TOM SWIFT LIVES!
TOM SWIFT AND HIS
This unauthorized tribute
Is based upon
the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters.
SCOTT DICKERSON, AUTHOR
As of this printing,
The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures
is owned by
SIMON & SCHUSTER
This edition privately printed by
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TOM SWIFT AND HIS
RICK BRANT, shielding his brown eyes against the glare of a late afternoon sun, gazed at the glinting structure of prefabricated aluminum rising next to the Spindrift Island boat dock. A deep frown creased his youthful, squinting face. The frown had only a little to do with the sun in his eyes. He was disgruntled, discomfited, dissatisfied, and in general dis. The feelings were vague, but definitely negative. He didn’t like having them.
Spindrift Island was his home. He wasn’t at all sure he liked having it invaded.
But no, he had to admit, that wasn’t entirely true. His being not at all sure that he liked it was not the problem. The problem was that he was absolutely sure that he did not.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Rick mused in a voice loud enough to carry the twenty feet to the house porch. “We’re not being told everything.”
The figure on the porch, reclining on a lounge in the cool shade of the overhang, didn’t stir. Nevertheless a voice issued from what might have been a posed mannequin for all its lack of visible life. “Why should they tell us anything? Much less everything.”
Rick turned and trod up the wooden steps, which were old enough to groan slightly, plopping down in a rusty beach chair and leaning back against the wall of the house. “I have this insane, unreasonable idea that before we put up total strangers in our home, we should be given an explanation. Or a reason. Or an excuse. I’m easy. I’ll settle for one out of three.”
“First of all,” said Scotty, managing, with infinite patience and luxuriant effort, to turn his head a few centimeters in Rick’s direction, “the owner of this fair isle, the Sprindrift Scientific Foundation, has been given plenty of explanation, don’t you suppose? Your Dad isn’t exactly the mousy type who never asks questions. True?”
“True,” Rick conceded. “Is there a ‘second of all’?”
“There is. Second of all, the involvement of Steve Ames and JANIG pretty much says it all. This is a classified project which the government is interested in, and they need some sort of help from Spindrift’s squad of resident geniuses.” Scotty paused. “Or is it genii?”
“Geniuses, unless they come out of Aladdin’s lamp.” Rick stretched, a big healthy stretch. But when bone and muscle settled back into place, the gnawing feeling was still present. “I know you’re right, Scotty. Dad’s on top of it. We’ve been given some firm fatherly counseling on the general theme of curiosity and its detrimental effect upon cats. No problem. Maybe it’s perfectly understandable that the world’s top techno-geek, with an IQ off the charts and halfway to the moon, would abandon his great big modern invention factory to hang out with us for a month or two. While all our lead scientists are off elsewhere.”
“You’re forgeting one thing,” Scotty objected languidly.
“Our unique charm, our grace, our witty repartee. Famous the world over.”
“If I had a large, overflowing garbage pail in my hands right now,” said Rick, “it wouldn’t be in my hands right now. It would be flying toward your charming, graceful, witty head.”
Scotty rolled over onto his side. “This all has a familiar ring. Didn’t you go through the same thing when the Foundation brought in the Millers and the other new scientists?”
Rick thought about that, not answering. Yes, it was true: he had a history of balking at new additions to the familiar Spindrift team, even temporary ones. It was irrational and unfair. Yet it was a deep part of being Rick Brant and wasn’t going to be eradicated any time soon. The science team was almost as much a family to him as his flesh and blood.
“I know what this is,” he said at last. “It’s like when a little kid is told that a new brother or sister is on the way. He gets resentful and starts sulking and acting-out, that sort of thing. I think it’s called sibling jealousy, or rivalry, or something.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” Scotty commented, and for a moment Rick regretted the analogy he had come up with. Scotty’s parents were long gone. He had been raised by a grandmother who had passed away during Scotty’s underage service with the Marine Corps. He had no brothers, no sisters, no known relatives at all. Rick realized that the Spindrift family wasn’t just a metaphor for Scotty—it was all he had. Any moaning-and-groaning rights belonged to Scotty, not Rick.
Scotty broke the silence. “All right, let’s get honest. It’s not entirely about strangers coming to the island. It’s about the possibility of an adventure happening, just like in the old days; and here we are, being left out of it. Sidelined. Put out to pasture. Tossed in the rubbish pile like a couple old worn-out tennies. Have I made my point?” The tanned, dark-haired ex-Marine half-rolled onto his back again, closing his eyes. “At least that’s what’s going on with me.”
Rick nodded, knowing Scotty couldn’t see it. The comment, laden with metaphor though it was, had hit the target. Yes indeed.
Rick’s late teens had been filled with adventure and action, Scotty at his side. He had traveled much of the world; had even been shot up high above it as an accidental passenger aboard a rocket not intended to be manned. But more than that, he had come to respect what Scotty called Rick’s “mystery tooth” on the model of the common sweet tooth. They’d had mysteries, all right—phantom sharks, blue ghosts, wailing octopuses (or, pedantically, octopi), deadly Dutchmen. And then, suddenly, nothing at all. For years now.
The fact that this invasion was unexplained—an invasion from Shopton, New York, for gosh sake, Rick thought—was not the only issue. Rick’s mystery tooth was throbbing. There was much more going on with everyone than met the eye, and that included Rick and Scotty. He couldn’t do anything about it.
The invasion of Spindrift Island would proceed apace whether Rick Brant approved or not.
BUT FIRST, there was The Explosion.
“You Swifts have never failed to answer the call of your country,” said Mr. Gunmore. “Your grandfather made any number of contributions to the allies in World War I. I’ve looked it up—tanks, big cannons, armed blimps—”
“No doubt you mean the aerial warship,” said Damon Swift dryly with an amused glance at his son. Tom Swift returned it silently from his chair on the opposite side of their shared office in the Swift Enterprises administration building.
Mr. Gunmore persisted, trying to work up some steam. “Point is, the Swift inventions played a crucial role in the allied effort. Wasn’t bad for the Swift reputation, either, hmm? And in Vietnam, in the Gulf War, in Kosovo—”
“Wait a sec, Mr. Gunmore,” Tom interupted. “Aren’t you missing a war in there?”
Thrown off rhythm, Elston Gunmore stared at the young inventor.
Mr. Swift picked up the verbal ball. “World War II. Do they still call it ‘the Big One’? Quite a story, don’t you think? Grandfather Tom Swift, my son’s famous namesake, offers his services, his inventions, even the old Swift Construction Company plant and airfield, to our government and the war effort. A generous, patriotic offer which our government, in grateful recognition of his past services, turns aside.”
“That’s too polite, Dad,” Tom put in hotly. “They didn’t turn it aside, they threw it away.”
Mr. Gunmore took in a deep breath, and nodded. His sympathy seemed genuine enough. “It was a terrible, terrible thing, gentlemen. It was pure politics, and it was wrong. They say we could have wrapped up the war a year sooner, maybe more, if the government had accepted the Swift offer.”
“Grandfather had become too controversial,” stated Mr. Swift. He was cool and dispassionate. For Damon Swift the hurt of this old wound had faded long ago, however sharp-edged it might still feel to his son. “He claimed to have discovered extraterrestrial life, but the fates conspired to prevent him from proving it. So he became an easy political target. The Congressional hearings amounted to a week of public defamation of the Swift name.”
“But he survived like the hero he was. And your company survived and prospered, and here we are. Listen, Damon, we don’t need to dwell on the past. The clear and present danger is more than enough, don’t you think?”
Damon Swift responded with a noncommital lift of eyebrow that bade Mr. Gunmore go ahead.
“I don’t understand why you think my aquadisk prototype has military applications,” Tom interjected before Gunmore could speak. “Sure, the repelatron, the silentenna, Exploron gas, the X-raser—their uses in armed conflicts are pretty obvious. But the aquadisk is basically just a really fast boat.”
Gunmore broke out in a smile for the first time. “A really, really fast boat, Tom. A super-maneuverable, multi-mach surface vehicle, compact, fuelless, and—I’ll admit the importance of this element—mighty cheap to manufacture. Plus, it’s based on a new technology that no other nation has access to. Victory in war is all about having an edge, you know.”
Tom’s smile in response was a sour one. “I know that, Mr. Gunmore. I’ve fought a few wars of my own. At least it feels that way!”
Danger and struggle had been a part of young Tom’s life since he first drew worldwide attention with his revolutionary Flying Lab, which had carried him into a violent conflict in South America. Since that distant day, he had fought for his life in the depths of the sea, at the South Pole, in the upper stratosphere, and in the stark vacuum of outer space. He had only recently returned from a challenging project in northern Alaska, where his quantum telesphere had sent Death on his way empty-handed one more time.
As was characteristic of the brilliant young prodigy, he had already begun planning his next invention even while finishing and perfecting his telesphere. This new invention, which he called his aqualytic amplitensor, was to be put through its paces in a small nautical test vehicle, the aquadisk.
“How does the military envision using the aquadisk?” Mr. Swift asked, leaning back in his padded chair.
“Of course our specific plans and speculations are classified,” was the reply. “As a civilian working in the Department of Defense, I’m not authorized myself to know all the current blue-sky thinking. But let’s be logical and speak in generalities, shall we?”
“Let’s,” said Damon Swift. His voice bore a trace of sarcasm.
“Consider the many difficulties our troops face in establishing a beachhead on foreign soil. Sure, we’ve come a tremendous way since the invasion of Normandy. We have some clever high-tech methods to move bodies off ships and subs and put them on the ground. But it’s never good enough, is it? What we need are transport vehicles that are small enough, and operate low enough, to evade enemy fire, which nowadays is guided by radar and laser. Choppers and surface-effect vehicles, like air-cushion carriers and hydrofoils, don’t cut it anymore. What we’d like to see is something along the lines of a fleet of very small surface craft, each capable of transporting a platoon-sized contingent at jet speed. Obviously the vehicles would have to be extraordinarily agile. Ideally, they should be completely enclosed, capable of being launched underwater from one of those super-sub troop carriers you’ve read about.”
“But the aquadisk is only a seagoing craft,” Tom objected. “It won’t have treads or wheels. Don’t you need something that’ll run right up onto the beach?”
“Sure,” said Gunmore. “You get the picture. But we see the aquadisk technology in terms of its potential. Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to put legs on the thing.”
Tom looked at his father. Both shrugged slightly.
“We know you’ve spoken to Admiral Krevitt,” remarked Tom, naming their long-time contact in ONDAR, the Office of National Defense Applied Research. “He should have told you that, however great our patriotism, we don’t want to function as if we’re an arm of the government. It’s because of our independence, our freedom to be creative, that we’ve been able to do the things we’ve done for our country.”
“I understand that, Tom.”
“And we understand very well what you’re after, Mr. Gunmore,” Mr. Swift said. After a quiet moment, he added: “You’ll have to give us some time to consider it.”
Gunmore half-rose from his seat. “That’s all we can expect, gentlemen.” He extended his hand—then jerked it back in sudden alarm as the entire office seemed to leap skyward off its foundations! Tom and his father tried to jump to their feet, but the tremendous shock and vibration cost them their balance. They both fell back into their chairs.
The picture window covering one wall cracked. Books staggered off the office shelves and onto the carpet, and several of the intricate display models—models of notable Swift inventions over the last hundred years—jiggled and danced. The replica of Tom’s needle-nosed rocket ship, the Star Spear, tipped over on its side, while the tubular structure replicating the young inventor’s space-probing megascope slammed against the side of a cabinet and fell apart in two pieces.
A deep, thudding Boom! rolled across the four-mile-square grounds of Swift Enterprises.
As the shaking subsided, Tom struggled to his feet and made his way through the scattered debris to the window.
“Dad, I see smoke!” Tom cried. “It’s coming from the underground hangar!”
With a gasp of dismay Damon Swift joined his son. Several wispy plumes of gray smoke were visible, their tails tacked to the hairline gap dividing the block-square panels that formed the ceiling of a cavernous hangar beneath the airfield. Here Tom’s Flying Lab, the Sky Queen, was berthed.
While Mr. Gunmore stood silently aside, Tom dashed to the neighboring office in the administration building, the office of Enterprises security chief Harlan Ames. Already on the phone and receiving reports, Ames glanced up at Tom and motioned him to wait. Clicking off the phone, he said, “Some kind of big blast in the underground hangar!”
“Is there a fire?”
“We don’t know yet. We can’t get in through the doors, and no one’s answering our calls.”
“No!” Tom choked out.
Had the terrific explosion wiped out the crew in the hangar?
Ames’s phone bleeped and he snatched it up. Listening for a moment, he told the caller to go ahead and handed the instrument to Tom. “It’s Dilling up in the tower. Someone’s radioing from the Queen’s cockpit!”
“H-hello, Tom?” came the relayed voice over the phone. “This is Brady Yarkis.”
Recognizing the name of one of the Sky Queen’s regular maintenance technicians, Tom exclaimed, “Brady, what’s going on down there?”
“I-I’m not sure, Tom,” he responded in a weak voice. “I was working in the ship’s command compartment when there was some kind of explosion that threw me off my feet. I’m sure it was right down here in the hangar! Right now, I’m looking out the command viewpane—the air is full of smoke, and I can see flames, too, over by your lab section.”
“What about the others?” Tom demanded.
“There was only a small crew down here, thank the Lord, and I can make out a few guys running around, trying to get out the main personnel door. It’s not working!”
“Listen, Brady,” Tom said, trying to remain calm. “Use the exterior speakers—tell everyone to lie down flat if they can, as far away from the fire as possible. The air should be better by the floor. We’ll force open the doors in just a moment. Do your best to keep them from panicking!”
“I will. But Tom—I think I see a couple guys crumpled up, not moving. One of ’em looks like Art Wiltessa!”
Tom blanched at the name of a veteran Enterprises engineer. He gave a few words of reassurance to Yarkis, then broke the connection and turned to Ames. “Harlan, we’ve got to—”
“I know,” the older man broke in, his voice firm. “I’m on it. Can we activate the overhead door from outside the hangar?”
“Not yet. If there’s a fire, the rush of air could cause a blowback, especially if some of the fuel is involved. Let’s use Swiftor to force open the regular access doors.”
“Perfect!” said Ames, grabbing up the phone.
Swiftor was one of Tom’s giant robots, ten-foot metal musclemen capable of adaptive learning. Their unique musculature gave them the strength of a hydraulic jack, the sheer power of a piledriver. Originally designed for work in environments inaccessible to human beings, several improved versions, including Swiftor, were now used for special construction tasks at Enterprises.
As Tom gave the telephone orders that would send Swiftor into action, his father came into the office on a run. “Tom!—Harlan!—I just took a call from Jake Aturian over at Swift Construction. They just suffered a massive explosion over there as well!”
“Great space!” Tom gasped in shocked alarm. “We’re under attack!”
A DOUBLE MYSTERY
“WHAT DID Aturian say, Damon?” demanded Harlan Ames.
Mr. Swift rubbed his forehead, deeply distressed. “He didn’t know all the facts yet, but it appears there was an explosion on one of the smaller runways, over where they demonstrate the Pigeon Specials. At first he thought one of the fueling trucks had blown up. But the damage to the area is much too extensive—he says at least a dozen planes are burning. And Tom—” The elder scientist’s frightened eyes met Tom’s. “Sandy was going over there today, to meet a client!”
Sandra Swift, a year younger than Tom, was his vivacious sister. A pilot trained by Tom himself, she had a part-time occupation showing the popular Pigeon Special mini-planes to potential purchasers.
“Let me try to locate Sandy,” Ames urged. “Don’t assume anything—she may not have been anywhere nearby.”
Tom gulped but tried to put all worries aside. As Ames began contacting the security team at Swift Construction, which was several miles away at the other end of Shopton, Tom filled in his father on the situation in the big hangar. “Hank Sterling is marching Swiftor over there now, Dad. It shouldn’t be much longer before we’ve got the doors open and the crew safe.”
“Yes, we—we have to hurry,” said Mr. Swift distractedly. “I’ll have the emergency medical team and airfield crash squad rush to the rampway corridor.” He hastened to the desk of the Swifts’ secretary, Munford Trent, to use Trent’s telephone.
Tom trotted out of the Swifts’ office with Mr. Gunmore in tow, apologizing to the government official but hastening him into the hands of a Swift Enterprises security staffer, who would show him out. Then Tom made for a ridewalk, one of the flexible moving sidewalks that knitted together the various buildings and test sites spread across the huge Swift installation. But when he arrived at the nearest ridewalk, he stopped short in surprised dismay. It lay unmoving in the bright sunlight.
The blast must’ve put it out of whack! he thought in frustration.
Breaking into a run he headed for a small electric vehicle waiting nearby, called a nanocar. In minutes he had whirred down the sloping access tunnel that led to the main employee doors of the underground hangar. The nanocar skidded to a stop at a knot of grim men gathered before the metal door panel, the immense form of Swiftor looming over them.
“Have you tried him yet?” Tom asked Hank Sterling, Enterprises’ young chief of engineering.
“Just got here,” he replied. “Since you’re here now, I’ll turn the relotrol remote over to you.” He handed Tom the small, handsized remote control unit that would allow the young inventor to give instructions to the robot’s versatile electronic brain.
“Say, boss, wait!” a foghorn voice called out.
“Not now, Chow,” Tom muttered, not looking up.
“Please, Chow, I don’t have time.”
“Brand my firebell!” exclaimed the roly-poly former chuck wagon cook. “This here’s somethin’ I think you’ll want t’know, son! It’s about Bud—he’s inside with the rest of ’em!”
Tom looked up sharply, his face pale. Bud Barclay, Tom’s age, was not only his personal pilot but his closest friend. “You’re sure of that?”
“Sure as shellackin’! Weren’t more’n ten minutes ago that I saw him walkin’ toward this here tunnel. We hey’d each other, an’ he told me he ’as headin’ down t’the hangar to see a couple of his friends on the crew—you know, them guys that fuss over the plane betwixt flights. Then he went along on his way, an’ a minute later things went t’ flooey!” The old Texan rubbed his right hip, wincing. “Knocked me plumb over on t’ the ground.”
Tom wasted no more time on questions. At his coded instructions Swiftor approached the metal door panel and extended his telescoping arms, grasping the doorjamb on either side with mighty, clawlike mechanical hands. Spreading his arms effortlessly, he swept the doorjamb aside like a crumpling curtain, and the immobilized sliding panel tilted inward. Coughing, gasping employees immediately surged through the opening into the corridor.
“Slowly, everybody!” warned Hank. “You’re safe now!”
Tom waited tensely, eyeing the roiling crowd for a sign of Bud. Finally the dark-haired youth appeared. He had made himself the last to escape, and was carrying Art Wiltessa in his arms. “Tom!” he called out breathlessly. “Art’s hurt! He was caught—”
“I know,” Tom said. “The medics are on the way. How’s he doing?”
Bud lay Wiltessa, his limp form daubed with scarlet blood, on the floor of the corridor. “Don’t know, Skipper. I couldn’t bring him around. But he’s breathing.”
“Did you see what happened?”
Bud shook his head. “Not really—I was facing away. Just flash-boom, somewhere near your lab door. Could something in your lab have blown up?”
Tom frowned. “Nothing I can think of, flyboy. We’ll take a look when the fire’s out.”
As the medical team arrived and began to lift Art Wiltessa into a nanocar mini-ambulance that had been driven down the tunnel, Enterprises firefighting personnel rushed forward. They wore spacesuit-like helmeted garments that were invulnerable to heat and flame and were equipped with their own air supply and inter-suit transiphones. The fire crew carried handheld devices that resembled bulky pistols with twin dish reflectors attached to each barrel.
“Great time to see if these gizmos work as well in real life as they did last week in training,” said the crew leader, Jane Locke, over her suit’s external speaker. The team followed her into the great hangar, which was thick with dense smoke through which wavering flames could be dimly seen. As Tom watched through the gap in the broken door, the fire crew approached the flames and aimed their devices, which were called repelextinguishers—repelexers. Instantly the fiery tongues shriveled down, and in seconds they had been snuffed out completely.
“Man oh man!” exclaimed Chow. “When y’ve got the time, boss, be sure ’n tell me how them anti-fire six-guns work! Sure wouldn’t mind havin’ one in my holster fer the next time I set my rangetop on fire.”
“It’s pretty basic, pard,” said Tom, starting to relax and realizing he had spoken sharply to his old friend. “Remember how I used synchronized repelatrons to create a near-vacuum in the telespheres?—to keep ’em from blowing up in your face, as they did that one time. The repelexers use the same principle. We force the oxygen aside, and the flames die out for lack of air. Really beats the asbestalon foam we were using, doesn’t it?”
With the flames stifled, Tom judged it safe to swing aside the enormous ceiling plates overhead. Soon the smoke had been replaced by good breathable air.
But the sight that met the young inventor’s eyes was distressing. Tom’s lab was seriously damaged, and some of the hangar’s inner walls had buckled from the intense heat. The skin of the great Sky Queen, normally a gleaming silver, had been blackened.
“What a mess!” groaned Bud. “But at least the ship’s okay.”
“We don’t know that yet,” Tom cautioned. “I’m not so much worried by the possibility of fire damage to the hull. But the shock of the blast might have caused problems in the internal systems that won’t be obvious to the eye. We’ll have to give her a Class 5 check—and that’ll take days with a full team.”
As the two youths watched, the side hatch of the Flying Lab opened, and Brady Yarkis looked out cautiously. Seeing that the blast had overturned the waiting access ladder, he lowered himself out the hatchway and dropped several yards down to the floor.
Bud came running up, followed by Tom. “Brady! You okay?” Bud called out.
“Oh, I’m fine,” the man replied shakily. “The ship protected me. But what happened, Tom?”
“Good question!” was the answer.
After a preliminary look around, Tom and Bud returned to the administration building. Just as they reached the main entrance, a small car pulled up and the passenger door flew open.
“Sandy!” cried Tom and Bud together.
Tom’s sister appeared disheveled and pale, but otherwise unharmed. She hugged Tom, then Bud, and the boys noted that she was trembling.
“Oh—oh my!” she murmured. “It was terrible!”
Bud asked if she had actually seen the explosion.
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m just lucky I wasn’t caught in it! I was walking toward the Special with my clients, Mr. and Mrs. Tolverman, and then one of the other prop planes, about a hundred feet further down, just—it sort of flew apart in all directions with this big noise, and we three were knocked back onto the ground.”
“Fuel sprayed everywhere,” continued Bob Nix, one of Jake Aturian’s assistants, the driver of the car. “Pretty soon one plane was on fire, then it blew, spraying fuel and fire all around. We’d lost fourteen planes—Specials, and a few of the HeliCommutes—before it was contained.” He nodded at Sandy. “Your sister was quite the heroine, helping her clients to safety.”
“They were an older couple, Tom,” explained Sandy. “They were in bad shape.”
“You’re a real Swift, Sandy,” Bud said in admiration.
“Don’t I know it!”
Bud offered to drive Sandy back to her car in the Swift Construction Company parking lot while Tom and Nix stayed to confer with Harlan Ames and Mr. Swift, who had already been informed by telephone that Sandy was safe.
“There were no fatalities,” said Damon Swift, “for which we can all be grateful. But there were a number of injuries, some of them fairly serious. Two employees at Construction were badly burned, and we’re treating some cases of smoke inhalation here in the infirmary.”
“What about Art Wiltessa?” Tom asked.
“Conscious and complaining,” replied Harlan Ames. “But there are signs of concussion, and maybe a dislocated shoulder. Doc Simpson is transferring Art and two others to the city hospital.”
Tom frowned, standing at the broken window of the Swifts’ office and looking out over Enterprises. “We could have ended up with dozens of our people killed—including Sandy and Bud.”
“What could be the motive?” demanded Bob Nix angrily.
“Not simply to destroy the Sky Queen or the hangar, obviously,” mused Tom’s father. “They attacked Jake’s airfield too, at the same moment.”
“I have to add a further wrinkle to the mystery, guys,” said Ames. “The emergency teams at both sites carried Tom’s super-sniffers with them. It’s standard procedure now.” The lean-built security chief was referring to the analytracer, a recent invention of Tom’s, which electronically detected and identified trace substances in the air or on solid surfaces. “I’ve received their reports. Nothing! No explosive chemicals, no unusual particulates, no unidentified or out-of-place materials that might have been used for a bomb casing—not a clue.”
“Which leaves us exactly nowhere,” declared Mr. Swift.
“Not exactly nowhere, Dad,” Tom said, his fists clenched at his side in frustration. “It leaves us with a great big question. How do you make an explosion without a bomb?”
THREAT IN THE SKY
“YOU TWO are the scientific geniuses around here,” commented Harlan Ames with a grim smile. “I just try to keep everyone alive. Isn’t there some sort of high-tech way to produce a blast from a distance? Maybe with one of those sci-fi ray-beams you folks like to play around with?”
Tom paused before answering, glancing at his father. Then both shook their heads. “There are ways to produce an explosive effect without using a bomb, Harlan,” Tom said. “Focused subsonics could do it, for example. But every method I can think of requires some fairly substantial equipment, with a major power-load and line-of-sight transmission. You couldn’t beam it into the hangar through the walls, or through the overhead panels.”
“Certainly not!” declared Damon Swift. “The hangar is lined with sandwiched layers of Tomasite-Antitec and Inertite. Both sonic and electromagnetic influences would be completely blocked.”
“Besides,” Tom added, “both facilities are guarded by all manner of long-range sensors that should have registered anything incoming.”
“Not to mention the patrolscope setup,” Harlan noted, referring to the electronic radar security system capable of detecting unregistered intruders on either Swift property. “And our conventional radar showed no aircraft in the area. But—” His expression changed as a disturbing new thought struck him. “What about transmission from a satellite, as with the ‘ghost crow’ episode?”
“Ghost crows?” Bob Nix repeated.
Tom briefly explained. While Tom was developing his giant robot at the Swfts’ nuclear research facility, the Citadel, in New Mexico, the installation had been threatened by a beam-weapon secretly mounted on a commercial satellite. As part of the plot, the device had also projected images of supernatural “crows.” But regarding the case at hand, Tom could not credit the notion. “We would have detected the beam,” he noted. “Besides, how could it have penetrated into the hangar?”
“Still, we can’t even guess how such a weapon might work,” Mr. Swift cautioned. “It could have great penetrating power and be well beyond our detection technology.”
Tom and Harlan conceded that Mr. Swift was right. The mystery remained a mystery.
Later, after verifying that Sandy had reached home safely, the young inventor went to one of his personal laboratories to proceed with work on his amplitensor invention. He spent a strenuous, distracted hour at the countertop computer, number-crunching and viewing simulations. Then, weary, it occurred to him to try to coax out further information on the double attack.
He accessed his encrypted computer journal and began to type, using a special font that he knew would be recognized.
I assume you know about the explosions at Enterprises and the Swift Construction Company. Can you tell me anything? Tom typed-in these words and waited, the cursor blinking on the screen.
For quite some time now, Tom had been in intermittent contact with a U.S. government group nicknamed Collections. This super-secret agency, unacknowledged by official channels, had assisted the young inventor during his rocket ship adventure, and on several subsequent occasions when foreign intrigue had threatened a Swift project. They seemed able to monitor even Tom’s private, protected journal entries, and usually responded almost immediately to inquiries—when they responded at all; for Collections refrained from involvement in matters outside their particular field of security interest.
To Tom’s disappointment, the cursor did not move. No new writing appeared on the screen.
Are our tax dollars at work on this incident? Tom typed after a minute. This could involve a new weapons technology that you folks might be interested in.
But there was no response, and Tom finally exited the journal file, frustrated.
As the long day drew to a close, Tom drove his father home in his electric-powered sports car. “What do you think, Dad?” he asked. “What could this ‘blast-master’ guy be after?”
