TOM SWIFT LIVES!

TOM SWIFT AND HIS

QUANTUM TELESPHERE

 

 

 

 

This unauthorized tribute

Is based upon

the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters.

 

As of this printing,

copyright to

The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures

is owned by

SIMON & SCHUSTER

 

 

 

This edition privately printed by

 

RUNABOUT

2013

www.tomswiftlivescom

 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 

 

 

TOM SWIFT AND HIS

QUANTUM TELESPHERE

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

          THE WAYWARD COURIER

 

 

 

 

THE ALERT signal buzzed like an angry wasp as the border of the monitor screen flashed an ominous red, the color of danger.

“Emergency!” intoned a shrill mechanical voice from the speaker. “Ghosts on Saturn’s moons and heading this way!”

In response, Tom Swift’s voice was perfectly calm, perfectly controlled—even bored. “I don’t think so.”

“And why not?” challenged Bud Barclay.

Tom pressed the button on his joystick. “Because I just sent all the ghosts to the Galactic Dungeon with my Transmittaton.”

Bud groaned. “You mean you still had a charge left? Dirty dog!—you win again.”

Tom clicked on the exit icon. A colorful screen-saver—a photo gallery of Tom Swift inventions—replaced the words GALAXY GHOSTS game over.

Sorry, Bud,” said Tom to his pal. “Just saving the Earth.”

Bud rose from his chair and stretched. “I’ll admit you have the advantage on these video games, genius boy. But I’ve got it all over you in touch football!”

“And racquetball, basketball, tennis, and just about every sport where muscles count more than scientific brain power,” Tom confirmed teasingly.

The two youths were killing time in Tom’s lab at Swift Enterprises, awaiting the late afternoon arrival of a courier whose delivery was a mysterious one. A game of SeaStalker had given Bud his first taste of defeat for the day, and now Galaxy Ghosts had reconfirmed his friend’s mastery of mouse, trackball, and joystick.

“Wasn’t the guy supposed to be here by now?” asked Bud. “Absolutely, positively guaranteed?”

Tom shook his head, grinning wryly beneath his ragged blond crewcut. “That’s a different company. The motto of this courier service is: You’ll get it when you get it!”

Earlier in the day George Dilling, chief public information officer for the famous invention and research company owned by the Swift family, had told Tom that he had taken a phone call from a Dr. Maurice Galbein—a long-distance call originating in Alaska. Dr. Galbein had indicated that a courier would be hand-delivering an air-freighted package concerning an important scientific matter directly to Tom Swift. The courier had been instructed to place it in Tom’s hands, and Dilling had promised to alert plant security personnel so that the messenger would be escorted promptly to the right office without triggering Enterprises’ elaborate radar-alarm security system.

Tom flipped open a phone unit and asked the main gate whether there had been any sign of the courier.

“Not so far, Tom,” the guard replied. “Could he have gone to one of the other gates?”

“I don’t think so,” was the young inventor’s response. “He was told very clearly to go to the main gate and give the identifying password George came up with.”

As Tom broke off the connection, Bud remarked, “Oh well, I suppose he’s just running late. Care for another round?”

Tom shook his head. “No thanks. Frankly, Galaxy Ghosts is pretty tedious going.”

“Yeah, I suppose winning all the time does get old fast.”

“It’s not that,” said Tom with a chuckle. “Not just. I guess I’m put off by the lousy science they use in the game, and those lame ‘dangerous situations’. If I’m going to spend time playing a game, I’d prefer something more realistic—it seems more challenging after all we’ve been through.”

Bud sat down again on a stool, running a hand through his dark, tousled hair. “Okay, I’ll admit that galaxy-hopping ghosts made of ‘photo-essence’ sounds more like bad TV than good science. But those Transmittaton machines are pretty cool, doncha think?”

“Cool?” Tom sighed at his friend in good-humored resignation. “Listen, Budworth, whoever designed that game doesn’t know any more about science than you could fit on the back of a cereal box! Didn’t you read the backgrounder they provided about how the thing’s supposed to work?”

“I never bother with that stuff,” Bud admitted sheepishly. “Maybe that’s why I never win. What about it?”

A snort prefaced Tom’s reply. “Their Transmittaton gizmo is supposed to be some kind of matter-transmitter—a typical science fiction teleporter, as they’re called. Some sort of scanning beam takes you apart atom by atom, then another beam― ”

“The Lektromag.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “Whatever!—it sends all these loose atoms across trillions of miles of space, where some kind of receiver reassembles them into the original form.”

“So what’s wrong with that? It’s just like television, except with matter instead of light.”

Tom shook his head in disgust. “Bud, a television camera doesn’t send light anywhere—it sends information in coded form. The information allows the receiver to simulate the original. The original light-image stays behind.”

“True.”

“Even though a Transmittaton like the one in the game disintegrates the original and recycles its atoms, the machine they describe is more like a replicator than a transportation device. It’s like destroying a person and replacing him with a perfect clone. Besides, trying to transmit information giving the precise state and instantaneous position of every particle in a human body would take centuries at any baud rate remotely conceivable. And imagine the effect even a little space static could have!”

“Yikes! I guess I’ll stick to my convertible.” Struck by a sudden thought, the young pilot pointed an accusing finger at Tom. “Hey, I know what you’re building up to, pal. You’re about to explain to me how your own Tom Swift matter-transmitter is superior in every way. Right?”

Tom winced but couldn’t help laughing. Bud knew him all too well! “My quantum telesphere works on an entirely different principle—but it works!” He paused, then added ruefully: “If it works.”

“Oh, it’ll work. They always do!” Bud said confidently. And he was in the best possible position to know. Bud Barclay had been at his best pal’s side on many a thrilling expedition, many a hazardous experiment. They had flown together to South America in Tom’s Flying Lab, there to outwit rebels and kidnappers. They had broken the sound barrier beneath the ocean waves while fighting modern-day pirates in Tom’s jetmarine. The quest for molten iron had taken them to the South Pole, where Tom’s atomic earth blaster had probed the inner world. But the two youths had faced some of their greatest challenges away from earth entirely, traveling through the void of space to the phantom satellite, to the moon, even to a captive planetoid headed for the far side of the sun. Only recently they had returned to earth after plunging deep into the outer solar system aboard the Starward, Tom’s huge cosmotron express.

The young inventor smiled appreciatively at Bud’s loyal comment. “Thanks. But the problems with the telesphere aren’t just technological, but theoretical as well. We’re trying to do something on a large scale that was thought to be impossible on any scale just a few years ago.”

Bud nodded his understanding. “You told me they’d licked it, though.”

“Some scientists did manage a first step, that’s true,” Tom continued. “They caused a single subatomic particle to be detected in two places at the same time, so to speak. It was sort of a trick; still, it showed that there was a way to do it. But the difficulties involved in accomplishing something like that with macroscopic objects—ordinary things, like this chair or a whole human body—required a major conceptual breakthrough. You know, Dad’s been working on the basic idea for years now, with our theoretical physics section.”

Tom’s father Damon Swift was the grandson of the first Tom Swift, who had thrilled the world with his amazing mechanical and electrical inventions in the early twentieth century. He had inherited the legendary Swift aptitude for invention, for seeing intractable problems in a different light, and had passed this useful quirk of mind along to his son.

Bud grinned and said, “I can tell I’m going to have to take a few night school classes if I’m going to understand this Swift invention!”

Further conversation was interrupted by a brisk knock at the lab door. Tom pressed a button and admitted Harlan Ames, head of Enterprises security. “Sorry to intrude, you two, but I was just down the hall when I took a call over my cellphone,” Ames apologized. “Tom, you know of this Galbein fellow?”

Tom nodded and related the message from George Dilling. “That explains it,” said Ames. “But there may be trouble brewing. Galbein has been calling to find out why his courier hasn’t reported back to him. He was supposed to have arrived here more than an hour ago.”

“Beats me,” Tom said with raised eyebrows. “And I don’t have any idea what the courier is bringing to me, either. Since it’s ‘for your eyes only,’ it must be pretty important. I’d guess Dr. Galbein wants to enlist the aid of Enterprises in solving some sort of scientific problem he’s run up against.”

“Who do you suppose Galbein is, anyway?” asked Bud. “Maybe he’s a phony.”

“Let’s find out.” Tom switched on his lab computer and connected to the internet. After a moment he announced, “Here he is. Maurice Galbein, Ph.D.—in paleontology and zoology. Various journal articles... vertebrate migrations in northern Canada, mitochondrial dating techniques… interesting stuff.”

“Not exactly cloak-and-dagger material, though,” remarked Bud. “I was hoping we’d have some excitement around here. Or at least a good juicy mystery.”

Ames’s pocket cellphone beeped softly, and he answered. A frown creased his forehead as he made a few cryptic comments before clicking off. “That was Galbein again,” the security chief explained to Tom and Bud. “I guess things are heating up. The courier just contacted him and reported that he’d been attacked and his package stolen!”

Tom cast a wry look in Bud’s direction.

“Be careful what you wish for!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

 

          A SNIFF OF DANGER

 

 

  

 

“I THINK it’s high time we found out what this is all about,” Tom said with determination. Taking the phone number from Ames, he placed a call to Dr. Galbein while the others listened. Obviously very concerned, he answered immediately.

“It’s good to speak to you, young man,” said the scientist. “In retrospect I suppose I ought to have done so prior to sending out my courier.”

“Maybe so,” agreed Tom. “We might have been able to protect him at our end here in Shopton. But why use a courier in the first place?”

The man sounded embarrassed. “I’m afraid I yielded to my rather pathetic urge for drama. The scientific matter is quite significant and I wanted your full attention.”

“Well, you have it now,” said Tom dryly. “What were you sending to me?”

There was a long pause. “Tom, forgive me, but are you quite sure no one is listening in?”

The young inventor glanced at Ames and Bud. “I can assure you that no one is listening who shouldn’t be. Our phones are able to detect taps or interference of the ordinary sort.”

“That will have to do,” Galbein declared. “Tom, my field is― ”

“I know—paleontology.”

“Yes, well… I’ve spent several years now engaged in scientific studies in northern Alaska, north of the Brooks Range near Teshekpuk Lake. It’s flat, desolate, semi-arctic land. My original purpose was to document the early Ice Age migrations of mammals over the Siberian land bridge and across the continent. Do you follow me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Some months ago, I made a tremendous discovery, quite by accident. In a region once heavily glaciated I came upon a cave system revealed to sight by the collapse of an ice cliff. My party and I descended into the caves. Conditions there are strikingly unusual from a scientific standpoint, but the important thing― ”

As Galbein paused, Bud whispered, “Frozen dinosaurs! Bet it’s frozen dinosaurs!”

Tom nudged his pal and urged the scientist to continue.

“In the underground ice lies the body of what I first believed to be a mastodon—that is, mastodont americanus, the great elephantine creature of the Pleistocene. No doubt you’re familiar with the species?”

“Familiar? Not really,” replied Tom. “I’ve heard of them, of course.”

“Ah, well, it doesn’t matter,” continued Galbein impatiently. “For it wasn’t a mastodon after all, you see. It was an anthropoid!”

Tom’s eyebrows shot up. “An ape?”

“Indeed—or a relative thereof. As you know—well, perhaps you don’t—such creatures are not found in the Americas. And this one was a species never seen before, anywhere. I estimate its height to be eleven feet!”

Bud whistled at the words from the phone speaker. “You were able to extract it from the ice, then?” inquired Tom.

“No,” replied the paleontologist. “It can be observed from several angles, but extracting it presents many difficulties. However, using special instruments, and working with what I can assure you was the utmost caution, I was able to excise about one ounce of material from its epidermis for study. The flesh is astoundingly well preserved, all chromosomal markings easily readable. The packet I was sending you contained a portion of that sample, in a preservative capsule.”

“This is all very intriguing, Dr. Galbein,” Tom said, an edge of excitement to his voice. “But I’m not yet clear on the role you’re asking Swift Enterprises to play.”

“Perhaps I haven’t expressed myself with adequate specificity,” the man responded. “Given prevailing conditions, we dare not try to melt the ice around the creature—whom I have named Gigans, incidentally—nor to risk chipping or cutting it out in the conventional manner. Thus, in the cause of science, I am asking you to devise a way to free the carcass from its icy shell as a whole, without exposing it to destruction or decay.”

Tom lowered the phone receiver for a moment, his eyes flashing with the thrill of a scientific challenge.

“Tom? Are you there, my boy?”

“Yes, sorry. We’ll obviously have to talk about this at great length, sir. But what happened to your courier?”

Galbein sighed nervously, like a wobbly machine venting exhaust. “He was attacked, assaulted in your town of Shopton when he stopped for gas. His assailants must have been following him by car, obviously. The packet was stolen.”

“Was the courier badly injured?”

“Apparently not—he was finally able to contact me from the hospital where he had driven himself.”

Harlan Ames murmured, “Must be Shopton Memorial. I’ll see if I can reach him.” He quietly slipped out the door.

Tom asked if the scientist had any idea who might have been behind the robbery. “You spoke of other members of your party,” Tom noted.

“Indeed yes. There are four others who have been working with me in the ice cave. But—I can’t― ”

“I understand, sir. It’s very hard to have to be suspicious of persons you’ve worked closely with,” the young inventor said in sympathetic tones. “Sometimes your colleagues are your closest friends.”

“Quite true,” responded Galbein. “I’m afraid in my present agitated state of mind I would be unable to investigate the affair very thoroughly. I’d be grateful to turn it over to the authorities, or perhaps to your company security apparatus.”

After some further discussion of various details and a promise to get back in touch within twenty-four hours, Tom clicked-off and looked at Bud. “Juicy enough for you, flyboy?”

Bud laughed. “It’ll do! But who’d want to rob somebody of tissue samples from an old refrigerated monkey, anyway?”

Rubbing his chin, Tom replied, “The samples don’t have any market value, but in a scientific sense they’re almost priceless. Outside of old movies, I’ve never heard of anything like an eleven foot anthropoid, not in any era of life on Earth.”

Bud gave his pal a shrewd look. “Are you hinting this big banana-muncher is not from Earth?”

Tom’s eyes blazed. “We’ve seen plenty of evidence that our planet has been visited by extraterrestrials.”

Some time before—and it now seemed like quite a long time before—a small, meteorlike missile had slammed into the grounds of Swift Enterprises. Inscribed with symbols that expressed mathematical concepts, it had led Tom and his father to establish limited radio communication with mysterious other-planetary scientists, voyagers from another star system who operated from an installation in orbit about nearby Mars.

Though strangely reticent about their native civilization and physical form, the space friends, as they were called, had acknowledged earlier attempts to survive in the terrestrial environment. Tom had uncovered evidence of these projects among the Mayan ruins of Yucatan, in the submerged city of gold in the Atlantic, even in a secret crypt buried deep beneath the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

“Maybe this gorilla guy is one of the space friends themselves!” Bud exclaimed.

But Tom shook his head. “No, we’ve learned enough about them to rule that out. Still, the idea struck me that there may be some connection between Gigans and those ancient expeditions. It’s something we’ve got to find out!”

Tom and Bud headed for Ames’s office in the plant administration building, which was located next to the private office Tom shared with his father. When they arrived Munford Trent, the Swifts’ secretary, relayed the message that Ames had gone to the hospital to question the waylaid courier, whose name was Paul Zarvas.

“Thanks, Munford,” said Tom.

“Please—it’s ‘Trent’,” the secretary corrected him with barely concealed brusqueness. The young inventor apologized.

“Let’s join Harlan at the hospital,” Tom said to Bud. “But first let’s stop by Arv’s shop. He has something there that might help us pick up a few clues.” Arvid Hanson was Swift Enterprises’ expert modelmaker, who fabricated scaled-down prototypes of Tom’s inventions for testing purposes.

The youths took the ridewalk—one of the moving ramps that facilitated personnel transport within the four-mile-square installation—to Hanson’s workshop, where they were greeted by Linda Ming, his assistant. “The big Swede’s over at Tech Three right now,” she said. “But the prototype of your analytracer is finished, if that’s what you came for.”

At Tom’s confirmation she brought him a compact, rectangular device molded from black plastic. About a foot and a half in length, the dial-studded machine had a handgrip on top, and was to be held like a dust-buster mini vacuum. A thin, flexible tube protruded from its forward end.

As Tom and Bud rode through town in the direction of Shopton Memorial Hospital in Bud’s convertible—a new model but still bright red in color—Tom explained the invention resting on his lap. “It uses the technology developed for the aquatomic tracker to sniff-out and analyze trace particles adhering to the target object.”

“Like the machine you attached to that robot bloodhound you used in Australia?” Bud inquired, referring to their adventure with Tom’s sonic silentenna.

“Only in part,” Tom said. “The analytracer isn’t designed as a tracking device, but for the purpose of locating and identifying dangerous trace chemicals in an experimental or industrial setting. But here we’ll use it for evidence gathering.”

At the hospital they were directed to Zarvas’s private room, paid for by Dr. Galbein. His forehead swathed in bandages, the courier proved to be no older than Tom and Bud—half as old as Harlan Ames, who had been questioning him.

“Found the answers, Harlan?” Bud asked.

“I wish. Paul here didn’t catch sight of his assailants, or their car.”

“Like I was telling Mr. Ames, they pulled in behind me while I was pumping gas,” said the skinny young man, his voice husky. “I remember the sound of a car pulling up—sort of. Didn’t pay any attention, you know? Then pow! I woke up lying on the ground with a big bump on this hard head of mine.” He touched the bandages and winced. “My girlfriend’s gonna dis me for this. Not to mention my Mom!”

Tom inquired if the service station attendant had seen anything.

“No,” answered Ames. “He says he’d fallen asleep behind his service window. A customer woke him up and said she’d seen three men struggling with a fourth, whom they left unconscious—Paul. She was too upset to notice anything about the men’s car.”

“They broke into the security locker in my back seat—pried it open,” explained Zarvas with a sad sigh. “The packet is gone, natch. I’ll prob’ly get fired!”

“I don’t think there’s anything you could have done to prevent this,” Tom said reassuringly. “In fact, by getting knocked out, you may have helped us catch these guys!”

“How ya figger that?”

In response Tom moved closer and activated the analytracer. The device lit up but remained completely noiseless. He slowly moved the point of the vacuum nozzle, which was no wider than a knitting needle, over Zarvas’s hands and arms, and then over his scalp. Then his keen eyes played over the output dials on the top of the device.

“Got anything?” Bud inquired, fascinated.

“Sure have,” Tom responded. “Paul likes peanut butter, and looks to be something of a chocoholic.”

“Yeah—guilty!” commented the courier with a laugh.

“Let’s see. Here are the traces of gasoline, transmission fluid, and motor oil from the service station. Rubber particles. Asphalt and good old dirt from the pavement. And this― ” Here Tom pointed at a bright bar on one of the meters. “Antiseptics from the hospital. Bandage fibers. And all sorts of organic material…the computer matches this group of readings here to our local woodlands.”

“Right,” Paul confirmed. “After I received the packet from the air courier, I drove directly to Shopton from the Waterfield airfield. Lots of trees along that route.”

“Yep.” Tom mentioned a dozen more readings, the device’s computer reporting the most likely source for each. Then the young inventor frowned. “Now this is interesting…”

“What is it, Tom?” asked Ames.

“Mineral and chemical traces that the analytracer can’t identify from its memory-library.” Tom looked up excitedly. “Guys, this could be exactly what we’re looking for!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

 

          TELEPORTING TOMATOES

 

 

 

 

 

“CAN’T YOUR machine tell you where the traces originated?” Ames inquired.

“No,” Tom replied. “Its onboard computer is mighty powerful, but only contains data on the more common sources, especially the local ones.” He provided the scientific names of the various mineral and chemical substances identified, but explained that it would take time to cross-reference them.

“That’s a tough break,” remarked Paul Zarvas. “I’d sure like to know who conked me! And so would my mother.”

After chatting with the young courier for a while, a friendly youth somewhat in awe of the famed Tom Swift, the three Enterprises employees went their separate ways for the evening. Harlan Ames, a widower, lived with his teenaged daughter Dorothy—called Dodie—in a condominium overlooking Lake Carlopa. “I don’t dare be late tonight,” he explained to the boys, a wry smile on his face. “Dodie’s been taking a cooking class and I gave my solemn word I’d try her latest creations. But assuming I survive, I’ll be talking to our police and security contacts about this incident.”

As Bud dropped Tom off at his car at Swift Enterprises, he gave his reason for not joining his pal for a home-cooked meal, as he often did. “I’m heading over to Big Burt’s Gym for a few hours. If I don’t keep my physique in trim, you’re going to start beating me in sports as well as computer games!”

In his sleek, bronze-hued sports car, powered by silent electricity, Tom wound his way through the streets of Shopton. Though the family home lay at the border of the town within walking distance of the plant, Tom had headed off in the opposite direction, taking a meandering route that took him all around the lake. As a late supper had been planned, he wanted to take time for a lengthy drive, to think as he drove through the lovely open country that provided Shopton its relaxed, small-town atmosphere.

One of Dr. Galbein’s associates must be behind the theft, he reasoned. No one else knew about the discovery. But what was the motive? Professional jealousy?

At the dinner table Tom discussed the incident with his father, mother, and sister Sandra.

“What’s your theory about this, Sandy?” Damon Swift asked his daughter, eyes twinkling with fond amusement. “You usually have one. Or two!”

Sandra Swift was a fan of whodunnit-type mystery stories as well as extravagant paperback romances, and had made something of a hobby out of trying to predict the ultimate result of crime investigations in the real world, gleaned from the daily news.

“Oh, I don’t know, Daddy,” she responded, sighing. “I’m usually wrong. Come to think of it—have I ever been right?”

“Oh, there have been a few times, you know,” remarked Tom’s mother with a warm smile. “None come to mind, but I’m certain there were.”

Sandy frowned and picked at her food. “Tom,” she said abruptly, “are you really sure the Black Cobra is dead?”

Long before, while perfecting a novel mode of space propulsion for cosmic astronauts, Tom had matched wits with a ruthless, brilliant Asian scientist, Li Ching, an outcast from his native land. Allying himself with other international renegades possessed of scientific expertise, Li had established a shadowy multinational crime corporation with himself the dictatorial head. Now styling himself the Black Cobra, the amoral genius had attempted to destroy the Swift installation on the asteroid Nestria, orbiting between the earth and the moon. The Cobra seemed to have developed a peculiar fixation upon Tom and Swift Enterprises, striking out at them on several subsequent occasions without mercy. But Tom and his friends had always triumphed.

“If Collections tells us he’s out of the picture, that’s good enough for me,” Tom said, referring to the secret U.S. government agency that had assisted the Swifts on many past occasions. “They seem to know just about everything.”

“What makes you think the Black Cobra is involved?” Mr. Swift asked.

Sandy didn’t answer for a moment, her blue eyes, usually bright and vivacious, darkened with sober reflection. “I’m not sure,” she finally answered. “It just sort of came into my head while Tom was telling the story.”

Tom asked if something in the story had reminded her of their foe.

“Maybe,” said Sandy. “Or maybe it’s just intuition. But you know, Tom, these arch-enemy types never seem to stay dead!”

Tom laughingly agreed.

“Not to change the subject,” interjected Mr. Swift, “but I wanted to remind you, Tom, that our test tomorrow morning has been moved up to seven AM.”

“Why so early?” inquired Anne Swift of her husband.

“Our visiting observer from Sweden, Professor Armuldsson, has been called back home to Stockholm by the University. He has a mid-morning flight. I offered to fly him back on one of our own jets, but his employers have a rule against it, it seems.”

“Is this that matter-beamer of yours, Tom?” Sandy inquired.

Tom groaned humorously. “Please don’t call it that, San. It doesn’t ‘beam you up’.” He glanced wryly at his father. “Dad, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to explain to the general public how to think about the quantum telesphere!”

Damon Swift chuckled in a sympathetic way. “I’m afraid old television reruns have pretty much poisoned the well for us.”

“All right then,” said Sandy, setting down her knife and fork. “This is science fiction—pretend that I’m intelligent! How exactly does the machine work?”

Mr. Swift nodded at his son, as if to say: It’s all yours!

“You asked for it,” Tom declared. “Sis, why are things in one place and not another?”

“Excuse me? What kind of question is that?”

Here’s what I’m getting at,” said the young inventor as the others at the table leaned in over their plates. “What is it that keeps a given object concentrated at one particular location, and not spread out over space?”

Sandy looked puzzled. “Gravity?”

Tom nodded. “Sure. And inside the atom you have other forces as well. But I’m asking a more basic question, kind of a philosophical question. Why is there such a thing as space—the space that separates one thing from another, for instance? If space is just emptiness, how does it keep objects apart?”

Tom’s mother spoke up. “Not to be a name dropper, but the philosopher Descartes asked the same question. He wondered why, if a barrel were completely empty and contained nothing but space, the sides didn’t come together and touch.”

Sandy shrugged. “I guess space is a kind of ‘something’ after all.”

“Exactly right.” Tom grinned approvingly. “What we call ‘space’ isn’t just emptiness, but something with properties and qualities, as if it were a sort of substance. Now look at this.” He removed a cherry tomato from his salad plate and set it on the tablecloth. “It has a particular, well-defined position in space—so many inches from you, so many from me, so many from the floor.”

“Mm-hmm,” murmured Sandy with a hint of sisterly sarcasm. “Got it.”

“But as objects get smaller, as they approach subatomic size, it turns out that their positions are not so well-defined,” continued the young inventor, his eyes sparkling. “Electrons, photons, and other such things occupy positions in space in a vague way, as if they were blurred.”

“Like that picture I took of Bud passing a football.” Sandy nodded. “He had just thrown it, and it looked like a dandelion puff.”

“That’s the idea, sis. But in this case the ‘blur’ is real, not just a deficiency in the way our equipment works. These subsized objects are actually spread out in space. It’s their natural condition, you might say.”

The attractive blond girl, a year Tom’s junior, wrinkled her brow. “I think I understand that. That’s why things like photons of light can be treated like either waves or particles.”

“Very good!” commented Mr. Swift.

Tom pushed on the tomato with his finger, starting it rolling. “If this tomato were blurred over space like an electron is, you wouldn’t have to wait a few seconds for it to reach your plate. It would be partially there from the start, because the blur would extend across the whole region of space between here and there.”

“But it wouldn’t really be here,” Sandy observed thoughtfully. “I mean, it wouldn’t be here like you expect a tomato to be, would it? It would be indistinct, like a mist.”

Tom set the tomato back on his plate, flashing an apologetic look at his mother. “You’re right. Normally we’re not aware of the blurred aspect of objects in what Professor Armuldsson calls quantum protospace, which is the space that ordinary space itself is ‘in’, so to speak. The distended portion falls below the quantum minimum for interacting in a continuous way with ordinary matter and energy.”

“Then how can we see things at all?” Sandy objected. “Aren’t you saying that all the little bits that things are made of are like that?”

“Yes,” Tom replied. “But the intensity of the ‘presence’ of the particle varies, just as that football image was dark in some places and almost transparent in others.” Building upon this concept, Tom explained that what he had called “intensity” in truth referred to degrees of probability—the probability that a given particle would be detected at a certain location in space.

