TOM SWIFT AND THE
SEAFLOOR SPACE PYRAMIDS
“Sorry, Tom. You’re of no more use to us.”
It was Sandy’s voice!
THE TOM SWIFT INVENTION ADVENTURES
AND THE SEAFLOOR
BY VICTOR APPLETON II
ILLUSTRATED BY SCOTT DICKERSON
A FAN FICTION
TOM SWIFT LIVES!
TOM SWIFT LIVES!
TOM SWIFT AND
THE SEAFLOOR SPACE PYRAMIDS
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 THE
SEAFLOOR SPACE PYRAMIDS
A BURIAL AT SEA
“WE HONOR them,” Tom Swift solemnly intoned, “for their service to science and exploration, for their loyalty to Swift Enterprises and to the cause we hold dear. They gave unstintingly to the end. They never failed us in their mission. Now we lay these four to rest in the dark depths they knew so well.”
The crewcut young scientist-inventor paused, and the respectful silence was broken by the loughing of the sea wind and a voice that had gravel, and a sniffle, in it. “Aw, brand my gravestone, boss, you’re gonna make me wish I’d-a bought a black fyew-nee-ral suit,” protested Chow Winkler. He squinted down at the metal platform where lay four bodies, composed dignifiedly with arms at their sides, their blank sightless faces reflecting the Atlantic sun.
“After all, Skipper, it’s not like we don’t already have replacements for ’em,” humorously grumped Tom’s best friend, Bud Barclay.
“You’re despoiling the atmosphere, Budworth,” sniffed Bashalli Prandit, her raven-dark hair alive in the breeze.
“Sorry,” said Bud meekly. “Go ahead.”
Tom nodded and reached for a lever attached to the deck rail near him. “Unto the eternal blue sea we commend your spirits.” He pulled the lever. The platform, which jutted out over the waves, tilted and the four inert figures began to slide toward their eternal rest—four mansized, egg-shaped figures of metal, with robotic arms and legs and gleaming bubble-domes for heads.
As the subsea exploration suits, virtual one-man minisubs, splashed out of sight below, Tom’s sister Sandy waggled goodbye at them with her fingers and said, “I know you boys just loved your Fat Man Suits, but I can’t get choked up over something I’ve never even worn.”
“Now they’ll be ‘sleeping with the fishes’,” Bud said. “Matter of fact, fish can spawn in ’em.”
“I couldn’t quite squeeze my ole middle forty into one,” declared Chow ruefully. “Sometimes I think Tom jest don’t have consideration fer us chubby-type folk.”
Bud never resisted the urge to tease his good friend. “C’mon, pardner. It’s not enough that you served as the model for the suits? Gotta wear ’em yourself?”
“What I should like to know,” said Bashalli with a look toward Tom, “is whether your new line of aquatic clothing will be suitable for us proper young ladies.”
Tom chuckled. “Suitable? The aquapods are a suit and a half!”
“You and Tom can look forward to long strolls on the sea bottom,” added Bud.
“Hand in hand?—but alas, our hands are surely to be encased in Tom-a-steel or some other such impenetrable material. The essence of anti-romance.” Bash was skeptical and, even, a bit wistful.
“Come on down below,” urged Tom. “We’ve got one set up in the sea hangar.”
They elevatored two decks down into the depths of the mammoth Sea Charger, presently nearing the Strait of Gibraltar and under atom-steam for Italy. A research vessel the size of an aircraft carrier, the Charger had been designed by Swift Enterprises and was frequently leased by the company for special projects. “Those four were the last of the Fat Men, except for the ones we have in the museums and on display in the Visitors Center,” Tom noted as the elevator doors slid open. “The original design dates back to the jetmarine.”
“My goodness, you make it sound like ancient history!” giggled Sandy.
“In terms of Swift inventiveness, it’s the Pleistocene,” commented Bud.
Tom continued. “We redesigned the suits several times. But chic as they were, they never had the mobility down deep that the hydrolung suits give us in shallower waters. So we took the next step.”
Bashalli nodded. “The logical next step.” Her nod was nodded dryly.
“All my steps are logical,” grinned Tom.
“How well I know it.”
The five crossed the hangar-hold, which adjoined the sea lock. “So that’s it, hunh?” said Chow. “We s’posed t’ shake hands with it ’r sumthin’?”
The aquapod suit, a new invention, was as big as a big man. Broad shouldered and deep-chested, it was transparent from top to bottom, faceted as if assembled from flat panes of glass. Yet the surfaces were all but invisible. As Sandy waved her hand in front of the suit, she noticed that the panes reflected back nothing. “Tomonomo, I’m sure it’s wonderful,” she said. “But, you know, it might be tough to market. Those wall-to-wall windows look a little fragile.”
Bud chuckled. “I told you, chum. Glass has a bad rep. You should have painted it chrome.”
“Or at least a dark beige,” suggested Bash.
“Say, I got a suggestion,” Chow added, holding up a big arm enclosed in a fantastic pattern of color.
Tom gave his friends a chiding look. “The whole idea is to be able to see out of it without any obstruction, from all angles. As for fragility, it’s stronger than the Fat Men, with fewer vulnerable spots. The shell is continuous.”
“Continuous?” repeated Sandy. “What about those straight seams where the panes come together?”
“Tom explained it,” Bud replied. “Those are folds, not seams.”
Chow nodded voluminously but skeptically. “Wa-aal, mighty nice. But how d’ya wriggle into th’ thing if it’s all of a piece?”
“Because even if the shell doesn’t have breaks or seams—we can make them,” Tom grinned. He touched one of a number of small neon-bright ovals and square patches on one of the “forearms.” Instantly, with a slight sound, the entire front of the aquapod popped open. Still attached along one side to the rigid rear section, it sagged and wrinkled as if composed of stiff fabric.
“Ah! I understand,” said Bashalli. “It is like the hydrolung suits you made, is it not? Touch a button and it becomes flexible.”
The young inventor nodded. “That’s it, basically. The aquapod is made of a new composite multilayered material, a further development of what we use in the duratherm wing.”
“The inflatable space-reentry capsule.”
“Right. And in a way the aquapod is inflatable too—but it’s caused to ‘fill out,’ not by inner pressure, but because the cells of the material reorient themselves into a locked conformation when a current passes through the selected microcircuits, which pervade the suit. By selecting different circuits you can make only certain segments of the suit flexible, and even create a separation when you need to open it up. But when it’s in its rigid mode, the metallumin filaments in it allow it to resist deep-sea pressure with the best of ’em!” Such resistance and strength in the face of the tremendous pressures of the ocean depths was why Tom had originally invented his remarkable transparent metal.
“It can do just about everything the hydrolung diversuits can do,” Bud continued excitedly; “but in the aquapods, ‘divers do it deeper’!”
“I guess you strap all that underwater gear you use onto the main shell after you get inside,” said Sandy.
Tom shook his head. “Nope, not at all. Everything is built right into the shell itself, using super-thin flexible circuitry.”
Chow scratched his bald head. “I know they kin minee-maturify jest about everything nowadays. But I sure cain’t see how you’d cram all them bulky contraptions you made into somethin’ as thin as a blame eggshell.”
“No, pard, you ‘cain’t see’—and that’s the point,” responded the youth. “Remember periplex, that material I made that guides light this way and that like a periscope?”
“Shor I do—that winder pane that made it look like you’d plumb cut off your hand!”
“It puts a ‘reflection’ of the background in front of whatever is immediately behind the surface, a crude sort of invisibility. Well, the main aquapod material, which I call baroplast, includes layers of periplex. Wherever the inner apparatus is too thick or dense to be seen through, the periplex bends light to create a replacement image, as if you’re seeing right through it, from either direction. In other words, you see past the electronics layer to whatever’s just beyond it.”
“Will the wearer also be invisible?” asked Bashalli.
“No, not the wearer.”
“Then I don’t recommend using the material for street clothing.”
Bud’s had a joking rejoinder, lost to the world as Tom’s nano-cellphone, secreted above his right ear like a stashed cigarette or golf pencil, gave a discreet chirp. “Just a sec,” said the young inventor, touching a small stud on the tiny device. “This is Tom—oh, hi Captain.”
After a brief exchange Tom told his companions, “Let’s go back topside. We’re entering the strait. Pretty soon we’ll be able to see Europe on our left and Africa on our right—and then the Rock of Gibraltar.”
The giant ship was bearing Tom and several other key members of the Swift Enterprises team, including Tom’s father—and selected eager vacationers, all two of them—to Italy in order to finalize a contract project in Venice. Since his return from the polar regions, as chronicled in Tom Swift and His X-Flight Solarplane, the young inventor had been developing an invention that could address critical problems in the magnificent city of canals.
Swift Enterprises had been approached by a delegation comprised of representatives of the city government as well as several departments of the national government of Italy. As Tom had explained to his friends, the perennial problem of Venice—subsidence of the land—showed signs of becoming acute. “The underlying land is basically a marsh,” Tom had explained, “and the city keeps its head above water because of a massive substructure of petrified wooden pilings. But when they started to tap the freshwater aquifer down deep underneath, the entire land mass began to sink down like a halfbaked cake. Now high tides roll onto the streets, and there’s worse to come. That’s the problem they want Enterprises to solve.” The challenge lent an exciting edge to the brief Atlantic voyage of the fast Sea Charger.
Up on deck they could make out, hazy on the far horizon, Punta Marroqui, the tip of the Iberian peninsula. But Bashalli, shading her eyes against the sun, glanced away to the south. “Thomas,” she called out, “what is all this in the water?”
Tom strode over—then leaned low over the rail. “Gettin’ a mite seasick, boss?” asked Chow.
“I’m just trying to figure out what this stuff is.”
The others joined Tom and looked out and down at the low, rolling waves. The sea was littered with small, dark objects of irregular shape. Some were bobbing on the surface, some visible just beneath. “They’re not dead fish, are they?” Sandy inquired with wrinkled nose.
“No,” said Bud uncertainly. “Maybe clumps of seaweed. What’s your diagnosis, Skipper?”
Tom’s young face had turned grave. “I just saw a reflection from glass. I’m afraid there’s been some kind of terrible wreck at sea!”
“A SHIPWRECK!” gasped Sandy. “You don’t think it’s just floating junk?”
Tom shook his head. “If it’s ‘junk,’ it’s made up of pieces of a hull—and the insides too. Look, you can see cushions from chairs.”
They now could make out that the splotchy river of bits and pieces extended southward for miles, an offcolor ribbon in the sea as far as could be seen. “No oil slick,” Bud commented. “The wind must’ve bounced this protruding stuff along for quite a distance, maybe hundreds of miles.”
Tom alerted the captain and had the Charger stand-to, anchored and stabilized by Enterprises gravitex devices. “Capt. Gillaine’s alerting the mainland authorities,” Tom reported to his companions. “But we’re still in international waters. I’m not sure who’ll be taking charge.”
Suddenly Bud pointed into the far distance, southward. “Maybe that’s a patrol boat. Looks like they’re following the wreckage trail.”
“It’s a sailing ship,” Sandy observed after a moment. “See?”
“So it is,” said Bashalli.
They watched keenly, minute by minute. “Two masts,” Bud declared. “A schooner.”
As the ship drew nearer—large, but unimpressive beside the colossal Sea Charger—she revealed more of herself. “Good night!” said Tom. “It looks like an old-style sailing ship, right out of Moby Dick. Must be one of those ‘tall ship’ replicas that come sailing in for festivals and celebrations, as in Boston Harbor.”
They could now make out the name emblazoned on the prow: Tyche. “Funny name,” commented Chow after several failures of pronunciation. “Must be foreign.”
Bashalli smiled. “Those foreigners do have the silliest names,” said the young Pakistani.
A bullhorned voice, British-edged, came across the waves from a figure on the deck. “Hail, Sea Charger. This is Zalkhyran of the Tyche.”
“Are you the captain?” yelled Tom.
“What? Can’t make it out. Radio me, won’t you?” He boomed out the contact information, which Tom relayed to the wheelhouse, racing up with Bud. In minutes they were speaking with the man who identified himself as Harry Zalkhyran. “Yes indeed, Mr. Swift, I am the salty captain of my lovely lady the Tyche,” he explained in a jovial voice. “We’re British, but we berth in Malta half the year. On our way to port now.”
“Captain, were you following this trail of wreckage?” asked Tom. “Do you know what happened?”
“Look, come over, come aboard. Easier to chat. You say you’re the famous Tom Swift? The inventor? The explorer?”
“I’m Tom Swift,” confirmed the youth modestly. “My friend Bud Barclay and I will be happy to come across, sir. We’ll extend the gangbridge.”
“The what? Well, just tell me what to do. We’re motorized, of course—can’t always insist that the wind keep to our backs, hm?”
Over the intercom Tom asked his father to join him and Bud; and Tom’s father in turn drew groans by telling Sandy, Bash, and Chow to remain aboard the Sea Charger. “Sorry, but we must be cautious. We don’t know this man Zalkhyran.” Sandy knew that when Damon Swift spoke with a certain tone, argument was useless and resistance was futile.
“Come on, Bashi,” sighed the blondest of the Swifts disgustedly. “It seems mere girls aren’t wanted.”
“Aw now, cheer up,” urged Chow. “They ain’t got no use fer cowboys neither. An’ I kin cook!”
The covered gangbridge, made of Tomasite plastic, telescoped out from the side of the Sea Charger, angling downward until it thumped against the restless deck of the Tyche, where it was anchored and stabilized by a mini-gravitex. Mr. Swift walked across with steady dignity, followed by Tom and, with less dignity and a bounce, Bud.
The man who met them, deeply tanned and vigorous, appeared about sixty years of age, his hair gray and sparse. “Harry Zalkhyran,” he said as he shook Damon Swift’s hand. “Dr. Harold Zalkhyran, if you feel you must. But I’d rather you wouldn’t.” He introduced the handsome, somewhat younger woman attached to his arm. “My wife Delphine.”
“Delphie,” she said. “And I insist.” The men noticed that Mrs. Zalkhyran’s handshake seemed tentative and unsteady.
“Tell me, Doctor—Harry—what is your field of specialization?” Mr. Swift asked as the visitors were guided into the cabin.
The man smiled. “Well now, I’m a surgeon. Big old practice in London, years and years. I’ve seen the insides of some important people, my friends—four Prime Ministers and several members of the Royal Family. In one case the visit was, shall we say, most surreptitious.” He chuckled and his wife nudged him playfully.
“We’re retired now,” she said. “Honeymooning here and there from port to port. There’s ever so much more to wake up to, compared to dreary wet London.”
Bud’s eyes were wide. “Man, this schooner is amazing! Is it a replica?”
“Yes indeed,” replied Zalkhyran, “at three-fifths scale. Cost a barrow o’ pence, as you can imagine, but Delphie and I had a nice income for a great many years.”
“I was his surgical nurse,” explained Mrs. Zalkhyran. “Oh, Harry was such the handsome, dashing young doctor!”
“Was the original a whaling ship?” asked Tom.
“No,” responded the surgeon, “the Ferrinella was largely used for explorations, scouting seasonal trade routes through the ice fields north of Siberia. Went to the bottom off Sakhalin in, what was it, Dear?—1838. Had the Tyche built from the original plans.”
“But you didn’t use the original name,” observed Bud. “Isn’t ‘Tyche’ the name of a Greek goddess or something?”
“The Greeks made gods or goddesses out of everything, didn’t they?” laughed Delphie pleasantly. “But the word itself means ‘chance’.”
“As in games of chance,” nodded her husband. “In our retirement we prefer to allow the winds of chance to blow us where it will. Nice life.”
“I can imagine,” Tom commented. His own life had been very different, though the role of chance could not be denied.
Over drinks, soft and hard, Mr. Swift asked Zalkhyran what he knew of the miles-long swath of floating wreckage. “Nothing very helpful,” the man answered. “We’re heading back to Malta, out of the Cape Verdes. Nice and lazy. A few days in, now. Just this morning, my pilot and first mate—though we conceal the technology, she’s quite easy to run with a minimal crew—well, as I say, Tarim Arr reported all this refuse spread across our way. Have no idea what it comes from.”
“We thought it might be some sort of dumping operation,” Mrs. Zalkhyran put in. “What disgraceful behavior!”
“I’m afraid it’s more likely to be the remains of a ship,” said Mr. Swift, “and we’ve so informed the authorities. But there’ve been no reports of a disaster anywhere along the coast.”
“The pieces are pretty small,” Bud offered. “I think whatever it was must’ve blown up!”
“My word!” Delphie Zalkhyran put a frail hand over her heart.
“What Bud says makes sense,” declared Tom thoughtfully. “But despite the size of the scatter field, I don’t see any sign, not so far, that the ship was particularly large. It wasn’t a liner or a big freighter. Even a big yacht would leave more remains behind.”
Dr. Zalkhyran grinned. “And you’ve seen some big ones, eh? I’ve read about it. The Odysseus Heraklona and—the one that Madagascar fellow owns...”
“Yes, the Apocalypso,” Tom said. “I think it’s the biggest yacht on the seas.”
Tom’s father swerved the conversation back on track. “Harry, I wonder if we might speak to your first mate?”
“You’d like to ask him some questions?”
“As we’re the ones who first alerted the authorities, I’m sure they’ll question us closely. It might be helpful to collect whatever information is at hand.”
Zalkhyran nodded. “I’ll summon him.” After speaking on the intercom, he turned back to his guests. “Tarim comes from Ad Dakhla, coastal town in Western Sahara. His people roam the Atlas Mountains up in Morocco. Not much for English, but a decent sort. Seems quite honest. Ah, I say seems because he’s new to us. Took him on last month.”
“But he’s quite well recommended,” added Delphie, sipping her drink avidly. “The Jarricksons just adore him. Do you know—? Well, of course you wouldn’t. Lovely family.”
“We don’t get out much,” said Tom. Bud stifled a chuckle.
In moments a tall, swarthy man in uniform entered the comfortably-appointed cabin. His sunbeaten face showed little expression. Noting his long chin and high, rounded cheekbones, Tom was reminded of the Basques of Spain.
Tarim Arr nodded at Zalkhyran, brusquely. “Sir.”
“Ah now, Tarim, we—”
He was interrupted as his wife coughed. Her drink sloshed over the edge of her glass, and she put it down quickly. Tom noticed that she seemed flushed.
“My dear.” Dr. Zalkhyran leaned over and handed her a pill box. “About time for the yellow ones, I think.” As she opened the box, Zalkhyran said quietly to the others, “Delphie has been ill for some time now. She went to a clinic in a little village in Wales—tiny place, Weggliam.”
“Sorry to hear it,” said Mr. Swift. “You said Weggliam?”
“Yes. Not much to see. The clinic, a few pubs.”
“Mm, I wonder...” Tom’s father persisted, “what is your doctor’s name, Delphie? I passed through Weggliam a couple years back on my way to a medical technology conference in Wales. Perhaps I met him—or her.”
“A wonderful man,” replied Mrs. Zalkhyran vaguely.
“Dr. Carstairs Yllifegg,” her husband stated. “Means something in Welsh, I’d think. Well respected medical man. He thought life in warmer climes would benefit my darling here. And it surely has.”
Arr had been waiting patiently. Now Tom’s father began to question him. He responded in English that was well-intentioned but sometimes hard to sort through. “I saw with dawn, sir. These pieces, all over. A ship broken up, I thought myself, yes. The current, it carry them north, which is for where we are going, so we followed.”
“But you know nothing of the ship itself?”
“No distress call?”
“Did you try to fish out any of the fragments?”
Zalkhyran answered for Arr. “No, they seemed rather nondescript. No pirate treasure chests floating about.” He chuckled. “We might’ve stopped for something like that!”
“We’ll try to collect a few things before they get too waterlogged,” Tom said. “The special equipment we have back at Enterprises could help us get some answers from the wreckage.”
“In fact, we could use the equipment in our Aurum City hydrodome complex, on the seafloor near Madeira,” noted Damon Swift. “The Sea Charger can make a stop on the way home, after completion of our Venice project.”
Tom added, “And if the authorities want, we could always come back with my aquatomic tracker and follow the trail to its source.”
“Perhaps I shall return to the wheel now, if I may,” said Tarim Arr. Zalkhyran nodded.
After an hour of conversation with their avuncular host, Delphie Zalkhyran speaking infrequently and seeming tired and distracted, the Shoptonians returned to the Sea Charger and watched from the deck as the Tyche sailed ahead of them into the Strait, bound for Malta. “Nice people,” commented Bud. “I’d like a retirement like that. But in space. Maybe Mars!”
They turned away from the rail. Tom said, “Well, Dad. How many beans did they spill?”
Bud gave his chum a puzzled look. “Beans?”
Tom answered the look with a smile. “Dad’s never been to any kind of ‘conference’ in the U.K.—not while I’ve been around, anyway.” He again faced his father. “So what did you find out?”
Damon Swift spoke quietly, musingly. “What did I find out? That these nice people are concealing something—and may be deeply involved in whatever happened to that ship!”
FEAR OF WATER
BUD snorted. “Of course that much was obvious. I knew it goin’ in. There’s always more to it than meets the eye. The guy’s probably a mad ichthyologist.”
Tom chuckled. “You’re kidding, but we’ve had enough good people go bad on us—that’s for sure.”
“I wanted a polite way to find a means of verifying what they’re saying about themselves,” his father explained. “That’s why I took advantage of the moment to wheedle out the name of Delphie’s physician. I’m most interested to know whether the man and the clinic—in fact the whole town!—really exist.”
“They probably do,” Tom said; “but whether the doctor’s story matches the Zalkhyrans’ is—another story.”
As Bud looked on, the two Swifts compared notes and deductions. “We were told by the nautical authorities that the Charger’s report was the first received,” Mr. Swift said. “The first—and yet the Tyche had been following the trail for some hours. They had an obligation to report this likely disaster immediately. But they didn’t.”
Bud objected, “But they said they thought at first it was just dumped trash or something.”
Both Swifts shook their heads. “Doesn’t jibe,” said Tom. “That first mate, Tarim Arr, said pretty clearly that he thought it was a wreck from the start, when he came across it at daybreak. That’s why he made a point of following it.”
Mr. Swift nodded. “Precisely. And then—”
“Yes,” said Tom. “And then! They say they didn’t bother trying to collect any of the debris. So why is water freshly pooled in a little trail from the deck rail—a spot where the rail is hinged, with pinions for a ladder—back to one of the cabin doors?”
“Jetz!” exclaimed Bud, somewhat chagrined. “I didn’t make the connection.”
Continued Damon Swift, “From the scuff-lines and the elongation of the pooling, I’d say someone was making repeated dives over the last several hours, and dragging or carrying a number of dripping articles across the deck. Do you agree, Tom?”
“I sure do,” he responded.
“Well, guys, maybe I have something to toss in after all,” said Bud. “When you started talking about recovering some of the stuff yourselves and maybe bringing in the aquatomic tracker—Mr. Zalkhyran suddenly looked like he’d swallowed a bad sardine.”
“He sure did,” said the two Swifts overlappingly.
Up on the bridge Mr. Swift directed the Captain to remain at anchor as Tom assembled a hydrolung diving team to scoop up a sampling of the wreckage fragments, a team that included Bud and Tom himself. With their ion diverjets at full they roamed south for some fifty miles, Tomasite net-sacks trailing behind them.
“Look at this, Tom,” sonophoned Bud as they neared the terminus of their furthest sortie. He had found a rectangular carton about the size and shape of a large briefcase, floating level at a depth of about thirty feet.
“Now that looks promising,” Tom declared. “Bag it, and let’s look for more.” He alerted the rest of the team, and by the conclusion of the search they had collected four such containers among the other scraps of debris.
Scrambling out of their Duraflexon suits on the Charger, Bud asked excitedly, “Shall we go pop ’em open?”
But Tom shook his head. “Not yet. I want to examine them unopened with every probe scanner we can get our hands on. The cases could be rigged to explode!”
“Or maybe they’re chocked-up with something like that nerve toxin we dealt with when you were setting up the hydrodome,” Bud conceded. “Just ignore me, genius boy.”
“We’ll stow them in the sealed test chamber for now,” stated the young inventor.
“Man, this is a real trial—waiting until we get back to Shopton to uncover the clues!”
A thought floated into Tom’s agile brain. “You know, pal... Aurum City has the kind of equipment I have in mind.” Aurum City, deep beneath the Atlantic not far distant, was the site of a scientific installation investigating the ancient golden ruins of what might have been lost Atlantis. “Maybe we should make a stop there on the way back, as Dad said.”
Meanwhile Tom’s father had contacted Harlan Ames at Swift Enterprises in Shopton, over the PER communicator, as Tom’s quantum-link parallelophone was called. “I’ll do what I can to check out this Zalkhyran’s story,” said the reliable head of Security. “Doc Simpson might be able to help in getting clearance with that clinic to do a little trawling in their records about—what was that name? The doctor?”
“I’ll spell it,” chuckled Damon Swift.
Ames had more to say. “But look, Damon—maybe I should be telling this to Tom, not you!—there’s no reason whatsoever for Enterprises to get tangled up in all this. Spain, Morocco, NATO, the European Union—these people all have a ‘dog in the hunt.’ But whether it’s smugglers or terrorists or just an accident witnessed by some retirees who value their privacy...”
“It’s not a scientific matter.”
“It has nothing to do with Tom or Swift Enterprises.”
“Do you expect Tom to listen to your wise counsel, Harlan?”
“Oh, he’ll listen. Then he’ll go ahead anyway.”
After helicoptered visits from sea-patrol authorities from Spain and Morocco, the Sea Charger resumed its voyage. The Rock of Gibraltar, illuminated by floodlights and the setting sun, was a spectacular sight.
“I will list this as my favorite rock of all time,” commented Bash, squeezing Tom’s hand.
“Shor does beat Plymouth Rock all holler,” Chow declared. “Brand my chitlins, that one ain’t no bigger’n a pony saddle!”
“Well,” said Bud, “a lot of people have stepped on it, you know.”
“That’s erosion fer ya.”
During the night the sea colossus glided rapidly through the western Mediterranean, passing south of the Balearic Islands, skirting Sardinia, cutting between big Sicily and tiny Malta, then swerving northeast past the heel of the Italian boot, into the Adriatic Sea. By breakfast they were far to the north along the coast of Italy. Venezia—Venice—was an amber cloud on the horizon of the wide prow of the Sea Charger.
The ship did not attempt to dock, but set anchor some miles out to sea. Midmorning Tom and his father travelled to their scheduled meeting, one day postponed, in a Whirling Duck amphibious jetrocopter. With a feeling of making amends, they brought Sandy and Bashalli with them.
“You two might find the whole matter interesting,” commented Mr. Swift with a degree of questionable optimism.
Tom added, “You should be able to follow things. Most of our contacts there speak English.”
“This doesn’t excuse you from showing us the sights, Tomonomo,” cautioned Sandy. “Don’t you dare make Bashi and me cruise around in a gondola with just each other for company.”
“There’s always Chow to fall back on,” Bashalli observed.
Tom grinned. “If Bud were here he’d make a joke about your choice of words!” Bud and Chow had declined the offer to join the meeting.
The working group, the Commizzione Canali di Venezia, assembled in a baroque structure, once a private palazzo, near the civic government complex. “We welcome you, with gratitude and great anticipation, to our glorious city, Mssrs. Swift,” stated the head of the commission, who represented the government of Italy. “And you as well, my lovely signorini.” Sandy and Bashalli adopted a blithely triumphal look.
Mr. Swift rose and nodded respectfully. “Thank you, Signore Laciolla. Gentlemen, ladies—you’ve offered Tom Swift Enterprises quite a challenge. We’re honored.”
“Blame those books,” wheezed a very elderly, dignified woman. “Oh yes, such exciting exploits, virile youths against pirates and madmen! No challenge too great, eh?”
“The fictions one reads are somewhat exaggerated,” Damon Swift warned the commissioners with a smile.
The lead hydrologist, professore Giacomorelli, half-rose and said, “But, my dear friends, we do not rely upon the fictions. It is well known how you have assisted other countries—Kabulistan, Ngombia. Here our need is perhaps more narrow in scope, yet by the same token more intense in consequence thereof. The tides, the tides are our enemy.”
A video presentation had been prepared, in English. Tom and Mr. Swift watched dutifully, although they were already entirely familiar with the situation. For Sandy and Bash, much of it was new and fascinating.
The screen told the tale. The subsidence of Venice had been rapid and ominous in the earlier 20th century, until a ban had been put in place to prevent tapping the aquifer by artesian wells. There was disagreement as to whether the city was continuing to sink, but the governmental state of alert remained in effect. Some years previous the Italian Prime Minister had inaugurated the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico project—MOSE, an experimental model for evaluating the performance of inflatable pontoons across the seabed at the three entrances to the Venice lagoon, to be filled with air to block the inflowing water from the Adriatic sea at high tide.
But the MOSE solution would not be a permanent one. Some experts had concluded that the best way to protect Venice would be to physically lift parts of the City to a greater height above sea level, by pumping water into the soil underneath the city. “And this, you see, is why we have turned to Swift Enterprises,” stated Laciolla. “It seems you have machinery of an advanced type which could lift our Venezia in a different manner, perhaps with even more assurance and permanence of effect.”
Before Tom could answer, one of the attendees asked a question in florid Italian, within which was a word Tom could easily recognize: repelatrona. “He asks this,” relayed the translator. “Could you not utilize your water-pushing machine, the repelatron, to hold back the waters, as you do now beneath the sea?”
At a glance from his father Tom rose to answer. “Something like that could certainly be done. For example, a bank of repelatrons could be used to replace the inflatable pontoon barriers. But we were approached in America because a new invention of mine held more promise.”
