Table of Contents
PART THREE (of 4)
CHAPTER SEVEN This Mortal Coil
<click click click>
If he could just twist his arm just another centimeter, the sleeve gun mechanism would trigger properly. The way his hands were secured -- wrenched behind him and buried straight into a wall of green ice -- was making it almost impossible to activate the spring-loaded device. And if it did trigger, the derringer currently secreted in his sleeve was definitely loaded making it dangerously primed to fire.
West could barely feel his fingers from the cold. That was at least a step up from the rest of his extremities. He'd been unconscious for some time thanks to parties unknown. It was time to take down those parties... without any help this go round.
Concentrating on escape, he worked at torquing his elbow into the right position. <click> <click> <click> <click>... <<CHUNK>> -- the derringer released and slammed into the ice surface, then fell free to the floor with a clatter. Jim breathed a sigh of relief; the loaded weapon had not gone off in the collision.
<click> The now-empty mechanism recoiled. <<CHUNK>> The retention rod that had once held his sleeve derringer shot forward, slamming into the ice an inch from his right wrist. Jim twisted to see over his shoulder. The impact had had little effect on the stubborn green material imprisoning his hands. <click> He tapped his elbow and the mechanism recoiled, then <<CHUNK>> Metal smashed into ice once more. This time there was a definite indentation. Hard to see against the wall of green, but definitely there.
It may take time, but he would free himself.
<click> <<CHUNK>> ...
* * *
Artie slowly opened his eyes and struggled to focus them. A blur of white... a blur of green... the only forms given to his surroundings by his sense of sight. Listening told him nothing in the silence. What happened? Where was he? The first concrete thing that came to mind was... an avalanche of solid ice!
Adrenaline involuntarily kicked in. Artemus was instantly standing before either his head or his feet knew it. The rapid change of position after so long was too much. The blood rushed from his head and all his senses failed him...
...then this time he could actually see. White roof, white walls... someone. Chestnut hair adorning a young woman in lavender. She was- she seemed to be... well, those were obviously plants. The one nearest to her was definitely a rhododendron, its textbook leaves and blooms appearing from thin air at the wave of her hand.
Plant Conjurer... she must be another hallucination.
This time Artemus sat up very slowly and waited for the world to stop spinning. His hallucination paid him no mind and carried on about the business at hand. She finished conjuring up an entire rhododendron branch then stepped back to admire the foliage. With a start, the conjurer suddenly realized she had an audience. Something he couldn't see was carefully placed upon a shelf, then she hurried right past him and out of the room.
Ignoring the woman, Artie stared at the plants. There was just something really odd about those plants.
As the world settled down in his head, Artemus tried for his feet... and nearly passed out again. Pain ripped through his left shoulder. When the reaction lessened, it occurred to him how fantastically lucky he was to be alive at all. Not only that but the shoulder injury appeared to be the extent of the abuse he'd suffered under the crush of the ice.... Wait a minute. Luck couldn't have been his only savior. Along the way he'd ended up with an entirely new wardrobe. Good fortune didn't usually provide a change of clothes... unless of course you happen to be one Jim West.
He scrutinized the matching green tunic, pants, and boots. The outfit was curious. It seemed to provide its own heat. Under different circumstances Artemus would be dissecting it to see what made it tick by now.
Hmmm.. oh -- the plants. He'd almost forgotten about them. Ignoring the injury, Artemus moved to the rhododendron and cautiously touched a leaf. Smooth... cold... glass? No -- ice! The plants were made of opaque green ice! What in the world -- ??
"/Tyy time./" a voice sang out.
The woman in lavender returned with a tray and two steaming cups. Although fluent in many languages, Artemus had no idea what she'd just said to him. She spoke again: "/Sit down, before you fall down/." There were two chairs and a table in one corner of the room. The cot he'd been on was occupying the other. She set the tray on the table and took up one of the cups, continuing to impart verbal information in a language he didn't understand.
Then he had it. That was Welsh, of all things. She'd spoken to him in Welsh, complete with an accent! Amazing...
"Come now," he addressed his hallucination, "you can't really expect me to believe the Bay current was that strong can you?" His voice came out sounding relatively normal, all things considered.
The hallucination threw up her hand. "Oh, very well then. If I must." She flopped down in one of the chairs and shook a finger at him. "But YOU keep your voice down! My poor plants simply shrivel up and die when they hear this ugly language."
A perfect Canadian accent this time.
Gravity was insisting, so Artemus took the other chair, curiosity nagging at him. "The last thing on my mind is ruining all your hard work, Miss," he almost whispered. "I hope I'm not prying if I ask how you made those plants?"
The woman set down her cup and went to the plants. On her way past she took down an odd, palm-sized contraption from a shelf. Convinced her pet foliage wasn't going to expire, the hallucination returned to she seat, handing Artemus the contraption as she sat.
"My paintbrush," she informed him.
The lady's "paintbrush" was far from paintbrush norm. It consisted of a small reservoir, a chemical voltage source, and two electrodes separated by three centimeters protruding from it. Between the electrodes was a spray nozzle. The electrodes themselves were adjustable.
Before her uninvited guest could get a look at what was in the reservoir, she snatched the brush away and went back to the plants themselves. Beginning with an unfinished branch of the rhododendron, she gave a demonstration. The paintbrush produced a clear aerosol that solidified green the instant it passed through the electrodes. Some sort of regulator controlled the speed and consistency of the flow, but the hands manipulating the voltage created the art. Soon the rhody was in full bloom, to a round of applause.
Artemus joined her by her masterpiece. "So large a talent in such delicate hands. What's the secret?"
She grinned a bit oddly at the compliment. "My husband taught me." The grin disappeared. "And the brush. He made the brush -- and the isicks."
Suddenly she turned on him. "YOU! Mister Canadian-government agent or whoever you are -- " her voice slowed "-- sit back down... now!"
There was no doubt that was a threat, and her turn of demeanor surprised him as did the 'government agent' part. Artemus decided against antagonizing her until he knew more about the situation. "As you wish," he answered carefully. Returning to his chair, he picked up his cup and took a drink. This seemed to make her quite happy. The smile returned.
Bringing the paintbrush with her, she took her seat with the device sitting on her lap. "You like it, then?" She indicated the tea.
"The tea? Oh, marvelous -- oriental green must be difficult to come by, way out here."
She laughed. "Toronto's hardly the countryside, you know. Page, my manservant, he purchases it fresh from the local market every Tuesday..." her voice drifted off "...I always look forward to market day," she finished dreamily.
Artie nodded with interest, at the same time quickly polishing off the now lukewarm cup of oriental green. Making a bit of a scene about finishing it, the cup was then returned to its saucer with a clank. The hollow sound got the young woman's attention. She was on her feet, leaving the paintbrush on the table.
"What a horrid hostess I've been!" She reached for the empty vessel. "Let me bring you some mo- "
Artemus stopped her hand just as she was about to make off with his cup. The two strangers sized one another up. There was something lurking behind the eyes of his hallucination that startled Artie by its intensity. Something he didn't want to be responsible for releasing. He diffused the tension with a smile. "Serving tea is a job for a servant, don't you think?"
