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Installments will be posted on Wednesdays.
For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.
In recent installments…
Sophia patiently awaited the power generation capability of the OTECs so that she could accomplish the testing of her nuclear fusion device, but the OTECs kept being sabotaged. Now the power is available. Mexico is changing its form of government, and may have designs on the Paradise Islands and the wealth of the Island Project.
Chapter 38. Kidnap
Sophia lay on her back on the cold floor, staring up at a confusing snarl of multicolored wires. Cold condensation dripped off the frigid tubing nearby, pooling in a faint shallow in the cement floor under the small of her back. Her nose was inches from the high-voltage power cables, and, lying in a pool of water, she fervently hoped that the electrical insulation was adequate. With a flashlight in one hand, she squirmed in the narrow space, trying to angle the beam to better see the source of her consternation.
Week after week she had been working to tune the sensitive instruments that, if in perfect alignment, should initiate a controlled fusion reaction. The supercooled magnets, the particle-beam source, and the power and frequency of the laser all had to be intricately orchestrated by the sovereign computer that governed all. This computer was a small desktop model that for two years had been underutilized as a word processor in an administrative office. Now it sat silently on a small table in the middle of Sophia’s laboratory, proudly reigning over its domain.
It was not the computer’s fault that the gargantuan machine was not yet fulfilling its promise. Sophia had gone through the program more than a dozen times without finding a flaw. As far as she could ascertain, everything should be synchronized harmoniously. Yet the machine was not working.
She had started the day by tearing apart the particle beam, which was designed to impel small atomic nuclei at almost the speed of light through the near-vacuum environment of the supercollider piping. The superconducting electromagnets forced the particles to follow the gradual curve of the collider around its two-kilometer circumference repeatedly until they were hurled into a commanding laser burst. Everything was to be in order — or at least it seemed that way prior to her having taken it apart. But if she broke something, it didn’t matter; for the darn thing wasn’t working anyway.
Soon, she would have to turn her attention to the magnets that needed to be aligned in a highly precise manner. One magnet not perfectly positioned would foul up the whole flow of particles. She hated that she would have to do it, but each magnet of the two-thousand-meter collider ring had to be examined, measured, and repositioned. It would be a month-long process — a month of hell. There was only one hope left for a way to avoid it — the hope that she would find something wrong in the last curve of the collider, where the particles zooming around at incredible speeds were freed to travel in a straight line to the onslaught of the powerful X-ray laser. The direction of that line needed to be just right — but maybe it wasn’t.
And so Sophia worked with her elbows brushing against the frigid metal, with frostbite just a second away. Now and again, some exposed skin would contact a spot on the metal. It felt as if she were being burned with a branding iron. Several times she reflexively pulled her arm away so quickly that she smashed her elbow on a protruding piece of the machine. In the morning, no doubt, she would look as if she had been beaten. She found no humor in her funny bone today.
She heard the familiar squeak as the door to the lab opened: one of her assistants was coming in for some late-night work, she suspected. Everyone worked odd hours. Up to her armpits in the bowels of the collider, she did not feel the urge to greet them just now. They would not even know that she was there, and she could finish this job in a few minutes anyway, if she were not interrupted.
She moved the flashlight around in a nearly futile attempt to follow each wire from its origin to its insertion point on the complex electromagnets. She had to track over sixty wires and their like-colored connections. Plain wires, colored wires, and striped wires were mixed up like spaghetti. Each piece of vermicelli had to be inserted at the correct connector. She tracked the wires through the maze above with her fingers and eyes: yellow to yellow, green to green, red to red, blue to red, white to white. She paused, and moved her light back. Blue to red. The blue wire from the control panel behind her continued on to the wire that she now examined. It should attach to a metal screw with a blue label above it. But instead the end was screwed in place one connector over, with the free wire ends mingling with ends from the red wire in a beautiful example of how not to run electrical wiring. She grimaced as she recalled that she had wired this herself six months earlier.
She remembered that well. She had been working late in order to put the job behind her. Her flashlight had been dimming and she had almost fallen asleep. It was no wonder why she had made a mistake. Since then, she and others had worked under here, never spotting the miswiring.
But that little error probably explained a lot of the problems they had been having. She hoped that the simple correction would solve everything.
Sophia twisted her arm out from the tangled wires and felt around on the floor for a Phillips-head screwdriver. Since she was unable to find it by feel alone, she craned her neck around to view the floor beside her.
To find the screwdriver, she would need to extract her other arm from the tangle of wires so that she would be free to roll over and get a better look, but that would cause her to lose hold of the connection that had been causing her trouble. “Crap,” she snorted under her breath. It would be easier to call for help than to start this over again.
She heard the rustling of papers. Whoever had come into the lab a moment ago must have been digging through the paperwork on one of the lab benches. She called out. “Hey, would you mind getting me a small Phillips-head screwdriver?”
There was no response, but the papers ceased to rustle.
Sophia tried again. “Hello, can you hear me? I’m up to my elbows in wires here.”
Still no response.
“YO! Who’s out there?” Sophia was irritated. She pulled herself free, losing the tenuous hold she had on the blue wire. She rolled out from under the machine, with condensed cold water soaking the back of her light shirt. Her knees and back were stiff, and it took her a moment to straighten out.
After ducking under the collider tubing, she strode around a row of tall metal filing cabinets to find herself face to face with the black muzzle of a gun.
The man holding the weapon had an icy black stare, and the corners of his lips were turned down. He was olive skinned and dressed in white shorts and a flowery tropical shirt that belied his evil intentions. Over his shoulder hung a black leather satchel.
“I am sorry,” he said in heavily accented English. “I do not know where you keep your screwdriver.”
“Who are you?” Sophia demanded. “And what are you doing in my lab?” It was a weak question, borne of panic.
The man lowered the gun slightly. Now it aimed at Sophia’s chest. “I am no one of concern,” he replied. “Am I correct in presuming that you are Sophia Bjarnasdottir?”
“Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not. Sometimes I don’t remember.” Sophia was regaining her composure. For some reason, it was much less intimidating to have the gun aimed at her chest than at her head. But the panic returned when the gun lashed against her cheek. She cried out in pain and fell to her knees.
The man grunted and smiled thinly. “Would you be so kind as to show me where your lab notebooks are — the ones that pertain to this grand machine you have built.”
