TOM SWIFT LIVES!
TOM SWIFT AND HIS
This unauthorized tribute
Is based upon
the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters
SCOTT DICKERSON, AUTHOR.
As of this printing,
The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures
is owned by
SIMON & SCHUSTER
This edition privately printed by
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TOM SWIFT AND HIS
THE UNDERSEA MOUNTAIN
“SWING the searchlight around, will you, Dad? I see something unusual!”
Tom Swift’s blue eyes lit up with excitement as he steered the Sea Hound, the latest model of his diving seacopter, though the inky depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Port or starboard?” asked Damon Swift.
“Starboard, just a few degrees,” Tom replied. The lanky, blond-haired inventor was cruising with his distinguished scientist father about a hundred feet above the ocean floor near the Atlantic Ridge, the great jagged chain of undersea peaks that splits the broad Atlantic in two. They were in the realm of eternal night, far below the depths to which the sun’s rays penetrate.
Manning the pilot’s controls, Mr. Swift gasped in surprise as he swiveled the forward aqualamp, the powerful electronic searchlight mounted on the hull above their heads. In its sunlike glare a myriad of huge bubbles could be seen billowing upward in a steady stream from the ocean bottom. The stream appeared to be issuing from a small fissure near the base of a blocky mountain whose unusual shape, squat and almost flat-sided, had attracted their notice moments before.
“Great Scott! This is unbelievable!” the elder scientist exclaimed. “The way those bubbles are jetting upward—!”
“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Tom agreed, as he stared in fascination. “This could be a fantastic discovery!”
On an earlier cruise in his first seacopter, the Ocean Arrow, young Tom had discovered an underwater city of gold in a hidden subocean canyon near the Madeira Islands, ancient ruins thought to be remains of fabled Atlantis. On that occasion, a pressing search for a lost space capsule had prevented a more detailed exploration of the ruins. Now he and his father were making a return trip to survey the strange sunken civilization and conduct underwater tests there. But only halfway to their goal, a new mystery beckoned.
“Dad,” Tom said, making some quick calculations in his head, “those bubbles might be helium gas!”
“You mean because of the tremendous speed with which they’re rising?” remarked Mr. Swift, who was as intrigued as his son by the phenomenon. “It hardly seems likely.”
Tom pointed out, “Other bubbles we’ve seen so far have been just lazily drifting up.”
“You have a point there,” his father admitted excitedly.
“I didn’t know helium could be found underwater,” remarked the third member of the expedition, Slim Davis. An experienced pilot for Swift Enterprises, the Swifts’ famed scientific and invention installation in Shopton, New York, Slim had recently completed a course of training in guiding the seacopter, Tom’s remarkable “underwater helicopter” capable of probing the aquatic depths with unequalled maneuverability.
“It’s rare anywhere on earth,” Tom agreed. “But radioactive decay can produce pockets here and there. By the looks of it, this could be a big one—maybe the biggest ever discovered.”
“You can tell that it’s helium just by looking?” Slim persisted.
Tom’s father answered as he gazed out the viewport. “It’s a possibility. Helium, because of its low density, is very buoyant. That would account for the bubbles’ fast-streaming action.” The elder inventor's keen eyes glinted as he added, “Son, if your hunch is right, this could be a discovery of top scientific importance!”
Tom gave a tense nod. “I know. At present our country can get helium only from certain natural gas wells in Texas and Kansas. Those sources don’t produce a great deal, and may fail completely. If scientists had an unlimited supply from under the ocean― ”
Father and son looked intently at each other as Mr. Swift lay a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Don’t get your hopes up too soon,” he cautioned. “The gas is still deep in the ocean. And we don’t even know that it is helium.”
Tom grinned. “Right. It could be hydrogen, or argon or neon or other gases.”
“Can’t you use the longrange spectrometer on it?” Slim suggested.
“The streaming motion fluctuates too much to get a fix,” was Tom’s reply. “But,” he declared firmly, “I intend to get the answer another way. I’ll go out in a Fat Man suit and collect a sample for testing!”
“I was about to suggest the same thing,” said Mr. Swift. “In fact, I’ll accompany you, Tom. I’d like to take a closer look at the sea bed next to that fissure.”
Tom steered the Sea Hound closer to the plume of hurtling bubbles. Then, pulling a lever on the control panel, he cut the steam-driven directional jets. The seacopter slowed to a halt as its whirring central rotors held the sleek red saucer suspended motionless in the ocean depths, holding it down against its buoyancy.
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” objected Slim nervously. “I mean, we’re right next to the base of this mountain, and its sides look pretty steep. I heard about― ”
Tom finished for him. “You’re thinking of what happened to the Ocean Arrow when we found the city of gold.”
“Well—didn’t vibrations from the rotors bring down the side of a mountain on top of you?”
“You’re right to be concerned,” Tom responded with a reassuring smile. “But we’ve made some improvements to the seacop’s design since then. On the Sea Hound our two central rotors automatically keep themselves in sync with one another. They pretty much cancel each other’s vibrations. And the redesigned rotor well has a damping effect.”
“You needn’t worry, Slim,” Damon Swift added. “We should be safe from anything short of an undersea earthquake.”
As Slim took over the controls, Tom and his father crossed the small forward cabin to the hatchway that led to the airlock compartment, where the Fat Man suits were stored. This expanded chamber for underwater access was another new feature incorporated into the Sea Hound’s design.
His hand on the hatchway lever, Mr. Swift glanced at the dials and gauges that monitored exterior pressure and temperature. “Our deep-sea excursion will be under pressures higher than even the Fat Men are used to. But they should handle it without difficulty.” As he stepped over the hatch threshold, he suggested over his shoulder, “You’ll want a float balloon in case you want to send up a marker, son. If the flow diminishes we might have a difficult time finding the exact site again.”
“Good idea. I’ll take one.” Tom unlocked a stowage compartment and took out one of the “balloons,” which actually was a hollow metal sphere filled with compressed air, and which included a radio-and-sonar locating beacon. He attached this to a portable pack containing a great length of fine-gage nylon cable rolled about a drum with a self-winding mechanism. Finally he picked up a metal vacuum flask, self-sealing, in which he would collect the gas sample.
“Now to climb into the thing—not so easy a task for a grown-up,” murmured Tom’s father, eyeing his Fat Man.
“Want some help, Dad?”
“No, I can manage.”
The Fat Man suits were egg-shaped one-person submersibles, sporting robotic arms and legs and a reinforced transparent viewdome on top. Completely self-contained, they were designed to withstand crushing subsea pressures. The front halves of the suits stood open like books while stored side-by-side in the airlock chamber. The occupant was to step into his suit backwards, then swing it closed and seal it.
“Watch your step in the ooze out there,” Tom warned his father as Damon Swift squirmed into his suit.
“Roger, Captain!” Mr. Swift replied. “That is—aye-aye.”
As Tom switched on his air supply, he glanced at his father. His feeling of family pride was mixed with a slight twinge of disquiet. Seems funny to be doing this with Dad instead of Bud, he thought.
Bud Barclay, an athletic youth Tom’s own age, was the young inventor’s best friend and constant comrade. During a recent encounter with criminals while on Swift Enterprises business in New Guinea, both Bud and Slim Davis had suffered physically. Slim had quickly recovered, but Bud had born the brunt of the enemy’s electric-shock weapon, and the effects had run deeper than first suspected. A brief hospital stay had been extended, and Tom—not wanting to proceed with his planned trip to the sunken city in the absence of his pal—had opted instead to make a return visit to Earth’s tiny new moon Nestria, there to make scientific observations of a strange device left by extraterrestrials.
When Tom returned to the earth he had hoped to find Bud fully recovered. But although the young pilot had been released from the hospital, the company physician, Dr. Simpson, had directed Bud to take two further weeks of complete rest. When Tom offered to postpone his undersea trip a second time, Bud had insisted that his friend go ahead without him while Bud recuperated at the home of his parents in San Francisco.
Without Bud at his side Tom couldn’t help feeling a little lost.
In the forward compartment Slim shoved the control wheel and the seacopter descended gently to the bottom. A moment later the hatch in the ship’s hull opened and Tom stepped out, followed by his father.
The two aquanauts used the jets built into their suits to glide closer to the fissure in the ocean floor. Landing, they began waddling cautiously through the muck, making their way forward into the bright cone radiating from the aqualamp. Guided by its beam, they headed toward the source of the bubbles.
The ocean floor was completely barren of vegetation at this depth. The only signs of life were occasional glimmers of eerie light from strange-looking fish and other sea creatures flitting and hovering in the dark outside the lamp beam.
The bubbles were issuing furiously from a spot on the broad ledge they were now traversing. There the ooze seethed like a giant stewpot. On their left the ledge fell away sharply, the slope of the undersea mountain ending abruptly a couple dozen yards further below at a wide, flat plain.
“The geology of this area is odd,” Mr. Swift mused over his suit sonophone. “I see signs of some recent volcanic activity.” Tom agreed.
Tom and his father tested each step with the Fat Men’s thick metal legs, at the same time probing the sea floor with their own built-in suit searchlights. Finally coming within reach of the bubbling area, they separated. While Mr. Swift moved closer to the mountain on the far side of the jet of bubbles, Tom approached the fissure at the center of the roiling ooze and stood, braced but precariously balanced, just outside the uprushing stream.
Maneuvering the mechanical arms, Tom planted a self-digging spike in the bottom and released the marker buoy, which instantly fled upward out of sight. Then he upended the vacuum flask just as a bubble was forming and caught some of the gas neatly inside.
“So far, so good,” the young scientist signaled his father. “I just hope it is helium.” After the bottle had capped itself, he turned back toward the Sea Hound.
Suddenly the Fat Man began to wobble. It teetered precariously on its mechanical legs for a moment, then righted itself as the internal gyros brought the egg-shaped monster back into balance.
Hey, what goes on here? Tom wondered, feeling a slight twinge of alarm.
“Son, did you feel that?” sonophoned Mr. Swift, hidden on the far side of the foamy plume.
Tom had no chance to answer. The next instant a violent lurch threw him sideways, slamming him against the curving inner wall of the suit. Quickly Tom pressed his face against the Tomaquartz dome to see what was happening beneath his feet. To his horror, the ocean bottom was shuddering in a violent upheaval!
“Good night! Dad, we’d better get out of here fast!” Tom muttered half to himself. Then a new shock came, even more violent. Tom’s Fat Man suit momentarily lost its footing, tipping to the side.
“Tom! Mr. Swift!” sonophoned Slim Davis frantically. “It’s a seaquake! I’ll try to― ” His words were lost in a confusion of static.
His keen eyes searching for a sign of his father, Tom gunned the minijets to propel his suit forward. But an upsurge of bubbles caught the Fat Man, rocking it from side to side. Tom desperately worked the controls, trying to keep the sub-suit upright. But then came another jolt as the whole sea floor seemed to explode! An immense geyser of water, gas, and mud erupted from below with the force of a dynamite blast. It struck Tom’s Fat Man and the seacopter, and hurled them upward.
Tom barely had time to glimpse the Sea Hound’s searchlight beam sweeping in a glittering arc when he was thrown backwards as the suit tumbled head over heels in the fierce uprush. His head crashed against the inner wall of the steel egg. With a moan of pain, the young inventor sank down, stunned.
When Tom achingly regained full consciousness, he found himself in total darkness. Only the glow of the instrument dials relieved the black gloom of the ocean depths.
The water around him was quiet now. Ever the scientist, Tom theorized that the geyser had been caused by the sudden release of a tremendous quantity of gas held under pressure somewhere beneath the base of the mountain.
Whether he had been in stunned semiconsciousness for a few seconds or several minutes, Tom did not know. Though he seemed to be resting once again on the sea floor, he could see nothing through the impenetrable darkness of the depths. Only the reflection of his worried face looked back at him from the dome. Even the luminous fishes appeared to have been driven away.
“Where was Dad blown to?” he asked himself worriedly. “And how is he?”
Tom pressed the Fat Man’s exterior light switch, then flipped it back and forth in desperation. There was no response. “Oh, no!” he groaned. His searchlight was out of commission! Trying the sonophone, he received only static in answer to his calls.
Outside the crystal window there was no sign of his father or the Sea Hound’s beam. A wave of fear surged through Tom.
Steady, kid! he told himself. Getting panicky won’t help!
From the tactile-pressure indicator on the robot arm control panel, Tom could tell that the vacuum flask had been wrenched from his grasp by the undersea geyser. His valuable sample was gone, too! But there was no time to worry about that.
Working the controls cautiously, Tom maneuvered the Fat Man through a complete 360-degree turn. There was not a glimmer of light from the seacopter. Again and again he repeated his desperate but futile call into his sonophone mike. Getting no response, he finally gave up. Now what? Tom wondered fearfully.
Had the subocean upheaval breached the hulls of the Sea Hound and his father’s Fat Man suit? If so—Tom couldn’t bear the thought—Slim Davis and Mr. Swift were almost certainly dead!
ALONE and helpless in the depths of the sea, Tom pondered his desperate situation for a moment. Without help from the mother ship, his own plight was serious and his father’s might be worse. In any case, Tom decided, there was no point in lingering on the ocean bottom.
“Well, here goes,” he determined, speaking to himself aloud. His words rang hollow and strange inside the metal-rimmed airspace.
Switching off the electronic buoyancy controller and opening a valve by hand, he blew his suit’s ballast tanks and prepared to surface. An elevator feeling in the pit of his stomach told him the Fat Man was zooming upward through the murky depths.
Slowly the blackness outside his curving viewpane lightened into gray. Then the water took on greenish tinges, which finally deepened into a rich blue-green. Tom was somehow comforted by the fish of all description that darted past. Seconds later he broke through the surface with a mighty bound.
“Oh boy, that old sunshine looks good!” Tom exulted.
Peering around, he gave a cry of joy. Less than a hundred yards away, the Sea Hound was wallowing in the waves. The float balloon, marking the location of the gas fissure and bearing a small fluttering pennant, was also in sight.
But where was his father?
He was startled as his speaker erupted with, “Tom, is that you? Are you all right?”
“I’m okay, Slim.”
“Wish I could say the same,” was the reply. “I was thrown against the control board and knocked for a loop. What about your Dad?”
“I—I don’t know,” Tom faltered. Suddenly he was struck by a hopeful thought. “But wait—I only came to the surface because I blew my ballast tank. If Dad were knocked out― ”
“Right!” exclaimed Slim. “He could be safe in his suit but unconscious, down on the bottom somewhere! Come aboard and I’ll submerge again.”
Just then Tom jumped in alarm at a strange metallic sound coming from the wall next to his elbow. Turning around, he saw a small metal cylinder floating close by, the waves knocking it against the Fat Man. The gas sample! Made buoyant by the gas it contained, the flask had drifted up to the surface.
After retrieving the container, Tom steered the Fat Man toward the seacopter, keeping his eyes on the sea around him for any sign that his father had surfaced, perhaps some distance away. A chill of foreboding came over him when he failed to glimpse any trace of the bulbous sub-suit.
Tom rapped on the seacopter’s side-hatch, and it popped open under Slim’s control. In minutes the Sea Hound was again plunging down beneath the waves into the darkness below.
The seacopter followed the sharp outline of the undersea mountain to its base, where Tom and Slim could again see the column of rushing bubbles, now broader. The seaquake appeared to have opened the fissure wider.
Slim swept the aqualamp right and left across the sea floor, and brought the craft’s second lamp into play as well. “I don’t see anything, Tom,” Slim reported solemnly.
“Dad’s suit might have been buried in the muck,” Tom declared. “If so, the SRL should show his location.” The sono-resonance locator was an invention of Tom’s which pinpointed solid, hollow underwater objects by inducing and detecting a characteristic “signature” through sonar-type waves.
Tom adjusted the instrument. “This’ll only work if he isn’t buried too deeply,” he commented grimly. “Cross your fingers, Slim.”
Almost immediately, the device gave forth a hopeful buzzing sound. “Got him!” Slim exclaimed. Following the indication on the dial, the Sea Hound approached the base of the mountain, about one hundred yards beyond the gas geyser. A mechanical metal hand protruded limply from the sea-bottom mud!
Determinedly taking command of the situation, Tom used the seacopter’s steam jets to stir up the loose mud and blast it aside. Mr. Swift’s Fat Man suit was soon revealed to view in the murky cloud of particles. Tom donned his suit again, and in minutes he had dragged his father’s suit aboard and pulled the unconscious occupant out into the air. Damon Swift was unconscious, the side of his head badly bruised in two places.
Smelling salts brought about a flutter of eyelids and a weak, choking gasp from Mr. Swift’s lips. “Don’t try to talk, Dad,” urged Tom, his face white. “We’ll get you to a hospital in nothing flat.”
Surfacing and reversing the pitch of its prop-blades, the Sea Hound raced for the nearest port at jet speed, riding its cushion of air a few feet above the rolling waves. Within the hour, Mr. Swift was stable, alert, and sitting upright in a hospital bed in the city of Hamilton, capital of the island of Bermuda.
“His injuries are not too serious, young fellow,” said the doctor, standing next to the bed. “A very mild concussion, with no significant subdural hemorrhaging. But you were wise to bring him to us so promptly.”
Tom thanked the doctor and clutched his father’s hand, relieved.
For the time being, there was nothing for Tom to do but wait and hope that further tests would disclose no hidden injuries. As the minutes dragged by into hours, the young inventor thought ruefully of the many times when he himself had come face to face with death, not only at sea, but in the desert of New Mexico, the frozen wastes of the Antarctic, and the bleakness of outer space. In his latest adventure, he had used his advanced ultrasonic cycloplane to outwit an unprincipled, avaricious scientist seeking riches in the New Guinea jungle, heedless of the cost to human life. Now Tom was reminded that his projects also put those closest to him in danger.
But all medical signs were positive, and by late afternoon of the following day Tom and Damon Swift had returned to Shopton by means of the Sky Queen, Tom’s mammoth Flying Lab, while Slim Davis piloted the Sea Hound to its berth on Fearing Island off the coast of Georgia.
Arriving home at last, Tom left his father in the care of his mother and sister Sandra, then drove back to Swift Enterprises. He was anxious to test the composition of the gas sample, which he had carried along with him on the Sky Queen.
Checking into the office he shared with his father, the metal flask in hand, he was delighted to find Bud waiting for him.
As they shared a bear hug, Tom exclaimed, “Didn’t expect to see you back till next Monday, flyboy!”
“When Sandy phoned me about your Dad, I figured I’d had enough of rich food and little cable cars ‘climbing halfway to the stars’,” replied the dark-haired youth jokingly. “Besides, I feel fine. But how’s your Dad doing?”
Tom gave Bud the reassuring reports, and described the mystery of the undersea mountain and their exciting discovery. “Leave it to you to turn up something wild wherever you go! So if it turns out to be helium, it’s a major find? How come? Is Enterprises planning to get into the party-balloon business?”
Grinning, Tom replied, “Helium’s valuable for quite a bit more than balloons. Nowadays liquified helium, the coldest common substance known, is used to supercool electronic circuits to improve conductivity and make them more sensitive. A plentiful source of the gas would be a real boon to scientific research, and could have big technological implications, too.”
“I see,” said the young pilot thoughtfully. “And since it’s in international waters, the U.S.A. had better be the firstest with the mostest. But how in the world do you plan on tapping a gas well at the bottom of the ocean? I mean, this goes way beyond undersea oil drilling, Tom.”
“You’re right, chum. But I have a few ideas.”
“You usually do,” Bud pronounced. “No, correction—you always do!”
Tom winked and stepped over to the wall, where he touched a button. A combination worktable and drafting board slid out from the wall, silently. Tom picked up a sheet of stiff paper on which a number of sketches had been made. “Remember this?”
Bud nodded. “Sure do. You showed it to me in the hospital—if I wasn’t just hallucinating. It’s the pressurized dome you want to set up in the city of gold, for underwater work teams to live in.”
“That’s right. I call it a hydrodome—hydro means― ”
“I know, genius boy. Water. A guy has to know Greek and Latin to work around here!” Bud took the sketch and looked it over again. The proposed structure was a round, bulging tank of metal, about sixty feet in diameter, dotted with circular portholes of the same composite of quartz and Tomasite plastic, called Tomaquartz, used in Swift undersea craft. Deep-sea researchers in protective gear along the lines of the Fat Man suits would use the hydrodome as a workspace and living area while investigating the submarine city and its environs, remaining beneath the sea for weeks or months at a time. They would come and go through an airlock, and oxygen for breathing would be extracted directly from seawater by a new invention of Tom’s. “So what’s the idea? Are you planning to put up a hydrodome next to the helium well?”
“That’s what I’m thinking,” confirmed the young inventor. “Of course the depth is much greater, and there could be some other problems, but that’s the direction I’m heading in at present.” He added that for the moment he would put exploring the sunken city on the back burner. “This helium-well project needs to have top priority.”
“Are you sure it’s helium?”
“Come with me, pal, and I’ll test it out!”
The twosome took a ridewalk moving ramp to the chemical technologies building, where Tom released the contents of the flask into the storage chamber of an electron-wave analysis instrument patented as the Swift Spectroscope. Studying the output, a broad grin of excitement inched across Tom’s face. “It’s helium, all right, and very pure too! This is wonderful!”
“Still,” remarked Bud doubtfully, “all that water…”
“It’ll be a tough nut to crack,” Tom agreed.
Back in Tom’s office, the two close friends chatted about Bud’s vacation in his home town. “Nothing earthshaking,” he said. “My Mom and Dad are well, and I spent some time with big brother Dave and big sister Shelley. ’Bout the only interesting thing happened just before I flew back.”
“Tell me,” Tom urged, and Bud began to narrate the story.
One day, as the California sun had slouched toward twilight, Bud, dressed-up for an evening at the theater, had found himself with free time on his hands. Deciding on impulse to push the envelope a bit, he had wandered into the bar adjoining the lobby of the San Francisco Holliston, an elegant old downtown hotel. “I wondered if I’d be carded,” Bud said to Tom. “But the bartender didn’t blink an eye, even when I asked for a softdrink.”
As he sat sipping his drink—and hiding it with his hand—an attractive young woman some ten years Bud’s senior had drifted down gracefully onto the bar stool next to him. She was well-dressed and well-coiffed, and just as Bud was noticing these facts she turned his way and said hello. Casual conversation grew lengthier ("Really, I was just being polite,” Bud explained.) and finally the woman, Amelia, asked Bud if he’d care to join her later in the evening for dinner. Her tone, and the glint in her eyes, suggested that she had more in mind than friendly conversation.
“I really can’t,” the youth had said, trying not to turn red or sound flustered. “I have plans—theater tickets.”
“Then tomorrow night,” Amelia had persisted.
“Listen, I—I’m really flattered, ma’am, but—see, I― ”
She had rolled her eyes, not in hurt disappointment but in wry resignation. “I see. San Francisco! I’m definitely fishing in the wrong waters.”
Bud had laughed. “No, no, it’s just that—I’m not really as old as you think I am. I’m staying with my folks, in fact, and…” He had lowered his voice. “Actually, I shouldn’t even be sitting here.”
“Oh my. You’re that young? Here I thought you were just cute.” She had laughed gently—but still with a certain rueful tone.
“I’d say she saw through your sportcoat right down to those football shoulders of yours,” commented Tom. “She had you pegged as an athlete who likes to play for fun!”
“Yeah,” Bud admitted. “I can’t help it, you know. But she was a nice lady. She laughed at my jokes. Now that’s important, Tom!”
Eventually Bud had explained that he lived in Shopton, New York, and was employed as a pilot by the famous Swift Enterprises invention firm. “I’ve even been up in space with Tom Swift,” he had said immodestly.
“Up there?” She had pointed out the window. At the end of a canyon of tall buildings, a bright bead of light was illuminating the darkening sky. “Some day, when I have grandchildren, I’ll tell ’em that when old Grandma was a little girl there was only one moon in the sky. They probably won’t believe me.”
“Uh-huh. I was on the Nestria expedition, actually,” was Bud’s suave reply. The boasting lamp is on, he thought.
“You know,” she had said after a pause, “this may be fate working its wonders. I was planning a move to the east coast. I’m not satisfied with my work here at the U.S. Attorney’s office. Do you suppose Swift Enterprises would be interested in a lawyer with a background in patent law and commercial contracts?”
“I don’t know,” Bud had said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met the Enterprises lawyer, but I know he has a staff working under him. If you’d like, I’d be glad to― ”
But she already had a card in her hand, which she had pressed into Bud’s. “You’ll pass this along, won’t you, little boy?”
“I promised her I would, Tom,” Bud concluded.
“I’ll give her card to Willis Rodellin,” Tom said, holding out his hand. Glancing at the name on the card, he frowned.
“Something wrong, Skipper?” Bud asked.
After a thoughtful silence, Tom shrugged. “No. It’s just that her name kind of rings a bell. I don’t know why. Maybe I read about one of her court cases somewhere. I guess that’s not too unlikely, if she deals in patents and the like.”
“Well,” said Bud, “if it’s her last name that’s got your attention, I asked her if she had any relatives in the instant-coffee business—but it’s the wrong spelling.”
“I’ll pass along the card,” Tom promised. But his face still wore a thoughtful expression as he set the card down on his desk, face up. The card read:
AMELIA K. FOGER, ESQ.
This was one time Tom Swift would have done well to have recalled some details of Swift family history!
WHEN SALT FLIES
WHEN TOM returned home for dinner that evening, he was pleased to see that his father was up and around. Except for a couple ugly bruises peeping out from behind the bandages on the scientist’s face, he was every bit his usual energetic self.
Awaiting supper, the two sat in the den and spoke of the events of the last couple days. “I’m afraid this fouls up our trip to the city of gold, son,” Mr. Swift said with a wry smile.
“Never mind that, Dad,” Tom replied. “The important thing is that you’re all right. And as far as science is concerned, finding a major new source of helium is more than enough!”
“You’ve tested the sample?” asked Mr. Swift eagerly.
“Yes, and the Swift Spectroscope confirms it.”
“Fine, fine,” his father said. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, then added, “Tom, we’d better notify the government of this at once. It’s too important to keep to ourselves.”
“I certainly agree,” Tom replied with earnest enthusiasm. “Whom should I contact?”
“Bronson at the Bureau of Mines. He’s in charge of all helium production. I’ve dealt with him before. Enterprises, and the Swift Construction Company, have a history with that office that goes back to your great-grandfather’s time.” Mr. Swift was referring to Tom’s famous namesake, the first Tom Swift.
