Girl From Atlantis

8.

8:

Al Calavicci felt he was a man beset by demons of a different kind: flesh-and-blood ones. He saw himself as a man of dignity, purpose, integrity, and importance. But somehow these human demons always made him feel small, useless and inept.

Here he was, administrator of the Oceanic Research Directorate, a significant position in the world of science, responsible for controlling a twelve-million-dollar budget---and nobody paid any attention to him except to complain or to tease.

Here he was, a man of breeding (descended from the families of Espinoza and Robertson, along with Calavicci----names better known and respected in the sophisticated East than out here in the barbaric West) and education (Thorndike Prep and Scarborough College, then on to the elite Hopkins Business for Masters), and he was treated like a plowboy.

Here he was, an accomplished man of fifty-six, with entrée to some of the riches and most influential people in America, and he was being hollered at by people half his age who couldn’t even polish the silverware of people he brunched with.

The trouble was, John and Nelson---fine scientists as they were----wanted to be free to enjoy their laboratory games without having to pay the slightest attention to the nuts and bolts of the operation and the money needed to run it. They did just what they wanted, dumping all the rest on him.

Now that put him in tough, tough position. Though this was a scientific organization, and they were, in fact, the scientists, still his name was at the top of the Directorate letterhead. He was, therefore, the boss (although, he would never use such a lowly term, preferring “chairman”), and as such should be treated with a bit more respect and deference than the others. But they treated him like an employee! They ganged up on him. They created intolerable problems, then dropped them in his lap and walked away---as if they were the boss and had the right to delegate work to him!

Penny wasn’t so bad. He liked Penny. Actually, he liked John and Nelson, too, personally. But on the scientific side, they isolated him. They didn’t tell him anything. They made marvelous discoveries and advances in their research, and he had to find out about it in the newspapers.

Like now. Something was going on with that space probe that they weren’t telling him about. Even though he was the boss, they refused to share wit him the excitement of whatever it was. And they left him with the job of explaining things to NASA and all the rest! And he didn’t even know what was going on!

It was humiliating! Having to sit there and accept browbeatings by military types to whom he couldn’t make much sense because nobody would tell him what was going on!”

Sometimes he had to ask himself: Why do I do it? Why do I sit still for this nonsense? How can I take it?

And then he would answer: Because in the end I shall overcome. I shall prevail. When the chips are finally down, I will be treated as the chairman, and welcomed for my knowledge and skill in administrating a fine scientific organization. And I can stand it because I have enormous patience and tolerance and dignity and endurance.

Wasn’t that what breeding was all about?

And it was in keeping with his breeding that military people were just not his cup of tea. He had to deal with them often, and always found them crude and ignorant and lacking grace. Whenever possible he avoided the military boobs and dealt with civlians. At least with civilians you always had a chance of finding someone with some class.

And so now he picked up his office phone and dialed the number of the mission-control office of the Alpha Nae Space Probe.

He was put through to Michael Luna immediately, which restored some of his confidence and some of importance.

“Michael? I thought maybe we could have a talk about all this. I think perhaps we can understand each other better than those, those......”

“Always good to talk to you, Al, but I might as well be candid. The whole mess has been kicked upstairs.”

“Upstairs? But you were in charge.”

“Upstairs to the military. Surely you must have been informed of that by now----or at least given a pretty good hint.”

“Yes, I know. I mean, numbers of those brass hats have been calling me, but I thought maybe t hey were misinterpreting....”

“They’ve taken it over, Al, lock, stock and barrel.”

“But this is not a country run by the military, after all. How could they just....”

“The fact of the matter is, Al, I was in charge of the mission, all right. But now, by some quaint reasoning, they consider the mission over. And they consider the space probe now to be in unauthorized hands.”

“They gotta be kidding!”

“So by their logic, that makes it a military matter----at least to the extent that they took it out of my hands.”

“Military matter.” Al’s mind reeled.

“Right.”

“So....” His thoughts drifted off, but he quickly recovered. “......So just exactly what does that mean?”

“In terms of you?”

“Yes.”

“I guess it means you’ll be getting all your calls from military people instead of civilians.”

“That’s all?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they’ll and an assault force of Marines on your beach, or drop some airborne troops.”

“Oh, no!” Al’s eyes crossed.

“I’m teasing you, Al. Gotta go now. Bye.”

