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One If by Air Two If by Sea

Err, roger tower, seven niner tango to runway two fiver west rolling outTransponder is on now, sorry about that, I need to get that automated interlink connectedto the flight control system I keep forgetting to turn it on HavedDitto, seven niner Looks like a beautiful day for a hopThe XBting transponder, because it's carbon fibre framerendered it nearly invisible to radar Jack straightened the nose of the plane, then pushedthe throttlehe stops Immediate and brutal acceleration pinned him to the leatherovered seat and the XB-171 soon reached rotational velocity He eased back on thestick, and a few seconds later, retracted the landing gear *What a sweet plane Can'tbelieve I got this for a performance bonus We must be doing really well these days

should e-mail down to accounting and get the latest financials Jack Williamsonlbmit his request Just over nineteen minutes later, his brand-new XBuddenly turned erratically, lost altitude, accelerated and then crashed into a scrubbybrush covered hill The lead flighthis late fortirap, checked his scope twice, leaned back wearily, removed his glasses and picked upthe hot-phone' to the local FAA officeLow slung, agile, and extremely fast; the exotic, dark blue two door pulled to aquick halt at the curb The growl from its 388 cubic inch fuel injected Chevrolet enginereverberated off the surrounding buildings, then slowly faded away Nicholas 'Mad DogPantera Lieutenant Colonel United sAir Force reI out looked aroundhen ran a quick finger through his close cropped, salt-and-pepper hair He then carefullyclosed the exotic's door, and checked that his 44 was riding straight in its underarmPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

he bulldog seemed to ignore them during the entire conversation, content ontrash novel he currently had his nose buried in Probably pushing his vocabularylevel, Nick mused He cleared his throat, and the bulldog looked upYeah?I needot giving him the satisfaction of allowing him to beat him to it Bulldog squintedthen pulled a large brass keyring, heavy with assorted keys, off his belt loop, and startedge i'm stilldidnt seem to hear him, but Angellina snickered quietly The guard opened the door

hen stood suspiciously aside to let them pass He looked around quickly then back upNick, who stood a good three inches taller and about six inches narrower'That will be all Nick summarily dismissed him If bulldog tooksuch cavalier treatment, he didnt display it He simply closed the door and settledcapacious backside back doNick turned to her and asked quietly, not sure if Bulldog or other more invisibleand perhaps more sinister ears were awake and listeningWhy didn't this door have a keypad too? Rather strange with alcomputer security around here that they rely on good old fashioned brass keys, eh?He watched her eyes twitch slightly as she processed this question and arrived atnumerous interesting answer:Pete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

Yes, that is highly curious, she answered, just as he stated"Come on, the labdown here, if the map you showed me was correctTwo ds at the end ohallway Nick chose thehick oak door on the left He pushed it open slowly and clicked on the lights The labh bthan he had beenting a hiom, with a gleaming stainless steel catwalk circling theentire upper structureOkay, Angellina, you work with this junk every day Show me how it works, andmaybe we can figure out what went wrongAngellina made her way to a stainless four-leg table covered with objectsprecisely layed out on black velvet

Nick followed slightly behind while quicklysurveying the room Machinery he had never seen before blinked and hummed in variouscorners, permeating the air with the slight smell of hot electronics and ozone It wasnell from the tankOkay, these are the tools of the tradefirst, she picked up a small white box that looked like a contact lens carrier forYou put those in your eves? he askedHave to The salt water will kill you These cover your entire exposed eyeprotect your lenses from damage, and with drops that you put in first, keep the salt out soyou can see clearlyShe opened the container and pulled one ouwant to try it?Pete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

ha no thanks theuge Looks mighty uncomfortable to me What is that?Angellina picked up a heavy gold collar that looked faintly Egyptian in design'This is our King Tut special the tie point hub the air line connects on the backof this, right here, she said, turning it over and indicating a threaded port inset in therearThe nose plugs connect here and here, indicating fittings on both sides of theport, "and communications goes here", pointing out a small gold plated electricalconnectorThe feed umbilical brings pressurized air and electrical communications powere back of this, which is usually mostly hidden by your hair The small nose portscome over your ears on both sides and go into the nose plugs here and here

