TOM SWIFT LIVES!
TOM SWIFT AND HIS
This unauthorized tribute
Is based upon
the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters.
SCOTT DICKERSON, AUTHOR
As of this printing,
The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures
is owned by
SIMON & SCHUSTER
This edition privately printed by
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TOM SWIFT AND HIS
THE SUBMARINE CITY
“ATLANTIS dead ahead, Skipper!” sang out Slim Davis as he piloted Swift Enterprises’ newest super-submersible, the Deepwing, through the cold dark depths of the mid-Atlantic.
Before young Tom Swift, captain of the expedition, could respond, his pal Bud Barclay exclaimed excitedly, “Already? Man, this whale of a sub is faster than a greased barracuda! Or have I said that before?”
Tom grinned at his friend’s compliment as he joined Slim at the wheel. Gazing out the cabin’s broad, curving viewpane, the blond-haired scientist-inventor exchanged his grin for a frown. In the darkness beyond the craft’s aqualamp beam lay mystery and adventure! “Not much to see so far,” he murmured.
Slim gestured at one of the screens on the control board. “But the sonarscope readings match the topography readout perfectly. We’ve locked on to the same route you fellows recorded on your first visit in the Ocean Arrow.”
“Let’s hope this visit is a little less rocky,” Bud remarked wryly and dryly.
While combing the Atlantic seabed for a lost rocket in Tom’s original diving seacopter, Tom and Bud had discovered a sunken city of ancient, overgrown ruins that accompanying scientists believed were traces of the legendary lost island of Atlantis. Tom had led an eventful and danger-filled life since that distant day, his inventions carrying him to many corners of the globe and up into the void of space surrounding it. But he had always planned a return to the seafloor city, and during his most recent expedition—to the Yucatan jungles with his electronic retroscope camera—his father had thrown the full weight of their mammoth invention facility behind the effort. Months of strenuous preparation were at last bearing fruit, and the present preliminary survey of the site was the project’s first step.
Less than an hour had passed since Tom and his crew had ended their brief stopover in Helium City, Enterprises’ gas extraction station on the ocean floor near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Leaving the hydrodome and the jagged spine of subsea mountains behind them, the Deepwing was now approaching the chain of geological features known as the Horseshoe Seamounts, which lay between the Madeira Islands to the south and the coast of Portugal to the northeast. It was here, among looming plateaus and overhanging cliffs, that the seacopter had been half-buried by falling boulders. Tom and Bud had nearly ended their lives trapped in a deep chasm which had never known the sun.
Zimby Cox, an experienced company sub captain with a background in marine technology, joined the watchers at the viewpane. “How’s it hangin’ back there, Zim?” asked Bud.
“Shipshape in the cargo hold,” replied Cox, whose full given name, rarely pronounced aloud, was Zimbalest. “That watery warehouse must be as big as the hangar inside your Flying Lab, Tom.” The giant-sized stratoship, the Sky Queen, carried a hold on the lowest of its three decks large enough to serve as a hangar for shuttle aircraft.
“In cubic feet you’re just about right,” Tom stated; “if you add the port and starboard holds together.”
The Deepwing was one of the three new oversized seacopters that Tom had been designing for some time now, and the first of the three to be completed and ready for service. These craft, several times the size of the Ocean Arrow and the later Sea Hound, had a wide curving fore-edge that tapered smoothly toward the stern into a protruding tail section. The overall effect suggested the kiteshaped fins and flattened body of the manta ray—also called the devilfish. Nicknamed the mantacopters, each submersible sported two rotor wells which vertically penetrated the low flat hull on either side of the prow control cabin. The whirling prop blades were used to hold the ship underwater against the effect of its buoyancy. The mantacops had been developed to carry the bulky equipment and extensive supplies required by large undersea operations. Like the other seacopters, they were powered by compact atomic reactors and driven by jets of superheated steam.
Leaning over the controls, Tom now swiveled the diamond-bright aqualamp beam and set it to a greater range. A wall of gray rock, dotted with long streamers of deepwater vegetation, leapt into view. “Stand-to, Slim,” Tom directed. Slim Davis immediately reversed the powerful steam jets. The Deepwing eased to a hovering halt, thirty feet above the floor.
“Shouldn’t Cromwell be up here to see this?” Bud asked. “I mean, he is here as an observer.”
“Yep. An official observer,” agreed Tom. A slight tinge in the young inventor’s voice made Bud smile. Lieutenant Cromwell, an officer in the US Navy, had joined the Enterprises expedition at the request of ONDAR, the Office of National Defense Applied Research. Tom had worked with this government agency before. In the present case the request was backed by the Navy and the State Department, who were concerned with various legal issues surrounding American activity at the site of the ruins, which lay in international waters. Tom and his father cooperated. But Bud knew his pal was always somewhat leery of any “official” involvement that might complicate a scientific project or compromise its goals.
A rough-hewn heavyset man who somehow seemed ill at ease in his Navy uniform, Darrin Cromwell had already rubbed Tom and Bud the wrong way in the several days since his arrival at Swift Enterprises. He had a habit of pestering them with aggressive questions. Tom assumed they were relevant to legal matters. But he didn’t like them. And Bud, characteristically, was willing to add that he didn’t like the man himself.
“Lieutenant Cromwell to control,” Tom intercommed. “We’re beginning our approach to the site.”
“Be right there,” came the reply over the speaker. In a moment the Navy man entered the spacious cabin through one of the watertight bulkhead doors that connected the control deck to the string of special-purpose compartments that wound their way around the two rotor wells. “So this is it, hmm, boys? Submarine city of gold! Picked up any gold traces on your metal-detector yet?”
“Nothing unusual,” Tom responded, gesturing at Slim to resume forward motion. “The inhabitants must’ve mined the gold some distance from the city. Didn’t Admiral Hopkins brief you on all the specs, Lieutenant?”
Cromwell gave a dismissive shrug. “Oh, the documentation was fairly thorough. But those details aren’t important to me. My job is simply to report your findings. Old Hopkins said most of the operation is top secret.”
“Sure,” Bud retorted. “Imagine what’d happen if word leaked out about all that gold lying around unclaimed!”
The officer hissed out a chuckle. “A submarine gold rush probably.”
“Worse than that,” Tom said gravely. “It could lead to real international trouble.”
“Right, right. I see what you mean.” Cromwell’s voice grew tense as he went on. “But what a setup! If that undersea layout is really built of solid gold, it must be worth more than Fort Knox!”
Surprised by the officer’s greedy tone, Tom retorted, “We’re not going as gold prospectors, Lieutenant. That lost city may hold the answers to a whole flock of historical and geological problems!”
“Well, I’m all for science,” was the reply, a bit sarcastic. “I take it you’ll be retrieving some artifacts and specimens to take back.”
“Yes, a few. We need a clearer idea of what we’re dealing with here. But the main purpose is to map out the site.”
“Yeah. You need to figure where to set up that bubble machine of yours.”
It was Tom’s plan to use his matter-repelling device, the repelatron, to push back the waters and create a giant bubble, or series of bubbles, over large areas of the city. The scientists would be able to live in these air-filled hydrodomes in a comfortable shirtsleeve environment without the encumbrance of bulky protective suits. He had used the same method to establish his permanent helium-mining facility.
Further conversation was forestalled by a low cry from Slim Davis. “There it is, Tom. That must be the pass the Arrow went through last time.”
“It sure looks familiar,” Bud commented. “I don’t remember it being so narrow, though.”
“Don’t forget, flyboy—that avalanche brought down a lot of rock,” Tom pointed out as he studied the broken cliffside. “Anyway, we always knew the Deepwing would never be able to work its way through.”
“I know that’s the plan, but still― ” The young pilot’s brow creased beneath his straggling lock of dark hair. “Isn’t the upper route pretty much blocked off?”
Cromwell glanced at Tom with narrowed eyes. “Blocked off? What’s he referring to?”
Tom gave the Navy officer a muted look of surprise. Just what had the man been briefed on? “The city sits on the floor of a sort of narrow box canyon with a single outlet, the pass. It’s completely surrounded by very high, steep cliffs. The opening at the top comes in at a slant—sort’ve like the chute on a mailbox, if you see what I mean. The overhang shields the ruins from sight, including sonar depth-mapping and imaging.”
Cromwell nodded. “Got it. So now we slide down that chute.”
“I’d prefer keeping an even keel to sliding,” Tom responded curtly.
He now directed Slim to slightly decrease the rate of the rotors. The mantacopter bobbed upward gently, and the jagged side of the barrier cliff slid downward across the viewpane past their watchful eyes. As Zimby read off numbers from the sonarscope, Slim deftly guided the craft forward over the top spine of the seamount, then followed its slope downward again.
Tom pointed. “That way. About twenty degrees to portside.”
“Just what are you aiming at, Skipper?” asked Bud. “I don’t see any opening at all.”
“Look at that forest of seaweed,” directed his pal. “I’m sure it’s covering the entrance. Sonar says it isn’t very dense. We can’t see through it, but I’m betting we can push through it without difficulty.”
The Enterprises personnel all trusted Tom’s instincts and scientific judgment, but it was impossible not to feel a surge of anxiety as the Deepwing edged its way into the screen of indigo streamers. Yet there was no jolt, no impact. The waving vegetation crawled lazily across the window of Tomaquartz, then parted before them like a curtain. They had made it through!
Cromwell muttered, “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
The sub was now moving through an open space beneath a down-tilting rock ceiling. The aqualamp revealed a corresponding slope beneath them, and walls that faded off into the dim distance. “Big as a football field!” Bud breathed.
“And it widens out below. The actual canyon floor, the site of the ruins, is at least a mile across,” Tom reminded him. “Just imagine the sort of tremendous upheaval that shattered these slabs of ocean bedrock and forced the fragments up on end!”
Obviously unimpressed, Lieutenant Cromwell noted that the slope fell off into darkness one hundred yards ahead. “Must be the edge of the canyon, hmm?”
The mantacopter sailed over the edge, then paused, hanging in watery space as Tom switched on the hull-bottom aqualamp and angled it sharply downward. Grinning but silent, he gestured broadly as the crew craned their necks.
“Lord above!” gasped Zimby Cox. “It’s fantastic!”
The electronic gleam lit the floor of the subocean canyon like a miniature sun. The submarine city, crumbling and overgrown but clearly visible, spread out in all directions. They could see square and circular structures, collapsed towers, traces of broken columns, scattered blocks of worked stone, and small upthrust objects that might prove to be statues or monuments. The pattern of streets was still evident to the eye.
Cromwell interrupted the moment of stunned reverie. “Looks more brown and green than gold.”
Tom stared at him disapprovingly. “The real surfaces, gold or not, are underneath all that accumulated gunk. In fact, clearing it away is the purpose of a new invention that we’ll be freighting along when we come back to set up operations.”
As Slim brought the Deepwing down into the maw of the canyon, Zimby half-turned to Tom and said, “Skipper, I meant to tell you—you might want to take a look at Hatchway Four.”
“Not necessarily. But when I was checking out the airlock sequencing controller, there was a little fluctuation in the circuit. It straightened itself out almost immediately, but I thought I’d mention it.”
“Thanks, Zim. C’mon, Bud, let’s take a look.”
As Tom led Bud through the corridor to the starboard hold, he said quietly, “Lieutenant Cromwell doesn’t seem to have absorbed his briefings very well, has he.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Bud agreed. “Of course, with different words!”
“He sure seems focused on the gold,” Tom added as he entered the hold, which on this preliminary trip was mostly empty. Popping the reinforced door, the youths stepped into the large freight airlock adjoining Hatchway Four.
Tom removed a small circuit-scanner from his pocket and approached a green rectangle painted on the bulkhead. “The main circuitry is here, behind the wall,” he explained to Bud. “There’s no actual access port, because we don’t want to introduce a weak point in― ”
He interrupted himself as the overhead lights seemed to dim slightly, then returned to full power. “What’s up with that?” Bud asked, looking toward the ceiling nervously.
But Tom had no time to answer. He whirled, startled, as the open door to the hold swung itself shut behind them with a bang. A hissing sound, painfully high-pitched, suddenly filled the chamber, causing the two to wince. As they staggered back in bewilderment, thin jets of water shot downward like crystalline rods from a dozen small openings where the surrounding walls met the ceiling. A spray, rebounding from the airlock deck under tremendous pressure, hit them from all sides with a stinging impact.
“Good gosh!” Tom murmured in horrified disbelief. “The airlock’s being flooded!”
IN SECONDS the ice-cold seawater was lapping at their ankles! Bud stared at his pal in whitefaced fear. “Can’t we turn it off?”
“Not from inside! But maybe the door hasn’t sealed itself.”
They sloshed to the door and grabbed its heavy metal handle with four desperate hands. Pressing their feet against the bulkhead, they pulled together with all their strength. Their muscles bulged and the veins in their necks stood out, but the door held. “It’s sealed,” Tom panted. “The whole automatic airlock sequence must be running. When we’re flooded to the top, the outer hatch will open.”
“Can’t we stop it?” gasped Bud. “Rip out some wires or something?” His eyes darted about frantically. “But no—no access panels, no controls. Aw jetz, Tom!”
Their legs were growing numb as the frothing water rose above their knees. Suddenly Tom grabbed Bud’s arm. “Your shoes! Take them off!”
The young pilot boggled. “Don’t go nuts on me now, Tom!”
“Do it! Hurry! Hand ’em to me!”
Bud complied. The direct contact of the water with his socks made no difference—his feet were as feelingless as lead weights. But plunging his arms and upper body into the freezing water shocked his system from head to toe.
Tom also had ripped off his shoes. He waddled over to one corner, gazing up at the spot where two walls met the ceiling. There the surface was interrupted by an oval opening about the size of two fists. “Boost me up, Bud,” he commanded. As Bud did so, Tom pounded first one shoe, then a second, into the opening, one above the other. Almost immediately the youths winced in pain as a jolt of air pressure surged against their eardrums. “Now the other vent!” Tom gasped.
In a moment both oval openings were crammed full of shoe. Tom and Bud pressed their palms over their ears, their eyes slitted with agony. “The rising water is compressing the air,” Tom yelled. “We’ve blocked the air outlet ports.”
“So now what?” Bud demanded. “Will the backpressure hold back the water?”
“Eventually!” But Bud grasped the implication. By the time the pressures came into balance, they would be dead! Nevertheless, the rise of the water slowed as the airspace above it shrank. The water was knocking against their chins as they stood on tiptoe, shivering violently and barely holding on to consciousness.
Then, without warning, the water inlet jets choked off. The reassuring sound of pumps reverberated through the chamber as the water level began to fall away. In two minutes they were high and dry, lying on the deck and gasping for breath.
With a click the inner door popped open, and they dragged themselves into the hold. As they lay panting, Bud choked out, “Wh-what happened?”
“As I hoped... when the ports couldn’t drain off the air and the pressure got too high... the safety backups overrode the controller circuit...”
Bud shook his head, starting to breath normally again. “Great. But what I meant was, what made the circuit go bad in the first place? Sabotage?”
Tom shrugged, but his shrug was an eloquent answer in itself. They both were well aware that their official passenger had spent much of the trip in the rear of the subship, out of sight.
In the pilot’s cabin the other three members of the crew were horrified. “You mean you guys were getting yourselves drowned and crushed back there, and we didn’t have a clue?” gulped Slim Davis.
“I would think some kind of emergency alarm would have gone off,” declared Lieutenant Cromwell.
“It should have,” said Zimby. “Definitely! It must all be due to that circuitry problem I noticed.”
Tom looked out the viewport musingly. “That seems likely. We might have jarred a weak connection when we opened the inner door to go inside. We’ll check it out back in port.”
“Back in port? You won’t be completing your survey, then?” demanded Cromwell.
Tom did not respond, but spent a minute checking over the system readouts on the control board. “Nothing else looks suspicious,” he stated at last. “We’ll proceed for now.”
“It’s your call,” Cromwell said indifferently.
Slim Davis had set down the Deepwing in a fairly open space that might have been a plaza at the intersection of two boulevards. The mantacopter rested upon flexible tractor treads that extended from the under-hull on pistons.
Zimby asked if Tom and Bud were about to go outside. “A little later, Zim,” Tom answered. “It’s really more important to get the mapping done.” As he spoke the young inventor was watching Lieutenant Cromwell’s expression from the corner of his eye. Was the man’s frown only Tom’s imagination?
Lifting off to a height of about fifty yards, Slim guided the Deepwing along an expanding spiral course, using doppler sonar to map out the lay of the ruins. In an hour they had surveyed the entirety of the city and were elbowing along the cliffs and rocky slopes that surrounded it. Landing again near a complex of big, tumbled structures, Tom and Bud made ready to exit the craft.
Cromwell held up a hand. “Just the two of you?”
“Got a problem with that, Lieutenant?” snapped Bud in a challenging voice.
But Tom spoke soothingly. “It’s his assignment to keep an eye on us, Bud. You’re welcome to join us, sir, if you like. It’s easy to get the hang of the Fat Man suits.”
Tom led Bud and Cromwell down a short corridor abutting the hull, stopping where four man-sized metal objects, polished to a silver shine, protruded from the bulkhead as if penetrating right through the ship’s hull. These were the Fat Man suits, midget one-man submersibles that made their way along on jointed mechanical legs. Each suit was equipped with small propulsion jets, robotic arms, and its own independent air supply.
Lieutenant Cromwell gave the suits a skeptical lookover. “You don’t keep them in an airlock?”
“It’s not necessary,” Tom explained. “Each suit fits perfectly into an opening in the hull lined with a contoured sealer-flange that can withstand pressures as well as the hull itself. They face inward, with the backside protruding out into the water. As you back away and disconnect, the flange dilates inward along the curve of the suit and closes off the hole. Not a drop leaks through.”
“No doubt you’ve tested it out thoroughly,” the officer grunted. “Then again, I had assumed the same thing about your airlock.” Ignoring the dig, Tom demonstrated how the entire inward-facing half of the Fat Man swung open like a door, allowing the aquanaut to step backwards into the suit. Pulled shut, it would seal itself automatically.
As Cromwell turned to enter his Fat Man, Tom held his hands behind him, out of sight to the Navy man but in full view of Bud. Waggling his fingers to attract his friend’s eye, Tom signed a silent message in ASL, American Sign Language. Hang back, don’t seal. Bud coughed, signaling that he understood.
After a few minutes of instruction, Tom swung the suit closed on Cromwell, at the same time surreptitiously opening a small panel and twisting some control knobs beneath it. “All right, Lieutenant. You can switch on the flange release mechanism and start backing out.”
Behind the transparent viewdome Cromwell gave a curt nod and his thick-fingered hands moved about on the small control panel before him. “Nothing’s happening,” he muttered over the suit’s external speaker.
“I’ll go over it with you again,” was Tom’s response. But when he made a show of unsealing the front of the suit, it refused to open!
“What the blazes is wrong, Swift?” demanded Cromwell with rising anger and a trace of panic. “I want out of this thing!”
Calling Bud over—and giving a secret wink—Tom and his chum worked at the problem for several minutes as Lieutenant Cromwell’s face grew redder and oilier. Finally Tom looked up and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant. Some part of the mechanism is malfunctioning. I can’t open her up without special tools. But it’s a good thing the problem showed itself while you were still inside the Deepwing—I hate to think― ”
“Are you trying to tell me I’m trapped inside this can?” Cromwell interrupted furiously.
“You’re perfectly safe. The air tanks will last until we return to base. We’ll leave immediately, of course.”
“Just pull down that little seat behind you, Darrin old boy,” put in Bud with a twitch of a mischievous smile. “Take a load off.”
The boys turned and hastened up the corridor, leaving Cromwell raging and sputtering behind them. Back in the control cabin, Bud slapped Tom on the back. “Mighty sweet deal, genius boy!” he laughed.
“What’s going on?” asked Zimby.
“We’ve got our mapping data. We’re done here for now. Slim, take us up and out—let’s head home,” Tom answered smoothly.
Both Zimby and Slim looked startled. “But why? Where’s Cromwell?” asked Slim.
“In a cool dry place,” Bud added. “Should keep fresh for hours.”
The mantacopter angled back up through the slot and into open water, then rose the long way to the surface. Slim reversed the pitch of the rotor blades and the Deepwing lifted several yards above the low waves, suspended on a cushion of compressed air. Soon they were jetting south of west toward the Enterprises facility on tiny Fearing Island off the coast of Georgia, base for the company’s space missions and many of its unique submersibles.
Tom made numerous attempts to contact Fearing, then Swift Enterprises in Shopton, New York. But the radio replies were garbled, fading, and full of harsh static. “That upper-air storm must be putting out a lot of lightning,” was Tom’s analysis. “Anyway, our saboteur—our suspected saboteur—won’t be going anywhere until we have a chance to get Security involved.”
“But what could the guy have been after?” asked Slim Davis. “Why try to get rid of you two? Is he some kind of foreign spy?”
Tom shrugged. “Beats me. He arrived with all credentials in order, and both Admiral Hopkins and Admiral Krevitt spoke highly of him.”
“Maybe so, but my instincts are going off like a four-alarm fire!” Bud declared.
Finally settling into the seacopter dock at Fearing, Tom briefly stuck his head out through one of the small personnel hatches and directed the dock crew to bring an armed security team on the double. When he saw the team approaching by jeep, he went back below.
Cromwell was still red and fuming in his metal egg, but his voice was under control. “We there? Got your tools?”
Tom nodded without speaking and crouched down out of sight. Again twisting the external suit control knobs, he stood up and pulled the suit hatch open. “That did it. Bet you’d like some fresh air up topside.”
The man only glared. As they walked briskly past Bud and the others in the control cabin, the young flyer asked softly: “Any special orders for the crew, Skipper?”
Tom shook his head, keeping his eye on Lieutenant Cromwell, who had practically run across the deck to the hatch ladder. “It’s Rad’s show,” he whispered. Phil Radnor, assistant security chief of Swift Enterprises, was making a week-long inspection tour of the Fearing Island security setup.
Tom and Bud followed Cromwell through the hatch. As they trotted down the rampway to the concrete dock, Tom tensed. Radnor awaited them with crossed arms, a burly Fearing security man at either side, hands resting lightly on their holsters.
To Tom’s surprise, Radnor stepped forward and extended a hand toward Lieutenant Cromwell, who glanced at it as if it were a snake, but shook it. “Phil Radnor,” said the stocky security man with a friendly smile. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Judson. You’re under arrest.”
The man in Navy uniform jerked away his hand. “What’s that? Arrest?” He spat out the words, eyes darting wildly. “You’re crazy! I’m― ”
“Joe Judson, right arm to Longneck Ebber,” said Radnor coolly, motioning his two men forward. In an instant Judson, the phony Cromwell, was handcuffed. “This is where you say things like This is an outrage. But spare our ears, okay, Judson?”
The man fell silent. Tom turned to the assistant security chief and gestured toward the prisoner. “Who is this man, Rad, and what’s his full name?”
“Not Darrin Cromwell,” was Radnor’s grim response. “The real one was kidnapped, along with his Navy pilot, during their Washington stopover en route to Enterprises. They were pistol-whipped and held captive until four hours ago when Federal agents tracked them down. They’re hospitalized. So’s your buddy Dick Halfven, Joe—two bullet wounds. And we’re on the trail of the guy who posed as your pilot.”
“Okay, but who are they?” Bud demanded. “What’s the deal?”
“We don’t know the deal,” said Radnor as Judson was carted off by jeep. “Ebber runs a branch of something called the Mayday Mob. Wise guys—mobsters.”
“The Mafia?” Tom inquired.
“No, independents with plenty of nerve and plenty-thick skulls. Or at least that’s their rep—independent practitioners of the fine art of organized crime. But the Feds think they have some new backers. And that’s bad news for you, boss—and for your Atlantis operation!”
THE WRECKED CAR
“HEY!” Bud Barclay exclaimed. “Slow down! What do a gaggle of gangster types have against Tom’s exploring a bunch of waterlogged ruins?”
“Don’t forget the gold,” noted Tom wryly.
But Phil Radnor shook his head. “I’m sure that sweetens the deal for Ebber and company, but Harlan’s contacts are pretty sure a foreign government is involved.” Harlan Ames, a former Secret Service agent, was head of Swift Enterprises security.
Rad chuckled. “Nope, this time it’s the other one—Kranjovia!”
When Tom and his team had travelled to Antarctica to drill for molten iron with his atomic earth blaster, he had been stalked by agents of the Democratic Workers Republic of Kranjovia, a splinter of dictatorship located on the Baltic Sea. The government there had proven a ruthless and persistent foe of the United States and other modern democracies. “What are Kranjovia’s interests regarding the submarine city?” the young inventor asked as they began strolling from the dock in the direction of the huddle of buildings fronting the spaceport and island airfield.
“Again, no one really knows,” stated Radnor. “But they’ve been privy to the same closed-door discussions as other European nations, and I understand they’ve raised quite a few official objections to the American interpretation of various agreements and treaties—loud, strenuous, and threatening objections!”
“Uh huh, that’s Kranjovia all right,” snarled Bud in disgust. “They never met a civilized nation they didn’t dislike.”
But Tom disagreed with his pal. “The problem isn’t the country but their self-appointed dictator, Ulvo Maurig, General-Secretary of the Party. Some of his government officers are fairly sophisticated, but Maurig is supposed to be some sort of delusional egomaniac.”
“And today’s mystery question is—just what sort of delusion does he have in mind?” Phil Radnor snorted.
After seeing to the berthing of the Deepwing, Tom and the others were jetted back to Shopton by Slim Davis while Judson remained under lock and key on Fearing Island, awaiting the Federal agents who would transport him to his fate. He had sullenly refused all further comment.
It was early evening when the scientific travellers deplaned onto the broad airfield of Swift Enterprises, whose ultramodern installation was four miles on a side. Tom and Bud joined Tom’s father in their shared office. The elder scientist had already been briefed by radio, the lightning storm having finally drifted away. Harlan Ames also joined them.
“Phil Radnor did his usual superb job, Harlan, commented Damon Swift. His voice was faint. The description of the terrifying threat to his son’s life had shaken him deeply.
“We expect nothing less of each other,” Ames responded. “Are you all clear on the sequence of events? From the description provided by the real Lieutenant Cromwell, the FBI was able to identify the kidnapper as an ex-convict with known ties to Ebber and his mobsters. Judson has already served time for embezzlement, firearm violations, even second-story work. He carried out the assault on Cromwell and the Navy pilot with a pal who we think is named Gilly Murchison, a former military pilot gone bad. That’s all we know so far. No sign of Murchison or the hijacked jet.”
“What about the big boss?” Bud spoke up.
“Ebber is still at large,” Ames replied. “It seems he’s always at large—for years now. Never quite enough evidence to nab him. But he may not be for long, after the authorities start tracing his contacts with Kranjovia.”
“If Judson was working for foreign agents,” Mr. Swift said, “we may be in for serious trouble. Ulvo Maurig is a sort of gangster himself, and his cadre is absolutely ruthless. We know that from the Antarctica business.”