“I’ve turned it over in my mind a million times,” was the reply. “When I come up with a possible reason for an attack on the underground hangar, I’m stymied trying to apply it to the Construction Company airfield—and vice-versa. Other than being owned by the family, I don’t see anything that the two specific sites have in common. Aircraft, perhaps? But what could be the angle there?”
“I’ve thought of one possibility,” Tom said, “and it’s one I wish I hadn’t thought of! What if the attacks were targeted not at the companies, but at Bud and Sandy?”
“In other words, two persons especially close to us.”
“Exactly!” Tom declared soberly. “It’s a terrible thought.”
Tom pulled off the road and into the long, curving driveway to the two-story Swift residence, located in a semi-rural area at the edge of Shopton only minutes from the Enterprises gate. He cast a casual glance over the top of the trimmed hedges that lined the driveway—and abruptly hit the brakes! “Tom, what is it?” demanded his father.
The youth spoke tensely in a near whisper. “Something’s wrong—I’m sure of it! The front door’s standing wide open, but your car’s in its parking spot, and there’s Sandy’s too, both empty. I don’t see Mom or San outside anywhere.”
“You’re right,” Damon Swift agreed in a low voice. “It’s strange. Given what happened today, we don’t dare assume—” He was interrupted by Tom, who suddenly grabbed his arm and pointed off to the side, the side of the driveway away from the house. At the same moment both men heard a frantic cry!
“It’s Sandy! And Mom!” Tom exclaimed in alarm. Their faces awash in sheer panic, they were running toward Tom’s car in a frenzy of blind fear. He popped the door-locks and they scrambled desperately into the two-seater as Mr. Swift and Tom tried to make room.
“Turn the car around!” Mrs. Swift cried. “We’ve got to get away!”
Tom asked no questions, but slammed his foot down on the pedal and twisted the wheel, burning rubber as he began a screeching about-face. But before the turn was half completed, the deepening twilight shadows were bleached white by a flood of light. The roar of an explosion thundered across the front lawn!
The front of the Swift home had blown apart!
There was no time to scream. Agonized at the sight, the young inventor floored the pedal and completed the turn, scraping the hedge. In seconds he was back on the main road, arrowing toward Shopton.
Sandy and her mother were near hysteria. Tom and Mr. Swift postponed asking questions for the moment, using the car’s cellphone to call the city fire department, then the police. This accomplished, Tom swerved into a parking lot and killed the engine.
“We’re safe,” he said, trying to muster an appearance of confidence and calm that was far from the way he felt inside.
“Damon—our home!” wept Anne Swift.
“Catch your breath, Sandy,” urged Mr. Swift.
“I—I’m all right.” Sandy pressed her hands against her eyes. “The phone rang. I assumed it was you two, so I put it on speaker so Mom could hear too. Before I could say a word, this—this weird voice came on—saying ‘Out of the house! Now! Run!’—repeating several times, like a recording. I think I asked who it was—I can’t remember—but he didn’t identify himself. So—”
“We grabbed hold of each other and ran for the door!” Mrs. Swift gasped. “We didn’t even try to reach the cars—we ran for our lives!”
“Then we saw you turn in,” concluded Sandy. “Is it—it must be the same person who set off those bombs earlier!”
“Yes,” said Tom. “We’ve got to get out of the open. We’re too exposed here.”
He drove to Bud’s apartment in town. The young pilot, who had gone home after leaving Sandy off at her car, came rushing down the steps as soon as Tom pulled up. “Skipper! Folks, what’s—” Seeing the looks on the faces of his good friends, he said no more, but ushered them inside and bolted the door. As Tom explained the situation, Bud was horrified—then furious and ready for combat.
“Find out who’s doing this, guys! So I can take him apart!”
“You and me both,” said Tom grimly. He turned to his father. “Looks like our theory is correct, Dad. Someone’s after the people around us.”
“Including people like me,” Bud added. “That’s easy to figure out.”
Using Bud’s phone Tom made contact with Captain Rock of the Shopton Police Department at the site of the Swift residence. “The fire’s out,” he said. “Wasn’t too bad. And you’ll be glad to know your dogs are okay. Think I even saw Sandy’s bird.”
“Can you tell what happened?” Tom asked.
“What happened? Something blew up, big time,” Rock replied. “Could someone have planted a bomb in your living room? That’s where the blast came from.”
Mr. Swift asked about the overall condition of the house. “Pretty good—if you don’t plan on using the first floor!” he responded dryly. “The walls and windows all around the living room look like they decided to take off for the four corners of the earth! Plenty of damage to the kitchen and dining room, and to the library; the staircase is leaning over like it wants to fall down. Windows broken on the two cars, too, though it looks like they’re drivable. And what’s with this thing up in the sky?”
“What?” The elder scientist was mystified. “What do you mean? A plane?”
“Oh no, not a plane, Damon,” chuckled Captain Rock without a trace of humor. “If you can see the sky from where you are, go take a look.”
Mr. Swift set down the telephone and headed out the door, followed by the others. They didn’t need to be told where to look. The evening sky, partly clouded, was lit up by huge glowing letters, projected onto the clouds as if from a searchlight.
TOM SWIFT, YOU STOLE MY LIFE.
NOW I WILL STEAL THE LIVES OF
YOUR LOVED ONES.
“Okay, folks,” Bud
quavered, gazing skyward with wide eyes. “I think—maybe—this is getting just a little
out of hand!”
NO PLACE TO HIDE
MYSTIFIED and distraught, they all rushed back inside. Bud dimmed the lights—somehow it seemed the right thing to do.
“Who would make a threat like that, Damon?” asked Anne Swift, digging deep for some courage.
Tom answered for his father. “Who wouldn’t, Mom!”
“It sounds like the work of a lunatic!” Bud growled.
Sandy nodded. “Somebody too out of it to care about cliche. I mean, there are threats—and then there’s corn!” She was well on the road to recovering her equilibrium.
“Don’t make light of it, Sandy,” reproved Mr. Swift. “This ‘blast-master,’ as Tom calls him, isn’t limiting himself to making threats.”
“Sorry, Daddy. What should we do?”
“First thing is get us all to a safe place,” Tom stated.
Bud gave his pal a look of surprise. “Safe place? This is a pretty quiet neighborhood, Tom.” Then the young pilot suddenly realized what Tom was implying. “Y-you mean—they could strike here—in my apartment building?”
“I have the feeling they can strike just about anywhere!” retorted Tom. “And whenever they want to!”
After a rapid and tense sharing of ideas, Tom and Bud drove Mr. and Mrs. Swift and Sandy to the home of Herb Greenup and his daughter Liz—family friends, but not so close that they would be likely to be considered for targeting by the enemy. From the Greenup home the Swifts conferred by telephone with Harlan Ames and his assistant Phil Radnor, who had already begun to work with the police.
“And I just got off the horn with Brenner, our FBI guy,” noted Radnor. “They already had a team on the way from the local field office to investigate the earlier incidents. Now they’re really mobilizing. By the way,” he added, “you probably should get in touch with George Dilling. He headed back to the plant when the media calls started flooding in about the sky message. Shopton can be kind of excitable in the face of death threats and big explosions.” George Dilling was Enterprises’ reliable chief of Communications and Public Interest.
“I won’t mislead the public,” declared Mr. Swift. “But the truth is, we have no idea who’s behind all this, nor is there any reason to think the threat extends to the general public. We can honestly explain that the authorities are already taking steps to deal with the situation.”
“Yeah—the authorities!” Bud paced back and forth in the Greenup living room. “But there’s got to be something we can do ourselves! Look, that message is still up there. Tom, couldn’t we pinpoint the source of the projection? Maybe from the air?”
“Worth a try,” muttered Tom. Bud read in his friend’s tone not only anger but fear. The two had faced many dangers together, but never had the circle of threat spread to those around them in such a terrifyingly deliberate way. Concerned for the safety of the Swifts and his friends at Enterprises, Bud suddenly realized that his own family, in San Francisco, might be on the Blast-Master’s list!
Tom arranged for Markham Wesberg, an Enterprises pilot and friend of Bud’s, to meet Tom and Bud near the Enterprises gate in the Silent Streak, Tom’s triphibian atomicar, an atom-driven prototype vehicle capable of silent, nimble travel in the air, on the road, and underwater.
“Planning to do a little air scouting, huh, guys?” asked the slender, shaggy-haired employee as he stepped out the domed super-car’s hatchlike door.
“The Streak is small enough to evade attention at this hour of twilight,” Tom explained.
Tom and Bud climbed aboard, and Tom pulled the atomicar out on to the service road that crossed the undeveloped property skirting the plant. Then he activated the repelatron bank on the underside of the craft, and the Silent Streak rose gracefully upward into the near-dark sky.
“We might as well start with the area around the house,” Tom said to Bud. “The projection apparatus could just as well be there as anywhere—and I have to see the condition of things with my own eyes.”
Bud gulped as the Swift home came into view far below. The fire was out and the smoke had dissipated, but the damage to the first floor was ghoulishly evident in the gathering moonlight. “Good night, Tom! It’s like somebody took a big bite out of the whole middle section of the west side!”
Tom did not respond. He gazed down silently for a time, circling the atomicar. Finally he said, “Look around for something unusual, a beam, a spot of bright light—anything!” He spat out the last word with such vehemence that Bud drew back with a start.
Seeing nothing of interest, Tom expanded the circle of investigation.
“Look over there!” hissed Bud, pointing. “Something between those hills!” The youths observed a bright, blazing pinpoint of light, intense as a magnesium flare.
Tom glanced skyward. “The angle’s about right for a projection beam. Let’s come in low.”
“Real low,” urged Bud. “As in—under the treetops!”
Tom managed a slight smile. “That’s what this baby’s designed for, flyboy!”
The atomicar soared off a good distance, then arced down close to the ground and approached again, following the rise of the land from a few yards above it. Tall trees and foliage blocked their view of the light for a time, but Tom felt certain he had a good bearing on it.
“There!” he said, speaking in an involuntary whisper as the light appeared through a break in the trees, about a half-mile ahead. “I can make out some big equipment underneath it, too.”
“Looks like it’s mounted on a truckbed,” Bud commented.
Tom slowed the atomicar and descended to within a few feet of the ground, hoping to surprise whoever might be operating the projector. But he wasn’t hopeful. They probably anticipated this, he thought. I’ll bet the apparatus runs automatically.
As the Silent Streak drew near, the brilliant light abruptly winked out, leaving only a faint reddish glow. “If he starts the truck and peels out, we’ll be right on top of him!” exclaimed Bud excitedly. “And I do mean on top!”
But the bulky silhouette showed no sign of activity, even as the atomicar came to a halt twenty feet above it.
“Good thing the Streak has a tough hide!” muttered Bud nervously, leaning over to look down through the teardrop-shaped viewdome enclosing the passenger compartment. “Even if they start shooting, that dura-stuff of yours ought to—”
Bud’s words became a grunt of surprise, echoed by Tom. The two were forced down into their seats by a violent upward acceleration and the deafening thunder of an explosion. The atomicar jolted skyward, shuddering and wavering, and began to list to one side as if about to flip over! Tom struggled with the controls, righting the tiny craft while forcing it higher, putting distance between the car and the enemy below as rapidly as possible.
Finally, among the clouds over Shopton, the young inventor slowed the Streak’s panicked rise and hovered.
“Duped us!” Tom grated, furious at himself. “I should have realized that the site would be booby-trapped!”
“Don’t blame yourself, genius boy. Good night, I was as anxious to get into it with the guy as you were.”
“It’s hard to hold back,” agreed Tom ruefully. “But we’ve got to stay calm and think logically. This guy, whoever he is, sees himself as a master tactician, anticipating our every move. He’s not going to give us any place to hide.”
Not wanting to give away their refuge at the Greenup residence, Tom flew the atomicar back to Enterprises, and the boys drove back by a circuitous route. There was no sign that Bud’s car was being followed. Now that the frightening message had disappeared from the sky, the worried citizens of Shopton had retreated to the safety of their homes. The streets of the little lakeside town were deserted—except for prowling police cars.
At the Greenup home, Tom spoke by telephone to Captain Rock, who promised to investigate the projector site, using the professional bomb squad. But Tom felt sure that the enemy had covered his tracks.
“What do you intend to do, Tom? Damon?” asked Herb Greenup as Tom set down the phone receiver. “I’m not being an alarmist, but as a public official, I have to be concerned about the security of our citizenry. What if this man starts to take out his frustrations up and down Commerce Avenue? Innocent people could be caught up in this!”
“Innocent people?” exploded Bud. “Tom and Sandy and the rest of us aren’t?”
Mrs. Swift rested a calming hand on Bud’s arm, and he quieted himself, scowling.
At that moment the telephone, an old-fashioned type plugged into the wall, gave forth a loud ring that made everyone jump. Liz Greenup smiled at her reaction and raised the receiver to her ear.
“Hello? Hello?” She gave a puzzled shrug and moved to hang up the receiver, but Tom suddenly stretched his hand forward and plucked the receiver out of her grasp.
“Is someone there?” he asked. “Who are you trying to reach?” He assumed that if the call were intended for one of the Swifts, the caller would recognize Tom’s voice without his name being said.
A faint, hollow sound issued from the receiver, like wind blowing past the wires. Tom looked at his father with a deepening frown, patiently holding the receiver to his ear.
His patience was rewarded.
“One target has been taken.”
The voice was shrill, mechanical, inhuman, speaking slowly and deliberately.
“You and the others are not safe where you are, not in any of the Swift properties, not with friends or family, not in any government facility.”
The voice paused.
“Three attacks at eight eleven.”
WHITE-FACED, his hand trembling, Tom guided the phone receiver back to its cradle and dropped it listlessly into place.
“That was—it was him—wasn’t it!” breathed Sandy.
Damon Swift stared at the telephone. “But how—how could anyone have possibly—?”
Tom interrupted his father. “We talked to Captain Rock, and to Harlan and Rad. Somehow the Blast-Master was able to monitor the calls, or at least determine their point of origin.”
“He’s trying to terrorize you with these warnings,” declared Mr. Greenup.
His daughter nodded. “He’s terrorizing all of us.”
Tom repeated the details of the call.
“‘One target has been taken’,” murmured Anne Swift fearfully. “Does he mean the attack on the house?”
“Can’t be that,” Bud objected. “There have been three attacks so far—four, if you count the projector site.”
Tom looked at the clock on the mantle. It was eight seventeen. “He said ‘three attacks at eight eleven,’ and it was just a minute after that time when he phoned. When Rad or Harlan call in—we’d better not make any outgoing calls—they may have news.”
Ten minutes later, Phil Radnor did call. The news was not good. “It’s bad,” Radnor said to Mr. Swift as Tom pressed close to hear. “I’m afraid—there have been further attacks, and—a casualty!”
“No!” choked Damon Swift.
Radnor’s voice was granite-solid. “George Dilling received a short-wave call from the policia in a village called Mora Rueza, in the Tierra del Fuego region of Argentina—a tiny fishing village on the Atlantic Coast. Hardly able to find it on the map. Some pieces of a boat drifted ashore last night. The police said it looked as though it had blown apart in the water. There was a piece of luggage with a name tag attached, and some papers inside that mentioned Swift Enterprises in Shopton. That’s why he called us.”
“What name?” Mr. Swift demanded.
“Ed Longstreet,” said Radnor. “Tom’s cousin.”
Ed Longstreet was the eldest son of Mrs. Swift’s brother Quent. A world traveler with no need to work for a living, Cousin Ed had become involved in Tom and Bud’s adventure in New Guinea, a tale recounted in Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane, and had again faced danger with them in turbulent Kabulistan. Tom knew he had recently undertaken a trip to South America, and had mentioned purchasing a cabin cruiser for a solo voyage around the continent’s southern tip.
As Mr. Swift repeated what Radnor had said, Mrs. Swift’s hands flew to her mouth in shock. Sandy guided her to a chair and comforted her.
“Then—no body has been recovered?” Tom’s father asked Radnor.
“No,” the security man replied. “The boat fragments were too few to yield much evidence, and they were scattered over a wide area. But—you can estimate the probabilities as well as I can. And there’s more, Damon—lots more!”
Mr. Swift waited.
“Just minutes ago, we began to receive word on some more bomb attacks. Harlan is on the phone now, following up. Three explosions, more or less simultaneous—at the Citadel, on Fearing, and at the Key West installation.”
“I—I—” Mr. Swift seemed to stagger back, fighting to contain his emotions. Tom gently squeezed his father’s forearm and took the receiver from his hand.
“Rad, this is Tom. Any casualties from these new attacks?”
“Some injuries—nothing too serious, it seems. But the damage was extensive. They’re powering down the main reactor at the Citadel, and Kaye’s videophone office in Key West is in ruins.” The Swift Oceanic and Nautical Research Center on the island of Key West, Florida, housed one of several office-studios utilized by the Swifts’ private television system, the videophones.
But Tom was immediately more concerned about the events on Fearing Island off the Georgia coast, a federally secured facility that served as the usual launch site of Swift space efforts. “What was the damage on Fearing?”
“Two of the pilotless utility rockets were brought down on their launch pads, Tom. A Workhorse III and a Sampson.”
“And the Challenger?” Tom was referring to his huge, repelatron-driven spaceship.
“No damage,” Radnor replied. “Oh—I’m passing the phone to Harlan.”
Ames came on the line, speaking briskly. “Tom, I know Rad’s told you what’s occurred. The United States government has now gone to a state of military alert, though we don’t know who the enemy is, or what he wants—except for what was stated in the message to you, which may be just a ruse or diversion.
“And Tom, I think the theory you mentioned to me is dead on. These latest attacks show that persons especially close to you are being targeted. Slim Davis had just landed at the Citadel with a parts shipment when the explosion struck. I know he’s a good friend of yours among the Enterprises pilots. On Fearing you have a number of friends in the astronaut team, as well as on the ground. As for the SONRC facility at Key West—”
“I know,” declared Tom. “Arv is staying at the Center while on leave.” After some recent harrowing and debilitating experiences while working with Tom on the Alaska project, chief model-maker and prototype developer Arvid Hanson had been given a two-week vacation in Florida to rest and recover.
“So far none of these people has been injured or killed—or at least we don’t know for certain anyone has, regarding your cousin,” pronounced the security chief. “But our luck won’t hold forever, Tom. The FBI thinks you and your family, and a few others, ought to disappear from the public eye until all this gets sorted out.”
“Do you agree with that, Harlan?” Tom demanded heatedly. “Are we going to let this madman force us to hide in a hole somewhere?”
Ames sighed but spoke with cool determination. “Tom, I understand how you feel. But—”
“And I’m right in the middle of the aquadisk project,” Tom continued, “which the Defense Department seems to think should be a high priority. This whole business could be a plot to hold up the testing of my amplitensor device until some foreign nation, or some mercenary group, can steal a march on us!”
“I’ve thought of all that,” said Ames. “We have to think of your Dad, your mother—of Sandy and Bud. Look what they’ve already done to Art Wiltessa!”
“Yes, and… to Cousin Ed. I know.” Tom ached inside. “All right, your point is well taken. But where on or off Earth can we go to hide?” He repeated for Ames the content of the weird telephone warning. “I don’t know if we’d even be safe in the space outpost, or under the sea in the hydrodome. And if we ‘draw fire’ in places like that, the collateral damage won’t be minor—everyone could die!”
“Agreed,” Ames declared. “Remember, Tom, you folks pay me for a reason—you pay me to think! I know I haven’t always done such a good job—no, don’t interrupt!—but now I have to ask you to trust my judgment. For the present the only defense we have is secrecy. We’ve got to get you and the others to some sort of safe hiding place, one with no known ties to you or to Enterprises. My cousin Steve, who I’m sure you remember, had a good suggestion. It’s a place to keep out of sight—but also a place where you’ll be able to continue working on your new invention, and your aquadisk boat.”
“All right. I’m listening.”
“It’s an island.”
“An island? You mean Loonaui, in the Pacific?” This was the dedicated launch site of regular rocket travel to Enterprises’ orbiting space station.
“No,” responded Harlan Ames. “Too obvious. The island Steve suggested is a bit closer.”
He told Tom the location, and the young inventor repeated his words incredulously.
Rick and Scotty loved mysteries—especially after they had solved them; they grew nicely in the telling. And now they were immersed in mystery, wrapped up in it like an Indian blanket. The mystery sat out there in plain sight, squat and unimpressive, next to the old boat dock, between the rambling Brant house and the dirt road that led inland to the modest island farm. It might have been a shed for farm equipment, for tractors. But it wasn’t. They knew that under the shedlike aluminum structure, a great deal of Spindrift dirt had been removed—a very great deal indeed, removed and somehow disposed of unseen.
“That dug-out chamber looks to be the size of a big-box department store,” Scotty remarked. Though his words suggested awe, they had a wink in them. Rick knew he was being teased. To Rick Brant anything marked Secret was like cheese to a mouse. “Now by all the laws of science and geometry, that dirt must have been stashed some place. It would have made a nice little hill. And we can use some hills here on Spindrift, to give some variety to the landscape. But no hill. Because no dirt. Where’d it get to?”
“You’re not using your imagination,” was Rick’s reply. “All day long the work crews come and go in threes and fours, pretending to be outfitting the shed. But we know they’re really engaged in skullduggery—good-guy skullduggery, but skullduggery—down below. So we should consider the possibilities very carefully.”
“Now what I’ve come up with is this,” continued Rick. “Those workmen wear coveralls with really deep pockets. Each time they go down into the excavation, they scoop up some loose dirt until their pockets are full—not so full that they bulge visibly, but pretty full. Then at the end of the day, they innocently head back to Whiteside or Trenton or whatever, and—”
Scotty held up a warning hand. “Please don’t go on. It’s not good for my self-esteem, your solving the mystery so quickly. Besides, your solution is—well, I won’t say the work of a moron. It’s the work of a bright guy thinking like a moron.”
Rick said, “If I had in my hand—”
“But you don’t. Eat your toast and stop trying to think.”
They were sitting at the breakfast table in the Brant home, looking out across the island toward the shoreline. The metal shed, not much to look at but shiny and new, sat innocent in the yellow morning light. They had managed a casual inspection the Tuesday previous—casual, if one considers skulking about in the dead of night a casual act—and had wrangled the briefest of glimpses of what lay beneath: a deep, yawning pit spreading out beneath the ground, much longer than it was wide, with smooth walls that looked to be made of concrete.
The comparison that leapt into Rick’s mind was coffin. “It won’t be much use empty,” he said between crunches.
“But they have to know that any big deliveries—scientific equipment and so forth—will cause a stir. The Wicked Ones may be watching.”
“The only Wicked Ones I see around here are seated at my polished maple breakfast table,” said a voice behind them. Hartson Brant pulled out a chair and sat down next to his son. “You two have punctured my conscience.”
“Quite an image,” Scotty commented. “Do you have a slow leak, or did the whole thing pop like a bubble?”
“The former,” Dr. Brant continued. “Every day, since you wormed out of me some facts that I had no business repeating, I have wrestled with growing self-reproach. I’ve decided to handle it by spreading it around. Boys, you should be ashamed, taking advantage of an old man.”
“Well, Dad, you didn’t have to say anything,” noted Rick. “And besides, your moment of weakness was thoroughly human. You naturally wanted to spare your offspring mental agony.”
“And take it on myself. The things a doting father goes through—good lord.”
Scotty’s tone verged on the serious. “You won’t really get into any difficulties about it, will you? After all this time, Steve Ames can’t have any doubt about—”
“No, of course not.” Rick’s father cut Scotty off impatiently. “But when I told him, as I was obligated to do, that I had shared a few basic facts with the family here, he was…”
“Understanding?” Rick asked hopefully.
“Yes. And irritated. Can you see his point? Whoever may be behind these attacks on the Swift people is, obviously, ruthless and conscience-free. However slight the likelihood that Spindrift is being watched, it’s not impossible. Consider this, you two. We’re not the first place you’d expect to find Tom Swift et al, but we’re not dead last either. I’ve met Damon Swift now and then at scientific conferences, and there’s been correspondence over the years between our own team and theirs—come to think of it, Hobart Zircon was a paid consultant on the design of their nuclear plant, the Citadel.”
Rick nodded. “I remember.”
“So,” Hartson Brant continued, “someone might well conclude that capturing Rick and Scotty, who get around a bit more freely than some of us, as they usually have nothing to do and do it very well indeed, would be a fine way to extract information. And the extraction process would not be pleasant.”
“Never is,” stated Scotty. “And I guess you’re saying that the best way to keep us from tipping the game under torture is to tell us nothing.”
“I wouldn’t quite put it that way.” The graying scientist frowned. When he spoke, the jocular tone was gone. “But Steve Ames might. And he wouldn’t be wrong, Scotty. Lives and nations are at stake.”
Rick had to agree, though it hurt to do so. “Sure. He’s a pro. He can’t afford to worry about us. The mission is to keep the information out of enemy hands—at whatever the cost.”
The three used the ensuing silence to stand. Rick cleared the table and washed off the breakfast plates. He glanced at his father now and then, who stood gazing moodily out the big-paned window. The tenor of the discussion had obviously left a sting. Got a little too serious, Rick thought.
“All right,” said Hartson Brant suddenly. “I see no reason to carry the secrecy any further. You’re right, Scotty. It’s been a long time since the whispering box episode, and you two have already served as agents of this country—good ones, too.”
“Good ones,” Scotty said, “in that we both got back alive.”
Dr. Brant looked at both young men in turn, gravely. “What would you like to know?” he asked.
Rick cleared his throat. He hadn’t expected this! “We know that Tom Swift and a few others will be staying here, to keep out of view until the bomber is captured. What happens if he isn’t captured?”
“I don’t know. Next question.”
“What’ll the Swift team be working on in that underground room?”
“I don’t know that either. And?”
Rick groaned. “Dad, this isn’t funny.”
The older man smiled. “No, it isn’t. And what you just said was a statement, not a question. Look, I’ve been told very little. The Swift boy is working up some sort of gizmo with national defense implications. Apparently he needs access to the open sea, which we have here in abundance. And also to scientific equipment, instruments, and so forth, which we also have—though they’re hardly in the same league as what is available at Swift Enterprises. We’re all supposed to keep our mouths shut.”
Scotty raised a timid hand. “What about the dirt?”
Hartson Brant seemed to know what Scotty meant. “One of their digging machines was smuggled onto the island by the work crew. It works by vaporizing earth and rock, so very little remains. What did remain was squeezed against the walls of the chamber by one of their matter-repelling machines, creating a dense shell on all sides. Yesterday they installed their power hookups, which won’t be tied in to ours, as I gather the load is expected to be more than we can handle. And today the people start arriving.”
“Thanks,” said Scotty, simply but not without irony.
“And now,” Brant continued, “why don’t we step over to Spindrift’s new subterranean lab and welcome our guests?”
Rick boggled. “You mean it, Dad? Just like that?”
Hartson Brant laughed.
“Just like that! Let’s go.”
FALSE FRONTS AND
SINCE RICK and Scotty’s unauthorized nocturnal foray, some changes had been made to the shed, changes that were obvious to anyone who, like Rick, contemplated the possibility of a replay. The weak-looking metal door—in truth it was anything but—was no longer shut on latch. It bore a nice-sized steel padlock. There was also a little sign jammed onto a bolt-head protruding from the siding nearby, crudely hand-lettered in marking pen on a ragged scrap of cardboard.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE EATEN
“Cute,” muttered Scotty. “Shouldn’t there be trained alligators to go with it?”
“Mood-setting scenery,” Rick pronounced. “Nothing more. Probably printed from a computer template at government expense.” He expected his father to produce a key; instead, Hartson Brant gave a slight downward tug on the sign.
