Authors: Bruce Coville
The gang knew better. Dr. Standish and Ramon Korbuscek had been distractions. The real enemy was still undiscoveredâand still trying to find a way to smuggle information from Anza-bora Island to G.H.O.S.T.
But with any luck, we'll derail this scheme as well
, thought Roger as he cut his wheel to the right.
Following Roger's lead, Trip gave his own wheel a sharp spin and began heading east across the island. His increasing skill as a driver pleased himâespecially since he still carried unpleasant memories of the very first day he had been allowed to use one of the dune buggies and had nearly collided with Hap Swenson!
“Where are we going?” asked the Gamma Ray, picking himself up from the effect of the rapid turn.
“To the marina, I assume,” said Trip.
Indeed, even as they spoke, Roger was turning into the circular parking area that fronted the island's docking facilities. Several boats of various sizes were moored in the harbor, rising and falling gently with the waves that rolled in from the Pacific.
The Merry Wanderer
is available,” said Hap.
Wendy smiled at the thought of the beautiful boat. When Anza-bora had been a fully operative Air Force base, the gang would have been hard-pressed to get their hands on something like that. Military regulations would have made it impossible.
But the government had already decided to close the base when Dr. Hwa approached the Department of Technology for assistance with Project Alpha. With the help of his powerful political connections he had convinced the President that the artificial intelligence project was a perfect use for facilities that would otherwise go to waste. So the government had agreed to grant him use of Anza-bora. In return the Feds had insisted on keeping a small security force here. The reason was simple: While Project Alpha was an independent effort, the government felt the results might be important, even vital, to national securityâwhich was one of the reasons it was willing to help to begin with.
Despite the security force, Anza-bora's rules were far more relaxed than those of an ordinary military base; the gang was allowed access to almost all of the island's resources without ever being questioned.
This was partly Dr. Hwa's doing; he didn't want bored children distracting his scientists.
Actually, boredom has been the least of our problems
, thought Wendy as she brought the dune buggy skidding to a halt behind the others.
Some days it seems as if just staying alive heads the list!
“I'll grab a couple of sets of scuba gear,” yelled Hap, jumping over the side of the buggy without bothering to open the door.
“I love an eager beaver,” said the Wonderchild as she watched her husky blond companion sprint for the storage shed. The remark sounded sarcastic, but the glow on Wendy's face showed her true feelings: She couldn't wait for the fun to start.
Less than five minutes later the gang was climbing aboard
The Merry Wanderer
. Rachel took the controls, and they headed out of the small harbor.
Hap came to stand next to her. “God, I love the smell of the sea air,” he said, taking a deep breath.
Rachel smiled, enjoying the way the wind tousled his blond hair.
“Have you got that current detector, Ray?” asked Roger.
“I think so.” The Gamma Ray began pulling stuff from his pockets, searching for the homemade device that had already served the gang so well by revealing the microphone that had been planted on Rachel's collar.
“You should get a purse,” said Rachel, turning her attention from the open waters to survey the rapidly growing pile at Ray's feet.
“Too much bother,” said Ray, pulling two quarters loose from an unwrapped caramel in which they had become embedded. “I'd probably forget it every time I put it down.”
“It looks like you never forget anything,” said Roger, who was continually amazed by the amount of garbage Ray could stuff into his pockets. “What do you need
“Emergencies,” said Ray, dropping the large rubber lizard that had prompted Roger's question onto his stack of stuff. “Ah, here's the current detector. New improved version, actually. I suppose you could call it the
He held out a small, square device that had several wires protruding from it. “Dad and I added a couple of new twists that really extended its range,” he said proudly. “This baby can pick up the electricity in a hearing aid at thirty paces.”
“Well, climb up on the front of the boat and see if you can pick up Black Glove's latest transmitter,” said Roger. “If Sherlock is right, it must be planted somewhere near the mouth of the harbor.”
