Authors: Bruce Coville
“What can we do?” yelled Roger.
He turned away from Hap and stared out to sea. For all his light talk, Roger took his role as head of the group very seriously. He blamed himself completely for the loss of the Wonderchild, and the anger, fear, and remorse surging through him made it hard to think.
He took a deep breath. “What
we do?” he asked again, turning back. “IfâI mean,
we get back to the island, we'll get a full search started.” He looked out at the waves. “Unless any of the rest of you have some great idea you're keeping to yourself.”
A glum silence greeted the remark.
“Maybe Rachel is right,” said Trip an hour or so later. “Maybe we should just bow out. After all, this isn't really our fight. We've stopped the spy a couple of times now, and all we get for it is flak. Worse than flak, this time.” He stopped, the lump in his throat preventing him from finishing what he wanted to say.
While Trip was talking, Ray had slid down the curve of the boat to the edge of the water. Now he scrambled back up to the others, clutching something in his hand, something he examined with growing astonishment.
“Chips!” he exclaimed at last, unconsciously using Wendy's favorite expression.
The others turned to look at him.
Ray looked back, a strange expression on his face. “I know how Trip feels,” he said seriously. “I've had enough, too. But I think it may be too late for us to bow out.” He held up his hand. A dark scrap of something that might have been fabric dangled from his fingertips. “Do you know what this is?”
“Yeah,” said Hap, who was sitting closest to him. “It's a chunk of sharkskin. There's probably pieces of that monster floating around all over the place. Throw it back, Ray. It's disgusting.”
“It would be,” agreed Ray. “If it was real.”
The others stared at him. An uncomfortable silence settled over the boat, as if they didn't want to hear what he might have to say next.
“All right,” said Roger at last. “What are you talking about, Ray?”
“This,” said Ray, stretching the scrap of “skin” between his fingers. “It's fake. Vinyl, probably.”
“You're nuts,” said Hap. “Real sharkskin almost feels like it's fake anyway.”
“Does real sharkskin have springs clinging to it?” asked Ray, turning the scrap around. “Or thread running through the backing?”
Rachel's eyes widened. “So the shark was some sort of robot, set up to guard the transmitter! Well, at least something makes sense now. I thought that monster showing up when everything else was going on was too much of a coincidence.”
Roger let out a low whistle. “You know what this means?”
“Yeah,” said Trip. “It means Ray is right: It
too late for us to back out. Whoever Black Glove is, she's had enough. The gloves are off, so to speak.”
“You mean he's trying to kill us?” whispered Rachel.
“She's not playing post office,” said Trip, looking back out to sea. “And she's not just trying. It looks like one of us is gone already.”
The glum silence returned. When they had started out this morning, the struggle with Black Glove had seemed like a game. Spy versus spy.
Now it had become terribly real.
I want to go home
, thought Rachel.
That was just before the sound of the approaching powerboat, and the sight of who was in it, caused a new turmoil among the group.
A dark-haired figure paced angrily back and forth in a secret room hidden beneath the Anza-bora computer lab.
Unbelievable! Those meddling brats actually destroyed both the transmitter and the robo-shark G.H.O.S.T. sent to guard it. What does it take to get information off this island?
Black Glove stopped pacing as advice from a nearly forgotten teacher came floating into memory:
If you can't find an answer, perhaps you are asking the wrong question
A slow smile began to work its way across the spy's face.
The wrong question! Maybe I shouldn't be asking how to get the information off the island at all. Maybeâ¦ maybeâ¦
A look of fierce joy lit Black Glove's face as a bold plan began to take form. Like most great ideas, it was essentially simple. If the information generated by the Project Alpha scientists couldn't be transmitted off the island, maybe it could be used right here.
Black Glove chuckled.
Why bother to have our scientists at G.H.O.S.T. try to duplicate the work being done on ADAM? Instead of building a whole new computer, why not just take over this one?
It won't be easy, of course
, thought the spy, continuing the mental debate.