Sophia wiped the blood from the swelling wound. “Are you planning on stealing this technology? Is that what you are after?” Sophia shook her head. It hurt. “If you would just wait a week or two… everyone will know about it.”
The man replied, “So I understand. Now where are your lab books?”
“There.” Sophia pointed toward the little computer that controlled the collider and laser. Sharing the desk with the computer monitor was a stack of four brown soft-covered notebooks; each was stuffed with dozens of papers and bulging as if pregnant. “You can have them if you want. But my writing is pretty lousy. I’m telling you it would be easier to just wait a couple of weeks.”
“Hmmm.” The man nodded, as if in agreement. He moved to the desk while keeping the gun trained on Sophia’s chest. After thumbing through the first two notebooks, he seemed satisfied. As he slid them one at a time into a broad pocket of the leather satchel, he asked, almost nonchalantly, “How soon are you expecting your coworkers to arrive?”
Sophia presumed he wanted to get out of there before anyone else saw him, and she didn’t mind encouraging him to leave. Everyone would be here for the weekly lab meeting, first thing in the morning, and likely would not show up before then, but she was happy to stretch the truth a little. She glanced at her watch. It was two o’clock in the morning. “We have a lab meeting planned this morning at eight o’clock, but people often come in to work several hours before then. In fact, I am expecting some people very soon.”
The man eyed her suspiciously. “Sounds like you have a dedicated team.”
“Very.” She paused and then added, “The security guard will be by soon, I think.”
He grunted in acknowledgment as he searched through the desk drawers of the computer station while keeping a wary eye on the girl. “Are there any computer disks that record your lab work?”
She replied, evenly, “I wouldn’t know.”
“Who would know, then?”
“I wouldn’t know that either.”
“You are not very helpful.”
“Do you expect me to be?”
“Perhaps you will be later.” He moved toward her, then reached down and grasped her wrist forcefully, pulling her to her feet. He slapped a handcuff on it before she realized what was happening, and attached the other end to a thick vertical water pipe.
“Any noise out of you will be your last,” he warned. “Don’t test me — not even once.”
With the leather satchel still over his shoulder, he ducked under the tube of the collider and disappeared around a corner. Sophia immediately began working on her handcuff, but it fit too well. Over the next several minutes, she heard a few unidentifiable noises from areas of the lab that were hidden from view. Then he was back.
Producing a key, he removed her fetters and motioned toward the laboratory entrance with his gun. “Come with me.”
“If you don’t mind, I would like to stay here. I have work to do. What do you want with me, anyway?”
“Maybe I just want you to live. If you stay here, you will not live, I assure you.”
The fear that she had suppressed so well hit her hard in the stomach. My God, she thought, he is going to destroy the lab.
“No!” she cried. “You can’t do this. Please don’t.” So much work had gone into this. And she was so close. Besides, Petur needed for this to succeed.
The man said nothing; his face showed no emotion. He moved his gun again as he repeated his command with assurance and struck her other cheek to demand submission.
As Sophia stepped out the door, gun at her back, she took one last glance over her shoulder at the supercollider. There were tears in her eyes as she grieved that it would never have the chance to prove itself.
Khamil waited impatiently in the small room of the bungalow. Azid had been gone for longer than planned. As the island had no security system, it should have taken only a moment to get in and out of that laboratory. He flipped the button on the remote control, and browsed through more than a hundred signals transmitted from various countries. He settled on a channel that originated in the United Arab Emirates. It showed a boring, poorly acted TV drama. After a moment, he turned back to the blonde Americans in swimsuits who were engaged in a silly adventure.
More time slipped by. In the past, Khamil would have been out there with his friend, aware of any trouble. Now, he had to stay behind, like a wife awaiting the return of her husband from a battle.
After what seemed like several hours, the door opened. A girl stepped in. Khamil rolled across the bed, yanked a gun from below a pillow, and aimed it at her head with the trigger partly squeezed. The girl swore and turned her head. Her eyes were closed tight as she braced herself for the shot.
Azid walked through the door behind her. He raised his hand to calm his partner and closed the door behind him. Khamil’s hand relaxed, and he tucked the gun under the pillow again.
“I ran into someone,” Azid said in Arabic.
Khamil nodded. “Yes, it would seem so.” He looked the girl over. Her clothing did not flatter her, and it was rather greasy. She was thin, with shockingly bright blonde hair and a suntan that said to him that she had been born and raised in Hollywood. Despite the blossoming purple bruises, her face was an elegant sculpture, and her eyes glowed with searing intensity. This was a woman to be admired.
“Might I ask what you are planning to do with her?”
“She is going with us.”
“Because she invented the machine. We want all the information we can get out of her before we destroy it. She happened to be in the lab when I entered; so here she is.”
“I hope she likes living in a tin can.”
“Are you all set to go, my friend?” asked Azid.
“Certainly. Shall we check out of the hotel?”
“We will send them payment later. I am sure they won’t mind.” Azid switched over to English. “Dr. Bjarnasdottir, I am afraid I must invite you on a little boat trip. You must not make any noise — no noise at all. Do I make myself clear?”
The girl had no choice but to obey. Khamil stood up with difficulty, pulled his gun from under the pillow again, and started for the door. Azid grasped a small sack off the floor, tossed it over the shoulder with his leather satchel, and flipped off the light switch. He guided his hostage onto the small porch. It was still not yet three o’clock, and nobody was out and about, so they moved across the beach unobserved.
The waves were tall and loud as they crashed on the sandy shore. The three had to walk near the vegetation line to keep clear of the water, as each wave reached its tentacles toward them. It was a long walk, and the girl began to talk.
“May I speak now?”
Azid looked around. There was no one in sight. He nodded, knowing that the light from the stars above would illuminate him well enough that she could see his sign of approval.
“Would you mind telling me your names?”
Azid nodded again. “Certainly. I have misplaced my manners. I am Akheem Azid, and my companion is Khamil.
“This walk along the beach is much nicer when I am walking with my boyfriend.”
Khamil, ahead a few paces, glanced over his shoulder, amused.
“And when was the last time you did that?”
“Too long ago,” Sophia replied wistfully. Each passing week had seemed interminable, with no word from Jeff. For all she knew he was dead and decaying and never to be found. Or perhaps he was in a foreign prison, with no one aware of his predicament. She had thoughts like this frequently, especially at night. That was why so often she went to work in her lab in the wee hours of the morning.