The woman relinquished the cup and sat down as Artemus leaned back, trophy in hand. "Let's just have Page do it. Why don't you summon him?"
The simple request generated considerable confusion on the part of his hostess for some time. Then suddenly she smiled... the confusion melted. "Of course, silly me." She stood. "I'll just fetch him."
Artemus didn't trust her and though his original intent had been to get a better look at the paintbrush, instead he rose as well. "We'll just fetch him." He stepped aside. "I'll be right behind you."
She headed for the kitchen. "My husband hired Page last year," she told him, "to look after me and the like."
They stopped at a walk-in freezer. "Today is his day off, you know. I think he's sleeping late." She grasped the top door handle. "I'll just wake him."
The top of the Dutch doors swung open, steam rising in waves as the sub-zero air hit the warmth of the kitchen. A sinister mental image of what was potentially in that deep freeze forced its way in with the condensation.
"Wait a minute- your servant is in that?" Artie indicated the freezer.
"Oh yes." She nodded. "He insists on sleeping there."
Artemus carefully pushed the door closed and took the woman's arm, gently drawing her away from the freezer. "I image Page is quite the sound sleeper, best not disturb him." Artemus glanced about the well-equipped kitchen and spotted the teapot steaming on the stove. "Since we're already in the kitchen, I'll just get the two of us a refill myself if you don't mind."
He began fishing about the cupboards while the woman sat at the table. "You know, you still haven't told me your name" he pointed out while searching the cabinet. Cups found, Artie placed them on the table and grabbed the steaming pot with a towel. "Sugar?"
His hostess was staring at her hands. "Erm, no thank you," she muttered. She didn't look up.
Taking a seat, he watched her a moment. "Claudia?" he finally guessed. "No, much too common... Elaine."
Without warning her demeanor changed face once again and she rose, shaking. "Mrs. Dr. Lambert Nelson, if you must," she snapped, her hands digging into the oak tabletop. "My husband's the greatest chemist this country's ever known." She leaned toward her guest. "Isicks will revolutionize the way humanity lives! Never forget his name, whoeveryouare!"
That unknown danger he'd seen earlier in his hallucination was certainly rising to the surface in a hurry. He'd gotten absolutely nowhere discussing tea and flora with Mrs. Dr. Lambert Nelson; it was obvious she knew a whole lot more than she'd offered. She and her unseen husband were involved with the jade death somehow -- they had to be -- and based upon her earlier bizarre behavior asking straight out about this 'isicks' would result only in wasted time and energy. Besides, he had already pushed the button...
He pressed onward. "Margaret. Diane? Oh I know, Faith. Faith Nelson. Yes of course."
The lady was sweating, and the tabletop was being grooved with fingernail-sized cuts. "I -- I just TOLD y- you..." she warned.
Artie stood, lifting one of the cups in a toast. "To Faith then, and Page. For the best tea in Toronto." The toast was drunk.
If rust is severe, iron becomes brittle. The forged chains holding that violent something back in Mrs. Dr. Lambert Nelson now completely shattered. Once loose, it was savage. His hallucination caught him almost completely off guard as she flew at him. Artemus stopped her arm easily enough as she tried to strike him, but the fury behind the attack carried them backward straight into the wall.
Flashback shifted reality momentarily. Rather than the wall, it was a huge piece of ice that hit him from behind. Pain burned through any remaining use of his left arm. The hallucination came on again, this time there was an all-too-real glint of silver in her other hand as the knife she'd had hidden came screaming at his chest. Somehow he dodged. The weapon bounced off the wall as it missed its mark. With what little strength remained, his hallucination was thrown to one side as the ground rose to meet both parties.
The dip in the bay had taken its toll; he couldn't feel his upper left side, everything else was in rebellion. Some demon drove his hallucination to an incredible level of violence. Perhaps the unseen Page had been an unwilling victim of it. One thing he knew for certain -- if she picked up that knife and came on one more time, he didn't think he could fight off that maniacal strength again.
Visiting that freezer wasn't on his list of things to do while in Canada, but if she did lunge at him again he might have to change his plans.
The thought of Page's ultimate fate forced Artemus to struggle to his feet. Below, his attacker hadn't moved, still winded from the struggle. Then finally she looked up at him, demon quiescent for the moment.
"Jessica..." his hallucination whispered. "... my name is Jessica..." She fainted dead away.
* * * * * * * * *
CHAPTER EIGHT Winter in Toronto
The two sentries on duty melted into the frame surrounding the gold thatched doors they guarded, fear of failure driving their vigilance. In animated contrast, a henchman in emerald toiled behind an anachronistic console, pulling levers, pushing buttons, and turning knobs with ease and confidence as prescribed. He glanced at a gauge. The analogue dial was unusual in that its sense of proper time provided immediate feedback with each precise adjustment the henchman made. When he was finally certain that the correct levels had been reached, the gunsel stood stiffly at attention and awaited his next task.
Across the control room, a tall man perched upon a wooden platform and carefully inspected the workmanship on the last new section of wire weave. From his attire and grooming one would peg him as upper class at the very least. Day coat with tails, ruffled shirt with tie and trousers, all in subtle shades of olive green highlighting close-cropped black hair with just a hint of grey.
Dr. Lambert Nelson intently analyzed part of a foot-thick laminate of one-inch burnished gold wire for correct tolerance. The rest of the laminate, older by some time, traced the perimeter of the room, crisscrossing as a string about a package repeatedly until it actually defined the dimensions of the space itself. A third laminate, older still, ran around the girth of the room from floor to ceiling, breaking only for a small view port on one wall and a set of doors. The result of all this underwater basket weaving was a gold cubical space formed strictly by spun gold wire and filled with consoles, buttons, tubing, and gauges, all resting upon rough hewn larch-plank flooring covering more wire laminate. The unusual combination of the gold wire, the bright green of the gunsel's attire, and red lighting cast the interior in a brassy mauve sunset.
Every metallic inch of the laminate wallpaper appeared identical in construction. It was the change in precision of the design that gave away its age to anyone with an eye for it. And its beholder studied a palm-sized meter intently as it fluctuated about the requisite value, a scowl creasing that upper class carriage until finally the smug satisfaction of a true reading pressed out the wrinkles.
"Current reading is a true zero, Gibbs." Nelson raised his voice above the whine of an unseen power source at his number-one henchman. "Ramp the coil voltage until it's just below red line." His spoken order dissipated as steam which rose to meet the metal ceiling five meters up.
Gibbs activated the correct lever with purpose and the hum of machinery grew. As the sound intensified, Dr. Nelson carefully replaced his fancy ear muffs for hearing protection and continued to monitor the palm-sized meter he held a few centimeters from the coils. As the gunsel moved the lever past the half-way mark, there was an ominous thud then a roaring from above their heads chimed into the din and the entire structure began to shake. A normal occurance, neither man paid the violent vibration any notice. Gibbs finished the adjustment and once more stood at the ready.
The intensity of the electronic hum increased steadily. Nelson appeared pleased... for a moment. Without warning, the overall pitch of the din shot up. The doctor waved sharply at his assistant. Gibbs slammed the lever down to its original position and the whine and vibration slowly died away.