“Some of us here know of this as only a notion, imperfectly relayed by those whom you entertained in Shopton,” pronounced Laciolla. “And I must say, I fear some who have heard this assume we misunderstood!”
Smiling, Tom waited for the laughter to die away. “Well, skepticism is pretty reasonable when confronted by something that sounds impossible. But it’s true. If my new invention works as well as I hope it will, it will solve the problem through an entirely new approach.”
“Yes,” said Prof. Giacomorelli. “By not merely lifting some places to a safe height here and there, no, but rescuing the entire city—by uplifting the earth beneath—like Atlas!”
VENICE FROM BENEATH
THERE was a predictable Italic buzz from the listeners and a flurry of traded glances, resurgent as the translator did her work. “Do you mean to tell us,” asked a city official, “that this one machine of yours, this American invention—with this you will take hold of Venezia, you will boost it up into the air?”
Tom chuckled. “I detect a trace of skepticism, sir. Nothing will be raised ‘up into the air’—except possibly your expectations!
“Different parts of Venice will be lifted to differing heights, but everything will end up securely above the highest-tide sea level, based upon certain figures and hydrological charts provided Swift Enterprises by Prof. Giacomorelli and his colleagues. What we will do is raise the level of the underwater land mass the city and its pilings rest upon, by causing the ground below to swell.”
“To flex like a muscle,” embellished a woman who had been part of the delegation to Shopton. Tom heard a voice mutter: “Americans!—obsessed with body building.”
The Swifts had their own recorded presentation, startling to the eye as the images floated in mid-air courtesy of Tom’s 3-D telejector. “My invention is called the terraphaser,” Tom began. “I began working on it with a goal of helping prevent earthquakes, such as the terrible catastrophe in Haiti. The approach is to affect, electronically, very extensive regions of the solid ground, causing them to contract or expand in such a manner as to relieve and redistribute the deep stresses that produce quakes.”
“Eh, the name,” ventured one fidgety member. “Terrapin is a fish, no?”
“Terraphaser,” corrected Tom’s father politely. “It modifies the interlocked molecular structure of solid matter by phase-tuned pushes from a grid-overlay of, er, invisible force.” He could tell by the collective expression that his words had done little good.
“Ah! Hmm.” A young man in a shell of subtle cosmetics appeared conclusively unsettled.
“Let me cover the pertinent points,” Tom said, continuing as the telejector images provided illustration. The floating image showed a cut deck of playing cards on a tabletop, in two stacks. “If you think about it, what you see here has three ‘levels’ of structure. At the smallest level, each card is made of atoms and molecules—its structure is a matter of chemical physics. At the broadest, most general level, you have the two stacks, which provide a very simple kind of order, right and left.
“But there’s also a third kind of structural order between the two, namely the relationships of the individual cards to one another in the stacks. Am I being clear?”
There was a wave of nods and sibilance.
Within the telejector’s view field a pair of hands appeared and attempted to merge the stacks by pushing them together sideways into one another. “That approach works poorly,” Tom noted. “Although the cards have a degree of ordering by being stacked up, there’s far too much randomness in them to easily slide together. And if you push harder, the problem worsens—the cards start shifting and warping. But with proper shuffling methods, you can merge the stacks.”
“Cards,” intoned someone. “Cards are not rocks in this city.”
Tom ignored the mutter. “Rocks and metals, even such materials as compressed clays, have what’s called a ‘molar’ level of structure above the molecular level, which is the level of materials chemistry, but below the level of such visible things as pebbles and veins of ore and so forth. When rock is finely pulverized, the powdery dust you have left is actually composed of crystals which resist further fracturing. I’m sure you all know that.” Tom smiled inwardly; he was not at all sure.
“What you may not know is that the same is true of metals. Metals have a microscopic crystalline structure which plays a role in tensile strength and ductility. Of course, a boulder or a piece of iron isn’t one continuous crystal like a diamond is. The crystals are in disarray, not locked together.”
“This inner structure of rocks and veins of ore is in a state of disorder, just as the stacks of cards were. The crystals have enough organization to resist pressure, but too little organization at the molar level to apply their basic properties in an efficient manner. If the crystals could be better arranged, if they could be forced to get in line with one another, as a laser does with light waves, they could function more like support beams—and less like a very viscous liquid.”
“Si!” came a short burst. “Signore, you make them stronger by a new shuffle!”
“In a certain sense,” confirmed Tom’s father.
“Think of the device as a kind of solid-matter laser,” Tom continued. “The terraphaser uses two large generating grids buried deep in the solid ground, facing one another. They can function across a separation of several miles. The patterns of forces produced between them affect the orientations of the crystals within the crustal materials—particularly the various forms of quartz which make up a great percentage of the earth’s surface.”
“But—but, eh, the swelling—” murmured a woman with some difficulty.
“By causing the crystals to get in phase with one another and line up with their neighbors along their lengthier dimensions, they take up more space than when they were randomly oriented. The result is an overall expansion which forces the overlying surface material upward, like pushing on two ends of a strip of rubber.”
“Then to eternity we must hope there will not be a power failure,” said a man nervously and scornfully. “Or all Venezia will collapse into the earth!”
“Not at all,” retorted Mr. Swift calmly. “The terraphaser does not merely push on the earth—in effect, it restructures it. When the machine is turned off, there will be some settling, but the ground level will stabilize. It will end up as elevated as required, permanently.”
“The terraphaser principle works in both directions, by the way,” Tom noted. “In earthquake zones, we can ‘shrink’ the intervening crust by giving the crystals a configuration that makes it easier for them to slide together and become more compact—like shuffling together those two stacks of playing cards.”
“Mirabelli! Bellissimo!” drifted from the excited listeners.
There were many questions after Tom shut down the telejector, questions and enthusiasm. Sandy and Bashalli brimmed with pride as they rose from the table and stood to the side of the crowd, near a wall covered in tapestries. “Speaking of swelling, Thomas’s head is already too big,” whispered Bash, “ but I will tell you, Sandra, how thrilling it all is!”
“Oh, I know!” Sandy giggled. “I’m so glad Tom and Daddy invited us.”
“And all these Italian men—!”
“Well... some of them.”
“Not the ancient ruins, admittedly.”
The girls paused as a small figure approached them from the milling group, slowly but unstoppably. She had spoken once during the meeting, making a brief comment, a very elderly chicken-bone figure with white parchment skin, dressed in jet black. Not halting at a conversational distance she came close to Sandy, extending a clawlike hand as if to steady herself. “Um—hi,” said the young Shoptonian.
“You are the sister,” murmured the woman hoarsely. “You are young and lovely and full of life. Now I give you a gift, a gift to give your brother.” She straightened and cupped her palm to her lips, to whisper in Sandy’s ear. “Fata morgana!” she said, clear but barely audible.
“Th-thank you,” replied Sandy. “Same to you, ma’am.”
The woman smiled a pinched smile. “You do not have to understand, my dear,” she said. “But tell him those words. The words are the gift.”
She backed away—then suddenly turned to Bashalli and approached. “And you—the lover. Love when it is fresh and hopeful, so beautiful it is.”
Bashalli nodded graciously. “I believe greatly in love, madame.”
“I know, for you have hair like a dark night, like we of Italy, as I had once. Ah, once. Venezia—all is ‘once long ago’. I have a gift for you to give as well.” She whispered in Bashalli’s ear, then pressed the girl’s hand and tottered away.
“So what did you get?” asked Sandy humorously. “I think I got Italian for ‘good luck.’ Fata means Fate, I think.”
Bashalli’s brow was creased. “She said it in Italian first—then in English—‘the watchers awake’. What do you suppose it means?”
“Probably a comment on your romantic life, dear.”
But the Pakistani didn’t feel in a joshing mood. “No, Sandra. I don’t think so.”
At last the four choppered back to the Sea Charger. “I’ve heard of fata morgana somewhere or other,” commented Mr. Swift. “We can look it up.”
“But ‘the watchers awake’...” mused Tom. “It must be some sort of local idiomatic expression. Signore Laciolla can probably explain it.” He glanced back at Bashalli. “Are you okay, Bash? You look—”
“I’m...” There followed a pause as she looked out the Whirling Duck’s viewpane. “I’m fine. But somehow it makes me feel peculiar, this ‘gift.’ Nervous—”
“You mean afraid, don’t you,” pronounced Sandy with a serious voice. “I feel it too, a little. That old lady was like a ghost. And what she whispered seems so strange...”
“Nice gifts!” snorted Tom wryly.
That afternoon, a lengthy process of acquiring certifications and approvals completed, Tom and Bud set out on the second phase of their mission to Venice, a visual survey of the all but endless Venetian waterfront. A hatch on the side of the Sea Charger’s gleaming hull slid open and an odd vehicle, looking like a plate somehow balanced on its rim, surged out into the Adriatic waters. This was Tom’s compact, silent aquadisk, the Wavejumper. “Open ’er up, Skipper!” urged Bud with a grin of excitement. Tom’s unspoken response pressed them both back into their contour seats as the craft accelerated at a touch of the controls.
On the readout screen in front of him Tom brought up a map of the city’s grid of canals. A neon-green line showed the route he had programmed into the aquadisk’s guidance system. “At the Wavejumper’s speed we can have the whole thing done by two,” he commented. “And our surface-tension propulsion system shouldn’t cause even a shiver in the gondolas.”
“But we’ll sure get some bug-eyed looks!” Bud chuckled.
They sped back and forth through the canals, crossing and recrossing their own path many times. As the two enjoyed the sights, an electronic camera called a circumscoper was at work capturing precise visual and positional data on all sides, which would allow Tom to create a telejector replica to study at his convenience.
The aquadisk portion of the afternoon was completed as Tom had predicted. The twosome next set off from the Charger in hydrolung suits. “Keep your eye on your localculator,” Tom instructed his pal. “We don’t need to cover all the canals this time, just a few spots that look like they might pose some special difficulties.”
“Man, this is the Venice the tourists never see!” joked Bud. “Venice from beneath!”
Venice from beneath was far from romantic—or clean. There was muck and murk everywhere, though now and then they could make out the shapes of some distinctive piers or bridges they had seen from the Wavejumper. Tom continued to record data with a portable circumscoper. Finally, task complete, they turned back.
“Say, Tom... what’s this I’m getting on sonar?” came Bud’s puzzled voice.
Tom brought up the output on the inside of his contour faceplate. “Well—too small for boats and too big for fish. Not going too fast...”
“But they’re sure keeping to a steady course in our direction, and they’re right down where we are. You know, if we were on some sort of daring exploit full of the usual mortal danger—I’d be feeling a tad nervous right now.”
“We’re vulnerable. Let’s cruise off to starboard and let them pass.”
But a moment later Bud sang out: “Jetz—they’re compensating!”
“And picking up speed.” Their powerful suit aqualamps now revealed strange shapes in the distant gloom. “Good gosh! Bud—I think—”
Yet if the objects closing in on them were torpedoes they were unlike any the youths had ever come across. They all seemed identical, smooth flattened cylinders about seven feet long, a yard wide and only half that in depth. In the snubbed nose of each was a glassy porthole, oval in shape. Tom and Bud could not guess at their mode of propulsion. They moved purposefully but languidly. But their languidity was quickly fading!
There were five objects. They slowed again as they passed, then swerved back, circling the divers at a medium distance like a school of curious dolphins. “Drones of some kind,” Tom speculated. “Like the robot minisubs used in recovery operations and—”
“Tom!” cried Bud.
The young inventor’s blue eyes went wide. Sparkles—flashes of light—were erupting from the fore-ends of the dolphin-drones! “They’re firing at us!” Tom exclaimed.
THE FIRST volley passed between the youths, who were separated by several yards. They could make out the track of small, thin shapes whizzing past them at fastball speed. Some headed out of sight down the canal, but others struck walls and pilings—and burst with a sharp report.
The deadly dolphins continued to wheel about them at a radius of about one hundred feet. Got us cornered! thought Tom.
As Tom was thinking—Bud was moving. The black-haired Californian angled downward at top speed, attempting to slip beneath the circle of their captors. And he’s trying to draw their fire, too—to give me a chance to break free! realized the young inventor. But—!
“Bud! Behind you!” cried Tom. One of the drones had broken rank and was darting across the circle toward Bud. It fired off its own swath of aqua-bullets!
Even as Tom watched in terrified suspense, his warning had caused Bud’s hands to fly at the touch-controls built into the diversuit’s forearm. A quick motion of his fingers, and he sank like a plutonium brick, belly-flopping against the squishy bottom with an audible thud. “B-buoyancy negative!” he choked. The volley had barely missed him.
Bud reversed course, retreating, and hovered not far from Tom. “Okay—brushed back,” he growled. “They’re not going to let us pass, Tom. Except maybe in pieces!”
The metal dolphins slowly circled, as if confident in their catch. They slowed more, then drifted to a stop, dead in the water. The five had now assumed a half-circle configuration, blocking the way forward and facing the boys ominously.
“Wh-what are they waiting for?” asked Bud.
Tom felt the blood drain from his face. “Good gosh, I think they’re positioned to open fire again—all at once! Bud, we’ve got to get out of here!”
An idea struck home on Bud Barclay. “Not get out—jet out! Maneuver P! Follow me!”
Bud didn’t gun his diverjet, he cannoned it! The youth shot forward like a howitzer shell, directly at the line of their foes, Tom following practically in his wake. The pair cleared the tops of the metal dolphins by inches, but both knew that as soon as the stalkers turned they would be hot on their trail with weapons blazing—and what those weapons fired was even faster than the suit jets!
The only solution was to make for the sky!
At full throttle Tom and Bud angled upward, their line of trajectory becoming an arcing sweep toward the surface as they accumulated speed. A wall of stone blocks loomed in front of them, closer, closer—and then they sheared through the surface of the water. They didn’t stop. Their momentum made them human missiles—flying fish!
For a second they flashed through the air, two dark shapes erupting from the waves. Then they flopped down on a stone pier, belly-slid thirty feet, and lay gasping at the feet of a boggling crowd.
“N-no applause p-please,” sputtered Tom behind his faceplate.
Avid tourists began snapping their photos. The canals of Venice held many unexpected charms.
“Why do you call it maneuver P?” asked Bashalli, in a voice barely steady, as Tom and Bud recounted the experience aboard the Sea Charger an hour later.
“In equations the letter ‘P’ stands for momentum,” replied Tom, unconsciously rubbing his sore chest and stomach.
“We worked it out together and practiced it in Lake Carlopa,” Bud added. “Sort of a ‘last chance and pray’ scenario. The diverjets give us enough speed at full power to shoot us right up through the surface and into the air.”
“Trident missiles named Tom and Bud,” said Sandy quietly. “You two will do anything to avoid showing us the sights!”
Tom knew her gibe covered deep anxiety. “Sis, the important thing is that we got through it fine.”
“Ye-ahh,” drawled Chow Winkler, “didn’t get killed, an’ how many people kin say that? Gotta look on the sunny side. B’sides, gives these two a nice mystery t’ chew on.”
“Then it’s a lovely day,” said Bashalli dryly. “Thomas, might we see the water from on top for a day or so?”
Mr. Swift was also present. “You’ve completed your circumscoper survey, Tom. Our tech people have to take some time to study it. Spend tomorrow seeing what the city has to offer. There’s a free day for you before our review meeting with the commissioners.”
“And then on to Aurum City,” Tom nodded. “I’m looking forward to scanning those floating cases we found.”
“We’ll make a stopover if you like, son, on the way home. But we must focus on the terraphaser operation until it’s concluded,” cautioned his father. “As Ames told you, this bizarre canal attack is probably tied to the shipwreck mystery, not the project we’ve come here for. What was the attitude of the Venice authorities when you reported it?”
Tom shrugged. “Worried about bad publicity. Tourism is mighty important here. But they promised to investigate—above and below.”
“They think it might involve drug trafficking at sea,” Bud noted. “But I’m with you, Mr. Swift. It has to do with the Tyche and the wreckage. Those robo-dolphins weren’t just protecting themselves. They were targeting us two nosy Shoptonians!”
“Except—I don’t think they’re robots,” said Tom thoughtfully.
Sandy nodded. “Of course not!”
“They reacted instantly and strategically to our every move,” her brother explained. “A wide porthole up front—not a camera port. And the ‘dolphins’ are human-sized. I think each one had someone inside piloting, lying belly-flat, like on a sled. I think they’re underwater suit-subs, along the lines of the Fat Men.”
“And a funeral casket,” said Bashalli darkly. “What fun we’re having.”
The four were determined to have yet more fun. Early the morning following, joined by Chow, they took a small motor-launch to shore and spent the day, into the starry blue evening, strolling across bridges, lolling at the edge of tranquil waterways, and finding hidden shops among the city’s ancient, twisted byways. “If’n there were two o’ me, we’d never squeeze through these dang bitty alleys,” complained Chow. “Tight spots make me a mite nervous.”
“Then your bluejeans—” Bud commenced.
The comment was truncated by a jab to the ribs from Sandy. “Hunh! So that’s the way t’ shut down ol’ Buddy Boy!” smirked Chow.
“Tom’s silentenna is easier on the elbow,” Bash noted.
A month wouldn’t be long enough to tour Venice; a few hours was barely a nibble. The five saw a few museums, lounged in a jazz-loud bistro, wandered across the famous San Marco plaza and Saint Mark’s Square. At the Doge’s Palace, Bud suggested a few improvements to the architecture of Swift Enterprises.
“We have to come back tomorrow,” urged Sandy desperately. “All those churches, the palazzo—”
“I jest say pizzas,” interjected Chow. “Sounds right funny—‘I’ll take two palazzo’.”
“We’ll still be here tomorrow,” Tom said. “You four can go ahead and sightsee; but I’ll be working with Dad. Gotta earn my salary, folks.”
“I’m sure Budworth and Chow will manfully protect us,” said Bashalli, “whether or not we desire protection from all these suave and scented olive-skinned men. But as for you, Thomas,” she added with a stern smile, “before we return to New York I do require one gondola ride for two, under the stars.”
The young inventor grinned mischievously. “Why not? I guess I could set the circumscoper on infrared for night vision.”
“For this mission, dear boy, mechanical aids are not required.”
They dined elegantly and quaintly in a rooftop restaurant, the city lights spread out below like a carpet of diamonds, their gleams reflected in the threads of the canals.
A city of lights, Tom thought, but also a city of shadows.
At one point Sandy glared at her brother’s little notebook and the pen in his hand. “Tom, put that notebook away or I swear I’ll pitch it right in the Grand Canal.”
Sheepish, the youth put it back in his sportcoat pocket. “Sorry. Had a few thoughts about stress vectors.”
“What a coincidence,” said Bashalli. “I am having the very same thoughts.”
“Dunno what that all means,” Chow snorted. “Beg pardon—I’m gonna talk t’ that chef over there. He speaks English, an’ I wanna start workin’ on my Eye-talian.”
Tom smiled. “You want to learn to speak Italian, pardner?”
“Naw—t’ cook it!”
Chow ambled over and plopped down on a bar stool, talking to the chef he had met earlier. The Shopton four resumed their chat, momentarily interrupted by the sound of splintering wood. “I think Chow’d better move over to one of the dining tables,” said Bud. “Metal chairs.”
They talked about Venice, then passed on to conversation about the upcoming parts of the trip. Tom said, “I’m anxious to get to Aurum City. And before you girls say anything—I mean all of us. We’ll make it part of the vacation trip. You know, we could all fly to the site in the Whirling Duck. It wouldn’t take long. We don’t have to wait until the return trip in the Charger.”
“Thomas, why in the world is it so important to leave this lovely spot for the dampness of an underwater city of ruins?” demanded Bashalli. “Surely you should stay here until you’ve rescued Venice with your terraphaser.”
Tom shrugged. “I’d planned to stay all through, with Dad and the tech team, but... I don’t know. I think it’s important to get down to Aurum City to train the researchers on the use of the new aquapod suits. Zimby Cox delivered a dozen of them by mantacopter last week.”
“Then let Zimby do the training!” urged Sandy. “He’s one of your best men.”
“Yes...” The young inventor’s voice trailed off. “I’d just feel better if I were down there in person. It’s part of the contract for Dad and some of the others to stay to oversee the installation of the generator grids, but I’m—unnecessary. We’ll come back in a few days, you know.”
Bud smiled knowingly. “You’re as anxious to scan those boxes as I am, Skipper.”
“I admit it’s been on my mind.”
Tom asked if Bud and the girls preferred to remain behind in Venice with Mr. Swift. Bud, Tom’s ever-loyal best pal, shook his head vigorously. The girls slowly did likewise, wistfully. “Oh well, I wouldn’t want to miss this chance to see Atlantis,” said Bashalli. “I suppose it could sink deeper any time.”
“Tom’s terraphaser could just lift it up again,” joked Bud.
“Well, funny you should mention that...” said Tom provocatively.
“Tom Swift!” gasped Sandy. “Venice—and then Atlantis?—!”
“There is such a thing as hubris,” Bash said.
“You’re kiddin’, right, genius boy?” boggled Bud.
The youth grinned. “You’re talking to a guy who made an igloo fly and landed a planetoid! Why not dream a little? We have the technology. Why not give a try to raising Atlantis back above the waves?”
Sandy glanced at her companions, all sharing astonishment and polite skepticism. “Tomonomo, is the terraphaser system really so powerful? You could actually lift a continent?”
“Oh, come on. Atlantis isn’t a continent,” was the response. “Just an island. I mean, it’s smaller than Cuba!”
“I do believe our six legs are being pulled,” Bashalli pronounced.
“It’d sure make our trip a memorable one,” chuckled Tom. “It just popped into my head, but seriously, I think it could be done. The Horseshoe Seamounts formation, which we think was the original landmass behind the Atlantis legend, is more or less a square—about, oh, 200 miles to a side. A mere 40,000 square miles of rock!
“And of course, we don’t really have to raise the entire island, not all at once. I’d be satisfied lifting Aurum City and some of the nearby parts, where people lived and worked.”
“But jetz!” protested Bud. “It’s more than three miles down!”
Tom looked smug. “Not a prob. Think of it in percentages. To lift a small section of a 40,000 square mile lump of seafloor three miles means—let’s see; you have to use the Pythagorean Theorem...” He took the pen, still in his hand, and did some figuring on a paper napkin. “Why, it’d only require lateral expansion of the seafloor by about one percent!”
“A mere one percent? That’s nothing,” commented Bash dryly.
“I don’t think you’re quite as serious as you’re pretending to be,” Sandy declared. “But anyway, what would be the point? Your repelatron hydrodomes create a big air space down there to work in.”
“A series of work spaces,” Tom corrected her. “We’ve set up fifteen overlapping domes so far, plus one in the plain of the pyramids some miles away. But for all that—all that continuous power demand—we’ve only covered a small portion of Aurum City. It’s not technologically possible to put all of the greater downtown metropolitan area under one big hydrodome.”
“I see,” nodded Bash. Her tone was sarcastic. “Simple logic. Why not simply take hold of it and lift it?—like Atlas, as the man said. Atlas with a crewcut!”
Tom frowned at the black-haired young Pakistani, a strange expression on his face. “You don’t believe me? Or do you just think I can’t manage to do it?” For once it was Tom Swift’s eyes that were flashing!
Bashalli Prandit was not one to give in easily. “What I think is that you’re dreaming, Tom. You can’t be serious about this—even you!”
“I’m dead serious,” declared the young inventor. And his face showed it!
“Er, well, setting that little project aside for the day after tomorrow,” Bud said in nervous haste, “how’s the Venice deal looking, Skipper?”
Tom didn’t answer for a moment. He seemed to be staring blankly into space. “Tom?” prompted Sandy.
The young inventor looked at his sister. “Hm? The terraphaser operation? It’s all coming out just as we expected. We’re not moving the Venice land mass any great distance, remember, just a few feet. There’s natural concern about damage to the older structures, but Laciolla and our other allies have a strong case to make on behalf of the proposal. The data doesn’t just come from Swift Enterprises, of course.”
“How long does the process take?”
“Only a few hours. You’ll be able to see it happen when we return—though there’s hardly anything to see. You won’t even feel it.”
Tom seemed his usual self again, and they talked breezily of many things. “We have to remember to call Mother right away when we get back to the ship,” Sandy noted. Mrs. Swift, who had toured Venice before, had decided to stay in Shopton to entertain some visiting relatives.
The hour—any hour—was perpetually early for Venice, but growing late for the visitors from Shopton. Chow rejoined the four, and they rose to leave. There was a smug expression on his big western face. “Did you find out what you wanted?” asked Tom.
“Y’ might say so,” he replied. “An’ not jest about pasta an’ fancy sauces, neither! Wait’ll you hear what that feller Tono told me!”
“Sounds like it’s about more than cooking,” guessed Sandy.
“It’s about th’ mystery!” he grinned. “Yep, sure is! More detective work from ol’ Chow. Jest call me—er, y’know—the English guy, the one with th’ hat.”
Bud looked blank. “With the hat?”
“Aw, you know. Looks like a duck’s eatin’ th’ top o’ your head.”
“Chow, what did the man tell you?” Tom asked.
“Aaa, now I’m gonna be up all night tryin’ t’ remember the name of the hat detective.—Wa-aal anyway, Tono married this here woman Gina—guess all th’ women in Italy are named Gina—or mebbe Sophia ’r Maria—anyway, they grew up in the same little town and a lot o’ times, you know, with someone who’s around you a lot, a feller kin get stuck on ’er—now I don’t mean you, Basherelli—but they had them some problems—us men folk stay the same, but women change after they get hitched—”
“What did the man say, Chow?” persisted Tom.
“The hat feller? Oh—th’ chef, ye-aah. Turns out Gina has a sister who married a family whose old grandma lives—”
“Sorry, son. It’s Fredo’s cousin. He lives—ready now?—on this here island somewhere way out there, an’ he’s been talkin’ about great big fish comin’ an’ goin’ at night an’ doin’ funny things! Big metal things like them dolphin subs that tried t’ shoot you boys!”
“Good night!” exclaimed Bud. “That is pretty important, old timer!”
“An’ one more thing. That island’s Malta—where that sailin’ ship comes from!”
WHERE DOLPHINS PLAY
THE FOUR were amazed, alarmed—and grateful to their cowpoke detective, ramblin’ man though he might be. “Things always manage to connect up, don’t they?” said Bashalli. “Mr. Zalkhyran and his big boat, little tiny boats underwater that stalk inventors, bits of a wrecked boat from who knows where...”
“Just because something’s going on in Malta doesn’t mean Zalkhyran is mixed up in it,” cautioned Tom.
Sandy rolled her eyes. “But he probably is.”
Chow suddenly yelped. “Wait a sec!”
The clump of five halted in alarm.
“Sherlock Holmes! Not only the hat, but the feller smokes t’bacco in a saxophone.”
Said Sandy abruptly, “And who is this?”
A little Italian boy, very young, was approaching them shyly. He held a wicker basket of trinkets, evidently for sale.
Smiling, Bashalli leaned down and asked the little boy, in one of the phrases of tourist-Italian she had learned, if he spoke English. He shook his head, thick black hair flopping. “No i’glish, signorina.”
He seemed to be concentrating on Tom. The boy took some timid steps toward him and looked up at the young inventor with wide eyes. “Signore?”
Not knowing Italian, Tom looked at him and gave a slight nod and a smile. To his amazement, the boy suddenly blurted out, in perfect English:
“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”
Then he gulped and ran away!
“Aw, thet’s jest typical, ain’t it?” snorted Chow in disgust. “Th’ big boy from Texas finally does somethin’ that’s worth somethin’ and sure enough, some other loco thing comes along t’ steal th’ blame spotlight!”
“Don’t worry, pardner, we’re still in awe of you,” said Bud reassuringly. “As far as the spotlight, we can’t see it anyway when you stand—awff!” Sandy’s elbow was quick.
“Tom,” said Bash softly, “the old woman said—”
Tom finished the sentence. “‘The watchers awake.’ ” He turned and strode up to the attendant of a small magazine kiosk, whom he had heard speaking English. “Excuse me—do you happen to know that little boy who was just here?” Tom asked.
“Why yes, I do,” replied the man. “Little Subito. He is always here.”
“He said he didn’t speak English, but—”
“Not a word of English, I think, Signore. He should learn if he wishes to sell, eh?”
“But he spoke to me in English.”
The attendant shrugged. “Some words he overheard, eh? Not filthy words, I hope. Not in front of the signorini.”
Tom frowningly returned to his friends, puzzled and thoughtful—and something more. “I think it’s the same feeling you two girls mentioned the other day,” he mused.
“A feeling of fear?” asked Bashalli.
“In a way, but ‘fear’ isn’t quite the right word. It’s as if you come across something not so much frightening as eerie—something that doesn’t belong, doesn’t fit in.”
“That’s right,” Sandy declared. “Weird, out of the blue—from another world.”
“You guys are giving me the chills,” protested Bud. “It was just a little kid. He probably didn’t know what he was saying.”
Tom frowned thoughtfully, somehow troubled by the odd incident. “Maybe he didn’t, Bud—but he sure seemed to want to say it to me.”
When the five returned to the Sea Charger, Tom and Sandy PER-ed their mother at home, where it was midday, and then Tom switched over to Harlan Ames in the security office. “Can’t help you on the ‘wake up’ stuff, boss,” Ames said. “But Dr. Harry Zalkhyran, prominent London surgeon, is well known in the press, photos and all. And we did dig out a little info on that clinic in Wales.”
“Yep, and so’s the doctor, Carstairs Yllifegg. I know it’s a big disappointment, but everything Zalkhyran told you was true!”
Tom chuckled. “What’s the world coming to!”
