Enterprises. Anyhow,” she added, “I’m certainly going to give a full report!”

“Won’t they be surprised to learn that Sandy and I know nothing!”

Sandy gave Bashalli a reproving look. “That’s not the best way to put it, Bashi dear.”

Bud smiled blandly, but the look on Tom’s face bespoke concern. In fact, Sandy wondered later if her big brother had spoken to their mother during the afternoon, for Mrs. Swift asked them to change their plans and spend the entirety of the evening in the Swift home. “You may think I’m a silly old fuss-budget, dear,” said Anne Swift, “but I’m terribly worried about that space rocket. If anything should happen, I’d like to know that all of us are near one another in Shopton. Would you mind entertaining your dates here at home just this once?” To spare her any anxiety, the girls readily agreed.

Soon after eight o’clock, Betty Kenwood and her date arrived at the door to the Swift home just as the two Wickliffe engineers, Ferdinand Acton and Kelton Price, pulled up in Acton’s car. Acton was blond, thin, and anemic-looking. He was dressed in a plaid jacket, wine-red cummerbund, and white flannel trousers, and he wore tinted glasses with thin wire rims. His friend Kelt Price made a somewhat amusing contrast, being short and pudgy with a shock of thick black hair. Both men were in their late twenties.

Sandy shot Bashalli a secret look that said, They’re not as cute as they seemed the other night!

The group came into the living room, where the Sandy’s parents were waiting.

“This is Ferdinand Acton,” Betty introduced one, “and this is Kelton Price.”

“But please let’s not be formal!” Acton smiled suavely, making a little bow and offering his hand to Mrs. Swift. “Just make it Ferd and Kelt.”

“We insist!” said Kelton Price.

“We az-yoomed the girls would feel right at home with a couple of technical chaps like us.” Price beamed, staring at Bashalli with undisguised admiration.

“By the way,” said Acton to Mr. Swift, “is your brilliant son going to join us for the evening?”

Damon Swift coolly answered, “I’m afraid Tom and his friend Bud have other things to attend to. They’re working late at the Swift Enterprises plant.” He knew that they were attentively monitoring the space oscilloscope and various tracking instruments for any sign of the anticipated vessel from space.

Sandy’s parents politely excused themselves and retired upstairs. “It’s a good thing Bud isn’t here to meet those two,” said Mrs. Swift softly to her husband. “I can just imagine him saying, what a couple of creeps!”

Mr. Swift grinned back and whispered, “Maybe Sandy and Bashalli aren’t feeling so happy right now, either. From the looks of their dates, I’d say they really booby-trapped themselves for the evening!”

Meanwhile, Betty Kenwood and her date had gone off to the Thessaly Tennis Club, leaving Sandy and Bash alone with Ferd and Kelt. The young men had seemed happy about staying at the house when Sandy had requested this.

“Remarkable chap, your brother,” commented Ferd Acton as he whipped out a foreign cigarette and inserted it in a long, carved ivory holder.

“Do you really think so?” asked Sandy coolly, eyeing the cigarette.

“Yes, indeed. Really, I’m such a great admirer of Tom Swift—he’s produced so many amazing, er― ”

“Inventions?”

“Precisely. I dare say he’s busy on some new project right now, isn’t he?” The inflection in his voice proclaimed that he was prying, ineptly, for secret information.

“I suppose so,” Sandy smiled. “He usually is.” Not discouraged by her noncommittal response, Kelt Price asked bluntly, “What’s the wonder boy working on these days?”

Sandy and Bash glanced at each other. Sandy managed to answer the question without giving a direct reply. But the two Wickliffe engineers soon resumed their probing.

Ferd Acton’s next question took Sandy by surprise. “Is Tom improving his jetmarine to do some underwater searching?”

Sandy did not reply to Acton’s question at once. Had he heard rumors about Tom’s new seacopter and his plans to join George Braun and Ham Teller in searching for buried lands beneath the ocean?

“You’ll have to ask my brother about that,” she said sweetly. “I don’t keep up with all the details of his work. But I am curious as to why you asked about that particular invention.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” The thin, blond engineer blew out a cloud of purplish smoke that made Sandy wince. “Sometimes I get these hunches.”

“He really does,” said Price.

“It’s a gift,” continued Acton.

“It really is,” said Price.

“No doubt he’s hard at work on some labor-saving idea, hmm?” Though made in an offhanded way, the remark to Sandy probably was a new attempt to wheedle information, she realized. She was sure of it when Ferd Acton stared at her with one eyebrow raised quizzically.

But Sandy ignored the hint. Instead, she decided to do a little probing on her own—in a subtle, roundabout way. “Have you been working for Munson Wickliffe very long?” she inquired.

“About four years,” Acton replied. “Charming fellow! Before that I was in Europe.”

“In Europe? How interesting!”

“I received a good deal of my technical education over there, you see. I studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and got my master’s degree at the University of Gottingen in Germany.”

Bashalli said, “I have heard of Gottingen, but please, what is the sore bone?” Sandy stifled a giggle, realizing that her friend was teasingly commenting on Acton’s poor pronunciation.

Acton frowned. “Are you joking?”

“Oh, living abroad must be exciting!” Sandy exclaimed quickly.

“Ah, yes, it is indeed. After all, Europe is the home of cult-yoor.” Acton waved his cigarette holder gracefully, like a conductor’s baton. “It’s a place where art and beauty are truly appreciated. I find America so crude by comparison.”

“But you do enjoy your work at the Wickliffe lab, don’t you?” Sandy pursued.

“Oh, quite—in a different way. It offers a challenge to my scientific talents.”

“I’m sure it must.” Sandy’s face assumed an eager, fascinated look. “Of course it’s probably way over my head, but what exactly does your work consist of?”

“You mean, what do we do?” asked Price.

“Oh, we carry on research in many different fields,” said Ferd Acton vaguely.

“Sure, we dabble in everything,” boasted Price. “Electronics, plastics, computers, atomic physics—what have you.”

“Then I suppose you’ve done some underwater research yourselves,” said Sandy innocently.

This time, it was Ferd Acton’s turn to smile. “Naturally some of our work may find application in the submarine field. Then again it may be connected with aircraft design—or it may be strictly earthbound.”

From his reply, Sandy had the feeling that Acton was secretly making fun of her attempts to gain information. She felt annoyed but knew it would do no good to lose her temper if she hoped learn anything from him.

Bashalli seemed to guess what her friend was trying to do. In an effort to help, she inquired, “Have you men ever been down on a submarine dive? It must be a terrific thrill!”

Kelt Price gave a shrill chuckle. “Maybe so, but I prefer diving in a swimming pool. Always seems a lot safer—that is, if you don’t crack your head on the bottom!” He guffawed loudly at his own remark.

Acton exhaled another plume of exhaust in Sandy’s direction. Suddenly he exclaimed, “Oh, pardon me!” Sandy smiled weakly, and he continued: “Where are my manners? May I offer you a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke,” said Sandy.

Acton turned toward Bashalli. “You?”

“Thank you, but I prefer cigars exclusively,” Bashalli responded tartly. “Sandra, allow me to help you in preparing the ice cream.”

Sandy excused herself and went to the kitchen to fix plates of ice cream and cake for her guests. Bash followed to help serve. “What an evening!” whispered Sandy.

Bashalli nodded gloomily. “I thought it might be fun to tease Tom and Bud by having blind dates. But I guess the laugh has fallen on us.”

When the girls returned to the living room with the dessert, Sandy asked Acton if he had any plans to go back to Europe on vacation.

“No,” he replied, “but Kelt and I may be taking a trip together soon.”

“To a land of romance and adventure!” Kelt added. “Not that I’m the type who goes in for this sun-helmet sort of thing,” he added, laughing. “It’s business, mostly.”

He did not offer to explain what the business might be. He did mention that a river at the spot he was going to was as big as twenty Mississippis and wound through miles of steaming jungles.

“Wait’ll you hear some of the more gory details,” Price wheezed. “Tell her about the piranhas, Ferd.”

“Ah, yes—the piranhas.” Acton grinned at the girls slyly. “Most amazing little devils!”

“What are they?” asked Bashalli.

“Fish—cannibal fish—with bulldog snouts and razor-sharp teeth. Less than a foot long, but they’re probably the most vicious and deadly of all living creatures. They’ll slash at anything that moves. And the scent of blood drives them into a frenzy!”

Bash smiled. “I respond in much the same way.”

Ignoring the comment, Acton went on. “Listen to this. An American scientist had a little too much of the bubbly, you know? So he passed out in a canoe and let his hand trail in the water. When he pulled it out, all he had left below the wrist were bones!”

“His own bones,” added Price helpfully.

Acton smirked. “Maybe you’d like to hear about some of the twenty-foot snakes that squeeze― ”

“Ah, the time, the time,” said Bashalli. “How fast it passes. Sandra, what time is it?”

“Oh, it’s― ” She turned in her chair to get a view of the large grandfather clock out in the foyer. A look of surprise crossed her brow. “What in the world—?”

Rising to her feet, she led the others into the foyer. Though the old clock was always kept well-wound, it had stopped. But what was uncanny, even frightening, was the sight of the heavy cut-glass pendulum. Rather than hanging down vertically, it was suspended off to one side at the high-point of its arc!

“What makes it do that?” inquired Acton.

“It’s shaking,” murmured Sandy in wonderment.

“So is this punch glass,” said Bashalli. “Something is pulling on it!”

Suddenly there came a loud crash. The ornate glass punchbowl had shattered against the ceiling! Punch dribbled down to the carpet below, but the pieces of glass remained pressed against the ceiling as if held in place by glue.

“My glasses!” shouted Ferd Acton. His glasses had leapt from their perch on his ample nose and flown upward, landing like a housefly on the foyer ceiling. “What—what is this, some kind of scientific― ”

His words were cut short as a shrill, distant whine split the air, insistently rising and falling.

“It’s the emergency siren at Swift Enterprises!” Sandy gasped. “Something must be wrong!”

The family’s watchdogs, Caesar and Brutus, began baying in their kennel. Accompanied by Acton and Price, the girls rushed through the front door and down the steps.

“Look!” cried Bashalli in awe, pointing skyward.

Through the starry night sky, from the northwest, sailed an eerie, silent object, glowing with all the colors of the rainbow. It was arrowing straight toward Shopton!

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

 

          THE ROCKET’S SHADOW

 

 

 

 

SANDY AND Bash stood rooted to the spot as the strange object sailed majestically through the sky. But Acton and Price, after a quick glance, made a dash for their convertible, which was parked at one side of the drive. Gunning the engine, Ferd Acton sped off into the darkness with a screech of rubber.

Sandy and Bashalli paid little attention to their departing guests. Wide-eyed with alarm, they stared at the streaking menace in the sky. The object did not appear to be a plane, jet, or other kind of conventional aircraft. Inside the oval corona of multicolored light, a darker central object, like a hazy shadow, could be dimly made out. Unlike a rocket or missile, there was no sign of any fiery exhaust. But it seemed to be following a beam of faint, milky luminescence that extended in front and slanted downward like a bridge from sky to earth.

“Bash!” Sandy whispered. “I’m sure that glowing beam comes down right at Swift Enterprises!”

“It looks like it’s going to crash!” gulped Bashalli in helpless dread. “What if it blows up?”

Alerted by the siren, Mrs. Swift had hurried outside and now clung to the two girls. All three were trembling. Second by second the rocket of light drew closer.

“Do you suppose it’s the one from outer space that Tom was expecting?” Bashalli asked shakily.

“It must be!” Mrs. Swift answered. “Mr. Swift is on the phone trying to get in touch with the plant right now. If only we could tell where it will land, we might― ”

She stopped, thunderstruck. Both girls exclaimed in surprise. The guiding ray of light had vanished! The glowing object stopped dead in the middle of the night sky, as if waiting. Then a new sky-trail appeared, curving off toward the southeast. But Sandy and Bash barely had enough time to register this fact. Moving like lightning, the weird craft had flicked across the sky and silently vanished beyond the far horizon.

“Oh, thank goodness—thank goodness!” Mrs. Swift murmured softly.

“It seems like a miracle!” Sandy nestled against her mother. “I wonder if Dad and Tom did something to keep the rocket from landing.”

“Let’s check and make sure that they’re all right,” Sandy’s mother urged.

Rushing back inside, they found Mr. Swift on the telephone talking to Tom. He passed the receiver to Sandy, who held it so the others could hear.

“Don’t worry, sis, everything’s under control,” he assured her. “What’s that? No, we can’t take any credit for saving Shopton. In fact, we’re as mystified as you are about the rocket veering away. But remember that message we picked up about ‘continue course’?”

“You think that’s the answer?”

“It could have meant to continue course beyond Shopton to another landing place.”

As Tom hung up, Bud came rushing into the oscilloscope room, where he and Tom and posted themselves. He was waving several large photographic prints.

“Here are pictures of the rocket!” he exclaimed. “The department got some beauties.”

Tom examined the prints eagerly. The enhanced photos showed a strange-looking vessel, far different from any missile designed on earth. Cigar-shaped, it had a series of round cuplike protrusions, running from small ones at the nose to large ones at the tail.

“Amazing!” murmured Tom. “I’ve never seen fins like that on any projectile, foreign or American. They’re worth careful study.”

“Then you’re sure it’s the rocket from your space friends?” Bud asked.

“I’d say that there’s no doubt about it. It contains those specimens of planet life we’ve been expecting.”

“Then why did the rocket keep going? I thought it was being sent right here to you.”

The young inventor frowned, mentioning his theory about the “continue course” message. “Another move by our invisible enemy,” he said. “Or― ” Tom continued thoughtfully, “there’s another possibility. Our space friends may have decided on their own to have the rocket continue on toward the Atlantic.”

Bud regarded his friend in surprise. “Why?”

“To cool it off,” Tom explained. “They may have figured that was the only way to keep the specimens inside alive until we find out how to open it in the surface environment without injuring the contents.”

The phone rang and Tom scooped it off the hook.

“George Dilling, Tom,” came the voice over the wire. “I contacted the Coast Guard and had this flash.”

“What’s the word?”

“The mystery meteor was sighted heading out to sea at 9:27! Here’s the estimated course, speed, and position― ”

Dilling rattled off a set of figures. Tom jotted them down on his desk pad.

“Okay. Thanks, George. Keep contacting all ships, planes, air bases, weather stations, or any other observers who might be able to give us a report. This could be an all-night job.”

Dilling chuckled wryly. “You’re telling me!”

“Bud’s with me. We’ll come over to Communications and help you,” Tom said, then hung up.

When Tom’s father arrived at the facility, they began making hurried phone calls, contacting numerous individuals, government agencies, and points along the coast, hoping to garner further information.

“It was invisible to radar,” Mr. Swift reported. “National defense didn’t go on alert until it had completely left U.S. airspace.”

Bud was studying a breaking-news internet site. “Hey! A report on the rocket’s coming in!” he exclaimed suddenly.

Tom and Mr. Swift dashed to Bud’s side. The message was from a coastwise oil tanker, the Petrol Queen, and told of sighting a strange, meteorlike object in the sky. This was followed some minutes later by a similar report from a Greek freighter, the Pantheon, bound for Norfolk, Virginia. Both gave latitude and longitude at time of sighting.

Tom plotted all three positions on a huge wall map. The course of the rocket immediately became clear. “Heading very slightly south of due east,” he commented.

“Trouble is,” said Mr. Swift, “there’s no telling when or where the rocket may strike the water.”

As the evening wore on, a steady stream of phone calls, radio flashes, and reports via the Swifts’ private videophone television system, came pouring in. Some were eyewitness accounts of the rocket from planes and ships at sea. Others were second- or third-hand versions relayed by microwave stations and ham operators. All indicated that the mysterious sky traveler had continued along a southeasterly course. They even received a report from Ken Horton, stationed in Swift Enterprises’ outpost in space, in orbit 22,300 miles above Ecuador. Horton relayed word from the space station’s astronomy staff that an anomalous fast-moving light had been observed over the Atlantic through a break in the cloud cover.

Although the reports trickled in at intervals, this did not reflect the actual times when the sightings were made. “It’s unbelievable!” Mr. Swift noted. “Sightings separated by thousands of miles were made almost simultaneously.”

“The rocket—or whatever we ought to call it—must be traveling at hundreds of miles per second! That’s a serious percent of the speed of light!”

As midnight approached, the reports dwindled and nothing more was heard. Bud finally went home to bed, but Tom and his father remained at the plant, sleeping in shifts on their office cots. But no further messages came during the night.

“It’s odd no one has reported where the craft landed,” Mr. Swift mused as he and Tom had a hearty breakfast served by Chow. The were watching the early morning news programs, which were full of excited reports of the mysterious “fireball,” when the red signal light of the nearby videophone unit flashed on. “I’ll get it!” exclaimed Tom, jumping up from his chair.

He switched on the videophone and the face of Kaye, Enterprises’ Key West telecaster, appeared on the screen.

“Any news?” Tom asked eagerly.

“The payoff. A plane from Nantes, France, landed at Funchal on Madeira Island early this morning. The pilot reports that he saw a glowing object plunge into the sea about 300 miles north of the island.”

“Did he spot the position?”

“He didn’t even take a bearing, so all I can give you is a guesswork range of latitude and longitude. I’ve marked the possible area on this chart.” Kaye held it up for Tom to see, adding, “Don’t take too much stock in my figuring, though. It could be way off.”

Tom copied down the information, thanked Kaye, and signed off. The elder Swift watched with interest as his son plotted the area on their own wall map.

Tom turned to look at his father, astonished. “Dad—this can’t be a coincidence!”

“The exact area your two friends want to explore for the sunken city!” Mr. Swift marveled. “This makes no sense to me at all. The only connection between these two projects is the involvement of Swift Enterprises. Is it conceivable that our space friends anticipate your upcoming seacopter operation? That they have the ability to actually see into the future?”

If the rocket did come down here, that would agree pretty well with earlier reports on its course,” said Tom.

Mr. Swift nodded. “You’re right, son. As scientists we can’t fight the facts, however mystifying they may be. But I’m afraid that still leaves a vast area of the Atlantic in which to search for the rocket.”

As the two sat thinking, the telephone rang with an internal call. Mr. Swift picked it up. The scientist’s face was troubled as he hung up a few minutes later.

“What’s the matter, Dad? Something wrong?” Tom asked, worried.

“That was Harlan Ames,” he answered. “His contacts just reported to him that Munson Wickliffe and two of his employees flew out by private jet early this morning, just before daybreak. Their announced destination is― ”

“A pretty easy guess,” Tom said, his face grim. “Madeira Island!”