Perhaps these men had killed him, or imprisoned him, or tortured him. The thought clarified. Yes, of course, these were the men who had attacked the OTEC. Now they were back to try again, and trying to find additional targets this time.
She called ahead to the man in front. “Khamil, why are you limping?”
Khamil slowed while she caught up. “It is a long story. I think it would bore you.”
“I don’t bore easily.”
“Well, I had an accident. A boating accident.”
“Really?” she asked. “How long ago?”
“Did you break bones?”
“More than that: broke bones, lost skin and muscle, and damaged important nerves. It’s the nerve damage that’s the worst. There was a lot of nerve damage.”
“Bad luck.” Sophia tried to sound sympathetic. She thought rapidly. She remembered that Jeff had said that he had hit with his propeller one of the men who had tried to destroy the OTEC. Perhaps it was this man.
“Where are we going?”
“To a submarine, young lady.” Azid answered this time. “I am afraid that a submarine, especially this one, is not a particularly genteel place. You will be somewhat uncomfortable. It is cramped, and filled with unpleasant odors.
“Sounds wonderful. I am so eager to get there. How big is this thing?” A submarine was what Jeff thought had sunk the first OTEC. These were certainly the men involved.
“Size of a World War 2 submarine, and that is exactly what it is,” he answered. “It was designed to hold a hundred men. We carry only forty.”
Khamil added, “The sleeping arrangements are much better than one might expect.”
“And from where do you come?” she asked, not expecting an answer.
Khamil answered cheerily, “We come from the sea!”
Another few hundred meters brought them to the end of this part of the beach. Ahead was a dense overgrowth of jungle with a well-trodden path cutting through it. The three people moved out of the starlight and into the darkness. Khamil produced a flashlight that lit the path ahead, brightly but narrowly. The flashlight seemed to have an extended sleeve on the end, like a silencer for a pistol. The light would need to be aimed directly at someone’s face for him to know that the flashlight was there.
Once they had penetrated deep into the overgrown vegetation, Khamil stopped. It took him a moment to find the landmark he had set up — a plant with a few branches broken and much of its bark peeled off. Khamil motioned to Azid, who moved off the path and through the underbrush. He was back in a moment, and dragging a black rubber raft. He went out again, and came back with a small outboard motor. One last trip into the underbrush, and Azid returned with a fuel tank.
“Would you carry this for me, please?” Azid asked his hostage politely. He pointed down at the gas tank. “Although it is only partly filled, it is still a bit heavy.”
“If I lift that thing, I will crash it on your head,” was Sophia’s response.
Azid shrugged. “It was worth a try.” He picked up the raft and left the motor and gas behind.
Khamil gave her a little shove to get her moving. She protested angrily, and he shoved her again. He had been polite before, but she had not expected that to last. He was already acting brusquely.
They emerged on the beach in a moment. Azid returned to the jungle twice to retrieve the engine and the fuel. Within minutes, they shoved off from the sandy beach and paddled feverishly over the oncoming swells. Then they started the engine, and the boat shot off into the starlit ocean, heading toward nowhere.
Chapter 39. Kill Her Now
Jeff Baddori waited angrily and impatiently on the bridge of the submarine. The wind was brisk, at more than twenty knots, and as the sharp waves sliced against the hull they sprayed the three men, including Jeff, who stood watch on the boat.
Azid had said that this sortie on the island was only a reconnaissance trip, and that Khamil would come along with him, and Baddori would be coming when they intended to actually plant the bomb. Maybe that was so, but Jeff was concerned that he was not in adequate control of the situation. Khamil had been lobbying Azid to get rid of Jeff since the beginning. Perhaps he was jealous that Jeff was still in good shape, despite having been injured recently. Perhaps he sensed that Jeff did not share Azid’s ideals. Either way, Khamil was a danger.
He could have just killed Khamil and Azid. They were evil people doing other evil people’s assignments. Azid would have killed Jeff without a second thought that night on the OTEC, had Jeff not been so lucky and so good. They were due to die. But Jeff was not a judge and jury, at least not yet. Jeff was not queasy about killing in self-defense, but he was not an assassin — although at one time he had almost become one.
Azid never saw his face that night, so Jeff was fortunate to have had the opportunity to get in his good graces. It took many weeks of careful manipulation of numerous contacts, along with bribes, lies, misrepresentations, and some things that Jeff would always regret, to even get near Azid. And it took much more to get Azid to trust him. But now he was taking Khamil’s place.
While the two others were ashore, Jeff waited, stuck on the vessel. He almost decided to take over the sub, crash it on the beach and run to the lab to save it. But instead he gambled that he would have the opportunity to execute the plan that he had carefully worked out over the last two months.
The planning had been extensive. He had finessed to get high-level assistance from his compadres in the US government, who told him how to find Azid, and provided him with the little information they had on the man. It was a mutually beneficial transaction. The United States wanted Azid captured and tried for his suspected acts of destruction in many countries. Officials also made it a priority to find out who was funding Azid. With Azid’s old boss long dead, determining with confidence who was providing funding for him, and proving it, was a priority for the government officials. They gave Jeff help, but he took all the risk, since the United States would disavow all knowledge of his activities if things went awry and the public found out. He hoped things were not going awry now.
The skipper of the submarine tapped him on his shoulder and pointed out over the water. They heard the faint hum of an engine and then the slowly repeating chopping of the rubber boat as it bounced on top of the waves. He could tell that it was coming from the direction of the island, but he could not see it against the dark water on the moonless night. Good, he thought; they were coming back.
Jeff put on a pair of night-vision binoculars and looked toward the source of the noise. Through the binoculars he could see the approaching boat and the indistinct forms of three people on board. So they had taken a hostage.
His mind raced. This extra person could be part of a trap. Something planned out weeks ago. But why? If Azid was that concerned, he could have just killed him. The third person was more likely a dockworker, beach walker, or hotel butler who had seen them and become suspicious. They did not want to kill him on the island, for fear of the body being found. A dead body would put the island on the alert, which would make it much more difficult to plant the bombs.
Or perhaps it was a laboratory worker — someone from Science Hall who had seen Azid scouting out when and where to place the bombs. This last thought concerned him. The chance was not high, but this third person might have seen Jeff on the island, and might recognize him. He could only hope that his tan, which had darkened since he left, and his new, thick beard would protect his identity if such a person were to glance at him casually.