“Well, what does probability have to do with it anyway?” the girl demanded. “I mean, if the thing has gotten to a certain place, then it’s one hundred percent there, and the probability of detecting it must be one hundred percent too.”

“And the probability of detecting it elsewhere must be zero, right?”

“Are you saying it isn’t?”

Tom crinkled his eyebrows, trying to create a simple picture of a very difficult idea. “What experiments with subatomic particles suggest is that such a particle has no definite, one-hundred-percent location during the period of time between when it is emitted, and when it interacts with something so that we can detect it. Instead of being a little point-particle at a given place in space, it has a kind of ghostly partial-existence at every place that the laws of physics allow it to go to—until, in a completely unpredictable way, it collapses onto just one of the other particles that happen to lie within its ‘blur’. That’s when it really turns into the sort of particle we assumed it was all along.”

Sandy said, “Like the way a little pinprick makes a balloon pop. One moment it’s this big round ball, then suddenly it’s just a tiny scrap of withered rubber.”

Anne Swift spoke up. “If you don’t mind getting away from tomatoes, I remember another analogy, from one of my professors in graduate school. He said it was like bowling. If you close your eyes at the instant you release the ball, it could go anywhere as far as you’re concerned—even into the gutter. All you can do at that moment is guess the likelihood of a spare or a strike, based on how the ball felt when you let go. You have a range of probable outcomes, you see. So in terms of your own knowledge, that one bowling ball is spread out over space with different densities.”

“Uh-huh, the greatest density would be along the route with the highest probability,” Sandy agreed. “In my case, that’s probably the one leading straight into the gutter!”

“But then,” Tom continued, “when you hear the ball hit something, the probabilities change instantly, becoming one hundred percent for one outcome, and zero for the rest. The ball’s protospace collapses into ordinary space. Do you see?”

“I think so, Tom.” Sandy tapped her finger on the table top. “Okay, but bowling balls don’t normally turn into probability-clouds. How do you make a bowling ball, or a person, or even a tomato, go from point A to point B in this ‘protospace’?”

“The technical details are fairly recondite,” commented Mr. Swift.

Sandy nodded, but her determined expression said: Try me!

“Okay,” said Tom. “I can at least give you the basic approach. There are two telespheres. You step into the departure sphere, and the two spheres acting together create a subnucleonic matrix—well, we had to call it something!—that distorts the positional probabilities of your personal protospace, which is just the combination of the protospaces of all the particles of your body.”

“And your clothes?”

“Everything inside the sphere. So you blur out and disappear into protospace.”

Sandy smiled. “So far so good. Continue!”

Tom explained that the concluding step was to deactivate both telespheres in succession. “Your protospace collapses into the normal space of whichever sphere is switched off last, even if the difference is only a nanosecond. So if the arrival telesphere is a thousand miles away—there you are.”

“But—ah-hah!” Tom’s sister objected. “What about matter and energy conservation laws? Daddy kept telling us both, In science you can’t get something for nothing!”

And that was entirely valid,” responded Damon Swift. “But the approach in this case is to cause a change in location without a change in velocity, so momentum is completely conserved.”

“In other words, you sort of trick the universe.”

“Right!” Tom laughed.

The next morning found Tom and his father in the giant underground hangar that housed Tom’s Flying Lab, the Sky Queen. This manmade concrete cavern beneath the Enterprises airfield was as broad as two city blocks, and its metal roof, which could be swung sideways in two panels to allow the great skyship to be raised to ground level, loomed several stories above the floor.

The pair of prototype telespheres had been set up about thirty feet apart. Each sphere was four feet in diameter and was composed of a clear plastic-crystal material of the sort Tom had devised for one of his earlier electronic inventions, the polar-ray dynasphere. But in this case the spheres were hollow, and were mounted atop twin shoulder-high columns of gleaming metal.

“My heart is quite pounding, gentlemen,” said Professor Armuldsson to Tom and Mr. Swift. The Swedish scientist absent-mindedly flicked a curl of white hair off his forehead.

“You don’t find it a bit anticlimactic, Gustav?” asked Damon Swift. “After all, we’ve been successfully transpositing large molecules for weeks now.”

“It is we Swedes who are reputed to be cool and reserved, but I envy you, Damon.” Then he nodded at Tom. “I envy both of you! How marvelous to be born in such a family.”

As Tom reddened in a flush of modesty, Bud Barclay, standing next to him, quickly spoke up. “Professor, I’m with you. My chest is always flopping like a fish on a line when these guys start experimenting. Next thing you know I’ll be― ”

“Hey there, buckaroos! Jest a second, now!” The interruption sounded like a scouring pad scraping burnt batter off an iron frying pan—with a Texas accent.

“C’mon, Chow!” called Tom. “We’ve been waiting for you!”

The little knot of observers was joined by Chow Winkler, a larger-than-life character with rounded edges, colorful in more ways than one. Chow, who long ago had branded himself a “former chuck-wagon cook” based upon his many years on the range in New Mexico and his native Texas, was the Swifts’ personal chef and a good and loyal friend; though like all friends he was subject to some good-natured teasing at times, which he jokingly paid back with interest.

“Better make him change shirts, Tom—you’ll have to recalibrate your machines!” cracked Bud as Chow came trotting up. The westerner was fond of gaudy shirts, which his current garb illustrated in vivid tones of lime-green and rose-red.

“Don’t much know what recalpitation means,” panted the heavyset cook, “but I don’t guess buddy boy here does neither!”

Tom laughed and said, “Don’t mind Bud. He’s still half asleep.”

“Me too,” said Chow. He stepped back for a moment, looking over the twin telespheres through skeptical, well-weathered eyes. “S’these here are your telly-spheres, huh? You gonna beam somethin’ from one t’the other?”

Suppressing a slight groan of disapproval at Chow’s choice of words, Tom answered, “That’s right, and it’s our biggest load yet.”

“What is it, anyway?” asked Bud.

In response Tom pointed to the inside of the nearby departure sphere. Bud stepped closer, squinting through the transparent globe. “I don’t see anything.”

“Look up above, at the top.”

Finally Bud noticed a small, thin wire, about the length of a pencil, extending downward at an angle. “You mean that little wire?”

“Nope!” Tom said. “That filament is just for guiding a tiny droplet of mineral oil to a point precisely above the center of the sphere. It will fall down of its own accord, and when the laser-detector setup shows that it’s reached the exact center, the telespheres will be activated automatically. If all goes well, it’ll finish its fall in Sphere Two.”

“Brand my spacelane brainstorm!” gulped Chow. “This’ll sure put th’ buses an’ taxicabs out of business. I’m a-gonna watch it land!” He strode over to the arrival sphere, his tall-heeled cowpoke boots clacking on the cement floor.

“Tom—Mr. Swift—the machine is ready when you are,” called out Hank Sterling, Enterprises’ young chief engineer, who was operating the control board.

“One moment, if you please,” muttered Professor Armuldsson. He whipped off his metal-framed glasses and wiped them on his shirt. “Proceed!”

“Here goes,” said Tom. He gave a nod to Hank, who actuated the mechanism. “Matrix acquired,” the engineer said. “I’m letting loose the droplet.” Powerful multiphase lasers flashed through the sphere, and for a split second the watchers could catch the pinpoint gleam of the falling droplet as it reached the center of the telesphere—and blinked out of existence!

But there was no time to reflect on this miracle of science. A sharp Bang! and burst of light flooded the huge hangar as the watchers flinched back in shock. Sphere Two had exploded with terrifying force!


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

 

          STRANGE REVERSAL

 

 

 

 

 

CHOW!” Tom cried out in a frenzy of fear. The seasoned cowpoke had been standing near the arrival telesphere and had taken the brunt of the blast.

“Call the medics!” demanded Mr. Swift as Hank Sterling raced for a nearby telephone.

Chow was lying on his back on the floor, surrounded by fragments of the telesphere globe. The air was full of a smoky haze, and parts of the Texan’s clothing were smoldering. Blood was oozing from cuts on his face and arms.

Tom, Bud, Mr. Swift, and Professor Armuldsson clustered around their stricken friend while Hank doused the shattered telesphere with foam from a fire extinguisher.

Chow was dazed but conscious. “B-brand... my… I dunno what!” he murmured in a weak, husky whisper.

“Are you in pain?” asked Armuldsson gently.

“Shor am in somethin’!” gasped Chow with a wince. He rolled his eyes in Tom’s direction. “Boss, I may look a sight, but I bet I look better’n you!”

“Just a little concerned, pardner,” said Tom, tears peeping from the corners of his eyes.

“Aw, now, I’m all right.”

“Here’s Doc Simpson,” Bud said. The young plant physician rushed up to Chow’s side and examined him carefully.

“Kin I get up now?” the cook demanded.

“Suppose so,” Simpson responded with a reassuring smile. He helped Chow to his wobbly feet and turned to Tom and the others. “He’ll be okay. Everything I see appears fairly superficial. That generously-upholstered backside of his cushioned his fall.”

“Whoa now!” protested Chow indignantly. “That there’s not what I’d call a good bedside manner.”

Bud was examining the remains of the base of the telesphere globe—a circle of orphaned shards sitting uselessly atop the silver column. “Look, Tom. The crystal isn’t just broken, it’s melted!”

“This is most unexpected,” declared Professor Armuldsson in genuine concern. He turned to Mr. Swift. “And so, Damon, what shall we assume here? A fundamental flaw, do you think?”

Mr. Swift shook his head. “It would be very premature to draw that conclusion. One expects reversals in developing a radical new technology. What do you think, Son?”

Tom looked up from examining the fragments of the sphere. “I don’t know yet. But I have an idea.”

Hank Sterling suggested, “If the transpositing process converted the mass of the droplet into energy― ”

“No, no,” interrupted Armuldsson. “In that case we would not be here to tell the tale, I can assure you.”

“I feel sure it was a thermokinetic wave,” Tom said thoughtfully.

“What’s that?” Chow piped up. “I’d sure like t’know what conked me!”

Tom smiled. It was the second time in twenty-four hours that someone had used that expression! “When the transpositioned object reenters normal space in the arrival telesphere, it pushes aside whatever’s already occupying that space—in this case, air. And the push is extremely fast, virtually instantaneous. It basically turns the air molecules into hypersonic projectiles, generating a shockwave and an intense blast of heat.”

“But we calculated that effect very carefully,” objected Damon Swift with a glance at Professor Armulddson.

“Obviously an error must have crept in somewhere,” his son retorted. “We’ll have to recalculate.”

“And maybe redesign the machine,” added Sterling  ruefully.

“Glad I could help,” Chow said. “But boss, next time I volunteer someb’dy else for guinea pig!”

Tom retired to his design-engineering laboratory to ponder the problem while Bud went off with Chow to have a late breakfast. After an hour, Tom’s father joined him.

“I have some good news,” said Damon Swift. “Gustav spoke with his superiors at the university in Sweden. He’s been given permission to remain with us for several more weeks, to assist in solving the telesphere problem.”

“That’s great, Dad,” Tom remarked absently, his thoughts elsewhere. “Professor Armuldsson knows more about quantum theory than any man alive.”

After Mr. Swift left the lab, Tom worked on through the day, sketching out ideas for redesigning the paired globes on his electronic flatscreen. He also commenced a lengthy process of rechecking the energy calculations one by one, by computer.

Well, here’s why we were taken by surprise, he said to himself. There was a subtle error in one of the key equations. Making the correction, Tom saw immediately that the transpositioning of any object of significant mass and volume would have explosive consequences. It presented a difficult problem.

His train of thought was interrupted by the bleep of the telephone. He frowned but answered politely.

“It’s Phil Radnor, Tom.” Phil was Harlan Ames assistant in the Swift Enterprises security division. “There’s been a surprising turn in the courier-theft case.”

“A lead?”

“Stranger than that. The tissue sample has been returned!”

Tom was thunderstruck. “What!”

Radnor chuckled. “Believe me, I was amazed too. That courier fellow, Paul—just gave us a call from his home over in Waterfield. A package containing the preservation capsule was placed on his doorstep within the hour. No one saw who left it.”

“Was there a note with it?”

“Not a thing—just the capsule surrounded by padding. But the capsule is transparent, and Paul thinks the entire sample is inside. It doesn’t appear to have been tampered with.”

“If a small amount was removed, it wouldn’t necessarily be visible to the eye,” declared the young inventor, frowning. “We’ll have to transmit DNA micro-spectrograms to Dr. Galbein—he’s the only one who could confirm that we’ve received back the genuine article.”

“You'll have it in your hands by the end of the day,” Radnor said. “That’s where Harlan is. He and one of the grounds patrollers just left for Waterfield in Harlan’s car. By the way, Tom…”

“What?”

“There must be a flu bug going around. Harlan looked a little funny, and when I asked he said his stomach had been feeling queasy since last night.”

Tom grinned. “Something tells me Dodie’s culinary experiment wasn’t any more successful than our telesphere test this morning.”

Just as promised, Tom had the package in his hands by late afternoon. Bud at his side, he held the small quartz cylinder from within the package up to the light. A tiny, pinkish mass was suspended within.

“So that’s it,” commented Bud skeptically. “Man, it’s no bigger than a cornflake.”

Tom nodded and placed the container, unopened, under the powerful lens of the micro-spectroscanner. After scanning the sample, Tom transmitted the data to Dr. Galbein, who had temporarily traveled to Fairbanks, via digital facsimile. “No need to uncork it until Galbein says it’s all right to do so,” Tom noted. “Besides, we have a little scientific detective work to do.”

“On the tissue sample?” Bud inquired.

“On the package,” was the reply. Tom brought out the analytracer prototype and moved the intake tube across the reinforced, coated paper of the package, which was not the same package as the one originally carried by Paul Zarvas.

“Sniff anything?”

“Nothing worth sniffing,” Tom retorted, discouraged. “I’d say the thief took extra care not to get any incriminating substances on the wrapping. But he may have been less careful with this packing material inside.”

The analytracer slowly nosed through the soft cushioning material that had cradled the capsule. “This is more like it!” Tom exclaimed with pleasure. “Some unusual trace compounds. And look, Bud!—here’s a reading of that same unidentified stuff we found on Paul.”

“That proves you’re on the right track, genius boy!” Bud said excitedly. “Can you track down where any of those new compounds came from?”

By way of answer, Tom plugged the analytracer into one of his lab terminals, which was linked to several major databanks in the worldwide scientific, chemical, and engineering communities. The moments ticked away, and Tom gave his pal a wry glance. “Taking a long time. I’m afraid the new particles are just as hard to pin down as― ”

But just then an electronic chirp announced a response to Tom’s inquiry. Chemical symbols and writing scrolled down the screen.

“Here’s the most likely source location,” muttered Tom, reading the output. “The Pietrie Valley.”

“Where’s that?”

Tom now input this geographical query into the computer, and had the answer in a second. His eyebrows rose. “Newfoundland! The Pietrie Valley is on the western coast, near Table Mount.”

“Up in Canada, huh.” Bud nodded. “It wouldn’t be too difficult to fly up to Newfoundland and back to New York over night. But what’s in that big brain of yours?” He noted the reflective expression on Tom’s face.

“Just that the name of that valley sounds familiar,” Tom replied. “I read or heard something about it recently.

“Bud, I’m sure somebody important lives there!”

Bud flashed Tom a look of triumph. “And that must be who’s behind all this—the enemy!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

 

          LONDON SHADOW

 

 

 

 

 

AGREEING with Bud’s conclusion, Tom again turned to his computer, seeking out references to the Pietrie Valley region. But nothing of obvious import came up.

“You don’t remember where you ran across the info?” Bud asked.

Tom stroked his chin. “Not at the moment.” He wrote down the name of the valley in his notebook, then glanced at his watch. “According to the watch and the yelps from your stomach, flyboy, it’s time for supper. Want to join us tonight? Dad might recall the reference we’re looking for.”

Bud grinned. “I’m already recalling your Mom’s braised salmon casserole!”

As Tom had hoped, his father had the answer to his query.

“It was on that biographical program we watch, a few installments back,” he said, tapping his knife on the edge of his plate.

“Which one?” Tom asked.

“The one about Derleth Szelgar.”

“Derleth Szelgar! The Derleth Szelgar?” cried Bud. He leaned over to Sandy and inquired in a mock-whisper. “Quick—who’s Derleth Szelgar?”

“Oh, Bud!” Sandy giggled. “He’s… Well, I’ve heard of him. Somewhere.”

“He’s a philosopher,” Tom said. “I remember the program now.”

“He was well known at one time, quite some years ago,” Mr. Swift explained. “But even when I was in college he was considered—well, old-school is the phrase that comes to mind. He must be nearly a hundred. Frankly, I was quite surprised to learn that he’s still alive.”

“He’s probably surprised himself!” joked Bud. “So what does he philosophize about? I mean, philosophers specialize, don’t they?”

“He’s a philosopher of epistemology—the study of what constitutes valid knowledge, and how it’s acquired,” Tom observed. “But I couldn’t summarize his theories if you paid me.”

Tom’s mother spoke up. “What in the world would such a person want with tissue samples from a prehistoric creature?”

“We don’t know that he had anything to do with the incident,” cautioned Tom. “It’s just that he’s the only person living in that area that I’ve heard of.”

Sandy asked if Newfoundland was where Szelgar made his home. “I have that impression,” her brother responded. “Isn’t that what the program said, Dad?”

“I believe so,” said Mr. Swift. “I think he retired there after his active public career was over. But you know, we might try contacting his daughter. I don’t happen to recall her name, but I’m quite sure she’s still alive. The computer can help us, I’d imagine.”

When supper was completed, the internet was searched, and an answer came up almost immediately. “Arcena Szelgar Myres,” Tom read from the screen. “She’s the head of the Verulam Institute in London, and here’s the main number. It’s too late at night now, but I can try calling her tomorrow.”

Bud’s eyes twinkled. “You? Not Harlan Ames or Phil Radnor? What do you pay those guys for, anyway?” Bud knew Tom couldn’t resist playing a personal role in untangling the many mysteries that challenged his analytical mind.

Tom gave his pal a humorously reproving look. “I happen to know Harlan’s recovering from indigestion.”

“And Radnor?”

“I’ll think of something!”

The next morning Tom put in a call to the Verulam Institute. His attempt to speak to the philosopher’s daughter got only as far as her officious, and obviously unpersuadable, secretary. “I’m most sorry, Mr. Swift,” said the woman in clipped tones, “but Mrs. Myres has imposed a very strict rule. She does not take inquiries concerning her father.”

“I can respect that,” Tom began, “but, ma’am, this is actually a matter of the utmost― ”

“The utmost importance, no doubt,” interrupted the secretary sarcastically. “As is Mrs. Myres’s time. I might suggest your sending us a letter. Good day.” And she hung up, leaving Tom to stare in frustration at the phone in his hand.

“Good try,” commented Bud, sitting nearby.

Tom cast a glance at his friend and gave a half-smile of determination. “I wonder if this Arcena Myres would turn us away in person.”

“Planning to fly over?” asked Bud excitedly. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in London.”

“Not fly, Bud,” replied the young inventor. “I’ve been meaning to take a look at those new high-tech docking facilities they just constructed on the Thames. They’re set up for submarines as well as surface craft. Besides, Heathrow is a little too crowded these days for the Sky Queen. We’ll take the Nemo and be there almost as fast as if we’d flown.”

After making arrangements Bud flew Tom by jetrocopter to the Swift Enterprises pier on Long Island, where they boarded the Nemo, Tom’s original jetmarine. This sleek midget craft, one of Tom’s first inventions, used a hydraulic jet principle to zoom through the water faster than any submersible.

“Man, does this bring back memories!” sighed Bud, gazing through the transparent nose viewdome as the crystalline blue of the deep Atlantic waters hurtled by. They were spearing through liquid space with such amazing rapidity that the marine life outside flicked past at bullet speed, barely visible to the eye. Far below, at the limit of Tom’s electronic aqualamp, the sea floor seemed to unroll before them like the landscape of a strange distant world.

In a matter of hours the Nemo had entered the territorial waters of the United Kingdom. They traveled up the English Channel and through the Straits of Dover, then westward up the Thames River, passing blithely beneath its heavy traffic. Guided by doppler-sonar beacons, the jetmarine arrived at its reserved berth in the new McKenna Aquatic Terminal at 7:12 PM local time.

As the Verulam Institute was undoubtedly closed by that hour, the boys took a cab to their hotel in The City, where they changed and showered after their trip. Their luggage, which had been jetted-in separately to save space in the jetmarine, awaited them in their room.

“Got a restaurant picked out?” Bud asked eagerly, darkly handsome in his gray slacks and saffron sportshirt.

“No,” Tom replied. “Why don’t we stroll for a while and see what grabs us—and our stomachs!”

Some time later they turned from Bettinge Street onto a small lane that wound between rows of modest office buildings, most closed for the night. Here and there music and laughter poured from a small pub, but there seemed to be no restaurants or cafes to be found.

“All we need now is some London fog,” complained Tom ruefully. “I’m getting hungry, and I don’t need to ask if you are.”

“After all, we haven’t had lunch,” Bud retorted indignantly.

Abruptly Tom paused and glanced behind them. Bud asked what was wrong. “Maybe nothing,” Tom responded, eyes narrowed. “I kept thinking I was hearing footsteps on the sidewalk behind us.”

“No one there now,” said Bud. “Probably just one of those London bobbies.” Then he quickly reversed himself. “Yeah right!—like we can’t figure out that we’re being tailed.”

“Let’s check it out.” Tom reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out what looked like a heavy marking pen. One side of the device was flat, and a luminous strip ran down the middle of that side from one end to the other.

“Calling for help?” asked Bud. “That’s no fun!”

Tom grinned. “Wouldn’t want to deprive us of fun,” he murmured softly. “This is my rear-view radarscope. Moving objects at street level register as points of light on this little strip. The position of the dots shows how close they are.”

As they continued walking, Tom held the instrument close to his chest, where it could not be seen by anyone shadowing them from behind.

“Doesn’t your body block the scanning waves?” inquired Bud.

“Better not—or it wouldn’t be much good as a rear-view detector. It uses ultra-long paired waves that pass right through anything closer to the transmitter than six feet.” In a moment he gave Bud a surreptitious nudge. “There!” Tom whispered. A single blip of light showed on the indicator!

“Should we try to take him?”

“Hasn’t done anything wrong yet,” replied the youthful scientist-inventor. “But from the zigzag way he’s moving, I’d say he’s ducking behind obstructions and into alleyways, so he won’t be seen.”

After a whispered conclave, the boys casually parted company at a street corner, Bud turning onto a sidestreet and immediately pressing himself into a door alcove. Tom strolled on past the intersection. For long moments there was no sign of life. Did the guy catch on to us? Bud wondered. He was about to abandon his post when movement at the intersection caught his eye. To his amazement a small-sized figure had appeared, walking cautiously along Tom’s route.

“Just a kid!” muttered the young pilot in disgust. He stepped out from his hiding place and approached the boy from behind. “Hey, pal, what’re you doing out so― ”

The figure whirled and Bud gasped in shock. Their pursuer wasn’t a young boy, but a dwarfish adult with an oversized head—and an evil-looking knife clutched in his hand!


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

          FIRE ON THE THAMES

 

 

 

 

BUD WAS so startled that he stopped dead halfway across the street. The dwarf’s eyes seemed to burn with an inexplicable rage, his mouth a ragged line of hatred. He slowly lifted his knife—a long straight-bladed dagger of the kind called a dirk—up to his face, point to the sky.

Good gosh! Bud’s brain cried silently. What’s he going to do, cut off his nose?

But the dwarf pressed the dirk against his lips, as if warning Bud to be silent under penalty of death. For a moment the two stood frozen, looking into one another’s eyes. But suddenly the sound of thudding footsteps caused Bud’s eyes to swerve away. Tom was barreling toward them from further up the street.

Bud’s eyes shifted back instantly as he made ready to charge. But the follower had vanished!

“Tom!” Bud gasped. “D-did you—did you see― ”

“I saw,” replied the blond youth. “He ran over this way.” Tom indicated a black-shadowed gap that separated two buildings.

Bud was astonished. “In there?” He walked closer. “This isn’t even a foot wide! How could anybody squeeze into it?”

Tom shrugged. “I don’t know how he did it, pal. But that’s what he did.” They both listened for a time at the opening, but could hear not a sound. Nor did the radar unit show any motion.

“I’d love to believe that knife was just a toy,” muttered Bud. “But I wouldn’t bet on it!”

“Maybe he was a mugger—or just an eccentric,” Tom said. He added nervously: “And maybe we should head back to a busier street!”

There were no further incidents that night, and the boys finally found an open restaurant and managed a satisfying dinner. The next morning, nicely dressed in suit and tie, they presented themselves at the office of Arcena Szelgar Myres in the Verulam Institute in central London—a vast, dark old building, Victorian in style.

Tom had to plead a bit with the secretary, who turned out to be a formidable young woman with cherry-red hair. Without budging her frown, she ultimately relented. “Well, I suppose you did come all the way across the ocean,” she conceded. She disappeared through a door, and after a minute emerged again and beckoned Tom and Bud into the presence of Mrs. Myres.

Arcena Myres stood in front of her great oak desk, hand extended. She was an attractive, well-dressed woman, her hair as gray as a London pea-souper. As she shook hands with her visitors, she looked them each in the eye, her manner courteous but uncompromising. “You are very determined to come see me, I should say,” she said to Tom. “In a submarine, no less!”

Tom gave a brief account of the attack on the courier. “The stolen scientific materials—forgive me for not going into detail, ma’am—were returned the next day, anonymously.”

“Then if you’ll forgive my bluntness, what problems remain?”

“You mean besides who did it and why?” remarked Bud sarcastically.

Mrs. Myres frowned. “I suppose that was an attempt at wit. Do warn me the next time, won’t you.”

Tom spoke up hastily. “There was an indication that the package that the material was returned in came from the region in Newfoundland where, as I understand it, your father resides.”

“From which fact you conclude—what?”

“No conclusions,” replied Tom, “just questions. Certainly your father is not under suspicion, but perhaps one of his associates might have an interest in…in the subject.”

The woman nodded gravely. “The subject—which is not to be disclosed to me.”

“I’m not at liberty to― ”

“Never mind,” she interrupted. “What specific questions do you have?”

Tom hesitated. It suddenly occurred to him that he had neglected to formulate any specific questions!

“Let me tell you about my father,” Mrs. Myres continued after a pause. “As of two months ago, he is 97 years of age. He is very feeble, largely confined to bed, and, to speak with painful frankness, only intermittently aware of those around him. He communicates in sighs when he communicates at all, and for him to depress the button next to his bed to call the nurse is, for him, a great accomplishment. His mind, the greatest of the century just concluded, is now a flickering and insubstantial thing. The last time I saw him filled me with enough anguish to darken the three years that followed, and I choose not to tolerate such disruption to my responsibilities.”

“I understand,” Tom said with sympathy.

“Now then, you wonder if someone on his staff might be involved in this affair,” she said. “What peculiar motive you might be attributing to these good people I cannot imagine. There are six of them, professional attendants; as well as the house staff. They have been with Father for decades now, every one of them. He requires that degree of—consistency.”

Tom nodded.

“And so,” concluded Mrs. Myres, “now I must ask if you have any further suspicions to air before me.”

“No ma’am,” replied Tom. “I apologize.”