“Precisely.”

Tom stood at the window for a moment, looking out over the vast experimental station. “You know what that means. Wickliffe knew about the revised destination of the rocket before we did. He may even have suggested it.” He turned to his father, every muscle primed for action. “We can’t afford to wait a minute longer, Dad. I’ve got to get the seacopter in the water and beat those renegades to the punch—or some of the most important scientific secrets in human history will be lost to us!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 9

 

 

          RIVER TEST

 

 

 

 

TOM SWIFT and Swift Enterprises shifted into high gear to meet the new objective. The determined young inventor turned his attention to the center unit of the diving seacopter, a remaining problem. Tom was not fully satisfied with the performance of the rotor blades in a tank test. Close examination had revealed hairline cracks in the blades.

“Perhaps,” he mused, “the mechanism for changing the blade pitch could be improved along with the blade design.” For the balance of the morning and into the afternoon he struggled with the problem, using a hydrodynamic test chamber to study the play of fluid around various shapes and types of prop blade. By two o’clock he had sketched out a new design. The blade was slightly more slender and more squared-off on the end than the old version. Tom immediately sent the new design over to Hank Sterling, his chief engineer, a fast and reliable worker and a good friend. “Have a new set of blades cast and machined according to these drawings, will you, Hank?” he directed. “And tell Art Wiltessa to stand by for some changes in the blade-pitch mechanism.”

“You don’t want to make a prototype for testing first?” asked Hank in surprise.

“No,” Tom said brusquely. “We’ll have to trust my figures—and my instincts.”

Working round the clock, a new set of blades was cast, machined, and installed. Then the rotor section of the seacopter was doused in the pressure tank and a test run off under high speed and pressure. When Tom checked the blades in the gamma-ray fluoroscope the following day, there was no sign of any crack or flaw.

Bud clapped Tom on the back. “Congratulations, pal! Looks like you’ve done it again!”

In the meantime Tom had perfected the scheme for controlling the blade pitch of the improved rotors. Art Wiltessa promised to have the equipment installed and running within two to three days.

“I was hoping for two to three hours, Art,” responded Tom. “But I’d settle for ten.”

“Done, boss!” Art came back. “Don’t ask me how.”

“I won’t!”

By lunchtime the next day, Tom Swift’s revolutionary diving seacopter was assembled and gleaming in the Shopton sunlight!

“Brand my pie tins!” Chow cried, standing next to Tom and Bud. “That thing looks like a combination flyin’ saucer and fry-skillet. You sure it won’t leak this time?”

“It’s passed all its tests, Chow,” answered Tom. “At least, the three sections have individually—the two compartments, and the prop-rotor unit. But we’ll have to wring the kinks out of ’er on the way to the city of gold!”

“She got a name?” asked the cook. “Every ship’s got to have a name.”

“Yep,” was the answer. “I’m calling her the Ocean Arrow.”

Each half does look a little like an arrowhead,” Bud observed.

“Yes, but that’s not the only reason for the name. Great-Grandpa Swift named one of his first inventions, his motor boat, the Arrow. This is kind of a tribute to him.” Tom ran his fingertips along the crimson hull. “But don’t go looking for a champagne bottle to christen her with, Chow—we don’t have time. We leave this afternoon!”

“I shore hope that-there we includes me,” said Chow in a slightly plaintive tone of voice.

“Sure does,” laughed Tom. “We have room for a crew of five—you, me, and Bud, and George Braun and Ham Teller. But George and Ham will have to do their archaeological work during the off-hours until we find that space rocket.”

Bud asked, “Why only five? Didn’t you say the seacopter could hold six?”

“Yes, but I’m taking along a lot of extra equipment—my new Eye-Spy camera that I showed you, the Damonscope radiation-detector, and a device Dad came up with to detect the presence and precise composition of metals from a distance, under water.”

By late afternoon the three Ocean Arrow sections had been separately loaded aboard a convoy of special wide-body flatbeds for transportation to a pier Enterprises had rented in Ogdensburg. From there the seacopter would fly up the St. Lawrence River to the Gulf, and then on out into the Atlantic Ocean.

At the pier, large mobile cranes swung the sections of the craft together, and automatic locking bolts and a sealer flange drew the seacopter together into a single watertight unit. The Ocean Arrow was ready and waiting for her maiden voyage!

As the cranes began to drive off, Chow said to Tom, “Say, boss, where’re they going? Won’t you need ’em to put your sub into th’ water?”

“No, Chow—get on board and watch how we do it.” Chow, Bud, George, and Ham clambered up on to the top of the hull by means of an extensible metal ladder, which folded up into a sealed locker in the hull when not in use. Then they entered through the two topside hatches, George and Ham into Compartment B and Bud and Chow, followed by Tom, into Compartment A, which would normally serve as the main control deck.

Tom waved at his father and Hank Sterling, who stood on the pier, and then turned his attention to the controls. They heard a soft whirring sound, then a thunk!, and then with a slight jolt the forty-foot craft began to move toward the edge of the pier.

“Brand my sea monkeys!” exclaimed Chow, craning his neck as he looked out the viewport. “Is somebody pushin’ us?”

“The Arrow has two sets of small, flexible tank treads made of Tomasite, one set per compartment,” Tom explained. “Each set consists of three tread units, which can be extended or retracted as needed. Most of the time we’ll keep them hidden away behind panels on the bottom of the hull.”

The seacopter crawled down a broad ramp and, without hesitation, continued on into the waters of the St. Lawrence River. There it settled down a ways, floating with the waterline about a foot below the lower rim of the viewpane.

“She rides a little low in the water,” Bud remarked.

Tom nodded. “That’s because of the weight of the prop-drive section. Each individual compartment would float quite a bit higher.” The young inventor now intercommed Compartment B. “How’s it going in there, guys?”

“Ship-shape, Cap’n Swift,” came the voice of Hamilton Teller. “The water’s staying outside where it belongs.”

“Let’s go under,” said Tom. The ship began to vibrate as powerful steam turbines started the blades spinning. The river water was flung upward through the central prop well, and the seacopter lurched downward, the blade pitch adjusting automatically as the blades bit more deeply into the water.

Bud cheered as the viewpane was completely submerged. “From tank to boat to submarine!”

“It’s a might’ wonderful thing,” said Chow in awe. “We could go up the Rio Grande under water one o’ these days, mebbe.”

“Mebbe,” Tom agreed, thrilled at the performance of his new invention. Now he activated the steam jets. With a rush of bubbles the Ocean Arrow shot forward into the river.

Bud pulled his seatbelt taut. “Fast as a greased barracuda!”

“But I don’t want to travel all the way downriver while submerged,” Tom said. “So hang on.” He cut the power to the blades. As they slowed, the seacopter seemed to leap upward and broke the surface.

Tom eased one of the control levers forward, and the rotor engines began to sound again. “Now we’ll become a flying seacopter!”

With the pitch of the blades reversed, the ship mounted up higher and higher on its cushion of downthrusting air, departing from the water completely. After a moment its ascent slowed, and Tom checked a near-range radar altimeter. “Eight feet up!—better than I expected.”

After radioing his father with a report on the performance of the Ocean Arrow, Tom turned to his companions and announced, “Well, crew, let’s go rocket hunting!”

He opened up the steam thrusters, and in less than a minute the seacopter was jetting along the river at high speed—destination: Atlantis!

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 10

 

 

          THE SEARCH BEGINS

 

 

 

 

HURRIED HOURS later the Ocean Arrow was skimming along above the cold Atlantic swells on an east-southeast heading.

“You gonna fly ’er the whole way, son?” Chow inquired. “That ocean view out there is gettin’ a mite monotonous, if’n you wanna know the truth.”

“Aw come on, pal, look at those stars!” Bud teased. “People pay good money for picturesque ocean voyages.” It was mid-evening, and the sky was alive with sparkling light.

“That they do, buddy boy,” the Texan conceded. “But I got caught in one o’ them ocean storms once—a typhoon!—and it shook me up right bad. Say there Tom, how’d this air-boat handle a storm like that?”

“Like a dream,” Tom replied. “Remember, we can go under the storm any time we want to.” He glanced back at Bud. “And by the way, flyboy, doesn’t this look a little familiar?”

“Should it?”

“We’ve been here before—admittedly quite a bit lower down and further south. We’re crossing the Atlantic Ridge!”

Bud grinned and nodded, remembering the sight of the vast range of rugged peaks that splits the Atlantic floor in two. “That was quite a sight when we crossed over in the Nemo,” he remarked, naming Tom’s jetmarine.

Their immediate goal was the town of Vila da Praia da Vitória on the island of Terceira in the Azores. Here the Ocean Arrow would be berthed for the night at a dock rented by Swift Enterprises. The arrival of the expedition had purposefully not been publicized, but when the seacopter approached the dock—Tom having set it down on the surface like a conventional marine craft—he was dismayed to see that a small crowd had gathered to watch, though it was well after midnight.

“I guess word gets around,” Bud remarked.

“Especially where Swift Enterprises is involved,” was Tom’s rueful comment.

The five were greeted effusively at the nearby bed-and-breakfast where they were to stay the night. In halting English, with many interruptions in frustrated Portuguese, the proprietor asked if they had come to “search in the ocean for the great sky-rocket.”

“Why do you ask?” Tom inquired.

“Ah, Senhór, everyone knows of the thing that fell from the sky!” the man replied. “But I must tell you, here in Terceira you are too far north. It fell closer to the Madeiras, our rivals to the south. Alas, they will get the tourists from it, I think.”

Bud asked if any others had come to the island in recent days, seeking information about the rocket. “For example, there’s a friend of ours, Dr. Munson Wickliffe, who thought he might meet up with us here. Have you heard of him?”

The proprietor squinted his eyes and scratched his head. “No, no others have come—and I know everyone—and if I do not, my cousin Boli does! But I tell you what, this man you seek, this Wickliffe—you should ask Professor Taclos.”

“Who’s that?” George asked. “What sort of Professor is he?”

“You have not heard of him? He lives on Madeira, on the sea coast outside Porto do Moniz. He works for, how do I say?—the Institute for the Study of Weather, at the University of Lisbon.”

Chow snorted. “We don’t need t’ talk about the weather.”

The man shook his head. “You do not understand. He has an astronomy-observatory, and much equipment. Also a special scientific boat, a big one, with a― ” He thought for a moment, finding no words. “Well, it is round, like a metal gourd, and you let it down into the deep waters on cables, with people inside.”

“A diving bell!” exclaimed Tom. He glanced at his companions. “That could be how Wickliffe plans to reach the rocket!” He warmly thanked the proprietor for his information.

By sunrise the next morning, with only a few hours sleep, the five oceannauts were on the move as the Ocean Arrow sped above the waves in the direction of the large stretch of the Atlantic where the subocean search would commence. Before submerging, Tom radioed Harlan Ames in Shopton and asked that he try to contact Professor Taclos.

“I’ll do my best,” responded the security chief. “And if I can’t get in touch with him, I’ll at least get an address for you, so you can pay him a visit.”

Reversing the blade pitch, Tom now sent the seacopter diving down into the shadowy turquoise depths. It plunged at a thrilling pace, like an elevator.

“This is marvelous!” Ham Teller exclaimed. He had traded places with Chow in Compartment A for the day, as Tom wished everyone aboard to become somewhat familiar with the ship’s control procedures. “I only wish more light penetrated down here. The view would be tremendous.”

“Hey, give me some credit!” joked Tom, flicking a switch. Ham gasped in awe as a broad section of the ocean floor became clearly illuminated, as if by strong daylight.

“It’s genius boy’s magic aqualamp,” Bud Barclay explained. “Something about penetrating waves of different frequencies, and a coating on the glass plate. The fish tell me they can’t see it at all.”

“A submarine sun!” murmured Ham, gazing downward at the floor of the ocean, covered with wrinkled and twisted volcanic rock and overgrown with multicolored subsea forests.

After hovering for a time, Tom opened the throttle and the rotors hummed and picked up speed. Again he shoved the control wheel forward. Like a sinking stone, the seacopter plunged downward into the greenish depths.

Fascinated, Chow watched the schools of fish that flurried past the windows. There were herring, sea bass, and tunny.

“Man oh man, what a sea-food dinner them critters’d make!” Chow muttered.

At ninety-three fathoms down, the seacopter reached the ocean floor. With the vehicle pressed against the bottom by the action of the rotor-prop, Tom extended the caterpillar treads and they began crawling along the sandy, somewhat mucky, terrain. Sea anemones with waving tentacles, grasping sea urchins, and five-pointed serpent stars came into view, as well as many other strange, flowerlike creatures.

For nearly three hours the seacopter roamed the offshore waters, exploring at various depths. Bud asked Tom, “Where are we exactly, Skipper?”

“Just west of the East Azores Fracture Zone, and approaching the northward extension of the Horseshoe Seamounts. We’ll start our search on the other side of the peaks, in the Tagus Plain.”

Soon after, the powerful aqualamp search beam revealed the first crags and peaks of the Seamounts. “Wow, undersea Alps!” murmured Bud, impressed by their size and grandeur.

“Plato’s account mentions the magnificent mountains surrounding the habitable plain of Atlantis on three sides,” Ham Teller commented. “The plain itself lies further south, if our theory’s right.”

Crossing the peaks, the Ocean Arrow began to descend toward the flat Tagus Plain that bordered the continental slope of Portugal. Now the real search would begin, using a methodical zig-zag pattern that Tom had devised with the help of the two oceanographers, who had already studied the undersea terrain in minute detail. The search area encompassed an oval region 600 miles long by 200 miles broad.

Mr. Swift’s metal detector had been mounted in the bow of the seacopter, with its transmitter-sensor antenna unit protruding through the hull and into the water. The box-shaped Damonscope had been installed in an open space on the deck just back of the detector, its camera lens pointing downward through a small porthole. Tom pushed a button and the Damonscope began to whir softly. Then he switched on the metal detector and carefully adjusted several tuning knobs as Bud and Ham watched with keen interest.

A few seconds later the detector’s audio-alert gave off a faint clicking noise. At the same time, the indicator needle flickered upward into the frequency range that indicated its probing beam was being reflected back by metal.

“Listen to that response!” exclaimed Bud. “Maybe we’ve found the rocket!”

Tom shook his head, smiling at his friend’s excited optimism. “Sorry to disappoint you, but a concentrated mass of metal like a rocket would set off a much louder signal. What we’re getting right now is mostly background noise.”

“What’s causing it?” Bud asked.

“Various igneous ores, most likely. This whole volcanic basin is dotted with veins of the stuff.”

The detector response continued off and on during most of the day’s search. Tom kept a wary eye on the monitor screen of the Damonscope, but found no trace of the colored fluorescence that would indicate that they had passed over radioactive material. In disappointment, the searchers went back and forth from deep to shallow water without a sign of the rocket.

Though well aware that they were unlikely to find the space vessel on the first day of searching, Tom could not help becoming frustrated. “I’m going to try the detector and the ’scope at a higher power setting,” Tom mentioned to Bud. “Maybe I’ve misjudged the absorption characteristics of seawater at this depth.”

In Compartment B, which included the ship’s galley equipment, Chow had spent the hours examining and testing the various culinary accoutrements of the Ocean Arrow while chatting with George Braun. Using edibles that had been packed on board at Enterprises, the ingenious cook prepared the first meal of the voyage.

“You git to be my guinea pig, George,” said Chow. “But don’t worry, I ain’t lost a subject yet!”

Braun sniffed at the meat, which was enclosed in frankfurter rolls. “I’m honored, but what is this stuff?” he demanded with mock concern. “Sure is no regulation weenie!”

“Taste it an’ find out,” Chow dared him. “You scientists like to experiment, don’t you?”

Frowning, the oceanographer chewed a small mouthful. His face relaxed. “Mm, not bad,” he admitted. “Matter of fact, Chow m’man, it’s delicious. There—I’m on record. Now what is it?”

“Whale steak, shrimp, and crab meat stuffed in a sausage skin—my own special recipe. Stead of a frankfurter, I call it a deep-sea ’furter!”

“You should open up a submarine refreshment stand,” suggested George. “Probably clean up a fortune selling red-hot sea dogs and whaleburgers!”

“I might jest do that!” Chow grinned smugly, pleased at the success of his first “deep-sea special.”

At that moment the cabin lights dimmed slightly.

George glanced up at the lights. “Wonder what that was.”

“Prob’ly nuthin’,” the Texan responded. But as the minutes passed, the incident stuck in his mind, and the chef began to worry. “Mebbe I’d better call Tom an’ Bud an’ find out what’s-what over there.”

Switching on the intercom, he called Tom’s name. But there was no response. He called louder. Still no answer.

“Something wrong, Chow?” asked George, noting the worried expression on the cook’s face.

“By jingies, that’s jest what I’m wonderin’! Tom an’ Bud don’t answer! The way th’ lights flickered, you don’t s’pose—mebbe one o’ them detector thingums blew up!”

George Braun stared at Chow in alarm. “They don’t answer? Something serious may have happened to them!”

“That’s what I’m thinkin’!”

“And the ship is running itself?” George asked in awe.

Chow snapped off the intercom. “Reckon we’d better find out pronto!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 11

 

 

          FLEEING FIGURES

 

 

 

 

HASTILY OPENING the watertight door, Chow scrambled through the narrow passage which doubled as an airlock, passing one of the Arrow’s two underwater hatches. George Braun followed close behind. Panting from the effort of restraining his ample spread, the cook emerged into Compartment A. “Wa-aal, I’ll be a three-horned toad!” Chow exclaimed.

Tom and Bud were conversing calmly at the controls, as Ham Teller studied the Damonscope screen.

“Why the delegation?” Tom asked, turning around. “Catch a whale back there, Chow?”

“Must be George’s idea,” remarked Ham. “He can’t stand to be apart from me for too long.”

The cook scratched his bald head in perplexity. “We thought somethin’ was wrong with you two! How come you don’t answer ole Chow on that there inner-com?”

“What!” Tom was amazed to learn that the communication system that linked the compartments was out of order. Asking Bud to take over the controls, and grabbing a tool kit from one of the lockers, he quickly checked the system.

“Here’s the trouble,” he said presently. “A short in this coil. I’ll bet when I upped the power to the detectors, it caused a fluctuation that the circuits couldn’t handle.” In a few moments he had it repaired.

With the entire party momentarily united in Compartment A, Tom reported on the search’s lack of result thus far.