With a look of disgust the scientist threw his ear muffs to the ground, livid. The previous test hadn't even lasted ten minutes! This one had fared little better and the doctor was furious. "Gibbs -- have those imbeciles re-check their work, immediately!"
But as quickly as his temper had erupted, Nelson now regained his deceptively easy comportment. "I want that fifty coil feet functional in exactly one hour," he purred from his perch. "Another faux pas will bring such unnecessary ugliness that I hesitate to even verbalize it." He steeled Gibbs with a stare. "When you speak with the men, see that YOU do."
Gibbs flicked a series of switches, the artificial lighting went from red to green and somewhere outside the gold room a compressor began operation. A nod tainted with true fear and Nelson's top henchman disappeared through gold-coloured exit.
* * *
Just outside the single exit, voices. West still had a centimeter of the green stuff to get through, having spent over an hour getting that far. Another ten minutes would do it, but suddenly that luxury was gone. The keys were rattling in the lock, he could hear their telltale jingle well above the persistent vibration and hum that permeated the entire structure.
Bracing his feet back against the wall, Jim leveraged his legs against the remaining ice binding his hands and pulled. It gave way -- he catapulted forward just as the door began to open. Hands still bound behind his back by rope, West launched into a forward roll, landed on his feet and kicked the door into the surprised face of the gunsel. Lights out for the hired hand.
Borrowing the unconscious thug's knife, he was free and out in the gallery. Moving from pillar to pillar, he started to make for the distant central structure. This time his presence didn't remain secret. Five more men in green dashed out of the corridor directly on his tail, shouting and searching.
Ducking out of sight, West carefully glanced around the column and watched the search. One of the men passed the pillar right next to him, then two more men joined the others from yet a different corridor.
Getting into that rotunda was not going to be easy, but that's where he was going. The rotunda had to be the source of the jade death.
* * *
It was near freezing in the corridor immediately outside the lady's home. They certainly weren't in Toronto, though that had never really been in doubt. Disturbing was the fact that the lady of the house didn't seem to notice, even when the entire area began to shudder from some unknown force. As Artemus checked the exit for persons one might care to avoid, the shaking finally ceased.
Jessica came up behind him, buttoning a fashionable parka. "Winter already? How time flies..." she mused.
She'd gone right back to her bright smiling self the minute she'd recovered, but now she paid no mind to the fact that he was using her proper name. She'd remained uncharacteristically calm and even agreed when Artemus suggested they go to meet her husband after work. Ten cups of tea later, they were about to leave for university.
Jessica peered past her guest and into the street. "It was winter the last time I went outside, just six months ago." She tapped her temple. "You don't suppose the Earth's orbit is decaying prematurely due to ether drag, do you?"
The last bit she'd added as if she were chatting about that tyy of hers. He certainly wasn't surprised she hadn't been out of the house in half a year. Considering her subtle people skills, he'd have thought it longer than that. By time considerations alone, Jessica's nonlinear behavior could not be related to what was happening with the Hudson Bay contingent. So the question in the back of his mind was "what then?"
"Isn't six months rather a long stretch to stay inside?" Artie asked her carefully.
Pushing that button no longer had any effect. She ignored the question as she'd done with anything that somehow struck her as threatening since the attack. Plucking a festive, but very dusty hat from a nearby stand, Jessica pushed past him into the street.
The two strolled down a corridor or two, Jessica idly remarking about non-existent trees, carriages, the real nature of the atom, and journalism ethics; Artemus playing along to preserve the peace. They then rounded a corner and were suddenly in the columned gallery. Hallucination immediately discounted, Artie tried in vain to stop and examine the structure but Jessica wouldn't have it. She was far too excited about being out and about on such a beautiful winter day. Pulling him along by his uninjured arm, she dragged him away from one of the columns, still babbling about Toronto.
"...last year the chamber of commerce voted to change the city's nickname to The Emerald City in honor of my husband, you know. Such an accomplishment!"
"Emerald..." he tore his eyes from scanning a ceiling vault and took in the entire gallery. Emerald City. It fit.
Jessica looked at him expectantly. In the interest of keeping the peace, placation was required. "You must be very proud. I look forward to meeting this husband of yours." He wasn't really thinking about what he said. It had suddenly occurred to Artemus that one could become thoroughly lost in all this green... somewhere Jessica hadn't been for a very long time. "You do remember the way back, don't you?"
She stopped in her tracks, concerned. "I did leave a note for Page to put the kettle on, didn't I?"
It was hopeless. Artie was hunting for some useful landmark among the identical columns when the gallery suddenly became very crowded. Five thugs in green came barreling out of a corridor almost directly across from Artemus and Jessica, guns drawn. Before they were seen, Artie disappeared behind a pillar, pulling her after him. After a moment, he cautioned a look. Two more hooligans had joined them and the lot were energetically hunting for someone. There was little doubt in his mind as to the identity of their quarry.
Artie looked down at Jessica. She was staring hard after the searchers. For an uncomfortable moment as it appeared she might yell after the men, but it passed silently. They watched the group search the region, finally disappearing from sight behind the central rotunda-like structure as even more men joined them. Then finally the coast was clear.
"Shall we?" Artemus offered his arm, but it wasn't taken. Instead, Jessica stared him straight in the eye. "I can go home anytime I wish, you know. Anytime at all." It was a statement of fact, and completely obscure to the person she'd said it to. Yet something told Artemus Gordon not to forget it.
* * *
"Letting the spy escape cannot go unpunished. You know the penalty for such things."
The two men holding his arms tightened their grip as fear burned through the gunsel's calm exterior. Panic was setting in. "Oh no -- please. Please! Doctor, please! I'll get him for you. Just gimme a chance!"
Nelson turned his back on the man, the act in itself pronouncing his judgement. The two guards dragged the outcast through the gold wire doors. His sentence was carefully documented on paper, then Nelson turned and followed them out.
Just outside the gold-weaved control room, the rotunda opened up wide. The green exterior walls shot up at least fifty meters in this central section. At its core rose one last, colossal concentric structure. Meter thick glass made opaque by the darkness inside surrounded the exact center of the underwater fortress. It, too, went straight up and continued past the visible rotunda roof, its true height impossible to judge from perspective. Behind, the room just vacated was seen as a nearly freestanding gold box inside the rotunda. Some distance away the edge of another gold structure peaking around the mystery at the darkened central core.
Into the rotunda moved the execution squad and its commander. Two more men, including Gibbs, were already there. With the press of a button an opening separated itself from the center glass wall. Into the pitch-black darkness the terrified man was flung. As the door was sealed behind his intended victim, Nelson smiled a thin, wry grin, then signaled the control room. At Nelson's command, the hiss of an unseen compressor broke the silence. As the compressor did its work, the execution squad waited.
In a dark area at the edge of the rotunda, Artemus and Jessica observed the proceedings from behind some discarded equipment. Reality had actually reached Mrs. Nelson. It was all Artie could do to keep her there as it became clear the unseen compressor was draining the air from the central structure, and from the man inside it. Revealing their presence wouldn't help anyone, especially since they were unarmed.
