When Dillon hit the icy water, the shock was so brutal that his muscles spasmed and cramped painfully. His lungs felt as if they had turned into sacks of mud and he fought the impulse to open his mouth to breath. Despite his body's demand for air, he managed to keep control, and his long arms and legs kicked him toward the surface. He quickly thrashed about, forcing his body to move. He stroked to the surface, gasping as he drew in deep gulps of air. He wiped water out of his eyes and took in just where he was.
The domed ceiling was studded with powerful halogen lights that lit up the interior of the Fishbowl like high noon in the desert. The entire chamber was huge, easily a quarter mile in diameter, and half filled with water. The only land in sight was a sickle-shaped hump of rock smack dab in the middle of the water-filled lower half of the Fishbowl.
Something brushed by Dillon’s foot and he jerked in surprise. Obviously he wasn’t the only thing alive here in the Fishbowl. He took in a deep breath and stuck his head under the water; curious as to what kind of fish Dr. Numby kept in such a place.
And he saw. And then Dillon swam for the rock, fast enough to set a speed swimming record for the thousand yards he covered, his arms a blur, his legs kicking the water into froth. He stumbled onto the narrow beach, hardly able to believe what he had seen underwater… a goldfish the size of a New York City subway car.
Dillon heard a whirring noise, as if a giant locust was approaching. He turned and watched as a metal globe maybe a little larger than the average human head floated over to his position, some ten feet above him. The globe bristling with lenses and sensors. A voice came from a speaker; a voice Dillon was beginning to dislike immensely.
“Please don’t feed the fish,” Chew Mi’s voice said with a giggle. “How do you like the Fishbowl so far?”
“You mean to say that Numby wants Odin’s ten million dollar reward just so he can grow bigger fish?”
“Oh, the Fishbowl is the result of Dr. Numby’s contract with certain pharmaceutical companies looking for a growth hormone. If I were you, I’d stay on the island until I send somebody for you. There are other species in the water that Dr. Numby has exposed to his growth hormone. Much more dangerous species.”
“I’m gonna get out of here and so help me, I’m gonna turn you over my knee and give you the spanking your daddy should have given you long ago.”
“Promises, promises.” The globe flew away to the ceiling and through a circular hatch that irised open and closed.
Dillon sat down on the beach and took stock of his situation. He’d been stuck in a lot of tough spots, but this was a humdinger. There was no way he could climb up to the ceiling and escape back through the hatch Chew Mi had thrown him through. There was only one way he could think of to escape. The water tasted fresh, which meant that there was some kind of filtration system cleaning the water, a filtration system that he could conceivably use to escape. The only problem was finding it. In a pinch, Dillon could hold his breath for five minutes; but it might take five minutes just to find the vent. But then again, it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do except hunt for the damned vent. He took inventory of what weapons and/or devices he had left.
Chew Mi had searched Dillon pretty well. But the girl was young, cocky, and too secure in the ability of her cyborg guards. She should have checked his teeth. Dillon had two fake molars, one on each side of his mouth. Separately, they were just fake teeth. But when crushed and mixed together, they formed a powerful explosive. That would be good enough to take out the vent once he found it.
Dillon heard wet, splashing sounds and whirled to his right, ready for anything. What he saw made him recoil in disgust and he scrambled to his feet. Dozens of pale gray eels were emerging from the water crawling on hundreds – if not thousands – of tiny legs. The eels were horrendously large, easily as thick around as Dillon’s thigh, and shards of rotting flesh hung from their jaws. Their huge mouths bristled with fangs that overlapped each other, gnashing and chomping in a writhing, disgusting wave that hissed and snapped as they surged forward.
Chew Mi blinked in surprise as her aide handed her a gold colored business card. “Alistair Frayne? He’s here?”
“And Lady Thelma Sharpe is with him, along with some of Frayne’s men and Sharpe’s bodyguard.”
Chew Mi tapped the business card against her lips as she debated whether to disturb Dr. Numby with this. Chew Mi and Dr. Numby knew Alistair Frayne on a professional basis. Frayne had worked for Dr. Numby a couple of times in the past.
“Give me an hour to change and then bring them to my office.”