“See us?” he asked the thin air.
The thin air replied: “Sure do, sir.” The door clicked and popped open. The padlock was just a prop.
“Pretty swift,” was Rick’s comment, which Scotty rewarded with a Look.
On the other side of the door was a sort of catwalk leading to a small platform on vertical rails—an elevator. Next to the elevator, extending a few feet out over the chamber, was an open guard station with a small desk and a control panel, with microphone and TV screen. A comfortable-looking chair was occupied by an elderly man in a zippered uniform that all but shouted SECURITY.
“Boys, this is Arthur Roberts, from Swift Enterprises,” said Dr. Brant. Rick and Scotty introduced themselves and shook hands.
“I suppose you’ll shoot us if we try to nose around without permission,” Rick remarked. He intended the comment humorously, but Roberts gave a grave nod and patted the holster dangling from his belt.
“Sure will, young man. Won’t kill you, though. Just drop you in your tracks for a while, and maybe melt your fillings. It’s a Swift electric impulse pistol. Call it an i-gun.”
Scotty whistled. “Always wanted to try one of those things. May I?” He stretched out a hand.
“Not a chance.”
Floodlights had been set up in the excavated chamber, and they revealed a great gaping emptiness extending dozens of yards beyond the margins of the shed in the direction of the boat dock, crossed here and there by thick power cables with socket boxes. The cables led to a row of smallish cube-shaped units—batteries, Rick supposed. From their angle a few yards above the main ceiling of the space, they could see only the floor and part of the walls: their view of the lower room’s ceiling was blocked. Rick estimated that it lay beneath just a thin crust of ground.
There was nothing else to see. Scotty’s description of the chamber as being about the volume of a suburban superstore was hyperbole. Nevertheless, it was pretty big. A week ago it had not even existed.
Rick’s father snapped a glance at his wristwatch, then spoke to Roberts. “Everything on schedule?”
Roberts nodded. “Ahead, matter of fact. If I were you, I’d keep my eyes on the floor down there.”
Rick looked at Scotty. I’d keep my eyes on the floor. Had he heard right?
The three leaned forward against the catwalk railing. The floor of the chamber looked to be about 50 feet below them, and Rick noticed for the first time that it had not been hardened like the walls. It was just loose dirt and moist Spindrift clay, smoothed over but left in its natural state. And as he watched—
A small loose clod of earth rolled lazily toward the wall, seemingly of its own accord. Then a few more stirred.
“Look at that,” breathed Rick, and he heard Scotty suck in his breath, struck with more awe than he liked.
A mound of dirt, a bulge, was growing like an oversized mushroom in the middle of the floor. It rose up quickly, foot by foot, then suddenly split apart at the summit. Something shiny, slightly greenish in color, poked up through the gap. It looked like the nose of a monster gopher—a robot gopher made of metal, decked out in rows of parabolic antennae.
The thing forced its way up into the open, smoothly. It was roughly boat shaped, pointy at the prow and flat on top. And it was big; even the part already in view suggested that. Rick’s mind reached for a comparison. As long, end to end, as the wingspan of his plane the Sky Wagon, perhaps? No, longer, much longer, even just the half of it.
“Will it all fit inside?” asked Scotty.
“It doesn’t have to,” replied Dr. Brant. “Just the forward half, more or less. The hatchway is at the midpoint, I’m told.”
“Right. The two halves of the hull slide apart like a sleeve arrangement. I’ve read about the design.” Rick nudged Scotty. “It’s called a geotron.”
“I know,” said the ex-Marine. “I read the tech mags, too. I’m trying to improve my vocabulary.”
“Gonna ask to drive it?”
“Think they’d let me? I’m not having much luck.”
The big vehicle now extended quite a ways into the chamber, poking up at a sharp angle. It stopped moving forward and settled just a bit. A crack appeared, girdling its midsection. The crack widened as the whole front-facing hull—assuming it is the front and not the rear, thought Rick—inched forward. A large rectangular hatchway was revealed in the resultant gap.
“Let’s go down,” said Rick’s father, with a nod toward Roberts. The three stepped onto the elevator platform. The push of a lever smoothly lowered them to floor level.
The three Spindrifters approached the open hatchway, where three figures stood facing them, silhouetted in the light streaming out from behind. Rick couldn’t help thinking of other famous threes: wise men, stooges, blind mice. The new arrivals jumped down from the hatchway; they had to duck, as the edge of the opening was tilted like the line of the geotron.
A blond young man, crewcutted and a good deal younger than Rick had expected, took the lead, extending his hand toward Hartson Brant.
“Tom Swift.” The voice was friendly, perhaps a bit formal.
Dr. Brant shook hands and introduced the famous prodigy around.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Tom,” Rick said, reddening when he realized that he was gushing unexpectedly. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.”
“Me too, Rick.”
Next came a dark-haired, muscular youth, who introduced himself as Bud Barclay.
“I recognize you from the news,” Scotty remarked. “You’re the one always standing next to Tom.”
Rick groaned inwardly.
“That’s me,” said Bud with a smile. “I’m Tom’s best friend.”
“Brand my chitlins, don’t fergit about ole Chow!” exclaimed the third visitor, big and broad and clad in exuberant western wear, including a ten-gallon hat and high-heeled cowboy boots. “Brand my Rio Grande rapids, I’m a former chuck-wagon cook and personal chef to Tom here and his pa!” He thrust forward a big hand, which Hartson Brant shook vigorously—and vice-versa. “Pleased t’ howdy ya, Doc! Brand my jumpin’ june-bugs! Anybody want some space biscuits? My other specialty’s rattlesnake stew! Which way’s the galley?”
“We just ate,” said Rick. He wasn’t quite sure whether to feel amused or threatened.
“Wa-aal brand my cosmotron, thet’s too bad. Mebbe later.”
Four Swift employees, never introduced, now scrambled out the geotron hatchway, lugging large, curving pieces of equipment, some of metal, some of some sort of transparent crystal or, perhaps, plastic. After a number of trips back and forth, the pieces were snapped together like a child’s toy as Rick, Scotty, and Dr. Brant stood at a distance, watching in admiration. Tom Swift watched in silence; the workmen seemed to know their tasks well.
In a little over an hour a big, curious mechanism stood on the dirt floor near the battery bank. It was a transparent globe about ten feet in diameter, with an oval doorway in the side. The globe was enclosed top to bottom by an open grille-work of curving metal tubes.
“That’s your matter-beaming machine, isn’t it, Tom?” Rick asked.
“Exactly,” said the youth. “We’ll be receiving all our equipment and supplies by means of this telesphere.”
Rick nodded. “Safer that way.”
“Absolutely. I’m certain our dastardly foe doesn’t have the ability to detect and trace the quantum field.”
Scotty now walked up to Tom and Rick. “Mind if I ask a question? When your tunneling tank backs out and goes on its way, won’t it leave quite a hole? Aren’t you afraid the floor will cave in, taking the telesphere with it? And maybe a big chunk of Spindrift?”
Tom stared at Scotty, but it was Rick who answered. “You should have read those tech articles to the end, Scotty. The geotron uses a repulsion principle to push back the earth all around without messing up its natural elasticity. The sides of the hole it makes just spring back into place, pretty much.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” was Tom’s smiling comment. And before long the principle was demonstrated. The geotron, the four workmen aboard, withdrew into the ground without turning around, leaving behind concentric ripples of rumpled earth but no visible hole.
“I need to discuss some very boring matters with Tom before I show our guests Spindrift’s natural wonders,” said Dr. Brant. “If you two are getting tired of subterranean living, this would be an appropriate time to head topside.”
They did. “Let’s go up to my room,” said Rick in quiet tones. Scotty nodded.
They made their way in silence to Rick’s bedroom at the top of the stairs. Rick closed the door behind him, feeling Scotty’s eyes on him. When he turned, he saw that Scotty was smiling. It was one of his familiar special smiles, meaningful and slightly grim.
“Okay, agent Brant,” the ex-Marine said. “Just what are we dealing with here?”
Rick held up a hand. “Wait a second. I want to check something on the internet before I make a fool of myself.”
In moments he had brought up a series of news photos, mostly of Tom Swift, but also showing Bud Barclay; and one displayed a heavyset man identified as “mission chef Charles Winkler.”
Rick turned to his pal. “What’s the first thing you noticed? The haircut business?”
“Yup.” Scotty lowered himself down, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I’ve never seen Tom Swift with anything but short hair, usually a little ragged but still fairly short. His buddy favors longer hair—longer on top, but close-trimmed on the sides and in back, athlete style. Just like in those pictures. True?”
“True. So why do both of these fine young men have bands of pale skin on their necks, untanned areas?—as if they had longish hair for quite a while, chopped off in the last day or so?”
Scotty gave a nod of concurrence. “I’ll see your good question and raise you one. Why is it that when they speak, their lips are slightly out of sync with their voices? Not a lot. Not so much that an ordinary person would notice. But we are not ordinary people. We have keen vision to match our many other charms.”
“I didn’t notice it right away.” Rick ran a hand through his brown hair, forehead puckered. “I just felt that something was ‘off,’ just a little out of kilter. A feeling. That’s when I started paying more attention.”
Scotty rose and paced across the room. “Vocal synthecizers.”
“Super-miniaturized. Steve’s told me about them. You apply them flat on your face, like elastic bandages, then cover them over with makeup.” Rick gave a snort. “Couldn’t see any makeup, but I’m sure cosmetic technology has also come quite a long ways. Thanks to Hollywood.”
“And that cowboy guy!” Scotty continued. “What’s up with that? ‘Brand my cosmotron’? ‘Rattlesnake stew’? He was trying way too hard.”
Rick manipulated the computer mouse. “There’s something else. I think I remember it, but let me get the quote right. —Here’s the article, an interview from just a few weeks ago. Listen, Scotty. ‘Yes, we’re calling it a telesphere. It works on a quantum principle, not at all the sort of thing you see on TV. When people call it a matter-beamer, I always correct them—it’s just plain bad science.’” Rick looked back over his shoulder. “Did I miss the part where Tom Swift corrected me when I used the forbidden words?”
“If you did, I missed it too.”
Taking a last look at the photos, Rick logged off the computer. “They resemble the people they’re supposed to be. They sound just fine, if you’re not the sort of person who notices when ventriloquists twitch their lips. But they’re as phony as that shed out there. Who are they?”
they? I have a better question,” Scotty said. “Why are they?”
“DON’T MUCH look like me, boss. Leastways I shor hope it don’t.” Chow cast Tom a sidelong look, brow furrowed. “I’m not so all-fired fat. Am I?”
Tom managed a reassuring smile. “These guys are meant to fool the public, Chow—people who have only seen us on TV or in photos. They say pictures always make people look a little hefty, so they had to exaggerate some to keep it credible.” But he himself felt a little unsure. Did he really look like this Agent Tull?
Harlan Ames had talked them into it, and Tom and his father were not inclined to argue. Before the small team assigned to be relocated made their appearance on Spindrift Island, three FBI agents disguised as Tom, Bud, and Chow would test the waters.
Ames had explained it carefully—twice. “Somehow the enemy knew exactly where Bud was, where Sandy was, even where you all were hiding when you went to Greenup’s place. We can’t find any bug or monitoring device; we don’t know how he’s doing it. Despite our efforts, we can’t just blithely assume that he won’t have gotten wind of your Spindrift safehouse. He might’ve already planted some explosive devices there, whatever mysterious way he manages to do that. He sees you, he sets ’em off.”
“Too many unknowns,” Tom had agreed.
“So if there turns out to be a ‘tripwire’ on Spindrift, we’re going to make very sure it won’t be you three who trip over it. We’ll use special agents from the Bureau. They belong to a section that uses trained actors. We’ve selected some who already resemble you three to a fair degree, and we’ll be using some disguise techniques to improve that resemblance. It helps, of course, that nobody on Spindrift has ever met any of you in the flesh.”
It was all part of Harlan and Phil’s elaborate plan to protect those most endangered by their connections to Tom Swift. The Swift family, except for Tom, would stay in a rented house in Canada under assumed names. Similar arrangements had been made for the Barclays, the Longstreets, and the families of Hank Sterling, Arv Hanson, George Dilling, Slim Davis, Art Wiltessa, and Jake Aturian, as well as several others and various friends—even a woman Chow had once sought to marry, Jessee Thunder Lake of Tenderly, New Mexico. All would be guarded by FBI agents—hopefully without detection. A skeleton crew of volunteers would keep watch at Enterprises and the Swift Construction Company sites.
One case had required special attention.
“It is not that I don’t wish to avoid being exploded, Tom,” Bashalli Prandit had said. “And I do appreciate that you have included my brother Moshan and his family under your cloak of protection. But what of our business, The Glass Cat? It is our living, you know. Will your secret police people see to things there as well? Will they brew the coffee and serve the sugared buns? Or will the public believe we have turned our bellies upward and gone under?” Bashalli, born in Pakistan and Tom’s customary comrade in dating, worked for her family at The Glass Cat, a coffee house in Shopton, when not studying at the nearby DuBrey Art Institute.
Phil Radnor had come up with a solution. “We’ll let it get around that you are all visiting relatives back home—for a family wedding, let’s say. We’ll put a sign on the door giving a Pakistan telephone number for emergencies. As for the money issue, I’m sure Swift Enterprises will provide some fair compensation.”
Bashalli smiled. “Very nice. It should work, then. But you must promise to have my rabbit friend Homer well cared for, if you do not plan to move him to a safehouse under an alias.”
“We’ll take good care of him at Enterprises,” chuckled Radnor.
After days of living undercover, days marked with anxiety over the likelihood of another attack, Tom, Bud, and Chow now confronted their selected replicas with a degree of skepticism.
“He wouldn’t fool my mother,” Bud remarked, eyeing a young agent named Brent Oshansky.
“Fortunately, he doesn’t have to,” retorted Ames. “He’ll spend a day scouting out Spindrift for anti-Barclay activities, then report back.”
“Seems to me I’m doin’ pretty well,” Oshansky said. “I’ve memorized the backgrounders and the bios. I’ve practiced saying jetz and genius boy and all that stuff. I’ve even got the jokes down.”
“The jokes?” Bud scowled. “I don’t do jokes, kid. I make quips.”
“Wa-aal, yew dawnt need make no nevuhmind about me,” said the third impersonator, Jim Corder. “Ah been practicin’ m’ Texas talk fer days, steady. Now ah’m jest a ol’ cowhand from the Rio Grand-ee.”
Grand-ee? Chow shook his head in disgust. “No offense, but that there’s mighty pitiful. Sounds more like Alybama than Abilene. And what’s gonna happen if they ast ya t’cook up somethin’?”
Corder shrugged, which made his whole torso quiver. “Whoa-ho there, dude, ah kin cook jest fine. B’sides, they’s gonna give me some o’ these hyar ready-made dinner packets that taste jest like—”
“Naw, don’t tell me no more,” groaned the Texan. “I shor am glad this here’s a secret mission. My rep’tation would be deader’n Murphy’s mule.”
“Whatevuh that means,” muttered Corder under his breath.
Tom had one final contribution to make. He gestured toward an array of tiny electronic devices spread out on a table in front of them. “I can’t do anything about your choice of words, fellows, but these vocal synthecizers will at least give you the right tones.” He explained that the units were simple adaptations of a technology he had developed long before for his Televoc personal communicators, which were no longer used.
“But this is going to be open-air speaking, genius—er, Tom,” Bud objected. “Won’t the bad voices coming out of their mouths be heard along with the good ones from the synthecizers?”
“Each agent will be carrying a micro-sized silentenna in his pants pocket,” explained the young inventor. “It’ll have a very short range, but should do a good job of nullifying the underlying sounds of their voices when they speak.” He noted that the silentennas would detect and “translate” the muscle and nerve actions of the agents’ larynxes, ensuring that only their own words would be damped-out.
“Got to admit, that there’s first rate thinkin’, boss,” Chow declared.
Tom grinned. “And it would take a real first rate observer to see through it—that is, hear through it.”
“Dad,” Rick said quietly, “I know what we just said sounds pretty ‘out there.’ But isn’t it worth looking into? You know—‘lives and nations’ and all that?”
They were gathered in the study, early afternoon sun rebounding from the broad lawn outside and flooding through the big front windows. Rick, Scotty, and Hartson Brant had been joined by Rick’s mother. “They seem like such nice young men,” she said, “the ones who call themselves Tom and Bud. And the, um, big cowboy…”
“Colorful is probably the word you want, Dear,” Dr. Brant said. “If he’s a fake, though, you’d better not let him get anywhere near the kitchen.”
“You didn’t know about this, did you, Dad?” Scotty called Dr. Brant Dad, by the older man’s repeated request. “I’m sure you didn’t. You wouldn’t have misled us like that. Unless you had an excellent reason.”
Hartson Brant was silent for a long moment, eyes aimed in the general direction of his shoes as he sat in the study’s biggest and most-overstuffed chair. The silence gave Rick a feeling of—not anxiety, not anger, but something negative and a little sad.
Brant finally sighed. “I won’t try to squirm out of this. All I can do is ask you to accept my apologies.”
“So it’s true.” Rick’s words were not in the form of a question.
“Yes,” his father said. “I told you I’d been feeling the pangs of conscience. My first lie to you was when I minimized Steve Ames’s reaction when I told him what I’d leaked to you. He was very stern, and justifiably so—for everyone’s good. I felt I had to promise to go along with this further attempt at concealment, the use of these three actor-agents.” He explained the reasoning behind the ploy, and Rick and Scotty were mollified. Somewhat. Not much.
“So is it over now?” asked Rick. “Are we on the ‘need to know’ list yet?”
“You are. I’ll insist on it.”
Scotty nudged Rick, stifling what would have been a too-sarcastic retort. “When do the real ones get here?”
“Tonight, Scotty,” was the response. “Really.”
“Hartson, slipping anything past these two is plain foolishness and a waste of time,” declared Mrs. Brant. She leaned down and kissed her husband on the cheek. “But thank you for trying. Because what you were trying to do was to protect us.”
Rick and Scotty uttered sounds of somewhat grudging agreement, exchanging glances.
Out in the open air, strolling toward the boat dock, Rick said to Scotty, “Thanks for the nudge. Dad doesn’t deserve to feel worse than he does.”
Scotty nodded. “Besides, you can’t tell me it didn’t feel a little bit good, maybe more than a little bit, penetrating the disguises of professional FBI agents. Given that we turned out to be right.”
Rick laughed at that. “True! It’s been a long time since we’ve solved a real mystery.”
“Uh huh. And we don’t have to go rest on our laurels in the Spindrift sun, either. The big mystery is still out there.”
Scotty’s comment required no answer from Rick, though he couldn’t quite suppress a nervous gulp. The mystery of the bomber was still out there, all right. And—the irresistible cliché seemed to come rushing forward with a life of its own—it was a killer.
ENEMY FROM THE PAST
RICK THOUGHT of them as The Real Three. They arrived in the underground lab around dinnertime, as promised: Tom Swift, Bud Barclay, and Chow Winkler. Their doubles were already gone. “I don’t blame them for not taking a moment to say goodbye,” Rick had told Scotty. “I’d be embarrassed too.”
“You wouldn’t have done the kind of job requiring embarrassment.”
One moment the big telesphere globe was empty. The next, three somewhat vague figures were standing inside, close together. Satisfied that they hadn’t been lost in transmission, they filed out through the oval hatch.
Like his impersonator, Tom Swift was impressively young, blond hair short and a bit spiky, physique slender like a tennis player’s, but—also like a tennis player’s—suggesting muscular firmness underneath. The second to emerge, Barclay, was a shade taller and quite a bit more powerfully built, showing his muscle openly beneath broad shoulders. He also could pass easily for late teens, fresh out of high school. His hair was black, streaked on top with a trace or two of auburn, the work of the sun. A thick swept-forward lock pointed down toward a pair of gray eyes.
The man called Charles “Chow” Winkler was something else again—big-bellied, skin baked by decades of prairie sunshine, eyes crinkled in good humor when they weren’t popping with surprise, his head unleavened by hair, except for a few islanded wisps around his ears and above his collar in back. He carried a big cowboy hat in hand, and his yoked shirt, which Rick mentally named a prairie-dog’s nightmare, was a riot of improbable color.
For the second time that day, hands were shook and introductions made. “Good to meet you,” said Rick, trying for a polite, civil calm.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Rick,” answered Shopton, New York’s pride and joy. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.”
Rick found that he was grinning.
Tom’s first thought was that these two young men, whom he had heard about for years, were older than he had expected, closer to thirty than twenty. But he quickly reigned-in his surprise. What’d I expect? he asked himself. I was just a kid when they fired off that super-fast missile to the moon, and these two were already in their late teens. Scotty—who introduced himself as Don Scott—seemed at first the older of the two. But Tom soon had to revise that opinion. He was probably about the same age as Rick Brant, but something about his bearing and attitude suggested a degree of worldly wisdom not quite so evident in his pal.
Tom liked Rick at first handshake, and the feeling was mutual. Tom liked Dr. Brant as well, for he reminded him of his own father in many ways.
And everyone seemed to like Chow, though Tom could sense them struggling to know what to make of the roly-poly range cook.
Tom could sense something else equally well. Bud did not like Scotty. The pilot was not in the least impolite, and kept a pleasant smile fixed firmly between chin and nose. But Tom knew that Bud Barclay was an impulsive guy who couldn’t help broadcasting what he thought and how he felt—to those who knew what to look for.
“Is there really something called rattlesnake stew?” Scotty asked Chow with eyebrows raised high.
“Aw, did that empty-hat tub o’ lard spout off about that?” The cowpoke grimaced in disgust. “He shoulda goed easy on it. Now I s’pose you all think I’m loco from the sun.”
“No, not at all,” chuckled Dr. Brant. “And if it’s one of your specialties, I hope you’ll prepare it for us some time, if you have a chance.”
The Texan beamed. “Shor will! If it’s all right with your missus, I’d be more’n glad to earn my keep while I’m stayin’ here by workin’ the cook-range.”
At a slight sound all eyes turned toward the telesphere. Several padded crates were now evident in the globe, along with fancy equipment in various sizes and shapes.
“So Tom, where’s the other end of this matter-beamer?” Rick asked innocently. He could feel, just feel, Scotty suppressing a laugh.
“Actually, it doesn’t take you apart and ‘beam’ you; it gives you a kind of shortcut through space,” Tom replied rather more quickly—and firmly—than necessary. “At any rate, the other telesphere is in high-security surroundings at Swift Enterprises in Shopton. Quite a lot of equipment will be coming through.”
“We’ll help you unload,” said Hartson Brant, “then off to supper in the house.” He added: “Incidentally, Tom, you have just established your identity.”
“I knew who he was right along,” remarked Bud.
In the Brant dining room, over what Rick’s mother called cuisine of the traditional island culture and others called baked meatloaf, the conversation turned to Tom Swift’s current project. “You say it’s a sort of speedboat?” Rick asked.
“Speed is the word,” Tom replied, scooping a glob of cheese potatoes onto his china plate. “In principle the aquadisk will cut across the water like a jet.”
“And it’s disk-shaped, is it?” inquired Hartson Brant. “Along the lines of your submersible, the seacopter?”
Tom shook his head. “More like this.” He picked up an empty-as-yet dessert plate and tilted it up on edge, right-angled to the table top. “Because only a tiny bit of the bottom edge extends down into the water, and because its narrow cross-section faces the direction of travel, friction is reduced to a minimum.”
Scotty came right to the point. “Take away your finger and that plate will just flop over flat. So what keeps your aquadisk upright?”
“She’ll have ultra-high-speed gyrostabilizers, which we call supergyros. But I’ll bet you’re wondering why the aquadisk stays above water and doesn’t just sink down to the bottom.”
“If Scotty isn’t, I sure am,” Rick said. “Boats stay on the surface because their hulls displace water. The water tries to get back to where it belongs, and pushes the hull upward in sort of a squeeze-play. But I don’t see how something like that could just sit on top, like a tire on asphalt.”
“What Rick’s account lacks in strict scientific terminology, it makes up for in vivid imagery,” Dr. Brant noted.
“Thank goodness fer that!” Chow said. “I never can foller most o’ this science talk.”
Mrs. Brant laughed demurely. “Nor I!”
“The answer is the new technology I’ll be using the boat to test out,” Tom explained. “When the amplitensor is perfected—”
Tom fell silent; the entire table fell silent.
The telephone was ringing.
Mrs. Brant looked at her husband. “I wasn’t expecting a call. Were you?”
The phone rang again. And again.
“Brand my spurs, I’m gonna get it if nobody else wants to!” Chow exclaimed nervously.
“We’re being foolish.” Hartson Brant rose from the table and answered the phone. He said hello, then waited, listening, perplexed. After a long moment a slight jerk of his head indicated that the caller had hung up.
He rejoined the silent table and sat down.
“He knows you’re here,” Scotty said, looking at Tom.
Tom Swift looked at Dr. Brant quizically, who nodded.
“What did he say?” asked the young inventor gently.
“One word repeated several times. I think it was a recording.” Brant took a sip of water. “He hung up on me too quickly—I should have asked you over to the phone, Tom. I didn’t recognize the word. Turnbull.”
Bud slammed down the fork in his hand. “Turnbull!”
“But what does it mean?” asked Rick’s mother.
“Aw, ma’am, I don’t think you wanna know!” groaned Chow. “It means big trouble!”
Rick was able to make a stab at an explanation. “It was in all the papers. Robert Turnbull was a scientist who lost it—went completely schizo. Something to do with trying to wreck the Swift atomic energy plant in New Mexico.”
“That’s right,” Tom confirmed. “And he tried to steal one of the first of my giant robots.”
“I remember now,” remarked Rick’s father. “Had some kind of skull injury, didn’t he?”
“A cranial deformation,” said Tom. “After he was taken into custody, he was held in a psychiatric facility. We were told he had responded well to cranial surgery and showed considerable remorse for what he had done.”
“Pretty easy to fake,” Bud snorted.
“If he’s in custody—?” There was no need for Scotty to finish his observation.
“I can see why this Dr. Turnbull would have a beef against you, Tom,” Rick said. “And I can see—sort of—why he might want to call up to terrorize you and take credit for the attacks.”
“It’s called bein’ plain crazy!” was Chow’s emphatic comment. “The owlhoot prob’ly thinks his dead twin bother is doin’ it.”
“But Turnbull is in custody, as far as I know,” said Tom. “I’m sure we’d have been informed if he had escaped.” Rick thought how strange it was, seeing someone who appeared to be in his teens suddenly looking as if he were bearing the weight of the world unaided.
After a moment’s thought, Tom turned to Bud, who sat next to him.
“I’ll use the PER to contact Harlan. He’ll check up on it.”
Rick’s eyes shifted between the two of them. “The PER?”
“Private Ear Radio,” Tom explained. “It uses a quantum principle. Once communication is established it becomes impossible for anyone to listen in. I don’t imagine even a brilliant mind like Turnbull’s can get around the laws of physics!”
The dinner was ruined. After they all forced down a few more bites, Dr. Brant adjourned them to the living room. “So he knows where you are,” he said soberly in the general direction of the three guests. “Very bad.”
“But now we know who he is,” Bud declared, “and that’s something.”
Tom settled back in an easy chair, but his body remained uneasy—tense and focused. “Until we learn how he’s directing and causing those attacks, we’ll be in danger wherever we are. To be honest, you folks here on Spindrift are in danger as well.”
“But what can you do, Tom?” asked Mrs. Brant.
“Solve the scientific problem, somehow. If I could get a sample of his technology, I could work up a counterweapon. But because he strikes at random, there’s never a way to prepare.”