She bobbed her head dismissively. As the boys turned to leave, she spoke once more. “You are a very celebrated young man, Tom Swift, as is your family. Perhaps you can grasp the poignancy of my situation. I will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect Father’s privacy. I ask you to respect that fact.”

“I do, Mrs. Myres,” was the sober response.

The youths passed the sentinel stare of the secretary and made their way out into the street.

“What do you make of it, genius boy?” Bud asked.

Tom shrugged. “She obviously doesn’t want us nosing around. Given the circumstances, I can understand her attitude. It must be terrible, having to see someone decline like that year after year.”

Bud nodded. “Sometimes people sort of outlive their lives.”

After checking out of their hotel and sending their luggage along, Tom and Bud, now comfortably attired, spent a few hours sightseeing in the great old city of London. They presently paid a call upon Inspector Raeburn of Scotland Yard, whom they had first encountered during Tom’s aquatomic tracker adventure.

“We meet this time under rather more pleasant circumstances, eh?” said the inspector.

“Not entirely pleasant,” Tom retorted. He described their mysterious follower of the evening preceding.

A grave expression settled on Raeburn’s face. “This is most interesting,” he said, “and perhaps a bit worrisome. We were briefed just this morning on a number of local reports concerning a prowling figure, described in very much the same way. But yours is the first to mention a weapon.”

“What’s this guy after?” Bud asked. “Has he been caught breaking in anywhere?”

“Not precisely,” was the answer. “Yet his actions were thought suspicious enough to be worthy of reporting. He may have been, as you fellows say, casing the joint—joints, actually.”

Tom inquired if the joints he had been casing were likely targets for robbery.

“Not obvious targets, let us say,” replied the inspector. “Not jewelry stores or banks or chemist shops—pharmacies, you know. He was seen primarily in light manufacturing and industrial areas.”

“He may be involved in some sort of scientific espionage,” Tom mused. “Which would certainly tie in with his trailing me!” Inspector Raeburn agreed, and promised to keep Harlan Ames informed of any developments.

Heading toward the docks as the afternoon waned, Tom and Bud made another stop at a place they had visited before—the London Wax Museum.

“Can’t resist seeing yourself in person, huh?” teased Bud. “Neither can I!”

Tom gave a sheepish laugh and said, “Just curious as to how they’ve updated the exhibit, that’s all. A lot has happened since then, you know.”

“Right, guv,” agreed the dark-haired young pilot. “I’ve had so many near-death experiences the real thing will be a letdown!”

Sure enough, the exhibit had been changed, though the figures of Tom and Bud, molded from life on their previous visit, were the same. But the former outer-space theme had been replaced by a more generic scene—the youths surrounded by a panoply of Swift inventions. An element of drama had also been added in the form of a threatening figure clad in a strange, black uniform.

“The Black Cobra!” Tom gasped. Then he chuckled at his involuntary reaction. “Looks like we’ll never get rid of that guy.” He related to Bud how Sandy had mentioned the evildoer just the other night.

“Don’t be so sure he’s dead and gone, Tom,” remarked Bud. “I’ve read a lot of comic books!”

As they neared the exit, the youths were startled by the sound of distant sirens, echoed in moments by the distinctive drone of emergency vehicles as they roared past in the street. Rushing outside, they saw a plume of thick smoke rising in the direction they were headed.

“The docks!” Tom cried.

Typically for busy London at quitting time, the streets were choked with cars, and the fire vehicles were struggling to get through. The boys darted through the growing crowd of gawkers and made their way toward the Thames, managing to evade the police who were trying to control the crowd. Tom was frantic—his beloved jetmarine was in danger!

At the marine facility they saw at once that the fire was not in the main part of the facility itself, but in a group of large, looming warehouses abutting the docks. A sheet of flame covered the entire front of one building, and fiery tongues stabbed out of windows in the buildings on either side.

“Looks like it’s spreading,” Bud exclaimed tensely. “By the time the fire trucks get in operation, the whole block’ll be half burnt!”

Tom grabbed Bud’s arm. “Let’s make for the Nemo!” Scrambling over a locked gate, they scurried to the jetmarine’s assigned berth, from which security personnel had fled. Unlocking the hatch with his remote tele-key, Tom thrust himself down into the craft, Bud close behind.

“That’s it!” cried Bud as Tom activated the controls. “We’ll be safe out in the river.”

They maneuvered away from the docks. But less than one hundred feet out, Tom used the thrust-reversers to bring the Nemo to a halt. “I don’t think this is such a great place to put us on  ‘pause’, Tom,” Bud remarked in alarm. “I mean, Shouldn’t we get out of here?”

“We may be the cause of all this,” responded Tom. His expression assumed a look of steel. “I’m not going to turn tail if we can help!”

“Hunh? Help fight the fire? With a sub?” Bud objected. But his heart beat faster. He knew his pal had come up with a plan!

 


 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

 

          DEAD IN THE WATER

 

 

 

 

 

THE CAPTAIN of the Greater Metropolitan London Fire Department stood and stared at the growing warehouse inferno with the eyes of a veteran firefighter. Those eyes bespoke frustration.

“Not looking positive, sir,” said his lieutenant.

“You are a master of understatement, Gunston.” The Captain’s voice grew shrill as he shook his head in helpless anger. “Half our crews bollixed-up in the streets! Disaster! I can see the word in tomorrow’s headlines.”

But then the men rocked back in astonishment.

A great plume of water, milky with froth, was arcing through the air like a liquid rainbow!

The aerial river splashed down on the central warehouse with thudding force, drenching the flames in a flood of cold Thames water—hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gallons per second. The watery column began to waggle slowly from side to side like a gardener’s hose, flooding out the largest fire quickly, then moving on to the adjacent warehouses as a great cheer rose up from the massed London crowds. The angry flames were slowly giving way to white smoke.

“Captain!” yelled a newsman. “What’s happening? What in the name of Her Majesty the Queen is going on?” The Captain had no answer.

Five minutes after it had begun, the jet of water was suddenly choked off. But its work had been done. The fire was extinguished!

“Aye, look there!” cried a loud voice presently. “He’s the one behind it—Tom Swift!”

The Nemo had surfaced next to a pier, and Tom was standing in the open hatchway on top. The crowd roared, and Tom gave a little shrug and a little wave, acknowledging them. Though he was not always recognized by the public, he had learned to handle the response when he was.

The Captain approached in a trot. “You’re today’s miracle worker, is that it?” he called out over the rush of noise.

“I used the sub’s hydraulic jet,” the youth replied. As the official approached, Tom explained that he had wedged the jetmarine’s nose into a space between two pipeline support pylons out in the river, and then angled her tail upward by means of the craft’s supergyros. The powerful atomolecular engine, running at its highest pitch, had done the rest.

“I see, I see—surely most ingenious!” marveled the Captain. “But see here, how in the blithering world did you aim and steer your jet of water from under the Thames like that?”

Tom gave a grin. “You can thank them for that!” He gestured toward the writhing knot of frenzied television reporters, decked out in cameras and microphone booms. “We’re equipped to pick up television signals aboard the jetmarine, even under water. I used the live news pictures to guide the jet from side to side.”

“Gorblimey incredible!” exclaimed the Captain.

Tom and Bud spent an hour at the unenviable task of answering questions from city officials and from news personnel. “George Dilling would like the publicity,” whispered Tom to his friend. “But if I’d known I was going to be today’s news celebrity, I’d have gotten a haircut!”

Before taking leave for the trip home, Tom asked the fire captain if he knew how the conflagration had started. “Don’t know yet,” was the reply. “There will be the usual inquiry. But this old nose of mine suspects arson. And there was a report of a suspicious bloke seen running from the main warehouse.”

“A small person?” asked Tom.

The man’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Hmph, I should say! Taken for a child at first. How did—?”

“Lucky guess,” said Tom. “But Inspector Raeburn at Scotland Yard will be interested in that report, Captain.”

Finally the two young Shoptonians were able to break away from the crowd and seal themselves into the Nemo. In mere minutes they had entered the English Channel again for the voyage home.

Seated comfortably in the nose dome, Bud glanced back over his shoulder and asked, “Skipper, what did you mean when you said we might have been the cause of the fire?”

“It’s way too much of a coincidence,” the young inventor responded, setting the jetmarine’s guidance controls on automatic. “Especially after the incident last night.”

“You think our little friend was out to destroy the Nemo?”

Don’t you?”

“I suppose I do,” Bud admitted. “But he picked a funny way to do it—setting a fire to get at a submarine. And the fire wasn’t even at the docks, just nearby.”

They aqua-soared on in thoughtful silence for more than an hour, Bud gazing in fascinated awe at the ever-changing beauty of the underwater world, Tom working in his notebook on the telesphere problem.

Suddenly both boys looked up. The cabin lights had flickered!

“Wonder what that was,” commented Bud.

Tom brought up a diagnostic schematic of the jetmarine on the computer screen. “I don’t see anything― ” But Tom’s sentence was cut short by a gasp as the cabin lights went out completely, along with the rich, deep drone of the hydrojet engine!

“Tom!” called out Bud, a black silhouette against the faint blue glow seeping in through the viewdome. “You okay?”

“Better than the Nemo,” Tom replied. “Everything’s dead—the engine, the computer, even the aqualamp. Hold on!”

“Why?”

As if in answer, the jetmarine began to list over to starboard in a lazy roll.

“No gyros,” explained Tom. “We’re not getting even a trickle from the veranium pile.” The veranium pile was the Nemo’s atom-energized power source.

As the ship rolled further, both mariners strapped themselves firmly into their contour seats. “How long will we keep coasting on momentum?” Bud asked, an edge to his voice.

“Several minutes at least,” said Tom tensely. “Then we’ll start heading toward the bottom. For the moment, the hydrodynamic shape of the hull is giving us a bit of lift, but the Nemo doesn’t have positive buoyancy without blowing the ballast tanks—and we can’t run the pumps.”

Bud gulped. “We weren’t going at top speed, were we.”

“No—fortunately. If we had been, we’d have started vibrating like a Chinese gong when the hydraulivane went out.”

There was a silent moment as the jetmarine speared ahead, now almost completely on its side and slowing with every second.

“What do you want to do?” Bud asked finally. “Hit the Fat Man suits?”

“Not yet, pal,” Tom replied, straining to keep his voice even. A cone of bright light abruptly split the darkness of the cabin. “At least we have flashlamps with their own batteries.” He played the glow over the instrument panel. “Some of the meters are still working—they switched over to emergency battery power automatically.” But the indicators confirmed that the flow of power from the atomic pile had ceased.

“Now we know what our shadower was doing,” mused Tom. “The fire was a diversion so he could sabotage our― ”

Bud interrupted him. “Tom!—he might have planted a bomb on board!”

Tom softly acknowledged the possibility, his tone conveying that they could do nothing about it.

The jetmarine rolled further, woozily. Tom and Bud were now almost upside down, held in their seats by their safety straps alone!

“I don’t want to abandon ship any more than you do, pal,” Bud exclaimed urgently, his black hair hanging down like a clump of twisting vines. “But the Fat Men are designed for emergency escapes, not raising the dead!”

“When we rotate upright again, we can unbuckle and head for the suits,” conceded Tom with much reluctance. “Give me a few minutes to try to put the diagnostic monitors on battery power.”

Bud kept quiet as the moments ticked away. Twisting himself into an awkward position like a circus contortionist, Tom had opened a panel on the control chassis. Bud could hear his pal grunt in frustration as he tried desperately to refashion the circuit connections.

Bud flinched—a sudden flash of light.

“Got a spark at least!” Tom murmured. “Now, if…” Suddenly a multicolored glow suffused the cabin. The computer screen had flickered to life once again!

“All right!” Bud cheered—weakly and worriedly.

“Now we can get down to business,” declared Tom Swift. He flashed through a series of schematic representations of the jetmarine’s key systems, halting at one that glared with red. “Here we go. The microsolenoid cluster at junction two—total system failure.”

“Can you do anything?”

Tom did not reply.

“Er, Tom—the deck is tilting. We’re starting to nose down!”

The silence was unbroken except for a click—then a second one.

And then the Nemo came back to life with a roar! The cabin lights surged on, blindingly, as the hum of the motors resumed and the craft began to roll back into an upright orientation under the renewed influence of the supergyros.

Bud sighed in gratitude as Tom’s head, drenched in sweat, peeped up over the back of his half-swiveled seat. “Problem solved!” pronounced the young inventor.

His dark-haired co-passenger nodded, unable to speak.

“Just had to do a little emergency rerouting,” Tom explained. “Say, you weren’t worried, were you?”

Bud shook his head, bug-eyed.

Tom accessed another sensor system. “If there’s an explosive device on board, the interior indexor-scanner can’t detect it. The guy must have a pretty detailed account of how the jetmarine operates—he’d have to, to be able to sabotage the power core—so he didn’t want to risk planting something that might set off an alarm.”

“Good thinking on his part!” Bud remarked wryly.

The fact that no bomb could be detected failed to relieve the youths’ anxiety. It was not until the Nemo was finally parked in its Long Island berth, hours later, that they could breathe a genuine sigh of relief. Tom warned the dock technicians of the possibility of danger and directed that they examine the jetmarine thoroughly.

As it was now the middle of the night, Tom and Bud bunked at the Long Island facility, then rose with dawn and flew back to Enterprises.

“Glad to be back in one piece,” declared Bud as he set the jetrocopter down on its reserved pad. “And without having to pick seaweed out of my hair!”

Over a hearty breakfast prepared by Chow’s culinary second-in-command, Boris—for the Texan had been ordered to take several days off to recuperate—Tom and Bud briefed Mr. Swift, Harlan Ames, and Phil Radnor on the events in London and the mid-Atlantic.

“The morning papers are full of your derring-do, boys,” said Mr. Swift.

Tom asked whether there had been any new developments in the mystery of the attack on Paul Zarvas. “Nothing to speak of,” Ames replied. “But your friend Galbein has confirmed that the returned sample is genuine, and apparently complete. He thinks the container might not even have been opened.”

“That’s my idea of not making sense,” remarked Bud. “What’s the point of stealing something, not opening it up, and then giving it back?”

“We’ve dealt with lunatics before, guys,” Radnor pointed out. “Not just crazed revenge-seekers like that rocket man Rotzog, but also total round-the-bend types like Turnbull.”

Tom nodded.

“And then weird mystery characters like the Black Cobra,” continued Radnor.

Tom frowned and clanked his spoon into his bowl. “Phil—what made you think of him?”

The security man shrugged. “No special reason. Why?”

Tom hesitated, not sure what he wanted to say. “It’s just that he keeps coming up in one way or another lately. Harlan... there’s no cause to think― ”

Ames shook his head reassuringly. “As you know, your ‘Collections’ crew will only communicate with you—though the rest of us pay our taxes like everybody else. But the official security channels all swear our boy gurgled his last when his submarine went down.”

“Tom’s just a little freaked because we ran into him in London,” Bud teased. He related how the wax museum had placed his replica in their display.

“The public likes a bright clear line between heroes and villains,” Mr. Swift observed. “Sometimes I think they secretly root for the villain just to keep the game going!”

These words echoed in Tom’s head for hours as he worked alone in his lab. He seemed unable to set the question aside. At last he said to himself, This is ridiculous!

Switching on his computer terminal, he accessed his daily journal and deliberately lowered the encryption barrier that prevented the mysterious agency from monitoring his input. After a pause, he typed the key phrase that indicated a desire to communicate with the group nicknamed Collections.

“Tax dollars still at work?”

The cursor blinked on the screen five times, ten times.

 

CONSTANTLY

 

Pleased, Tom’s fingers now charged the keyboard.

“You know what happened in London?”

 

HEY WE READ THE PAPERS

 

“Do you still confirm that the Black Cobra was killed?”

 

GEE

FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT

IS OUR FACE RED

BLUSH BLUSH

 

Tom moaned inwardly. “Still alive?”

 

NOT SURE BUT DEFINITELY NOT CONFIRMED DEAD

 

“What does that mean?”

 

MEANS

WE DONT LIKE TO ADMIT ERROR

ONLY HUMAN

DNA TESTS ON REMAINS FROM SUB

MAY HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED

OOPS

 

“Could he be operating in London?”

 

SURE COULD

OR NEWFOUNDLAND

OR AN ICE CAVE IN ALASKA

 

Tom couldn’t help smiling at this indication that Collections was well aware of recent events in Tom’s life. The spy group had nothing to apologize for!

“What do you advise us to do?”

 

WAIT

BE CAUTIOUS

GET A HAIRCUT

 

Thanks,” typed the young inventor, sourly.

 

YOUR TAX DOLLARS

 

—but Tom broke the connection before the signoff phrase could be completed. He had work to do, and new worries to occupy his mind.

The afternoon following, Arvid Hanson looked up from his workbench to find Tom Swift standing in the doorway. “Got something new for me, chief?”

“A new telesphere component,” replied Tom, entering. “I emmed you the specs and sketches just now, but I thought I’d drop by to discuss some of the trickier aspects.”

Hanson printed out the emailed material and examined it, Tom at his elbow. “I see you want a smaller prototype this time.”

“Yes—I think we may run into engineering problems when we scale-up to full size, and I want to test out this new aspect beforehand.”

“Got it.” Hanson continued to examine the plans, and added: “Looks like you’re installing some repelatron circuitry.”

Tom explained that this new application of his versatile matter-repeller technology was intended to solve the problem of the displaced air molecules. “A phase-paired repelatron pulse, tuned to the composition of the air, produces an instantaneous low-pressure node inside the arrival telesphere just prior to the transfer, which means fewer air molecules to contend with.” To forestall the possibility of an implosion a similar setup, acting in reverse, would ease the vacuum produced in the departure sphere by the transmission of the outbound object.

“I’ll have the proto ready for you by lunch tomorrow,” promised the young technician.

Tom took the ridewalk over to the office in the administration building that he shared with his father. Nodding to Trent as he passed the secretary’s desk, he entered the office and found that his father was already there. He looked up at his son, and Tom saw that Damon Swift’s face bore a dark and troubled expression.

“Is something wrong, Dad?”

The elder Swift’s brow was furrowed with thought. “Very wrong, and most disturbing. I’ve just been informed that there is cause to believe that our test of the telesphere was deliberately sabotaged.

“The suspect is Gustav Armuldsson!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

 

          NORTHWARD FLIGHT

 

 

 

 

TOM plopped down in his desk chair, stunned. He could hardly believe his father’s announcement!

“But—Dad, he― ”

“I know, Tom,” said Mr. Swift. “A brilliant man with a worldwide reputation. Yet—let me explain.”

“Please do!”

Mr. Swift related that he had just taken a telephone call from Professor Armuldsson’s university superiors in Stockholm. “As a verification of the contractual elements of our work, they’ve made a practice of examining the technical reports Gustav and I have been independently submitting to them on a regular basis. Their people have concluded that the equation errors that prevented our anticipating the blowup of the receiving sphere were not accidents, but a deliberate alteration of earlier calculations. All of the changes can be traced solely to the portions assigned to Gustav alone. It seems impossible that it could be merely a mistake or an oversight. That’s their conclusion, son, and I have to concur.”

“Those errors almost killed Chow!” Tom declared angrily. “But what could be the motive?”

“I’m about to ask that very question,” said Mr. Swift. “I just called Gustav at the high-energy lab and asked him to come over to the office to discuss some ‘surprising new data,’ as I termed it.”

Tom and his father waited in grim silence, five, ten, fifteen minutes. Then Mr. Swift called the lab again, reaching a technician. “He’s not here, Mr. Swift,” said the woman. “He left right after your call.”

“Odd,” commented Damon Swift. “We’re only two buildings away. Did he seem all right, Karynna?”

“Well… I don’t know,” was the hesitant reply. “It seemed to me that he was a bit agitated. When I asked if he would be back shortly he just mumbled something curtly—in Swedish, I suppose—and stalked out the door.”

Mr. Swift hung up with a glance at Tom. After waiting another ten minutes, he contacted plant security, asking that Gustav Armuldsson be located immediately and escorted to the Swifts’ office.

Within minutes the telephone bleeped. “He must have got wind of what was coming down,” said Harlan Ames. “He drove out through service gate B just minutes after leaving the lab, and he’s not answering his cellphone. Shall I inform Shopton PD?”

Damon Swift sighed. “Yes, I suppose that would be best. But please tell Captain Rock that he is to be treated in a respectful manner. It’s still possible this is all just a misunderstanding of some sort.”

Tom asked if his father were certain that the original telephone call had been authentic. “I am,” replied the older man. “I’m acquainted with Dr. Heggstrom, who placed the call, and we chatted for a moment before he came to the point.”

After putting out an all-points bulletin, a Shopton police squad car, siren kept silent, was dispatched to the elegant Sun Shore Hotel in Sandport at the southern tip of Lake Carlopa, where the professor had been staying for the duration of his visit. Soon the police officer was on the phone with frustrating news.

“He was here all right,” said the officer, who identified himself as Lt. Parmerniew. “We just missed him. He settled up his bill and practically ran out the door with a suitcase in his hand.”

“Just one suitcase?” asked Tom over the open receiver-speaker.

“Apparently. He left most of his clothes and personal items behind. And here’s the real killer—he left his rented car parked in the hotel lot!”

“Extraordinary!” exclaimed Mr. Swift. “How did he get away?”

“That’s the question, hmm?” responded the policeman. “Seems he had an accomplice waiting for him.”

Tom and Mr. Swift discussed these upsetting developments for some time. They felt a sense of personal hurt and betrayal, as well as indignation that a man of science could be tempted to unworthy ends. But ultimately the grim discussion passed on to other subjects.

“You know, Dr. Galbein has been trying to get me to commit to meeting with him in Alaska to look over the ice cave,” Tom said. “I’ll have to do it eventually if I’m to take on his project.”

“He helicoptered to the site last night,” Mr. Swift commented. “He phoned me from there via satellite relay.”

“I’m thinking of flying up there in the Queen right away today. The prototype of the new telesphere won’t be ready until tomorrow anyway, and― ”

“And twiddling your thumbs for even an hour is sheer torture!” chuckled Tom’s father.

“Rumor has it impatience is a Swift family trait,” laughed the young inventor. “Or so I hear!”

Tom put together a small flight crew to join him in the Sky Queen, which was so extensively automated that it could be flown by a single individual if necessary. Bud would join him, as always.

“And I’ve also asked Diana Mulvey and Duncan Lawrence,” Tom told Bud when they met in the underground hangar.

Bud winced in mock horror. “Oh no! Not the tall-tale contingent! I’ve heard them spend hours batting around urban legends and off-the-wall plot ideas for books.”

Tom grinned. “Let’s just call them dedicated storytellers! Anyway, I’m having Diana pilot the Queen this time around—no offense, flyboy. She’s been asking for more realtime experience, and this’ll be an easy flight.”

“And of course the two are boyfriend and girlfriend,” added Bud. “Alaska—how romantic! Shall we ask Sandy and Bash along this time, too?”

Sandy and Bashalli Prandit, the family friend who was Tom’s customary date at functions formal and informal, had accompanied the boys on their most recent trip to Alaska in the Flying Lab, just prior to their departure to the South Pole region with Tom’s atomic earth blaster.

“Not this time,” Tom replied. “It’d be short notice for them, and frankly I don’t want to delay.”

“Understood, Skipper!” Bud saluted his pal. “Let’s go scare some clouds!”

Soon the great stratoship was underway at supersonic speed with its crew of four. The North American continent fled beneath them as the Sky Queen streaked obliquely northwest. They passed high above the broad sunlit farmlands of southern Ontario, then the cooler deep-green of the great timber forests of central Canada, finally arcing above the rugged Canadian Rockies and the snow-dappled Yukon Territory bordering Alaska. As predicted Diana and Duncan, in the control cabin, spent the hours in earnest conversation on obscure topics. Tom answered emails from around the world, as he strove to do when he had a moment’s time; and Bud watched television in the top-deck lounge.

Dr. Galbein’s careful directions led the Flying Lab at last to his tiny encampment amid the snow and ice of the Cape Halkett region of the Arctic Sea coastline, north of Teshekpuk Lake and east of the Ikpikpuk River. Well north of the Arctic Circle, the land was almost entirely devoid of permanent settlements; the nearest town, Atquasuk, was more than 150 miles distant.

“It’s a black and white world down there,” murmured Bud to Tom. The four were now gathered together in the control compartment, gazing through its downsweeping viewpanes.

Diana Mulvey, eyes fixed to the instruments, spoke up. “Tom, maybe you know this—if you were to put a fresh corpse in a microwave oven, how long before it explodes?”

Tom shook his head. “Afraid that’s not my field. Right now I’m more concerned about preserving a corpse—a great big one!”

Duncan leaned close to Tom and whispered. “She’s a little fluttery—we just got engaged.” Tom congratulated him. Bud refrained from comment, but smiled.

Diana landed the Sky Queen on a stretch of bedrock near Galbein’s camp, its jet lifters turning the blanket of snow to spouting steam. Several parka-clad figures came trotting over from the camp, which consisted of three quonset huts, two big snowcats, and a jet-assisted helicopter. Descending through the Flying Lab’s belly hatch, Tom and Bud noted that the welcoming party was comprised of three Alaska natives and one caucasian, a thirtyish young man with a lock of sandy hair splaying out carelessly from beneath his hood.

“I’m Tom Swift,” said Tom, offering his hand to each of the group in turn. “I imagine Dr. Galbein is down in the ice cave.”

“No, no,” said the blond-haired man. “I’m Galbein.” Tom couldn’t keep a look of surprise off his face, and the man laughed. “Expecting someone a bit more venerable? Happens all the time—I’m told I have the voice of an elderly pedant.”

Bud shook Galbein’s hand. “Just as long as you’re younger than that ice-bound ape of yours!” he quipped.

Galbein laughed again, his puff of breath a white cloud. “A bit younger—by tens of thousands of years.”

While Diana and Duncan remained aboard the Sky Queen, Tom and Bud lunched on soup and sandwiches in one of the aluminum huts, where they were introduced to the other four members of Galbein’s team. They were all rather older than the paleontologist, and appeared entirely personable and professional.

Hard to believe any one of them could have planned a mugging, Tom thought. A glance in Bud’s direction told Tom that the young pilot shared his feelings.

Presently Tom politely pointed out that the time he had reserved for this visit was limited, and he was anxious to take a look at the ice cave. “Yes, of course,” said Galbein. “I hope your parkas and jackets will keep you warm enough down there.”

“Oh, they will,” Bud observed. “They’re packed with heating coils. You could fry an egg on the sleeves if you turned up the power.”

The boys and the five scientists trekked across the snowfield to a low ridge about one hundred yards distant. Galbein pointed to a narrow, jagged crevice and explained that this was where the ice had collapsed, revealing the route downward. The floor of this cave had subsequently been covered with tarps to prevent slipping.

They hiked down into the ground for about sixty steps, the floor lit by the flashlamps they carried, the opening to the sky closing up above them.

“We’re about forty-five feet below the surface here,” Galbein noted. “Of course the ridge gives a bit of additional elevation.”

Passing a narrow point, the tunnel suddenly widened out, and there was a feeling of space in the darkness. Dr. Galbein flipped a switch, activating a battery of floodlights and an air-circulating system.