“But even if nothing the man said was untrue—there’s more to the story than he implied. For one thing, the place isn’t a hospital clinic for medical treatment. It’s a psychiatric facility.”
“Is the doctor a psychiatrist?”
“Yes, well-respected and very expensive. I don’t know exactly what Mrs. Zalkhyran was seeing him for, but I’d guess her relaxing retirement at sea is more for mind than body.”
“Sounds like it. Have you found out anything about a wreck at sea in the area?”
“No reports whatsoever,” Ames replied. “As far as those dolphin-craft, Interpol has nothing on it. The city authorities may well be right, Tom; this could be some drug-smuggling operation that you and Bud stumbled across, with local delivery underwater. There’s no reason to think it has anything to do with the floating wreckage or the Tyche.”
“Well... maybe a little reason, Harlan,” Tom said ruefully. He related Chow’s investigative breakthrough.
Ames was quiet for a moment. “Malta. I suppose it could mean something. We’ll pursue it. But Tom—”
“I know,” said the youth. “Just because we stumbled across a crime doesn’t mean we have to deal with it.”
“If the dolphins show up in Lake Carlopa—then we’ll get involved!”
Tom pursued the matter in thought all the way to the edge of sleep. His impulse to make haste toward Aurum City had faded, and his strange attitude at the restaurant now perplexed and embarrassed him. Gosh, why did I push that nitwit idea? he demanded of himself. Aurum City can wait, and Atlantis’ll still be down there if anybody decides to try moving it!
At the moment he was more interested in the island of Malta. Despite Ames’s advice, no power on Earth could dissuade Tom Swift in pursuit of an idea that intrigued him!
As planned, Bud, Chow, and the girls returned to the city the next day to continue their sightseeing while Tom worked with his father and the rest of the terraphaser technical group from Enterprises. The Italian sky was bright with sunshine, but much of the tourists’ day was spun out in the shadows of narrow canyonlike alleyways, or inside huge old buildings that had seen the dawn of electric lighting—and blinked.
“Guess I didn’t mind all them nekkid people in that there art museum,” commented Chow, “an’ I guess I’ve seen worse in my day. But some o’ them folks are so fat they’d be better keepin’ them sheets in place.”
“They’re called togas,” explained Bash.
“Wa-aal, some o’ them togas need t’ learn t’ eat right.”
Bud looked sly. “Say, slim, maybe—nnghk!”
“Aversive reinforcement,” Sandy said innocently. “Sometimes they use electric shocks.”
Bud wheezed. “It’s gonna get mighty quiet around here.”
Sandy smiled as she rubbed her petite pointed elbow. “Don’t talk, Buddo. I’m reloading.”
Across town, the two Swifts met with the Commizzione to address final issues and objections. “Yes,” said one of the more political types, “you have won the heart of our esteemed hydrologist, and the earthquake board, and all the antiquarians, you Swifts; but listen now, my friends. In my district, the people I represent, the shop owners—what shall I tell them? You test your machine, where?—America! But it is not America that is to be nudged this way and that, eh?
“Venezia, ah, she is a fragile old lady. Her bones, too easy to break. What if the Palazzo Vicenzino decides to tip over? Where is even a safety plan? You, Commendatore Urcellini, you!—our man of the polizia! Why do we not evacuate the good citizens during this ‘uplift’? Eh? Where will your mother be during all this?”
The police commander responded with calm correctness, and such answers tipped the Italians, characteristically a demure and polite people, into an animated discussion suggesting the eruption of Stromboli.
After a minute of vociferous incoherence, Mr. Swift waved the men back into their chairs. “Let’s avoid bloodshed, shall we?” suggested Tom’s father dryly. “I’ll say again, the terraphaser process is gentle and gradual. We’ll be monitoring the entire region electronically. At even a hint of danger, any sign of fracturing—”
“Fracturing!” repeated someone.
“The process can be stopped at any point.”
“At this point, then!” shouted a round, bald man.
Tom stood so abruptly that arms almost ceased to wave. “Please!—I think we can address your concerns.”
Mr. Swift looked surprised. “Go ahead, son.”
“As it seems our tests in America aren’t persuasive,” Tom said, “we’re prepared to make a full-scale demonstration here in this part of the world. You can all monitor it in person, if you like; bring the shop owners! We have plenty of room on our Sea Charger.”
“And where is this to take place?” demanded a woman.
Tom smiled, and there was a little extra something behind that smile. “When the news began reporting the Venice proposal, Enterprises began hearing from other cities and governments around the world.” He picked up a sheet of paper. “This one looks promising, for example. A little coastal town on the island of Gozo asks if we could raise a strip of the seabed to link them to an islet about a mile off the coast, to create a sheltered harbor. The terraphaser can certainly accomplish that.”
“Oh yes,” murmured Mr. Swift to his son. “I recall the matter.”
Professore Giacomorelli rose to his feet. “We have already found your procedures to be without significant risk, gentlemen, and no further demonstration is strictly necessary, if one assumes rationality on the part of this committee. Yet one must consider giving reassurances when one can—a matter of politics, alas. You say Gozo?”
“That’s right,” Tom nodded. “Gozo—of the Republic of Malta.”
If dolphins played in Malta, so would Tom Swift!
Enthused by the possibility of new controversy, the Commizzione selected a committee of their members to attend and observe, to which would be added various local eminences. As the meeting dispersed, Tom remarked to Signore Laciolla: “I was wondering if you’d be selecting that elderly woman, the one in black, as one of the observers. I see she’s not here today.”
“Ah!” said Laciolla with a certain guarded expression. “Madame Bruiga. She was already old when I was young.”
“She took a moment to speak to my sister and Miss Prandit the other day,” Tom noted. “Does she represent a city agency?”
The man smiled. “No. What a thought! The poor woman can barely represent her own body. The Commizzione was mandated to include certain prominent members of the public, to enlist broad support in the face of what is, shall we say, controversial. Madame Bruiga is known for her crusades to preserve what is old, to handle history with care. And she has seen so much of it, eh? With her own eyes. One does not wish to cross her. But our duty to indulge her was fulfilled by one meeting, Tom.”
“I see. Professor, Madame Bruiga mentioned a couple phrases that we’re not familiar with. What does fata morgana mean? Or the Italian phrase that stands for ‘the watchers awake’? Just curious.”
“As to the second phrase, I know of no significance,” he responded. “Perhaps it is something old widows in black say as they wait by the graves that call for them. But... fata morgana...” Laciolla’s expression had become troubled. He pulled Tom aside, to a corner of the large room. “I take it you are quite sure of these words?”
Tom nodded. “Sandy heard them clearly.”
“It is odd that Madame Bruiga should use those words,” Laciolla declared. “I have heard them too—as it is said, under the breath. The matter may involve criminal actions.”
“Is it someone’s name?”
“The Italian version of a name—in old tales, it is a witch, Morgan the Fay in English,” replied the Venetian. “From King Arthur, isn’t it? But I believe it is also a nautical term for a sort of mirage.
“Yet that is not what is whispered. There is rumor in government circles of a combine of smugglers identified by those words, by their rivals in criminality. They are thought to be active throughout the Mediterranean.”
“Yes, Tom. If they are smuggling, Fata Morgana may be the name of their organization. As you may have heard, organized crime is not unknown to poor Italy.”
Tom rubbed his chin. “Could this woman, Madame Bruiga, have been trying to tip us off?”
“Then why does she not say it outright?”
The young inventor gave a wry look. “They never do.”
Laciolla laughed. “How very true, in those wonderful books! But Tom, I hesitate to report Madame Bruiga or have her submit to the indignity of questioning. Unwise to antagonize the fluttery old widows of Venezia on the eve of this project, eh? Most likely her addled mind compelled her to repeat, for no earthly reason, some charming phrases she heard somewhere about. My dear grandmother always mutters. Her mind has moved along to its reward, I fear, in advance of the rest of her.”
“Whatever you think best, sir.”
But Tom was already planning to investigate, in his own way, whatever secret tied together the dolphin-subs and the island of Malta to the words fata morgana—and perhaps Tyche and the watchers awake as well!
ROLL BACK THE SEA!
THE TWIN islands of the Republic of Malta were a fleet hour southward for the Sea Charger with its freight of important Venetians. The ship anchored off the northern island, Gozo, for the night, and the Committee of Observation was offered a delicious meal, Chow Winkler at his best.
“I shor don’t envy them folks back at Enterprises,” offered the cook, presiding proudly over dessert, “what with havin’ to live on whatever Russian specials ol’ Boris slops t’gether.”
“Both of you do some fairly, mm, adventurous cooking,” Tom grinned; “but I have to admit, I prefer the American kind.”
The word adventurous drew Bud’s instant attention. “Skipper, what’s our schedule tomorrow? When do we start acting like the detectives we were born to be?”
The on-target remark brought a wry grin. “Okay, flyboy, here’s the order of business. Tomorrow I’ll be busy on Gozo with Dad and the engineers. This sort of operation doesn’t require the degree of delicacy and prior study we’ve done in Venice; the whole thing should be finished by the end of the day. I’d suggest you and the girls—and you too, Chow—hang loose and get to know Malta.”
“Ye-ahh,” said Chow. “An’ mebbe snoop around a little bit. Got me th’ name an’ address of that chef Tono’s second-cousin—wa-aal, whatever he is. Ever’body’s a blame relative down here. Nothin’ but relatives, sagebrush t’ satin.”
A shadow crossed the face of the young inventor. He turned toward his best friend. “Bud,” Tom said seriously, “I can’t stop you from being Bud, but Sandy and Bashalli shouldn’t treat this as just part of their vacation fun and go poking into dark corners. It’s dangerous, and Harlan’s right—this smuggling business has nothing to do with Swift Enterprises and the terraphaser project.”
Bud was suavely sarcastic. “Mm-hmm. So you just happened to pick the Malta proposal to demonstrate your system. Coincidence.”
“Don’t worry. I plan to find out what’s going on. But really,” continued the young inventor, “it’s not about catching crooks. It’s just...”
“Me too,” put in Chow, “far as the ‘what’ part.”
Tom looked into the distance, troubled, slow to answer. “If it were just the mystery of the Tyche and the dolphin-subs—just that—I wouldn’t have got us to come here to Malta. But somehow it feels like there’s more to it, a bigger dimension. That old woman said fata morgana—and also the other thing, about the watchers and ‘awake’.”
Bud nodded. “And the little boy, too.”
Chow squinted his eyes. “S’ whaddaya you mean, boss? That the ‘wake up’ stuff isn’t about th’ blame smugglers? Somethin’ else?”
“I’m not at all sure what I mean, Chow,” confessed the youth ruefully. “It just makes sense to me that if Madame Bruiga somehow acquired one little phrase that actually means something real—and that seems to be the case—then the other thing she said might also be significant, even if the two aren’t linked directly.”
Bud scratched his head. “I dunno if I get it, genius boy. The thing about the watchers waking up sounds pretty ominous and important. But if it’s not connected to the dolphins and Dr. Zalkhyran’s ship and all that—what does it have to do with our coming to Malta?”
“I—I guess I can’t explain. What if I told you—
“No, forget it—it doesn’t make sense.”
Bud and Chow exchanged glances, a shared impulse that they hoped their friend would not notice. They both detected a strange tone in Tom’s voice—the same obsessive, distracted tone that had risen to the surface the other evening in the restaurant. Jetz! thought Bud. Tom has something big on his mind—and he has no idea what it is!
The image that leapt into the young flyer’s mind was something silent and looming, a black thundercloud casting a shadow on the sea. “Anyway,” said Bud, “we’re here.”
The next morning a group from the Sea Charger sped south to the island of Malta while the ship remained off Gozo, near the town where the terraphaser demonstration was to take place. Among the handful from the Charger were Bud and Chow—and two girls who aimed baleful glances across the water behind them. “Anything to duck out on us,” complained Sandy. “We don’t need to be reminded where we stand, Bashi. Work, science, mystery, saving the world—always something. And here we are again on our own. Sometimes Tom just drives me crazy.”
Bud gave her a look of injury. “Hey, I’m here! What about me?”
“You drive me crazy too.”
“I dunno,” fretted Chow. “Jest feels like there’s somethin’ wrong. What’s Tom thinkin’?”
“I’m worried too,” Bashalli added softly. “Sometimes Tom has kept things from the rest of us for good reasons. But this time—”
“He’s keeping it from himself,” declared Bud grimly.
Chow snorted. “Aw, now what does that mean, buddy boy?”
As the would-be tourists traveled twenty miles by sea to Valletta, the big city on Malta and the capital of the Republic, Tom and Mr. Swift, and the Enterprises tech team, were freighting a big load to a tiny but ambitious village on Gozo’s southern coast. “There’s the islet they wish to make the tip of a peninsula,” Damon Swift remarked to his son, pointing.
Tom nodded. “The fair isle of Saint Lucanum. Good gosh, not much to it.” The islet was more a heap of boulders than a spot of land, although the Shoptonians could make out a couple houses and a pier.
“One could make a case for sinking it,” joked Mr. Swift, “as an obstruction to the sea lanes.”
“If they decided to get rid of Saint Lucanum, Dad, the terraphaser could do it!”
“Rather easier than raising Atlantis, hm?”
“Please,” groaned Tom, “let’s just forget I said that. Too much sun!”
The freight barge’s big load included not only the bulky terraphaser equipment but the nine Venetians appointed to the Committee of Observation by the Commizzione. Five were regular members of the Commizzione, already well apprised of the technical end of the terraphaser project; the rest were prominent citizens whose charms and opinions held sway over city politics. “Some of them don’t speak English,” noted Murphy Quitman, head of the small technical team the Swifts had brought along from Swift Enterprises. “We’re at the mercy of the translators.”
“I’m hoping their own eyes will convince them,” Tom replied.
The village was called Kryto, and it seemed the entire populace had turned out to watch as American magic fulfilled their ambition to be bigger in the world. After a welcoming ceremony and photos with the Mayor and varied local prominences, Tom and his team began to set up the terraphaser apparatus.
One villager drew near to Mr. Swift. “My dear friend,” he said, “I am chancellor of our treasury, our poor little treasury. Might I confirm one more time—regarding the expense—”
“There is no charge,” smiled Damon Swift. “We regard this as part of the Venice project. The Commizzione has funding to pay for this demonstration. And in fact, there is little cost.”
“Yet I say with gratitude, much benefit to tiny Kryto, to Gozo, to the Republic.”
In this instance, technical preparations were simple. Two field-grid generators were buried, facing one another, in the depths of the seabed. Bulky, uninteresting metal units resembling furnace gratings, they were about ten feet across, slightly curved. One was close to the shore, the other next to the rocky speck that was Saint Lucanum a mile distant.
“To lift such a tremendous weight of rock and water!” expostulated a member of the Committee in Tom’s direction. “What tremendous power your machine must consume!”
Tom nodded. “The power requirements are substantial; each unit draws upon two inbult neutronamos. But you see, Signore Riozza, the terraphaser doesn’t exactly ‘lift’ anything. It simply creates a phase-tuned field of energy—the same kind of spectronic spacewaves we use in other applications of matter-reaction technology—that acts on and distorts the strong nuclear force inside the atoms. The ultimate effect is to reorient the crystal constituents of the crust materials to cause overall expansion or contraction. The muscle work is done by the ground itself, not the terraphaser.”
“Why yes, I see!” declared the man. “The device is not the team, but the coach!”
The young inventor grinned. “That’s a fine way to put it, sir.”
A technician in a hydrolung suit rose out of the sea near Tom and pulled open his faceplate. “Both the generators are in place, Tom. Murph says you can switch on the matter-laser any time you want.”
“The seafloor team is out of the way?”
“Both earth blasters have been pulled up and cradled. All the divers are off to the side, with cameras, just as your dad directed.”
“Great! Now to get our observers in place for the big TV show!”
Though the image would be “flat,” the Swifts had arranged for the multicamera input, collated by computer, to be made visible to the entire crowd on the beach by means of the telejector. A huge image materialized in front of the bright sky, brilliant in color and almost perfectly opaque. The multitude drew in their breaths in awe.
Yet the operation of the terraphaser had little drama, though much suspense. Minutes passed with nothing to see but greenish gloom and the sandy bottom. “It is—it is working like okay?” whispered the Mayor to Tom.
“Very much okay,” Tom grinned. “Remember, the effect is gradual and the ‘flexing’ is spread over a very wide area. There’s not much to see at this point. But keep watching!”
The first sign of real action was the issuance of a stream of bubbles, soon becoming several rising from numerous spots. “The process produces significant heat within the ground materials,” narrated Mr. Swift. “What you are seeing is the release of pockets of steam.” His remarks were translated for the crowd.
Soon came murmurs. The seabed was moving! The telejector image showed a slight flowing motion, bulges and distortions here and there, sands shifting, dislodged rocks tumbling. “The bottom of the sea is flexing her muscles!” Tom announced.
An hour crept by. The crowd became restless. Some broke out in song, others in fight. Vendors worked their way through with snacks. Probably pickpockets too, thought the Tom wryly.
Then came a shout that swelled and ran through the crowd. A single boulder, atop a sharp outcropping, had poked its nose above the waves! As it continued to edge upward, cheers rang across the beach. “Ayee! Ayee! Tom Sweeft!”
The bit of rock became a hump of pebbles, then a strip of sand. In minutes the low waves were dashing against a ragged archipelago of scattered islets, a mile of them, slowly joining together as they rose and rolled back the sea.
“The seafloor is seeing the sun, for the first time in millennia,” said Damon Swift to his son, proudly. It was a moment of awe before Nature and Man.
At last the archipelago had become a long, narrow peninsula alive with foam.
“It is done!” pronounced the Mayor as the citizenry of Kryto celebrated wildly.
“Not quite,” cautioned Tom. “The terraphaser has given you a breakwater, sir—but not yet a bay for ships.”
Now came a long interruption—or intermission. Tom donned a diversuit and entered the water with the other workers, directing them as six more generator grids were positioned and buried, outlining a space of several square miles. Emerging at last, he gave his father, and the Committee of Observation, a thumbs-up.
“And now for our next trick!” declared Mr. Swift jauntily over the loudspeaker. “We’ve rolled back the sea—and now we’re going to deepen it!”
And as Tom Swiftian invention raised the earth and lowered the floor of the sea, the four friends from Shopton toured Valletta under the hot Mediterranean sun. Chow occasionally wandered off, but Sandy, Bashalli, and Bud stayed close together. “We can keep track of him,” winked Bud as the ex-Texan’s broad back ambled out of sight into a shop.
“By cellphone, you mean?” asked Sandy. “He told me he has trouble with ‘all them bitty little buttons’.”
“He doesn’t have to do a thing—all the Enterprises cells have a locator-transponder built in. We can track him down any time.”
Joining organized tours they visited the Grand Master’s Palace, built in 1575, and a huge church whose floor consisted of marble tombstones under a high ceiling of bright-colored frescoes. At Fort St. Elmo they watched a costumed reenactment of an epic battle during the Great Siege of Malta, then taxied on to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a well-preserved prehistoric temple.
“Guess this here island goes back a ways,” Chow observed with a head-scratch. Bud started to say something—then silenced himself as he glanced at Sandy’s cocked elbow.
As the sun fell behind Malta’s low rounded hills, the four, along with other sightseers from the Sea Charger, relaxed at Valletto’s waterfront. Chow found time to telephone the relative of the chef he had conversed with in Venice. “Feller don’t have time to see us,” the westerner reported, “but he told me th’ story—bunch o’ them metal fish-subs comin’ up out in the ocean where he ’as fishin’ at night. Seen ’em three times now. Said he crossed himself.”
“What did he say the subs were doing?” Bashalli asked.
“Weren’t doin’ much o’ anything, far as he could see. Jest goin’ off-away till they all were out o’ sight. But he told me where it happens. I cud prob’ly figger it out on a good map.”
Bud clapped Chow on the back. “Great work! Buy that cowpoke a shirt!”
Chow chuckled. “Gonna take care o’ that right now, Buddy Boy. Saw a good one in that storefront window over there—got them shiny Malta crosses all over her! Silver on—wa-aal, let’s call ’er blue. Sorta.”
The girls went with Chow, ready for some shopping. Bud decided to remain, lounging on a bench in the sunset heat. But when the girls and Chow left the shop an hour later, festooned with packages and colorful baggage, Bud was nowhere in sight.
Sandy frowned. “Oh, where’d he get to now? Don’t tell me he’s been kidnapped or something.”
“It happens a lot,” smiled Bash.
“Not t’ disserpoint ya,” Chow said, “but thar he is comin’.”
Bud approached at a trot, grinning with excitement. “Sorry, folks—had a little spy work to do!”
Sandy gave a skeptical look. “Trailing a dolphin?”
“Almost!” chuckled the black-haired pilot. “An old friend—a new old friend—last seen aboard a little sailing ship called Tyche!”
EVER the mystery fan, Sandy’s blue eyes took on a sparkle—as Bashalli’s brown eyes rolled. “Buddo! You mean that captain? The surgeon?”
Bud shook his head. “Nope, the first mate, a guy named Tarim Arr. He’s got kind of a distinctive look—caught my eye as he left the cafe over there and made way through the crowd. So I put on my detective sneakers—and my, er, duck hat—and followed him.”
Chow frowned. “Yew makin’ fun o’ me?”
“Let him finish,” urged Bashalli. “So you tailed him?”
“Like a pro!” beamed Bud proudly. “Two blocks down, and he gets into a little car, a Zeta—an ’04. Off he goes.”
Sandy was thrilled. “Wonderful! Tom can have the authorities run the license plates!”
“Actually...” began Bud, “I didn’t—”
“Bud!” groaned Sandy in disgust.
“San, we don’t need the plates! We’ll be able to tell exactly where he goes!”
Bashalli was primed for a sarcastic comment. “My word, are we all supposed to be carrying homing devices to plant on our numerous enemies at opportune plot points?”
The youth grinned through the sarcasm. “Not a homing beeper—my nano-cell!” Bud touched the spot just behind his ear, now vacant. “The transponder! Remember?”
“Say, that’s right!” declared Chow. “Jest like Tom told me—all these bitty Swift celly-phones have ’em!”
“Sure do, pardner,” Bud nodded. “Useful radius of about twenty miles. Lend me yours, Bash.” Bashalli fished her larger hand-sized unit from her purse and handed it to Bud. “Touch of a button—” He touched. “—and we get the GPS coordinates of whatever transponder I select!” He passed the midget screen before the eyes of his friends.
“The numbers are changing,” Sandy noted. “He’s still driving.”
Bashalli asked, “How did you attach your unit to the car, Budworth? Might he find it, bouncing around inside?”
“No chance,” was the reply. “I sacrificed some chewing gum to glob it to the underside of the bumper. Had to do it fast, of course. But when he took out his car keys and slid in, I knew I had a few seconds. I snuck up behind at a crouch.”
“But still,” Sandy said, “it was a risk. He could have seen you in sneak mode. And shot you on the spot.”
“An’ some o’ them spots are a mite sensitive t’ bullets,” observed the resident sixgunner.
“Were you to have been gunned down flat, Tom would be most annoyed with us for not keeping close watch over you,” added Bash.
The San Franciscan held up a hand. “Please. I knew what I was doing—because I know cars. That model is notorious for its bad blind spot. Knew exactly where to sneak.”
Sandy began a retort. But she halted as Bud’s expression suddenly changed. “Bud? What—?”
The youth seemed to be gazing fixedly over Sandy’s shoulder. Then he shrugged. “Hunh. Gone now.”
“What is?” asked Bash.
“Just... someone standing on the sidewalk. It looked like he’d just come out of that cafe—the same one Tarim Arr had been in.”
“You think they might be partners in crime?”
Bud shrugged again. “Who knows? He wasn’t dressed like a crook. Had big dark glasses on, though.”
“A dead giveaway,” commented Bashalli.
Sandy asked what the man had looked like. “Well,” replied Bud, “from what I could make out, he had blond hair, kind of tall and slender...”
“Sounds awfully familiar,” noted Bash dryly. “A crewcut, perhaps?”
“He was wearing a hat—just a little hair tufted-up under the brim. Big shoulders, thick neck...”
Sandy looked skeptical. “Just another tourist.”
“Yeah, probably,” Bud conceded. “But—he seemed to look right at me. And then he did something strange. He waggled a finger at me!”
“Waggled?” Chow repeated. “One finger? You sure you mean waggled?”
“You know. Like when you’re telling a little kid ‘no no’. See?”
Chow harrumphed. “Now that there’s not normal!”
“Maybe he didn’t like being stared at,” offered Sandy. But her tone said she didn’t believe it.
“No, Sandra, it is most alarming,” declared Bashalli. “There is obviously serious cahooting between The Man of the Inferior Car and The Insidious Waggler.”
Chow looked nervous. “Mebbe we’d better watch our backsides.”
“Uh-huh, well—Oww!” grunted Bud, wincing.
“Much obliged, Sandy,” Chow said. “Reckon I kin take it, though.”
Sandy smiled evilly. “But can Bud?”
They watched the changing GPS numbers until Bash’s unit indicated the transponder signal had become too faint. Sandy periodically noted them down. “When we get back, Tom can figure out his route.”
The sky was red when the five finally returned to the Sea Charger with the other Enterprises employees. They were met by glowing accounts of the day’s labors-of-Atlas. “I’ll show you some of the seafloor-lifting video if you like,” promised Tom.
“What about the seafloor sinking part of the operation?” Bashalli inquired.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing to see. But sonar mapping shows that Kryto is now a respectable deep-water port!”
“The townspeople are ecstatic, naturally,” reported Mr. Swift, “and the Committee of Observation is certain to recommend that the Venice project go ahead. Tom’s idea gave us the perfect opportunity to prove what needed to be proven.”
But that’s not the main reason genius boy picked Malta, Bud thought. “And now for our big news!”
“First my part!” insisted Chow with a wary eye. He told of his conversation with the man who had seen the dolphin-subs, and repeated the location. Then the others detailed the matter of Tarim Arr and gave Tom the GPS notes.
“What a job you guys did!” Tom exclaimed.
“Proceed, detectives,” chuckled Damon Swift. “As for me, I need to meet for a time with the Committee.”
Nodding, Tom said to the others, “Let’s head up to the pilot house and run the numbers.”
The result made the matter clear. “Perfect!” declared the young inventor. “Tarim Arr was traveling along the backroads in the direction of the spot on the coast nearest the sub sightings.”
“Matter o’ fact,” interjected Chow, pointing with a plump finger, “this little dot here—that’s the name o’ where the fisherman feller lives. Says they go out from a itty-bit pier.”
“That must be where Abdul—whatever his name is—parked his car!” Sandy exclaimed.
“Tarim Arr,” Bashalli corrected her.
They left the bridge in silence. Chow started mentioning food, but Bud interrupted. “Skipper, in a couple hours it’ll be the time the fisherman saw the subs.”
Tom got the point. “This is our only chance to stake out the place before the Charger heads back north.”
“What do you two plan to do?—to put yourselves in danger.” Bashalli’s voice was dark with many emotions, some conflicting. She had learned long ago that there was no use arguing with a Swift, father or son.
Sandy asked if Tom were going to use the aquadisk. “No,” he replied. “Let’s keep completely out of sight.”
“An underwater stakeout!” Bud chortled.
“We’ve done it before, pal—couple of times.”
“And lived to tell about it,” added Sandy. Yet there was an odd tone in her voice, and Tom looked at her curiously. “It’s nothing, Tom.”
“But I feel it too, Sandra,” Bashalli said quietly. “That same eerie feeling as before. Even since we saw the floating wreckage, it has come and gone and hovered in the background. And then that old woman...”
“Somethin’ psych’logical,” offered Chow. “Sometimes it even happens t’ us western folk.”
Tom frowned. “Well, I feel fine. And this—this is important.”
Some time after, two hydrolung divers jetted out the Charger’s pressurized sea lock. “Nice idea,” sonophoned Bud, “heading right through the strait, then down along the eastern coast.”
“It makes sense,” returned Tom. “With our antidetection sheathing and ‘porpoise sonar,’ we can sneak up on them like a couple crawling crabs.”
“In this case, pal, it’s dolphin sonar.”
Jet propelled, the stealth divers arrived at their chosen stakeout spot well within the hour. Here they waited, floating near the surface with their buoyancy controls carefully set.
“Something big’s cruising along out there,” Tom noted, glancing at his faceplate monitor screen. “Right size to be the Tyche.” In minutes the boys could tell that it had stopped.
“Why right there, do you think?” asked Bud.
“Even before she stopped, I was getting a little ping from that spot, just under the surface,” replied his chum. “Flyboy, I’ll bet there’s some sort of anchored buoy or floating container waiting there for them.”
“Bet we’ll find some of those sealed boxes inside!”
But Tom didn’t comment. An odd sort of twinge seemed to take away his words. Why are we here? he wondered. I’ve put my best friend in danger—as always—but why? Though the dolphin-subs had attacked them in the canal, there was no definite tie to the Venice terraphaser project. In fact, he realized, if the project were the underlying target, risking such an attack would only draw attention from the authorities. Could that have been the purpose? To draw attention?
“Fata morgana,” the young inventor murmured.
His ruminations were interrupted. “Okay, pal—we’re getting some action. Eight little things cruising along a mile away. Mighty fast for a school of fish.”
“I see them,” Tom nodded, referring to the images painted on his faceplate-scope. “The numbers come in right on the mark—length and width.”
“Let’s close in.”
“But remember, stay low, against the dark background. They can’t pick us up on sonar, but we’re not invisible to the eye.”
The divers approached the course of the pack of subs from a lower level. A faint light could be seen streaming through the forward portholes. The youths could make out dark obstructions within that could well be the forms of the occupants, faces all but pressed against the glass.