Perhaps he could remedy the weapon situation. Artemus took inventory of the stack of junk they were hiding behind, searching for anything that might prove useful in rescuing the man inside the rapidly increasing vacuum. There was a huge coil of gold wire, chunks of the green material, burned-out control units, ceramic insulators that were far too big to be of any use as a weapon, and finally, three boxes of palm-sized magnets. The magnets might prove useful in some other context, but nothing was presenting itself as the solution to the man's dilemma. It had been a long time since Artemus didn't have an answer quickly at hand....
Jessica disrupted his dark muse, trying once more to lunge out into the open. As almost an afterthought, Artemus quickly stuffed a fistful of the exotic looking objects into a pocket and hung onto the frantic woman.
In the rotunda, the execution squad once more went into action."Minus two millimeters of mercury, Doctor," reported a gunsel as he read a series of gauges.
A nearly perfect vacuum. The man inside the central core was already dead...
"Prepare for full-power voltage test." Nelson ordered coldly.
The new section of his creation remained to be tested under full load. Nelson reminded himself to thank the bumbling fool personally for an excuse to move the test up an hour. But afterward... he'd thank him after.
The doctor and Gibbs returned to their stations in the gold room while the remaining men hustled towards its geometric twin. Once inside the main control room, Gibbs took his post. Nelson began playing the console. The red warning light flicked on and the unseen power source began to audibly ramp on cue... Again Nelson smiled his wry grin -- the experimental process was exactly within the scientist's predicted parameters.
Suddenly the gold doors flew open as Jessica burst into the room. Unable to stop her, Artemus was right behind her. The warning light began flashing as the safe interior of the control room was violated.
Artie stopped short as from across the room the huge gunsel made a move at him, but Jessica ignored Gibbs, throwing herself in front of her shocked husband. "You can't do this! It's murder, Lambert! Murder!" She was nearly hysterical. "You can't! Stop! PLEASE!"
With the dramatic entrance, Nelson's parameters were instantly reduced to hypothetical figures on paper. His experimental procedure had been disrupted, destroyed -- by far the worst insult any scientist could suffer. And the source of that insult was crumpled at right his feet... Shock turned to blind rage. Nelson hauled his wife to her feet, only to knock her back down with a vicious blow to the face. Nowhere near satiated, he started to reach for her again.
There was nothing to consider in his next move... Artemus launched into Nelson before he could connect a second time, the two men crashed into the console, leaving Jessica behind. Gibbs flew across the room, grabbing Nelson's assailant from behind. Hauling the man backwards, the henchman went to pin him all the way down when he suddenly realized it wasn't necessary. The doctor's assailant was already on his knees, driven there by pain from some preexisting injury. With a sadistic grin, Gibbs torqued the injured arm further; the result was basic paralysis of his target, making his job far too easy. He liked easy, Gibbs did.
The scientist picked himself off the ground, shaking with anger. He thrust a finger at his assailant.
"YOU are a dead man!" Nelson spat, then turned on the other guilty party. "And you, dear wife- " he grabbed Jessica roughly, pulling her to her feet and dragging her to the view port. " -you are going to watch every minute of this."
Nelson reached back to the console and flipped a switch. The whine of the power source continued its rise. Suddenly in the dark there was a wicked arc of electricity comparable to the most fantastic lightning strike. A searing sound accompanied it, then silence.
It was the sound that froze Jessica's features. Her mind had returned to the safe haven of numb insanity once more.
Satisfied, Nelson released her and powered the system down. As the indicator light switched from red to green, three of Nelson's men piled into the room brandishing various caliber weapons. Gibbs shoved Artemus to the floor. The agent was immediately surrounded by well-aimed firearms.
The doctor now pushed Jessica at Gibbs. "Take Mrs. Nelson back to her room. See that she doesn't leave again," he snapped.
As Artie managed to get back on his knees, Jessica drifted past, following Nelson's man without question. As she passed Artemus, she stopped and slowly looked down at him. "I'm going home now." There was a complete lack of emotion in her voice but the statement was pointed, it was supposed to mean something to him. Then Gibbs pulled her along and then they were gone. For the life of him, Artie couldn't seem to remember what she was trying to tell him... as much as he fought to control it, little was getting through the jagged curtain of pain he was experiencing.
Dr. Nelson turned his attention to his unwelcome visitor, antagonism and the upper hand on his mind. "The last man who hit me made an exquisite test subject." Folding his arms, Nelson waited for a reaction from Artemus. He didn't get the one he wanted.
"The last man who hit you should have used something more lethal than his fist," came the cold retort.
The nearest gunsel kicked the insolent prisoner in the back for the comment. Satisfaction made Nelson smile, but that smile softened somewhat as Artie pulled himself up, defiance in his eyes.
Eyes tell you everything about the soul behind them... Nelson looked away and wandered about the room, lost momentarily in a flurry of logical connectivity. "I know you," he revealed, finally. "What I don't know is why you're alive."
"Curiosity." Artemus answered, getting to his feet. "I couldn't possibly expire without knowing all about isicks."
The scientist laughed. "Curiosity can be fatal -- but then I'm sure you've heard that before. Isicks, eh? All right. We'll satisfy the cat before we kill it..."
Nelson walked out the doors and back into the rotunda where three more of his men were working. They stiffened when they detected their boss in their midst. The thug who'd kicked Artie now poked him with his rifle. They followed Nelson out, Artemus entertaining ideas of poetic uses for that gun.
Seeing that his audience had arrived, Nelson indicated the green material and then what had appeared to be glass surrounding the mystery in the building's center. "Ice-Six," he enunciated carefully, with a nod to the architecture. "Look around you, it's all Ice-Six. A little discovery of mine made while slaving away for the Canadian Government at the University of Toronto." He turned to Artemus. "Fascinating, isn't it?"
The agent actually appeared bored. "Interesting enough, if novelty ice cubes are your thing."
Nelson glared. "There are two reasons you are still alive, one of which is in the capacity of an audience." Gesturing to a gunsel, he turned toward the central entrance. Its black interior gaped ominously, allowing them entrance.
"There should be a witness to this final run, I think. For posterity, as it were." The chemist glanced back at the intruder. "Is this a role you care to play?"
The threat was so tangible it practically had its own physical presence. "I'm all ears," Artemus acquiesced.
Artie and his armed shadow followed the scientist right up to the entrance, where Nelson stopped.
"In its normal state, Ice-Six is a liquid" he lectured. "Applying a current causes it to solidify instantly into the tempered material you see before you."
That explained Jessica's paint brush.
"The difference in colour and opacity depends on the applied current, then." Artie theorized out loud. It had to be if indeed all of this was the same material.
"Correct..." Nelson's voice trailed off as he tried to determine how the intruder knew this. Then abruptly he marched into the darkness.
Taking a deep breath, Artemus followed.
* * * * * * * * *
CHAPTER NINE Rendezvous
From the sound of the whistle, the special from Toronto was still a half-mile out. Perze checked her watch. The train was an hour late and she and Seagal had been at the station an hour early. The two navy lieutenants with them had been fidgeting the entire time... if the guy on the left reloaded that pistol one more time, she was going to make him eat it. These things never seemed to bother Seagal. He was actually asleep on his feet. Catherine glared at him. How could he sleep knowing Colonel Richmond and President Grant were holding up a meeting with top navy brass because of this stupid train?