Al sat listening to the buzz in the receiver. The trouble was everybody was always teasing him and he didn’t know what was really going on.

John and Nelson advanced, zombielike, toward Penny, who was doubled over in pain from the shrieking noise of the spores. Barely able to stand, she rolled along the edge of the lab table----not in an attempt to move away from the scientists, but because the pain caused her to reel and stagger. During those moments when the pain was at its worst, he was not even aware of their advance.

And then the sound stopped. There was a deathly quiet in the room, and the only sound was the dull shuffling of their feet as they came toward her.

Penny straightened slowly, still weakened from the onslaught of the spores’ unearthly screeching that had stabbed her brain. She saw them approaching. She held up her arms as if to welcome them, but really just as a sympathetic reaction to the plight they were in as the latest hosts to the spore invasion. “Father? Nelson? Can you hear me?”

They stopped, and for an instant it seemed that somehow she might be reaching them. “Can you hear me? I am your friend....”

But suddenly John lunged to his left, grabbed a lab chair, and swung it ferociously at Penny. She ducked instinctively, and the chair swung around.

Then Nelson snatched another chair and swung it at her from the other direction. She ducked, and it glanced off her shoulder.

She crouched as if to counterattack, ducked their swings again, and darted between them across the room to the opposite wall.

They turned slowly around toward her, still holding the chairs. She waited, anticipating their next swings. John, his face a mask, charged forward and swung. Penny dove under the lab table, and the chair crashed into it, splintering the seat and smashing several glass flasks.

As Penny’s head appeared under the other side of the table, Nelson swung his chair viciously, just missing Penny as she ducked underneath. She could see their feet planted near the table, and the shadows the upraised chairs cast on the floor.

She couldn’t wait for what they might do. Nor, at this moment, could she help them. All she could do was to escape the lethal attack they themselves were powerless to halt.

She gathered herself under the table, rose so that her back was pressed against its underside, and then flipped the table over in front of them and dashed for the elevator.

She slammed the lab doors shut behind her and lunged to press the elevator button. Luckily the car was there, and the doors opened at once. She sprang inside and pressed the down button.

The lab doors burst open and John sailed at her, wildly swinging the chair. She fended it off with her arm and shoved it back at him. The doors started wheezing shut just as Nelson thrust his chair straight at Penny, the jagged edge of the two broken legs sharp as knives. Penny stepped to the side, barely eluding the leg which ripped a hole in her windbreaker. Then she grabbed the legs and broke them off at the base and shoved the chair back against Nelson, allowing the doors to close.

The moment the elevator doors locked shut, the two scientists dropped their now-useless weapons. They stood staring---if staring was the word for the blank gaze that came from those glassy eyes---at the doors for a time, then turned to face each other.

For the first time since the incident began, they spoke, their voices hollow and monotonic.

“She is gone,” John said.

“Yes.”

“We have much to do.”

“Yes.”

“We must move quickly.”

“I will watch the doors so that we are not disturbed.”

John turned and went back into the lab. He seemed oblivious to the debris that was strewn around. Much of the equipment in the lab had been destroyed. It was, to him, as though nothing were out of place.

He stood by the phone as if thinking. He looked over at the decontamination chamber and the space probe inside it. He took a deep breath, and a subtle transformation came over him. It was not readily apparent to the eye, for he still had waxen skin and a glassy look, but it was clear to the ear. He dialed three digits, and when he spoke his voice was near normal.

“Captain, get the crew aboard the submersible. We’re going out. Now. Right away. Prepare all stores and equipment for an important and lengthy mission. Don’t bother with questions right now. We’ll be aboard in less than ten minutes.”

Through the call her glazed eyes had been fixed unwaveringly on the space probe. Now he shuffled over to it and bowed his head.

Penny sat cross-legged on the ocean floor, contemplating like a Buddha. A few curious fish circled around, licking their tails.

She didn’t notice them. Her eyes were shut. Again the voices were in her head.

Penny: They don’t infect, they invade, to learn.

John: What can destroy them, Penny? What can destroy them?

Penny: Nothing. Nothing can destroy the spores.

The echoes of his final question and her final response resounded in her head.

She held onto the voices as long as possible. It was a way of holding onto John as he had been mere moments before: the normal John, the peaceful surrogate father who meant no harm to any living thing. The John that had been before the spores invaded him.