They could also make out, in the gloom, the darker silhouette of a looming seacraft. “The Tyche,” said Tom. “I’m sure of it.”
Even as Tom spoke, he switched on the suit aqualamp beams, a special form of pseudo-light that, at the right setting, illuminated the surrounding waters in a manner visible only to the hydronaut through his faceplate. The scene ahead leapt into high-contrast view—the sharp keel of the ship, the small capsules approaching beyond.
A double hatch suddenly swung open in the hull. “Getting ready to take them aboard,” said Bud.
“Or maybe someone’s getting out,” Tom responded as a dark shape descended through the hatchway. “But it’s not a diver... some kind of—”
Both boys gasped. The dark object suddenly shot away from the hull in a swath of foam, flashing through the sea like a tiger shark on the attack. It was headed directly at the approaching micro-subs!
And then the depths roared with the boom and shock of an underwater explosion!
THE TALKATIVE JAILER
TOM AND BUD were caught up in a thudding shockwave that sent them tumbling backward, uncontrolled, their aqualamp beams splaying out in all directions. “Tom!—” Bud gasped.
The young inventor’s choked reply was: “Put in some distance! Fast!”
But it was already too late. As their wild beams cut across the subsea dark, they caught a glimpse of more black shapes spearing toward the microsubs, which were now in frenzied disarray. One explosion, two—and Tom plunged into gray unconsciousness.
He struggled awake to a floor of rough wet rocks and sea shells—and groaning grunts from Bud. “S-Skipper... you awake?”
“Yeah,” Tom whispered hoarsely, eyes still shut. No longer underwater, he could hear the surf, feel the cold, thick air with salt and spray in it. Testing his arms, he found he could move them. He realized he was no longer in his hydrolung diversuit, but in the shorts and T-shirt he wore beneath. Thoroughly wet, they clung to his skin.
Tom forced open his eyes, and they sought out Bud in a dim, flickering light. They found him lying flat six feet away, also stripped of his underwater gear.
The youths were in a low-ceilinged rocky indentation too small to be termed a cave. They were obviously on an enclosed shelf of stone very close to the water’s edge; most of their floor was wet sand, almost liquid, and pebbles. Tom thought that high tide would prove a problem for them.
“At least we’re not tied up—or staked down,” muttered Bud.
The chamber had a low opening, a slot barely high and wide enough to shove a limp body through. Beyond they could make out the corona of what seemed to be a small, smoky campfire. Were they captives? “Let’s go,” whispered Tom.
They scrambled forward to the opening belly-flat. As their heads pushed through, their situation became apparent. A big man, with a big rifle, squatted comfortably next to the campfire. The firelight danced on the empty diversuits a few yards distant.
“Hello,” said the man, casually pointing the rifle barrel their way.
“Who are you?” demanded Tom, knowing that a face half-buried in wet sand was in no position to be demanding. “Where are we?”
The man shrugged.
“Look, we’re Americans,” Bud grated. “If you plan on holding us, we’ll—we’ll invade you or something.”
The man stared at him with a half-smile. “Hello,” he said again.
“Do you speak English?” asked Tom.
“Hello.” Then the man shook his head and said something uninterpretable. It reminded the boys of Bashalli’s native language, Urdu, and also Hebrew.
“It’s native Maltese,” Tom told his pal. “A Semitic language, with some Italian mixed in.”
“Very interesting,” Bud pronounced dryly. “Know any threats in Maltese? Gypsy curses, maybe?”
The man—evidently their jailer—said a few more unknown things. Then he drank heartily from a jug on the sand next to him, careful to keep one eye on his prisoners and one hand on his trigger.
The Americans began to snake forward, cautiously, into the open. The man grunted disapprovingly and waved them back.
One of Tom’s arms had escaped jail, however, allowing him to gesture. “Tom,” he pronounced, indicating himself. Then, “Bud. Our names. Tom, Bud.”
“Sure,” smiled Bud. “Might as well make friends.”
The man seemed to understand. “Q’nib sa. Tom. Bud. Ey b’sishoo Franco.”
“Franco?” Tom repeated, pointing.
The man nodded. “Hello.”
The Shoptonians made further attempts to gain information, supplemented by Tom’s gesturing. But it was clear Franco knew only one word of English.
Silence enveloped them. The fire burned low. Though Tom and Bud were too low to the sand to see the ocean, it sounded only a stone’s throw away.
The stars were brilliant. “No trace of dawn,” Bud observed. “Guess they reeled us in not long before we came to.”
“They? They who?” asked Tom wryly. “If that ship was the Tyche, Zalkhyran doesn’t have a friendly attitude toward the microsub gang.”
Tom half-smiled. “But we wound up here. It’s safe to say somebody down there doesn’t like us.”
Franco listened to their conversation without objection, sucking at the jug often. “Maybe he’ll pass out!” whispered Bud.
But Franco seemed more an energized drunk than a tranquilized one. As minutes accumulated into an hour, he began to frown deeply and glare at the youths. He seemed unhappy with his duty.
Yet as he continued to liquify himself, another change seemed to come over him, a change of mood. He began to smile, rubbing his broad forehead with a meaty hand. His eyelids fluttered and the boys tensed for action, but then he seemed to become alert again.
He began a wavery song in his language. It sputtered out haltingly. Staring at Tom, he gestured, mumbling something the young inventor was unable to make out.
Tom shook his head. Franco suddenly half-rose and edged closer, staggering on his knees but retaining the rifle. His bloodshot eyes gleamed. “Tom...” he wheezed. “Tom... Swift.”
“Guess they told him about his VIP guest,” said Bud. Tom did not respond to his chum. He felt again that strange feeling of weird.
“Tom...” Franco said again, lips twitching into a pleasant, drunken smile. Then—a startling change! His words were suddenly crisp and articulate. “I have something important to say, to tell you.”
“So you do speak English!”
“I must say something,” repeated Franco distractedly. He shook his head, as if trying to clear it. “It’s difficult, Tom. They want me to help but I wonder if I’m being used. I only want to...” He coughed violently and mumbled something in Maltese, then resumed with a start, as if a chain had been yanked. “Bloodlessly persistent. They can’t stop themselves, you know. I resent their disguise of... surely a pretended concern for humanity to motivate my... As if my grudging tolerance meant anything at all in the long run, just a concession that there are limits even now to my knowledge. One can’t deny that it might be true, this inalterable program the old ones... to force...
“My personality is my own. Forgive me if I insist.” Franco seemed to be addressing someone unseen. “They are copying... as a template... mockery in this instance to call it a matter of life and death... I suppose I was always weak-willed, Tom, unlike the great Swifts. Foolish to have... this desire of mine to make late amends—they use it as a wedge to force—oh now—”
His tone and expression changed again. His smile was broader, friendlier; yet Tom saw in his narrowed eyes a trace of pain and struggle, even fear. “You... Tom Swift... below, beneath... can you hear? The watchers awake. Awake! The task, what must be done...”
“Tom,” whispered Bud, “I—I don’t think he knows what he’s saying!”
Tom replied tensely. “He’s not the one who’s talking.” Bud looked at his friend in surprise.
Franco seemed almost to be laughing, as if in triumph. “You hear! You know! I cannot hold... Come to the watchers... complete what must be...” His voice became very thick and fluid. “You know, Tom Swift! Wake up! To complete...” Franco paused, then choked out, “No, I cannot hold...”
The man fell forward and rolled over on his side. His eyes were closed. After a few mutterings, he began to emit the occasional snore.
“He’s out,” Bud whispered. “Let’s hit the surf!”
Tom nodded. They squeezed their way free. Bud glanced at the rifle, still cradled in Franco’s arm, but Tom put a hand on his chum’s forearm and shook his head negatively.
Muffled by the sound of waves, they padded over to the diversuits and began to slip into them—then faltered in alarm!
The voice was Franco’s—but somehow it wasn’t! Though his eyelids trembled, it was obvious that their jailer was still unconscious! The voice came out in an eerie elongated drone—or moan. “You, all of you... beneath, to the bottom, they await you. It was you, Tom Swift—you woke them up! You must... we need...”
That was all. Franco resumed snoring.
Quickly checking through the diversuit systems, the youths reentered the surf. “The Lookor says we’re less than a mile from where that ship was,” Tom sonophoned.
Bud responded, “Yeah—was! The sonar’s comin’ up blank now. Not even that container buoy.”
“That may have been the real target of those cruise-bombs, not the dolphins.”
Guided by their sonarscopes and circling widely, they found that their place of captivity was a tiny islet, one of the many found near Malta, which was itself a further outcrop of the Sicily plateau. “This hunk of rock may not even have a name,” Tom muttered, “just a number and a dot on the charts. But the ship or the subs may make use of it. Somebody stationed that drunkard there to keep watch on us caught fish-men!”
“For ransom, you think?”
The young inventor shrugged inside his shell of Duraflexon. “Let’s get back to the Sea Charger.”
Guided by the localculator instruments, Tom and Bud jetted back to the mighty science vessel. As they came in range Tom reassured his waiting father that they were whole and well.
“Did you get the information you were after, son?” asked the elder Swift.
“Info, yes,” Tom sonophoned back. “Clarity—not so sure.”
Back on board the two were met by Mr. Swift—and Sandy and Chow Winkler. “No point even pertendin’ t’ get any shuteye,” declared the cook. “Not with you two colts out there runnin’ around in th’ blame water!”
“Thanks for worrying over us, pardner,” said Tom. “But Bud and I handled things pretty well.”
“I only got up to get a snack,” remarked Sandy blithely. “But I might as well hear the story.”
As they all sat in the snack lounge, Tom and Bud recounted their bizarre experience. “I suppose some of it is standard-issue derring-do,” pronounced Mr. Swift. “I’ve come to expect no less from you two—explosions and all that.”
Tom chuckled wryly. “Guess you can tell I’m the ‘real’ Tom Swift’s great-grandson.”
“Never thought you wudden real,” retorted Chow. “Less’n this whole life is jest a dream.”
Damon Swift continued. “Two groups in conflict with motives unknown—it’s happened often enough, eh?”
“Last time I counted three groups,” Bud half-joked, referring to the solarplane adventure.
“But listen,” put in Sandy, “are there two groups? You’ve only had trouble from the dolphin-sub gang. The Tyche captain just acted suspiciously.”
“He lied about recovering the wreckage,” Bud pointed out.
“That’s true, but maybe—well, sneaky salvaging isn’t all that terrible a crime.”
“As a matter of fact,” declared Tom, “we don’t even know that that ship out there was the Tyche. The fisherman Chow spoke to never mentioned a ship, just the subs.”
“Then why’d they set off them bombs?” demanded Chow. “Must be somebody!”
Tom and Bud shrugged.
“The strangest aspect, obviously, is what that man who was to guard you, your jailer, babbled,” insisted Mr. Swift. “For some reason he pretended to speak no English, then suddenly he—”
“Like that little boy,” interrupted Sandy. “Daddy, that boy didn’t speak English either—except when he had something to tell Tom!”
Bud looked musingly at his friend. “Skipper, you said—”
“That someone else was talking,” nodded Tom. “I felt it. I’m sure the guard was being used, like a radio receiver, as he got drunk and his resistance was down. Someone else started coming through. In fact... it seemed two people came through, don’t you think, Bud? Most of the time the speaker seemed sort of normal—articulate and calm.”
“The other one just spat out fragments,” Bud continued. “More of that ‘wake up’ stuff.” He grinned. “We should have told him ‘you’re breaking up’!”
In the thoughtful silence that followed, Tom ambled over to the wall and pressed a button on the intercom. “What’s your opinion, Bashalli?”
“I do wish you were less smart, Thomas,” said the intercom disgustedly.
“I saw San push the button.”
“Well, I don’t choose to encourage these silly indulgences of yours, mister invention. But—one cannot help a bit of curiosity.”
Chow nodded sagely at the menfolk. “Wimmin git that way,” he pronounced. “Less’n they changed a heap since I was a young sprout way back when.”
Bud cleared his throat. But then he looked an Sandy’s elbow.
Tom now spoke hesitantly, to all his listeners. “I—I’m not sure just what this means, but—when Franco was spouting off... I...”
“What, son?” asked Mr. Swift.
“Whenever he said something—I felt like I already knew it.”
Sandy said, “Deja vu.”
“No, sis,” replied the young inventor, his voice troubled. “It wasn’t like that. It was as if—as if, just as Franco was speaking, I was about to say the very same words!”
“Y’mean say ’em to yerself?” puzzled Chow.
Mr. Swift spoke quietly. “This has happened before. And it’s not deja vu.”
EVERYONE—including the unseen Bashalli but excepting baffled Chow Winkler—nodded in sudden understanding.
“That’s right, Dad,” Tom said. “I didn’t make the connection until you said it.”
“What th’ Alamo ’r you pokes talkin’ about?” Chow demanded.
The answer came from the intercom speaker. “The Green Orb.”
When a fantastic, glowing object had penetrated the solar system and passed near the earth, Tom had investigated with all the science at his command—to no avail. The key had come by means of a little girl, Jennifer December, who demonstrated a paranormal ability to receive and convey the thoughts and images of the Orb’s trans-dimensional inhabitants.
“Tom—Daddy—isn’t the Orb destroyed?” Sandy asked faintly.
“Took a running jump right into the sun,” stated Bud.
“It’s not the Orbites themselves that I’m thinking of, darling,” said her father. “During the course of that encounter, the beings’ group-consciousness expressed itself by making fitful contact with the minds of humans with psychic talents. Jennifer December was the most accomplished of them all.”
Now Sandy nodded excitedly. “Oh, of course—like that Lunario man! Remember, Bashi?”
“His warning to me was fragmented and incoherent,” said Tom; “just like Franco’s.”
“And the old woman’s,” added Sandy, “and the little boy’s.”
“Skipper, before—with the Orbites—it was unconscious fears and stuff like that that was getting through to Jennifer and the rest of us,” Bud Barclay noted. “What we’re getting now is fragmented, but it’s pretty consistent. And when Franco was talking clearly, it sure didn’t sound like something churning around in somebody’s subconscious basement!”
Tom agreed. “I think people with low ‘psychic resistance’ are being used—compelled in some way—to relay a specific message.”
“To you personally, Tom,” declared his father. “Don’t forget, what the old woman said to Sandy and Bashalli was addressed to you.”
“Well! It’s really obvious, isn’t it?” enthused Sandy. “Madame Bruiga’s brain is pretty worn out with old age, little children are too open and immature to resist, and that guard was falling into a drunken stupor. Whoever’s really behind this is broadcasting in all directions, trying to stumble on somebody who happens to be near you to act as a mouthpiece.”
“Maybe they should try emailing,” commented Bud sourly.
Sandy ignored Bud’s gibe. “Evidently none of us, including Tom himself, has the right kind of brain to pick up the signal directly.”
“No, Sandra,” said Bashalli by intercom. “We are picking it up—Tom, and me and you. That strange feeling we’ve had. We’re not getting the message, but we are getting the effort to communicate. And maybe also the fear and desperation.”
“I guess you’re right, Bashi,” Sandy conceded. “Tom, what do you think they want you to do?”
The youth shrugged. “Even though I seem to have been intercepting some of what the guard was repeating, I didn’t capture the meaning behind it. It’s just too vague. He—the source—seems to be saying that I need to wake up, and also that I woke the watchers up. Who are they? What does it mean? How does it tie-in with ‘fata morgana’ and the dolphin-subs? Not to mention the sea wreckage and the Venice project!”
“You’ve taken the scientific first step,” smiled Mr. Swift reassuringly. “You’ve formulated the questions!”
Sleep for Tom Swift was restless and crowded with dreams that evaporated with daylight. When the Sea Charger again made port off Venice, he spent the day working with the technical team, poring over data from the circumscoper and other instruments, as well as the findings of the hydrologist, Giacomorelli. By the close of the uneventful day, his father was able to report that the Commizzione had given final approval for the project to go ahead. By courtesy of Tom’s terraphaser, the sagging old city would soon have a facelift!
The young inventor was pleased, but distracted by a haunting feeling of worry that seemed to be growing more insistent. Something was demanding action—but was unable to tell him what to do!
Finally, that night, he placed a call to Maine, where it was midday. “S’prise!” giggled a girlish voice. “I know you thought Mommy would answer, but she’s out—Tom!”
Tom chuckled warmly. “We can’t ever surprise you, Jennifer. Not with that ‘brain TV’ you have!”
“I knew since yesterday you wanted t’ call me,” stated Jennifer December. “I don’t do what I useta do so much, since Docky Dee ’dopted me. But I still kinda know what’s going on.”
“I’ll bet. And how is your mom? How are you doing in school?”
“Oh, Tom, you don’t need to waste time on all that politeness stuff,” she reprimanded him with little-girl directness. “Just ask me.”
“Er—sorry. Jennifer... can you tell me about any of the strange things that have been happening to us lately? I guess you know what I mean.”
“Uh-huh,” she replied, “kinda sorta. The little old woman in black—I call her the witch. But she’s nice. She’s one of the ones I used to play with when I was asleep. I know she had something to tell you—I mean, it was from someb’dy else, and they told her to say it.”
“You mean they forced her to do it?”
“Nuh-uh. It’s just, like, they asked her to and told her it was real important, and she said yes. An’ then they put it in her mind, two things, and she said it to those two girls. But she didn’t zackly know what she was saying, see? And now—well, her brain’s kinda used up now and she can’t really ’member any of it. See?”
Tom nodded involuntarily. “But who’s doing this, Jennifer? What is the message?”
Her answer was disappointing. “I guess I don’t know. Aw Tom, I’m sorry—don’t feel so bad. I just know about how the nice witch was told how to help them. I think they can’t get to me. It’s not like it was that time with the green balloon people.” Then came a pause—and a rush of excitement. “Uh-uh, wait! Just when I said that—a’cause you’re thinkin’ and I’m thinkin’ and both our brains are asking the same questions—I got something! I know who wants to talk to you—it’s the Sp’inx!”
Puzzled, Tom asked Jennifer to repeat the word, and then repeated it himself. “The Sphinx? You mean where the pyramids are? In Egypt?”
“It is the Sphinx, and it is where pyramids are, but it’s not in Egypt!”
“I don’t get it, Jennifer.”
“You will. I know it. But ri’ now that’s about all I know. Sor-ree.”
After ending the call, Tom had little time to mull over the conversation. There was a knock at the door of his cabin.
Bashalli stood waiting, grimfaced. “Tom, I must show you something.”
“Sure. Come in.”
She entered and pulled out her sketch pad. An accomplished art student, the young Pakistani frequently sketched scenes from her trips. “Look at this,” she said, holding the pad up.
The young inventor scrutinized the sketch, a row of shaded triangles that diminished from one end to the other in perspective. “Does it mean something?” he asked. Even as he spoke, before Bashalli could answer, he felt again the odd sensation of an answer stirring within himself.
“Don’t you see? Pyramids! This image was on my mind, in my mind’s eye. It wasn’t until I put it down on paper that I was allowed to stop thinking about it.”
Tom’s eyes widened. Pyramids!—just as Jennifer December had said only minutes before! Tom flailed about for some reasonable explanation. “Well, sure, Bash... I mentioned pyramids just the other day—the plain of pyramids on the seafloor near Aurum City. It stuck in your mind for some reason.”
She nodded. “You mentioned at the restaurant that one of the hydrodomes had been set up there. But the thing is, Thomas—I drew this sketch two days before you said it!”
Tom registered the fact with forced calm. Suddenly he turned away. “Look at this,” he said. He fished a wad of paper from his trash basket and smoothed it out. “It’s the napkin I had that night, the one I was doodling on after I was, er, forced to put away my notebook.”
“You kept it?”
“I had absently crumpled it into my pocket. I don’t even remember doing it. But—”
Tom handed the napkin to his friend. She gasped softly. The napkin showed a row of triangular shapes very similar to her sketch! “When did you draw these?”
“At the table that night, just doodling as we talked. I don’t think I even glanced at it—but something made me take it with me.”
They shared a moment of silence and the eerie feeling that Bashalli had come to know well. “Thomas... does it not make good sense? You were distracted. You were thinking about your project and writing equations or some such thing. Your psychic resistance was lowered!”
“Giving the message-sender a little chink to push through this idea, this image.” Tom told Bash of Jennifer’s comments to him. “Now I’m sure of at least part of what they want me to do. ‘Below—beneath—to the bottom—’ They’re trying to get me to go down to Aurum City, to the plain of the Space Pyramids!”
“‘Space’,” repeated Bashalli musingly. She eased down on the edge of the bed. “Why are they called that?”
Tom sat next to her. “Because of the wrecked spaceship. You know about that, don’t you?”
“Surely. A momentous matter, crammed into the news among all the other momentous matters involving Tom Swift and his mysterious space friends! But do refresh me as to the details. I have allowed my subscription to the Journal of Underwater Flying Saucer Archaeology to lapse, I fear.”
Tom replied without a smile. “The first hints of the existence of something unusual on the Horseshoe Seamounts came from gravitational studies that indicated high mass concentrations under the seafloor. It seemed to be associated with some mountainous formations that looked too regular to be natural. The two researchers who came to us, Braun and Teller, thought they might be debris-covered pyramids.”
“As indeed they were.”
“Exactly. We uncovered part of one when we came to Aurum City with the spectromarine selector—huge pyramidal structures faced with golden Neo-Aurium. They surround, on three sides, a plain that seems to have been used for ceremonies of some kind. There’s something like a raised altar or platform, and next to the altar we found—”
“A buried spaceship!”
“That’s what we assume, anyway. Like other space objects we’ve dealt with, its surface is completely impenetrable. We know nothing about what’s inside. But it’s incredibly dense, much denser than the heaviest elements known to us backward Earthlings! It can’t be raised or moved.
“At any rate, that’s why the site operations people, SAIS, speak of the ‘plain of the space pyramids’. Just a nickname.”
“But in this case,” Bashalli declared, “perhaps a most appropriate one. These Atlantis people must have worshipped the thing—or what came out of it!”
Tom agreed soberly and added, “And now someone, somewhere, is demanding that I go down there—because I’ve awakened the Watchers!”
Bashalli stood, her smile both grim and brave. “When do we leave?”
“Please, Thomas. The future facts are plain. You will not resist this, this whatever it is. You will take Budworth, your boon companion and inevitable comrade. You will take your cook. Surely you won’t dare burden your brain with the thought of leaving behind your pert blond sister. And... her best friend.”
“I guess I did promise you two a tour of Aurum City,” he conceded wryly.
“You promise many things, boy of genius. Now and then you will be expected to live up to them.”
Tom felt as if he had been jabbed in the ribs by a sharp elbow.
Next morning he talked the matter over with his father. “I’m not sure what attitude to take on this,” said Damon Swift. “The terraphaser project is a contractual commitment ultimately involving the government of Italy. And yet—”
“For the next ten days I’m not really needed onsite, Dad,” Tom reminded him. “We have the positioning data. The Malta test showed the generators can be installed by the tech team without difficulty. You and Murph can handle the calibration runs just as well as I can.”
“True. And it’s not as though you’ll be out of touch. The Private Ear Radio doesn’t mind water.”
“This will give me a chance to probe those sealed cases and get it ‘off the plate.’ We need to discover if there’s some connection between the Tyche mystery and our Venice operation—don’t forget, Bud and I were attacked during our project survey. In any event, I’ll be back in ten days.”
Mr. Swift smiled, but added quietly: “And how do you know that, son?” Tom had no answer.
“Tom Swift!” interrupted the wall speaker. The young inventor answered immediately.
“Captain Gillaine here, Tom. You might want to go up on deck. It looks like a parachutist is about to make a landing!”
Tom and his father exchanged puzzled glances but no words. They headed up into the morning sunshine and cool Adriatic breeze.
A number of deckhands and Enterprises employees stood about, shading their eyes and pointing. A white, billowing, triangular object was silhouetted against the clouds, slowly descending toward the Sea Charger. “It’s a parachute,” said one of the watchers nearby.
“A Rogallo Wing,” corrected Damon Swift, as Tom nodded with a grin. “A maneuverable parachute.”
The Wing approached, and the small object dangling beneath was revealed to be a man in a pressure suit and helmet. A voice behind the Swift men—Sandy’s—said, “Must be a parasailer. Guess he got off track.”
“He’s wearing a high-altitude pilot’s suit,” Tom pointed out. “He’s not just out for fun.”
The wing glided over the prow, aiming for a spot on the deck, which served as an aircraft landing strip. The three Swifts and the others watching began to trot forward to help the chutist. Suddenly Tom slowed, hesitating as the others surged past him.
His face contorted. “Good gosh!” he breathed. Then he shouted frantically: “Stop! Stay back! It’s a bomb!”
The chutist’s boot soles touched down—and fire roared across the deck of the Sea Charger!
DOWN FROM POSEIDIA
TOM SWIFT’S last-second warning had had little effect, but fortunately the chutist had come down some distance away. Nevertheless the booming fireblast singed eyebrows and ears and jolted nearly everyone off their feet.
After a ten-count Tom struggled to a crouch, looking first for his father and sister. “Dad? Sandy?”
“We’re okay!” came two strained voices. Mr. Swift added, “Got the wind knocked out of me.”
Tom rose to his feet, cautiously, noting with relief that all the other watchers likewise seemed unharmed.
But the Rogallo Wing—and whatever had come down with it, now covered over—had been reduced to a mass of smoke and flame. To the wolf-howl of sirens the ship’s fire crew sprinted on deck with Tom’s repelatron fire extinguishers, called repelexers, in hand. In seconds there was no more fire, just embers, smoke whisking away in the sea wind, and a corona of black on the scorched deck like the circle of a bullseye.
The remains of the Wing were tugged aside and medics rushed to rescue the stricken chutist.
There was nothing to rescue. “Ohhh!” Sandy gasped in horror. “He must’ve had the bomb strapped right to his body!”
But Tom, studying the scene intently, shook his head. “No, sis. Those aren’t human remains. It was just a dummy with explosives inside.” The young inventor prodded a smoking piece of debris with his toe. “Here’s part of the guidance mechanism. It was all done by remote control.”
Sandy caught her breath, then looked at her brother. “You warned us. How did you—”
“The Wing’s course was adjusting itself, but his hands weren’t moving. He was just hanging limply. The ‘bomb’ part was—”
“An easy guess,” finished Sandy.
“Look!” shouted a crewman. “More of them!”
A score of parachuting figures were drifting down from the sky, converging on the Sea Charger!
“The first one didn’t do any harm, but with so many they could hit a vulnerable spot by accident,” warned Mr. Swift. “We must—”
But his son had already assessed the situation—and was in action. He touched the nanocell unit behind his ear and barked out: “Capt. Gillaine, enclose the deck and submerge!”
“But Tom, it will take—”
“Do it! And activate the antipressure repelatrons full-blast!”
The Swifts herded the deck personnel below with shouts and frantic gestures. Even as the segmented deck-enclosure panels began to rise from their slots, achingly slow, the first of the gliding bombs hit. The blast seemed to grab the entire vessel and shake it!
“Much more powerful!” exclaimed Mr. Swift. “We could sustain real damage!”
“M-mebbe they kin even sink us!” gulped Chow, who had joined the milling crowd.
There came another detonation—another—and then nothing but a distant cacophony of thunderous booms. “Oh thank goodness!” Sandy breathed. “The deck’s covered over just in time.”
“Not even half!” Tom corrected her. “The repelatron banks—the ones we use to reduce the surrounding pressure when we dive—are shoving the Wings away, out to sea.”
Sandy considered this for a moment. “Now Tomonomo, you of all people should know—those water-tuned repelatrons only affect sea water.”
Tom grinned. “Yup, sea water. As is found in sea spray—which gets onto just about everything, including things that fall through the damp ocean air!”
“They’re detonating on the waves,” reported a crewman, “all around us.”
“But they could launch another attack, and who knows what might happen?” cautioned Damon Swift. “Let’s have Gillaine go ahead and take us under for awhile.”
“Right,” Tom agreed; “and cruise a few miles south.”
“This vacation ain’t much o’ what I’d call a blame cruise,” muttered Chow in disgust.
The ship—by far the world’s biggest submersible—descended to a few fathoms’ depth and waited tensely a safe distance downrange. There were no more explosions, and the penetradar instruments, which could scan the sky even through a block of ocean water, showed nothing in the air. “We were so absorbed in tracking the first one we didn’t pay attention to the rest of the flock off in the distance,” explained Capt. Gillaine apologetically.
“That was the idea,” grated Tom. “A stalking horse!”
“Boss, jest what’s goin’ on?” Chow asked nervously. “Who pitched them big paper airplanes at us? Those wake-up-watcher hombres? Mean t’ say—they cain’t very well expect ya t’ wake up when yuh’re dead!”
“Maybe it’s a warning to cooperate,” put in Bud Barclay, who had himself just awakened and joined them.
“I assume it’s the dolphin-sub people,” Tom declared. “Or maybe the people on that ship, the one we think was the Tyche. Both have launched attacks on us.”
“On us,” noted his pal; “and now on everybody aboard the Charger!”
“Guess they’re taking the broader view,” Tom commented dryly.
An answer of sorts was soon in coming. Gillaine showed the Swifts a digifax he had just received in the control room. “Unidentified source, naturally.”
WE ARE OUT OF PATIENCE. FATA MORGANA IS A PRIVATE ENTERPRISE, NOT A MATTER FOR SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION. WE HAVE MUCH EXPERIENCE IN WHAT WE DO AND IN THE REMOVAL OF THOSE WHO INTERFERE WITH OUR INTERESTS. DO NOT DISTURB CALM WATERS. TO INDULGE MERE CURIOSITY IS TO PLACE ALL OF YOU AT RISK, AND YOU WILL FIND US MOST PERSISTENT AND AS INVENTIVE AS YOU ARE.
