The last of the water swished out of the sea cock. Garcia undogged the inner hatch, led the way out onto the upper catwalk of the engine room. Silently, they stripped the suits from their bodies, returned to the control deck.
Sparrow met them at the door. "Well?"
"All done," said Garcia. "Fourteen is linked to twenty-two. They'll both fire on twenty-two's stud. They'll seek a northerly course and hold about ten fathoms off bottom."
Sparrow looked at Ramsey, who nodded. The skipper turned back to Garcia. "Run into any trouble?"
"Johnny's the electronics man. He did all the work."
Sparrow turned to Ramsey.
"It was fairly easy."
Garcia said, "Johnny's safety line snagged on the way in, but I freed it. Outside of that, it was a quiet swim."
"All quiet in here, too," said Sparrow. He nodded toward a cot on the far side of the control room, Bonnett stretched out on it. "Les is getting some shut-eye. You two had better do the same. We're going to sit here for a while."
"Righto," said Garcia. "The swim made me tired. Let's go, Johnny boy." He ducked through the door, went down the companionway, Ramsey following.
Garcia stopped at the door of his room, turned and smiled at Ramsey. "Pleasant dreams . . . head thumper."
Ramsey brushed past him into his own room, locked the door behind him, and leaned against it. He
could feel his heart thumping heavily.
Damn that man!
He fought himself into a semblance of calmness, went to the telemeter box, examined the new lengths of tape.
Sparrow was still locked in icy control.
Ramsey reset the box, turned off his lights, fell into his bunk and into a restless sleep. It seemed that he had just closed his eyes when he was aroused by the buzzer. He got up stiffly, went forward to the control deck. The others already were there.
"Take over the search board," said Sparrow. He waited for Ramsey to comply, depressed the firing-board stud at number twenty-two.
Immediately, Ramsey picked up the beat of it on his instruments. He felt Sparrow move into position beside him. Together, they stared at the scope.
"Good job," said Sparrow. "Looks just like our pip."
Ramsey rotated the outside bell-detector of the ranging system. "No sign of a stake-out," he said.
"That would be a bitter one," said Garcia. "All of our yeoman efforts out there gone for nought. I'd almost ra --"
"There he is," said Ramsey. "Northeast and coming fast."
"Interception course," said Sparrow.
"And there's the first speed increase in our decoy," said Ramsey.
"Couldn't have been better timing," said Bonnett.
"Another signal to the west," said Ramsey. "Our stake-out has called his pals."
"And there's full-speed simulation," said Sparrow. "Wonderful job, Johnny!"
"And waited, watching the signals merge. Abruptly, the instruments gyrated wildly as the decoy's scrambler system was activated.
Again they waited.
A distant double thump resonated against the Ram's hull and simultaneously, the scrambler signal stopped.
"Now track every one of them," said Sparrow. "If those EPs all leave, we've made it."
Ramsey watched the signals. "Pack quartering over the explosion area. Four departing." He waited. "Two more. Courses southwest. There go the last ones."
He tracked them until they went off his instruments, turned with a triumphant smile and looked at Sparrow. "Just as you planned it, Skipper."
"Ummmm, yes." He turned away. "Well wait here another four hours before going on into the well area."
The Ram crept up the fissure at quarter speed, lifted out in six hundred feet of water and slid upslope like a giant fish seeking its dinner in the bottom mud. Inside, Sparrow stood at the helm, Garcia with him.
"There's the ledge," said Sparrow. He nodded toward the screen above them. It showed a pie slice of illumination cut from the dark waters by the bow lights, a rocky outcropping.
"Shall I call the others?" asked Garcia.
Garcia pressed the call button. Ramsey acknowledged from the electronics shack.
"What are you doing in the electronics shack?" asked Sparrow.
"I couldn't rest, so I --"
"My orders that we were to work only in double teams didn't interest you?"
"Skipper, I had an idea about --"
"Just a moment." Sparrow pointed to the screen above him, a starfish-shaped mound. "Right on, Joe." He disengaged the drive, drifted up on the mound, past it, grounded.
"Two hundred and five pounds even, Skipper."
Sparrow nodded, plugged in the side-eyes, examined the bottom, "Plenty of mud for ballast."
Bonnett entered. "Skipper, are we --"
"We've arrived," said Sparrow. "Les, will you go aft to the shack and check on Johnny?"
"Isn't he --"
"He's been in the shack for some time . . . alone!"
Bonnett whirled around, disappeared down the companionway.
"I will not be responsible for revealing the site of this well," said Sparrow.
"What do you mean?" asked Garcia. "You don't think I --"
Sparrow froze him with a look. "Mr. Garcia, we've been shipmates since you were a chief machinist and I was a dryback ensign; but right now I wouldn't trust you as far as I could see you. One of Security's men was trapped and killed aboard my ship. The EPs got spy beams aboard us. Someone did it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir." Garcia turned back to the search board.