Ray looked at Roger nervously. “I'm not the world's greatest swimmer.”
“I'm not asking you to swim. I just want you to use the scanner to see if you can spot the transmitter. You understand how it works better than any of the rest of us. But if you want one of us to go up insteadâ¦”
“I didn't say that!” protested Ray. He glanced around at the others. “I'll go. Just make sure you pull me out if I fall in.”
“Of course,” said Trip. “If we don't, we'll be stuck taking care of all that stuff you had in your pockets.”
“Yuk-yuk,” said Ray. Bracing himself on the windshield, he climbed around onto the prow of the boat. Then he lay on his stomach and extended the current detector in front of him.
While Trip and Hap went below to change into the scuba gear, Rachel began steering the craft in long sweeps back and forth across the front of the harbor.
Half an hour went by. The wind grew stronger. Rachel began to have trouble keeping the boat steady as it crested the increasingly stiff waves.
“If we don't spot the transmitter in a few minutes, I think we'd better head in,” she said nervously. “I don't think I can control the boat much longer.”
A light rain began dappling the waves.
“I hate to turn back without finding it,” said Roger. “Who knows what information Black Glove might get off Anza-bora between now and tomorrow?”
Hap cleared his throat. “I don't want to be a wet blanketâ”
“You won't have much choice if this rain keeps up,” said Wendy, interrupting him.
“Cute, Wendy. But if we're lucky, the storm will be like you.”
Roger, well aware of Wendy's low tolerance for short jokes, grabbed her shoulders to keep her from jumping at Hap.
“What I was trying to say,” continued Hap, ignoring the Wonderchild's glare, “was that we have to consider the possibility that Sherlock was wrong. Maybe there isn't a transmitter here.”
“Not a chance!” cried Trip.
“Look, it's a fantastic program,” said Hap. “But we both know it still has some weak pointsâ”
He was interrupted by a shout from Ray. “Stop the boat! I think I've got something!”
Concentrating on dealing with the waves, Rachel was so startled by Ray's shout that she pulled back on the throttle too hard and accidentally threw the boat into reverse.
It was as if they had run into a brick wall.
The Merry Wanderer
shuddered, lurched to a stop, then shot backward with a roar. Crying out in dismay, Rachel jammed the throttle back to neutral. The boat began to slow. But it was too late for Ray. The rapid change in direction had sent him flying off the bow. He hit the water about twenty feet ahead of them, then disappeared beneath the waves.
“There he is!” cried Wendy as Ray came gasping to the surface. He was floundering and shouting for help.
“You guys had better get out there,” said Roger to Trip and Hap. “He's in big trouble!”
“We're on our way,” said Hap. He and Trip, now clad in full scuba gear, flipped backward over the side of the boat. Within seconds they were heading toward the spot where Ray thrashed desperately in the water.
The wind continued to rise, whipping the waves higher and higher. The rain became thicker. Wendy had all she could do to spot the Gamma Ray as he struggled to keep his head above the water. “Come on, guys,” she muttered to herself. “He needs help
Trip was the first to reach Ray. Hap was close behind him. To their surprise, they found their friend clinging to the handles of a metal sphere about the size of his beloved basketball.
“I got it, guys,” he whispered wearily. “I got the transmitter!”
Then he went under.
Hap swam beneath him, grabbed him from behind, and pulled him to the surface.
The Gamma Ray was unconscious when they broke through. Hap tried to pry his arms from the transmitter, but found that Ray was gripping the thing almost as if it were a life preserver.
Spitting out his air tube, he yelled, “Trip, I can't get him to let go of the transmitter!”
“Then let's just haul him over to the boat.”
“We can't! The damn thing is anchored in somehow!”
“I'll take care of it,” said Trip. Slipping his own air tube back into his mouth, he plunged beneath the surface. His heart sank when he saw the chain trailing from the metallic ball locked in Ray's grip. It stretched down until it was lost from sight in the deep blue water.