“Well, I think they must be running out of ideas,” noted Tom with a weak smile. “This is the second time they’ve used the drowning bit on Bud and I.”
“They say the third time’s the― ” Bud began.
“Don’t say it,” snapped Mr. Swift sternly.
The distinguished scientist’s face was grave as he outlined the possible dangers. “Once other nations find reason to doubt America’s ability to manage and protect the site, they’ll mount a diplomatic full court press to internationalize any scientific presence there.”
Tom sighed. “It would be like a horde of sightseers trampling around at a crime scene. The clues science is counting on could be compromised, or lost altogether. The gold doesn’t matter at all compared to that.”
The meeting concluded, Tom left the office for one of his private labs, telling his father that he would be home for a late family dinner after downloading and checking the sonar mapping information from the trip, which he had carried to Enterprises on a computer disk.
He left the plant a few minutes later and began to head home in his two-seater sports car. Noting that there was still plenty of time before dinner, he decided to follow a winding route that led through the pleasant woodlands that rolled along at the edge of Lake Carlopa for most of the distance around the lake. Though he had tried not to show it to his father, Tom himself had been deeply affected by his horrifying experience in the airlock. He felt a need to unwind, and always found the scenery refreshing after a hard day’s work at the plant.
Man! That pine-scented air sure smells good! he thought, breathing in deeply.
Glancing at the rearview mirror, Tom noticed headlights some distance back on the unlighted road, which was little used by locals and often completely deserted. On impulse he pulled to the side of the road and allowed the other car to catch up and pass.
“A new Tioga,” he noted admiringly. “That car has a real engine for a compact job!”
Taking to the road again, Tom’s thoughts soon turned to his own problems. What was behind Judson’s actions? What orders had the Kranjovians given him? Were other plotters at work to stop him from exploring the city of gold?
Tom was still deep in thought several minutes later when, rounding a curve, he started violently as a figure came staggering out of the trees ahead and into the roadway almost directly in front of him! He slammed on the brakes and screeched to a breathless stop as the figure, a middle-aged woman, collapsed to her knees beside the pavement. Leaping from the car and running up to her, Tom was shocked to see that she was bleeding from a wide gash on her forehead.
“Please... please... we need help!” she gasped. “Our car― ”
She gestured weakly. Tom noticed for the first time signs of a skid leading into crushed, flattened shrubbery. “I’ve got to get you to a hospital,” he said comfortingly. “I can call an ambulance on my car phone.”
“No, please,” she sobbed, “I’ll be all right, but Harry—he went right into the windshield, and—and I don’t think he can pull himself free. You’ve got to...” Her voice trailed off as if she were on the verge of fainting.
“I’ll take a look,” Tom assured her. “You’d better lie flat.” He followed the smashed bushes and scarred tree trunks down a gentle slope for about fifty paces. Then, in a clearing, he saw a car butted up against a tree.
The Tioga! his mind registered. But as he trotted closer, he hesitated, puzzled. The windshield was undamaged, and there was no sign of anyone inside the car.
Immersed in the problem, his keen mind blotted out the rest of the world—and then went dark as he was struck violently from behind!
IT WAS nearing dinnertime at the Swift home, only minutes from the fenced borders of Swift Enterprises. Tom’s sister Sandra was setting the dining-room table while her mother basted the roast in the oven. The appetizing odor of beef wafted through the house.
“Mm! That smells heavenly!” Sandy exclaimed, coming back to the kitchen. “You are positively the best cook in seven counties, Mother!”
Anne Swift, a slender, attractive woman, gave her daughter a hug. “You’re a flatterer, dear. But thanks!”
“I mean it—really,” Sandy insisted. “Dad says you’ve spoiled us for any servant’s cooking and he’s right. It’s your own fault!”
“I like cooking for my own family—it’s a joy!” Mrs. Swift said. “That’s why I do it. It isn’t just the men who have the inventive instinct, you know.”
As they proceeded with the preparations for the late-evening dinner, Mr. Swift ambled into the kitchen, a scientific journal in hand. “Now I’m relaxed,” he joked. “By the way, where’s Tom? Not home yet?”
“No. In fact I’m getting worried,” Mrs. Swift fretted. “You said he had only planned to work a while longer, but it’s been― ”
Mr. Swift glanced at his watch. “Well, you know how absorbed Tom gets.” The scientist smiled. “Arv Hanson finished the scale model of Tom’s new invention. He’s probably caught up in working out some kink.” Arvid Hanson produced working models that usually served as preliminary test prototypes for Tom’s inventions.
Anne Swift shook her head distractedly. “No, it can’t be that. He showed me the model here at home just before he left on his underwater trip.”
Sharing in the concern but feigning a nonchalant attitude, Sandy put the finishing touches to the table setting. The roast and vegetables were soon ready and the Swifts decided to eat. But after a few halfhearted bites, Mr. Swift said, “I think perhaps I’ll call the plant and jog Tom’s memory. We can keep his plate warm if we know he’ll be home soon.”
From the telephone alcove in the hallway he called Swift Enterprises on their private line. The night operator rang Tom’s laboratory and then the double office in the main building. Neither call drew an answer. Next she paged the young inventor over the plant’s public-address system—again without success.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the operator reported. “Your son must have left.”
After trying Tom’s personal cellphone and the unit in his sports car, Mr. Swift called Bud at his apartment in town. “Sorry to disturb you, Bud,” the scientist said pleasantly when the young copilot answered the phone. “Tom hasn’t come home yet and I wondered if you’d seen him.”
“Why no, sir. Not since the meeting in your office,” Bud replied. “Think there’s something wrong?”
Mr. Swift hesitated, seeking unalarming words. Bud sensed his uneasiness, a feeling he began to share. “Mr. Swift, let me get hold of Harlan Ames. I’ll call back as soon as possible.”
“Thanks, Bud. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Mr. Swift returned to the dining room, trying to conceal his inner concern. But his wife’s eyes met those of the inventor in a worried look. “Damon, is Tom all right?” she asked anxiously. Her husband replied reassuringly, “So far I can’t reach him, but we’ll no doubt hear from him soon. I wish I had a dollar for every time Tom has been late.”
All three waited worriedly in the big comfortable living room. Tense moments crept by. When the telephone rang, Mr. Swift sprang up immediately to answer it. “This is Bud,” the caller said. “I talked to Ames and he thinks we’d better start a search. Would it upset Mrs. Swift if we dropped over and talked about it?”
“Come ahead, Bud!” the scientist replied. “I’m afraid she’s already upset.”
A few minutes later Bud’s sleek convertible pulled up the graveled drive. On the way he had picked up Arv Hanson, a big blond six-footer. Ames arrived shortly afterward, bringing Slim Davis and Hank Sterling, the quiet-spoken, hard-fisted chief engineer of Enterprises, a close friend of the family.
“No news?” Mr. Swift greeted the new arrivals at the front door.
“Not yet,” Ames replied, then whispered, “We’re afraid that Tom’s absence may be connected with the arrest today of Judson.” The security chief walked into the living room and was greeted by Tom’s mother and sister. He asked, “Can you think of any errand that might have taken Tom out of his way?”
The Swifts shook their heads to both questions. “Then,” Ames went on, “we’d better divide into search parties and cover every route Tom may have taken from the plant. If that doesn’t turn up any clues, I think we’d better call in the police.”
“Shouldn’t Mother and I go along?” asked Sandy.
“Let’s stay home and wait for Tom,” Mrs. Swift said. “He could arrive any minute.”
After a hurried conference to settle their plan of action, Bud took off in his convertible with Arv Hanson. Ames went with Slim Davis. Mr. Swift followed in his own car, accompanied by Hank Sterling.
Fanning out through Shopton, they questioned traffic policemen, news vendors, and gas station operators—anyone who might have noticed the young inventor’s custom-built sports car, very well known throughout the town.
Remembering some previous incidents, Mr. Swift drove over the tree-shaded lane which he and Tom sometimes used when they felt like walking home from the plant. The other two cars took the main highway which led from the outskirts of Shopton past Enterprises. All reported failure when they met at the plant.
Mr. Swift was tight-lipped but calm. “Tom occasionally takes the old Mansburg road around Lake Carlopa,” he recalled.
“That’s right,” Bud confirmed. “He takes it when he has some thinking to do. Let’s give it a try.”
To make use of all six pairs of eyes, the three cars set off together, using spotlights from Enterprises to illumine both sides of the wooded road.
Ames was in the lead. Suddenly his car swerved toward the dirt shoulder and braked to a halt.
“Hold it!” he called via cellphone. “I see something!” What looked to be an automobile windshield was gleaming among the trees. The others braked their cars to a stop and leapt out.
“It’s Tom’s car, all right!” Bud cried. “But where is he?”
“Look over here, guys!” yelled Hank Sterling. The pooled spotlights showed tire tracks and an oil stain where a car had evidently swerved off the pavement. Crushed underbrush pointed a further route among the trees.
Mr. Swift went pale. “He may have been forced off the road by a second car!” he murmured. “If they pulled a gun on him—!”
Hank Sterling gripped Mr. Swift’s arm. “Maybe you’d better stay here, Damon.”
But with his son’s fate in question, nothing could stop the elder scientist. All six grabbed powerful flashlights from the cars and hurried into the darkness of the woods.
The trail ended in a clearing next to a ravine that was almost invisible behind a wall of overhanging trees. Tracks, gouges, and oil droplets gave testimony that a vehicle had been parked there recently. “Oh, no!” A tense cry escaped Bud’s lips as he pointed off beyond the clearing. Broken branches showed that something or someone had made its way through tangled underbrush edging the ravine!
Had it walked—or had it been dragged?
Sick with fear, the searchers scrambled down the sloping bank, Bud and Mr. Swift in the lead. “Maybe Tom was dazed by the accident,” Bud suggested hopefully. “Perhaps he’s wandering around somewhere close by!”
Mr. Swift was in no mood for false hope. “There was no sign of an accident, Bud.”
“Tom! Tom Swift!” The repeated calls rang through the darkness.
Suddenly a yell from Bud electrified his companions. Within moments all of them had rushed to his side. Ames arrived last and gave a startled gasp.
Tom lay unconscious on the ground, caked and drying blood on the back of his head and neck. His father knelt beside him. The glow of their flashlights revealed a square white object, like a card, pinned to his T-shirt.
Mr. Swift scarcely trusted himself to speak. He gestured that someone should look at the note.
“No words,” grated Ames. “Just some kind of figures or symbols.”
“Figure it out later!” Bud commanded. “We’ve got to get Tom to a hospital!”
Mr. Swift had slipped one arm under Tom’s shoulders. “He’s had a blow to the head, obviously,” he muttered after a quick examination. “No sign of anything else. He’s breathing—strong pulse.”
Suddenly Tom sucked in his breath. “He’s coming around,” said Slim Davis.
The young inventor’s blue eyes fluttered open. He blinked at the faces bending over him.
“Tom! Do you recognize us?” Bud asked, his voice quavering.
“Sure I do,” Tom breathed. “You’re Sandy—right?”
Bud snorted in joy and relief. “He’s fine!”
Presently Tom recovered enough to tell what had happened. “Did you get any glimpse of the person who hit you?” Ames inquired.
Tom shook his head painfully. “No. But it must have been the driver of that Tioga. I’m sure the woman was his crony—a real actress.”
“Did you notice the license plate?” asked Arv Hanson.
“I’m afraid not.”
When Ames showed him the strange note, Tom looked it over and frowned thoughtfully. “These two symbols look like Chinese writing. It must be some kind of warning or threat.”
“Whatever the point of it was, they didn’t intend to kill you, it seems, thank God,” said Tom’s father.
“Hey!” shouted Hank Sterling, who had strode a few paces away. “There’s something further on down the slope!”
Ames trotted over. His sharp eyes followed Hank’s pointing finger.
“It’s a body,” he pronounced grimly.
STARTLED by Harlan Ames’s words, Tom tried to rise to his feet. His father gently held him back. “No, son, stay put.”
Ames worked his way down the side of the ravine about fifteen feet further. “Male caucasian, early middle age, balding.” He spoke loudly enough for the others to hear. “Unarmed. No wallet. And very dead.” He stood and climbed back to the others, rejoining Tom and Mr. Swift. “He was shot, then picked up and tossed down the embankment.”
“Oh man,” said Bud. “Must’ve been an innocent bystander who saw too much.”
But Ames shook his head. “Not the way I read it. Near the body is a short length of copper pipe—probably what he used on the back of that concrete skull of yours, Tom. There was a little grease on the pipe, and the guy had the same stuff on his right palm.”
“It could be a ruse,” Tom said, “but it sure looks like the victim was the man who attacked me.”
“Then what the heck’s going on?” exclaimed Slim. “Two teams fighting each other to take out Tom Swift?”
“Forget all that right now,” demanded Tom’s father impatiently. “I’m driving Tom to Shopton Memorial.”
“I’ll switch seats with you, Bud,” offered Hank Sterling. “Go along with Tom. We’ll all wait for you back at the house.”
Hank and Slim half-carried the young inventor back to his father’s car. Mr. Swift rushed Tom to Shopton’s main hospital. Slim Davis volunteered to drive Tom’s car back to the Swift residence.
Almost before Mrs. Swift and Sandy had had time to absorb the distressing series of events, Tom was back home, head bandaged but in good spirits. The doctors had pronounced him free of concussion, but prescribed, sternly, two full days of bedrest,
It was a daunting prescription for Tom Swift. By morning he felt fine and was bursting with energy. He greeted his mother and sister with a smile as he sat down to a late breakfast. Mr. Swift had already left.
“Please stay at home today,” Mrs. Swift urged anxiously.
“Can’t, Mom! Honestly!” Tom grinned and hugged her. “But I promise I’ll― ”
“Darling, when I said ‘please’ I was just being polite,” said Mrs. Swift sweetly. “I’m prepared to use strong-arm tactics if necessary.”
Tom gave her a sheepish look. “Gee, I think I’ll head back to bed. I’m feeling just a little—faint.”
“I have such smart children.”
As the restless invalid lay in bed reading, his nightstand telephone rang. Harlan Ames was calling. After asking Tom how he felt, Ames said, “I thought you might like to hear the report I just gave your Dad. The police and the coroner have confirmed what I said about the man’s death. They’ve run fingerprints and dentals; it seems our late friend was one Gilly Murchison, a gangster, somewhat low in the food chain.”
“That’s the man suspected of playing pilot for Judson.”
“Yes. I’m sure Joe will be broken up, losing a pal like that. We haven’t had any luck tracing the woman or the Tioga. And guess what?—the bullets used on Gilly were expertly plucked out of his body, so there are no leads in that direction.”
“What about the note, Harlan?”
“Nothing unusual about the paper. Just a blank for a business card print run. No fingerprints, of course. But we do have a lead, or at least something interesting to consider.”
“Right. That was a good hunch of yours, about its being Chinese. We took it over to Arv’s assistant, Linda Ming. It’s a little weird and a lot melodramatic, Tom.”
Tom laughed. “Always is!” He listened with keen interest as the security chief continued.
“One symbol was easy. It means Death. The other was unusual. Linda thinks it’s the ideogram for a man’s name, Li Ching. But it’s been stylized in a funny way—looks a bit like a snake.”
“It must be his trademark, so to speak,” Tom mused. “Does that name mean anything to the authorities?”
“He’s not a wanted criminal, not in the US anyway,” replied Ames. “But they’re looking into the possibility of a foreign connection. I’ll let you know if anything pops up.” He added that Joe Judson, now in Federal custody, had been interrogated. “But it was a waste of effort,” Ames concluded. “Judson still won’t talk.”
Tom mulled this over. “Hmm. Maybe if Longneck Ebber is found, it’ll solve the mystery.”
“I hope so,” Ames said glumly. “But the FBI has no lead on him yet. He seems to have dropped out of sight.”
Shortly after Ames’s call, Doc Simpson, the young Enterprises physician, arrived at the house to perform his own examination of Tom. He firmly ordered Tom to remain in bed. “No use pleading, boss,” the medic said. “That was a nasty blow you got, concussion or no. If you overdo things, it could have some aftereffects. Now you stay in bed and take it easy—at least for today.”
Tom fumed but complied, secretly thinking: Well, at least I’ve shaved one day off my captivity! Sandy did her best to keep her brother amused throughout the day. But it was hard for someone as keen and active as Tom to stay cooped up like an invalid when he felt well and sunshine was pouring through the upstairs windows. Besides, there was so much to be done on the undersea project!
Fortunately Bud stopped by during the afternoon, bringing Bashalli Prandit in his red convertible. Bashalli was Tom’s favorite date—in fact, his only regular companion among the eager young ladies of Shopton.
“What a break!” he exclaimed with a grin.
Bash’s dark eyes twinkled as she produced a gift she and Bud had brought. “I think the major break was to your skull. But here, Thomas—get well soon!”
She held out a tempting basket of glazed fruits and other delicacies.
“Wow! This is worth having to stay in bed for!” Tom chuckled with delight at the girl’s thoughtfulness. “Thanks a million, you two!”
“We’ll help you eat it,” Sandy volunteered. Tom tore off the cellophane and passed the basket around. As they nibbled the fruits, Bashalli asked how Tom had been passing the time. “Other than recuperating in bed—which you do seem to do quite a lot, I must point out.”
“He beat me so often at chess that he got bored,” Sandy replied. She giggled. “Then he started working out theorems in rubber-sheet geometry.”
“Good night, what’s that?” Bud asked.
“Don’t ask me!” Sandy retorted mischievously. “He says it deals with such problems as whether the hole is inside or outside of a doughnut.”
Tom laughed at Bud’s popeyed stare. “The real name for it is topology, a form of mathematical analysis having to do with shape. It’s a little tough to explain.”
“Okay! Don’t bother,” said Bud hastily with a wink in Sandy’s direction. “I suppose it has something to do with your cannon.”
Bash’s eyebrows arched prettily beneath her raven-black hair. “Tom has invented a cannon?”
“Oh, that’s just what Bud calls it, Bashi,” explained Sandy with a teasing roll of the eyes. “Look, there’s the working model right over there.”
Bashalli curiously examined the intricate miniature resting upon Tom’s desk. “I see. It does look a bit like a cannon, doesn’t it.”
“It’s called a spectromarine selector,” Tom said with a smile, half-apologetic over the somewhat tongue-twisty name.
The device sat upon a rectangular platform with small tractor-tread units attached beneath. “The full-sized version will be twenty feet long and eight feet across,” the young inventor explained, “and the tread units will be able to be extended downward on pistons to accommodate uneven terrain, just like the ones on the seacopters.”
Bashalli pointed to the silver, cannonlike unit swivel-mounted on a pedestal and pointing forward. “And this fearsome cannon—what is it for, protection against whales?”
Tom broke out laughing, then winced, touching the bandages around his head. “I’ll tell you all about it, ladies—Bud’s already had his usual briefing. First of all, the purpose of the spectrosel is to help marine archaeologists, which is a specialized profession nowadays, explore subocean ruins by safely and selectively cleaning off the thick coatings of gunk that accumulate over the centuries. Most of it consists of organic remains: dead seaweed, layers of plankton, coral—that sort of thing.”
“Maybe a few leftover tentacles from a dead octopus,” Bud put in.
“And pirate bones,” Sandy added.
“All right, then,” said Bashalli. “And so, how does this de-organic-izer of yours actually work?”
“Look, I’ll show you the main components.” Bash handed Tom the model. “These little units mounted above and below the mouth of the ‘cannon’ are synchro-phased masers—microwave lasers. They produce two focused beams. You can stand in front of them and barely feel a thing, but at the point where they combine, right on the surface of the material to be removed, a real hotspot is created.”
“Since you’re talking about waterlogged stuff, that must cause steam,” Sandy remarked.
“Yep. In fact it causes a tiny explosion of steam at the point of focus, strong enough to peel off the outermost layer and literally blast it away into the air. As the beams scan back and forth, the entire underlying surface will eventually be exposed.”
Bashalli shrugged. “Very nice, but you will have quite a pile of debris to sweep up, even if it has been steam-cleaned.”
“Not at all, Bash,” responded the youthful scientist-inventor. “That’s where this cannon part comes in.” He indicated the round opening at the front. “These panels just inside the mouth generate spectron-field pulses, basically the same sort of technology we use in the repelatrons. But they don’t cause a repulsion effect; the spectron waves bounce off the surface the machine is aimed at, like a radar beam. The returning waves give a little nudge to the dislodged particles and carry them right into the intake cylinder, where the particles—it winds up as a powder—get compressed into a storage reservoir here at the rear of the platform.”
“And it won’t accidentally strip off all that gold?” inquired the young Pakistani.
“Let’s hope not! Like the repelatrons, the impeller-waves can be tuned to affect certain materials and ignore others. That’s the ‘selector’ part.”
As Bashalli nodded pertly to indicate that she understood, Sandy pointed out another part of the device which Tom had not yet mentioned. Suspended from a long overhead boom, it was shaped like a funnel and hung a few feet above the front end of the cannon. A jointed hose spiraled back from the narrow neck of the unit, branching out to connect to a number of cylindrical metal tanks. “And what’s this for, Tomonomo?”
“I call that part the moleculetron,” Tom answered.
Bud interrupted with, “I haven’t come up with a nickname yet, but I’m workin’ on it.”
“What it does,” Tom persisted, “is separate and process the gaseous products arising from the treatment. The spectronic beams can be made to reflect back at slightly different angles. It’s like the way a prism separates rays of light into different colors. The heavier particulates go into the cannon, but the lighter free molecules—gases—are conveyed into the moleculetron, which selects-out the various elements and basic compounds for more efficient storage. For safety, we don’t want to leave anything floating in the air.”
“Don’t you mean, in the water?” Bud pointed out.
“Nope. We’ll be using the spectrosel inside the hydrodome airspace created by the repelatron.”
Bashalli noted the delicately crafted miniature control panel next to the rear of the cannon-cylinder. Studded with tiny levers and dials, it appeared extremely realistic. “It ought to be,” commented Tom with pride. “This is as accurate a scale model as Arv and Linda can make, and it’s fully functional.”
“This little model actually works?” Bashalli asked in amazement.
“Sure,” Tom turned to Bud with a grin. “Like a little hair off the top, pal?”
“Please! Don’t experiment on me, Professor!”
Bashalli held up her leather purse with silver initials. “The purse is new, but these letters already need polishing,” she said playfully. “Could your machine remove the tarnish?”
Tom hesitated, a doubtful look on his face. “Well, actually—the spectromarine selector is designed to work on materials with water content. I don’t know if― ”
“Aw c’mon, genius boy!” Bud urged teasingly. “The Swift honor is at stake!”
“All right,” said the young inventor reluctantly. “I suppose it can’t do any harm.”
As Bash held her purse about a foot away from the cannon, Tom aimed the model at the metal initials. Then he flicked on the power, provided by a miniature solar battery, and gently pushed a lever forward with the edge of his fingernail.
“Ohhh!” Bashalli and Sandy shared a delighted gasp as the tarnish seemed to fade away like magic until it had completely disappeared. But their amazement quickly turned to dismay as the initials too began to vanish! Before Tom could fumble his fingers into position on the tiny levers to turn off the machine, even the leather was partly eaten away!
“It’s ruined!” Sandy groaned.
Tom, red-faced, hastily apologized.
“Don’t worry, Thomas,” Bashalli said good-naturedly. “It’s an old purse, anyhow.”
“You said it was new.”
“Now it’s old.”
“But what happened?” Sandy asked. Tom explained that he had adjusted the machine to remove tarnish, a sulfide compound. But the selector circuit, by an unexpected feedback action, had also ordered the selector to remove the metal alloy, which contained a sulfurous base.
“There’s sulfur in the leather, too,” he added. “So the spectrosel took part of that off!”
“Just a slight slip-up,” Bud grinned.
“It’s a problem that could cause plenty of damage,” Tom noted ruefully. “I’ll buy you a new purse, Bashalli, and let’s say this one went for the cause of science. At least it showed me a flaw in my machine that needs correcting!”
“I trust you are no longer bored,” commented Bashalli.
The next morning Tom returned to work at the plant over his mother’s resigned and half-hearted protests. He made a quick tour of the various departments to check progress on the full-sized version of his new invention. Luckily there was still time to make changes in the spectrosel’s differential-detector unit. Having developed a promising approach, he went to confer with Art Wiltessa, a brilliant young engineer who often oversaw the construction of Tom’s inventions. He had supervised the production of many of Tom’s projects from blueprint to working model.
But before three words had escaped Tom’s mouth, his pocket cellphone bleeped. Tom apologized to Art and answered the call.
“It’s Ames, Tom,” said a tense voice. “I’ve received some new info on this Li Ching guy. It looks like you’re in for some real rough sailing!”
AN EXCESS OF LOVE
TOM groaned. “What did you find out, Harlan?”
“I’ve been in touch with Hal Brenner, the FBI agent you’ve dealt with,” Ames responded. Agent Brenner had previously assisted Tom when he and Hank Sterling had been imprisoned during the run-up to Tom’s flight to South America in his Flying Lab. “He was given permission to tell me what they know about Mr. Li. The main source is Interpol, although I think Brenner was hinting at some sources in the CIA and the domestic terrorism office.”
“And maybe your cousin Steve?”
Ames chuckled. “Tom, you should get out of inventing and become a detective! At any rate, here’s what I was told, boiled down. Turns out Li is, officially, Comrade-General Li Ching, former head of the technological research division—weapons, in other words—of the Army of the People’s Republic of China. He was suspected of marketing secrets to Taiwan, but fled the country before he could be arrested.”
“So he’s a traitor.”
“Yes, and worse—he’s thought to be the leader of a sort of international spy-for-hire ring with a specialization in high-tech theft. Brenner describes him as ruthless and murderous.”
“We’ve definitely seen that!” Tom declared. “But just how is he involved in this Mob-Kranjovia connection?”
“Brenner’s stumped on that one, and so am I,” admitted the security chief. “It’s possible, of course, that some entirely separate group is trading on his name. But there are a half-dozen government offices at work on the problem—not to mention Enterprises’ own security aces!”
“I’m betting you solve it first, Harlan!” commented the young inventor appreciatively. “Thanks a lot for the report.”
“Watch your backside, Tom.”
“That’s hard to do,” Tom joked. “I’ll let Bud watch my backside, and I’ll watch his.”
Turning his attention back to Art, Tom described the flaw that had spoiled his demonstration on Bashalli’s purse. “I think I have the answer,” he added.
Pulling out pencil and paper, Tom sketched a feedback-control circuit which he had worked out in his mind overnight. Its purpose was to prevent the compounds in the object being cleaned from affecting the selection of elements to be removed.
“Good enough,” Art commented. He was a man of few words, but his eyes showed his admiration for his young employer’s technical insight. “And we can add that easily before the unit’s assembled.”