To learn. To learn. Those words were now wrong and hateful to her----even though she still believed them to be true. Yes, they had invaded her. But she had been able to deal with it---or they had allowed her to deal with it.

But for John and Nelson---her two closest friends and allies in this whole human world----she could arouse no optimism. She had to accept the possibility that they might never be restored.

How long she remained in that position she did not know---in the sea the matter of minutes and hours wasn’t something that worried her. But in the current situation, time was vital.

So she roused herself and looked around. The night sea seemed somehow not so friendly as it always had seemed in the past. Nothing did.

Chip Morton was a former navy submarine commander who joined the Directorate as captain of its submersible because he was tired of thinking about missiles, nuclear warheads, targets, and warfare all the time. He wasn’t a pacifist, nor was he opposed to Navy business. It was just that he’d had enough of it. And he liked the idea of commanding peaceful scientific missions on a futuristic craft.

Tall and lean and strong with sandy blond hair, Chip respected his crew and was admired and respected by them. The discipline he demanded was more self-discipline than the starchy, Navy-style kind. The crew was composed of professionals, adults who loved their work.

And, of course, they all respected and admired John, Nelson and Penny. They were enthusiastically ready to be called for any mission to anywhere, unquestioningly responsive and willing.

Their readiness and willingness was undiminished in this case, and they quickly and efficiently prepared the ship for travel (it was never far from ready; the crew pampered and polished the sub as firemen do their pumpers).

But they had received a highly curious and unusual order. Going out on a moment’s notice was nothing new, nor was going out in the middle of the night. But ordinarily such a nighttime order would include at least a word about the purpose or the destination---a courtesy to the crew roused from sleep.

In this case there was no such explanation at all. As the crew scurried around performing its tasks, they asked each other for guesses as to where they were headed and for what purpose. Some thought that perhaps they had been summoned for an urgent search and rescue job by the Navy; others guessed that some sudden combination of deep-water currents and temperatures made it a good time for a particular scientific experiment; some even thought it might be just a test run to check the alertness of the crew---though such a notion was quickly discounted by the more experienced members who knew that their readiness was unquestioned by the scientists.

In any event, as they went around checking scientific supplies, tank pressures, monitors, sensors, cameras, radios---even making sure the coffee was hot in the galley---there was an undertone of curiosity.

Chip strode through the airlock sphere with his thick case of charts that showed currents, shipping lanes, and ocean-bottom terrain. He had included maps of deep-sea mountain ranges, chasms, rifts, and faults on the ocean floor, probable locations of various fish and sea-mammal activity for certain times of the year, and areas of mineral concentrations.

Carr looked up from his airlock gauges. “Where we goin,′ Skipper?”

“I don’t know. I’ll get the word when the scientists come aboard. I’ll pass it along. Did you check that intake valve---number 3 I think it was? It was sticking during flooding of the lock earlier.”

“Affirmative, Skipper. It was gummed up, and then it bent under pressure. So I replaced it. It’s operating fine now.”

“Good. Have you checked the aft emergency lock recently?”

“Ran it through complete procedure this morning. We gonna be needing that?”

“Who knows? That’s why it’s called ‘emergency,’ right?”

“Right, Skipper,” Carr said, blushing slightly.

Chip strode into the control mod and looked around. “Everything shaped up in here?”

“Roger, Captain,” “Aye-aye, sir,” “Affirmative,” came the answers of the crew.

Roy poked his head out of the communications compartment. “All channels clear, Captain. No activity at all. Nice and quiet. Uh, Captain?”

“Yeah, Shelly?”

“You care to look at my latest? It’s called ‘Ode to Jimmy Joe.’”

“Not now. We’re going out right away.”

On the monitor, Chip saw John and Nelson hurrying across the dock and over the gangplank. A few moments later they emerged inside from the conning tower and headed for the control mod. Their feet shuffled heavily, and their stony eyes were aimed straight ahead.

“Hey, Doc,” Carr called to John, “the captain says he doesn’t know where we’re going, so I don’t know if we need any special gear or extra tanks or anything. Can you fill me in a bit so I’ll be sure to have everything?”

They both turned slowly to face him, showing no expression save the blank look of glazed eyes and taut skin.

He looked at them questioningly. “I mean,” he said hesitantly, “if you could, you know, just let me know enough to make sure everything’s.....”

A spore appeared on the top of his head, wiggled under his hair, and vanished. He fell silent.