A tinywaterproof speaker goes in your left ear, and allows the customers or the command centersue instructions orsts You cant answer backOkay, so how does it actually work? "" Nick asked, slightly perplexed Why goWell, you have to realize that what you are paying a premium for here is illusionf a mermaid is wearing a giant bubble helmet, that isnt too realistic, is it?So the clear umbilical comes from the fabricated rock behind yofrom the front, and mostly so from the side The nose pieces are invisible underwater atany distance over about 3 feet That way, you appear to be breathing water Clever, eh?n' t this kinda dangerous? Why not just use animatronics or something?Pete Anderson, 'One if by Air, Two if by Sea3

Ya, just wait, I'll get to that There is more Angellina picked up a small, flatked like a tooth retaine“ This is a one waYou put it in your mouth, like so The nose tubes arconstant pressure, semi-closed loop pressure adjusted feed To breath in, you just waThe air feed is a higher pressure than ambient, sod The system runsa timer, so you have to get used to breathing in a steady rhythm You get crossedou'll be in trouble pretty fast You can change the time delay with a control built intetail To exhale, you just pop the valve and the stale air bleeds off, along with fresh supplyair A waste system like this would be unacceptable in a tank fed system, but since thisconstant umbilical

we just aerate the ocean a little morereally unnaturWell, there is a pretty intense training and selection process, before they sendyou out Here you really do have to be much more than pretty face, this regimen wouldSEALs a goodave the customers watching the mermaids drown on their dime, right? Angellinastopped after she realized what she had just said, then looked at theYou have to be careful with getting winded, though Climbers call it oxygerleficit' You cant just breathe faster and harder to catch up, so you must make slowgently timed motions when you move No heavy exertions A computer running Minisoftsoftware monitors the whole system There are two redundant feed systems to thenosepieces; both are monitored by pressure and flow sensors Central monitoring alsowatches your pulse rate and blood oxygen content, via a sensor located in the tail It pickPete Anderson, 'One if by Air, Two if by Sea

up off an artery in your leg If the primary system somehow fails, the other one comeon-line immediately There is also a back-up system over here behind the rockAngellina moved arouthe backside of the tank, and pointed to a red handleAll of this is completely out of view of the customer modulesa bail-out button You yankthe T-handle and the mouthpiecewill turnThis will also signal central monitoring to send a rescue team The mouthpiece is astandard issue diving regulator You just breath normallyo, but we had one girl here who panicked her second day out on the floor Sheost it and just barely made it to the panic button she got to the surface okay, but she q45 seconds laterried not to laugh, because it really wasnt humorous in the least, but the wayAngellina had just strung the whole story together tickled his funny bone, which most ofhis friends told hlittle off-centYou seem to know this stuff inside-out

Did you help design it?Angellina glared at him for just a second, then turned away She had thought for ang“Umdidnt I grew up in a fairly strict Baptist householdy parentsivorced when I was 14, and I got mixed up with some bad people My high-schoolgrades were still good enough, though, to get me a scholarship to the University ofburgh I started freshman year in pre-med, I wanted to go into sports medicine aftergraduation But some of my 'old friends kept on dropping in, and i got mixed up in somebad stuff again, most of it illegal Stupid, stupid, stupid I got booted from U of Pitt andPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

ended up here after some further misadventures Guess you might as well trade on yourooks if you cant trade on your brains, eh?unshed tear glistened in her eyeNick spent this entire time intently examining the fine cracks in the top of his leftther shoe at thiske the littleback of the shoe Or maybe something you would find sticking To the heel He made at he actually solved this case, he was going to getAngellina out of this mess She really deserved better He caught himself looking at herthen feeling slightly guilty, he looked away again He thought about his wife Ex-wife, hecorrectedShe left me, though Couldnt handle the strange hours, the strange peopleand the abundance of guns