“Are you surprised?” asked George. “After all, you’re looking for a pretty small needle in an underwater haystack thousands of square miles big.”

Tom gave a wry smile. “You’re right. I’m just worried about the possibility of that rocket falling into the hands of men like Wickliffe and his two stooges.” Sandy and Bashalli had provided Tom and Bud with a vivid portrait of their disastrous date.

“If’n you want to get some shut-eye, I reckon I can watch these here dials as well as the next man,” Chow offered.

“Thanks, pard,” said Tom with affection. “But maybe we should move on to our next port of call and batten down for the night.”

“You mean Madeira Island?” Bud asked.

Tom replied, “That’s the plan, flyboy. But instead of docking at Funchal, the capital, I think we should detour over to― ”

His pal finished for him. “Porto do Moniz! Maybe our friendly local weatherman can tell us something about the Wickliffe boys.”

The seacopter surfaced for the first time in many hours and headed south on its cushion of air. The sun was a huge orange ball dipping low in the west when they finally came in sight of Madiera. Tom cruised in a wide arc at some distance from the shore until he had made arrangements with the authorities to land near the town of Porto do Moniz. Finally he received approval to dock in a small cove outside the city limits, where the Ocean Arrow would be somewhat hidden from public view.

“Let’s put in there for the night, and sleep aboard the ship as a safety measure,” he suggested. “Though it looks fairly deserted.”

But the arrival of the strange-shaped, crimson craft was evidently seen by some of the inhabitants of nearby farms and plantations. Several islanders came strolling down the hillside to investigate. Flashing white-toothed grins, they began to chatter excitedly in a mixture of Portuguese and island dialects.

Tom eyed them with a rueful smile. “I hate to be unfriendly, but I’d just as soon they don’t come poking around our seacopter.”

He talked to them—partly in elementary Portuguese and partly in sign language—and after handing out a few coins and posing for photos with various children, finally persuaded them to leave.

The voyagers spent what was left of the daylight in exercising, strolling about, and enjoying the fresh air. At suppertime, to their amazement, the local men returned, carrying armloads of bananas, melons, and vegetables which they forced on the visitors.

“Thanks, er—mucho!” murmured the young inventor, smiling warmly and nodding. “Bless ’em,” he chuckled as the Madierans backed away, bowing and grinning. “This will be a real treat for supper.”

“I’ll do ’em up nice, with a hot seafood chowder,” Chow promised, and he was as good as his word.

The next morning Ham and George volunteered to remain with the Ocean Arrow while Tom, Bud, and Chow hiked into town. Tom had received the address of Professor Taclos’s home from Ames. It proved to be beyond the town in the opposite direction.

The pale light of dawn quickly turned golden. Despite the early hour, the streets of Porto do Moniz were rapidly filling with natives, tourists, and automobiles of every possible make and vintage, from the era of the Model-T to the current year’s trendiest sportscar. There were also a good many bicycles and motor-scooters darting about, which made their trek through the streets an exercise in nimble footwork.

Chow pointed at a man on horseback. “Now there’s a poke with the best idea!”

Even Tom found the relaxed atmosphere enticing. The three ambled along ever more slowly, taking in the sights.

“I think we’ve turned into tourists!” Bud muttered. “Next thing you know, Chow’s going to start looking for one of his shirts.”

They stopped for coffee and pastries in a small café. As they left they sauntered past the open-air stalls that lined the street. Some displayed fresh beef and vegetables; others offered purplish drinks and ice cream made from the fruit of the assai palm, imported from the Cape Verde Islands to the south.

Suddenly Bud, in the lead, stopped before a stand where a fat woman in island garb was selling hand-woven baskets, painted gourds, and other local curios. He pointed to a curious green stone carved in the shape of a turtle which lay on the counter.

“I believe that’s jade, Chow. What a present to take home to Sandy!” Bud turned to the Madieran woman. “Do you speak English?”

She nodded. “Sim, Senhór—a little.”

“How much for that green carving?”

“Ah, the piedra verde. Alas, is not for sale.”

Bud frowned. “Why not? You can make another one, can’t you?”

“You do not understand, Senhór,” she replied. “I do not make this—it is very, very old. It belong to the warrior women many years ago, when the world was young. This special green stone is now found only under the sea.”

Chow’s eyes popped open. “Warrior women! What is she talkin’ about?”

“The old Greeks talked about a tribe of fierce fighting women,” explained Bud. “The story’s come down to us as the legend of the Amazons. Come to think of it, Ham Teller said some scholars connect it to the Atlantis myth.”

“Ah, sim, Senhór—Atalantee!” said the old woman emphatically, looking up.

“Do you know the story, ma’am?” Tom asked.

“I will tell you what my mother told me, as it was passed down to her. She was Basque, from the Pyrenees.” When Tom nodded his understanding, she continued: “Turtles like this are in honor of the Great Sea Turtle, who once lived out there.” She gestured vaguely in the direction of the ocean. “He floated on the waves. On his back was the stone tower of Yonahbol, the witch-woman, who lived there with her thousand slaves, all of them strong, beautiful men.” She cast a meaningful look in Chow’s direction, and the westerner reddened. “She was vain and ate too much, and became so heavy the Great Sea Turtle sank beneath the waves forever. But he cannot die, no more than she, so they live there still. The name of the turtle is Ybalon-tquie, or as they say it now, Atalantee. That is the true story.”

Bud dug in his pocket and pulled out some coins. Kneeling down, he spread them out on the wooden plank that she had across her knees. “Your story makes me want the turtle all the more,” he said. “Will you take this much money for it?”

The woman shook her head vigorously. Bud took out a dollar bill and laid it with the coins, but again she shook her head. He kept adding money but still she refused.

“Not for sale!” she insisted.

“Reckon you better leave this to me, son,” said Chow. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a fake pearl necklace and several sparkling trinkets. “Now here’s somethin’ a pretty gal like you kin use a sight more’n money!” he told the woman.

Holding the necklace up in place under her billowing double chin, he went on, “Jest look there! Ain’t that gorgeous? ’Course they ain’t near as beautiful as your eyes an’ they don’t sparkle half so bright, but they sure do look first-rate on you!”

The woman blushed and smirked. “Far you, Senhór, I cannot refuse. Here—take the piedra verde. In old days, the strong warrior woman give this to the man she love best—just as I now give this to you.”

The woman beamed and smiled, bending close to Chow as if she were about to kiss him. The former chuck-wagon cook took the carved stone and backed away nervously, handing it to Bud. Under his breath, he muttered to Tom and Bud, “Come on, let’s vamoose!”

“It will bring much good luck and save you from danger!” she called after them.

As the three North Americans hurried down the street, Bud asked Chow with a grin, “How did you happen to have that junk in your pocket, Chow?”

The Texan replied smugly, “You ought to know by now I never travel in Injun country without a few knickknacks fer trade goods.” But he looked somewhat abashed. “Still, I reckon I shouldn’t’ve taken advantage o’ the poor thing that way.”

Tom had turned the turtle-stone over and was carefully examining its underbelly in the light. “Don’t feel too guilty, Chow. I’d say you and she are about even.”

“Whatcha mean, Tom?”

Tom held up the stone so Chow could read what was inscribed on it. “Well I’ll be ding-danged!” he gulped. “Souvenir of Hotel Tortugas, Acapulco, Mexico!”

Tom and Bud broke into loud laughter, which Chow readily joined.

Following directions they had received from the owner of the café, they proceeded out of Porto do Moniz, eventually turning from the busy paved highway onto a narrow road which was only partially paved. Approaching the edge of a sheer cliff that overlooked the ocean, they sighted an old, rambling structure built in the style of a hacienda. Behind the house was a high concrete dome, evidently Taclos’ observatory. Wooden stairs led down the side of the cliff to a small pier, where a large, flat-bottomed boat, like a houseboat but much bigger, was docked. Tom noted that its roof bristled with electronic antennas of various types.

“If I got my directions straight, that must be Taclos’s house,” said Tom. “That café owner mentioned that Taclos has a big telescope.”

“I dunno, boys,” Chow muttered. “I don’t trust a feller whose spyglass is bigger than his gun.”

“Well, maybe he has a really big gun,” Bud gibed.

“Let’s see who’s home,” said Tom.

As they approached the house, a sound like a creaky hinge made them pause. After a moment a pair of men appeared from behind the house. They had their backs to the Swift party and were walking toward the cliff stairs.

Bud grabbed Tom’s arm and hissed in his ear. “I’ll bet anything that’s those two jerkfaces who tried to get info from the girls! Looks just like the description.”

“And I’m pretty sure I saw one if them at Wickliffe Laboratories the day we went there,” Tom said softly.

Bud acted instantly, without thought. He began sprinting toward the two at top speed.

The pounding of his feet on the gravel alerted the men, who spun around and reacted with surprise and alarm, redoubled when they saw Tom Swift standing further back.

“C’mon!” commanded Ferd Acton.

The men were already close to the stairs. Despite Bud’s athletic prowess as a star footballer in high school, they had the advantage. Before he could reach the fleeing figures they were already clattering down the rickety steps to the beach below.

I wanna have a word with you boys!” the dark-haired pilot yelled at his quarries.

The men paused at a landing some distance down. Kelt Price looked up defiantly. “Tell it to the fish, kid!” Then they continued down to the bottom, crossing the beach and boarding the boat. In moments the boat had puttered out to sea.

“Never mind,” said Tom, standing next to his friend. “At least we know now that Wickliffe has been working with Taclos. Maybe he’s inside the house.”

The three returned to the front of the decrepit structure and knocked. After several tries, a deeply tanned young man opened the door. He was about twenty years old and wore a comfortable-looking white cotton shirt and trousers. “Does Senhór Taclos live here?” inquired Tom.

“Ah, sim, Senhór. But he is not at home. I am Raca, his, as you say, servant.” The young man’s dark eyes studied the visitors.

“It is most urgent that we talk to him,” Tom insisted. “Where can we find him?”

“Alas, Senhór, he has gone away on a sea journey with Mr. Week-leef.”

“I’ll bet!” Bud exploded angrily. “And they just left five minutes ago!” Raca did not respond, but stared at Bud with stoic politeness.

“It’s unfortunate that we arrived a little late,” Tom said in soothing tones. “It had been intended that we would join them, along with Mr. Acton and Mr. Price.”

Raca seemed to relax a bit. “Sim, his assistants. Regrettable that you were not here in time.”

Trying to get something for their efforts, Tom decided on a random shot. “Do you know of the fireball that went down in the ocean?”

“But of course, Senhór. I will show you where.” The servant invited the three into the Professor’s large, untidy office and showed them a chart of the sea floor. He pointed to a spot between Madiera and the Horseshoe Seamounts and read off the coordinates. “That is where the Professor is going with the others, to try to look at this meteor in his, what?—his big bell. Perhaps you could meet with them there, in a boat.”

Worried, Tom asked, “Do you know if they’ve definitely found the site?”

“I think so,” said Raca. “Then again, I am not told everything, Senhór.”

Glumly the three made their way back through town, heading toward the cove.

“What’ll we do now, Boss?” Chow inquired. “Mebbe we should go there in the Arrow and ram ’em!”

Bud added, “I’m all for that, Skipper!”

But Tom would not countenance such an aggressive approach. “We still don’t know—not to a legal certainty—that Wickliffe and the gang have broken any laws. They have the right to try to reach the object. Besides, I’m not so sure Raca was telling us the straight truth.”

“How’s that, Tom?” Chow asked in surprise.

“Well, he says he isn’t kept informed of the details of his boss’s work, but he sure pointed to that spot in the ocean easily—as if he had picked it at random. And I noticed that there were no pencil marks on the chart near that point. Doesn’t really prove anything, but I’m not inclined to spend much time checking out Raca’s site.”

Bud began to voice his agreement, but suddenly Chow brought them to a stop. “Say, am I loco? Ain’t this where the submo-copter’s s’posed t’ be?”

They stood at the entrance to a high-sided cove. The gentle surf washed over an empty beach.

“No, this is the wrong place,” Tom responded hesitantly.

Bud pointed. “Skipper, I recognize those rocks up there. We’re in the right place. The seacopter’s been stolen!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 12

 

 

          THE CITY OF GOLD

 

 

 

 

AS TOM GASPED in angry dismay, Bud groaned, “Aw man, we should have guessed! They must have come here straightaway in Taclos’s boat.” The three trotted down the beach to the water’s edge, to seek out any clues that the waves had not obliterated.

“I only hope Ham and George are all right,” Tom said. “Wickliffe may have put them ashore somewhere down the coast before heading out to sea.”

Chow tried to be reassuring. “Now listen, mebbe we’re gettin’ all het up fer nothin’. Might be them oceanography boys jest decided to pull out into the ocean fer some fishin’. You said Teller knew how to work the controls, Tom.”

“Yes,” Tom conceded. “I taught him the ins and outs yesterday. But I hardly think― ”

The young inventor’s words were cut off by a loud, echoing bang! that made everyone jump.

“Thunder!” cried Chow. “Looks like a storm’s blowin’ in.” The sky had grown overcast, and the wind had been picking up for some minutes. Even as Chow spoke, rain began to fall.

“Oh, great!” Bud muttered in disgust. “We not only lose the seacopter, but now we get rained on!”

Tom did not smile at his pal’s complaint. “This isn’t just a little rain. Look at that lightning out there. It’s a major squall!”

Conditions deteriorated by the second. Already dense, wind-whipped rain was stinging their faces. Plumes of water poured into the cove from the cliffs that loomed on three sides.

“Man o man, this is worse’n a Texas gully-washer!” Chow exclaimed through gritted teeth.

But a cry from Bud drew their attention seaward. A huge wall of water was sweeping toward them! They must find refuge!

“There’s no high ground here!” Bud exclaimed fearfully. The surrounding cliffs were too steep-sided, and already too slick with mud, to aid them. “That wave will swamp us!”

Shouting over the wind, Tom pointed to a line of tall palms twisting and fluttering a hundred feet further back. “We’d better shinny up those trees!”

Chow looked incredulous. “Sh-shinny?—!”

The boys and Chow frantically clambered up the trunks of the thin, towering palms as best they could. They had not yet reached the fronds at the top when the enormous wall of water charged up the beach and hit the trees with the force of a bulldozer. The wind increased to a roaring shriek that whipped them far over at an angle.

The tree to which Tom was clinging bent almost double under the blast. As the angry waters swirled and foamed around it, he wondered tensely if the tree would be uprooted and he would be thrown into the raging stream!

But Tom and Bud’s problems were minor compared to those facing Chow. The rotund cowpoke had been unable to climb up more than a few feet when the tsunami hit. Foam surged around him and over his head. He was completely immersed in the wild, roiling river of sea water. The boys lost sight of him. A minute later they blanched. The Texan’s beloved ten-gallon hat was tumbling along in the surf, its owner nowhere to be seen!

Desperately Tom and Bud watched the wall of water roll inland. Their muscles ached from the strain of holding onto the serrated tree trunks.

Suddenly Bud shouted against the roaring wind, “The seacop!”

Tom turned his face in the direction Bud was looking. The Ocean Arrow could be seen a thousand yards out at sea, beating its way forward through the gale. Would they see the stranded trio? And were the pilots friendly or hostile?

At the risk of losing their grip, the two waved frantically. At first it appeared as if the seacopter pilots, seen only dimly behind the viewpane, might fly past the cove without noticing them. But presently the ship turned and swooped up the cove toward the palm trees, its cushion of air flattening the rushing waves.

“They’ve sighted us!” cried Tom. “Hold on!”

But the flanking strip of palm bark that Bud was resting his weight on suddenly ripped loose, and the young pilot plunged down into the surf. Heedless of danger, Tom leapt in after him. Wrapping an arm about his friend, Tom found that he could force Bud’s head up into the air, but at the cost of thrusting himself down beneath the surface. Tom’s feet brushed the bottom, but he could not gain a footing.

The direction of the current had now reversed, and the invading waters had begun to withdraw. We’re being swept out to sea! Tom thought in a frenzy of desperation.

Suddenly he hit up against a soft, bulky object that blocked his helpless slide. Maintaining his grip on Bud, Tom was able to hold his position as the water level fell away around him. Soon he was gulping-in lungfuls of air, kneeling on the wet, tumbled sand.

Strong hands helped him to his feet. “How’re ya doin’?” came a familiar voice.

Chow!” Tom choked. “Was that you in the water?”

“Sure was, son,” the cook panted. “May not be much of a tree-climber, but I kin hold my own in th’ water purty well. B’sides which, I ’as standin’ on a rock!”

Bud was already on his feet, knocking the water from his ears and grinning. He dug down deep into a pocket and drew out his green turtle. “Brought me luck after all!” he laughed, weakly.

The squall had passed completely, and the midday sun was already beginning to dry the beach. The Ocean Arrow set down near the water’s edge, and Tom was overjoyed to see George and Ham emerge from the top hatchway.

As the drenched expeditioners dried themselves, George gave an account of what had happened. “We picked up a radio report of a super-squall making for the town,” the oceanographer explained. “So Ham here got the notion he ought to get the Arrow up off the beach and away from the waves.”

“Probably a good idea,” commented Tom appreciatively.

“Yes, but I had a little trouble steering her,” admitted Ham Teller, red-faced. “We were twenty miles out before I figured how to work the jet gimbals.”

“Blame your teacher!” Tom laughed.

Tom piloted the Ocean Arrow northward, toward their undersea hunting grounds. En route Chow served one of his aquatic dishes, a spicy and filling salad that earned a good deal of praise. “Sounds fine t’ my ears,” the cook said proudly. “Almost makes up fer losin’ my hat!”

Arriving at the next sector of their predesigned search pattern, Tom settled down on the surface. Gyrostabilized, the ship barely rocked in the waves.

“If your calculations are right, the city of gold should be somewhere below us,” Tom said on the intercom loud-speaker to the two oceanographers. “If we find the rocket today, we could be in Atlantis tomorrow.”

“I’m expecting a big sign saying, If you lived in Atlantis, you would be home now!” joked George Braun.

Tom eased forward on the control wheel and the seacopter plummeted downward.

“Fastest dive we’ve made yet, Skipper!” said Bud with a glance at the depth gauge.

Tom nodded. “And this time the sun is high in the sky. Watch how the colors change outside the windows.”

At first the view was made up mostly of green, blue, and violet. As they sank deeper, both fish and water faded to a silvery gray. Bit by bit, the ocean darkened before their eyes. At two hundred and fifty fathoms they approached the realm of eternal night—too deep for sunshine to penetrate.