In the electronics shack, Ramsey held up the tube on which he had been working. This has to be how they set off their spy beam, he thought. And it means they could have another one ready to go any second.
His hand trembled as he reached out to plug the tube into a test socket. The hand was abruptly knocked aside and a fist crashed into the side of his jaw.
"You dirty spying bastard!" growled Bonnett. Again his fist crashed into Ramsey's jaw.
Ramsey -- bent backward over the bench -- tried to dodge aside. "Les, wait! I --"
"Gonna save us the price of a trial," gritted Bonnett. He crashed an elbow into Ramsey's mouth, lifted a knee to the groin.
My God! He means to kill me! thought Ramsey. He fought back desperately, chopping an arm at Bonnett's throat. Nausea from the groin blow clutched him.
Bonnett dodged Ramsey's blow, sent another fist into the electronics officer's mouth.
"For God's sake!" screamed Ramsey. "I'm no spy!"
"You dirty, lying, sneaking --" Bonnett stepped back, chopped the side of his hand into the curve of Ramsey's neck, sent a fist crashing into Ramsey's jaw.
Ramsey felt himself going blank, waved his arms futilely in front of him. Something crashed against the side of his head. He felt a sledge-hammer blow over his heart and blacked out.
They came to Ramsey from somewhere at the top of a long black hole. He tried to ignore them, moved his head. Pain shot through him.
"I think he's coming around." Garcia.
"Here. Make him drink this." Sparrow.
"Why waste it?" Bonnett.
"I'm not satisfied that you're correct." Sparrow.
"I tell you, Skipper, I saw him putting that spy-beam tube into a socket and --"
"How do you know it was a spy beam? One of you stepped on it and crushed it during that fracas."
"It looked damned suspicious, Skipper."
"Looked . . . schmooked." Garcia.
Hand under his neck. Something acid and biting in his mouth, burning his throat.
Ramsey gagged, retched.
Again the liquid was forced past his lips. He shuddered, managed to keep it down. His body felt like one large ache.
"Can you talk, Johnny?" Sparrow.
Ramsey opened his eyes. Sparrow bent over him, supporting his shoulders.
Bonnett and Garcia stood beyond.
Ramsey's eyes focused on the rest of his surroundings: rec room, cot, table, and first-aid kit.
Back to Bonnett and Garcia.
Bonnett glowering, perhaps a bit uncertain.
Garcia faintly worried.
Ramsey groped toward his jaw with one hand, felt a lance of fire shoot through his head. "I c'n talk a li'l," he said.
Sparrow brought some pillows up behind Ramsey, eased him back onto them. "What were you doing in the shack?"
The tube! Spy beam!
Ramsey forced the words past his thickened lips. "Think I found out how spy beam triggered."
Sudden interest in the eyes of Sparrow and Garcia. More uncertainty in Bonnett's expression.
"By someone on board?" asked Sparrow.
"No. This's urgen', Skipper. Don' raise th' peri-box."
"Piping in a signal."
"The air's full of stuff. What --"
"This's special. You gave me idea." Ramsey passed his tongue over his thickened lips, forced himself to speak clearly. "Go'to un'erstan'me," he said. "Resonance. EPs are sending out a harmonic on th' plate frequency of our L-4 tubes. Eventually, it breaks 'em down so they become microphonic. Th' tubes we found were just amplifiers. Spy beam actually comes from th' L-4s."
"But if we've taken out all the amplifiers --"
"Enough L-4s sending and they'd interact in feedback," said Garcia. "Wouldn't need an amplifier. They'd set up a howl that could be heard anywhere."
"Why the peri-box?" asked Sparrow. Then he said, "Of course: they have to get a clear strong signal into us and the peri-box is the only road that isn't damped by a plasteel hull."
He shook his head. "Granting that you're telling the truth and that this is so, how can --"
"Rig a substitute for the L-4s," said Garcia. "That's the weak spot in the system."
"That's what I was testing when Les jumped me," said Ramsey.
Bonnett scowled. "This could be a trick, Skipper."
Garcia said, "Can it, Les?"
"Dammit all!" shouted Bonnett. "Yesterday you were both telling me how suspicious --"
"We'll discuss it another time," said Sparrow. He turned to Garcia. "What do you think, Joe?"
"It sounds right, Skipper." Garcia held up a hand, ticked off items on his fingers. "It has the advantage of simplicity: all they'd have to know is the plate frequency factor of a suitable tube and they could channel all their efforts toward breaking down that one unit. If the actual signal originates with them and is merely rebroadcast from our system, they'd have the essential elements of a sonoran system: pin-point accuracy in locating us. And what would be harder to detect? Their broadcast would be a constant sound in the ether; so every time we raised our peri-box, our board filters would automatically cut out that signal as nondangerous and we wouldn't be listening at all on the wave length that would be likely to give us away!"
Even Bonnett was nodding in agreement as Garcia finished.
Garcia looked at Ramsey. "Is that the way you had it figured?"