“Thanks, Art.” Tom thumped him on the back. “I hate to slow up your schedule, but we want all the bugs ironed out before setting up shop in those Atlantis ruins.”
Having given work to others, Tom was now somewhat at loose ends. After spending some time making entries in his personal journal, he prowled about his several labs restlessly. As noon approached, he was relieved when his telephone buzzed.
“Hi, sis! What’s up?”
“Oh, just felt like giving a call to my famous big brother,” was Sandy’s breezy reply. “I don’t suppose you’ll be taking off for the sunken city this afternoon?”
Tom gave a wry chuckle. “Not a chance. We’ll probably work Saturday, though. Lots to do.”
“Don’t try to wiggle out!” his sister warned. “Daddy says you have this afternoon free, and we want you to join Bud and Bashi and I on a pleasure outing. Even if you don’t care about your devoted sister and poor Bashalli—she of the abused purse!—you don’t want to let Bud down, do you?”
Tom groaned humorously. “Well, I suppose if you’ve already got Bud’s okay...”
“Meet us in the parking lot in fifteen minutes.”
In eight minutes Tom found the girls leaning glamorously against Bud’s scarlet convertible. Bud gave Tom a rueful look. “When they told me you’d given thumbs-up, pal, I figured I’d better come along to play watchdog.”
“Huh?” Tom gave Sandy a look of mock accusation. “You said you’d already got Bud’s okay before you called me!”
“No, Tom, you said I’d already got Bud’s okay,” Sandy replied blithely. “Can I be blamed for your jumping to a conclusion?”
Bud struck his forehead with his hand. “Genius boy, we’ve been had!”
“A fine thing to say, Buddo,” Sandy pouted. “Is there something wrong with us, Bashi?”
Bashalli’s long dark lashes drooped sadly as she smothered a giggle. “It’s no use, Sandra. I fear we’re just not their type.”
“Oh well.” Sandy shrugged mischievously. “If they have to work so hard all the time, maybe we better find ourselves other dates.”
“You know, there are these nice two boys who work at Wickliffe Laboratories...”
This brought a quick reaction from Bud. “Hey, none of that!” he protested. “Maybe we could manage to break away.”
Giving up the game, Tom laughed. “So what’s the plan?”
The plan turned out to be an afternoon at Carnival Park, a large amusement park in the old-fashioned style that had just opened in a little resort town at the tip of Lake Carlopa. For weeks, the girls had been begging Tom and Bud to accompany them there.
“Yippee!” Bud burst out gleefully. “This is wonderful, Sandy! I haven’t been to a carnival in a blue moon!”
As soon as they had parked, the four young people hurried off gaily on foot to the carnival grounds. A din of excitement filled the place. The carnival was ablaze with color, highlighted by striped tents and clusters of toy balloons. Barkers shouted in front of the amusement concessions, while children shrieked and squealed with laughter on the fun rides and the merry-go-round.
“Oh, I’m so excited!” Bashalli confessed. “Sandra, this is the best idea you ever had!”
“Check!” Tom agreed, laughing.
“And you didn’t even have to change your signature blue-striped T-shirt, Thomas,” she added with irony, and a twinkle in her eye.
The two couples lunched on dogs, fries, and shakes, to which the voracious Bud Barclay added his favorite, roasted corn on the cob. Everywhere they went, strolling Shoptonians nodded hello, for Shopton’s most celebrated citizen was well known to everyone.
“Hey, let’s show Sandy and Bash what hot shots we are!” Bud proposed as they passed a shooting-gallery booth.
“Okay.” Tom grinned. “We’ll make it boys against the girls—losers buy cotton candy all around. But let’s not run up the score on ’em too high!”
The girls selected guns and shot their round first. Bing! Bing! Bing! The travelling ducks went down faster than clay pigeons at a rifle match.
“Wow! Almost good!” Bud gulped. Sandy and Bash smiled innocently but said nothing.
When Tom and Bud’s turn came, they were unable to beat the girls’ high score. The boys looked at each other in deep male chagrin as they lay down their guns.
Tom chuckled wryly. “You don’t suppose this could have been a put-up job too?” he quipped to Bud.
The girls burst out laughing.
“I suppose we mustn’t destroy their fragile egos,” cautioned Bashalli. “Tom may be needed to save the world.”
“Okay, we’ll ’fess up!” Sandy giggled. “We’ve been taking shooting lessons from Chow!” Chow Winkler, a big and grizzled one-hundred-percent Texan, had recently left on one of his periodic trips back to his home in Texas. He had proven himself skilled at the cowboy arts of ridin’, wranglin’, and shootin’.
The boys vowed to do better at the next concession. This turned out to be a booth where the customers were pitching baseballs at a comical-looking dummy. As Tom left them momentarily to fetch the promised cotton candy, Bud sized up the game. “Three shots for a quarter!” the barker shouted. “Nothin’ to it, folks! Hit the dummy and down he goes! So step right up and win your little lady a prize!”
“Okay. Maybe our luck will turn here.” Bud, who had been a fireball hurler on his high school team, grinned in anticipation.
Just then a lady bystander snickered. “Hey, that dummy looks just like you, Longneck!”
Bud stiffened. Could the speaker be referring to Longneck Ebber? Beneath hat and sunglasses, the man standing next to the woman certainly resembled the FBI photo Harlan Ames had shown them!
Bud shot a quick glance at Tom as he walked up with the cotton candy. “Tom, that guy over there—I’m sure it’s Longneck,” he whispered to his chum. “If he notices you― ”
Tom turned to the two girls, speaking quietly and tensely. “Wait over by the ferris wheel, out of sight. We think we see one of that gang, and he could be armed. We’ll be right back.”
The possible Ebber, a tall, cadaverous man with a beaky nose, was already walking away with his companion. Tom and Bud followed them at a distance, hoping to remain unseen in the crowd.
But it seemed the mob leader had the sixth sense of a born criminal. He abruptly stopped and turned. His eyes fell on the young inventor, and his slit of a mouth turned deadly.
“Get outa here!” he grunted at his woman friend, roughly shoving her away. Ebber whirled and took off like a startled jackrabbit, plunging violently into the crowd. Tom and Bud dashed after the suspect almost without thinking.
Ducking and weaving to avoid collisions with the carnival merrymakers, the two boys sprinted through the midway. But the crowds of people made it impossible to keep their quarry in sight. They paused to catch their breaths, ready to give up the chase. Longneck Ebber could have slipped off in any of a dozen directions among the tents and concession stands.
Suddenly Tom hissed, “I see him! He’s at that big building over there, behind the ticket booth!” Ebber was standing in line to enter one of the enclosed rides, evidently trying to get out of sight. Even as the youths began to run, they saw Ebber hand a ticket to an attendant and scramble into a boat-shaped conveyance. Over the mobster’s head was a gaudy sign outlined in flickering bulbs: Spend Ten Minutes in The Tunnel of Love!
They attempted to jump the line, but two stern well-muscled carny men warned them back. “Ticket booth over there, boys!”
Tom and Bud rushed up to the booth. “Two for the Tunnel of Love!” Tom demanded, panting as he fumbled out some coins.
“Uh-hunh. The times they are a-changin’,” said the man in the booth languidly. “First some guy wants to ride all by hisself, then you two boys―”
“Come on!” Bud demanded. “We’re in a hurry!”
“I bet,” scowled the man, peeling off two tickets.
In moments Tom and Bud were in their two-seater boat, which ran along on a rail partly covered by a shallow stream of water. They glided slowly forward into the darkness of the building. A number of the little boats, filled with ardent occupants, now lay between them and Ebber.
“Can you see him?” asked Bud.
“Nope. He’s somewhere ahead of that bend up there.”
There was nothing to do but wait as the boat inched lazily along among the blacklight-lit monsters and weird clown faces. They came to an open place where they could see across to a further point on the track. Tom elbowed his pal. A boat had just emerged into the violet dimness—empty! “He’s jumped out somewhere!” Tom exclaimed. “He must be trying to get out through a back door!”
“Trying to shake us,” Bud gritted. “But we won’t be shook!” He stood in the boat, pulling Tom to his feet. They jumped off onto the painted “shore,” their feet crunching down through its foam covering as they sprinted across toward the opening of the dark section that the empty boat had just emerged from.
Then, accompanied by startled screams, a gunshot crackled through the purple shadows!
ON TO ATLANTIS!
TOM and Bud hurled themselves down flat, muscles tensed in anticipation of bullets. But there were no more bangs, only the babble of excited voices.
“Lookit that!” laughed a boy somewhere ahead. “Man, this ride has everything!”
Rising cautiously, the boys made their way forward at a crouch. “Look down there,” Tom whispered. “Footprints.”
They crossed the stream, using the prow of a passing boat as a stepping stone. “Sorry,” Tom muttered to the riders.
“Having a good time?” was Bud’s contribution.
They crept through an archway into another section—and halted with stunned gasps. A lean, longnecked figure was hanging from an overhead beam, arms dangling down limply, so low that the laughing riders had to duck beneath his fingers.
Tom and Bud made a slow approach, jerking back at one point when it seemed an arm had twitched. But it was only the nudge of a head brushing as it passed beneath.
Tom drew close and touched the body.
“Dead?” asked Bud.
Tom nodded. “Bleeding from the back. That shot was meant for Ebber, not us.”
Even in the dim luminance they could make out a small square of white against the late Longneck Ebber’s dark shirt. Li Ching’s calling card!
After a long afternoon with the local police, carnival officials, and a pair of sour-faced young ladies, Tom and Bud ended their day of carefree amusement conferring with Harlan Ames and Mr. Swift back at Enterprises.
“No trace of Longneck’s female companion,” reported Ames. “Matching Bud’s description to yours, Tom, we think it was the same woman who stopped you out on the road.”
“So now this Li Ching character has racked up two victims from the Mayday Mob,” Bud noted. “Someone must have been following Ebber.”
“And was Ebber following Tom in turn?” asked Damon Swift. “We found a gun—Ebber’s—on the floor near the body. He must have drawn it.”
“Nobody could have known that we’d be at Carnival Park,” Tom put in thoughtfully. “More likely he was holed up somewhere in town putting together some more dirty work, and decided to take his lady friend out on a date.”
“It’s enough to make you give up dating,” Bud remarked. “Long as I live, I’ll never go into another Tunnel of Love!”
“Comrade-General Li may be taking out the bad guys for now,” stated Ames, “but who knows what he’ll turn to later.”
Seeing the look on his father’s face, Tom said gently, “We’ll be safer underwater. When is Lieutenant Fraser supposed to get here?” Lieutenant Brian Fraser was the assigned replacement for Cromwell, who was still hospitalized.
“There’s been a change in plans,” Mr. Swift answered. “I received word this afternoon, while you were all off enjoying yourselves. Fraser is on Fearing, where he’ll stay until the expedition is ready to depart.”
“I’ll say Monday’s the day, Dad. The spectromarine selector should be ready by then; I think we can load it onto the Sky Queen Sunday afternoon. All three mantacopters are already waiting in their berths on Fearing.”
“Your science team gets here tomorrow morning,” Ames added. “I’ve checked them all out, and so has the FBI. More than once!”
“Good. It’ll be great to see Ham and George again!” Tom grinned. George Braun and Hamilton Teller were a lively, bantering pair of scientists with a background in oceanography and archaeology and a powerful interest in the Atlantis legend. They had been part of the first seacopter visit to the city of gold.
Ames winked. “I’ll do my level best to keep you boys alive, at least through tomorrow morning.”
Bud had the last word. “Could you make it tomorrow evening? I have afternoon plans.”
The next day, Friday, brought not doom but a diversion. Anticipating the arrival of the science team by plane, Tom’s wait in his office was interrupted by the office secretary, Munford Trent. “Tom, there’s a Miss Gabardine here to see you.”
“Does she have an appointment?”
“She claims not to need one. She says she’s here from the Treasury Department—official business.” Trent approached Tom at his desk and spoke softly. “Please don’t make me argue with her any more, Tom. It’d take an atom bomb to pry her out the door!”
Tom chuckled under a sympathetic look. “All right, let’s see what she wants. I’ll keep a finger on the security alert button.”
“They’ll need to send a squad.”
In a moment a woman marched in, her stride forceful and determined. Tom knew instantly that this woman was unique, in that she lacked a description. In all respects she was as plain as the national average, neither tall nor short, young nor old, stout nor thin. Her hair was a mousy color floating somewhere between brown and blond. Her outfit was gray, dignified, and thoroughly businesslike—and it was clear she meant business!
“Julienne Gabardine,” she declared, offering her hand. “I apologize for arriving in this abrupt manner, but this is our method of operations when we conduct an inspection.”
Tom was puzzled. “An inspection?”
She seated herself unbidden. “Not in this case, actually. I am here as an Evaluator on behalf of the United States Department of the Treasury. Swift Enterprises, or rather your current exploration project, is my Evaluatee. Her are my credentials. Feel free to contact the Department for verification.”
Tom glanced at them politely, knowing that he would pass them along to Harlan Ames. “Well, Julienne― ”
“Miss Gabardine, if you please. I prefer to keep this relationship at a professional level. I am unmarried, but I would be grateful if you would inform your employees that I am not available for socializing.”
“I’ll pass along the word, Miss Gabardine,” responded Tom with a smile. “I’m afraid I’m not clear on the purpose of your visit.”
“No, of course you aren’t. I am assigned the responsibility of reporting on, and generally evaluating, your use of the Federal funding granted you for certain well-defined purposes with respect to your proposed activities at the subocean archaeological site.”
“I see,” nodded the young inventor as his smile faded. “Of course, the government is involved in the project, and has sent us an observer. Really, though, ma’am, nearly all the costs are born by Enterprises.”
“I don’t make the rules, Mr. Swift,” was the curt reply. “This is required by Federal regulations, which I am prepared to cite if you wish. International agreements are also involved.”
“We’ll make your visit as easy as possible, Miss Gabardine. I suppose you’ll need access to our files and records?”
“Mr. Swift, I am to accompany you on the voyage, to evaluate your project and its expenditures on the basis of firsthand knowledge.”
Tom drew back in his chair, astonished. “But—ma’am—this is a complicated scientific operation on the ocean floor! I don’t see how we can be expected to accommodate― ”
This woman stood, her attitude politely dismissive. “You might like to have your legal office examine my credentials. My scope of authority is absolutely definite. I won’t interfere with the science, Mr. Swift. As I understand it, you will be providing a surface type of environment at the site, so no special training would seem to be necessary. But my presence is necessary, if your project is to go forward.”
Tom boggled but said calmly, “Departure is scheduled for Monday.”
Miss Gabardine gave a crisp nod. “I’ve taken a hotel room in Shopton. Here is the number. No doubt it would be best for me to spend Sunday night here, on the premises, so as not to delay you.”
“We’ll arrange it.” She turned and marched out, and Tom wiped his brow. Good night, wait’ll Dad hears about this! he thought.
The science team, eighteen men and women from various scientific fields and several nations, arrived at Enterprises at the tail end of the busy morning. Tom and Mr. Swift greeted them and had them shown to their comfortable quarters on the grounds of Enterprises.
“Great to see you, you two!” exclaimed Tom warmly as he shook hands with Ham Teller and George Braun. “It’s been too long!”
The two scientists were very different from one another. Red-haired Braun was pudgy and animated, while Teller, tall and balding, was wry and relaxed. His inflection bespoke his Brooklyn upbringing.
“Yaa, well, we’ve been busy, sorting out all that stuff from the Ocean Arrow trip,” responded Ham in half-apology. “Brauny here can’t turn over a piece o’ paper without getting himself distracted.”
“Sure, Ham, blame the short guy!” retorted George Braun. “As you remember, Tom, I’m the one who’s precise and thorough. Teller lazes around playing computer games when I’m not looking.”
Tom laughed. He knew the two were the closest of friends, and topnotch scientific researchers.
Monday arrived. The scientists, Swift technicians, spectromarine selector—and Miss Gabardine—were loaded aboard the Flying Lab. Doc Simpson was also accompanying the mission, to study the physical effects of longterm living beneath the sea.
But the ceiling of the huge underground hangar did not split in two and open. The Sky Queen’s special platform did not lift it up into the morning sunlight. Instead, the clock ticked.
“Where is he?” groaned Bud Barclay. “Are we really sure he flew in last night?”
Tom nodded. “Absolutely, pal. He brought me a rattlesnake sandwich at eleven PM!”
A big, round, frantically waving figure came bounding across the hangar concrete, unheard on the other side of the thick cockpit viewpane.
“That’s our boy,” Bud snorted humorously. “That shirt could run all by itself.” Chow Winkler’s gaudy color preferences had become the stuff of legends at Swift Enterprises, along with his formidable, if sometimes eccentric, prowess as special executive chef. Since Tom and his father had brought him back from a New Mexico ranch, he had become a favorite at Enterprises, and one of Tom and Bud’s closest friends. It was a rare operation that lacked Chow Winkler’s special touch.
The ex-Texan arrived panting in the control compartment. “Brand my slitherin’ snakes!” he gasped. “Got m’self jet-lagged! I ’as hard asleep when th’ dang alarm went off!”
“Couldn’t leave without you, pard,” Tom said affectionately. The older man beamed through his broad leathery face.
Finally gliding vertically above the clouds on its bank of jet lifters, the mighty stratoship made for the sky, heading south toward Fearing Island at supersonic speed, Hank Sterling at the controls while Tom and Bud chatted with their colleagues and friends in the top deck lounge.
“What a beautiful blue sky it is up here,” murmured one of the geophysicists, Dr. Emmaline Norliss. “Have you flown the stratosphere before, Jul—mm, Miss Gabardine?”
“Once or twice,” replied the Treasury official. “But I tend to look at things from the standpoint of efficiency.”
“Oh, upper air travel is very efficient,” put in Arv Hanson jokingly. “Gives a person time to think—clears the brain.”
“And you leave trouble down below,” Bud said. Then he added: “Unless you fall out of the plane, of course.”
Tom winced. “Let’s not bring that up, flyboy!” It had happened to Tom!
The Sky Queen flew on to Fearing Island. Ever since the small, barren stretch of sand dunes and scrubgrass off the Georgia coast had been converted into the Swifts’ top-secret rocket-testing facility, it had come under high-security protection. It was circled without pause by midget drone jets, and a radar monitoring system, the patrolscope, was constantly alert to any unauthorized entry.
The Flying Lab circled as it approached, giving a view of Tom’s huge repelatron spaceship, the Challenger, as well as the docking facility where the three mantacopters were berthed.
“How kin you tell ’em apart?” asked Chow.
“Only by looking at the names painted on the hulls,” was the reply. “Besides the Deepwing, there’s the Supermanta and the Fathomer—all loaded and ready.”
“Wa-aal, ya shoulda let ol’ Chow name ’em, boss,” Chow declared. “Got me a whole passel o’ names ready fer use. Good ones, too.”
“Hey, Chow, you already got to name my new invention,” Tom laughingly reminded his friend. “I was all set to call it a ‘spectron selectrol’—then I remembered my promise.”
“Right good thing, too!” Long before, Tom had promised that he would use a name the cook had come up with, spectromarine selector, at the earliest reasonable opportunity.
After clearing with the tower, the team landed on the island airfield and sped by jeep caravan to the submersibles support building next to the docks. A crew was standing by, ready to load the final supplies, and the spectrosel, onto the waiting mantacopters.
“I’ll miss riding in the Sea Hound this time out,” Bud remarked, He pointed off into the distance. “Your helicopter-submarine is all slicked up and ready, looks like.” Dwarfed by the mantacops, the saucer-shaped seacopter gleamed in the bright Atlantic sun.
Tom nodded. “She’s a great ship. But she’ll be here waiting for us when we get back.”
A young, red-haired Navy officer now approached, accompanied by Phil Radnor. “I’m Brian Fraser,” he said as he shook hands with Tom. “The real thing!”
“Good to meet you, Lieutenant.” Tom noticed that the new man wore the twin gold dolphins of the submarine service. “You’ll be right in your element on this trip.”
Fraser grinned pleasantly. “I’m looking forward to it!” He conveyed greetings from Admirals Hopkins and Krevitt.
The team and crew split three ways. Tom decided to make the voyage in the Fathomer along with the cannon—which had now become the official nickname of the spectromarine selector. He was joined by Bud, Chow, George and Ham, Zimby Cox, and, at her own insistence, Julienne Gabardine. The young inventor thought it best not to argue.
“I’ll take the Supermanta,” Fraser decided. “Best not to put all the brass in the same hull!”
Tom took his place at the controls, with Bud beside him in the copilot’s seat. He flicked on the atomic reactor control system, shooting steam to the turbines which spun the enclosed horizontal rotors. With a purring hum the mantacopter floated skyward from its docking cradle.
“How high will we be flying, if I might ask?” inquired Miss Gabardine.
Bud answered for Tom. “About eight feet, ma’am. A little higher if our captain feels daring.”
The woman frowned slightly. “Please don’t feel obliged to be daring on my account.”
As the other two mantas fell into line behind the Fathomer, Tom cut in the forward jet tubes and the super-seacopter went streaking off to the north.
“Hey! Where are we heading?” Bud questioned with a look of surprise. “The North Pole?”
Tom grinned and shook his head. “Just a slight precaution to mislead any spies.” He jerked a thumb toward the ceiling. “You never know who may be up there tracking us—even by satellite!”
“Right—maybe even those space friends of yours who sent that rocket,” added Ham Teller, referring to the capsule of extraterrestrial plantlife they had recovered during the earlier seacopter mission.
The youthful captain flew northward for almost a hundred miles, then abruptly altered course toward the southeast. The fleet adopted a zigzag course. Far out over the mid-Atlantic, Tom brought the mantacopter down and submerged. But even below the surface, he circled and zigzagged warily for a time, which allowed the crew to watch as the other two craft plunged down behind them, sloshing through the gentle swells in swirls of foam.
“Jest like Columbus,” Chow remarked. “Three ships! You coulda called ’em the Nina, Pinta, and th’ Santa Maria. O’ course, we’re headin’ in th’ other direction.”
“Any blips?” Tom asked Zimby, who was scanning the sonarscope.
“All clear, Skipper!”
Finally convinced they were free of any possible pursuers, Tom laid a course for the sunken city of gold. Hours went by as he and Bud watched the deep-sea fish and other colorful ocean life pass by in the greenish waters outside the Tomaquartz window of the cabin.
“Not quite as fast as your jetmarine,” Bud commented, stifling a yawn.
Tom chuckled. “Relax and enjoy the scenery.”
Just then Zimby called out. “Tom! I’m picking up a signal on the all-range!”
“You mean a voice transmission?”
“No, just a steady tone. But it’s on the international emergency channel!”
“And what does that mean?” asked Miss Gabardine.
Tom shot her a worried glance. “That means it’s a distress signal. Someone’s in trouble somewhere ahead—and down deep!”
A SIGNAL light flashed on the automatic navigator panel. “I have a tri on ’em,” announced Zimby, referring to the sonar triangulation system.
Tom activated his sono-resonance locator device. “Eight miles to starboard, twenty two point four degrees.”
“Got a depth reading, Skipper?” asked Bud.
“Deep!” said Tom brusquely. He picked up the control panel microphone and commed the other mantas.
“We picked it up too, Tom,” responded Hank Sterling in the Deepwing. “What are your orders?”
“We have no choice but to check it out,” replied the youth. “It’s possible we’ll have to mount some sort of rescue operation. But frankly—it could also be some sort of trap! Hank, stand-to for ten minutes or so, then follow. You too, Supermanta.”
“Aye-aye,” signaled Slim Davis.
The Fathomer now put about and Tom poured on the steam. The sea floor sped by under the bright glow of the electronic aqualamp. “Volcanic terrain,” noted George Braun quietly. “Rippled, jumbled, and cracked.”
The broad terrain of Chow’s forehead creased. “I’m feelin’ a mite thet way myself.”
“She’s right ahead, Tom,” Zimby reported. “But down below—must be sitting right on the bottom.”
“Then we’ll go down to meet her,” declared Tom tensely. Moments later, a gentle thud announced that they had settled on the sea floor.
“Look!” Bud gave a startled gasp and pointed out the cabin window.
Dead ahead, in the full glare of the seacopter’ s beam, lay a strange submarine!
“What in the world kind of ship is that?” muttered Ham.
The submersible looked to be about sixty feet from prow to stern and consisted of three flat-sided hulls in parallel. At the rear of each was a spherical module which Tom sized-up as a deepwater diving vessel of some kind, probably detachable. Each hull, as well as the diving spheres, bore a small round porthole streaming with light. The mysterious craft remained motionless, betraying no sign of hostile intent, or life of any kind. Its crew, if any, seemed unaware of the Fathomer’s presence and gave no response when Tom called the submarine over the sonophone.
“No answer on any frequency,” he stated. “Just the emergency signal.”
“What do you make of it, Skipper?” Bud asked with a puzzled scowl.
Tom was equally baffled. “You’ve got me, Bud. I can’t even guess its nationality.” He paused thoughtfully. “And yet...” From the manta’s onboard computer he brought up a searchable listing from Jane’s and paged through it. But he found no submarines pictured with lines like those of the unknown craft.
“Must be some new type that’s been kept top secret,” Tom muttered. “Especially to be operating at this depth!”
“What do you intend to do?” inquired Miss Gabardine. Her tone suggested reservations.
“I intend to use some of that ‘funding’ of ours to save lives.” He shot Bud a quizzical glance. “Are you game to pay ’em a visit?”
“In Fat Man suits?” Bud grinned. “Sure, why not? Boy, will they be surprised to see us at their front door!”
Tom and Bud each squirmed into a suit and clamped shut the top-to-bottom access hatches. Moments later, the queer-looking steel monsters squeezed their way out of the contoured hull apertures. Those aboard watched tensely through the cabin windows as Tom and Bud waddled forward through the undersea murk. Each suit carried its own set of spotlights. At this depth the Fat Men were under extreme pressure and bone-chilling temperature. But inside, Tom and Bud were perfectly comfortable as they made their way along, their legs extending downward into the suits’ motor-assisted limbs.
Reaching the mystery submarine, Tom manipulated his Fat Man’s arm controls to rap on the hull. Repeated knocks brought no response.
“Maybe there’s no one aboard,” Bud remarked over his suit’s sonophone.
“Just what I’m thinking.” Tom’s face, seen through his Tomaquartz view dome, bore a puzzled frown. “It may even be a derelict.”
“With an automatic signaler that’s on the blink. So what do we do now?”
“Let’s jet over to the other side.”
They used their small suit jets to hop over the hulls. Landing gently, Bud suddenly called out: “Look—a name!”
“Good night, no wonder she seemed familiar!” Tom exclaimed. “It’s the Hydra-Gaea, Professor Centas’s research deep-diver!”
“In a few minutes, pal, he’ll introduce himself.”
“Hope so.” But Bud was secretly fearful that the submarine’s occupants might be found dead.
They looked through the forward portholes but saw no signs of a crew. “At least she doesn’t seem to be flooded,” Tom noted. “Let’s check out those spheres at the other end.”