“I’ll call him first thing in the morning, Dad,” Tom promised.
The next day found Tom in the Enterprises teleconference room, sitting across a table from the televised image of Assistant Director Leo Bronson. When Tom reported the undersea discovery, the gray-haired government official was very enthusiastic. “If everything pans out, this find of yours could be significant indeed, along the lines of your discoveries in Antarctica, Africa, and the rare-earths mine in New Guinea. You gentlemen certainly are keeping us busy! If we could organize production on a large scale, it would revolutionize half a dozen fields of research and development! For example, cargo-carrying balloons would be much cheaper than the present system of freight-carrying planes, and they could make use of the jetstream—so I’m told. And besides the obvious technological uses to which helium might be put, it would really expedite our space-flight program!” Bronson declared.
“The space program?” Tom puckered his brow. “What’s the connection, sir? Is the government planning to use helium balloons?” Remembering Bud’s comment about party-balloons, the young inventor smiled.
Bronson’s image nodded. “Not such a far-fetched idea, Tom—you yourself make use of buoyancy in your underwater launch system in—what’s that island called?”
“Loonaui, sir.” Swift Enterprises used an aquatic lift stage to launch spacecraft to the orbiting Enterprises space station from a base in the mid-Pacific.
“On some of the future rocket and satellite launchings, we think helium balloons will be used as a booster stage. In other words, the launching platform will be raised to the outer limits of the atmosphere by means of these balloons. Gets us above the thick part of the air, you know.”
“That will save fuel,” Tom agreed, “but it will take immense quantities of helium if the method is widely used.”
“That’s just it!” Bronson said. “We need a new source of helium in a hurry and this undersea bed could be the answer. Listen, Tom, let’s all work hand-in-glove on this. I’ll have some of our deep-sea Navy boys look the site over and do their own analysis—just a formality, you understand. Meanwhile, I’ll put together a liaison team to keep Enterprises connected to us. They’ll work with you directly and report to my office. Sound good?”
Tom groaned inwardly but replied, “That’s fine, sir.” Swift Enterprises had not always had a positive experience working “hand-in-glove” with government agencies and officials.
During the ensuing week Tom applied himself to several scientific projects. The preeminent task was to adapt his hydrodome design to the necessities of longterm work at a much greater depth than anticipated. The sturdy material he had intended to use, a lightweight combination of Tomasite plastic sandwiched between layers of magtritanium alloy, proved too weak to withstand the terrific pressures found at the base of the undersea mountain. Extended over that many square yards, the dome would crumple at a touch, Tom thought glumly. But what can we use? He experimented with Tomaquartz for a time, but found that the substance could not be manufactured in the large sheets required. Guess I’ll have to rethink the overall configuration of the dome, he concluded.
To give his mind a break from the immediate problem, the young inventor turned his attention to the data he had collected on the satellite Nestria during his recent trip there in his rocket ship the Star Spear. Enjoying the freedom of movement guaranteed by his atmosphere-making machine, which had produced a livable earthlike environment on the tiny asteroid, Tom had spent several days in a cave studying the artifacts left there for him by his mysterious space friends, extraterrestrials who communicated with Earth via deep-space radio.
The main subject of Tom’s studies was a cube-shaped device of peculiar composition which appeared to function as the key component of a “gravity concentrator” affecting the entire moonlet. The cube was fastened to the cave floor by some unknown means and could not be moved; furthermore, it was impervious to X-rays and other such instrumental probing. Yet Tom had been able to study the energies that flowed around it, energies which also coursed through the veins of bright crystal that suffused the crust of Nestria. Tom had named this strange semi-metallic substance Lunite, in recognition of the satellite’s original nickname, Little Luna.
One afternoon Tom, joined by Bud, was hard at work in one of Enterprises’ shielded high-energy lab chambers, setting up a sample of Lunite in a strong viselike clamp. Above, attached to a wall, was a spherical device, black in color.
“You sure you want to do this, genius boy?” Bud asked nervously. “Last time you tried that generex machine on stuff from space, we just about dissolved like a cold remedy in a glass of water!”
“Pal, that window pane is made of ten layers of Tomaquartz with sheets of Inertite sandwiched between. I can’t believe anything could get through it!” Then Tom chuckled. “Besides, I’m holding the cut-off button in my hand. If you feel anything vital melting, let me know!”
“I’ll do that,” replied the young pilot. “My signal will be a high-pitched shriek.”
Sealing the test chamber the youths withdrew to positions in front of the observation window and Tom activated the all-frequency wave generator at its lowest power setting. There was no detectable response from the Lunite sample. After examining some monitoring instruments, he began to gradually increase the generex output, upping the power click by click.
“Tom, d-do you feel something?” Bud asked. “Kind of a tickling sensation?”
“No I don’t,” replied the scientist-inventor absently, deeply concentrating on his work. “But the polarization scanners are showing some kind of field activity in the air around the rock sample. This could be an important clue to how that gravity device works, Bud.” He touched a control knob. “Hmm! Getting a big response to slight frequency changes… and the field seems to be expanding.”
He touched the knob again.
Suddenly a sharp, distant sound caused both Bud and Tom to look behind them, toward the locked laboratory door. “What was that?” Bud demanded. “You heard it too!”
Tom nodded. “Sounds like someone talking loud, Bud, that’s all. Nothing to worry about.” But at Bud’s nervous urging Tom shut down the generex and took a look out into the hall.
“I mighta knowed!” exclaimed a foghorn voice. “You’re at one o’ them experiments o’ yours agin, sure as shootin’!”
The voice issued from the generously sized mouth and double-chinned throat of Chow Winkler, a hefty older man who was not only chef to Tom and the rest of the Enterprises senior staff, but a close personal friend who never failed to lift the young inventor’s spirits.
“What’s wrong, Chow?” Tom called to the ex-Texan, who stood several doors down in the building hallway, a tray in hand.
“Brand my jumpin’ beans, why ast me?” grumped the cook. “Not like I know anythin’ about this here scientistical foolishness.” He strode closer to Tom and Bud on his high-heeled western boots, and held out his tray for them to examine. “Look’t that salt-shaker! Whatter y’see, boys?”
A large glass salt shaker stood in the middle of the tray. “I, er, don’t see anything, Chow,” Bud said. Tom nodded his agreement, eyebrows raised.
“Durn straight, a-cause they’s nothin’ to see! Here I am, walkin’ along, bringin’ a nice little afternoon snack t’ Franzenberg and his gang, when all of a sudden blame if’n my salt shaker don’t decide to jump up in the air like a hop-toad!”
“Jump in the air? What do you mean?” Tom asked.
“Mean what I say, boss. Jumped right up off’n the tray. If’n I warn’t so quick on the draw, she’d o’ shot right acrosst into the wall. But I snagged her with m’ right hand.”
“Well, pard,” said Tom soothingly, “maybe you just took a misstep, or bumped against― ”
“Nawp!” Chow insisted. “Nothin’ like that—jest took off on its own. And then when I grabbed it, all th’ dang salt went flyin’ away!”
Bud gave a half-shrug. “Too bad. Got all over the floor, hm?”
The westerner’s face turned almost as red as the scarf around his neck. “Buddy boy, yew jest don’t get it! I didn’t say fallin’, I said flyin’! Tom, that there salt sprayed right through them little holes like they’s jet-propelled, ever’ bit of it! An’ that’s the last I saw of it!”
Tom took a moment to examine the floor and walls of the hallway, rubbing a wetted finger along them.
Bud asked, “Anything there? Ghostly ectoplasm, maybe?”
Tom gave a tentative shake of his head, but frowned thoughtfully. “If there’s any salt here, it’s not a shaker-full—just a few grains here and there.”
“No surprise,” Chow pronounced. “That salt was flyin’ like no tomorrow. Must be half-way down th’ hall and out the door!”
Tom had no answer to the mystery. “I don’t see how my running tests on Lunite could have affected your salt shaker, Chow. Or even just the salt.”
Just then Tom’s pocket cellphone bleeped, its rhythm indicating an interoffice call from within Enterprises. “This is George Dilling, Tom,” came the familiar voice of the plant’s office of communications and public interest. “The airfield tower asked me to contact you. That jet flight you’ve been expecting has just landed.”
Tom replied, “I’ll meet them in the office; Dad’s already there. Have Security check their ID’s and show them the way, won’t you, George?” Apologizing to Chow and promising to investigate further, Tom headed for the nearest ridewalk, Bud following at Tom’s invitation.
In the Swifts’ shared office in the ultramodern administration building, Tom and his father shook hands with their two visitors, Leo Bronson’s appointed liaisons for the helium operation. One was a rugged, balding man of about fifty with a tanned, weather-beaten face. The other, in his late twenties, was dark-haired and wiry in build. Wary at first, some instinct told Tom he could trust them.
The older man, Dr. Arthur Clisby, was a well-known Bureau chemist whom Mr. Swift had met before. “And this is my associate, Bob Anchor,” Dr. Clisby said crisply, introducing his companion.
“Glad to know you,” said Tom, shaking hands. “And this is Bud Barclay. Would you like to have a look at that helium sample right away?”
To Tom’s surprise Dr. Clisby shook his head negatively. “That won’t be necessary, Tom. Bob and I have examined the spectroscopic data you transmitted to the Bureau, as well as a fresh sample taken by the Navy sub team.”
He frowned unexpectedly, and a moment of ominous silence followed.
“Is something wrong with the sample, Arthur?” Mr. Swift asked.
Bob Anchor answered the inquiry. “I’d say so. Your sample doesn’t match the one the Navy acquired. There’s not a trace of helium coming from that site you marked!”
“What!” gasped Tom unbelievingly. “That’s not possible!”
“It’s a fact,” said Dr. Clisby. “And I’m sorry to say—but obliged to inform you—that Bob and I are here to investigate the possibility that your company has been a party to a deliberate hoax targeting the government of the United States!”
DAMON SWIFT flushed with anger. “That’s absolutely absurd! To speak bluntly, the reputation of Swift Enterprises for honesty is a good deal higher than the current― ”
“We know, we know,” interjected Bob Anchor hastily. “I think Arthur’s tone reflects his, his sheer disbelief at this situation we’re in—all of us.”
Bud had his familiar thundercloud look, but forced himself to say nothing, backing away. Tom took a calming tone. “Let’s review the facts, shall we?”
“Of course,” said Clisby. He had begun to look somewhat abashed. “A Navy cruiser, one of our specialized scientific vessels, arrived at the site roughly twenty hours ago, guided by your floating marker buoy. A small deep-water submersible, a drone, descended to the point where the cable was anchored in the sea floor near the base of the mountain. A stream of bubbles was issuing, just as you had described. The drone took several samples of those bubbles, and returned them to the ship. A preliminary analysis, right on board, was most disturbing; but no firm conclusions were drawn. At the base in Norfolk, we ourselves conducted an independent analysis and the preliminary findings were confirmed.”
“What findings, precisely?” asked Mr. Swift.
“The samples tested positive for argon, hydrogen, water vapor, methane, and various sulfides. There was not a trace—not a trace!—of helium gas.”
“I can’t understand it,” Tom said.
“Nor I,” added his father. “Our own analysis was absolutely indubitable.”
Tom rubbed his chin. “Is there any possibility that your samples were switched somehow?” he asked Clisby and Anchor.
Bob Anchor shrugged. “If so, we don’t see how it could have been done, or by whom. Everyone involved had a high level of security clearance.”
“And besides,” noted Clisby, “the containers were marked in code. Damon, I’m sure you know that our department takes as much care in these matters as your own people do.”
Tom and his father, utterly dismayed and thoroughly baffled, exchanged frowning glances. Tom broke the leaden silence. “Gentlemen, would you be willing to accompany us back to the site in the seacopter? Using our deep-water suits, you could take fresh samples yourselves, and test them on the spot with your own equipment.”
Both visitors smiled. “Actually, that’s precisely what we were hoping for,” Dr. Clisby admitted. “We want to give your company every chance to disprove these allegations.”
“Much as I would like to accompany you, my doctor has other ideas,” Mr. Swift declared. “But my son and his pilot, Bud Barclay here, can handle this without me.”
Tom said, “Let’s not wait. It’s only mid-afternoon, and we can have supper on Fearing Island—that’s where the Sea Hound is docked.” The plan was agreed to with enthusiasm all the way around, and before the next hour struck Tom and Bud were spearing southward in the Flying Lab with their guests.
“I’m afraid I came off rather poorly,” remarked Dr. Clisby to Tom and Bud in the control compartment. “There’s no pleasant way to convey to a friend what amounts to an accusation.”
“No hard feelings, sir,” Tom replied.
“I’ll save my hard feelings for whoever’s behind this snafu,” muttered Bud.
“Well, at least we’ve found an excuse to ride in this wonderful airship of yours, Tom,” Bob Anchor said. “I’ve dreamed of it ever since your Montaguaya trip made the front pages!”
After a smooth vertical landing at thumb-shaped Fearing Island, the four had a light supper and took off immediately for the mid-Atlantic in the Sea Hound. Bob Anchor, who had served a post-college hitch in the Air Force, was wide-eyed and impressed. “Tom, if your helium strike pans out half as well as this baby, it’ll be a rip-snorter!” he exclaimed.
“Wait’ll you see this hound dive!” Bud told him with a chuckle.
It was coming on nine PM local time when the seacopter settled down onto the dark blue waves near the buoy with its tossing pennant. Tom reversed the blade pitch and the remarkable craft dove beneath the scalloped carpet of the surface and down into the black depths. Using the aqualamp they followed the cable down to the bottom.
Dr. Clisby marveled at the strange, phosphorescent fishes that darted past the cabin window. “Fantastic scene!” he exclaimed in a voice muffled by awe.
As Bud held the Sea Hound steady, Bob Anchor pointed. “There it is, just as it was on the video from the drone.” A line of big bubbles issued steadily from the muck at the mountain’s broad base.
Tom did not respond for a moment. When he did, his voice was perplexed—and grim. “Bob—Dr. Clisby—something’s very wrong here. This is not the spot where I planted the buoy cable the other day!”
“I knew it!” yelped Bud.
“Not the spot?” Dr. Clisby was amazed! “How can that be, Tom? The signal from the buoy― ”
“The signal’s right, but the location’s wrong,” Tom responded. “The anchoring spike has been moved somehow. There was a drop-off next to the real site. It was still there after the seaquake, when we went down to find my father. There’s nothing like that here.”
“Maybe we can find the bubbles from the real site,” Bud urged. He guided the seacopter along the base of the undersea mountain, slowly and expertly. But as meter after meter of gray-brown sea floor fell away, Tom’s heart sank toward his stomach. There was no sign of the helium well!
Suddenly, as the Sea Hound rounded an outcropping, Tom gripped his pal’s shoulder. “Bud—stop! That ledge ahead—I’m sure that’s the right spot!”
As Bud played the aqualamp beam over the side of the mountain and the ocean floor, Bob Anchor cried out, “There’s the helium spot! I can see the bubbles!”
Relieved cheers filled the small cabin as the four gazed at the steady upsurge of gas. “Look at the speed of their ascent!” Dr. Clisby murmured in awe. “Nothing like the other stream! And now that I see it, I feel certain it’s helium, Tom, just as you and your father said.”
“You’ll have to make sure, Dr. Clisby,” Tom responded with a slight twinkle in his eye. “We want no more, er, disputes. There’s a Fat Man suit waiting for you.”
“Ah, yes. Well…” He glanced in the direction of his more youthful assistant.
“Not a problem, Arthur,” laughed Bob Anchor. After some quick instruction, Anchor and Tom went out and captured fresh samples of the rushing bubbles. Back aboard, Tom invited the scientists to make an immediate preliminary analysis with the portable test equipment they had brought with them. The two chemists eagerly repeated their earlier analysis with their chemical and spectrometric apparatus. When they finished, the visitors’ faces were tense with excitement.
“Incredible!” gasped Dr. Clisby. “This is almost one hundred percent pure helium!”
Bob Anchor ripped off his protective apron and said jubilantly, “The Swifts were right all along!” He added soberly, “Can you and your father ever forgive us for our suspicions, Tom?”
“You had good reason,” Tom replied. “What I find unforgivable—and mysterious—is the moving of that line-anchor. It couldn’t possibly have happened by accident.”
“But who could have been responsible?” asked Dr. Clisby. “Does Swift Enterprises have enemies?”
Bud threw Clisby a sourly ironic look. “Is the ocean wet?”
“Well,” said Clisby, “perhaps we ought to set that issue aside for the present. I must confess that I’m less interested in the practical applications of this discovery than in its genesis. Some very peculiar geochemistry must be occurring beneath this mountain, producing gas pockets in wide variety. Normally, of course, geolithic helium deposits are associated with radioactive decomposition…”
“Yet we’ve detected no sign of radiation,” noted Tom thoughtfully. “Not so far, at least. Something may turn up in further exploratory operations.”
“You mean to start with a preliminary survey?” Dr. Clisby asked.
Smiling, Tom shook his head negatively. “Why wait? We know something’s down there! I’d like to start the main drilling immediately, using my atomic earth blaster.”
“Great!” exclaimed Dr. Clisby, and Bob Anchor nodded. Both men were familiar with Tom’s earth blaster, the remarkable tunneling machine which he had invented to tap a new source of iron at the South Pole. “However,” the senior chemist went on, “what about capping the flow if the drilling proves successful?”
“I’ve thought of that,” Tom replied. “My gadget must be strong enough to stand up against a geyser. Last evening I had Arvid Hanson, my chief modelmaker, put together a prototype of a special well-capping device that I’ve come up with. Here’s the principle.”
Pulling out a pencil, he made a quick sketch of his arrangement. Both government chemists gave admiring approval.
“If a chemist’s point of view is of any relevance, your device should work perfectly!” said Dr. Clisby. “Well, I’m certainly in favor of commencing as soon as possible to find out the extent and depth of these wells. I shall so indicate in my report to Assistant Secretary Bronson. Of course the expedition must be kept secret until the United States has staked an official claim.”
“So far, no one outside Swift Enterprises and the Bureau of Mines knows about the discovery,” Tom assured him. “And we’ll keep it that way!”
Tom turned, about to direct Bud to bring the seacopter to the surface. He stopped himself in mid-breath. “Hmm!”
“What, Skipper?” asked Bud.
“Just looking at the automatic spectrometer readout, pal.” The young inventor flicked a couple switches on the control board, and used a dial to adjust the display. “Bob—Dr. Clisby—I know you’re familiar with the Swift Spectroscope. Take a look at this.”
The chemists approached, gazing intently at the colored bar-lines on the readout screen. “What area is the instrument scanning right now?” inquired Bob Anchor.
“It’s undirected,” was the reply. “Just pointing straight out into the water.”
Dr. Clisby’s forehead creased with perplexity. “But this—this shouldn’t be, surely. Compounds of this complexity would never develop in open water.”
“They’re synthetic,” Tom declared. “In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t these look to you like cholinergic chain disruptors? I’m hardly an expert, but I happen to recall the general form.”
“You’re not wrong, Tom,” said Bob.
“Excuse me, guys,” Bud interjected. “My only contact with chemistry was when I punted a football right through the chem lab window. What are we talking about?”
As Tom took a few steps away, running a hand through his blond crewcut, Dr. Clisby answered Bud’s question.
“What are we talking about? Poison, Bud—some of the deadliest poisons known to man!”
THE STALKING SUB
BUD BARCLAY turned pale. “Poison! Man-made?”
Tom nodded. “Definitely. These readings indicate the presence of a tremendously potent neurotoxin, a nerve agent absolutely fatal even in very minute quantities, even highly diluted. There was extensive journal coverage of it several years ago. Though the actual formula was kept top secret, a certain amount of identifying data was given out to research companies worldwide, for their own protection and the protection of the public. That’s how I know enough to recognize it.”
“Thanavassyn-9-Epsilon—T-9-E! Great God almighty!” breathed Dr. Clisby in dismay. “Imagine the consequences if― ”
“But, w-we’re not in danger here in the ship, are we?” Bud asked, eyebrows high.
“No, Bud,” said Bob Anchor. “We’re sealed in, as we were in the diving suits. But if just one drop of the seawater out there had managed to get into the cabin and evaporate― ”
Tom cut him off with a cry of fear! “The Fat Man suits! We brought in plenty of water clinging to their outer shells!”
“And with the sample container as well!” gasped Bob.
“Don’t panic,” counseled Clisby. “We’re showing no signs of a reaction. Let’s look at the data in a bit more detail.” He, Tom, and Bob spent several tense minutes poring over the figures produced by the spectroscope computer as Bud watched, alert to every faltering beat of his heart.
Finally the three men nodded at one another and Clisby said: “It appears the complex sulfides in the water—from the other gas geyser, and no doubt many smaller sources yet to be detected—have reduced the compound to a less potent variant. We’re safe.”
“But a permanent mining operation would have long-term exposure,” Tom pronounced. “It could hardly be helped. We’ve got to figure out the source.”
“It may not take all that much figuring,” said Bud quietly. “Look at the sonarscope.”
A moving electronic shadow showed that a large object was slowly approaching the seacopter!
“What is it, another sub?” asked Bob.
Tom nodded. “A big one. Rounding the mountain at a higher elevation, about… almost two miles distant.” Tom switched the sonarscope display to its imaging mode. “Look at that! Anybody recognize it?”
The image, white-on-black like a photo negative, showed a strange, bulbous craft unlike anything the submariners had seen before. The fore part of the ship resembled a football with a snubbed-off nose. This was attached to a longer, much narrower trailing section of cylindrical form.
“Like a whale!” murmured Bud. “A real Mad Moby! It’s huge, Tom.”
“The front section alone is more than twice as long as the Sea Hound, fore to aft,” declared the young inventor. He pressed a button, activating a recorder to preserve the sonarscope data for later study.
“Do you intend to challenge her?” asked Bob Anchor.
“If she’s involved in spreading that neurotoxin, I just want to get us out of here!” Tom took over the controls and the seacopter sped away from the undersea mountain at top speed. The mystery visitor did not give chase, and in minutes the Sea Hound had risen to the surface and taken to the air.
“All very disturbing,” muttered Arthur Clisby.
Bud gulped. “I’m proof of that!”
Returning at last to Fearing Island, Tom immediately contacted federal and naval authorities, alerting them to the presence of the toxin and the possibility that an unidentified submersible was involved in its release. He concluded by transmitting to them the recorded data from both sonarscope and spectroscope. After a troubled night’s sleep, the four flew on the Sky Queen back to Shopton, where Dr. Clisby and Bob Anchor would be residing for the duration of the helium project start-up, working with company scientists.
At Swift Enterprises Tom made a detailed report to his father in the office of Harlan Ames, the plant’s chief of security. “I’ll examine those sonar images, and see what my intelligence contacts have to say,” Ames promised. “I’m not aware of any foreign nation roving the seas at such depth, in something of such a peculiar design. I can’t see what makes it go. Can you?”
Tom shrugged. “My guess would be some kind of electromagnetic reaction drive—utilizing the electrical conduction properties of the surrounding water, in other words. That’s been around for decades, you know. But obviously the bigger concern is the toxin business.”
“Yes, and it’s not just a danger to your helium hydrodome, either. If even a small quantity of T-9-E got caught up in a cross-oceanic current, it could cause a worldwide catastrophe—many thousands of deaths.” Ames thought for a minute, silent, as Tom and Mr. Swift waited patiently. “And yet—why would an enemy release trace amounts in the water, enough to be detectable and give away the game, but not enough to cause any harm?”
“They may not have realized that the other dissolved chemicals would weaken it,” Tom suggested. “Or, I suppose it could have been some sort of industrial-waste accident.”
“If so,” said the security man grimly, “whoever is responsible will have every reason to cover it up! And given the high stakes, don’t think murder won’t cross their minds.”
Damon Swift sighed. “I know you’re right, Harlan. Looks like this son of mine has managed to hand you yet another in an endless series of mortal crises.”
“Don’t worry. That’s what ulcers were invented for.”
As Tom and his father rose to leave and return to their own private office next door, Ames waved them back down into their chairs. “And there’s something else, gentlemen.”
As the Swifts settled back down, Ames took out a manila folder and opened it on his desk. “Tom, you passed along to the legal office the card of this woman Bud met in San Francisco.”
“Uh-huh. I thought Willis Rodellin might have an opening to fill.”
“He does, as a matter of fact. He contacted her and received back a full resume, faxed. And then he asked me to do a background check.”
“Did something problematic come up?” asked Mr. Swift. “I don’t need to review the matter personally, Harlan—Willis makes the decision.”
“In this particular case you might want to get involved yourself.”
“Why?” inquired Tom in surprise.
“That name of hers doesn’t ring any alarm bells for you two? Not you, Damon?”
“Her name?” Tom’s father frowned. “I don’t think Tom mentioned the name to me, actually.”
“I don’t recall it, to tell the truth,” Tom said. “I just handed off the card.”
A wry, half-amused expression on his face, Ames turned the folder around and pushed it in front of his two employers. Mr. Swift glanced at it—and reacted. “Good grief—Foger! Are you trying to tell me― ”
“The man was her great-uncle, her grandfather’s brother.”
Tom was bemused. “Who are we talking about?”
“We’re talking about a man—a boy, I suppose—by the name of Andy Foger.”
Tom shook his head. “I guess the name does seem a little familiar, Dad. But I don’t recall the details. Something to do with Great-Grandfather Tom?”
Damon Swift chuckled. “Quite a bit ‘to do’!” He began to relate the story of the first Tom Swift’s conflict with Andy Foger, and as he did so his son began to remember what he had read and heard over the years.
Young Andy Foger, red-haired, squinty, and generally ill-tempered, was what some described as a pampered youth. The son of a local bank official, he had been in essence a spoiled rich kid able to afford anything he wanted, including a circle of friends willing to put up with him while professing adoration. He became something of the town bully, a pest to the police but protected by his father from any consequences, the well-deserved ones in particular.
When Tom Swift, whose father Barton was already an important name in Shopton, began to tool about on his first invention, a motorcycle, Andy’s jealousy boiled over. He commenced a years-long campaign of rivalry, mischief, innuendo, and outright sabotage against the increasingly famous boy inventor. Finally, he and his father, who had fallen on hard times, were publicly disgraced by their participation in what amounted to a smuggling operation.
“A sad case,” commented Mr. Swift. “A prominent family spiralling down into criminality. Even the fact that your great-grandfather saved his life didn’t alter his resentment.”