“Gentlemen,” exclaimed Galbein like a showman, “I give you—Gigans!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 9

 

 

          THE UNWELCOMING

          COMMITTEE

 

 

 

TOM AND BUD were speechless with amazement!

The giant reclined in the glare of the floodlights as if he had lain down only moments before. He seemed more shadow than substance, his form partly masked by the thick, hazy layers of ice surrounding him on all sides. But Gigans’s publicity had not misrepresented him! He was a formidable mass of stringy, bunched fur—dark in some places, but chestnut-brown, even auburn, in others.

Tom poked Bud in the side and pointed wordlessly. Through one clear patch in the ice a single huge eye could be seen, half-open and regarding them with calm aloofness.

After waiting politely for Bud to make a wisecrack, Tom turned toward Dr. Galbein. “This is an incredible sight!”

The paleontologist beamed with pleasure. “Yes, I’m rather proud of my boy.”

“He looks—almost― ” Bud lost his voice for a moment. “But he isn’t—is he? This isn’t one of those prehistoric guys who comes back to life when he gets hit by lightning?”

One of the scientists, who had been introduced as Nathan Del Rogio, gave a loud laugh. “Dear Gigans is much much too delicate to play with lightning! You see, his cellular structure and gross anatomy—they are in good shape. But alas, his bones are like chalk, and his muscles just cords of frayed rope.”

“Despite his remarkable good looks, he is quite desiccated,” added another team member, Constance Branche.

Bud managed a smile. “Well—at least he must’ve been in good enough shape to tell you his name!”

The group chuckled and Galbein said, “The word ‘gigans’ derives from the ancient Greek word for giant, of course.”

“Of course,” Bud said.

Tom had moved closer to the ice-bound figure and was examining the substance in which he was encased, using a pocket magnifying glass equipped with a special built-in illuminator designed to throw whatever came beneath it into sharp relief. Not looking up, he said to Dr. Galbein, “What is this icy stuff, Doctor? It has a greenish tinge.”

“Another mystery, young man,” he replied. “Admittedly a much more modest one. James here is our chemist and mineralogist—he is working on the problem.”

“It’s ice,” grunted James Farelly. “Frozen water.”

“What makes it green, though?”

“Aaa, who knows?—spores.”

Tom looked back. “Plant spores?”

“Is there another kind?” Farelly was obviously not a very inviting conversationalist.

“They’re microscopic, like a fine dust,” said Constance Branche. “We have yet to identify the species. The theory is that it leeched oxygen and other dissolved gases out of the water as the water froze, giving the ice unusual preservative properties.” She explained that the anthropoidal creature had probably slipped and fallen roughly on the ice-laden surface of a lake, his body breaking through the ice, which had frozen over almost immediately under a dry polar wind. “The poor fellow must’ve become embedded between several loose blocks of ice at the bottom of the lake, which ultimately solidified around him and carried him, as a glacier does, some distance into the ground over the course of many centuries.”

Tom nodded but said, “Ice at the bottom…Then part of the mystery is to determine why this form of ice doesn’t expand like normal ice and rise to the surface of the water.”

“We don’t know why it collected at the bottom of the lake in frozen form,” observed Galbein. “Not yet. But James is hot on the trail.”

Farelly said nothing.

Tom rejoined the others and said, “I have a few ideas about how to proceed, Doctor. But it’s going to require quite a bit of scientific equipment and a large, protected space to work in, near to Gigans.”

“I’m sure we can arrange for another hut to be constructed near the cave opening,” responded Galbein. But Tom shook his head.

“I’d like to have the equipment on the same level as the ape.”

Del Rogio looked surprised. “You mean here in the cave? Is that safe—for Gigans, that is?”

“No, not in the cave,” Tom said. “I have a digging machine that works with a minimum of vibration. I can use it to hollow-out a space in the bedrock next to the cave—an underground workshop and storage room about 100 feet square, let’s say, with an elevator shaft and its own power supply. The equipment and materials I’ll need can all be carried here in my Flying Lab.”

The scientists were electrified by Tom’s plan, even the sullen Farelly. They discussed the details with growing excitement as they made their way back above ground.

Soon Tom bid them farewell. Dr. Galbein walked with Tom and Bud back to the Sky Queen, then paused with them at the hatch ladder. “I didn’t want to bring the matter up in front of the others,” the scientist said, “but naturally I’d like to know if anything has been uncovered in the affair of the robbery.”

“We may have some leads,” Tom replied. “I’d prefer not to go into them at this point—they may not amount to anything. But there is something I’d like to mention, Dr. Galbein.”

“Yes?”

“You originally told me only the five of you knew of your discovery.”

The paleontologist looked puzzled. “Yes, that’s right. You’ve now met the entire project team.”

Tom smiled. “But there are several others here—your Inuit assistants.”

“The workers? But― ” Galbein’s mouth fell open. “Great day! They’re only in camp now and then, to assist with construction work. I don’t consider them a part of the project at all. But you’re absolutely right, Tom. Though they’ve never been taken down into the ice cave, they have certainly seen us entering it…”

Tom was amused at Galbein’s rather scatterbrained naivete. “Sir, it’s possible that one of them is being paid to monitor your operations. He could have tipped off someone when you sent me that packet.”

Galbein reddened with embarrassment. “I—I’m afraid the truth is even worse than that. You see, I didn’t actually take the container packet to Fairbanks myself, for air shipping. I—well― ”

Bud grunted disbelievingly. “You mean you had one of those workers do it for you?”

The man sighed. “Obviously, I should have told you. I’ve come to trust these people, who are all of the same extended family. They’ve never shown the slightest curiosity about the project and its purpose. The detail slipped my mind entirely.”

Tom chuckled in sympathy, giving a farewell handshake. “It happens, sir. But you might take some extra security precautions. Feel free to contact Harlan Ames if you’d care to consult with him.”

As the Flying Lab jet-lifted into the chill Arctic air, Bud let out a snort. “I can’t believe that guy!”

“He must be a real prodigy, to be so absent-minded already at such a young age!” Tom joked. “But I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions, Bud. It’s a long way from some local Inuit settlement to Newfoundland.”

The young pilot nodded. “Guess you’re right. So—back to Shopton?”

Tom was silent for a moment, and Diana Mulvey, at the controls, turned his way, curious.

“By the time we get home it’ll be late at night anyway,” Tom observed thoughtfully. “What say we park the Queen and sleep over in Canada? That is, if Diana and Duncan don’t mind.”

The two expressed agreement, but Bud gave his friend a sharp look. “Sleep over in Canada, huh. Shall I pick the spot? How about—Newfoundland!”

Tom laughed. “Now that you mention it—!”

The Sky Queen banked gracefully and headed east.

Some hours later they were above the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the great island of Newfoundland rising ahead on the horizon. The skyship passed over the town of Channel-Port aux Basques on the Cabot Strait, a cluster of glittering lights, then turned northward. Table Mount was visible in the distance to the west, gray-white in the brilliant moonlight. In minutes they were hovering high above their destination. The Pietrie Valley turned out to be a valley by courtesy only, a small, shallow crescent-shaped depression bordered by low rounded hills. It seemed to be mostly pale pasture land, criss-crossed with streams. Streaks of snow were dimly visible on the northern hills.

“Do you know where the Szelgar compound is located?” Bud asked.

“Harlan gave me the information,” Tom answered. “It’s right in the northwestern point of the valley. Look, I think you can see the lights.”

Diana asked if Tom wanted her to set the ship down near the estate.

“I don’t plan to intrude,” Tom responded. “There is a small settlement a few miles away—post office, general store, and so on. Maybe we can ask a few questions tomorrow morning.” He directed Diana to bring the ship in low so as to attract a minimum of attention. During the cross-continent flight, Tom had located a somewhat secluded area of the valley to land in, and had secured permission to do so.

They landed and had a light supper aboard, missing Chow Winkler with every bite.

The next morning, the valley still in cold shadow, a segment of the hangar deck lowered to ground level like the floor of an elevator, revealing a pair of helmeted and jacketed figures astride sleek, compact motorcycle-like vehicles. These were new electric zoomcycles, as they were called—gyrostabilized motorbikes constructed of Tomasite plastic, Neo-Aurium metal, and other tough, lightweight materials. Manufactured by Enterprises’s Swift Construction Company affiliate, each zoomcycle drew its power from a single Swift solar battery.

“Think we’ve had enough practice on these, flyboy?” Tom asked through his helmet transiphone.

“Absolutely!” Bud exclaimed. “Man, these are great—I’d say the days of the horse are numbered!”

They gunned the miniature electrokinetic engines, tucked away in the hubs of the wheels, and sped away from the Sky Queen like a pair of hunting hounds turned loose after a rabbit. Except for the whoosh of the air, the cycles zoomed along in eerie silence. The boys could hear the crowing of roosters from nearby farms.

Tom switched on his periscan radar mapping system, which generated a see-through schematic image of the surrounding area on the inside of his helmet visor. “Coming up to a paved road,” he signaled Bud.

As the road appeared ahead, Bud asked which direction they should take. “Left. The settlement’s about three miles down, at the crossroads.”

In minutes they had coasted to a stop at the unnamed crossroads settlement, which consisted of a small diner, a hardware store, a market with a post office, and a gas station. Despite the early hour, the locals were up and about, and breakfast was already in full swing in Melba’s Place, the diner. The boys received many a curious stare through the window as they pulled up and dismounted. The stares grew wide-eyed as the handlebars of the zoomcycles folded down and the front and rear sections of the frame slid into one another, the vehicles metamorphosing into compact metallic cocoons no bigger than small suitcases.

“You gonna jest leave ’em sittin’ there?” asked a young blond boy in bib overalls. “Haincha gonna lock ’em up?”

Tom grinned. “Think somebody might steal ’em? Go on, see if you can move one.”

The boy walked over and tugged on one. It wouldn’t budge an inch, and couldn’t be lifted off the ground nor dragged across it. He looked at Tom with a questioning frown.

“Gravitex stabilizer,” said the young inventor. The boy shrugged.

After a whispered discussion, Tom and Bud entered Melba’s Place. Tom sat down at one end of the long counter. Bud pretended to look over a bulletin board for a moment, then settled himself at the opposite end. They both wanted a chance to glean information from the locals.

As Tom ordered breakfast, he began to chat with the waitress, a rather dour woman.

“Them motorcycles those new zoom-things?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Tom replied.

“Saw ’em on the TV,” she continued. “Make ’em down in th’ States, ah-guess—New York.”

Tom nodded and drew her into a casual conversation about life in the valley. “Pretty quiet here,” she said.

“That’s what I like about it.” Tom now decided on more pointed questioning. “You know, I have a little plane—kind of a weekend flyer. Is there an airfield here in the valley?”

“None so’s I cud tellya,” said the woman. Then, after refilling Tom’s orange juice glass, she added, “Well now, guess they do come’n go over at the Mansion. Must have a place to land a helly-copter. Think of’t, even seen a reg’lar plane come in an’ land there.”

“That’s good news,” Tom remarked with a smile. “Maybe I could arrange with them to rent some space there and use their landing strip. Where is this mansion?”

“Up t’the north end, bout a klick back from the road,” the woman answered, using the slang term for kilometer. “You kin see the roof, though. Great big place.”

“Who should I ask for?”

The woman smiled for the first time. “Now son, I’d bet you three rashers of bacon they won’t even let you up t’the front door.”

“Oh, I see. Who owns it?”

The waitress seemed about to answer, then checked herself. “Wouldn’t know that.” She suddenly moved away from Tom, muttering, “Not my business.”

Others had been sitting near Tom, obviously taking in the conversation. But his final question seemed to precipitate their rising and leaving. He finished his breakfast silently, the stools on either side of him empty.

As he paid and left, Bud joined him. “Couldn’t get much out of them,” he grumbled. “Despite all my considerable boyish charm! These people act like they’re scared of something.”

Tom agreed. “I’d say someone’s told them not to talk about the folks in ‘the Mansion’.”

They unfolded their zoomcycles and were about to depart when Bud put a warning hand on his pal’s arm. Three grim-faced men were approaching from a car that had just pulled to a stop. Unlike the breakfasters, the men were all neatly dressed in suit and tie.

Tom nodded at them, and the man walking in the lead nodded back. “Good morning,” said the man. He had a cultured, vaguely British accent.

“Sure is,” Tom responded.

“I understand you’ve been making some inquiries.”

“Just having breakfast,” said Tom.

“No,” corrected the man, polite but firm. “You were asking about the Mansion—the estate at the north end.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Bud challengingly. “It’s a big place—hard not to notice.”

“That’s very true,” agreed the man; but somehow his agreement sounded like an objection. “As you both already know, the property is owned by Lord Quallistone. That is to say, Derleth Szelgar.”

Tom nodded noncommittally.

“Now please listen carefully,” the man went on, as his two companions stood and watched with folded arms. “You were warned in London about respecting Mr. Szelgar’s need for privacy; this we know. If you choose to persist, Tom Swift, you will face consequences of the gravest sort!”


 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 10

 

 

          TELESPHERE TRICKS

 

 

 

  

IF THE MAN expected Tom Swift to be cowed by his threat and demeanor, he had a disappointment coming.

“You guys crack me up,” declared the young Shoptonian. “Your goal is to warn people off, so what do you do? You make silly melodramatic threats, which just lets us know that something funny is going on. Why not just invite us over, let us nose around—and be done with us? Ever think of that?”

One of the other men, whose face was round, fat, and pink, coughed and murmured something that sounded like, I told you!

The spokesman for the group seemed at a loss for words. He glared at Tom.

Bud spoke up. “And what kind of threat did you use against these people around here, anyway—to make them clam up and phone you when anybody asks a question?”

“We do not make threats, Mr. Barclay,” the man responded coldly. “This valley has seen some hard economic times over the past twenty years. Lord Quallistone and his family, through the Verulam Institute, have been the best sort of neighbors, contributing generously to local needs. The people know that all we ask is a decent respect for the privacy of an old and ill man, who wishes not to be disturbed.”

“We have no intention of disturbing him,” Tom said. “But as you know from Mrs. Myres, a crime has been committed involving a Swift Enterprises project, and― ”

“I would suggest leaving the investigation to the proper authorities,” the man interrupted. “Nothing more needs to be said.” With that he and the others turned abruptly and returned to their waiting car, which pulled away immediately.

“Man!” grumbled Bud. “I feel like we just encountered some of those alien ‘men in black’!”

“They may be just overly enthusiastic, and overly protective, employees,” Tom mused. “But we’ve found out one thing, at least—the Szelgar property has a good-sized airstrip. Which means they had an easy way to acquire and return the stolen tissue sample overnight.”

The boys mounted their zoomcycles and returned to the Sky Queen.

Preparations were made to lift off for the flight back to Shopton. But when Tom entered the control cabin, Diana Mulvey said, “Tom, we can’t take off just yet. Looks like we’ve got a visitor.” She pointed out the viewpane. A small figure in overalls was standing not far off, next to his spindly bicycle.

“That’s the kid Bud and I spoke to by the diner,” said the young inventor. “Wonder what he wants. At any rate, I’d rather not have him standing so close by when we use the jet lifters.”

Tom had the belly-hatch ladder extended and climbed down to the ground. “Hi there!” he called out. “Come to see the ship?”

“Uh-huh,” said the boy with a shy grin. “I know’d who y’are—you’re Tom Swift from the U.S., aintcha? I saw’r yuh flyin’ around in your big plane last night.”

Tom nodded, smiling ruefully. “Guess I didn’t try too hard to disguise myself. Did the other people know all along?”

“Naw. Maybe some. Most folks don’t watch th’ TV or read the papers. By I reck’nize ya right off!”

“Pretty sharp!” Tom said. “What’s your name?”

“Ernie Grant.”

“You go to school, Ernie?”

“Sure I do,” retorted the boy. “Ever’body hasta. I’m fourteen.”

“Yeah? I’m not all that much older. You want to be a scientist some day?”

“Guess so,” Ernie replied. “Or maybe a movie actor. It’s kinda between those two.”

“I see,” said Tom with a broad grin. “Mind if I ask you something?”

“Go ’head.”

“Well, when my friend and I left Melba’s, some men came up to us and― ”

“Yeah, I saw ’em,” interrupted the boy. “They’re allus hangin’ around, makin’ people nervous. They ask questions alla time.”

“Like what?”

Ernie looked disgusted. “Dumb stuff. They wanna know if anybody’s talkin’ about what goes on out at the Mansion. I guess the idee is, we should all keep our mouths plain shut. But I don’t care. Can’t skeer me, bo!”

“I can see that, pal,” Tom declared approvingly. “Is something strange going on at the Mansion? Have you seen something? I mean, a guy like you—I can sort of figure you hiding in a tree outside the walls, taking a look.”

“Well…” The boy paused, giving Tom a shrewd look. “I guess kids do get nosy some times. I remember being that way. What they say is, you got ambulances comin’ and goin’ all the time, and there’s this big funny-lookin’ helicopter too. One time I saw—I mean, I heard—there was this little old man lyin’ down on a lounge, with all these nurses and such around him. He was just there for a while, then they rolled him back inside. Then, a few days ago― ”

“What?” Tom inquired eagerly.

“Oh, I happened to be up in a tree, and I sawr a little plane come in low, just over the treetops, real fast though—a jet. She landed on that open land next to the Mansion, and a fella comes runnin’ out from the passenger side at top speed like his pants was on fire, carryin’ some kinda package in his hand. Man, did he move! Ran right into the Mansion. Then the next mornin’, early, I caught me a little glimpse of that plane flyin’ out again.”

“What direction?”

“Toward the south, maybe a little west.”

From Ernie’s description Tom was sure the mysterious flight matched the time the stolen parcel would have been delivered to the Mansion, then flown out again!

“How’d you like to see the inside of my ship?” asked Tom.

“The Sky Queen? I was hopin’!” the boy cried.

An hour later, the impromptu tour completed and young Ernie Grant on his way home, the Flying Lab lifted up to the clouds and soon was en route to Shopton. “We didn’t get much info,” Tom remarked to Bud, “but it shows we’re on the right track.”

Later that day, in one of Tom’s laboratories at Swift Enterprises, the young inventor was ready to test the new telesphere prototype Arv Hanson had fashioned. As before, there were two units, which could be used either for sending or receiving.

“A little small, aren’t they, genius boy?” Bud remarked, sitting on a stool near Tom’s workbench. “Planning to provide transport assistance for bugs?”

Each of the prototypes consisted of a tubular wand, attached by cables to a power feed. The wands were about two feet long, and capped on the end with cup-shaped hemispherical half-globes about six inches across.

“We don’t need a full-sized prototype to test out my approach to solving the blow-up problem,” Tom said. “Besides, this particular model ties in with some other ideas I’ve been playing around with, concerning our buddy Gigans.”

Bud nodded. “I wondered if that would cross your mind—beaming—er, teleporting—the body right up to the surface.”

“That wouldn’t work, Bud,” Tom retorted. “We’d still have the main problem, which is removing him from the ice itself without causing tissue damage.”

“Okay, pal. So what’s the idea?”

In response Tom placed a quarter on a thick piece of cardboard resting on the lab table. Then he picked up one of the new units, leaving the other lying flat on a table several yards distant. “I already ran some tests earlier, before you got here. I know the thing works and isn’t going to explode in our faces.”

“That’s good to know!”

Tom switched on the mechanisms, which were controlled from a single remote unit on his wand. There was no sound, and nothing seemed to happen. Slowly Tom brought the open cup-end of his wand near the quarter. As it came within a few inches, there was a slight popping sound. The coin vanished!

At what seemed the same instant, a metallic ping! caused Bud to turn toward the other telesphere unit. The coin had tumbled out of the half-globe and had rattled down onto the table surface.

With Tom looking on with a smile, Bud approached the quarter, extending his fingers gingerly. Finally he picked it up.

“Doesn’t feel any different,” Bud observed. “I was afraid it might be hot or something.”

“It returns to its normal state when it drops back down into normal space,” explained Tom. “My idea is to use open-end devices like these, which I call incismitters, to whittle away at the ice around Gigans, transpositioning it bit by bit into a receiving tank without crunching or melting it. The trick is to keep the two units coordinated as they switch on and off several hundred times per second. The receiving unit always has to deactivate after the transmitting unit, remember.”

Just then there was a knock at the lab door, which Tom had left unlocked. Without waiting for a reply, Chow Winkler pushed open the door, bearing a tray in one hand.

“Chow!” Tom exclaimed in delight. “Are you back at work already?”

“Now boss, you jest cain’t keep a good cook penned-up in a can,” the Texan answered. “I ’as fit t’go loco, watchin’ them soap operas all day long. An’ b’sides, I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving you two t’ Boris’s idee of cooking.”

“You’re the one who hired him,” Bud pointed out.

“So I did,” Chow said. “An’ he’s not so bad, when I’m there t’ keep a prairie eye on him. Anywaywise, here’s a afternoon snack to keep you boys goin’ until suppertime.” He set down the tray in front of Tom and Bud. It was covered with a number of small, puffy yellow objects the size of marbles.

“What are these things, Chow?” Bud asked skeptically. “Micrometeorites?” He poked one with his finger. From the expression on his face, it seemed the snack had poked him back!

“Naw, buddy boy. These here are called sesame-seed tumbleweed puffs.” Chow held one up between thumb and forefinger and popped it into his mouth. “Dee-licious! Flavored like buffalo meat, but with jest a hint of sagebrush, and a sweet cinnamon coating. Learnt it from an old Cherokee squaw.”

Tom stared at the tray dubiously, the telesphere prototype still in his hand. “Well, you sure brought us enough for a meal, pardner. Seven left—Bud and I will have to flip a coin to see who gets the odd one.”

Chow shook his head. “No sir, eight left. I brought in nine, an’ ate one of ’em.” But when Chow counted the tumbleweed puffs, he looked puzzled. “Seven it is. Didn’t spy you pick one up. Guess I didn’t count right in th’ first place.”

Now Bud spoke up. “Chow, did you just say seven? I only count six.”

The cook snorted. “Now don’t try an’ confuse old Chow. I may not be college-edjee-cated, but I shore know how t’ count!” But as he gazed at the tray, what ought to have been seven did, after all, appear rather too much like six. Counting again confirmed it.

“Gol-surn it!” Chow exclaimed. “Mebbe I’m not all that much healed-up as I thought!”

“Try counting one more time,” urged Tom.

“Don’t need to,” sighed the cook despairingly. “I kin see they’s only five there now. Say― ” He suddenly looked up at Tom in suspicion. “You hidin’ ’em inside that cup-thing o’ yours?”

Tom held up the prototype unit, allowing Chow to examine the business end of it, taking care to warn him not to stick a finger or a nose into it. It was empty.

“I know sure as shootin’ you two jokesters are playin’ one o’ your invention tricks on me,” said Chow. “But blame if I kin figger it out.”

“Only four now,” Bud commented. “Those things must be good—they’re going fast!”

Chow looked back and forth between the boys’ faces, which both showed suppressed laughter beneath the surface. “Okay, okay—how’re ya doin’ it? Where’d they go?”

“They didn’t go anywhere!” Tom said as Bud hooted. “Or at least they didn’t go any place. I just moved them into protospace.” He explained that he had casually brought his transmitting telesphere near to each of the purloined puffs, causing them to “blur out” into the invisible quantum state established between the two machines. “I set the reciprocal switching feature down to zero, which is why they didn’t reappear at the other unit. But the other unit is still active, and if I switch it off completely by remote control, like this― ”

He pressed a button on the base of his wand. Tom’s unit was now the last one active, causing the errant edibles to be recalled into normal space there. Immediately all three watchers flinched back as a fist-sized lump of misshapen dough fell from Tom’s half-globe and thudded down on the tray, smashing the others that remained.

They were silent. Then Chow said, “Boss, they’s easier ways t’ mix dough t’gether than that.”

Tom was flummoxed. “I—er—that wasn’t supposed to― ” But then the explanation came to him. “Oh sure—the low-pressure node caused the arriving objects to slam together as they all materialized at the same time. I’ll have to build a limiter routine into the circuit.”

“You do that, son,” said the westerner, picking up his tray. “But fer now, I’d say you two smart boys jest a-smarted y’selves out of a snack!”

He stomped out, and Tom and Bud looked at each other, somewhat abashed.

Tom spent the next several days working the kinks out of the newly revised invention, his father at his side.

“I wish we had Professor Armuldsson here to help us,” Tom commented ruefully.

“There’s been no trace,” responded Mr. Swift. “He hasn’t tried contacting his family or colleagues back in Sweden, either. I have the feeling he’s in someone’s power, unwillingly. I can’t help but feel sorry for him.”

“Me too, Dad,” said the younger Swift.

Now that Tom’s pressure-node approach had been tested and perfected, he was anxious to begin experimenting with a full-sized telesphere setup. This was being constructed under Hank Sterling’s supervision elsewhere on Enterprises grounds. Finally Sterling announced that the pair of telespheres had been moved to the underground hangar and were awaiting testing by Tom. “Great going, Hank!” he replied enthusiastically over the phone. “You did a fantastic job. I’ll be down there in fifteen minutes.”

Tom took the ridewalk down to the hangar, unlocking its heavy sliding security door with his electronic key. To his surprise, two technicians, Geoff Daley and Ramesh Bol, came trotting up to him. They were red-faced and clearly upset.

“What’s wrong, guys?” Tom asked worriedly.

“Wrong? Wrong?” exclaimed Ramesh, waving his arms for emphasis. “Wrong is for mere disasters!—this is, I say to you, a crisis!”

Tom’s eyes grew wide. “Wh-what happened?”

“It’s happening now, right now!” exclaimed Daley. “I don’t expect we’ll be doing any experimenting today, Tom—and if I were you, I’d call the police. Or maybe the National Guard!”


 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 11

 

 

          COBRA TRACKS

 

 

 

 

ALARMED, Tom followed the two technicians across the concrete floor and around the looming bulk of the Sky Queen, which had been lowered flat to the floor for servicing. On the other side he found the two telespheres and a small crowd of excited Enterprises personnel, including Hank Sterling.

“Tom!” cried Hank in a tone of exasperation. “You talk to her—she’s your girlfriend!”

The young inventor halted in amazement. At the center of the hubbub was Bashalli Prandit. She had handcuffed her right wrist to the telesphere control lever!

“Bashalli!” Tom exclaimed, trying to take on a calming tone. “Is there a problem here?”

“Obviously,” responded the raven-haired young Pakistani dryly, her eyes flashing with emotion.

Tom approached and said quietly, “These people are getting upset, Bash. We need to start our test procedure.”

She gave Tom a smile that Tom had learned signified an almost invulnerable determination. “They are upset—I am upset. My upsetness came first!”

“But why? What’s wrong?”

“I will tell you, Mister Swift,” Bashalli said. “You know I have been coming here to the plant almost every day, with my little electronic radar amulet, to hand-feed my animal friends in your zoology wing. Today I arrive to be told that Homer, my sweet little rabbit, has been taken down here to be put through that matter-beamer of yours. You told me with much laughter of Chow’s lump of dough—what if dear Homer is turned inside-out? I do not approve of such reckless experimenting on poor animals!”

Tom nodded his understanding, but was silent for a moment, thinking. “Since when do you carry handcuffs, anyway?”