Chow muttered, “Wish t’ hey we knew what he ’as gonna go after next.”
Dr. Brant nodded his understanding of the problem. “You could be prepared. But who knows where he’ll strike.”
“I know,” said Rick Brant.
RICK BRANT could feel all eyes turn his way like probing searchlight beams.
“Figured it out already, huh?” was how Bud Barclay expressed his skepticism. “What took so long?”
“Let Rick talk,” said Scotty quietly.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Rick squirmed uncomfortably, hoping against hope that his words hadn’t come out quite as they had just sounded in his ear. “I’m not bragging, just—well, it’s a fact. If this Blast-Master is as all-knowing and, um, all-reaching as he seems to be, the reason he hasn’t gone after Tom directly must be because he doesn’t want to.”
“Not yet, anyway,” said Tom.
“Sure—the projected message said he’d get around to you. But that means we’re fairly safe here on Spindrift. He won’t go after us here until he’s hit a few more of his targets.”
“Right, that’s real reassuring,” Bud grumbled. “You’re expecting logic from a lunatic.”
“He’s also a scientist, and science lives on logic,” Hartson Brant pointed out. “It would be second nature to him, I would think.”
Scotty urged everyone to let Rick continue. Bud flashed him a sour look.
“Let’s say, anyway, that he won’t be striking here next,” Rick went on. “He’s already targeted your main plants and bases, Tom: wherever he could find someone important to you who wasn’t literally by your side at the moment. Am I right?”
Tom nodded slowly. “You are, Rick. Looking back now, I don’t think the explosion of that projector truck was meant to endanger me. He was destroying evidence.”
“Okay. Well, your close friends and employees and your family—even the families of persons close to you—all are in hiding. He can’t get at them.”
Chow objected. “Wa-aal, we’re s’posed to be in hidin’ and that shor didn’t stop him!”
“He’d pretty much have to keep tabs on me, whatever the cost,” Tom pointed out. “But to give that kind of attention to everybody and his brother might make him too exposed. He mightn’t want to risk it, if he felt he could avoid it for now.”
“It sounds pretty reasonable when you say it, Tom,” Rick remarked with a half-smile. “At any rate, it seems to me there’s a fairly obvious place for him to strike at next, a place with major importance to the Swift family and—”
Catching on instantly, Tom half-jumped from the chair in excitement. “Of course! The Swift Homestead and Learning Center!”
“What is it?” inquired Rick’s mother. “A part of Swift Enterprises?”
“No,” replied the young inventor. “It’s the old house and surrounding outbuildings in Shopton where my great-grandfather Tom lived when he started his career. He lived there with his father Barton, and a housekeeper named Mrs. Baggert, and a couple others. Even after he married, he often used the converted sheds as workshop-labs, because of the privacy. Now it’s a State of New York historical monument, with various displays set up, even a few of the actual original inventions. Tours go through it most days.”
“My high school class took one of those tours,” Rick said. “As I remember, the place was fenced-in, and there were security guards, but it looked to me like the security was pretty minimal. To tell you the truth, I spent some time daydreaming of just how I’d go about breaking in, if I needed to.”
“Rick’s that kind of guy,” commented Scotty.
“Breaching security doesn’t cause Turnbull to break a sweat,” declared Tom. “We’ve sure seen that! The Homestead is a mighty tempting target because of its historic importance and sentimental meaning to my family. And it’s also located right next to the Swift Construction Company!”
“Okay, maybe Rick’s hit the bullseye,” Bud conceded. “So what can we do to keep Turnbull from hitting it too, in his own way?”
Tom stood up from the easy chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully—a habit—and prowling from one end of the living room to the other. “You know,” he said at last, “I think we’ve been making the wrong assumption all along.”
Chow asked, “Whataya mean, boss?”
“I’m not so sure we’ve been dealing with explosions at all!”
“Genius boy, I saw a couple of those non-explosions, and felt ’em too,” retorted Bud. “Don’t try to tell me it was just imagination!”
“I think Tom is trying to say that the blasts weren’t caused by explosives,” Scotty put in, drawing a withering glance from Bud. “Not explosives in the usual sense—no dynamite, no blasting caps, no casings.”
“That’s it, Scotty.” Now that Tom could feel his brain back on the beam, he again seemed the masterful thinker of reputation. He sank back down in his chair, eyes bright. “There were no chemical or powder traces. The smoke came from the fires, and the fires could well have been a secondary effect caused by the blast-wave. Sudden concussion could easily raise the temperature of various flammable materials above their kindling point.”
“Then the question is, what caused the concussion itself?” Rick’s father noted.
“One of my own inventions—the repelatron!” Tom cried animatedly. “A full-sized repelatron, such as we use for propulsion, can only be miniaturized so far. But I can imagine a super-compact single-use device—”
“Like one o’ them cheap throwaway cameras, huh?” interjected Chow.
“Yep, pardner, just like that. It could be as small as a marble, say, or the eraser on a pencil, with a cached storage capacitor to provide one huge jolt of power—just one, and then it’s dead.”
“But it’s dead anyway,” Rick said, “because that one jolt creates a big wave of repulsion force that blows up everything in all directions!”
“Including the device itself,” added Scotty, his eyes on Bud Barclay.
Rick could tell that Bud wanted to refute the idea. “You’d need a separate antenna for each kind of material to be repelled,” Bud said. “Could you really miniaturize a whole cluster of equipment like that? Tom?”
Tom grinned at his pal. “I don’t think you’d have to. The device could be tuned to affect the most common thing in the environment—atmospheric nitrogen! The resulting wave of pressure would be just as devastating as if the solid materials were being repelled directly. Sort of a cyclone in a can.”
Bud shrugged, frowning. Rick asked Tom if such a device could be counteracted.
“I’m sure I could come up with a damping generator,” was the reply. “And if Turnbull uses his repela-bomb at the Swift Homestead, we could have a real chance not only to prevent any destruction, but maybe to snag one of the machines for study!”
Warmly expressing gratitude to Rick for his insight, Tom trotted out to the subsurface workroom, where he used the Private Ear Radio unit to contact Harlan Ames at his safehouse in a small town near Shopton. “What a plot!” Ames exclaimed. “Even though it’s late, I’m going to get in touch with that FBI fellow in Albuquerque. I imagine I can reach him through his office.”
“Sam Valdrosa? Good idea. Their field office should be keeping tabs on Robert Turnbull. I can’t wait to find out how he escaped—and why we weren’t informed.”
“I’m a bit interested in that myself,” Ames commented sourly. “Stay close to the PER.”
It took less than twenty minutes for the security chief to beep back through. “Things are getting twisty, Tom. The Colfax County Corrections Hospital swears Turnbull is still in the locked wing just as he should be!”
Astounded, Tom was silent for a moment. “Then—the mystery caller—”
“—is full of it!” Ames snorted. “What’s his game? He’s involved in some way, obviously. He knew of the attacks as soon as they happened; even before, in the case of the attack on your home. Why feed you a load now?”
Tom confessed his bafflement, but added, “Still, Rick Brant’s idea makes good sense. I’m going to work on a nullifier device tonight. No sleep for me!”
“Nor for me. I’ve got a lot of followup work to do, and Valdrosa said he’d make the drive up to the hospital to check out Turnbull himself, first thing in the morning.” He added that he would alert the State authorities in charge of the Swift Homestead. “I’m sure they’ll provide extra security, and of course they’ll close the site to the public. Do you think the Blast-Master will go ahead and attack a closed site?”
“I’m guessing he will,” replied Tom. “He hasn’t been going after members of the general public so far, and the Homestead is still an attractive target even if it’s closed. In fact, knowing that we have an inkling of his plans may whet his appetite all the more!”
The night wore on, and on and on, for Tom Swift laboring beneath the ground to the somewhat disembodied snores of Arthur Roberts, who had a cot next to his desk. But as midnight passed on Spindrift above, two dark-clad figures crunched their way across the topside of the ground, bending low to merge with the moon-shadows.
“Where do we point that thing first, spyboy?” Scotty asked Rick, half-nodding at what looked like a camera with a very long lens tube, which Rick cradled in his arms protectively.
“Doesn’t matter,” Rick replied. “The night-vision scope’ll pick up anything going on, just as long as there’s a line of sight. We’ll just pan-360, from high ground.”
“The highest ground is on the west side—the cliffs by the tidal flats.” Scotty started to turn westward, away from the house.
“Out for a moonlight stroll, boys?” The voice behind them spoke in normal, if sarcastic, tones, but Bud Barclay might as well have been shouting. Rick flinched in violent surprise. But Scotty only broke out in a low chuckle. “Say, whatcha got there?” Bud continued, walking up.
“My camera,” Rick said. “Light-amplifying lens array.”
“Neat. So what’re you going after?” Bud asked. “Moonlight seascapes? Gonna shoot ol’ Scotty here doing a swan dive off the cliffs?”
“If I did that, I’d get mud in my ears,” Scotty responded. “Right now the water covering the tidal flats isn’t much thicker than a woolly blanket. But don’t take my word for it. Feel free to take a dive. I’ll even help you get started—Bud.”
Bud’s smile disappeared. “You’d strain your back. And then what would Rick do?”
Rick saw a need to divert the flow of conversation. “Did we wake you, Bud? We got to talking about how the phone-caller found out that you three were here on Spindrift. He—or probably people working for him—must be keeping an eye, somehow, on any number of likely safehouse possibilities. He’s out there, or he was. We thought we might catch a glimpse of him through the scope.”
“Uh-huh.” Bud nodded, evidently unimpressed. “You didn’t wake me—I couldn’t sleep. I had to get out in the open air. And I thought, just maybe, I might see something interesting. Nighttime on exotic Spindrift Island!” His tone softened. “I can’t just sit around while Tom’s in danger like this.”
“I understand,” Rick said, and Scotty gave the slightest of nods.
They walked steadily along a gravel path which passed between the apple orchard and the several acres of woods that clothed most of Spindrift. Speaking in whispers, Rick gave Bud what he called the nickel tour, pointing out the big laboratory building—empty and awaiting the return of the Foundation’s scientific staff from vacations and their various off-island projects—and then, a hundred steps later, a clearing marked by a concrete slab and some rusted girders. “That’s where we launched the moon rocket.”
“I read about it in the Chronicle, in San Francisco,” remarked Bud. “Quite a big deal back then. Of course that was before Tom and I went to the moon ourselves.”
They reached the westside cliffs, which angled down steeply into the narrow mud flats that divided Spindrift from the Jersey coastline, making it, barely and intermittently but in point of fact, an island. Scotty led them down a short path cut into the cliffside, to a ledge where the Brants had set up a heavy wooden bench, anchored into the ground.
Rick sat himself down, adjusting his camera and the lenses. The camera had no film; he only intended to look through the viewfinder.
The moon was low at their backs, draping the cliffs in deep shadow. But the further reaches of the flats, and the coast beyond, were whitewashed with pale moonlight.
Bud suddenly sucked in his breath. “Someone’s down there!” he hissed.
“Where?” asked Scotty as Rick looked up.
Bud pointed wordlessly, his arm angling down toward a glistening strip of the flats at the very edge of the cliff’s shadow. The three could see what looked like two tiny beads of gray light, moving together, half in shadow already.
The beads plunged into the shadow and disappeared.
“Somebody wearing glasses,” Scotty muttered.
Bud asked if there were ever any late-night fishing on the flats.
“Nothing to fish for when the water’s this shallow,” replied Rick. “Except maybe information.” He pointed the camera, held it up to his eye and took a long look. Then he lowered it to his lap, frowning.
“What?” demanded Bud.
Rick glanced up at the young pilot. “Don’t ask me. I don’t know what I’m seeing.”
Scotty took the camera out of Rick’s hands and looked. Then he handed it to Bud.
Bud stared hard into the viewfinder. “How fast can we get down there?” he asked.
“Not fast enough,” was Rick’s reply. “Even if he can’t see us coming because of the shadow, we’re sure to kick over a few rocks and make some noise. He’ll just slog to shore. Probably has a car there. The highway’s just beyond a fringe of woods.”
Bud gave a snort of angry frustration. “Okay. Back to Tom—fast!”
AS IT happened, it wasn’t all that easy to get back to Tom fast. It seemed to Rick that Arthur Roberts had been given his responsibility more out of favor than utility. An elderly man, Roberts was perhaps not the best choice to be tapped for guard duty. He seemed a tad hard of hearing; especially while deeply asleep. It took a good long while, and many tugs on the bogus warning sign, to gain admittance to the secret sanctuary. But finally Rick, Scotty, and Bud stood facing a tired-eyed Tom Swift.
“All right,” Tom said. “What is it?” Rick thought he could understand the impatience in the young inventor’s voice. He looked past the Shoptonian to a snap-together workbench littered with electronic parts. Rick, a knowledgeable technician, could only recognize about one part in three.
“There’s a man out on the tidal flats,” Scotty said. “I say ‘man,’ but if the local Mensa chapter maintains a zoo nearby, they might like to count their apes.”
“It’s the Gorilla, Tom,” Bud said simply, though with the trace of a smug smile. Rick was quite certain Barclay felt he had one-upped the Spindrifters.
“It’s a gorilla,” Rick said. “A gorilla wearing pants and a jacket, with big night-vision goggles on his face. If it’s also the Gorilla, I think Scotty and I are owed an explanation.”
Tom nodded but first asked Bud if he were certain. “It sure looks like the guy you described,” the youth responded. “The one you caught in front of your house that night before we left for Loonaui on the space outpost trip. You called him the Taxman.”
“I thought I was confused before,” commented Scotty. “Now I’m sure. There’s a gorilla who’s a taxman?”
Tom motioned for them to sit down in the several folding camp-chairs that had recently come through the telesphere. Then he sat down himself, facing them. “There’s only so much I can tell you, guys. It’s a national security deal, and sometimes disclosing information is a felony.”
Scotty said, “We know.”
“The man in question is some kind of agent for a government group that deals with foreign threats involving advanced science and technology,” Tom went on. “At least that’s what I think—they tell us almost nothing. For various reasons we’ve nicknamed the agency ‘Collections,’ and the main person or persons in touch with Swift Enterprises has been called ‘the Taxman.’”
“Person or persons. You don’t know?” asked Rick.
“Let’s just say it’s been hard to figure out, and they’re not anxious to clarify things. But as Bud said, I did encounter one Taxman face to face, some time back. He’d been glimpsed before and described by others, and we were calling him the Gorilla.”
“For obvious reasons,” Bud noted.
Rick asked if his apelike appearance were some kind of disguise. “No,” was Tom’s reply. “He is believed to suffer from a chromosomal condition that causes those characteristics.”
“You say he’s on our side? Maybe he can tell you where this Blast-Master is,” Scotty suggested.
Bud answered on Tom’s behalf. “We tried to contact Collections, but they’re not responding.”
Scotty persisted. “Fine. So why is he hanging out next to Spindrift in the middle of the night?”
“He had some bulky thing with him, like a suitcase,” added Rick. “How do you know he’s not planting one of those repela-bombs?”
Tom shrugged. “I guess we don’t know. In the past he was definitely a white-hat guy. The suitcase may be some kind of monitoring equipment.”
“Maybe they pulled his ‘double-0’ license,” gibed Bud. “He’s out of a job and trying to get up the nerve to apply for work here at Spindrift.”
Rick took a deep breath. “Know what I think, Tom? I think this Gorilla-Taxman could be the source of those phone calls, since it doesn’t seem to be that Turnbull guy.”
Tom gave a grim nod. “Occurred to me, too.”
“And to me,” Bud added. “You too, Scotty?”
Scotty smiled but said nothing.
“I can’t work any more tonight,” said Tom. There was fatigue in his voice, the sort of fatigue Rick had often heard in the voices of the Foundation scientists as they dragged through the long hours on some intractable problem or interminable task—lens-grinding being, as far as Rick knew, the absolute all-time worst. “I’m heading into the house to get what rest I can before sunup.”
They bid goodnight to Roberts. He nodded but seemed not a bit disappointed to see the midnight party draw to a close.
“Nice guy,” said Rick as the four young men trudged back toward the house. “But how is he in a fight?”
“How’s anyone?” asked Scotty. “Until you’re in it.”
Tom and Rick both had the feeling that Scotty was very carefully not looking Bud’s way. And vice-versa.
As they split up on the porch—Tom and Bud to the guest wing, Rick and Scotty into the main wing, then upstairs—Tom said in parting: “By the way, if you saw the Taxman, it’s because he let you. And don’t think he didn’t see you, too.”
Inside the spacious room they shared, Tom and Bud spoke in low tones, readying themselves for bed.
“What’s with you, pal?” Tom inquired. “You don’t take to Scotty. Why?”
Bud looked away, his attitude surly. “It’s nothing. I’m okay.”
“We’ve all got to work together.”
“You think I don’t know that?” the dark-haired youth snapped. “Look, Tom, I don’t trust him. All right? Call it instinct. There’s a place for following your instincts—you do it all the time in your inventing. Rick Brant’s fine, but Scotty-boy—” He broke off. “I don’t know. Let’s leave it at that… genius boy.”
Tom gave his friend an affectionate poke on the arm. “Okay, flyboy.”
As he drifted down into fitful sleep, Tom’s mind continued to work. If the Gorilla—whose true name was Miza Ranooq—were behind the telephone tip-offs, why did he not identify himself? Why cast suspicion, apparently falsely, in the direction of Robert Turnbull? Come to think of it, came a wisp of thought, why did Collections not respond to me in the usual way?
His next-to-last thought was of some circuit designs for his amplitensor.
But his last thought was a fleeting image of Ed Longstreet fighting the sea—and losing.
By the middle of the day that had dawned all too soon, while Rick and Scotty combed the tidal flats for some trace of the watcher, Tom was ready to demonstrate his “repelaforce jammer” to Bud and Hartson Brant.
“It looks like one of those midget TV antennas that you can buy,” Bud remarked. “The ones you put right on top of your set that are supposed to bring in signals from anywhere and everywhere—which never work.”
Dr. Brant demurred. “As that description is just a bit discouraging, Bud, I’m going to compare it to a sculpture. A tribute to the helix.”
Tom held the device in his hand. Its most prominent feature was a spiralling tube that increased its radius with each turn, as if it were wound about an unseen cone. “You’re dead-on about one thing, Bud—it’s an antenna, all right.”
“And it nullifies the rays from repelatron machines?” asked Brant.
“Watch,” was the reply. Tom picked up a small portable repelatron and aimed its parabolic radiator dish at Bud. Digging the heels of his shoes into the dirt floor of the lab to brace himself, he switched on the device. Bud immediately stumbled backwards, trying not to lose balance. His shirt and jeans were pressed flat against his body on the side facing the radiator; the repelatron had been tuned to repel cotton fibers.
“Packs a nice little punch,” commented the young pilot, leaning forward against the invisible force.
Dr. Brant gestured with raised eyebrows, and Tom carefully transferred the repelatron to the scientist’s grasp. “The backpressure’s steady. I didn’t think it’d be so powerful. I can see how something like this got you to the moon, Tom.”
“Keep it aimed, Dr. Brant,” Tom instructed. “It won’t hurt Bud. But keep yourself braced.” The scientist-inventor picked up the jammer. Standing some forty feet away and turning the coil in the general direction of Brant and Bud, he switched it on. At the sound of the click, both Brant and Bud suddenly toppled forward toward each other violently. The force they had been leaning against had disappeared.
Bud laughed. “I’d say it works!”
“But how does it work?” asked Hartson Brant, shutting off the repelatron.
“It’s tough to explain with the degree of detail you might be used to,” Tom declared.
“Give us the Bud version!” urged Tom’s pal. “That’s simple enough for anyone—er, no offense, Doctor.”
“As you may know, the directional repelatron creates a linear field, like a ray or beam,” Tom began. “One end of the field reacts with the emitter element in the radiator antenna, the other end with the spectron matrix emanating from the nucleus of whatever sort of atom you want to repel. It’s the ‘shell’ created by the strong nuclear force, basically.”
“Producing a repulsion effect.” Brant nodded. The general principle of the remarkable Swift invention had become common knowledge among the technologically inclined.
Tom continued, “The repulsion field is actually of the same nature as the spectron matrix. It’s a sort of web-structure, a pattern of interwoven ‘twists’ in the fabric of spacetime. We’ve discovered that all nuclei are surrounded with it. But the field from the repelatron twists in the opposite direction, like a mirror-image, generating the forces we use. Now what this antidetonator-jammer does,” he went on, “is layer-on a third field in which the generated spacewaves, as I call them, have no overall orientation at all. It’s like introducing random static—the repelatron can’t get in sync with what it’s targeting, nullifying the effect.” Tom added that a modified version of the jammer would counteract the kind of all-directional radiator he believed was being used in the attacks. “But there’s an Achilles Heel. Just like the repelatrons, the jammer has to be precisely tuned to one spectronic ‘signature,’ one specific mix of atoms. If it turns out that the enemy isn’t using atmospheric nitrogen as his medium, it won’t work.”
“Nevertheless, it gives us hope,” stated Hartson Brant. “Absolutely brilliant.”
“‘Absolutely brilliant’ comes easy for Tom Swift,” Bud remarked with a grin.
But Tom was in a somber mood. “I don’t worry about being ‘brilliant’. I just want to get the problem solved before anyone gets killed.”
A chirping sound announced that a message was coming in via the Private Ear Radio. He lifted the unit to his ear. “This is Tom.”
“Ames here.” The man’s tone revealed instantly that something serious had transpired. “There’s been—an incident.”
“It seems so. I’ve received word that Agent Valdrosa’s car was blasted off the highway while he was driving from Albuquerque to that facility in New Mexico where Robert Turnbull is being held. There was a powerful side impact—no sign of a conventional explosive, as usual—and the car flipped a couple times. Valdrosa and his partner sustained some fairly serious injuries and have been hospitalized.”
Tom was shocked. “What are the doctors saying, Harlan? Do you know?”
“The caller said the prognosis for a full recovery is good. But that’s about the only good news,” declared the security chief. “For the enemy to go after Valdrosa is a disturbing escalation, Tom. You’re acquainted with Valdrosa, but he’s not a friend or company employee.”
serious,” Tom agreed. “It shows that the Blast-Master is still getting current
detailed info about our activities. But it also shows us something else—there’s
a connection to Robert Turnbull that someone doesn’t want probed. Harlan, I
want to take action. I have a counterweapon now to protect me. I think it’s
time for me to look Turnbull in the eye and find out what’s going on in that
head of his!”
THE CHILI-FRIES KID
“COULD the man be a ghost as well as a gorilla?” asked Rick sourly. “That would explain a lot. Ghosts have ESP. I read in a book that sometimes they make phone calls. And they definitely don’t leave footprints.”
“Not even living flesh-and-blood mortals leave footprints under water,” Scotty responded.
The two had crossed the tidal flats in shorts and sandals. The shorts had got wet from their splashing progress, but their colored tees were barely damp, except from perspiration. The midmorning sun was already bright and hot. Some of the rocks that poked up into the air were crowned with wispy spikes of steam which stood out against the ebbing shadow of the Spindrift cliffs at their back.
Rick gestured downward. “There’s hardly enough water to be under, Scotty. Sure, deep pools here and there, but this time of year the tops of the rises and bars are nearly always above the water line whatever the tide. From where he was standing, he couldn’t have got to shore without crossing some stretch of dry land.”
“Maybe not dry, but at least non-soggy,” agreed the ex-Marine. “And yet the fact is that we see nothing that looks like the sort of imprint a two-ton anthropoid in fashionable outdoor garb would likely leave behind. Nuttin’. Can gorillas be trained to leap like kangaroos?”
“Your tax dollars at work.”
A dozen steps and they were on the mainland, a narrow pebbly strip of ochre shoreline that could hardly be called a beach. The land rose gently through a line of scrub, then the trees took over. The stretch bordering the tidal flats was only a couple hundred feet long, if that. In five minutes the boys had examined it minutely, to no result.
“Which means absolutely nothing,” observed Rick Brant. He was not savoring their lack of progress, not at all. “He could have gone ashore further down in either direction, walking in shallow water. Matter of fact, he could have piled into a boat.”
“Matter of fact, you’re right. We didn’t think to look for a boat last night through the viewfinder. It could have been stashed behind any of those big rocks, anyway.” Scotty looked at Rick, then down at his own shorts. “Let’s hike up to Brannigan’s. We need to dry off in the sun.”
“We’ll get wet again going back to the island,” Rick pointed out with an innocent smile. “Plus, you might consider the dampness of perspiration, an unavoidable effect of the sun.”
“I’ve given both factors due consideration,” said Scotty. “And my conclusion is: I want a burger.”
Brannigan’s Seaside—seaside what was left unstated—was a small diner about a mile up the old highway in the direction of Stillman’s Wharf and Whiteside. It had been around approximately forever, certainly since World War II, and Brannigan was long gone. The present owner, a Mr. Yevieux, had kept up the tradition of fine meaty burgers and salty fish sandwiches on toasted sourdough, with thick-cut fries in big wicker baskets.
As they crossed through the woods to the highway, Rick acknowledged that Scotty’s urge might serve a useful purpose. “It’s just possible that Mr. Yevieux, or whoever’s working the counter, might have caught a glimpse of our mysterious knuckle-dragger.”
Scotty smiled. “But of course. You thought this was all about my stomach?”
They entered Brannigan’s through the rear, crossing the concrete slab that the owner called The Ocean View Patio, though it was barely a patio and the ocean view consisted more of high-wheeling gulls than actual water. The diner opened early, as it was a truckstop. The morning rush was over, but there were still a few burly types here and there crouched over fried egg sandwiches and coffees. “But no obvious gorillas,” whispered Rick.
Mr. Yevieux, tall and skinny and rather ivory colored, was working behind the counter. As Rick and Scotty approached, he nodded a greeting and gestured off to the side, where a teenager in a white cap was delivering a soda to another boy engaged in demolishing a basket of chili-fries, who also wore a cap—backwards. “Dennis will take your order, gents. Got to finish the mid-morning wipedown.”
“Sure,” said Scotty. “While you’re wiping, mind if we ask you something? A friend of ours, a great big man with great big shoulders and, mm, deep-set eyes was due on Spindrift last night, but he didn’t show and didn’t call. He’d worried that he might get lost—thought maybe he might’ve stopped in here for directions.”
Yevieux glanced up. “Unusual looking fella, you say?”
“You’d remember him,” Rick declared. “Believe me!”
“Didn’t see no one like that,” the man stated. “Then again, I was gone by seven. Dennis was here, though.”
Scotty repeated the inquiry to Dennis, now behind the counter. “No,” he said. “Sure didn’t see nobody like that. And I ’as here till closin’.”
“Just thought we’d ask,” Rick said. “It’s no big deal.”
The boys—everyone called them “the boys,” and had for quite a few years now—placed their orders, which Dennis conveyed to the cook. As Rick and Scotty waited, Dennis attended to the youth at the table, who evidently needed some change. Receiving the change, the boy, in faded cap and jeans and a ragged shirt, rose and left by the back entrance without a glance.
Dennis approached Rick, a white something in his hand. “Didja see that kid who left? He said this belongs to you.”
Rick stared down. “This?” The object was a little packet, made by folding a paper napkin several times over. He took the packet and opened it. It felt empty, and it was.
Except that it contained a few words, scrawled in ballpoint pen, smeared and spreading.
What good is hay to a dead horse?
Rick read the words once calmly, once unbelievingly, then thrust the napkin in front of Scotty eyes.
Scotty didn’t need to read it more than once.
They bolted for the back door, Rick taking the lead, sandals clapping against the wooden floor. Rick didn’t see the foot extended in his path; he just tripped over it, sending him into an erratic stumble that took him all the way across the concrete slab. He looked back in time to see Scotty pummeling the boy in the cap, the chili-fries kid. Scotty had backed him up against the wall of the diner. The pummeling didn’t look threatening. In fact it looked more like ticklish poking, relentless.