“What became of him, Dad?”
Harlan Ames responded. “I’ve done a bit of research. The Foger family seems to have moved away from Shopton around 1915—probably the smartest thing they could have done. There’s some evidence they moved to Mexico. I found an obit for someone of the right age, same middle initial, in Mexico City, dated September 3, 1960. If it’s the same Andrew E. Foger, it looks like he ended up working in the petroleum industry.”
“Any mention of a wife? Children?” Mr. Swift inquired.
“None. But a cyber-trip to the Hall of Records allowed me to verify a younger half-brother, who lived with his mother in Mansburg —Amelia Foger’s grandfather. He’s deceased as well.”
Tom rubbed his chin. “This is interesting stuff, but—do you think it matters much, Harlan? We’re talking about animosities between two families that are almost a century in the past. Amelia’s running into Bud looks like just a coincidence.”
“Yes,” Ames conceded. “And it’s true that she did nothing to try to conceal her name from us. She may know nothing about her great-uncle’s early life.”
Damon Swift laughed gently. “I wouldn’t want to be held to account for my ancestor, poor Professor Blondlot.”
Tom joined in the laughter. “Nor I, for good old ‘Dead-Horse Longstreet’!” Turning sober, he added, “But if Miss Foger decides to pursue the position here at Enterprises, maybe I’ll have a chat with her some day about family history—a friendly chat.”
“From Bud’s account,” remarked Ames with a wink, “Amelia Foger is very easy to be friendly to!” The next day he was able to report to the Swifts that upon Mr. Swift’s concurrence the San Francisco attorney had been offered the position in the legal office, and had accepted. She would be arranging a temporary living situation in Shopton, relocating immediately.
During the week that followed, Tom pursued various aspects of the helium-well project. Always in the back of his mind was the menace of the neurotoxin and the unidentified sub. Bud’s characteristic nickname for the phantom, Mad Moby, had caught on with everyone associated with the project, including Arthur Clisby and Bob Anchor.
While Hank Sterling’s engineering section completed the full-sized version of Tom’s well-capping mechanism, the young inventor worked with Arvid Hanson to develop a prototype for a newer, stronger hydrodome. The deep-sea habitat had now assumed a more hemispherical shape, though still completely closed off at the bottom. No longer made primarily of metal, the improved version was a dome comprised of a myriad of flat facets arrayed in geodesic form. The dome was now entirely of multi-layered Tomaquartz and transparent all around, with a complex internal structure of metal supports.
When the small prototype was finished, a crane lowered it into one of the huge block-shaped pressure tanks used at Enterprises to test experimental submersibles—the seacopter, Fat Man suit, and Tom’s earlier jetmarine.
“How optimistic are you feeling, Tom?” Arv asked, eyeing the dimlit image of the hydrodome on the tank’s interior monitor.
“Optimistic? I’ll cop to feeling confident!” was the smiling reply. “But we’ll have to get the confidence-meter up to one-hundred-percent before we risk letting people live in that thing.”
Hanson agreed, and signaled the tank operator, Wes Beale, to commence increasing the inner pressure. A red line, like that on a thermometer, began its maddeningly slow creep up the control board. “Looks good,” muttered Arv presently. “Already a good fifteen percent over the max test pressure of the earlier model.”
“And she’s still standing tall,” Tom said. “How’s the air pressure inside the dome?”
“Holding firm,” was the reply. “And not a trace of moisture.”
“Thank goodness!” Tom chuckled, his face aglow with the excitement of a scientific victory in the making. “I wouldn’t want to have to bother with an umbrella when― ”
Suddenly the watchers gave a start as a loud alarm siren erupted in a piercing wail of warning! Before anyone could even ask a question, an explosive thundercrack split the air, and a narrow plume of white froth jetted skyward from one side of the test tank.
“The tank!” screeched Wes Beale, turning to run. “She’s gonna blow!”
SHADOWED IN DARKNESS
ARV HANSON whirled and had run several steps after Beale when he realized that Tom was hanging back. He paused and yelled over his shoulder, “Tom! Come on!”
But Tom Swift resisted the panic that had overwhelmed the other two. His skillful hands darted over the test tank control board. Suddenly the jet of water diminished markedly, then began to gradually wither away, as did the automatic alarm siren.
Wes and Arv came trotting back to Tom’s side, somewhat shamefaced. “Tell me how you did that, chief!” demanded Wes. “There’s no way to drop the pressure that rapidly!”
“One way, Wes,” said the young inventor. “I blew the main sealer flanges on the hydrodome model.”
“You mean you flooded it?” asked Arv in amazement.
Tom nodded soberly. “Had to. Letting the tank water expand into the space reduced the overall pressure to below critical. If we’d let the side wall fracture, the pressure would have hit us like a piledriver—even on the run.”
“Good grief!” Wes exclaimed with an admiring half-laugh. “There’s a solution that wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years.”
Hanson put a hand on his young boss’s shoulder. “You saved us, all right. But the dome prototype is ruined. We’ll have to start from scratch.”
“Don’t bother,” Tom said quietly. “Look at these numbers—the final readings before I flooded her.”
Arv read them off with a wince. “The dome structure had started deforming at the middle of the facets.”
Tom nodded. “The support props couldn’t handle it. If we’d kept upping the pressure, the hydrodome would have collapsed.” He gave a sigh of discouragement. “I don’t have a clue as to how to proceed further. It won’t be practical to try to work that site living in Fat Man suits and submarines, not in the long run.” He gave his friends a rueful look. “I guess the helium project will turn out to be just a pipe dream after all.”
“What I’d like to know is—what caused the tank to fail like that?” muttered Wes. “The material is inspected thoroughly by the TeleTec machine before each use.”
“Including this time?” Tom inquired. “Are you absolutely sure?”
Wes proceeded to make a series of calls. Eventually he reported to Tom that the mandatory inspection had not taken place. “It’s my responsibility,” he said. “But I don’t understand what happened. I remember informing the team, by the usual instant-messaging alert, that we were going to do a Level 8 test today. I even have an automatic acknowledgement message on my computer, showing that the message went through. Yet there’s no trace at the other end, and my guys deny that they were ever informed. And they’re an honest bunch, Tom.”
Thinking of his mysterious foes, the crew of the Mad Moby, Tom asked Wes if any of his team were new hires, or newly assigned. “Not a one,” Wes insisted. “We’ve all worked together for years now.”
“Then it’s unexplained,” Tom declared; “just like the moving of that buoy anchor. But please forward to me whatever you find out when you analyze the tank wall. It’s quite a coincidence, failing like that on an occasion where any weakness wouldn’t have been caught in advance.”
Though Tom was baffled and discouraged, Clisby and Anchor, as well as his father and the ever-enthusiastic Bud, urged him to proceed with other aspects of the helium well project. “Chum, you’re sure to figure a way around this roadblock—you work best under pressure!” Bud exclaimed.
Tom gave him a sharp look. “Under pressure? That’s got to be one of those notorious Barclay puns!”
“Maybe,” admitted the dark-haired pilot. “It’s gotten so bad my mouth does it even when I’m not paying attention!”
Tom agreed to continue whatever forward motion he could make.
Soon enough came the day to drill at the base of the mountain. Returning to the site in the Sea Hound with Bud, Clisby, Anchor, and chief engineer Hank Sterling, Tom used his earth-probing penetradar system to determine the overall shape and depth of the natural fissure and the likely location of the chain of interconnected gas pockets. “Man, is it deep down, and right under the mountain!” Tom pronounced. “But we should be able to go at it at an angle.”
“And, as they say—how’s the water out there?” asked Clisby.
“No sign of the toxin for miles around,” said the young inventor. “No sign of Mad Moby, either.”
“Unless he’s in hiding,” noted Hank.
After selecting a spot for drilling on the plain just below the ledge, they unloaded the earth blaster’s compact launching platform from a stowage bay that opened to the exterior, and fastened it into the rock below the ooze with spread anchors. Next, the torpedo-shaped machine itself was maneuvered into place and quickly set up.
“Because of the likelihood of pockets of flammable gases in the area, we’ll be using the ‘cool’ mechanical version instead of the ‘hot’ arc-field model,” Hank explained in answer to an objection from Bud.
Then the extravehicular team—Tom, Bob Anchor, and Hank Sterling—worked on the capping mechanism, which sat atop the launching platform at first. It would be drawn down into its final position as the blaster was released. To keep the well-capper in place, they shot rocket anchors into the bedrock. The nozzle, initially open, would be closed gradually, until the device sealed itself.
“All set now. Stand back!” Tom warned his two companions by suit sonophone. “I only hope we don’t set off another geyser!”
When the men reported back that they were in a safe position, Tom signaled the blaster to switch on its powerful engines. With a thudding roar audible even within the Fat Man suits, the blaster bored into the sea floor, raising an inky cloud that billowed and swirled like a subsea cyclone. Dazzled by the reflected glare from the disturbed particles, the three turned off the searchlights in their Fat Man suits. In the yellow-white cone of the seacopter’s penetrating aqualamp beam, made visible in order to assist the workers, they watched the flow of gases freed by the blaster surging in greater and greater quantities through the open well-cap.
Suddenly the Sea Hound’s light blinked off and on, as if in a warning signal. Surprised, Tom asked over his mike, “Bud, what’s—?”
He stopped short as the searchlight went off again—and stayed off. Danger! He shut down the blaster, which by now had completely disappeared under the sea floor. Then Tom told his companions to keep their lights out.
Everyone waited tensely.
A few seconds later the small sonarscope in Tom’s suit reported a signal bounceback that made him stiffen with apprehension. An underwater craft was coming rapidly toward them from the south!
Tom was certain the marauder was the phantom Mad Moby. Could it be carrying the deadly neurotoxin?
Of one thing he was sure: He did not want to be seen at the secret project! He switched the sonophone output to its minimum setting. Over his mike he told his companions in an electronic whisper: “Lie down flat! Camouflage yourselves! Don’t move!”
Obediently the two grotesque-looking Fat Men followed Tom’s example as he worked the controls of his suit so that it stretched out on the ocean bottom, partially covered in the settling ooze stirred up by the earth blaster.
As the three waited in worried silence, the strange submarine came on steadily and passed like a massive shadow within a few hundred yards of the three prospectors, showing no lights, no portholes, no sign of life within. Only its passage in front of the phosphorescence of the darting marine life revealed its presence to the eye.
In a minute the eerie specter had vanished into the deep-sea gloom.
Tom now switched on his suit lights and slowly worked the robotic arms and legs to bring his Fat Man upright again. The other two were soon standing up also. To Tom’s alarmed amazement, the Sea Hound was gone!
“Where did it go?” he puzzled aloud. “Bud, can you read me?”
Over the sonophone Hank Sterling asked urgently, “What about that sub? Was it the Moby?”
“It must’ve been,” Tom replied.
As he spoke, a light flashed on across the subsea plain and drew closer. The enemy? Tom’s heart leaped with relief as he recognized the outlines of the Sea Hound!
“Everyone okay out there?” came Bud’s familiar voice over the sonophone.
“I am,” Tom told him. “Hank?”
“Check,” was the reply.
“How about you, Bob?”
The young chemist responded that he was all right but thoroughly mystified by the unknown submarine.
“Aren’t we all!” Bud chuckled, “That’s why I ducked out of sight. Tom, whoever these guys are, they must’ve got wind of your planned operations here!”
“It sure looks that way,” Tom admitted in a worried voice. “Still, it’s possible that this all has nothing to do with the helium well. They may be involved in some other kind of research—or something illegal—and could be keeping tabs on the general area electronically. Anything on your scope, Sea Hound?”
“As Chow would say, She went a-goin’ round the mountain when she went! We can’t see her—she can’t see us.”
“So let’s get on with the drilling.”
“Roger!” Bud replied. “I mean― ”
“Never mind!” Tom chuckled.
The tubular capping device was already in place at the top the hole cut by the blaster. The power was turned on and the capper ground itself solidly into the underlying rock. Once again Tom remotely closed the circuit to the blaster’s atom-power plant and the machine responded instantly, resuming its angled boring into the sea floor. Several minutes later a hissing roar, deep and muffled, reverberated through the dark waters and the ocean bed itself.
“We’ve struck gas, I think!” Tom cried out to his companions jubilantly.
Now came an especially delicate part of the drilling operation. Handling the controls deftly, Tom brought the blaster zooming backward up to the top of the shaft on its spiked guide-wheels. There was a noise like a cork being pulled from a fizzy champagne bottle as the blaster cleared the surface of the sea floor. Then a terrific geyser of helium gas came thundering upward through the aperture of the cap!
“There she is, Skipper! Nice going!” Bud cheered from the Sea Hound.
Dr. Clisby added his congratulations. “I’ll await the sample, but it’s obviously helium, Tom. Magnificent work!”
Tom turned the controls that closed off the well, stopping the flow of gas from beneath the undersea mountain. Then the work crew stowed the earth blaster away in the seacop’s exterior hold.
After the three took a last look at the capping mechanism, sealed and silent, Tom was flushed with happiness and sheer relief. He sonophoned the other aquanauts to return to the seacopter—the work was done for the day.
His words were cut short by a strangled cry. “Help! S-something’s gone wrong with my air supply!” It was Bob Anchor’s voice. “I can’t b-breathe! I’m losing― ”
The call died away in a choking gasp!
A MISFIRED PRANK
“QUICK! We must get him back to the ship!” Tom urged Hank.
In agonized suspense the two jetted through the water as fast as they could to their friend’s side. Through the viewdome they could see Bob’s eyes bulging, his face turning reddish purple!
“We’ve got to hurry!” Tom urged. A stark fear welled up from the back of his mind.
Had the phantom submarine somehow exposed Bob to the deadly neurotoxin? And would Hank and Tom be the next to experience its horrifying effects?
Tom and Hank desperately grasped the helpless form in their metal hands, standing on either side. As they half-carried, half-dragged Bob’s Fat Man toward the seacopter, Tom noted with thanks that Bud, overhearing the crisis, had steered the Sea Hound nearer and opened the aquatic hatch. Bob was roughly thrust aboard and the hatch sealed behind them. As the water in the lock was pumped away, Tom ordered Bud to keep the inner hatch tightly closed.
“We don’t know what we’re dealing with,” he murmured. Bud and Dr. Clisby grasped his unuttered meaning.
Tom and Hank remained sealed in their own suits as a precaution while they used the emergency release lever to force open Bob’s suit. The scientist lay collapsed against his safety restraints. His mouth hung open. For a terrible moment Tom felt certain he was not alive. But then Anchor’s chest heaved and he began gasping for air.
“Can you hear me?” Tom asked over his suit’s external speaker.
Bob forced a nod, his eyes fluttering open. “I’m all right!” he mouthed weakly.
Dr. Clisby was observing them through the small port in the airlock hatch, his face gray with fear for his colleague. Holding a microphone to his lips, he told them: “His reaction does not indicate an effect of the toxin. I’m testing the water and air… yes, it appears to be safe.” At Tom’s okay, the hatch to the cabin was opened and Bud and Clisby rushed in to help Bob while Tom and Hank wriggled out of their suits.
Bob was carried to the aft cabin of the seacopter, where a bunk was folded down from the curving bulkhead for him to rest on. As Tom rushed to his side, he gave the young inventor a pained, apologetic look. “I don’t know what happened out there,” he said. “I couldn’t catch my breath—guess I panicked.”
“No one could blame you,” offered Dr. Clisby gently. Tom could sense the warm affection between the two scientists.
“What went wrong?” Bud queried.
“Something happened to his air supply,” Tom replied. Taking a small kit of tools, he crawled inside the defective Fat Man and tinkered for several minutes.
“Flutter valve was jammed shut,” he announced as he emerged from the suit. “But it’s fixed now.”
Hank Sterling received Tom’s news with a frown of disbelief. “Those valves are checked and cleaned regularly. It’s standard procedure.”
Tom gave a wry nod. “Right. And it was standard procedure to inspect the pressure tank walls, too.”
“It’s no accident,” declared Bud firmly. “The Moby gang plans to get us all out of the picture any way they can!” Tom could only respond with a shrug.
The near-tragic accident was temporarily forgotten when the group excitedly discussed the helium strike on the mountain shelf. “Judging by the quantity of gas bubbles, this whole area is loaded with helium!” Bob Anchor declared.
“Fine,” said Bud. “Now genius boy here has to work some inventive magic so we can work the mine!”
Tom said nothing, deep in thought. An astonishing idea had suddenly burst upon his inventive mind! He turned to the controls and began guiding the seacopter back to Fearing Island, where the Sky Queen awaited them.
Day after day Tom’s family and friends found him preoccupied, in a mood of quiet intensity. When his mother expressed some motherly concern, he explained that he was trying to work out “a very strange solution” to the vexing challenge of setting up a permanent workers’ camp at the deep-sea helium site. “If I’m right, Mom—if it works—the whole problem of pressure will be behind us! It’ll revolutionize man’s ability to work in the depths of the ocean!” But he politely refused to describe his invention.
One evening, as Tom worked late at Enterprises once again, Damon and Anne Swift discussed the matter in the Swift living room as Sandy listened, playing with her pet cockatiel Featherbee.
“What happens if he just can’t solve the problem?” asked Mrs. Swift. “Our son is brilliant, but some things just can’t be done. We never taught him to accept that.”
Mr. Swift nodded. “I never could either—neither could my Grandfather Tom. In the blood, I suppose.” He turned to Sandy. “And as for you, sweetheart, I think you’re blessed with the same streak of stubbornness—aren’t you still trying to crack the Jack the Ripper case?” Sandy’s love of true-crime mysteries was a family joke.
“Don’t think I’m not making progress, Daddy,” she replied blithely. “As for bringing brother Tom back to earth, I have a plan—but it needs the approval of the Swift Enterprises CEO.” She smiled sweetly and ominously.
The day following, a warm afternoon, two figures hopped off the Enterprises ridewalk in front of the immersion dynamics laboratory, a large free-standing structure at the outskirts of the plant near the observatory dome. They were garbed in shorts and bright-colored sweatshirts, their eyes masked by stylish sunglasses.
“We really don’t want to walk in on him, Sandra,” said Bashalli Prandit with a toss of her long raven-black hair. “Not that he does not deserve to be interrupted. But it would not be a proper ambush.”
“Daddy called Tom up to the office,” replied Sandy. “Just before you arrived—late!—he told me by cellphone Tom was on his way. He’ll keep him there for twenty minutes—long enough for us to slip into the pool.” Sandy took the small electri-key her father had left for her and aimed it at the door to the building. It popped open with a slight beep. Sandy entered and switched on the overhead fluorescent tubes.
Tom had been working steadily in this building for several days, trying to perfect a mysterious new invention that required testing in a large body of salt water that replicated the general composition of the mid-Atlantic. His sister and Bashalli, a young Pakistani who was a close family friend, were determined to startle the young inventor away from his labors for an afternoon of fun on Lake Carlopa. Here the Swifts maintained a sleek little sailboat, the Mary Nestor.
“Now what do you suppose that is?” asked Bashalli as she followed Sandy into the lab. Next to the north wall, about twenty feet from the edge of the pool, an open metal framework had been set up. It appeared firmly bolted to the concrete floor. At the top of the framework tower, held in place by clamps, was an odd-looking jumble of electronics equipment trailing down thick power cables. A knob-studded control console stood nearby, a silent blank-faced sentinel.
“Oh, that must be what Tom is working on—his new water invention,” said Sandy, pulling off her sweatshirt to reveal her swim top. “Ugh! I hope he improves the look of it before he puts it on the market.”
“Do you know what it does?”
“Not a clue, Bashi. Don’t you hate it when boys play coy?”
The girls removed their shoes and outer clothing, stashing them out of sight.
Carrying a small beanbag intended for playing catch in the water, Sandy approached the edge of the immersion pool—as large and deep as a conventional swimming pool—and gazed down into the clear water. “Oh dear, we’ve made a mistake. This isn’t salt water at all. It’s some kind of acid! Can’t you smell it? Well, I guess we’ll—ohhh!” Arms whirling, she tumbled into the water with what was calculated to sound like a dire shriek.
Bashalli approached her floundering friend. “That was hardly convincing, Sandra. I recommend that you keep your day job.”
Sandy responded by splashing her crony. “You’re just heartless. Come in—it’s a little cool but not too bad. Like the ocean. Oh—switch off the lights first.”
Bashalli complied, then used the railed steps to slip gracefully into the pool. The only light in the lab came from some illuminated dials on the control board. That was fine with the girls. They intended to lie in wait for Tom in the water, then pop up with a banshee cry when the young inventor switched on the lights.
Alert to any sound of their quarry at the door, they played catch with the beanbag, which was designed to float in the water. There were many misses, but their eyes slowly became accustomed to the relative darkness.
“Where do you suppose he is?” asked Bashalli after many minutes had crept by.
“Oh, I don’t know. You know Tom—always saving the world. Here!” Sandy sent Bashalli a long, high toss. But she had badly miscalculated: it arced over the Pakistani’s head and whapped against the framework tower with a loud clang!, flopping down onto the control board next to the tower.
A string of tiny lights flickered to life on the console.
“Sandra, I am not so sure Tom will be delighted with our prank,” murmured Bashalli nervously.
“We just have to shut it off again,” asserted Sandy with much more confidence than she felt.
Suddenly both girls gasped in surprise. A strange sensation swept over them, a sort of tingling pressure on their skin. “Sandy! I—I’m― ”
“Me too!” cried Sandy Swift in alarm, stumbling backwards along the pool bottom.
Some unknown force was pressing down upon them like a great invisible weight, as if trying to push them under the water!
Choking, badly frightened, the girls fought against the smothering force, trying desperately to keep their heads up above the waterline. Feet flat on the bottom they pushed upward with their legs, summoning all their strength. Even so, they could barely withstand the downward pressure. Barely able to keep their faces above water, in minutes they would crumple from fatigue—and drown!
They emitted several screams, but the effort sapped their strength.
“B-Bashi, I’m so—so sorry I― ” Then Sandy slipped down another inch and her mouth was beneath the water. Bashi was already immersed to just above her nostrils. She thrashed and struggled for breath.
The lab door opened a crack, then wider. Dazzling sunlight slanted through the room, cut off almost instantly as the door was pulled quietly shut. The girls tried to cry out to the figure, but the effort was useless; they could only manage muffled whimpers as they struggled to stay conscious, to not abandon the fight to live. Their shoulders ached from the dead weight of their arms and hands, forced down to their sides.
The figure did not bother to take a glance at the two pale ovals in the black of the pool. His face covered by a pull-down ski mask, he strode purposefully across the floor to Tom’s invention. He paused as if examining it. Then he reached deep into a pocket and withdrew a length of heavy pipe.
Swinging in a wide, vicious arc, the intruder attacked the machine with a savage fury!
SANDY SWIFT was swimming upstream.
The stream was as wide and as long as a river, and it angled upwards into the sky. She could see through its glassy sides easily. Shopton was below—there was the house; there was Commerce Avenue—but becoming tiny and distant as she mounted higher. The horizon was curving, but the wrong way, like the back of a saddle. She was struggling. Her arms ached and her head throbbed. But she dared not give up.
Someone was hanging on to her ankles.
It was Bashalli, she knew. Poor Bashalli. She heard the Pakistani coughing, a choking, racking cough. Oh Bashalli, stop! she pleaded. You’re shaking me! It occurred to her, oddly, that it was she herself who was coughing.
Something, someone, reached down through the water and pulled her up into the harsh thin air by the back of her neck. Then a pale yellow light flooded over her.
As Sandy awoke and finally knew she was awake, the first thing she noticed was a faint odor of ether and antiseptic. Her eyelids flickered open and she saw a white coverlet and the rungs of a metal bedstead. With a start, Sandy struggled bolt upright. She was in the Enterprises infirmary!
“Thank heavens you’ve regained consciousness, darling!” murmured a voice nearby. Mr. Swift gripped his daughter’s hand. Then the young plotter realized that her whole family was clustered around the bedside, with Doc Simpson, the plant’s youthful medic, in the background. She forced a wan smile and felt the oxygen mask strapped to her chin.
“We’ve been so worried about you, dear!” her mother said, bending down to kiss her cheek. “Even though Doc Simpson says that you’ll be all right.” Tom, his face white, patted her shoulder and nodded.
The medic smiled reassuringly. “Yes, she will be, Mrs. Swift.” Then, grinning, he added, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned around here, it’s that you Swifts are hard to keep down!”
Stepping forward, the young physician took Sandy’s wrist and glanced at his watch. Seconds later he said, “Pulse rate normal. Feel hungry?” Sandy indicated the breathing mask, and he gently removed it.
“Don’t worry about me!” she gasped weakly. “Bashalli—what about Bashalli?”
“I am over here,” called a shaky voice from the other side of the infirmary. “I will be well when Bud stops squeezing my wrist!”
“Doc says you’re both fine,” Tom declared. “You two took in so much water Shopton Water and Power’s charging you an excess usage fee.”
“Very funny,” Sandy said. “W-was it you who pulled us out?”
“No,” was the reply. “Bash pulled you out—then fainted next to you.”
“A flair for the dramatic!” called Bashalli.
Sandy shook her blond head weakly. “I don’t understand. Tom—we couldn’t move! Something was pushing down on us! And then—unless it was part of a dream—someone in a ski mask came in― ”
“I know,” Tom interrupted her gently. “Your crony in mischief already told us most of it, San. When I came in, my repelatron was in pieces, smashed to bits. Whoever did it was already gone.”
Bud approached and gave Sandy a warm squeeze and a kiss on the forehead. “But we owe something to the mad smasher, kid. According to Tom, it’s because he wrecked the machine that you weren’t held under when you blacked out. You floated free.”
“I must send him a card of thanks,” retorted the girl.
“Perhaps it would be better not to talk,” her father urged. “Let’s have Chow bring us all some late supper, shall we?”
“Late supper!” Sandy exploded—which set off a fit of coughing. “My goodness, what time is it?”
Doc grinned. “About ten at night.”
Clucking with concern, Chow provided a light, warm meal—for once a rather conservative one with a clear broth as its centerpiece. “If it ain’t one o’ you, it’s t’ other! You rambunctious kids’re gonna turn my hair gray!”
“Which one?” Bud teased.
Chow pointed. “This nice thick one on the right. The one on the other side done went gray in New Guinea!”