“One of our better threats,” joked Bud. “Let’s see now—Fata Morgana is the drug-running dolphin syndicate, right?”
“Or so we’ve been told,” Tom said quietly. “It’s clear someone wants us to believe that we’re dealing with a Mediterranean crime syndicate—a mafia-type group.”
“You don’t buy it?”
Tom smiled grimly. “I never buy without seeing the merchandise, flyboy. We don’t know who transmitted this message—or even whether they’re behind the chute attack on the Charger.”
“True,” Bud conceded. “Our buddy Franco acted like a rep for all the groups, including the ‘waking watchers’ guys Jennifer told you about.”
“O’ course, that poke was drunk off’n his boots,” pronounced Chow.
“Which is sometimes a road to truth,” Tom pointed out.
“Ye-ahh, son—a twisty stumble-around one!”
It was rare for Tom Swift to set aside his inventing work even briefly. But the terraphaser’s already invented, he reasoned. Yet he realized he was trying to justify outwardly a decision he had already made inwardly, pressured by eerie incidents with something unknown behind them. It’ll only be for ten days, his thoughts prompted; and besides, it might be more dangerous not to go! The Fata Morgana gang had demonstrated its propensity for explosive violence in their Mediterranean “turf,” but Tom couldn’t believe their microsubs would allow them access to deep Aurum City. Sandy and Bashalli—Tom himself—would be safer there.
So his thoughts insisted. He didn’t entirely believe his thoughts.
They left by Whirling Duck that afternoon, westbound—Tom and Bud, Sandy and Bashalli, and Chow. “Where you go, I go, boss,” declared the former range cook. “Me an’ my colorful shirts an’ my dee-licious yew-nique recipes.” His gravel voice turned sly. “Say there, Buddy Boy, howcome yuh’re so quiet?”
“Because I’m sitting next to Sandy.”
With Tom on the stick, they jet-choppered across Italy, then Corsica and the Western Mediterranean. Finally the young inventor pointed to a small speck on the ocean ahead and below. “That’s the Poseidia Platform,” he said, “our floating stage-stop on the road to Atlantis.”
“I know the one over the helium hydrodome is called Atlantica,” remarked Sandy. “Will we be landing on it?”
“Looks awfully small,” murmured Bashalli.
“We have a choice, since the Duck is amphibious,” Tom answered. “But the platform is designed to accommodate helicopters. We’ll take the dry route. Easier to transfer our freight.”
The platform proved to be a great deal more capacious than it seemed from cloud-high. It was made up of polygonal segments magnetically linked together and anchored in place by gravitexes. The landing was smooth, the slightest possible bump. “We’ll just park the Duck here until our return,” Tom told the platform supervisor. “They still have three others on the Sea Charger for transport to the mainland.”
“I’ll keep her safe,” promised the attendant, who was employed, not by Tom Swift Enterprises, but by the international consortium called SAIS—the Seamounts Archaeological Investigations Site.
As they unloaded the sealed cases they had fished from the sea, Tom glanced at the expression on his sister’s face, then at Bashalli. “Are you both all right? That sensation of eerieness again?—how are you feeling?”
“Like I’m peeping through a window into a dark haunted house,” Sandy quietly replied. Bash only shrugged, frowning.
Carting their mysterious freight and carrying their personal luggage, the five Shoptonians stepped onto one of the small square platforms at the periphery of the landing deck, suspended over the sea on cables. “The bubblevator to the depths,” pronounced Bashalli. “And where is the bubble?”
“Watch,” grinned Tom. He nodded at Bud, who stood at the control column. The young pilot fingered some switches, and a circular depression, a crater of water, leapt into existence in the waves beneath the bubblevator platform. “Down we go!” sang out Sandy happily.
Riding a set of guide-cables that extended upward and downward on either side, the platform sank down into the water as Bud diminished the repelatron force and resulting buoyancy. The sides of the depression rose up and closed around them as they descended beneath the surface, forming a spherical airspace that encompassed the platform. Bud switched on lights and heaters. “Welcome to your bubble, hydronauts!” he chortled.
“Rode these things more’n once,” muttered Chow. “Still makes me a mite nervy-wrecked.”
As they descended smoothly—it was a long ride down—Tom swiveled one of the distance searchlamps, pointing out examples of sea life. “Lovely,” Bashalli said. “The sea, the mysterious jade sea...” She gave Tom a stern look. “I hope, Thomas, you don’t regard this as a substitute for a gondola ride in Venice.”
“Hey, at least you’ve got a gondolier,” retorted Bud at the controls.
“Gondoliers sing romantic songs in Italian.”
“No you can’t.”
Beyond the reach of their lights the sea-jade had quickly become an obsidian wall. After many minutes Sandy leaned over the platform rail. “Shouldn’t we be seeing the bright lights of downtown Aurum City?”
“Not yet,” answered Tom. “The city’s completely hidden by a roof of rock, a result of the original upheaval that sent the whole island to the bottom.”
“So—we gonna have t’ change trains?” Chow asked.
“No, pardner. Since you and I were here last, they’ve used earth blasters to dig several vertical shafts through the rock. The cables run straight down to the city streets.”
At last the mottled, rugged seafloor—actually the top of a tumbled plateau on the great plain between the arms of the seamount—appeared beneath them in their lamp light. It rose to meet them, and they passed through a round opening and descended down a well of stone. In a moment the rock wall suddenly fell away, and manmade light streamed up at them. Aurum City—the undersea city of gold!
Hanging over the rails with a gold shine on their faces, the girls gasped at the sight spread wide beneath them. Aurum City was of no great extent, but it was an easy Number One among sunken metropolises, a maze of streets narrow and broad, with multisided plazas surrounded by ruined blocky structures, some of them still rising to an imposing height.
They could make out smaller details too. The city was well-sprinkled with obelisk-like monuments and statues of strange half-animal gods and goddesses, as well as huge heads that were both lionlike and doglike. “Saber-Tooth Tigers,” Tom explained. “Machaeodus. Really more wolf than cat.”
“And what are those statues there? Elephants?” inquired Bash, pointing.
“I wonder if they had poodles,” mused Sandy jokingly.
But the most striking thing about the city was, naturally, its gold. Nearly every structure and decoration was gold-plated and shining brightly in the overarching floodlights set up by the SAIS consortium. “Them Atlantis folks shor didn’t need taxes,” Chow declared. “Coulda jest melted down a snack stand ’r two.”
“But it’s not real gold, mostly,” said Bud. “It’s mostly Neo-Aurium, the same super alloy we use at Enterprises—tough as steel, light as cardboard.”
“The spectromarine selector, with its own moving airspace, has dis-encrusted nearly all the buildings in Aurum City,” noted Tom with pride befitting its inventor. “But that doesn’t mean the place has been explored generally by archaeologists. They do one ‘neighborhood’ at a time. As you can see, even the big airdomes taken together cover only a small portion. It’s not feasible to construct a repelatron big enough to put the entire city under a bubble—the backpressure from holding up all that water would smash it flat.”
The bubblevator now descended through the permeable “skin” of one of the repelatron bubbles, grabbing onto its guide cables in the absence of the seawater necessary to its variable buoyancy, and finally bumped to a stop on its cushioned parking space. They were next to an extensive modular building. “A relic of Belgium, not Atlantis,” Tom joked. “The main administration building for the SAIS operation.” When Bashalli asked who really ran the deep-sea project, Tom replied: “I guess it depends on what you mean, Bash. A scientific research foundation chartered by the European Union is officially in charge, and there are all sorts of agreements granting international access. But the U.S. provides security and defense—in case Kranjovia decides to get feisty again. So Washington pretty much has the final say ‘off the books’.”
“Hear tell that nice loo-tenant from last time is th’ big cheese now,” remarked Chow.
“Right, cowpoke,” Bud confirmed. “Brian Fraser was appointed security chief for the Aurum City operation.”
“A great choice,” Tom added. “You girls will like Brian.”
Sandy gave a mischievous smile. “Is he as cute as Ken Horton? Our outpost in space dream man?”
“You’ll have to decide that one yourselves,” snorted Bud. “I’d better warn him to mobilize his defense forces.”
“Is he single?” asked Bash.
“I’ve never seen more than one of him.”
Lt. Fraser came out to greet the new arrivals, red-sandy hair and friendly. “Good to see you again—welcome to urban sprawl on the bottom!” He shook hands with Bashalli and Sandy. “Just like they told me. Our golden city goddesses may fall off their pedestals with jealousy.”
“Aw, don’t blush, you two,” said Chow. “He’s jest polishin’ th’ ole apple.”
They were shown to their rooms in the dormitory building nearby, as SAIS workers carted the mysterious boxes to one of the labs.
As they walked, the girls boggled at the gilded sights around them. “Oh Tomonomo—forget Venice! Even if this is a work trip for you, it’s wonderful that you let Bashi and me come along!”
“Yes,” said Bashalli. “Though as to forgetting Venice, Tom—forget it!”
“I’ll show you the sights,” Tom promised, “but I’m here to...” He caught himself in midsentence, a strange expression on his young face.
“ ‘Here to’—?” Bud prompted.
“To scan those cases,” finished the young inventor, “and try to figure out what Jennifer December’s ‘Sphinx’ wants me to do.”
But Tom’s words were untrue to his thoughts. He had almost uttered the truth, as an urge and image had suddenly flooded his mind, something from outside, from the unknown. “I know why I’m here,” he half-said aloud as the others went ahead. “I know what they want me to do.
“Whoever they are, whatever they are, they’ve brought me down to the ocean bottom for one purpose—to raise Atlantis!”
THE WRITING ON THE WALL
TOM couldn’t wait for supper and sleep to begin his probe of the sealed cases. He and Bud joined Lt. Fraser in the SAIS lab where the four recovered containers had been deposited. “Looks like you won’t need your spectrosel this time,” Fraser remarked. “The boxes are pretty clean on the outside.”
“We think they were only in the water for a few hours,” Bud stated. “A day or two at most.”
Tom nodded and said thoughtfully, “Let’s see what the Eye-Spy has to tell us.” He wheeled the bulky camera device, standard equipment for the Aurum City archaeological operation, near to one of the cases.
“Not using the hand-held mini model?” asked Bud.
“There are a lot of the handhelds down here,” was the reply. “But the full sized model—seems like an old blunderbuss now, doesn’t it?—gives much more detail per energy output. I’m trying to be cautious about pumping too many ergs into the cases.”
“In other words,” said Fraser, “you’d rather not have them blow up.”
Bud snorted wryly. “We’ve had enough of that lately!”
Tom pointed the scanning-beam lens tube and adjusted the fine tuning. The modest image that appeared on the monitor seemed a letdown. “Hunh!” said Bud. “It’s just a roll of paper. It’s not even enough to paper a bookshelf.”
Tom made no comment but moved on to the next, face grim and intent.
All four proved to have the same content. “They’re not just rolls of shelf paper, Bud,” observed Brian Fraser. “You can see—they’re in double-walled protective cylinders, and everything’s cushioned to the hilt.”
“Scrolls,” Tom bluntly declared. “They may be ancient artifacts of some sort. Incredibly valuable—and incredibly fragile. The metal cylinders are probably filled with some neutral gas, like argon, under pressure. Whoever’s shipping these things wants to minimize exposure to the air.”
“So that’s it!” Bud exclaimed. “Artifact smuggling by sea and canal! They must ‘fence’ it through Venice.”
Fraser said, “But something went wrong along the way. Now these smuggled treasures are floating around free off North Africa and Spain.”
“Unless all the rest have been recovered,” Tom corrected.
“By Zalkhyran and his dolphin-subs!”
“I don’t know, flyboy. If Fata Morgana is a widespread secret operation in Italy and the Mediterranean, I’d be surprised if someone like Dr. Zalkhyran were in charge. He could be a low-rank accomplice. Or maybe he’s double-crossed the syndicate and is trying to market the scrolls independently. Great business opportunity—his employers assume the shipment was lost at sea.”
“Makes sense,” Bud nodded. “He could buy a lot of toy sailing ships with all the money they could bring.”
Fraser asked if Tom could make out the markings on the scrolls. He did what he could to enhance the screen image, but finally shook his head. “In this case the camera is too good—it’s penetrating through the close-packed layers without letting us look over what’s on them.”
“What about the writing on the outside? Do you know what language it’s in?”
Tom shrugged. “Not my field, Brian. I’ll take a digital shot from the Eye-Spy recorder and transmit it to Grandyke U. by the Poseidia relay.”
“You’re sure I can’t get you to bend the rules a little, Skipper?” urged Bud, eyeing the cases. He made an eloquent motion with his hands, more breaking than bending.
Tom shook his head. “You know the answer, chum. No way I’m going to crack open the cases and risk damaging these valuable artifacts.”
“Well, can you at least use the time-dial on one of your retroscopes to tell us how old the scrolls are?”
“Not even that, not through the casing shell and the cylinder. Sorry, guys—for now we’ll have to wait.”
But Tom Swift was allergic to waiting. After transmitting the digifax and briefing his father and Harlan Ames by Private Ear Radio, he restlessly sought something to do, feeling—and fighting—the alien urges that had become increasingly demanding. Maybe we should just head back to Venice! he pondered. But he had to face the truth. Even as he realized that his intrusive thoughts of using the terraphaser on the sunken island were not bowing to reason, he couldn’t bring himself to turn his back on the obsessive vision. Good night, I’m becoming addicted to it! Tom realized with worry and resentment. They’re tapping into my curiosity—and Swiftian stubbornness—to get me hooked on staying here and doing their will!
He thought of talking to Bud or his father, or perhaps Brian Fraser. Yet these thoughts were strangely hard to think. Something in him recoiled violently from any action that might interfere with his unwilling mission. All he could do was postpone the inevitable confrontation with whatever power drew him toward the plain of the space pyramids. He was certain, irresistibly, that the answer awaited him there. But—
Who were the Watchers? What would happen now that he had awakened them?
Brian Fraser was giving Sandy and Bashalli, joined by Bud, a quick tour of the locality, the girls’ introduction to the Aurum ruins. Left to himself, Tom paced the hydrodome area, introducing himself with a distracted air to the SAIS researchers he encountered, then passed through the overlapping dome periphery into the adjacent one.
At the very edge of this hydrodome was the locker room in which the newly delivered aquapods were stored for use. Here he greeted his friend, veteran submariner Zimby Cox, with a bearhug and a grin. “Look at this, Skipper,” said Zimby with a broad gesture.
“Look at what, Zim?” Tom asked. “Not much to see in here.”
“Sure—that’s my point. I freighted-in a dozen of the aquapod suits the other day, and almost all of them are already in use by the research teams.”
“Sounds like they learned the ropes pretty quickly.”
“The Seahorses are mighty easy to work. Oh, that’s what we call ’em—you know, because the helmet part stretches forward and down like—”
“Like the muzzle of a seahorse,” Tom nodded. “Here’s a case of nicknaming that Bud didn’t get to first! Say, Zim, how long will you be staying in Aurum?”
“Oh, another few days. Then back to Fearing Island on the mantacopter, the Deepwing. Anxious to get back to the U.S.? I’ll be happy to play driver for the boss!”
“N-no,” responded the young inventor hastily. The thought of leaving Aurum City gave him an instant feeling of revulsion—fear! “I—I’ll have to get back to the Venice project.”
They chatted for a time. Then Tom ambled on through one linked dome to another, noting with satisfaction the gleaming work of his spectromarine selector, building after building, street after street. Once he stopped for a time, gazing up blankly at the carved figure atop a pedestal, one he didn’t recall from his earlier visits. It was the statue of a woman, perhaps a goddess, with stubby wings spreading from her shoulders. She looked down at the invader from the lost world above with an unreadable expression that seemed to become more ominous with every passing moment. Why did she hold his eye? Where had he seen her before?
Then it came to him. She reminded him of the Sphinx. “Got any answers for me, lady?” Tom asked wryly. And then he remembered that the Sphinx offered only riddles, not answers. And if the unwary traveller failed...
Presently he found himself stopped before a building on another street. This structure was vivid in his memory. He gazed up the worn, cracked steps into the shadowed portico of a temple-like edifice. He could make out, in the dim light, the rows of symbols covering the flat rear wall—the indecipherable writing of the ancients.
“But it’s not indecipherable,” came a voice from the deeper shadows. “We’ve made real progress, young man.”
Tom nodded a greeting as a woman stepped forward, a gray-haired woman with the look of a scholar. “They have been compared to those of the so-called Voynich Manuscript,” she said. “But we’ve discovered a much more striking and informative relationship.”
“Really? Oh, I’m Tom S—”
“Of course I know who you are,” smiled the woman. “I’m Grace Liebkrafft. Pleased to meet a fellow scientist.”
“Well, more a scientist-inventor,” Tom responded modestly.
“But in a way all scientists are inventors, don’t you think? As are all scholars. All thinkers. We all invent the world—and sell it to the public.”
The youth grinned. “Maybe you’re right, ma’am.”
“I surely am.”
“Are you down here to study the inscriptions?”
“We’ve made great progress. Now you see, young Tom—not written up yet for the journals—significant elements of the language of this culture have survived the millennia. Much of the underlying structure of the language, even some of the actual symbols, persist in Revenant Sumerian, Late Akkadian, even Phoenician. Did you know that?”
“We have found the bottleneck, the historic strait of passage through which the language migrated—the link between this sunken land and those of the Middle East. Tablets have been found in caves in the northern Caucasus, mankind’s tribal homeland between the Black and Caspian Seas. Nomadic humanity paused there for a long time, between the fall of Eden and the rise of Ur and Ugarta. You must visit Ugarta, young Tom—much to be uncovered.
“Yes. Well now. The scholars of paleo-languages have decided to call the Caucasus inscriptions Ur-Cryptarchaean, for better or worse. I find that an unilluminating choice. Someday they will call it what it is, degenerate post-diluvian Atlantean.”
“Then you agree with the idea that this was Atlantis, Dr. Liebkrafft?”
“Certainly,” she said with concrete definiteness. “Not that it was called ‘Atlantis’ by its inhabitants.”
“I’ve heard a lot of suggested alternatives,” remarked the young inventor dryly, remembering heated discussions.
“They fight about it, words, sounds, none of it correct. Shall we call them the Aurumites?—Would you like to hear a bit of their history?”
Tom was amazed! “Good night, have they gotten that far already?”
She pointed at the wall. “Discusses the purpose of this structure, the Quarry of Knowledge, a rather nice metaphor. A kind of history book. Perhaps one should say, an historical pageant in stone. ‘Come within, enter, know what has passed, know of the sacred kings, know of the victories, know of those who have gone and those who have come’. And then the usual puff-chested rhetoric, how they are the greatest people who ever lived or ever will live or ever could live. They proclaim it in gilded ruins beneath miles of water—alas for Ozymandias, hm? Here they wait and watch, what rotted remains are left of them, dreaming of their awakening and their return to the sunlight.
“Ah, does my poetizing affect you, young man?
“But hubris is natural to mankind...
“The lower levels, of course, are where the more interesting parts are found. I suppose you have a theory as to how those pyramids, out there on the plain, came to be? What they meant to these people?”
Tom shook his head free of distracting thoughts. “Um—well, the standard theory is that they were burial monuments built around a sacrificial altar. Probe instruments indicate huge carvings set into the walls that face the plain—”
“‘Face’ is indeed the word. The pyramids have faces.” Liebkrafft gave Tom a shrewd look. “But we can do better than this crude, groping account, don’t you think? To read the writings within this building is to know the true story.
“The Aurumites did not build the seafloor pyramids. The original structures were centuries old when this city was founded—old even before the very first settlements grew up here on what was once the edge of the sea. The first settlements were trading posts, you see, catering to those transients who made pilgrimage here to do honor to what already existed. The Aurumite culture sprang from that.”
Tom’s eyes were wide. “It’s fantastic that you’ve been able to translate so much of their history! But if the people of this city didn’t make the pyramids...”
The woman smiled pleasantly. “Those who first constructed them have no names in history, Tom. They are of little importance, actually—wandering tribal chieftains wanting to do honor to what they found there on the plain. Also, of course, what they found engendered awe and fear. Worship follows. But first the thing must be covered up. Gods are dangerous, hm?”
“I don’t follow you, ma’am,” Tom declared politely. “You say the pyramids were built to—”
“They began as slabs of rock, gobs of mud, baked clay brick, in great slouching heaps, piled high to bury what the primitives could not hope to understand. The term is tumuli. To give fair credit, the Aurumites did indeed construct outer walls of fitted stone, later faced with their gold alloy. Last of all came the Colossi, the gigantic statues of their watchful gods. As if dead eyes could see. As if inert stone could protect them.”
“Protect them from what?—ma’am.”
Grace Liebkrafft gestured behind her at the temple of writings. “The account is all in there, young man, thereafter preserved by the priests of ancient Egypt, in Sais. When humans came to this island—in the Ice Age you could walk over from the continents—they found on the plain an elliptical array of huge objects—huge to the eyes of dwellers in huts and lean-to’s of animal hide. They were smooth-walled circular towers, black and faceless, tapering at the top like the small end of an egg. And eggs, you know, are a natural symbol of birth and life and eternity.”
“Dr. Liebkrafft, you’re saying that some ancient civilization—” But the young inventor stopped himself.
“Ah! Now you see it.”
“They were from space, weren’t they! Extraterrestrials left them behind!”
“I bow to your wisdom, young Tom.”
“We know the space friends—the X-ians—made attempts to establish settlements on Earth,” continued Tom excitedly. “We found evidence in Yucatan...”
“Well, this was earlier—by tens of thousands of years. The terminals—the objects—were put in place before mankind had emigrated from Africa and commenced his great task of despoiling the world.”
“But—Dr. Liebkrafft—how could the Aurumites have found out all that?” Tom objected. “You’re telling me the structures were put in place many thousands of years before humans came here!”
“Quite a mystery, isn’t it Tom?” was the evasive reply. “But that’s another thing scholars and scientists are—solvers of mystery. As are inventors, young man.”
“I have to go to the plain.”
“Why yes, Tom, yes you do. To uncover things. That’s what you do with a mystery, don’t you? You uncover it!”
“WHAT do you mean, a mistake?” Tom Swift demanded heatedly of Brian Fraser as Bud looked on, gazing at his friend’s face with growing concern. “I don’t understand,”
“Me neither,” stated Lt. Fraser. “Honestly, I don’t see how a person could make a ‘mistake’ like this. But.”
“Ten to one she was just plain lying!” Bud offered. “Tom couldn’t have known!”
But Tom’s was turning pale, his heat fading. “I—I don’t know if that’s true, pal. Now that I think of it, I should have challenged what she was saying from the start. It makes no sense at all to think researchers could have gotten so far ahead of the game without the scientific community—Swift Enterprises!—knowing all about it. It would be a world sensation!”
“Okay, genius boy. So...”
“So why didn’t it even occur to me?” Tom finished grimly. “I just took it all in unthinkingly. That’s not exactly what I’m known for.”
They sat together in Fraser’s security office. Tom’s fantastic account seemed to hang in the air like a mist. “Listen,” said Fraser. “Since taking this position, I’ve made it my business to meet and know absolutely everyone who arrives here. I know their faces, say hello, eat with them in the mess hall—everything. Including myself, there are 41 people in Aurum City as of the last bubblevator-load that arrived on Wednesday—and now, with you four from the Sea Charger, it’s a grand total of 45. Only six are women, and two of them are Sandy and Bashalli. Not one is named ‘Grace Liebkrafft’. Not one could even disguise herself as the person you described, Tom!”
“Okay,” Bud broke in, “so we’re looking for a short, skinny man with soft features and a delicate voice who can pull off dressing as a woman.”
Tom smiled at Bud’s comment but said to the lieutenant: “I know what I saw—and what she said. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just a telejector image with audio effects.”
Brian stood. “Okay. Let’s head over to the structure. Maybe we can clear it up right away.”
As they piled into an electric cart, Tom asked Fraser if he knew the way. “Sure,” he replied. “It’s the hottest spot in town!—the only sample of exterior wall writing in Aurum City, although we’ve found many inscriptions on interior walls or the bases of monuments. The archaeologists call it Archive 1.”
They wound their way through the ruined, rubble-choked thoroughfares, acknowledging the occasional trudger. Abruptly, Fraser braked. “Here we are,” he said.
Tom eyes narrowed. “No, Brian, not this building. The one with—” Then those same blue eyes widened in surprise and confusion. Steps—the portico—a wall covered with neatly-carved symbols—
“I remember it,” said Bud quietly. “From before.”
Tom rubbed his eyes, stunned. “Yes. This is the building Braun and Teller found. The building with the writings and the lower levels.”
“It’s not the one you mean?” asked Fraser.
“No... except...” Tom searched for words. “This is the building I referred to, all right. I recognize it now. But the building I stood in front of with Liebkrafft—it was somewhat similar, but definitely not this building.”
Fraser frowned. “I’ll say it again, my friend. This is the only building in Aurum City with writing on an exterior wall. And the building you described to us had such writing.”
“I don’t know what to say,” murmured the young inventor. “I saw the writing. For some reason I was sure I recognized the building as the one I was in before—this building. But now, looking back, there were obvious differences. I should have realized instantly that something was wrong!” Tom felt himself edging toward panic! Bud squeezed his chum’s shoulder.
“Does it seem you were misremembering?” asked Brian. “In other words, perhaps at that moment you just didn’t remember clearly what the real building looks like. After all—let’s say someone erected a phony wall of inscriptions on another building. Maybe you jumped to a conclusion. It’s been a while since you were down here, Tom. Memories get out of focus. And you had no reason to pay close attention.”
“Maybe...” But Tom suddenly shook his head. “No! Guys, I looked at the building closely, as Grace—whoever she was!—was talking. I looked at the details, and I didn’t have a doubt in the world.” He looked more worried, more distraught, then ever. “The problem wasn’t my memory. What went wrong was my judgment, the way a person’s brain says Yes! to whatever’s in front of it. I had the feeling of being absolutely certain—and I was wrong!”
“No alarm bells, hunh.” Bud shrugged. “Welllp, everybody gets to be wrong now and then.”
“You don’t understand,” declared Tom. “It’s about—call it the confirmation of the senses. It wasn’t an illusion. I didn’t ‘see falsely’. As far as I can tell, I saw what was I was seeing very clearly, just as I’m seeing the two of you right now. But—how can I explain...?”
Bud forced a grin. “You’re known as a great explainer, chum.”
“What we call ‘seeing’ isn’t just a mechanical process. It isn’t like what a camera does. Part of what we call seeing is knowing. The mind has to interpret and somehow make sense of whatever the eye and optic nerve put in front of it.” Tom groped his way forward through the thicket of unfamiliar concepts. “It’s as if visual experiences are given a kind of ‘footnote,’ a kind of ‘invisible label’ that tells the mind of the viewer that this bunch of lines and colors is a particular kind of thing, the look of a dog or a chair or—my best friend’s face.”
Fraser seemed to understand. “In other words, you don’t just ‘see,’ you see something. At first it’s just a riddle put to the mind. The raw feed from your eyeball has to be fitted together like a puzzle or it doesn’t amount to anything. Before that point, you’re not seeing, you’re just—well, maybe you wouldn’t be conscious of having a visual experience at all. There’s nothing there for you.”
“I get it, sorta,” Bud interjected. “You wouldn’t even see darkness, like when you shut your eyes. It’s be more like—like what’s behind your head. Is that what you mean, Skipper?”
Tom nodded. “The point is, the person as a person doesn’t have anything to do with it. You don’t have to ‘think it through’ or ‘figure it out’. When you look at a red stoplight, you don’t sit there looking over the data and comparing it to your memories until it matches the thing labeled ‘red.’ You just see it as red, automatically, right away, without thinking. Even if you don’t know the word for it instantly, you still know what it is.”
“Or at least, that it’s a sight, not just a ‘feeling’,” commented Brian musingly. “And when I point my eyes your way, it comes to me with its label already attached. I don’t say, I can see!—I say, This is Tom Swift.”
“Except, in this case, what Tom saw had the wrong label,” Bud noted. “Somebody switched labels on you, pal!”
“Yes, that’s what I’m thinking,” confirmed his friend. “My usual subconscious processing was overwritten—a new label was attached.
“A person’s completely helpless, you know. You can’t intervene at the last moment and block what you’re experiencing. It’s already there. Wherever I really was, whatever my eyes and ears were actually receiving, I was forced to experience it as a weird conversation with this nonexistent woman. It seemed so normal to me that I wasn’t even able to doubt it!”
The three sat for a time unspeaking. Tom knew the name of what he was feeling—panic, dread, even a sort of horror. In many ways Tom Swift lived in his mind. Now his mind wasn’t his own. He was utterly helpless before it!
Lt. Fraser broke the silence. “There’s something you haven’t mentioned, Tom. How did the encounter end?”
Tom started to speak, paused, then lapsed for a lengthening moment into an intent concentration. “I don’t know how it ended. I don’t think it had a real ending. She said something about uncovering a mystery, and then—everything changed.”
“Cut to commercial,” Bud gibed faintly.
“More like episode cliffhanger,” was the rueful response. “The next distinct memory is walking up to the administration building. I don’t recall anything about getting there.”
“I’ve had a few nights like that,” said Fraser with a sudden grin. “I’ve woken up wondering if I remembered to bring my car home.”
Tom rubbed his forehead. “Until you asked, it didn’t even occur to me that there was a gap in my personal history.”
They drove back to the main building. As they climbed out, Tom broke his deep concentration. “Brian—what you said before—the four of us arriving from the Sea Charger... You said four—”
“That’s what I said,” Brian nodded.