The kid’s cap fell off, revealing a mass of shiny black hair.
“Enough, meathead, enough!” cried the boy through a gasp. “I give honor to your superior Spindrift strength and native cunning.”
Scotty stopped and stepped back so Rick could rush forward with a bearhug. “Chahda! Where in the holy world did you come from?”
Chahda took a couple steps away, straightening his ragged shirt with dignity. “Calcutta, subcontinent known as India, major landmass, very populous. Home to tiger and elephant, both smarter than Spindrift twosome.” A row of white teeth split his dark face. “To be invisible to old friends, I merely look away and pull cap down low. When did you lose your legendary talents?”
“Old age,” Scotty said.
Chahda Sundararaman was younger than Rick and Scotty, but had left his teens several years before. He had become part of their lives when the young Spindrifters had participated in a scientific project in the part of the world where he had been born. They had had many subsequent adventures together. Chahda was resourceful, independent, and had an uncanny knack for going about undetected—as he had just demonstrated. “And how about notable quotation I left as calling card to you? Phrase from famous golden skull affair, in Philippines. Not so long ago.”
“Not so long,” Rick agreed with a broad grin. He was overjoyed to see Chahda. He felt as though he had two brothers, one older, one younger. Chahda was the younger one.
“On vacation from the family business?” asked Scotty.
“Import-export shop running well enough without Chahda always there. Besides, Boston a dull place, very much straight-laced. Lives up to legendary reputation. No adventures, no need for considerable talent in disguise. So I come to Spindrift to surprise meatheaded friends. I get room at motel near wharf, and sit and think: How I can get on to island without you see me? Better surprise that way. And as I sit in chair on walk in front of room, sun going down yesterday, amazing thing happens. This amazing thing, I will tell you when you eat what you came here to eat. So you not collapse in two heaps.”
“How’d you figure Scotty and I would be here?” Rick inquired.
“Always a good possibility, knowing bottomless appetites of two chums. But mostly just coincidental. Lucky coincidence, which I take good advantage of at lightning speed.”
The three went back inside, where Rick and Scotty’s order was ready. They sat at a table in a corner, and Chahda began to speak.
Tom and Bud telesphered to Swift Enterprises, which with its skeleton staff was like a ghost town. In one of his labs the young inventor used a computerized circuit-inscriber to re-create the key components he had developed for his jamming device.
“That inscriber machine’s a great invention,” Bud commented admiringly. “Sure saves time when you want to turn out something fast. Just more of the usual Swift genius.”
“Thanks for the compliment, pal,” Tom responded. “But this time I’m afraid it’s misplaced. The inscriber was developed by Wickliffe Labs over in Thessaly—we just lease one.” Amused by the look on Bud’s face, Tom added wryly, “Hey, I can’t invent everything, you know!”
Within the hour, Tom had assembled four jamming machines, two miniaturized and two of larger size. He explained that the compact models, the size of portable CD players, were for Tom and Bud to carry with them, hooked to their belts. Of the larger units with their helix antennas, one would protect whatever vehicle they would be traveling in, while the other would be sent immediately to the Swift Homestead site. “At full power it should protect the house, outbuildings, and exhibit areas,” Tom declared. “Remember, we’re not physically blocking the repela-bomb waves, just nullifying them by jamming.”
With Bud on the stick they flew to New Mexico in a supersonic Swift Construction Company commuter jet, where they rented a car. As they arrowed down the highway toward the psychiatric facility where Turnbull was incarcerated, a high-pitched Beeeeep! suddenly broke their concentration.
“Tom, what’s that? Something wrong with the car?” Bud demanded nervously.
Tom nodded at the large-model jamming unit resting on the dashboard. A small light-emitting diode on the front was flickering. “It means my machine is being put to the test!” he replied tensely. “We’re being blasted!”
THE WARNING alarm from the antidetonator device ended almost as quickly as it had begun. The little light flicked out.
“Nothing happened!” breathed Bud.
“Oh, something happened all right, pal,” commented Tom, gripping the steering wheel tightly. “But if my theory’s correct, those bombs shoot their wad in a second or two—and then they’re dead. There’s probably something bouncing along on the highway back there that I’d love to get my hands on.”
“Should we stop?”
“No, not now,” Tom said. “I’m sure it’s ultra-miniaturized—that’s why onlookers never see it. We’d spend hours trying to find it, and we’ll have a better chance if one attacks the Homestead. Right now we have a date with Robert Turnbull.”
There were no further attacks on the car, and in twenty minutes Tom and Bud were inside the Colfax County Corrections Hospital, in the waiting room for the locked wing. They had been met at the door by the supervising psychiatrist, who identified himself as Dr. Von Willen.
“Mr. Turnbull seems to be having a good day today, gentlemen,” Von Willen noted with a smile. “It’s a good day for visitors.”
Tom asked how the patient had reacted to the news of a prospective visit by Agent Valdrosa. “When his office called us, I told Robert myself, immediately. He had no particular reaction,” the psychiatrist replied. “Nor any when the call came in that the visit was postponed.”
“No signs of agitation?”
Tom and Bud were led through a series of thick plexiglass doors which were unlocked at a signal from Von Willen’s hand control-key. Finally they entered Turnbull’s room at the end of a sterile corridor. The youths had expected padding on the walls and restraints on the patient, but the room was cheerful and homelike, and the patient sat comfortably on the edge of his cot, unrestrained. There were shielded videocam ports on the wall, however.
“Hello Tom… Bud.” Turnbull smiled slightly. “I think that’s who you are. That’s who I was told to expect today.”
“You don’t remember us?” Bud asked.
“Not really,” the man said. “Oh, I know we’ve met before. I tried to kill you with the big robot. I tried to blow up your atomic plant with bombs. But the details escape me. Everything escapes me, though I myself can’t escape.” He touched a broad bandage wrapped about his head. “Effect of the surgery. Had a bad brain, you know.”
“I understand you’re doing much better, sir,” Tom remarked in a reassuring tone. “Do you mind if we ask you some questions?”
Turnbull shrugged. “About those attacks I’ve read about? I was asked already. But go ahead.”
“I take it you know nothing about them—personally?”
The man shook his head. “I’m not behind them, if that’s what you mean. How could I be? I’m locked in and watched constantly.” Tom gave Bud a hidden glance. Something in Turnbull’s voice suggested a twinge of anger and, perhaps, paranoia.
Bud said, “Can you blame them?”
“No. I was involved in something awful, absurd. Stupid, wasn’t it? I know that.”
Tom approached Turnbull and squatted down on his haunches, looking the electronics genius in the eye. “Mr. Turnbull, only a master of technology could put together these attacks on my family and friends. You have that ability. And the message addressed to me indicated that revenge was the motive. It said something about my having stolen his life. Do you feel that way toward me?”
The patient lowered his eyes, and spoke quietly. “No, Tom, not any more. What he’s doing doesn’t come from me. He’s acting on his own.”
“Sounds as though you might have a thought as to who he is. Do you?”
Turnbull looked up and indicated that Tom should come closer. When Tom did so, the man spoke in a near whisper. “I know, Tom; yes I do. I told Dr. Jones, my psychotherapist, all about it. He didn’t believe me at first—they won’t believe me now. But it’s true!”
“The man you want, the mastermind of the bombing—it’s my brother, my twin brother Raymond!”
Tom shook his head calmly. “You know better, Robert. Your twin brother was stillborn.”
Robert Turnbull also shook his head, in sullen resentment. “Yeah, that’s what they say. All my life, that’s what they tell me. So explain this, Tom—how is it I see him? How is it he talks to me?”
Bud groaned in the background. “Let’s get out of here. The guy’s nuts.”
Tom tried to speak gently and sympathetically. “You were delusional, Robert. The man you thought was Raymond was someone else.”
“I’m not talking about that gangster!” Turnbull insisted. His voice sizzled with indignation and resentment. “It was here that I saw him, here at the hospital, over and over—ask Dr. Jones! He saw him too! They used to talk… about me!”
“Absolutely. They talked about how I’d paid the price for Raymond’s ambition, how I’d taken the fall for him. Raymond is angry, Tom. He’s very upset. It’s as you said before—he really feels that you’ve stolen his life. He told me!”
“What does he mean by that?”
“Beats me, Tom. I’m afraid he’s not well, mentally; he’s as bad as I used to be. He started visiting after I had my surgery. I think he doesn’t want me to get healthy. He used to dominate me, you know. Now I don’t let him.”
The young inventor nodded thoughtfully. “I see. Do you know how Raymond causes these attacks? How he gets information, the plans for his equipment?”
At this question Turnbull looked perplexed. “I don’t know, not any more. Not today. I used to know…” He shrugged. “I don’t think I can talk to you any more.” As Tom rose to his feet, Turnbull added, “Say, it was good to see you two. Please come again, won’t you?”
Bud looked away rolling his eyes, but Tom said, “We will, Robert. Be well.”
“I’ll be good, Tom.”
As they were leaving the locked wing, Tom asked Dr. Von Willen if Robert Turnbull had ever had any visitors who resembled him. “He never has any visitors at all,” was the reply, “except for the medical and psychiatric staff.”
“Is one of them a Dr. Jones?”
Von Willen nodded. “That was Robert’s lead case therapist.”
“Unfortunately the assigned staff at a facility like this tend to rotate through fairly rapidly. It’s not good for our patients, in my opinion. At the moment Robert is between therapists, but we’ll have someone assigned fairly soon.”
In the parking lot, Bud muttered, “Skipper, are you thinking there might be something behind that loony fairy tale? You know Raymond Turnbull doesn’t exist.”
“I know,” Tom agreed. “But that doesn’t mean someone might not have pretended otherwise, perhaps to tap Robert’s scientific knowledge for his own ends.”
Keys in hand, Tom was about to open the car door when a voice interrupted him. “Excuse me—you’re Tom Swift, aren’t you?”
Tom and Bud turned. A young woman was standing a ways behind them. “I’m Tom Swift. May I help you, ma’am?”
She stepped closer, speaking hesitantly. “I have an acquaintance in the hospital who told me you were coming here today. I saw you arrive. I’ve been sitting in my car, waiting for you to come back out. I—I don’t know if you can do any good, but I wanted to try, anyway. You have such a reputation…”
She paused. Tom asked her to continue.
“All… all right,” she said. “I’m Ceecee Jones. My husband—my ex-husband, actually—is Smithfield Jones, on the psychiatric staff here.”
“Smithfield Jones!—is that Robert Turnbull’s psychiatrist?” Bud broke in excitedly.
“Yes,” she replied. “His therapist. Smitty mentioned Mr. Turnbull to me now and then, usually not by name, but one time he slipped. I should explain that Dr. Jones and I had an amicable divorce, as such things go, and we see each other frequently. We did, that is.”
“Does this problem involve Dr. Jones?” asked Tom, puzzled.
She nodded vigorously. “I don’t know where he is! He’s vanished, Mr. Swift. It’s been weeks now. At first I didn’t think much about it; we don’t live together, and it isn’t unusual for a few days to go by without speaking. But now I’m about to go to the police.”
“But how can I help you, Mrs. Jones?”
“I don’t know if you can,” the woman admitted. “But I know you were involved in—in the thing that Turnbull man did.”
“Is there a connection?”
“There might be! You see,” she went on, “over the months since Smitty was assigned to Turnbull, he seemed to change. He became overwrought, stressed, sort of paranoid—worried about things. He would talk to himself, look off in the distance as if he had something on his mind, but he refused to tell me what it was. Then one day, about three weeks ago, he suddenly quit his job here without warning. When I tried to get him to talk about it, he got crazy—flew into a rage, started ranting about how his life was being ruined, how people were spying on him… It was awful. That day was the last time the kids or I have seen him, and I’m quite frightened.”
“It sounds mighty frightening,” Tom said sympathetically. “But why do you think Robert Turnbull is involved in it?”
Mrs. Jones thrashed her head impatiently. “Oh, I don’t know. As time went on, Smitty just seemed to, to—how do I say it?—to identify with that man, somehow. You know, in psychotherapy I’ve heard of something called counter-transference, where the therapist gets so drawn in to the patient’s life and delusions that he begins to act as though they were his. I’m afraid Smitty has somehow, mentally, become this man Robert Turnbull!”
There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Bud Barclay. “Robert Turnbull—or maybe his dead twin brother!”
CHAHDA had told the story of the amazing thing that happened a full three times before the long day ended. First to Rick and Scotty in Brannigan’s over burgers and cokes; then on Spindrift Island in the afternoon, to Hartson Brant. The third time, in the evening, followed the return of Tom and Bud. Those who had heard the story already—including those who had now heard it twice—sat and listened nonetheless. And now and then the kitchen door would swing open and a massive cowboyish figure would briefly appear, listening.
“I will tell it this time fast, without drama or the artistic touches that make me such a pleasure to listen to,” Chahda began.
“Notice how he’s already stretching it out,” commented Rick. “Loves the attention.”
“It’s tonight, isn’t it?” Tom said—a polite reminder for the young Hindu to proceed with all deliberate speed.
Chahda nodded and resumed. “I am sitting in front of my motel, the Yellow Sky Motel, which promises color TV and also continental breakfast, which must be from poor continent that can only afford stale sweet-rolls. There I sit in chair, thinking. And shadow appears. Shadow is big and wide, belonging to big and wide man who looks like ape—not hairy, but with shape of same.”
“We know how he looks,” grumbled Bud.
“Then I will skip that part. Gorilla Man says my name. I ask him how he knows, and he says it’s not important. Here’s what’s important, he says with foreign accent between his big teeth. Tells me to go to Spindrift, talk to Tom Swift, famous inventing whiz from newspapers and World Almanac. He says to meet him at bench on Spindrift cliff tonight, nine-fourteen. Cannot be late or he will leave—no; said he must leave. I am go-between, because Gorilla can not call on phone, can not go to Brant house or come up on top of island.”
“Which needs explanation,” Rick interjected. “I can sort of understand why he’s being careful about the phone. But if he can meet Tom on the side of the cliffs, why not come all the way up?”
“I’ll ask him,” said Tom. “Go on, Chahda.”
“He also says to tell this, big wonderful news: Cousin Ed is alive. I am to tell you that, and now I have. And then he goes away, across highway and into trees. Not joking.” His account finished, Chahda stopped. Then he started again. “That was humor comment, based upon idea that ape goes into trees.”
“I got it,” called Chow from the kitchen door, holding a saucepan.
Tom gave a brisk nod, eyes aglow with excitement. “Cousin Ed is alive! If only it’s true.”
Scotty pointed out that it now seemed that there was some truth after all in what the Taxman—if indeed it was the Taxman who had telephoned—had said about the involvement of Turnbull in the strange affair. “That’s so,” Tom agreed. “And I trust the Taxman. I don’t think he’d steer me wrong. I’m willing to take the chance of meeting him alone.”
“I’ll shadow you,” Bud declared firmly. “And I’ll bring an i-gun with me. You know what they say about death and taxes.”
“No,” said Tom. “He said I should come alone. He has his reasons.” Bud frowned his disapproval but gave a grudging nod.
A little before nine, a simple map of Spindrift in hand, Tom left the house. A moment after the front door closed, Rick stood up and performed an elaborate stretch. “Welllll, guess we won’t be hearing anything for a while. I’m feeling drowsy. I’ll catch a catnap upstairs. You too, Scotty?”
“Chahda too,” said the newest guest. “Much yawning on way.”
Hartson Brant did not stand. He smiled and shook his head. “I don’t think so, boys. Look on my birth certificate and you’ll note that I definitely wasn’t born yesterday, nor did I just fall off the proverbial turnip truck. We’re all going to stay right here in this room, together, until Tom comes back.”
Rick frowned and sat himself again. Scotty chuckled. Chahda said, “I do not have heard of this proverbial turnip truck, but father of Rick obviously as smart as Rick himself. Chahda is in awe thereof.”
In the middle of the quiet that followed, Chow entered the living room. “Wa-al, let’s jest practice the ol’ art o’ conversation, like we ’as sittin’ around a campfire.”
“Will we have to sing?” Scotty asked.
“Naw,” Chow replied, seating himself in the big armchair. “Say there, here’s somethin’. You say you’re Indian, doncha, Chatter?”
Chahda nodded politely.
“Then let me guess which tribe. I’m purty good at it.” Chahda started to speak, but Chow waved him down. “No now, let me concentuate. Lemme see—it’s comin’. I’m gonna say Cherokee; Sioux as second choice. Did I hit the mark?”
“Am not Indian of that type,” explained Chahda.
“I am India Indian. Where is Taj Mahal. That India.”
“Brand my turbans, never woulda guessed it!” exclaimed the Texan. “You sure?—jest kiddin’ ya. Hmm. Say, you know a feller name o’ Ramesh Bol? He hails from India too. Told me he was born in a deli. Right proud of it.”
Mrs. Brant put a hand to her mouth, forcing back a sound that might have embarrassed her guest. Chahda stared emotionlessly, then asked, “New Delhi?”
“Mebbe. Didn’t ask him how old it was.”
For the next hour they talked of many things. Of a little dog named Dismal who had never learned more than a single trick—to roll over and play dead. Of Rick’s sister Barby, married and living in Charleston, who had just made Hartson Brant a grandfather and Rick an uncle. Of Jan Miller, Barby’s age and a close friend of them all, attending university in Florence, Italy. Of scientists named Zircon, Weiss, Briotti.
When the hour had passed with no sign of Tom, a low-level tension began to creep over the group. Silences were shorter. Stories were louder. Bud took the spotlight, narrating with great flair, and clarifications from Chow that didn’t always clarify, several tight situations he had faced with his best friend, from deep underground to distant interplanetary space. A comparison was made between gangster Soapy Strade, who had had the bad luck to run afoul of Rick and Scotty, and a colorful character named Nicky Ammo, whose house had been trashed by Tom’s giant robot. Rick and Scotty had begun to speak of a certain Egyptian cat—and the front door swung open.
The luminous dial of Tom’s elaborate wristwatch showed three minutes past nine when Tom entered upon the cliffside trail. He saw the bench immediately; from his angle it was silhouetted against some distant moonlit ground on the Jersey side of the flats. He could tell that from the reverse angle he and the bench would be nearly invisible in the shadow of the cliffs, which had a slight overhang above—invisible, at least, to ordinary eyes, without technological enhancement.
Senses alert, he sat down and waited.
“Nice night,” said the voice in shadow, off to Tom’s right. A big chunk of the shadow moved toward him.
Tom covered his surprise as best he could. “Bet you wish there were no moon,” he replied.
A hulking form made its way to the bench and eased down next to the young inventor. “We can’t quite control the weather. This shadow isn’t bad. The uneven, nonreflective backdrop of the cliffs makes it better. But what makes it really good, my friend, is that I’m blocking the cameras our foe uses to monitor this island.”
“He knows I’m here?”
“All along. Don’t worry, he doesn’t know where the others are—not all of them, anyway. I don’t even know where they are. But as you surmised last night, you’re the main target, so he puts quite a bit of extra effort in watching you.”
“I assume ‘he’ is Smith Jones.”
“That’s why we love you, Tom. You’re mighty quick on the uptake. Quicker than me in this case. I had discovered that Turnbull had his wiry fingers in all this, but knew nothing about Dr. Jones until a few hours ago. Hence Jones wasn’t mentioned in my call to you here.”
Tom shook his head. “Nope.”
“No?” The Gorilla seemed amused.
“Uh-uh. Not from where I’m sitting, Mr. Ranooq. My theory, and I’m pretty good at theories, is that you did know about Jones when you called me. But you didn’t want Jones to know that you knew, so you told me just enough to get me to visit Turnbull in New Mexico. My theory includes the likelihood that it was you or someone else from Collections who forced Sam Valdrosa off the road, probably using one of my small repelatrons from another car on the highway. You wanted me to be the one to visit the hospital.”
The Taxman chuckled a deep chuckle. “Thank you. You’ve confirmed my faith in you. Wish I had a bet riding on it. Yes, I knew about Dr. Smith Jones—Smitty. But Valdrosa wasn’t forced off the road. He was never on that road. The story your Mr. Ames received was bogus. Sam Valdrosa sits in Albuquerque even as we speak, healthy, innocent, and uninjured. I’ve been selectively intercepting his office calls, and responding on his behalf. Oh, it’s illegal—absolutely. As they say, sue me. At that point in the play, Tom, I needed to show Jones our hand; a trumped-up hand, if you’ll permit me to extend the metaphor. I needed him to know you were on to Turnbull, and subsequently on to Jones himself, so as to block him from going back to Turnbull for a technical pick-me-up. But I wasn’t prepared for his rabbitlike ears to inform him about me. If I had told you everything, you would surely have said something aloud, don’t you think? His long-range listening device is tuned to your vocal pattern, your voiceprint. His advanced talent for eavesdropping is why you’ve heard from me in the form of a queer-sounding mechanical voice, pre-recorded—can’t massage the signal in real-time. It’s a bit of portable technology I had available to me that prevents my calls from being intercepted the way I ciped Valdrosa’s. I’ll tell my FBI colleagues all about it just as soon as they offer to share some of the residuals they get from that old TV series of theirs.”
“You keep saying I, not we,” noted Tom.
There was a short silence. “The club I belong to has a kind of ultimate secret handshake, if you will, which we call the Nine Seals.”
“As in the Book of Revelation.”
“Otherwise known as The Apocalypse, yes. I don’t have to explain that there is no actual handshake involved, do I? Call it a coded message, a signal in plain sight. And the Commandment is: any one of the Seals countermands, absolutely and without question, any rule or directive then operative. Complete override.”
“I understand,” Tom said.
“The particular NS in this instance declared that security could no longer be assumed at any level of—the club. Not even at the highest level. We’d been penetrated, to use the polite euphemism. We’ve been breached before—nobody’s perfect, hmm?—but we always knew precisely where and, eventually, how. Not this time. So, second part of the NS, those of us out in the field were officially cut off, on our own. We were to exercise independent judgment, take such action as we deem necessary, and not attempt contact with the office or with one another. I grabbed my Joker Deck and took off.”
As the Taxman paused his story, Tom asked: “The Joker Deck? Your equipment?”
The man nodded. “Your friends saw it—big suitcase full of wonderful things.”
“All right,” said Tom. “I get the general picture. Now tell me about Turnbull and Jones. And my cousin Ed Longstreet.”
“Please don’t think I know everything about it,” responded Ranooq. “Obviously, I wish I did. The first bombing happened several days after the NS came through. As you and I are old buddies, Tom, I decided to look into it. So who could be behind it? Li Ching? Wrong M.O., and too soon after Newfoundland. Rotzog? Dead—really dead. Herman Chilcote? Julian Strang? Leeskol? Blatka? All penned up. The Brungarian Sentimentalists? They wouldn’t risk the exposure. The Zed Zed Sept group? Hmm.”
Tom interrupted. “And then you remembered Robert Turnbull. A brilliant guy, an electronics genius, in a controlled environment but not in prison.”
“And insane, let us not forget.”
“Is he really in charge?”
“No,” Ranooq said. “Did you notice my ‘hmm’? As I’ve pieced it together, the good folks at Zed Zed Sept, opposed though they are to the domination of the world economy by Western corporate technology, managed to hold their collective noses long enough to use some of that technology on Dr. Smitty Jones. Probably slipped something extra in his recreational drug supply.”
“Doped his dope,” commented Tom, thinking That sounds like something Bud would say.
“Think of it as instant counter-transference, with a stinger. And in consequence Dr. Jones’s therapy, which makes use of some mild hypnotic techniques, opened the door to the bad-boy part of Turnbull’s personality. Turnbull’s loss was Jones’s gain. Do you see?”
Tom confirmed with a nod. “Yes. Jones probably encouraged Turnbull to identify that aspect with his dead twin Raymond. To the point where Turnbull started to see and hear Jones as ‘Raymond’ now and then.”
“And Smith Jones started to manifest ‘Raymond’, to bring him to life.”
“Raymond wants revenge,” Tom declared grimly.
“Raymond wants revenge. Turnbull, under hypnosis, is prodded to figure out how to make repelatron mini-bombs and, along the way, how to electronically breach the virtual security-fence around my gang. Just imagine how easy it would be for the bad guys to monitor and track you and your loved ones, Tom, using our techniques—which I’m not about to describe to you, by the way.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to,” said Tom with a smile. “What does Zed Zed Sept get out of this?”
“Ah, well, ZZS gets to ruin America’s chief center of futuristic technology, and distract the scion of Swift genius from completing that—that boat thing whatsisname Gunmore is pressuring you about. Their priority right now is to block Western governments from getting their hands on anything that might tilt the balance against terrorists, radicals, and anarchist groups. Since that’s what they are.”
“They certainly succeeded in distracting me from working on the amplitensor and aquadisk,” the young scientist-inventor commented ruefully. “Why don’t they just kill me outright?”
“ZZS would surely like to,” replied the Taxman. “But ‘Raymond’ has his own psychotic interest in making you suffer, and they don’t dare contradict him and risk shutting down their pipeline to Turnbull’s genius.”
“What about my cousin?”
“I don’t know why he was kidnapped. But Jones has told some of his ZZS-funded employees—he has a few less since I became interested—that Longstreet was taken alive and is being held at an abandoned weather station in a place called The Boneyard off the coast of Tierra del Fuego. Here.”
He handed Tom a folded sheet of paper.
“And much much more—some very fine ideas for a rescue operation. But you’ll have to do it retail, Tom. Any contact with officialdom will go right to the wrong ears.”
“But you could be a part of it, Miza. A man’s life is at stake.”
But the Taxman-Gorilla shook his head. “No. If I were captured, if I were tagged and wound up in an international database, it would cost more than one man’s life. Lots more, Tom. You know how to do this stuff, young man. Do it.”
Miza Ranooq stood up. Tom rose as well. They shook hands. The Gorilla’s hand felt smotheringly big, big as a pie plate. “You know,” said Ranooq, “if I weren’t so clever, my distinguished and memorable form would pretty much eliminate me from the spy game. But I am.”
“Oh,” said Tom abruptly, “Right. I’m supposed to ask you—”
“Tell Rick Brant I couldn’t come ‘all the way up’ because I didn’t want to spend too much time walking to-and-from. I’m blocking the cameras with a stationary image which won’t remain credible for much longer—the moon does move in the sky, after all. Still—” He looked Tom square in the face. “I have a minute or so and I’m feeling a little apologetic. Anything you’re burning to ask me, Tom?”
“Nothing you’d answer,” replied Tom dryly. “I’ll tell you another theory of mine, though.”
“I think you and your colleagues use a technology that’s far, far ahead of anything I’ve ever heard of or read about. No government could get that far out in front of the open scientific community. And you know things that no one could know.”
“So what is your theory, boy genius?”
“That you’re visitors from the future. Not a huge long ways, but some twenty, thirty years along. Am I the one who invented it?—time travel?”
The taxman barked out a low laugh. “Don’t ever lose that imagination, Tom.” He strode off into the shadow, and Tom heard the sound of small rocks scuffing down the cliffside. But after a moment, a voice floated back his way from a distance below. “Tom! Read my notes quickly! You’re entered in a race, and it’s one you had better win!”
And that was all.
THE DISK GETS WET
“FROM the future?” Bud exclaimed. “The future? You really said that, Tom?”
Tom’s eyes crinkled. “Sure did, flyboy.”
“But you don’t really believe that, surely,” declared Hartson Brant. “Do you?”
“He doesn’t,” Scotty said.
“Oh? Uh-huh. Then why’d he say it?” demanded Bud.