As he approached the porthole in one of the spheres, Bud cried out, startled. A dark silhouette had moved into view!
“It’s Centas himself!” exclaimed Tom. “And there’s someone else, too. But their communications must be out.”
Communicating by gesture, Tom indicated that rescue was imminent. He contacted the Supermanta, which now had arrived and was hovering some distance away, and gave detailed instructions to Hank Sterling and Arv Hanson. The mantacopter drew near and settled down onto the bottom, one of its side freight hatches almost touching the occupied sphere. Inside the big airlock, the two expert technicians had bolted down one of the powerful repelatrons the sub was freighting to the city site.
“Hank says they’re all set,” sonophoned Brian Fraser. “Shall I tell ’em to switch on?”
In a moment the occupants of the Hydra-Gaea were witness to a sight few on Earth had seen, the birth of an airspace bubble at the bottom of the sea. The bubble seemed to grow right out of the manta’s hull, partially penetrating the ground as it expanded. In moments it encompassed the entire stern of the Hydra-Gaea with its three metal spheres.
The young inventor now gestured for the occupants to emerge into the airspace.
“Man, I just hope they trust us!” Bud remarked. “It’s a little offputting, climbing out of a sub at the bottom of the ocean!”
“Professor Centas knows all about the repelatron and hydrodome setup, Bud.”
A round hatch slowly opened. The man Tom had recognized crawled out into the airspace, followed by the other occupant, who was unknown to Tom. Lugging along a large metal case, Centas closed the hatch behind him. The two were directed to the Supermanta’s wide airlock hatch, which had swung upward, gullwing-fashion. After it was shut and sealed again Tom ordered the repelatron powered-down, and he and Bud returned to the Fathomer.
“Fantastic!” exulted George Braun.
“Aw, calm down, George,” snorted Ham Teller. “It’s all in a day’s woik for this guy.” But he clapped Tom and Bud on the back, and Zimby and Chow added their congratulations.
Julienne Gabardine held back, making no comment. But the boys could see her jotting some notes in the small notebook she carried.
Tom sonophoned the Supermanta and confirmed that there was no one else aboard the disabled craft. “How are they? Do they need medical attention?”
“Doc Simpson says they need attention, all right, but they’re not in critical shape,” Hank reported. “He thinks they can be treated at the sub-city.”
“Then it seems there would be no need to turn back, I take it,” Miss Gabardine commented.
Tom glanced at her, irritated. “Not at the moment, ma’am. We’ll proceed with the mission and give our medical man a chance to evaluate them.”
“And what about their submarine?”
“The Hydra-Gaea is anchored in place. It’ll stay put for now. It’s not our business to salvage it—it’s not an American ship, and belongs to a private research foundation that Professor Centas heads.”
“They should jest be glad t’be alive,” Chow added.
“I’m sure they are, Chow,” Bud said. “If not, we’ll throw ’em back.”
The fleet now resumed the voyage, ascending a ways toward the surface to avoid the jagged upthrusts of the sea floor. They skirted the Madeiras and headed northward until they sighted the Horseshoe Seamounts that concealed their destination. They were soon directly over the city of gold, two miles down. Tom shoved the control wheel forward and the Fathomer plunged toward the ocean bottom.
The waters darkened and gradually became pitch black. Tom switched on the powerful undersea searchlights. Presently the rugged crags surrounding the slotlike entry channel lay dead ahead. “Here we go,” he sonophoned. “Use sonar guidance to keep to the middle, away from the channel walls. There should be plenty of room.”
They plunged into the darkness beyond the yielding curtain of vegetation, Tom’s mantacopter in the lead. They angled downward moment by moment, involuntarily listening for the scrape of hull against rock.
Tom checked over the automatic instrument readouts. “No problems with the guidance system. It should be just― ”
“Tom! Hard to port!” It was Bud’s frantic warning!
Acting almost automatically, Tom flicked over to manual control and twisted the wheel. What had caught Bud’s attention was now visible to all of them.
“B-brand my seaweed cutlets!” gasped Chow. “A sea serpent!”
A weird, luminescent sea creature was darting toward them!
THE CITY COMES TO LIFE
A BIZARRE fusion of eel, serpent, and jellyfish, the skin of the monster seemed semi-transparent and gelatinous. It glowed with an eerie bluish light, as if veined in neon from tip to tail, and was at least fifty feet long.
“I’ll try to scare him off,” Tom muttered. “He might foul the rotors if he gets himself sucked in.” The young inventor swiveled one set of the gimballed jet tubes, aiming them forward, and shot a plume of white, steamy froth toward the creature. It paused and drew back for a moment, almost like a cobra poised to strike. But it seemed only annoyed, not fearful. Its black protuberant eyes, extended forward at the ends of waving stalks, glared lidlessly at the invader. Powerful jaws gaped open, revealing an armory of spiky teeth that curved like scythes.
“It’s starting to coil!” warned Zimby Cox.
The serpent’s intent became clear. Like a huge boa constrictor, it was preparing to wrap itself about one corner of the Fathomer’s kiteshaped hull, dangerously close to the portside rotor well and its whirring blades. The result could be catastrophic!
It charged—but Tom Swift charged first! With a burst of jet steam he rammed the curving prow of the mantacopter right into the nose of their attacker! For a moment the veined gell of the beast was pressed against the viewpane as it thrashed about wildly, stirring up clouds of murky froth mixed with streamers of luminous blue fluid. The Fathomer rocked and trembled.
Then suddenly the creature darted away. The aqualamp beam showed it plunging into a narrow crack in the looming wall of the channel.
“Let’s hope it stays in there till the mantas have passed!” Bud gasped.
“We may have gotten in the way of its daily commute home,” was Ham Teller’s remark. “Oh, and Chow?”
“Whatever you’re thinking, forget!”
Chow’s fondness for experimental cooking was almost as notorious as his shirts.
Moments later, the Fathomer was plunging back down toward the enclosed canyon. As the channel opened wide, Tom brought the giant seacopter to rest on a slight rise among the undersea peaks that afforded a panoramic view. The two trailing mantas were hovering nearby, their lights illumining the pillared ruins of the encrusted golden city.
“In-co-redible!” Ham Teller gasped in Brooklynese, peering out in amazement at the scene.
“Calm down, Ham,” remonstrated George Braun. “We’ve been here before, remember?”
“What’s the procedure now, Tom?” Zimby asked. He noticed that Miss Gabardine was listening intently.
“Bud and I will go over to the Supermanta and start the primary repelatron working, since it’s already been moved to the airlock, while you and the Deepwing get into position,” Tom explained. “Take charge while I’m gone, Zim. And keep a sharp alert for enemy craft coming down the chute!”
The young inventor and Bud quickly climbed into Fat Man suits and propelled themselves toward the nearby cargo carrier. The boys entered through one of the freight airlocks and crawled out of their steel eggs. Greeting the excited crew, Tom gave instructions.
“We’ll need two men to help us set up the air machine, fellows. In the meantime, please finish prepping the big repelatron for the anchoring maneuver.” He nodded at Hank and Arv, the technical experts aboard.
“Right, Skipper!” Arv responded.
The young oceannaut took a moment to visit the two rescued crewmen in sickbay, who were resting in cots under the watchful eye of Doc Simpson.
“We surely owe our lives to you and your companions,” murmured Professor Belam Centas, his accent showing his Spanish-French origins. He was a wiry man of late middle age, his hair thick and iron-gray, his skin very pale. “My dear Hydra-Gaea decided to betray me.”
“We can discuss that later, sir, after you’ve rested.”
The researcher nodded weakly. “Your Navy man has spoken to us. It seems it would be easier in many ways if we remained with your expedition until the completion of your remarkable project, which he described to us. A matter of secrecy, we were told. All very exciting, and we have no objection, if you will kindly inform the Foundation, in France, of these matters.”
Tom promised to do so and turned to the other man, stocky and black-haired. He spoke with difficulty, evidently little tutored in the English language. “I am Mordo, his assistant and student. I must thank you also, Mr. Swift.”
Tom, Bud, and their two assistants, Nina Kimberley and Mel Flagler, all clad in Fat Man suits, exited the mantacopter. They proceeded to set up the osmotic air conditioner machinery on the outskirts of the city. This device would draw dissolved oxygen and nitrogen from the sea water to provide an atmosphere for the air bubble.
When they returned to the Supermanta, the repelatron was standing ready for action in the open airlock. It consisted of a large metal sphere, some five feet in diameter, mounted on a thick platform, together with a console and electronic control panel. The sphere functioned as the radiator-antenna which beamed out repulsion rays in all directions. During the mission it would be connected by thick cables to the mantacopter’s atomic power plant.
“Okay, folks, let’s slide it out to the anchor point,” Tom directed. Reaching a spot on the rise, the repelatron was set down and long anchor-screws drilled themselves into the solid rock beneath.
Tom adjusted several tuning knobs, then gripped the repelatron control lever, ready to switch on power.
“Ay-Oke, genius boy?” commed Bud.
“Here we go!”
Tom threw the master control switch, and a balloon of air began to form in the water around the radiator sphere. After checking the readouts, the mission leader increased the power, manipulating the dials with the fingers of the Fat Man’s robotic arms.
“Thar she blows!” Bud grinned with excitement as the giant bubble of air expanded with a leap in all directions. Its inner air, temporarily at very low pressure, was being released from tanks in the repelatron’s platform.
Steadily the repelling waves forced back the sea water on all sides. The bubble grew bigger and bigger until it took in the Supermanta stem to stern and continued outward and upward to the canyon wall. As the other craft maneuvered away, the airspace swelled still more, becoming a domelike hemisphere as its lower reaches effortlessly penetrated the ground. When the bubble reached the point where the osmotic air conditioner had been set up, Tom sent a remote-control signal from his Fat Man. Instantly the machine thrummed into action, spreading a pleasant, less humid atmosphere through the bubble. A green signal light flashed as normal air pressure was reached.
Tom opened his hatch and climbed out of the Fat Man and took a deep breath. “We’re in business, fellows!” he announced, grinning. The air bubble now extended to a radius of one thousand feet, its limit. For the first time in millennia, blocks of the city of gold waited in eerie silence in the open air!
“Okay if the rest of us get out too?” asked Nina through her suit’s external speaker.
“I’m afraid not,” was the apologetic response. “I just got out to give the air the old lung test. We need to help set up the other repelatrons.”
Even the large-size repelatron was not powerful enough to establish an airspace over the entire site, which was much larger than Enterprises’ helium-extraction encampment. Tom planned to set up two further repelatrons. The hydrodome-bubbles produced would slightly overlap. Based on the mapping survey, they would cover about twenty percent of the sunken city, enough for this initial exploration.
Walking straight through the surface of the bubble with no resistance, the four Fat Men, joined by Arv and Hank, jetted over to the Deepwing, resting a ways along the periphery of the site. They set up the Deepwing’s freighted repelatron, then proceeded on further to the Fathomer. Within the hour, all three repelatrons were up and running, the resulting airspaces enclosed in domes of fine, invisible filaments. Necessary to stabilize the airspaces, the filament barriers flowed effortlessly around people or vehicles.
Crewmembers poured out of all three submersibles, and a sound of muffled cheering drifted across the ancient ruins. As the hull aqualamps were ineffective inside the airspaces, a bank of Swift Searchlights was set up at each mantacopter location, bathing the scene in daylike radiance reflecting back from the inner surfaces of the hydrodome bubbles.
“Welcome to—er, welcome to what?” Bud interrupted his high-spirited cheer at midpoint. “What do we call this burg, anyway? Greater Downtown Atlantis?”
“Tlaan,” stated George with a sly glance at his friend.
“I’m tellin’ you, Tulayon!” thundered Ham Teller joshingly.
“Well, you two, these ruins aren’t the whole sunken island, just a city or town,” Tom pointed out with a peacemaking grin. “Let’s call the site Aurum City—‘aurum’ means gold.”
Satisfied, Bud cheered: “Welcome to Aurum City!”
The pillared temples and once-magnificent buildings made a breath-taking sight, even though they were now encrusted with barnacles and other sea growths, and mostly shattered to rubble. But a few structures still stood proudly here and there.
A thrill of awe swept over Tom. “Just think, Bud,” he murmured, “we’re the first humans to set foot in this city in thousands of years!”
“Gives me goose bumps!” Bud admitted. “But Skipper—do you hear something? Tell me it’s just my juvenile imagination, not skeletons climbing out of bed!”
The air seemed full of faint, dull sounds, like whispers and distant mutterings, punctuated by an occasional muffled shout. Tom looked puzzled for a moment, then broke into a grin. “We should’ve expected it, pal—with no water around, everything is less buoyant. Aurum City is just settling in bit by bit, that’s all.”
“I can understand. After a few thousand years, you’ve got to stretch a little!”
Excited and fascinated, Tom and Bud left the vicinity of the Fathomer, passing from the relatively bare landing area into grounds strewn with drying ruins and bits of the sea-bottom environment that the retreating waters had left behind. Eyes wide with awe the two boys strolled up one of the ancient streets, now rank with slime, ocean vegetation, and rippled hillocks of sand and loose rock. Stately columns lined the avenue on either side, the encrusted ghosts of ancient ambition.
“I wonder what that was,” Bud remarked as they stumbled and crunched along. He pointed toward a once-splendid building, approached by wide stone steps leading up from the street. “City hall, maybe?”
Tom eyed the structure with keen interest. “Looks as though it might have been a palace,” he commented. “Or maybe the main city temple.”
As the boys turned off the avenue for a closer look, neither noticed that one of the cracked columns had begun to tilt on its base. But a moment later, Tom, warned by some sixth sense, glanced back toward Bud, who had paused to examine a heap of rubble. His face blanched in horror.
“Look out, Bud!” he shrieked.
The column was toppling straight toward them!
SPRINTING BACK, Tom grabbed Bud’s arm and yanked him out of the way in the nick of time. The wayward column landed with a rumbling crash, missing the boys by a fraction of an inch. The loud sound it made was answered by a hundred stone groans and murmurs from all directions, the echoes dying away quickly due to the cushioning muck and debris.
“Good grief!” Bud gulped as he steadied himself on legs that were shaky with fright. “Man, I could feel the breeze as that went by!” he gasped.
Tom grinned weakly and agreed. “If the column had beaned us, pal, we’d be flatter than Chow’s Rio Grande flapjacks by now!”
A voice made the boys turn their heads. “Are you all right?” Lieutenant Fraser cried out, running up anxiously.
Tom and Bud nodded, still a bit breathless. “Pulse rate slightly abnormal but otherwise okay,” Tom quipped. “Let’s hope no other columns or buildings around here start getting wobbly!” He paused. “By the way, Lieutenant—Brian—how did you happen to be over here, in this part of the city?”
“Oh, I just walked over to the other sub along the edge of the bubbles,” he replied. “A number of us did. I guess we’re all mighty curious to see the sights.”
Tom nodded. “Sure, I can imagine. Well, as Bud and I just found out, it might be wise to hold off on the exploring for a little while, until all this old architecture makes up its mind just where it wants to be.”
“Aye-aye!” Brian, spellbound by the wonders of Aurum City, could only shake his head in awe. “Tom, it’s a wonder any of this is still standing!” he said. “Imagine! A city that’s been lost for untold centuries beneath the sea! And here we are, walking its streets!”
“Tom may have put his name on one of the greatest archaeological finds in history,” Bud remarked.
“But where did it come from? I mean—what civilization was this? Do we really know?” the lieutenant asked.
“We think it may be the lost island of Atlantis that Plato talks about,” Tom replied. “That’s the working hypothesis, anyway. Ham and George have a whole lecture on the subject. I’m hoping this expedition may turn up some clues that will give us the answer.”
He went on to explain the legend deciphered by the two oceanographer-archaeologists who had first helped him locate the sunken city. These two men had discovered ancient stories and inscriptions hinting that the original inhabitants of South America had received visitors from a civilization to the east very different from their own. The strangers told how they had come over the sea from a far-off land which had been engulfed by a terrible earthquake and flood.
“All sorts of evidence, from Africa and Europe as well as the Americas, pointed to this very spot,” Tom ended. “It’s also near some peaks shaped like man-made pyramids which I had already spotted, as well as some gravitational anomalies suggesting dense underground masses which were more like a sunken island than a typical subocean ridge or seamount. But it’ll take a lot of work yet, Brian, to piece together an accurate explanation.”
The two boys and the red-haired Navy officer strolled back toward the Fathomer, their shoes slipping and squelching in the ooze that covered the ancient street.
“I thought your machine was supposed to squeeze out all the water,” Lieutenant Fraser remarked.
“The repelatrons are tuned to the most common mixtures of sea water in the area,” was the response. “But some of the water always gets left behind. It’ll dry on its own. Actually, that’s why we have to get to work with the spectromarine selector as soon as possible, because it makes use of the remaining moisture in its process.”
They returned to the Fathomer encampment, where Chow had already rolled out a portable electronic cookstove and was speaking with enthusiasm of sea steaks and genuine sea salad.
“Sea weed salad is more like it,” Bud gibed. “With real sea cucumbers!”
Most of the people from the other mantas were milling about. Tom noticed Professor Centas and his assistant walking among them, and approached Doc Simpson curiously.
“Their injuries weren’t all that serious after all,” the medico reported. “They were getting restless, and I thought it might be good for their respiratory systems to move about.”
“Which reminds me, I still need to sit down with the Professor and find out what happened aboard his sub,” stated Tom.
Presently Bud noticed that Tom, standing off by himself, seemed plunged in deep thought.
“What’s going on in that hypersonic brain of yours, genius boy?” he asked with a grin.
“Oh, nothing much.”
“Please! You can’t con a con, pal,” retorted Bud. “From your questions I deduce you feel a little mistrustful toward our Naval observer. Right?”
Tom gave a wry shrug. “He appeared right after the column took a tumble. For all our background checking and verification, we can’t absolutely rule out the possibility of another Cromwell situation.”
“True, I guess,” Bud conceded. “But look, you know I’m as suspicious of outsiders as anyone. But I think Brian’s a trustworthy guy—gut feeling. If you want someone to worry about, how about that Gabardine gal? Or the two scientists from that sub?”
Tom chuckled. “Seems we have more suspects than we need.”
At that moment a yell came from Chow. “Hey! What in tarnation’s splashin’ me?” As the big cowpoke reared back to look upwards, cries of alarm rose from the crewmen as they saw water spraying and dribbling into the bubble near its peak!
“Brand my periscope, we’ve sprung a leak!” Chow hollered. The ranch cook, already half drenched, galloped clear of the torrent.
The air space would soon be flooded, with disastrous results to the occupants!
“All hands back aboard!” Tom shouted. “Get into the Fathomer!”
Sizing up the situation in an instant, he dashed toward the repelatron. Quickly Tom’s eyes scanned the control panel. To his amazement, the monitor dials were wavering madly! The selector needle had strayed almost two points off peak tuning for the local sea water. Tom’s lean, sinewy hands flew over the controls, adjusting various knobs. Gradually the needle flickered back to correct position.
“Hoo-ray! Th’ leak’s stopped!” Chow shouted, poking a probing palm out the hatchway, his bald head following.
As Tom mopped his brow in relief, a voice spoke behind him. It was Mack Avery, one of the technicians assigned to set up the repelatron’s power lines to the mantacopter. “I think this was my fault, Skipper,” he confessed shamefacedly. “When I made the connection I got impatient and forced it a little. I must’ve dislodged something. The needle was holding steady, so I figured it would be all right—boy, was I wrong!”
Tom nodded understandingly. “Okay, Mack. But don’t let it happen again. Next time let me know, so I can run a check.”
In spite of his calm manner, the young inventor was disturbed by the brief emergency. He shot a veiled glance at Bud. Everyone had been clustered around Chow on the other side of the Fathomer, the repelatron out of view. But was “everyone” really everyone?
“I didn’t notice who was in the crowd at that exact moment,” Tom muttered. Mack Avery might not have been the cause of the problem after all. What if another mishap occurred with one of the three repelatrons, trapping the expeditioners before they could reach safety? Tom shuddered at the horrible picture that rose to mind—men being crushed by the unforgiving pressure of two miles of piled ocean! To discuss the problem, Tom called a conference with his crew chiefs and Lieutenant Fraser, joined by Miss Gabardine and her notebook.
“Why not put a watch on the repelatrons?” Mel Flagler proposed.
“That would be a lot safer, of course,” Tom agreed. “But what if the machine itself conks out? Would we have time to repair it?”
“Mr. Swift, are you saying your devices are unreliable for actual human use?” Gabardine demanded coolly. “In your proposal to the Subcommittee― ”
“I recall the details, ma’am,” Tom interrupted heatedly. “Perfection can’t be guaranteed, not by anyone who’s honest. We pointed out the risks.”
“Then how about ordering your men to keep emergency diving rigs handy at all times?” Brian Fraser suggested, hastening to break up the moment of tension.
“Aw, come on!” Bud grumbled. “We’d never accomplish anything lugging those big dinosaur eggs around with us! Might as well pull out and go home.”
In the end, Tom decided to connect the automatic repelatron monitors to loud warning sirens piped through the mantacopters’ external speakers. “I’ll also radio Fearing to send three smaller repelatrons by jetmarine. They don’t have the power to create huge airspaces, but with extra machines on stand-by at all times, the danger of a total collapse of the hydrodomes will be eliminated.”
“Sounds like a good plan, Skipper,” said Slim Davis. “But how exactly do you plan to ‘radio Fearing’ from down here? The rock walls will block any sonar signals, and besides, the ship sonophones don’t even have the power to reach the helium hydrodome, much less the coast of Georgia.”
“That is my understanding as well,” sniffed Julienne Gabardine.
Tom smiled. “I shouldn’t have said radio. I plan to use an experimental undersea communications system Enterprises has developed. We’d planned to test it during the expedition anyway.” He added that it would allow direct communications between Aurum City and Shopton.
“Keep your men close to the ships while I go up through the chute in a Fat Man,” Tom told the others. “Hank, you can help me. We’ll float the transmitter in the open water on a cable, just outside the channel mouth.”
By the end of the workday the transmitter, a metal drum about three feet long, was ready to be put in place. Holding it between their two Fat Men, Tom and Hank waddled through the yielding bubble wall and into the water, then jetted upwards, paying out the rolled cable that would connect the unit to the Fathomer.
“Better keep an eye out for old Jelly Belly,” joked Hank.
Tom laughed. “I’m just hoping he doesn’t have an appetite for metal snacks.”
Above the channel mouth they anchored the strong cable to the rocks, allowing the drum, which was slightly buoyant, to drift upwards a ways. Then they descended again.
In the control cabin of the Fathomer, Tom sent a control signal to the transmitter, which he called the longwave aqua-rad. Bud and a number of watchers stood quietly behind.
“Fathomer to Fearing Communications, come in!”
There was a worrisome pause.
“This is Fearing! Your equipment’s working perfectly, Tom!”
“Clear as a bell!” Bud pronounced happily.
Tom made a few technical inquiries, then gave a brief report on the status of the project. Then, to Tom’s surprise, Phil Radnor took over the mike. “Something up, Rad?” asked the young inventor.
“Up, or down, or who knows where,
boss! That abandoned sub, the Hydra-Gaea—it’s disappeared!”
THE STOLEN SUB
"DISAPPEARED!” cried Tom. “You mean it’s drifted from its position?”
“It’s gone, at any rate,” Radnor replied. “As soon as we reported your rescue incident the government asked us to scout out the site right away in the Sea Hound, to help Centas’s people arrange a salvage operation. We’re sure we followed the coordinates you sent us, but there’s no trace of it anywhere—and we searched for hundreds of miles, using all our locating equipment.”
“It was anchored in place just hours ago, when we left it,” declared Tom. “Even if it pulled anchor, it couldn’t have gone very far, not unpowered.”
“And it didn’t buoy up to the surface either—we checked. Any theories, Tom?”
Tom was silent for a moment. “I suppose a freak current could be responsible—we know there are subocean jetstreams in this general area.”
Bud snorted. “You can say that again!” The Ocean Arrow had been victim to such a freak current.
Tom and Radnor could almost read each other’s minds. Was the disappearance another move by the Mayday Mob? Or the Kranjovians? Or the mysterious, deadly Comrade-General Li? But Tom didn’t want to pursue the question in front of the other listeners in the cabin; he changed the subject in a brusque manner, sure Phil Radnor would take the hint.
“Anyway, Rad, I need to speak to Marie Casey at the jetmarine dock.”
“I’ll put you through, boss.”
Tom arranged for one of the Swift Enterprises jetmarines, the Sceptre, to bring three of the smaller-model repelatrons to Aurum City. After receiving the coordinates, she closed with: “We’ll start loading right away. You should have them in hand in, oh, nine hours or less.”
“Thanks. And make it ‘less,’ please.”
Dividing up between the three ships, the scientists and sub crews made ready to settle in for the night. Chow prepared a tasty stew for supper, and a couple dozen of the new Aurum Citizens drifted back to the Fathomer before retiring to share in it.
Professor Centas and Mordo were among them, sitting in the open on folding chairs and showing no further signs of physical distress.
“Say, Mordo,” Bud asked in a friendly way, “is that your first name, or your last?”
The dark young man laughed, “First name—the other, I tell you, you could not pronounce. Eight syllables!” Bud joined in the laughter.
Tom pulled close to the Professor in a chair. “If you feel up to it, how about filling me in on what happened to you? It might give us a clue as to where the submersible is.”
“Yes, yes, Tom, and indeed it must be found. My Hydra-Gaea is irreplacible,” responded the marine biologist and explorer. “She goes deep, moves quickly, has the grace of a ballerina. I designed her myself, my blueprints, my own labor. Just as my father did, with his famous deep-submergence sphere; like you, I have a family tradition to live up to!”
“Did something go wrong with the controls?” Tom persisted.
“Ah, we are not so sure. We began to lose pressure, first one hull, then the next. When the remaining hull was affected, we retreated to the descent sphere, after starting the distress tone. Soon the air went bad.”
Mordo added, “We could not have lived much longer.”
“Could you have returned to the surface in the sphere?” Tom inquired.
“Alas no. We did not wish to make it buoyant—it is let down on cables, when we must go deeper than the main hulls can stand.”
Bud asked the purpose of the Hydra-Gaea’s mission. “Ah, a wonderful question!” exclaimed Professor Centas. “You have noticed, of course, the temperature here. At this depth it should be close to freezing. Yet it is balmy enough to stroll about in shirtsleeves, eh?”
Tom nodded. “Yes, that’s what we’d determined on our earlier visits.”
“Now let me tell you the reason. This entire area, for hundreds of kilometers around, is geologically active, volcanic—we have known this fact for a hundred years. From deep underground sources, there is heat, plentiful heat. It warms this sunken land mass, and also gives rise to vents of escaping water. Some of it is quite hot, in fact.”
“I’ve heard of that,” stated Bud with some pride. “Tom said he thought the hot vents caused some of those jetstreams in the area.”