Wondering how far it was to the bottom, Trip took an underwater torch from his utility belt and began trying to burn through one of the links.
Seconds after Trip disappeared beneath the surface, Wendy spotted a new danger.
“Shark!” she screamed. “Hap, there's a shark behind you!”
Spinning in the water, Hap shouted in horror at the sight of the huge black fin bearing down on him and Ray.
Then the heavens opened up as the rain began for real, falling in sheets from the iron-gray sky. Within seconds the three kids in the boat were as wet as the ones in the water.
The Merry Wanderer
was thrown from wave to wave. Leaning over the edge, Wendy craned her neck and tried to shield her eyes from the pounding rain.
It was useless; she had lost sight of the boysâand the shark.
Underwater, unaware of either shark or storm, Trip had a shock of his own: The transmitter chain was being retracted! Whatever it was anchored into was slowly drawing the transmitterâand with it the three of themâtoward the bottom of the sea.
Hap, clutching the still unconscious Gamma Ray in his arms as he fought the waves, felt himself being pulled down. Fighting back a surge of fear, he slipped his air tube between his lips, then clamped one hand over Ray's nose and mouth. He cursed the around-the-neck design that kept him from sharing his hose with Ray as he tried to pry his friend's arms from the metal ball. It was no use; Ray was clutching it as if his life depended on it. But the truth was, his life depended on his letting go of it!
Come on, Trip
, Hap thought desperately.
Get us out of this mess!
Several feet below him, Trip was trying to do just that. Glancing up from the link he was trying to sever, he saw that the slowly retracting chain had pulled his friends beneath the rain-spattered ocean surface.
Angrily he redoubled his efforts with the torch. He had to get them loose!
“They're under again!” cried Wendy, who had spotted Hap just in time to see him disappear beneath the waves.
“Hold your course, Rachel!” yelled Roger. “We've got to get over to them!”
“I can't!” cried his twin. “It's tooâ”
Rachel's words were cut off by a huge wave washing over the side of the boat.
Rachel clung to the wheel.
Roger clung to Rachel.
Wendy had nothing to cling to. When the wave was gone, so was she.
Four of the gang were in the water now. The storm continued to rage, the waves growing higher and higher.
And as the transmitter pulled him deeper into the water, Hap Swenson looked up to see the enormous shark circling overhead.
I've heard of being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea
, he thought bitterly,
but this is ridiculous
His conviction that things could not possibly get worse was proved wrong when a panel slid aside on the front of the transmitter Ray was clutching so tenaciously.
Beneath the panel was a glowing time display.
Its numbers were changing, counting down from 60.
When they hit 55 the transmitter itself began to glow.
Hap's stomach tightened into a painful knot. Black Glove's transmitters had a habit of self-destructing once discovered. He had a sudden, terrible feeling that this one was about to do the same thing.
Only this time it was going to happen in a very big way.
And Ray was still clutching the bomb as tightly as ever.
Missing in Action
Several miles from the life-and-death struggles of the A.I. Gang a short woman slipped quietly into the office of Project Alpha's director, Dr. Hwa.
Though she had long ago memorized the location of every one of the sixteen secret alarms hidden in the room, the woman was still nervous as she made her way toward the scientist's desk. The reason was simple: She had no right to be here.
, she thought,
not at this time, or under these circumstances
Still, she had a job to do, and she was willing to take whatever risks were necessary to do it right.
Circling to the back of the large mahogany desk that stood near the window, she tried one of the drawers.
No matter. She pulled a slender piece of metal from the sole of her shoe and inserted it in the crack at the top of the drawer. The latch resisted her for a moment. Then she gave the little strip of metal a well-practiced twist.
Smoothly and silently the drawer slid open.
Smiling slightly, the woman pulled a sheaf of papers from the drawer and began to scan through them. After a moment she threw them down in disgust.
She unlocked another drawer and tried again.