Adam Blake waited for the others to settle in their rooms before checking the contents of the cases. Everything was in order. He locked the cases and placed them in the closet, then left the room silently and walked down the hall. He walked upstairs and found a ladder leading to the roof. Climbing up, he paused at the top to observe the city around the hotel, then found a place to sit in a shadow.
The wooden ladder creaked as someone ascended behind the adventurer. Alec Swan poked his head above the roof entrance. He paused, not seeing Blake where he sat. He stepped onto the roof quietly. “Blake?” he asked.
“I am right here, Mr. Swan,” Blake said, from the darkness. “What may I do for you?”
“What’s going on here?” Swan asked. “Winston said that you were investigating earthquakes.”
“That is correct.”
“How do you go about investigating an earthquake?” demanded Swan.
“The earthquake was caused by an artificial power,” said the adventurer. “It looks natural to the casual observer, but closer inspection reveals a regularity that true earthquakes do not possess.”
“So that’s why we’re going to this island?” asked Swan, immediately grasping the picture, if not all the details.
“Yes,” said Blake. “I also expect a bit of trouble. That is why I hired Mr. Morrigan. Hopefully he will be able to protect Professor Nichols from harm.”
“Why bring Nichols at all?” asked Swan.
“He would have tried to come here on his own or with help from Dr. Rayne. I believe it would have ended in disaster.”
“Right, then,” said Swan, “I’ll come along and protect the professor.”
“This could be dangerous,” said Blake.
“I knew that,” said Swan, grinning. “Anything Winston Rayne is interested in usually is.” Swan descended the ladder and walked to his room. He checked his bag one last time before he turned in.
Blake turned back to his work after Swan had left. He produced a thin card and a black box from his pocket. Mating the two produced a green glow on the face of the box. His eyes scanned the light before he disconnected the machine.
Something was out there on the ocean, as he’d thought. It was something that should not have been here at all.
He replaced his equipment in his pockets before returning to his room. The adventurer lay on his bed for a long time before he slipped into the light trance he called sleep.
The next day, the group assembled at the airport. Hop Harrigan had found a small airplane that would suit their needs perfectly. Blake installed his cases in the back of the plane as Hop readied for takeoff. The ace cleared the airport as smoothly as silk.
“We’re on course for your island, Mr. Blake,” reported Hop. He seemed happy to be in the air again.
“Right,” said Blake. “I would appreciate it if you made two passes over it so we can see the lay of the land.”
“No problem,” said Hop. “Then we’re going to have to turn around. This baby doesn’t hold as much fuel as Jenny.”
“That will be fine,” said Blake.
The plane glided through the air and, soon enough, flew over the island once. As Hop circled to make a second pass, a smoke trail erupted from the island, indicating a missile. The ace did not hesitate as he tried to pull the plane out of the way. Instead of impacting on the main body, the missile ripped the tip of the wing off. The plane began to spin as Hop fought the controls. Blake’s hands settled over his and helped him pull on the wheel.
“We’re going to hit!” yelled Tank Tinker, pulling on his own control wheel.
The plane smashed into the water.
Blake barely moved as the plane skipped across the water. His hand flicked out, and the windshield flew away without protest. “I will get the others,” he said as the plane settled on the water and began sinking. “You two go ahead.”
“Right,” said Hop, unstrapping his seatbelt. He climbed through the empty frame and set off for the island. Tank followed moments later, grumbling about having to swim to shore.
Blake turned to help his aides. Cully Morrigan and Alec Swan were trying to open the hatch in the side of the plane; it would not budge under their efforts. Paul Twitchell made his way over unsteadily and fell against the portal. The whole thing fell into the Pacific.
“You first, chum,” Swan said as he pushed the stoolie out of the sinking plane. He turned to help Nichols from his seat, but the mystery-man was already guiding the professor toward the hatch. Carter Nichols seemed as shaky as Twitch.
“Let’s go, Professor,” Swan said. “We have a little swim to take, and then we will be able to dry out.”
Nichols, then Swan, and then Morrigan each jumped into the water and began swimming away from the plane. Blake got one of the waterproof cases, then followed the others. He had a feeling he would need the contents before things were over and done with.
The small group swam for the nearby beach. So far, the guards had not appeared to check their status. That wouldn’t last for long.
Blake hit the beach first, seeming to glide through the water like a dolphin. He placed the case on the beach and vanished into the tree line. He returned in a few minutes as his group made shore. He grabbed the case and led them away from the sandy stretch. He was pleased there was a minimal amount of talking as the men followed him warily.
He opened the case among the trees. Taking out a geiger counter, he waved the wand around in the air. For an island that had supposedly been hit with an atomic bomb, its radiation was not above normal, and the local flora had rebounded unnaturally.
Blake replaced the geiger counter in the case. He handed each of his men a round object resembling a grenade. He handed out tags for them to wear on their clothing.
“What are these?” asked Swan as he placed the card on his shirt pocket.
“They change color in the presence of radiation,” Blake said.
“I thought this place had been bombed,” said Twitch. “It looks normal to me.”
“It is normal as far as the geiger counter is concerned,” said Blake.
“How is that possible?” asked Nichols, aware of the study of radiation effects on the environment.