The Professor smiled at Bud in tolerant approval. “These hot vents are what we marine biologists call micro-ecologies, almost little worlds unto themselves where natural evolution has been forced along different lines. The sea serpent you encountered—which I believe, from the description, was a mutated form of cephalopod and thus a relative of Ommastrephes, the squid—it was surely an example of this deviance.”
“I take it you were searching for other such creatures,” Tom said.
“Yes. But in fact, we had a more specific goal. Perhaps you have read that bacteria have been found in certain kinds of vents called black smokers, after the plumes of dark, mineral-laden water they emit.” Centas suddenly fell silent for a long moment, and Tom and Bud exchanged veiled glances. “Ah. Yes. The clever bacteria have evolved the ability to make use of the dim red light from deep volcanism for photosynthesis. Heretofore this was discovered in the Pacific, but we are ready to report similar findings here—not only bacteria, but unusual forms of plant life.”
“It’s fascinating,” Tom commented seriously. “But now your submersible is missing. We’ve already dealt with sabotage and murder on this mission. We’ve got to consider that the same enemies fouled the Hydra-Gaea in order to steal it, for some reason. Were there any signs that someone was tracking you? Anything odd?”
Centas shook his head. “No, no—and why should anyone do that?”
But as the older man again fell silent, Mordo suddenly spoke up. “But Professor, have you forgotten? I told you of sounds on the telephone at the Foundation base.”
“Sounds? Yes, I do recall now,” Centas murmured. “It seems I did not take it seriously. Perhaps indeed someone was listening in. Thus they might have learned of our general course, our operation.” The thought seemed to disturb Professor Centas. He abruptly stood and excused himself, wandering away with a slow, unsteady gait.
“Guess we tired him out,” Bud said.
“It happens more and more,” replied Mordo quietly. “He remembers less and less, and what he does remember is sometimes confused. His actions have become eccentric. He cannot always account for them. There are times when I am more an attendant than a colleague. But he is a great man.”
Tom nodded and said gently, “Great men are still human, and humans are frail.”
“Yes, surely. Still, it is sad to see.” With a shrug Mordo rose to follow after the Professor.
“What do you think, pal?” Bud asked.
“I don’t know what to think,” was the puzzled response. “Someone may have taken advantage of Centas’s condition in some way.”
“Yeah. And now that same someone has made off with the Hydra-Gaea.”
“Maybe so. Motive—or motives—unknown.” Surprisingly, Tom broke into a grin. “But you know what, flyboy? There are other things I’d rather think about right now.”
Bud laughed. “Oh, I’m sure of that. You’re itching to starting blasting away with the cannon!”
Before retiring for the night, Tom conferred in his private cabin aboard the Fathomer with Lieutenant Fraser, Bud joining them. He reported his conversation with Centas, and his and Bud’s speculations. “If you’re right, Tom,” mused Brian, “the Kranjovians and their agents may not stop at just sabotage and spying.” The young Navy officer’s face looked grim.
“You mean they might even attack our setup at Aurum City?” Bud asked, wide-eyed.
“I’m told the big guy’s been squawking about the ‘unfair deal’ between the democratic nations to explore the city. The Kranjovian Navy might move in,” Brian pointed out.
“You may have a point there,” Tom conceded. “They could easily cook up some phony excuse in order to provoke an international crisis. They believe turmoil and conflict between nations gives them a leg up in negotiations. We’d better keep a sharp alert at all times.”
During the sleep period, the Sceptre had arrived with the three emergency repelatrons. The two-person crew breakfasted outdoors with Tom and his friends before preparing to depart on their return trip to Fearing Island. “Looks as though you fellows have been busy while we’ve been goofing off on our little rocket island,” joked the Sceptre’s young captain, Billy Yablonskovic, a congratulatory smile brightening his face.
“What a sight this place is,” added the other jetmarine crewman, Red Jones. “Neat-golly, it’s better than the Parthenon, the Roman Coliseum, and the Great Pyramid rolled into one!”
“Stay a while,” Tom urged. “The boss gives his approval! You can do a little exploring with us, and see the spectromarine selector in action.”
They agreed enthusiastically. “We were hopin’ for an invite,” laughed Billy.
After reporting the stayover to Fearing via the aqua-rad, the technical team began to unload the spectrosel from its padded cradle in the Deepwing. Shipped in three sections, the cannon was quickly assembled outside the mantacopter’s freight hatch. Tom stepped aboard the platform to make a final instrument check before the device was wheeled into action. Bud and Hank Sterling joined the young inventor, finding space to stand on either side of the big intake cylinder.
“Hey, boss!” Tom looked up and saw Chow’s bald head bobbing side to side as he looked over the machine he had named. “Kin I come aboard, too, an see how she works?”
“Sure, if you can squeeze in, pardner!”
Beaming, Chow hoisted his rotund bulk up onto the platform, which had been raised somewhat on the extensible tractor treads. His eyes bulged admiringly as he watched Tom’s fingers move about the control board, adjusting various dials.
“Brand my biscuits, boss,” Chow murmured, “you kin play this lil ole contraption like it was a pipe organ!”
Tom grinned without speaking. But the growing crowd of onlookers picked up the leathery Texan’s remark and began needling him jokingly. As the cook blushed, Bud followed up with an off-key rendition of an old song, “When the Organ Played at Twilight.”
Brian Fraser grinned and called out, “Hey, Tom, I think your invention has just been given a second nickname.”
Tom chuckled. “Suits me, Brian. Just as long as it makes sweet music when I try it out!”
The mood was broken by a dryly determined female voice. “If the gaiety is over for the moment, I really must request a place on board alongside your cook. I cannot do my job unless I am allowed to accompany you in your primary activities.”
“You could just walk behind like everyone else,” muttered Bud, unheard by the target of his barb.
“Hop aboard, Miss Gabardine,” Tom invited her politely. “There’s still a place to stand next to the particulate compressor.”
“I do not hop, Mr. Swift,” she responded. Hank offered a gallant arm and helped her onto the platform.
With his checkout completed, Tom started the electric traction motor, powered by solar batteries. The spectrosel rolled forward on its flexing treads a few dozen feet, and Tom brought it to rest, the intake facing a group of tall objects rearing high on square bases. They stood in a row before what had once been a lofty porticoed building.
The crowd of the curious had trooped along behind the cannon. “Whattaya think those deals are?” asked Ham Teller loudly. “Monuments of some kind?”
“Probably just the lower parts of a row of decorative columns,” responded George Braun.
“You’re a real romantic, Brauny,” retorted Ham.
“Suppose we see what’s what!” Tom called back, hands on the controls.
“Hard to believe you can peel off all that gunk,” remarked Bud to his chum. The objects were completely encased in blobs of green and brown materials of every kind and description—and, increasingly, smell. Almost nothing of their shapes could be made out.
Switching on the twin maser thermal units, Tom moved a lever which actuated the spectron-wave pulsers inside the mouth of the cannon. After carefully adjusting the moleculetron unit, he aimed the intake at the nearest of the objects. Instantly it began to whisk off the slimy coating like a giant invisible razor in action! The onlookers broke into excited applause. Chow stole a glance at Julienne Gabardine. Hmmph! He thought. Fer once she’s so impressed she’s not writin’ in her dang notebook!
Tom grinned at the crowd’s outburst as he fingered the moleculetron controls, changing the molecules of the gaseous waste into compact, easily stored forms.
The encrustation melted away moment by moment. The watchers gasped as the beslimed bulk was gradually transformed into a glittering gold animal god! The human face had a hawk’s beak and folded wings on a catlike body. As Tom proceeded, the other objects were revealed as further statues—crouching lions or jaguars with men’s features. One depicted a huge serpent coiled around a goddess.
“The gods of the city!” George exclaimed.
“They’re solid gold!” Fraser gasped.
“They may have just a golden shell over some other material,” Tom said cautiously, after jumping off the platform to examine the statues more closely.
“What type of people could have made them, Skipper?” Doc Simpson put in with keen scientific curiosity. “They’re exquisitely carved.”
“They look something like those Mayan carvings we saw in Yucatan, don’t they?” Bud said. “Snake Woman here reminds me of that dude Kukulcan, with his double head.”
Tom nodded thoughtfully. “Their form is similar. But I’d say their faces are more like a mixture of the Oriental and South Sea sculptures on display in the museum in Manhattan.”
“I have seen such art forms in the islands of the Pacific, near Japan,” declared Professor Centas.
Continuing with the cleanup process, Tom uncovered the front wall of the ruined building. Its still-majestic outlines, gleaming with gold, brought awed murmurs from the project team.
“Must have been a temple,” Billy commented.
“Probably,” Tom agreed. “But its architecture is different from anything I’ve ever seen pictured.”
“Well, actually, I’ve seen― ” began Ham.
“They don’t need your resume right now, Brooklyn Boy,” interrupted George teasingly.
Tom approached the platform. Miss Gabardine had gotten over her brief awe and was making notes.
“I trust we’re operating efficiently,” Tom said with a smile. The woman pointedly ignored the comment.
Tom now turned the cannon over to Hank. “Aim down and try it on that flat area, won’t you,” Tom directed. “I’d like to watch the process from the other side.”
Hank nodded and began to resume the process as Tom hurried over to look back.
The flat area, an intersection of two streets, began to disclose stone paving, not golden for a change. But suddenly, Tom noticed that the clearing process seemed to have halted. Looking up, his eyes widened in surprise and alarm. To his amazement, Hank and everyone on the spectrosel platform were behaving strangely. They were moving in slow, jerky fashion and clutching their throats.
“Good night!” Tom gasped. “What’s going on?”
He ran toward the group. Almost instantly, his nostrils caught a whiff of a flowerlike odor.
“Flowers?” Tom halted, puzzled, trying to identify the odor.
Then his face went pale as the answer clicked in his mind. Cyanogen gas! The deadly vapor could wipe out every person in Aurum City within minutes!
“Hank!” Tom yelled. “Turn off the machine!”
HANK seemed unable to respond to Tom’s command. But fortunately Arv Hanson, watching from the crowd, was not yet affected by the slowly spreading gas. Holding his breath inside his big-chested body he leapt onto the platform and switched off the spectromarine selector.
Like a flash, Tom sprinted toward the air machine and purifying equipment next to the mantacopter and sped up both devices. Their droning hum rose to a high-pitched whine. Without pausing, Tom circled the temple on a dead run, shepherding everyone to safety.
“All hands, back to the manta!” he shouted.
“Tom, we’ve got to help the people on the platform!” shouted Zimby Cox. Panting, his heart thudding, Tom saw that everyone—Bud, Hank, Chow, Miss Gabardine—had collapsed to the deck, helpless and struggling to breathe!
Tom didn’t need to call for volunteers; a number of the men yet unaffected sprang forward to help carry their friends to safety. Fortunately the deadly wisps were already dissipating. Bud, Chow, and Hank all managed to regain their feet and stagger along once away from the platform. Only Miss Gabardine was completely unconscious. She was lain down on top of a squishy mass of seaweed, several shirts serving as a mat beneath her.
Even Professor Centas helped, rushing up with an emergency oxygen mask and portable tank from the Fathomer. As Gabardine began to regain consciousness, Doc and Mordo came trotting over to render further aid.
Doc administered a stimulant, and the woman moaned. “She’s coming around.”
“Thank goodness!” gulped Tom earnestly. “Bud and the others look all right, too.”
As soon as all were finally aboard the Fathomer, Tom ordered an immediate muster on the three submarines. Mel Flagler reported that none of those few who had been working near the Supermanta had been affected, and Slim Davis made the same report from the Deepwing.
Presently Doc Simpson came from the Fathomer’s small sickbay to report on the victims. “They’re okay,” he informed Tom. “The ones next to the machine were the only ones who inhaled a significant amount, but I’ve administered oxygen and a heart stimulant. They should be back on their feet soon with no ill effects other than a scratchy throat.”
Tom, sweating with anxiety and exertion, wiped his arm across his brow. “Whew!” he muttered thankfully. “That was a close call, Doc!”
“Close is the only kind of call he has, Doc!” came the wavering voice of Bud from the sickbay.
“No worries about ‘Buddy Boy’!” Simpson chuckled. “Tom, where did that cyanogen come from?”
“I don’t know for sure yet,” Tom admitted. “But obviously it must have been formed by the action of the cannon. I’d say the moleculetron system is our main suspect.”
As soon as the hydrodome atmosphere was fully purified, Tom checked the device. His suspicions seemed to be borne out after careful testing. “The moleculetron was processing carbon and nitrogen too slowly,” Tom explained to Bud, woozily by his side. “Kind of a molecular traffic jam. They combined to form the cyanogen gas.”
“Any way to fix it?” Bud asked.
Tom ran his fingers through his crewcut hair, while his forehead puckered in a worried frown. “For the moment I’m stumped, pal. But I’d better come up with an answer fast, or our whole project here will be stopped cold!”
Returning to the Deepwing, where Tom had established a tiny lab-workshop compartment for use by the science team, the young inventor worked on the problem steadily for several hours, not even pausing for the evening meal. At midnight Bud and Doc Simpson found him slumped over his work counter.
“Poor guy! He’s passed out from sheer exhaustion,” Doc commented.
“Come on! Let’s put him to bed,” Bud said. When Tom awoke in a Deepwing bunk the next morning, his brain held a clear answer to his problem. “I’ll simply alter the compounder so that the hydrogen and nitrogen from the organic waste can be combined to form fuel gas,” he told himself. “The carbon can be combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and pumped off into the ocean when the tank is filled!”
Elated by the simple solution, Tom leapt from his bunk and began to dress.
“Hi, Doc!” he exclaimed with a grin a moment later as the medic walked into the compartment. “Guess I conked out last night, but I feel fine!”
“That’s good. You’ll need to be in sound shape to deal with our Miss Gabardine,” Doc Simpson replied. “She’s up and around and threatening to shut down the project.”
“Aw no!” Tom winced. “I’ll head over to the Fathomer and ask her to speak with me privately, in my cabin.”
“Better have some of Chow’s breakfast first,” advised Doc.
“Guess I need to keep up my strength.”
“Yes, but my real concern is to calm Chow down—he’ll fret himself to death until he sees that blond genius head of yours!”
Tom waited patiently in his cabin for some time before Julienne Gabardine knocked and entered, notebook in hand. “We have that in common, Julienne,” Tom said with a smile. “I carry a notebook with me almost always.”
She glared at him. “Please don’t attempt to sweet-talk me, Mr. Swift.”
“I understand you have some concerns?”
“Very grave ones, I must say,” she responded. “It has become abundantly clear that this project compromises the standards of my office with respect to the use of human subjects in experimentation.”
Tom was flabbergasted. “Human subjects? We’re not experimenting on― ”
“Call it what you like,” she snapped. “I am willing to push the regulatory definition a bit if it will shut down this dangerous operation of yours. Can you deny that we have met with one threat to life after another, completely unanticipated? This is entirely inconsistent with your funding agreement.”
Tom found himself reddening as he tried to hold his temper in check. “Julienne, I—I have to say― ”
Miss Gabardine leaned forward abruptly—and rested her hand on his! “Please, Tom. I know how difficult this is. Imagine what it is like for me, to feel your eyes on me, to sense the feelings that I have come to… to share. Oh… how often do I have to suffer through this?”
Tom forced shut his dropped jaw. “This—it—it’s happened before?” He couldn’t do anything with his bulging blue eyes!
“Please don’t feel any distress over that,” she urged gently. “It just happens. Repeatedly. Every time, in fact. Something about me, my strength, my integrity—what can I do? But Tom… the difference in our ages…”
“Y-yes, that occurred to me as well.”
“Of course, that may not really matter, if the chemistry between two people is right.”
“Um, yes, but, you know, the risk to your career, your reputation!” Tom warned in great haste.
She sighed a long and miserable sigh. “You’re right, Tom. Of course you’re right. It couldn’t work. Let’s try to maintain the pathetic fiction of a purely professional relationship. Miss Gabardine. Mr. Swift.” She sniffled, then dramatically ripped a couple sheets from her notebook and tore them to pieces, tossing them into the air like confetti. “There. All gone, all forgotten. Nothing I’ve seen yet requires the termination of your project. It means a great deal to you, doesn’t it?”
The young scientist-inventor kept his voice level. “It’s my consolation—Miss Gabardine.”
“I sympathize—Mr. Swift.” She turned and rushed from the cabin. Tom sat in his chair stunned for about two minutes, fighting down laughter and a certain amount of dizziness. Finally he scooped up the scraps of paper from the floor and glanced at them curiously.
They were blank.
“Good way to make a point, though,” he murmured in disbelief.
Tom finally made his way over to the control deck. Looking out the viewport he was pleased to see that Hank Sterling had rolled the spectrosel up close to the mantacopter for Tom to work on.
Just then the aqua-rad buzzed—once, twice, three times. “Emergency alert!” Tom gulped. He checked the frequency readout. “The Sceptre!” Billy and Red had said their goodbyes to Tom after he had finished breakfast, and he had watched the jetmarine rise to the overhanging ceiling of the canyon and enter the channel above.
“This is Tom, Sceptre.”
“This is Red Jones, Tom. We’re about twenty-two-hundred miles due east of Bermuda, over the Atlantic Ridge. We’re under attack!”
“What!” Tom shouted.
“Billy’s at the controls trying to get us away. Several explosions to the rear—torpedos, looks like! No damage so far, but― ”
“Understood! Have you contacted Fearing?”
“Sure, but what can they do? Even jet fighters wouldn’t― ”
Suddenly, in midsentence, the aqua-rad transmission broke off!
"RED! Red! C’mon, Sceptre—answer me!” Tom cried.
But there were some long and fearful moments before an answer came. “Jetmarine Sceptre to Aurum City. This is Yablonskovic.”
“What happened, Billy?”
“A big blast—Red bounced off the bulkhead, but he’ll be all right, looks like.”
Tom asked if there were any damage to the Sceptre. “None to speak of,” Billy replied. “Whatever sub was attacking us broke and ran on an eastward heading. She went mighty fast—off the scope now. None of the torpedos actually connected, Tom—maybe they just wanted to send a message.”
“I’d prefer a telegram!” Tom snorted, relieved but furious. “Glad you’re all right, though. Please give Rad a full report when you dock.”
“Wilco, boss. Sceptre out.”
Later in the day, having confirmed the safe arrival of the Sceptre on Fearing Island, Tom himself discussed the matter with Phil Radnor, then Harlan Ames in Shopton. “Tom, you’re somewhat familiar with Centas’s vessel. Could it maneuver in the way Billy described?”
Tom set aside the aqua-rad microphone for a moment as he thought the matter over. “The Hydra-Gaea can’t move with anything like the speed and agility of our Enterprises craft—the jetmarines, seacopters, or the mantas. But compared to conventional subs, it’s pretty advanced.”
“But you’re not telling me it can launch torpedos?”
“Well—I’ve never read that it can, Harlan,” Tom replied. “But who knows? I’ll talk it over with Centas. In any event, it’s clear that the Kranjovians stole her in order to be able to launch deepwater attacks.”
“And not just on our sub fleet, Tom.”
“I know. The Aurum City project could be in real danger.”
“Not just the project. Your lives!” Ames pronounced grimly. “I’d advise you to wrap up the operation for now. You can head back when the governments have negotiated this thing away.”
Tom gave a groan of skepticism. “What they’d ‘negotiate away’ is our right to explore this site independently, without officials from a dozen governments looking over our shoulders! We don’t need any more Miss Gabardines. But I’ll do it, if it’s the only way to protect us.”
Feeling that everyone had a right to know the situation, Tom called a meeting of the entire operations team and explained the options and his tentative conclusions.
“Now lissen, Tom Swift, it’s not like us t’ jest turn tail because someb’dy wants to blow us up!” insisted Chow Winkler. “We been through a lot worse.”
“Yes, I know,” Tom responded coolly. “A lot of you are Swift employees and—I guess that means you’re professional risk takers, and you know it. But Professor Centas, Mordo, Miss Gabardine, Ham and George― ”
George Braun rose to his feet. “Hey, cut out that kind of talk! Ham and I live for danger—don’t we, Ham!”
For once Ham Teller did not disagree with his friend.
“I’m compelled to point something else out,” said Lieutenant Fraser. “I hate to put it this way, and it sounds pretty blunt, but—this isn’t just a private operation of Swift Enterprises. The government of the United States has a stake in it, and they themselves have to at least try to accommodate their treaty obligations—the same ones the Kranjovians object to. To close down the project and pull out would cause some real headaches at this point.”
“And so, Lieutenant, I believe you are ordering us to remain here,” observed Miss Gabardine. “Heedless of our safety.”
Brian half-smiled and shook his head. “No, ma’am. Tom Swift is in charge of this gig. I’m not ordering anyone to do anything—just providing a little information.”
After further discussion, Tom stood and announced his decision, his voice thoughtful but firm. “It seems the best thing to do right now is continue with the operation, but keep on alert for anything further. The State Department is in touch with Maurig’s government—maybe they can work something out. But for now, folks, Aurum City awaits!” Amid cheers and applause, Tom glanced at Bud. His pal, beaming with pride, grinned and saluted. “Roger!” Bud quickly added: “Aye-aye, I mean,” as the crowd broke into laughter.
After a hearty luncheon of Chow’s griddle-cakes, Tom threw himself into the job of cleaning up Aurum City with renewed energy. He made his adjustments to the moleculetron unit and tested the result carefully, oxygen mask handy. The problem was solved!
All afternoon the cannon continued to work like a charm. As it stripped away the slime and muck, without removing any of the gold beneath, Bud slapped Tom on the back.
“Genius boy, that’s one of the most marvelous precision instruments I’ve ever seen.”
Tom grinned. “It’s working pretty well so far,” he admitted. “But too slow, pal. Don’t forget, I want to get beyond our little airspace and at least sample some of the other parts of the city—I promised George and Ham. I must get along faster with this job. You take over at the controls while I see what I can dream up.”
The young inventor stood lost in thought for nearly ten minutes, then trudged over to his laboratory on the Deepwing and worked for some time on his computer. “It’ll have to be accomplished at the data processing level, not mechanically,” he murmured. “Maybe if I reversed the integration sequence…”
Satisfied, he returned with a computer disk in hand and fed new instructions into the spectrosel’s brain. To his delight the cleaning process was stepped up double! Buildings and statues began to emerge in their original golden glory. By noon of the next day a whole street of Aurum City had been restored to its onetime splendor.
“Boy, this is like living in the middle of Fort Knox!” Bud joked as he lunched with the others at the outdoor table Chow had set up—complete with tablecloth and silver settings.
“Brand my prospector’s belt!” Chow called out. “I’m sure goin’ to count all them gold statues an’ columns afore we leave here!” The ex-ranch cook was hustling up and down in one of his more conservative lime-green shirts, dishing out steaming bowls of his Texas chili.
Suddenly Brian Fraser sprang up from the table bench amid a clatter of dishes, looking bug-eyed at his companions.
“Hey, Lieutenant, what’s― ” began Zimby, but he was interrupted by a half-stifled scream from Fraser.
“I’m burning up!” the officer yelled.
As his messmates looked on in horror, Brian ripped off his Navy shirt and tee and began frantically rubbing his skin. His face, arms, and neck had turned flaming red! Tom and others rushed to his assistance.
“Good night, Brian!” Tom cried. “What’s wrong?”
“I… I... don’t know!” Fraser gasped, barely able to speak. “M-my skin—it’s on fire!” The rash was rapidly spreading over his chest and body. His eyes were bulging. The officer twisted and writhed in agony.
Tom shouted an order. “Quick, Bud! Com Doc Simpson! He’s in the Supermanta. Bring him here on the run!”
Doc arrived within moments, clutching his medical kit. “Stand clear, everyone. Brian, sit down on the tarp, if you can.” He injected a painkiller and relaxant. His eyes were grim as he examined the scarlet splotches on Brian Fraser’s skin. Pulling out a bottle of antihistamine tablets, he shook out three and asked Chow for a tumbler of water. “Here! Take these!”
Brian gulped them down with difficulty. He was trying hard to control himself, but again and again the burning rash threw him into fresh spasms of agony.
“Easy now! This should help!” Doc muttered. He glanced up at Tom. “Some kind of micro-organism—probably a fungus. It may spread!” He hastily shook a bottle of cream-colored lotion and plucked a wad of cotton from the kit. Moistening the cotton, he smeared the lotion over the inflamed areas. Brian shuddered and gasped as he tried to hold still for treatment.
“Oww—it’s like ice!”
“Doing any good?” asked Mel Flagler. He and his mates had left the mess table to watch anxiously.
The answer soon became frighteningly apparent. New splotches of rash were appearing. Even worse, Brian was having difficulty in breathing.
“Brand my cactus salad, the poor maverick’s strangulatin’!” Chow cried.
THE MAYDAY SUSPECT
DOC grabbed Brian’s wrist and felt for his pulse. It was fluctuating dangerously.
“Quick! Hold his arm!” the medic told Tom. As Tom did so, Doc scrubbed a patch of skin with alcohol and plunged in a hypodermic needle. “It’s a heart stimulant,” he explained tersely.
The injection seemed to give Brian new strength. His breathing eased somewhat and his pulse became stronger. Doc stood and walked a ways away for a moment and Tom hurried after him.
“Any idea what’s causing it?” the young inventor asked fearfully.
Doc Simpson shook his head. His face was etched with lines of worry. “Frankly, Tom, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it,” he confessed. “I’m hoping to find some clue in my computer reference on skin diseases.”
Before the young medic could leave for his compartment, a cry of alarm rang out.
“G-good grief!” gasped Ham Teller. “It’s starting in on me!” He pulled up his shirt. There were reddish splotches on his stomach, growing by the moment. “Better shoot me some of that stuff, Doc. It’s startin’ to…” He began to tremble violently.
“You’ve got to do something!” exclaimed Miss Gabardine to Simpson as he ran up to Ham with his med bag.
“I’m trying, ma’am! But I can’t do anything more until I’ve identified the exact cause.”
Chow, his wide face chalky, came thundering across the oceanic debris to Tom and Doc. “Say, boss, I got a clue! I know what’s causin’ it—it’s my blame chili!”
“Chow, this isn’t about your cooking!” snapped Bud.
The Texan forged ahead. “Now lissen, lissen t’ me—please, son!”
“All right, Chow,” said Tom. “What is it?”
“I tell ya, it’s that Texas Chili! That there Lieutenant got t’ the table afore anybody else, an’ I served him right away. An’ then the next one was Ham Teller!”
Tom switched his gaze to Doc. “If he’s right, what are we dealing with?”
Doc Simpson looked frantic and helpless. “Some sort of toxic agent, or…” An idea seemed to dawn. “No, Tom—it’s their perspiration! Something in their perspiration, because of the spicy chili, must be feeding a fungus or something, turning it extremely virulent. If I’m right, it may hit everyone at the table, in the order they ate!”
