Michael Hammond ran as fast as he dared across the rough floor of the lagoon. It should be full of water now, but the hydrofan’s sudden surge of power had sucked it right out. The coral beneath his feet still glistened.
It was absolute madness to come down here. If and when the hydrofan shut down, the water would come back with a vengeance. It said something that the Soviets hadn’t ventured out of their submarine when the lagoon drained. They had to be curious. The long, slender periscope was up, and spinning in a slow circle to surveil the basin. No help there.
I guess it’s all on me.
He had the start of a plan, though it wasn’t much. On her recordings, Dr. Brown had said that they made hydrofan runs of different durations at different times. That was essential to the experiment. That made hydrofan activity the dependent variable, which meant that it could be adjusted.
Now I sound like Tessa. No, he couldn’t think about her now.
He rounded the corner of the lab building but didn’t slow at the alley that led to its door. They’d explored it once already, but seen no controls. And it hadn’t felt like the control center. There was another building that had. It was smaller, square, and located immediately adjacent to where he’d first seen Segarra, St. Claire, and McBride in Soviet custody. In view of the submarine, to be sure, but more important, it lay almost exactly in the middle of the city and the lagoon. Right where you’d want to be controlling things.
There it was. He blew past the mouth of the alley—still no movement from the submarine to his right—and ran along the side of the smaller building. There was an alcove in the middle of this side, just as he’d hoped. In it was the entry hatch.
He skidded to a halt in front of it. “Shit!”
The round entry door matched the laboratory entrance perfectly, right down to the massive steel wheel. The same wheel that, on the other hatch, had taken two of them to wrench open. This was what he got for making half-assed plans on the fly. Well, it wasn’t like he could run back and ask the others to come help him turn it. He grabbed the steel ring in both hands and pulled. Unsurprisingly, it barely registered his best effort. But he could have sworn it moved a fraction.
“Come on, baby.” He crouched beneath the right side of the wheel, grabbed it low, bent his legs, and shoved upward. The metal of the spoke dug into his hands painfully. But the wheel moved. He found another grip and kept it turning before it lost all momentum. It still fought him, but less and less as it turned more. He kept at it, gritting his teeth against the insistent pain in his palm.
Then the wheel clanged with finality, and the door shuddered with sudden freedom. He heaved it open enough to squeeze through. The air inside smelled stale and faintly metallic. It was dry, though, which was encouraging. He plunged into the twilit hallway as the boxy sodium lamps flickered to life. It opened into a broad chamber. Mechanical control panels and switches covered most of the walls, almost like the cockpit of an airplane but larger. There are too many. No way he’d find the right control in time.
As the lights warmed, he could make out the labels above each station: Radar. Sonar. Weather Control. Security. He scanned the others, fighting a wave of panic. Where is it? Then he spotted it. Hydrofan. He kicked aside an ancient leather-and-metal office chair and leaned over the controls. There were glass-enclosed analog gauges for pressure, voltage, water speed . . . and everything was over the red line. The water speed indicator had actually broken off. Not good. He’d have killed for some security footage of the island or the shore, but this facility was about thirty years too ancient for that. Damn. Still, with the gauges complaining, the situation out there clearly hadn’t resolved itself.
The throttle control lever was positioned halfway between Off and Maximum. He tried the lever, and it moved freely with a little effort.
“It can’t be this easy.” He got a grip and shoved it all the way down to Off.
Nothing. The needles in the gauges didn’t so much as tremble. A small, round light flickered on near the left side of the console at eye level and began flashing about once per second. He scrubbed away the dust beneath it with his thumb and peered closely. Malfunction.
He moved the lever back to the middle and then made a quick, frantic search for some kind of emergency-stop button on the console. No dice. Most of what he had thought were controls were actually status lights like the one that helpfully told him there was a malfunction. The hydrofan lever was it.
“Son of a bitch!” He slammed his fist on the steel counter.
Maybe he’d have had better luck trying the power box, or even asking the Soviets to switch off their nuclear...