Chew Mi decided not to alarm Dr. Numby with this. She would find out for herself why Frayne and Lady Thelma had made the trip all the way from London, but she had more than a suspicion that it had to do with Dillon. Chew Mi quickly changed into another of the military style outfits she loved to wear so dearly. A scaled, golden sash covered her chest from shoulder to hip, with some nineteen medals from as many countries pinned to it. She donned knee-high black boots that had been polished to a painfully bright shine, and a narrow-brimmed cap that sat rakishly on her head.
Chew Mi’s office was impressively large with thick, stone columns and 14th century French stained glass windows. She posed in front of a full-length, silver-framed mirror until the hour was up and Frayne, Lady Thelma, the Whale, and Frayne’s men were ushered in.
Chew Mi flopped in an easy chair, sitting with her legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles, and twirled her swagger stick as she eyed the motley band. With the exception of the Whale, who looked as fresh and bright as new money, they all looked like they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a week.
“Good to see you again, Alistair… if unexpected. What is it I can do for you and Lady Thelma?”
“I’m tracking a man named Dillon. He’s got some property that belongs to Lady Thelma, and her secretary is probably in with him.” Frayne held up his cell phone and waggled it from side to side. “Scuttlebutt on the ‘net is that you’ve got them.”
“I do. I’m holding him for Odin’s people.”
“Look, that rotter’s worth a helluva lot more than the paltry ten million Odin’s offering for him. Maybe we should go talk with Dr. Numby and we can reach an agreement that will net all of us a big fat payday.”
Chew Mi eyed Frayne carefully. One thing she’d never liked about Frayne was that it was difficult to tell when he was lying. When he wanted to, Frayne could make his face as open and honest as an orphan’s on Christmas Eve.
“What makes this Dillon so valuable?”
“Its not him. It’s a ring he’s got. He himself doesn’t know how valuable it is. Only Lady Thelma and Odin do. The ring is no good to you and the only reason Odin wants Dillon is because he’s in possession of the ring. You get the ring from Dillon and Dr. Numby can name his own bleedin’ price and trust me on this, twinkle; Odin has a lot more money in his piggy bank than a measly ten million.”
“Sounds like you’re suggesting that Dr. Numby and I renege on a deal we’ve made in good faith.”
Chew Mi grinned wickedly. “Maybe we can work out something.”
“Where’s Dillon now?”
“I’ve got him in a secure place, no worry on that front.”
“And the ring?”
Chew Mi shrugged. “We found no ring when we searched him.”
The Whale growled. “Let me have him. I guarantee I’ll find the ring.”
Chew Mi’s left eyebrow rose slightly. “Well, there’s always Dillon’s girlfriend. Maybe she’s got the ring or knows where he’s hidden it on his person.”
“Kris?” Lady Thelma spoke for the first time, her head jerking forward, eyes wild with barely controlled frustration. “Where is she?”
“Dr. Numby is entertaining her. Would you like to see her?”
“See her? I want to kill her!”
Chew Mi threw a questioning look at Frayne, who rolled his eyes in exaggerated exasperation.
“Then come along, Lady Thelma and I’ll reunite you with your wayward employee…”
Dillon scrambled up the side of the rock and the eels followed, eager for this newest morsel delivered to them. He kicked at the eels, who fell away easily enough, but the problem was that there were simply too many of them. He’d be overrun soon enough. Dillon leapt off the top of the rock and landed on the eels, squishing their soft bodies under the full weight of his 240 pounds of solid muscle. He ran right through the pack and hit the water swimming, his powerful arms pulling him under the surface. Like it or not, he was going to start looking for that vent.
The eels were not ready to give up on dinner that quickly. They splashed back into the water in a single mass and followed. Dillon turned and saw with dismay that he wasn’t nearly fast enough to evade them. The thousands of tiny legs they had developed thanks to Dr. Numby’s growth hormone aided them in swimming, and they were rapidly closing the distance. Dillon twisted around and prepared to put up as strong a fight as he could, and maybe try to make it back to the rock.
The eels were suddenly scattered by the monstrous goldfish that appeared as if by magic. It began gulping down the eels eagerly, and the mutated eels had obviously run into the giant goldfish before, because they did not strike back, but instead scattered, every eel for itself. Dillon saw another giant goldfish heading for the picnic, and he decided to get the hell out of there before the goldfish tired of eel.
His lungs were beginning to ache so he forced himself to increase the strength of his strokes as he swam to the bottom. If any filtration vents were to be found, most likely that’s where they would be. After all, it seemed to him as if the Fishbowl was no more than a giant aquarium.