A strange, quavering shout split the air. “That’s Bud!” Tom cried, turning pale.
Tom’s fears were realized as he and the others saw Bud clawing off his T-shirt. His face and neck were already mottled with the crimson splotches.
“Aw jetz! Do something, Doc!” Bud gasped. “It’s eating me alive!”
“Take it easy, pal!” Tom pleaded. “Scratching will only make it worse!”
Doc hastily gave Bud the heart stimulant, dosed him with antihistamine and began swabbing him with lotion. He was only half finished when Arv, Mel, and two other crewmen began breaking out with the same fiery rash.
“Great snakes!” spluttered Chow, horrified at what his chili had wrought. “Looks t’be worse’n a hideful o’ buckshot an’ cayenne pepper!”
Fear spread through the onlookers like a fever at sight of the terrifying symptoms. Tom rallied the crew into action before anyone could voice his panicky thoughts. “Come on! Lend a hand, you fellows!” he snapped. “Doc needs help in treating these men! Those of you who haven’t eaten yet will be OK.”
The crew responded willingly. Stripping off the victims’ clothes, they took over the job of swabbing on the lotion. Doc, meanwhile, doled out antihistamine pills and gave hypodermic injections to the sufferers with cool efficiency.
The mess gear was hastily cleared away and tarps laid out, so the open area could be turned into a makeshift sickbay. Tom fought down a wave of panic and despair, but his brain was working coolly. He pondered Doc’s remark about the possibility of a reaction caused by some micro-sized irritant energized by the men’s perspiration.
Doc paused in his work, out of breath like a long-distance runner. “The rash has certain fungus characteristics—like athlete’s foot, for instance. You know how that can burn.” He added in a discouraged voice, “But even so, I’m trying everything in my bag, and it’s not much help. None of the standard medications I’ve tried seem to be having much effect.”
Tom gripped the medic’s arm. “Then let’s try something else, Doc,” he murmured. “I have a wild idea, but maybe—maybe! Get Brian on his feet, over at the edge of the tarp. I’ll treat him first!” He whirled and ran off.
“Huh? With what?” Doc stared after the young inventor. His surprise changed to bewilderment when he saw the spectromarine selector rolling up to the Fathomer on its tractor treads! Tom waved from the platform steering wheel and pointed at a spot in from of the cannon’s intake.
“Good night! What’s he intending to do?” Zimby muttered, as puzzled as everyone else.
“I don’t know,” Doc Simpson replied, “but whatever he’s up to, Tom usually has a good reason for it. Help me get Brian out there, Zim!”
Between them, Doc and Zimby assisted the almost frantic officer out through the air lock. The Navy man could barely walk and was on the verge of delirium, his skin blood-red and becoming swollen.
“This may be risky,” Tom warned Brian, “but if it’s a fungus that’s causing your rash, I believe the cannon may be able to remove it. Are you game to try?”
“I’ll—I’ll try anything!” Fraser gasped. “I don’t think… I can stand this… much…”
“Hold him up!” Tom ordered as he turned his attention to the controls. Without another word, Tom aimed the intake at Fraser’s chest. A faint, purring hum was heard as Tom flicked on the spectrosel at its lowest power and activated his invention.
“It’s working!” Zimby cried moments later. Doc’s face brightened into a joyful smile.
The ugly scarlet patches were vanishing from Brian’s skin! Tom panned the man’s body up and down, then had Doc and Zimby turn him around. Within a few minutes the poison fungus had been completely removed!
As Doc signaled the good news, Tom shut off power and leapt down from the platform. “How do you feel, Brian?” he asked urgently.
The Navy officer was dazed with relief. “It’s a miracle, Tom! The burning is gone!”
Tom and Zimby watched eagerly as Doc cursorily examined the patient as other members of the crew stood by or peered from the windows of the Fathomer, where Miss Gabardine and some others had sought refuge.
Only faintly pinkish areas remained to show where Brian had suffered the fungus attack. Doc straightened up, grinning, and pumped Tom’s arm in a hearty handshake.
“Skipper, you’ve done it!” he reported. “The fastest skin cure on record! That machine of yours has just made medical history!”
Cheers burst from the crewmen’s throats. Tom smiled but wasted no time acknowledging the congratulations from all sides. Ham, Bud, and the other victims were still in urgent need of treatment. One by one, they took their turns under the purring snout of the cannon. In every case, the burning fungus, and the glaze of perspiration sustaining it, were stripped away as if by magic.
“Brand my hide, boss,” Chow exulted, trembling with relief, “you’re the rip-snortin’est Injun medicine man I ever did see!”
Tom grinned and tried to hide his own emotion. “I had to do something, Chow, before you got it too. Without the best lil ole range cook this side of Texas, our whole expedition would’ve been plumb ruined!”
“And don’t forget the best copilot this side of Mars!” Bud quipped, gripping his pal’s hand. “What Chow said goes double for me, Tom!”
As a final touch, Doc Simpson applied a cooling ointment to the afflicted men. Two hours later all were well. Tom took some skin scrapings that Doc had procured and headed for the Deepwing, to examine them with his instruments.
“Got to discover what that was all about,” Tom told Bud, who was walking along beside his chum. “There may be more of that fungus out there. Who knows what else might set it off!”
Professor Centas waved Tom aside for a moment. “I wish to make a contribution from my field of marine biology, Tom. I suggest, a reasonable suggestion, that this fungus or microbial agent is another example of the mutations we are seeing in this part of the ocean. The scientific and medical results, painful though they may be, are priceless!”
“I’ve thought of that, Professor,” Tom replied.
Bud noted: “For something priceless, those results are coming at a pretty steep price!”
Later, while he was in the compact laboratory cubicle at work with the Swift Spectroscope, Bud entered. To Tom’s surprise, the dark-haired pilot was followed by Mordo.
“You’d better hear this, Skipper,” said Bud quietly.
“Is something wrong, Mordo?”
Mordo glanced back and forth, clearing his throat. “Forgive me, this is most difficult to say. I could be very wrong in my assumptions. Yet I must share this with you.”
“I’ll try not to jump to any conclusions,” Tom stated reassuringly, “and this conversation will be confidential. Please speak freely.”
“Yes, all right,” said the foreigner haltingly. “The Professor… I told you of his worsening condition, his eccentricities. You recall that I mentioned sounds on the phone line, yes? Which he did not wish to acknowledge? There was more that I did not say.”
The man paused, and Tom urged him to go on.
“At our facility, in France, I have overheard him speaking by telephone to someone with an unfamiliar name, which I took to be a foreign name. That same man paid a visit about a month ago—a tall, very slender American, a crude sort of person. They talked in private for hours, and I was given no real explanation. Professor Centas called him Lannick.”
“Not Lannick,” Bud grated. “Longneck!”
When Mordo gave further details, Tom found himself agreeing with Bud. “That sounds like the late Longneck Ebber, all right.”
Bud smacked his palm. “So Centas is in league with the Mayday Mob and the Kranjovians!”
Mordo nodded gravely. “I think now that the foundering of the Hydra-Gaea was deliberate. The Professor caused himself to come here to this place as a, what do you call?—a spy—or worse, even! And the submersible was left for the others to take and use, for their own ends. I say to you, it would not have been hard to install torpedo launchers and such things.”
Tom placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You’ve said something that was hard to say. I know Professor Centas is your mentor—your friend. But if it will make you feel any better, I already knew.”
Bud was thunderstruck! “Come on! How long have you known?”
Tom sighed long and deep. “I guess you could say I knew, but just didn’t want to believe. When I spoke to Arv and Phil the other day, I asked them how the Mayday Mob got its name. Guys, it turns out their MO is to lure victims with fake distress calls! They did it to me with the phony road accident, and― ”
“Good night!” Bud exploded. “The bogus emergency of the Hydra-Gaea!”
“I knew nothing of this,” said Mordo.
“A couple other things,” continued Tom. “Didn’t you notice, Mordo, how energetic the Professor seemed to be right after the cyanogen problem? He ran to fetch the oxygen tank and mask, but up until then he had been acting rather feeble, probably to make his story of the Hydra-Gaea accident extra credible.”
“You must be right. I had attributed his lingering weakness to age. Do you think, then, that he caused the poison gas incident?” asked Mordo with wide eyes.
“Not necessarily,” Tom responded. “He may have felt he was in danger like everyone else, and momentarily forgot his ‘routine’. And today we got another bit of evidence.”
“That one I’ve figured out myself,” Bud declared. “He was sitting at the table like everybody else, but now that I think it over, I never did notice him trying even one taste of that chili.”
Tom nodded. “And I got to wondering—why didn’t Chow come down with the infection? We know he always samples his concoctions along the way. It suggests that someone added something, maybe the microbes or fungal spores, to Chow’s kettle after he had brought it to the table to serve it up.”
“This is all a pain to my heart.” Mordo rubbed his eyes, then suddenly looked up at Tom. “Yet I know how to give you proof, Mr. Swift!”
“That would be good,” said the young inventor. “Even after all this, I still don’t want to make any rash accusations.”
“Rash, huh!” Bud sniped. “Leave the punning to me, genius boy!”
Tom asked Mordo what sort of proof he had. “It is about the infectious agent. In the metal case he took with him from the submersible are many vials taken from the sea vents we visited, samples of deviant, mutated microbial life forms. I think it must have been one of them that he used against you in the food, perhaps not knowing quite how it would affect a human being—but guarding himself nonetheless. The day we arrived I saw that all the padded vial pockets in the case were in use, and all the vials full and sealed. Now, if we go quickly to look inside that case, perhaps something will tell the tale! I know he has not been back to his compartment since lunch.”
“We’ll keep it that way,” Tom decided. “I’ll ask Lieutenant Fraser to sit down with Centas and ask him for the details of the Hydra-Gaea’s capabilities. He’ll be occupied for quite a while.”
Not long afterward Mordo led Tom and Bud to the small cabin established for himself and Centas aboard the Supermanta. Mordo pulled out the metal case from beneath Centas’s bunk and dialed-in the combination to its lock.
“There, you see?” said Mordo with a tone of despair. “There is your proof!”
One of the vial holders was empty!
SCRATCH ONE OCTOPUS
“WHAT HAVE you discovered, Mr. Swift?” asked Belam Centas as Tom and Bud came strolling up, interrupting the Professor’s conversation with Brian Fraser inside the Fathomer.
“Hatching some new medical miracles?” asked Brian with a smile, slightly puzzled. Tom had not yet told him of the reason he had been asked to keep Centas occupied.
Tom grinned. “I’ll leave that to Doc Simpson from now on,” he replied. “I’ll just stick to running the machinery.” The young inventor then turned serious. “To answer your question, Professor, I’ve just been analyzing those specimens of the fungus growth.”
“Can you identify it?” Centas asked.
Tom shook his head. “So far as I know, it doesn’t occur on land. The computer files can’t match it. However, I’ve found out one interesting thing—it contains thorium.”
“Thorium!” Fraser whistled in surprise. “Hey, that stuff is radioactive!”
“It sure is.” Tom scowled and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Of course we’re dealing here with tiny amounts in the form of organic compounds. Which is pretty unusual, by the way, because thorium doesn’t ordinarily enter into the make-up of living cells. But I think that backs up your hypothesis, Professor. These are mutations created by the evolutionary pressures of this micro-ecology, as you called it.”
“Indeed. Delightful! And I might add that the presence of a well-tolerated radioisotope would be a further mutagenic factor.”
“I expect you’ll have plenty of time to study it, Professor,” Bud remarked with a fixed smile.
The conversation broke off as Chow stumped into the big control cabin. The usually good-natured chef wore a grumpy look.
“Something wrong, old-timer?” Tom asked. “I figured you’d be sort of basking in glory after solving our mystery outbreak!”
“Aw, I dunno. Guess I got old-fashioned Texas-type ideers about women,” Chow grumbled. “Don’t care fer ’em so pushy.”
“What’s she been up to now?” Bud put in. There was no doubt whom he was referring to!
“Nothin’ really, I s’pose, but that ol’ gal sure does ask a lot o’ questions! Askin’ me about how I cook an’ how I pick out m’ blame vegetables and, y’know—whether I’m wastin’ money! Her and her notebook.”
Tom gave the westerner a playful shoulder-punch. “Don’t take it personally, Chow. She’s more, mm, sensitive than she lets on. She’s just doing her job.”
Chow wasn’t placated one bit. “Wa-aal, what gets a bee on my bunion is when she sorta hints that mebbe I shouldn’t be goin’ along on these here trips o’ yours, Tom. Like she thinks I ain’t smart enough t’ hold my own with you hombres. That’s jest it!”
“Pardner, there’s only one opinion around here that counts, as far as that stuff’s concerned,” Tom declared. “Don’t you let that little lady push you around—y’hear?”
“Lady nothin’!” Chow retorted. “And I tell ya, boss, when it comes to eavesdroppin’ that female galoot’s got ears longer’n a tired mule.”
Tom chuckled sympathetically and the cowpoke waddled off, disgusted but reassured. “She’s a problem, all right,” he said. “I had a talk with her the other day, and—I’m not so sure she has both oars in the water, frankly.”
“Ah, you think this woman might be a danger?” asked Centas, which brought an unseen glare from Bud.
“The Professor may have a point there, Tom,” Lieutenant Fraser said. “I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t trust her, not completely. She’s an odd bird, isn’t she?” He glanced at his watch. “Tomorrow afternoon, I think I’ll borrow that sea-radio of yours and talk the matter over with my superiors.” He went on to say that he thought the United States should publicly claim Aurum City, and take official steps to guard it from marauders, suggesting that Tom’s father could propose this to the State department and the other government interests involved.
“You may be right, Brian. But first,” Tom added, “I’d like to survey this whole undersea area and see how far it extends beyond this canyon. There have to be other ruin sites—the area of those pyramid-mountains, for instance.”
“Good plan,” agreed Fraser. “That’ll give our government an exact basis for staking its claim.”
Presently Tom, Bud, and Fraser walked off, leaving Centas to return to his cabin in the Supermanta. The three friends talked quietly of matters that, pending some discussions with the mainland, could not yet be revealed to Aurum City.
Work had gone on apace during the long afternoon under the direction of Hank Sterling, Mel Flagler assisting. Freshly cleaned buildings of gold gleamed all about the three mantacopters as the spectromarine selector worked its way along inside the connected airspaces.
Tom and Bud stood watching the work, soon joined by Chow and Zimby.
Chow exclaimed, “Mighty purty sight, all that there gold!”
“Even though it’s not in Texas?” Bud needled.
“Buddy boy, if’n it’s gold, it kin be anywhere it wants t’be!”
The four paused their conversation to watch the spectrosel crew cleaning off a pillared building near the perimeter of the Deepwing’s hydrodome. Then Chow muttered disgustedly, “Snakes alive! Heads up, boys!”
“Mm, there you are, Mr. Swift,” called Julienne Gabardine from over the top of her perpetual notebook. “I was observing the maintenance activities in the Deepwing. But really, my place is with you.”
Tom nodded. His polite smile ached just a bit. He didn’t dare risk a glance at the expression that he was certain occupied Bud’s face.
Mel Flagler was operating the cannon. As Mel swung the machine around to face the next target, Tom suddenly noticed that some strands of seaweed were hanging down into the air bubble from the waters beyond.
“Hey!” he called out to Mel in alarm. “Don’t aim the cannon that way! The filament barrier’s down over― ”
Tom’s warning was too late! The intake tube of the cannon pointed straight toward the weak spot Tom had noticed!
There was a startling whoosh! as the powerful impulsion effect drew in a torrent of sea water. Masses of half-transparent vegetation and queer-looking fish and sea creatures came hurtling into the hydrodome!
Pop!… Pop!... Pop!
The subsea inhabitants exploded right and left under the sudden release from the deep-ocean pressure! One—an enormous octopus with eyes weirdly aglow—sent a shower of inky black fluid shooting in all directions, his final retort to a woeful world!
“Sh-shmokin’ rocketsh!” Bud slurred as the rank fluid squirted into his face.
On the spectrosel Mel Flagler caught a faceful of the repulsive black stuff as well, and Hank Sterling slipped in a puddle of it and slid down on his backside with a yelp. Tom, also drenched, was the only one to realize what had happened. Jumping up on the platform and squeezing past the blinded Mel Flagler, Tom managed to grab the switch lever and shut off the wave emiters. The repelatron bubble instantly restored itself.
Mel gagged and coughed as he wiped his eyes. “Whew! What the heck did I do?”
“The invisible ‘screen’ of Inertite microfilaments, just inside the bubble-surface, must have gone down over in that section. I knew it when I saw some plants poking their way in,” Tom explained. “Combined with the action of the water-repelatron, it normally has just enough resistance to hold off any loose, wet objects drifting into the airspace, even though tough guys like us can walk right through it.”
“Yeah,” grumbled Hank, staggering to his feet, “including our poor multi-armed pal the octopus.”
“Obviously, something in the system failed,” Tom declared wryly. “Probably just a minor problem—we wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong if the cannon hadn’t got into the act. The impulsion waves must’ve altered the specific ‘mix’ of the sea water, which made it immune to the repelatron.”
Tom was speaking a bit loudly, to cover the sound of Chow Winkler, who was speaking more than a bit loudly. Chow was a mass of oily blackness cussin’ and bellerin’ beneath a ten-gallon hat. Next to him glowered Miss Gabardine—oddly, the only thing not covered in ink was her precious notebook!
“Uk!” choked Zimby. “How long will it take to scrub this junk off?”
Tom laughed. “No longer than it takes for all of you to file in front of the spectrosel. And no pushing, please!”
The young inventor then gazed at the city area nearest them. What a mess it was! Not only were the streets now flooded with sea water, but scraps of dead fish and other sea life were plastered everywhere. Over all lay the black film of octopus ink!
“Sure can’t see no gold now!” Chow muttered disgustedly. “Phoo-eey!”
“Never mind, Chow,” Tom called, wiping his face, pointlessly, with the back of his hand. “We’ll clean it up—after we clean ourselves!”
“I suppose this is a form of participatory observation,” muttered Miss Gabardine—darkly. “I expect you gentlemen to turn your backs during my cleansing. Except the operator of the equipment, naturally.”
For the next hour, the cannon was kept busy removing the aftereffects of the disaster. Just as the several victims were settling back to their orderly work routine, Dick Strong—one of the Supermanta crew—came rushing up to Tom.
“Chief, I just came from Braun and Teller, a couple blocks over, by that tower. They said you should come quick—they’ve discovered something important!”
TOM SWIFT wasted no time joining the pair of excited oceanographer-archaeologists.
“What is it?” he panted. “What have you found, you two?”
They gestured together, wordlessly, at the large flat wall of a portico newly revealed by the spectromarine selector. Tom’s mouth fell open, and so did Bud Barclay’s as he came running up behind them.
“Writing!” Bud exclaimed.
“The first we’ve seen here,” George noted. “And we almost missed this, too. Even with the sea-gunk cleared away, it’s pretty faint.”
“My retroscope camera should be able to handle that little problem,” declared Tom.
Bud and Tom stepped closer to the wall. Fascinated, they didn’t look up as the group was joined by Brian Fraser. “Saw you running, guys,” the Navy man said. “So what kind of writing is this?”
“Well, it looks a little like ancient Hebrew,” replied George.
“I’m sure you meant to say classic Sanskrit,” retorted Teller.
Tom held up a peacemaking hand. “I’ll tell you what it looks like to me.”
“I can see it coming!” Bud gibed. “More space symbols, right?”
Brian Fraser looked puzzled. “Space symbols? What are those, technical symbols of some kind?”
Bud gave a humorous roll of the eyes. “Here we go again—meteor-missile from space, mathematical messages, oscilloscope transmitter, mystery rocket, all that stuff. I think I can recite it in my sleep by now!”
“I gather you’re referring to those extraterrestrials you’re in contact with,” said Fraser with a wink.
Added Ham Teller: “Tom calls ’em his space friends.”
“If I could squeeze in a word,” Tom said dryly, “these inscriptions don’t look at all like the mathematical symbols the space people use in communicating with us.”
“Okay, so what does it look like to ya, kid?” asked Ham.
“Like the writing in the Voynich Manuscript.”
“What!” cried George.
“Okay, jokesters, you’ve stumped me,” Bud protested. “What’re you talking about?”
“It’s a scientific mystery, chum,” Tom explained. “The manuscript is centuries old, and has been passed along from one owner to another. It’s covered with writing similar to this, plus drawings of star constellations, plants, seeds—even what look like plumbing pipes.”
“No one can read it, and no one has a clue as to what language it’s in,” George continued. “But computer analysis indicates that it’s a real language, not just made-up gibberish. Ham and I studied it back when we were gathering old legends.”
Bud gave an incredulous look. “So you’re telling me that manuscript comes from here—from Atlantis?”
“Whadda we look like, psychics?” protested Ham. “The manuscript is probably just a copy of a copy of a copy. But the language itself just might’ve come from Tulayon.”
George corrected him. “Tlaan.”
“Whatever you want to call the place,” Tom interrupted, “if we can find many samples of the language, it’ll help scientists to decipher it.”
“Right,” George stated; “especially if we can find examples of it next to pictures or illustrations. But I’d guess,” he went on, “that that sort of thing is more likely to be found on an inner wall.”
“So far we’ve only used the spectrosel on the outsides,” commented Tom thoughtfully.
Bud asked if the big machine might fit through some of the portals. “Maybe,” was the reply. “Or if not, we might be able to get away with just using the intake cylinder assembly—poke its nose in, so to speak.”
“At any rate, folks, it’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow,” Brian pointed out. Tom agreed.
There was no dawn the next day, of course, and very little breakfast. Tom loaded several other pieces of equipment on the platform of the spectromarine selector and drove down the main boulevard with Bud, Ham and George trotting along behind. The cannon pulled up to the tower and the treads braked it to a halt.
“What’s first up, Skipper?” Bud asked.
“Let’s use the retroscope on that wall.”
Tom’s electronic retroscope was a remarkable camera capable of “seeing back” beyond the effects of weathering and erosion to photographically restore the original appearance of timeworn surfaces. Rolling its several units down from the platform, Tom set up the camera and trained its superhuman gaze on the golden wall of inscriptions.
“Getting anything?” inquired George breathlessly. “Can I uncross my fingers?”
“The time dial says the wall is only a little older than the inscriptions,” Tom murmured, studying the instrument readout. “It stood out in the open for about 170 years—then the cosmic rays, which the retroscope makes use of, were suddenly cut off. That must be when Aurum City was inundated.”
“How long ago?” Ham Teller asked.
Tom looked up at him, eyes wide with wonder. “7640 BC—more than nine thousand years ago!”
George gulped but managed to say, “If that’s accurate, it goes along with our own estimates of the date of the oceanic catastrophe.”
“I don’t see any pictures on the wall, though,” remarked Bud as he peered over his friend’s shoulder at the retroscope screen.
“Let’s try using the cannon on the inside walls.” The flexible treads allowed Tom to drive the spectrosel right up the steps and onto the portico. He carefully extended the telescoping mouth of the intake unit through the arched door opening until it extended a little ways into the central chamber, which had been lit up with floodlights.
“What a mess!” declared Ham. “Better call the super.”
But even without the use of the moleculetron component, the basic process went forward quickly. In minutes half the big room was relatively clean and dry, its golden walls shining. Tom then withdrew the cannon and wheeled the retroscope into place. Once again the walls showed carved symbols, but no trace of pictorial figures.
“Too bad,” said Bud. “Better try the next building.”
“Not yet,” Tom said. “There’s something else to try.” The young inventor now brought another device to bear, Tom’s Eye-Spy camera, which was able to take lifelike television-type pictures through solid obstructions. To everyone’s surprise, he angled the camera downwards toward the floor.
“You think there might be an underground chamber?” inquired George.
“Just playing a hunch.”
The hunch paid off! “There are several big rooms down below, on two levels!” Tom exclaimed delightedly. “And if we clear the gunk away from that corner over there, there’s some kind of vertical access tunnel—a stairwell.”
There were no stairs, however. The round, vertical well between levels was lined with jutting, rectangular stone blocks which served both as steps and handholds. As they all arrived in the room below and beamed their flashlamps about, they were stunned by what was revealed.
“Jetz!” Bud whispered. “You want pictures, you got pictures!”
The high-ceilinged, auditorium-sized room was lined with elaborate murals, vividly colored, somehow etched directly onto the golden walls. Despite a few cracks in the walls, the underground chamber showed few signs of deterioration. Neither spectrosel nor retroscope would be needed.
The four approached a wall and began to walk the perimeter. “These pictures aren’t carvings, but some kind of enameling, adhering right to the gold,” murmured Ham Teller.
“Frankly, I’m more interested in what they show!” gasped Tom.
The walls gave many images of daily life in ancient Aurum City. The people were realistically depicted with almost photographic detail. Their skin was dark and coppery, but their hair, surprisingly, was usually blond or auburn. Men and women strode the crowded boulevards in graceful dignity. The typical garb was similar to that of ancient Greece—robes and tunics. But some of the men wore ballooning pantaloons, somewhat like the traditional male costume of the Turks. There were many signs of gorgeous jewels and brilliant metallic headwear, and odd saberlike weapons with S-curved blades.
“They had horses,” said Bud, taking in a vivid street scene. “But what are these?” The youth was pointing to a sort of low cart being drawn by pony-sized animals. “Those aren’t horses.”
“No, not horses,” Tom said. “They’re saber-toothed tigers!”
George Braun laughed. “That’s what they are, all right. Not actually tigers, though, despite the name. They’re canines, relatives of the wolf. They survived on the island and the, mm, Atlanteans domesticated them, apparently.”
“And look over here!” Ham called out. “I thought at first glance these were performing elephants, but I’m sure they’re mastodons!”
Tom was almost overcome with scientific amazement. “Just imagine how ancient this civilization must have been!”
“What excites me is how much writing accompanies these murals,” said George. “This will really help the translation effort.”
Another corner well led the four down to a yet-lower chamber. “Murals here, too,” commented Tom.
“Not so impressive,” Bud pronounced. “Villages of huts.”
“I think moving downward took us to representations of an earlier time,” theorized Tom. George and Ham agreed.
There was writing here also, possibly captions for the murals. Ham, drifting away from the rest, suddenly called them over excitedly. “Okay Brauny, what do you make of this?” he challenged his friend.
The picture showed a large gathering of figures in jeweled clothing that suggested ceremonial costumes. A man and woman, in peculiar headdresses, stood atop a stone platform or dais, raising their arms in respectful welcome. But in front of them, the figure being welcomed had been completely gouged out of the picture! Only a rough oval pit was left at that place in the wall.
“Somebody’s popularity sure went south,” Bud declared. “Maybe the king and queen were welcoming a foreign diplomat.”
Fascinated, Tom moved along to other nearby murals. In each one, the apparent center of interest had been crudely obliterated. “It’s just where you’d expect to see the depiction of a person, or group of people,” Tom pointed out. “But…” Suddenly the youth sucked in his breath. “Bud!”