ADAM is filled with safeguards against such a thing. But I've got the skill. Even more, I've got the necessary access to the computer. If I make just a few changes every dayâslowly, carefully, so as not to arouse suspicionâthen before anyone knows what's happening, Project Alpha will belong to G.H.O.S.T.!
As the full possibilities of the new plan sank in, Black Glove began to tremble with excitement.
Before long, ADAM would be theirs.
Once that happened, the world would be theirs, too.
And thenâwhy, then,
would ever be the same.
The gang could hardly believe their eyes. One of the Anza-bora cruisers was slicing through the water in their direction. Standing at the wheel was Staff Sergeant Artemus P. Brody, chief of the island's security force. Brody was no friend of the A.I. Gangâmostly because he didn't take kindly to the idea that the kids had shown him up on more than one occasion. So it was likely that he would spend some time gloating over having to rescue them now.
But it was not the unexpected approach of Brody that astonished the gang.
It was the fact that standing next to him, grinning broadly, was the Wonderchild.
Dr. Hwa Has Had Enough
Dr. Hwa, hands jammed into the pockets of his white lab coat, paced angrily back and forth across his office.
His assistant, Bridget McGrory, stood safely out of his path, a slight smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. With the headaches the A.I. Gang had given her over the last few months, she couldn't help but be slightly amused to see them squirming now.
And squirming they were. After a brief stop at the infirmary to have the imposing Dr. Celia Clark certify that none of them were permanently damaged, Sergeant Brody had hauled the group straight to Dr. Hwa for a lecture on ethics, morality, propriety, proper use of island equipment, respect for safety rulesâand anything else that might reasonably be thrown at them.
Brody would have preferred to do it himself. But every time
tried to lecture the gang, that snotty Roger started asking innocent-sounding questions that soon had him talking in circles and scrambling to remember whatever point he had been trying to make. He had decided it was safer to let Dr. Hwa do it, even if the little scientist was usually too soft on the brats.
To Brody's surprise (and delight) it looked as if this time might be the exception. Dr. Hwa seemed genuinely furious. Maybe the brats would actually get what they deserved for a change!
Roger's curiosity was almost out of control. As long as Brody was around, Wendy had refused to offer even a hint about what had happened to her after she vanished in the ocean. Roger was so desperate to get her story that he was barely able to resist his urge to ask Dr. Hwa to shut up so the gang could go out in the hall and grill the Wonderchild.
Dr. Hwa reached the end of the track he was wearing in the oriental carpet, turned back, and stopped directly in front of the gang. Pulling his hands from the pockets of his lab coat, he spread them in bewilderment. “I simply do not know what to say to you people.”
The huge ruby ring on his right hand caught a ray of light from the ceiling and flashed with momentary fire. The spectacular jewel was the only ornament the diminutive scientist allowed himself, but it was the kind of thing that everyone noticed.
He thrust his hands back into his pockets, extinguishing the ruby's light. Hunching his shoulders forward, he looked plaintively at Roger.
“When you youngsters first came here, I did everything in my power to make this island a pleasant place for you. I put all kinds of equipment at your disposal: dune buggies, scuba gear, computer terminalsâ¦ everything Anza-bora had to offer. Yet you constantly risk that equipmentânot to mention your livesâand then try to justify your actions by telling me wild stories about some phantom called Black Glove, and his bizarre plots for spiriting information about Project Alpha off the island.”
Dr. Hwa shook his head dismally. “If you could show me some evidence, it would be different! But all I get are theories, and speculation, and wild tales about rogue email that disappears once delivered and transmitters that self-destruct and God-only-knows what other nonsense. I will grant you that we have had some serious security problems. But the only solid evidence you have for this Black Glove character is just thatâsome black glove that Dr. Wendell found. Good heavens! A lost glove doesn't signify anything more than that someone is absentminded! If popular clichÃ©s are correct, that should cover virtually my entire staff!”