They turned to face one another for one second, then stepped quietly into the control mod.

Chip was sliding his charts into the various slots that gave him quick access to them if needed. He saw the scientists. “Oh, hi, Doctors, welcome aboard. We’ll be under way just as soon as.....”

The spore had been on his shirtsleeve when he turned around. Now it had vanished beneath it. Chip was struck silent. In fact, within moments of the scientists boarding the sub, spores had alit on every member of the crew. Now, as John and Nelson stood in the control mod, Chip, Roy and the rest had all become eerily silent, their skin drawn tight over their cheekbones, their eyes glassy and staring.

No words were spoken. The crew mechanically turned to its assorted tasks. Engines were started and hummed smoothly; pumps thumped to flood the ballast tanks; the twin screws beat rhythmically at the stern.

John and Nelson left the control mod. They shuffled through the second sphere, where Carr was standing dumbly at the airlock controls. They moved on through the third sphere, where two lab technicians were arranging scientific equipment and adjusting monitors and sensors with the deliberate movements of people under hypnosis. They entered the fourth sphere, where the two sickbay attendants stood, as if at attention beside the examination table, and the cook in the galley section stood behind the large coffee urn, steam from it forming glistening droplets on his taut-skinned face.

And so this strange ship, devoid of normal sounds of human communication, backed out of its mooring and began to slip beneath the surface of the sea.

The odd mood within the sub was not, of course, apparent from the outside. The black craft edged away from the dock and submerged just enough to hide its conning tower. Then it backed through its underwater tunnel until it emerged in the open ocean. The propellers changed to forward revolutions, and the big sub turned a slow 150 degrees, dipped downward, and headed out into the Pacific.

This whole operation was standard, and would have roused no suspicions even from Penny---had she not known that John and Nelson went aboard, and with them the spores.

Surfacing just enough to be able to see, Penny had watched the scientists approached the sub, and had seen the accompanying spores floating around them like a swarm of blue gnats. Then she had dipped under again and let the sub pass by her on its way out of the sub pen.

Now she swam after it, keeping enough distance to remain undetected. After a mile or so the sub, heading west, changed course to the southwest and picked up speed. For a few more miles Penny followed at a good distance. It became apparent that this was now a fixed course, and Penny determined where they were heading.

She picked up speed, gradually closing the gap, catching up with the sub, swimming abreast of it, then passing it. She had decided to get there first.

Back in the lab, Al had arrived for yet another frustrating day, and the first thing he had in mind was to confront John and Nelson. He found himself confronting Angela instead, and could hardly believe what she told him.

“What the hell do you mean,” he sputtered, “they went back out in the submersible?”

Angela’s face showed clear signs of spore invasion. She, however, didn’t speak in a monotone, but in a brash and pert voice. “They’ve gone out,” she said smartly. “That’s all I know.”

Al fumed, rolled his eyes, and scratched his head. Then he peered at her. “Well, I say this for you, Angela---you don’t seem yourself. You okay? You look, well----weird.”

“I look like Norma Jean Baker,” she said, running a hand through her long hair. “You ought to see me in pink.”

As he stepped back, puzzled, she blew him a raspberry.

Al blinked, stammered, and started to speak. But just then the phone rang.

She picked it up and, without saying hello, said, “Hi, I’m Angela. What’s your name, darlin’?.....Sure, he’s standing right here, but I don’t know why you’d want to talk to him when you can talk to beautiful little me. Listen, General”---she leaned back in her chair and grinned at the ceiling---“did anybody ever tell you that you look like Norma Jean Baker?---No? Well, you do. And I think you’d look sexy in pink.”

“General?” Al whispered. “General?”

Angela nodded.

“Let me have it!” he whispered urgently.

She balled up her fist and threw a punch at him, missing by several inches. “Pow, could’ve been right in the kisser. You said I should let you have it, right?”

She began to cackle loudly. Al grabbed the receiver from her hand, and she offered no resistance. She leered at him.

He was blushing deeply when he put the receiver to his ear. “This is Al Calavicci, sir. No, sir, I didn’t get any message....”

“If you’re macho,” Angela hissed, with a devilish grin, “I’m Bobbie Gentry. I am, by the way. I didn’t want to tell you that you’re a frog.”

“Shut the hell up!” he whispered, putting his hand over the mouthpiece.