Rick Brant grinned. “Same reason Scotty or I would say something outrageous. To gauge his reaction and see if he slips up. Even if it’s an absurd idea, it’s barely possible that a person might wonder about it—and Tom Swift is known to be a blue-sky thinker.”
“Let’s say I was hoping to kill several birds with one verbal stone,” explained Tom. “It’s mostly as you said. On the other hand, the idea of time travel, of someone visiting us from the future—I’m not willing to rule it out.”
“It’d sure explain a lot of things about those Collections guys,” Bud admitted.
Chow grunted. “Far as I’m concerned, t’morree comes too soon th’ way it is. I don’t wanna know what I look like in twenty years. Now if you kin turn the clock back a ways, give me my hair and my old beltline—that I’ll go fer!”
“So will I,” said Mrs. Brant. “But Tom, this rescue plan the, the Gorilla came up with—you say it involves Rick and Scotty?”
“Wait, wait!” Chahda cried out. “Just now think of it—what about listening ears of Smith Jones? Must not let him overhear secret plan!”
Tom smiled pleasantly at the young man’s earnestness. “You’re right, Chahda. That’s why I stopped by the workroom first—by Enterprises, in fact—for a few minutes. That box I set down in the foyer is a sound-canceling transmitter, powered by a Swift solar battery.”
“We can hear each other,” objected Scotty. “I thought your silentennas deadened sound completely.”
“They do. This is a variant on the repelaforce jammer, hooked up to some silentenna circuitry.” He explained that the experimental device created a literal “sound barrier” that would allow persons inside the protected part of the house to converse normally, but would make them inaudible to long-range sound-amplifying equipment of the sort Dr. Jones seemed to be using. “It doesn’t totally nullify the sounds, but it scrambles them. Our words will be indistinguishable. It didn’t involve any great leaps—figured it out in my head while I was walking back.”
“Blows me away!” Rick commented in awed admiration.
“That’s nothing—genius boy invented a gravity concentrator in his garage!” Bud boasted on his pal’s behalf.
“All right, then, we can’t be heard.” Rick’s mother was not amused, and showed on her face that she would not welcome further interruptions. “Please tell us about this plan, Tom.”
The Taxman’s instructions were unfolded flat on the dining room table. “It’s complicated,” said Tom. “It does involve Rick and Scotty. But I wouldn’t ask them to participate if they don’t feel persuaded that they’ll get through it in one piece. Of course we’ll need your permission, Dr. Brant, Mrs. Brant.”
“No,” said Brant simply. “These two are grown-ups. They don’t need anyone’s permission.”
“Please don’t speak for me, Hartson,” interjected Mrs. Brant sharply. “They don’t require our permission. But I hope they’d want it. I hope they’d think twice if we withheld it.”
“I’ll lay out the plan for you,” Tom said. “Then whoever has something to say about it can say it. Just remember, outside this room, no one knows anything! And that includes the underground workroom, by the way. I won’t be setting up more sound barriers. Feeding Smithfield Jones misleading info is a part of the strategy.”
“We can play innocent with the best of them,” said Scotty. “Because we’re naturally sweet, inoffensive souls.”
“We really are,” Rick nodded.
The following day brought the news that Rick’s guess had proven prophetic. The Swift Homestead site in Shopton had indeed been targeted in a would-be explosive attack, an attack neutralized by Tom’s antidetonator counterweapon. There had been no damage, no harm. Best of all, the repela-bomb itself, rendered a dud by Tom Swift, had been recovered and sent to the young inventor on Spindrift by means of the telesphere.
In the workroom he held the bomb up for Bud to see. “No bigger than a marble!” boggled the dark-haired young pilot. “It sure would be easy to sneak one of those babies into any place you please.”
“Especially since it’s nonmetallic and would defeat most conventional sensor systems,” Tom commented. “Including the magnetic alarm field around the family home—what used to be a home.”
“Can you tell how it works, Tom?”
“I’ve scanned it. Very ingenious, and pretty much as I’d theorized. It uses a shielded storage capacitor and fixed repelatron circuit. It’d be easy enough to shoot it at a target, maybe through an open window, by some kind of silent compressed-air catapult or something similar.”
“But how could one have gotten into the Sky Queen hangar?”
“Good question,” said Tom, “for which I don’t have a good answer. It’s an amazing device, though.”
“And now—totally useless!” Bud whooped. “When do we head back to Shopton?”
“Not for a while, at least for me, pal,” replied Tom. “We have Spindrift protected by the jammers now, and it’s probably safest if we all stay clear of population centers until we catch up to this guy Jones. Besides,” he added with a grin, “we’re right on the water here, and I want to get the aquadisk ready for the race next week.”
Bud nodded vigorously. “Can’t wait! Some sort of high-tech aqua-meet, hmm?”
“That’s right,” Tom confirmed with a wink that made Bud chuckle. “It takes place every three years off the coast of French Guiana in South America, between the Ile du Diable and the city of Kourou. The Grand-Diable, as it’s called, is a chance for the world’s speed watercraft manufacturers to strut their stuff in competition. I’ve entered the aquadisk in the final race, which is the only one noncategorized craft can participate in. We’ll be going up against jet and rocket-propelled boats.”
“Great publicity for Enterprises. But I don’t see how you’ll win against stiff competition like that,” commented Bud in too-loud tones. “I mean, you said the disk can only make about Mach 1.5, and I know nowadays some of the others can come close to that. It sure is too bad you can’t squeeze any more speed out of her, Tom.”
Tom gave his pal a look that said: Let’s not overkill on the speed bit!
“The disk is already at Stillman’s Wharf,” Tom noted, “protected by an onboard repelaforce jammer and Enterprises security guards. They’ll barge it over here this afternoon, and you can help me install the improved amplitensor I’ve been working on. By Wednesday we should be able to take her out on the water!”
The promised delivery happened without a hitch. Tom’s aquadisk was let down into the work chamber through a broad ceiling door that had been put in place over the section of the room that extended right up to the Spindrift boat dock. After several days of exacting labor, with Rick, Scotty, and Hartson Brant providing considerable assistance, the craft was raised to ground level and stood gleaming in the Spindrift sun on the narrow strip of sand next to the dock. It rested upright in a cradle of cushioned struts, from which a pair of rails extended down into the water at an easy incline.
A small crowd of Spindrift Islanders—natives and their guests—had gathered on the dock to watch the first tests at sea. “Brand my eel steaks, boss, you went ahead and named her!” complained Chow, pointing at the neat lettering on the side of the disk: Wavejumper.
“Sorry, Chow,” Tom responded apologetically. “Bashalli suggested the name, and I sort of promised. What would you have called her?”
“The Blue Plate Special. A-cause she looks like a plate, and the ocean is blue, y’see.”
“Oh brother!” Bud said. “Still, we could have named the aquadisk after that shirt of yours—Typhoon In A Paint Store!”
“It’s a mighty colorful shirt, Chow,” Rick commented politely. “I hear that’s sort of your trademark.”
“I got mine, an’ buddy boy’s got his,” said the Texan darkly. “Guess it’s how folks tell us apart.”
“I was wondering which was which,” Scotty contributed, which earned laughter from Chahda and Mrs. Brant, and a glowering look from Bud.
The aquadisk did indeed resemble two dinner plates pressed together, somehow balanced on edge. Part of the curving rim, on the upper half facing forward, was a transparent cockpit-like cabin, just big enough for a crew of two to sit side by side at close quarters. There were no prop-screws, no jet exhausts, no clue as to how the strange boat would move itself along. The disk was only 17 feet in diameter, with a breadth of five feet at its center, which was the widest point. The shiny hull had an unusual color, green with bronze highlights, as if it were made of brass in the process of tarnishing. Tom explained that the color and finish derived from several semi-transparent protective layers covering the light-weight hull of Neo-Aurium metal.
“It is like big gong, but it is I who am struck!” Chahda exclaimed, eyes wide. “But tell me please, Tom—how do you hoist inventive self into cabin up on top?”
In response Tom pressed his thumb against a small oval on the side, at waist height. The cockpit canopy dome popped open on a hinge, and a number of rung-like segments slid out from the hull one above the other, forming a ladder.
“The contact-sensor reads my DNA pattern,” Tom explained as he set one foot on a rung. “Bud’s is on file, too.”
Chow gave the Wavejumper a skeptical look up and down. “Sometimes I think these inventions o’ Tom’s are designed t’ make husky types like me feel plain fat! Don’t think I could ever fit in that little closety space up there topside.”
“It’s just a test prototype, Chow,” Tom told his friend soothingly.
Tom and Bud clambered into their contoured seats in the “wheelhouse” and sealed the dome around them. “Think he can hear us now?” Bud asked in a whisper.
“I doubt it,” replied the young inventor. “But no need to risk it.” Picking up the portable Private Ear Radio unit, Tom contacted Bob Jeffers, a trusted Enterprises employee, who was patrolling the Atlantic depths ten miles out to sea in Tom’s diving seacopter the Sea Hound.
“All clear from where I’m sitting—or swimming!” Jeffers reported. “No underwater traffic showing up on the sonarscope. Nothing on the metal detector or sono-resonance locator, either.”
The young inventor switched frequencies. “TS to jetrocopter. Come in, Yarborough.”
“JY here, TS,” answered John Yarborough, piloting one of Swift Construction Company’s speedy jet-assisted choppers. “Circling in designated pattern, 8800 feet. No surface craft; nothing in the sky.”
“Be sure to keep the antidetonator unit active at all times, John,” Tom cautioned. Switching off the PER, Tom gave Bud a grinning glance. “Ready to roll, aqua-flyboy?”
“Hit it, Skipper!”
With a wave to the watchers on the dock, Tom activated the aquadisk’s key mechanisms and beamed the signal that would release the restraining struts on the cradle. The Wavejumper slid forward down the frictionless rails. As the craft approached the water, the observers noted how the surface of the sea seemed to rise to meet her as if reaching out to receive her in a watery paw.
It was an eerie sight to see. The aquadisk seemed to rest on a low mound of foamless, crystalline water which moved along with it, its lower edge barely even breaking the surface.
“Looks light as a soap bubble to eyes of Hindu street boy,” murmured Chahda to Rick.
“Eyes of Hindu street boy have seen a lot in short miserable life,” said Rick in reply.
“Nothing like this!”
The craft had begun by moving along slowly, no faster than a brisk walk. Then it abruptly accelerated—and kept on accelerating. Streaking away like a seagoing meteor, the Wavejumper was reduced to a distant glint on the water in a matter of seconds!
Tom and Bud were thrilled at the smooth performance of the latest Swift invention. “All that speed,” Bud exclaimed happily, “and hardly a sound!”
“Of course the cabin is sealed,” Tom reminded his friend. “But even outside there wouldn’t be much to hear except the air streaming by. The aquadisk is probably the most peaceful means of travel since gossamer wings!”
After a moment Bud gave his pal a nudge. “About time for one of your ‘if Bud can understand it anybody can’ explanations. How does that tensorizer thing work, anyway?”
“Don’t put yourself down, Bud,” said Tom. “When I put my thoughts in order to tell you how my inventions work, half the time I figure out a way to improve them! But as far as the amplitensor—you know what surface tension refers to, don’t you?”
“Sure. It’s what I crash through when I dive into a swimming pool!”
“True enough,” laughed Tom. “Water is a pretty unique substance; some scientists like to say that a body of water is almost like one huge mega-molecule, not just a clump. Water molecules bond together in such a manner that at the surface, the interface between water and air, the water forms a kind of permeable barrier, almost like an elastic skin that gives a little extra resistance to penetration.”
“Not enough for belly-floppers like me to bounce back up onto the diving board.”
“No; but if you’re very careful you can make a razor blade ‘sit’ on the surface of water without sinking. Without getting too technical, my amplitensor makes use of the electrical and magnetic properties of water to artificially amplify local surface tension—in this case, for a distance of about ten feet in all directions. So the water ‘mounds up,’ just as water droplets form beads on smooth surfaces.”
“But on a giant scale!”
“I follow all that pretty well, Tom,” Bud declared. “I suppose you make the surface so tense that the hull can’t sink through. But what makes the Jumper move forward the way she does?”
“Basically, the hull is squeezed forward, like toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube. All I have to do is cause greater tension—a bigger ‘bump’—aft of the small area where the hull touches the water. The disk is pushed forward with almost no friction.”
Bud glanced out the dome at the low ocean waves scudding rapidly past like panicked barracudas. “No friction. But what happens when you want to put on the brakes?”
“You mean like this?” Tom shoved the control lever in front of him to its furthest forward setting. Instantly the youths were thrown forward against their upper-body restraints as the aquadisk slowed to a comfortable crawl in seconds. “I just reversed the position of the amplified tension, putting it ahead of the hull rather than behind.”
“So it pushes backwards against our momentum,” nodded Bud. “Got it, Skipper. And you know what?”
“I’ll bet Rick Brant and his pal wouldn’t!”
Tom’s retort was cut off by John Yarborough’s voice. “JY to Wavejumper—come in TS!”
The young inventor responded to the urgency in the pilot’s voice. “This is Tom. Is there a problem?”
“Not a security problem, Jumper. But I’ve just received word of an emergency situation out at sea. You and your aquadisk may be the only ones who can avert a real disaster!”
“What sort of emergency, JY? How far away?” Tom demanded.
“A big tanker ship has foundered about 230 miles north of east,” the jetrocopter pilot radioed. “It’s called the Isabella. Her crew has been rescued, but the ship is spilling crude oil from a large rupture. A mop-up flotilla is on its way, but Enterprises has been asked to try to contain the spill temporarily. George Dilling relayed the message to me. The Isabella’s a big one, Tom, and she was full to the chocks. It could be a major environmental disaster in the making.”
“I’ll see what we can do,” Tom said after a moment’s thought. “Give me the coordinates.”
Using ASL—American Sign Language—Bud signed to Tom: Top speed?
Tom replied by the same silent method. Not unless need to. The two knew the Blast-Master, Smithfield Jones, might have a means to distantly monitor the aquadisk’s performance capabilities. And that was to be a secret for now.
But even at a moderate speed the amazing craft ate up the miles at a breathtaking rate. “Oh man, there she is!” Bud cried. “Looks bad, Tom!”
The mammoth Isabella was listing over as she slowly sank, and by now was almost completely floating on her side. A spreading black fingerprint defaced the Atlantic waves in an oval that was already miles long, carried by strong surface currents. “What can we do, Skipper? Do you have something on board we can use?”
“Not something on board,” Tom replied with determination. “But let’s see if we can use the aquadisk itself as a tool.”
As Tom upped the power, the speedcraft zoomed forward faster and faster and began to describe a long arc about the oil spill, leaning into the turn at a sharper and sharper angle controlled by the supergyros.
Suddenly the Wavejumper jolted. “There it is—good old Mach 1!” Tom exclaimed. “About as fast as we can manage!” Adjusting the control board, he made subtle alterations to the working of the amplitensor, and the aquadisk began to settle downward, riding lower in the waves and leaving a white wake as a tail.
The disk was now making full circles around the spill, gradually spiralling inward toward the Isabella. “Look, Tom!” Bud half-laughed in awe. “We’re going so fast we’re pinning the tail on our own wake!”
“That’s the main idea,” Tom declared excitedly. “The oil won’t be able to drift through very fast. We’ll see if we can herd it back toward the tanker.”
Bud picked up on Tom’s metaphor. “Let the stampede begin!” he whooped. “Git along, little globbies!”
The Wavejumper kept up the pace minute after breathless minute. Powered by Swift solar batteries, there was no fear that the fuelless craft would run out of juice for a long time to come. But Tom and Bud began to wonder if the dizziness of their whip-whirling course would bring them down before the job was done.
“You doing okay, Bud?”
“Those waves out there aren’t the only thing that’s green,” was the quavering reply.
Just then the PER beeped its alarm—incoming message. “You’re doing a fantastic job, boss!” came the voice of Yarborough. “And you can break free any time now. The cleanup fleet is on the horizon. They’ll need some elbow room to—”
Abruptly the speaker squawked with an emergency override. “Tom! Get out of there! Go!”
“What is it, Bob?” cried Tom, one hand already manipulating the controls. “Come in, Sea Hound!”
“I just passed under the tanker,” Jeffers responded from the seacopter, which had been attempting to pace the aquadisk. “That rupture on the side wasn’t an accident, Tom—looks to me like they were hit by a torpedo. Or an exploding who-knows-what! And I just picked up something moving into range from the south, fast, and rising to the surface. Wavejumper, they’re on an intercept course! Get going!”
“Jetz!” Bud shouted. “We can outrun them, Tom.”
“I’m sure we can,” agreed the young inventor. “I’ll take a northwest heading.”
But Tom had no sooner swerved the aquadisk than Bob Jeffers came through with a warning cry. “He’s moving to cut you off!”
“Trapping us between his sub and the Isabella,” Tom murmured. “A pincers strategy.”
Suddenly both oceannauts shouted in alarmed surprise as a sharp report rolled across the waves. “Explosion aft!” Bud cried. “And another!—nearer!”
Tom nodded. “He’s closing in.” He veered the Wavejumper to starboard and began a wavery course, a nautical zigzag. Balls of bright fire erupted from the sea, roiling the waters on both sides, some only yards behind them.
There was the briefest pause, hardly long enough for Tom and Bud to begin hoping they had outmaneuvered their opponent. Suddenly their eyes registered, for a split second, the blooming of the sea in front of them in a round plume of foam as a narrow dark form, with a tail of fire, roared up into the air and burst barely ten feet before the cockpit!
They flinched back at the blast of light and sound. “Surface-to-air missiles!” Tom gasped, lurching at the controls. A second missile exploded virtually in his face! Both young men reared back in their seats.
Then at lightning speed a shadow lunged into view from out of the sky. The jetrocopter! Yarborough skimmed across the sea almost whipping the waves with his tail, angling toward the racing aquadisk. “Right for us!” Bud gasped. But an instant before impact, the jet-chopper pulled up, roaring past the disk’s viewdome and back into the air.
“Trying to make the sub nervous,” Tom breathed.
“He’s doing a great job!” choked his pal.
Jeffers came through again on the PER. “Chief, between the seacopter and the jetrocopter, we made him turn tail! He’s heading south—shall I pursue?”
“Negative, Sea Hound,” Tom radioed, his voice coming in gasps. “He’s trying to draw you off into a one-on-one fight. Bud and I are returning to base—you too.” He radioed the same message to Yarborough above, thanking the pilot for his daring maneuver. “You two really saved our hides!”
That evening on Spindrift, behind Tom’s wall of silence, there was much heated discussion of the day’s events.
“He’s not just a Blast-Master, but a master of strategy,” Rick declared. “Or he thinks he is.”
Scotty retorted flatly, “He is. He’s had us all pegged from the word go. He bided his time like a snake. He knew Tom would have to test the disk out on the open water eventually.”
“I agree,” Tom nodded. “But he’s also someone who’s ready to take advantage of opportunities as they come his way. If that tanker hadn’t been in range, he wouldn’t have been able to blow a hole in her hull and draw us away from our security cover.”
“It might not have worked, though,” Rick said. “You could have had a half-dozen armed jets ready to scramble, and a fleet of seacopters underwater in a hundred-mile perimeter.”
Scotty gave a shrug. “But he didn’t. I think Jones is able to monitor the situation closely enough to know that. And he could take Tom out any time. But he’d rather play terrorist for now. Plus, he gets to put the new invention through the wringer, which is what Zed Zed Sept is paying for—whether Jones knows it or not. If he doesn’t figure out a way to pry out all the details of your aquadisk, it’ll be a Spindrift miracle.”
“A Swift miracle,” Bud corrected, unsmiling. “It’s Tom’s antidetonation jammer that’s kept things from boiling over around here. I don’t know if you get the daily papers on this island, Scott, but genius boy gets called that because—that’s what he is.”
“Does anyone else call him that? Or just you?” Scotty’s smile was very small and looked as though it were carved in granite. “Oh, and call me Scotty, Bud—won’t you?”
Rick and Tom both hastened to speak up. It was Rick’s voice that prevailed. “Cut it, guys. No one here is forgeting Tom and his inventiveness.”
“No one,” agreed Hartson Brant. “We won’t make any progress by sniping at one another. It doesn’t take a genius to see that.”
“So I’m not a genius,” said Bud sullenly.
“Mebbe we should try singin’ a few songs!” Chow had a worried look on his face.
Chahda entered the room from the kitchen, gnawing on a turkey drumstick. “Much voices out here. If fists will be flying, I will take bets.”
Bud snorted. “Not a fair fight. You could use that drumstick like a club. I can go up against the Marines, but not wild turkeys.”
A grin slowly eased its way across Scotty’s face. “Not that much difference between turkeys and jarheads, sometimes. Sorry for what I said. I was out of line.”
“Let’s not worry about it,” Tom said quietly. “We have some plans to finalize for tomorrow’s trip.”
“Trips,” corrected Dr. Brant. “In the plural. And even if South America isn’t so far away these days by jet—”
Rick completed the thought. “Danger makes it a rough road—all the way.”
THE CHARMS OF KOUROU
KOUROU, French Guiana, was not exactly what Rick Brant called a city. Chahda, his World Almanac firmly in hand, had informed everyone of its precise official population as of a certain date: 26,714 permanent residents living within the city limits in “nonmobile residential structures.”
“That’s not my idea of a burgeoning metropolis,” Rick remarked. “It’s no Atlantic City. It’s no Trenton. And those are not big cities. Those are two nice old towns with ambition.”
“According to our Hindu font of statistics, it is bigger than Whiteside,” Scotty pointed out. “Bigger than Whiteside and Seaford combined. Your problem, Rick, is that you’ve been dazzled by the rush and crush of cosmopolitan Spindrift. Give Kourou a chance to unveil her charms to you. I read that in a guidebook.”
Rick gave a nod, wry and skeptical. “Uh-huh. I read the guidebook too, on the plane. And I intend to give Kourou a chance. How could the home town of Devil’s Island not be charming?”
In fact, the famous Devil’s Island, once the legendary prison and notorious isle of no return for those convicted justly or unjustly, lay on the horizon some twenty miles across the water, toward the northeast. It was known locally, by the French-speaking populace, as L’Ile du Diable. Rick and Scotty had been surprised to discover that the race, the Grand-Diable, had Devil’s Island as a turnaround point and the source of its name.
“Maybe Smith Jones has set up a secret base on Devil’s Island,” Rick suggested. “It’d fit.”
“He’d spend all his time dodging the tours.”
It was early afternoon when they arrived, pre-dawn when the tiny Spindrift airstrip had been covered over with a big, boxy Swift aero-freighter equipped for supersonic speed and jet-lifted hovering. With Tom’s aquadisk secured in the hold, the Spindrift duo had spent the hours of southward flight reading pamphlets, discussing the Taxman’s game plan, and chatting with the pilot, a rather eccentric man named Dunc Lawrence. They learned a good deal more about Lawrence’s interests, and his fiancee, than they wished to know.
As they flew, they were aware that they were not alone in the sky. Now and then they caught a glimpse of the fleet of pilotless microjets shadowing them, sophisticated robot drones equipped with Tom’s landing-forcer device and antidetonator. Though the jammer only affected the “nitrogen” repela-bombs, and hadn’t stopped the explosive assault on the Wavejumper the day before, the boys managed to feel safe up in the blue.
Somewhere beyond the horizon to the east, they knew another jet was pacing them, a two-pilot speed job bearing Tom Swift and Bud Barclay. “And who knows what must be zooming along underwater,” Rick had commented. “And I don’t mean friendly mermaids.”
The remark had brought a rueful nod from Scotty. “The one that got away. At least we know what kind of sub it is.”
The Sea Hound had been able to profile the attacker with its imaging sonarscope, and the results had been transmitted to Spindrift. Scotty, who had made a hobby of studying foreign warcraft, recognized it immediately. The model was Soviet-made in the 80’s, used briefly in the North Sea patrols and decommissioned; now, apparently, available on the black market. “She’s called a Tsaimyr-Defender,” he had explained to the group while Barclay had watched coolly across the room. “An experimental high-power prop design which never worked very well. Maybe ZZS figured out the glitch. They weren’t originally designed for missile launch, but the Soviets modified a few for their Zul class midget missiles. That must be what Tom and Bud came up against.”
“Maybe outfitted with a different type of repela-bomb, or some other powerful explosive,” Tom had added. “Are the Defenders nukes?”
“Non-nuclear. Conventional sub-aquatic diesel technology—cutting edge at the time. Of course, Jones and friends could have modified it. Point is, it’s fast and nimble, with a pretty narrow sonar footprint, as you can see. Very good at lying doggo right on the floor. It’s no wonder your seacopter didn’t see it until too late.”
That conversation had ended with Tom breaking the news to Chow Winkler that he wouldn’t be accompanying his beloved boss on the trip south. “I need you to stay here with the Brants and Arthur Roberts,” Tom had said gently over the Texan’s protests. “We’ll have a security team on the island and jetmarines in the ocean, but no one can keep their spirits up like you can, pard, with that gen-yoo-ine hero cuisine.” Rick admired how skillfully Tom had handled that situation. He had wondered if the older man ever felt wounded by what seemed, to Rick, a few too many digs from Bud Barclay.
The aero-freighter had landed, not at the Kourou airport, but at a well-secured, somewhat hidden field a ways north of the city abutting the ocean. The base was run by Kourou’s biggest modern asset, the Centre Spatial Guyanais, the French government’s advanced space facility, which had charge of the Ariane rocket program. While the boys watched, and radar watched the skies, the aquadisk was efficiently swung into a narrow channel and run into the hangarlike building that would be its home until the race two days hence.
In the rented car Swift Enterprises had arranged for them, Scotty asked, “Okay, pilgrim, here we are in this charming noncity. We meet T and B in”—he checked his wristwatch—“about four hours.”
“Four hours to dinner,” Rick said. “Can you survive?”
“Easily,” was the reply. “Because tourism is not unknown in Kourou. And where there are turístas—I don’t know how to say it in French—there, my lad, you will find great greasy snacks in abundance.”
“Let’s head down to the big docks,” Rick suggested. “They’ll be showing off the boats for the race. I’ll take some pictures with my digicam.” Scotty agreed.
The rental agency had provided a map. It took no more than four minutes to advance from the city limits of Kourou to the section of downtown that fronted the ocean, a rectangular region about six blocks deep running parallel to the shore for a mile or so, as Americans measure things. The city was old and shabby along the way, showing her age and her history as a backwater industrial town, with many poor migrants from other parts of Latin America much in evidence. Then abruptly, closer to the water, they found themselves in what the locals call the “white city,” the newer Kourou of the last thirty years—clean, cosmopolitan, gentrified.
“According to the pamphlet, it was the space center that did it,” Rick remarked. “Younger, richer people started coming—coming and staying. Not just from the Americas, but from France, the mother country. I don’t know whether there was ever a ‘swinging Kourou,’ but the place looks like it was trendy for a while.”
They made a point of taking two short detours, once to locate their hotel—equipped in advance, as was the car and, in fact, Rick and Scotty themselves, with Tom Swift’s antidetonator—and once to pass the restaurant where they were to rendezvous with Tom and Bud. The restaurant was named Chien-Mare d’Or, and the look of it made them hungry. “The Golden Sea-Dog, or something like that,” Scotty said. “Maybe they serve hot dogs with kelp seasoning.”
They turned back toward the docks—and stopped. The street had become a parking lot; filled to capacity, if they correctly interpreted a sign in French. And it looked it. They took a side street and at each intersection looked seaward with hope, but hopes were dashed every time—all the boulevards within blocks of the waterfront were choked with parked cars, young attendants standing with hands out to collect the parking fee.