Tom reached out to the control panel and flicked on his powerful undersea searchlights. A fantastic world of deep-water denizens sprang into view under the stabbing diamond-white glare.

“Aha! Now things get really interesting!” enthused Ham Teller. Both he and George, who had crossed over to Compartment A, had paper and pencil ready but were too fascinated to do much note-taking.

The fish that swam past looked like creatures out of a nightmare. All of them seemed to have gaping jaws and long, needlelike teeth. Many trailed sinuous, dangling antennae from various parts of their bodies. Most were black or grayish in color, though a few were red, and at least one that darted into view was a bright electric blue.

Chow’s eyes gleamed. “Put one o’ them critters in a fry pan an you’d get a stummick-ache jest lookin’ at it.”

Bud shot him a warning glance. “Don’t get any ideas!”

“It’s very possible that some of these fish are prehistoric types, long thought extinct,” Ham pointed out. “For instance, off the mouth of the Congo, fishermen netted one called Crossopterygia that was supposed to have died out two hundred million years ago.”

“You mean it was hiding out in deep water all that time? Must be the shy type!” Bud quipped.

Ham laughed. “Until that one live specimen was caught, the only traces of that fish known to science were fossilized bones of its ancestors.”

“Let’s turn off the searchlights a minute,” George suggested.

Tom flicked off the master switch, which controlled the aqualamp mounted on Compartment B as well as the one on Compartment A. The darkness outside the windows was broken by eerie phosphorescent gleams darting to and fro.

“Well, I’ll be jing-whistled!” said Chow. “Never knew they had fireflies down here.”

George grinned. “Those are fish, Chow. Some of these deep-water kinds carry their own headlights—natural luminescence.”

The searchlights went back on and the descent continued.

As the restless hours slipped by, Chow periodically returned to the galley to whip up a series of snacks that would take the place of supper for the crew, who did not plan to return to Madeira until late at night. The metal detector and Damonscope remained silent and dark, and the oceannauts took turns napping in their contour chairs, which could recline.

Ham Teller expounded upon the clues that he and George believed showed Atlantis to be more than a myth. “Consider that word used by Plato—Atlantis. It’s an unknown word with a typical Greek ending tacked on. It may be related to their god Atlas, which only solves one mystery by introducing another.

“In fact, we’ve identified a number of ancient place-names that have a kind of family relationship to ‘Atlantis,’ all of them having some connection to traditions of a lost land across, or in, the Great World Ocean, as the Greeks called it. In Europe there’s Atalantea, Atland, Odtlasa, and even the turtle lady’s Ybalon-tquie. Some tribes in western Africa sing of Tontlango or Tlantu-Banguw, and the ancient civilizations of Latin America spoke of lost homelands called Aztlan, Tulan, Isquolon Che, Tlillan-Tallapan, or Ollantay-Tanbu.”

“It’s fascinating,” commented Tom. “Some of the same sound-combinations keep showing up.”

Now George Braun took the floor. “Listen to this. I wrote it down in my notebook. It’s part of a translated report made by a Friar from Spain in 1558. He spent some years with the Quimoyai Indians of the Amazon Basin. ‘I ask the wise men whence their old fathers came, and they tell me that where the sun rises is the Lake With No Shore, by which they denote the Ocean Sea itself. If one goes into the waters by canoe for ten and twenty days, to the sun by day and the moon by night, by which fancy they intend a northerly direction, one arrives at length to the place where the froth rises upward and the fish weep in mourning. This is where the old land, Quamatlon, fell into the deep water and drowned, and Mother Sky turned black, and Father Sun in his great despair refused to shine for a year.’

“There’s also the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis,” added Ham.

Bud objected. “I though Eden was somewhere east of the lands of the Bible—like in India.”

“The passage actually says ‘a garden in Eden, in the east,’ which could mean that the ‘garden’ was located in the east part of ‘Eden.’ As a matter of fact, a Babylonian text portrays events similar to those in Genesis taking place in the ‘fertile valley toward the sun’ in the mountains of Eydulen—another ‘Atlantis’ word!”

“I happen to think our lost land was called something like Tlaan by its inhabitants,” George commented.

“Nonsense!” insisted Ham. “Tulayon, almost certainly!”

“I’ll just stick to Atlantis,” Bud said.

Deeper and deeper they plunged, following the downslant of the rough ocean floor from only a few yards above it. Finally the Ocean Arrow came to a range of subsea mountains that formed a solid, impassable barrier. At a depth of two miles, Tom gave the downthrusting rotor-prop blades a shallower pitch and swiveled the directional jets.

“Let’s cruise around a bit,” he suggested. “We’ll have to go over this range anyway.”

“This is the southern flank of the range that makes up the Horseshoe Seamounts,” Ham Teller pointed out. “On the other side is the plain where we think we’ll find—you know.”

Roving eastward, they came in sight of a steep, canyonlike crevice in the mountain face. “Volcanic crustal fracture,” declared Ham. “Further on in, the bottom probably drops out. The fissure could go down quite a distance.”

“We can jump over it! Should we take a peek inside?” Tom asked the two oceanographers. Somewhat nervously, Ham and George agreed.

Like a giant fish, the Ocean Arrow nosed into the cleft. Minutes went by as they wound among the beetling rock walls, the seacopter demonstrating its uncanny agility. Presently the cleft widened on either side. Yet high overhead the rock walls curved so close together that they almost touched, like two hands concealing a secret from the eyes of the upper world.

Tom’s heart was thudding. They were now probing an unknown land, one that would be invisible to sonar-soundings from above.

“According to my chart, we’re right in the middle of that density anomaly,” murmured Ham in a near-whisper. “Signs of volcanic upheaval all around us.”

As they rose over a rocky obstruction, Bud grabbed his pal by the arm. “Tom, look!” Ahead, in the glare of their searchlight, lay a pillared temple! Excitement was so intense among the voyagers that no one spoke. All had their eyes glued to the windows.

Slowly Tom swiveled the searchlight. As the penetrating beam swept over the area, other hulking shadows became visible. Though heavily crusted with barnacles and other sea growths, there was no doubt about their true nature—once upon a time they had been buildings constructed by human beings!

“You’ve found it, Tom!” gasped Ham Teller. “It’s the city of gold!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 13

 

 

          DEEP AND DEADLY WATERS

 

 

 

 

“LOOKS LIKE a city, all right,” agreed Tom, scarcely able to believe his eyes. “But let’s find out if it’s really gold.”

Steering close to the temple, Tom rotated the jets mounted beneath the forward compartment, while steadying the ship with the rear group. He aimed the forward blast straight at one of the pillars. Like a powerful spray nozzle, it stripped away the encrusted sediment. Underneath, a greenish-gold metal shone in the searchlight glare.

Chow let out a wild whoop. “Brand my burro, if that ain’t the real stuff, I never seen a miner’s gold-dust pan!”

“Good night, Tom!” Bud breathed. “There must be enough gold here to fill a mint!”

Tom, Ham, and George were too awed to speak for several minutes. Then the young inventor said to the oceanographers, “You’ll go down in history as great explorers—and the richest men on earth after you salvage this treasure.”

“Which will be a job for a Swift invention!” Ham retorted.

For the next hour, the Ocean Arrow weaved in and out among the various buildings while Ham and George scribbled copious notes. The submarine canyon had widened out to a broad area that appeared to be about a mile wide, overhung by the towering cliffs and draped with stringy aquatic vegetation. The ocean floor, which seemed slightly tilted, was littered with great carved blocks, broken columns, huge collapsed structures, and murky forms that might have been statues.

Tom periodically blasted off the sea-gunk. Nearly always, gold was revealed underneath. “And it definitely is a gold alloy, guys,” Tom declared. “The metal detector confirms it. But it’s not pure—some other things are mixed in that I can’t identify.”

Tom then cleared off one of the statuelike forms. “Huh!” muttered Chow. “What th’ hey is that s’posed to be?” The carving was of a squat animal seated on its haunches, mouth open wide. “Guess it’s a dog.”

George Braun chuckled. “No, pal, I’d say it’s a lion. The stylization reminds me of that used by the ancient Olmecs of Mexico.”

“I guess realism wasn’t in style,” Bud remarked dryly.

“What sort of architecture is this, George?” Tom inquired. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Many of the gold-plated buildings had gable roofs and broken towers adorned with grotesque faces. One vast, palace-like structure sported a row of support columns shaped like gracefully curving hourglasses.

“Bet you were expecting something like a combination of the Greek Acropolis and the Roman Coliseum, weren’t you? This looks Akkadian, perhaps Sumerian—but I’ve seen similar sights at Cnossos and in Cambodia.”

“Don’t forget the Maya,” cautioned Ham Teller. “You’re being too Eurocentric.”

As the oceanographers discussed the finer points of ancient architecture, Tom forced himself back to thinking about the search for the space rocket. After a brief conference, the mariners decided to shift their search farther southeast along the ridge they had been paralleling. Nimbly leapfrogging the various obstructions with the grace of an undersea hummingbird, the Ocean Arrow reentered the narrow pass through which they had first come. They were approaching the last sharp turn when the seacopter suddenly vibrated from a shock.

“Whazzat?” demanded Chow nervously. “We run into somethin’?”

“More likely a whale ran into us,” joked Bud.

“I don’t see anything up front,” Tom remarked. “Maybe something bounced off the B hull.”

Bud offered to go take a look. In a moment he buzzed Tom over the intercom from the aft compartment. “It’s a head, Skipper!”

“A head?”

A big carved one. The prop action must’ve dislodged it from the cliffside.”

Relieved, Tom began to inch the craft forward. But before the Arrow had traveled more than a few yards, a terrifying thud resounded through the cabin as the seacopter shook wildly. A boulder had just crashed down on the hull!

Tom flashed the searchlight upward. “The whole mountainside’s coming apart!” he cried out in horror.

His words were followed by a hail of massive rocks pelting down on the Ocean Arrow!

Chow and the two oceanographers were thrown to the deck as the cabin rocked from the force of the blow and a shower of rocks fell past the quartz windows. Only Tom, belted to his chair, kept his place.

“W-what’s causing it?” George gasped.

“Compression waves from our rotors probably—they must have loosened a whole stratum of rock and caused a landslide!” As he spoke, Tom grabbed the throttle lever and gunned the jets for a getaway. There was a brief spurt of power—then no further response! The needle of the rpm indicator flickered to zero!

Tom’s face turned pale. “We’ve lost power! The pumps aren’t working and the rotor’s dead!’’

“Then why’n tarnation don’t we hightail up to the surface like a bubble?” Chow asked desperately.

“The weight of the rocks is pressing us down. We’re sinking! Can’t you feel it?”

The others were too alarmed to answer. For several moments the Ocean Arrow continued to sink into the shadowed depths of the deep volcanic cleft. Then suddenly there was a violent jolt that again knocked the standing crew off their feet.

“Now what?” exclaimed Ham Teller, rushing to the window as soon as he regained his balance.

“We’re pinned on a rock ledge!” said Tom, playing the searchlight downward. Miraculously the high-powered aqualamp was still working. In its crystalline glare, rocks and gravel could be seen raining down on all sides, to disappear below into a dark abyss with no visible floor.

George stared in awe. “It’s a wonder we haven’t been smashed to pieces.”

“If this were happening on dry land, we probably would be,” replied Tom, forcing a calm voice. “Rocks fall slower in deep water. It’s denser and gives them more resistance. The rocks seem to weigh less, too, because of the buoyancy effect.”

Nevertheless, their plight was grave. The falling rocks had hit with enough force to cause leaks in some of the seams. Under great pressure, water was beginning to spray into the cabin at half a dozen points. In seconds the tiled deck was covered over to a depth of one inch—and rising!

“I wonder how Bud’s making out in B,” Tom said worriedly. He clicked on the intercom and called to his friend. His face turned grim.

“The line’s dead,” he announced.

At that instant the lights went out, plunging the cabin into darkness.

“Final straw!” Chow groaned. “We’re goners!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 14

 

 

          WRECKED AT SEA

 

 

 

 

“DON’T PANIC!” Tom Swift commanded, a firm voice in the darkness.

“Easy for you to say,” retorted Ham Teller. “You’re not me!”

Moment by moment, breathing was becoming more difficult. Evidently oxygen was leaving the cabin at an alarming rate. “Listen up!” Tom cried. He was panting now. “We’d better get to the B compartment while there’s still time!” He prayed that Compartment B, and his best friend in it, were safe and seaworthy.

There was no time to get a flashlight. Sloshing through the almost knee-deep water, groping in the darkness, Tom located the watertight door in the rear bulkhead. Gasping for breath, he and Chow unlatched the clamps and with a burst of strength swung the door in against the pressure of the water.

Fortunately, the passageway was still dry. Ducking low, Tom stepped in. The others followed, guided by touch and Tom’s voice. They could hear the water sloshing in behind them over the raised threshold and quickly yanked the door shut.

“The water will keep it from opening,” Tom murmured as he led the way to B’s hatch. Reaching it, he struggled with the latch, then banged with all his strength on the heavy door. There was no response! Tom’s heart sank. Had Bud drowned? We’ll all be joining you soon, pal! proclaimed his thoughts, bitterly.

Tom and Chow pounded together. Suddenly they felt the door give, unlatched from within, and a moment later it swung inward. The cabin was in darkness but there was air!

“Bud!” cried Chow, as he closed and barred the hatch behind George and Ham, then caught Bud in a bear hug. “We sure were worried. You okay?”

“Guess so, pard. But what’s going on?”

There was short discussion of the voyagers predicament, then Ham said, “If only we had some light we might figure something out. What do you suppose happened to the power, Tom? With two atomic piles, you surely can’t be out of juice!”

“Yes and no to that. The jolts must have damaged one of the power-feed junctions. Unfortunately, when that happens both reactors go into an automatic shutdown mode that can’t be overridden from the control board. It’s― ”

“Let me guess. A safety feature!” Bud chuckled with grim irony. “From all this safety, we could die!”

“I believe I can get the emergency power system working,” Tom said. “It runs off one of my solar batteries. I’ll just need to bypass the broken junction. Bud, pull out a flashlamp—there’s one under every seat.” Bud held the lamp steady while Tom worked determinedly at his task.

In a few minutes the job was completed. As the air circulation fans hummed to life again, the cabin lights flickered on, then glowed into steady brightness.

“Fantastic, Tom!” said George.

“Keep your fingers crossed. We’re still in a tough fix!” cautioned the young inventor,

“How bad is it?”

“I’m not sure yet. Tell you better after I’ve looked things over.”

Glancing outside, he concluded that except for certain portions of the view windows, Compartment B was virtually buried under a load of rock-riddled sediment. Tom now flicked on a light switch, and taking a wrench with him, went back into the one of the two passageways between the compartments that was still completely dry. From the inner wall, he took off the cover of an inspection plate and peered through a circular window. A look at the rotor blades caused Tom to give a whistle of dismay.

“Pretty bad?” asked Bud, who had crowded behind him into the passage.

“Worse than bad. It’s hopeless! The blades are bent and the whole unit knocked out of alignment. Not a chance in the world of fixing it down here.”

In silence, the boys returned to B. Chow, Ham, and George waited tensely for a report. Tom mulled over the situation a few moments, then voiced his conclusions. “It’s like this, fellows. Compartment A is flooded and damaged beyond repair. The rotor unit’s wrecked. That means this cabin is our only hope. There’s a mechanism for detaching it from the rest of the seacopter, but as things stand, that won’t do much good. We’re pinned down with rocks and gravel. As far as I can see, we have just one chance of escape.’’

“What’s that?” asked George.

“We can extend the caterpillar treads and try backing off this ledge. There’s just enough battery power to run them for a few minutes. If we get free, we’ll drop deeper into the ocean, of course, because of the rocks and that water-filled compartment. But while we’re falling the remaining rocks should roll off us and I’ll have a chance to release this cabin. However, there’s one danger.” Tom paused.

“Name it,” said Bud.

“If the releasing mechanism has also been damaged, we’ll plummet clear down to Davy Jones’s locker and be trapped for good!”

Chow gulped and the faces of the others paled in fright. But it was the loyal Texan who spoke up. “If we all stay here, we’re trapped sure an’ definite, ain’t we?” he asked.

Tom nodded. “I don’t see any other way out. We’re not carrying diving gear for this depth, and there’s not likely to be any other submersibles in range of the sonophone.” His keen blue eyes met his friends’ glances with unwavering frankness.

“Then I reckon we may as well go ahead an’ try it,” said the old cook firmly. “I’m with you!”

One by one the others nodded their agreement.

“Thanks,” said Tom.

Stepping over to the control panel, he pulled a lever to extend the tractor gear, then pressed a button to start the treads in reverse motion.

“Here goes!” he muttered.

Slowly the Ocean Arrow strained to back off the ledge, laboring under its weighty burden. Could she do this, Tom wondered, with the weight of the boulders, rocks, and sediment resting on her roof? For several moments there was no apparent motion, only a slight vibration and a distant rumbling sound. Then at last the caterpillar treads began to grind through the muck.

“We’re moving!” cried Bud.

“Inch by inch,” observed Tom cautiously.

After that, no one spoke as they waited anxiously for signs of a breakdown. Would the Ocean Arrow be able to pull free? Finally, there came a hard jolt.

“We’re over the edge!” exclaimed George.

“Just a third of the ship,” Bud said. “We’ll have to go farther than this to break loose.”

Tom swiveled the searchlight around, trying to ascertain their exact position on the ledge. “We should know soon,” he muttered. “Another few feet may do it!”

Like a struggling animal, the seacopter clawed its way backward. Another lurch freed the rotor section from the rocks. For a moment the ship hung teetering on the very brink of the undersea precipice. Then the edge of the ledge crumbled away and, with a sickening lunge, the Arrow dropped off into the abyss.

As the craft upended, Tom and the others went crashing against the bulkhead. All lay stunned for a moment as the Ocean Arrow plunged downward into the blackness, turning slowly like a corkscrew.

Chow stirred. “Tom, what’s happenin’?” he muttered groggily.

“We’re headed for the bottom!” Tom gritted. Scrambling to his feet, he suddenly realized that the lever for the releasing mechanism, next to B’s control panel, was now high above his head in the upended compartment!

Bud sized up the situation in a glance and leaned flat against the now-vertical deck. “On my shoulders, Skipper!” The maneuver worked. Tom grabbed the compartment release lever and gave it a yank.

Nothing happened!