She quieted, smiling smugly. She propped her feet up on the desk and leaned back, closing her eyes and humming the wedding march.

Al, baffled and quite upset, turned away from her to resume his conversation. Just then a spore landed on his shoulder and was absorbed.

“Pardon the interruption, sir,” he said. “Now then, as it happens, I have no information to give you....Yes, sir, I know you have a right to recover the space probe, and you will as soon as possible....Oh, no, sir, there’s no need to send troops....You’d been thinking about dispatching a team of combat MPs? That’s a cute idea, General----I said ‘cute’ sir.....Yes, that’s right. As in how you look with all those bars and eagles and gold thingamajigs you wear---that’s cute too....What I mean by that, cutie-pie, is that we’re so secret a unit here that Washington will bust you to a private if you interfere....That’s right. I’ve got President Carter on the other line. So just get off our backs, prune pit.”

He replaced the receiver slowly, hearing the final, fitful, confused growls and gasps from the general rasp through the phone.

But then his expression changed, as had Angela’s in the last few seconds. Their eyes went empty and seemed sunk deep in their sockets surrounded by the tightly stretched, shiny skin. She sat stiffly in her chair; he stood just as stiffly beside her, staring at nothing.

The sub’s crew went silently about its chores, moving mechanically. It was as if they had become part of the machinery, and the morbid efficiency of it all was testimony to the fact that the spores were in total control.

No verbal commands were issued, yet the crew reacted as if hearing commands. The helmsman reached for the engine controls and moved them to full-stop position. The hum of the engines faded and died.

Now there was an even deeper silence and less movement. Crewmen waited for the next unspoken command.

When the engines were stopped, John and Nelson, seated on either side of the lab table in the third sphere, rose together and shuffled toward the next chamber.

Carr stood beside the airlock, waiting mutely for his assignment.

The scientists moved over to a large viewing screen. As they did, a crewman pressed the appropriate buttons and tripped the proper switches to start the cameras and bring the viewscreen to life.

At first the view was only black water. But then the external floodlights came on and fully illuminated the sea floor around where the sub was drifting. When the cameras focused forward, they brought to the screen the sight of the same boiling water that had enveloped the space probe when they first found it. Bubbles swirled around the small area as if still encompassing the probe.

And then Penny swam into view, circling the roiling water which was about 100 meters ahead of the sub. She kept a distance of a few meters from the disturbance, and gazed at it, then looked back at the sub. Her face was clearly visible on the viewing screen aboard.

Then she concentrated fully on the bubbly water. She undulated gracefully around it, studied it from the side and above, hovering now and then. Suddenly her eyes flashed wide. She looked confused and apprehensive. Half the bubbles seemed to leap from their place and began to engulf her. She struggled to elude them, but within a few seconds the bubbles had completely covered her. She was trapped inside this harmless-looking bubble bath, as if she were in a cocoon.

Now the other half of the bubbling water---that segment that had remained on the ocean floor---began to glow a soft blue. It rose slowly toward the bubbles enclosing Penny. As it rose, it assumed a more definitive shape. The mass of spores became as one giant spore, and from this shape came the shrill clatter of piercing “conversation” from the hundreds of spores together.

The bubbles surrounding Penny moved to meet the advancing unity of spores, then engulfed them together with Penny. Both spores and Penny were now concealed inside of the dense mass.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the bubbles vanished, and with them the spores. Penny was free and alone in the water. But the spores had not gone away. Penny’s whole body now glowed with a blue hue, indicating that the spores had invaded her en masse.

Bathed in the shimmering glow that came from inside, Penny began swimming toward the sub, undulating like a neon eel.

She swam up to the exterior door of the airlock, opened it, swam inside, and watched the door close behind her. Instantly the lock began to empty of water, and air was pumped in.

John and Nelson had watched all this without reaction or expression, staring at the viewscreen until Penny had entered the airlock.

Now they stood by the interior door, waiting, as Carr went about his task of emptying the airlock of water, then filling it up with air. Still no words were spoken. When the lock was ready, Carr stepped to the sealed door and opened it. Penny, aglow with the invasion of spores, stepped into the sub.

With no hint of welcome or recognition, John and Nelson turned and shuffled off toward the lab sphere. Penny followed. Carr stood aside and resumed his state of docile waiting.

Though Penny was host to a huge invasion of spores, and glowed from their presence, she seemed otherwise unaffected. Her skin was normal. She proceeded into the lab warily, keeping an eye on the scientists.