“They are not handcuffs, actually,” Bashalli admitted. “Only my bracelets. But I promise to bite anyone who dares try to pull me away!”

“I’m responsible for letting her into the hangar, Tom,” Hank explained, casting a stern look Bashalli’s way. “She said you had invited her to watch the telesphere tests.”

Bashalli smiled. “Cunning, was I not?”

“Very,” Tom replied wryly. “But you don’t understand, Bash. Dad and I appreciate the lives of animals just as you do. Hank already did some preliminary testing while the telespheres were being built. The first living things to go through were plants, then mice.”

“But Homer is more complicated,” retorted the girl stubbornly. “He has delicate feelings. Just look in those little eyes.”

“Here, look at this.” Tom stepped away and returned holding a small, lunchbox-sized object. “This is a biosimulator Dad and I have developed. The electronic patterns inscribed on its memory chips are every bit as delicate and complex as the structures inside living cells. We can tell instantly if there is the slightest displacement or disruption. If you’ll allow us, we’ll send the box through the telesphere one more time, before using Homer. What do you say?”

Bashalli paused, then sighed. “I suppose that is adequate.” She untangled her bracelets from the control lever and stepped aside.

The new telespheres were quite large, about ten feet in diameter and resting directly upon the floor. The inner crystalline globes were enclosed on all sides by a grille-like spherical framework of zig-zaging metal rods, interrupted by an open oval hatchway. Tom stepped over the threshold into the nearer telesphere and set the biosimulator box at the center of the sphere’s curving floor.

Exiting the sphere, Tom warned everyone to stand back a considerable distance. Then he nodded at Hank Sterling. “Whenever you’re ready, Hank.”

In response the young engineer swung the red control lever upward, then downward immediately. There was a slight sound of displaced air.

“Box received!” exclaimed Ramesh Bol, who was monitoring the arrival telesphere thirty feet away.

Tom and the technicians examined the box and the readouts on its output dials. Then Tom showed it to Bashalli. “There has been no harm, no spatial distortion at all. The transposition was perfect all the way down to atomic distances.”

“Very well, I am mollified,” Bashalli said. “You may proceed with my rabbit friend, and I will refrain from biting. For the present.”

Now Tom placed Homer in the departure sphere, where he sat calmly, munching a bit of carrot Bashalli had provided him. This time Tom operated the lever himself. With an inward gulp he activated the machine, and the rabbit blinked out instantly. “Well?” he called out to Bashalli, who was watching at the other sphere.

“He seems most content!” she responded happily. “Oh Thomas, thank you for humoring me!”

As the technicians cheered the success of the test, Tom murmured to Hank Sterling, “By the way, she’s a close family friend, but I don’t call her my― ”

“Whatever you say, Skipper!” chuckled the young engineer.

The next morning Tom was at home, where Bud had joined him for a late breakfast. He was describing the drama surrounding the test when the phone jangled.

The caller proved to be Harlan Ames. “Tom, I knew you’d want to hear of this right away. It looks like the Cobra is involved in this affair after all!”

Tom groaned. “Don’t tell me that!”

“Sorry. I was just speaking to your Inspector Raeburn. There have been more break-ins and thefts in London, and more sightings of the dwarf. Last night they actually caught him red-handed! But just for a second—the security guard had grabbed his jacket, but the little guy squirmed out of it and got away. Inside a pocket in the jacket were some handwritten instructions, basically directions on how to defeat the alarm system in the building. But on the bottom were some little squiggles we’ve seen before—the Chinese characters for Li Ching, altered into a shape like a cobra!”

“I guess that’s pretty conclusive,” said Tom. “Can they use the note, or the jacket, to backtrack to the Cobra’s hideout?”

“Not so far, I’m afraid. But when Raeburn’s people are done with the evidence, he promised to send it to us for a going-over with your analytracer.”

After hanging up, Tom related the conversation to Bud. “Not exactly a surprise,” Bud remarked. “But what in the world could link the Black Cobra to our friend the philosopher in Newfoundland?”

“Arcena Myres could be the link, if the Cobra is hiding in London,” Tom pointed out.

“But why would that knockoff Ming the Merciless have an interest in the tissue sample in the first place?” Bud objected. “Is he planning to build his own giant ape?”

Tom laughed at Bud’s comment but shook his head. “Flyboy, don’t ask me. I have enough trouble getting people to stop calling my quantum telesphere a matter-beamer!”

Tom spent a productive morning at Swift Enterprises coordinating preparations for the flight to Alaska. Arv Hanson had produced a more sophisticated model of the cup-ended telesphere prototype, which would be used by Tom in the delicate work of extracting Gigans from the ice—or rather, extracting the ice from around Gigans. The young inventor also approved the loading inventory for the Flying Lab, and ran a check on the midget version of his powerful atomic earth blaster.

“You’re not using the mechanical model?” asked Hank Sterling.

“Not this time,” Tom responded. “The hypersonic vibrations from its digging vanes would create the exact conditions we’re trying to avoid. This baby is one of the Pluto-2 series SCC turns out. It’s much smaller and more maneuverable than our South Pole blaster, but uses the same vaporizing ‘atomic sun’ as big brother did.” He added that he was also bringing along a portable X-raser device to assist in scooping out the underground work chamber.

“Sounds like you’ve got everything under control,” remarked Hank. “Too bad this Gigans project will interrupt your development of the telesphere, though. We’re all mighty excited about that one!”

“So am I,” Tom said. “Which is exactly why I’m bringing both of the big spheres along with me to Alaska!”

“Really? Won’t they be in the way?”

Tom grinned conspiratorially. “Why do you think I planned such a big workspace?”

As Tom strolled toward the hangar exit, a worker called him over to the wall phone.

The caller proved to be Bud. “Tom, stop over at the observatory before you go to lunch, won’t you?”

“How come?”

“Show you when you get here!”

The Swift Enterprises observatory, located at the very edge of the plant grounds some distance from the airfield, was a huge high dome of reinforced concrete. For many years it had held a powerful optical telescope and other related instruments for monitoring the heavens. Now, however, it protected the great column of metal rings that was the antenna for Tom’s megascope space prober, which used focused electromagnetic-wave beams to create an invisible ‘camera eye’ wherever desired, even billions of miles out in deep space.

As Tom entered the dim-lit chamber, he saw Bud waiting for him next to the megascope’s monitor and control panel. “What’s up, Bud?”

“Just a brilliant idea from yours truly!” Bud boasted enthusiastically. “Why not use the megascope to take a peek at that mansion in the Pietrie Valley—and maybe at the old boy himself?”

Tom frowned. “I don’t want my inventions to be used to invade someone’s privacy.”

Bud gave a quick nod. “I know, chum. But it’s not like you’re going to read his mail or tap his phone. If this guy is in cahoots with the Black Cobra, a lot more could be at stake than frozen apes!”

“Agreed,” conceded the young inventor. He switched on the machine. “At any rate, the prober’s light-scanning waves don’t penetrate solid matter very well. We’ll have to keep the image point outside the walls of the mansion.”

From memory, Tom fed the location of the valley into the megascope’s positional computer. Motors angled the great antenna downward and rotated it toward the north. In his mind Bud could visualize the radio-like beams shooting toward Newfoundland at 186,000 miles per second, their perfect straight lines kinking downward at several points as the beams twisted around the horizon of the earth in pursuit of their destination.

“Here’s the picture,” Tom said. A vivid image swam into view on the circular screen, showing the entire valley as if from a great height.

Using the controlling trackball Tom slowly adjusted the central focus, zooming in on the minute speck that he knew was the mansion of Derleth Szelgar. “Pretty impressive,” Tom muttered, gazing at the tiled roof and gabled towers of the large building, which seemed designed in imitation of an old European chateau.

“Put her closer to ground level,” Bud suggested. Tom obligingly lowered the point of view.

“There’s the airstrip. Medevac-type jet chopper,” said Tom. “And there’s the jet Ernie Grant mentioned.”

“I know that model,” remarked Bud. “She’s small but built for real speed.”

Tom now turned the viewpoint in the direction of the mansion. The boys seemed to be floating through well-kept gardens and rows of hardy trees and dense shrubbery. Bud almost flinched as they plunged straight through the spray of an ornamental fountain!

Suddenly Tom lifted his palm from the controller, stopping the panning motion of the megascope. “There’s a familiar face!”

“The head of the unwelcoming committee!” Bud cried. “He never did give his name.”

The man was standing alone next to a side door, as if waiting. After a moment the door opened and a middle-aged woman in a nurse’s uniform stepped out and began speaking to the man.

“Tom, you’ve got to find a way to combine your megascope with your Eye-Spy camera,” Bud urged impatiently. “Then we could hear their voices and see through walls!”

“Which is why I’m not going to do it,” retorted Bud’s friend. “We have more than enough ways to spy on people these days.”

The woman closed the door and the man walked over to a car, which Bud and Tom recognized immediately.

“Mind if I try the controls?” Bud begged.

The young pilot deftly shifted the point of view over the top of the mansion and down the other side, stopping outside a large curtained window on the second floor. “This window has the best view,” he murmured. “And something tells me…”

Then both youths exclaimed as one. Through the thin gauze of the curtains, they could make out a huge bed in the dimness of the room. In the bed, surrounded by tubes and medical equipment, a wizened figure lay, limp as a rag.

“That’s Szelgar!” Tom whispered. “I recognize him.”

“Man! He looks like a mummy in a sarcophagus,” breathed Bud Barclay.

“Bud, I can’t believe someone in such bad shape could be behind any sort of plot against us,” declared Tom firmly. He moved to switch off the megascope.

But Bud grabbed his wrist. “No—look!” He nodded at a corner of the screen.

On a table near the window, glinting in a patch of sunlight, rested a tiny object—the black-enameled figure of a striking cobra!


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 12

 

 

          TEST IN SPACE

 

 

 

 

TOM pressed a button, recording a digital image of the statuette for later study.

“I remember seeing things like that at the Cobra’s headquarters in South America,” declared Bud. “And I don’t think you can buy them through eBay, Tom!”

“There’s a connection, all right,” agreed Tom grimly, switching off the megascope. “I’ll let Harlan and Raeburn know about this. They’ll inform the authorities, here and in Canada. But somehow I doubt anyone’s going to be storming Lord Quallistone’s compound—not any time soon.”

Tom was right. Later in the day, as he was about to leave for home, a call from Phil Radnor informed him that both governments involved had indicated an unwillingness to take further action on the basis of Tom Swift’s report.

“But why?” Tom demanded.

“Our contacts didn’t say,” was the response.

Tom thought over the situation for a time, reviewing in silence all that had transpired. Then he switched on his journal computer. In a matter of a few keystrokes he had made contact with the Collections group.

“My megascope shows a Black Cobra statuette in Szelgar’s room,” he typed. “Government is refusing to act. What is the issue?”

The reply was concise.

 

POLITICS

 

“No surprise there. Can your people take action?”

 

DOUBTFUL

 

“Why not?”

 

YOUR TAX DOLLARS DON’T GO

AS FAR AS THEY USED TO

THEY TOOK BACK

MY LASER PEN AND X-RAY SPECS

YOU AND I MAY HAVE TO START

INSTANT MESSAGING SO PUT ME

ON YOUR BUDDY LIST TOM

 

“I don’t feel like joking right now.”

 

ME NEITHER

KEEP US INFORMED ON WHAT YOU UNCOVER

B C MAY BE A PSYCHO

BUT

HE IS A BRILLIANT STRATEGIST

 

Tom signed off quickly and went home.

That night Damon Swift, working at the large desk in the den, looked up to see his son standing in the doorway. “Is something on your mind, Tom?”

Tom entered and spoke thoughtfully. “Several things. Number one on the list is the telesphere.”

“Not your underground giant in Alaska?”

Tom chuckled a single chuck and sat down in an easy chair. “He’s not going anywhere soon. And there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do at the moment regarding the Black Cobra or Mr. Szelgar.”

“Or Professor Armuldsson,” added Mr. Swift. “We seem to be on a street with nothing but dead-ends!”

“Which is why I’m thinking about the telesphere.”

“The tests have all been fantastically successful.”

“Yes, Dad,” said Tom. “But this is a radically new technology, and lives could be at risk if we’re not careful—not to mention the public reputation of Swift Enterprises. I want to make absolutely certain the transposition process won’t be altered in unexpected ways by unusual conditions. I’m thinking of running some further tests in space.”

Damon Swift gave Tom a look of surprise. “In space? What do you plan to do?”

Tom explained that he planned to have the dual telespheres temporarily installed in Swift Enterprises’ two great spaceships: the Challenger, in which he had traveled to the moon, and the new Starward, his cosmotron express. “I want to see how the relative motion of the ships affects the matrix field. It may be that we’ll have to design some sort of compensator mechanism to keep things from getting scrambled.”

“A fine idea,” said Mr. Swift approvingly. “When do you leave for Fearing Island?”

“Bud and I will fly over tomorrow morning in the Sky Queen,” was Tom’s reply. “It won’t take long to load the two telespheres aboard.”

“And by the time you get back,” continued his father, “perhaps we’ll have made some progress on those other problems!”

Tom laughed. “Now that would be a great homecoming!”

The next morning the flight to Fearing Island was made in record time. The minute thumb-shaped island, owned by the Federal Government but leased to Swift Enterprises on a long-term basis, lay placidly in the Atlantic sun a few score miles off the coast of southern Georgia. Here was the major Enterprises base for space exploration, the home of a variety of spacecraft. Fearing was also one of several docking sites for a number of the company’s advanced submersibles.

“There she is!” cried Bud in obvious pleasure, his eyes taking in the strangely shaped Challenger as the island rolled into view over the eastern horizon, far beneath the Flying Lab. This exploration craft consisted of a central cube-shaped cabin several stories high, encompassed by ring-shaped rails that served as tracks for the parabolic repelatron radiator dishes that thrust the ship into space.

“Looks like Mod II is ready to go,” Tom commented, nodding down toward another vehicle waiting at the opposite end of the spaceport. This was one of three spherical modules that connected to the larger central sphere of Tom’s cosmotron express, which remained in permanent low orbit about the planet, rarely landing.

The Enterprises pilot, Markham Wesberg, cut the forward thrust and phased-in the jet lifters, slowly bringing the Sky Queen and its priceless cargo down on its landing pad with the gentlest of bumps. A work crew was already waiting on the field. With practiced efficiency they quickly began the task of unloading the telesphere equipment from the Queen’s aerial hangar. One of the big globes was carted by flatbed over to the Challenger’s long loading ramp, the other to the open cargo hatchway of Mod II.

“You know, Bud,” Tom said with pride, “some day we won’t need a shuttle module to go from the surface up to the Starward—or even from the base on Loonaui to the space outpost. You’ll just step into a departure telesphere down below, and step out of the arrival telesphere up above.”

“Why stop there?” demanded Bud with a grin. “You won’t need spaceships at all—you’ll be able to walk from one planet to another! Imagine that, genius boy—interplanetary pedestrians!”

Soon the loading tasks had been completed, and Tom and Bud boarded the Challenger. At the same time Hank Sterling, who had traveled to Fearing in the Flying Lab with other personnel, entered the cosmotron’s excursion module, which would be piloted by an Enterprises space veteran, Neil MacColter, who was part of the permanent Fearing Island astronautics team.

“We’re ready for liftoff in Mod II,” MacColter radioed.

“See you up topside, Neil,” Tom replied from the Challenger. He gave a nod to Bud, who was working the controls. The youth flashed an excited smile and poured power into the ship’s repelatrons, which were precisely tuned to repel the special coating of the craft’s custom landing pad. Instantly, accompanied by a deep resonant drone, the massive spaceship began a smooth ascent. Tom and Bud watched through the high rectangular viewports as the ground fell away below and the earth began to assume its true spherical form.

“The Starward’s a great ship, Tom,” Bud said dreamily, “but I have a real soft spot for this baby. Coming aboard the Challenger always feels like coming home to me.”

“I guess a father shouldn’t prefer one offspring to another, but I must admit, I feel the same way,” Tom said softly. “You and I and this ship have been through a lot together.”

At a constant 1-G acceleration the Challenger had soon entered an elongated orbit in the glittering blackness of space.

“We’ve got the Starward on radar, Skipper,” reported a member of the Challenger’s crew.

Bud’s keen pilot’s eyes probed the void. “Where is she?” he asked.

Tom pointed downward. “Three-hundred forty miles below us. You can’t see ’er against the glare of the earth, but she’s there, all right.”

An hour passed. Presently Hank radioed that Mod II was now firmly docked with the cosmotron express and the telesphere had been moved from the excursion module into the Starward’s large storage bay in the main section. “Pretty easy to push her around with no gravity,” said the engineer. “We’ve already made the power linkages. On with the test!”

The Challenger’s telesphere had been installed in the craft’s vehicular hangar. The boys went down to inspect it with several other members of the mission’s crew.

“All lights are green!” exclaimed Ramesh Bol happily. “And your Miss Bashalli is nowhere in sight, so I expect we will be able to proceed normally.” Suddenly realizing to whom he was speaking, he paused and added, “Not that I mind your friend, Tom—of course.”

After the subnucleonic matrix field had been established between the telesphere units, Tom intercommed the Challenger’s control deck and received information on the relative speed and position of the two ships.

“I suppose you’re using a computer to keep the sphere aimed at the other one,” Bud commented.

“It doesn’t work like that, flyboy,” Tom replied. “The two spheres are attuned to one another, and will stay that way no matter where in the universe they are. It’s a basic principle of quantum theory called quantum entanglement. I used it in developing those Private Ear radio communicators we use.”

“Then what are we testing, exactly?”

“I want to see how the setup handles differences in momentum between the spheres,” explained the young inventor. “The Challenger and the Starward are now in separate orbits, and as you know that means they’re traveling at different speeds, and in somewhat different directions. That’s not supposed to cause a problem—but we’ve learned before that there’s no substitute for ‘real-time’ testing.”

For the first test Tom had the ships momentarily match velocities. Then he transpositioned a biosimulator box to the Starward. “Came through just fine,” radioed Hank. “And at that distance, too! It’s wonderful!”

The two ships were then allowed to glide off along their diverging orbital paths. The difference in their relative speeds amounted to about forty miles per hour, a small fraction of their actual orbital velocities. “Go ahead and send the box back,” Tom signaled.

The blink of a light signified that the biosim box had been projected into quantum space. Tom’s hand slammed down the master control lever that would remotely deactivate the distant sphere and cause the box to materialize in the Challenger.

The response to this simple act was anything but placid. The box came shooting out of the telesphere hatchway like a runaway missile and slammed into the bulkhead with the violence of a bomb!


 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 13

 

 

          PROTOSPACE PIONEER

 

 

  

 

GOOD NIGHT!” exclaimed Bud in startled alarm. “It’s a good thing that wasn’t Bashalli’s rabbit!”

Tom was in no mood for quips. This sort of result was exactly what he had feared!

“The box retained all the properties it acquired over at the Starward,” he said soberly. “When it came through at our end it still had the Starward’s momentum, both speed and direction. And as you can see, the difference in the speeds of the ships was― ”

“Significant!” Bud finished for him. “Now that you know, what can you do about it, Skipper?”

“I’ve anticipated the possibility,” replied the young inventor. “In theory we can pump kinetic energy into the matrix field directly, which will be added to, or subtracted from, the transpositioned object as it drops back into normal space.”

“How will you know how much motion-energy to use, or what direction?” inquired Bud.

“The signaler component can be ‘read’ for Doppler effects,” Tom explained. “The inbuilt computer will do the rest. I was hoping not to have to go that route, though—it boosts the power requirements of the telesphere by quite a bit. But I guess Mother Nature isn’t going to cooperate with us this time around!”

The biosimulator unit had shattered, but fortunately Tom had brought along several others. After engaging and testing the new system components for modulating the field’s kinetic energy, he sent another box through.

“Perfect!” Hank radioed. “Now back at ya!”

Tom and the others watched warily as the box materialized in the Challenger’s telesphere. It had a slight motion and tumbled over once on the floor of the globe, but it seemed the problem had been overcome.

“Just needs a few adjustments,” Tom murmured. Soon the box had been transmitted back and forth between the ships several times while the ships shifted from orbit to orbit. For the final test, the difference in their speeds was greater than 4000 miles per hour!

Tom tested out the biosim box’s electronic patterns with great care. There was no trace of distortion or deterioration. It was clear that his new approach had met with complete success.

“Now for a live specimen,” Tom declared. “Guys, there’s a big cage over by the elevator door with our test subject inside—slide it over here, would you?”

Bud and the other members of the crew turned away and went to retrieve the cage, which contained a sleepy-eyed chimp. As they turned back toward the telesphere, Bud’s brow furrowed. “Tom?” he called out.

“Guess he’s behind the power caisson,” muttered one of the men.

But Bud had a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. He called out again several times, then turned to the men with wide eyes. “He’s gone!” exclaimed the black-haired youth.

“Barclay, you don’t suppose― ”

“I do!”

Just then the intership radio speaker came alive. “Starward to Challenger! Do you read?”

It was the voice of Tom Swift!

“Tom, you sneaky space hound!” barked Bud into the microphone. “You transmitted yourself!”

“Sure did, pal!” came the reply. “Once we knew it was safe, I couldn’t resist becoming ― ”

There was a slight pause. “—the first protospace pioneer!” The sentence had been concluded, not through the radio speaker, but live—from the telesphere hatchway. Tom stood there with a triumphant grin on his face. He had sent himself back, crossing hundreds of miles of space in a split instant!

The crew crowded around their young boss, whooping and clapping him on the back.

“What was it like?” Bud inquired, his voice a bit shaky.

“Like nothing at all, to tell the truth,” replied Tom. “I just set the automatic timing mechanism and climbed into the sphere as quietly as I could. And then I was three-hundred forty miles away!” Seeing the frown on Bud’s face, Tom urged his friend to try it himself.

Bud nodded and, after hanging back for a silent moment, stepped over the high threshold of the telesphere hatch. He stood in the center of the transparent globe, arms crossed, and called out, “Okay, Tom—send me!”

Tom grinned and pushed the red lever forward, activating the process that would merge Bud’s nuclear structure into quantum protospace. From Bud’s point of view, he saw Tom’s hand move, the lever slide forward—and everything changed, as if a light had been switched on in a dark room. With a very slight vibration, as if the floor of the telesphere had trembled, the hangar deck of the Challenger had morphed into the storage bay of the Starward.

“Welcome aboard!” hailed Hank Sterling.

Bud felt himself with his hands. Satisfied, he called out to Hank, “Man, that was really a case of ‘one small step’ becoming ‘one giant leap’!”

“You’re so right, Bud! Ready to go back?”

“Sure.”

The process was repeated, and Bud stepped out of the telesphere back aboard the Challenger. “Maybe I’ll trade in my convertible after all!” he gibed to general laughter.

After a few more tests Tom declared the protocol completed. As the Challenger began its descent back to Fearing Island, the young inventor was tingling with excitement and a swell of pride in his great accomplishment. But we still have a deadly enemy out there somewhere, he thought as he looked down at the expanding blue globe below. And we don’t have any idea what he’s after!

Back at home in Shopton, Tom slept heavily and arose late, feeling he had earned some extra sleep. Showering and dressing he went downstairs, where his mother was having a cup of hot chocolate with Sandy.

Sandy gasped and looked horrified. “Tom! What’s happened to you? Your skin—it’s turned completely transparent!”

‘A’ for effort, Sandy,” responded Tom blandly. “But I’ve already had a look in the mirror.”

“Well, I do think you took a bit of a risk yesterday,” commented Mrs. Swift. “You couldn’t be absolutely sure those little boxes of yours would detect all possible effects on the human body.”

“I’ll let you two in on a little secret,” Tom said with twinkling eyes. “Promise not to tell on me?”

They both promised, crossing their hearts.

“Okay. The truth is—I had already been through the telesphere even before we traveled to Fearing. I tried the process out the other day, after the chimp went through without harm. Guess I couldn’t resist!”

“I don’t blame you, big brother,” said Sandy wistfully. “I want to try it too! But you’re lucky you and that chimp didn’t switch brains, or merge together.”

“Yep—lucky me!” He shifted his gaze to his mother. “By the way, Mom, do we have any bananas?”

Tom spent the day in the administrative office, trying to finalize various mundane details of the trip back to Alaska. The sun rose and fell, and the crewcut scientist-inventor was mostly alone: Bud had piloted Tom’s father to Boston for a one-day scientific conference. Only Chow interrupted Tom’s solitude, bringing a hot lunch and a late-afternoon snack.

“Say there, Boss,” said the Texan. “I ’as jest wondering…”

“What, pard?”

“Wa-al, seems like you two boys kin eat anything y’want without it goin’ to your middle, like it does fer me.” Chow patted his beltline, which jiggled obligingly. “An’ it ain’t like I prefer t’be fat, after all—jest sorta happened, an’ there it is.”

“Yes, I can see it,” joked Tom.

“So what crossed my mind was this. That there little machine o’ yours, the one you’re a-gonna use to slice away all that ice—wouldn’t it work on fat too?”

“Sure it would,” Tom replied. “Are you asking me to trim off a little for you?”

Chow gulped. “Would it hurt?”

“No idea. I’d suppose so. And you’d bleed a lot internally—but, you know, if you’re willing to make the sacrifice for science and a better physique― ”

Chow held up a hand. “Naw, that’s all right, Tom. Brand my quantum stew, guess I already did my bit fer science. And as fer slimmin’ down, wouldn’t want t’overdo it—nobody’d know it was me!”

Tom returned to his work, dull but necessary work that lacked all challenge or adventure and seemed to make his mind skittish as a colt.

Finally, the sun red on the horizon, his day was done. He packed away his pile of papers and prepared to leave, when the door rattled with a polite knock. “Yes, Trent?”

“Sorry to bother you,” said the secretary. “I know it’s late, but I thought you might like to take this call. It’s a woman—I asked twice and couldn’t quite make out her name, but she seems to know you. She sounds—well, it struck me as important.”

“Thanks,” said Tom. “Put it through.”

The voice on the phone was unfamiliar—an elderly woman’s reedy voice. “Oh, Tom, I—I wasn’t sure whether I ought to call you, but― ”

“I’m afraid I don’t recognize your voice,” Tom said.

“We’ve only spoken in passing when you’ve called Anton,” said the woman hesitantly.

Anton, Tom thought. “Do you mean Anton Faber?” Dr. Faber, a zoologist of world renown, had joined Tom on his South Pole expedition, and more recently on his historic trip to the moon in the Challenger. Tom and the elderly man had taken to one another instantly, and maintained a friendship by telephone and email.

“I am Margarethe Faber—Mrs. Faber, you know.”

“Oh yes, of course!” Tom exclaimed warmly. “How are you, ma’am?”

“I’m all right, Tom, but my husband― ”

The young inventor felt a sudden chill of dread. “Has something happened?”

“It was just the other night,” said Mrs. Faber softly, and there was a hint of a sob in her voice. “He was at work in the library and I heard him fall—it was a stroke, Tom.”

“Oh, no!”

“He’s in intensive care now, in the big hospital here in Dearborn—they flew us here in a helicopter.”

There was a long, gasping silence, and Tom asked what the doctors had been saying.