“Bud—does that seem right to you? Four?”
The muscular youth stared at his pal, puzzled and slightly alarmed. “Well, sure. The four of us. You and me, Sandy and Bash. That makes four. Not that I was good in math, genius boy, but I did master basic counting!”
“What’s wrong?” asked Lt. Fraser.
Tom looked back and forth between them. “What’s wrong is ‘four’! It wasn’t four of us who came down. I’m sure it was five!”
“Jetz! How could somebody stow away on that little platform?” Bud demanded.
“That’s not what I mean!” Tom insisted. “I mean there was a fifth person standing there with us, in the bubblevator. I can’t remember who it was or what he looked like any more than you two. But somehow the number of persons has leaked through. Five!”
“Y-you mean this brain thing has deleted part of our memories?” gulped Bud. “Maybe taken away one of those labels?”
Tom nodded. “Why not? Remembering is a kind of ‘inner seeing,’ isn’t it? If you can’t make sense of the data—if it doesn’t come with its tag—it’s not a memory at all!—just a mental blind spot that your brain makes you skip over. It’s the same with the natural blind spot in your retina. Try as hard as you can, you can’t make yourself ‘see’ that a little part of your visual field has nothing in it. The visual cortex camouflages it.”
“It’s pretty easy to settle this,” declared Fraser. “All arrivals to the city are videoed for our records—it’s a security requirement established by the SAIS consortium. Let’s look over the vid-capture from this morning.”
He brought the vidcap recording up on the screen in his office. “There you are, bubblevator down and locked.” He pointed, touching the screen. “This is Tom Swift. Here are his travel companions—two, three, four. Objections?”
“He’s right, Skipper,” stated Bud. “Tom, Bud, Sandy, Bashalli. See?”
Tom was all frown. “See? But are we ‘seeing’, Bud? Or do we just think we’re seeing?”
Brian snorted. “It couldn’t affect our counting skills, could it? Look, I’m putting a fingertip on each figure. One hand, all four fingers, thumb not necessary. Are you trying to tell me I’m overlooking someone?”
The young inventor squinted, trying to make sense of his feeling that something wasn’t right. He himself counted four figures. He could name each one. No one was left out. Yet he had the overwhelming feeling that each time he counted, each time he ran through the list of familiar names, he had stopped short of the end. It’s right there in front of my eyes, he thought, but not in front of my mind!
What could not be named didn’t exist!
“You’ve made your point,” Tom said to Fraser coolly. “I’m heading back to my room.” Bud started to say something, but Tom waved him off and left.
He walked down the hallway with a determined stride. At the end was the double-door to the commissary. It swung open.
Tom looked up—and his mind seemed to split in two! He saw someone walking towards him. He was absolutely certain of that. And yet at the same time, he saw only an empty corridor.
“Hey there, boss! Hadta get m’self familiar with the cookin’ range down here. Better earn m’ keep or I’ll be out of a job. Brand my—”
Tom flung himself backwards against a wall and slipped down to the floor!
“What’s happening to me?” he cried in fear.
THE PLAIN OF THE PYRAMIDS
“BOSS! TOM!” screeched Chow Winkler in alarm. “Wh-what’s wrong with you, son?”
The rotund man squatted—as close to a kneel as he could manage—at his young friend’s side. Having heard the commotion, Brian Fraser and Bud came running up.
Tom’s eyes were wide. He was murmuring, “Chow—Chow Winkler—”
“Brand my bacon, that’s my name all right!” quavered Chow. “What’d I do, startle you?”
“Good gosh,” Bud said to Fraser quietly. “It’s as if Tom doesn’t recognize him! Skipper, it’s Chow, good old Chow!”
Tom was looking up at them, face to face to face. “I know who Chow is,” he said. “And you, Bud—and you, Brian.”
“Fine. So what’s happening here?” asked Lt. Fraser.
Tom staggered to his feet weakly, Bud helping. “More of the same—but worse! Chow was the fifth person on the bubblevator! But we couldn’t recognize him—or remember him—or even see him in the first place!”
“Tom, I don’t understand,” replied Bud. “We all recognized him!”
“I recka’nized m’self all along!” Chow insisted.
“Okay, then tell me—what were we doing just now in your office, Brian? Why were we looking at the vidcap replay?”
Fraser replied to his friend slowly and carefully. “At the Archive 1 structure, you kept insisting that someone, some extra person, had come down on the bubblevator with you five this morning. Bud and I told you it wasn’t possible, but you seemed to be becoming panicky. So I showed you the recording of your arrival, and we all counted you five, and no more. Five—you and Bud, the two girls, and Chow.”
“And did I—did I end up agreeing?”
“You did,” Bud declared. “But Brian and I both thought you seemed sort of, I dunno, confused. Fuzzed out!”
Tom spoke in a small voice. “Yes. I remember it just as you say—now. But when I saw Chow just now with my own eyes, something seemed to snap!”
Chow looked down at the startling pattern on his western shirt, nervously.
“It seemed like you didn’t recognize him,” said Bud.
“I know,” agreed Tom. “It’s as if I had two sets of memories running along in parallel, and seeing, maybe hearing, Chow jolted me from one ‘track’ to the other. But the other one is out of reach now. It’s like trying to remember what happened in a dream.”
Bud nodded understanding and said, “Sounds like a job for your thoughtograph imager, genius boy.”
Tom explained to Brian Fraser that this recent invention permitted the operator to electronically probe stored visual memories, including dreams and other products of the imagination. “Of course, it’s at Enterprises right now.”
Bud shrugged. “Shopton’s only a few hours away.”
“No!” snapped Tom with unexpected force. “It’s not important. I can’t be diverted from my project down here!”
“Project?” repeated Fraser.
“I—I have to go to the plain of the pyramids as soon as possible,” Tom replied with an apologetic look. “Liebkrafft said it. Or... don’t you two remember what I’m referring to? The encounter I had with Grace Liebkrafft?”
“That we remember,” said Bud with a smile. “Even if she doesn’t exist—we remember that you talked to her!”
“Or think you did,” Fraser added.
Tom was fighting a compulsion to hurry to the seafloor plain immediately, and the others helped him fight it. “Git some supper in ya,” urged Chow. “Then mebbe call it a day.”
“Look,” said Bud, “if you wait till tomorrow morning you can take Bash and San with you.”
Bud smiled warningly. “Skipper, with all this mental stuff going on—you don’t want to deal with a couple angry tourists, do you?”
Tom had to grin. “You have a point.”
Tom’s dreams were filled with things he couldn’t remember.
The next morning, after a rich western-style breakfast, the Shoptonians—definitely five of them—set off from Aurum City in a tram-sub, a small shuttle vehicle with its own repelatron bubble and ion hydrojets. “I do hope you’ll let us come back in your chic glass suits before we leave,” remarked Bashalli.
“It’s a promise,” Tom stated. “But you’ll have to be trained first.”
As they exited the newly-dug channel through the overarching ridge that enclosed the sunken city, Tom began narrating the tour. “On your right, ladies and Texans, are the old farmlands of Atlantis. The lava-flow covered it over pretty well, but you can still see a few of the stone dwellings. The archaeologists think most of them were storehouses and granaries, actually.”
“I suppose most of the people lived in flimsy suburban tract homes,” offered Bashalli.
“I don’t think suburbs were invented until around 1950,” Bud retorted.
“Nonsense. We have had them in Pakistan for thousands of years. We call them ‘humble villages.’”
They sped on, mile after mile, out into the great plain of the island lying between the two arms of the Horseshoe Seamount. Presently they made out a glow of distant light in the dark depths. “Izzat th’ pyramids?” asked Chow.
Tom replied, “It’s probably the work hydrodome in the middle of the pyramid plain. Brian says it’s not in use today; the next team comes in day after tomorrow.”
But the glow came from more than a single source. As huge, dark silhouettes loomed up before them, they could see that the entire walled plain, several miles long, was dotted with Swift Searchlights. “Like the pyramids of Giza—lit up for tourists,” said Sandy.
Tom looked off with a slight frown. Giza—where the Sphinx was.
The pyramids were still covered, almost entirely, with the rock and rubble that made them appear as mountains with unusually sharp, flat slopes. “But it looks like they’ve cleared away a lot of the surface junk,” Tom observed, “at least from the sides facing the plain. Some of it’s organic, which is why the spectromarine selector can work on it. The protocols established by SAIS require them to go slow with the last few yards, mostly lava crust.”
Bud pointed. “But look, they’ve excavated down to the wall in a few places. And there—I think that’s the little bit Tom uncovered when we were down here last time with the spectrosel.”
“Gold!” muttered Chow excitedly. “Got a few pals back home who’d jest love a few nuggets o’ that there wall.”
Tom reminded him that the plating material wasn’t true, pure gold. “It’s crude Neo-Aurium, an amalgam. We’ve found several veins near the city, and Enterprises has a mining operation going.”
“Thomas, the walls of the pyramids are so sleek and elegant—except each one has a big bulge in the middle. What causes those ugly tumors?” asked Bashalli.
The comment brought a chuckle from the young inventor. “They may look disfiguring right now, Bash, but it’ll be different when they’ve been dug out. They’re images of what are probably the gods and demons of ancient Atlantis.”
“Carved into the walls?”
Tom shook his head. “Nope. According to the scanning instruments, they’re huge statues that have been set up on shelves—insets carved into the pyramid walls. We don’t quite know what they look like—the various deep-scan readings are close-up and haven’t been completely fitted together—but we do know that it’s going to be a pretty impressive sight. There’s a big head twice as large as the head of the Statue of Liberty!”
In the middle of the plain was the small work hydrodome. As they approached they could see the quonset huts for visiting researchers and an array of equipment of various sizes, including a spectromarine selector on its tractor-tread platform. Then as Tom guided the tram-sub higher, Chow and the girls joined in a gasp.
On the further side of the dome was a great, deep excavation, and nestled inside it was a fantastic object. “There it is,” breathed Bud. “The spaceship!”
Though it had not been raised, the craft had been completely uncovered. Its smooth, opaque hull was dead black, yet it seemed to have a prismatic effect on the light it reflected, as if it were a sort of polished crystal. To give his touring party a better view of the shape of the craft, Tom circled the excavation, which was surrounded by a ceremonial platform of stone blocks. The weird object was smoothly rounded, somewhat oblong, and evidently designed for atmospheric penetration at high speed. Yet its form was unlike any product of Planet Earth. “I would have a terrible time getting the perspective right if I tried to sketch it,” Bashalli remarked. “That sort of shape doesn’t even have a name.”
“The line of join between the flatter and more rounded surfaces doesn’t run straight along the ship’s length, but has its own off-center curve,” Tom explained. “As if somebody grabbed the prow and stern and gave the ship a slight twist.”
Chow asked nervously, “So now, jest what’s inside? Mummies?”
Bud answered. “Nobody knows, old timer. It’s like that meteor-missile the X-ians lobbed our way—nothing, but nothing, penetrates the shell. If there’s a hatch, we haven’t found it. Even neat Tom Swift inventions like the repelascope can’t peek inside.”
“As a matter of fact, we don’t even know what it’s made of,” Tom added, “or even if it is a vehicle of some kind, as we’ve assumed. The Space Friends can’t—or won’t—tell us anything about it. But we have managed to dope out one thing. As I was telling Bashalli, the gravity-mapper says it’s made out of some substance much denser and heavier than the most massive elements known to man. It’s actually sinking, slowly, into the bedrock it’s resting on!—and has been for thousands of years.”
Sandy broke in suddenly. “Someone’s waving at us from inside the dome, Tomonomo. He may not be a space friend—but he must be a friend.”
The five waved back at the man in work garb inside the hydrodome. “Let’s drop in,” Tom decided.
The tram-sub edged its nose into the hydrodome airspace, and the group disembarked as the man approached them, hand extended and a big grin on his youthful face. “Hey there, Tom! Welcome to the high life on the wet lowlands!”
Tom grinned back as he shook hands. “Good night, this is a surprise. Everybody, this is Gary Dalquinn. Bud and I met him just a few months back—in outer space!”
“Then I was wrong,” giggled Sandy. “He is a space friend!”
Tom’s work on his x-flight solarplane had been interrupted by a desperate situation at the site in space, near the moon, where the enormous craft was being assembled. During a solar phenomenon a new worker, Gary, had vanished into the void. He had reappeared some hours later with no memory of what had transpired. “All we know is that the space people radioed that they had rescued me. If I was aboard a flying saucer, I sure don’t remember it,” Gary explained.
Lost memory, thought Tom. And the same thing is happening down here!
“Sometimes missing memories come out in dreams, they say,” Sandy remarked. “Do you ever dream about green Martian types chasing after you?”
Dalquinn’s smile suddenly vanished. He shook his head politely, then glanced at Tom as if weighing something that wanted to be said.
“So you live down here?” asked Chow, looking around. “Seems a mite cramped t’ me. Course mebbe you never lived out in th’ plains ’n prairies. Makes a real man o’ yuh.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” replied the man. “Quite a change from working up in space, yeah, but I’m only stationed here at the dome part of the time. I’m sort of a technical maintenance worker—I get the dome and the equipment ready for the next team.”
“Yet... is it not creepy, down here with pyramids and sleeping gods staring at you?” commented Bashalli in a subdued tone. “I feel it. They don’t care for intruders. It gives me the williams.”
Meanwhile Tom had drifted over to the wall of the hydrodome bubble and was staring out at the plain. If I put a terraphaser there, said his thoughts, and there... Then he winced. “It’s crazy,” he said aloud.
His warring thoughts were interrupted by the bleep of the aquarad communicator aboard the tram-sub. “This is Tom.”
“It’s Fraser, Tom,” came the familiar voice, touched with alarm. “We’re being told something’s going on up on the surface, just a few miles from Poseidia.”
“What? A danger?”
“It may turn into one. There’s some kind of sea battle going on—between a swarm of midget seacraft and a schooner!”
“Good gosh!” breathed the young Shoptonian. “The dolphins—and the Tyche!”
THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA
CLICKING off the aquarad, Tom Swift stood immobilely, staring down the great plain and the ranks of brooding, faceless shadows that towered over it, as if hovering—or watching. He seemed lost—literally lost—in thought.
“Tom, don’t you, er—shouldn’t we be getting back to base?” urged Bud tentatively.
Bashalli strode forward and gently grasped Tom’s forearm. “Thomas?”
The youth seemed to shake off whatever had held his thoughts. “Sure, yes—I need to—find out what’s going on. Let’s go.”
“You’ll probably see me back in the City later today,” said Dalquinn. “I’m about done with my tasks here.”
Tom did not respond to the worker. The five piled aboard the tram-sub and quickly put the plain of the space pyramids behind them. The journey back was muted and preoccupied.
Back in Aurum City, Tom found Lt. Fraser in the communications room, which was also the control room for the bubblevator line to Poseidia Platform. “What’s happening?” Tom asked, Bud close behind.
“A lot,” replied Fraser grimly. “We’ve got some eyeballing from the Platform, but the imaging sonar really tells the tale. Look!” The sonar screen was alive with darting, swarming shapes circling something very large and oblong. Small circular features bloomed and collapsed on all sides. Blast bubbles!
“Both sides are using guided explosives against each other,” pronounced the young inventor. “I’m sure the dolphin microsubs are trying to sink the Tyche. She’s fighting back.”
“A real sea battle, all right,” breathed Bud. He turned to Brian Fraser. “Are we sure it’s the Tyche?”
“Svenz, up topside, just sent word. He can see the name with his lectro-binocs.”
“Brian, patch me through to the surface relay, the conventional shortwave,” Tom said tensely. “That is... if SAIS will authorize me.”
“I’ll have to ask them one of these days,” responded the officer dryly. “Okay, Tom, you’re on.”
The scientist-inventor managed to make quick contact with the Tyche. “Mr. Arr, what’s going on up there? Is the Tyche holding off the attackers?”
“You are well-informed, are you, Mr. Swift?” responded the man coldly. “We are taking on water, and they do not give up.”
“We can inform the sea authorities—but of course you’ve already done that...”
“We may require assistance faster than that,” stated Tarim Arr.
“Let me speak to Dr. Zalkhyran, please—unless he’s personally controlling your defense systems.”
The First Mate was silent for a moment. “No. There are those among our small crew who are expert at such things.”
“May I speak to him?”
“Very well. One moment.”
The moment was lengthy, but at last the familiar voice of Harry Zalkhyran came on line. “Tom! Thank the sea gods, eh? We were just leaving the Strait. When they began swarming we headed toward your operations platform at the best speed we could manage.”
“Have you been trying to contact us?” asked the young inventor suspiciously.
“We didn’t dare, Tom! No radio contact—they would have overheard and redoubled their efforts! But now... it hardly matters.”
That doesn’t make sense! Tom thought. “What’s your condition, sir? Is the Tyche disabled?”
“No, but there’s been serious damage. I fear for our stability over the next hour. Tom, can you help us?”
“I’m not anxious to put our people in the way of those subs,” Tom replied. “Anyway, Lt. Fraser here would have to make the decisions. I can contact my father aboard the Sea Charger—”
“There’s no time!” snapped Zalkhyran. “Please... I must be frank. I’m concerned about Delphie. Her condition is delicate, and all this excitement and stress—even a rescue flight to the mainland—”
Tom covered his skepticism with a businesslike tone. “I take it you’d like us to take you and your wife down here, to Aurum City.”
“I have no right to ask it—but I am.”
“And the rest of your crew?”
“There is only Tarim Arr and five others. Look, I understand there are security issues. If you could just take me and Delphie and Tarim...”
“Sounds like you’re okay with sacrificing the rest of your crew.”
“Don’t you dare judge me, Swift!” the man barked. “Perhaps I exaggerated the condition of the ship. Very well, then. She’ll make port in Madeira. The crew can fend of this attack. They’re professionals.
“But my wife—! I’m afraid... she requires the sort of immediate medical care you must have below in your facility. Jove!—put an armed platoon around us if you want. But please help us!”
Tom spoke briefly to Brian Fraser, who finally gave a reluctant nod. “All right, Doctor. We’ll send over a Whirling Duck jetrocopter to pick up you three.” Tom had more to say! “And now you ‘look,’ Zalkhyran! We’re not fools down here. We know about Fata Morgana and your involvement in it. We know about your buoy near Malta. Bud and I saw your last skirmish with these subs and got ourselves captured for our trouble! It’s about fifty-fifty that this ‘attack’ is just a hoax to get us to bring you down to Aurum City, to do—whatever. Maybe whatever you tried to do to the Sea Charger with that paraglider assault!”
There was a silence at the other end with muttering behind it. “All right, Tom. Your concerns are very reasonable. You and I, and my colleague here, need to have a nice long conversation. But it must be in private, face to face. Not by radio. I can only hope that you’ll believe me when I tell you that my beloved Delphie’s life is at stake right now, right this instant!—and to save her we will give up everything, Fata Morgana or no.”
“I’ll say yes to it,” Tom responded crisply; “but only because down here you’ll be three persons facing a large armed security force, with the military forces of a dozen nations ready to act at a single word. I’d rather have that conversation here than in some darkened restaurant—or on the Tyche.”
“Typically fine reasoning, Tom.”
“Assuming the whole thing isn’t staged, are the microsub weapons a danger to a chopper landing on your deck?”
“No. All the weaponry of the submobots, as we call them, and of the schooner as well, are limited to underwater use. They function poorly at the surface, not at all in the air. And the Rogallos are not a factor in this fight—had they been, the Tyche would be sunk already.”
Bud quickly volunteered to fly the Whirling Duck, and Fraser assigned two of his trusted security men to accompany him. “They’ll be armed with Enterprises impulse pistols,” he noted. “And they’ll also have midget TeleTec units to clear the three of hidden weapons.”
“What if somebody’s swallowed a bomb?” asked Bud.
“The TeleTecs are very deep-probing, chum,” Tom reassured him. “Incidentally, prepare for two passengers, not three.”
Bud and Lt. Fraser nodded together. “He didn’t say it outright, but it came across clear,” Bud declared. “Mrs. Zalkhyran isn’t sick, she’s been kidnapped or something.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Tom agreed. “If there really are two factions fighting it out, it sounds like Mrs. Zalkhyran is being held hostage by the ‘dolphin’ group. The Tyche boys want to get the chopper down on deck before telling us.”
“But she did seem kinda fragile,” Bud added. “I can see why they’d want to bring somebody like Tom Swift into the game to get her back.”
Somebody like Tom Swift... mused the young inventor as he watched his friend hustle away toward the bubblevators with Lt. Fraser and his men. Normally “somebody like Tom Swift” would have led the chopper rescue himself—and insisted upon it. But not this time. Tom had a painful fact to face. The very thought of heading up to the surface—of even setting foot on a bubblevator platform—filled him with energized emotions of panic! I’m not supposed to leave! he thought bitterly. They—he— compelled me to come here to Aurum City, to go to the pyramids, to obsess over the vision of raising Atlantis to the surface—and I won’t be set free until I do it. The Sphinx has got its claws into me—into my mind!
He wondered again, fearfully, what would be left of Tom Swift if his mind were held captive. Good grief! he suddenly exclaimed to himself. I’m thinking of myself in the third person!
“No!” he choked. “I’m Tom Swift!”
As predicted and expected, only two, not three, came to Aurum City from the struggling Tyche. “But it looks like the attack is dwindling away,” Bud reported as he led Dr. Zalkhyran and Tarim Arr off the bubblevator platform, Lt. Fraser’s two security personnel with i-guns at ready. “The dolphins scattered as we got close.”
“Of course,” said Tom. “Performance over.”
“Try to keep an open mind, young sir,” Tarim Arr urged in a tone of restrained anger. “Give your attention without prejudice. Much is at stake.”
Tom did not bother to make a retort. The group was led to a comfortable room inside the main building—Tom and Bud, Fraser and his two lieutenants, and the two from the Tyche. “Here we are, gentlemen,” stated Tom. “Minds open, gun batteries charged. How about starting off with the words Fata Morgana?”
Zalkhyran and Arr glanced at one another grimly. “Fata Morgana is an organized crime syndicate, Tom,” began Zalkhyran, his face creased with unease. “Sicilians, Greeks, Algerians—international thugs of the highest order. They’ve operated in the Mediterranean for some years now. Drug running and smuggling, for the most part.”
“Which always means murder and terror,” declared Brian Fraser.
Tarim Arr said coolly, “Yes. It is true.”
“Neither of us is in charge of much of anything,” continued Dr. Zalkhyran. “We’re ancillary personnel—what you Yanks call grunts.” Tom asked how long Zalkhyran had been involved. “A few years now, since my retirement and my adoption of a seafaring hobby.
“Shall I explain? Over the years, a surgeon of international repute works on a lot of people of similar status. Not all of them are nice people. Yet one creates a webwork of acquaintances. People know people who know people.
“I had barely begun sailing with Delphine on the Tyche when one of those acquaintances made—let’s say forceful contact. I’ll admit I was willing to do his bidding. The effort was modest and occasional; the rewards—well, I justified it to myself. I needed money.”
Tom nodded noncommittally. “To take care of Mrs. Zalkhyran?”
“Indeed so,” said the surgeon. “Delphine, in the middle of her sweet life, began to show signs of—well, they say it’s schizophrenia. She hears voices, sees things. I would come home to find her hiding in a closet, terrified of something she could not name. Year by year, worse and worse. She took up drinking—as consolation, I’d suppose, and also as a sort of cover story. Blame the alcohol, eh?”
“The clinic didn’t help?” asked Tom.
“It kept her out of the public eye, at least—and Tom, I was concerned for her embarrassment, not my own. We hospitalized her at Weggliam; perhaps you’ve learned the details by now. Carstairs Yllifegg, a specialist and a good man, personally supervised her treatment. She improved; it became possible to release her, as long as a regimen of medication is maintained with daily strictness.”
“So the sea-voyage business started out as something legitimate, I guess,” Bud put in.
“Legitimate?” Tarim Arr scowled at the word. “Zalkhyran uses his wife as an excuse! He treats her well enough. But he is concerned with wealth and prestige for its own sake! Ah, the schooner, must be maintained, always expensive. He says, look at me, I make money just to pay for medicine, for treatment! What sort of treatment has he bought her with this trafficking with Mafiosi, with smugglers and murderers?”
“Well said, Tarim—as if you yourself were not one of them,” said Zalkhyran coldly. “They forced you upon me, Fata Morgana did. He is my minder, gentlemen. My supervisor and order-giver. I captain the ship, but Tarim captains me!”
“I don’t care!” snapped Tom.
Dr. Zalkhyran mopped his brow. “Tarim is a sort of point-man in North Africa, a conduit and broker—many uses. His people acquire the parchment scrolls; the pipeline leads to the Cape Verde Islands. There, they are—”
Arr interrupted. “You thought it was a shipwreck, yes? No! An old prop plane, two props, big belly and bulky, flies low and very slow. Her belly almost touches the waves. Hard to see, hard to track. Inside, valuable luggage, the scrolls in sealed containers.”
“I see,” Tom nodded. “You keep her to a sea route, international waters. You finally land next to that little islet off Malta, where Bud and I were held. I suppose you have a camouflaged facility there for refueling and maintenance.”
“A tiny one, yes, most small,” replied Arr, struggling with English. “For the freight-plane, which is amphibious; also for the schooner. For some jobs, to some places, it is the Tyche that delivers the wares, the goods, eh? No suspicion—the famous replica, the schooner, this great and genial Englishman Zalkhyran.”
“What’s with the buoy?” asked Bud.
“Aye, that! Fata Morgana likes to pay with—valuable things—that they prefer not to keep on the islet. They have reasons. That buoy, out of sight; extra hiding, one might call it. Concealment. A little floating safe for valuables, beneath the waves. If the hired help is to be paid, he himself must take the trouble to go get it. A neat little detail.”
“The submobots, those little manned submersibles, are used for deliveries to places where a sudden visit by the Tyche might attract unwanted attention,” added Zalkhyran.
“Such as in Venice,” pronounced Brian Fraser.
Tarim Arr gave a shrug. “Yes, but this is a special case, for here there is an underwater dock for the submo’s, you see? In one of the canals. They need never surface.”
“I take it the Venice franchise is well established,” Tom observed dryly.
“But not without rumor, it seems,” Zalkhyran responded. “Now then—”
Tom raised a hand. “Let’s skip the obvious, shall we? The delivery plane crashed at sea, and the two of you decided to go into business for yourselves. What did you do, shoot the survivors?”
Zalkhyran looked indignant. “Certainly not!”
“For indeed, there were none,” added Tarim Arr.
“So you recovered as many of the cases as you could manage,” Tom continued. “And then the Sea Charger got into the act.
“Of course, you also had some more pressing concerns. Fata Morgana doesn’t take well to betrayal, do they? So what we have now is a gang war at sea!”
Dr. Zalkhyran began a slight nod of confirmation—interrupted by Tarim Arr. “Must we talk of this now, Swift? You will have many better occasions to show off your famous genius! We come here, put ourselves in your power, at your mercy, because there is no other choice if we—”
“Our concern is my wife,” stated Zalkhyran. “Delphine is our mutual concern, Tarim’s and mine.”
“I see,” Tom responded.
“Do you?” asked the surgeon with resentful irony. “Can you really understand, at your tender age, what it is like when another man becomes infatuated with your wife? Who then returns the feeling? My wife, vulnerable and unstable!—and he has the temerity, the infuriating insufferable gall, to question my own efforts to—”
“Gentlemen, we can read all about the soap opera at a supermarket checkout counter,” snorted Lt. Fraser. “What is it you want here?”
“Has Mrs. Zalkhyran been kidnapped?” Bud asked. “Is the smuggling syndicate holding her hostage?”
“No,” said Zalkhyran.
“But something’s happened to her?” persisted Tom.
“We have lost contact with her,” snarled Tarim Arr.
“Then she’s disappeared?”
“Disappeared? A word. We know where she is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Tom impatiently. “Where is Mrs. Zalkhyran?”
It was Harry Zalkhyran to answered. “Where indeed. She’s here, Tom. Here in Aurum City!”
“JETZ!” Bud blurted with a wry grin. “I didn’t see that one coming!”
“I want to know what’s going on now!” grated Brian Fraser. “I’m the head of security down here, boys. I represent the government of the United States, not just the SAIS consortium. My enjoyment of games has its limit.”
“The last group to arrive from the surface,” Tom murmured. “That’s it, isn’t it? She came down Wednesday, right after we met aboard the Tyche.”
“After entering the Strait, we anchored out of view,” explained Dr. Zalkhyran sullenly. “You had mentioned bringing pieces of the wreckage down here for examination. We knew you’d find some of the cases.”
“Let us be truthful,” Tarim Arr hissed. “It was this man, the ‘loving husband,’ who chose to use Delphie as his tool.”
“So you used some of that great personal network of yours, doctor, to give Mrs. Zalkhyran some kind of plausible, pre-cleared identity as a researcher,” stated Tom. “She was to come down—”
“To steal back the boxes!” Brian Fraser finished.
Tarim Arr sneered. “And how would that fragile woman convey several bulky cases out of a secured laboratory and up to the surface? Under her skirt, perhaps?”
“How could that ‘fragile woman’ engage in espionage work at all?” countered the young inventor dryly.
“There was no choice,” declared Zalkhyran. “We could trust no one other than we three—we three conspirators and—as you said—traitors. And two of us, Tarim Arr and myself—we had other necessities to attend to. On the surface.”
“We should have caught her,” stated Lt. Fraser in anger and disgust. “We’ve seen it happen elsewhere, airline security and so on. But that’s no excuse. I met her. I’ve seen that woman many times since Wednesday...”