Seagal was a man. Why did he do anything, anyway? Well, she did actually know that answer...
With a prolonged blast of steam the special rolled into Reese station and disgorged its passengers. The party they were awaiting was in the last car, all personnel from the USS Beckingham and Admiral Spollen's daughter. The details of their release were a mystery. Neither the Canadian ambassador nor the Secretary of State could get any response about the missing clipper. Then out of the blue a message arrived from Ottawa listing those released and the date of their return. Without the cryptic telegraph message from James West, Washington would never have known they were even being held.
Time to talk to these folks and clear up that mystery.
First off were the enlisted men. As they surrounded the lieutenants, Perze caught snippets of the story: ...taken at gunpoint from the ship... ...dog sleds south... ...the special from Toronto. And the jade death, they were all buzzing about the jade death. The ieutenants knew nothing about it; they exchanged glances and shook their heads repeatedly, thinking the men were sharing some sort of group hallucination. More men joined the throng and soon the buzzing was audible to non-classified ears.
Perze poked Seagal. Her partner had been thinking the same thing. Catherine plugged her ears as Kiroc cut loose with his whistle-from-hell on the group's unsuspecting eardrums. Finally, dead silence.
"You navy boys make a it habit of discussing missions in public before debriefing?" Seagal snapped loudly.
That worked, they were staring daggers at Seagal but no one was mentioning the jade death any longer. As he turned back to the car, the party the Secret Service was interested in had already descended. Deborah Spollen looked about as close to death as a person could get without having actually joined the choir invisible. An officer helped her down the steps, she clung to him for support. Perze joined him in assisting the traumatized young woman across the platform.
Seagal stepped forward and introduced himself and Catherine.
"Lieutenant Onoma, Chief navigator, USS Beckingham," the officer reciprocated. "And this is the admiral's daughter, Deborah Spollen. She had a pretty rough go of it up there."
"That's what we heard." Perze answered. "President Grant's waiting to hear both your reports -- " she looked carefully at Deborah. " -- are you up to it Miss Spollen?"
"Yes, I -- I think." The young woman forced a smile.
Onoma reached into his coat and produced a sealed envelope. "The commander of Fort Ticogah trusted this to Miss Spollen." He handed it to Seagal. "It's addressed to Admiral Farragut."
"President Grant will have to see it then." Kiroc informed him.
At Onoma's query, Catherine broke the news about the Admiral's sudden death ten days ago. Farragut was the only one Grant really trusted, a trust earned by way of that unpleasantness between the states a few years back. Currently there was no one other than the president himself in charge of the fleet.
The group started for the carriage the agents had waiting, continuing the conversation as they went.
* * *
Grant tossed the letter on his desk and glared at it.
"The Royal Canadian Navy has been called up, Colonel. Canada is going to war with Great Britain -- and Great Britain doesn't know it!"
"Ignoring the fact that the assault is being directed by madmen, it's doomed to failure simply in terms of military strength. It doesn't make sense." Richmond commented, then turned to Onoma who was stood sharply at attention in front of Grant's desk.
"You're certain this letter is genuine?"
The lieutenant shook his head. "No sir. Miss Spollen is the only one left who was actually inside the fort. Commander Sarff gave it to her personally."
Grant looked up. "You can go, Lieutenant."
As Onoma turned to leave, Richmond stopped him.
"One moment, lieutenant. What's the word on James West?"
The lieutenant wasn't quite sure how to tell Richmond the news. After some subtle hedging, he bit the bullet and took the direct route. "Colonel, I regret to report that at least five of the Beckingham's crew were witness to his execution by Fort Ticogah personnel three days ago."
Richmond was anything but surprised. He'd heard dozens of reports just like Onoma's, all eventually proving false.
"Okay lieutenant, thank you." He dismissed the officer.
Grant waited until they were alone. "Well?"
The entire situation was far too suspicious for Richmond and Grant knew it. "There is no proof Miss Spollen wasn't affected by the same thing that killed her fa --" began the head of the Secret Service.
"She didn't sound insane to me.... even Vandegrin was barking mad right off the bat, Colonel." The President chewed thoughtfully on an unlit cigar. "We have to take this as genuine," he finished.
"Why would Sarff effectively commit treason to send that message?"
Grant's eyes narrowed. Patriotism as defined in his own country by the recent unpleasantness carried a certain duality in his own memory.
"Treason in this case depends upon how you look at it, Douglas. War against the rule of Great Britain is treason to many..."
The Colonel nodded. "Yes, of course. But the bottom line is that the United States will surely be blamed for war if it is allowed to happen, Mr. President. Regardless of the final outcome."
Any time Canada made noises about independence, fingers were pointed in their direction. Win or lose, Great Britain could conceivably come after the United States. The recent unpleasantness had severely drained their resources; another war had to be avoided at all cost. As usual, Richmond was invariably correct, which was why Grant actually listened to him rather than the men who were supposed to be his advisors.
The president of the United States made his decision. "We have no choice in the matter -- I'm sending our Navy to intervene at the earliest possible second."
* * *
The lights were out, but the door was wide open and the real question was whether anyone was actually at home.
From atop the secondary gold wire control room, West again peered down at the two henchman below. It had taken forever to skirt all those thugs in the forest of pillars but he was certain he'd lost them in the end. Not a whole lot of high intellect had been chasing him back there...
These two below hadn't a clue he was up there, either. Easy targets. But that open door was bothersome. Rather unsubtle for a trap. The thing about traps -- once they're sprung, they're no longer a threat.
He dropped silently to the ground and ducked behind some old equipment. The two gunsels were oblivious; they continued to read a series of pressure gauges, jotting things down in a notebook and fussing with the dials. It was simple to step up behind the nearest without being heard.
Jim tapped him on the shoulder. Startled, the thug spun and was eliminated with an easy punch. The second turned to find the first guy flat out cold, the man's gun already aimed straight at him. Its holder smiled slightly at his shocked look. The thug started to simply drop his gun on the hard floor but West stopped him. Placing one finger against his lip, West directed the man to silence and motioned for him to set the gun down carefully, quietly. The man began to kneel down when suddenly three more green gunsels came charging in from the gallery. Their lost quarry now found, they dove with enthusiasm after the agent.
West no choice but to turn his attention the newcomers. As he did so, the man he had at gunpoint knocked away the agent's gun and leaped at West. Hand to hand wasn't the thug's strong point. He was disposed of just as the other three entered the fray. Blows were exchanged, then surprisingly the three suddenly pulled away from their quarry. West looked up just in time to see Gibbs barreling down on him. Agent and henchman collided, flying backwards towards the central chamber and through the inner door into pitch darkness. The opening sealed with a hiss behind them.
West was on his feet in a flash but remained perfectly still, alert to any sound. Then he heard it, the telltale shuffling nearby as Gibbs regained his feet and began moving around. A few more seconds and West had Gibbs exactly pinpointed. He tackled the larger man head-on in the dark; they slammed into the slick wall together.