The woman sighed helplessly. “There’s swelling of the brain, and he hasn’t regained consciousness. They’ve operated on him once already, but they say there’s—I think they call it an occlusion—somewhere down deep where it’s difficult to—to― ”

“I understand, ma’am,” said Tom.

“Anton has had a long and rewarding life,” she quavered. “And perhaps it’s time to—just let nature take its course. But he was looking forward to so much, to finishing off an important study…”

Suddenly Tom knew, as if by instinct, exactly why Mrs. Faber had interrupted her vigil to call him. “Ma’am, are you asking me if there’s something I can do?”

Her voice was firm for just one moment. “Tom Swift, the whole world knows you’re a worker of scientific miracles. I’m begging you to do what you can to save my husband’s life!”

 


 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 14

 

 

            A LIFE IN THE BALANCE

 

 

 

 

THE SURGICAL theater was full of white-faced men in white masks and gowns—six men and one white-haired woman, clustered around their unconscious subject and facing Tom Swift.

“Tom, I want to say once more—I’m just so grateful to you,” said Mrs. Faber, trying hard not to break into tears. “I know this is all experimental, and a great risk, but whatever happens― ”

“I’m quite confident, Mrs. Faber,” said the lead surgeon, Dr. Senarens. “Swift here has given me hours of instruction in the use of this invention of his. It’s not unduly complicated.”

“Dr. Senarens has become a real master of the quantum scalpel, Ma’am,” added Tom.

Tom had flown to Dearborn with a new version of his incismitter device, one which he had roughed out over a long night, and which Arvid Hanson had assembled over a long morning. A miniaturized variation on the ice-remover tool, the quantum scalpel consisted of an adjustable U-shaped bracket extending from a rod afixed to a precisely calibrated tripod, connected to its power source by a focused microwave beam to avert jostling.

“Would you feel better if Dr. Senarens explained the procedure to you?” Tom asked Mrs. Faber. She nodded nervously, turning her gaze toward the inert form of her husband, breathing slowly and deeply under surgical anaesthesia.

“It’s quite simple and straightforward,” the surgeon began. “When your husband fell he suffered a mild concussion and fracture of—well, a part of his skull. A tiny chip of bone is preventing a blood clot from safely passing along, and the pooling of fluids in the area is threatening a growing area of the brain. Do you follow me?”

“I do,” responded Margarethe Faber.

“Standard surgical methods would cause as much of a problem as the condition itself. We don’t dare open up an incision wide enough to remove the bone fragment. This mechanism of Tom Swift’s projects a microscopic-sized work area directly into the site of the problem.”

“I fully understand that part of it, Doctor,” interrupted the worried wife. “But how are you able to avoid making an incision of sufficient size to extract the fragment?”

Dr. Senarens glanced at Tom, who continued the explanation. “What Dr. Senarens called a work area is like a tiny ‘hole’ in space, created by my machine. Anything surrounded by the hole instantly falls through into—let’s just say another kind of space that lies alongside ordinary space. By making minute movements of the hole, we use the incismitter to eat away at the fragment particle by particle, sending them to the receiving canister. No physical incision is needed.”

“I see, Tom,” she said weakly. “But you’ll have to be extremely accurate in where you place the tip of the device. The hole, that is.”

Dr. Senarens responded. “Swift Enterprises has provided high-definition imaging equipment, called the TeleTec, which allows us to locate and view the site with absolute precision. The process is safe—it uses no ionizing radiation or sonic vibration.” Senarens turned to his surgical team. “And now we must begin. I’ve asked Swift to remain in the room in case we need to consult with him.”

Tom knew the implication of the surgeon’s words: in case something goes wrong with this untried equipment!

Margarethe Faber retired to the nearby waiting room, where she joined some friends who would be waiting with her. Hank Sterling was also there, present in the event some further technical assistance was required. In addition Tom had asked his mother to come along on the trip. The young inventor knew her warm sympathy would be a comfort to Mrs. Faber.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes ticked away.

“It won’t be long,” said Anne Swift softly. “You’ll see.”

“The first operation took five hours,” retorted Mrs. Faber with a sigh of helplessness.

Just then the waiting room door opened. It was Tom, his face pale.

“They said they wouldn’t be needing me any further,” he said, his voice roughened by tension. He strode up to Mrs. Faber and gently took her hand. “The doctor said to tell you that the danger has passed!”

The scientist’s wife broke into quiet tears of gratitude.

The operation had been a complete and awesome success. Not only had the menacing bone chip been safely extracted, but the trapped blood clot had been excised as well. When Dr. Senarens was able to enter the waiting room, he declared the prognosis for a full recovery excellent.

Two hours later, freshly transferred from the recovery room, Anton Faber fluttered open his eyes, gazing first into the joyful face of his wife, then at the figure standing next to her. “Darling, is that—is that Tom Swift?”

“Yes, Anton, Tom Swift. His invention saved your life.”

“Oh, I see,” he said very weakly. Then he added, “No, I don’t. But if I am not mistaken, and not overly immodest, the world once again has reason to be grateful to this young man.” The words came haltingly.

Tom grasped the hand of the elderly patient. “Sir, it was an honor.”

Back in Shopton the next day, a much-needed night’s slumber behind him, Tom devoted himself to the task of overseeing the final loading of the Sky Queen for her flight back to Dr. Galbein’s snowbound camp.

“If all continues to go smoothly, we’ll be ready to leave by two or so,” Tom remarked to Bud.

Bud snorted. “Do things ever go smoothly?”

“What’s eating you, flyboy?”

“Frustration, I guess.” The athletic youth frowned and shuffled his feet restlessly. “We have all these mysteries sort of hanging in midair, and we’re not doing one thing to solve them. You can be sure the Black Cobra isn’t just hanging loose somewhere!”

“True enough.” Tom gave his pal an affectionate nudge with his elbow. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be engaged in outrageous thrill-packed action soon enough. Say, with any luck someone will have planted a bomb on board the Queen!”

Bud laughed. “Been there, done that!”

The day progressed smoothly despite Bud’s protestations, and shortly before two Tom and Bud entered the stratoship’s command cabin along with the other members of the chosen crew—airmen Slim Davis and Markham Wesberg, Arvid Hanson, Hank Sterling, and one of Sterling’s lead technicians, Charla Kim. Tom had also asked Geoff Daley and Ramesh Bol to join the expedition in order to assist Tom with his work on the full-sized telespheres during the off-hours. And of course Chow was aboard to see to their culinary survival.

“That is a wondrous shirt,” Ramesh said to Chow. “I am reminded of the beautiful textiles of my native Delhi.”

“Thanks a bunch, Bolly,” responded the Texan proudly, showing off his voluminous shirt of many colors—gold and green, black and red, in strange interlinked patterns suggesting sunset on the Rio Grande combined with fractal art. “Mighty proud o’ this’n—kinda think it’ll warm me up in all that snow and ice. But say there, I thought you ’as from India, son.”

“Indeed, it is so,” said Ramesh. “Delhi, in India.”

“You don’t say.” As Ramesh left the cabin to go up to the top deck lounge, Chow rubbed a hand across his all-but-bald head. “You know, boss,” he muttered in Tom’s direction, “that there shows somethin’ about how folks in India are taught t’be humble. If I’d-a been born in a deli, I don’t expect I’d spout off about it t’ anyone.”

“Well, Chow,” Tom replied carefully, “I guess it’s a good example for the rest of us.”

Presently the Flying Lab was slicing through the stratosphere at twice the speed of sound.

“I’ve laid in a course for Fairbanks,” declared Slim at the main controls.

“Fairbanks?” Bud said quizzically. “Aren’t we flying directly to the camp?”

“No,” answered Tom. “I thought we might make a brief stop in Fairbanks to do a little visiting—and maybe pick up a few clues.”

Bud nodded. “Right—the air courier service.”

“Since we’re not getting any help from the government, I think we can justify some nosing around by the Swift-Barclay Detective Agency.”

“Sure,” agreed Tom’s friend with his usual enthusiasm. “I don’t think Gigans is going to object.”

The Sky Queen set down at the Fairbanks airport, where the weather was a balmy 58 degrees. Arv Hanson immediately set off to visit with his parents, who had retired to the proud Alaska city, while Tom and Bud zoomcycled to the outskirts to pay a call on Col. George Eagle Friend and his wife, dog breeders who had become acquainted with the youths previously and remained good friends.

Later in the day, bidding goodbye to the couple, Tom and Bud cycled to the office of the air courier service that Dr. Galbein had made use of, which was located near the airport.

“Nice place,” said Bud as they dismounted in front of a modern office complex.

“There’s the door,” Tom remarked. The sign on the door, neatly lettered, read METEORIC AIR DELIVERY.

Inside, the two politely questioned the owner of the company, a gruff man with a pinched-looking face whose improbable name was Eggwit Mokalluk.

“I’ve already talked to Galbein, the police, and some fella from the F.B.I.,” insisted the man impatiently. “Won’t this thing ever end? If you wanna sue, sue!”

No one’s talking about suing, Mr. Mokalluk,” said Tom soothingly. “Whatever happened wasn’t the fault of your company, I’m sure.”

“Absolutely right!”

“But we were thinking that just maybe, since the last time you were questioned― ”

“That I might have remembered something?” The business man nodded at the twosome from Shopton. “Well, maybe I did remember just a little bit more.”

“It’s pretty important,” Bud declared. “Some guy with a knife has been after us, and we just about went to the bottom in our submarine last week.”

“Yeah, okay, boys, don’t try t’oversell it.” Mokalluk squinted and cleared his throat pompously. “I think just maybe I noticed a little somethin’ funny the other day. But don’t you hold me to it, you boys—I’m tellin’ you it’s mighty vague.”

“What was it?” asked Tom eagerly.

“Don’t rush me! I’m getting to it. Okay, now, I saw these two Eskimo guys—I can call ’em that, cause I’m one too, halfways at least—come in with some wrapped-up package. Matches the time on the slip, so that musta been it. Didn’t hear much bein’ said, which is per normal: ya don’t waste good hot breath out there in th’ ice and snow.”

“And then?” Bud demanded.

“Then they left.”

Tom and Bud exchanged disappointed glances. But the man continued: “There’s more, though. There was this man standin’ on the sidewalk outside, and when the two Eskies drove off, he comes inside right away. Asks a bunch of questions about our service. But he doesn’t have no package—says he’s just shopping around for the best prices. Well now, boys, that’s a funny way t’do it, as we got a nice big website with all the info you could want.”

Tom asked Mokalluk what he thought the stranger had been after.

“Here’s what I think, pal,” the man replied. “I think the guy had been trailing the others, see? N’then when he came inside, he was hoping to catch a glance at the receipt pad, which has a copy of the label and the delivery arrangements. We try to keep it out of sight behind the counter, but look, the nights are long an’ the days are cold, and old Miss Rupp gets a little careless, ’specially since she turned seventy last January.”

“So what happened to the man? Did you see?” Bud inquired.

“Naw, not really. Didn’t think much about it at the time. But he could have gone across t’ the hotel and made a long-distance call t’ somebody. Hey, now’s I think of it, these days people just use a cellphone anyway.”

“This could be very helpful,” Tom pronounced soberly, hoping to make the man feel important. “What did the stranger look like?”

“Aw, nothin’ very unusual,” Mokalluk responded. “About my age and height, I guess, pretty nicely dressed. One thing, though—Kathleen—that’s Miss Rupp—she said he had a kind of an accent, like from England, you know?”

Bud cast a look Tom’s way, a single thought between them—this was the unnamed man they knew as the head of the “unwelcoming committee” in Pietrie Valley!

Thanking Mr. Mokalluk profusely, Tom and Bud rode back to the Sky Queen through a quickening gale that was turning icy cold. Inside the ship Tom radioed Harlan Ames and gave an account of his investigation.

“I found out that the name of the man in question is, almost certainly, Byron Urlanger,” Ames reported. “He seems to be Derleth Szelgar’s private secretary and general-purpose aide, hired by Mrs. Myres eight years ago. He has a medical background—used to run a hospital in Essex, England.”

“Anything questionable in his background?”

“Nothing criminal,” answered the former Secret Service agent. “But I did find one thing rather interesting. As a young man he was a doctor on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, and one of his regular patients was a military man from Hong Kong. Near as I can tell, this is the same man who later defected to China with a briefcase of spy secrets, the man we know as― ”

“Comrade-General Li Ching!” exclaimed Tom excitedly.

“Better known by his ‘dba,’ namely the Black Cobra.”

There’s the connection!” cried Bud, who was sitting next to Tom and listening. “Somehow the B.C. got one of his men planted in Szelgar’s household!”

“But why?” mused Tom. Signing off with Ames, the young inventor turned to Bud. “Let’s say that the Cobra is using this man Urlanger to tap Szelgar’s money in some way. That makes sense. But to what end? Dr. Galbein’s discovery is of interest to people like me, but there’s no reason why― ”

The discussion was interrupted by Chow Winkler, who burst into the cabin in excited disarray. “Boss, boss! We gotta—we gotta do― ”

“What is it, Chow?” demanded Tom, rising to his feet. “Has something happened?”

“Brand my iceberg salad, y’might say it an’ say it again!” cried the rotund westerner. “It’s Hanson—he’s been kidnapped!”

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15

 

 

          “DON’T EVEN THINK IT!”

 

 

 

 

TOM forced Chow to calm himself as the other members of the expedition crowded around in alarm. “Okay, pard, nice and slow—what happened?”

“It was like this,” said the cook. “Hanson asked me t’go along with him to meet his folks—right nice Swedes they was. On the way back t’the Queen, I saw me this western-style hat shop an’ said we oughta stop an’ take a look-see. So Hanson has the cab pull over and we start t’get out—him first. But blamed if jest as soon as his feet hit the curb, some’n doesn’t come runnin’ up to him and jabs him in th’ leg with somethin’—musta been one o’ them hyper-dermic needles. Ole Arv yelps out and― ”

“Wait, Chow!” Tom demanded. “What did this attacker look like?”

Chow shook his head in disbelieving bewilderment. “That there’s what gets me, Tom—it looked t’me like it was jest some little sprout straight from grammar school. Never woulda sized him up as― ”

“The dwarf!” pronounced Bud grimly.

“Say there, ya think so?” Chow exclaimed.

“So what happened then,” Tom persisted.

“Wa-al, they’s a lot o’ confusion,” continued Chow. “Hanson falls over, see, an’ a couple other men, in nice suits an’ ties, come a-runnin’ up and catch him as he falls. I thought they ’as gonna help him, but they just plain dragged him off around the corner where I couldn’t see, and the little feller ran after ’em. Guess they trundled him into a car, cause by the time I got there, there was nothin’ t’ see. So I went back and told the taxi driver t’ make fer here, cause we was almost there anyway. Got stuck fer th’ fare, too, by the way.”

Tom immediately reported the details to the local police, then to Harlan Ames, and finally to his father. “I’ll phone Mr. and Mrs. Hanson myself,” promised Damon Swift. “This is surely terrible news, Tom.”

“Yes, but I’m pretty optimistic,” replied his son. “Arv’s handled himself mighty well in tough spots like this, like in Borukundi. And I don’t think the Cobra is out to kill him, Dad.”

“But it seems he tried to murder you by sabotaging your jetmarine.”

“True,” Tom admitted. “But—trying to think like him—his grudge is against me personally, after all. I feel sure Hanson has been taken as a pawn, maybe to be held for some sort of ransom or deal. Otherwise that needle would have killed him right off, on the street.”

Tom called the expedition crew together and explained that, for the present, they could do no better than leave the matter in the hands of others. The mission would continue without Arv Hanson.

“You’re right, Tom,” observed Hank Sterling. “If we give up, they win.”

“Yeah,” said Geoff Daley. “Maybe that’s what those snakes are counting on.”

“But brand my solar sixgun, we ain’t givin’ in!” Chow declared, and the others hooted in agreement.

The Sky Queen set off for the Galbein camp, and very soon was setting down in the prearranged spot.

“How awful, what’s happened to your employee!” exclaimed Dr. Galbein as he greeted them. “I never thought the scientific life could include such danger.”

“Doc, you don’t know the half of it!” Bud snorted.

It was only mid-afternoon, local time, and Tom decided to commence the excavation of the underground workroom and storage chamber. The first step was to unload a tubular, gunlike device from the Flying Lab’s hangar-hold.

“What is it?” inquired Constance Branche.

“I call it an X-raser,” Tom replied, “a new lightweight model we’ve come up with. It’s basically a laser that produces high-energy X-rays in a focused beam. The beam packs enough of a punch to ionize the molecules of solid matter and peel them away as a dissociated plasma.”

“A nice little toy,” commented Dr. Del Rogio.

“Watch what we do with it!”

The X-raser tube was mounted on a multijointed mobile support frame and rolled over to a spot near the crevice opening on big balloon tires. To achieve the proper aim and focus, Tom routed the outputs from several ground-probing instruments into the X-raser’s control computer, and the crowd of watchers could see the flaring end of the emission barrel making small, silent movements up and down, back and forth. Then Tom, somewhat protected from the cold and wind by an inflated “igloo” of clear Tomasite plastic, activated the machine.

Except for a faint, flickering corona of light around the end of the barrel, the X-raser beam was invisible. But the result was plain to the eye: a narrow hole popped into existence in the layer of snow and ice that fell beneath the machine’s keen gaze.

“Amazing!” exclaimed Dr. Galbein.

After making very sure that the X-raser had been switched off, the crowd of scientists and Enterprises employees trooped over to the sharp, narrow hole and gazed down into it as Tom illuminated the opening with a flashlamp.

“Goes through the snowpack and the ice, right down into the bedrock,” said Markham Wesberg.

“The hole doesn’t seem to get narrower as it goes along,” Charla Kim commented.

“Goes right through to China!” joked Bud. “Stand back—we may have hit soy sauce!”

Tom explained that he used the wave-cancellation technique developed for the megascope to “chop off” the disintegrator beam after it had traveled the prescribed distance—about 80 feet in this instance. “But along the way the beam is tightly focused, like an optical laser, and retains full power.”

“Hmm!” mumbled Dr. Farrely. “How is it the sides of this hole don’t fall in right away?”

“I can answer that one,” offered Hank Sterling. “The electrical charge of the plasma causes the loose molecules to repel one another forcefully. They get ‘pile-driven’ right into the wall of the tube, creating a hair-thin molten layer which hardens immediately and shores up the hole.”

“I coulda told ya that,” Chow put in, his face a pink-and-white oval beneath his parka.

There were many more demonstrations to come that day. Tom used the X-raser to slice up the ground all around the area to be excavated, and then the crew used special gripper-cranes carried by the Sky Queen to lift out great slabs of bedrock, which underlay the snowpack in all directions. “We’ll cut up this rock into smaller blocks and use it to shore up any sections of the chamber that aren’t cut out of solid rock,” Tom told Dr. Galbein. “The actual walls of the room will be made of prefabricated Tomasite segments that lock together, with power cables already built in.”

Galbein glanced up at the sky, which was turning from a pale blue-white to a drab gray. “Evening coming on,” he said. “We may be in the land of the midnight sun, but it does get mighty cold, and you’ll find the work more difficult even in that plastic bubble of yours.”

“Guess we might as well knock off for the day,” Tom decided. “We’ll continue tomorrow, with the earth blaster.”

Tom hosted the inhabitants of Galbein’s camp in the Flying Lab, where Chow had prepared a delicious, if daring, meal for them.

A few hours later, just before retiring for the night, Tom donned his heated parka and made his way out the Queen’s side hatch. He had decided to take another look at the day’s work, his prodigal mind engaged in a series of calculations that depended on the precise angle between two parts of the excavation, a detail he had neglected to observe.

As he crunched through the half-light of the polar evening, he abruptly came to a halt. Another figure, clad in a parka, stood a distance ahead at the edge of the excavation. Though cloaked in the long shadows, Tom could see that the figure had something in hand, and was evidently about to toss it into the excavation.

Tom suddenly realized what the object was—a grenade!

In the instant it took for the young inventor to find his voice in the chill wind, another voice shouted from off to the side. “Don’t even think it!” the grating voice commanded. Tom swiveled in surprise. A second shadowed figure was seated on the X-raser turret! The deadly emitter tube had been turned to aim, not at Tom, but at the saboteur with the grenade, who stood frozen with upraised hands at the side of the excavation.

As the standoff continued for a moment, Tom pulled out his powerful flashlamp and aimed it at each figure in turn. What the diamond-bright light revealed made the young man gasp in shocked surprise!

 


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 16

 

 

          THE YELLOW PHANTOM

 

 

 

 

“WHAT ARE you doing?” Tom demanded. “What are you both doing?”

The man manipulating the X-raser was James Farelly. The saboteur with the grenade was Constance Branche!

“I would very much like to lower my hands, James,” called the woman hoarsely.

“Set down that grenade first,” Farelly ordered. Dr. Branche complied, carefully setting the deadly device on the ground, then stepping back as Tom approached.

“Dr. Branche, what is this?” asked the young inventor, disbelievingly.

She shrugged. “Just what it looks like, I suppose. I planned to damage the excavation—just enough to delay you for another day or so.”

“But why? What happens in another day ‘or so’?”

She shook her head, smiling slightly. “I’d rather not say, Tom.”

“She’s working for him,” Farelly declared, trudging up to them. “I’ve suspected as much for some time. I caught her in the radio room just after the two Inuit left for Fairbanks with Galbein’s package. She made some lame excuse, but I’m sure she alerted somebody, who staked out the air transport office.” Farelly’s voice dripped with contempt.

“Oh, James, all these months—I was expecting a romantic spark between us, not this.” There was a snarl behind her sarcasm.

“You’re not worth the time, Connie,” grunted the chemist. “You’re a traitor to science!” He turned to Tom. “I told Galbein about my suspicions, but I think he’s forgotten—he’s completely focused on Gigans and the project. Rather than make an accusation I kept an eye on her. Then tonight I saw her slip away.”

“You’ve done us a great service,” Tom said gratefully. “But how did you learn to operate the X-raser?”

“I didn’t,” was the succinct reply. “All I had to know was how to point it!”

Dr. Branche offered no resistance as Tom and Farelly marched her over to the Sky Queen, where she was locked into one of the small passenger compartments. Tom contacted Harlan Ames and the State Police, then informed Dr. Galbein of these developments.

“I am utterly stunned!” he cried. “Constance Branche has been a fine and loyal colleague of mine on this project from the very beginning. What could have possessed her to do such a thing?”

“You never know,” muttered Slim Davis. “People will do a lot if you tempt them with money.”

“Perhaps Li Ching has some sort of hold over her,” Tom offered. “In any event, the State Police said they’d copter out here tomorrow morning to take her to Fairbanks.” Remembering something, the young inventor turned to James Farelly. “What did you mean, Dr. Farelly, when you said she was working for him? For who?” asked Tom.

“For the enemy,” Farelly replied simply.

“Do you think you know whom she was dealing with?”

“No,” conceded the scientist. “But I’ve had a feeling, a gut instinct, that she had more on her mind than Gigans the giant. In other words, a man.” Farelly surprised Tom by winking.

Despite the events of the night, the work of the day following went forward smoothly. After the Alaska State Police helicopter had left with Dr. Branche aboard in handcuffs, the Enterprises team resumed its excavation of the underground chamber. The earth blaster easily gouged out a large, long rectangular space in the bedrock, its blinding electro-atomic fireball sizzling away the solid rock with little sound and no vibration.

“We don’t want to wake the giant,” Bud remarked.

“I think Gigans is quite content,” Dr. Del Rogio agreed.

The whole team spent the balance of the day lining the walls of the excavation with the square segments of green Tomasite. Though fairly large, each segment was so light in weight that a single worker could handle it with ease.

“Are you going to cover the ceiling as well, Tom?” inquired Ramesh Bol.

“I don’t think that will be necessary. The instruments show that the rock above the chamber is completely solid.”

By the end of the workday, the entire structure had been completed, including installation of a large freight elevator big enough to accommodate the telespheres one at a time. The spheres were set up in the underground chamber by Geoff Daley and Ramesh Bol, who connected them to the room’s power source and tested them thoroughly.

“Perfection itself, Tom!” exclaimed Ramesh.

“You can resume your experimenting first thing tomorrow if you want,” Geoff added.

“I can tell I won’t be sleeping much tonight!” Tom chuckled. “Thanks a lot, you two.”

The Enterprises team again ate supper in the Sky Queen, the air heavy with unexpressed concern about Arvid Hanson. “Them low-down snake bellies!” fumed Chow as he served. “Cain’t we go off’n rescue him or somethin’, boss?”

Tom shook his head. “We have no idea where he’s being held.”

“Sure we do!” retorted Bud. “I say we lead the Canadian Mounties on a charge against that big estate in Newfoundland!”

But Tom was not able to be encouraging. “The Newfoundland authorities went over the whole place. Not a trace of anything amiss. They even tried to question Szelgar himself, but apparently he was unresponsive. And the staff said Byron Urlanger and his two assistants left on a planned vacation earlier in the week, destination unknown.”

“They’re not even trying,” Bud Barclay grumbled. And Tom did not disagree.

As Tom ate his meal he glanced toward Hank Sterling. “Won’t Charla be joining us for dinner tonight, Hank?”

“She’s over in Quonset 2,” replied the engineer. “Farelly mentioned that they have an album of close-up photographs of Gigans over there—what you can make out of him through the ice, that is. She went over there just before supper to thumb through the album.”

“I’m keepin’ a plate warm fer her to eat when she gets back,” Chow commented. “I mean, if’n she still has a appetite after spendin’ a hour lookin’ over that big dead monkey!”

As they all laughed, rapid footsteps were heard clanging up the metal inter-deck stairs. “Here she is now,” said Hank.

It was indeed Charla Kim, but her face showed excitement and alarm. “Tom! Hank!” she cried. “I’ve just seen― ” She paused to catch her breath and remove her parka. “There’s someone else here in this camp!”

“Someone else? What do you mean?” Tom demanded.

“I mean another saboteur! Or at least someone who’s concealing his identity.”

Just then a second figure came rushing into the dining lounge from the stairwell—Maurice Galbein, his hair in disarray. “Someone is sneaking around near the huts!”

“You saw him too?” exclaimed Charla.

“Charla—please tell us what happened,” Tom said firmly.

Charla composed herself. “I was in the quonset hut in one of the cubicles looking over the team’s photos of the anthropoid. There were all sorts of creaks and sounds from the wind outside—that must be why I didn’t hear him and he didn’t hear me.

“I put away the album and got up to leave. When I stepped out of the cubicle, there at the far end of the room was this—person. He was dressed in some kind of bright yellow, close-fitting outfit that covered him from head to toe. It was something like a scuba suit, and he had a sort of oval faceplate over his eyes—you could just see them, barely. The rest of his head and face were completely concealed.

“He looked up at me and just stood there for a few seconds. Then he turned and bolted out the door.”

“Were you able to tell where he went?” asked Bud.

“It’s started to snow fairly heavily, and the wind is blowing. The foot tracks went a little ways, then I couldn’t follow them any more. But he must have ducked behind one of the other huts, or maybe a snowcat—I couldn’t see him.” She sighed slightly. “I suppose I should have taken off after him instantly at a run, but I hesitated a little.”

“You’re not expected to expose yourself to unnecessary danger,” Tom said reassuringly.