From the corner of her eye Wendy caught a glimpse of Brody, rocking on his heels and grinning smugly. Spotting the look on her face, Ray grabbed her arm to hold her down. It was a smart move. Given another moment, the volatile Wonderchild might well have launched herself at Brody.
The grinning sergeant seemed oblivious to his near brush with catastrophe. The look on Bridget McGrory's face, however, told Ray that the secretary was well aware of what had nearly happened.
That didn't surprise him. He had been watching McGrory for some time now, since he had first noticed some suspicious actions on her part during one of their early visits to Dr. Hwa. Something about her struck him as being not quite right. One thing he had learned for certain: She rarely missed even the most subtle nuances of whatever was going on around her.
She certainly wouldn't have missed Wendy's reaction to Brody. It would take someone as dense as the sergeant himself to remain unaware of that!
A sudden drop in the tone of Dr. Hwa's voice caught Ray's wandering attention. He braced himself. When an angry adult suddenly got this reasonable, it usually meant big trouble.
“I hate to do this,” said Dr. Hwa softly. “But until further notice I am banning you from all use of the island's equipment. Dune buggies, scuba gear, powerboatsâthey are all off limits until you can convince me you have developed some respect for their capacitiesâ
Roger glanced at the others, then stepped forward. “Sir, if you would justâ”
Dr. Hwa cut him off. “My decision is final.” His voice was soft, but laced with steel. “We have too much at stake here for this to go on. Your foolish antics have been a constant source of distraction to the scientific work this facility was set up to accomplish. Indeed, they have reached a point where they jeopardize the entire project. If one of you should be injured, or worse yet killed, it would disrupt everything.”
He smiled that warm, ingratiating smile that made it so hard to be angry with himâthe same smile that had helped him persuade and cajole Project Alpha into existence to begin with.
“That may sound harsh and unfeeling, as if I care only about the project, and not whether you hurt yourselves. That is not true. I do care, very deeply. Unfortunately, you don't seem to care yourselves! So I am explaining my decision in terms you may understand more easily: When you endanger your lives, you endanger
Suddenly his voice was filled with ice. “And
is something no one is allowed to do.” He turned back to his desk. “This interview is concluded. You may leave now.”
“But Dr. Hwa!” cried several voices.
“You heard the man,” said Brody, smug as a playground bully who has somehow managed to get the teacher to take his side. “Chitchat's done, so move out! That means you, missy!” he added, grabbing Wendyâwho had been dragging her feetâby the scruff of her neck.
“Let go of me, you big ape!” cried the Wonderchild. At the same time she stomped down with her full weight on Brody's instep.
The security chief howled with pain and let go of her neck to grab his wounded foot.
Dr. Hwa sighed heavily.
Moving quickly, Wendy left the room on her own steam.
Roger paused at the door and looked back. “You're going to regret this, Dr. Hwa,” he said quietly. “You're making a big mistake.”
Dr. Hwa said nothing. His eyes were as hard as cobalt steel.
“So now what do we do?” asked Ray as the gang trudged back to their headquarters.
“We move slower and work harder,” replied Roger. He hunched his shoulders. It was moving toward twilight, and even though October in the Southern Hemisphere was a time when things got warmer instead of colder, as they were used to at home, the evening breeze could still be a little chilly.
He glanced back at the computer center, decided it was a safe distance behind them, and turned his attention to Wendy. “All right, give. What happened to you out there? Where did you goâand how did you get back to the island to get Brody?”
“How eager are you to find out?” asked the Wonderchild, trying to sound innocent but failing miserably.
“Give me a minute. I've got a few changes I'd like to make around here. I might want to make a dealâ”
“Wendy,” said Trip, glaring down at her from his full six-feet-plus height. “There are certain crimes for which no court would convict a person. I think you're on the verge of committing one. Cut the crap and tell us what happened!”
“When you put it that way, how can I resist?” asked Wendy, who was actually dying to tell her story. “Unfortunately, a lot of the details are a little fuzzy.”