The boat was close now. With a wave of his hand and a gentle shout to a man below, the skipper alerted his crew that he needed some of them up on deck to assist with getting the rubber boat aboard. As the boat came in alongside, Jeff could see that the third person was a blond woman. And as she reached up to accept the hand that a crewman offered her, he could tell instantly by the manner of the motion that the woman was Sophia.
He swore under his breath.
The starlight was not sufficient to illuminate the face of anyone who did not wish to be illuminated. That would not be true below deck, where faces could be made out easily, even though the lights were red, as they were when the sub was on the surface at night. Jeff would have to act fast, for if he were to meet Sophia below decks, undoubtedly she would reveal him to be a spy by expressing surprise. Up on this dark deck, the others might not notice a look of shock on her face.
So he took a necessary risk. Dropping his binoculars so that they hung loosely from his neck, Jeff pulled himself over the rails of the bridge and slid down the ladder to the wet deck. As he landed at the bottom of the ladder, he turned and walked toward Azid, Khamil, and Sophia, and called out in Arabic just loudly enough that he could be certain that Sophia would recognize the timbre of his voice. “Why do you bring a woman here? What are you thinking? Kill her. Kill her now!” He spoke angrily and authoritatively.
As he approached, Azid held up his hand to silence Baddori.
Jeff came closer. He moved in toward Sophia until his face was inches from hers. The expression on his face was severe; the grimace seemed to reveal pure hatred as he angled his face around his girlfriend so that she could see him. Sophia pulled back instinctively as the menacing man approached. Her fear was real. And as she saw his face and had time to decipher, she continued to reveal only fear — without showing any recognition.
“Ahmad, my friend, all is well.” Azid attempted to calm Baddori. “This is the creator of the nuclear fusion machine. She just happened to be in the laboratory when I was placing the bombs.”
The bombs had already been set. The news hit Jeff like a tidal wave. He had lost his gamble, and the Island would pay for his error. He closed his eyes for a moment, and regained composure before anyone could see his dismay.
Jeff said in a calm voice, “I do not like changes in plans if they can be avoided.”
“I understand. But one must take advantage of opportunities,” Azid continued. “They have a laboratory staff meeting at eight in the morning. Everyone who works on the project will be there. We can destroy not only the machine, but the creators of it as well. It is an opportunity not to be missed.”
So the bombs had been placed but not yet detonated. Jeff glanced at the glowing dial of his watch. It was 4 AM. The sun would be rising in two hours. Two hours after that a dozen people would be killed, unless he could stop it. He would have to work quickly.
When the sky started to lighten, he would have no chance to do anything at all.
Jeff’s angry outburst in Arabic was incomprehensible to Sophia, but the voice was familiar enough. She knew immediately who it was. Undoubtedly he meant for his demeanor to prepare her to play a role — a supporting actress in whatever plot he had hatched. She was prepared to play that role. She was afraid only for a moment when his face approached hers, and for a moment she was not so sure that it really was Jeff. But her uncertainty abated when she saw his eyes. Disguised though they were by his sinister glare, she knew that the eyes were Jeff’s.
She wished that she understood Arabic. No one was speaking English. She had been ushered through a watertight hatch in the deck and had lost sight of Jeff. The men provided her with a stateroom, and locked it up firmly. The rust on the solid iron handle seemed to threaten to hold the door closed permanently.
She rifled through the drawers and cabinets, and searched under the mattress pad and in the small locker. The only item that appeared to have any utility was a piece of corroded steel wire, designed to keep the occupant of the berth from falling out as the sub rolled on the surface. It would be enough.
She began working at the wire. The wooden stakes holding it in place were rotting, and it took hardly more than a slight tug to rip them out of their positions. In a few moments she had fashioned a garrote. She bent the wire repeatedly and broke off a small bit at the end, with which she made a device that could look like a lock pick. It did not have to work. It just had to look like it would work. With these things accomplished, she settled down and awaited her rescue.
She did not need to wait long. The lock made a scratching noise, followed by the rusty latch’s grinding, squealing complaint as it was turned, and this tolled the arrival of help. The door swung open and there was Jeff — bearded, unkempt, and smiling that broad infectious grin that she loved. He reached for her and she fell into his arms. It lasted only a moment, but in that brief embrace they spoke volumes to one another.
“I love you, Jeff. Let’s get out of here.”
“We’re on our way. We need to make the lock look like we jimmied it.”
Sophia produced her prop, and while saying, “Done,” she pushed it into the inside hole in the door lock, and twisted it until it was firmly stuck.
While she was at the task, Jeff stepped back into the hallway where a young sailor lay unconscious on the floor, with a blue bruise on the back of his neck. He was tiny, and Jeff dragged him in through the door easily. Sophia handed Jeff the garrote. He looked at it quizzically, and then at Sophia admiringly. He turned the sailor over on his belly, placed the wire around the man’s neck, and sawed it lightly back and forth. After a few seconds he rolled the man on his back and inspected his handiwork. The skin on the man’s neck was deeply abraded, and bled in places, looking as if he had been strangled. The scene was set.
After closing the door behind them, Jeff and Sophia moved off down the passageway. They ducked into the abandoned radio room when they heard a pair of seamen about to come around a corner. The seaman passed by unaware of them.
Jeff hurried, and propelled Sophia along, and they were soon standing in the abandoned aft torpedo room. Quietly, Jeff opened the inner door to one of the torpedo tubes. Inside was a self-inflating rubber raft. He motioned to Sophia to climb inside as he pushed the raft in farther.
“If you go out through a hatch, they will see you moving on deck. This is the way to go, believe me. Can you hold your breath for thirty seconds?”
“Yes. But what about you?”
“I’ll see you again soon enough.”
“No, it can’t be soon enough.” Sophia contradicted him, calmly. She threw her arms around Jeff again and kissed him passionately.
When they pulled apart, Sophia took a deep breath in satisfaction. He kissed her bruised and bloodied cheeks tenderly. Then as the gravity of the situation set back in she thought to ask a question. “How do I inflate the raft?”
“Even when not inflated, it has enough buoyancy to float. Drag it out of the tube with you and follow it up to the surface. When you get to the surface, swim away from the sub. Try to find the lights coming from the island and head that way. If you can’t see the lights, just be sure to get away from the sub. When you think you are far enough away, pull the red handle on the raft and it will inflate. It’s a bit noisy, but the wind should cover the sound. There is a folding aluminum paddle and a compass inside. Sorry, no engine. Paddle as fast as you can. Head north.”