“My story dovetails nicely with yours, Miss Kim,” declared Galbein. “I was coming over to your ship. When I opened the door to Quonset 3, where I was writing in my journal while the others had supper in Quonset 1, I was startled by a figure in yellow garb running rapidly across the snow in front of me, as if he had come from Quonset 2. Before I could summon the voice to call out to him, he had vanished around the corner of the hut. I thought the best thing to do would be to come here immediately.”

“Is a yellow outfit like that used by the project for some purpose or other?” Tom inquired.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” was the reply. “Before becoming concertedly involved in the Gigans project, we had been asked to field-test the usefulness of some experimental low-temperature suits—yellow suits with visors, just as described. The suits are composed of a special material that allows one-way transmission of infrared heat radiation, adjustable by electronics. We found them usable but inadequate and packed them away. Obviously someone has decided to use one, or something similar, as a disguise.”

“Which says a lot,” Tom noted. “Do you happen to know if all three of the other remaining members of your team were in Quonset 1?”

“I do not, actually, not yet. And I must say, this business of simply assuming that my own colleagues are at fault― ”

Tom held up his hand. “All the Enterprises people were here, Doctor—except Charla Kim.”

“Yes, well…it was definitely a man.”

“What about those Inuit workers you use?” asked Bud.

“They haven’t been here at the camp for days,” Galbein responded. “We’ve had no need of them.”

“Which is not to say one of them mightn’t have snuck back,” Tom mused. “They certainly had the opportunity to learn of the thermo-suits while working for the project.”

Bud shook his head disgustedly. “So now we have a yellow phantom to deal with! Man, what next?”

After further discussion, Tom urged Dr. Galbein to take additional security precautions and to alert the other members of the project to this mystery intruder. Galbein then left, indicating that he would inquire as to whether any of his colleagues had been absent from dinner at the time of the strange sighting.

That night Tom lay restlessly upon his bunk in the Sky Queen, unable to sleep, his mind striving uselessly to put together the puzzle—the attack on the courier, the dwarf, Dr. Armuldsson, the kidnapping of Arv, Constance Branche, and now the yellow phantom. Behind them all loomed the shadowy figure of the Black Cobra.

Suddenly a shrill sound disturbed his meditations. It was a thoroughly familiar sound, yet Tom could not place it for a moment.

Then it hit him. “My cellphone!” he muttered. He rolled onto his feet and switched on the light. Good night, where did I put that thing? he wondered, trying to home in on the sound.

He found the cellphone sitting innocently between two stacks of books. He flipped it open and brought it up to his face.

“This is Tom,” he said.

There was a moment of silence. Then a voice spoke, a sinister, sinuous, reptilian voice, cultured yet marked with a faint accent—a voice Tom recognized instantly.

“Hello, Tom Swift. You are speaking to the Black Cobra.”

 


 

 

   

 

CHAPTER 17

 

 

          ONE-WAY TRIP

 

 

 

  

THE SOUND of the man’s voice chilled Tom’s bones, and his heart thudded. “What is it you want, Comrade-General?—with me, and with my employee Arvid Hanson!”

“Ah, you are blunt, my young sir; in my culture such bluntness to one’s elders is viewed as discourtesy.”

“I should be courteous toward you?” Tom Swift exploded.

“Let it pass. I am calling to clarify certain matters, to our mutual benefit.”

“What ‘matters’?” demanded Tom.

“What indeed. There is the matter of the life of your friend. No doubt that will interest you.”

“Is he all right?”

“Of course he is, Tom,” replied the Black Cobra smoothly. “The nerve drug administered by my associate is fast-acting but relatively harmless. Yet I have at my command other… medications, shall we say… which are not so benign. As a matter of fact, they have been found ruinous to health. I wish to disturb his present untroubled sleep no more than I wished to disturb yours tonight. Alas, the latter was necessary; let us see if we can forestall the former.”

“Let me speak to him,” the young inventor insisted.

“No, not now. We don’t want to waken him.” Li Ching’s voice was mocking. “You asked what I want, Tom. What I want is for you to arrange for Miss Branche to be freed. Surely that well-read, intelligent, professional woman deserves better treatment. Don’t you agree?”

“Constance Branche is in custody,” Tom replied. “I can’t do anything about it.”

“No? How unfortunate. I would describe her as a sort of prisoner of war; and you know, opposing sides sometimes do exchange their prisoners.”

Tom was silent in response.

“Of course, your private telephone number is known to only a few,” continued the Black Cobra. “I am honored to be one among them. But now to business.”

“I’m listening,” said Tom.

“Today is Thursday. At Noon, local time, on Monday of the coming week, Miss Branche is to enter a blue Novaretti sports car, which will be discovered parked and untended in front of the InterGlobal Air terminal in the Anchorage International Airport. This car will be permitted to drive away without interference. It must not be followed, by air or ground or any other means, however clever and sophisticated. After one hour, you will receive a call at this number telling you where you may collect Mr. Hanson, who will be perfectly well and unharmed. Should you deviate from these instructions, you will still be allowed to collect Mr. Hanson, but he will be not at all well, and indeed will be much harmed. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

The line went dead.

As the sun rose higher on the frigid white landscape of northern Alaska, Tom participated in a conference call with his father, Harlan Ames, and one of Harlan’s contacts in the Alaska State Police, whose name was Walter Parr.

“We do not negotiate with terrorists, and we do not release persons held in custody,” declared Parr in a firm voice. “Can’t be done, won’t be done.”

“And what about our employee, Arvid Hanson?” demanded Damon Swift.

“We think it’s a bluff, and we’re prepared to call it.”

“If you’re wrong, Walter, it won’t look good,” Ames pointed out.

“Perhaps not,” agreed Parr. “But I don’t have any leeway in this matter.”

“We think Arv is being held at Lord Quallistone’s estate in Newfoundland,” Tom said. “If the local authorities― ”

But Ames interrupted Tom. “Both the provincial government and the national authorities have made clear that they do not intend any further intrusion upon Szelgar’s privacy without sufficient evidence. That’s the way it is, Tom.”

After the call ended, Tom sat in silence, thinking bitter thoughts. Bud, sitting nearby, laid a hand on his shoulder. “Tom, we’ve got to take action on our own,” he declared. “In fact, I think that’s what the officials want us to do—to solve the problem for them.”

“You could be right,” Tom conceded. “Let me think it through, pal. And I think best while my brain is busy with a scientific problem—it seems to relax me.” He decided to proceed, for the time being, with the telesphere experiments.

Though Tom’s quantum telesphere seemed to all others to have passed all its tests, Tom knew that further details still needed to be worked out, mostly having to do with maintaining an even flow of power during the establishment of the subnucleonic field, a problem that could prove significant for transits over astronomical distances of multi-million miles. Even the slightest fluctuation under such circumstances could prove deadly to the unwary telesphere traveler.

“Do you have some new approach to try?” asked Geoff Daley as he worked with Tom, Ramesh, and Hank Sterling in the underground chamber, which was now mostly finished.

“Yes,” said Tom, the usual excited lilt absent from his voice. “I think the solution lies in shielding the power cables from electromotive resonance effects.”

“You don’t think the insulating layers are enough?” Hank inquired.

“Not for me.” Tom held up his notebook, which contained a number of diagrams of the quantum field at different points in time. “Professor Armuldsson’s equations—and we’ve double-checked these figures—show random ‘leakage’ of the matrix, from protospace into normal space. Like protospace itself, this leakage ignores ordinary barriers; it’s just there. But I think we can turn its random character to our advantage by applying a statistical approach.”

“I grasp the idea,” said Ramesh Bol. “It is an analogy to the extraction of a signal from random noise by vector cancellation.”

“That’s roughly it,” the young inventor confirmed. “But the physical realization involves creating a sort of secondary sub-field here at the reciprocal power busses.”

“Oh no!” exclaimed a voice behind them. “Danger: brain-busting jargon ahead!” The small group turned to look at Bud Barclay, who had quietly entered by way of the freight elevator.

“What’s wrong?” Tom asked, an edge of impatience in his voice.

The young pilot realized immediately that Tom was in no mood for his usual breezy jocularity. “Sorry, Tom, I shouldn’t have interrupted. Any manual labor that needs to be done down here? I promise to be quiet.”

Tom looked at his friend listlessly. “Nothing really… oh, maybe you could fetch me my hand calculator, if you want. It’s lying on top of that crate over there.”

“All the way across the room?” A thought struck Bud. “Say, mind if I use the telespheres to go across?”

Tom forced himself to smile. He knew Bud was trying to lighten his mood. “Wouldn’t want you to wear out any shoe leather, flyboy. Go ahead, I’ll switch them on.”

The two telespheres were separated by about half the breadth of the room. Tom activated both spheres from the master control unit and Bud stepped through the oval hatchway into the nearer unit. “You won’t make me walk back, will you, genius boy?”

“Nope. You’d probably drop-kick the calculator to me like a football!”

A broad grin lit Bud’s face. “Protospace, here I come!”

Tom’s outstretched hand grasped the red control lever. First he shoved it forward, and saw Bud vanish behind the transparent walls of the departure telesphere. Almost instantly he yanked the lever backwards to the extreme opposite setting. “Something comforting and substantial about using a nice big lever,” Tom remarked to Hank Sterling.

The teen-appearing youth expected to see his friend exit the arrival telesphere at the far side of the room almost immediately. But a moment passed, and then another, with no sign of Bud. “Hey, Barclay!” he called out. “What are you doing in there, sleeping?” There was no response.

Suddenly, as if by way of some subliminal instinct, Tom felt a twinge of concern. “Is something wrong, Tom?” asked Geoff.

“Go take a look, would you, Geoff?” was the response.

Geoff Daley ambled across the fifty feet between the units and looked through the arrival sphere’s hatchway. “You playin’ a gag, Bud?” Tom heard the engineer say. Then Daley turned and called out, “Tom, the sphere’s empty!”

These words hit Tom Swift like a swung two-by-four. He could feel the blood drain from his face. “That’s—that’s not possible!” he mumbled.

“If Bud is not over there,” said Ramesh, “then where is he?”

“In protospace,” Hank said softly. He put a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “It may be very simple, Tom. Despite what the control panel registers, this sphere may never have switched off.”

“Of course,” Tom agreed with relief. “We know the other one came on, because the field wouldn’t have been established between them otherwise. But if this sphere didn’t switch off, there wouldn’t have been a single active sphere for Bud to materialize in—he’d still be suspended in protospace.”

“Indeed, it is the logical explanation,” commented Ramesh. “What else could it be?”

But alas for logical explanations, a quick inspection of the departure sphere’s circuitry verified that it had, indeed, switched off at Tom’s command. A similar examination confirmed that the other sphere remained on.

“It just can’t be!” exclaimed Geoff. “I know the basic equations as well as anyone—an object projected into protospace has to return to normal space inside the last active telesphere. For anything else to happen is like two plus two failing to equal four.”

“Even if there had been some sort of equipment failure, the traveler would end up in one sphere or the other,” Hank Sterling pointed out. “He would either be in the arrival telesphere as planned, or he would drop back into the departure telesphere in the case of a malfunction. You know that, Tom!”

“Of course I know that!” retorted Tom, his voice quavering, his face white. “But I also know that these spheres are transparent, and it’s easy to see that Bud isn’t inside either one of them.”

“Which means?”

“That two plus two no longer equals four. And that Bud is lost in quantum protospace!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 18

 

 

          SNEAK PLAY FROM

          PROTOSPACE

 

 

 

“I CAN’T accept that!” declared Hank Sterling to Tom. “And neither can you!”

“Let us be calm and think rationally,” Ramesh urged. “To be in protospace is not to be dead or destroyed, merely elsewhere. Time does not pass there; the object cannot change, no more than can any of the constants we use in the equations of physics. Young Bud is perfectly well, just as he was when he left us—indeed, he is better off than we are, for he cannot be harmed or affected in any way.”

“True,” said Tom. But then he added bitterly: “However, if we can’t bring him back into normal space, he’ll remain suspended for all time, and that’s as good as being dead.”

“I will not argue the point,” said Ramesh.

Hank made a suggestion. “Listen, why don’t we activate the departure sphere again, and then deactivate the other one? Maybe Bud will just reappear here, where he started from.”

Tom vetoed the idea. “No! Nothing changes—nothing!—until we’ve figured out what’s going on. I’m not willing to gamble with Bud’s life!”

The youth paced uneasily as his colleagues attempted to brainstorm the distressing dilemma. All instruments showed the telesphere setup to be functioning perfectly. “Besides,” Tom said impatiently, “we’ve already been sending things back and forth between the spheres for hours. There was nothing off kilter.”

Finally Tom asked that Hank, Ramesh, and Geoff leave him alone with the equipment. “I need to clear my head and focus my thoughts on the problem,” he explained. “Maybe something will come to me if I’m by myself. Sometimes it works.” The three nodded in understanding and took the freight elevator back to the surface.

For minutes Tom stared at his machine, which now seemed like a deadly adversary who had snatched away his best friend. What did you do? he demanded mentally. How do I undo it?

The silence was broken by the electronic ring of Tom’s cellphone, which he now carried attached to his belt. Though startled by the ring, he was not surprised that the unit worked despite the intervening layers of bedrock and Tomasite, as Tom had designed it to do so. But he wondered if the caller were the Black Cobra with some new threat or demand. There was trepidation in his voice as he answered, “This is Tom.”

The voice on the other end spoke in a whisper, almost inaudibly.

“I can’t hear you,” said Tom. “Can you speak up?”

No, I can not,” the voice replied, very faintly. Tom couldn’t quite place the whispered voice, the voice of a man, yet at the same time it seemed not unfamiliar.

“I’ll do my best, then. Who is this?”

The answer made Tom gasp. “Gustav Armuldsson!”

Professor Armuldsson!” cried the young inventor. “Where are you?”

“In Newfoundland. I am being held captive.”

The next comment was an easy guess. “In Szelgar’s mansion?”

“Yes, Tom, precisely. You’re already into the game, I see.” The professor was slowly becoming more accustomed to articulating his words without raising his voice. “There is so much to be said, but little time. But listen to me, one of your men, Hanson, is also being held here.”

“I thought as much!” declared Tom. “Have you seen him?”

“I have heard some of them talking. He was brought in the other day, and is being kept unconscious in some manner. I can do nothing myself to free him, as I am locked-in much of the time, and am watched when I am not. We are held in a secret wing of the mansion which was built underground.”

“Is Li Ching running the show?”

“If you mean the Black Cobra, he is deeply involved, certainly. He is here, strutting about. Tom, I must confess to you, I altered certain of my― ”

“We know, Professor,” Tom interrupted. “It doesn’t matter now.”

“Almost as soon as I had performed my act of betrayal, surely before you or your father had reason to suspect me, this Cobra group contacted me. Somehow they are able to monitor your projects, Tom—they have an agent stationed in Shopton. They threatened to expose me, to ruin my career and shame my family, unless I sent them technical specifications regarding your telesphere, including the preliminary designs of the man-sized model.”

An electrifying possibility leapt into Tom’s mind! “Have they produced a working version there in the mansion?”

“Indeed they have, with my assistance—that is why their man abducted me from the hotel when I tried to run away. Every day I work for hours trying to perfect their two units. Finally, not long ago this afternoon― ”

“It worked, didn’t it!” finished Tom excitedly.

“Briefly, yes. But after a few small objects were transmitted successfully, there was an unexplained malfunction—the transpositioned objects failed to reappear in the arrival sphere. I told them to leave the unit active and the settings unchanged, and retired to my rooms to study the problem over an early supper. When they brought me my tray just now, this tiny cellphone, which I recognize as the one used by the Cobra himself, was stuck to the underside by its magnetic clip. They must have set down the tray on top of it accidentally, and probably have no idea where it has got to.”

The irony of the situation occurred to Tom. That little cellphone is probably the very one the Cobra used last night to call me! “Lucky you recalled my number!”

“Not so difficult, Tom, as the numbers form the third Fibonacci sequence derived from― ”

“Never mind!” Tom said brusquely.

“At any rate, I have managed to balance the phone on a crosspiece of the back of my chair, and am turned away from it, looking down as if reading and muttering to myself, as I fear I tend to do. I assume they watch me in here. Soon, though, they will come to take me back to the telesphere room for my evening work shift.”

“Please listen carefully, Professor,” Tom urged. “This is literally a matter of life and death! My friend Bud disappeared this afternoon during a telesphere transposition, and now we know why—because your units in Newfoundland had joined into the matrix field we had already created!”

Through the phone unit Tom could hear the Swedish scientist slapping the table with the palm of his hand. “But of course! With four spheres involved― ”

“Exactly! Even when we each turned off one of our two spheres, the number of active spheres remaining would be two, not one. And as long as more than one sphere is active, the field has no place to collapse into and the traveler remains suspended in protospace. That’s what happened to your missing objects—and to Bud!”

“I haven’t much time now,” whispered the scientist desperately. “When I return to the telesphere laboratory, I should have no difficulty causing the machine to briefly deactivate itself—my watchers surely will not grasp the significance of it. At that instant― ”

“I know, I know!” Tom exclaimed. He gave Professor Armuldsson a few further instructions of a technical nature, then urged him to disconnect and return the cellphone unit to the underside of the tray. “They’ll assume you didn’t discover it. Good luck, sir!”

“To both of us!” Armuldsson concluded.

Tom set down the phone and turned his attention, newly energized, to the telesphere controls. He once again made certain that the receiving sphere was active and the other sphere shut off.

“Any minute now!” Tom murmured to himself.

As he concentrated, he heard the freight elevator whir softly behind him. Then came the click as the platform came to a stop.

“Hank? You won’t believe what just― ” Tom halted, startled.

A yellow-clad masked figure stood before the elevator, a tiny pistol pointed directly at Tom!

Backing away from the vulnerable control board, Tom raised his hands slightly. “Looks like you outsmarted me, whoever you are,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

To Tom’s horror the intruder turned his weapon in the direction of the telesphere control chassis. The drill of a single small bullet would be more than enough to disrupt the machine’s delicately calibrated circuitry and provoke an interruption of power, causing Bud Barclay to appear in the arrival sphere beneath the Szelgar mansion—in the hands of Tom’s deadly enemies!

“Please listen!” Tom begged. “You don’t understand this machine and the way I’ve set the controls. If you cause a power fluctuation, even a slight one, this whole section of Alaska will be sucked into a protospatial black hole—nothing will survive!” Tom’s mind’s ear could hear gruff Mr. Mokalluk saying: Don’t try to oversell it!

I don’t believe you,” retorted a hollow, muffled voice from behind the oval face visor, through which a pair of nervous, darting eyes regarded the young inventor.

“It’s true,” Tom insisted, showing every sign of fear. “Our first model at Swift Enterprises caused the same effect, in miniature. Let’s discuss what it is you want.”

The man lowered his right arm warily. The gun was so minute that it actually was hidden within his hand. “My assignment is to destroy your machine, not commit a murder.” He seemed to be weighing his options. “I’m fairly sure you’re bluffing, but let’s say you aren’t. My shooting the device was only for show, to gain your cooperation. If we can assume that I now have gained that cooperation, there will be no need for reckless actions. But let’s lay the cards on the table. I’ll give you a chance to convincingly ruin your equipment your own way—but I’ll have to be persuaded that you have done so.”

“After which you’ll shoot me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Common sense,” Tom replied. “If your main goal is to set back the development of the telesphere device, wrecking this model will accomplish little—I can just go home and turn out another. But if I’m out of the picture, your boss has reason to hope that the project will be much further delayed.”

The man stood silently, then nodded. “I should have known that nothing would get past that young mind of yours.”

“But I know you don’t want to do it, Dr. Galbein,” said the young inventor gravely.

The pair of eyes widened in surprise, then resumed their icy gleam. “How long have you known?”

“Not until just now,” was the response. “When you said your shooting the device was only for show, I remembered how you had sent me that courier, what you called your pathetic urge for drama. Then it clicked.”

The covered figure gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and respect. “Constance and I were working as a team, of course; when she was captured I had no choice but to take over. I had intended to plant an incendiary device in the hangar-hold of your ship—stupid of me to allow myself to be seen in the quonset hut!”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Doctor,” commented Tom dryly. “I’d say you recovered from the setback pretty cleverly. You shucked the outfit in record time, then followed Charla onto the Sky Queen with your own story.”

“My latest instructions were—well, not quite as you have said, Tom. I was to insert a small device into the actuation circuitry of your ice-removal instrument. When you or anyone tried to work with it, the explosion would be a powerful one, perhaps enough to bring down the roof of the ice cave upon your head—certainly enough to discourage further use of your technology pending a thorough investigation and reassessment. Your death here today is rather contrary to my directives, as this Cobra fellow seems somewhat particular about just how you are to die, you and your associates. That’s the way people are about their hobbies, you know. But it appears I shall have to exceed my orders—obviously I cannot allow you to identify me.”

“What hold does the Cobra have over you?”

Galbein shrugged rather haplessly. “We all have secrets from our youth that we would rather keep secret—perhaps your own youth hasn’t been quite long enough for that, Tom. The man is uncannily adept at sniffing out one’s vulnerabilities. You see, Constance has been involved with that man, Li Ching, for some time, as a regular employee of his organization even as she did her work in the academic and scientific world—top-notch work, by the way. It was she who informed the Cobra and the Szelgar people about my discovery here. Why, you wonder? That’s how the Cobra’s business model works, you know—many independent spy-entrepreneurs constantly seeking out items of interest having some bearing upon any of the man’s many operations, which are made known through the loose network of the earth’s shadowy agencies of crime and espionage. My word, listen to me run on! Well, it was only after their attack on my courier failed to get them what they wanted that Constance approached me and made her threats and promises. And thus I became her partner.”

Tom couldn’t help bursting out with, “Another traitor to the ideals of science!”

“Yes, I am,” agreed Galbein softly. “I regret it. Such pointless, poignant irony, Tom: I have already provided the Black Cobra with precisely what he wanted originally, but now he seems fixated on not only seizing your new technology, but ruining your reputation in the process. I loathe the interpersonal politics that infests science these days, don’t you? I especially regret the effect this will have on the study of Gigans, which will surely be compromised if the extraction of the anthropoid from the ice is so much delayed that I will be forced to use some inferior method to free him. Or if I have to engineer a cave-in. That would be a sad turn.

“But here’s a happy thought, Tom. Perhaps your team will go ahead and employ your remarkable device despite what will, I hope, be perceived as a grave risk. They could view it as a testimonial to your memory. Do you suppose?”

Tom’s eyelids fluttered and he looked down at the floor, mumbling.

“Pardon me?” asked the paleontologist. “This suit is rather muffling, you know.”

“I was just wondering what the Black Cobra wants with tissue samples from Gigans.” Tom now spoke loudly and distinctly. “Here you are, Dr. Galbein, ready to kill me and wreck my invention—for what? That’s the one thing I couldn’t figure—what’s the motive, the main purpose? What was on the Cobra’s wish list that alerted Dr. Branche to get in touch with him? Obviously something about your discovery here which has something to do with Derleth Szelgar.”

Galbein moved his head slightly, and Tom could almost see his lips twisting in a smile of condescension beneath the smooth, elastic material, which completely covered the lower half of his face. “I’ve run off at the mouth, haven’t I?—something I had always sworn I would never let myself do if I were to be the villain holding the hero at bay. Surprising how hard it is to resist; but I don’t intend to prolong this conversation, Tom. No doubt you think your friends will arrive to rescue you. But if I hear that elevator start up behind me, I will do my work, first on you and then your incismitter machinery, and escape into Gigans’s ice cave before― ”

Galbein’s posturing became something of a violent forward somersault, thanks to a length of magtritanium metal tubing, the size of a muscular arm, that had terminated its brief football-like flight at a spot just behind the man’s left ear. The paleontologist fell flat on his face and lay unmoving.

“So it was Galbein?” exclaimed Bud Barclay. “I was expecting one of the others. And say, where’d the time go?” Bud pointed at the wall clock. “Wasn’t it noon just a minute ago? Now it’s after three!”

Tom fought to control his relief and joy at the reappearance of his pal. “Bud, your quick trip to the other side of the room had sort of a detour!”

“You mean I― ” Bud became wide-eyed. “I hope all of me came through! Do I look complete?”

“You look great!” cried Tom. “When I saw you materialize in the sphere, I tried to get Galbein to ask me to speak louder—but I was still afraid you’d mouth off with one of your Barclayesque remarks before you doped out what was going on.”

“Well, that yellow suit is a little hard to ignore,” Bud grinned. “So I was glad to ‘run silent’ while you talked about what was going on. I gotta say, genius boy, protospace seems to be a pretty good spot to launch a sneak attack from!”

The youths carried the unconscious Dr. Galbein over to the Flying Lab, where he was attended-to in the infirmary by the member of the Galbein project who had been serving as the camp medic.

“Oh, Maurice, what stupid foolishness!” exclaimed Dr. Del Rogio extravagantly, standing in the doorway. “Undercutting your own project!” The comments were rhetorical: though Dr. Galbein had regained consciousness, he was far too woozy to respond with more than a sour groan.

“I’m not too surprised,” commented Dr. Farelly.

“Why, Jim?” asked Charla, who stood next to him.

“Because I finally doped out that Galbein’s the sort of person the real Connie Branche would be attracted to—weasely and verbose!”

“Boss, what now?” demanded Chow. “We gonna try an’ get that woman let loose, so’s they’ll trade back Hanson to us? You said them white-hat boys wouldn’t give us the time o’ day.”

Tom replied grimly, “I just spoke to our contacts, and to Ames back in Shopton. The wheels are finally turning, but not fast enough for me. So I have other ideas,” he added. “In fact, we have a few things to do over the next forty minutes or so.”

“Huh?” Bud glanced over toward the clock on the bulkhead. “What happens at five fifteen?” he demanded.

Tom grinned at his best pal.

“We have an appointment somewhere, that’s all.”

“In forty minutes? Where?”

“A great big basement in Newfoundland!”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 19

 

 

          THE SZELGAR SECRET

 

 

 

 

IT WAS a dark, overcast mid-evening in the Pietrie Valley. A few score feet beneath the elegant manor belonging to the infirm Lord Quallistone, the silent darkness of an arching laboratory was interrupted by a sound so slight only a person of extraordinary sensitivity might have noticed it. A single relay had flipped, actuated by an impulse from a timing chip, responding to a set of simple commands put in place only an hour before as the lab’s workers, and those who watched the workers, had left for the night.

The blackness of the room was not complete, for a row of tiny lights of the LED type sparkled on a control panel. Their glow was bright red, disclosing that certain key pieces of equipment—doubtless the two great rounded bulks looming in the shadows, glinting here and there of metal and crystal—were shut down, inactive for the moment. But now some of those red indicators abruptly turned green. There was another sound, the faint whirring of minute coolant pumps bathing metal rods in liquid helium, whose frigid grip, far colder than the coldest ice, created the necessary conditions for the tremendous surge of power that followed in a matter of seconds.

Another light winked green, and a needle twitched across a faintly luminous dial. Something invisible, unearthly, now linked a small spot in Newfoundland with an underground chamber in Alaska, the space-beyond-space between them dwindling to a single spaceless point.

Things remained still for a minute or so. Then the lights on the board flicked over to red again as the circuits de-energized and shut down.