Bashalli’s bed was wheeled up next to Sandy’s, and the whole group of them were able to eat together. “But that hooded figure—in the ski mask!” Sandy said insistently. “Was he caught?”
Mr. Swift shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Harlan has had security guards searching every inch of the plant since Bashalli came to and told us what she had seen. But there was no sign of a stranger anywhere on the grounds.”
“Nothing on the patrolscope, either,” Tom added, referring to the plant’s sophisticated intruder-alert radar system.
Bud stared at his pal in dismay and groaned. “So the guy must’ve copped one of the radar-trappers—the amulets. That means we must have a subversive right on our own staff!”
“I know, flyboy,” said Tom gravely. “The leak in the pressure tank sure looks less and less like an accident.”
“The Moby Madmen!” Bashalli exclaimed. “The phantom whale is hiding here at Swift Enterprises somewhere!” Then she giggled. “Please do forget I said that. Too much oxygen, doctor.”
Overruling her anxious protests, Sandy’s family joined Doc Simpson in urging her to lie back and rest. With a sigh, realizing she still felt shaky and weak, she obeyed. “All right—just so Bashi won’t get lonesome. But Tom—?”
“That machine of yours—what is it? What did it do to us?”
The young inventor grinned and gave her arm a pat. “It’s called a repelatron. What did it do? Purt near drowned you, that’s what!”
Sandy’s question was still on Bud’s mind the next day as he stopped by one of Tom’s personal labs, where he knew the young inventor was at work rebuilding his device. Entering, Bud saw that Tom was working side by side with the frail, wisp-haired head of the Enterprises nuclear chemistry section, Dr. Omicron Kupp.
Greeting them, Bud said, “If you feel like a three-minute mental break, Tom, how about telling me how this repelatron works? You’ve been kind of mysterious about it.”
“I know,” Tom said sheepishly. “But this is one of those inventions that’s pretty hard to explain, pal. If you want the basic version, it― ”
Bud held up a hand. “No, no, none of the watered-down stuff, genius boy. Give me a chance to take it all in. I’m working hard to improve my scientific knowledge base. I’ve been reading those books you gave me—maybe not every page, but quite a few toward the beginning.” He set himself down on a stool facing Tom and Dr. Kupp. “Okay. Ready. Go!”
Tom bit his lip and glanced at the elder scientist. “Doctor, you used to be a teacher. Why don’t you give my colleague Mr. Barclay here the three-minute course?”
“If you wish,” said Kupp with a brusque nod. He squinted in Bud’s direction; it seemed he had failed to notice that the young pilot was in the room. “Tom’s repelatron, eh? It’s rather simple, in fact; basic physical theory. A first-year graduate student could easily master the fundamental concepts.” He took up a position next to the white marking board that covered one entire wall of the laboratory, already half-filled with strings of numbers and symbols. “Obviously you’re familiar with the strong nuclear force, eh? Violates the inverse-square propagation law, acts as a shell holding the protons within the atomic nucleus, et cetera?”
“Right!” Bud said. “Strong nuclear force.”
“Now: the repelatron exploits certain principles derived from studies of the Mount Goaba phenomenon, as well as the Jatczak gravitational anomaly manifest on the satellite Nestria…”
“The gravity cube in that cave,” commented Bud. “I was there.”
“Yes, of course.” Kupp squinted about, as if he weren’t quite certain where the interruption had come from. “The standard interpretation originated in the eleventh footnote to the well-known journal article by Meinfeld and Yung, in which the term ‘entrained space-knots’ came to public prominence. We are speaking, then, of a stable field of interlaced twists in the local spacetime pseudo-plenum, extending through six virtual dimensions.”
His mouth paused, and he looked vaguely in Bud’s direction. The young pilot smiled broadly and nodded.
“Now then,” continued Dr. Kupp. “The conjecture of a relation between this phenomenon—denoted the spectron field by Tom Swift in recognition of its paradoxical, ghostlike character, as one might say—and the locus of the strong nuclear force appears well-founded, as I am sure you will agree. The spectron field may be visualized as a series of spherical shells, or layers― ”
As Kupp turned his back to make a sketch on the whiteboard, a clanking and rattling in the corridor announced the presence of Chow Winkler and his snack cart. Making a sign to Tom, Bud stepped out the door and in a moment returned with Chow, guiding the rotund cook to a chair. Chow glanced back and forth but appeared willing to listen. Bud resumed his seat, turning slightly to take in Chow as well as Dr. Kupp.
Finishing his illustration, Kupp picked up where he had left off. “—layers which are comprised of tessellated discoidal segments, nodes, if you will, themselves having a spiral form and possessing a fractal character…” He looked up. Bud’s smile was now continuous. Chow sat wide-eyed and immobile. He appeared stunned. “That is to say, each component segment is itself composed of similar such segments, and so forth down to the Planck length. Being spiroforms of even-numbered dimensionality, the field constituents exhibit enantimorphic properties—handedness, you see, eh? Handedness. And thus, just as one’s right hand corresponds to the apparent left hand of one’s reflection, so it is that correspondence between facing field layers—that is, two fields propagating toward one another from distinct sources—requires that one field be laterally reversed by 180 degrees, as if through a half-rotation.”
Bud’s smile, and Chow’s eyes, grew ever broader.
“The consequences, no doubt trivial, are of some practical interest despite their obviousness; to wit, the exchange of momentum between the paired fields by superposition of the nodal vectors, and in consequence between each field and its respective source, anchored to the nuclear shell and entangled therewith. Quite naturally a repulsion effect is evolved, expressed as opposed momenta with respect to the emitters—that is, the repelatron ‘generating antenna,’ as it were, and the array of atoms that constitutes its specific ‘target.’ I will anticipate a question by adding that the field structure is sensitive to nucleon array, as well as gross molar collocation. Hence the effect evolves only with respect to a particular atomic element in a well-defined mixture.”
Dr. Kupp ceased to emit sounds, and after a time this was interpreted to signify the conclusion of the lecture. Tom suggested an early lunch, and the elderly scientist departed forthwith with the barest of nods to Bud and Chow. After the scientist had left Bud gently guided Chow back to his cart in the hall, patting him reassuringly on his broad back.
Bud returned, pushing the door shut and leaning against it, facing Tom. Bud’s smile was broad, deep, and granite-like. He slightly raised an eyebrow to his friend.
“The repelatron generates an invisible force that repels whatever it’s tuned to, passing right through everything else like a radio wave,” Tom said with an understanding smile of his own. “I’ve got it working on certain mixtures of salt water. Sandy and Bash accidentally developed an adhering layer of the mixture by being in the pool, so the repulsion force affected them.”
Bud nodded, turned, and exited in silence.
Tom waited until he was gone to get some affectionate laughter out of his system, then grabbed up the phone from the wall. He dialed Harlan Ames.
“It’s Tom, Harlan,” he said. “Any clues yet on yesterday’s ski-mask saboteur?”
“None so far,” the security boss admitted glumly. He continued: “Looks like an inside job, all right. I’ve had your lab locked up until we could go over it together. Care to meet me there?”
“Be there right away!” Tom promised.
Outside, taking the wheel of a midget electric nanocar, Tom sped past the large Enterprises airfield toward the isolated immersion dynamics laboratory building, where a guard had been posted. Harlan Ames was awaiting him outside the door. “Glad you’re okay, Skipper,” he greeted Tom. “I was afraid you’d be in mourning over the loss of your invention.”
“Its rebirth is going along swiftly, Harlan. But we’ve got to identify the saboteur before anything else happens.” Tom keyed open the door and they went inside.
The smashed repelatron was still lying on and about its framework tower, along with Tom’s scribbled calculations and hasty sketches strewn about a work-table nearby.
“Apparently the, er, assailant didn’t take anything,” Ames remarked.
“This stuff wouldn’t do him much good,” Tom replied. “What I’m worried about are the original plans.”
Taking an electronic key from his pocket, Tom flicked a combination and beamed it at a steel wall cabinet. As the door slid open, he reached in and drew out a sheaf of blueprints.
“Still here!” the young inventor exclaimed in relief. “He either didn’t have the time to search out the blueprints—or maybe his only intention was to do damage.”
Satisfied that the secret of Tom’s new invention was safe, Ames began to dust the laboratory for fingerprints. Unfortunately it soon became apparent that the intruder had worn gloves. Even the discarded length of pipe revealed nothing useful.
Suddenly the security chief heard a cry of excitement from the young inventor.
“Find something?” he inquired.
Tom held out a small wad of tangled threads that looked as if they might have been torn from a piece of fabric.
“Where did you find this?” Ames asked.
“Right here, dangling from the workbench where the two strips of molding corner together,” Tom replied. “Probably got ripped off when he was rooting around among the loose papers. Wait a second. I’ll put it under a microscope!”
Going over to another table, Tom slipped the strands into place under the lens, then peered through the eyepiece and twirled the adjusting knob.
“Take a look,” he said a moment later.
Both Harlan Ames and Tom examined the find with minute care. Apparently the fabric had been woven from dark blue and white cotton threads, with artificial fibers intertwined.
“Any idea where they might have come from?” Tom asked.
Ames frowned. “Yes. A pretty good one. This looks like the kind of material worn by the maintenance tech teams—anti-shock, anti-fire, chemical-resistant and easy to clean.”
“Maintenance tech teams,” repeated Tom thoughtfully. “Like Wes Beale’s crew, the guys who worked on the pressure-test tank!”
Beale was off for the day, but Tom and Ames were able to locate the three senior technicians by consulting the work-assignment schedules at the main building. Their names were Smith, Tonas, and Niffman. Their present team assignment was at Hangar E, where several experimental aircraft were berthed between test flights.
“I hate this,” Tom confessed. “Wes Beale vouched for these guys—they’re his friends.”
“I’m afraid that puts Wes under suspicion himself. Want me to haul ’em in for questioning?” Ames asked.
The young inventor shook his head thoughtfully. “Better not. If one of them’s guilty, he’ll bolt when he gets the message that you want to see him. Let’s head over to the hangar right now and catch them before they leave for lunch. I doubt the intruder will get too frisky in the face of both of us.”
They drove over to Hangar E. As they walked in, their manner casual and unalarming, Doke Smith, a sandy-haired, husky young fellow of twenty-three, was tinkering with the afterburner of a sleek racing jet.
“Hi, Tom!” he greeted Tom cheerfully. Catching sight of Harlan Ames, he grinned. “What’re you doin’ here, Mr. Ames? Planning a little flyin’ spree? This one here’s a real beauty.”
“That she is. Planes—I can’t keep away from ’em,” Ames bantered, somewhat unconvincingly. “Say, where’d you get that rip in your work suit?”
“What rip?” Smith looked surprised as he noticed a tear along one leg, high up. “Oh, that. Search me. Caught it on an engine cowling, 1 guess.”
The other two mechanics were busy in different parts of the hangar. Tom and Harlan quizzed each of the three men in turn, keeping their questions casual and friendly.
It was hard to believe that any of them might be guilty of the brutal acts that had endangered Tom and the girls. But the fact remained that none could provide a complete alibi for the previous day, at the critical time. The big hangar was crowded with planes and equipment, with the result that most of the time the men were not even in sight of each other.
Dropping the attempt to appear casual, Ames proceeded with a search of their lockers, which revealed no trace of a ski-mask or torn work togs. The first was not surprising, but Tom and Harlan hoped the intruder had not noticed the tearing of the fabric, as the piece had been left hanging. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed even yet.
Acting on a sudden hunch, Ames asked Milt Tonas if the planes now in the hangar had been there the previous afternoon and night.
“Far as I know,” said Milt, a quiet-spoken. middle-aged man. “Are we suspected of something?”
Ames shook his head but ignored the question. “Were any planes taken out at all?”
“Don’t think so. But you can check the flight sheet over there on the wall.”
With Tom helping, the security chief began checking every aircraft in the hangar. A few minutes later he stuck his head out the hatch of a newly designed cargo jet.
“Eureka!” Ames hissed, holding up a standard-issue work garment. A small hole had been ripped along a seam in the back, at exactly the right height! Ames quietly explained to Tom that the garment had been tucked out of sight under the engineer’s seat. Evidently its wearer had discovered the new rip and hidden the garb, fearful that it might identify him as the violent intruder.
“Now for the kill,” whispered Ames, after examining the suit and passing it to Tom. He hurried back to check the posted test flight schedule, and returned a moment later, his face grim.
“This job’s due for a test flight at two P.M., and Reuben Niffman’s put himself down as flight engineer.”
There was a tense, uneasy silence as the young inventor and the security chief looked at one another. Was Niffman their man? On the test flight, he could easily dispose of the telltale work suit by jettisoning it through the cargo hatch.
“Well, let’s get it over with,” said Tom quietly. He had little relish for the prospect of having a once-trusted employee arrested.
Niffman looked up from his work as the two approached, regarding them with dull, sleepy eyes. He was a tall, slender man in his late twenties.
“Ever seen this before?” Ames asked him, holding up the garment.
The instant change in Niffman was startling! The technician’s face went ashen. His eyes seemed to glaze with fear as he stared at the telltale garment. Before anyone could stop him, he jerked a pistol from the deep pocket of his coveralls.
“Stop!” he screamed. “You’re not gonna take me alive! You maniacs! Back off or I’ll shoot!”
TOM and his companion fell back in horror as Niffman waved the pistol wildly. The trusted technician had suddenly morphed into an armed madman!
“Put that gun down!” Harlan Ames commanded. “Hurry! Drop it!’
“You can’t bluff me!” Niffman shrilled in a high-pitched voice. “This gun’s loaded, I tell you! Try anything and I’ll kill everyone in this hangar—Doke, Milt—everyone!”
Hearing his screams, Doke Smith and Milt Tonas dropped their work and came rushing to see what was happening. But at sight of the threatening weapon, they froze in their tracks.
“Now look, Rube,” Tom spoke quietly. “You have nothing to be afraid of. We want to talk to you. We know something serious has happened; we just want to clear the air. Hand over the gun and let’s just talk.”
Casually Tom took a step forward, holding out his hand.
But Niffman again brandished the pistol. “I’m warning you. Don’t come any closer,” he screeched, “or I’ll shoot you dead! I’m not afraid of shooting the great Tom Swift!”
Determined to show no fear, Tom advanced another step, then another. So far Niffman had not taken aim at him. Ames and the others held their breath but did not try to interfere.
“You had your warning!” Niffman yelled. He was waving the gun around, his finger on the trigger.
Crack! One shot, then a series of them! Bullets sprayed wildly about the hangar.
Tom ducked for cover behind the nearest plane, then hurled himself at the crazed mechanic, grabbing for his gun hand.
Niffman fought back, trying to wrench his wrist from Tom’s steely grasp. The other technicians and Harlan leaped to Tom’s assistance. In a few seconds their combined strength brought Niffman to his knees. Plucking away his gun, Tom and Doke Smith forced his arms together and Ames snapped on a pair of handcuffs.
Realizing he was now helpless, Reuben Niffman broke down completely and began weeping hysterically. Then he babbled wildly: “Tom Swift, you’re trying to wreck the laws of nature! Your helium bomb will set the world on fire! Human life will be wiped out!” He twisted his face toward the other team members. “Don’t you understand, I’m doing it for all of you! Stop this man! Destroy his machines!”
As Niffman glared at the inventor, shaking violently, his captors realized that he was beyond all reasoning and made no attempt to reply to his bizarre accusation.
“What do you want to do with him, Tom?” Harlan Ames asked.
Shaken, Tom replied, “No sense having him arrested while he’s in this condition. We’d better take him over to the infirmary—restrain him, let him calm down.”
He and Ames carried the employee, who now had fallen silent and seemed too weak to walk, to the nanocar and drove to the Enterprises infirmary. Here Doc Simpson took charge and injected a tranquilizing drug for Niffman’s own good, as his pulse was racing dangerously.
Out of the patient’s hearing, Tom asked the medic, “Do you think we’ll be able to get any sensible answers from him?”
Doc Simpson shook his head. “I doubt it. He’ll probably fall into a deep sleep soon. The shock of being discovered has evidently unbalanced his mind. Could be days before he’s able to talk lucidly.” Simpson added: “At least you know now who’s behind your recent problems here.”
“Do we?” asked Tom quietly, half to himself.
In glum silence Tom left the infirmary alone while Harlan headed upstairs to his office. Tom’s brain, meanwhile, had been dwelling on a new worry. Niffman had spoken about a “helium bomb,” which implied that he knew the purpose of Tom’s latest project, tapping the subocean helium site. But how had he found out? Besides the two government chemists and a few highly trusted employees working on the project with Tom, only the young inventor’s family and closest friends knew the details of the secret operation! Most of the Enterprises work force still assumed Tom was perfecting his hydrodome for use in the submarine city of gold.
Who had leaked the secret to Niffman?
Discussing the matter over the family dinner table that evening, Tom’s father noted that Niffman must have been working with an accomplice. “Though he was in a good position to sabotage the pressure tank and smash your test repelatron, I can’t see how he could have been involved in fouling the valve on Bob Anchor’s Fat Man. It was stored in the seacopter on Fearing.”
“You’re right,” Tom said with a nod. “And his extreme reaction—the things he was saying—it sure sounded to me as though someone else were manipulating him. He’s now been hospitalized under police guard, and blood samples have been drawn for testing.”
“Do you think this Mr. Niffman might have been drugged?” asked Tom’s mother.
“Or hypnotized!” Sandy suggested excitedly, fork suspended in mid-flight. “Hypnosis is very popular among the evil-fiend set!”
Tom chuckled, but added: “I might be jumping to conclusions—we don’t really know that the air-valve problem was deliberate. But the Mad Moby is real enough. And someone did move the buoy anchor.”
The following morning Tom went to check up on the testing of the new repelatron prototype he had designed with the help of Dr. Kupp. He was pleased to learn that Arv Hanson had already completed the working model, and ongoing tests by Hank Sterling were entirely positive thus far. “That’s wonderful!” Tom told Hank. “As soon as I can test-out the prototype in the ocean, as I explained yesterday, we can start building the giant repelatron to be used at the helium wells.”
“I’m almost ready to have my guys install the model on the cable platform,” Hank said. “How about tomorrow for your ‘field test’ in the Atlantic?” Tom gave the plan an enthusiastic OK.
Next, Tom went to see Art Wiltessa, a seasoned project engineer for Swift Enterprises, who had been assigned the task of transforming Tom’s new design for his hydrodome into reality. His strange new idea was now coming to fruition. With the force of the master repelatron holding back the tremendous pressure of the surrounding waters, this deep-sea hydrodome would be the simplest, lightest version yet—a completely transparent hemisphere of Tomasite plastic composed of long, curving pieces, triangular in shape, that could be seamlessly cemented together down at the well site on the ocean floor.
Wiltessa’s report was as positive as Sterling’s, and Tom exited “the Barn,” as the big hangarlike assembly building was called, with a broad smile on his face.
Since the return to Shopton Bud had seen little of his chum. But later in the day, looking for Tom, he strolled into the small machine shop on the ground floor of the materials science building. Complete with forge, casting equipment, and machine tools, the shop was often used by Tom when he was constructing the “flint” models of new inventions. Right now the young scientist was hard at work on the concept that would have its oceanic debut the next day. As big across as two office desks pushed together, it sat in the middle of the shop floor.
Bud stared at it and said, “Don’t tell me what this is for. Let me guess. An elephant’s back-scratcher?”
“Not quite, knuck. It’s an undersea elevator.”
“Hmm!” Bud’s eyes narrowed.
The object in question consisted of a square, railed metal platform, about one foot thick, with finlike brackets extending out on two opposite sides of it. In the center, inset halfway into a round opening in the deck, was a shiny metal sphere the size of a large beachball.
“If you’ll promise not to call in that Dr. Kupp, I’ll be glad to let you explain to me what it’s for and how it works,” said the young pilot as he brushed a lock of black hair off his forehead.
Tom had to chuckle at the baffled—and wary!—look on his friend’s face. “Like I say, Bud—it’s an undersea elevator for hauling things up or down between the hydrodome on the bottom and the surface of the ocean,” Tom explained. “It’ll slide on cables that’ll pass between pairs of grooved wheels that will be mounted inside these brackets.”
“That’s an elevator, all right.” Bud nodded his head in silent amazement, then asked, “What makes it go? A winch motor on a ship up topside?”
“A repelatron. This metal ball in the center is the radiating part of the machine.”
Bud said quickly, “I thought you told me, during my brain-recovery period yesterday, that your repelatron was to repel water to create an air space around your hydrodome.”
“The main repelatron will do that,” Tom said. “This little one will create a bubble space around the elevator on all sides.”
“But you just got through saying it would make the elevator go up and down.”
“It’ll do that, too, by altering the bubble’s buoyancy.’
“Better draw me a diagram,” Bud declared. “A simple one, please, with stick-figures.”
“Glad you’re not underestimating yourself, flyboy.” Tom rapidly sketched a small ship on a page in his notebook—and put a stick-figure on deck. “Suppose this ship is built out of metal weighing a thousand tons. It floats. But what would happen if you squeezed the ship into a solid hunk of metal—like this?” He crunched the piece of paper into a ball.
“Right. The solid hunk of metal wouldn’t weigh any more than the ship, but it would displace a lot less water, and have less surface area for the water to push on. In other words, if you shrink something down so it takes up less space in the water, it also becomes less buoyant—or more sinkable, you might say.”
“With you so far, pal.” Bud nodded. “So?”
“So we’ll do the same thing with the bubble around the elevator,” Tom explained. “By cutting down the force of the repelatron, we make the bubble shrink to a smaller size. Since we’re now displacing less water, the elevator will automatically tend to sink.”
“Sure, and then turn the repelatron up full force—the bubble now becomes larger, displacing more water, so the elevator starts to rise.”
Tom applauded. “Knew you could do it!”
“Like I told you, I’ve been reading.” Bud shook his head in admiration, “Don’t know how you do it, genius boy, but it sounds terrific. Nice work, pal!” Bud clapped his friend on the back. “I hereby grant you the official Barclay seal of approval! How soon do we give it a tryout?”
“Tomorrow morning.” Tom grinned. “In the middle of the ocean! Want to come along?”
“It’s a date!”
Next morning the elevator device, christened the bubblevator by Bud, was loaded aboard the Flying Lab and Tom, Bud, and Hank Sterling took off with it to Fearing Island. Tom had invited Dr. Clisby and Bob Anchor to witness the trial, and Doc Simpson accompanied the small crew on the flight in case extensive exposure to the repelatron during the underwater tests should lead to medical problems for the youths.
“How’s Niffman?” Tom asked Simpson somewhere over Pennsylvania.
“About the same. Sleeps a lot and keeps babbling when he’s awake. Doesn’t make any sense yet,” the physician replied. “But I feel his condition is temporary. The bloodwork results should be available when we get back to Shopton.”
After landing at the rocket base the sea elevator was transferred to a flat, bargelike vessel outfitted with a crane derrick, and all climbed aboard.
After two hours of travel north of east the barge reached a point where the fathometer showed a depth of about a hundred and fifty feet. Tom quickly performed a careful analysis of the seawater by Swift Spectroscope.
“It’s water, isn’t it?” asked Bob with a laugh.
“Sure is,” was the reply. “But the repelatron effect, attuned to basic H2O, can be interfered with by other substances mixed in with it, such as salt. I even have to take trace elements, like chromium, into account in calibrating the machine—otherwise the bubble could collapse on us.”
“As a chemist, I’m always glad to be reminded of the importance of my chosen profession,” said Dr. Clisby. He lowered his voice so the technical crew could not overhear. “It’s also good to know that this area isn’t infested with any toxins.”
The crane boom was swung out to support the elevator cables. These were reeved through pulley blocks and payed out into the water, with a weighted mechanism attached to their ends which would automatically anchor itself to the bottom of the ocean upon contact.
“Okay, let’s rig the elevator platform!” Tom ordered. While this was being done under Hank Sterling’s direction, Bob Anchor begged to go along on the first descent.
“Next time,” Tom grinned as Bob’s face fell in evident disappointment. “Let us peasants test it out first—you and Dr. Clisby are valuable government employees!”
As soon as the elevator guides were clamped in place around the cables, Tom and Bud stepped aboard the slowly-rocking platform, dangling from the crane boom a dozen feet above the rounded waves, through a gate in the railing. After a last check of the bank of solar batteries mounted within the waterproofed body of the platform, the bubblevator was lowered by winch until it just touched the surface of the water. With his heart racing nervously, Tom murmured to Bud, “Here goes!” and switched on the repelatron full force.
An awed gasp burst from the watchers on deck. A huge hollow depression, like a giant dimple, had opened up in the surface of the water, directly below and around the elevator! Forming a perfect circle with the repelatron sphere at its center, the inner surface of this hollow was as smooth and shiny as a glass bowl. Beyond lay the translucent green of the sea.
“Cast off the winch lines!” Tom ordered, feeling a thrill of excitement at this first success. He glanced at Bud, and his pal held up crossed fingers.
A moment later the elevator hung poised above the water dimple, sustained entirely by the force of the repelatron as it pushed against the water.
“Going down!” Tom slowly eased back on the master control lever, cutting down the action of the repelatron. As the repulsion force decreased, the dimple grew smaller and the elevator began to sink. As the two boys descended below the wavery line of the surface, the water gradually closed in on all sides and met above their heads. They were enclosed in an air bubble!
Bud gasped. “Whew! What a weird feeling!” he murmured as they sank down, down through the bright emerald waters.
“Any trouble breathing?” Tom asked.
“Not a bit,” his pal replied. “How long can we stay under before we use up our air?”
“The bubble’s still pretty big, even at its descent radius,” Tom said. “Just being the two of us, we could easily last an hour or more. When we expand it, the air tanks inside the platform will release more to fill ’er up.”
Bud turned for a glance at the repelatron sphere. “It looks funny—like it has a glow around it.”
“A corona, a localized photon-resonance effect. There’s a heck of a lot of energy surging around the radiator sphere, Bud. Just think of the tremendous weight of water it has to hold back! To withstand the back-pressure the sphere itself is solid; all the hollows and airspaces have been filled with hardened Tomasite under pressure. And this is nothing compared to what the hydrodome repelatron will have to endure.”
As the experiment continued Tom switched on some floodlights mounted beneath the platform, and the gathering darkness jumped back. In a short while the ocean floor became visible below, with its tangled mass of green vegetation. Tom could not suppress a pleased grin at the bubblevator’s operation, which he and Bud passed between them.