“No radio on it?”
“Not one that works. And I can’t scrounge one up for you. But we are not far from the island — about a mile. You will make it in an hour. The bomb in your lab is set to go off at ten past eight. If it is what I think it is, it will probably destroy the whole building. Don’t try to defuse it; just carry it away and place it where it won’t do any major damage.” He paused, and remembered his experience on the OTEC. “Oh, look carefully. There might be two bombs. They will look like canisters of yellow and blue liquid.”
“Each is an explosive, but it’s when the stuff mixes together that it makes a really big noise.” He ushered her into the torpedo tube headfirst. “I’m going to close the door now. When I knock on it, that’ll mean I am flooding the tube. Hold your breath and get ready to pop your ears. The water will be turbulent for a moment but then it will settle down. When the water settles, start swimming. The outer door to the tube will be open. Don’t let go of the raft!”
He started to close the door, and then reopened it. “Tell nobody that I was here — nobody. No matter what. Do you understand?”
“And tell Petur not to worry about the OTEC. Now that it has already proven its success, these men have no interest in it. They accept that that battle was lost.” He patted her foot. “I’ll see you soon.” He stated it as a fact.
The door slammed shut on the torpedo tube. Suddenly it was completely black. Black and cold. It seemed like an eternity of darkness. What was taking him so long? Finally, three confident raps on the metal prompted her to exhale completely, and then breathe in as deeply as she could. She felt a painful pressure in her ears, and then warm water flooded around her. Fully surrounded by the water now, she ensured her grip on the handle of the collapsed raft and pushed herself forward along the tube. It was much longer than she had imagined. There was no light ahead to encourage her. She had to trust Jeff that the outer door was open.
She reached out to push herself along the wall. This time she made no contact. She was out. She kicked madly through the darkness and pulled the raft with her. It began to pull her slowly downward. She struggled to hold on to it, to pull it back up to her, but she had the feeling that it was winning. Jeff had been wrong about the raft’s buoyancy.
Her lungs started to complain, so she let some air out and felt a momentary relief. No panic yet, but it would come. She still felt like she was being pulled down to the ocean floor, slowly but surely. She would have to let go of the raft. Another complaint from her chest prompted her to release more air through her nose. Again she felt better. Why did that make her feel better, she wondered?
She moved her way along the raft, quickly, and reached for the red inflation handle. It was a risk, for she would pop up right alongside the submarine, but she was running out of air, and it was the only way she knew of to save the raft. Damn, where was that handle? She groped without success. She let more air out of her lungs. There was not much of it left.
Suddenly, she understood. There was no light anywhere. She could not even see which way her bubbles were going. Maybe Jeff wasn’t wrong about the raft. Perhaps the raft wasn’t pulling her down. Perhaps it was tugging her up toward the surface. Though on the edge of panic, Sophia listened as her last remaining bit of logic told her to defy what her body was telling her. Swim down! Go with the raft! Another part of her brain cried out in panic against the logic. She suppressed it. She had faith in Jeff. She prayed he was right.
She dove in the direction that her senses told her was downward. In a moment, she broke out of the water and into an air pocket. She felt the air on her face, gasped deeply, and pulled it in strongly. An air pocket under water? Then, suddenly, her whole world flipped over and she knew up from down. She had broken the surface and bobbed with the deflated raft.
The ghostly gray hull of the submarine lay immediately next to her. The stars above lit it dimly. Tall waves struck the boat’s hull and threatened to take her with them. She caught herself breathing loudly, and concentrated on quieting down. It took several minutes to catch her breath enough that she sounded any quieter than a four-engine freight train. Then she swam silently away from the vessel. Up and down the swells she swam, unsure whether she was making headway and unsure whether the waves were toying with her: tossing her up in the air and catching her again, so that she would never make any progress.
Rising to the crest of a wave, she saw the lights of the island ahead of her. Good, she was going in the right direction. She looked back and sought to see the outline of the submarine, but it was lost against the blackness of the water. Had she gone far enough? Just a little farther, she decided, to be safe.
A few more minutes were all she could manage. Inside the raft with the paddle she would make more progress than if she were to continue to tow the cumbersome thing along. Or she could just drop it and swim in to shore. It was not too far. But there was the coral reef to contend with. It could cut her badly.
She pulled the handle to inflate the raft. It hissed loudly as the canister of gas emptied into the rubber tube. She hoped the breeze would cover the sound, as Jeff had said it would.
After climbing into the inflated raft, she felt around in the dark for the paddle. There it was. It took her a few agonizing minutes to wrest it free from its mounting and determine how to put it together. In the end, she succeeded. Looking back, she still saw no sign of the submarine — no searchlights interrogating the darkness for information regarding her whereabouts. She assumed that they had not yet discovered her escape. Lift, pull, sweep. She began the arduous task of paddling for shore.
Chapter 40. Escape and Evade
Back on the submarine, Jeff had no idea if Sophia had made it out of the tube and to the surface safely. He went directly to the conning tower and onto the bridge.
The waves had increased in intensity, and they sprayed him with slicing brine. He wiped the salt from his eyes and looked out over the water aft of the submarine. Nothing was visible — just the blackness of the water. If she had made it, she was doing a good job of staying concealed.
He stayed there for a time, and talked amiably with the officer who was on watch, and the seaman who was on lookout. He smoked a cigarette to provide an excuse for his trip above decks. Awful things. He hated smoking.
The sun had not yet even hinted at its pending arrival when Jeff moved back down below. Azid was in the control room examining a gauge that seemed to be malfunctioning.
“It says the outer door is open, sir,” the sailor told Azid.
“Is it true?”
“I doubt it, sir. This boat barely even floats; our gauges are constantly malfunctioning. I don’t think it means anything.”
“When did it say the door opened?”
“I noticed about half an hour ago, sir.”
There was a pause. Azid inhaled deeply, and asked politely, “How long have you been on board this submarine?”
“Two months, sir.”
“Ever been on one before this?” A gentle voice.
Azid then stretched his face into a look of maniacal rage and bellowed at the sailor so loudly that the man fell off his seat, “Damn you! Wake your captain and tell him about this. Then send someone back there to check on it by sight — now!”
Azid moved quickly down the ladder and into the main passageway, and headed for the place where Sophia had been locked away. Baddori followed closely in tow.
“Torpedo tube open?” Baddori asked.
“Yes,” was all that Azid said in return.