The sudden tug of a strong current yanked Dillon off course and pulled him along as if he was being towed on a line. Dillon didn’t resist and went limp. He could see the large round vent just ahead. The current was the water being sucked through a tube to the filtration system where it would be cleansed of waste materials and returned to the Fishbowl. Dillon twisted himself around and hit the vent backwards so that he could look and see if any more monstrous fish were heading his way.
In fact, it looked as if the eels and the goldfish had reached a mutual decision to stop trying to eat each other and sample Dillon. He reached up and jammed his fingers inside his mouth, fighting to keep water from getting in, and with two sharp tugs, ripped free the false molars. He jammed both fake teeth into a hinge, and with one firm twist, shattered them. The chemicals mixed, Dillon shoved away from the vent, and then held his ears as the explosion reverberated through the Fishbowl.
The vent crumpled as Dillon was sucked inside the tube. The increased suction caught a hold of him, and he grabbed onto the rim as the eels and the giant goldfish were caught and yanked inside. The goldfish had an amazed look in its eyes as it passed. The tube vibrated violently as another explosion from further down occurred, and the suction significantly decreased in force. Dillon let go of the rim and swam down the tube. He was almost out of air, black blots were slowly, lazily moving in front of him, and his arms and legs felt as if they had lead weights attached to them.
He found that he could stand up in the tube. His head broke the surface and he thankfully drew in fresh air. He was in the main filtration plant and it wasn’t a pretty sight. There were goldfish guts and flesh everywhere. The poor thing had been sucked into the mechanism and destroyed it. That must have been the second explosion, Dillon mused. The eels had fared a little better. They had climbed up out of the filtration chute and had sought out the tender flesh of the technicians who maintained the plant. Some of them had tried to run but hadn’t gotten away. Dillon splashed out of the tube and seized one technician who was scrambling away on hands and knees from a pair of eels that Dillon impatiently kicked away. The eels hissed and snapped, but crawled away to find something less aggressive to eat.
Dillon yanked the tech to his feet. “You know who I am?”
“You’re the man Chew Mi threw into the Fishbowl.”
“Wrong. I’m the highly pissed off man Chew Mi threw into the Fishbowl. You following me so far?”
The tech nodded his head so hard his hair flopped over his forehead and into his eyes.
“You know the layout of the castle pretty well, don’t you?”
“I should. I’ve been here for nine months now.”
“Good. I’ve got some property I’ve got to recover, and then there’s a few places I’d like to visit…”
The tech had proven quite cooperative in assisting Dillon in gaining the upper levels of Castle Numby. The tech, whose name was Ben, proved to be an interesting source of knowledge. Ben had found a dry set of coveralls that Dillon drew over his own clothes, from which he had wrung as much excess water as he could. Ben also found Dillon a hardhat, which he advised him to keep pulled down low over his face.
“Sooner or later, somebody’s going to tumble that your face isn’t familiar, and then you’ll be caught and I’ll be dead.”
“You get me to where my equipment is kept and I give you my word I’ll look after your hide.”
Ben nodded. “I’ll be just as happy to get the hell away from here in any case.”
“Why?” Dillon followed Ben to an elevator that the tech activated with a computerized keycard.
“There’s a lot of us who aren’t all that pleased with being here. Dr. Numby’s mixed up with a lot of nasty, crazy stuff. Unfortunately, he’s got the lot of us by the short hairs. You come to work for him and you have to sign a contract that basically says he owns you right down to your toenails.”
The elevator started upwards. “Then why work here at all?”
Ben shrugged. “The pay, mate. Why else? Dr. Numby pays real well, but truth to tell, this is the creepiest place I’ve ever been in my life. And those goddamned cyborgs are everywhere, and that nasty little bitch Chew Mi doesn’t think twice about siccin’ ‘em on a body if she doesn’t like you.”
The elevator stopped and Dillon motioned for Ben to walk ahead of him. Ben whispered out of the side of his mouth, “This is the security floor. Pretty soon, somebody’s going to ask me what I’m doing here.”
There were several guards who threw the two men curious looks, but they didn’t stop them or ask their business. Ben visibly relaxed. “Thank God…it’s a shift change. This is the shift going off duty. Maybe we’ve got a chance. Here . . . this is the room you want.”
The indicated room was filled with shelves and lockers that contained a remarkable amount of personal items, all confiscated from the staff. Ben informed Dillon that none of them were allowed to keep any kind of personal communication device, such as cell phones, pagers, laptop computers and PDA’s.