Bud stared up at his pal with a look of horror. “It-it isn’t working?” he faltered.

Tom shook his head, grim-faced. “Not yet. The releasing mechanism is either broken or jammed.”

“Any chance it may jar loose?”

“I don’t know,” Tom admitted.

Hope wavered and began to fade as the mariners stared at the curtain of blackness outside the window. Now and then the hull scraped against the sides of the chasm, jolting them violently. They were not falling too fast due to the seacopter’s buoyancy—but more than fast enough to be deadly.

A wave of despair swept over the young inventor. Would the diving seacopter become their tomb, destined to lie forever on the ocean floor among the other wrecked ships and the broken ruins of a long-lost civilization? With considerable effort, Tom struggled to keep his face from showing what he felt.

Suddenly Ham gave a cry of alarm. “Listen! Good grief, we’re coming apart!”

The cabin echoed with a bizarre creaking, splitting noise. The mariners stiffened with apprehension.

“We’re not coming apart!” cried Bud. “We’re breaking loose!”

Then came another sound—a sharp crack! The compartment lurched upward as the passengers grabbed at seats and cabinets to steady themselves. For a second their bodies felt the increased weight that comes with sudden acceleration.

“We’re rising!” George gasped. “We’ll all be saved!”

As the deck became level again, the relieved passengers stared out the viewpane. Moments crept by as the inky darkness did not lessen. But little by little—so gradually they could hardly notice the change—the black waters lightened into grayness. Then the gray began to assume tinges of green. In the glow from the cabin the color ripened into a rich, if somber, blue-green.

With a sudden springlike release, Compartment B broke through the waves. Dazzling moonlight poured in through the quartz windows.

“We’re safe!” cheered Bud.

“I’m for going topside to get some fresh air!” George urged.

With Bud in the lead, they scrambled up the short ladder, flung open Compartment B’s hatch, and crawled out. The waves sparkled under a full moon, and a brisk sea breeze was blowing across the water. Hungrily they breathed in great gusts of the salty air.

“Oh, man, ain’t this wonderful!” murmured Chow. “First time I could say that sea air smells better than ranch air!” He hauled out a big red bandanna handkerchief and mopped his brow.

The glittering light of moon and stars revealed open sea that stretched away in all directions to bare horizons. There was no trace of land or another ship.

“Where are we exactly?” asked Ham Teller. “The currents must have pushed us quite a distance during that long ascent.”

“That’s easy—the Atlantic Ocean! We’re somewhere between the Azores and the Madeiras, and that’s about the best I can do,” Tom admitted. Then he added in sudden concern, “Say, did someone turn off the aqualamp searchlight?”

His companions all shook their heads.

“It’s off now,” replied Tom in a worried tone of voice. “The emitter filament should have a slight glow.” Abruptly he turned and yanked open the hatch, followed by the others. For the first time they became aware of a strange silence.

“Hey, the fans have stopped!” exclaimed Bud. “Not to mention the lights.”

Working quickly with deft hands, Tom opened a floor plate that uncovered the bay for the emergency power system in the bottom of the hull. The flashlight revealed that the shallow compartment was flooded!

Using a hand-driven mechanical pump, they managed to bail out most of the water. Tom checked and tinkered for several minutes. Then he finally raised his head, a grave expression on his face.

“The solar battery’s dead,” he announced. “That means we have no power to run the ship—and no radio to summon help!”

The explorers stared at each other hopelessly as Tom’s words sank home. Stranded in mid-ocean with no way to signal for help, their plight was desperate.

“Guess we can fergit about that there rocket ship,” muttered Chow.

“It’s our fault,” said Ham Teller bitterly. “If we hadn’t talked so much about Atlantis, we wouldn’t have― ”

Tom cut him off. “Don’t. I’m responsible. The seacopter is my design.”

Bud was the first to shake off the mood. “Just a bunch of shipwrecked mariners, that’s what we are. Well, Robinson Crusoe Swift, where do we go from here?”

“At least,” remarked George, “this is better than a permanent home at the bottom of the ocean.” He clapped Tom on the back gratefully.

“Let’s face it,” said Ham. “We’re still in a pretty serious fix. What are our chances of reaching land, Tom?”

The young inventor shrugged. “Depends on which way we’re drifting. Let’s take another look topside.”

Once again they trooped up the ladder and climbed out on the hull. Tom crumpled a sheet of paper he pulled from his pocket and threw it into the water. They watched for several minutes as it drifted slowly away.

“There seems to be a northwesterly current,” Tom remarked. “I’m afraid that’s more tough luck. If we drift in that direction, we have no chance of striking land for a long long time. Our only hope is to be picked up by a ship or plane.”

A grim silence followed this announcement. Finally George Braun tried to change the subject by asking, “How’s the food situation? I could eat right now.”

Chow shook his head mournfully. “Sorry, amigo, but you’re sure out o’ luck. I used up our supplies—figgered we’d be headin’ back to the island afore the next meal.”

Bud gave a loud groan and winked at Tom. “This is fine for you, Chow. You’ve been needing to reduce for years. But why didn’t you save some food for the rest of us?”

Chow scratched his head. “I’ll have to figure out somethin’, I reckon.”

As he fell silent, Tom remarked, “We’d better keep a pair of lookouts topside at all times. If we’re all down in the cabin, we might miss sighting a plane or ship.”

He and Bud offered to stand the first watch. Chow and George took the second, then Ham alone. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m used to keeping awake. But the rest of you sea buzzards look like you could use some sleep.”

Morning dawned bright and hot. Tom and Bud, on watch, were soon dripping with perspiration as the rays of the tropical sun beat down pitilessly from an azure-blue sky.

“Man, it’s getting too hot for me!” grumbled Bud as he shifted about uncomfortably. The metal surface of the hull had become blistering hot to the touch.

“Wait a second!” said Tom. Scrambling down the hatch, he reappeared a moment later with a folded tarpaulin which he spread out for them to sit on. “Ah, that’s better!” said Bud gratefully. “Thank goodness you built this thing with a flat top!”

The greenish waters around them seemed alive with finny creatures. From time to time flying fish would arc through the air. Once a school of dolphins came splashing and diving alongside the half-seacopter.

“I’d dangle my feet in the water, but some poor fish might think they were bait,” Bud chuckled. Noting that Tom was staring moodily at the horizon, Bud threw a muscular arm around his shoulders. “What’s the matter, mariner?”

“Just thinking about Munson Wickliffe and his two pals,” Tom replied. “Hang it all, while we’re drifting around helplessly, just because we stopped to see that city of gold, they may be salvaging that rocket!”

“Stop worrying, Tom,” said Bud firmly. “We’ll be picked up soon and still beat Wickliffe to the punch!” But secretly he wondered if Tom were not right.

When Ham and George finally relieved the boys, they went below. Chow was rummaging in the tool locker. “What’re you looking for?” Tom asked him.

“I’ll show you later,” said the old Texan. He paused and held up a slender, long-shanked screw driver. “Hmmm, reckon this’ll do. Tom, could you grind a sharp point an’ a barb on this thingumabob?”

“Can’t run a lathe without power,” replied Tom, “But maybe I could do it with one of the magtritanium files in the toolkit.” Glad of a distraction to take his mind off their troubles, Tom set to work industriously. Soon he had the flat edge of the screwdriver fashioned into the required shape.

“Brand my cookstove, that’s jest what I need!” Chow beamed. “An’ now how about puttin’ a hole through the handle?”

Tom complied. Then Chow got a coil of stout cord, threaded it through the hole, and tied a knot to keep it from slipping out. When he climbed outdoors, Tom and Bud followed, curious to see what he was going to do.

First, Chow belayed the free end of his line to a mooring ring on the side of the seacopter. Holding the screwdriver poised in one hand like a spear, he looked down into the water. When a fish swam into range, he let fly but missed. Chow’s initial throws were all failures, but after half an hour of trying, he finally landed a fair-sized, golden colored fish.

“Sea bream,” remarked Ham Teller, as the others clustered around to marvel at Chow’s prize. “How’d you manage to do that?”

“Useta be a game we’d play agin’ each other, back when I ’as a young sprout. Got purty good at it, too.”

Bud examined the fish. “Good eating when it’s cooked. But I don’t care for any raw, thank you.”

“You jest let me worry about that,” said the cook smugly. “Ole Chow’s not goin’ to let Bud Barclay throw him when it comes to grub. I gotta make up fer usin’ up all our victuals.”

Resuming his efforts, Chow soon hauled in two more catches—both hogfish.

“Okay, so you’re a fine spear fisherman,” said Bud. “Now what happens?”

“Watch an’ see, Bud boy. Jest watch an’ see!”

Chow cleaned the three fish carefully with his jackknife, split them in halves, and laid the fillets on the hot Tomasite-glazed hull. Soon the flaky meat began to dry out and an aroma of fish filled the air.

“Well, I’ll be a scootin’ sky ghost!” exclaimed Bud admiringly.

Chow now scooped some floating seaweed out of the water, hanging on to the extended boarding ladder. “Chock full o’ good minerals an’ vitamins!” he remarked as he soaked the greens in the oil oozing out of the fish. When the meal was ready, he announced proudly, “Come an’ get it! Fried fish an’ seaweed salad! Reckon you may have to eat with your fingers, but that ain’t spoiled a hungry man’s appetite yet!”

The others grinned and ate it with relish, despite the fact that the seaweed tasted rank and the fish was half raw. After eating every scrap, everyone felt much better.

“Chow, you’re worth your weight in gold!” Tom praised him.

“All that much?” The grizzled chef blushed. “Aw shucks, boss!” he muttered. “Jest payin’ my debt to this here expedition.”

Later that afternoon, when George and Ham were topside and Tom was napping below, Bud shook him vigorously. “Wake up, Skipper! The fellows have just sighted a ship to the west!”

Sliding off his chair, Tom followed his friend up through the hatch. Ham and George had ripped off their shirts and were waving them wildly in the air. Far off in the turquoise waves a speck was visible. It soon became clear that the craft was approaching them.

“They see us!” Bud yelled.

“We’re goin’ to be saved!” Chow chortled.

The throb of the ship’s engines could be heard as it drew nearer. Sure of rescue now, the shipwrecked five waved happily.

“Wait a sec!” murmured Tom abruptly.

“What?” asked George.

Tom turned to Bud. “Flyboy, take a good look at that boat. Look a little familiar?”

Bud squinted into the glare and groaned loudly. “Aw, no way! It’s Taclos’s research ship!”

Their hearts sank as the craft turned aside. To add insult to injury, it gave a toot over its loudspeaker-siren. Revving its engines, it sped off on a curving course to the southeast and quickly disappeared from view.

“Didn’t they see us?” gasped Chow.

“They saw us all right,” said Tom grimly. “And did you notice that gadget trailing out in its wake? Looked to me like a magnetometer for detecting metal.”

“Those sneaking, cold-blooded rats!” Bud cried angrily. “I’ll bet they’re laughing themselves sick at the mess we’re in!”

Tom shook his head dejectedly, but said, “Maybe they’ll radio somebody to come for us—eventually.”

George was glumly silent, but Ham took the situation philosophically. “Listen,” he said cheerfully, “if they’re still searching, it means they haven’t found the rocket yet!”

“That’s right,” said Bud.

Tom took what comfort he could from this point of view. To keep his mind occupied, he spent the rest of the daylight hours trying to rig up a hand-crank generator to supply power for the radio. But in spite of the gear train he used to obtain a high mechanical advantage, he could not work up speed enough to produce any sizable output of current.

As darkness fell over the sea—their second night adrift—the spirits of the group reached a low ebb. All five of the mariners sat on the hull, brooding and listening to the dark waters lap at the sides of the sad remains of Tom’s Ocean Arrow.

Paying no attention to the brilliant display of stars overhead, the young inventor wondered despairingly when he would see his home and family again. He looked up, startled, as Chow cried out and grabbed his shoulder.

“More bad luck! Look at all that choppy, fiery water we’re a-comin’ to!” the cook groaned.

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15

 

 

          EARTHQUAKE ISLAND

 

 

 

 

NOT FAR from the stranded mariners was a broad phosphorescent lane of water leading to the north. The glowing waves were rougher and more turbulent than the rest of the sea.

Tom gave a joyful shout. “That’s not bad luck, Chow—it’s good luck! In fact it’s wonderful!”

“What?” The cook stared in amazement. “How you figure that?”

“The fiery water will lead us straight to an island! It’s like a signpost in the sea—all we have to do is follow it!”

“Tom’s right,” George nodded. “Often happens in the Pacific. That’s how the South Sea natives find their way from island to island in their outrigger canoes.”

“What causes it?” Bud asked.

“Well, you might say the ocean swells stub their toes on an island,” George explained. “That causes a long line of turbulent water all along the front of the swell, which is what we’re looking at right now. And the water’s glowing because all the tiny phosphorescent organisms in it have been stirred up close to the surface.”

“I get it.” Bud grinned. “Following that line of glowing water is like walking down Main Street in the middle of the ocean—with street lamps to guide the way! Mighty convenient, I call it!”

“If we’re lucky,” Tom exulted, “we may find help on the island. We might even be able to get the radio fixed so we can send a message!”

“Or even make a telephone call, depending on the long-distance rates,” added Ham wryly.

Chow was dubious. “We got to reach the island first. What I want to know is, how we goin’ to get there? We’re jest floatin’ free.”

“Well now,” replied Tom Swift, “why don’t we make like a sailboat and let the wind do our work for us?”

Bud snorted. “Great idea, joker. What’s your plan for a sail, weave it out of seaweed?” Then he noticed that Tom was grinning broadly and pointing downward toward the hull upon which they were standing. “Right, I suppose we could use the tarp, huh.”

“Just have to find a way to rig it up.” Tom clambered down the hatch. “Come on!” he called. “Let’s see what we can dig up for a mast.”

There was enough moonlight shining in through the windows to illuminate the cabin. The five mariners scurried around, rummaging through the stowage lockers and examining every piece of equipment. But nothing turned up that seemed to answer the purpose.

“We’re out of luck again,” groaned Ham in disgust.

Tom snapped his fingers. “I have it! We can just unscrew that long handle from the mop!”

“But won’t you need a crosspiece?” asked Ham Teller.

George whacked him on the shoulder. “You think Tom Swift doesn’t know what he’s doing?”

Working steadily by a combination of flashlight, moonlight, and starlight, Tom used lengths of strong cord, looped through the upper hull’s pull-out mooring rings, to steady the mop handle into a vertical position near the empty rotor-well. He spread the tarpaulin over this and tied it in place, creating a crude triangular sail.

“Genius boy, you’re wonderful. I knew you’d come through!” exclaimed Bud, adding sheepishly: “I just had to be convinced!” An avid amateur sailboater, he could appreciate the utility of Tom’s makeshift creation.

The sail flapped and fluttered in the evening breeze—but limply.

“Don’t look to me like it’s doin’ a blamed bit o’ good,” said Chow in frustration after an hour had gone by. “T’ my way o’ thinkin’ we’re still jest driftin’ along like a log.”

“Hold on to some optimism, Chow,” Tom urged. “We’re making headway, and the wind should pick up after daybreak.”

Tom was correct. By the time the sun was halfway above the horizon a spanking breeze was filling the sail, and the “mast” was straining against the cords that held it upright. But a new problem presented itself. The keelless seacopter section began to rotate lazily in the water, rendering the sail unsteady. Tom disappeared into the cabin and emerged minutes later with a large aluminum stewpot tied to the end of a long doubled cord.

“You plannin’ to fish with that thing?” Chow asked skeptically. Tom did not reply but tied down the free end of the rope and hurled the stewpot into the ocean on the side of the craft opposite their desired direction of motion. “Not exactly a keel or a rudder,” Tom admitted. “But the drag will steady us.” The oceannauts gave their young captain a cheer.

“What island do you suppose we’ll hit?” mused George Braun presently, looking ahead over the barren ocean.

“Search me,” said Tom. “It’s a mystery. As far as the charts show, there’s not a speck of land in these parts.

All day long the Ocean Arrow glided forward in a steady, if sedate, motion. At the first orange streaks of sunset, Bud spotted a stark, mist-shrouded clump of rock rising out of the ocean about a half-mile ahead.

“Oh, no!” he moaned. “Don’t tell me we’ve been pressing our going-ashore outfits for that!”

Ham and George looked at each other frowning but said nothing.

Chow, trying to hide his disappointment, offered bravely, “Reckon it’s better than nothin’. Least-ways, it’s dry land.”

“Just barely,” Bud said gloomily. Disheartened, they reached the shore of the tiny, steep-sided islet, which was only a couple hundred feet wide and very low in the water. Tom lowered the extensible boarding ladder to the beach. The seacopter’s passengers jumped down onto the sharp black rocks.

“No wonder this place isn’t on the map,” remarked Bud in disgust as the group strolled about to stretch their legs. “It’s too small even for the seagulls to bother with!”

“Now that you mention gulls,” said Tom, “it’s rather odd there are no sea birds around. What do you make of it?” he asked the oceanographers.

“Looks to me like a temporary island,” said Ham Teller, “judging by the erosion patterns.”

George Braun nodded. “Probably part of the Madeira Plateau, thrown up by an undersea earthquake.”

“What do you mean, temporary?” asked Bud.

“Just what it sounds like,” Ham answered. “In case you didn’t know it, islands sometimes do a disappearing act.”

“You mean like Falcon Island in the Pacific? I’ve read how that has appeared and disappeared two or three times.”

“That’s right. And Bogoslof Island up in the Aleutians does the same thing,” added George. “There’s one that not only changed shape and vanished several times, but it has even been known to change position.”

“Jumpin’ horse wranglers!” Chow put in. “If this here rock pile’s goin’ to start playin’ tricks like that, mebbe we’d better hop back on the Arrow.”

Chuckling, George patted the cook soothingly on the shoulder. “This whole region of the Atlantic is volcanically active and quake-prone. But don’t worry, Chow. Chances are that this island will stay put for a while.”

While there was still light enough to see by, Tom brought a handful of electronics parts out onto the islet, along with a metal carton to sit on.

“Just being a busy bee, or are you maybe building us an atomic reactor from scratch?” asked Bud.

“I’ve decided I’m tired of stewing about how to get us rescued,” replied the young inventor. “Vacation over! So I’m building us a radio!”

Bud was amazed—and then amused by his amazement. “Okay, genius boy, a radio! Windmill powered?”

“Nope—solar. By the time the sun gets bright tomorrow, I expect to be tapping the rays for at least a few volts.”