“Looks like a possible job for Chahda, if the Boston shop goes belly-up,” noted Rick. He thought of his exotic friend, sitting somewhere outside the action of the moment, undoubtedly bored. “You meet a lot of people. They’d probably let you wear a disguise. It might even be exciting on a Saturday night.”
“I know I’m excited,” commented Scotty dryly. “It’s because of the meet, Le Grand-Diable. Half of French Guiana, the half that drives, has decided to come out and walk around and see the boats. Sort of an Easter Parade without Easter. Or a parade.”
“A parade would have to walk single-file between the cars. Let’s park back near the restaurant and walk. It’s not all that far.” Endeavoring a u-turn, Rick added: “Nothing wrong with being a pedestrian. We’ll see the many charms of Kourou close up.”
It took a good forty minutes of brisk walking to cover the distance from their parked car to the place where the race boats were on display, one after another. It was a sort of long plaza, doubtless a converted ocean-front boulevard, now brick paved, with the sandy beach on one side and endless boutiques, touristy shops, and fast-food stands on the other. Each boat had its own space marked out by a chain-link barrier rising a bit above waist-height, and each space bore identifying signage and a number.
It was only mid-afternoon on a sunny, breezy day, and people were everywhere, of course. Most seemed to have only a slight, passing interest in the boats on display, but Rick and Scotty were interested. The race entrants were sleek-lined, somewhat large, and brightly colored. As usual, the hulls were littered with small corporate logos and mini-ads.
“Beer must be de rigueur among the speed-boating crowd,” Scotty remarked; “judging by the ads on everything.”
Rick nodded. “That and cigarettes. And cigars.” He was snapping pictures in all directions with his digital camera.
Most of the boats were driven by above-the-surface jet engines; the era of the old-fashioned prop-screw was long gone as far as the Grand-Diable was concerned. There were a few subsurface engines of the hydrojet variety, though, and one which advertised itself breathlessly as The True Houmanie Electro-Aquatic Reaction Engine.
The boys stopped for a light snack that proved to be even lighter than anticipated, a meatball impersonating a hamburger. As they tossed the wrappings into a trash can, Scotty leaned close to Rick’s ear and spoke very softly, half turned away. “Guess what? We’ve picked up a tail.”
“That happens to us a lot. Who is it?”
Scotty started strolling in a slow, natural way, and Rick stayed close at his side. “Dark skin, hair streaked blond, kind of Asiatic features. Maybe from the Pacific—Samoan, Polynesian, Hawaiian. Young. He was standing guard at one of the jet boats about eight spaces back, the one trimmed turquoise and gold.”
“I remember it,” Rick said. “And I remember him. Blond is not his color.”
“He looked me right in the face and reacted, though he didn’t mean to. Someone’s shown him our pictures. I watched him out of the corners of my eyes. After we got about forty feet along, he jumped the fence and started ambling after us. When we stopped at the snack stand, he stopped too and pretended to be interested in something. When we started up again, so did he.”
“I like it,” declared Rick Brant. “I really do. In fact, I love it. Here we are in a foreign city with Tom Swift, boy inventor, and we’re the ones who get followed.”
Scotty gave a half-snort. “Let’s not flatter ourselves. Ten to one it’s because of Tom Swift that they’re trailing us naïve Spindrifters.”
“Do we lose him?”
“I’d just as soon not take him home with us.”
They turned left into a fully-parked side street, heading away from the beach. One block up, Rick glanced in a car’s side mirror. “Blondie is still with us.”
“So I see.”
“You know,” Rick continued, “when there’s fun to be had, I don’t feel that the bad guys ought to have all of it. Shadowing someone can be an amusing game.”
Their next turn, at the end of the block, was into a street that was apparently marked One Way in French. This street was not entirely parked-over. Though angled parking nosed up against both curbs all the way down, there was a narrow center lane made available on the offchance that some of the visitors might not want to spend the night strolling the seaside district of Kourou. In fact, the earlier wave of people was now being replaced by the later afternoon crowd, and cars were constantly backing out, the abandoned parking space instantly gulped up by a new arrival.
And that situation was all to the good, the boys agreed. They both had big grins on their faces.
When their tail, Blondie, turned the corner after them, most of the block was now between them, as if they had started running while momentarily out of sight. The dark-haired one had his keys in his hand, and it seemed the two were arguing about something. The one with lighter hair was gesturing in protest, talking loudly, almost yelling.
“I didn’t mean it. You know I didn’t! Just chill out, Scotty, okay?” The emotional one stood on the sidewalk while the other one, Scotty, crossed on the far side of a parked SUV, its nose angled away. Scotty’s dark hair was visible bobbing along over the top of the van. The rest of him could not be seen through the van’s windows, obstructed by some bulky something heaped in the back seat.
Arriving at the driver’s door on the far side, the visible sliver of Scotty’s head ducked down. Presumably he was unlocking the door. In a moment there was a metallic bang, like a car door slamming shut.
The other one, still yelling, made a few pulls at the passenger door. “Unlock it, willya? You’re being a jerk!” Then he danced away in sheer frustration. “Okay, go on, whatever.”
Rick Brant had a different view of the situation, of course. They had watched for someone to enter a suitable vehicle, then run up close to it while their shadower was out of sight. Now Rick was performing. He was clearly unnerving the stout woman inside the SUV, who was fumbling with her keys and trying desperately to pull away from the strange, probably drunk, possibly dangerous young man ranting on the sidewalk. She gunned the vehicle, backed out with a rubbery screech, and paused in the middle of the street, shifting into forward.
Blondie stepped between the parked cars and out into the street. He wanted a glimpse of the license plate, and got it just as the SUV roared off.
Glancing up, he suddenly realized that the yelling boy was no longer in sight. Not good.
He abandoned the pretense of casualness and trotted back to the sidewalk and forward up the street to the corner. Which way? Where was the boy?
In actual fact the boy was watching him. Rick had entered an apartment building courtyard through an unlocked gate. By standing on a lawn chair his head, hidden from all but the most penetrating observer by a leafy branch, just topped the wall. He saw Blondie come running up the sidewalk, carefully changing his position behind the foliage as the tail passed and continued. Rick watched the back of the blond head as it reached the end of the block and halted, looking frantically each way.
Blondie was in a panic. Too bad, thought Rick. But not sincerely.
Now that Rick had reversed positions with the tail, putting him ahead and Rick behind, their roles were also reversed. It was now Rick—and Scotty, somewhere out of sight—who was the shadower. The Spindrifter had done it before, more than once, and had learned to do it pretty well. He walked in a crouch, made use of bushes and cars and other obstructions, and strolled closely behind men who were taller—and, when possible, wider—than he. The sight would be disturbing to those further back on the sidewalk. Unless they assumed Rick belonged with those who walked in front of him; then he would be slotted as just another high-spirited young guy playing around on the street. Likely drunk.
Blondie seemed to pick a direction at random, heading left and crossing the street. Rick rushed forward to the intersection—and faded back just in time as Blondie reappeared, stalking in the opposite direction down the side street. He had changed his mind!
Make up your mind, will you? Rick said inwardly.
Zigzaging deftly half a block behind his quarry, Rick decided that it would be a fine idea to get a photo of Blondie. But not the back of the man’s head. He would have to catch up and work his way around in front again.
Rick left the sidewalk and sprinted between two apartment buildings, hoping to find an alleyway behind the row. No alley, but a reasonable substitute: a long, narrow strip of unkempt grass dividing one rank of buildings from another, stretching the length of the block. He ran at top speed. There were a few fences to hop, and at one point a big rubber ball caromed off his back. But in a minute he was around front again, next to the sidewalk, back in hiding, and fifty feet ahead of Blondie, who looked most unhappy.
Blondie was talking on a cellphone. He pocketed it and glanced up the block. Rick suddenly realized that they had come around in a big circle. At the end of the block was the brick-paved boulevard of parked boats.
A man entered the block at the far end, walking determinedly toward Blondie. He also looked most unhappy. Rick figured it was the person on the other end of the just-completed cell call. He snapped the man’s picture, then swiveled and snapped Blondie’s with as little motion as possible so as not to attract the eye to Rick’s nook of concealment.
When he again turned his face to the sidewalk up the street, Scotty had appeared, ambling casually on the sidewalk on the opposite side, approaching from the end of the block. He was almost paralleling the determined-looking man.
Blondie saw Scotty, and his step faltered. The dark-haired ex-Marine angled across the street, directly toward the shadower, who stepped aside to let Scotty pass.
“Thanks,” said Scotty, loud enough for Rick to hear. Scotty passed, almost bumping Blondie. Then he paused and looked back. “Weren’t you guarding that turquoise and gold boat? It’s on fire. Did you know?” Anyone who knew Scotty might wonder when he had developed a clipped British accent.
Blondie made a helpless sound, and ran forward to meet his approaching associate. A few frantic words were exchanged. Then they ran up the street toward the boat display.
When the men were gone, Rick stepped out of hiding. “You’re shameless,” he said to Scotty.
“Yes, and I regret it. I’m ashamed of my shamelessness.” He glanced toward the end of the street, then back at Rick. “No point tailing our tailer any further. He was just heading back to his post.”
Rick held up his digicam. “Got a few pictures of the charms of Kourou.”
“Figured you would,” Scotty said. “And you know, you were right. It’s a good thing to make like a pedestrian now and then. You see so much.”
RACE THE DEVIL!
TOM SWIFT and Bud Barclay were already waiting at a table when Rick and Scotty arrived, though the Spindrift boys were a good fifteen minutes early.
“Everything—and every one—all squared away, gents?” asked Rick.
“We checked over the Wavejumper,” replied Tom. “We’ll be sleeping there, of course, while you two struggle along in your nice modern hotel.”
“We’ve had A Rick Brant Science Adventure,” Rick declared with a grin. “Tailing someone is a science, isn’t it?”
“If it isn’t, digital photography sure is,” Scotty added.
The two described their afternoon, and Rick flipped through the digital photos on the camera’s view panel. Bud was already out of his chair and standing behind.
The picture of Blondie came up, and Bud made a choking sound, his eyes wide. “Tom, take a look—Pali!”
Tom took the camera from Rick and gazed at the image in amazement. “Sure is!—with phony blond hair, but that’s him all right!”
“Old friend?” Rick asked.
Tom explained. Pali Sumolor was a Samoan who had been living on the Pacific island of Loonaui when Tom was attempting to establish a rocket launch facility there in connection with his outpost in space. The young man had become involved with a group determined to block the project and eliminate Tom himself. Later Bud had captured Pali, but the Samoan had escaped jail and had been at large ever since.
“I knew it was him right off,” Bud said. “I never forget a face I’ve slugged!”
“And it all ties together,” pronounced Tom. “The group that Pali worked with on Loonaui is the same one involved now, the group backing Smith Jones—Zed Zed Sept!”
Rick leaned over the table toward Tom, indicating a button on the camera. “Go back one frame, Tom. I also snapped a guy who might be Pali’s boss.”
Tom did so and barked out a laugh, holding up the camera for Bud to see. “Talk about tying up loose ends! It’s Dr. Von Willen, from the hospital where Robert Turnbull is being held!”
“The man in charge?” Scotty nodded. “Made it pretty easy to gently guide Smitty Jones into a daze. Probably Jones’s dope supplier, come to think of it.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Tom said. “ZZS must’ve planted him in the job in order to get at Turnbull’s technical knowledge.”
There was a break in the conversation as a waiter arrived to take their dinner orders. When he left, Bud leaned forward and hissed, “Okay, so now we know! Why not head back to the waterfront and have a little talk with Pali and his boss?”
“If either of them are still there, they’re fools,” Scotty said flatly. “Blondie—Pali—probably took the job to keep an eye on the passing crowd and report back when any of the principals came strolling by.”
“Which we did. Call us suckered tourists.” Rick’s tone was rueful and apologetic. “I can’t believe I was so stupid.”
“Yeah,” said Bud. “But it wasn’t all that bad. Our being here isn’t a secret. We want them to know.”
“Besides,” added Tom, “it may be valuable for them to think we’ve underestimated them—that we’re walking around like we haven’t a care in the world.”
“A care in the world? Us?” Rick picked up the coke that had just appeared on the table and took a gulp that tried to come off as unworried, and nearly succeeded.
The race, Le Grand-Diable, began at nine in the morning. The sea wind had been increasing, slowly, throughout the night, and Tom had been concerned that choppy conditions might force a postponement. But by breakfast the sea had calmed again, and by nine conditions were glassy and perfect.
The speedcraft, forty-three of them, were lined up side by side in special docking berths constructed to their individual specifications and requirements. In berth 18 waited the Swift Enterprises aquadisk, immersed up to its midpoint. On the left was a narrow, sharp-prowed jetboat; on the right a smaller, broader craft with some sort of subsurface propulsion which Tom never bothered to investigate. Each launch spot was separated from its neighbors by a good hundred feet.
The day previous the contest officials had taken all the participants on a cruise over the course, pointing out various landmarks and guide-buoys, most of which sent microwave bleats that would allow the boats to position themselves accurately. The big cruiser took them around the far side of Devil’s Island, then back in a lazy loop. A hot lunch, with drinks, was provided, elaborately catered.
Scotty had gotten up early, as planned, and had driven the rental car to the secluded air strip where Tom and Bud’s jet was hangared. Bud drove Rick to the dock where the Wavejumper had been delivered around midnight, where Tom had spent the night, an antidetonator by his left hand and an i-gun at his right. When they arrived the young inventor was pacing the planks restlessly, taking a last look-over.
“I didn’t sleep much,” Rick confessed. “You?”
“I think I counted about thirty of my forty winks,” Tom replied, with a yawn for emphasis. “But the important thing is that the aquadisk is secure and ready to sail—if ‘sail’ is the right word for what it does.”
Rick looked up at the open cockpit dome and the line of climbing-rungs that led up to it. “Time to board?”
Tom nodded and turned to Bud, who stood nearby with a slight scowl.
“I don’t like it, Skipper,” Bud said. “I know I agreed. But I should be the one riding with you in this race.” He forced a slight smile. “You’re breaking up a winning combo.”
Walking up close, Tom gave his pal’s muscular shoulder a squeeze. “The winningest. But you understand why. Rick and Scotty can fly, but you’re the master pilot around here. If I didn’t have you around to jockey that jet, the plan would fail and Ed would be done for.”
Bud returned the squeeze and backed away stiffly. “I won’t let you down, Tom.”
“You never have.”
Rick had clambered up into the cockpit and taken the second seat. In a moment Tom was seated next to him. “A real tight fit in here,” commented Rick. “I see what Chow meant.”
“I’ll admit, it’s not designed with massive men like Chow in mind,” Tom responded with a chuckle. “The military likes the narrow radar profile, though, and I’ve sketched out a way to fit a number of men in the cargo hold—long as they’re not there for too long.” He explained to Rick that the craft’s power setup and electronic equipment, including that related to the amplitensor, was highly miniaturized. “More than half the hull is empty space. It had to be that way in order for the hull to have an aerodynamic shape.”
“No chance of your batteries going dead in the middle of the race, I assume.”
“No chance,” Tom confirmed. “The Mark 3 solar battery could last for years on the load we’ll be putting it through; and there’s a spare just in case.” His gaze shifted away from Rick Brant, watching as Bud’s rental car drove off.
Ten minutes later the public was allowed into a wide empty plaza near the line of berths, and a colorful crowd surged into position. On an elevated platform, a band was playing. Soon a half-dozen officials of the Grand-Diable competition took their seats on the platform.
Final instructions were given by radio, and then Tom sealed the viewdome. The two sea-pilots adjusted and tightened their safety straps and settled back in the contoured cushions.
The last minutes passed with aching slowness, as last minutes do. Finally, at a signal, mechanisms on all the berths simultaneously eased the 43 speedcraft down into the water—“on your mark!”
“Get set” came after a pause, and preceded a longer one. If any of the boats were having mechanical difficulties, the rules allowed a brief delay to be called.
Tom Swift’s hands were poised over the control levers and the wheel. Rick leaned back, eyes slitted.
Then came a blaring radioed Bleep! at the exact same moment as the traditional starting gun’s report. Tom wrenched the master lever. They were off!
Rick marveled at the smooth acceleration of the aquadisk. He wanted to blurt out words of praise, but decided that, under the circumstances, it might be best to let Tom speak first rather than break his concentration. Have to come up with a whole new terminology, he said to himself, pressed back against the seat by acceleration. Can’t say we “roared away"—we’re about as loud as a barracuda with a headcold. Which was pretty quiet.
Their competitors were not so quiet. The waterfront echoed with whines, growls, and full-throated roars from dozens of jet engines. And the viewing crowd was hardly quieter.
It took all of ten seconds for the first winnowing to take place. Two boats to starboard, five to port, had kept pace with the Wavejumper. All the other entrants were falling behind.
“Count down three to portside,” Tom muttered grimly. “Turquoise and gold—our friends.”
“Can’t see into the cabin. Do you really think they’d actually pilot the boat themselves?”
“Why not?” Tom said. “They don’t know you got a photo of them to show me. They lay low yesterday, and someone else, probably the actual steersman, took the cruise around the island. But Pali or Von Willen could be riding shotgun.”
Rick chortled breathlessly. “Then let’s just outrun ’em, Tom! This baby can do it easy.”
The young inventor gave a nod, but said, “Remember, we don’t want to open up all the way—not yet. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Swift Enterprises aquadisk come in first!”
Kourou, and the fleet of laggards, was already miles behind them. The Wavejumper rode the water like a ballet dancer, “on point.”
Suddenly the inter-craft radio crackled. “Mayday!” came a voice, heavily accented.
The contest Shore Command responded in French with an inquiry. The voice replied: “This is thirty-nine, the Noelle-Douce. We have—our control is—” The message ended in a shriek. Rick pointed off a half-mile distant at a crazily zig-zagging line of white foam. In a moment the speck of metal at the head of the wake took a sudden leap into the air like a flying fish, rolled sideways once like a clothes-dryer’s drum, flipped twice, and slammed down into the waves!
“Holy momma!” Rick gasped.
“Happens every race,” pronounced Tom, “and more than once, usually. Never been a serious injury yet. That’s why they require full safety restraints. The ambulance boats will pick them up.”
“Right,” said Rick. “Let’s worry about us.”
The rugged mass of Devil’s Island was now looming on the horizon. Tom cautiously upped the power to the amplitensor. The aquadisk tilted slightly and seemed to get a second wind.
“We’re leaving them in the spray!” Rick exulted as he looked about. “Except—!” He jerked his chin leftward.
Tom swiveled to look. “What do you know, the ZZS entry! Must be using some of that good old Turnbull high-tech.” The turquoise-gold-trimmed craft, needle-nosed with splaying fins, was jetting along like an aquatic bullet in flight. And it was drawing nearer.
“Cutting across. That’s a violation,” Tom grimly declared.
“I doubt they care about the rules, Tom,” commented Rick. “They win if they take the Wavejumper out—and us with her.”
It seemed Rick was right. The rival craft—they could now read the name Caspar on the side—was out in front with the Wavejumper, and closing the gap between them. She obviously had a lot of power behind her speed.
Suddenly the Caspar gave a violent swerve and came bounding across the waves as if intending to ram the aquadisk! Tom’s hands flew over the controls. Instead of braking, the Wavejumper accelerated, curving around the attacker in an evasive maneuver and pulling ahead.
The Caspar assumed a parallel course, now almost directly behind the racing aquadisk. “Keep an eye on them, Rick!” Tom hissed. “What’re they up to?”
Their curving hull blocked a rear view from the cockpit, but the aquadisk was outfitted with a rear-facing videocam. Manipulating the dials on the board, Rick adjusted the angle like a car’s rearview mirror, his eyes fixed on the small screen before him.
This was why a copilot on the race was a necessity. “They’re pulling closer,” reported Rick. “Just a couple hundred feet now… swerving a little to port now… Tom, they can go as fast as we can!”
Tom gave a tight smile. “No. They can’t.”
Rick interrupted with a cry. “A hatch just slid open. Somebody leaning out—it’s Pali! Tom!—he’s got a shotgun!”
In an instant the hull of the Wavejumper rang with the impact of a bullet!
THE BONEYARD PLOY
THE FIRST bullet was just for openers. In seconds the hull was clanging like a popcorn kettle.
“Some kind of automatic,” pronounced Rick.
“It doesn’t matter,” said his companion. “The hull of the disk is made of a composite material tougher than anything known on this planet. No bullet could penetrate it. I doubt even a bazooka could.”
But a difficulty presented itself nonetheless. Though Pali’s fusillade failed to cut through the Wavejumper’s hull, the sheer impact of the projectiles on the lightweight craft was having a worrisome effect. The disk was shimmying, wiggling, and wavering.
“It’s because so little of the Jumper is actually in the water,” Tom said. “I didn’t anticipate this—we’re swinging back and forth like a gate on a pivot.”
“What can we do?”
The young inventor didn’t reply for a long moment. Dealing with the wobbly course kept both of Tom’s hands glued to the controls. Then he began to speak rapidly and tensely. “Okay, Rick. Next to the screen in front of you, lower left corner. See the button marked D-Mode?”
“Push it twice.”
Rick did so. A gridwork of luminous lines now covered the little video screen. “Got the grid up.”
“Good. See the vertical line in the middle, thicker than the rest?”
“It splits the screen in two—that one?”
“That’s the one. I’m going to steer the disk from side to side. As I do, the image of the other boat will slide across the screen. Tell me when its center, its prow-point, is approaching the line. ‘Warmer-colder’—you know.”
Tom began to steer a course of broad, lazy S’s.
“Colder, colder, cold,” reported Rick. “Okay, warmer. More. There!—hot!”
“Brace yourself!” Tom cried.
Reversing the master control lever, Tom braked the Wavejumper. As before, the braking action was unnervingly effective. The two thudded forward against the straps.
But the Caspar had no brakes. “S-she’s gonna hit!” Rick choked out. For an instant the image of the enemy speedcraft swelled up within the frame of the video screen. Precise numbers did not come into Rick’s head, but if they had, he would have guessed that the follower had closed the gap between them in less than two seconds.
In those two seconds, Tom threw the aquadisk into a sharp veer, trusting the amplitensor and the supergyros to keep her from tumbling like a car attempting a spiraled on-ramp at 70—in the rain.
Rick Brant had run out of gasps. He could only flinch as the hapless Caspar came barreling through the air mere yards from the cockpit dome. Rick never could be sure whether he had actually glimpsed Pali’s face as the open hatch passed close to Rick’s side of the cockpit. But he did, definitely, see Pali’s big gun whirling like a propeller against the bright blue Atlantic sky.
As she came down again the Caspar nicked the top of a low swell and survived easily. But she was beginning to roll. Her pointed prow bit into the next wave like a drill-bit into soft pine. She flipped and splashed down. Something, maybe a jet engine, broke free and went skittering across the waves. For the Caspar, the race was over.
Tom informed Shore Command that there was another job for the ambulance boats. He calmly mentioned that they ought to use caution; it was possible that one of the pilots had a gun.
Tom glanced Rick’s way with a half-smile, and the Spindrifter realized he was panting. “How did you do that?” he demanded. “You slow us down—in a big way!—and suddenly our pursuers have taken to the air.”
“Just a little creative use of the amplitensor,” Tom said with an innocent shrug. “It took a big mound of water to push us sideways. Looks to me like the other fellows used the mound as a launch ramp. Not a good choice.”
Rick Brant looked at Tom Swift incredulously. “Guess they needed a little more practice.” He shook his head. “I wish Scotty had been here to see that.”
“Don’t worry,” commented Tom. “Stories like that grow in the telling. It’s part of the fun!”
Far ahead of the other boats, they were now closing in on the island that marked their turnaround point. When they passed behind a low cliff, and were no longer visible from the distant mainland, Tom slowed the aquadisk abruptly and guided her toward a narrow passage between two upthrusting rocks, fingers of stone making the V-sign.
“Ready?” Tom asked. Rick nodded.
The Wavejumper glided into the channel, no more than a couple dozen feet wide and about twice that in length. As the shadow of one rock fell athwart her, Tom smoothly changed the board settings. And as though it were no special trick, the aquadisk sank like an elevator, disappearing beneath the surface.
Through the viewdome, a ways ahead in the green gloom, another craft waited, resting on the pebbly bottom and ready for action. It was a second aquadisk, an exact duplicate.
Tom spoke into the sonophone mike. “Here we are, guys.” The transmitter was set at ultra-low power. The message would not be decipherable beyond a few hundred feet.
“You’re early, Skipper,” responded Bob Jeffers. “Tammy and I were in the middle of a chess game.”
“Finish it later,” Tom laughed.
The second aquadisk, which had been aero-freighted to Kourou alongside the Wavejumper, was named the Alice Blue. As Tom and Rick watched, she bobbed up and her dome broke the surface. The amplitensor was activated, and she rose further until only the barest sliver of the hull protruded beneath the surface. And in the next moment, that sliver flashed forward and was out of sight.
The Alice Blue would finish the Grand-Diable as a ringer for the Wavejumper, which, if all went as calculated, would very soon be—
Scotty thought he had never seen a jet flown as low to the water as Bud Barclay was taking her. He had certainly never been inside one under such conditions. The Atlantic waves were no longer low scallops of water but big, blurred wrinkles flickering past the wings like—like what? Frightened wasps abandoning their nest?
Oddly enough, it was not the waves themselves that tied his stomach in a sailor’s knot. It was the wavering, strobe-like gleam of the morning sun on them rebounding into his eyes. He positioned his hand to block it. His helmet and special flight suit were Swift designs and temperature controlled, yet he felt warm and more than a tad claustrophobic.
“Getting to you?” asked Bud.
“Can’t go higher, sport. Following orders. Fly low, Tom said. Orders. Just like in the Marines—remember?”
The remark gave Scotty an excuse to look away from the sun-glare. He stared at Bud. “We’re here all alone for a few hours. You and I. No one to hear, unless Smithfield Jones’s eavesdropper-ear is better than even Tom figured. Let’s take advantage of our solitude, shall we, kid? You’ve been riding me since moment one. What’s the reason?”
“I don’t know what—”
“No,” Scotty cut in, “stow it, Bud. It’s been way too obvious.” Bud was silent, lips drawn thin. “Fine. An invitation for me to speculate.”
“Can’t stop you.”
“Sure you could. You won’t though. Just like me, you’re curious.” Scotty glanced forward and down, at the instrument panel. What was he going to say? “We’re four classic types, don’t you think? And each pair is mighty well matched. That’s what makes it work. Rick is as brave as any man I’ve ever met, in the Marines or out. That’s why no one knows what to make of the little traits that really outline who he is. He’s an emotional guy, a feeling guy.”
“Just an ol’ sentimentalist, hmm?” Bud said sarcastically.
“Call him that if you want. It’s not an insult. Rick feels for people. He knows what their insides are like. He takes risks because he wants to help, needs to. That’s where his courage comes from. Me, I’m not that way. I can step back, stick with the plan, stay cool. I’m always putting the ducks in order—and when they fly away, I call ’em back.”
“Say, that’s nice poetry,” Bud commented. “But you know?—poetry is something I’ve never got.”
Scotty plowed ahead. “The point is, it makes Rick and I a good team. His emotions drive us forward, my plain common sense holds us back. So we work. I protect him. He gives me someone to protect.” The last phrase was meant to be eloquent and clever, but there was a catch in Scotty’s voice that he hoped Bud hadn’t noticed.
Bud said, “All right. You two are a good team. You’ve got each other’s backs—that’s the expression, right? A pair of heroes.”
“Like Tom Swift and Bud Barclay.”