Once in the lab, they turned to face her. She stared at them, her eyes drooping a bit in sadness at their state.

Suddenly the glow within Penny concentrated in her chest and the spores flooded out of her and leaped across the space to pour into John and Nelson---all of them. Now the scientists had the glow.

Penny narrowed her eyes and peered at them, watching, waiting for the result.

Then they spoke. And when they did it was not with their own voices, but in a weird mixture of voices, as though each of them had several tracks of tape playing different voices at once, all saying the same thing in unison.

John, his face blank, took a step forward. “We are what you have called ‘spores’ speaking to you through this these two men,” came the mix of simultaneous voices from him. “You require information by which to function. We will explain so you may understand.”

Then Nelson took a step forward. “We are of space---the tranquil silence of the perfect dark. You understand?”

“Yes,” Penny said softly.

The voices next came from John. “The space probe intruded upon our existence, ripped this part of our being away from the whole and brought us, captive, to Earth.”

Nelson’s voices took it up. “We are unlike and like. We are each a being with mind and knowledge. We are each individual but part of a whole which is also one being of many parts.”

Then from John: “We are as cells in the human body. But each of us possesses mind and thought. All of us together form all thought and mind. We are together one mind, greater and stronger than the separate parts.”

Nelson again: “We are invincible. We cannot be destroyed. You know that.”

“Yes,” said Penny.

John: “We have examined Earth. And man. Man is controlled by emotion and whim. Man hates. Man kills man. Man lies. Man refuses to be part of the whole. Man wastes. Man thirsts for power.”

Nelson: “Man can be controlled. Money controls him. Fear controls him. We can control him. We have no wish to control men.”

As Penny turned toward each source of voices in turn, listening intently, the alteration continued with John:

“Man is the true pollution of Earth. It was man’s choice to make things so, and man chooses to be the corrupt, easily manipulated self he is. We wish to return to the peace and perfection and wondrous dark and quiet of space. It is your task to return us, Penny Robinson.”

“We know that in four hours a rocket will be fired,” Nelson’s voice went on. “We must travel with it. You must take us to it.”

“I know nothing of rockets,” Penny said, looking nervously from one man to the other.

“We control the means to achieve our desire,” said the voices in John. “The man named Calavicci can arrange your access to the rocket. He will do so upon request. You must then accept us into yourself. You must be host to our being. You will have sufficient time, but no more than that. You must not delay. Do you, of your own free will, agree?”

“I do,” Penny said quietly.

“If you fail, Penny Robinson,” continued John’s voice, “we will remain for all time on this planet. We will cause man to reach his maximum selfishness. Man will destroy man, until there is no mankind left to disturb the serenity of Earth. This is the absolute threat, Penny Robinson. Return us to space or see mankind destroyed.”

“We hold many as our hostage to prove our power to control,” Nelson’s voice said.

“You understand our will,” came the mix of voices from John. “We will not speak to man again. This is our first and final contact. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Penny said, growing even more uneasy. “I understand what you are telling me. But I am not sure I can accomplish what you have directed me to....”

“You can accomplish it,” said John’s voices. “Otherwise the price for not accomplishing it will be extremely high, as we have told you.”

“But please, listen to me. Something could go wrong. What if...”

“Silence! You must succeed or watch the world you have known cease to exist.”

Nelson stripped the Timex watch from his wrist and held it out to Penny. “Wear this. You have four hours. The chronometer is set for that.”

Penny looked at the watch, seeing the hands on the three separate dials advance. When she looked up at the scientists, they had gone into the trancelike state already known to her----the state that indicated that their spore message was finished, and that John and Nelson were no more than zombies now.

The intercom rasped. “Penny Robinson?” It was Al’s voice.

Penny looked up at the speakers, startled.

“You wish to speak to me,” Al said, his voice a monotone.

“Yes,” Penny said, recovering quickly and recognizing that her mission was already in motion. “I have to have access to a rocket that leaves in four hours. I must touch it.”

“I will investigate, Penny Robinson.”

“But surely you already know all about....”

The intercom clicked off. The mighty engines of the submersible began to hum, delivering power to the propellers which began to throb beneath the deck.

Penny looked down at the watch. Quickly she strapped it on her wrist. It registered exactly 4:00 p.m., and the second hand ticked unmercifully forward.

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