Suddenly Bud let out a cry of alarm. “Tom! Look!” He pointed through the bubble’s invisible wall, out into the water.
In the distance a whale-shaped craft was heading straight toward them at terrific speed!
“The mystery sub! It’s going to ram us!” Bud yelled.
White-faced, Tom slammed the switch lever to full power and the sides of the air bubble sprung back instantly. The elevator shot up just in time! With a shuddering wake, the huge submarine roared past below them, brushing the cables beneath!
As the elevator charged up through the surface into the open air, pains stabbed through Tom’s chest, and Bud was leaning over and writhing in agony, pale and perspiring.
“Quick! Get them aboard!” Doe Simpson cried to the horrified crew. “They have the bends!”
A PERILOUS PICNIC
IN FRANTIC haste Tom and Bud were hauled up onto the deck of the barge. Every crew member realized the boys were suffering the deadly cramps brought on by a too-sudden change of pressure. Doc Simpson at once gave them injections to ease their pain.
“We must get them back to the island!” the medic ordered. “They’ll need treatment immediately!”
“But my invention!” Tom protested in spite of his agony. “We have to disassemble it—stow it away!”
“We’ll stay here and unrig the setup, Skipper,” Hank promised. “Fearing can send a jetmarine to take you back.”
At the head of its formidable hydraulic jet, the atom-powered midget sub arrived in minutes and the boys were helped inside, followed by Doc Simpson. Arriving at Fearing, they found an ambulance waiting on the south dock. From there the boys were rushed to the island infirmary and wheeled into the operating room where the Fearing medical officer, Dr. Carman, was standing by.
“W-what happens now?” gasped Bud weakly, looking askance at huge tubs of ice standing in readiness.
“Hypothermia,” said Doc Simpson tersely.
Bud grimaced. “Sounds horrible.”
“Relax, flyboy,” Tom said in a wisp of a voice. “They’re just going to freeze us, that’s all.”
“Freeze us?” echoed Bud.
The physicians nodded as they hastily prepared anesthetizing equipment. “We’ll lower your body temperature to 75 degrees and keep you that way until your circulatory system gets back to normal and the nitrogen bubbles are gone from your blood. You won’t feel a thing.”
“I’m numb already!” Bud groaned in half-hearted protest.
Luckily the boys’ condition, though painful, was not gravely serious, since they had not submerged to any great depth. By the following day Tom and his friend were recuperating comfortably in a hospital room with an ocean view.
“I’ve seen enough ocean for awhile,” Bud grumbled. “Why didn’t the repelatron protect us from pressure changes, anyway?”
“I thought it would,” admitted Tom sheepishly. “But I made the airspace grow so quickly the system couldn’t compensate. As we went up, the bubble got a little too big for its britches, you might say.”
“What I do say is: When we hunt down that Mad Moby, I get to throw the first harpoon! They were out to kill us, genius boy!”
“Yes,” Tom agreed. “Or at least to scare us—maybe set back our testing schedule. It’s pretty clear they know all about the repelatron and the hydrodome project.” He again was compelled to face the ugly fact that someone with an “in” at Swift Enterprises was providing a determined enemy with inside information.
“Some visitors just flew in,” Doc Simpson told them when he dropped by to check their progress. “By Sky Queen express, direct from Shopton. Like to see them? Or shall I tell them to turn ’er around and head back home?”
“Bring them in!” said Tom, who was growing restless at inactivity.
“Hold on!” warned Bud jokingly. “If it’s Dr. Kupp or some other high-domed experts, don’t start flinging chemical equations around or I’ll have a relapse!”
Doc chuckled. Opening the door, he ushered in Sandy, Bashalli, and Chow Winkler.
“Wow! I feel better already!” Bud exclaimed, beaming at Sandy.
“Well, don’t get too lively,” she warned, her eyes dancing, “or I’ll tell the doctor to put you back in deep freeze!”
The lighthearted banter cheered everyone. Bashalli said, with a special smile for Tom, “You boys look fully recovered, thank goodness! How in the world do you find so many ways to damage yourselves?”
“What counts is that these two hombres has mighty tough hides betwixt ’em!” Chow exclaimed. He and the girls distributed fruit and cookies they had brought from Shopton.
Chow held up a cookie. “New recipe! Salmon and seaweed!” As Bud’s jaw dropped comically, the Texan guffawed. “Jest joshin’ ya, Buddy Boy.”
Tom, meanwhile, was saying to his sister, “How’re Mom and Dad?”
“Besides frantic with worry over you two? Just fine,” Sandy retorted. “Daddy’s at the Citadel right now on a special research problem—something urgent.” The Citadel was the Swifts’ atomic energy plant in the Southwest. “He said you’ll have to carry on with the helium project pretty much on your own. If you live! And Mother sends her love—and her sternest admonition.”
They talked and joked for a time. Then a serious expression crossed Tom’s face. “Sandy, Bash, since you’re here—I have a favor to ask.”
“If this involves being guinea pigs for your next repelatron test, please find two other friends,” Bashalli declared. “Gullible ones!”
“What is it, Tom?” Sandy asked.
“It has to do with our new hire, Amelia Foger.”
“Esquire!” Bud chirped in.
“You wish us to spy on her?” inquired Bashalli in polite tones. “History shows our spying techniques to be inadequate; even, perhaps, embarrassing.”
“Oh, Bashi, that could have happened to anyone!” Sandy remonstrated. “Go on, Tom.”
“It’s just that I think it’s time for me to get to know Miss Foger a bit better.”
“What do you mean?” asked Bud and Bashalli at the same moment. The young Pakistani added, “Precisely?”
Tom laughed and continued. “Cool down! It struck me that one place at Enterprises that knows all about the helium operation is the legal office. I’d sure like to know if Amelia is carrying out the family grudge against the Swifts—and if she’s acquainted with Reuben Niffman!”
Bashalli said jokingly: “Ah! Do you want us to find where she is living, go over and rough her up a little?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of a social get-together, something relaxed, casual,” Tom said.
“Of course!” Sandy exclaimed. “That way she won’t be on the alert when we grill her!”
“Seriously, how about a picnic?” suggested the young inventor. “Maybe on the lake? It’ll seem less threatening if you two take care of organizing it. Do you mind?”
Sandy smiled the smile of a foxhound on the chase. “Leave it to us!”
“She doesn’t mind,” Bud commented.
“That’s what I’m afraid of!” Tom concluded wryly.
“Wa-aal, I think it’s a plumb good idee,” Chow contributed. “I’ll make up a right good basket of pic-a-nic victuals, Texas style.”
“Now tell us what you girls have been doing,” said Bud. “Turning down all other dates, I hope.”
“My, what an optimist!” Sandy teased.
Bash laughed, her dark eyes sparkling. “After all, we had you two on ice!”
“You’re licked, boys!” Chow chuckled as the two boys pretended to fume.
Next day, since they were much better, Doc Simpson released them from the facility hospital. Tom and Bud said goodbye to Bob and Dr. Clisby, who needed to take a day to make a report to their boss at the Bureau of Mines in Washington. After they flew off by jet, Sandy, Bashalli, and Chow, who had spent the night on Fearing, took off for Shopton aboard the Queen with Tom and Bud as passengers. The bubblevator equipment remained behind on the island.
As they winged over the water toward the mainland, Bud remarked, out of earshot of the others, “Do you suppose that sub was the same one that nosed in on us the other day, or is there a whole fleet of Mad Mobys?”
Tom looked grim. “I wish I knew the answer to that one, Bud. Whether it was the same one or not, I wonder if it was carrying T-9-E in the hold.”
“Are you suggesting,” said Bud, horrified, “that the sub was planning to dump the stuff in this area? Around Fearing? Tom!”
The young inventor looked grim and fearful. “They might have been on their way there and just happened to spot us by accident. Now they know we’re on the alert to their presence—I hope that’s stopped them! Anyway, the island sea patrol is pretty efficient, and we’ve got the drones and radar system, too.”
“I’d say they’re mighty efficient themselves!” Bud gulped.
As soon as they landed at Enterprises, Tom hurried to his worktable and design flatscreen. A host of problems connected with the prospective helium-site “city” beneath the ocean were pressing—an air-purification plant, the gas-bottling process, and planning for the construction of buildings inside the hydrodome once it had been established.
Under pressure the young inventor’s mind seemed to work at top speed. Hour after hour he hunched over his bench, testing parts and circuit hookups, sketching out ideas, dashing off memos, and taking phone calls. By the end of the day, the youthful scientist-inventor, so recently out of a hospital bed, was exhausted.
But there was good news at home. Sandy announced that she had phoned Amelia Foger at Swift Enterprises. “I made a lot of small-talk, told her how I made a point of greeting new Enterprises employees who are young, single, and female—as I am too!—and in any event, Tom, she took the bait. The picnic is set for early afternoon Saturday!”
“I’d say Amelia Foger never had a chance,” commented Tom’s mother.
Midday Saturday, Tom drove Sandy and Bashalli to the yacht club pier on Lake Carlopa, where they were to meet Bud and Amelia. It seemed to Tom that the girls, resplendent in rather chic sundresses and scarves, were not merely dressed to impress, they were dressed to destroy!
“I thought the idea was to not set off Amelia’s defense-alert system!” remarked Tom with a whistle.
“The idea is to extract information by whatever means necessary,” Bash replied haughtily. “We must wear her down before we go to work on her.”
Tom shrugged. “Guess I don’t understand how girls operate.”
“That, Thomas, is how girls operate!”
The plan was to take the Mary Nestor out to Cave Island, a tiny wooded islet at the further end of the lake. As promised, Chow had provided a picnic lunch; as threatened, it had a Texas theme. Yet it looked delicious.
In minutes Bud’s scarlet convertible pulled up and Bud and Amelia Foger waved hello. The attorney was casually dressed in jeans, sweatshirt, sunshades, and a floppy hat. “I’m afraid I’m a little under-dressed,” she said apologetically.
“You look fine,” Tom responded. “Oh—what was that?”
“I think Bashalli dropped the ice chest,” Bud said.
They clambered aboard the sailboat, and soon the sleek little craft was skipping through the waves toward the north shore. The Mary Nestor skimmed across the green expanse of water amid chatter, laughter, and quips from Bud.
“I’ve fallen in love with this town,” declared Amelia. “Wonderful atmosphere, friendly people.”
“We are extremely friendly here,” said Bashalli. “Though if you rub us the wrong way, we are deadly.” She smiled. “Ask anyone.”
“Isn’t it a beautiful day!” Sandy exclaimed quickly. Her golden hair was flying in the breeze, and she was trailing her hand in the cool waves as they glided along, a picture of unforced feminine poise.
She glanced at Bud. “Careful, San,” he warned her. “You look like you’re going to fall out.” Sandy’s expression darkened.
After anchoring in the shallows by Cave Island’s bathing beach, they waded ashore, those in pants rolling up their pantlegs while Bashalli and Sandy wrapped their skirts about them. Avoiding the small crowd on the beach, the girls found a pleasant picnic spot some distance away, shaded by overhanging trees. Then they hurried off to change into their swim suits in one of the shallow caves that gave the island its name. But Amelia, like Tom and Bud, simply shed her outer garb to reveal her bathing suit beneath. By the time Sandy and Bash had returned, the boys were cavorting like porpoises in the water, with Amelia Foger giving as good as she got.
“Oh dear,” whispered Bashi. “She’s good.”
“Very,” was Sandy’s reply. “But we’re better!”
“Come on, you scaredy cats!” yelled Bud, as the two girls tested the water delicately.
“Okay,” said Sandy, “but don’t you try any― ” Her words ended in a shriek as Tom sent a sheet of water flying toward them, splashing both girls from head to foot!
For over an hour they swam, laughed, and sunned themselves. Then when Tom and Bud announced that they had worked up ravenous appetites, they decided it was time to open the picnic baskets.
As the five sprawled about a large tarpaulin bearing the Swift Enterprises logo, the four Shoptonians cautiously tried to draw out Amelia. She was polite, friendly, vivacious—yet somehow their real questions were never quite answered.
“No, I don’t believe I’ve met Mr. Niffman,” she said. “Of course his breakdown is all the gossip at the water cooler. I’m preparing a report on liability exposure in such cases, though.”
“You’re right on the ball,” remarked Tom.
“Like horsehide on a baseball,” added Sandy.
Bud tried to bring the conversation around to matters of family background. He talked of his mother’s family, the Newtons, and their long relationship with the Swifts.
“What about your family, Amy? I think Bud said you have relations here in New York,” Tom inquired.
“Did he?” She smiled and took a bite of her sandwich. “As a matter of fact, that’s why I’d been thinking of moving to the east coast. I hardly ever have a chance to see that branch of Dad’s family.”
“Where do they live?”
“Just down the highway. Say, maybe we’ve run into them. What’re their names?”
“I always called them Auntie Nonna and Uncle Bun,” she replied unhelpfully. “They’re not really my aunt and uncle—I think they’re second cousins, or something. But they’re very sweet old people.”
Just then the growing buzz of a plane caused them all to look up. The tiny prop-job, cream-colored with a bright trim, cast its shadow across them, then looped around for a return.
“If that were a Pigeon Special,” Sandy commented, “he’d be able to land right on the beach.”
The craft approached lazily, low over the water, the whirling haze of its propeller facing them head-on.
“Y’know, there’s this movie…” began Bud, eyes on the airplane. “A guy’s standing out all alone in a cornfield, and this crop-duster plane zeroes in on him…and…”
Tom suddenly gripped Bud’s wrist as he watched the craft through narrowed eyes. His scalp prickled with a sudden sense of impending danger.
“B-Bud—!” gasped Sandy.
“…It really is…a great movie…” Bud’s face had turned white.
Tom leapt to his feet, trying to pull Amy and Bash up with him. “Run! Run for the cave!”
But it was now too late to run. As it drew frighteningly near the island, the plane suddenly swooped down, roaring in so low that the picnickers instinctively dived to the sand. The plane circled sharply and, with an ear-splitting whine, buzzed the beach again.
“If I ever get my hands on that rockhead― ” Bud stormed as he leapt to his feet.
“Look out! He’s coming back!” cried Bashalli in terror.
THIS TIME, as the plane whipped past, it sprayed the beach with a heavy whitish vapor. In a twinkling, the stifling gas began to diffuse over the corner of the island that the girls had found for them.
“Quick! Into the cave!” Tom yelled. “Don’t bother about your clothes—stay away from that gas!” As they scrambled for the low hill where the caves were located, Tom caught Bud’s eye, and the young inventor’s expression was eloquent. Could the white vapor be the deadly neurotoxin?
Hands over their faces, the five picnickers crackled across a blanket of brown pine needles and raced up a short incline. When they reached the cave, Tom and Bud hastily barricaded the entrance with whatever torn-off pine boughs and shrub leaves fell within their reach.
“Tom! Something’s happened to Bashi!” Sandy gasped in a panic-stricken voice.
Her brother’s face went pale as he saw that the dark-haired girl had slumped unconscious on the cave floor. He bounded to her side and knelt down, trying to check her pulse and breathing.
“Oh, what’ll we do?” cried Sandy fearfully.
Tom racked his brain. Suddenly he recalled that one long, sweeping branch of a giant cedar tree brushed against the hillside next to the cave entrance. “Chafe her wrists, sis! Bud, help me!”
The boys edged aside the barrier they had thrown together and ducked outside, holding their breaths. They frantically stripped handfulls of needles from the branch and hastened back into the gloom of the cave, where they gulped-in the cool air as they crushed the needles in their strong fingers. They held the crude mash under Bashalli’s nostrils. As Tom had hoped, the pungent scent revived her.
“Take deep breaths,” urged Amy Foger calmly. “But keep lying flat. Don’t be afraid—you’re all right.”
“What happened?” she murmured. “Why is it so dark?”
“You’re in the cave,” said Sandy with tears in her voice. “That plane!—Bashi, do you think you breathed in any of the gas?”
“I don’t know,” replied the Pakistani. “Maybe a little. There’s a stinging feeling in my throat and nose… a smell like cedar.”
Bud called out from the cave entrance, “Tom! The gas is staying low, by the water. And the breeze is thinning it out.”
In twenty minutes they were able to venture out again. There was no sign of the plane to be seen as the five made their way cautiously back to the tarp and their picnic basket.
Sandy looked at the limp sandwiches in despair. “It’s ruined—everything’s ruined.”
“But once again, we manage to be alive,” noted Bashalli, her voice raspy. “I must tell you, Amelia—in the company of these Swift people, to remain alive and healthy is an accomplishment.”
Tom pounded an angry fist into the palm of his hand. “They struck right when we were the most vulnerable. We don’t even know what sort of gas Bash inhaled—it’s all dissipated.”
Suddenly Bud half-smiled and picked up one of the discarded sandwiches. “Say—maybe not! Doesn’t this good, rich, home-baked bread of Chow’s look sort of like a sponge?”
Bud’s idea panned out perfectly. Back at Enterprises, the girls safely home, Tom ran a test of the sandwich bread for traces of foreign substances.
As Tom looked up from his instruments, Bud said, “Well, it can’t be that poison, can it? Bash would’ve dropped in her tracks.”
“It’s not the neurotoxin,” Tom pronounced. “It’s not even poisonous—just a harmless compound used to produce theatrical fog effects.”
“Then what was the point, Skipper?”
Tom shrugged. “Want a guess? A warning of some kind. Or maybe― ” A sudden frown puckered his forehead. “Bud… who was last into the cave? Wasn’t it Amy?”
Bud nodded in abrupt understanding. “Yes! She seemed to hold back a little, almost as if― ”
“Almost as if she knew the attack was harmless!” Tom concluded heatedly. “She was cooler than any of us, all the way through. It may be that this little stunt was all about taking our suspicions off her, by making her look like another victim with the rest of us.”
Bud’s anger was mixed with apology. “Tom, look what I’ve done, bringing her to Enterprises like that!”
“Don’t blame yourself. She may have been keeping tabs on you in San Francisco, waiting for an opportunity.”
“But do you really think…” Bud pushed aside the tenacious dark lock that had flopped across his forehead. “An old grudge against the Swifts—that I can believe. But it’s hard to believe she could be behind the Mad Moby. Or am I just being old-fashioned?”
“She’s hardly likely to be the mastermind,” Tom declared. “But she could be acting as their agent here in the plant, the one who leaked information to Niffman and got him stirred up.”
He told Bud that he would discuss the matter with his father and with Harlan Ames, to work out a scheme to keep watch on her until the suspicions could be confirmed.
After saying goodbye to Bud, Tom showered and changed in his office, then phoned Harlan Ames at home and reported the incident.
“Any idea where the plane came from?” asked the security chief.
“None at all,” Tom replied. “It had no marks of identification, and we couldn’t see the pilot.”
“Okay, I’ll notify the authorities. Maybe the Air Patrol can spot it.”
No word came, but the next morning Tom and his father received a long-distance call from Admiral Hopkins, who had previously acted as Swift Enterprises’ contact person for scientific work involving the U.S. Navy. In tones that bespoke deep concern the officer reported that a patrolling Navy sub had found a cache of sealed titanium containers in a crevice on the ocean floor near Bermuda. “The men made jokes about ’em first-off—said they looked like pirate treasure chests, that sort of thing. We didn’t open them. But we did X-ray them. And then, gentlemen—then we didn’t want to open them!”
“What do you mean?” asked Damon Swift.
“The chests contained round, reinforced high-pressure tanks. You and I know what that could signify in the present circumstance.”
Tom and his father exchanged startled looks. The implication was clear—T-9-E!
“We forced a tank open in a sealed test chamber, and our supposition proved correct. Do you understand? And gentlemen, there were nineteen of those chests!”
Tom gasped. “Nineteen! And no clue as to who planted them?”
“None,” replied the Navy man. “We assume it was that big submersible, of course. The motive is unknown. Our government has received no warnings, no threats. It seems they’re being stockpiled.”
“The implied threat is pretty obvious!” Tom exclaimed in anger.
“No argument there. The foreign intelligence and anti-terrorism people are going crazy. We’ve put Swift Enterprises in the loop on this, as it seems the matter is connected to your helium project,” Admiral Hopkins concluded. “I’ll be keeping in close touch with your security man—Ames, isn’t it?”
The Swifts thanked him for the promise. When the call was ended father and son sat and talked in grave tones, quietly. The threat to human life was horrific. “And we have no means of taking the battle to the enemy,” declared the elder Swift. Tom could only agree.
Tom spent the balance of the eventful weekend at home, keeping in close contact with Bashalli to make certain that she had suffered no lingering effects from the vapor. Though the compound was basically harmless, Doc Simpson, telephoning the Swift home Sunday evening, suggested that she might be allergic to it. The exposure had caused her windpipe to momentarily constrict, it appeared, bringing about her fainting spell.
“How’s Niffman coming along?” Tom asked.
“According to Dr. Cole at the hospital, he’s much calmer now—more rational and talkative. Tom, it was wise of you to deal with the problem medically instead of having him arrested.”
“It’s obvious he’d had some sort of breakdown,” Tom said. “He’d been a loyal employee before—Enterprises owed him something for that.”
Doc Simpson agreed. “In fact, looking at the blood workup, he may have had even less responsibility for his behavior than we thought.”
“What did you find?”
“Hold on to your hat, Tom. The lab detected traces of lysergic acid—LSD! I’m pretty sure Rube Niffman was drugged!”
SOUP ON THE CEILING
TOM WAS dismayed—and outraged! “Drugged! By someone else, you mean?”
Doc Simpson hesitated, weighing Tom’s question carefully. “We don’t really know. I’m sure he’ll tell us eventually, but I don’t recommend putting too much pressure on the man right now, not in his present condition. Though drugs might have caused the problem to develop in the first place, it’s possible that they exacerbated an underlying psychosis. He could slip into a schizophrenic state if we try to confront him.”
“Yes, I see,” replied the young inventor. “You’re the expert, Doc. But confidentially—I’m afraid I can’t give you the details—there’s a lot riding on Niffman’s story. If there’s a plotter working at Enterprises, we need to smoke him out. It’s vital that we uncover him!” Tom added silently: Or her!
“Let’s give it another couple of days,” Doc said. “Take that as my ‘doctor’s advice’.”
“Right. Thanks a lot.”
“I’ll send you my bill in the morning!” joked the young medico.
At Enterprises the next morning, Tom plunged into the task of modifying the basic repelatron so that it would automatically adjust its field setting to changes in the predominant mix of trace substances in water. “Trying to make it a bit more open-minded,” Tom explained to Bud with a grin.
Bud asked if the redesigned system would be able to repel elements or chemical compounds other than water, such as iron or calcium. “Just think, Tom—if you could get your gimmick to repel dirt and rock, you could put one underneath a plane and she wouldn’t be able to crash if she wanted to! Or maybe you could use repelatron force rays to throw enemy missiles back on whatever country fired ’em off!”
Tom sat up tall on his workstool, eyes bright with thought. “You’re right, flyboy—absolutely! In theory, the concept has almost unlimited potential. Unfortunately, though, the Lunite used in the antenna-radiator—the surface of that metal ball is actually the ends of thousands of tiny Lunite filaments—is subject to a sort of ‘lag effect’ that I haven’t been able to overcome.”
“You mean the stuff doesn’t want to switch back and forth?”
The young inventor gave his pal a nod. “You’d almost need a separate radiator for each basic compound. However, I do think I can get the water-repelatron to show a greater range of tolerance with respect to the proportions of trace chemicals in the mix.”
“Well, Skipper, I’m all for tolerance.” Bud eyed the small device sitting on Tom’s work table. It resembled an oversized flashlight, the end flaring out into a parabolic reflector. “That’s either your new repelatron model or a satellite dish for mice.”
“Just a midget test prototype Arv Hanson whipped up for me,” Tom said with a laugh. “The parabolic reflector keeps the spectron space-wave field focused like a beam. I’ve been testing the new circuitry on different mixtures and solutions.” Tom showed Bud a small opening in the top of the device. “There’s a tiny spectroscopic sampler inside that ‘reads’ whatever mixture you drop in and adapts the field characteristics accordingly. My goal is to get it to work on any type of salty solution, more or less.”
“Then let’s make Chow your next test subject, Tom,” Bud gibed. “He’s about as salty as they come!”
Tom asked Bud to assist him in the lengthy process of testing and adjusting the machine. His pal grinned. “Guess I can do the ‘monkey-wrench’ work about as well as any monkey,” he replied.
The day passed quickly with barely a break for a sandwiched lunch. The boys were still hard at work at closing time when most of the employees went streaming out through the main gate.
Some time later Chow Winkler stuck his bald head through the doorway. “Some folks never know when to take a break,” the old cook remarked.
Tom looked up in surprise. “Hi, Chow! Say, what time is it?”
“Nigh onto seven o’clock.”
Tom gave a whistle. “Gosh, I had no idea! Guess we’d better get home to dinner, eh, Bud?”
“Suits me,” said the husky young pilot, laying down a Phillips-head screwdriver.
“Hold on now, partners!” Chow interposed with a gruff frown. “You fellers kin just sit y’selfs back down. Brand my propeller-trons, seems like I hardly get a chance to see your faces lately—ceptin’ when you’re playin’ tricks on me with my salt shaker!” He interrupted himself with a low groan and put a hand to his cheek. “Besides,” he went on, a strained expression on his face, “I figured you’d sure be here all night a-workin’, so I fixed up some real fancy vittles to line your insides with. And they’re dang good and I don’t want any arguments, you hear?”
Tom and Bud exchanged glances of surprise. “Chow!” murmured Tom in sympathy. “What’s― ”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong!” The old Westerner spoke so harshly that the two youths were taken aback!
The cook put a hand to his cheek again. “Aw, it’s this tooth o’ mine. Achin’ away like a pick-axe at work, and blame if I can’t get in to see the dentist till tomorree!”
Bud tried to extend some sympathy to the friend he so often kidded. “Maybe we can find something to take your mind off it.”
“Naw, don’t need nothin’,” Chow replied stubbornly. “And don’t think a passel o’ them lame-mule wisecracks o’ yours’ll make a difference, Buddy Boy!”
“S-sure!” said Bud with wide-eyes.
“Chow, dinner’d be swell!” Tom smiled. “I could sure use one of your super-deluxe specials! We both could—right, Bud?’’
“More like it. Comin’ right up!” the cook responded in grumpy tones. “Back in jest a minute with th’ goods—oww!”
“Whatever he’s thrown together in the state he’s in,” muttered Bud to Tom as the door closed, “something tells me we’ll be the ones who end up groaning!”