Baddori said, “If that gauge is right, then the woman is gone.” He added, “You should have killed her.” It was vital that he keep Azid on edge. He could allow no time for him to think.
Azid said, “If she is still here, I will kill her. If she is gone, I will find her and kill her.”
In a moment they were at the door to what had been Sophia’s cell. No man stood outside. Azid yanked at the door handle, but it did not budge. He pounded on the door with clenched fists, shouting up the hallway, “Get me the key to this door! Get me the key!”
It took several minutes before they met his demand. Several men sleeping in the berths nearby rolled out of their racks to see what was going on. They were met with the frenzied expression of a man gone wild. Azid’s eyes were black with rage, and he was shouting like a madman.
An unsuspecting young boy produced the key, and paid for the delay by taking a fist to his chin. Azid worked the door lock. The key did not seem to be the correct one. But then he twisted it hard and it turned, finally. The door was thrown open with a groan.
The small man on the floor had not moved. He still lay on his back, and the wire marks etched in his throat shouted out the cause for his state of unconsciousness. Azid picked up the wire from the floor and threw it to the ground.
“It looks like the lock was picked,” Baddori offered, pointing to the wire stuck in the lock on the inside of the door.
“Search the boat!” Azid cried out.
The men in the hallway were mulling about, with no one taking charge.
“Search the damn boat! Find the woman and bring her to me now, or you will all pay!” He viciously kicked the side of the unconscious man with the hard tip of his shoe.
Khamil and the Indonesian skipper, having both just fallen asleep, roused in response to the commotion.
Khamil limped over to his friend’s side. “What is going on?”
“The bitch escaped,” Baddori cut in. Azid was too out of control to communicate clearly.
“Escaped? So let’s find her.”
“Khamil, you imbecile, she is off the boat.” Azid was speaking through clenched teeth, trying to regain his composure.
“How?” Khamil asked.
Azid opened his mouth to answer, but Baddori preempted him. “She is not on the boat.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. But it is highly likely. The men are supposed to be searching the boat now.”
“The waves are too high to swim. She likely will not make it to shore.”
“True. But maybe she will.” Jeff needed an excuse to go ashore, and this was it.
Azid came to his senses. “No, that woman was fit and will make the swim. Khamil, you stay here. Look for her on the water. Move in closer to the island and then wait, submerged, for her. Use the searchlights only if you need to, and aim them out to sea. Baddori and I will wait for her on shore in case she gets past you. That is, of course, if she made it alive. The sun will be up in an hour. We have little time.
Khamil started to protest, but Azid’s eyes became fierce before he could speak. Khamil looked at Baddori with a suspicious sneer.
“Do not worry, my disabled companion,” Jeff whispered to Khamil after Azid stepped out. “I promise I will do the right thing.”
Sophia had already made it to the shore. She scrambled up the beach, leaving the raft to float off on its own. She was three kilometers from the nearest building, but fortunately her shoes, as wet as they were, had not fallen off in the water. She ran down the beach as fast as she could.
It took her fifteen minutes at a steady pace to reach the first bungalow. She had no idea who lived there, but it did not matter. Leaping up the steps, she pounded on the door. It took several moments before she saw a light come on, and a man appeared at the door.
In the light of the porch lamp, she must have appeared as a horrendous apparition, she thought later. Her hair wet and stringy, covered with sand from running, two symmetric and still enlarging violet welts on her face, she looked like a prostitute who had been beaten by a mark. But the man was kind enough to look past that.
“What on earth happened to you, young lady?” he said with concern in his voice. He ushered her inside, and seated her gently on a couch before walking to the kitchen in the back of the house.
“I am sorry to intrude. I need your phone.”
“Certainly. It is right next to you.”
As Sophia dialed, he placed a bowl of clean water and a dry cloth in front of her. A towel lay over his arm. She wiped the salty sweat from her forehead and cheeks, wet the cloth in the water, and dabbed at the bloody bruises on her face.
“Damn!” she exclaimed. Petur’s phone rang with no answer. She tried Elisa, and next Isaac, and finally Dr. Standall. Nobody answered. “Damn, damn!” She turned to the man. “Again, I am sorry. I am a bit out of sorts. Thank you for your kindness.”
She looked at the man carefully. He was old, with silver hair and cleanly cut but thinning beard. He had intelligent eyes that were a little saddened, perhaps by disappointment. His blue terry-cloth bathrobe could not conceal a mildly protuberant belly.
“Do you have transportation?” she asked, hopefully.
He nodded. “I have a cart in the back. You are welcome to take it, if you promise to return it.”
“I will. I certainly will. I promise.” He handed her a little black key as she said this, and she stood up. “I will explain it all later.”
“It’s alright,” he replied. “Now you had better move along before whatever-it-is catches up with you.”
She thanked him again as she slipped out the back door of the bungalow. The little golf cart was a cheaper model, the kind that was not terribly fast. As she followed the winding paths towards town, she kept the accelerator to the floor, trying to squeeze every bit of speed out of it. But the cart was in no hurry. The first glow of the rising sun appeared on the horizon behind her. It would only take a few minutes for the sun to climb up completely. But the sunrise was no longer the deadline. The deadline was now eight o’clock. She should have time.
She careened the vehicle up toward the front of Science Hall. The people on the island often used the rapidly rising sun as an alarm clock. But it usually took some time before people were up and about. Today seemed different. Eight carts had lined up neatly outside the building, and one cart now pulled in beside hers.
Dr. Standall got out of the cart. “Interesting morning, as I understand it, Sophia. Sorry it took me so long to get here. Had a late night last night. Somebody had a cold. I needed to try to cure it. I’m probably the last of the council here. Can you fill me in on what I’ve missed?”
He looked at her more closely now, and took in the disheveled appearance, the wet clothes, and the bruises. “Oh, my!” he exclaimed. “Sophia, what happened?”
Sophia had no idea what people were gathering at the building for. Had they learned about the bomb already? How could they have? Unless one of her lab team had come to work early. But then why gather the council together in a building that was about to explode? “Plenty has happened. But why are you here?”
“Petur called me too, of course. It would seem that I should know.”
“Know what?” she demanded, brusquely.
“About Mexico.” He stated it plainly, as if it were on the public record.
He saw the bewilderment in her eyes. His eyes narrowed. He asked, “Have you not talked to Petur this morning?”
“No, I couldn’t get in touch with him.”