Ah, margieHe looked at her againand knew that everhough she had an almost picture-perfect body and face, that wasn't really all of it Shewas a smart young lady who just had a run of bad luck, and had made some bad callsShe really did deserve better, and she attracted him like nobody hadThree years ago She deserved to be away from these dangerous working conditions andthe leeches that arthem, even if she didnt end up with him And, he decided inabout 200 milliseconds, this place ought to be shut down High tech exploitation, nothingmore Nick didn't consider himself to be a highly religious man, but this place gave evenhim the williesI'm sorry, reallyyyyyhe trailed off uncomfortablyAhhh, it's nothing, forget it And in any case, it's hardly your fault Come on, I'lIshePete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

She walkedto a set of identicalstorage cabinets and rummaged arounsome After a few hard pulls and loud grunts, she managed to extract a large greenisflexible tailCan't be a mermaid without a tail, right?Nick chuckled He made ation with his handOkay, the front opens like this, with Velcro, she said, peeling open a raggedbreak in the frontYou step in, and close it up here It is cut ragged like this so you cant see theseam when it's closed It blends in with the scale pattern, like so The tail has a buoyancycompensator, so you can float or sink just by pushing the control buttons right here Thisone here is the air bleed time delay controlShe arched one fine, perfectly shaded eyebrow in a you-remembered-that-controlfrom-earlier' look

He nodded so she continueda thick fishingtype cord attaches you to a concrete anchesO you wongth of your umbilical and pulled it outyou would have to make a fifty-five foot free ascent Not much fun on a good day Youcan go from flat rest on the bottom to about five feewinch is buried in the seafloorthe displays have turntables built into them, soa full circle, and all the wiring and hoseand the winch are built into and connected through the base the buttons here sendcommands by a battery powered remote sonar radio You can't transmit radio waveshrough water very weNick nodded He knew that but to his credit said nothingPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

Ister He had purchased the car on a whim, a joke to go with hisA Pantera foPantera The car was complete, but ha

d no engine and a stripped transmission when hepurchased it at auction, and it had taken him years of loving work andpension money to gewas in nowweak the gomers who demanded purity, the people that thought that all the chalk marksd undercoat overspray should be photographed and replaced after a restoration wascompleted He had decided to replace the missing Ford 351 with an all-aluminurChevrolet high deck NAsCar racing block In its current state of tune, the Pantera putout about 550 romping horses and would vault to 180 in nothing flat Nick had handtimed it once unofficially through the quarter in about eleven seconds, so he figuredwas fast enough already He had once thought about having a supercharger added, thencided his middle-aged reflexes werent quite ready for a JATO assisted suicide just yetNick did love the cosseting tan leather-lined interior and recaro seats but found himselfdriving his Pontiac Grand Prix GTP more and more every year

"Guess the age thing isfinally catching up to me, * he mused as his knees cracked He pulled on a US AirForce issue baseball cap, then took off and pocketed his Serengeti sunglasses Hebuttoned his windbreaker on the bottom three buttons, to make the underslung holster lessvisibleooked around quickly a second time, then crossed the street to the offices ofs new, temporary employer Six years of combat flying and ten years as a police officerad honed his danger sense to a keen edge, and he seemed to find himself ' checking hisix quite often, even in what appeared to be completely safe and ordinary circumstancesYet, he still remembered well his recuperation in a hospital after a strung-out crackheadPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

put a nine-millimeter into him during a bust in Chicago Nick figured being a little onge all the time beat the alternative, three aces to a pairur later, Nick flipped through the dossier again on his wayle office door " An executive of Minisoft turns himself into a greasy spot on aand theyme to go eyeball the situation what a waste of time The insurancecompany hadn t even balked at his exorbitant fee, so he decided to take the investigationNick had just thrown out a huge figuit up the flagpole, and waited to see whosaluted They didnt seem to care, which immediately put him on guard, becauseinsurance companies are notoriously the cheapest corporations on Earth, so when theydont care, something is usually more than it seems Nick decided that one day, hiserdeveloped sense of curiosity was going to get him killed, but so far he was enjoyingte Not exactly Magnum, but he was working steadily and making enoughpay the bills and throw some back into his depleted ira, so he felt pretty good abouLEts go have a real look at this stuff, and see what weve gotten into this time eh?Nick took the folder home, stuck the enclosed CD-ROM into his PC and flipped througall the documentation that had come with the dossier