Bud ran to his side—and gasped. “I knew it! The space people!”
Next to the obliterated figure was the image of a strange object resembling a spacecraft!
“Tom, that sure looks a lot like the rocket capsule we recovered in the Ocean Arrow!” gaped George.
“It’s similar,” Tom concurred. “But not identical. Look at these rounded edges. It’s also a little like something Bud and I encountered on the moon—a sort of flying saucer. We called it the Space Ark.”
“But the source is the same, Tom!” cried Bud. “Way back when, Aurum City must’ve been visited by those aliens from Planet X!”
“We know they made at least one voyage to Earth centuries ago,” Tom explained to Ham and George. “We found their symbols carved on some Mayan ruins in Mexico, telling how their spaceships had crashed and their exploration armada had died off. The inscriptions mentioned something—it was hard to understand—about ‘the preparers.’ They might have been referring to some much earlier voyage.”
Tom added that he would put together an organized project to study the murals and inscriptions throughout Aurum City, aided by retroscope. “Right now, though, I suppose we’d better concentrate on fulfilling the provisions of our contract.”
“You’re probably right,” Bud conceded. “Miss Gabardine can be something of an armada all by herself!”
When the explorers emerged back onto the street it was nearing suppertime. Tom drove the spectrosel back to the Fathomer, the others following. A crowd had gathered in front of the mantacopter near Chow’s long dining table.
“Hi, everybody!” Tom called out cheerily. “Wait’ll you hear what we discovered!”
“We discovered something too, Skipper,” said Slim Davis. “That is, Lieutenant Fraser did.”
Tom now realized that the faces of the crowd were glum. “What’s going on?”
Fraser stepped forward. “Look at this.” The Navy man held in his hand a thick metal cylinder resembling a small thermos bottle. Its once-smooth surface was caked with rust.
“Where did you get this, Brian?”
Fraser gestured with a shoulder. “In the ruins, about a block in from the Deepwing. I saw the top sticking out between a couple fallen columns. I was just wandering around, relaxing before dinner. Not looking for anything in particular.”
“What is it, pal?” Bud asked Tom.
The young inventor turned it over in his hand, silent. “Nothing ancient, certainly. This was machined by modern equipment. But we didn’t bring it here—the rust proves it.”
“But what the hey, man, if we didn’t― ” began Ham Teller. Then he stopped in dismay.
“Exactly,” said Tom Swift very quietly. “Someone else brought it and left it in Aurum City years ago. And by international law, as I understand it, that would put our claim—and the legitimacy of this entire project—in doubt.”
“In which case all this human effort and government funding will have been wasted,” added Julienne Gabardine, as if compulsively.
Her pronouncement won her a Texas glare. “Jumpin’ Joe Jehoshaphat!” Chow muttered. Tom said nothing and tried to unscrew the top of the container. It wouldn’t budge.
“I’ll get the acetyline equipment,” offered Hank Sterling, darting off toward the manta.
Bud and Chow stared in dismay at their young leader. The same thought ran through the minds of all the men and women. Tom felt sick with disappointment to think of the United States losing out after the efforts and hard work of himself and his crew!
A sound from Chow made Tom look up. To Tom’s bemused amazement the cook was glaring in popeyed fury at Brian Fraser, his round face turning red.
“You low-down sneakin’ traitor!” the Texan bellowed. “I suppose you’re plumb happy that Uncle Sam may lose this city! Wa-aal, I’ll wipe that ornery smirk off your face!”
Lunging forward, Chow lashed his big rough-hewn fist square at Lieutenant Fraser’s jaw!
A RUSTY CLAIM
CHOW’S powerful blow caught Lieutenant Fraser by surprise. He reeled backward, but recovered quickly, standing in mute astonishment as he rubbed his jaw.
“Chow!” gasped Slim Davis. “What in the world’s wrong with you?”
“‘Wrong with me’ my panhandled belly-button!” snarled the cook. He whirled and faced Tom. “Boss, all along this here rattlesnake’s been stabbin’ us in th’ back right in front o’ our eyes!”
Tom stepped forward and put a calming hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Brian’s a US Navy officer, Chow.”
“Sure enough, he’s got a blame yoonee-form with them little yeller fishes on it, but he’s a fake, jest like that Cromwell!”
“I take it you have evidence, Mr. Winkler,” challenged Miss Gabardine, pen and notebook at ready.
“Sawr it with m’ own two Texas eyes, ma’am,” he replied. “Y’see, I got to thinkin’ about the other day, that there chili-fungus attack. I brought out m’ kettle, then went back inside the sub to get me a ladle. When I got back to the table, Mr. Loo-tenant was already sittin’ down—first one. You know what, Tom? I’ll jest betcha what we started comin’ down with warn’t natural, but somethin’ he put in the kettle, dee-liberate!”
Bud spoke up, defending the man he regarded as a friend. “Now come on, Chow, Brian came down with the infection too. In fact, his was the worst case.”
Chow nodded. “Yeah, I know. That’s what threw me off, jest like it ’as supposed to! But I got my suspicions up, and I tried t’ keep an eye on him. Then, ’bout an hour ago, what do I see but Fraser come sneakin’ out o’ the sub, real fast, like he don’t want n’body to notice him. Went straight off into the ruins, over where he says he found that can. Shor didn’t look to me like he was wanderin’ around seein’ the sights, like he said!”
“So you think he planted the canister himself,” Tom stated. When Chow nodded, the young inventor asked: “Did you actually see Brian carrying the canister?”
“Wa-aal, no,” Chow admitted. “But it’s mighty small. He coulda been holdin’ it off on his other side, where I couldn’t see it.”
Fraser suddenly smiled. “Maybe I could have—you know? It looks mighty suspicious, far as I’m concerned.”
“Brian, come along with me and Bud,” Tom ordered. “Oh—Chow, take the Lieutenant’s service revolver, please. Stash it some place.”
“Now you’re talkin’, son.”
With Brian between them, Tom and Bud walked away from the group, not speaking until they’d put in some safe distance.
“So how about it, Commander Swift?” asked the Navy man. “Think I’m the guilty party?”
“Chow can get a little excitable, Lieutenant,” Tom responded. “But there’s nothing the matter with his eyes, and, no offense, he’s a good judge of character too. So what’s your side of the story? Do you dispute what he says he saw?”
“No, not a bit,” was the answer. “But it’s what your man didn’t see that makes the difference!”
“What didn’t the cowpoke see?” asked Bud.
“Let’s tell it right,” began Brian. “He’s correct—I was lying back there, because it all had to do with matters we’d agreed to keep confidential. No, I didn’t just amble down one of the streets and run across the canister. I was following someone.”
“Centas?” was Tom’s easy guess.
“You got it. I saw him through the window of the Deepwing; I think he’d just left the Supermanta. He wasn’t walking through the open spaces between the mantas, but was skulking along half-hidden in the shadows of the ruins—that’s what caught my Navy eye. I waited until he’d turned down one of the streets, then went after him.”
“Guess that’s when Chow saw you,” Bud said, “right when you left the sub.”
“Yes, and you can bet I was cruising along with all deliberate speed, because it looked to me like the Professor was carrying something.”
Tom nodded. “The canister!”
“Couldn’t see it, unfortunately. Anyhow, I saw him turn into a courtyard area, just beyond where the spectrosel had stopped for the day. He was out of sight for about a minute. Then he reappeared, but it was easy to tell that whatever he’d been carrying was no longer with him.”
“I get the picture,” declared the young inventor angrily. “He planted that cylinder where it would be discovered by the work crew.”
“Must’ve had it somewhere in his big suitcase the whole time,” Bud added. He grinned at Fraser. “Man, I just knew you had an explanation!”
Brian chuckled. “And I wish Chow didn’t have such a big hard fist!”
“I’ll pull him aside and get you off the hook,” promised Tom. “But now the question is, just what do we do? Centas could just deny our charges—all of them. We need real proof.”
“I know,” Brian said soberly. “You don’t accuse an internationally prominent scientist without having all your ducks in a row. And of course I didn’t actually see him carrying the canister. He could cry coincidence—though I, for one, don’t believe it.”
“Believe me, genius boy here will come up with something!” proclaimed Bud proudly, squeezing Tom’s shoulder.
From the Deepwing Tom used the inter-ship communications system to speak to Chow in the galley of the Fathomer, thanking him for his alertness and explaining that Fraser had actually been carrying out a task Tom had given him. “Sort of a secret mission, pard—I couldn’t explain it in front of the crowd, and I can’t give you the details just yet. I’ll just spread the word that I investigated the matter and cleared him.”
“Aw, brand my golden gloves, boss!” gulped the cook. “I shor did make a fool o’ myself! I jest hope Brian’ll accept an apology.”
“He already has,” Tom assured him. “But this whole thing’s a secret right now. Savvy?”
After supper, Tom turned his attention to the canister. The top was cut open, and the contents gently deposited on the dining table—a few pieces of golden bric-a-brac, and a rolled-up sheet of parchment. Tom held it up for the crowd of watchers to see. It was covered with a scrawl of writing, evidently from an ink pen.
“What’s it say, Tom?” called out Nina.
Tom scanned the document with a frown. It was written in some foreign language. “I’m afraid I can’t translate it, Nina,” Tom murmured.
His voice sounded so glum and heavyhearted that Bud and Chow both looked at Tom. He returned their glance grimly.
“Gosh, Skipper,” Bud blurted out, “you’re not going to tell us you were right after all about someone finding Aurum City before us, are you?”
Tom shrugged unhappily. “Could be. This letter may even be an official claim to the city of gold by some explorer from another country. If so, our expedition is too late.”
“I’m gonna bet it’s jest a big fake!” Chow exclaimed.
“Yes. But of course you thought the same thing about the Lieutenant,” remarked Miss Gabardine coldly.
“Speaking of the Lieutenant,” came Brian’s voice as he stepped nearer, “let me take a look at that. I’ve been trained in several European languages.” Tom handed the parchment to him, and Fraser studied it keenly for a moment. “Well, folks, it’s in Kranjov, the language of Kranjovia.” The officer paused. His eyes were grim and troubled.
“Bad news?” asked Hank Sterling.
Lieutenant Fraser nodded. “I’m afraid so. This was written by three submarine explorers from Kranjovia― ” Gasps and groans drifted through the crowd. “I’ll read you what’s written here.”
He proceeded to translate aloud:
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, HAVE DISCOVERED THIS SUNKEN CITY AND HEREBY OFFICIALLY CLAIM IT FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF OUR BELOVED COUNTRY, THE DEMOCRATIC WORKERS REPUBLIC OF KRANJOVIA. WE HOPE TO RETURN SAFELY BY SUBMARINE TO OUR NATIVE LAND. BUT IF ANY ACCIDENT SHOULD BEFALL US, THIS LETTER WILL PROVE THAT WE WERE THE ORIGINAL DISCOVERERS OF THIS SITE. WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT ALL OTHER NATIONS WILL RESPECT KRANJOVIA’S PRIOR RIGHTS.
“It’s followed by three signatures, with the names printed beneath,” Brian continued. “Fritz Branov, Yannos Gurr, Igor Jadenko, of Deep-Submersible XD-19, Serpentopol, Democratic Workers Republic of Kranjovia.”
“Is it dated?” asked Slim Davis.
“August 8th of the year 1971.” Fraser handed the paper back to Tom.
“Then… then it’s definite that our expedition is too late,” Arv Hanson said falteringly after a moment of dead silence. “The United States can’t take over Aurum City?”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hanson” Miss Gabardine replied quietly. “Even if those explorers died before reporting their discovery, the only honorable thing our country can do is to acknowledge their claim.”
George Braun gave a tight-lipped nod. “We can hardly expect foreign powers to respect other countries’ rights unless we do the same,” he muttered. “But it sure goes against the grain to hand all this over to Kranjovia!”
Bud got up and paced angrily about the space in the middle of the crowd of dismayed expeditioners. “What a rotten break!” he gritted. “They hire a mob, steal a sub, attack our guys with torpedos—and they get the city of gold as a reward!”
“Of course, we haven’t yet authenticated the document,” noted Fraser. Tom and Bud could tell that he was carefully avoiding a glance in Professor Centas’s direction. “If this is a phony, we might be able to prove it. It may have a giveaway in it.”
Julienne Gabardine interrupted in surprise, “What do you mean? Are you suggesting the canister could have been planted here after our arrival?”
“I sure am—or at least some time after the discovery of the site by Tom, in the Ocean Arrow.”
Suddenly everyone turned to Tom, startled, as the young inventor barked out a laugh! “It is a phony! I can prove it!”
THE CROWD was thrilled—yet astonished.
“Wonderful!” cried Nina. “But how? Is something wrong with the document?”
“I’ll say!” Tom grinned in triumph. “Whoever prepared this was careful to use an old, rusted container and include a few samples that might have come from Aurum City. But they made a foolish mistake!”
“Really? What mistake?” inquired Professor Centas with a frown.
“The document refers, twice, to the Democratic Workers Republic of Kranjovia.”
“But that’s their name,” protested Zimby Cox.
“Sure—now!” Tom retorted. “But not back in 1971! It was Ulvo Maurig himself who changed the name, after he came to power in the eighties. Back then they used the old post-revolution name, the Kranjov People’s Democratic Republic!”
Brian laughed and shook his head ruefully. “You’re absolutely right, Tom. I can’t believe I missed it.”
Chow lofted his cowboy hat and raised a cheer. “Then we’re back in business!—home on our own dang range!” The joyous cheer was echoed by the rest of the crowd.
“Guess it shows that even these professional spy types can be just plain stupid,” remarked Dick Strong.
“But not that stupid,” Tom commented thoughtfully. “Here’s a Swift theory for you. Maybe the mistake was intentional! It’s possible Maurig’s people have changed their plans, or lost confidence in their agent. For some underhanded reason they wanted him to give himself away and get caught!”
Tom shot a veiled wink in Bud’s direction, and the young pilot grinned back. Tom was up to something!
“Yeah, okay, youse guys,” grumbled Ham, the emotion of the moment fully Brooklynizing him. “But whatever da weirdo reason is, we definitely got somebody here in dis city who wants to ashcan the whole deal. You can’t just assume he’s gonna fold his cards and give up.”
“Yes, Tom, your theory may be wrong,” Centas put in, his voice a bit weak. “All theories are vulnerable to error.”
“We’ll have to keep our guard up,” declared Lieutenant Fraser.
“I was under the impression that we were already keeping our guard up!” Miss Gabardine murmured sourly.
Work with the spectromarine selector resumed early the next morning. In the middle of the afternoon—morning in the eastern United States—Tom met Bud and Brian at the longwave aqua-rad console. “I’ve got quite a lot to report,” he told them. “To Phil Radnor and Harlan Ames, and also my Dad. Then I’ll turn the mike over to you, Brian—you said you wanted to contact your superiors.”
The young inventor set the controls and activated the communicator. But after a moment he frowned and repeated the procedure.
“Skipper, you have that look that tells me it’s time to worry,” Bud said.
“I’m not getting any response back from the transponders on the mainland—no ‘handshake’,” he replied. “It’s almost as if we’re not transmitting at all. Let me run a check on the circuits.”
Tom muttered to himself as he ran through the circuitry responses. “No… no… that one’s okay…” He finally glanced up at his friends. “The only remaining possibility is that something has happened to the transmitter-float up above. We’ll have to—hold it!”
“Got something?” Brian asked.
Tom indicated an oscilloscope readout. “We are getting a signal coming back through the cable. But it’s not an aqua-rad signal!”
“Huh? What kind of signal is it?”
“A modulated analog signal, like in a standard telephone.”
“Okay, I’d call that weird,” Bud gulped. “Here we are at the bottom of the sea, and somebody’s trying to telephone us?”
Tom adjusted the set to the analog mode and put the input on the speaker. “Swift expedition, Swift expedition, please reply!” The call was repeated over and over without break.
Picking up the microphone Tom responded cautiously. “This is Tom Swift speaking. We read you.”
“Ehya!” exclaimed the answering voice, followed by a sound of many voices talking in the background, in an unknown language.
“They’re speaking Kranjov, Tom,” pronounced Fraser.
A strong, thick-accented voice now came on the line. “Hello, Tom Swift. Do you read me?”
“Yes. To whom am I speaking?”
“I am Chief Commander Drozhal of the Kranjovian Atlantic Fleet.”
Bud groaned and made a fist, but Tom tried to remain calm. “What can we do for you, sir?”
“I shall be very frank with you, Mr. Swift, and urge you to show me the same courtesy. I know you have matched wits with enemies of the urbane, sophisticated type—Streffan Mirov, or the Hungarian boatbuilder. I am not of that kind. I am not a conversationalist. Indeed, I find your language most difficult. You will forgive me, I hope.”
“I understand,” Tom said, adding: “How is it you are able to communicate with us in this manner?”
“I regret to inform you that we have commandeered your transmission device, the buoy floating at the end of the cable.”
“By what authority?” demanded Tom angrily.
The man replied briskly, with little emotion. “Let us not make this a personal struggle, Mr. Swift. It would be well for you to realize that I bear you no personal animosity; indeed, I admire your many accomplishments. I have no stake in these matters—I leave it to the negotiators and the politicians. I am a military professional, and will carry out the orders of my superiors to the best of my ability.”
“And what are your orders?”
“I am to secure the area, the submarine archaeological site, for whatever few days it will take for the Kranjovian submersible fleet to move into position. My government claims rights to the site, rights that other nations have conspired to abrogate—that is what I am to say—and we will act to protect those rights. Ultimately there will be discussions at higher levels to resolve these matters.”
“All right,” said the young scientist-inventor, setting aside his resentment for later use. “That much is clear. What are you demanding of us?”
“I make no demands, sir. Proceed with your work as you like. But you will not be permitted to leave, nor to communicate with the rest of the world.”
“In other words, we are your hostages!”
“I have my orders, Mr. Swift. Regrettably, I am compelled to inform you that if any of your seacraft attempt to escape to open water, we will treat it as a hostile act and respond accordingly. I believe you know, by demonstration, that this ship is now equipped with torpedos.”
“Yes,” was the contemptuous retort. “You stole a vessel designed to advance man’s scientific knowledge and turned it into a warship.”
“I understand your attitude, but there is no point in my debating you,” stated Drozhal. “Let us hope all goes well elsewhere in the world. If not, I will reluctantly carry out the rest of my orders. To prevent this site from falling into the hands of what we are to call the ‘decadent West,’ and to prove to the world that our determination must be taken seriously, explosive devices will be used to bring down the walls of the canyon and destroy the city. You yourselves will bear the undesirable consequences.”
A click brought the conversation to an end.
“They’re inhuman!” Bud cried.
“He thinks of himself as a professional and a patriot, I’m sure,” declared Lieutenant Fraser with a shake of his head.
The three started as a clattering thump! rang out overhead. “Come on!” Tom exclaimed.
The three ran out of the mantacopter, and in a moment found the cause of the sound. The long aqua-rad cable was collapsed in a scattered heap on and about the ship. After hunting about, Tom held up a free end. “Cut!”
“Then—we really are trapped down here, aren’t we.” Bud looked his pal in the eye, and Tom nodded back. “No way out. We’re trapped two miles below the ocean’s surface!”
AFTER conferring with Lieutenant Fraser, Tom ordered all personnel to assemble in front of the Fathomer, including those working in the city with the spectromarine selector.
“As the director of this project, and on behalf of my father and Swift Enterprises, I have to tell you all about a very difficult situation,” he began. A ripple of concern rose from the crowd, and Tom held up his hands for silence. “We are being blocked from leaving this canyon, or from communicating with the mainland or other submersibles, by representatives of the Kranjovian government. As you all know, they took possession of Professor Centas’s submarine, the Hydra-Gaea. They’re now using it to guard the channel opening above us, which is the only way our mantacopters can exit to open water.” He proceeded to give the gist of his conversation with Drozhal, including the threat at its conclusion.
“We know you’ll do everything possible to get us out of this, Tom!” called out Hank Sterling loyally. There were many shouts of agreement.
Mel Flagler stepped forward, trying to speak to his young commander in a low voice. “But we have someone here among us working for the enemy—don’t forget that.”
“I know, Mel,” Tom replied. “Listen everyone! As Mel just said, it looks like we have some kind of agent working against us here in Aurum City. I’m hoping it’s not one of you—I want to trust all of you. It’s just possible the enemy is a stowaway who sneaked off one of the subs and is hiding somewhere in the ruins.”
“Say!” Chow exclaimed loudly. “Never thought o’ that!”
“So what should we do?” called out a member of the science team.
Tom nodded at Brian Fraser, who answered the question. “I’ve advised Tom to send out two armed patrols to search through all the blocks of the city inside the hydrodome bubbles, starting at opposite ends and meeting in the middle. At the very least it’ll allow us to rule out the possibility of an unknown stowaway in hiding.”
A general nod circulated through the assembly. Then, as if on cue, Bud Barclay spoke up. “Great idea, Skipper, Lieutenant. But why just two patrols? If we all split up, we could tackle the whole thing in a couple hours.”
“For protection, Brian thinks the patrols should be armed,” was Tom’s reply. “As you all know, we usually don’t bring weapons along on our scientific expeditions. In fact, we have only two—the Lieutenant’s service revolver, and one of our electric impulse guns.”
As Bud nodded, Tom asked Fraser to begin selecting the two patrols. He and Bud started to trudge back toward Tom’s lab in the Deepwing.
“That went pretty well, genius boy,” Bud murmured.
But Miss Gabardine suddenly popped up at their heels. “Tom!” she called. “I must speak to you privately!”
Tom halted. “Sure—but not privately. Let’s keep Bud with us.” He lowered his voice. “It wouldn’t look good, Julienne, you know.”
“Oh, yes, you’re right… Mr. Swift.” As Bud drew closer, she began to speak softly and urgently. “I believe I know who the secret enemy is!”
It was hard not to sigh. “Really? Who?”
“One of your employees,” she responded. “The man who accompanied us in the Fathomer. Zimby Cox!”
“Zee?” Bud burst out emotionally. “Lady, you’re nuts!”
“Let’s hear her out,” Tom urged. “What’s the basis of your accusation, ma’am?”
“Well, first of all, I suppose I should note that some people have said that I’m rather, er, addicted to eavesdropping,” she admitted, embarrassed. “Perhaps it arises from my dedication to extracting accurate information in order to produce conclusive evaluations.”
Tom smiled. “You heard something, then?”
“I did! This morning I happened to be in one of the storage rooms in the Fathomer—the one used for canned edibles and kitchen equipment. I was taking an inventory… of sorts. And then I heard voices, two men talking together very quietly, as if they wanted no one to hear them.”
“They didn’t reckon on your powers of detection,” remarked Bud with what might have been sarcasm.
Miss Gabardine smiled as if she had been complimented. “Anyway, I listened very carefully. I’m quite certain one of the men said something about Kranjovia, and then the other man said, No, it’s too great a risk! And then a moment later I saw Zimby Cox walk past the door! Doesn’t that seem rather alarming?”
“I don’t think I’d use the word alarming,” replied Tom smoothly. “But it may be something to look into. Leave it to me, won’t you?—but thanks.”
“My pleasure, of course!” Miss Gabardine turned and strode away.
“Jetz, she’s really something,” Bud grumbled. “Tom, you don’t think—?”
Tom looked very weary, but managed a half-smile. “What can I say? Zimby’s a friend and a longtime employee. But… something just occurred to me, Bud.”
“Back on the survey cruise, when we were trapped in the freight airlock—we’ve always assumed that Judson sabotaged the circuit on his own. But…”
Bud gulped in dismay. “It was Zimby who’d just been back there! And he’s the one who mentioned the problem to you.”
The young inventor nodded grimly. “Matter of fact—you could even call it a kind of phony distress call!”
“Well,” said Tom, “for now it’s just a theory—another theory. And we’ve got plenty more than theories to worry about!”
But fate allowed Tom no time to worry. He had scarcely arrived in his lab compartment when the inter-ship speaker buzzed. “Boss!” commed Chow Winkler. “Get on back t’ the Fathomer pronto! We got us another problem!”
Tom and Bud covered the several blocks separating the ships at a run. They arrived panting in the control cabin, where Chow, Fraser, and several others had congregated.
“What is it?” Tom demanded.
“After assigning the patrols, I came in here to get my revolver from the security locker where Chow had put it,” said Brian. “It’s gone!”
“An’ the blame locker door was locked up tighter ’n a whistle!” exclaimed the westerner. “I tried it after I shut it—you saw me try it, dincha, Mordy?”
Mordo, standing a ways away with Professor Centas, nodded vigorously. “I did, yes! He made certain it was secure.”
“So someone’s out there armed and dangerous,” pronounced Tom in near despair. “He could start picking us off any time.”
“But you can still send out one group of searchers, can you not?” suggested the Professor. “You referred to another weapon, though I did not quite understand you.”
“Yes,” Tom confirmed, “the electric impulse pistol. We call it an i-gun.”
He unlocked a metal armaments cabinet and withdrew a pistol-shaped device, handing it to Centas to examine. “It appears quite deadly,” muttered the scientist. “You say it is electrical?”
“It has a solar battery inside for power.”
Bud said, “Let’s give him a demonstration!” He found a scrap of cardboard and held it out at arm’s length, standing across the cabin in front of a blank bulkhead. “Go ahead, Skipper.”
Tom carefully aimed the i-gun and depressed its trigger-button. Instantly a round burn mark appeared on the cardboard. “And that’s at low power,” Tom commented to the Professor.
“Most impressive!” declared Centas.
“I don’t like the idea of using a single patrol,” said Fraser, picking up the discussion. “But it’d be worth it if I could find the stowaway—if that’s what he is—who took my revolver.”
As the group straggled out the hatchway, Tom said, “Even two guns won’t count for much if the Hydra-Gaea starts in on the canyon walls with explosives.”
“It is my understanding, Tom Swift, that you are a dependable fount of ideas,” Mordo commented with a smile.
“Whyn’t we jest go up there in one o’ the subs and ram ’em, like you did that sea serpent?” suggested Chow.
But Tom politely squelched the idea. “I’m sure they’ve set up various sensor devices in the channel. Even our Tomasite coatings won’t block all of them.”
“Yeah,” sighed Bud. “And I suppose we’d set them off even if we tried to escape in a Fat Man suit.”
“Now wait jest a second!” interrupted Chow abruptly. “Got me another one—that’s two in one day!”
“We’re all ears,” Fraser said.
Chow screwed up his forehead almost all the way to his nonexistent hairline. “Struck me just now like a bell. They’s more’n one way outa this here canyon!”
Bud shrugged his broad shoulders. “Right, that gash we came through the first time, in the Ocean Arrow. But all that falling junk blocked it off—it looked like the cliffsides had collapsed together. There isn’t even an opening at the top any more.”