"That's enough, Gibbs." a voice echoed in the darkness.
The flood of light came up all at once. Gibbs shook himself loose from West's grasp as Jim slowly released him and scrambled to his feet. West had the drop on the henchman with Gibbs' own gun, but from behind the click of a rifle bolt being slid back immediately devalued his superior position. The gun he aimed at Gibbs lowered slightly.
Turning slowly on his heel, the agent found himself facing Dr. Nelson and his fantastic device. The device was purposely ignored; West cocked Gibbs' gun and raised it in the scientist's direction.
The sight of the gun brought only satisfaction to Nelson's face as he carefully stepped aside. Just beyond, another gunsel in green held an augmented rifle point-blank on one slightly pale, but very much alive Artemus Gordon...
Gibbs' gun involuntarily lowered as West stared, unable to hide the shock which momentarily crossed his features.
As West's stoicism quickly returned, Dr. Nelson turned smugly to Artie. "If you remember, I said there were two reasons for keeping you around." He indicated Jim. "You now know the second."
With a nod from his boss, Gibbs enthusiastically shoved Jim toward Artemus, re-acquired his gun, and aimed it happily at the two prisoners. With an icy glance back at the henchman, West took up position next to Artie and awaited the inevitable explanation as Nelson faced them.
"Mr. West, Mr. Gordon. I'm pleased I could hold this little reunion for you before you die."
It was crystal clear to both agents that they had not only been expected, but also anticipated. How this had been accomplished so successfully remained opaque.
West glanced carefully at Nelson, then Artie. "Who should I be thanking?"
"Where are my manners? Jim, this is Dr. Lambert Nelson, late of the University of Toronto, and his pet doomsday device."
West finally allowed himself to inspect the room. 'Room' really wasn't an adequate way to describe the place. 'Hollow glass cylinder' was better. The cylinder itself was constructed of a nearly transparent solid, and stretched up into the darkness and out of sight. A ladder ran up one side, with simple retractable platforms breaking its rhythm every so often. A myriad of pipes and ducts protruded from the floor in an all-too familiar configuration.
It was the colossus that occupied the very center that Artemus had referred to as the doomsday device. In this case doomsday came in a simple package, a giant coil of wire stretching away into the darkness. A full seven meters in diameter, it stood at the precise center of the cylinder. The wire used in the coil itself was as thick as a man's torso. Scattered scorch marks upon the wall and a single large mark on the floor merely hinted at the lethal power of the machinery.
As West took the sight in, Nelson strolled around the coil's perimeter, at the same time analyzing its structure and enjoying its artistic form. When he'd decided West had had enough time, the scientist looked expectantly at the man he'd worked so hard to capture. "Well, Mr. West?"
"Impressive, if it's high voltage you're after. The question is, can it be controlled?"
Nelson's stroll carried him back in front of his all-too-stoic prisoners. "Gentlemen, there's no need to play your little game," he informed them. "I am going to tell you all about it. In fact, I think it's only fair you both experience the doomsday device first hand."
Artemus stared at the charcoal mark upon the floor. Jim followed his gaze. "I've seen it first hand -- " Artie began, grimly. Turning back to the scientist, his tone switched to sarcasm. " -- and your special charm with the ladies, Nelson. Tell me, how do you do it?"
The thug with the rifle moved to strike the prisoner for his blatant insubordination, but Nelson waved him off. The doctor's brow furrowed as he considered killing both of them out of hand. Then reason took over again. These two could be useful in furthering yet another small study of his...
"I'm going to ignore your careless disregard for the well-being of both you and your partner, Mr. Gordon... for the moment, that is. What you saw first hand was only a test of the coil itself, simply the means to the end. This device has a much greater destiny than performing the odd execution."
Jim indicated the violent scorch marks on the walls. "You've obviously got a containment problem, Doctor Nelson. How do you keep your pet on its leash?"
"At the risk of boring Mr. Gordon to tears, let me explain." Nelson went to the forest of ducts and pipes. "Air is a weak insulator, Mr. West," began the explanation, "and although the Ice-Six surrounding the coil is exceptional at containment, internal arcing could conceivably destroy it." Nelson tapped his foot, the sound had a hollow ring. "Below here are a series of frighteningly efficient compressors which maintain the atmosphere necessary to protect the device."
Artemus yawned very obviously at their host while West put two-and-two together.
"An atmosphere you bring in by dog-sled, I presume." Jim added to Nelson's explanation. "One that causes dementia in almost everyone exposed to it."
This time Nelson was unable to hide his surprise -- and irritation. These two deserved the care and planning he had put into their capture, and upcoming demise. "Bayounium is an excellent gaseous insulator which, unfortunately, has very dangerous effects upon the human psyche. You've both seen the results of exposure; Admiral Spollen and, sadly, my wife Jessica. I must correct you on one point. Dementia eventually occurs in 100% of all exposure cases. It's been well documented by natives of your deep south who collect it from estuary swamp land. No one is immune."
The prisoners exchanged glances, Artie looking carefully at Jim. By his own admission, West had been repeatedly exposed to the lethal gas.
"You have developed an antidote, Nelson..." Artie's tone and expression were accusatory.
There was a twinge of... of doubt, perhaps, or maybe even fear on Nelson's visage at the double-edged question. Then a smug exterior quickly covered the show of weakness. The man forced a smile. "Why bother?" The scientist shrugged. "Everyone here is expendable except myself. If I were to be exposed, none of my men hold the necessary scientific or medical acumen to successfully administer an antidote."
"Not even Mrs. Nelson, doctor?"
Bulls-eye. The effect was tangible to even Jim, who'd just met the man.
Nelson was at a loss for words. He rubbed his palms together as he tried to decide just what Artemus meant. The veneer of superiority finally returned, this time with a crack in its surface as the man carefully chose his answer.
"Especially not Jessica, Mr. Gordon. She has already been exposed to the gas."
Artie suppressed a smirk; right then it was no secret to everyone in the room that the agent didn't believe Nelson as far as he could throw him -- one-handed. Complete control of the situation was slipping away from the scientist. He knew it and now so did his prisoners and his men. The loss made his quick-fire temper even quicker. "Any more tedious questions, gentlemen?" he snapped as he moved for the exit.
"Just one." West replied. "Besides an overgrown night light, what exactly is this thing?"
Nelson exited the central shaft, followed by the agents and their entourage of armed thugs. Gibbs brought up the rear, sealing the door with practiced efficiency carefully behind him. Artie watched the gunsel go through the procedure, then move behind the prisoners and turn his back to them. Checking the pipe pressure, Gibbs grabbed a large lever that protruded down low from the pipe forest, drawing it forward until it read "B". Creaking and hissing of the pipes signaled that the compressors were now back on lethal line.
As Gibbs finished, Nelson removed an elegant fob from his vest and glanced at the watch. "It appears I do have time to oblige you with one last answer, Mr. West." The scientist looked up into the darkness. "What is it? I call it the MATON -- a contraction of the words 'matter' and 'cannon'; two simple words which accurately describe its function."
Artemus yawned again, and Nelson resisted the urge to relieve the man's severe exhaustion permanently.