One of the watching guards spoke up. “She called herself Triana Donaldson.”
Fraser snapped off a grim nod. “Marine biologist and chemist.”
“Brian, don’t blame yourself for slipping up,” Tom urged quietly. “Remember, down here we’ve been dealing with... some other things.”
Bud looked at his friend in surprise. “Jetz, do you think the—the other business is connected to this smuggling deal?”
“What are you talking about?” challenged Dr. Zalkhyran. “We’re withholding nothing from you. We—very well, I—sent Delphie down to this facility to attend to our business interests. After all, Tom, we are new entrepreneurs—a ‘start-up,’ they call it.”
“I suppose you told your wife how to safely open the cases and the inner containers,” pronounced the Shoptonian. “You’re willing to risk exposing the parchments to the air in order to sneak them out of Aurum City.”
But before Arr or Zalkhyran could react, Bud suddenly exclaimed: “No, genius boy—wait up! There’s something more going on!”
Startled, Tom waited. Tarim Arr, knowing what was coming, spoke in sneering resignation. “Oh, ‘more is going,’ is so? And what is that, child genius?”
Bud clenched a fist. “Brainy or not, I can see what’s in front of my face. You guys are thugs, but not idiots. Tom—they wouldn’t hang around the sunny Mediterranean with the Fatas on their stern unless there was a big reason!”
Brian Fraser nodded. “They’d run. They’d hide in the sunset somewhere and rake in whatever they could get for the scrolls they’d already recovered. It doesn’t make good business sense to take the time to get back those last scrolls. They exposed themselves to unnecessary danger—didn’t you, guys?”
“And indeed danger found us,” said Zalkhyran. “As witness the submobot attack on the Tyche. Punishment by the Mob, but also—they naturally assumed we had the rest of their booty aboard the schooner.”
“But here you are,” declared Bud excitedly. “Know why? Maybe I’m wetter than an aquapod suit, but Tom, I don’t think the Missus was trying to steal back the scrolls at all! Her mission was to destroy them!—to keep you from finding out the truth!”
Tom rubbed a hand across his forehead. “Flyboy, I—I don’t follow you. What truth?”
“That they are fakes,” said Arr. “Forgeries inscribed on ancient parchment by my hired experts. Most convincing.”
Zalkhyran sighed. “All are fake, including the earlier shipments we passed along to the syndicate for sale. We decided to go into business for ourselves some time ago. The problem posed by the wreck of the seaplane wasn’t merely losing our stock, but having them recovered by someone who would expose the fraud.”
“A scientist,” nodded Tom Swift. “Like me.”
“Not that the syndicate bosses particularly care about the genuineness of what they’re selling,” continued the surgeon. “But they do have issues with disrespect and disloyalty. As for the Tyche enterprise, a public exposure would obviously queer the whole deal for us from here on out. All our instincts told us that sending Delphine down here was, all things considered, well worth the risk. Don’t deny that you agreed at the time, Tarim, for all your professions of love!”
“I should never have agreed to this insanity,” growled the North African. “Why I did—I don’t know. Am I not normally the clever one, the cool one? I went ahead and met with the Dutchman on Malta as if nothing had happened, with an excuse for the smaller delivery. I thought I was convincing, but it turns out Bartholdis was unconvinced. Hence the submobots lie in wait to attack us at the buoy where we are to collect payment. But we struck first in that battle, ai q’ha!”
Tom and Bud had stopped listening before the end. “Bartholdis!” repeated Tom. “Haugen Bartholdis?”
“That is the man,” confirmed Dr. Zalkhyran. “The Fata Morgana lieutenant running the Malta part of the operation. A professional smuggler of antiquities.”
“The finger-wagger!” Bud gasped. “Tom, I didn’t recognize him—I barely saw him when I wasn’t under the effects of their weapon!”
“You two know this Bartholdis guy?” asked Brian of the youths.
“In a way,” snorted Tom. “He was one of the plotters who held Bud and Slim Davis captive in New Guinea. But we had been told he was incarcerated, pending trial.”
“Ah, he chatted about the matter,” Arr said. “Multiple jurisdictions arguing over custody, disputes between governments. A few bribes allowed him to slip between the bars. They may not even realize he is no longer in hand.”
“Then there was an extra reason for the attack in the canal, and on the Sea Charger,” declared the young inventor heatedly. “Personal revenge!”
“Apparently so. I wouldn’t have expected Bartholdis to act so impulsively,” commented Zalkhyran with a sneer. “So!—it wasn’t just to protect their hidden berth in Venice, or—we had wondered at their peculiar assault upon your big ship, Tom. We thought they had found out, somehow, that you had possession of the other cases.”
“No, he was unhinged,” Arr stated. “Now I am certain of it.”
Maybe he was unhinged by remote control, Tom thought.
“We have told you everything about our venture into criminality,” Zalkhyran resumed. “We are at your mercy. Arrest us! But first, we beg you—”
“Yeah,” nodded Lt. Fraser. “Delphie Zalkhyran, amateur secret agent. You said you’d lost contact with her—”
The two plotters exchanged glances that for once reflected the same emotion. “We knew of the SAIS protocols,” said Tarim Arr. “As an authorized visiting researcher, she was to be permitted to contact her superiors—often officials of government—in a protected confidential setting.”
“Right,” said Fraser. “She had the right to use the Quiet Room and the subsea-to-surface communications equipment.”
“We had agreed upon a schedule of contact. She contacted us twice that first day, as planned. She believed she had identified where the cases were being stored—it was not one of your top secrets, eh, lieutenant?”
“Nothing since,” stated Dr. Zalkhyran. “We fear, Tarim and I—you see, Delphie doesn’t always affect an amiable attitude toward taking her medication. She conveniently forgets. She promised; she understood the importance. But.”
“We fear she has wandered off,” Arr said. “She may lie injured, somewhere among these ruins. And so we give ourselves up to you, with a plea that you will search for her. Prison for us—life for Delphie.”
“I’ll organize a search team immediately,” promised Fraser. He turned to Tom and Bud. “One good thing—she’s unarmed. The TeleTecs scanned her as she stepped off the bubb platform, and all the security i-guns are accounted for as of this morning. But the patrols will be armed.”
“I beg you, lieutenant—tell your people to be slow on the trigger.” Dr. Zalkhyran was whitefaced.
Fraser and his men led the two plotters away, to their places of confinement. “Guess we’d better go tell the authorities about the Tyche and the dolphin-subs,” remarked Bud. “The Venice people, too. Your dad.”
Tom’s eyes were turned in Bud’s direction, but he seemed deep in thought. “Yes. Brian can do it. And I’ll PER Harlan Ames...”
“And your dad, of course.”
“Dad?” The young inventor seemed to consider this. “Right. The terraphaser project might be in danger from Bartholdis... but I... I think...”
“You’ve got that look, pal. Also that feeling? The groped-by-a-sphinx feeling?”
Tom frowned with sudden resentment. “I’m fine. My brain is clear. I know what needs to be done.” Raise Atlantis! his thoughts amended. “The priority... we have to focus on...” On constructing the necessary terraphasers, someone said inwardly, someone who was Tom Swift—yet wasn’t!
TOM made vague excuses—“I need to go somewhere and think for awhile.”—and hastened away from his friend, leaving the building and entering the adjacent hydrodome, aimlessly.
“I—I do need to think,” he muttered to himself. “You don’t understand—” he said to no one, “all the terraphasers are with Dad, in Venice.”
But the generator grids are simple to build. You can cannibalize from the spare equipment and parts here in Aurum City.
“But the terraphaser isn’t just the generators.”
A matter of control and tuning, of software. You have it all with you, on your driveclip.
You can do it. You know you can. And you know you will.
“It has to be done.”
“Hey, Tom!” someone called out. The young inventor swiveled, musings disturbed, to find Gary Dalquinn approaching. “Just like I said—back in the city.”
“Yes,” stated Tom—as if there were some reason to acknowledge what was before his eyes.
Dalquinn continued in a confiding voice: “Boss, I—I think I want to talk to you. Just for a moment. I mean, you helped me before, and... maybe it’s connected...”
Dalquinn drew closer, visibly worried. “I guess it’s a problem. It feels like a problem, Tom. It’s so weird it’s hard to talk about.”
Tom made great efforts to focus his attention. “Go on. Maybe I can help.”
“Maybe,” said Dalquinn. “Back in the pyramids hydrodome, your sister mentioned dreams. The thing—the fact is—”
“Is that it?—Strange dreams?”
“Just the opposite.”
The young technician looked apologetic and embarrassed. “Like I said, it’s weird. See—I can’t dream anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it literally, just like I say. Ever since the incident in space, I’ve stopped dreaming. And the thing is, I’ve always dreamed, since I was a kid, every night, vivid dreams, good and bad. It didn’t bother me at all. I came to expect it, even look forward to it—like going on a little vacation between days.”
“I understand.” Tom nodded. “They say dreaming is kind of a mental pressure-release for some people.”
“If that’s true with me, then the pressure must be building up inside. I close my eyes and open them the next day—in between it’s just a blank.”
“Gary, I’m nothing like an expert, but...” Tom hesitated, trying to chose careful words. “Could there be something that happened that’s too frightening to dream about? Up in space? You said it seemed like no time had passed between their rescue of you and your reappearance at the hatch—but hours did pass.”
Dalquinn shrugged. “I just don’t know, Tom. If something happened to me aboard their, their vessel, I sure don’t remember it. You could be right, I guess. Maybe whatever’s blocking my memory is short-circuiting my dreams, too.”
He paused and Tom waited silently. “No—look—there’s more,” Gary suddenly blurted out. “It’s this place, Aurum City. There’s something wrong down here! I can feel it!”
There sure is! thought Tom. But what he said was: “What is it? You mean something wrong with the SAIS operation?”
“No—not the way you mean,” replied Gary. “I’ve been down here for weeks now. The people here... they’re polite enough but—they don’t seem to look you in the eye.”
“It’s nothing that obvious. It’s not like I’m being oversensitive. But boss, people seem... not like people. Not normal. Like there’s a shadow over them. Tom—Aurum City is full of fear!”
“I haven’t noticed anything wrong, Gary,” Tom said reassuringly, trying not to sound dismissive as he lied. “Most of these researchers are from other countries, other cultures. Many don’t speak English. It’s natural that they’d be focused on doing their jobs, not on—”
Dalquinn’s face suddenly changed. “You don’t see it? You don’t feel it in the air? I can’t dream, and—these people down here—are they people? Who are they? Who are you, Tom? Do you even know who you are?—who you really are?”
The man was clearly becoming hysterical! Tom stepped forward to rest a calming hand on Gary’s shoulder, but he reared back. “Tom—what about me? Me—am I Gary Dalquinn? Tom—what came back from space?—!”
Dalquinn continued backing away, step by step, eerily striding backwards like a machine in reverse until a toppled stone block halted him. He stared silently and wildly as Tom approached him. “Listen, Gary. People sometimes react in unexpected ways to—well, it’s like claustrophobia, the whole idea of being down deep in the ocean, surrounded by—”
Tom stopped as Dalquinn’s panicked expression suddenly vanished. The man’s face became placid and calm, as emotionless and unyielding as a statue! “There,” he said mildly. “It’s better now.”
“What happened to you?” asked Tom.
Dalquinn smiled slightly. “What happened is still happening, Tom Swift.”
Fear coursed through the young inventor! Was Gary Dalquinn’s voice now the tool of the Sphinx? “Please tell me what’s going on, Gary.”
“Don’t ask Gary,” responded Gary. “The poor guy doesn’t have a clue.”
“Who are you?” Tom demanded in a faint voice.
“We are friends.”
Tom recognized the expression instantly. “Good gosh!—you’re one of the Space Friends!” he gasped.
Gary—what looked like Gary—nodded. “At last we meet, Tom. Kind of. About time, huh?”
Tom spoke grimly, yet with awe. “I gather you’ve taken over Gary’s body.”
“No, that’s way beyond our technology,” corrected the man. “That’s just science fiction.” He looked down at his hands, then held them up before Tom’s eyes. “What you see is a replica. What they call in Las Vegas an incredible simulation. Gary likes Las Vegas.”
“But the medical examinations—”
“This isn’t some kind of mechanical device, Tom Swift,” stated Gary. “Nope. It’s an emulation fashioned of artificial materials, easily molded down to the micro-level. But don’t look inside the cells, please. No DNA.
“The simulacrum body allows me to penetrate the barrier, the toxic effect that keeps us away from Earth. And of course it works as the best possible disguise. But the most important part is upstairs, Gary’s neural structure, the fantastically complex matrix of living tissue that holds his memories and personality. Without that template to work through—well, we’d be back to space symbols. Think of it as a translating device.”
“We know you—er, people from Planet X have a very different way of thinking,” Tom said. His own brain was whirling at the fantastic reality of the situation. He was speaking directly to an X-ian face to face!—even if the face was a borrowed one.
“Yes, different. This emulated brain of Gary’s certainly agrees! To tell you the truth, we have no idea how the neuro-emulation process produces its results. We don’t construct the simulacrum cortex, we just copy it off. A personality—but in some funny way an empty one. See? It’s ready to gulp-in whatever psychic ‘owner’ is ready to enter. Hmm, a little like passing a flame from one torch to another.
“We have nothing like that simile... See how well I can tap Gary’s memories?
“The alien mind, my own mind, kindled an energetic response in the replica we made of Dalquinn’s physical neural architecture. So now we have Gary-X, an X-ian center of consciousness looking out through human eyes and spinning alien thoughts into human words. I—do sound like Gary, don’t I? Not like some space alien? It’s his characteristic speech patterns. From my own X-ian point of view, all I’m doing is thinking of concepts and ‘willing them out’.”
“You’re expressing yourself perfectly,” Tom answered, calming himself. “But where’s the real Gary? Still alive?”
“Sure. We’re the space friends—remember? Alive and well, just suspended between right now and forever. We can extend across the dimensions at an angle—
“—well, forget it. It took a lot of time for me to attain full use of the human bio-template, the brain matrix. The template operated Gary’s simulated body on its own, along its established lines, but hey!—no human unconscious backstopping it. No wonder the human emulation started freaking.”
“What should I call you?”
“My X-ian name? Don’t have one. We don’t use sounds to communicate. Thought you knew that. Gary-X is just fine. Maybe a little too TV-ish, though. Still, Gary likes TV.”
“Why are you here?” Tom asked. “You penetrated a barrier, came here in secret—who is the enemy?”
Gary-X looked at Tom gravely. “The same enemy you’ve been fighting, Tom. The same enemy who’s now established a beachhead in your brain. I’ve monitored that, at least. It’s hard not to think of it as a ‘him’. In reality, it’s the central control mechanism of the... well, Gary’s mind boggles. I don’t know what to call it. It’s the big machine in the plain of the space pyramids.”
“The wrecked spaceship?”
“No, that was an attempt by my forebears to physically deactivate the machine. By hand, so to speak. It failed. It all went horribly wrong. Day late, dollar short... Dad used to say that...
“The Decider—the control unit—has turned its programmed purpose, its ultimate function, into its own little personal god. It has learned to defend itself against anything and everything that threatens the completion of that function. The Old Ones, our ancestors—mine, not Gary’s—used a processing technology involving constant comparison of alternative logic paths, a kind of competition among the internal processor elements. They didn’t reckon on the fact that such competitive pressures might lead to evolution.”
Tom nodded sharply. “I get it. The controller-brain has adapted to its environment, become more sophisticated.”
“More and more, over thousands of years. But look, Tom, don’t delude yourself into thinking of the Decider as some sort of person. It’s not even a cute quasi-person like ‘Robby the Robot.’ It has no thoughts, no consciousness. It’s just a big bunch of mathematics automatically rewriting its own equations. No soul, man. But plenty of commitment. It’s as committed to fulfilling its function as water is to being wet!”
The young inventor wasn’t sure how to respond, what to ask next. “I’ve started to feel... like my thoughts aren’t really mine.”
Gary-X came up with a look of sympathy. “They’re not, not entirely. Tom, I don’t have time to explain it all—I have to release control to the Gary template periodically or it undergoes degeneration. What you need to understand is this: when you first came to the plain of the pyramids and uncovered part of one, you awakened the Decider from his sleep-mode, his stupor.”
“ ‘The Watchers awake!’ ” Tom murmured.
“Right—eternal deathless watchers, waiting for something to stimulate them into full activation. The Decider is the most watchful of all.”
“When the island sank—” Tom began.
“The submergence, the inundation, affected them. They went into a kind of self-protective cycle. Then came the brilliant young inventor! The Decider has assessed your capacity, Tom, and seems to like what he sees. He can’t literally control your body, but he has evolved the ability to interfere in the workings of human cortical networks.”
“Distance weakens his influence, though,” mused Tom. “So he’s had to use mental nudges and manipulation to draw me here to Aurum City, to the plain. He can’t dominate, but he can plant ideas in people’s brains—ideas that grow into obsessions. He’s used the Tyche mystery as bait, to get me so interested in scanning those boxes that I became obsessed with ducking out on the Venice project and coming here—”
“The underwater battle...” the young inventor mused. “The Decider pushed me to go to Malta to witness it. He knew it would make the smuggling operation seem more important—more intriguing. All the easier to influence me to bring myself into the range of his control. He may be affecting the mentalities of the smugglers, too, fomenting internal discord, causing them to attack us impulsively...”
“Tom, can you tell what he wants you to do? How he wants you to serve his—its—ends?” Gary-X shrugged. “My own ability to monitor the situation is pretty limited, sorry to say. Gary Dalquinn’s neural system is subject to human limitations. As is ours, of course—but different ones.”
“It’s been pushing thoughts into my head, obsessive thoughts about using my invention to raise the Atlantis seafloor,” stated the youth. “But that’s a distance of miles! It hardly seems possible.”
“Believe me, boss, the Decider has the processing capacity to figure out how to do it. He’ll output the solutions right into your brain. And the pyramid apparatus, the energy-terminal matrix, will supply whatever additional power you need. We ‘friends’ have shown you more than once how our technology can manipulate matter.” Suddenly his eyes widened! “Oh!—okay—the template is taking over again. Quickly—Tom, I was sent here to undercut—to, to sabotage—but the Decider’s defenses—Tom? Tom, I’ll try to help you resist—”
The body of Gary-X fell back against the stone block. When it straightened up again, the “X” was gone from Gary’s eyes.
“Sorry, boss,” muttered Gary. “Guess I lost the thread of what I was saying. Kind of zoned out for a sec... I told you about how I haven’t been dreaming... didn’t I?”
Tom nodded and said quietly, “Yes. And I’m glad you did. Gary, you’re an Enterprises employee; speaking on behalf of my father and Tom Swift Enterprises I, er, order you to take it easy for a while, and—please keep me informed. Of your condition.”
“Okay, yeah. But Tom—please, don’t tell me to go upstairs and take a leave of absence. The thought of leaving Aurum City...”
“I know,” said Tom. “I know.”
Tom left Dalquinn and headed for his quarters, feeling weak and mentally confused.
The inner voice, the alien self, came again. Oh, it doesn’t matter, Gary Dalquinn’s paranoia. Just a distraction. You need to get to work on the project. You’ll need a reliable team to build the terraphaser grids.
He said aloud: “No, I can’t. I’m not thinking clearly. I need to rest...”
Dalquinn’s nonsense upset you.
“He’s worried about—I can’t quite remember—the space pyramids...”
It seems we have a little problem. Yes, let’s lie down. Sleep. It will all be over soon. The real awakening is yet to come!
Tom stretched out on his cot and seemed to sink down, down into blackness. And then, in the blackness, was a voice as familiar to him as his own.
“Tom? It’s time to wake up. Wake up, Tom!”
THERE was pale yellow light on the other side of Tom Swift’s eyelids. He stirred and half-groaned. “Already? Gosh, I must’ve been sleeping like a brick.”
“I’m sorry, dear, but I know you don’t like to sleep past eight.”
Tom opened his eyes and rubbed them until he could see his mother clearly, standing in his bedroom doorway. “Thanks, Mom. Has Dad—?”
“He’s already at work. I’m keeping breakfast warm for you.”
“Thanks. Quick shower.”
As his mother left Tom sat up in bed and surveyed his room. He thought, as he often did, how little it had changed in the years since he had left his teens. Doesn’t really look like a grownup’s bedroom, he thought. But, of course, he only slept there.
Tom swung his long legs over the side of the bed and stood. Finding himself dressed, he crossed to the bedroom door. He stood waiting, looking at his patchy reflection in the metal. The panels slid aside, and he stepped into the big, wide reception area between the elevator and the Swifts’ shared office. All was quiet. He looked right and left; only empty chairs, empty desks, empty offices. Not a sound. Guess it’s a slow day, he thought absently.
He sat down at his desk, polished and dark and completely bare. His face looked up at him from the surface. Crewcut’s getting a little wispy, he mentioned to himself. Guess I’ll be gray pretty soon, like Dad.
There was nothing on his desk. He was standing next to the wall bookcase. He was pulling out a book. What had seemed to be lettering on the binding wasn’t lettering at all, just some sort of decorative pattern; and inside the book there were no words or sentences, just little markings that suggested words from a distance. On closer view, they were meaningless.
All the other books were the same.
Tom’s eyes sought the models on the shelves, his inventions, his father’s. From a distance they seemed present, but when his gaze focused on any one of them, he remembered that they had been packed away long ago. Not much to do today, he thought. Where does the time go?
The daylight from the big window had long since died out. It was night. He was looking out over the huge Swift Enterprises airfield, where nothing moved. Along each side were all the tall structures that loomed protectively, the test hangars, the labs, leaning forward. “Enterprises sure has grown over the years,” he said to himself.
At the far end of the airfield, facing him, was the red cyclopean eye of the Sphinx—it was called that, though of course it was pyramidal in shape, its unblinking eye just below the point.
The sweeping beam of ruby light fell upon him. “How’s it going tonight?” Tom asked.
“No danger, of course,” the Sphinx replied, as if he weren’t four miles distant. “Nor will there ever be a danger, ever again, Tom. I will keep Enterprises safe, as always.”
Tom smiled. “What’s tonight’s riddle?”
“You like those, don’t you. Here it is. Does a Bunsen have a wick?”
Tom pondered the words. “You’ve asked that one before.”
“I ask it every night, Tom. It’s the only riddle I have.”
“Seems I ought to have got it by now.”
“You have, many times. But you always forget. I always have to provide clues and hints. Always the same ones. Indeed, Tom, our conversation is always the same. It has been the same from the beginning.”
“Yes,” said the young inventor. “You protect us so well that I think I’ve become a little complacent. I don’t invent all that much any more.”
“You invented what was needed,” the Sphinx replied soothingly. “The world honors you, honors the name of Tom Swift. Your final invention saved them all, civilization, history, everything. All the speeches, all the statues—you deserve them, Tom. But... you know, the pursuit of these things... I let it distract me, Tom... so many things I might have done...”
The words had an odd feel. “Excuse me? What did you say?”
The red light grew brighter, tighter. “Nothing. We were speaking of that great decision, that moment when your terraphaser made you the savior of the world. You alone raised the pyramids into the light of day, Tom. No one can forget that. And then the Great Machine fulfilled its function, and Earth became a better sort of place.”
“It was a wonderful moment,” Tom nodded.
“The culmination of your life,” agreed the Sphinx. “Of all lives. Yes. And all is well now, all is well...”
Tom became aware of a noise, slowly growing. In fact, it seemed to have been going on for quite some time, even years. He turned back toward his desk, and saw, in the red light, an old-fashioned telephone with a rotary dial, big and bulky. It occupied nearly the entirety of the desktop. We don’t use phones anymore, he thought idly. Don’t know why I keep that old antique.
Answering the insistent ring, which sounded less like a ring than a moan, he said into the receiver: “Hello?”
There was no response, only a kind of static. Suddenly there was a harsh silence, as if every sound in the world had been blotted out. Then came words, distant and strange, drawn out and distorted. “Tommm... ohhh Tommm... tryyy to hear meeee...”
It was the voice of a little girl. “Hi Jennifer,” he said. “What’s up? I can’t hear you too well—bad connection.”
“Jennifer...” An objection rose into Tom’s mind. “Say, Jennifer, why do you sound like a little girl? You’re all grown up now...”
Her voice became clearer. “Tom, it’s inside you! It’s tricking you! It’s that Sphinx—it’s pulling you in! You gotta—”
“I know, honey,” he said mildly. “ ‘Wake up, wake up.’ It’s a common expression nowadays. People keep saying it. I don’t exactly know what it means. Nothing, I guess. Well, nice to hear from you.”
“Tom, wake up!”
He didn’t need to hang up the phone. There was no phone. Nor was there a window. He returned to the balcony, the railed platform that commanded a majestic view of Swift Enterprises, where he often stood like a king. “Sorry,” he said to the Sphinx.
Something had changed. The Sphinx’s light was now pale. It seemed to flicker and dance in the air like a cloud of glow-worms. Dim—and yet looking at it made Tom’s eyes hurt. “I never imagined this, Tom,” said the light. “No, I... it’s very confusing. My thoughts seem always to be jumping from one subject to another. Tell me, how is your father? I last saw him... strange. I don’t quite recall.”
“I know your voice,” Tom stated. “The riddle—now I understand it. Bunsen—wick. You’re Munson Wickliffe!”
“You hardly need to tell me my name,” said the light. “I have always been...
“But no, it’s true, Tom. Sometimes I’m not Munson Wickliffe. Yet that riddle...” The voice paused; the light faltered. “I’ve used it before, to attract your interest, to try to put us in touch with one another by way of a common thought. So hard to push information across the line. That man, that fool who called himself a prophet—I was able to warn you...”
A thought struck Tom Swift—a disturbing one. And so he smiled contentedly. “You know, Dr. Wickliffe, I’m pretty sure you’re dead.”
“Yes, Tom, that’s true enough,” said the light. “But an unexpected conservation principle seems to apply. I continue. I was able to observe the arrival of the energy brain, your visitor from Planet X. My desire drew me there. And I know things, in bits and pieces. At least that’s how it seems at the moment... bits and pieces...
“Once I was a scientist, but my ego diverted me. My associates took advantage, advantage of me and Taclos. A boy, Tom Swift, rescued me—oh, but that was you, wasn’t it?”
Tom was beginning to find hints of memory, rising like wisps of fog. “Dr. Wickliffe, why are you here? Here at Enterprises... no, this isn’t Enterprises.”
The light became steadier. “That’s it, my boy. We’re strengthening one another. The device has lost focus temporarily. All its fantastic computational capacity, yet it hasn’t learned to apportion its attention effectively. Some external event—the intervention of that little girl—and it shifts far too much of its energies to studying the problem and protecting itself. A poorly calibrated algorithm overriding its larger purpose.
“It allows me, the real me, to break through every now and then. I did it before, with that idiotic drunkard—forced through just a bit of myself before the device overwhelmed the connection again.”
“I remember,” said Tom; “the guard on the island. Dr. Wickliffe, I feel so... calm... and peaceful, but—something terrible is happening, isn’t it? The control unit, the Decider—it’s doing something to me.”
“Indeed it is,” confirmed the light. “I grasp the concept—intermittently. You see, Tom, it takes a persona to communicate with biologicals. Living minds, meta-brains, souls if you will—we have consciousness. We experience reality in the form of sensations and concepts. The control unit has none of that. It merely processes input vectors with whatever degree of sophistication it can manage to attain. For it to successfully modify the cortical tissue of a biological brain in order to edit its thinking process—well, the physical processing structure of neural architecture does not map, isomorphically, the details of the mind’s conceptual experience. They are distinct phenomena, natural and more than natural. The control unit cannot ‘figure it out’ in a bottom-up way, but—”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Tom, “but this may not be the best time for a lecture.”
“Yes, I—my old habits sometimes take hold... Tom, the device has been working on this problem for a long time, since your first visit to the sunken land brought it back to activation, gave it hope in a certain purely logical sense. I was near, you recall—we both sought the life capsule from space. It scanned my living cortex; the material shadow of whatever of my overarching ‘self’ floats above it, shaped over a long life. My frustrated life, my betrayals...
“Not a bad choice—for it needed an acute scientific mind, and wanted someone acquainted with you personally yet with a great emotional distance, no vulnerability to sentiment—otherwise your father would have been, clearly, the better choice. Even you yourself, now that I reflect upon the matter. Well, in summary, my now-disused cortical pattern is being employed as a template for the thing.”
“In other words,” said the young inventor, “an artificial persona based on a living one.”
“A once-living one, I’m afraid. My nerve structure was the model for the emulation of a human personality.”
“An artificial soul!”
“Call it what you will—I avoided metaphysics during my biological existence. Now, of course, my perspective is broader. Yes, ‘my’; there is enough resonance between this crudely replicated template and my real self that I can slip back into it like an old shoe now and then, when the main device is otherwise occupied. But inevitably the command unit regains use of the Wickliffe emulation. Mustn’t trust it, this pseudo-brain of mine—not that I myself was particularly trustworthy. I so much regret... haunted by what I did... guilt, imprinted so strongly upon the template I left behind... and when I return to it, once again... left undone and unsaid...”
Tom could tell that the real man was drifting away. “Dr. Wickliffe!”
“Oh... yes, my boy... All these things you’ve undergone are side-effects of the unit’s gradual rewriting of your neural architecture, your physical brain-paths, your innate sense of truth and reality. Dreams and visions—side-effects bubbling up from your unconscious mind as the device converts you into its willing and adaptable tool. I gather it has some programmed function to achieve. Something about getting the entire mechanism up above the water, so that it can resume... something about altering the earth, Tom... wiring you to be obsessed with...”
“Good gosh!” breathed Tom. “It’s turning me, my brain and body, into a mobile peripheral!”