Tom immediately phoned his mother and explained that he and Bud would not be home for the late supper they’d planned. Then, clicking shut the circuitry cover of the small repelatron, he went to a far corner of the laboratory to look at some construction plans he had promised his father he would deliver to Arv Hanson. Meanwhile Bud did a quick cleanup job. He put away tools and sorted out the jumble of electronic parts strewn over the workbench, When Tom turned around, he found his pal seated at the table they often used for quick meals.
“Hungry?” Tom asked.
“Oh yeah,” smiled Bud.
Presently the boys heard a shrill whistle on a bosun’s pipe just outside the laboratory.
“Chow down!” boomed a foghorn voice, and the roly-poly sun-bronzed cook appeared, wheeling a tiered cart loaded with covered dishes. Frowning and silent—except for some soft moaning—Chow laid the table with a snowy white cloth, dishes, glasses, and silverware. Then he lifted the lid of a soup tureen. Out floated a cloud of steam, bearing with it an appetizing aroma.
“Mmm! Smells delicious!” Tom said with great haste, almost before the whiffs had time to reach his nose. “What is it?”
“Armadillo soup,” Chow replied as he grimly ladled it into the bowls. “Reckon you’ll say it’s the finest you ever tasted!”
Tom had turned a bit pale. “Don’t know that I ever tried any before,” he said cautiously, not wanting to hurt the Texan’s feelings, or provoke a further eruption.
“Course you ain’t never had any o’ this kind before,” said Chow, “’cause I jest got the idea the other day.”
Bud stared at his soup dish suspiciously. “You mean you stewed up one of those armor-plated critters you see in the zoo?”
“Oh, I took the shell off,” Chow assured him. “Jest cooked the pink tender meat—folks like the flavor fine down on the Rio Grande. You will, too, when you taste it. Go ahead and try some.” As the two hesitated, he added: “Now!”
“I can hardly wait!” said Bud, leaning over the bowl as if enjoying the aroma.
“You jest go ahead an’ spoon ’er in. Won’t kill ya, an’ if it does, I don’t want t’ hear about it!”
Chow’s words ended in a shriek as the soup suddenly flew from the dishes!
“G-great jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!” The cook turned white as a ghost as he stared down at the empty dishes, then up at the spattered ceiling. “Uh—uh—what in tarnation’s goin’—owww!”
Both boys were shaking so hard with laughter they could hardly talk. Finally Tom managed to find his voice. “Don’t worry, Chow. Something tells me The Great Barclay is back of this!”
Reaching down, Bud brought out the new portable repelatron from underneath the table. He confessed, somewhat meekly, to being the culprit and explained that he had propped the device on the floor with its antenna pointing upward and flicked on the switch just an instant before. He had managed to dribble one spoonful of the salty soup into the repelatron as a sample.
“Brand my boot heels, I mighta known this here jokin’ varmint was up to somethin’!” Chow groaned, mopping his forehead.
“But I’ll bet it took your mind off your tooth!” Bud pointed out with raised eyebrows.
Chow’s glare slowly softened, and finally he joined in the laughter, good nature restored.
At last the meal proceeded, with fresh helpings from the tureen. Though the taste of the armadillo soup was strikingly unusual, both Tom and Bud found it delicious. The rest of the meal proved to be equally appetizing. Chow looked happy when the boys praised his cooking in glowing terms.
“Guess I kin take a joke long as I’m cookin’ fer folks who ’preciate good grub!” he beamed.
While Tom took the construction drawings to a far part of the building where he knew Arv Hanson was working late, Bud helped Chow clear away the dishes, then sponge off the spattered soup. The old Texan hung around for a moment, chatting idly, but finally went off wheeling his cart and nursing his tooth.
Bud carried the repelatron across the lab and screwed it into the wall-mounted clamps that held it firmly in place during the testing procedure. Awaiting Tom’s return, he stood at one of the counters with his back to the lab and amused himself by making a costume jewelry pin for Sandy out of a piece of copper.
Gradually a strange feeling crept over him. His throat seemed dry and painful. It was hard to swallow. The muscular, athletic youth ignored the feeling for a time. Guess that armadillo’s still got a little life in him! he joked to himself. But his head began to throb. Dropping his work, Bud slumped down on a stool. The whole room was swimming before his eyes.
“What in the world’s happening to me?” he muttered. He had chatted with Tom about Niffman’s case—was it possible that Bud himself had been slipped some kind of drug?
“Tom!” he called anxiously. His voice came out in a hoarse croak.
There was no answer, and Bud’s nerves grew taut as he fought down a surge of fear. He tried to get up from the stool but he staggered and his legs gave way. He sunk to the floor, weak as a kitten.
“Help!” the young pilot cried out in panic. “Somebody—help!”
TOM SWIFT was just coming down the hall on his way back to the laboratory when he heard Bud’s muffled call for help, faint as a whisper. Startled, he broke into a run.
“Bud! What’s happened?” he cried, bursting into the laboratory.
His friend was sagged against the worktable as he struggled to force himself to his feet, his head drooping. Tom threw an arm around Bud’s muscular shoulders and raised him so he could see his face. Both of Bud’s eyelids were fluttering weakly. His skin was flushed, hot, and dry.
“Bud, talk to me! For Pete’s sake, tell me what happened!” Tom pleaded. “Did someone do this to you?”
“I... I... don’t know…” The words trailed off. Bud could hardly move his jaw and his mouth hung open. Tom noticed with alarm that his pal’s tongue was dark and swollen.
Good night, what’s wrong with him? the young inventor wondered desperately.
Plucking a paper cup from the wall container, Tom tried to fill it at the lab faucet. To his amazement, nothing came out!
A sudden thought struck Tom. The repelatron! Maybe it was switched on, repelling all water from the room as well as from Bud!
Dashing across the laboratory, he checked the portable test-repelatron which Bud had put back in place after playing his prank on Chow. The device was switched on to low power!
“Poor Bud’s dehydrated!” Tom exclaimed aloud.
He flicked off the power switch, then hurried back to the sink and tried the faucet again. This time, after a few coughs and gurgles, water finally struggled its way out.
Tom filled the large paper cup and held it to Bud’s lips. Now barely conscious he swallowed it down in greedy gulps and mumbled for more. After complying, Tom eased him back gently against the worktable.
“We’ll soon have you fixed up, pal!” he tried to reassure his friend. “I’ll get Doc Simpson.” He phoned the infirmary, and the call was routed to the medic in his car. Tom spoke a few moments with the physician, then called Chow in the plant kitchen. “Hop to it, Chow, and get some salt over here! Lots of it!”
“Sure, boss. Is somethin’ wrong?”
“Bud’s ill. Please hurry!”
By the time Chow arrived, panting and lugging several bags of salt, Tom had filled a big experimentation vat with warm water and was stripping off Bud’s clothes. Lolling over, the youth was too weak to assist his friend.
“Great snakes! You gonna give him a bath? What’s goin’ on?” the cook gulped in a frightened voice.
“Please, Chow, just help me get him into the tank!”
Bud’s athletic physique was now a disadvantage, his solid muscle weighing him down and making him difficult to lift and maneuver. But between them Tom and Chow managed to gently lower him into the water up to his nodding chin. Hands trembling with nervousness, Chow slit open the salt bags with his jackknife and dumped the contents into the tub.
“The repelatron was on,” Tom explained, his keen eyes focused on his stricken friend. “Something went wrong with its detector. It was sending out a very general radiation. Too much moisture was squeezed out of Bud’s tissues and dumped into his bloodstream.” Tom helped Chow stir the salt into the water. “Doc says to let him soak for a while, and keep forcing him to drink.”
As the two held him up, ten minutes passed. Doc Simpson arrived on a run with his medical bag and began to check Bud’s temperature, pulse, and respiration.
“You reckon he’ll pull through?” quavered Chow. “I mean—what’ll happen to him?”
“I want to check him over completely, but he should be fine,” Doc replied. “He just needs a chance to replace the moisture he’s lost.”
Bud was given water to drink until he complained of feeling bloated, and the bottle of smelling salts from the first-aid cabinet was waved under his nose. Half an hour later the shaken youth felt well—though waterlogged—and insisted upon getting out of the bath.
“Jetz! What a dopey trick I pulled!” Bud said. “I must’ve clocked the switch on accidentally when I set the thing in its clamps.”
While Bud was easing his wrinkled limbs into his clothes, Tom said, “If it’ll make you feel any better, pal, what happened to you actually showed that we made progress today.”
“Uh-huh,” retorted the youth without enthusiasm. “How’s that, genius boy?”
“Apparently the new circuitry allows the repelatron to tune itself broadly to virtually any mixture in which the sampled compound is the main ingredient—in this case, various water solutions, including those found in human tissue. That’s a real breakthrough!”
Bud nodded ruefully. “Sure enough. I can feel it breaking through!”
The next day Bud felt fully recovered. Tom stopped by Doc Simpson’s office at Enterprises to discuss the cases of Bud and Bashalli, then remained behind at the doctor’s request while Simpson called Shopton Memorial Hospital for information on Reuben Niffman. He hung up the receiver with a smile.
“Will you come along, Tom?” Doc requested. “They want me to complete some paperwork for them, but Reuben Niffman’s mind is clear and he’s ready to talk.”
“Good!” said Tom.
At Shopton Memorial, Tom went directly to Niffman’s room. He found the mechanic sitting up in bed. He looked rested, and his eyes had lost their weird, glassy stare. As Tom reached out to shake his hand, Niffman looked anguished and his eyes teared up.
“I don’t know how to say it, but I sure am sorry for what happened,” he said to Tom, reddening. “I remember it all pretty well, but it’s nightmarish. I’ll do everything I can to make up for it, Tom.”
“I’m just glad you’re better, Rube,” the young scientist-inventor told him kindly.
“They told me what the blood tests showed. I hope you’ll believe me, if you can—I don’t do drugs, and I don’t know how that stuff got into me.”
“I do believe you,” Tom responded. “But when do you think it started? Did somebody feed you the idea that I was building a bomb?”
Niffman sucked in some air, his face now grim and angry. “I’ll tell you the story. It’s all pretty far-fetched—but I guess that sort of thing is normal for you, Tom!”
Tom chuckled his wry agreement and sat down next to the bed.
“It started a few weeks ago, while you were on your second trip up to Little Luna,” he began, speaking slowly and deliberately. “I received a letter at home, a big envelope with no return address. Inside was a piece of paper and a postage-paid return envelope with a pre-printed address—and a fifty dollar bill!”
Tom raised his eyebrows. “No signature, I don’t suppose.”
“No signature,” the mechanic confirmed. “The note was printed, like from a computer, not handwritten. I remember it said something like: Congratulations, you’ve been selected for our special marketing survey! Keep the fifty dollars, and we’ll send you a hundred dollar reward if you send us a thorough and detailed account of your activities yesterday, from the moment you awoke to the moment you fell asleep. This is a memory test—details count! Sign your statement and send it back to us in the envelope provided.”
Tom looked puzzled. “No specific questions?—about your work, for example?”
Niffman shook his head vigorously. “Nothing like that. Anyway, I figured I owed ’em something for the fifty—I had my neighbor, who’s a cash-register jockey, check it out to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit—so I wrote what they wanted as best I could and mailed it right off. Two days later another envelope came!”
“The hundred dollar bill?”
“Sure was! Along with the same request concerning the day previous, promising to increase the amount of my reward by one hundred dollars each time I responded.”
“I see,” said Tom, musingly. “What was the address printed on the return envelope?”
“It was always a post office box, but Tom, each and every time it was a different box number at a different place! I thought that was strange, but hey!—it was good cash for very little work.”
“How long did this go on, Rube?” Tom asked.
“Ever since then, week after week. The payments arrived every other day in just the same manner, bigger each time.” Niffman paused. “There was a change, though.”
He reddened again. “Well… there was… somebody started adding a personal note, in handwriting, to the printed note. At first it just thanked me—a few words. Then it was signed with an initial—finally, it filled the back of the sheet, and was signed fully. She… she said her name was Stephanie, and― ”
Catching on, the young inventor smiled. “She said she was falling in love with you, didn’t she.”
Niffman cleared his throat. “Yeah, more or less. She built up to it gradually, as if what I wrote about my day fascinated her. She started telling me a little about herself—though not much, now that I think of it…”
“Enough to get you hooked.”
“Right. And I really was, Tom… I’m a single guy and I’ve never had much luck with, you know, girls.”
Tom gave Niffman’s shoulder a squeeze of sympathy. “Don’t feel embarrassed, Rube. So how did it end up? Did you meet her?”
Niffman shook his head. “Naw. She said she was breaking the rules by writing to me that way and couldn’t risk even calling me on the phone, not yet. So it all just sort of built up—and so did the money. But I swear, boss, I never wrote down anything I shouldn’t—no company secrets or anything.”
“It continued like that right up to the other day,” the mechanic went on. “In fact, I’ve probably got a couple of those envelopes waiting for me at home now, with money inside.”
“But was there a certain point when you started to feel funny? Not yourself?”
“I can’t quite put my finger on it, it was so gradual. But I know it happened. The guys at work started mentioning it, but I thought they were just, you know, messin’ around. But I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about the stuff Stephanie was writing to me.
“It slowly came out that she didn’t like you, Tom, didn’t trust you. Kept bringing up something she said she’d heard, that you were inventing a machine to make helium—that the government was paying you to develop a bomb, a thousand times bigger than the H-bomb!”
“Did she say something about setting the world on fire?” Tom inquired. “Were those her words?” He found himself stressing the word her.
“I think she sort’ve planted the idea in my head, yeah. Anyway, it all started getting to me. I could hardly sleep, and when I did, I dreamed about it! Finally she said that if I ever had a chance, I ought to smash your new invention for the good of the world! She said it would make me her hero! I kept thinking about that…”
Tom pinned the slender mechanic in a sober gaze. “Reuben—did you sabotage that pressure test?”
Niffman gulped. “Tom, I—I don’t exactly remember, but—I think I probably did. I know I deleted the message from Wes Beale. I sort of have the, er, impression that I did something to the tank inter-seal…” He gave Tom a pitiable look.
“Thanks, Rube. It helps us understand—we’re grateful. Do you remember taking on my new invention in the immersion lab?”
“Pretty well. I was crazed. I knew you’d been working there. I stole one of the electri-keys—you can guess.”
“Yes.” Tom changed the subject. “The addresses on those envelopes—was it the same city each time, at least?”
The man nodded. “Sure was—Mansburg!”
Tom was startled. Mansburg! A word he had heard very recently—from the lips of Amy Foger!
As he was thinking about this, Niffman continued to speak. “I just can’t figure it out, Tom. If I was drugged, how’d they do it?”
“Very, very cleverly, I think,” was the young inventor’s reply. “Want my guess? I think those accounts they had you write up and mail back meant nothing to them. It was just a ruse—to get you to mail back their envelopes!”
“But why the hoppin’ heck—?”
“To get you to lick the flaps. It was the glue on the flaps that contained the drug!”
Niffman stared. “Good golly!” His face clouded and he was silent for a long moment. “Then, I suppose… there isn’t really a Stephanie, is there?”
Tom shook his head gently, and Rueben Niffman sighed, looking away. After a sympathetic pause Tom continued: “You were right about a couple things, Rube. Yes, the story is far-fetched. And yes—for me that’s normal!”
Later, meeting with his father and Harlan Ames back at the plant, Tom said: “Mansburg is where some of the Foger clan live. All in all, that ol’ finger of suspicion is really pointing Amy Foger’s way.”
Ames agreed. “If you dismiss her immediately, Security can keep her off the premises.”
“Yet it’s all just supposition,” objected Mr. Swift thoughtfully.
Tom pointed out that by keeping Amelia Foger on the payroll and in her job, she could be watched carefully. “It could give us further evidence—maybe even lead us to the people behind the Mad Moby and those neurotoxin containers. That would be worth some risk.”
“All right,” said Ames. “My guys can keep watch on her here at Enterprises, and when I contact the Feds, I’m sure they’ll establish surveillance of her in town. Meanwhile let’s see if we can trace who the various PO boxes were rented to—though I’ll guess in advance that the names will be bogus. They—or maybe she—showed real smarts, using a different box, at a different mail facility, each time.”
Tom spent the afternoon continuing—with extra care—to work with the redesigned repelatron, Bud Barclay assisting him. By the end of the day he was sure he had conquered the basic problem of producing a machine that would repel any mixture of sea water carried by subocean currents to the vicinity of the hydrodome.
“We’ll ring the site with a dozen or so spectro-samplers, like the one in the portable repelatron,” Tom explained to Bud. “The field will be electronically recalibrated each time to deal with any new mixture that is ‘incoming’.”
“Including water with some T-9-E mixed in?” Bud inquired pointedly.
“Including that!” declared Tom firmly.
Tom arrived home that evening before his father. Sandy told him that she had taken a message from Admiral Hopkins to call him immediately.
Tom returned the call. “Tom, the news I have is mighty disturbing,” the Admiral said. “As you know, we’ve had our undersea patrols on the alert for any sign of more of those caches of chests. That sono-resonance gimmick of yours has been a vital help. Just hours ago, another cache was discovered on the sea floor—four containers this time.”
“What was the location, Admiral?” asked the young inventor.
“About eight miles upstream, current-wise, of your base on Fearing Island. Tom, it looks like they intend on wiping out your entire base—down to the last man!”
TOM’S knuckles turned white as he gripped the phone receiver. “What kind of people are these?” he demanded. “It’s monstrous!”
“You don’t have to convince me, son,” said the Admiral. “Now the question is, where do we go from here? With some difficulty, we could give everyone on Fearing Island an inoculation― ”
“I know about the inoculation,” Tom interrupted bitterly. “It’s only partially effective, and can cause dangerous side effects—even fatal ones!”
“Still, my friend, it’s something. Without it, T-9-E exposure is invariably fatal within three minutes.”
Tom agreed to discuss the matter with his father, and with their many contacts in the fields of medicine and medical research.
Ultimately it was decided to rely, for the time being, on the ability of Swift Enterprises and the U.S. Navy to locate and neutralize the deadly chests before the poison could be released. Using a plausible pretext, the company reduced its work force on Fearing Island to an absolute minimum, telling the truth about the situation to those who volunteered to remain, and swearing them to secrecy to prevent world panic.
The fleet of Enterprises undersea craft—jetmarines and seacopters—was put in service to the Navy, Swift personnel acting as pilots. In days, much of the Atlantic off the southern coast had become a shifting net of submersibles. Yet as the hours ticked off, no further caches were reported.
But Tom decided to focus his search in another part of the Atlantic. He reasoned that the Mad Moby would return to the undersea mountain by the helium well. “There sure must’ve been some reason they were there before—and we detected T-9-E in the water.” Tom’s father, and Admiral Hopkins, readily agreed with the young inventor’s proposal to survey the mid-ocean area in the Sea Hound.
“There’s the undersea peak up ahead,” Bud called out as the sleek craft arrowed through the subocean darkness. “No Mobys on sonar, though.”
“Not so far,” said Tom grimly. “Let me check the SRL. It’s running on automatic.” As he checked the readout from the sono-resonance locator, he ordered Bud to cruise along the slope of the undersea mountain while one of the crew, Gil Muir, maneuvered the aqualamp search beam. The seacopter was invisible to standard sonar thanks to its coating of Tomasite. To keep it invisible to the eye, Tom had switched off all but the instrument lights, and had put the aqualamp on a frequency mix that rendered it unseeable to external view, though its illumination was brilliantly visible to those inside the cabin.
“Nothing!” declared Tom in disgust as he scanned the SRL. “But if they’ve buried them deeply or stashed them in a cave, the response might fall below the threshold of detection. Keep an eye out for any sort of opening in the mountainside.”
The Hound continued coiling its way around the squat peak. For over an hour Tom guided the seacopter in first a descending, then an ascending course. The upper slope of the peak proved to have more likely hiding places than the rest of the area.
Bob Anchor, who had asked to accompany Tom, pointed and cried out, “Something coming up over there—a narrow crack in the mountainside.”
“Bring the spot over to starboard a little, Gil, and raise it a few degrees,” directed Tom, keen eyes straining to pierce the gloom. Bud throttled back on the directional jets, and as the glittering electronic beam stabbed through the murk, it settled on a crag jutting out from the main peak. A small shadowy aperture was visible in the cliff face.
Bud brought the seacopter around and steered in closer. As it approached the cliff, the Sea Hound’s probing beam thrust deeply into the high, narrow fissure. It fell upon a cluster of shining metal chests!
“Nice going, Tom!” Bob clapped the scientist-inventor on the back. “This looks as if it’s what we’ve come to get!”
“Look at that stuff!” Bud whistled. “It’d be more than enough to kill off your whole hydrodome operation.”
“It’d be more than enough to wipe out the whole Atlantic seaboard,” retorted Tom. “We’ll never get the Hound, or even a jetmarine, into that cave, though. It’s a job for the Fat Man.”
Turning the controls over to Gil Muir, Tom asked Bud and Bob to go with him. They climbed into the suits and, leaving the seacop, propelled themselves toward the opening, and through it into the cave beyond.
“How about it, Skipper—same size and shape as the ones the Navy found?” called Bud on the sonophones.
“Definitely—six of them!” Tom confirmed. “But it’s too dangerous to try stowing them in the seacop hold.”
Tom had foreseen the difficulty. “Good plan, having the Sky Queen tag along with us,” commented Bob Anchor. The great Flying Lab, its onboard hangar-hold outfitted with a Tomasite containment cubicle, hovered somewhere high above them, Hank Sterling and Slim Davis at the controls.
Tom gave the order for the seacopter to surface so Gil could make contact with the plane. “We’ll just hang loose down here until the grappler comes down,” added Bob over his sonophone.
Nearly a half-hour passed before Bud, standing at the cave opening, sang out, “Here she comes, Tom!” In the weak and watery glow from Bud’s suit lamp, a round gray shadow, barely distinguishable, had materialized high above. This was the vacuum lifter invented by Tom’s father, slowly descending from the Sky Queen on the end of its power cables and pressurization tubes. Attached to the disk-shaped Swift giant magnet, or mega-mag, the vacuum lifter was a clump of hanging, jointed tentacles outfitted with suction pads. It had been known in advance that the metal of the containers would not respond to the magnet itself.
“We’ll guide it into position,” Tom sonophoned. “I’m sure we can work some of the tubes into the fissure.”
“Where’s the Sea Hound?” asked Bud.
“Right over here, Budworth!” crackled the voice of Gil Muir. “You can’t see me, but I can sure see you!”
“And I’m up topside on the controls,” came a message from Hank Sterling. The vacuum lifter contained an inbuilt sonophone relay, allowing the Fat Men and the seacopter to communicate directly with the world above.
Tom picked up his suit mike. “You’re right on target, Hank. Cut back on the winch, but keep lowering until you get the contact beep,” he ordered. “Current’s running pretty strong near the slope, so we may run into trouble. Don’t switch on power till I give the signal.”
“Aye-aye, Skipper!” Hank replied.
“He’s in a plane,” Bud muttered. “He shoulda said Roger.”
“Hey, what happened to the lifter disk?” Bob exclaimed. “I thought it was right over us.”
Tom tilted his head back to look up through the Fat Man’s viewdome. “The current’s probably sweeping it out of range,” Tom replied. “Gil, swing the searchlight around,” he sonophoned. “Go ahead and put it on its visible setting—we need it.”
Gil Muir complied and they finally sighted the apparatus about a hundred yards to port, dangling at the end of its cables like a tuckered-out octopus. A twisting subocean current had swung the disk away like a pendulum.
“Avast on the winch up there!” Tom signaled the Flying Lab. “You have enough cable payed out.”
“Are we on target?” Hank responded.
“The disk isn’t, but we’ll attend to that. Just stand by.”
Guided by the brilliant glare of the Sea Hound’s search beam, the armada of three propelled their steel eggs toward the vacuum machine. The ocean current pressed hard against them and the disk. Bud and Bob, who reached the lifter ahead of Tom, found it awkward to maneuver the device with their mechanical arms.
“The thing’s temperamental.” Bud chuckled over his sonophone. “Wants its Uncle Tom!”
“Be right with you, guys,” Tom responded.
Between them the three armored aquanauts got a firm grip on the disk. Then, gunning their propulsion air-jets at full force, they managed to push it. Heading across current, they steered toward the cave opening in the cliff face.
As the three moved through the water, the Sea Hound swiveled its beam so as to keep them constantly illuminated.
“Now comes the ticklish part,” said Tom.
Maneuvering the lifter device up to the edge of the cave entrance, they began to tug the segmented feelers toward the group of containers until they could press the suction grippers firmly against the tops of the chests. Then Tom signaled the Sky Queen through the relay. “Okay, SQ. We’re all set. Switch on power and hoist away!”
In a moment the vacuum lifter gave off a loud, whooshing noise and the loose tentacles seemed to clamp firmly onto the chests in a convulsive motion. The cables started reeling in.
As the first of the chests was dragged out of the cave, it scraped against the rock, knocking loose one of the tentacles. “Can’t let the container drop,” Tom cautioned. “Not with what’s inside!”
“I’ll fix it!” Bob Anchor signaled. Jetting closer, he reached out his robotic arm to pull the lifter tube back in secure position.
A second later he let out a gasp! “Help! I can’t get loose!”
Dangling from the lifter tube, Bob was swinging back and forth in his metal egg, powerless to move. The chemist was being dragged upward along with the chest!
“Good night, his arm coupling could fail! Avast heaving!” Tom shouted into his sonophone, and the Sky Queen responded instantly.
Slowly the cables were payed out again, and after much maneuvering the unwieldy load was deposited on the lip of the cave. Then the power was turned off so Bob could free himself.
“What was that about hanging around?” quipped Tom.
“It’s my one-arm trapeze act!” Bob replied. “Next time I’ll charge admission!”
Once again the power was switched on. This time the load was hoisted up through the water without incident. The whole operation seemed painfully slow, but at long last Hank signaled that the containers had been sealed inside the cubicle.
The aquanauts re-entered the seacopter, and fifteen minutes later the Sea Hound was zooming south over the waves toward a rendezvous with the Sky Queen on Fearing Island.
On the island the cube-shaped containment module enclosing the six chests was carefully transported to a lead-lined, Tomasite-sealed concrete bunker at the edge of the airfield.