"At the top of that coil," he continued, "a variant of Ice-Six in its gaseous state is pumped into a small chamber and a fantastic electric potential the likes of which has never before been possible is generated across it. I adjust the unit to receive as much current and voltage as I need. The MATON then produces the projectile that will cause whatever damage I deem necessary for my purpose."
While Nelson rambled on, Gibbs finished the adjustments and was facing the agents once more. The four, armed guards raised their weapons a bit higher as the head gunsel inspected each in turn.
"And your purpose is what, exactly?" Jim asked, fully aware of the gunsels' shift.
"Altering weather -- yes?" Artie answered for Nelson.
By his reaction, Artemus was spot-on. Nelson didn't like it. "You have been correct a number of times, Mr. Gordon," he confronted the annoyance. "Care to finish?"
Suppressing the grin once more, Artemus put on a show of exaggerated modesty. "Oh no, no. I couldn't possibly. You, Jim?"
West could. "Judging from the different behavior of the Ice-Six solid just in this room, I'd say your projectiles could vary in density, temperature, and perhaps charge content," the agent delivered evenly.
A cloud crossed Nelson's brow. These two were far too smart for anyone's good, especially their own. "Anything else, gentlemen?" The question had threat written all over it.
"Yes -- " Artemus snapped to attention. " -- may I be excused?"
West took careful note of Nelson's reaction to his partner's show of attitude. The megalomaniac's jaw was clenched, he fingered some sort of firearm in the pocket of his coat as he convinced himself not to use it -- for the moment. Artemus was really pushing; the exact reason behind Artie's play was unknown... there had to be some piece of information Jim didn't have. Time to go fishing, then.
"You're the scientist, Nelson. You tell us how your MATON works."
West's suggestion diffused the impending explosion -- the logical experimentalist in Lambert Nelson won the game but the score had been a great deal closer this time. Another crack from Gordon and science would take a back seat to something much more primal... perhaps he had actually been exposed to the Bayounium after all. Nelson removed his hand from his pocket; West noted that the scientist's firearm remained behind as the timepiece hanging from the fob was scrutinized yet again. The man was on some sort of strict timetable...
"All right, Mr. West," Nelson obliged after checking the time, "here are your answers, then. Altering the density of the projectile gives you three specific results: the first produces a diffuse beam -- "
"Ahhh, a little something to frighten the natives. Colour green, if I'm not mistaken."
Nelson forced himself to ignore Artie's irritatingly flip interjection. " -- the second a long-range solid projectile launcher -- "
"For terrorizing ships, cities, and entire countries on a whim," the irritant continued to hammer.
"Aaaaaaannd -- "
This time the interruption came from the controls governing the pumping system. A loud chime sounded, indicating the central column was at the required pressure for operation... finally. Nelson's eyes softened. Thankfully it was time to dispose of these two and complete phase one of his experiment. The experiment was all that mattered now.
At the chime, Gibbs turned his back once more to the agents and worked the controls to the compressor lines. With Gibbs occupied, Artie carefully extracted a handful of the magnets he'd picked up earlier and passed them to Jim unnoticed. He then returned to provoking Nelson.
"Aaaannd?" Artemus echoed the scientist deliberately. "What happens to your little toy if the polarity of the main controls are reversed, Doctor Nelson?"
The madman feigned amusement. "Absolutely nothing." he practically purred.
"Of course. That's why all the controls are housed in these protected rooms."
No answer from the doctor, but West had understood the exchange perfectly.
Nelson had had more than enough of his audience. "Status, Gibbs," he snapped.
Gibbs about-faced. "Two-thousand four hundred millimeters of mercury, sir."
That was the magic number. Now Nelson smiled, and it was sinister. He made a sweeping gesture of grandiose finality with his hand, ending with him facing the central column, eyes dancing in anticipation. "Gentleman," he addressed his audience, "as you are well aware, the Canadian government went completely silent two weeks ago. I'm pleased to inform you that Britain launched their finest to investigate one week later."
The prisoners exchanged glances.
"My sources inform me that the United States mobilized their ocean-going forces in an effort to stop a war between Canada and her patron country."
"Ottawa's launched a rebellion force?" West couldn't believe it.
Nelson gave him a token glance. "No. But your precious country doesn't know that. The right word in the right ear, Commander Sarff's name does carry a bit of weight with your government -- am I boring you?" Nelson shot the last at Artemus, who'd gone suddenly very quiet in both expression and word.
"Intelligence will discover the ploy and President Grant will recall the fleet before the hostilities begin," West announced.
Nelson laughed as he admired the fruit of his labour. West sounded so self-sure; it was all so amusing.
Nelson's exact plan for the MATON's first large-scale target had finally become clear to Artemus. He stared at the self-satisfied madman, stunned. "It's barely Fall in Washington DC; no one will be prepared for what you're planning, doctor."
The madman thrust his finger at the device as he watched their expressions.
"I now have three atmospheres of Bayounium in that room. And another fifty feet of voltage multiplier. When I fire this weapon, it will scorch a trail straight through the earth's protective layer of air into the ether beyond, and back down directly over Washington....
...for a finite time, heaven shall meet earth."
Nelson smiled at Artemus. "And what is the temperature of space eternal?"
Artemus didn't respond, which delighted Nelson no end.
"Minus two hundred and fifty-eight degrees centigrade." He laughed. "Grant had better have a good coat!" The laugh became a roar.
West wasn't amused. "Then what, Nelson?" he asked, ice dripping from the words.
Nelson wiped the tears from his eyes. "I already control Ottawa." He chuckled. "Great Britain and the United States will go to war. Once London joins Washington under ice, there will be nothing left of the two strongest powers on the planet. It takes little imagination to see what I shall do next."
The doctor went through the now-very-familiar motion of extracting his watch one final time. "It is four forty-five PM in Washington DC, gentlemen. Fifteen minutes from now the streets will be full of innocent people heading to their homes and families..."
Nelson nodded at Gibbs. "...and I now have no more need of an audience."
With a look from Gibbs, two of the gunsels stepped straight up behind West, guns point-blank at his back. The other two kept their weapons on both men from a safe distance.
"When I've finished with them, you will take West to the mould center and... And make a new column out of him. B-22 is due to be replaced," he instructed. Then to Jim: "It should be an interesting experiment, don't you think?"
"Fascinating. Aren't you worried about the same cold blast from space taking care of you as well as Washington, doctor?"
"Hardly, this far under Hudson Bay."
The scientist thoughtfully addressed both agents. "Mr. West, Mr. Gordon, thanks to some careful research on my part I have your Achilles heel. And although it's more literal in one case than the other, happily in both cases it will do for my purpose."
Gibbs moved in and Artie knew exactly what the henchman had in mind. Both Nelson and Gibbs would take advantage of any weakness, and they'd discovered the one Artie'd been so kindly handed him by the vortex. He'd tried to force Nelson's hand by goading the doctor earlier -- before Nelson got around to this, but in spite of the man's volatile temper the doctor hadn't taken the bait.
Jim could take care of the two thugs at his back, but the other two were well out of reach and armed to the tooth -- and scared. In his current condition, there was nothing Artie could do to keep from being used by the madman as leverage against James West. The only leverage that could throw either of them off their game.