One, two, three stealthy figures emerged from the opening in one of the telespheres, dressed in dark-colored, loose garments.

“So now we’re on the other side of the continent?” boggled Hank Sterling in a strained whisper.

“Armuldsson set the timer perfectly,” Tom replied.

“The only way to travel!” was Bud’s whispered contribution.

Each of the three insurgents wore a square, bulky backpack and curving, visorlike goggles. Tom hissed for them to switch on the equipment they were carrying.

The entire lab now seemed to spring forward at them in stark relief, illumined by a strange, pale light. This was the effect of Tom’s spylamp, an elaboration of the aqualamp he had invented for use beneath the sea. Its harmless waves rebounded back from all solid obstructions just as ordinary light does, but this brilliant light was invisible to the naked eye, revealing its images to each viewer privately through his special viewing visor.

A second Tom Swift invention was also brought into play. Behind the thin, open mesh of each backpack was a miniaturized version of Tom’s sonic silentenna, a sound-canceling device remarkable in its effectiveness. From that point on, the passage of the three could not be heard, and their communication back and forth would take place over microsized transicoms pressed firmly against the hinge of their jaws. The system needed neither microphones nor earphones.

“What a relief,” remarked Bud in what sounded to the others like his normal voice, fully audible.

“We know it’s tough on you, Bud, having to be quiet,” Hank teased.

Tom was in no mood for joking banter. “Let’s get the job done, guys.”

In the light of the spylamp Tom hastily looked over the two telespheres. Based on early ideas, they were somewhat similar to the two in Alaska—yet there were definite differences. The power feed wasn’t like the later version at all; it seemed Professor Armuldsson had taken an unexpected approach. And Tom noted that the metal grids did not completely enclose the inner spheres and match their curvature, but surrounded them like a circular fence, open on top and bottom.

“I wish I had time to study this,” Tom muttered.

“You don’t!” declared Bud flatly. “So don’t waste time falling in love, genius boy—they’ll be a couple of exes in about five minutes.”

Tom nodded. He was determined to deny his enemy a technological breakthrough redolent with both promise and danger for the world. He opened what Bud insisted on calling his “super-hero utility belt” and withdrew a number of small plastic capsules. He twisted the ends of each capsule a half-turn, which started a chemical timing fuse, then sprinkled them over the control board, circuit chassis, and at several key points on the spheres themselves. Wherever they came near magnetically responsive metal, they stuck fast, like refrigerator magnets.

The three guerillas stepped back to the other side of the room, not bothering to cushion their footsteps, which the silentennas masked with pure silence. In moments spurts of luminous greenish vapor began issuing from the telesphere equipment, wherever the capsules had been placed.

“Who’d have guessed it?” breathed Hank. “That antiproton gas from the taboo mountain seemed like it would be too powerful to have any use at all, but you found a way to tame it!”

“It isn’t any less powerful!” said Bud nervously. “Look at the number it’s doing on all that stuff.” The glare of the spylamp revealed that the electronic devices surrounding the telespheres, as well as the spheres themselves, were beginning to shift, sag, and dissolve away beneath the ravenous attack of the Exploron gas. In minutes all that remained were bits and pieces of twisted metal and glass. Tom’s capsules were left scattered about on the floor, empty shells made of antiproton-resistant Inertite.

Tom checked an instrument on his wrist. “Radiation’s pretty strong now,” he said. “Our suits will protect us, but I’d like to damp it out in case anyone wanders in before the facility has been secured by the authorities.” He produced what looked like a large spraycan and walked slowly about the lab trailing a gray antirad mist that settled down on everything, blocking the deadly radioactivity. “Okay,” he pronounced, “we’re done here.”

“I’ll say!” said Sterling, looking around at the almost-bare room.

They made for the door, a large one gleaming of metal, with a complicated locking mechanism at the handle.

“You could use the Exploron to eat right through it,” Bud suggested, eyeing the thick hinges.

“Wait!” Tom cautioned. The tip of his finger twirled an adjustment wheel on the side of his backpack, and the spylamp’s light changed tone, becoming as penetrating as an X-ray. He then adjusted the setting of his visor. “I can see the security circuitry,” said the young inventor, pointing at a section of the door, and then at another section of the frame in the wall. “It’s an induction-type sensor—the impulse is generated if the door moves relative to the frame. Not very sophisticated, but they weren’t planning on― ” Tom glanced at Bud, who gave a wink back. “—a sneak attack from protospace!” Tom now produced what looked like a roll of masking tape, and proceeded to outline a rectangular area in the middle of the door, about three feet wide by four feet high. When the last bit of tape overlapped the first segment, the segments forming an unbroken series all the way around, Tom took out a small applicator tube and rubbed a thick liquid along the back of the tape. The metal beneath the tape began to hiss, and the tape itself seemed to be withdrawing right into the body of the door. In twenty seconds the tape had burned completely through and the metal section tumbled inward and fell upon the concrete floor, with a potent thud that was absolutely silent.

Bud and Hank followed Tom through the hole. His instruments had already determined that the hallway beyond was empty of guards or detection equipment.

“Got a magic spyglass to show us where Arv is?” asked Bud.

“Afraid not,” Tom replied. “The Professor thought he was somewhere in the underground wing, though, and there’s no reason he would have been moved recently—none that I can think of.”

“And it’s not easy to move an unconscious man anyway.” There was silence following Bud’s comment. It struck all of them that the easiest sort of unconscious man to move from place to place was the unliving kind!

The short hallway beyond the door ended at a cross-hall stretching both right and left, with what looked like an elevator door immediately ahead of them. “We don’t want to go up,” murmured Hank. “So which way?”

“Just a second,” said Tom. He had the three switch off their spylamp equipment, and they found that the halls of this section were almost completely dark—almost, but not entirely. A dim light was coming down the hallway from their left. “Come on,” the young inventor ordered. “But let’s keep the lamps off for now. We need to be able to see where that light is coming from.”

A couple dozen steps brought them to the end of the hallway. Another corridor headed right. The light that they had seen was coming down this corridor.

Tom motioned his companions back, and took out a familiar device—the rear-view radarscope he had carried in London. “Don’t tell me your gizmo can see around corners too!” exclaimed Bud.

Tom answered, “Not around corners. But unless these walls are solid concrete or metal, it should penetrate one or two of them with no difficulty. It’ll scan right through the corner here, at an angle.” He switched on the device and studied the output. “One moving reflection-source that way,” he said, pointing rightward. “Not in the hall, though. A room off the hall, further down.”

“If the guy’s moving, it can’t be Arv,” Hank observed. “Not unless they let him come to.”

“Not much motion, though. It could be someone lying down and stirring on his bed. We—wait!”

What?” Bud demanded.

“A second source a distance to the side. He probably just moved his arm or something. Bet it’s a guard standing post by the door!”

As Tom switched off his radar device, Bud touched him on the forearm. “Time for the i-guns, Skipper?” They were each armed with impulse guns, ingenious weapons that could disable an enemy by transmitting an invisible impulse of concentrated electrical force sufficient to stun nerves and temporarily paralyze muscles.

Tom shook his head. “We could shoot through one layer of wall, but not two—not at this distance. He’d just raise an alarm.”

The guard’s name was Erzlo. He knew little of the Black Cobra, nor, for that matter, of Derleth Szelgar and his philosophy. He was essentially a gun-for-hire with little interest in the larger purposes to which he was being employed.

It was getting late. He was tired. Soon his shift would be over. He tried to stand still, as a professional should, but no one was watching and he couldn’t help shifting his weight from side to side.

His trained senses took note of something coming up the hall, though the scant light, leaking under the door of his charge’s room, seemed to serve only to change the darkness from black to gray. He had a vague sense of a silhouette approaching, eerily silent. “Yah?” he asked dully. There was something wrong in that. Had he really spoken aloud, or only thought he had? It didn’t even occur to him to reach for the revolver in his hip holster. Then he had the odd feeling that the floor had dropped away from beneath his feet.

The guard collapsed onto the thickly carpeted floor of the hall. Sterling holstered his i-gun and called for Tom and Bud to join him.

Tom examined the door, noting another alarm like the one they had previously encountered. In moments he had burned an opening in the middle of the door, and light, ordinary yellow-white light from a reading lamp, streamed out into the corridor. Tom cautiously poked his head partway through. An astonished figure was huddled against the far wall of what appeared to be a richly appointed bedroom.

“Professor Armuldsson!” cried Tom.

The Swedish physicist ran forward, his mouth moving broadly. But no sound could be heard.

Tom signaled the man to speak softly, then switched off his silentenna, asking the others to do the same. “I thought I had lost my reason!” gasped Armuldsson. “To see the door fall apart, and you appear—in utter silence!…”

“Things have gone according to our plan,” said Tom, “but now we must find Arv Hanson. Do you have any idea where—?”

“Alas, I do not,” responded Armuldsson. “During my last work period I heard one of the men comment that ‘our guest’—which I suppose refers to Mr. Hanson—‘has been moved up to better quarters,’ probably on the second floor where the bedrooms are.”

“It makes sense, Tom,” commented Bud. “We know they have plenty of medical equipment up in the main part of the house. Keeping him under for so long may have caused a problem.”

“Fine, but how do we get up there?” Hank demanded. “I can’t believe the elevator we saw isn’t crammed full of cameras and alarm sensors!”

Tom grinned mysteriously. “Sure. Which is why we’re going to take the elevator shaft, not the elevator!” They bound and gagged the hapless guard and left him inside Armuldsson’s room, then made their way back to the elevator door.

After examining the wall with his instruments Tom, standing on a decorative chest of polished wood from the hallway, used the dissolving tape to create an opening in the wall just above the elevator door frame. He thrust a small portable spylamp through the opening and played it up and down. “As I expected,” he said, “there’s a maintenance ladder running up the side of the shaft. Follow me. Bud, bring up the rear—the Professor may need a few boosts!”

They made their way up the ladder to the floor just above them, which was the ground floor of the Szelgar mansion. But rather than exit into the hall where the door opened, Tom bored his way into a small, darkened storeroom on the opposite side. “You wait in here, Professor,” Tom directed. “You’ll be safer. This shouldn’t take long, not with our i-guns.”

“Yes, but perhaps that is what you call famous last words,” he retorted. But he complied.

The storeroom, apparently used for cleaning supplies, opened onto the broad landing of a staircase—a sweeping decorous staircase leading up to the second story and seemingly unguarded. “No sign of electronics,” Tom reported. “Up we go! We’ll either happen upon Arv himself, or more likely someone who can give us information.”

“I wish now I hadn’t given that guard so much juice,” Hank Sterling said. “But we didn’t know.”

They passed through wide beautiful hallways and caught glimpses of darkened rooms that nonetheless suggested old-world wealth. Once Tom’s radarscope noted movement on the other side of a wall. An i-gun burst through the wall caused the movement to stop. “He’ll never know what hit him,” commented Bud. “Not real sporting, but it’s in a good cause.”

Ahead was a part-open door with soft light behind it. Tom had the silentennas switched off, and the three could hear a voice speaking low in a sing-song rhythm. “Guns ready,” Tom whispered, and they inched ahead.

Tom whirled through the opening, his weapon drawn and ready. The room was a familiar one, the one he and Bud had last seen on the megascope screen. Szelgar’s sickroom!

Before him, in overlapping pools of light, a frail figure, as thin and wrinkled as a length of white gauze, lay inertly in a bed that was like a crude nest of tubes and cables. Near the head of the bed sat a man, reading aloud from a large book—a child’s storybook.

Catching a glint of movement from the corner of his eye, the man swiveled to face the intruders. Tom and Bud immediately recognized him as the pink-faced man who had been a member of the “unwelcoming committee.” He did not try to stand, but simply looked at the three in surprise.

Bud impulsively rushed up to the side of the bed. “Mr. Szelgar, I—I don’t know if you can hear me, and this will be hard to understand, but—bad people have taken over your house and are holding a friend of ours prisoner. If you could― ”

Pale blue eyes looked up at Bud. “Hello,” piped a reedy voice.

The man with the book touched Bud’s forearm. “Stand back a little. Makes you easier to see.”

“We’re armed,” said Hank. “We mean no harm to Lord Quallistone, but we intend to free our friend.”

“This isn’t Lord Quallistone,” said Tom softly. “Though it looks a bit like him.”

“Yes,” said the pink-faced man with a slight chuckle. “Family resemblance. But introductions are in order, I think. I’m Norris Myres. Arcena Szelgar Myres is my mother. Of course that makes Derleth Szelgar my grandfather.”

He nodded toward the bed.

“And this—this is my daughter.”


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 20

 

 

          FREE THE GIANT WITHIN!

 

 

 

 

BUD AND HANK were dumbstruck with startled amazement at the disclosure, but Tom only nodded and said a single word.

“Progeria?”

“Quite so,” responded Norris Myres soberly. “But my little gem here, Josetta, is very brave and doing very well.”

“I’m twelve,” said the girl. It was obvious that speaking was not easy for her.

“She—she doesn’t look it!” Bud blurted out.

“It’s an unexplained genetic disease,” said Myres. “The origin is unknown, but the effects are plain. It’s as if the aging process were greatly accelerated. Diseases of old age, hardening of the arteries, bone softening, wrinkles—appearing in young children.” He stood and walked away from the bed, toward the curtained window. He spoke quietly to the others. “Josetta is like a woman in her nineties. We don’t know how long she has left to live. Not long, I expect. The experimental treatments have helped her somewhat, though they were much more effective on her older brother Kenneth, who at fourteen has the body of a man in his sixties and a good deal of vigor.”

“You let him work for the Black Cobra?” asked Tom.

Bud understood immediately. “The dwarf!”

“Not a dwarf,” Myres corrected. “Just a little boy desperate for a spot of adventure and a purpose to his days. It was quite wonderful, seeing him freed of his sickbed by the treatments, able to run about. Mother decided it would be best, even if it meant cooperating with Li, who has gradually become something of a silent partner in the affairs of the Verulam Institute. Mother—my mother, that is: Arcena Myres—inherited her father’s iron will and generally gets her way. Always has.”

Hank snorted. “It may have made the boy feel better, but it got him involved in attempted murder!”

“The submarine sabotage?” Norris Myres shook his head. “No, Kenneth could hardly perform so technical a task. He just started the fires, which he found quite a thrill, I’m told. The sabotage was done by one of Li’s underlings—probably Byron Urlanger, a truly odious man. The Cobra takes him everywhere, by jet. As to Kenneth, yes, the Cobra made use of him on various small projects in London.”

“Such as shadowing us,” Bud put in.

“He did a good job, didn’t he?” Myres’s voice seemed to swell with pride. “That silly pirate’s knife of his—rubber, obviously. As for what happened in Fairbanks, I complained vociferously to Mother about it. But—spilt milk, you know.”

Tom had been standing by himself, listening but silent. Now he said, “It never was the tissue sample you were after, was it. It was the ice.”

“We required both, actually.”

The young inventor nodded.

“The ice?” Hank echoed in disbelief.

“Sure, Hank,” Tom continued. “I suppose it’s part of the deal the Cobra has with the Verulam Institute—he uses their facilities and their money, I guess, and in return his employees stay alert for anything that could be relevant to new treatment approaches for progeria. Dr. Branche reports that a strange kind of ice has preserved body-tissue for tens of thousands of years, and Li Ching arranges to have a tissue sample stolen, hoping some of the ice would be packed along with it. Galbein himself hadn’t been recruited yet, and she couldn’t risk trying to obtain a tissue sample on her own.”

“All for naught,” commented Myres ruefully. “Our team here could tell, without even opening the capsule, that there was nothing inside we could use. No ice, and the sample had begun to decay.”

“Why did you return it, anyway?” Bud asked.

Myres gave a quiet chuckle. “I ordered it returned myself, thinking you might be satisfied and put the matter behind you. But it seems you somehow found evidence that led you here anyway. Ironic coincidence, eh?”

“Galbein eventually sent you what you needed,” Tom noted. “Has it proven helpful?”

“Thank you for asking. And the answer is, not thus far. Perhaps the analysis will take years.” Myres looked across at the shrunken figure in the bed. “I’m afraid Josetta has accumulated too many years as it is.”

“Did your great-grandfather ever live here, sir?” Tom inquired.

“Oh yes,” the man replied. “But only for about two years. After he died, Mother decided that this would be just the place to care for my children—isolated, private, with a medical staff already on hand. She means well, but really, she has over-emphasized family privacy to a ridiculous extent. Very few people on earth know that Derleth Szelgar is deceased and interred in the Quallistone crypt in England. But of course the world stopped paying attention decades ago.”

“And I imagine there was another reason, too, wasn’t there?” Tom said firmly, and Myres nodded in confirmation. “Those treatments—not entirely within the law.”

“But don’t visualize murder, or bloodletting under the full moon,” declared Myres quickly. “We simply allowed ourselves the use of organ donations outside the official channels—voluntary donations, from healthy adults, who were well-compensated. Still, it had to be kept under the family hat, so to speak.”

Hank interrupted the conversation brusquely. “This is all mighty interesting, but shouldn’t we be getting Arv Hanson?”

“You have more than that to worry about,” said Norris Myres. “Li Ching is here in the mansion. He has a suite on the first floor, with several of his underlings. Unless you’ve already disposed of him—and I have the impression you haven’t—you’re all in considerable danger.”

Tom put a hand on the man’s arm. “You have no reason to side with the Black Cobra against us, Mr. Myres. He’s exploited you and your family, but Swift Enterprises may be able to help your children. We have an experimental device that can slow down the passage of time for Josetta and Kenneth until medical science comes up with something.” Tom knew his dyna-4 capsule had a cumulative effect upon the body that was damaging in itself, but he reasoned that in the present desperate case the risk could be justified.

Myres smiled wearily, the smile of a father who had heard many a vain promise. “I have no intention of raising an alarm. Let the game play out without me. I plan to finish reading Josetta her bedtime story. Perhaps this time she’ll stay awake to hear how it ends.”

Before Tom, Bud, and Hank left the room, Myres told them that Arv was now being held in a room adjacent to Li Ching’s suite on the first floor. Tom insisted on being given detailed information as to the precise location of the several rooms.

As they left, Bud said, “With the silentennas, we shouldn’t have any problem getting close to them.”

“But they surely have guards!” Hank observed. “And I wouldn’t count on the room lights being off. They’ll get off a few rounds before we can get in range for the i-guns.”

Tom grinned the grin of a scientific warrior. “We’re not going to play by the rules—at least not their rules!” Activating the silentennas, Tom led his companions along at a brisk trot. They did not head down the staircase, as Bud and Hank had expected, but down a hall to the other side of the second story, to a suite of several rooms devoted to offices and paperwork, uninhabited in the evening. Here Tom halted them. “Guns out!” commanded the young inventor.

“Here? But there’s no one― ” Bud halted his protest in mid-sentence. “Oh—got it! They’re right beneath us!”

The three marched back and forth about the suite, their i-guns aimed downward and a bit ahead of them. They could hear nothing from the world outside, but could vividly imagine guards below suddenly collapsing, employees slumping at their computer keyboards, perhaps the Black Cobra himself keeling over in mid-rant. Tom’s radar device showed that eight moving figures had been quickly reduced to no moving figures!

Finally they made their way downstairs. The Cobra’s suite was littered with fallen forms splayed in every direction. And behind one door they found—

Arv!” exclaimed Bud, forgetting in the emotion of the moment that he could not be heard. The modelmaker lay on a cot with an IV tube in his arm, motionless. He was not completely unconscious; his eyelids fluttered weakly.

They deactivated the silentennas. “Yeah, it’s just us, as usual,” said Hank to Arv. “Sorry if it took a while.”

“But we didn’t do too badly, Arv,” Tom said gently. “We crossed a thousand miles in no time at all!”

Hanson’s lips trembled. “C-Cobra,” he whispered.

“He’s gone somewhere,” Bud said. “Not a sign of him.”

Hanson forced his head upward, agitated. “No! Just saw him!”

Stunned, the three backed away. “He must have something that shields him from the guns!” hissed Tom as they rushed from the room. A distant movement caught his eye, and he stopped, frozen.

At the far wall of a very long, high-ceilinged room crowded with sofas, next to a door, a black-clad figure stood, arrogant and poised for rapid motion like a coiled snake ready to strike.

The eyes of the Black Cobra seemed to lock onto Tom’s, and time itself hung immobile.

To break the spell Tom forced himself to speak, shouting the first thing that came into his head. “You lose this one!” he cried. “We’ve destroyed your telespheres, and the police are on the way!”

The Cobra said nothing. His facial expression, a permanent half-smile, did not change. But Tom thought he could feel a wave of hate leap the distance between them!

Suddenly Tom’s enemy made a smooth motion with his arm, and something glittering came arcing through the air. “A bomb!” Bud cried.

But it wasn’t a bomb, but a small transparent cube of crystal with the form of a deadly cobra coiled inside. As that fact registered, the sound of a door slamming shut made the three look up again.

“He’s getting away!” shouted Bud, leading the charge across the room. But when they reached the heavy door, they found it locked.

“He’s outside on the grounds,” Sterling said. “We can still run him down.”

“No we can’t,” Tom retorted, resignation darkening his voice. “Don’t you hear it?” The thudding of helicopter blades! They raced to a window just in time to see a large, jet-assisted chopper leap skyward.

“And that’s that,” commented Bud sourly.

Now that Tom and his troop had broken the ice, the local and national authorities were only too happy to descend on Quallistone Manor, turning Tom’s shouted threat into a valid prediction. The Cobra’s various henchpersons—for some were women—were taken into custody without struggle.

The next day brought news from two distant corners of the continent. Byron Urlanger had been picked up in Alaska, and young-old Kenneth Myres had been found with him in the man’s hotel room. Some notes discovered with Urlanger led to a second arrest—the agent in Shopton who had been spying for the Black Cobra, and who had abducted Professor Armuldsson at gunpoint.

The agent’s identity made Tom break out laughing. “Talk about right under your nose!”

“Who is it?” demanded Sandy. It was morning, and they were seated at the family table having a late breakfast. Tom and the others had been flown to Shopton by Enterprises jet late the preceding night.

Tom switched off the telephone in his hand and replied, “I don’t think I ever mentioned him, San. He called himself Lt. Parmerniew. He’s the one who called from the hotel to tell me Armuldsson was missing. But it turns out Armuldsson was sitting right next to him in front of a gun! The real Shopton PD got there five minutes later, and no one put the puzzle pieces together.”

“You didn’t mention him, Tom,” Sandy remarked a bit peevishly, “but if you had, I’m sure I would have put him right at the top of my list of suspects!”

“Sorry,” Tom responded. “But now tell me something, sis. What do you suppose made you guess the Black Cobra was involved in this business?”

“Oh, that?” Sandy gave her brother a bland smile. “It must have been a combination of pure deduction and pure intuition. Plus—well, I finally remembered that I had seen a little article in a magazine about how they were making a wax figure of him to add to the Tom Swift exhibit in that London museum.”

Tom brow furrowed at the mystery of it all. “So it was just a big coincidence, really. Plain old coincidence. I guess a guy like me has to be reminded now and then that we don’t live in a totally rational universe.”

In the ensuing days the Sky Queen ferried Tom, Bud, and Hark Sterling back to the camp in Alaska where the remnants of Galbein’s team were forging ahead with the Gigans project. On this trip the Queen carried additional passengers—not only Tom’s father, but Anton Faber and his wife, and Faber’s surgeon Dr. Senarens, who had been invited along not only as a token of thanks but to continue monitoring the health of Dr. Faber.

“There are two others who ought to be here who aren’t,” commented Damon Swift softly as the camp came into view on the horizon. “Galbein and Armuldsson.”

“Wa-aal, I cain’t see gettin’ too het up over those two range rustlers,” Chow Winkler said indignantly.

“Galbein deserves what he gets,” Tom pronounced. “But Professor Armuldsson meant no harm—he just wanted to get credit for solving our telesphere problems and got in way over his head, thanks to Li Ching’s crew.”

“He’s being treated with a certain amount of sympathy back in Stockholm,” Mr. Swift noted. “I’m glad.”

Matters moved swiftly in Gigans’s ice cave. Before a little crowd of excited watchers, Tom and several others roved back and forth in front of the prone ape-giant with the incismitter units, strips of the odd greenish ice smoothly dissolving into protospace to reappear in collection tanks in the underground chamber yards away.

“This is quite as exciting as our space voyage,” exclaimed Anton Faber. “To think I might have missed this sight!”

“Thanks to young Tom, you’ll be seeing many more such sights,” Dr. Senarens declared.

“The whole world will!” added Bud.

In two hours, Gigans was no longer a vague shadow but a vivid image, only partially obscured. Finally, after three hours of work, Tom called a halt. “That’s as close as we get!” he announced. “We don’t want to remove the last few inches of ice and expose him to the air. But he’s free on all sides now, and we can slide him into the refrigerated container.”

“What a big brute!” cried Mrs. Faber with a slightly nervous laugh.

“I’m anxious to study him,” said Dr. Senarens. “Especially the way that chemical ice has sustained his delicate chromosomal structures. Gigans could lead to a real breakthrough in the medical project I’m involved in, which will eventually lead to the end of my active surgical practice, I think.”

“What project is that, sir?” Tom inquired.

“Oh, raw research. We’re focusing on a rare genetic malady.”

Tom seemed, somehow, to know the end of Senarens’s sentence before it arrived.

“It’s called progeria.”

Tom exclaimed excitedly, “Doctor, we haven’t told you about all that happened in Newfoundland, but I know of two children who might benefit directly from your research!”

After Tom explained, Dr. Senarens said, “From your description, I’m certain some of our experimental techniques will be able to extend their lives. And studying Gigans may well lead to something of greater importance—a cure, even a reversal of symptoms!”

Later, as they stood in the lounge of the Sky Queen gazing out at the rugged white landscape of the icy northland, Bud broke a long silence by commenting to his best friend, “Tom, it gets me that all this was so—random. Everything happened by coincidence, like the way your helping Dr. Faber ended up putting Senarens in touch with two kids who really need him.”

“Yes,” agreed Tom. “I said something about the coincidences to Sandy. But now I wonder. Is it just coincidence, Bud? Or is it more like playing a great big mysterious game—and the person on the other side of the board is someone you never see?”

“Other side of the board?” Bud echoed. He gave out a warm chuckle and nudged his pal. “That’s pretty old-fashioned, genius boy. Nowadays people use joysticks and computers! Far as I’m concerned this has been just a great big three-dimensional game of Galaxy Ghosts!”

Bud’s words caused Tom to wonder what game the fates had in store for them next time. He would soon learn its name: Tom Swift and His Racing Aquadisk.

I just hope our winning streak continues,” Tom said.

At that juncture Chow Winkler’s foghorn inflections were heard behind them. “Brand my gopher dumplings, you two seen Hanson lately? He’s as hard t’ run to ground as one o’ your telly-speer space jumpers!”

“I think he’s still down in the ice cave,” replied Tom. “Is it an emergency, Chow?”

Chow nodded—then, as a second thought, shrugged. “Naw, nothin’ like that. Jest somethin’ to sorta finish things off an’ set my ol’ brain at ease.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Y’see, boss—I’m sure Arv jest fergot, what with all th’ goin’s-on, but—he still owes me half-fare fer that there taxicab ride!”