By the time Tom and his companions had arrived, Hank Sterling was able to report that the chests had been examined by the penetrating beam of Tom’s Eye-Spy camera. “Looks like pressurized cylinders, all right,” declared the young engineer. “If they contain the poison like the others, we’re ready for it.” He nodded toward several Navy men who were clad in bulky protective suits.
“Save a suit for me,” Tom said. “I want to take a close-up look.”
Inside the bunker, the crew began to use special tools to force open the chests. The first two contained only the tanks, as expected. But as Tom pried up the lid of the next one, his face blanched.
“Get back, everybody!” he yelled. “This may explode!” Swinging open the lid had caused a cardboard sign to slide down into view.
WHOEVER OPENED THIS CHEST,
YOU HAVE NOT LONG TO LIVE!
“What’s he doing?” Bud cried in alarm, gazing into the bunker through the thick observation window. “He’s got to get out of there!”
Meanwhile the young inventor, unconsciously holding his breath, was trying to carefully close up the lid of the chest. “Probably activated a chemical fuse when I opened it,” Tom reflected tensely. “That sure looks like an explosive squib attached to the tank valve.” If the valve were blown loose, the deadly, highly pressurized T-9-E could spray into the air with such force that the suits could be breached! “First step—get this thing sealed up again, and fast!” Putting on the muscle he tried to slam the lid shut again. It wouldn’t budge!
The other men were in a panic, trying desperately to force open the vaultlike door hatch of the bunker. But the ponderous door mechanism worked slowly. “Tom’s trying to save them all,” muttered Bud. Then suddenly he choked out an exclamation of disbelief. “Jetz—he’s gone crazy!”
The young inventor was unzipping and removing his protective suit, as the deadly chest sat not two feet away from him!
A DISGRUNTLED EMPLOYEE
HANK STERLING lay a reassuring hand on Bud’s shoulder. “Tom knows what he’s doing.”
Working with cool precision Tom stripped off the thick, bulky material that comprised his suit, stepping out of it through the now-unzipped flap in front and holding the suit in his hands, the attached helmet flopping down to one side. Then, acting with as much haste as he dared, he draped the open suit on the bunker floor next to the chest. “Help me, somebody!” he called out in a hoarse voice. One of the men at the hatchway saw his intention and trotted over to assist him. With shaking hands the two managed to work the open chest into the body of the suit. Then they struggled to zip the suit closed with the chest inside it.
By the time the suit was zipped tight and the deadly chest sealed off from the rest of the bunker, Tom and his helper were panting.
“That should do it,” Tom gasped, heaving a sigh of relief.
Before the other could reply, the protective suit seemed suddenly to come to fitful life! As a sharp report echoed through the bunker, the suit’s arms and legs were flung wide and its helmet-head jerked upright.
“It’s inflating,” Tom declared. “The valve blew off, releasing the gas carrying the toxin.”
“You’re a very brave young man,” said Tom’s helper, whose name was Lt. Andre. “We didn’t have a second to spare.” He jerked a thumb toward the bunker’s door. Only now was it open wide enough for the others to begin to scramble free.
Outside the chamber, Tom modestly acknowledged the thanks of the men, then said: “This proves that the Mad Moby boys know what we’ve been up to. If any more caches are found, whoever finds them had better beware of booby-traps!”
When Tom repeated the phrasing of the note in the chest, Bud commented, “Sounds to me like it was put together by someone who doesn’t know the language very well. My old English teacher wouldn’t let ‘you have not long to live’ get by her.”
Tom nodded and said, “I’m pretty sure the ultimate plotters are working for a foreign power. Old subs may be getting cheaper on the black market, but the Moby is a mighty impressive piece of work. I think only a national government could afford to develop it.”
Lt. Andre gave Tom a sharp look. “That’s logical, Tom. You may be right. In fact, I’m sure you are.”
That night, as the Flying Lab approached Shopton under a cold canopy of stars, Bob Anchor mentioned that he had spoken with Arthur Clisby by phone prior to leaving Fearing Island. “He’s rarin’ to go, Tom. But are you willing to go ahead with the hydrodome project?”
“I sure am!” the young inventor declared fiercely. “Now more than ever! I won’t let these murderous maniacs deprive the whole world of this new source of helium.”
Bud cheered softly and said, “That’s the ol’ Swift spirit, Tom. How long do you think it’ll be before you’re ready to start setting up shop down on the bottom?”
The Sky Queen banked smoothly under Tom’s steady hand, aiming toward the Enterprises airfield and the craft’s special landing platform. “The dome sections are nearing completion. The thing remaining is to test the big hydrodome repelatron in an ocean environment. You and I are scheduled to go down Wednesday, Bud—if it’s convenient, pal!”
The young pilot laughed. “I’ll pencil you in!”
The next day, after a night of deep and well-deserved sleep, Tom was waiting for his father to arrive in their shared office when their efficient secretary, Munford Trent, poked his head in the door apologetically. “Tom, Gib Brownell is waiting out here to speak to you. Do you have a moment to see him?”
“Sure,” said Tom. “Show him in, Munford.”
The secretary’s expression turned frosty. “I really do prefer― ”
Gibson Brownell was one of the older engineers who had come to Enterprises from the Swift Construction Company, and Tom knew him to be a talented one. He walked in with a nod, and Tom motioned him into a chair.
“I’d like to ask a favor, Tom,” he said. “It’s a pretty big one and may be a good bit of trouble, but there’s a lot at stake—a two-hundred-million-dollar industrial plant, in fact.”
“You’ve got me interested,” said Tom. “Tell me about it.”
“Do you recall reading about the sinking of a ship called the Funston some miles off the Jersey coast? You would have been just a kid back then.”
“I do remember,” was the reply. “It’s lucky that most of the passengers were saved.”
“Well, my uncle was on board,” Brownell continued, “but he died of injuries before they could get him to a hospital.” Brownell went on to explain that his uncle’s dispatch box had been left in the safe, and had gone down with the ship. In it were a revised will, together with various letters and other papers relating to the industrial plant.
“My family didn’t anticipate it at the time, but some dicey issues have come up between the family and my uncle’s partner, who took over running the company. Unless that dispatch box is recovered,” Brownell concluded, “the plant will pass into new hands. The ship has been located and is pretty much intact, but it’s lying too deep for regular salvage operations. But if you could go down in a Fat Man suit, Tom, the company would pay you a big fee.”
Tom smiled thoughtfully, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Forget the fee, Gib. It happens I’m just about to test a new invention of mine with my friend Bud Barclay. I needed to test it in the open sea anyway; this will give me an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.”
“You’ll do it?” asked Brownell eagerly.
“Sure, be glad to. Have the company wire me all the details about the ship’s depth and location, and also how to open the safe.”
“Tom, my family and I will never forget this!”
As Brownell was leaving, Tom’s father came in the door and took a seat behind his desk. Tom began to describe the engineer’s request—and the office door flew open again.
The Swifts looked up in surprise as a determined-looking Amelia Foger came sweeping into the office like an irresistible force, trailed by Munford Trent—apparently a very moveable object.
“I tried to tell her to wait!” exclaimed Trent. “But—but she― ”
“That’s all right, Munford,” muttered Damon Swift, waving him off. Trent hesitated, then withdrew with a disapproving glance.
Amelia Foger lowered herself into a chair. It was less a graceful lowering than an ominous plop.
“Amy,” said Tom with forced calm, “this is my father. I don’t believe you two have― ”
“So—finally I meet the boss of bosses,” she said sharply. “And at the last possible minute, too.”
“Excuse me?” reacted Mr. Swift.
Amy snapped open the purse she carried under her arm and yanked out an envelope, which she tossed down on Mr. Swift’s desk. “My walking papers,” she stated, “from me to you. As of the end of this sentence, gentlemen—I resign!”
THE WATERLOGGED BUBBLE
“MISS FOGER,” said Damon Swift, “if something has happened, if you have any complaints― ”
“Any, Mr. Swift? Try many!” she retorted. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice your men spying on me with their X-ray cameras, tailing me to and from the plant, tapping my phone?” She turned her wrath in Tom’s direction. “And you—did you think I wouldn’t be able to guess what’s behind it?”
Tom began to flush, both with anger and with embarrassment. “Amy, please cool down. Give us a chance to explain what’s going on.”
“I suppose that outing on the island was just to see if you could trip me up,” she muttered. “Look, I didn’t grow up in one of your Tomasite containers. What do you suppose it was like, having your classmates—not just your classmates, your teachers—taunt you because of those old stories, where Great-Uncle Andrew gets trotted out as the villain whenever they couldn’t come up with something more original?”
“Those stories were popular fictionalizations of my grandfather’s experiences,” declared Mr. Swift; “and some aspects were greatly exaggerated. But they were based on fact.”
“Whose ‘fact’?” she demanded. “The Swift family’s? Which of you climbed into Andy Foger’s head to report on the state of his soul, hmm? He died in Mexico, dead broke, an alcoholic. Doesn’t that balance the ledger? Or is it your theory that it’s in the blood—my blood?”
“Amy, my family never treated Andy Foger unfairly—just the opposite,” Tom said. “As for you, we tried not to be unfair. Nevertheless, after what happened with Rube Niffman, Dad and I had good reason to wonder about you. You could have started out by telling us frankly about your relation to Andy Foger, you know.”
“True, Tom. I didn’t tell you, ‘frankly’ or otherwise. But then again, I didn’t deny it, either.” Amy Foger seemed to be fighting to calm herself—a losing battle. “Every member of my family with the last name of Foger has been subject to distrust, suspicion. I’ve had to live with it all my life. Yes, it’s true—I knew Bud Barclay was visiting San Francisco, and I worked things so that we could meet. Why? I wanted to work for you at Enterprises, to show I could be trusted, to clear the family name.”
Tom winced, taken aback and feeling ashamed. “I’m so sorry, Amy. Lives are at stake in this matter. We might have jumped to some conclusions in a prejudiced way—I see that. I wish you’d― ”
“It’s too late for wishing,” she interjected bitterly. “I’m out—I’m history. I’ve applied for a position over in Thessaly. Is that far enough away from Shopton for you two? Or should I try hitching a ride to Nestria?”
She rose to her feet. “You’ll be receiving a request for a letter of reference from my new employer. As an attorney, I’d strongly advise you to provide a fair and neutral report. And in this case ‘fair and neutral’ means glowing!” As she stalked out of the office, Amelia Foger dispensed a final word: “Because if you don’t, Swifts—I’ll sue you!”
As the office door shushed shut, there was a silence between Tom and his father.
“Oh dear,” said Damon Swift finally. “I’m not sure we lived up to our own principles, Tom.”
“We’re not perfect,” Tom responded.
“No,” agreed his father. “But we are Swifts.”
Putting the painful matter aside, Tom went to “the Barn,” where he spent several hours working with Hank Sterling and his engineers, who were transforming the new repelatron circuitry of the portable model into the real thing—the powerful master repelatron that was to sit at the center of the hydrodome maintaining its airspace.
“The load on the radiator sphere is tremendous,” Hank observed. “The back-pressure from all that water will be focused on a very small area, the surface of the sphere. And then there’s the problem of the sheer voltage she’ll require.”
“Inside the hydrodome, we’ll be able to tap the veranium reactor for power,” noted the young inventor.
“You won’t have an atomic pile tomorrow, for your test,” one of the engineers pointed out.
“No,” Tom agreed. “But then again, we won’t need a bubble with a two-hundred foot radius, either. We can test it out adequately on a smaller scale.”
The test was set for the following evening, after sunset. Tom preferred to carry out operations in the dark of night, to avoid any mention of his repelatron getting into the newspapers. It might arouse the interest of enemy agents eager to steal the invention or sabotage the project!
The new repelatron, unbreakably clamped in the middle of a new bubblevator platform, was loaded aboard the Sky Queen. Tom, Bud, Hank, and a crew including Gib Brownell took off in the direction of New Jersey. Half an hour later the huge skyship was hovering on its jet lifters over the exact spot of the Funston wreck. The plane’s elevator-like hangar hatch opened and the square bubblevator, Tom and Bud behind the safety rails, was lowered on its guide cables. Far below the waves, at the bottom of the cables, a magnetic grappling unit anchored the system to the deck of the Funston.
Just before the boys reached the surface of the waves, Tom switched on the powerful floodlights mounted on the four sides of the platform and opened the repelatron control to full power.
“Good night, genius boy!” Bud exclaimed in amazed admiration. “It’s repelling the water for at least eighty feet all the way around!”
Tom grinned, breathlessly excited and highly pleased. He slid the control bar forward slowly and they descended as the repelatron bubble drew nearer.
They moved downward smoothly and gently, and the sunken wreck emerged from the blue-green shadows below them. Fortunately, the Funston had settled upright in the mud, so its deck provided a level landing stage.
The bubblevator clanked to a stop on the deck. Tom immediately pressed a button that caused the platform to grip the magnetic anchoring device beneath it. “Otherwise we’d just head for the surface when I open her up again,” explained Tom.
“Yeah,” said Bud. “This time I’ll do without the bends or the deep-freeze, thank you!”
Tom took a deep breath. The moment had come! He fed power to the repelatron, which glowed with an eerie phosphorescence. The glassy walls of their bubble receded foot by foot as the airspace crept across the deck, shoving every drop of water ahead of it. In seconds they stood at the center of an arching round space big as an auditorium and dry as a bone—yet located at the bottom of the sea!
“According to the diagram, that’s the captain’s cabin over there,” Tom noted. “Okay, chum, eyes on the controls. Here goes!”
Tom swung open the railing and stepped down onto the deck. By good fortune it was almost clear of sea muck and debris. The air around him, released from the bubblevator’s compensation tanks, was rapidly filling with the strange odors of drying sea life. He strode forward cautiously. It was an unearthly feeling to be walking on board a sunken hulk with fish gaping down at him on all sides, yet with no water even touching its hull or superstructure. The white glare of spotlights, reflected back from the bubble walls, lit up the weird scene.
Tom made his way into the captain’s cabin without incident and opened the safe, using the combination which the company had provided. It took several tries at the dial before the inner tumblers finally shook loose the lethargy of years and clicked into place. I’d never be able to do this with the Fat Man’s gripper-claws, Tom thought. He swung open the safe door, which took more than a little effort. Inside, along with a number of other valuables, was the dispatch box, plainly stenciled.
Tom carefully put the safe’s contents into a pouch looped to his belt and emerged back onto the ship’s deck.
A shift in the light caught Tom’s eye, and he gave a gasp of startled horror. The air bubble in which he stood was sagging, bulging inward, as if it were being pushed out of shape by the water. It looked as if the repelatron were working only on one side. The bubble was flattening out.
Soon there would be no air space! The invading water would crush Tom and Bud flat!
TOM raced toward the waiting bubblevator platform. Bud was wide-eyed with panic.
“What’s happening, Skipper?” he cried. “Is the repelatron losing power?”
“Don’t know yet, but we’ll soon find out. Here, take this pouch!”
Neither youth dared think of the awful consequences if the ocean should close in around them. Tom unlocked the platform from the anchoring mechanism and it jolted upward—then slowed ominously as the bubble continued to collapse. He grabbed the sliding lever and opened it several notches. The air bubble expanded a little and the platform began rising faster, but the water pressure was still flattening the bubble.
Suddenly the answer flashed through Tom’s mind. “Bud, I have it!” he exclaimed, as they continued rising. “Must be some kind of pollution in the water. The long-range spectrosensor should be adjusting our radiation to compensate for it. But it’s not taking effect!”
“My brain’s fogged, Skipper. Tell me what all that means!”
“It means our bubble’s going flat, and we’ve got to get topside as fast as we dare!”
Trying to ward off another attack of the bends, they rose from the depths with aching slowness, eyeing the repelatron airspace with thudding hearts. By the time they had risen two-hundred feet, the flattening effect had subsided and the bubble had resumed its spherical form. “Relax, pal,” said Tom breaking into a wan smile of relief. “We must be above the pollution area now.”
Bud blinked hard. “A sinking boat is bad, but I’ll take that any day over a waterlogged bubble!”
They were reeled into the Sky Queen, and Tom handed Gib Brownell the dispatch box. The engineer was almost speechless with gratitude, but the young inventor smilingly brushed it aside. “I should be thanking you, Gib. You not only gave me a chance to give the new repelatron a real workout, but it seems I have a weak spot to find and fix.” Tom opened up the spectrosensor circuitry in one of the lab cubicles aboard the ship, and by the time Hank Sterling announced one minute to landing, he had repaired the problem.
“I didn’t take underwater temperature variations into account,” he told Bud. “Unexpected currents can cause big changes in the thermal gradient. Luckily it’ll be easy to build that element into the sensors and the sampler machines.”
“Then its sounds like we’re about ready to start workin’ the ole helium mine!” pronounced Bud gleefully. “Right?”
Tom grinned. “Right! As soon as we bring Mr. Bronson up to speed and make a few preparations with Dr. Clisby and Bob Anchor, I’d say we’re ready to start laying the foundations for Helium City!”
As it turned out, it was another week before all preparations were completed, all materials loaded aboard the planes and seacraft that would supply the great operation. But like a long-anticipated Christmas morning, the historic day finally made its appearance on the horizon and the move toward the undersea mountain got underway. A fleet of eight big cargo planes—amphibious models equipped with jet lifters—lined up on the Enterprises airfield. One by one they took to the air on an eastward heading, laden with construction gear, air tanks, lightweight segments of the Tomasite dome, and foundation materials. Piloting the Sky Queen, Tom followed them into the air, the big hydrodome repelatron stowed in the hangar-hold.
As usual, Chow Winkler—oral surgery and a swollen jaw behind him—was part of the crew. “Say there, boss,” he said gravely. “Got a little somethin’ on m’ mind.”
Tom looked up from the skyship’s controls. “Something serious, Chow?”
“Wa-aal now, guess that depends…”
“On whether you’re me or not! I was thinkin’ on what happened to Bud t’other night.”
Tom nodded. “He’s lucky. It could have been pretty bad.”
“The thing is this,” continued the Texan. “Sterling told me I wouldn’t be able t’ use any salt in my cookin’ down in that dome, a’cause it might make a mixture so close to sea water, accidental-like, that that repelly doodad would shoot it right out o’ the bubble! That true?”
The young inventor chuckled fondly. “It’s not likely—we just don’t want to take any unnecessary chances. But I’ll bet a chef like you won’t have any trouble coming up with some tasty― ”
“Naw,” Chow interrupted, “that ain’t what’s eatin’ at me. It’s jest that I been told all my life I got a heap o’ salt water in this Rio Grande blood of mine. What’s gonna happen to me when you switch that thing on? I don’t think I’m built t’ go flyin’, son!”
Tom’s chuckle became joshing laughter. “That’d be quite a sight! But don’t worry, pard. The newest repelatron model is able to tune itself in a very sensitive way, to precise mixtures and proportions. And it can also be counter-tuned!”
“That’s a relief! Leastways I bet it would be if’n I knew what it meant!”
“It means we can not only calibrate the machine to only affect particular solutions and substances, but we can also do the reverse—tell it to ignore the nucleonic patterns of certain things we’re sure we want left alone. You see, the field pattern is actually an overlay of a huge number of sub-patterns, and we can filter out some of the ones we don’t need.” He explained that the space-wave “mix” of all common biological products and human substances that might appear as traces in water had been carefully recorded into the repelatron’s computer and would be excluded from the repulsion effect. Pure drinking and bathing water would also be immune.
“What about stuff like teeth an’ bones—stuff like that?”
“Don’t forget, Chow—the repelatron can only handle one basic compound or element at a time. As far as this one goes, we only need to be concerned with water-based compounds and solutions.”
Chow’s face lit up in relief. “Great! Brand my flyin’ fish, I sure wasn’t lookin’ forward to havin’ to tie myself down afore I went to sleep every night.”
Chow went up to his galley on the top deck, inspired to begin experimenting with salt-free dishes. Presently, as the Queen passed the limits of the continental shelf, Bud entered the cabin to keep his friend company. “We’re off to that mystery mountain despite our enemies!” he chortled.
“Maybe we’ve seen the last of them,” Tom remarked. “I doubt it. Still, the Navy hasn’t found any more of those chests.”
“Nor a sign of the Mad Moby,” Bud pointed out. “But it’s out there somewhere.”
By the middle of the morning the supersonic air fleet had reached the mid-Atlantic. For miles around the ocean was thick with surface craft of all descriptions, including Navy patrol boats circling protectively at the edges.
Tom made contact with Dr. Clisby, aboard the Sea Hound with Bob Anchor. The older man’s voice rang with excitement. “My first experience founding a city!” he declared. “Rather puts my sedate life as a chemist in the shade, eh?”
“It’s you two chemists who’ll be keeping us alive, Doctor,” responded Tom. “I’m counting on you to do the fine calibrations required to get the sampling equipment up and running. I’m betting our adversaries still have a big store of T-9-E to use against the hydrodome—if we give them a chance.”
Bob added his voice to Clisby’s. “We won’t give them that chance, Tom.”
Having reached the site of the helium beds, Tom brought the Sky Queen down close to the surface of the water, while Enterprises employee Carl Tenn brought the seacopter up into the sunlight, where it hovered on its cushion of air. The side hatch of the Flying Lab opened, and Tom and Bud clambered down onto the flat top of the Sea Hound, then down one of the hatches to the fore cabin where they greeted Carl, Bob, and Dr. Clisby. Finally the master repelatron was carefully lowered from the Queen’s hangar-hold and stowed in the seacopter. Then the craft submerged again.
Operations had been planned to the last detail. Tom would go first with the repelatron and set up the airspace, and the osmotic atmosphere conditioner, an invention of Tom’s for extracting dissolved oxygen and nitrogen from sea water, would be installed and activated. Next two curving brace-beams of magtritanium metal, crossing like an X at their high points, would be erected. Then would come the mass of paraphernalia for the plastic dome, and finally the rigging for the wells, storage tanks, and the prefabricated dormitory, galley, and office. All the latter equipment would descend from the boats and floating amphibious cargo planes by several of the bubblevators.
Three crewmen went down on anchored bubblevators to assist Tom and Bud in their work, and the solid base-platform for the repelatron was drilled into the great rocky plain that abutted the mountainside and the well-cap. This would be the exact center of the hydrodome—its foundation stone. Until everything was in working order and the atomic reactor module was brought down, the dome repelatron would draw power directly from the Sea Hound’s dual atomic piles.
After more than an hour of difficult work in Fat Man suits, the repelatron was finally bolted in place. Tom gave a wave to Clisby and Anchor, watching through the seacopter’s viewport, and shot Bud a glance of highly charged anticipation. Then he threw the power switch and began to manipulate the field controls.
The effect was awesome and instantaneous! A perfect sphere, transparent but lustrous like a giant pearl, leapt into existence around the glowing radiator antenna and began to expand slowly outward. As the walls of the bubble swept past the air-production machinery the osmotic air conditioner was brought on line, drawing in water through a feed pipe electronically isolated from the repelatron field. Fresh, breathable air filled the expanding bubble.
The airspace—now only a partial sphere, as the lower reaches of the field were beneath the ground—grew ever larger, its smooth walls glinting in the worklight beams.
“This is amazing!” remarked one of the engineers, Pete Elliot, as the atmosphere conditioner rapidly went about its work keeping the pressure balanced and comfortable.
“Yeah? Welcome to Swift Enterprises!” retorted Bud through his suit sonophone.
As the perimeter of the bubble attained its planned maximum, the repelatron was readjusted to stabilize the field. Tom then contacted the surface through the relays built into the bubblevator cables—it was time to begin lowering the big metal crossbeams.
By the middle of a long afternoon, two elegant metal tubes, joined at the top, arched gracefully over the circular patch of dry land beneath the sea. With the press of a button, spotlights built into the undersides of the beams turned the airspace bright as day.
“Jetz!” Bud marveled. Then he sonophoned, “Say, Tom, what’s with the red-colored lights up there between the others?”
“Infrared heat lamps,” Tom replied. “Don’t forget, pal, down here in Davy Jones’s locker the temperature stays mighty close to freezing all day long. The only reason it didn’t get to us in the bubblevator was that the spotlights supplied a fair amount of warmth. But Helium City needs more than that.”
It was at last possible for the dozen or so workers to discard their Fat Men, which they all did gratefully. The several bubblevators remained just beyond the edge of the airspace, allowing them to use the buoyancy effect to move up and down. But when parked on the ocean floor their individual bubbles slightly overlapped the main airspace, creating open portals of entry. Hank Sterling, newly arrived, stepped through one such portal, followed by a wide-eyed Chow Winkler.
“Reporting for duty!” he said with a mock salute. “Now that the brace-beams have been unloaded, I sent the Sky Queen on her way.” Not equipped for amphibious landing, the Flying Lab needed to return to the mainland before the lifter fuel ran low.
“Man alive! How’re human people ever gonna get used t’ livin’ in a bubble?” muttered Chow. Then he added: “Wa-aal, guess I said the same thing about livin’ up in space—and that’s working out all right.”
The next part of the operation was to construct the Tomasite hydrodome itself, which would span the gaps between the metal arches. This was a massive undertaking, but by evening this too had been completed under the guidance of Tom and Hank. Helium City was now enclosed in a dome nearly as far across as the length of a city block! Yet the sea never touched the dome, being held back another several yards beyond.
“A little more work and we’ll be ready to send for the other equipment,” said Tom, standing next to Bud and Pete Elliot.
“Huh!” muttered Pete suddenly. “What was that?”
“What was what, Pete?” asked Bud.
“Thought I felt something bounce off my shoulder. Guess not.”
A soft thumping sound made them whirl. “Hey, look!” cried one of the workers, pointing. A curved, shiny object lay on the ground.
Tom bent down to examine it—then suddenly jerked his head back, gazing upward in wide-eyed alarm.
“Listen everyone!” Tom shouted. “Make for the seacopter—the bubblevators—anything that’ll protect you!”
“But why?” Bud demanded.
“It’s the dome! The dome is disintegrating above our heads!”
THE DOMELESS DOME
NOW EVERY pair of eyes was turned upward toward the peak of the hydrodome that curved above them. It was losing transparency, turning white, as if riddled with tiny cracks. Chunks of plastic were starting to peel loose, raining down on them!
Most of the men ran toward the seacopter, which was parked in the open next to the repelatron. They crawled under the protective overhang of its curving, saucer-shaped hull. The metal hull rang with the impact of the falling shards of plastic, and the air was filled with drifting particles—Tomasite dust.