Dillon shucked out of the overalls and began looking for his stuff. He grinned in delight when he saw his backpack and his leather jacket. He opened up his bag, pleased to find that everything was there, and withdrew a pair of jet-black 9mm Browning automatics. He loaded them, slipped on a double holster and shrugged into his leather jacket.
“So what do you want to do now?” Ben asked nervously from his post at the door.
Dillon slipped the Brownings into the holsters under his arms. “You were serious about what you told me? That there's some here that don't like working for Numby and Chew Mi?”
Dillon’s eyes were hot and golden as he said grimly; “Then I suggest you get hold of them. Anybody that doesn’t want to get killed better get their ass as far away from here as they can.”
When the door opened and Kris saw Lady Thelma, she felt her knees go all wobbly. The very last thing she expected to see was the old woman charging in, eyes wild with anger.
Lady Thelma let out a piercing war whoop, ran across the room, leapfrogged right over an ottoman, and pounced on Kris like a puma on a rabbit. The chair Kris sat in toppled over and the two women went rolling across the floor, screaming and pummeling each other.
Dr. Numby looked from Chew Mi to the fighting women and back to Chew Mi. “What in the hell is all this row about? Chew Mi, who is this madwoman?” Dr. Numby reached down and yanked Lady Thelma to her feet. “Stop this at once! Stop it, I say!”
Lady Thelma’s response was to deliver a teeth-rattling slap to the side of Dr. Numby’s head. Numby didn’t even blink as he drew back his right fist and clocked Lady Thelma right in the jaw.
A bad decision.
Frederick Whalen moved with terrible speed, speed a man his size had no business being capable of. There was a terrible series of snapping sounds, as bones broke like popsicle sticks and Dr. Numby crumpled to the floor, blood flowing from ears and nose.
Frayne’s men drew their guns to cover Chew Mi, who stared in open-mouthed horror at what had happened so quickly. She recovered in seconds, and snarled at Frayne.
“Oh, I’ll make you pay for this, you bastard!”
Frayne stepped forward and backhanded Chew Mi, who dropped to the floor, her hat falling off her head and rolling away.
Frayne went over to check Dr. Numby and found him dead as a dodo’s date book. Frayne brushed off his hands and stood up to glare pure poison at Whalen, who held the two struggling, screeching women under each arm. They were both yelling obscenities… and still trying to get at each other.
“Shut them up!” Frayne ordered. “Don’t we have enough problems as is?”
Whalen’s expression made it plain that he didn’t care one little bit for the tone of Frayne’s voice, but he did as he was told, squeezing the two women against his body very carefully until they passed out from lack of air.
“Thank you.” Frayne scratched his nose thoughtfully. “Now, let me ask you something: how do you think we’re going to get out of here now that you’ve killed Dr. Numby?”
“He shouldn’t have hit Lady Thelma.” Whalen sounded almost petulant. “I reacted without thinking, I admit.”
“No shit. The question still stands: how do we get out of here?”
“There’s Chew Mi.” Whalen jerked his chin in the direction of the Asian girl who was shakily getting to her feet, pure hatred on her face. “Have her take you to Dillon and bring him here. We’re all in the same predicament more or less, and having an extra gun improves our chances, doesn’t it?”
“I hate to admit it, but we’re thinking along the same lines, big man. Let’s ask twinkle here her opinion. What do you think about the Whale’s idea, Chew Mi?”
Chew Mi responded with the sort of Chinese young ladies her age weren’t supposed to know. Frayne couldn’t catch it all but he did clearly note the part concerning his female ancestors and their mating habits with various species of canines and primates. Frayne sighed and backhanded Chew Mi again. Harder this time.
Frayne reached down and yanked the girl to her feet. “And to think I gave up a wife, two girlfriends and a promising career in advertising for this life.” He turned to Whalen. “You stay here and babysit the Golden Girls. I’ll take twinkle and the lads and go round up Dillon.”
“Shouldn’t I come with you?”
“Don’t you think you’ll be more than a little suspicious carrying two unconscious women under your brawny arms, my lad?”
The Whale grunted. “Just don’t forget to come back for us.”
“Uppermost thought in my mind, old sport.” Frayne slapped Chew Mi’s hat back on her head. “Fix your face, baby girl… and let’s go get Dillon.”