"I'm sorry, Jim." He barely got the apology out in time.
Jim had no chance to ask as Gibbs grabbed Artemus, energetically wrenching his left arm behind his back. Artie was instantly on the ground, there was obviously something terribly wrong...
West flew into action, disarming the guard to his left with his elbow, throwing a second straight over his head. The two guards further back hadn't reacted fast enough and were still taking aim at him. There was a split second when he had a chance to nail Nelson's main goon, taking out the other two in the process. The agent took a step toward Gibbs -- and froze. Nelson had finally managed to pull that derringer, and it was leveled at his partner.
West's split-second was over. Sights were locked as the two downed men scrambled to their feet and grabbed West roughly, meeting with no resistance as they tied his hands behind his back. Panic was written all over them as they remembered the standard punishment for letting the spy escape.
Nelson wasn't paying them any attention. He just smiled at West's surrender. "Know thy enemy, Mr. West," the scientist taunted the agent.
With West secure, Nelson turned his attention to Artemus. Kneeling, he lifted Artie's head with one hand, the gun remained leveled with the other. "I believe I made you a promise. One I intend to keep."
Artemus managed to look Nelson in the eye. "I- I would never have mis- mistaken you for a man of honor, Doctor..." he got out between breaths.
Gibbs tightened his hold for the remark and the man in his grasp nearly passed out. A few feet away, three of Nelson's men had a death grip on Jim, the fourth still held a gun on the agent.
Nelson fingered the derringer as he threw West a warning look, then turned back to the man who had hit him earlier. "Its recently come to my attention that extremely high-powered electronic and magnetic induction have some rather disturbing side effects on certain things too close to the source."
" th-- the vortex." The answer came out between gasps as Gibbs maintained his hold.
Nelson nodded. "An excellent example of the effect at a distance. Charges in the sea water respond sympathetically to the charges in the coil." The doctor leaned closer to his prisoner. "Being anywhere in this building other than the two rooms which are equipped to cancel the coil's effect is possibly fatal." The man was all smiles. "More experimental data is needed."
There was no answer from Artemus this time. Gibbs gave him a hard shake. The prisoner went limp in his hands. Apparently satisfied, Nelson got to his feet and dusted himself off as Gibbs dropped his load.
"Where do you want him, Dr. Nelson?"
The scientist was already thinking about his next step, dealing with either prisoner was past history. "Hmm? Oh, just tie him to those pipes," came the absent-minded answer.
As Gibbs was complying, Nelson glanced over at West. The agent had backed off, but the unspoken intent completely unnerved the Doctor. "Get him out of here -- now!" Nelson blurted, visibly shaken. No one had ever had that effect upon him before...
The thugs quickly dragged the prisoner out the door.
...and wouldn't again. A deep breath and Nelson headed for the control room. There had been no doubt what was in West's mind and he couldn't seem to lose the effect. Behind, Gibbs finished securing his prisoner and began to follow. Nelson stopped him as they reached the door.
"Follow them, Gibbs. Be certain they do it properly."
The henchman turned smartly and followed the execution party out as Nelson closed the gold doors behind him.
* * *
Back through the forest of pillars the execution party marched. Nelson's men were keeping a bit more than an arm's length between themselves and Jim, in spite of the fact that his hands had been tied. Their fear of both West and their boss made them extremely wary.
Back in the shadows was Gibbs. The thug believed he hadn't been spotted but West had seen him leaving the central arcade.
Because of the size of the group, an occasional pillar passed between the prisoner and one of the guards. Scanning ahead, Jim spotted a place where pillars would actually come between himself and two of the guards if they kept this spacing. That would be the best place to make a break for it.
Ever so carefully he triggered the sleeve gun mechanism. The derringer was back in the cell where he'd left it but the rod was perfect for chewing through rope, the end having been chipped and dented in his escape from the ice. Gibbs was far enough back not to notice and neither of the thugs lagging behind had a good visual angle on his hands. He went to work on the restraint.
The rope gave way just as the two thugs on his right disappeared behind pillars. West threw himself into the other two, easily catching them by surprise.
A shot whizzed by his head and ricocheted off the roof. Gibbs had moved in and was firing at him. Coming up with one of the guns, Jim bailed behind another pillar as the two thugs left standing scrambled for a shot on target.
Playing tag in the forest of pillars was becoming pretty easy with all the practice he'd had. The columns were staggered radial-ly, but wide open in concentric alleys. A quick look around put the thugs next to one another two and three columns away respectively. Nelson's gorilla was nowhere in sight, but couldn't have gone by without being seen. He had to be further back.
Extracting one of the magnets from a pocket, Jim threw it at the pillar almost directly behind the furthest thug. The two turned toward the noise and he darted forward, ending up directly between them without being seen or heard. He whistled and dove for cover -- fear had frayed the gunsels' nerves and both fired automatically.
Scratch two thugs.
Another bullet bounced off the pillar next to him. Gibbs was suddenly in the same alley as Jim, drawing down. West leapt out of the way at the last possible second. The bullet careened off one column, then another, then back over his head.
Being shot at was bad enough, but the combination of the columns' curvature and surface hardness was causing dangerous ricochets on top of it. He might be able to use those reflections to his advantage if he could find a flat surface. Or perhaps something else to ricochet.
Jim examined the form of the vaulted roof, thinking. The new dome in the Capitol had interesting acoustical properties. Artie had been making some observations about the shape of the thing. If the curvature was just right, you could reflect sound off it in such a way that someone whispering across the room sounded like they were right next to you. Apparently many domed structures exhibited this phenomenon. They'd made a few educated guesses and found not just one such spot, but seven in under five minutes.
Knowing Nelson's mentality, the surface of each quarter of these vaults was probably a perfect mathematical form and although they weren't continuous, he might be able to find enough reflective spots to completely spook Nelson's chief goon.
A quick glance around the pillar put Gibbs between him and the MATON, five columns away. From the gunsel's expression, Gibbs intended to hold that position.
Jim checked the vault directly above. Picking the spot, he moved his borrowed gun to what he hoped would be the right place and advanced the cylinder. <click> A quick glance -- Gibbs hadn't moved. He tried it again. This time Gibbs actually saw him and fired, pushing Jim further away from the center of the structure.
One more attempt. <click>
Gibbs jumped out of his skin, spun around and began firing at thin air.
West moved in two columns and repeated the trick. Again Gibbs spooked. Nelson was indeed a perfectionist. One column closer this time. The third time Gibbs didn't jump. He weaved nervously back and forth behind the column, hunting for the prisoner.
Now there were no columns between them other than the ones they were hiding behind. Jim had a clear shot at Gibbs' location. From his coat pocket he extracted an explosive charge and fitted it to the pistol's muzzle, took aim and fired. The charge exploded as it slammed into Gibbs' hiding place and the gunsel disappeared in the smoke.
Jim had to be certain. He stepped out from behind the pillar. From the smoke cloud Gibbs came flying. He crashed into West, the gun went off.
Scratch one more.
Taking the rest of the magnets from his pocket, Jim bolted for the rotunda.
* * * * * * * * *
Go to PART FOUR