In less than five minutes the two metal beams stood alone like the ribs of a skeleton. The entire dome had fallen to pieces!
Tom Swift was anguished—crushed. “I can’t understand it! What could have caused this?”
“Jest be glad we’re still here t’ wonder about it!” said Chow, squatting low beneath the overhang.
The heartsick young inventor dashed into the Sea Hound with a fragment of the dome, and Clisby and Anchor analyzed it in a Swift Spectroscope, then examined it under a powerful microscope. Dr. Clisby’s face was grim and puzzled when he looked up from the eyepiece. “It seems this wonderful Tomasite of yours has some unanticipated properties. Some of the crystal lattices that give the plastic its strength have changed configuration to an alternate form. The percentage is minute, but the effect is to render the material extremely fragile.”
“In a word, it can no longer support its own weight,” added Bob. “It looks to me that the interlinked lattices are reacting to the repelatron waves in an unexpected way.”
Tom sank down listlessly into one of the contour control seats. “And without the repelatron, the project’s dead.” Bud rested a sympathetic hand on his pal’s slumping shoulder.
Knowing that he would have to come up with an inventive solution to save the helium operation, Tom decided to fly back to Swift Enterprises on one of the Navy’s amphibious patrol jets, Bud at his side. He left Hank in charge of Helium City, urging him to direct the work crews in completing their many remaining tasks. Chow would attend to their sustenance, using the galley on one of the larger supply barges until the one in the hydrodome could be set up.
“Might as well keep moving ahead,” Tom commented dully. “We’ve tackled tougher problems. But if we can’t get a dome up in a week or so, we’ll have to abandon the effort—the osmotic air conditioner won’t be able to handle the humidity and chemical gases leaking through the bubble wall into the airspace.”
“You’ll figure it out, chief,” Hank responded with warm confidence.
That night Tom managed a brief and fitful night’s sleep at home in Shopton, then drove to the plant early in the morning with his father. They discussed the vexing problem on the way, to no conclusion.
Later in the morning Bud dropped in on his pal, who he found sitting listless in one of his labs surrounded by wadded-up scraps of paper—failed ideas. “Here to inspire me?” Tom asked his pal. “I can really use it.”
Bud plopped down on a lab stool, trying to look cheerful and hopeful. “The brain doctor is in! Look, Tom, I’ve been thinking—why exactly do you need a plastic dome at all? Couldn’t the repelatron bubble act as your hydrodome all by its lonesome?”
Tom shook his head negatively. “Nope. A while back our two chemists came to me with calculations that showed how conditions in the airspace would slowly deteriorate without a solid barrier to contain the air. The repelatron holds back the main body of sea water in all its solutions and mixtures, but water—which we think of as being about the most common thing on earth—is actually sort of a unique substance. Because of the way the molecules adhere, tiny ‘clumps’ of water could be carried into the airspace by piggy-backing on other materials that the repelatron can’t be tuned to affect.”
“So there’s the humidity problem. All along I thought the main point of the dome was to keep the fishes from poking their noses in!”
Tom smiled. “Surface tension at the bubble wall helps hold back fish and other floating stuff, like seaweed; and they also experience a slight push due to the sea water in their bodily tissues. But there will always be loose molecules… that…” A far-off expression came to Tom’s eyes.
“There we go!” exulted Bud softly. “Brain at work! What have you come up with?”
Tom stared at his friend in growing excitement. “Maybe the solution! I was remembering how, up on Little Luna, we also had to deal with putting a ‘wall’ around the air created by the atmosphere-making machine.”
“Right—so it wouldn’t just leak away into space!”
“This is the opposite problem—but it may have the same solution!” The young inventor began making some calculations. “What if we used activated Inertite filaments—too thin to be seen or touched—to create an invisible barrier-net to keep out any floating molecules that come knocking?”
Bud leapt to his feet. “Sure, genius boy! It’d be just like the barrier up on the satellite. Individual particles would bounce off the Inertite net, but the mesh would just flow around the big, solid stuff. You’d be able to walk right through it—sort of a dome-without-a-dome!”
The young inventor’s eyes gleamed. “And we already have on hand the equipment we’ll need: the prototype models Arv put together for testing! We won’t need the atmos-maker itself, just the Inertite producer and energizer.” He grinned at Bud in gratitude. “Chum, I think your inspiration may have just saved the hydrodome project!”
It took several days to make preparations, but by the end of the week the Sky Queen was once again winging out over the Atlantic with the “dome-weaver” mechanism aboard. During the course of the flight, Hank Sterling contacted them. “Tom, just about everything is completed down here in Helium City. With your permission, I’d like to dismiss our supply and patrol fleet up topside.”
“That’s fine, Hank,” Tom replied. “We don’t need the freight planes anymore. But why do you want to dismiss the Navy’s patrol?”
“Because that great big storm we’ve been watching has taken a sharp turn in our direction. It’s already so choppy on the surface that it isn’t safe—we’ve had some near collisions already. We’ll have to pull out most of the bubblevators, but we can leave one active for you to use. One of the unmanned, automated float-platforms can function as its upper terminal.” Hank added a warning to the Sky Queen crew to be careful in approaching the area and unloading the equipment. “It’s building up to quite a blow, believe me!”
Arriving at the site and descending down through the black, lightning-laced clouds, Tom and Bud saw that Hank’s warning was far from exaggerated. The sea was whipped to frothy peaks for miles around by powerful gusts of storm-wind.
“Good night!” Bud gulped. “We’d better get snug under the waves as quickly as we can!”
The dome-weaver device, about the size of a washing machine, rolled on casters. With help from the Flying Lab’s crew, the youths maneuvered it onto the bubblevator platform and lashed it down securely. Then, bidding a bedraggled farewell to the Sky Queen, they headed for the bottom.
In minutes they were approaching the huge air bubble, glowing in its bank of floodlights. But as Tom leaned over the platform rails, gazing down, a worried tone crept into his voice. “Bud, I see the seacopter, the new tanks, the pumping equipment, but― ”
The dark-haired young pilot looked over the platform edge for a long moment, then back at Tom. “Yeah, Skipper, ‘but’ is right. Where are all the people?”
FACE-OFF AT THE BOTTOM
TOM GRABBED the sonophone mike from its cradle. “Hank, this is Tom. Do you read?”
“No static,” Bud remarked. “Just no answer!”
The bubblevator came to rest on the concrete pad where its guide cables were anchored, its own airspace protruding into that of Helium City. There was nothing in the air to alert them to danger—no strange odors.
“A little humid,” Tom murmured, “as expected.”
“I suppose—if there were any of that T-9-E in the air—we’d be dead by now—right?” asked Bud haltingly.
“Yep!” Tom stepped off the platform and Bud followed. Entering the main hydrodome area, they could see many signs of work, completed and ongoing. Clearly Helium City was well on its way to becoming a real city.
But the city was a ghost town!
“You don’t suppose Hank or Chow is just playing a joke on us, do you?” Bud speculated without real conviction. “I’m starting to think all this kidding around is getting out of hand, you know? Look, they’ve got the dorm building up. Maybe that’s where they’re all hiding.”
Tom did not respond, but began trudging toward the modular building. “If there were a problem with the equipment—if gas had flooded the area—we’d see bodies lying around, people caught in the middle of work.” But there were no traces of living humanity anywhere.
“Chow! Hank! Anybody!” Bud shouted at the top of his lungs. The water-walls of the repelatron bubble gave a weird resonance to his shouts, as if he were inside a big empty barrel.
Suddenly the boys came to an abrupt halt! The door to the dorm building swung open and a figure appeared, gesturing vigorously.
“Good grief! Lt. Andre!” Tom cried. The young inventor trotted up to the Navy man. “When did you get here, sir? Where is everybody?”
“Come inside, you two—quickly!” he urged, holding the door wide. As they passed he said: “I arrived just before the storm hit. I found… but you’ll see for yourselves in a second. Go on in.”
Tom nudged Bud and the two came to a dead stop, turning to face Andre. “Why don’t you tell us what happened, Lieutenant—before we go any further.”
Lt. Andre raised his eyebrows and gave a shrug. “As you like, boys.”
He drew out a gun and pointed it at Tom Swift!
“Looks to me like we’ve found one of the Mad Mobys!” Bud growled, muscles tensed for action.
“From where I’m standing,” retorted Andre, “it looks more like one of the Mobys has found you, Barclay. Now keep walking, please.”
Inside the main room they found the citizens of Helium City, about two dozen, crowded together, standing, lying on cots, or seated on the floor. They were watched over by several stone-faced men in military-style uniforms, bearing what appeared to be submachine guns.
Tom paled when he caught sight of Chow and Hank. There were livid bruises across both their faces, and Chow held his big hand up to his cheek, which was swollen.
“Knocked out my new tooth!” moaned the cook. “Hadn’t even paid fer it yet!”
“We tried to rush ’em, Skipper,” said Hank simply.
“There are some people you just can’t rush,” commented Lt. Andre in mocking tones.
In a fury, Bud whirled to face him. “Big man, huh!—picking on somebody twice your size!” With his revolver, Andre calmly motioned for Bud to join the crowd.
Dr. Clisby moved to the front of the group and spoke to Tom. “After the ships and planes up above left the area, these fellows came to pay us a visit. The big submersible dropped them off at the edge of the bubble, then went away again; but first they cut the communications relay link, I gather. We outnumbered them but had no weapons.”
“What do they want?” asked Tom, while keeping his angry eyes focused on the Navy lieutenant.
“They haven’t said,” answered Pete Elliot.
“Just be a little patient, a little hopeful, Tom, and very soon your questions will be answered,” remarked Andre smoothly. “But if anyone loses his patience—listening, Barclay?—I’m authorized to wound. For a start.”
“Didn’t I save your life the other day, lieutenant?” declared Tom in disgust.
“Yes, and don’t let this gun put you off— I’m eternally grateful. The T-9-E inoculation isn’t always effective, and there was some risk that I might’ve died along with you. We both walked away from that one, and for that—half of that, to be honest—you have my thanks.” The Navy man shrugged. “But I have my orders, Tom, and don’t think I won’t carry them out.” A pocket communicator buzzed. Without taking his eyes or his gun off Tom, Andre plucked it out of his pocket and carried on a brief conversation.
“Our sub has returned,” he said to Tom. “No need for us to hide anymore. The good folks we were hiding from are now chucked safely away. Let’s go say hello, shall we, Tom?” Bud stepped forward to join his friend, but Andre warned him back. “Tom Swift only!”
The officer followed Tom out of the building and directed him across the open area. But it was easy to see where they were heading. The ominous gray bulk of the Mad Moby loomed next to the downward curve of the repelatron bubble, an open hatchway extending into the hydrodome airspace.
Despite the situation Tom Swift was ever the scientist. He eyed the strange sub curiously. For the first time he could see details not captured by the sonarscope imager-photo: small portholes, sonar equipment, thick metal coils that evidently had to do with the craft’s propulsion system. But what drew Tom’s attention most strongly was a set of broad-mouthed tubes or pipes extending from the fore-end, with a similar set aft. They reminded him of the water scoops at the front of his jetmarine. Yet he felt sure the Moby utilized an entirely different form of propulsion. For the time being he was baffled—yet intrigued.
Lt. Andre marched Tom through the hatch and into the Moby, where a short, somewhat heavy-set man awaited them. His oily-looking black hair was streaked with gray, and his face, which seemed cultured and sensitive, bore a thin mustache. He wore, not a uniform, but what Tom realized was an old-fashioned smoking jacket. The man’s eyes crinkled in delight as they rested on the young inventor. To Tom’s surprise, he extended his hand!
They were shaking hands almost before Tom realized it. A rather yellow smile broke out on the man’s face. “How great the privilege, to meet at last, face to face, the justly celebrated Tom Swift!” he exclaimed, his voice marked by a middle-European accent. “My name is Alsemj Fornath.” He politely spelled the name. “A Hungarian name, the name of a family well-known in much of Europe, little known in America, I fear. Do come in to our ship. John, lower the gun, please.”
Lt. Andre lowered his revolver but said, “It’ll be ready.”
The three passed down a long corridor and into a comfortable lounge. “Please have a seat, won’t you? A drink, perhaps?”
“I don’t drink,” Tom said.
“Then forgive me, for I do.” Mixing the drink, Fornath added: “A table has been set for us in the captain’s dining room further aft. I am rather a good cook; you will enjoy the meal, if you can manage to suspend your judgments and resentments for a time. And why not? What good will they do you?” He eased down in a stuffed chair opposite Tom, sipping his drink, as Andre stood off to the side. “Now then, Tom. I’m sure you have on the tip of your tongue words to the effect of, What is this all about? You need not utter them. I will enjoy telling it to you.”
Tom interrupted. “While we enjoy good food and nice conversation, Mr. Fornath, my friends are in fear of their lives.”
Fornath nodded. “Yes, I know. Regrettable. Soon enough we will be under way, and they will be free.”
“Under way where?”
“Ah, let us not get ahead of ourselves, hmm?” He took another sip. “Superb! Well, let us see now—the whats and whys, eh?
“I am a businessman, a builder of ships. Even under the former government, the communists, ships had to be built, and history declares my family to be the best at it. In various ways, we lived rather better than our employees. Why not? If there is to be civilization, some must be allowed to live well.
“Then the change came. Now we were open capitalists, and lived even better.
“My company became part of a consortium, hired by a national government, a powerful one that wished to be more powerful still. We were to construct, in deepest secret, an extraordinary submersible, this very ship. As a gesture to you, our guest, let us continue to call it by your charming name, the Mad Moby.
“It is propelled by a magnetic force channeled through the waters that surround it. I am not a scientist, but I pay for scientists, and they have explained it to me—somewhat. All very nice; silent, swift-moving. Valuable for any number of purposes, defensive, offensive, even scientific.
“We delivered the Moby to those who had requisitioned it, on time and with only the slightest cost overrun, and the work of the consortium was concluded.
“And yet… You see, I had fallen in love with this vessel, its ingenuity, its clean lines. I wanted it back. So I took it back.”
Tom nodded as Fornath sipped. “You stole it.”
“A harsh word, but yes, absolutely. And it was very cleverly done. The government concerned, its brief owners, had not a clue. Their little men searched and searched the world over, but what could they do? Nothing tied the affair to me; besides, I have big friends. And they had to exercise great reserve in their inquiries—secrecy, you know. Indeed, even within their own government… but no, I shall be discreet and leave it unsaid.
“It was, shall we say, in a certain sense, written off. And then it was mine to enjoy.”
“And to make a profit from,” declared Tom. As Fornath looked on in tolerant surprise, Tom went on. “Intake tubes in front, exhaust tubes in the back—you’ve modified the sub to be a mobile water processing plant. Or maybe we could call it a filtration and extraction plant, making direct use of its motion through the water to extract—what? Gold?”
The Hungarian laughed softly. “We considered that, but it proved quite uneconomic and impractical. No Tom, what we do—in a most complicated manner, involving what is called quantum mechanics—is extract certain rare substances of value in producing medicines. We mine the sea, just as you intend to do here in your great hydrodome bubble. We will provide mankind, so very sick, with the medicines it demands.”
Tom nodded grimly. “At a price.”
“Indeed, and a high one; yet not so high as it might have been without our revolutionary methods of production.”
“Your ‘process’ produces, as a byproduct, the most potent and deadly neurotoxin known to man,” said Tom, leaning forward. “And you release it directly into the sea through your outlet pipes. That’s what we detected in the water when my seacopter first came to the mountain area.”
Fornath delicately set down his empty glass and put the fingers of his hands together like a small pyramid. “A wonderful, efficient industrial process with a dangerous waste product that cannot be eliminated. A dilemma indeed. We attempted to compress it into tanks, to hide the containers in the sea. Alas, you seemed to take our efforts as a challenge—clues to a riddle which we wished not to have solved. I’m afraid you and your people became rather a problem.”
“Which you tried to solve by killing us off!” Tom pronounced heatedly.
“Such a thing to say to your host!” remonstrated the Hungarian. “Yet I do understand your confusion. You took it personally, our chemical containers.”
“You planted them in a location that endangered my base on Fearing Island!”
“Yes, after your people had discovered the first cache. The second cache—only a few chests, you know—was placed as it was to serve as a dissuasion, a warning.”
“Am I supposed to accept that, Mr. Fornath? Your agent at Swift Enterprises sabotaged my test tank, manipulated a fine employee into destroying my machine, buzzed me in a plane—and what about the notice and the explosive squib in that chest?”
Fornath gestured mildly, dismissively. “I do see your point, Tom. Perhaps we went a bit far. I suppose our pranks did get rather out of hand at points.” He was silent for a moment, a frozen expression on his face. “I fear the convivial mood has departed us. But come, let me show you our beautiful ship.”
Tom was led by Fornath deep into the high-tech bowels of the Mad Moby, Lt. Andre bringing up the rear. The Hungarian seemed inclined to gush and brag, and Tom decided to play along, asking questions and displaying a degree of admiration. “How large a crew does she normally carry?” Tom inquired.
“Myself and a mere six more, including John Andre here. Much of the control is automated; what need have we for many hands and prying eyes? A marvel. We surely gave our unnamed and nameless national backers much more than they expected.”
“I certainly can agree with you there,” remarked Tom dryly. “But don’t work too hard trying to conceal the name of the nation from me, Mr. Fornath. I know what it is.”
“Really?” Fornath’s eyes glittered with suave amusement.
Tom smiled and extended a long, slender arm, pointing to a spot on a bulkhead partially covered by pipes that ran alongside the corridor. Beyond the end of his finger, in a spot not easy to see, a small decal depicting a nation’s flag had been carelessly stuck to the wall.
The flag was Old Glory—the American flag!
“IT WAS my country, the United States, that commissioned the building of this sub,” Tom declared. “A way-deep-secret project. I suppose that’s how the lieutenant here got involved in the first place. You stole the sub from Uncle Sam.”
“What a delightful, insightful young man you are!” beamed Alsemj Fornath. “But please, don’t hold anything against Admiral Hopkins or your Navy. They didn’t know. Few knew. It was to little advantage, and many persons’ disadvantage, for the embarrassment to become widely known, even within official circles. Imagine, allowing a submarine to become snitched. Ah—snatched.” He led Tom further along the corridor, to a private dining room. “I have a little surprise for you. A gift. There—it marks your place at the table.”
Stepping forward, Tom could not suppress a gasp. His test repelatron, the midget model created by Arvid Hanson, rested on the table next to his plate!
“It can’t be!” Tom muttered in amazement. “I saw this in my lab not ten hours ago!” As if not believing his eyes, he picked it up and began to examine it.
“No indeed, Tom,” chuckled Fornath. “You did not see this—for this is not the one made at your great installation. It is a perfect duplicate, built according to your final blueprints, which were copied and transmitted to my workmen.”
“Right,” said Tom angrily. “Copied by your agent at the plant—Amelia Foger!”
“That name, I do not know.” Fornath held out a hand and Tom turned the model over to him. The Hungarian adjusted the repelatron’s control dials, then suddenly aimed the device at Tom. The young inventor flinched back. “What would it do to the wonderful gray matter within that famous head of yours?” He handed it back to Tom. “But no, this model only affects solutions in water, as you know—otherwise, perhaps I should not be so foolish as to hand it to you. Try it, if you like.”
He indicated a pitcher of clear water sitting on the elegant tablecloth. Tom aimed the repelatron and thumbed the switch. The pitcher instantly slid along the table as the water within strained to escape the force beam. The young inventor switched it off and set the machine down on the table. “I’m impressed,” he said.
They sat down at the table—even Lt. Andre, warily, at Fornath’s insistence. A servant entered with the first course of the meal, a rich salad. “We must take care not to drink too much water, eh John?” joked their host. “Lest Tom Swift’s machine get its claws into us.” Fornath took a bite of his salad. “Mm, no—I recommend a bit of salt, gentlemen.” As Lt. Andre passed Tom the salt shaker after salting his dish, it fumbled out of their fingers and fell to the table top.
“Dear me, spilled salt!” cried Fornath jokingly. “An omen of bad luck for our venture to come, do you suppose?”
Tom threw a pinch over his shoulder. “There, the traditional remedy. I want all the luck I can get until the others are safe.”
Fornath smiled. “They will be, quite soon—should you chose the way of genial cooperation, Tom.” He salted his salad again.
“First, Mr. Fornath, tell me something, please.”
“Of course, Tom.”
“Did you say—Amy Foger was not your agent at Swift Enterprises?”
He shook his head. “That name—unfamiliar. The man we used is named Klevalog.”
“He goes under a more American-sounding name than that,” put in Andre. “He calls himself David March.”
Tom reacted to the name. David March—a respected senior mathematician at Enterprises! “Then he’s the one who― ”
“Yes, yes, sabotage, drugs on the envelopes, the airplane—all those little jokes of mine,” declared Fornath. “We recruited him about a year ago. It was easily done, for we discovered that he already harbored a grudge against your family, Tom—some ridiculous slight against his father. What silliness!”
I wonder if I’ll ever be able to give Amy the apology she deserves, Tom thought. “Tell me,” he asked. “What was your reason for hanging around the helium site in your ship? Why did you try to wreck my project?—ever since you moved that marker buoy.”
“The gentle beginning to an escalating situation,” responded Fornath musingly. “We were here because here is where we need to be—the water is full of the trace chemicals we require. I’m told it has something to do with the odd geological condition beneath the mountain, which also causes the gas pockets. Your quest after that useless chemical nonentity helium threatened my activities with exposure. Incidentally, I do hope this charming meal attests to the fact that we have no desire to manufacture that terrible poison for any military use. A shocking idea.”
“Possibly lucrative,” Tom said, not smiling.
“Possibly—now that you mention it! But now, Tom, let us talk turkey.”
“At some point, the same impulse that led me to take back this ship affected my attitude toward you, Tom. I decided that I would like to own you. And so, here you are.”
“What do you mean—own me?”
“Nothing subtle,” was the jovial reply. “From now on, you shall be my personal possession—call yourself an employee, if it will salve your ego. You will invent what I wish you to invent, and put your extraordinary genius at my service. Not a difficult life for you—and you may live in the hope of an eventual freedom. Agree to this, and all is well.”
The outrageous proposal shocked the young inventor! “And what’s to prevent me from going back on my word to you?”
“There, Tom, you see the regrettable value of the poison called T-9-E.” Fornath rose from his chair, his demeanor no longer that of host, but of jailer. “This ship will continue to produce the chemical, and I will continue to bottle it up as a good citizen of the world. Betray me and your own honor, and nothing will hold me back—nothing!” Andre moved to stand next to his employer, drawing his revolver. Tom also stood, facing the enemy boldly, calmly. “And now you shall give your answer,” Fornath demanded.
Tom smiled. “Do you mind if I make my reply a little melodramatic?”
“Perhaps I would enjoy it.”
“Then—this is my answer!”
Even as he spoke, Tom had swept the small repelatron off the table and aimed it at his foes, its beam at a wide setting. The two men lurched backwards, thrown off balance, and fell against the wall behind them. Lt. Andre’s revolver clattered to the deck.
The men’s faces were contorted in pain, their muscles bulging as they struggled to make headway against the invisible force. Their eyes bulged as well.
“Your—machine—only water! How― ” rasped Fornath, barely audible.
“Well,” said Tom coolly, “since you asked, the repelatron can be tuned to work on anything, not just water—but only one substance at a time. I guess you fellows didn’t know about the sampler-sensor built into it. I didn’t toss that pinch of salt over my shoulder, I― ”
“Salt!” grated Andre through clenched teeth. “In our bodies—Fornath, you idiot, you had us salt everything we ate!”
“No, not salt,” Tom corrected him. “Potassium iodide. The salt was iodized—and your bloodstreams carried it just about everywhere. As you can feel, I guess.” Tom himself was under a muscular strain from the back-pressure of the repelatron in his hands. Bracing it for a moment against a shelf behind him, he ducked beneath its beam and recovered the revolver. Then, covering the two with the gun, he flicked off the repelatron.
Minutes later, having locked his two foes in a sturdy-walled compartment with Fornath’s servant, Tom exited the submersible and made his secret way back to the dormitory building. He now carried, not a revolver, but one of the submachine guns from the Mad Moby.
Sneaking inside the building Tom was able to get the drop on Fornath’s men. Disheartened by the capture of their employer, fearful for their lives and trapped beneath an ocean of water, they quickly surrendered and were themselves imprisoned.
The men of the hydrodome crew crowded around Tom, cheering and expressing their gratitude as he briefly told the tale.
“I think I can work up an alternate relay for contacting the outside world,” Hank Sterling said. “I’ll get to work on it.”
“And there’s no reason now why we can’t go ahead and start setting up that invisible dome of yours, Tom,” added Pete Elliot. “It’s getting a tad sticky in here.”
“Brand my molars, you’re gonna be—owww!—pumpin’ that there helium gas afore you know it!” exclaimed a foghorn voice.
The men started to disperse. “Wait a sec, Tom,” said Bud. “There’s one thing left—something that doesn’t add up. What about the valve on― ”
“I know, Bud,” Tom interrupted. “David March—Klevalog—never got anywhere near Fearing, where the seacopter was based. But that air valve didn’t get fouled up on its own.” He turned his gaze to where Dr. Clisby and Bob Anchor stood nearby. “How about that, Bob?”
Anchor turned white as a sheet. “Tom! Are you saying—you think I—?”
A quiet voice spoke up, gentle but firm. “I didn’t want to believe it, Bob,” said Dr. Clisby. “But you’ve done this before, you know—more than once.”
“Arthur, please…” Anchor slumped down on a cot, head bowed. “I don’t know what to say. It kills me inside each time, but I can’t seem to help it. Some people steal, some start fires, I—they call it confabulation, a compulsion to lie, to cause crises to get—a sort of attention. Yes, I broke that valve myself, after you dragged me into the seacopter. I faked my shortness of breath. All I can do is apologize. And try one more time to deal with it.”
Tom nodded, and Clisby put a hand on his colleague’s shoulder. “I have an apology to make to someone, too,” Tom said. “It won’t be easy.”
“Well, no apologies for this hydrodome of yours, genius boy,” Bud declared warmly. “Or for that fantastic repelatron gimmick. Man oh man, I have a feeling that gizmo’s going to take us places we’ve never been!” Bud was proven right sooner than he expected, for Tom Swift was soon to enter The Race To The Moon.
“After all this, you’re already planning new adventures?” inquired Dr. Clisby with a smile.
Tom laughed. “Is the ocean wet?”