“Shor, buddy boy, I know that’s what you all saw the other week, but lissen. Mebbe a feller could work his way around some o’ them big boulders in a Fat Man suit, y’see? If he could get up to th’ surface, he could radio fer help—call in the Navy or somethin’ afore the Kranjovian subs get here!”
Tom was silent. Lieutenant Fraser said, “Good thought, but it wouldn’t work. The Hydra-Gaea has all manner of long range detectors― ”
“Correct,” declared Centas. “Very sophisticated devices.”
“And so,” Brian concluded, “they’d easily pick up a Fat Man trying to jet away, and snag it with a torpedo. No way you could outrun it with those piddly little suit jets.”
Tom suddenly spoke. “That’s true, but Chow’s idea got me thinking. We do have an undersea vehicle available to us with a much more powerful propulsion system!”
“Sure—the mantas. But they couldn’t fit through that little crack in the cliffs,” Bud objected. “Much less between the boulders and junk.”
“I’m not talking about the mantas,” Tom grinned in excitement. “We could escape in the Ocean Arrow!”
After a moment of stunned, staring silence, Bud said: “You’ve lost me, pal. The Arrow’s back in her berth on Fearing Island with the other seacops.”
“Yup—but not all of her!” exclaimed the young inventor as the others looked on in puzzlement. “Don’t you get it? Somewhere down beneath this seamount is the section we had to jettison and abandon!”
“Well… yeah…” Bud said dubiously. Noting the query on Brian’s face, Bud explained that during the original expedition, the Ocean Arrow had been pinned down in the narrow crack by falling rock. “We were stuck on a ledge next to some big hole in the sea floor, and one of the two compartments was flooded, so we didn’t have any buoyancy.”
“Uh-huh,” Chow put in. “We slipped off’n the ledge and were way down in that hole afore we could set loose our half o’ the ship and float ourselves up.”
“But the flooded compartment is still down there,” Tom said. “We could descend to it in a few Fat Men, then use one of the small repelatrons Billy brought us to force out the water. I think I know how to reactivate the electrical system. We wouldn’t have the rotors, which were ruined, but the repelatron bubble would restore buoyancy, and the steam jets are more than powerful enough to keep us ahead of any torpedos from the Hydra-Gaea!”
“Jetz!” gasped Bud.
“Brand my sea snakes!” Chow echoed.
“As for me, I’ll just say—let’s get going!” urged Brian with a big grin.
They returned to the Fathomer and commenced detailed planning. “We’ll go in four of the Fat Man suits—me, Bud, Arv Hanson, and Hank Sterling.”
Lieutenant Fraser frowned. “I realize that you’re selecting your best technicians, but may I suggest making me one of the four? Even though Drozhal knows English, it might assist you to have someone on your side who speaks Kranjov. And besides, the presence of an officer of the United States Navy might count for something if they’re debating whether to attack us.” Agreeing with this logic, Tom put Brian in place of Arv.
Tom decided to tell only a few key members of his crew about the daring, dangerous plan, knowing the result—good or bad—would speak for itself. When Bud pointed out that Professor Centas already knew of the basics, his chum could only shrug. “It can’t be helped now. I don’t think he has any means to contact the H-G from down here, not with that twisty channel blocking sonar-type communications. But there is another danger on my mind.”
“Though I agree with what Brian said, he managed to make a place for himself in this ploy—and I’m not entirely sure he’s trustworthy. We have only his word about that canister business.”
“Yeah, I know.” Bud gave forth an eloquent groan. “Seems to me this particular Tom Swift adventure is getting just a bit too grim!”
Hours later the desperate venture got underway. Four Fat Men trudged underwater across Aurum City toward the narrow cliffside opening, Tom in the lead. Bud and Hank carried the small repelatron between them.
Reaching the cliff they paused, and Fraser sonophoned: “Can we really fit through that pass, Tom?” Rock and debris not only choked the fissure, but fanned out in front of it in heaps.
“I can make out a route higher up,” Tom replied. “I just hope it goes all the way to the abyss. Let’s go in.”
They made their way along for some time, often single file, the darkness relieved by their suit lights. At one point it seemed they could go no further, but Tom ordered the repelatron switched on at low power. As its compressed air reservoir filled the expanding bubble, the bubble’s periphery touched the pile of debris—and suddenly a big boulder shifted position, revealing enough space for the team to continue.
“Take away the water pressure on one side, and the other side’ll work for us,” Tom explained, leading his fellows forward.
They came upon their goal without warning. Tom called a halt. “I’m almost at the edge of the fissure,” he sonophoned. “Looks like it’s still wide open, as far down as my beam can go.” He chuckled. “Walk this way, boys!”
With their suit buoyancy devices set a shade below neutral, the foursome slowly descended down, down, down through the darkness.
“We’ve got to be below the point where the compartment broke loose,” Bud signaled Tom.
“Yep. My suit mini-sonar shows a bottom, two-twenty feet more. Increase buoyancy, guys. We’ll use our jets for the final maneuvers.”
“Hey, I see it!” cried Hank.
The scarlet half-hull of Tom’s first diving seacopter was scratched, scraped, and dented, but generally intact, resting at a sharp angle on its nose. After a brief survey, the four used the powerful motorized muscles of their suit arms to overbalance and level the compact subcraft. The repelatron was attached to the top of the hull by suction mounts and activated. As Tom slowly increased its power, the big bubble grew until it encompassed not only the half-saucer of the Arrow, but most of the bottom of the crevice.
“Lava rock,” murmured Hank. “This must be part of an extinct volcano.”
“We’ll explore it some other time, Hank. You free next Tuesday?” gibed Bud.
When the air inside the bubble had reached a breathable minimum, the four shed their Fat Man suits, which were far too bulky to fit through the Arrow’s hatchway. They walked over in shirtsleeves and pried it open mechanically.
“The water level’s fallen already,” Tom reported. “The repelatron is forcing it out of the cabin the same way it came in.” At last the small control compartment was almost totally dry, and Tom began to work on restoring the electrical system, Hank assisting. He was able to verify that the small atomic pile was still functioning and had not been breached.
The work was arduous and complicated, but its completion was announced by the cabin lights suddenly coming to life. “We’re in business!” Bud cheered.
Tom wiped his brow. “We sure are, flyboy. But hold off the celebrating. The real rough stuff still lies ahead!” At Tom’s direction Bud and Hank went topside and worked the repelatron down through the hatchway. It barely fit. In the cabin Tom bolted the unit securely to the deck.
“Those bolts look pretty strong,” remarked Fraser.
“They have to be,” Tom explained. “The machine itself receives back all the lift-force from the buoyancy of the air bubble. If we don’t secure it to the seacop frame, it’ll go through the roof and leave us stranded.”
Tom ran a test of the of the gimballed steam-thrust jets beneath the hull, then gave his comrades a look that said: Here we go! He boosted power to the repelatron, sending the bubble walls out even further.
There was a creak from the bolts holding the machine in place, and the seacopter shifted slightly. “A little more,” Tom muttered.
The Arrow suddenly made a leap upward! “We’re off!” Hank cried.
Tom tried to adjust the radius of the bubble to diminish its lift-buoyancy to a bare minimum. “We’ll crash hard enough against the sides as it is,” he said. And they did.
“Those windows are unbreakable—right?” asked Lieutenant Fraser nervously after a screeching jolt.
“Well,” Bud replied, “they always were before!”
In minutes they had risen through the mouth of the well-like abyss and were floating in the channel between the cliffs. Tom played the aqualamp in all directions. “I don’t see a way through, Skipper,” Hank stated. “All those gaps between the boulders are way too narrow.”
Tom smiled tensely. “Don’t underestimate my way with rocks, Hank.” Bobbing about and maneuvering with the steam jets, Tom extended the bubble over several spots that looked promising. Finally his technique met with success! Several midsized boulders and bits of rubble suddenly burst outward and tumbled down into the chasm, leaving a clear space broad enough for the stripped-down Ocean Arrow.
“The rest of the way looks pretty open,” Tom announced happily.
In minutes they floated at the entrance to the channel, the aqualamp on a setting that made it invisible outside the control cabin.
“Nothing in view,” Hank reported from the sonarscope console. “The Hydra-Gaea must be low on the other side of the hump of the seamount.”
“They can’t see us, we can’t see them,” stated Fraser. “Let’s lay rubber, guys.”
Tom’s answer was to pull back the jet control lever. The Ocean Arrow’s answer was to zoom off horizontally with an enormous thrust and a trail of superhot bubbles. The fleeing oceannauts struggled to hold on against the kick of acceleration.
“D-don’t hold back, Tom!” Bud gulped.
“There she is, Skipper!” Hank sang out. “The H-G’s on the move, fast!”
“They’ve spotted us,” Tom murmured. “We’ve got to pull out of their torpedo range.”
The two super-scientific subs were now locked in a deadly race, the Arrow taking the lead as the undersea crags fled past the viewpane.
“How’re we doin’, Hank?” called Bud.
“We’re pulling away,” the engineer announced. “They can’t keep up with us in that tub.”
“But we’re still in the danger zone,” warned Brian. “Can you take her to the surface, Tom?”
“If I expand the bubble too much, it’ll take the jets out of the water and they’ll choke,” he replied. “We’ll stop dead!”
Hank suddenly burst forth with a cry of dismay. “Torpedos!”
“Three on our tail!”
With a gasp Tom slightly decreased the repelatron force, shrinking the radius of the bubble by a couple feet. That’ll give us less cross-section and less resistance, he thought. The seacopter accelerated slightly.
“Not enough, Tom,” said Bud quietly in his pal’s ear. “They’re still closing the gap.”
“We’re at maximum thrust. I can’t wring out any more― ” Tom interrupted himself, shooting Bud a wild glance and yelling:
“Grab ahold, everybody—you’ll be thrown forward!”
“Forward?” repeated Fraser. “What in the― ”
The young inventor slammed power into the repelatron! The shining sphere around the seacop burst out in all directions, further and further, to a radius of seventy feet. Instantly the Arrow dragged to a near stop—but began to buoy upward rapidly.
“The torpedos are compensating,” Hank warned. “But—not fast enough!”
The crew caught a glimpse of first one torpedo, then another, hurtling past at a lower level. In moments the seacopter rocked from a pair of distant concussions.
“Two down!” exulted Brian. “What about the third?”
“I think the trailing one’s been able to zero in on us,” Hank breathed. “Tom, it’s barely four hundred feet behind, and closing. Seconds to go!”
“Hmm!” The young inventor was suddenly, amazingly, calm. “Over to the starboard viewpane, guys, and—watch the birdie!”
A FATHOMS-DEEP SECRET
THE WATCHERS saw the remaining torpedo tear into the repelatron bubble. Startlingly, it instantly began to tumble! As it faltered the still-rising bubble rose beneath it, plunging it back into the water. After a few woozy seconds, it exploded!
The amazed crewmen turned as a group to look in awe at their young captain. “You see, mateys, when we took the repelatron and its compensation tanks inside, we no longer had an air bubble, but a great big empty vacuum space. I figured—kind of at the last minute—that a torpedo designed for water wouldn’t be able to handle a big bunch of nothing!” Tom’s smile bore a hint of mischief.
Diminishing the bubble but continuing to ascend at a reduced pace, Tom was able to use the steam jets again. The Ocean Arrow angled toward the surface. “Where’s the Hydra-Gaea?” he asked Hank.
“Breaking off. I think she’s turning back.”
“Signal coming in on the sonophone,” Bud announced. “You know who.”
“This is the Hydra-Gaea. Chief Commander Drozhal speaking. Do you read us?—well, no matter, eh? I salute you, Tom Swift. It was wonderful to behold, though I cannot quite understand precisely what you did. When you reach the surface, you will no doubt alert the international forces, more than a match for the Kranjovian submarine fleet. I am a practical man. I see no point in remaining. We shall proceed to our port, and give a complete report. And now the consequences fall upon me, eh?—We will see.”
The Arrow crew grinned and high-fived one another joyously.
“Incidentally, Tom,” Drozhal added, “I wish you to know something. We are honorable military men, not savages. In the actual event, I would not have carried out my order to destroy the submarine city and all within. Some things cannot be done.”
After breaking the surface briefly and contacting the US mainland, Tom submerged the Arrow once again and guided it back to the seamount and down through the channel to Aurum City, soon frantic with relief.
After the cheers had died away, Tom asked what had happened during the last few hours. “Nothin’ t’ speak of,” Chow replied. “No sign o’ that sneak we ’as worried over. Guess he’s still hidin’ out somewhere.”
Tom nodded agreement but said nothing.
Later in the day, the spectromarine selector rolling down a new avenue, Tom invited Bud and Brian to stroll with him to inspect one of the buildings that had recently been cleaned. “I’m anxious to take a look on that plain to the west of here, the one with the pyramids, if that’s really what they are,” Tom remarked as they walked along, awed by the golden ruins. “I think I can attach the small repelatron directly to the spectrosel platform, so we can drive around on the sea bottom outside the hydrodome setup. We’ll test it out in one of the areas of the city outside the hydrodomes. I’m anxious to― ”
“Hey!” interjected Brian. “Company.”
Professor Centas was ambling across the cleared intersection, Mordo a few feet behind. “Hello, hello, you heroes!” he called, waving pleasantly. “I have something interesting for you to see!” He and Mordo halted a few yards distant. By contrast to his mentor, Mordo appeared sober and tense.
“Have you found something, Professor?” asked Bud.
He reached inside the Swift Enterprises project jacket he had been given and withdrew an impulse pistol, aiming it at the startled group. “I promised you that you would find it interesting!”
“Not to disappoint you, Professor, but this doesn’t come as a complete surprise,” remarked Fraser coolly. “I saw you put that canister in place the other day.”
“Yes, a silly business. And no doubt there were other clues. But could you expect better? I am not a spy or a criminal, you know, just a poor scientist.”
“You’re a very respected researcher, Professor Centas,” said Tom. “How can a man like you stoop to working with spies and mobsters?”
The older man smiled a bit sadly—even a bit sheepishly. “As I believe Mordo mentioned to you—the ‘man like me’ you speak of is no longer the man he was. My memory, my intellect, dispersing like smoke. I accept it with despair. But I must think of my helpless future, when I will require comfort and care of the sort wealth can buy, hmm?”
“The Kranjovians pay well, huh!” snorted Bud.
“Well enough, young man, particularly when what they are purchasing is not merely my dim talents as an agent, but a wondrous scientific discovery—something of enormous value!”
“What we discover here in Aurum City will be shared with the whole world,” Tom declared. “No one will need to pay through the nose for it.”
Centas chuckled. “But it is I, not you, Tom, who has discovered the orichalcum!”
“What’s he talking about?” hissed Fraser to Tom.
“A legendary metal the people of Atlantis were supposed to have used,” Tom replied slowly. “Plato speaks of it. So it’s real, Professor?”
“Oh yes, very much so. It’s all through this area, waiting to be refined. Extraordinarily light in weight, very strong and ductile. Superb engineering uses, I would think. Mordo and I discovered it while investigating the sea vents, and have been able to map the veins. Kranjovia—that is, Ulvo Maurig—wishes to know precisely where the veins are, for they dream of establishing an undersea mining operation. I promised to supply the information for a price. But they wished to haggle—their custom, I think.”
“I see,” Tom pronounced. “They said any operation here by other countries threatened to bring the discovery to light, eliminating their advantage. They convinced you to plot against me as part of the deal.”
Centas gave a humorous half-bow. “Yes, very good, Tom. The wisdom of age bows to the vigor of youth. When the men they had first hired, the American mob, failed to eliminate you, or even discourage you, I was told to proceed. I did cause my share of trouble, eh?—fungus, the parchment, a bit of minor sabotage.”
Bud turned to Mordo. “You’re a pretty good actor, Mordo,” he grated heatedly. “I take it the missing vial bit was all part of the plan.”
“No, please, you’re wrong,” insisted Mordo in a despondent voice. “All I told you was what I believed.”
“Don’t besmirch poor Mordo’s character,” Centas said. “Last night he confronted me with all his suspicions, and I told the fellow everything I was up to, and why, and what he himself might expect from it. He was gracious enough to take my side.”
“He is my mentor and my teacher,” Mordo stated firmly. “In the end I can not betray him.”
Centas waved his i-gun in a mocking way. “But I had somewhat run dry of ideas, Tom, until you happened to show me this amazing pistol, and how to work it. It was not difficult to procure. And now, perhaps you can see that I have turned it to its maximum setting, which I trust will do worse than brown your skins. When you lie before us, Mordo and I will drag you to the edge of the airdome and shove you into the sea, near one of the currents of heated water. You will drift about merrily for some time, and not be found until what remains of you is in the saddest of conditions. Of course, there will be suspicions. But others here are also vulnerable to this. And, you know, I am a great man.”
Tom reached into his pants pocket. “I also have something interesting, Professor. May I show you?” He held up a small, square cartridge. “I’m sure you recognize it, as a scientist—a Swift solar battery. Took it out right after our play-acted demo session aboard the Fathomer, which we put together for your benefit and temptation.”
“Not exactly a phony distress call,” Bud mocked. “I’d call it bait.”
“I apologize if I made you nervous with my comments about the bosses turning against the employees,” added Tom. “I thought it might be useful to give you a bit of extra motivation. Until this final act, sir, I couldn’t eliminate one or two other suspects. I didn’t want to wrong you.”
White and trembling, not with fear but rage, Centas choked out: “Impossible! Impossible!”
Tom smiled blandly. “Try an experiment. Shoot this battery from my hand!”
Centas hurled the i-gun to the pavement. “So. It seems I shall spend my last― ”
A jolting bang! cut off his words. Eyes bulging, the scientist jerked forward and collapsed to the pavement.
“My service revolver!” whispered Lieutenant Fraser.
“What shall I say? Let me work it out,” said Mordo emotionlessly. “‘He pulled out the electric pistol. I saw his finger tighten. There was no time to think. I took the revolver I stole, providentially, and fired one shot. The others? They were in a panic of fear and misremember what happened.’ Some will disbelieve, but what matter? All agree that three potential murders did not take place.”
“Some kind of sick personal grudge, Mordo?” Bud demanded.
“Oh, not at all.” Mordo stepped forward and handed the astonished Fraser the revolver. “Your property, Lieutenant.”
Tom approached the splayed body of Centas and knelt down. “He’s gone. Good shooting, Mordo.”
“Yes,” the man replied calmly. “Good actor, good shooter.”
“You’re all well-trained.” He rolled Centas over and felt in his jacket pocket. “Here it is. Bet you bumped into him on the way over and slipped it in.”
He held it up for the others to see—a small white card.
“Comrade-General Li is the future,” said Mordo. “He does not care to have petty thugs like the Mayday Mob take business that he refused because the recompense offered him was insulting. The deaths of the three Mayday Mob men, and now the collaborator Centas, make the point with great clarity.”
“Three Mob deaths?” repeated Bud.
Mordo glanced at his wristwatch. “Within the last hour, Joe Judson in his cell. It is most certain. You can set your watch by it.”
As Tom gazed down silently at the body of Professor Centas, Brian put a hand on his shoulder. “You never really get used to it, kid.”
“I don’t want to get used to it.”
Mordo did not resist as he was marched to confinement in the freight hold of the Supermanta.
Modifying the spectromarine selector with a seawater repelatron gave Tom a better place to turn his thoughts. A day later he and Bud rumbled up to the wall of the Deepwing hydrodome, then on through into the water, protected by their own mobile mini-hydrodome.
“Jetz, this is great!” exulted Bud after Tom used the cannon on several structures.
Tom chuckled. “Genius boy modestly agrees! I can’t wait to use the spectrosel on whatever we find in the plain. We can stopover in the Deepwing on the way home.”
“Which brings up a question. Won’t you have to take the spectrosel apart to store it in the freight hold?”
“Nope. I’ve worked out a way to lash it to the top of the hull in its assembled form.”
“Mighta known!” Bud laughed.
Finally the day arrived. The Atlantis operation was wrapped up and the crews boarded the mantacopters. The three big repelatrons had been switched off and loaded aboard, but an automatic detector-alarm system had been left active to watch over Aurum City.
The floodlights were shut down, and the sunken city turned from sparkling gold to inky darkness.
As the Deepwing rose through the channel, Chow pointed out the crack that was the doorway to the home of the sea serpent. “Feller didn’t even poke his nose out t’say goodbye.”
“His nose is probably still pretty sore,” Zimby Cox pointed out from the pilot’s seat.
As they exited the channel and turned toward the plain of pyramids, Bud suddenly said: “I just thought of something. Miss Gabardine, did you ever find out anything about that suspicious conversation you overheard?” He nodded subtly in the direction of Zimby.
Gabardine reddened. “Well, yes, actually…”
It was Zim who completed the thought. “I found out all about it. The person I was talking to was― ”
“Me!” Chow interjected. “An’ it shor wasn’t Kranjovia I ’as talkin’ about, but― ”
“Anchovies,” finished Cox. “He had some exotic idea about a deep-sea dish. In the interest of the survival of the expedition, it was my solemn duty to scotch it!”
“Aw, warn’t that experee-mental!” Chow grumbled. “Woulda been right tasty.”
“But I apologize,” said Miss Gabardine. “And despite that incident, my evaluation is thorough and complete.”
Tom asked what conclusions she had drawn. In reply she held up her notebook. On the cover she had drawn a smiley-face!
In minutes the imaging sonarscope announced that the manta was approaching its destination. “Switch on our searchlight, Bud,” Tom directed. The crew gazed out the viewpane in tense anticipation, none more keenly than George Braun and Ham Teller.
An instant later the sunlike beam cut a brilliant slash through the darkness. The rugged peaks of the Horseshoe Seamounts formation stood out on either side.
“Bud says there’s a religious ceremonial ground somewhere near here,” Brian said.
“That’s right,” George replied. “At least that’s what I think it is!” Ham gave him a mock-scornful look.
“We picked it up in our sonarscope sweep,” Tom commented to the Navy man. “I’m heading for the spot. Soon we’ll see the pyramids I told you about.”
Aurum City had been built in a canyon enclosed by beetling rock walls which had once parted into a great valley beyond the city’s outskirts. The earth upheaval that had drowned the city had thrown up the fourth wall. Now they were descending into the valley plain, hundreds of miles in extent. “This is one of the big open spaces that gives the Horseshoe Seamounts its name,” noted Ham. “Before the cataclysm it used to run right on to the ocean, with the city at the coast. Plato described it.”
The Deepwing’s dazzling beam swept the valley floor as they glided along. Here and there stood crumbling stone huts, overgrown with seaweed and ocean vegetation. Many areas appeared covered with ancient lava flows.
“Wonder who lived here?” Brian mused.
“Probably these were peasant apartment houses,” Tom deduced. “In fact, this whole area may once have been the breadbasket of Atlantis—a green, verdant valley with herds of livestock and cultivated fields.”
Aurum City, he conjectured, was no doubt the capital city of this lost civilization. “Just think,” Tom went on. “An unknown people settled this valley thousands of years ago. They grew skilled enough in art and architecture to build splendid gold palaces and temples. They must have had good farmers, too, to feed the population. Then one day disaster struck—a flood wiping out the work of centuries. And the whole land sank under the ocean!”
The crew stared out at the barren scene, awed by the picture Tom’s words had painted.
“Let’s hope no such disaster ever happens to our civilization,” Brian muttered.
“I’m sure it won’t,” Tom said firmly. “Dad feels, and so do I, that mankind can build a wonderful future with the discoveries of science.”
Miss Gabardine’s eyes took on a sheen of admiration. “You’re a most inspiring speaker—Tom.”
As the valley widened further into an open plain, the manta roved back and forth, exploring for further signs of human habitation. Tom took navigational fixes at a number of points and sketched out a rough map of the area, matching it with the sonarscope survey.
Presently a curiously pointed peak loomed into view, then another beyond it.
“Here are the pyramids,” Tom said. “At least they might be man-made structures beneath all that gunk. Of course they’ve been eroded and broken, and half-buried by the lava flow.”
“They’re still awesome enough for my taste!” Brian murmured half-jokingly. “It’s like seeing Egypt under water!”
The huge monuments were grouped in facing rows under what once would have been the shadow of a towering mountain. “The legends mention a great mountain dominating the island of Atlantis,” said George.
Tom nosed the broad Deepwing deftly in among the pyramids. At the center of the formation stood a flat altar, apparently built from slabs of rock.
“Uh-oh!” Bud shuddered. “I wonder if they used that altar for sacrifices to their gods?”
“Very likely,” Ham Teller agreed.
“But not necessarily human sacrifices, so let’s not get gruesome, pal!” Tom admonished. He added, “Well, let’s set ’er down and get cracking.”
The spectrosel was carefully winched down from its topside cradle and stood next to the personnel hatch as its onboard repelatron was activated by remote control. Tom and Bud stepped into the airspace, and the machine rumbled off in the direction of one of the pyramidal forms. Halting, Tom aimed the cannon at the nearby side and actuated the mechanism. Layer after layer of the encrustation of ages fell away, gradually exposing what lay beneath.
“Man, you were right, Skipper—this thing is some kind of pyramid!” Bud cried. “Look at that wall—more gold.”
Tom checked the readings on the cannon's inbuilt spectroscanner. “No, pal, whatever it looks like, that isn’t gold. The scanner can’t identify it. It must be that metal Centas discovered.”
“You mean these Atlantis guys were advanced enough to separate it out and work it back in the age of mastodons and saber-tooths?”
“It seems so!” Tom grinned. “Until the archaeologists determine that it really is the legendary orichalcum, I’m calling it Neo-Aurium—new gold!”
Tom now drove the spectromarine selector toward the flat altar at the center of the group of pyramids.
“Looks like there’s a big pit in the middle of it,” Bud said. “Maybe it’s one of those sacrificial wells, like we saw in Yucatan.”
“Let’s see what the cannon makes of it.” The mounds of accumulated debris began to melt away. In moments Tom and Bud were gaping in amazement.
Half-buried in the ocean slime below lay a strange craft. It resembled perfectly the image on the wall of the underground chamber in the city!
“A spaceship!” Bud gasped.
Had the ship crashed after Aurum City was built? Or could it be that its occupants were the ones who had first founded the city? Tom and Bud bubbled with excited speculations.
“Right now we can’t even guess,” said Tom at last. “If it’s like the other vessels the space beings have sent our way, it’s impenetrable. But I certainly intend to find out the truth, pal—after I design the special instruments it will take to discover the answers.”
“Maybe the space friends themselves can tell you all about it,” Bud suggested. “I’d say another space trip is in the offing!” Could Bud be referring to the challenging project coming up for Tom in the company of The Cosmic Astronauts?
Their thoughts were interrupted by a sonophone call from Chow aboard the mantacopter. “Don’t take off yet, boys! I got a table all laid out back here. How about a real celebration with all the trimmins in honor o’ Uncle Sam’s city o’ gold an’ Tom Swift’s spectromarine selector?”
As Bud cheered in approval, Tom grinned. “Okay. But don’t weight us down with too much grub, Chow, or we’ll never make it back to the surface!”