“The photo Twitch came up with indicated most of the activity was this way,” said Blake, pointing. He pulled a brown utility belt from the case before closing and hiding it among some leafy shrubs.
He led the way silently through the jungle. Twitch followed, shaking slightly. Swan walked beside Nichols, alert for trouble. Morrigan came next, drying his pistols with a huge leaf he had pulled from a fern of some kind. He worked the action on the automatics, wishing for a cleaning kit. Hop and Tank fell into the rear.
Blake set the pace, moving like some ghost. Swan noticed that animals still made noise until Twitch stepped where Blake had stepped moments before. He shook his head slightly. Nichols was his priority now, not Blake.
The small group trekked through the abundant flora as silently as possible. Suddenly, Blake held up a hand for them to halt. He vanished ahead for some minutes.
He melted back into view silently. “There are two guards ahead,” he whispered. “They are alert and armed.” The group nodded. “They are standing in front of what appears to be an entrance to an underground lair.”
A small roar sounded from the mountain at the center of the island. The earth shook underneath the adventurers. “I am going to take a look at the mountain,” Blake said, vanishing again.
As soon as he did, Morrigan started forward.
“What are you doing?” Nichols asked.
“I’m going to take a look and see what I can do to help out,” said Morrigan. “You guys stay here, and I will be right back.”
“No,” said Hop Harrigan, checking the pistol he had carried for many years. “We all go together.”
Adam Blake moved through the jungle like a big cat. He swiftly climbed up the slope to the mountain. Guards were stationed at the top to keep watch, and he slipped through their security to approach the mouth of the volcano. He pulled out the black box and inserted the keycard. The green screen lit up. He scanned the readout quickly before replacing the device in his belt.
His hearing alerted him to approaching men. He had been on the slope too long. He started off around the volcano’s rim away from the sentries. A fight was the last thing he wanted at this point. He headed down the slope with his usual blinding speed. By the time the guards arrived at where he was supposed to be, he was already among the trees of the unnatural jungle.
Blake circled back to where he had left his aides to wait for his return. He was dismayed they had vanished from the spot. His keen eyes detected a faint trail of footsteps, and he knew they had done something foolish without him.
Adam Blake’s eyes told him the whole tale as he approached the entrance to the underground base.
Morrigan had led the men to the entrance. He had stepped out into the open. The guards had stepped away from the entrance to detain him, and a brief struggle ensued. The guards had been dragged off into the jungle.
He found them trussed up, struggling with the rope that held them in place. He hit both of them hard with a single blow apiece. They would sleep for a while and wake up with terrible headaches later.
Blake stepped over the threshold of the installation and began to search for his men. Sounds of a struggle drew him forward. A pitched gun battle seemed to be happening down below. It approached him as he moved through the seemingly empty upper levels.
He took cover behind a huge vent shaft. Professor Nichols reached him first. He yanked the professor to cover beside him. He held a hand up to silence Nichols’ protest. He waited patiently.
Twitch ran up next. He paused when he saw that Nichols was no longer running in front of him. He looked around frantically. A hand waved him to cover behind another vertical pipe. He moved with a smoothness that belied his usual shakiness.
Hop and Tank came next. A wave sent them under a water tank of some kind. Swan took cover, firing his pistol behind him. He was waved past the hiding group. He nodded as he emptied his revolver and ran for the door.
Morrigan was the last man out of the depths. Every time he fired, a man dropped. He kept the guards at bay with his marksmanship until he saw a hand wave him back. He ran for the door, blasting away.
Armed guards rushed up to where most of the group was hiding. Blake heard the leader report the escape of his men. As soon as the man was finished, he leaped out among the guards. Flashing fists laid men out with every blow.
The fight was over in seconds.
“Take their clothes,” Blake said as he began stripping one man. A minute later, he wore the olive uniform. His group rushed to change clothes. Now they could blend in for a little while with the men below.
“Report,” Blake said.
“There’s a bunch of pumps that go into the ground down below, like a drill,” said Hop, speaking up first as the most experienced adventurer present. “Whoever’s in charge seems to be digging into the ground for miles. They even seem to have their own machinist shop for parts.”
“Adam, that drilling is the trigger for the earth tremors,” Nichols said as he found a pair of boots in his size. “The excavation must go down for miles.”
“They also have more than one drill at work,” said Tank Tinker as he buttoned a stolen shirt. “I saw at least four, and they are bigger than any oil derrick drill I have ever seen.”
“This is the plan,” Blake said calmly. “Harrigan and Tinker will secure some means of departure. I noticed a cove on the side of the island opposite where we crashed. Morrigan, Swan, and Nichols, there is a secondary control center on the other side of the volcano. That is probably where they are shifting the earth after it is drilled out. I want you to shut it down if you can. No unnecessary risks. Come with me, Twitch.”
The group of adventurers dispersed to carry out their missions.
Blake and Twitch tied up the fallen men who were still alive with rope from his utility belt before heading back downstairs. He kept to the shadows as he quietly inspected the premises. The informant stepped where he stepped cautiously. The mystery-man said nothing as the pair went. It was almost as if he knew the layout would be like this before he even got to the island.
He led the way to a wide-open command center. Before they entered, he paused. “Do whatever you can to the controls while I distract whoever is in there,” said Blake. The stoolie nodded.