Solar power? You wouldn’t be planning to recharge the battery, would you?” asked Bud as Tom squinted in the fading light.

“That’s exactly what I’m planning to do.”

“But how can you?” objected the young pilot. “We’re not up in your space station—we’re not above the stratosphere. How can you get an intense enough dose of radiation?”

“I’ll show you,” Tom said, and vanished through the hatch of Compartment B. In the cabin he opened up the deck panel and removed the solar battery. Taking it out on the rocks, he began to disassemble it under Bud’s watchful eye. He opened the catalium case so as to expose the rolled-up sheets of sol-alloy foil. This metal foil, which he had invented, was used to absorb and store the concentrated energy of the sun’s rays.

A few minutes later he went back below and reappeared holding a bowl-shaped, highly polished aluminum object twelve inches in diameter.

“What’s that contraption for?” Chow asked, perched on top of the seacopter.

“It’s the parabolic reflector from the aft sonar receiver bay. I’ll set this reflector up so the rays of the sun will strike it directly. The angle of reflection is such that the rays all concentrate at one point a short distance above the concave surface.”

After pouring fresh ammonia into the battery, Tom propped-up the reflector against some rocks. “Now we’ll wait for sunrise and see what happens. It may not work. But if it does, it’ll require about an hour of strong sunlight.”

Inside the Ocean Arrow, the expeditioners nibbled a pitifully small supper that Chow had been able to prepare from fish caught earlier in the afternoon.

“Tom, you know best, but I don’t see how even concentrated sunlight will charge your battery enough to let you run the radio,” Bud said.

Tom said he understood his pal’s skepticism. “But I’m not planning to use the Arrow’s communications setup, except for parts.”

“Tom, don’t tell me you’ve invented some new kind of communications system!” protested George Braun.

The young inventor broke out laughing. “Nothing new about it!” He gestured skyward. “Up there, just outside the atmosphere, Swift Enterprises has dozens of tiny relay satellites in orbit around Mother Earth. We’ve been using them for our videophone network for several years now.”

“You mean you’re planning to send a TV picture?”

“I’ll be satisfied if I can access the audio channel,” Tom answered. “But even up in space those satellites are probably the closest receivers around, and it won’t take too much power to transmit a signal to them. I’ll use the parabolic reflector to focus the signal after the battery is partially charged-up.”

They could hardly wait for daybreak to see if Tom’s idea would work. Tom left the battery elements in the reflected sunlight for more than an hour, reorienting the reflector every few minutes as the sun rose. Finally he connected his modified radio circuitry to the solar battery and set up the reflector behind the transmitting coils. He made the final connection and murmured hopefully, “Now we’ll see if my idea panned out.”

“She’s lighting up!” cried Bud excitedly, as a tiny bulb flickered dimly on the makeshift control panel.

Tom spent several minutes adjusting the mix of frequencies, a difficult task without the proper test instruments. Finally he said, “I believe we’re transmitting the FM code that will get the satellite to pay attention to us. Now for the message!”

He began to speak sharply into the microphone. “This is Tom Swift. The seacopter is wrecked. We are alive but adrift in the B section somewhere near the Horseshoe Seamounts. Here is our last known position.” Tom read off the coordinates. Then, flipping a switch, he listened attentively to the headphones for a response. A few seconds later there was a faint sputter of static.

“Anything?” asked Ham.

“Not sure,” answered Tom. “Those bursts of static might be words, but it’s way too faint to make out.” For half an hour, Tom repeated the same message over and over. Then, in midsentence, a sudden squeal of static made him wince. The static gradually faded out—along with the glow of the instrument light.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, we’ve lost it!” groaned Bud.

Repeated efforts failed to revive the device. “We’ll have to give up for the time being,” sighed Tom as the others stood by, watching and fidgeting in baffled anxiety. “The battery’s gone dead. And we’re all out of ammonia now; I can’t charge it again.”

Dull, dejected hours passed on Earthquake Island, as George Braun had christened their rocky home. As night fell, the mariners stretched out on the rocks, using blankets for pillows. Soothed by the night breeze, they were soon asleep. As day broke, Tom was rudely awakened by Chow. “What’s up?” the young inventor asked.

“Water’s risin’!” exclaimed the cook. “Whole island’s bein’ swallowed up!”

Tom leapt to his feet and gazed around him, aghast. The sea was flooding in over the rocky coast line. Overnight the island had shrunk to half its former size! Even as they watched, the waves were lapping higher and higher.

Tom awakened the others. “Quick!” he ordered. “We must get back into the seacop!”

As they clambered onto the hull, Bud suddenly cried out, “Wait a second! I hear a plane!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 16

 

 

          DEVIL OF THE DEEP

 

 

 

 

TENSELY the five castaways waited, straining their eyes to pierce the sky from which had come the distant whine of jet engines. Was rescue on the way or was another disappointment in store for them?

“It’s hardly light yet,” fretted George. “Will he see us?”

“We’ll make him see us!” declared Tom. “Rip off your shirts and start signaling!”

As the men followed Tom’s suggestion, a great
silver giant loomed into view from the clouds that rested on the western horizon. Bud gave a whoop of sheer joy. “The Sky Queen!”

Tom’s majestic three-decker Flying Lab came to a halt high above them, hovering on its bank of down-thrusting jet lifters. Tom’s relief was so great that tears came to his eyes.

The group waved their shirts in a frenzied greeting. Down-throttling the lifters, the Flying Lab swooped low and spiraled in toward the island. A moment later the mammoth ship settled down to a precarious perch on her telescoping landing wheels.

The main hatchway popped open on the side of the bottom deck and a familiar face appeared in the pale morning gleam.

“Arv!” cried Tom. Arvid Hanson, a good friend, was Enterprises’ chief of the modelmaking and test-prototypes division.

“Hello there!” he called. As others crowded into the opening, Tom was overjoyed to see his father and Hank Sterling.

“Man! The gang’s all here!” exclaimed Bud Barclay.

The castaways scrambled back onto the islet and entered the Sky Queen one by one. Tom brought up the rear. As he hugged his father warmly, he murmured, “Sorry, Dad, I blew it. The seacopter’s ruined and I don’t see how we can beat Wickliffe to the rocket now.”

Mr. Swift did not answer. As Tom looked up he noticed Bud, Chow, Ham, and George standing in a group, a strange expression on all their faces. “What is it? What’s wrong?” Tom asked nervously. In response they all nodded their heads in unison, bidding Tom look further toward the rear of the great stratoship’s aerial hangar.

Tom gasped in unbelieving delight. The large compartment was filled side-to-side with one half of a diving seacopter, complete with the rotor-prop assembly!

“The second seacopter!” shouted the young inventor. “Dad, you got it finished!”

Damon Swift laughed. “Just barely, son. In fact the B compartment isn’t completed yet, but it seems a new A section, and new blades, is all that is required.”

Tom strode over excitedly to the crimson-bright seacopter cabin. “With Hank and Arv here, and the Queen’s derricks and pulleys, attaching these new sections to the old B should be a snap!”

“We’ll be back hunting rockets in no time, Skipper!” Bud cheered.

In fact there was no time to lose; Earthquake Island was still subsiding back into the waters. With the Flying Lab hovering at twenty feet, the new A section and prop assembly were carefully lowered into position, outside the plumes of fiery thrust from the jet lifters, and locked into place. In less than an hour, the islet had vanished—but in its place floated a sparkling new diving seacopter.

As they worked, Tom described their adventures. Remarked his father, “Of course we had no reason to be concerned with your being out of touch. We just assumed you were engrossed in your undersea search. But we were frantic with worry, it’s fair to say, when Graham Kaye relayed the audio signal he had picked up from the satellite network. We were able to load the new seacopter sections into the aerial hangar while the Sky Queen was being prepared for flight, so no time was lost.”

Tom again expressed his gratitude, but then added, “It’s too bad, though, about the loss of our detection devices when A went to the bottom. I’ve decided that the rocket must be made of a nonmetallic material, so I suppose the loss of your metal detector isn’t too great an impediment. But I could sure use another Damonscope and Eye-Spy camera.”

It was Hank Sterling’s turn to surprise Tom. “Your wish is our command, chief. The color version of your camera was completed yesterday and installed in the seacop section. As for the Damonscope—have you forgotten that the Queen already has one?”

Tom marveled at the turn in their fortunes.

Mr. Swift reported that there had been no further contact with the space beings, despite repeated entreaties. Nor had Harlan Ames turned up any new information on Wickliffe or his associates. “At least we know where they were as of the other day,” Tom remarked. “I just pray they haven’t had any luck finding the planet-life vehicle.”

A shower and change of clothes made the oceannauts feel fully alive again, and Mr. Swift’s insistence that they take a few hours rest revived them further. Finally, after a hearty lunch, they were lowered down to the hull of the seacopter. Entering, they quickly surveyed the refurbished craft, including the minor repairs that had been made to Compartment B. The Queen’s Damonscope had been reinstalled in the A section, and the veranium reactor in the B section had been tested and restarted.

“Ship-shape and ready for departure,” Tom pronounced gleefully. He radioed Mr. Swift, and they settled some final details. The Flying Lab would attempt to shadow the seacopter from the air, probing the depths with its thermal and magnetic instruments. At night both ships would be berthed in Funchal, Madeira.

“One thing I wanna know,” said Chow Winkler. “This here seacopter is half o’ the old one, and half all-new—right?”

“That’s right,” Bud replied. “So?”

“So it ain’t all one thing nor t’ other. What do we call it all put-together? Ocean Arrow Two, mebbe?”

From the controls, Tom replied, “I’m still calling it the Ocean Arrow.”

Fair enough, boss,” Chow said. “But then what’ll we call the half that’s wrecked down on the bottom?”

“C’mon, Chow, the answer’s easy,” gibed Bud. “It’s the Ocean Arrow Minus One!”

Tom opened the throttle and the new seacopter, whatever its name, dove smartly beneath the tossing waves. After briefly circling their rocky, now-submerged former home, Tom swung the wheel, and kicked the jet-thrust control pedal as he began steering the search pattern. Fifteen minutes went by, then half an hour, with still no clue to the rocket’s location.

For the next few hours they cruised steadily through the shimmering green waters, raising and lowering the Ocean Arrow to follow the terrain of the floor. Clouds of the tiny plants and creatures called plankton drifted past their cabin windows, as well as schools of fish, squid, and eels. The Damonscope gave no hint of the presence of the space vessel and there was no visible sign of it, nor any indication of something unusual on the sonarscope.

Presently Bud asked, “What depth are we at now?”

“Eighty feet,” Tom replied. “But in a minute― ”

The young sea-pilot broke off as he felt the Ocean Arrow heave violently. Bud and the others were sent reeling to the floor. Tom grasped the wildly twisting wheel, which was designed to emulate the directional movements of the sub. His knuckles were white with the strain. He pushed his feet hard against the control pedals with all the force he could muster.

“Brand my bronc! What’s goin’ on?” screeched Chow in Compartment B as he clawed wildly to keep his balance.

“We’re caught in an ocean jet stream!” cried Ham Teller.

“I can’t get her to settle down!” Tom shouted. He realized the ship was being swept completely out of control!

“Help me—b-brace the—wheel, Bud!” Tom managed to stammer out. “I can’t override the circuits!”

Bud leaped to his friend’s assistance, gripping the wheel firmly with both hands. “It’s like trying to ride up the center of a tornado!” he gasped. “What can we do?”

“Work our way out,” answered Tom, “before we’re shaken to pieces.” His teeth chattered against themselves.

“J-j-jumpin’ c-catfish!” groaned Chow in the rear cabin. “It’s l-like ridin’ a locoed mustang!”

George Braun, behind Tom and Bud, steadied himself against the side of the cabin. “We must be moving close to solid bottom. That’s what’s causing all this turbulence!”

“We’d b-better—do something—and do it fast!” Bud urged.

“Cut the power!” Tom ordered.

Bud complied, but the mariners felt the seacopter lurch even more vigorously. “The turbulence is getting worse!” shouted George. “It’ll tear us to pieces!”

“Quick, Bud!” Tom cried. “Throw the rotors into positive pitch. Pour on the coal to ’em! We’ll try climbing up and out.” The rotors began to churn. “Now cut in the jets—full power!”

A few seconds after Bud had pushed the blade lever with one hand and rammed the master jet throttle forward with the other, the Ocean Arrow responded. But it acted like a maddened animal. The others could do nothing but hold on and wait as the young inventor clung to the controls with all his strength.

“W-w-we must be sittin’ on top a volcano!” sputtered Chow. His pots and pans bounced about the deck.

Suddenly the Ocean Arrow seemed to go in all directions at once. This was followed by a terrific jolt. Then suddenly the turbulence ceased and the seacopter settled down. Tom instantly cut the jets and changed the blade pitch.

“We’re out of it!” he announced, breathing heavily.

There was a short silence as everyone relaxed and heaved deep sighs of relief. Then George Braun said in a weak voice:

“Congratulations, you two! That slick job of piloting really saved our necks!”

“No telling what might have happened if you hadn’t pulled us out,” agreed Ham Teller. “Those undersea currents are tricky and deadly—and so far, science knows practically nothing about them.”

“Like ghost winds up in the stratosphere,” Tom commented, and winked at Bud. The two had wrestled with them, too.

Chow, his voice a bit shaky, called over the intercom. “Consarn it, this here ocean cruise ain’t s’ good fer a man’s health after all! Wonder my nerves ain’t all unstrung!”

“Ship’s taken quite a pounding too,” said Tom worriedly. “I’d better make sure everything’s all right.” He checked the gauges on the instrument panel, then turned to his copilot. “Watch the controls a minute, will you, Bud?”

Beginning in the forward cabin, Tom worked his way aft through the Ocean Arrow. Carefully he examined all seams and various pressure points where the strain might have been crucial.

Returning to Bud, he reported, “Everything’s okay, but I think we’d better check on the outside too.”

“I’ll go, Tom.”

Taking the wheel, Tom guided the Ocean Arrow to the surface, where it floated easily.

A few moments later, Bud flung open the Compartment A hatch and climbed out. The athletic youth scurried over the hull, looking for signs of damage.

In fifteen minutes the inspection was completed. Calling down the hatchway Bud reported to Tom that he had found nothing amiss.

“What’s our next move?” called Bud, bending low. “Shall we make another dive or—or—ooh!”

Standing spraddle-legged on top of the seacopter, Bud suddenly lost his balance. Flapping his arms, he teetered wildly for a moment. Then, with a yell, he toppled over backward and plunged headfirst into the ocean.

He reappeared a moment later, shaking water from his eyes and ears.

Tom raced up onto the hull, followed by his shipmates. They roared with laughter. “Didn’t know you were talking about that kind of a dive, pal!”

Bud took the ribbing good-naturedly. “Okay, so I don’t quite have my sea legs yet!” he shouted back. “Help me back up, guys. Or do I get to take a swim break?” Enjoying the water, and wanting to show some bravado and nonchalance, he backstroked away from the seacopter about thirty feet, pulling off his shoes and socks and tossing them up onto the hull.

Ham and George went below to get a rope, which they passed up to Tom and Chow. As they turned their faces back into the late-afternoon sunshine, Chow shaded his eyes and scanned the water. “Say,” he asked in a puzzled voice, “what happened to Buddy-Boy? He ’as right there a second ago!”

Tom was already staring around uneasily. Bud was nowhere in sight! Not even his head was visible!

“I don’t know,” he replied slowly. “Surely he― ”

With a gasp Tom broke off and clutched the cook by the arm. “Chow, look!”

Among the waves, not far from the seacopter, a weird, blackish-gray monster, at least twenty feet broad, had suddenly skimmed into view!

“Sufferin’ sunfish!” gulped Chow. “What kind of a critter is that?”

“A manta ray,” said Tom tensely. “What most people call a devilfish.”

“Sure looks devilish,” muttered the cook. “Those two things stickin’ out in front are jest like horns.”

Tom was fearful that the manta, which he guessed must weigh three thousand pounds, might have lashed at Bud with its tail. He knew that the ray could cut him in two with it!

At that moment, unknown to Tom and Chow, Bud Barclay was swimming desperately, deep under water. When he had first sighted the devilfish, it had surfaced without warning between him and the ship, flopping in and out of the water. Now, in order to reach safety, he had been forced to submerge and try to swim under both the creature and the seacopter itself.

It was a risky move. If the devilfish should spot his maneuver it might attack, placing him at its mercy. His only hope was to hold his breath long enough to reach the far side of the Ocean Arrow. Already his lungs felt ready to burst as he plowed forward through the water in the shadow of the seacopter.

Tom, watching from above, gave a joyful shout as a head popped up above the surface. Pale-faced with relief, the panting swimmer touched the side of the floating seacopter. Tom and Chow pulled him aboard as the devilfish continued to swim back and forth through the waves.

“Wow! What a way to end a swim!” choked Bud, still gasping for breath and trembling with exhaustion from the effort.

“Reckon it’s better than windin’ up inside that nasty customer,” Chow observed.

Suddenly the manta ray leaped high out of the water, then dropped down with a smack that sounded like a demolition blast. The whole Ocean Arrow rocked crazily.

“That critter’s goin’ beezerk!” Chow cried. Tom agreed. The devilfish might damage the seacopter! Quick as lightning, Tom jumped down through the hatch, called to the others to follow, and dashed to the controls. In a moment he had the rotor blades whirring. The Ocean Arrow rose into the air.

“Whew!” said Chow. “I sure never saw a more loco critter. What ails him?”

Ham laughed. “You oughta feel sorry for him, cowboy! It’s said their fins get full of itching parasites and it drives them crazy. One more minute and this old fellow would have tried slapping the insects off against our hull and damaged it.”

After contacting his father in the Flying Lab, Tom decided to cruise around under the ocean for another two hours, then call it a day. By that point the Sky Queen would have to return to base for refueling. Finally ending the futile search, he surfaced and radioed Mr. Swift.

“I have news for you, Tom,” he said. “I radiophoned the University of Lisbon to inquire about that Professor Taclos, They told me the Institute for the Study of Weather had been shut down three years ago, and Taclos is no longer affiliated with the University.”

“Then he’s working strictly on his own. No wonder he made himself so available to the Wickliffe crew!” Tom commented.

The Ocean Arrow trailed the Sky Queen to Madeira Island and its large and colorful port city, Funchal. After the two crafts were safely berthed in their secured and guarded facility, Tom and Bud rode into town by taxi, Ham Teller and George Braun following behind. Chow had insisted on remaining behind to prepare a dinner meal aboard the Queen for Mr. Swift and the half-dozen other members of the crew.