“Tom Swift and Bud Barclay. Also known as Tom Swift and that guy you always see standing next to him in the photographs.” He surprised Scotty by giving forth with a sharp laugh. “Yeah. Not that I’m jealous. Not that I want glory. I just have to get up in the morning and go to bed at night asking, What good is Bud Barclay to a guy who just happens to be history’s number one scientific genius? Got an answer to that one, Scotty?”
Scotty nodded. “Sure do. Interested?”
“Tom is logical, scientific, educated. He’s a creative thinker. Abstract stuff, ideas floating way out there in space.”
Bud snorted, a moment of agreement. “Literally!”
“And you’re not, Bud. You’re a muscle guy, and you’re impulsive. You take action. You don’t hang back. Ever think of how much that gives to Tom? He’d spend his life lost in his own thoughts if you weren’t there to pull him back.”
Bud checked over the instruments, silent. The frown on his young face had deepened. “That’s nice, that’s great. But you can keep the world off your best friend’s back. I don’t know how. Those bombings—what good was I? I’m an ex high school footballer whose pal gets targeted by mad scientists and super-spies.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Scotty. “The bodyguard thing. Bud, Tom pays people to protect him. You’re the friend he needs.” Bud had no response. Scotty plunged on ahead, understanding. “So you come to Spindrift and here’s Scotty, ex-Marine, fazed by nothing and no-one, right?”
“Tom has to see it,” Bud stated with sad conviction. “You and Rick, me and Tom, right there in front of us. I make funny remarks, I say Tell-me-about-your-new-invention-Tom. You keep Rick Brant alive, and have for years. On the field I know how to compete, not—in life.” He turned in his seat and looked at Scotty fiercely. “And that, jarhead, is why I get a little sarcastic now and then. Get it?”
Scotty looked away, wishing he could find something to look at.
The Wavejumper headed south and east, as low in the water as her propulsion system would permit.
There was frustration and impatience in Tom’s voice. “We’re nowhere near top speed. This far down the resistance of the water holds us back.”
“You said it was just until we cleared the Kourou area,” Rick pointed out.
“Yes. Not that Jones or the ZZS-ers are likely to be flying around openly, watching. But they surely monitor radio traffic. Someone sees us and makes a call, we’re tagged. And as the Gorilla likes to say, wrong point in the play.”
Ten minutes later, starting to round the hump of Brazil, Tom declared that he had had enough. He brought the entire hull of the aquadisk up into the sunshine and threw power into the amplitensor. The bolt of acceleration kicked them back in their seats. Faster, faster—and the Wavejumper shuddered. “Mach 1!” Tom exclaimed.
Still the acceleration piled up. “Think we’ve cushioned our surprise package enough?” Rick asked with a trace of worry. “There’s a lot of space in that hold for cargo to bounce around in.”
“I know,” Tom said. But he didn’t pause.
“Should we check, you think?”
“We can’t, Rick. The cargo hold isn’t accessible from inside the cockpit. The access hatch at the stern is the only way in.”
“Then you know what?” pronounced Rick. “I won’t worry about it.”
But he did.
The area called The Boneyard—in various languages—covered only a few dozen square miles within a perimeter roughly oval in shape. It was claimed by the nearby Falkland Islands in the name of Britain; by Argentina, who also claimed the Falkland Islands; and by Brazil. And perhaps a few more. A region of shallow waters barely wetting an undersea rise, it had received its name from the hundreds of tiny, elongated islets that crowded together like scattered white bones, separated by channels that were mostly too narrow for any sizable watercraft to fit through.
The islet identified by Miza Ranooq as the location of the abandoned weather facility, the presumed base of operations for Jones’s sub and Ed Longstreet’s prison, was near the center of The Boneyard and had no name, just coordinates. But it had a distinctive shape, something like a triangle trying to grow into a crescent. It was also one of the largest of the “bones,” fully a half-mile long, though very narrow. The weather-watch station, some twenty years disused, was a small utilitarian building of concrete and cinderblock in the middle of the barren rock. But the middle was hardly further away from the rough South Atlantic spray than the shore was. The islet was little more than two coasts with nothing between them.
Scotty knew that Bud ached to call the Wavejumper on the Private Ear radio. But absent some unexpected development, such calls were allowed only at certain set times. The distraction could put Tom and Rick at risk, and the program of the ploy ruled it out. So Bud, however much the impulsive muscle guy, wouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t.
Bud and Scotty had spoken no further about personal “stuff,” and as the jet drew near their destination, they were all business, again going over the plan and its logic. The Taxman’s admittedly speculative profile of Smith Jones placed him near to the action, a compulsive spectator in the manner of a pyromaniac. That meant he would be in the waters near Kourou in his retro-Soviet submarine, perhaps even lurking invisibly under the Grand-Diable racecourse. He probably would not strike at the aquadisk, though; he knew now of Tom’s antidetonator and had gained respect for the nimbleness of the Wavejumper in the encounter near Spindrift. Rather than show his hand within reach of the authorities and their navy, he would watch, wait, and learn. And—as Scotty pointed out after Tom’s first PER message—Jones was apparently willing to lose a pawn, Pali, in order to bait-out the aquadisk’s performance characteristics. “He’s stalking data,” was Scotty’s succinct comment. “An obsession. He can’t stand uncertainty.”
“We’re here to make his life uncertain,” Bud replied.
Would he have detected the substitution of the Alice Blue for the Wavejumper? Probably not. The sheltering rocks would likely have defeated his long-range underwater monitoring equipment. Probably not—but possibly so. No one, not even the Taxman, really knew the extent of the advanced technology extracted from Robert Turnbull.
But at any rate Tom felt sure that Jones would underestimate Tom’s own technology. He had not seen the full capabilities of the aquadisk, not even in the toe-to-toe with Pali’s boat. He would not presume the Jumper to be capable of multi-mach speed. There was every likelihood that Tom could beat the sub to The Boneyard—the real race the young inventor had to win.
There was an unknown, and it was a big one. How well was the Boneyard base defended in Jones’s absence? Was there a full contingent of ZZS minions armed with Uzis, missiles, chopper gunships? Not likely was Ranooq’s opinion, an opinion backed by his unwilling interviewees, Jones’s picked-off henchmen. Smitty Jones’s delusional revenge program seemed to be a pretty compact operation, and Zed Zed Sept would not choose to put too much of their resources and personnel at risk. It would be a bad betting strategy. Yet part of Bud’s and Scotty’s job, one more wheel within a wheel, was to put the islet on alert, to probe their defenses while the aquadisk was on its way.
Tangled fragments of The Boneyard swept past the jet below them. Bud gained altitude, “Got it!” hissed Scotty, pointing. “Two o’clock—see the building?”
Bud snorted. “That’s a building?” Somehow Bud’s quip made Scotty feel reassured.
The jet approached low, veering sharply just before crossing over the structure itself. There was no response, no sign of life. The jet radio was silent. Bud looped around for a second pass.
“Nobody home,” muttered Scotty.
“Oh, somebody’s home, I’d guess,” Bud retorted. “Ed Longstreet for one. Probably a few guards to watch him, too. Too bad we had to go small on this jaunt. Jet lifters would make it easy. If we could just swoop down and pick him up—”
“Yeah. And if wishes were horses. Nothing on the islet—on any islet, far as I can see—bigger than a suburban driveway to use for a landing strip. It’d be dicey even for a chopper. But you’re a pilot. I don’t need to tell you.”
“Correct—you don’t.” Bud was now circling back for another run, slowly and casually. “See that strip of water down there? Not wide, but plenty long.”
Scotty’s gaze froze on his pilot. “No chance, Bud. Or, correction, a chance, namely a very poor one.”
“We’re amphibious-outfitted, man. And you know how impatient I am.”
They passed over the building, and Bud flew miles out toward the west before he wheeled around again.
“You’re going to try it, aren’t you, hotrock? That’s not the plan.”
“The day Bud Barclay follows a plan…”
Scotty was aghast. “What are you trying to do, Bud, prove yourself to Tom? Don’t be crazy!”
Grinning, and just possibly crazy, Bud pushed the stick forward.
The jet approached the water, the long narrow channel ahead, fast at them, the bones of The Boneyard flashing past on all sides. “You see, Scotty, old boy, the truth is, neat little plans weren’t made with impulsive muscle guys in mind. Guess you might say I’m making my decisions on the fly!”
The jet’s tail clipped a wave and rebounded. Scotty was white-faced. His long arms darted out like snakes in an attempt to wrest the stick from Bud. But Bud’s right fist lashed out in a powerful uppercut that landed square on the tender side of Scotty’s suit-padded wrist, whipping it away.
“Don’t try that again, please. This is no time for a grudge fight. Or—come to think of it—is that what’s next on the agenda? A fight? Not like we’ve got anything else to do.” The jet bounced along on the water, and this time her nose didn’t come up. “Care to step outside, Mr. Scott? Hmm? I think it’s time.”
The islet was looming close through the roaring sea-spray, its steep rocky shore a low wall of stone.
At one-fourteen PM, early afternoon, sun on most of the South Atlantic, a silver Swift Enterprises jetcraft rammed into a tiny island in a place called The Boneyard and tore itself to pieces in a swath of fire and a jet-fuel explosion that echoed through empty skies all the way to the Falklands.
A VIEW FROM A HEIGHT
THE AQUADISK threaded its way through the intricate maze of The Boneyard like a champ, barely breaking speed. Tom and Rick circled the destination islet once, rapidly and openly. Bud had briefly PER-ed them earlier that his initial forays had drawn no reaction, no resistance.
They found a cove on the shore near the building, somewhat hidden by an overhang of jutting rocks. Tom pointed out old pilings as well as docking equipment that looked new. “That’s where they dock the sub,” he stated.
“It couldn’t be for anything else,” agreed Rick. “That overhang’s too low to the water for anything higher than a life raft. The weather station people must’ve anchored out at the edge of The Boneyard and floated their stuff in on flat barges.”
“Once the station was established, they mostly used choppers,” Tom said.
During their survey the two had noted, wordlessly, a plume of smoke in the air. Wisps of smoke, instantly plucked away by a stiff sea breeze, were still wafting up from a scar that cut across the ground at the end opposite the building. The scar itself was fresh and white, like a knife slash, running straight through from shore to shore. The smoke was rising from broad blotches spattered along both sides. The color of the splotches was black—jet black.
Tom and Rick exchanged meaningful glances, their brows deeply furrowed. But there was nothing to say.
Tom lowered the Wavejumper as far as possible into the water and let it glide beneath the overhang. It bumped to a gentle stop yards from the shore. “Looks like we’ll have to swim for it,” Rick remarked with a wince.
“That water’s icy cold,” was the response. “So I think we’d better use the disk’s ‘alternate docking mode’.” Warning his companion to hold on, Tom made adjustments to the gyros. The aquadisk leaned over in the direction of the portside shore line, tilting further and further until, miraculously, it was floating stably on its side, almost flat to the water. The cockpit now extended over the narrow strip of beach.
After quickly unsealing the cargo hold and verifying that all was well within, Tom led Rick to an opening in the rock wall which appeared freshly dug. It was covered by a metal door.
“No point knocking,” Rick muttered.
Tom nodded agreement and produced a roll of his metal-dissolving tape, which took only seconds to silently eat a man-sized hole in the door.
Their i-guns at ready—Rick and Scotty had been given some quick lessons on Spindrift—they entered a concrete corridor lighted by a single, flickering fluorescent tube. There were several doors on either side, and one of them had a small window. “A workshop,” Tom whispered. “Look at all that stuff—all the latest equipment.”
“Join Zed Zed Sept—we use only the best!” was Rick’s whispered reply. His heart was thudding, making his chest jump. He hoped Tom wouldn’t notice.
At the end of the corridor, a door stood wide open, a big room beyond, dimly lit. Using his pen-sized radartector Tom scanned the room. “One figure, scarcely moving,” he pronounced, barely audible.
“Tom, wait,” murmured Rick Brant. “They wouldn’t just leave the prison door wide open like this.”
“They might if he’s unconscious, or chained up. It would be convenient if they brought in food trays, or to take a glance at him at odd moments, in passing.” Tom smiled wanly. “Even jailers can get lazy.”
Rick had to agree. “And I suppose he couldn’t get very far even if he did escape the room. If there’s no boat or chopper, the whole place is just a big prison.”
“Jones must disable the radio when he’s away, as a precaution,” Tom declared. “It’s what I’d do.”
“You think he’s been left here alone?”
The young inventor shrugged. “Why speculate? Let’s take a look.” He drew from a sealed pocket something that looked like a long, jointed soda straw with a disk at one end the size of an old-style silver dollar—a light-duct mini-periscope. Pressing against the wall by the door, out of sight of the interior of the room, he kinked the tube and extended its narrow tip a quarter-inch past the doorjamb. “It’s him, all right!” Tom hissed excitedly, eyeing the round view-screen. “He’s alone!”
Weapons drawn, the two stepped into the room, which was about thirty feet square, with a low ceiling. The figure lying on a cot against the far wall stiffened and sat up. “Tom!” Ed Longstreet choked in disbelief.
He struggled to his feet. A metal chain clanked against the bedframe.
Tom rushed up, gave his cousin a quick embrace, and turned his attention to the chain without a word. “This is Rick, Ed,” he murmured as he reached in his pocket for the roll of dissolving tape.
In moments Ed was free, chafing his left wrist and left ankle, where he had been manacled. “You came at just the right moment, cuz. I haven’t seen anyone here for two days. Is the place deserted?”
“We haven’t seen anyone,” responded Tom.
Ed continued, “I had two jailers who brought me my meals and checked on me every hour. They never spoke. I got the impression they were husband and wife. The last time I saw them, they left extra food and a water jug. You didn’t see them?”
Tom shook his head.
“That’s strange. And there was some kind of explosion just a little while ago. I didn’t hear anything, but I felt the walls and the floor give a shake.”
Rick asked Ed: “What about Smith Jones?”
Ed looked puzzled. “Who’s that?”
“He probably calls himself Raymond Turnbull,” Tom said. He recited the former Mrs. Jones’s description of her ex-husband.
“I saw that man just once. He came in to look at me on the day I arrived, along with a thick-set older man.”
“Probably Von Willen.”
Ed tested his legs and declared he would be able to walk. But as he looked up past Tom and Rick, his face went white. Tom and Rick turned to look.
A man and woman stood in the doorway, two guns pointed their way. “A little bit, we speak English,” the man said. “And so hello to you. Tom Swift and Bud Barclay, is it?”
“Bud couldn’t make it,” said Rick. “I’m Rick.”
The woman spoke. “We watched your arrival on the TV. A wonderful boat you have. If the others had taken it, they would still be alive, hmm? But they preferred jet travel.”
“What others?” Ed Longstreet demanded.
He was ignored. “Now then, we have two weapons, and you have two. But ours are already aimed, you see; alas, you would have to raise yours and point them. So, your course now is to gently drop them upon the floor, and shove them my way. With your heels, if you please.”
As Tom and Rick complied, the woman muttered in low tones to the man. “My wife says, how clever is our employer, all things anticipated. He knew someone would attempt this futile liberation during the ocean race, and so we have prepared, laying low in our secret place to easily catch more of you. We do apologize, Ed Longstreet, for neglecting you for a time. We wished you to think we were gone, you see, and thus to speak truly to your cousin. A lie is too easy to see sometimes, is it not?”
“Your employer is Zed Zed Sept, isn’t it?” asked Tom.
The man shrugged. “Does it matter?”
He chuckled. Then he stopped chuckling. A look of bewilderment shot across his face. Blankness caught up with it. He collapsed limply to the floor, his wife flopping undaintily on top of him.
Rick stared at Tom, but the young inventor held up his hands in protest. “Don’t look at me! I didn’t do it!”
“I’ll take the bows!” came an exultant voice from the doorway. He wasn’t immediately recognizable in his wet-black flight suit and helmet, but the voice was Bud’s. He was carrying an i-gun, as was Scotty, who entered behind him, stepping over the inert couple on the floor.
“These guns are great,” pronounced the ex-Marine. “I knew I’d love ’em.”
“A flair for drama,” Rick said. “A definite talent. You can’t just come in the door. You have to arrive in the nick of time. If you’d waited any longer, I’d have started sweating.”
“You mean, this was all planned?” boggled Ed Longstreet.
“Pretty much,” Tom said jauntily. “We had to think like a ‘wheels within wheels’ kind of guy. Of course, we can’t take too much credit—the plan really came from someone else, a very taxing friend of mine.”
“But I have something to confess,” Bud said, rushing forward. “I didn’t quite keep to the plan.”
Scotty objected. “Did you say quite? You were supposed to crash the jet out in the open water north of The Boneyard, not on the island itself. We were supposed to float ashore in these fancy electric suits, limp along from bone to bone, and sneak up on the building.”
“I went for the direct approach.” Bud shrugged happily. “Scared you, didn’t I.”
Scotty snorted. “I thought you’d lost it. I know we had to watch what we said as we approached the island, what with Jones’s Mighty Ear Machine. But you could have written me a note.”
“I could have,” Bud said. “But fact is, I didn’t know beforehand just what I was going to do. They say I’m kind of—impulsive.”
Tom explained to Ed the more obscure elements of the master plan. Using a repelatron device attuned to the material of their protective suits, Bud and Scotty were ejected safely from the jet prior to its crash. The repelatron force that ejected them was computer-controlled to precisely counteract their forward motion, and they dropped gently into the water, their suits protecting them. “We snuck into the building topside and followed Mr. and Mrs. here down the stairs,” Scotty said. “Of course we didn’t drop them right away. Had to let them say their piece.”
“Like I said, a flair,” Rick snorted. “Both of you have it, I’d say.”
“Sometimes it comes in handy,” grinned Tom Swift. But abruptly his expression sagged. “Aw no!”
“Disappointed?” said the new figure in the doorway, a small boxlike device held prominently in his left hand for all to see. “If I should release my grip on this, three explosive devices on your side of the room will immediately detonate. Conventional chemical explosives, by the way, lest you feel falsely secure. So if you have some secret scientific way to take me down, Tom, please do reconsider.”
Tom sighed. “Congratulations, Dr. Jones. It seems you really are a master of strategy.”
The man stepped into the room, keeping his eye on the five captives as he stepped over his fallen colleagues. “You made many errors, Tom; you and your friends. First, of course, my name is Raymond Turnbull. The resemblance to my twin Robert is quite obvious.”
“Your name is Smithfield Jones,” Tom declared firmly. “You were Robert Turnbull’s therapist. You’ve been drugged and brainwashed.”
“Hardly,” the man insisted. “Would a lunatic be able to bring to heel the great young inventor Tom Swift, destroyer of my dear brother? Think about that, young man. Have I not shown my ability to anticipate every twist and turn of our struggle for life? Yours and mine? I knew there was a very high probability that your aquadisk boat had capabilities beyond those revealed to me. I knew you would come here. Even that you would split your forces, come at me from two directions. Alas, a few sacrifices along the way—some of my employees, that man Pali, these two on the floor—though they’ve certainly earned a bonus, which they will not collect, sadly. I never was on that submarine, by the way. Von Willen ran it for me. He was trained, you see. They brought me here, and I didn’t venture out. Though it seems I must leave very soon. Here I am, here you are, Tom.”
Jones walked over to a cabinet built into the wall. Opening it, he took out a device resembling a small fire extinguisher. “Now this is a repela-bomb, as you call them. And indeed, of the nitrogen type—I have been unable to adjust the mechanism for other elements. My brother Robert, you see, is the scientist and technician between the two of us, and for the moment I am deprived of access to him.” He tapped a finger on the metal tank. “So, an ingenious solution. And utterly simple. The metal of the tank, stuffed with circuitry, blocks your own jamming waves. Inside, protected, is a repulsion emitter surrounded by nitrogen gas. I complete a circuit, and the gas is forced outward against the shell with enormous pressure. The shell gives way, becoming a source of shrapnel pervading this entire chamber.” Jones removed from the cabinet an eyedropper. He released a single gleaming drop, which fell into small opening on the bomb casing. “There now. I have even anticipated that you might use psychological suasions against me, Tom—that nonsense about the nonentity Smithfield Jones, for example. You might confuse me, weaken my resolve. It happens now and then. So, here is a mechanism that I cannot stop even if I should be convinced to want to. The acid droplet eats away at the tiny squib holding two electric contacts apart. In a minute or two, they will come together. And that will be it.”
“Delusional nut cases don’t know they’re delusional nut cases, ‘Raymond’!” growled Bud. “You’ve let Zed Zed Sept use you for their own purposes.”
“Not at all. I’ve used them for my purposes,” retorted Jones calmly. “To give me life. I feel life now. It’s a good feeling.” Setting down the bomb, he turned to leave.
The door to the room was closed.
“What is this?” he muttered, trotting up to the door and rattling the handle. He pushed frantically against the door, then whirled to face the others. “Locked! We’re locked in! We have to break out—come help me!”
“Give me the signaler in your hand,” Tom demanded. “Hand it to me carefully.”
Jones threw it down on the floor. “A dummy, a façade, a whim! But the big bomb is real, and can’t be stopped. Let me out! Let me out!” He banged on the door in a frenzy.
The others ran to the door, and Rick barked out: “This is Rick—open ’er up quick!”
The door rattled and swung open. A small figure poked his head inside. “Good guys in control of situation?” Chahda asked.
“Run!” yelled Scotty, pushing Bud and Ed along in front of him and squeezing past the frantic, scrambling Smithfield Jones.
Rick hesitated. So did Tom. “Tom, we can’t just leave them,” the Spindrifter said, indicating the unconscious couple.
“Wasn’t going to,” replied the young inventor. They dragged the two through the doorway, and Tom kicked the door shut with his foot.
The door shook and the room behind it roared.
“You know what gets me?” said Rick Brant. “I doubt we’ll ever get a thank-you.”
The Wavejumper made it to the Falkland Islands in minutes. The fact was not lost on Rick and Scotty, crammed in the two-level cargo hold with Bud, Chahda, and the tightly restrained—and, eventually, gagged—Smithfield Jones, who seemed less and less sure that he was, after all, Raymond Turnbull.
“If a platoon of soldiers is supposed to ride in here,” commented Chahda, “I think they must be very small soldiers.”
“It must’ve been bad on the long trip,” remarked Rick sympathetically. “I was worried about you.”
“Was no picnic,” Chahda said. “But plenty pillows from Spindrift. And I listened to music of India.”
“You didn’t spend time boning up on the latest World Almanac?” asked Scotty, wedged uncomfortably next to Bud Barclay.
“Worrold Al-man-ac?” The young Hindu smiled. “Already read it, thank you. Very boring stuff. Real life more interesting. You get to sneak around island, play tricks on evil villain, rescue friends about to be blown up. That is life I much prefer, meatheaded one.”
Rick returned Chahda’s smile. He was feeling sentimental. “You were our surprise package, our emergency life support.”
“And he was Tom Swift’s contribution to the plan,” Bud flatly reminded them. “That’s one the Gorilla didn’t think of.” He nudged Jones with his foot. “Neither did you, smart guy. When they get to work resizing your brain, ask them for something like the Tom Swift model.”
In the cockpit, Tom sat next to Ed Longstreet, speaking to Harlan Ames in Shopton. After summarizing how the story had played out, Tom passed the unit to his cousin. “I’ll let Ed fill you in on his own involvement.”
Ed took the PER and greeted Ames. “It started for me several months ago, when a friend of mine who works in the British Defense Ministry asked me if I would look into something, casually and unobtrusively, with no hint of any official connection. There had been reports of unusual air and sea activity near the Falklands, and there was concern that Argentina might be moving to forcibly reassert their Falklands claim. I circulated a phony cover story and took a little cruise through the area.
“Guess I got too close to The Boneyard for Jones’s tastes. He had fun testing his new bombs on my poor little cruiser, and this man Von Willen plucked me up out of the water by helicopter and took me to my prison. They had learned my name, but I think they were surprised to find out I was Tom Swift’s cousin. Probably put them into a panic—in fact, I’m afraid it might have driven Jones to start his bombing campaign prematurely. They were afraid I’d been spying on them deliberately, meaning there’d been a leak. At least that’s my educated guess. I was never talked to after the helicopter delivered me.”
Tom took the PER, and Ames reported some good news. “Special units of the Argentine Navy were able to intercept Von Willen in the sub. He was on his way south at top speed, just as we’d anticipated, Tom. He’s in custody, and it looks like he has a lot to say about Zed Zed Sept—maybe enough to put them out of business.”
“And I have some news, too,” Tom responded. “It took me a while, but I think I’ve doped out who planted the bombs in the Enterprises hangar.
“The man at Enterprises must’ve been Brady Yarkis, the technician! He was protected inside the Sky Queen, and was in position to see who came near the spot where he planted the device. Bud was the target, but Yarkis must’ve fouled something up—the bomb didn’t detonate right away, and it was Art who was hurt, not Bud.”
“Actually, Tom,” said Ames with a grin that came across on radio, “I picked up Yarkis this morning! And also the Construction Company guy, who turned out to be one of the ones who had been hospitalized. He got caught up in his own bombing!”
“Harlan—you’re fantastic!” Tom cheered.
“Well, Tom,” replied Ames with a laugh, “you do pay me for a reason!”
It was hard to tell, at first glance, whether what he was looking at should be called a sunrise or a sunset. Not that it mattered in space, Rick mused. It was all a matter of angles, perspective, and relative motion—the relation of the ship to the earth’s horizon.
He shared his thoughts with Scotty, who considered the matter soberly. “I think it’s rising. We’re heading eastward. I’m sure we are.”
After watching a moment more, Rick agreed. “Definitely rising.”
The mighty Challenger spaceship sailed along in low orbit, Bud Barclay at the controls, Tom Swift standing nearby talking with Chahda and his Cousin Ed. Tom had suggested the short trip, a way of giving the thank-you Rick and the others deserved.
As Tom approached, Rick said, “There’s no way I can put what I’m feeling into words, Tom. When the Foundation launched the moon rocket, I never dreamed this day would come for me.”
“Rick’s just a farm boy,” remarked Scotty, giving his pal a playful punch. “You saw the little farm on Spindrift, right? As for me, I’ve seen the world. I was in the Marines. This is nothing. Stars, moon, earth—seen ’em all.”
Tom laughed. Chahda drew near. “Inventor Tom, this is a meathead. Do not take him for serious. I, however, wish to know what future holds. Not whole future, not little picky details. I will settle for the next Tom Swift invention.”
Tom’s eyes took on a familiar gleam and Bud called out, “There it is, everybody—the Swift genius boiling over. Stand back!”
“I guess I do have a few things in mind,” Tom finally said. “Something you might like, Rick—a real electronic mind reader!” But Tom knew that, as always, there would be many a twist and turn in bringing his Thoughtograph Imager to fruition.
“Guys, we’re there!” Bud exclaimed. “Right down below.” Touching a control, he made the ship bow earthward with exquisite delicacy.
They all looked downward through the ship’s great rectangular viewports, one beside the other, a pair of picture windows on the heavens. Far below was a green and brown cloud-dotted coastline. It looks a bit grand for New Jersey, Rick thought.
But New Jersey it was, grand or no. Scotty pointed. “There’s Whiteside.”
And close by to Whiteside was a tiny speck poking its nose out from the coast into the early morning Atlantic, details hazed-out beneath the clinging gray mist. It would be cold down there, the sea breeze just stirring as it woke. Rick and Scotty knew it would be an hour or so before anything you could call real sunshine. Right now it was what the two preferred to call—if possible from bed—night,. Nothing was very real before breakfast.
Those who looked up would see a last late star scudding eastward, toward what would become a daybreaking sun. At the moment the Challenger was the brightest thing in the sky.
Even at space-orbit height, the shape below was as familiar to Rick Brant as his right hand.
“Spindrift,” Rick breathed happily, “you’re looking good!”