“Oh my, young lady. We are dealing with two different matters, aren’t we?” He put an arm around her waist and led her up the stairs and into the building. “Why don’t you speak first? What’s going on with you?”
Sophia burst into tears, for no reason that she could identify except perhaps pure exhaustion. Through her sobs, she told Dr. Standall of Azid and Khamil and the submarine, and then about the bomb. She said nothing of Jeff.
Standall acted as soon as he heard about the bomb. He pulled the building’s fire alarm, which incited the whining buzz.
Within two minutes the first occupants began to arrive in the front lobby. Standall took a moment to examine her wounds, take her pulse, and reassure her. He had a calming effect that came from years of experience with helping fearful patients. Elisa came, and Isaac, Heinrich Poll, and Otto Wagner all gathered around Sophia, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor. Finally, Petur emerged from a staircase in the back. When he saw the people gathered around, he ran over and crouched on his knees beside his sister.
Sophia reached up and grabbed his neck, bursting into sobs once again.
“It’s alright; it’s alright.” He spoke in Icelandic, using the soothing tone his mother used when she pacified him and his sister in their sorrow. After a minute, she regained her composure and released him.
“There is a bomb in my lab, Petur — a bomb! It’s set to go off just after eight.” She wiped the tears away. Someone handed her a sorely needed tissue.
“Do you know where?”
“It’s behind the laser. Bottles of blue and yellow liquid. They are very explosive.”
Petur motioned to two men behind him, hurrying them off to Sophia’s lab.
Sophia caught her breath. “Wait! There may be two of them. Two bombs.”
Petur shouted the information to the two men. “I know that explosive, Sophia,” Petur said, thinking back to when he had been dangling by his fingers inside the OTEC while tons of ammonia poured down on him.
“Their names are Akheem Azid and Khamil. I am sure they are the same men who tried to destroy the OTEC. And I think they sank the first one too. They have a submarine. I was on board it.”
Petur looked up at Standall, questioningly.
“I don’t know, Petur. I just found her at the entrance to the building.”
Sophia interjected, “I’m alright. Just a little bruised. But they may come after me soon.”
Petur turned to Heinrich Poll. The tall German took note of this, and quickly moved away to make the necessary calls. It would not take much time to get enough people around to obstruct anyone who might be coming to harm Sophia.
Sophia related more details to Petur, and as she finished, one of the men who they had sent to her lab returned. He gently carried two canisters of colored liquid attached to a timer with wires.
“Found one of them. Still looking for the other. This one was just taped up with duct tape. Easy enough to take down, but I’m not sure I want to try to disarm it.”
“Do not try to disarm it,” Sophia commanded. “Just take it somewhere that it won’t cause harm.” She looked at her watch again. It was 6:40. There was plenty of time.
Petur sent two more men down to the lab to search for a second bomb. “Take that one out of here please,” he said, pointing to the canisters. “Around to the far side of the island. Toss it off the Southeast Promontory.” He was referring to an outcropping on the island that couples frequently used to explore their romantic inclinations. “And turn off that blasted alarm, will you?” he called to no one in particular.
Then he turned to his sister. “Sophia. It’s alright now. It’s under control. Good work.” He ran his hand through her wet and tangled hair. Her eyes were closed. He brushed his fingertips lightly along her bruised cheeks. She winced, and he withdrew.
“How did you get away from them?” he whispered.
Sophia sniffled and answered, “I will tell you later, Petur. Now it’s your turn to tell me something. What’s going on here?” She said it in the slurred voice of a woman drifting into a dream. “It is awfully early for so many people to be here. Dr. Standall mentioned something about Mexico.”
Petur’s look was soft and loving. A thin and troubled smile appeared on his lips. “I will tell you all about it, don’t worry.” Petur kept brushing his sister’s hair, calmly, soothingly. It was hypnotic. Sophia was now too tired to think, and soon she settled her head on her brother’s lap, allowing him to calm her mind by holding her head gently in his loving hands.
Chapter 41. Evacuation
The two men walking swiftly along the beach watched their shadows grow ever shorter as the sun rapidly climbed. Minutes ago, each shadow extended to the horizon. Now the shadows were confined to a small segment of sand no longer than a railroad car. Azid looked down at the sand to keep an eye on the footprints they were following. The footprints were spaced far apart, and evenly.
She had been running, thought Jeff. Good. By now, she should be safely on her way back to town. Soon she would be surrounded by a dozen friends. But Azid was certainly still a threat. He was half-crazed — no longer thinking clearly. He swore frequently.
“This island is my curse, Baddori. Khamil was correct.”
“Khamil as a person is becoming as weak as his body. He was once very capable, but now he is only part of a man.”
Azid said nothing for a moment. Then he spit out the words, “I am going to destroy this island. I am going to kill every man, woman, and child. I am going to destroy every building, every house, every shack, every toilet. I intend to never come back here again.”
Jeff walked along in silence, planning his next move. He decided that he had to calm the man. He had needed him on edge so that he would not be able to think clearly, but his anger was out of control now, and that made him dangerously unpredictable.
He said, “Akheem, we must take stock of the situation. We need to figure out how to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. We can do it, you and I. Let us settle down somewhere and plan the day.”
“I do not need to plan. I have this!” He patted the long leather satchel hung over his shoulder, which contained more evil-colored liquid, along with a few hand grenades and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Jeff had a similar supply of armaments. Azid’s satchel, however, also contained something else — something more devilish than the rest.
“You most certainly do need to plan. From what you told me earlier, planning is the key to your success. Why deviate from that philosophy now, when we need it most acutely?”
No response. This would take some time, and he had to be careful about it lest he suffer from the man’s wrath.
The two men continued their fast-paced pursuit. There was a building up ahead — a bungalow — and Jeff knew the footprints would turn from the beach and run into it, and indeed they did. Likewise, the two men turned, but instead of running up the steps and pounding on the door, they moved around the house silently, peering in the windows and checking the back door. When they had cased the place adequately, Azid indicated to Baddori silently that he should wait by the back entrance. Azid went back to the front and knocked on the door. No response. The next knock brought an old man to the door.
“Good morning. Can I help you?” the man said, more politely than one would expect so early in the morning.
Azid demanded, “Where is she?”
“Of whom do you speak?”
“The young blonde woman who was here earlier. Is she still in your house?”
The old man appeared puzzled. “At my age I can only wish that there was a young blonde woman in my house.”