In the taxi Bud asked, “Tom, why do you suppose we can’t find that rocket?”

“Beats me, flyboy,” Tom remarked moodily, saying he might have to invent some new way to detect it. “I have an idea about using twin sonar beams to induce resonance in the thing’s hull. I suspect it’s made of the same sort of weird silicoid-ceramic stuff as the meteor-missile that landed at Enterprises.”

“But you and your Dad never have been able to analyze that material,” Bud pointed out.

“All too true,” conceded the young inventor. “But we were able to use microspectrometry to dope out one of the components, which led to the formulation of Tomasite. And Sandy and Bashalli provided another clue when they described how the rocket affected glass, which is a form of silicon, you know.” He explained his theory that the craft made use of a propulsive force-field of some kind that induced motion directly in the substance of the vehicle’s hull, with side effects on other silicon materials in range. “With that as a basis, I’m thinking I― ”

Hold it!” Bud commanded abruptly. “Driver, pull over!”

As the taxi screeched to a stop, Bud put a hand on the door handle. “What is it, pal?” Tom demanded.

“Our pals Kelton and Price, that’s what!” Bud hissed. “I’m sure I saw them on the sidewalk back there. And this time I’m going to have that discussion with them that they ran away from last time!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 17

 

 

          A THRILLING SIGNAL

 

 

 

 

LEAVING TOM to pay the taxi fare, Bud dashed back at top speed, whirling around a corner and into a sidestreet that was almost deserted. Ahead on the sidewalk were two ambling figures, their backs to him. He sprinted forward, almost noiselessly, and lowered his shoulder like a football player bearing down on a blocker. He caught Ferd Acton square in the middle of his back, sending the squawking technician stumbling awkwardly out into the street.

“Whattaya know! Ferd, right?” Bud gave him a fierce and dangerous look. “What a surprise, running into you!” The athletic youth clenched his fists.

“He’s crazy!” yapped Kelton Price. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Big bad Bud Barclay!” growled Acton. “Last time I saw you, you and your pals were drifting and dreaming somewhere out in the ocean. Run out of gas in your fancy boat?”

Bud’s eyes flashed at the memory. “I owe you for that.” He took two steps in Acton’s direction. Like a striking cobra, Acton’s fist shot out, straight at Bud’s jaw!

“Naw, naw, come on, Ferd!” Price cried in alarm.

Side-stepping Acton neatly, Bud blocked the blow with his right hand.

“In the mood for a fight?” Bud exclaimed gleefully. “Try this for size!” He shot a hard smash to Acton’s chest that sent the man staggering.

Instead of rushing back in, Acton circled his opponent cautiously. Then his left fist flicked out in several lightning jabs. Bud dodged the blows and delivered a barrage of powerhouse rights and lefts.

Acton danced away and yelled at Price. “You gonna help me or what, chicken-liver? It’s two against one!”

Price grimaced. “You know I—I don’t believe in getting hurt.” But he began to approach, tentatively.

Just then two pairs of footsteps came clattering up the street—George Braun and Ham Teller! Braun stepped between Bud and Acton. “Come on, you two, break it up!” he ordered. “What is this, a school playground?”

To his surprise, Kelt Price grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him away. “Let ’em alone!” Price barked. “You’re not wanted here either!” Before the oceanographer could defend himself, Price stunned him with a poke in the mouth.

George recovered quickly. Blazing with anger, he clipped Price’s jaw with a left uppercut and sank his right fist into the pudgy scientist’s midriff. Price grunted but stayed on his feet. With a bear-like rush he closed in, absorbing George’s punches and dealing out blows of his own.

Ferd Acton, meanwhile, was still feinting and jabbing. Bud retaliated with a series of hard rights and lefts to the body. Some landed and shook up his opponent while others struck only empty air. Apparently skinny Ferd Acton was a skilled boxer! But Bud landed a good one, sending Acton reeling backward against Ham Teller, who had been a bystander thus far.

Teller grinned. “Bud, I think this is yours!” Like a mighty piston he shoved Acton in Bud’s direction, where the teenaged flier was waiting with his fists.

For several minutes the melee continued. Gradually Bud and George began to wear down their opponents, with Teller acting like a combination referee and audience, providing wry commentary.

“We’ll have ’em talking in a minute!” Bud gloated between punches.

Just then a door flew open further down the street. A swarthy, white-clad figure came darting out. Raca!

So he’s here too! Bud thought, wondering whether the servant would prove to be an enemy, as Tom had suspected. The answer came as Kelt Price panted, “Come on, Raca. Give us a hand!”

Sim, amigo!” Raca leaped at Bud and George, lashing out with vicious punches. With the odds three against two, the tide began to turn. Though Ham now joined in the action, the three shipmates soon found themselves hard pressed. Whenever they turned to deal with one opponent, they caught a painful battering from another. George was bleeding from the nose and mouth, while Bud had a livid bruise under his left eye and Ham Teller had a cut on his lip.

Suddenly an angry voice rang out, “Hold it, all of you! This is ridiculous!”

Bud’s heart gave a leap. “Tom!” he cried. “Get in here!”

Tom sighed but wasted no time rushing to his friends’ aid. His special target became Raca, who ducked around and rabbit-punched Tom from behind. Tom whirled, straightened the fellow with a left to the jaw, then followed with a stiff right to the solar plexus that buckled Raca’s knees.

Seeing this, Acton and Price seemed to lose heart. Raca was already glancing for a way to escape.

Suddenly Kelt Price panted, “I’m clearing out!” The pudgy scientist broke and ran, followed closely by Acton and Raca. The three headed for a narrow alley-way.

“Let’s go after ‘em!” Bud yelled. But before they could run after the fleeing technicians, a wailing alarm split the air behind them as a police car shuddered to a halt. A pair of civic police officers jumped out, guns drawn, and shouted an order in Portuguese that could easily be understood—freeze!

It was Tom himself who had called the police from a shop near where the two taxis had stopped. But it took several valuable minutes for the young inventor to identify himself and mollify the officers, who finally sped away, heads shaking.

Bud was dejected at Acton and Price having gotten away, but Tom said, “Listen! They’re only stooges. We want Wickliffe! Since Acton and Price were here, maybe Wickliffe is too.”

George said, “They may be stooges but those punches were the real thing!”

“This mouse under my eye feels as big as a coconut!” Bud complained. The bruise had turned an angry bluish green and was swelling rapidly.

Tom clenched his jaw. “Well, they can’t stop us! Let’s search that building, the one you said Raca came out of.” But the building proved to be a cheap bar, and the patrons only shrugged when Tom asked, haltingly, about Wickliffe. They had no choice but to abandon the effort and return to the Sky Queen for first aid.

“You boys look like you been through a war!” muttered Chow, clucking his tongue.

“You should see the other guys,” responded Ham Teller.

“Yeah, but I hear they weren’t so good t’start with!”

Taking little time to sleep, Tom threw himself into developing the device he had described to Bud, which he called a sono-resonance locator. He worked steadily in one of the Sky Queen’s lab cubicles. By the middle of the following morning, assisted by Arv, Hank, and Mr. Swift, the new system had been tested and set up in the seacopter. “Mighty ingenious!” remarked Arv. “Run through a range of likely resonance-tones until your target starts ringing like a bell, then home-in on the vibes.”

Soon the Ocean Arrow was again under way with its crew of five. At first the new invention yielded only random background signals. But about fifty miles into the main search area the tone emanating from the sonarphone speakers grew slightly louder. Ham glanced up at Tom with a look of tense interest.

“I think we’ve picked up something!”

“What’s the indicator response?”

“Needle’s way up in the intensity range—a lot higher than before.”

Tom grinned. “Keep your fingers crossed. I don’t know about you oceanographers, but I’m starting to feel a little waterlogged!”

The Ocean Arrow continued its seaward run. Tom guided the wheel by the response from the locator. Bit by bit the promising signal grew louder as a compass-like dial pointed the way. Finally, in a part of the zone not yet surveyed, a red light flashed on amid the readout monitors and controls.

“We’ve locked on!” exclaimed Tom.

“Sounds like a jackpot!” said Bud.

“An’ that’s about the sweetest sound in this here world!” added Chow Winkler, provoking nods of agreement all around.

Opening the throttle, Tom eased forward on the control wheel. The Ocean Arrow plummeted downward under the driving force of its rotor-prop blades. The mariners watched as the turquoise waters once again darkened into inky blackness.

As they touched the ocean floor, Tom flicked on both powerful aqualamps. Their stabbing glare carved perfect pearly cones through the blackness. What the lights revealed made the searchers gasp with excitement. Far ahead loomed a jutting pointed object!

Gripped by suspense, Tom and his friends peered across the ocean floor. George was the first to find his voice. “Tom! Have we found the rocket?”

The young inventor’s heart was pounding, but he managed to give a cool reply. “Could be. Let’s get a closer look.”

After jetting to within a hundred feet, Tom pushed the craft to the bottom and pulled a lever to extend the tractor gear, then thumbed a button to start the caterpillar treads running. He wanted to avoid any risk that the wash from the steam jets would harm the rocket. As the Ocean Arrow lurched into motion, he swiveled the blades to a shallower pitch.

“How come you’re changing the rotor?” Bud asked.

“Because it will give us extra buoyancy, so we won’t get stuck,” Tom explained. “Look how the floor around here is torn up!”

“It must’ve run right into the earth like a cannonball,” whispered George Braun, half to himself. “Hard to believe any living thing could survive.”

“I don’t think this is a result of impact,” remarked Tom. “The propulsion field may have caused the ground to fracture and buckle because of the silicon in the rocks.”

Yard by yard, the seacopter crawled forward through the murk and sediment. As they came within closer view of the pointed object, Bud let out a whoop.

“It is the space rocket!’’

There was no doubt now—it matched perfectly the object they had photographed over Shopton! Cigar-shaped, it had the same round, cuplike fins running along its length.

“You’ve done it, Tom, you old deep-water sleuth!” Bud went on, throwing an arm around his pal. “I thought it was hopeless, but you’ve beat Wickliffe to the punch!”

Ham and George crowded close to add their own congratulations, clapping Tom on the back and wringing his hand. Tom was filled with elation. His thoughts raced ahead to the contents of the rocket and the valuable secrets they might reveal regarding life on another planet. Outwardly, his only response was a quiet smile of satisfaction.

“There’s still plenty to do. Let’s not forget that hoisting the rocket is going to be a terrific job. And there’s always Wickliffe to interfere.”

“What’s our next move?” Ham asked.

“I’d like to take a look inside the rocket with my Eye-Spy camera,” Tom replied, and the young inventor explained briefly how it worked. “It’s the new color model.”

“Wow! What an eyeful this should be—a full-color view of life on another planet!” Bud exclaimed.

The camera, battened down by clamps in one corner of the cabin, was released. Tom dollied it up to the window, plugged it into a power outlet, and trained the lens on the rocket. Then he switched on the current, and as the set warmed up, began tuning several knobs and dials.

“Here comes the picture!” Ham murmured.

The image that flickered into focus on the screen was both tantalizing and disappointing. It showed the rocket to contain an outer layer of opaque tubes which the camera’s eye could not penetrate. Between these tubes could be glimpsed a transparent inner section containing some kind of weird reddish objects.

The image lasted only a few seconds. Then there was a popping noise and the picture blacked out as a whiff of smoke issued from the camera.

“Hey, what happened?”

Tom opened a small door at the rear of the camera housing. “The beam projectors blew out.”

Luckily, he had brought a set of replacements, which he quickly installed. But precisely the same thing happened again—the image lasted only a few seconds, then the bulbs failed again!

“What’s causing it?” George asked.

“Must be something unusual about the substance of the rocket—probably whatever’s in those long tubes,” Tom deduced. “It affects the electronic beam, I think, and that in turn overloads the circuits.”

“What interested me,” said Ham, “were those reddish things inside. What were they?”

“The billion-dollar question!” Tom grinned. Then he sobered. “Anyhow, we’ll soon find out.”

“What do you mean?” Bud queried.

“I intend to try moving the rocket right now.”

Before Tom could explain his plans, a buzzer sounded on the control board. “The scope is picking up something,” Bud said. “But where is it?”

Chow craned his neck, looking out the viewpane. “Don’t see a thing!” he reported.

Tom swiveled the sonar sounders, puzzled. “It’s not all that far away from us,” he noted. “And it’s not small, either! I’d say about seven feet across.”

“Maybe it’s interference from the rocket,” George suggested.

“No, I― ” Abruptly Tom’s eyes widened as the solution presented itself. “Good night, it’s over our heads!”

Bud squirmed into the space under the curved quartz panes and twisted his head upward. “A big round metal thing.” Getting back on his feet, he looked at Tom soberly. “It’s a diving bell, pal.”

“Munson Wickliffe!” grated Tom.

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 18

 

 

          PRISONERS OF THE SEA

 

 

 

 

THE SHIPMATES were outraged and alarmed.

“If that coot thinks he’s a-goin’ to rustle away your prize― ” Chow began furiously.

“Let’s not worry about what he thinks!” Tom declared. “I’m more concerned with what he does.”

“Should we alert the authorities?” Ham inquired.

“Wickliffe hasn’t broken the law yet,” was Tom’s reluctant answer. “At least, we’re not sure he has. Besides, he could cause a lot of trouble down here before anyone reached his boat up on the surface.”

“Okay. So what do you want to do?” demanded Bud.

“Let me think.” After a moment Tom turned to the ship’s controls. He lessened the blade-pitch, and after the Ocean Arrow had ascended away from the vicinity of the half-buried space vessel he cautiously activated the jets. The seacopter inched forward through the water. Tom swung her about in a wide arc and approached the spherical diving bell, which hung in the aqualamp beam like a bloated spider.

Dangling from thick cables, the diving bell sported four round portholes spaced around its periphery, each one bulging out like a dome to allow a downward view. A dim light streamed from these windows, and behind one the oceannauts could make out a figure in silhouette. “There he is!” growled Bud, his muscles tensing unconsciously. “Wickliffe.”

“Some’n else in there too,” Chow said. “Must be that Professor hombre.”

“What’s Wickliffe up to?” murmured George, puzzled.

Wickliffe had leaned forward into the porthole dome, showing his face clearly in the light from the seacopter. He made a series of choppy gestures.

“Telling us to get lost,” Bud said. “I’ve got a few gestures for him!”

But now Dr. Wickliffe leaned even closer to the glass, his breath fogging it and obscuring the view.

“Guess he don’t wanna be seen!”

“Wait, Chow,” Tom cautioned. “Look what he’s doing.” With the tip of his finger the scientist was writing a message on the fogged glass—backwards to him, but readable by the seacopter crew.

 

HELD CAPTIVE IN BELL.

3 IN BOAT W. GUNS.

O-2 CUT OFF. HELP US!

 

“Tom, you’re not going to fall for that, I hope!” urged Bud heatedly.

“I believe him,” Tom replied simply. “There’s a limit to what I’ll believe of an eminent scientist like Munson Wickliffe—and we’ve seen what sort of men the others are.”

Ham Teller laid a hand on the young inventor’s shoulder. “We owe it to you to trust your instincts, Tom. But what do you plan to do?”

“If the Sky Queen were still shadowing us, it’d be over pretty quick,” Bud remarked sourly.

“But she isn’t,” was Tom’s response. Then he flashed Bud a grin, and Bud knew that his pal had come up with a plan!

Above, Professor Taclos’s square-built research vessel bobbed in the gentle waves. Ferd Acton lounged on a deck chair in the sun, a straw hat pulled down over his eyes, inert as a century-old tortoise.

“Should we pull them up now, my friend?” came the nervous voice of Raca. “The air must be very bad.”

“Pull them up? I think not,” replied Acton lazily. “The bad air will clear their heads.” He slid back his hat and threw a harsh stare at Raca. “Let’s not forget that Wickliffe and your boss have some unrealistic views on what to do with this treasure ship we’ve found.”

Raca shifted uncomfortably. “Really, senhór, the Professor only wanted to share the scientific data with the world.”

“Well, the world will have to pay a price if we have something it wants,” declared Acton. “It’s only fair. Kelt and I worked at the lab for years at a salary far below the going rate. We have the right to some compensation.”

“That’s right, Ferd,” called Kelton Price from the cabin. “Wickliffe was getting a little ornery. Good thing you pulled a gun on him.”

Raca looked out to sea. “I wish to have nothing to do with murder.”

“Murder!” snorted Acton. “Who’s talking about that, hmm? Our aquatic prisoners are fine. Or at least they were an hour ago. If some unanticipated failure in the oxygen delivery line should have regrettable consequences, that’s not my― ”

Senhór!” interrupted Raca. “Something is happening!”

Acton scrambled to his feet, and he and Price joined Raca at the deck rail. The water around the craft seemed to be bubbling and frothing. “It’s those Swift people!” Kelt Price cried.

“They must be trying to steal our rocket,” observed Acton, an edge of anxiety in his voice. “And we can’t have that, can we, fellows?”

Beneath the cover of the waves, twenty feet under the shallow keel of the boat, the Ocean Arrow hung suspended at a constant level. The rotor blades were churning rapidly, throwing a powerful rush of water toward the surface while the lateral jets, angled downward, kept the seacopter from being forced lower.

“I like this way of sending a message!” Bud chortled.

“Sure beats writing on a window,” agreed Tom.

After a minute Tom edged away, allowing the diving bell cables and oxygen tubes, which the Arrow had pushed aside, to become vertical again. “That unnerved them a little, I’d say,” Tom declared. “If we surface next to them, I expect them to start waving the white flag.”

Ham Teller was gazing upward at the underside of the boat. “One of those funny portholes built in to the bottom just swung open,” he reported. “They’re dropping something, but it doesn’t look much like a white flag.”

A small drum-shaped object fell slowly through the aqualamp beam and past the viewpane, followed by several more.

“Good night!” Bud choked. “Depth charges!”

Even as Bud uttered the exclamation point, a deep boom! echoed through the cabin, and the Ocean Arrow bucked and wavered violently.

“They’ll destroy the rocket!” Tom cried.

“And the diving bell!” exclaimed George.

“And us!” added Chow, eyes wide.

Tom’s eyes darted over the control panel, his fingers following almost as rapidly. He swiveled the jets and swung about, then gunned the throttle.

Bud warned, “Skipper, you’re going to hit the― ”

“Exactly!”