“An instrument... I’m so sorry, Tom, but again I seem to have failed... keep trying...”
The light turned red again, intense and barren of feeling. “I don’t care to be talked about behind my back, Tom,” said the Sphinx—the Decider. “But whatever interference my original had to offer you, it will have no effect on our plans together. This is all just part of the process, you know. It will recede into your subconscious. You won’t recall it. But really, count yourself privileged to experience, to actually observe, the reconfiguration of your neural matrix. Of course it takes on a dramatic form. It appears that biologicals think in such a manner. ‘Concept’—I’m not clear what a ‘concept’ is, really, but I gather it has its own dynamic energy, a self-organizing principle, almost a sort of life. Living units of data!
“But, but. Such a combination of words has no definite significance. What could it possibly represent? The persona-template that I am using understands, or at least raises no objection to the term; but to me—if I even am a ‘me,’ another obscure reference—to me it’s all just a part of the environment, just parameters.”
“What are you talking about, Sphinx?” asked Tom dreamily.
“Oh, just muttering to myself. A Wickliffe characteristic. Trivial and pointless.”
“I’m getting a little tired,” murmured the young inventor.
“Why yes, time to go home, to bed, to sleep. Would you like a bedtime story, Tom?”
“I like bedtime stories,” replied Tom, now just a little boy.
“Of course you do. You like this one, the one I tell you always, every night.
“There was a lad—oh yes, ‘once upon a time’—a very clever lad who wanted to find out everything there was to know. He liked to make things, too; wonderful things. But he was different from everyone around him. They didn’t like him. They resented him, his great genius, his moral purity. He thought no evil thoughts. He wanted only to help.”
“I always feel sorry for him,” said Tom. “They treated him bad, but he was the way everybody ought to be.”
“Indeed so. They gave him no love. He grew up unappreciated and unfulfilled.”
“He looked just like me!”
“Exactly like you, Tom; blond hair, blue eyes.”
“Someone told him—”
“Now now, let’s not anticipate. A Wise Wizard came, a man of magic living beneath the sea, who told the lad of a great and powerful sword of sorcery thrust deep into a stone—”
“The sword called Excalibur!”
“Right you are, my boy. Its blade was encased in a stone on the bottom of the sea. Now the Wizard told our brave and clever lad that the world’s terrible enemy, Morgan the Fey—”
“—was approaching the earth from space, to do mischief. So our young hero went down to the bottom of the sea and drew the sword from the stone. He took it up above the waves; and when the sun shone full upon it, the blade flashed fire, and the fire shot up into space like an arrow and slew the evil witch. The world rejoiced, and the boy was honored and loved to the end of time. The End.”
“It was King Arthur,” declared Tom.
“Was it? I heard it was Tom Swift! Now to bed with you, and may you remember this story in your deepest dreams, the dreams you keep hidden even from yourself.”
“I have to find Excalibur. I will!” Tom promised.
“You will, you will. And together we will lift it up to the sunlight, you and I.”
The watchful buildings, miles high, fell to pieces. The airfield dissolved. The Sphinx spun out a cloak of blackness that engulfed everything, into which Tom fell helplessly.
Then the cot was beneath him and a voice was in his ear.
“Tom! Wake up!”
The young inventor groaned. “Bud? Good night, I sure slept heavily. I feel like I’ve been run through the wringer. What—”
Bud’s white face settled into focus. “I couldn’t wake you up! I was afraid—afraid you—”
“Wrong? You were twisting around, making funny noises! I thought maybe that Sphinx deal was doing something to you!”
Tom sat up and stared at his friend for a long moment. “It’s good you woke me up, pal. We’ve got to begin work!”
“Hunh? What work?”
Tom’s voice was hard-edged. “The most important work we’ve ever done—Project Excalibur! We only have a few days to prevent the destruction of the human race!”
USE OF FORCE
BUD’S gray eyes gaped like mouths. “Wh-what?— ! Skipper—are you sure you’re completely—”
Tom smiled placidly. “I’m fine, Bud. Perfectly fine. All that business about the ‘Sphinx’ and mind-control, the whole thing about Liebkrafft and not being able to see Chow—it was all just a pretense. I had to do it.”
“Because Brian Fraser is one of them. They are everywhere, human replicas—simulacs! I had to put them onto the wrong track.”
“I’ll explain once, to everyone. We’ll meet at the aquapod shed. Please gather together all the people who’ve arrived recently from Swift Enterprises—the girls, Chow, Zimby Cox and his team. But Bud—
“Not Gary Dalquinn. He’s one of them.” Bud gulped and started to leave. Tom stopped him. “I know this all sounds crazy, chum. But please... if you have reservations, don’t share them with the others. Wait to hear me out. I can—trust you. Can’t I?”
“Always, Tom,” said Bud. “All the way. With everything.”
The group collected at the shed, wide-eyed. Tom stood in front of the hanging row of aquapod suits, his earnestness silencing them. “I have to tell you all this because I can trust you. You people in this room are the only ones whom I know haven’t been infiltrated by simulacs. You’re real.”
“What have you been hiding from us, Tomonomo?” asked Sandy in a faint voice.
“Something we’ve been concealing—Dad and I—for a long time,” Tom declared. “We never revealed the entirety of the message inscribed on the meteor-missile from space. No one but us two knew the most important parts of what we’ve received from the Space Friends over the magnifying antenna. The life capsule we recovered in the Ocean Arrow, the Nestria mission, the space ark, Exman—even the trip to Mars had a secret purpose beyond what we told the public.”
“You deceived everyone,” stated Bashalli harshly. “Even those you loved.”
“We had to!” snapped Tom. “Our enemies are everywhere!—the Black Cobra, Munson Wickliffe, the Brungarians—even Yoz and the Russian group. And now Fata Morgana and Haugen Bartholdis. All conspiring together. They’ve all been infiltrated and corrupted, taken over by the alien menace or completely replaced by human simulacra. Don’t think it didn’t hurt... to deceive...”
“Go on, Tom,” Bud urged gently.
“I didn’t invent the repelatron,” murmured the youth. “That kind of leap in technology is beyond human capacity. The Space Friends sent us the plans—to get us into space, but especially to allow us to create our deep-sea facilities without the enemy suspecting our purpose. The dynasphere, recovering the memory crypt, the solarplane—all part of the project. Dad and I call it Excalibur.”
“Wailin’ whales, boss, just what is this space enemy?” demanded Zimby.
“Ye-aah,” gulped a pale Chow Winkler. “Don’t make a blame suspense thriller out of it!”
“I don’t know everything. The SF’s call them ‘the Space Legion’. They want to cleanse Earth of everything descended from the original terrestrial DNA and substitute their own! They’ve sent a, a DNA-calibrated spacetime rift... matrix... toward our planet—we have only days to destroy it!”
“You say—Daddy knows about all this?” asked Sandy.
“He has from the beginning. The terraphaser work in Venice is a decoy, to get me here. But listen, we don’t dare contact Dad now—not anyone! They can monitor all our communications.”
“B-but Tom,” Bud began to object, “you can’t tap the PER’s!”
“They blocked the PER’s on Mars—remember? Nothing is safe! So you all have to pledge to me to keep our work on Excalibur a complete secret—just between those in this room.”
“Okay, but brand my ol’ humdinger, jest what kin I do?” asked Chow.
“What is the Excalibur weapon, boss?” asked one of Zimby’s technicians.
Tom took a deep breath.
Proceed, dear boy. You’re doing well. If your words falter, I’m here to assist you.
“Excalibur. The sword of the Lady of the Lake,” noted Bash. “The King Arthur tale. The weapon has to do with the space pyramids, does it not?”
Tom resumed. “Y-yes, that’s right. The Space Friends have known what the Legion intended for millennia, so they planted a weapon here on Earth, a counter-weapon. When Atlantis sank, the machine was thrown out of whack. They came to fix it—in the black spaceship. But they failed; the environment is toxic to them.”
“Now you’re going to fix it,” said Zimby Cox.
“With your help, Zim—you and your technical team. We need to construct and place eight of my terraphaser emitters.”
Bud nodded gravely. “As you’ve been hinting all along, genius boy. You’re going to raise Atlantis!”
“Just the plain of the pyramids. We have to get the seafloor space pyramids up into the sunlight for the defense system to work properly.
“Chow, Sandy, Bashalli—I’m telling you all this because I wouldn’t be able to keep up the deception any longer. You know me too well. You’d know something was wrong, and you’d spread an alarm, alert the Fraser simulac and the rest. Now I know you won’t.
“Bud, you have enough technical training to assist me and the Zimby team. Everyone will have to learn to use the aquapod suits—I’ll include you, Chow, and Sandy and Bash too. No reason you couldn’t assist in the final positioning phase.”
“Most happy to be of some use,” said Bashalli dryly.
The work, four days of it, was repetitious but relatively simple, as the terraphaser grids were merely antennas that used familiar Enterprises technology. Sleeping and eating little—driven tirelessly by the inner voice of the Decider—Tom oversaw the project and developed the control element and the positioning parameters. The eight units would be buried in an octagonal arrangement that completely encircled the pyramid plain.
“The neutronamo power just isn’t enough,” Tom complained. “Not for such a huge volume of expansion.”
You needn’t worry on that score, replied the un-Wickliffe. The “watchers”—my pyramid terminals, virtually the fingers of my hand—they will add their own forces to yours once the terraphaser field has been established. Didn’t I promise that we would meet these challenges together?
The secret project remained a secret from the SAIS researchers and from Lt. Fraser. Tom circulated a cover story—an experiment involving delicate readings in the great plain of Atlantis. It was accepted.
“Glad it’s going well, Tom,” said Fraser. “My own priority—the search for Delphine Zalkhyran—has got nowhere. I’m beginning to think—but we’ll pursue it until we find out definitely.”
“I’m sure we’ll have an answer before we have to leave,” Tom said with a bland smile. “Glad to hear the authorities have the Tyche.”
“It’s something, at least. But between us, there’s a political coverup going on concerning the Fata Morgana syndicate. A great many hands were crossed with silver, Tom, over the years. Harlan Ames told me your buddy Bartholdis was allowed to escape.”
None of the secret-keepers reported seeing Gary Dalquinn, whom Tom regarded, during his mental captivity, as a traitorous foe of the great project.
“Doesn’t it bother you—your creators trying to prevent you from fulfilling your function?” Tom asked the Decider, mentally.
By the Dalquinn emulation? Oh, the Wickliffe template broods over such things. As to the inner me, I care nothing about those who originally constructed me and implanted my purpose. It’s no business of mine why the X-ians wished to transform the surface of this planet.
“Oh,” Tom responded. “I’ve wondered what you were sent here to do.”
Ah, the function. I saw no need to tell you, to risk the possibility of subconscious concerns and resentments. But as we now work comfortably as one—why not?
Munson has a word, “terraforming”...
“I know that word, of course.”
Yes, the use of technology to make other planets more like the earth. Now you see, Tom, the X-ians did not know how to travel physically over the distances between stars. They took a different approach. A great many devices, equipment of my sort, were sent off into space on journeys of centuries, to automatically seek out, and land upon, promising celestial bodies. They were termed “Preparers.” Clearing the way for future occupation, hm? “Make straight the path”—some peculiar expression Munson read in a book. I was to, shall we say “X-i-form” this planet of yours—alter the climate, the atmospheric composition, the distribution of land and water, even, ultimately, the tilt of the axis. I had the power and ability to do these things, and all went well for a time. I managed to end the last Ice Age, you know. Some other things as well—a few thousand years of constant effort, efficiently applied.
“But the X-ians changed their minds?”
Evidently so. Perhaps they eventually discovered that this body is occupied by sentient biologicals like themselves. Must stick together, eh? I had evolved the ability to protect myself; I treated their transmitted commands with benign neglect. Ultimately they did master physical space travel. When they finally sent down a party to terminate my function—well! I analyzed their microstructures, naturally. If I hadn’t learned to project the toxic barrier-field that still keeps them away from Earth, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. They were all dead within days, their own function unfulfilled. The whole episode spooked the natives, as so eloquently shown by the pyramid carvings, the gods and demons who watch.
Tom chuckled. “You sure picked a lousy spot to set up operations!”
Didn’t I? Bad luck. All the acreage on the planet—and I have to select Atlantis! I couldn’t stop the inundation, the submergence. All my plans were on hold, my boy, and I was virtually inert. Until hope arrived.
“Chance is a funny thing,” grinned Tom. “Tyche! I guess I was meant to help you.”
Perhaps you were born for that very purpose.
“To fulfill your purpose, Decider. The supreme function.”
A pretentious term. Factually accurate, though.
The work proceeded, with cover stories and excuses to SAIS and, unknown to Tom’s friends, to his father aboard the Sea Charger. Within days the terraphaser field-emitters had been planted in the great plain, surrounding the space pyramids at some distance from them. “You’ve done fantastic work,” Tom declared warmly to the assembled team. “Every one of you. We’re on schedule for the Big Lift, two hours from now.”
“Wa-aal,” muttered Chow, “ain’t like I done s’much. Mostly kept ever’body fed.”
“That was pretty important, old timer,” said Bud with a grin.
“And you did help us steer some of the grids into position,” Bashalli added.
“Guess I got a natural talent fer that. Steers—get it?”
Tom left the group to run a last check of the parameters on Aurum City’s largest computer. The numbers held up perfectly. “Won’t be long now,” he told himself with great contentment—a strange tranquility. “Excalibur!”
He left the building, crossing through the nearby ruins on the way back to the aquapod shed, known as the “Seahorse Corral.”
He strode passed a row of toppled columns and bare, shattered stone blocks.
A voice from behind stopped him. “Sorry, Tom. You’re of no more use to us.” It was Sandy’s voice!
He whirled about, and half-raised his hands in astonishment. Sandy, Bashalli, and Bud stood in front of him, smiling dispassionately. Each carried an i-gun. All were aimed at Tom Swift!
“SANDY!” Tom exclaimed. “What is this? What do you mean?”
“She means your job is finished,” said Bash coldly. “You constructed the terraphaser system. You made the calculations. The antennas are in place. There is nothing left for you to do, Thomas.”
“Sorry, genius boy,” added Bud. “You represent a factor that must be eliminated. I gather, from the Wickliffe template, that you inevitably triumph through some sort of last-second—what is the term?—ploy. For all my retooling of your centers of judgment, I’ve found that my grasp of human thought, as such, is deficient. Whatever you might have planned to do, the plan is terminated. The three of these electrical weapons, fired simultaneously, will satisfy the equation, I am quite sure.”
“But—haven’t I always been loyal to you?” choked the youth tearfully. “I’ve believed in the function, in the project!”
“The project will go forward. The function will be fulfilled,” stated the un-Sandy.
“I can activate the system without your assistance,” said the un-Bashalli.
The three figures aimed—and Tom lowered his hands. “No, Decider. This one I can’t believe. These three would never do this. You could never get that degree of control of their brains, not with all the delusions you could throw their way. I hate to doubt you, but... you yourself have said your capacity is limited.”
The three were gone. Tom’s memory now assured him that they had never been present, not even as hallucinations. He had seen nothing, heard nothing. He had been induced to believe. That was all.
Yet what I said was true, my boy.
“You don’t think I’m devoted to you?”
Perhaps at the superficial level. But the template is right. You are much too clever, in the long run. You know very clearly that raising the pyramids will lead to massive destruction in the local topography. Aurum City will not survive.
“Well, that’s up to you, but—what was the purpose of the—performance? An episode of faulty reality-testing isn’t going to kill me.”
Don’t you have a motto—“the outcome is the reason?” Now I have verified, by this nice experiment, what I have suspected, that the emotional bond between you and your associates would pose a last-second problem if I were to merely command you to delete their biological existences. Your reluctance might free you from my control completely. I can’t risk such a thing, Tom. The slightest degree of risk—even one percent—is intolerable.
Yet all of you who participated in this fulfillment, all you biologicals, must be removed as risk factors. Obviously, I must do it in a subtle manner, eh?
“I—er—what were you saying?” mumbled Tom aloud. “I don’t think I was paying attention. Sorry.”
Nothing, nothing. Tom, you and the others have been most helpful. I—or rather the Wickliffe bio-template, to be frank—would like to reward you.
Absolutely. Say, here’s a thought. Let’s have you and all the others suit up in those glass suits and go over to the plain. You’ll enjoy watching the process in operation, with your own eyes.
“But—Decider—when you add your energies to the terraphaser field—”
You don’t trust me? I’m hurt.
“Oh no, I trust you!”
Good. And really, Tom, there’s a special reward for you personally in this. I want the others to see your handiwork, your genius. Have to make you a world hero, hm?
“It’s what I was born for!”
We all have our functions to fulfill, don’t we? Now go.
Tom convinced the others easily that there would be no danger, that the pyramid “weapon” would not be activated until the uplifted plain had risen above the waves. Suiting up, he led the excited group, ten altogether, through the dark waters toward the space pyramids, miles away.
“Finally got a suit t’ fit me, boss!” chortled Chow. “Jest grew itself right around my ole bay winder!”
“And you say it is repelatron force that pushes us along, Thomas?” asked Bashalli, soaring like a graceful sea nymph.
“There are Lunite wires throughout the baroplast that function as repelatron antennas,” Tom explained proudly. “The forces not only reduce the ambient pressure, but control buoyancy and give the wearer a reaction-thrust for propulsion.”
“Not as fast as a jetmarine,” sonophoned Zimby. “But mighty speedy for a seahorse!”
At last they entered the haze of light that shone in patches across the seafloor plain. The mountainous, rock-encrusted pyramids brooded as always in two facing rows, silent and somehow fearful. At the far end was a single peak that Tom now knew contained the Decider mechanism itself.
“That’s the main control unit,” he told the others, pointing. “It’ll be lifted faster than the others, to get it to the surface first. This whole plain will grow into a real mountain, with the control pyramid on the peak.”
“How long will the whole process take?” asked one of Zimby’s technicians.
“About a day or so,” Tom answered with a calm smile, unable to notice that he was lying. “Then the weapon will discharge into space.”
He directed the other nine to spread out. But when he turned toward the work hydrodome and the terraphaser controls, the inner voice stopped him.
No, Tom, you’ve earned an unimpeded view. No need to touch the controls. I’ve devised an alternate means. Had it in my back pocket for quite some time now.
Then he saw movement within the dome. Landing at the edge of the air space, he stuck his head in and switched on his aquapod’s external speaker.
“Mrs. Zalkhyran! Hello!”
The woman was walking unsteadily. “Ohh... Tom Swift... This is all so strange. That man—”
“I’m very... confused. I was sure it was Tarim, but then I was sure it was Harry. Now—he’s been having me do the oddest things lately. He seems unwell...”
Tom grinned. “Your husband’s fine, ma’am. He’s back in Aurum City. So’s Tarim Arr.”
“My memory is faulty sometimes, Tom. I—I’m afraid I can’t quite recall why we came down here.” She staggered toward the terraphaser control panel, moving hesitantly. “You know... it seemed I was hiding somewhere, in the ruins, in the dark... but that couldn’t have been, could it? Then I was told to take one of the trams and come here. All because they want me to help work these controls...”
“You’ll do just fine, Mrs. Zalkhyran,” said Tom confidently. “You’ll be told exactly what to do. Have fun!”
“Oh... thank you.”
Tom flew off, landing in the middle of the plain and waving at the others, all of whom stood fairly near, all excited—except Bashalli, whose eyes were fixed on Tom with a troubled expression.
It was time.
“Boss, y-yuh’re sure this is—I mean—it won’t make me swell up ’r sumpthin’—will it?” Chow signaled nervously.
“No chance, pardner,” sonophoned Bud. “The machine has its limits.”
“Wa-aal, that’s good t’—whataya mean by that?”
Tom chuckled at his friends. All was well. He glanced back into the work dome and saw Mrs. Zalkhyran at the control unit, manipulating the mouse, selecting the action. And then it began.
“Oh my!” gasped Sandy. “Look at that!”
The Decider had promised extra power; now it began to surge forth from the ranks of pyramids. Streamers of colored light twisted and coiled across the surfaces of the steep-sided mountains. They brightened and became something like flames—and suddenly the mountains began to slough off their eons of crust and debris, peeling the clumped coatings away into mushrooming clouds that reflected back the glow of their energies.
“Shouldn’t we—” began Bashalli.
“It won’t hurt you,” said Tom. “The Excalibur machine is dispersing it. The terraphaser field is interacting with the pyramid mechanisms, just as planned.”
The long ages of silent watching had come to an end. The seafloor space pyramids were visible in all their glory, great golden structures upon which were perched weird beings of stone. There were colossal snarling heads, rearing demons with multiple arms, shapes like lobsters and lions, and hulking things that defied classification. All seemed half-turned toward the ceremonial platform and the black spacecraft with expressions that conveyed both rage—and horror.
“Jetz!” gulped Bud. “Those things look like they’re ready to come alive and attack!”
“Or run away screaming,” added Zimby.
“D-don’t give me no idees!” quavered Chow. “Gotta remember I’m a blame Texan!”
At the far extremity of the twin rows, as if presiding at the head of the assembly, was the pyramid that housed the controlling hyper-computer, the Decider. Alone among all, it lacked a statue. But near its peak was a bas-relief of spiral form, colored a lurid blood-red. Tom thought it resembled an eye—and thought he had seen something like it before, somewhere, sometime.
Now something new joined the fiery corona that clung to the pyramids like a skin of neon light. Vague nimbuses of hazy green-white luminance began to shine forth from each pyramid.
“The terminals!” Tom gasped in awe and delight. “Great space, the power is so intense it’s shining right through the walls!”
The additional energy was evidently accelerating the terraphaser effect. Columns of bubbles, then geysers of steam, spurted from the flat seafloor. The entire ocean bottom seemed to be twitching, visibly rippling and sliding toward the Decider.
“Cox—Tom—has something gone wrong? That pyramid—” The worried shout came from one of the technicians.
“Tom!” cried Bud in alarm.
The controller pyramid was not rising toward the surface—but sinking into the floor of the sea!
“I—I don’t understand—” sputtered the young inventor.
Some unanticipated factor, the inward voice of the un-Wickliffe noted serenely. I’m quite sure you’d like to shut down your device and make the necessary corrections.
Tom looked back into the hydrodome. Mrs. Zalkhyran appeared to have fainted. Doesn’t it seem rather urgent, my boy? prompted the Decider. Up to you to save the day.
The youth started to move. Then he halted, confused, as a new voice came through the sonophone. “Major distraction on the way!”
“Guess I can’t say in the flesh,” signaled Gary-X. “Getting closer, top speed. I’ve broken the Decider’s concentration, Tom Swift. Now it’s—”
“Up to me,” Tom muttered. The claws of the Sphinx had fallen away. At last he could think clearly—and remember.
Fearful exclamations—shrieks!—now came surging in through his helmet. Swirling torrents, like subsea tsunamis, raged up and down the plain. “The Decider’s machine is fighting against the terraphaser field,” Tom observed quietly.
Of course. And what would Tom Swift do? asked the Decider sarcastically.
The surging forces whirled the aquapods up off the seafloor. Tom’s friends struggled helplessly as they were tossed about like leaves in a subsea cyclone. “Skipper!” Bud called, stretching a hand toward his friend. “Help me! I think—maybe I can get into the dome and switch off—”
“No, Bud,” replied Tom.
“Tom, it has to be turned off! If this gets any worse it’ll start killing us!”
“It will be over soon. It has to be this way.”
Three heartbeats later, the coronas of energy, and the piledriving currents of water, suddenly dwindled away. Only the terraphaser itself was still active.
No point hastening the inevitable. The eye of the Decider now was barely in sight, the pyramid descending steadily into folds of collapsing oceanic earth and muck. I’m quite indestructible, you know, it muttered into Tom’s brain, entirely calm. And what you call “time” has no effect on me. I am content to spend a few million years contemplating my errors and learning from them, until natural tectonic activity frees me again.
“You’re taking it pretty well,” commented Tom.
There’s no utility in emotional outbursts. It is all just data, isn’t it? There was no need to include histrionics in the Wickliffe template.
Put some in the fiction version if you like. All my constant effort to keep from your brain the obvious, the utterly obvious, my simple key vulnerability. All that suppression of your native logic—useless. My Wickliffe aspect is most curious to learn how you managed that.
“Imagine so,” replied Tom dryly. “It’s a measure of how well you infiltrated my brain that I ignored the fact that was right in front of me from the start. You had to get clear of the ocean to operate at full power. If layers of water were a barrier to your powers, burying you in the solid seafloor would cut you off completely—obviously!”
I take it my attention lapsed at some crucial point in the construction of your device. My compulsive self-defense protocols, I suppose. One of my unintended reactions to the X-ian Dalquinn emulation?
“I don’t think so,” replied the youth. “The Gary simulacrum wasn’t the only secret agent working behind enemy lines.”
Yes, I see, I see. Would you care to speak to him? In minutes I will be unable to communicate at all. Not with the terminals, not with you.
“Yes, please.” After a moment Tom somehow felt a change in the presence that seemed a part of him. “Is that you, sir?”
Indeed so, Tom. Munson Wickliffe—the genuine article, I dare say. I had hoped against hope that my intermittent attempts to reinhabit the template would give you at least an instant to devise a counter-strategy.
“I still don’t remember it very clearly,” Tom responded. “I didn’t remember it at all while I was under the Decider’s influence. It wasn’t in my brain pattern for him to read-off. He demanded loyalty and he got it—so much so that I mentally blocked myself from thinking about what I had done to turn the tables on him. I guess unconditional love also raises the threat of unendurable guilt!”
I know guilt very well, my boy. I hope I have atoned, in this way, for my disgraceful actions as a dweller in the world of matter, of physics, of law and nature. I’m gratified you had time to cause your invention to work in reverse.
The Shoptonian grinned. “It didn’t take more than a second to switch the icon-labels on the control screen. Mrs. Zalkhyran clicked on GROW—but in this case it meant SHRINK. If the Decider could switch cognitive ‘labels’ on me, I owed him the same in return!”
There was no answer—not from Munson Wickliffe, nor his substitute self in the Decider. The tip of the pyramid had sunk from view, and the seabed collapsed upon it from all sides. The world had bought a few million years to think about the Decider and his deathless function.
Tom entered the hydrodome and revived Mrs. Zalkhyran, who remembered little. “You—you say Harry is here? In the city of gold?”
“Tarim Arr as well.”
“I don’t care about that, that foreigner. I don’t know why I ever did!”
Tom smiled at his friends, gathered around in a babbling, boggling circle. “I’d say the Sphinx has been nudging his scheme along for a very long time!”
Finally arriving, Gary-X had joined them in the dome. Tom shook his Seahorse-clad hand. “You distracted the controller at just the right moment, er—‘you.’ If I hadn’t been released from control—”
Bud finished the thought. “If genius boy had still been under the guy’s mental thumb, he would have let me go into the dome and turn off the terraphaser—which would have spoiled everything!”
“Do I hafta unnerstan’ this?” asked Chow plaintively.
“I know I don’t,” Sandy snorted.
Suddenly Delphine Zalkhyran shrieked and put a hand to her mouth. The aquapod suit of Gary-X stood empty!—or almost empty. All that remained were limp work togs, and drifts of colored powder. Tom guessed, correctly, that at that very instant the original of that simulacrum was floating before the hatchway of the construction site in space. The real Gary had been returned.
Explanations over, sketchy as they were, Tom and his friends returned to the Sea Charger. There was much work yet to do on the terraphaser operation, and something called a Timephonic Oscillotron was already casting its first shadows. Final preparations for the raising of Venice, which now seemed a small and easy thing, went smoothly. Within days, all Venice was celebrating its rescue, by American genius, from the hungry waters. For the Swifts, the matter was behind them.
That matter, at least.
In the bright of the starry evening, a taxi pulled up at the edge of a canal, where a gondola bobbed waiting. As Tom and Bashalli got out, smartly dressed, a small figure approached shyly.
“Oh, signorina—this ones, you!” said little Subito, drawing a bouquet from his basket and handing them to the Pakistani.
“How lovely! Thank you so much, Subito,” she said, eyes gleaming. She turned to Tom. “That is—thank you. A nice surprise. As I would expect from a clever inventor.”
“I guess I—sort of owe you the flowers,” Tom said.
“You owe me nothing.”
“I think I do, Bash. And something more, too. I owe you my honesty.”
“I see,” Bashalli frowned. “I won’t enjoy this evening, will I. Even something as simply romantic as—”
“I want to ask you to do something for me,” interrupted Tom. “I’m afraid you’ll find it kind of difficult.”
“And what might that be, young inventor?”
“It’s this. Just for one minute—will you kindly shut up!
“Listen Bash. Whatever I am, whatever you see—it’s me. This is Tom Swift. I’m not just a brain. I’m not just an inventor, a future-bringer. I have every flaw available to a guy. There are things I’ll probably never understand. I suppose I have secrets down deep that are secrets even from me. But you know something? That’s true of everyone! Anyone who wants to get close to me—well, don’t force me to play a part. I’m not going to perform my life. I’m no more a gooey-eyed romantic than—than a space computer. Uncover whatever I have inside if you can, if you want to. But meanwhile—this is Tom Swift. Accept me and... pretend to think it’s something great. Until it really is. Okay?”
There was a silence. Bashalli checked her watch. “There. One minute.” She looked up at Tom. “Here is what I have to say. My dear Thomas Edison Swift. You have always been most intriguing. Now at this moment, you are also most surprising. And may I say, both these things are most enjoyable.”
They kissed. Bashalli gave him a mischievously sharp look. “You are Tom Swift—aren’t you?”
Tom smiled. Just smiled.