Azid shouldered the man aside and marched through the door. The old man was about to complain, but a withering glance cut him short before he could say anything. The Arab searched the small rooms exhaustively and was done in less than a minute. He opened the back door to wave Baddori in.
“She was here,” said Azid, pointing to a bucket on the floor. The water in it was pink with blood and a stained white cloth lay over its brim. A sprinkling of sand lay on the floor in front of the couch. “What is this?” Azid demanded.
“I had a bloody nose?” the man responded.
Azid spun and hit the man backhanded across his chin and knocked him to the floor. “Enough of this playing around! When did she leave here? Did she go on foot? Does she have an electric cart?” He held the man by the collar of his bathrobe, with his head off the floor, and shook him. The old man had no time between the questions to even begin to answer.
Baddori put a hand on Azid’s shoulder. “Calm down,” he said. “We do not need this man to tell us anything to know where she is now . She made it back to the town and is waking the community as we speak. Let us move on. Let us make plans.”
Azid released his grip on the man, letting him fall heavily to the floor. “Yes, we will make plans, but no, we will not move on.” He rose and walked around the room, peering out each window. “We will stay right here. This is as good as any place for a base of operations.”
Baddori nodded. He set his shoulder bag gently upon a soft armchair and pulled out a roll of duct tape. Walking the old man into the bedroom, he wasted no time taping his ankles together and his wrists behind his back. He placed the tape across his mouth as well but neglected to seal it in place, so as to allow the man to breathe just a bit easier. He whispered something into the man’s ear. Then he moved back into the living room.
Azid sat on the couch, sifting through the items in his black satchel. When Baddori stepped back into the room, he hastily closed his bag and placed it on the floor by his feet.
“So what do you think we should do?” asked Baddori.
“I want to destroy everyone on this island. I see no reason not to.”
“How do you intend to accomplish such a feat?”
Azid looked up at Baddori, a dark hateful scowl on his face.
“You shall see. You shall see.”
Sophia regained consciousness in her brother’s arms on the floor of the atrium of Science Hall. A large contingent of islanders had gathered. It took a few moments for the fog of her mind to clear, after which she sat upright.
“Petur, how long have I been asleep?”
“About half an hour,” he replied.
“The bombs? Are they gone?”
“We only found the one. It’s been taken where it won’t cause any damage.”
She nodded, grateful that all were safe, and that her project was still intact. “How about Azid and Khamil? They may come after me when they learn I escaped. They may even try again to destroy the lab.”
Petur helped Sophia to her feet. “Isaac already made contact with the US Navy. He figures they can send those P-3s back, now that we know for sure we are dealing with a submarine. And the lab will be secure. Heinrich is organizing a security detail.”
“He’s a good choice.” She stretched each of her legs. Petur did the same.
“Will you be able to recognize these men if you see them again?”
“Certainly. I will never forget either of them. Petur, what will the Navy do if they find the sub?” The two of them walked toward the door.
“Isaac asked them to sink it.”
Sophia stopped, and responded impulsively. “No! They mustn’t!”
Petur wrinkled his forehead quizzically.
Jeff had said to tell no one that he was around, no matter what. Could she abide by that if the boat he was on was about to be sunk? No, she thought, but there was time to figure out what to do. She was sure it would be twelve or more hours before the planes could arrive.
Sophia backed off from her statement. “Never mind,” she said. “It’s a nice old sub, that’s all. And there are young sailors aboard. Just kids, really. Eighteen years old at most.”
“Well, maybe it won’t be an issue. But I think we have to take these guys out, one way or another, and sinking that sub may be the easiest way. It’s not like they are children, innocently selling cookies door to door. These ‘children’ are in fact dangerous adults.”
Sophia nodded in acknowledgment. She would have to give this some more thought. For now though, she was very tired. She needed a mattress. Then she remembered her question to Petur from earlier.
“Why is everyone concerned about Mexico. Is it starting?”
Petur took her arm and led her to his golf cart. “Thomas wanted to see you at his office when you awoke so he could clean and dress your wounds.”
Sophia stopped again. “Petur,” she insisted, using the familiar, insistent tone of a sister who would no longer be put off. “Mexico!”
Resigning to his sister’s demand, he replied, rather sadly, “Sophia, Mexico is reneging on our lease. We suspected it might come, and have been preparing, but thought we had weeks — perhaps months — more. We were wrong. We think they plan to nationalize the Island Project.”
“What? Petur, no! What could possibly give them the right?”
“Nothing gives them the right. But we have no recourse, I fear.” They climbed into his golf cart.
“Petur, we can fight!” Sophia was adamant. There were innumerable reasons why they could not allow this to occur. Too much had gone into the Project for a government to take it under its wings and suffocate it, or for the Mexicans to loot it. She was perhaps on the verge of making the single biggest contribution to mankind in all of history: cheap, clean, unlimited energy. They could not allow these people to stop it, nor could they allow evil governments to benefit from it.
“Perhaps we can fight, Sophia. Perhaps we can.” They started down the road toward Standall’s clinic. “That is what we were about to discuss when you so rudely interrupted us with this crazy bomb thing!” He grinned.
“Petur, you have to get back to that meeting!”
“They do pretty well without me now, in general. But I’m just going to drop you off, and then I’m on my way back.” He noted the concern in her eyes. “You’ll be safe. Look behind us.”
She turned her head. Close behind was another cart, with four men, one of them being Heinrich Poll. He was talking intently on a radio.
“They will stay with you. You’ll be fine.”
“How much time do we have until the Mexicans put their nationalization into effect?
“Three days. We have much to accomplish in very little time.”
“Three days. Well, I’m only going to take one day. Petur, I know you may not be in a state of mind to think about this right now, but we are ready, finally, to make nuclear fusion a reality.”
Petur was taken aback. “Are you really that close?”
“Not close, Petur: we are there.” She paused, reflecting. “At least, I think we are. We will find out today.”
He chastised his sister, incredulously. “You’re not planning on working today, are you?”
“This may be my only chance. You said it yourself, Petur: we have lots to accomplish in very little time.”
In the next installment (Chapter 42: A Bowl of Oranges; Chapter 43: Tension; Chapter 44: Cannisters of Death), Onbacher heads to Pitcairn Island to seek clues about the Bounty while Azid and Khamil try to destroy the island, with something more sinister than their chemical bombs. Sophia works feverishly to prepare for the nuclear fusion experiment.