The fore-edge of the diving seacopter now pushed into the cables that linked the diving bell to the boat above. As more depth charges exploded, Tom drove the Arrow forward until he was certain that the cables had become snared in the seacop’s curving prow vanes. Then, with a look of steely determination, he threw atom power into the steam jets. The subcraft began to move—really move!

Chow cheered, reaching up for a hat to toss, then remembering that his was lost. “Tha’s it, boss! We’re draggin’ those varmints right through th’ waves!”

It was as if Taclos’s boat had unwittingly caught a whale on a fishing line. The Ocean Arrow dragged the ship along for mile after mile, in what Tom knew would be a rough and choppy ride for both the boat above and the diving bell below. The mariners could see chairs, boxes, and all sorts of loose equipments scattering down into the sea from the bouncing deck above. Then, for a finale, the young inventor turned the nose of his craft downward. Yanked toward the bottom, Taclos’s boat was almost completely swamped before Tom relented.

“Hold her steady in the water, Bud,” Tom directed. “Let’s see how things are going up above.” He cranked the Eye-Spy camera into a steep upward angle so that it focused through the underside of the boat and into the main cabin. Despite the distorted perspective, the import of the scene was perfectly clear.

“Sickest bunch o’ seamen I ever did see!” gloated Chow. “Bet they don’t even have the mojo t’ pull the trigger, if’n they haven’t lost the gun.”

A look downward with the camera showed that the prisoners in the diving bell were in bad shape; Wickliffe appeared to have blacked out, and Taclos was bending over him. “We’d better get the bell up to the surface pronto,” Tom decided. With a skillful maneuver he disentangled the cables from the seacopter, then sent the Arrow downward, positioning her beneath the bell but a little to one side.

“Planning to lift them?” asked Bud.

Tom nodded. “We’ll use the blades at positive pitch to give us some extra lift, but we must be careful to keep the bell above the solid hull, or it’ll get sucked into the prop-well.” His plan worked to perfection, and soon the Ocean Arrow, with the diving bell sitting precariously on top, was floating low in the waves.

Tom cautiously raised the Compartment A hatch and shouted across the hundred-foot gap between the seacopter and Taclos’s battered boat. “Ahoy there! Any fight left in you guys?”

After a long silence, Raca staggered out onto the deck of the boat. “Senhór, we surrender! I have thrown the guns overboard! We demand to be taken to dry land immediately.” He added plaintively, “Please!”

While Bud contacted the Sky Queen, which was then flying about 200 miles nearer to Madeira, Tom and the others opened the hatch to the diving bell and brought Dr. Wickliffe and Professor Taclos out into the cool fresh air. They were both badly bruised by their rough journey, but otherwise in acceptable condition. Wickliffe revived quickly.

“Tom,” he whispered weakly, “I am humbled by your kind actions. Please believe that I never meant for any of this to occur.”

“Stow it!” responded Tom harshly. “Even if you didn’t personally endanger our lives—though your employees sure did!—you’re obviously responsible for stealing the space dictionary files and interfering with our contact with the space beings. Because of you, mankind almost lost an incredible wealth of knowledge.”

Wickliffe took in a deep, mournful breath. “I was distrustful, egotistical. I wanted it to be my name in the history books, not another line in the Swift family biography.” He went on to explain how he had used a device hidden in his briefcase to remotely activate the laptop by accessing its internal modem. He then fed in the routine that performed his stealthy and destructive acts, receiving the copied files in a similar manner. “And you’re quite correct, Tom. When I discovered the immense significance of what I had stolen, I used my own equipment in Thessaly to send and receive space messages.” Wickliffe admitted having been the source of the phantom phone calls to the Mayor and the editor of the Bulletin.

Tom asked, “Why did you have the space scientists divert their missile to this particular location, anyway?”

“I didn’t,” replied Wickliffe. “I had asked them to land it on some acreage I own near Thessaly, and supplied the coordinates according to their system. Their response came as a shock. They said they would continue the course of the rocket to these coordinates in the Atlantic. When I asked them to amplify upon their decision, they sent a series of symbols that I could not interpret. In fact― ” He fumbled in a pocket and withdrew some crumpled notes, which he handed to Tom. “Have you seen anything like this?”

The young inventor had to smile inwardly. The adversaries had now become two scientists working together on a fascinating project! “It’s unfamiliar. There’s something about ‘first’ or ‘before’—perhaps ‘long ago’.” An intriguing possibility occurred to Tom. Perhaps his space friends had directed the craft to the site of an earlier contact with the human race, contact with the civilization whose ruins now lay far beneath the waters of the Atlantic!

“Somehow or other they must have suspected that my concerns and instructions were false,” mused Wickliffe. “Otherwise it’s quite puzzling, their procedure of sending the vehicle first to Shopton, then abruptly redirecting it. Clearly they were unsure whether my messages could be trusted, and wished to give you the opportunity to observe and track the craft’s trajectory. No doubt they came to suspect that their incoming signals and your outgoing ones were being blocked.” Tom realized with pleasure that some portion of the warning messages from Enterprises must have reached the space beings after all—enough to kindle their suspicions and prompt a clever, insightful strategy in response.

“In any event, we’ll have to retrieve the rocket in order to learn any more,” said Tom. “And that means the toughest part of this project still lies ahead!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 19

 

 

          OPERATION SKY HOIST

 

 

 

 

WHEN THE Flying Lab arrived, Mr. Swift had the stratoship hover fifty feet above the ocean while the shaken occupants of the boat were hauled aboard by a Jacob’s-Ladder arrangement. Raca was cooperative, Kelton Price almost distraught. Only Ferd Acton attempted to retain some semblance of dignity, casting a supercilious look across to Tom and Munson Wickliffe.

Though it appeared that Professor Taclos was innocent of any deep involvement in the shadier aspects of the matter, he had suffered physically and asked to be taken to a hospital in Funchal.

“That leaves you, Munson,” said Damon Swift over a cellphone connection between the Queen and the seacopter, where Tom and Wickliffe stood on the hull.

Yes, Damon, that leaves me, indeed. And at this point allow me to engage in a bit of an experiment.”

“What do you mean?” asked Tom’s father.

“I have behaved abominably. You and your son have no reason to forgive me; certainly no reason to trust me. Yet I feel moved to ask you, nevertheless, for a great privilege. The events about to unfold here have a degree of importance in the history of science that is inconceivably immense. Rope and hawg-tie me, as your cook would put it, if you must. But I am asking you—begging you—to allow me to witness your opening of the extraterrestrial capsule.”

A short silence followed as Tom and his father thought about Wickliffe’s extraordinary request. There seemed to be no doubt but that Wickliffe was humbled and thoroughly chastened. Badly shaken by the experience of being trapped beneath the sea, and now completely defeated by the Swifts, he looked like a man who had learned a bitter lesson. Tom took the cellphone and stepped away from Wickliffe, standing on the other side of the hull as he conferred with his father in hushed tones. Then he returned, his face unreadable, and handed the receiver to Wickliffe.

“As a scientist, you’ve done fine work,” said Mr. Swift. “It has brought you money and success. But don’t forget that science also involves a high responsibility to mankind. There can be no excuse for a man of your rank stooping to such disgraceful behavior!”

“Everything you’ve said is true,” Wickliffe mumbled in abject tones.

“But as a scientist I know, as do you, that advancement comes by way of error,” Damon Swift continued. “I’m willing to believe that you now realize your error, Munson. And it may also be true that by initiating a change the course of the rocket, you possibly saved Shopton from some unanticipated accident. So, very well, you may stay aboard and observe what we find. We’ll set aside the question of your recent conduct.”

“Old friend, I am quite overwhelmed,” responded the scientist.

Tom took the receiver and began to discuss plans for salvaging the rocket. “If it’s anything like the meteor-missile that came down, the rocket hull must be extremely light in weight—plenty strong, too. But whatever it’s made of seems to be nonmagnetic.”

“Which scotches the idea of using the mega-mag to lift it,” commented Mr. Swift musingly. The mega-mag was the current version of the old Swift giant-magnet lifting device. “Fortunately your old man is equal to the challenge!”

“Never doubted it!” laughed Tom, feeling a sense of relief. His father had never failed yet in a crisis. “What have you come up with?”

“While you were involved with your outpost in space, I began working on a tremendously powerful vacuum lifter,” replied the older inventor. “A suction grapple, in other words. I had it packed away in the flying hangar when we loaded the seacopter section aboard. I think it will raise the rocket to the surface despite the pressure at its present level.”

Tom was thrilled by this news, and curious as well. “What’s your machine like, Dad?” he queried. “Do you work it by remote control?”

“No.” Mr. Swift explained that though powerful, the device was reasonably small and compact. “My idea is to fasten it to the mega-magnet disk, and lower it from the Sky Queen,” he went on. “Then I can operate it through the same power cables used for the magnet.”

“Wonderful!” Tom cried happily. “I’ll wait below and guide it into place.” First, though, Tom levitated the seacopter on its cushion of air while the Flying Lab descended lower on its jet lifters. With the Queen’s “belly hatch” just a few feet above the flat portion of the seacopter’s hull, it was easy to transfer Munson Wickliffe, Taclos, Chow, and Ham Teller and George Braun, to the waiting skyship. Then the diving bell was cautiously deposited into its cradle on Taclos’s research vessel, which one of the Sky Queen’s crew members would guide back to Madeiran waters.

With Bud at his side, Tom sent the Ocean Arrow diving deep into the Atlantic, back to the location of the planet-life rocket, the Flying Lab following from above.

“Doesn’t seem to have suffered any from those explosions,” Bud remarked.

“Nothing seems able to penetrate that stuff,” said Tom admiringly. “I’m just hoping we’ll be able to open it up when we get it topside!”

Hank Sterling was holding the Sky Queen in a steady position above the rocket. As soon as the vacuum lifter was made ready and installed on the magnet’s disk, which was five feet across, an extensible crane swung it out of the flying hangar through the broad aerial hatch. At Mr. Swift’s direction a powerful motor was switched on and the cables were payed out from the winch, which was controlled by Arv Hanson. It took fifteen tense minutes for the magnet and suction grappler to be lowered through the deep waters.

“Here it comes!” yelled Bud as the hybrid device came within view of the undersea searchlight. “Say, that new gadget ought to be called the Swift Octopus. Look at those segmented tubes—tentacles!”

On one side of each of the spreading tubes was a series of openings which would press against the surface of the rocket and adhere tightly as the vacuum pumps began to take hold.

“Are we on target?” Hank asked by sonophone relay.

“Not quite,” Tom replied. “You’ve veered off to the north a little. Start inching forward and I’ll give you a mark.” Under Tom’s coaching the pilot jockeyed the vacuum lifter disk into position above the space vessel’s hull. Then Hanson lowered away.

“Direct hit!” the young inventor reported excitedly.

On board the Sky Queen Mr. Swift pressed a switch. Instantly powerful suction motors of unique design were thrown into action. He informed Tom that the sensor instruments indicated a firm seal against the rocket.

“Hoist away!” Tom called over the mike.

The cables began to reel in, becoming taut, and a shout of excitement went up from the pair in the seacopter. With a sudden tilt the rocket had pulled free of the sea floor and was beginning to rise!

“She’s lifting!” Bud yelled.

Up, up through the dark water rose the rocket, dangling on the end of the cables. Tom sent the Ocean Arrow scooting up after it, keeping the rocket pinned in the twin aqualamp beams at all times. From darkness, through grayness, they ascended into the familiar realm of greenish-blue water.

Suddenly a worried cry from Mr. Swift came over the loudspeaker, “We’re losing suction!” On board the Queen he was watching the vacuum gauge with a tense frown. The needle was flickering downward!

Frenzied activity erupted on the Flying Lab as Mr. Swift barked orders. With everyone aboard helping, two more steel hoisting cables were made ready and run through pulleys in the aerial hangar. These were let down in loops. Then, by careful maneuvering, the loops were passed around the nose and tail of the suspended rocket under Tom’s direction. The lifting resumed, and in a matter of minutes the strange capsule from outer space had been raised halfway into the afternoon sun.

But almost at once a new crisis developed. A loud fizzing, accompanied by showers of white-hot sparks and spurts of hissing steam, arose at the two places where the cables gripped the missile.

Tom scooped up the mike. “Dad! The cables are burning clear through the rocket!” he shouted. “The metals have set up a reaction!”

There was no time to remedy the situation. Before the startled eyes of the mariners, the rocket hull came apart at nose and tail! Out slid the transparent center section which Tom had glimpsed in such tantalizing fashion through the Eye-Spy camera. For a fleeting moment the entire contents of this section were bared to view. A weird array of queer-shaped reddish plants was revealed. Then the huge transparent capsule plummeted downward toward the ocean bottom!

“We’ve lost it!” yelled Bud frantically. “Our prize is gone!”

Not yet!” Tom said determinedly.


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 20

 

 

          PLANET LIFE

 

 

 

 

SHOVING THE control wheel forward, Tom yanked the throttle wide open and sent the seacopter into a steep dive. The planet garden was lost to sight now in the darkness below. Desperate to find it, Tom swiveled the searchlights about, their cold gleam stabbing through the murky water.

“There it is!” Tom cried.

Keeping the rocket section in view, the youths continued their dizzy descent. Moments later the Arrow had almost reached the ocean floor. With a gasp of horror, Bud grabbed Tom by the arm and pointed through the cabin window.

“One of the depth charges!” Evidently one of the devilish devices had failed to explode as planned and had ended up drifting near the bottom. Now its presence menaced both the space rocket and the seacopter!

With an effort, Tom shook off the rush of panic that was clouding his brain. “We aren’t trapped yet!” he said. “If we can just get the capsule away from the bomb—!”

Not wanting to expose the depth charge casing to any pressure or force that might set it off, Tom concentrated on shoving the descending rocket out of harm’s way. With agonizing slowness and delicacy he edged the prow of the seacopter up to the transparent cylinder, which gave off an iridescent glint in the rays of the aqualamps. Then he began to push.

“She’s moving,” breathed Bud. But could Tom push the capsule out of range of the depth charge before it hit bottom and became mired in the silt?

“Fifty feet,” Tom whispered. “One hundred feet… coming up on― ”

The Ocean Arrow shuddered under the thudding impact of a fierce undersea blast!

“Oh no!” cried Bud despairingly. “The rocket’s blown up!”

“Not the rocket,” Tom corrected him. “The depth charge! Our jet backwash must have shoved it against a rock.” He turned the searchlights toward the capsule, which had slid away under the force of the concussion. “Bud, it’s all right! It’s sitting on the floor!”

Snatching up the mike, he sent the glad word to the Sky Queen through a floating relay buoy, asking if the suction machine could be repaired in a hurry.

“I’ve already done that with new fuses,” his father replied hastily. “Stand by and don’t worry. We’ll soon have that rocket in hand.”

The subsequent effort took more than an hour. But at long last Tom and Bud were standing in the aerial hangar of the Sky Queen, two in the small crowd gazing at the space capsule in awe—and a certain amount of fear.

“Magnificent!” whispered Munson Wickliffe. “To think this happened in my lifetime!”

A fantastic and breath-taking spectacle met their eyes. Behind the curving transparent walls of the transport capsule, dozens of different types of lifeforms were displayed to view. All glistened with a red, metallic sheen—a strange hue not quite like any shade Tom could recall encountering. Anchored like stalagmites, they appeared to be growing directly out of the stones and rocks that simulated an alien landscape. Some resembled honeycombed tulips or huge upside-down mushrooms without stems. Several “flowers” were also included, with long spikes from which an oily liquid could be seen oozing.

Among these shapes, a number of small, queer-looking figures could be seen creeping about. They had no visible legs, but inched along like snails or snakes. Yet their appearance was more like some type of rodent, but faceless. One crawled up a flower spike and began sipping the oozing liquid.

“Boss, wh-what are them things?” gasped Chow.

George Braun answered for Tom. “Plants, Chow. From another world!”

“I know, but them bitty things crawlin’ around― ”

“I believe they’re all plants,” pronounced Mr. Swift. “Plants with the ability to move around and seek nutrition.”

Munson Wickliffe nodded. “Damon, your observation is most acute. This appears to be vegetative life. But the mobile species must have at least the rudiments of a nervous system.”

The watchers stared in awe, too fascinated to speak. Finally Mr. Swift put an arm around Tom and murmured thoughtfully: “For the first time in history, human eyes have looked upon forms of life entirely unrelated to themselves!”

“For the second time, Dad,” responded the young inventor gently. Damon Swift realized that his son was referring to the controversial observations made by his great-grandfather, the first Tom Swift. “I can’t wait to get this space garden back to our lab in Enterprises. What a thrill it will be, studying these specimens in detail!”

Ham cried out, “Look! Something’s happening inside there!” Before the horrified gaze of the watchers, a number of the plants began to shrivel and wither! At the same time several of the “crawlers” stopped crawling around and rolled slowly over on their backs.

“They’re dying!” exclaimed George.

“Can’t we do anything, Tom?” Bud demanded.

“We don’t know what’s wrong with them,” choked Tom in anguished dismay.

“Maybe if we opened up the capsule― ” Hank Sterling began.

“We don’t know how,” Mr. Swift said softly. “Our space friends engineered the capsule to open by itself, but only when external conditions were safe and healthful for the organisms.”

Tom gave a nod of grieved resignation. “Whatever is killing them is the same unknown factor that the space beings were unable to identify. They hoped we would be able to do it.”

Hopes dashed, the onlookers watched helplessly. In ten minutes it was obvious that all the plants were dead.

Dr. Wickliffe rested a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “A great man reminded me—not long ago, in fact—that science advances by error. I have every confidence in the world that the very talented Swift family will overcome this obstacle, and learn a good deal in the process.”

“Amen t’that!” declared Chow Winkler in his enthusiastic foghorn voice. He was rewarded by seeing a wan smile on the face of his young boss.

“At least the seacopter’s proven herself,” he said. “And let’s not forget that we have a whole city to explore.”

“A city?” asked Dr. Wickliffe. “What city, my boy?”

Tom’s imagination carried him back to the submarine city of gold. He knew he would return there soon, with a new invention to salvage its treasures and uncover its secrets. But unknown to Tom, an unexpected adventure would intervene—Tom Swift in The Caves of Nuclear Fire.

I’ll tell you all about the city we found, Doctor.” Tom yawned and stretched involuntarily. “Better yet, let Bud or Chow or Ham or George tell you the tale. As for me, I plan to sleep like an oyster till a week from Sunday!”