His danger flag was in the fullyraised and red position when he decided to quit for the day *Something really is rottenthe state of Denmark, he decided pretty quickly *Now all I have to do is find outwhat and not get iced in the processAfter two weeks of beating the streets Nick was sure that this was a total waste oftime, and told his employer just as much Jack Williamson's death seemed to be just anunfortunate private aircraft disaster, as many were every year He wondered about hisearlier sense that something was very much off, but just chalked it up to nervesPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

ybe too many late night detective movies His employer did not seem impressed, toldhim as much and reminded him pointedly of his ridainer anking Nickk andThis time thim a second case He read through the Cd on the second file, then went back and pulledup the first one again Nicks second case was JackHolly Incredibly, a claim hadbeen submitted for her death, too, and now Nick really thought something had to be quitefishy His employer informed him that they wanted him to investigate Hollys employele Coral Haven resort This turned out to be a playground for wealthy socialites, mostlymen

He thought this could prove to be interestingJack stepped out of theblue and white painted floatplane, and wasmmediately greeted by one of the resort's senior partners, Roberto Silvero Nick dislikedhim on sight He knew of his reputation, and thought that he represented everythingId roberto didfor him either Dressed impeccably in a hand-made dark Italian suit and four hundreddollar black leather shoes, Roberto oozed insincerity and greasy, ill-gained money frevery pore he owned He looked Nick over quite quickly, seemingly dismissing him assome lower-life mortal in a collarless shirt and khakis Nick fumed silently and wishedthat some large, hungry, man eating shark would pop out of the beautiful, azure waterunder the floatplane and eat him Fat chance of that, though The shark would offerhim professional courtesy Nick smiled faintly at the poor jest he had just constructedand this seemed to annoy mr silver even morePete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

Come this way Mr panterae we can resolve this probnd recommence full scons soondown rightYou didnt know? Yes, unfortunately, Mr Pantera, " Silvero answered in a longal police hare closed They would brook no arguments until the investigator haddigging That would be you, Mr Panteraalmost obliged to turn around and see if Ren and Stimpy were standinbehind him Of course I,'m the investigator, you eeeeeediotHow nice Is the delay costing you much? "Nick asked sweetlyAbout a million dollars a day

and lost revenueswill amount to some real money,soonNick followed Silver, watching his expensive patent leather shoes leave littlethe dock where he had walked through somepolishes'em every night, Nick thought, just to pass the timeSilvero led Nick to an imprrambling glass and brick compound thateemed to both squat before them and menace over them Nick felt a bit unsettled by thiseffect, and decided that it was intended to impress their exclusive clientele but at thesame time keep them somewhat off balance * Abetter to pick your pockets, mydear求Silvero didnt slow, once inside, but headed directly for the security control centerside wings of the complex Stopping at a solid oak wood door at least terPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

dmbers into a keypad almost as fast as Nick couldwatch *He's done that a few times Nick decidedAfter passing throughnt,blow a million dollars style foyer, shim through a couple more security doors, repeating the automatic weapon fast keypadcodeled himself into an overstuffed black leather chair in frontof lcd color monitors and motioned nick to sit in a similar chair next to himMr Pantera, the only way that we are going to get back on-line is to co-operatefully with you and the police For some strange reason, the police think you can handlethis yourself, and are ready to accept whatever conclusions you draw You must haveeither some highly placed or very powerful friends Silvero paused for a second or so, asf only considering the implications of his statement after he had made it, then plowed onTherefor, as much as I may like or dislike you personally, consider me to be at youdisposal for any and all requests or needsNick wondered howchoking shad come hspeech, but at least the man was upfront about his personal agenda

Nick also knew that afew phone calls from some well-placed friends had kept the local gendarmes fromssing with his investigation *Nothing like having a bunch of Columbo wannabe'sfollowing you around 24-7*Fair enough I respect a man who makes his personal likes or dislikes known upront I dont like the type of business that you represent, but I will be impartial ininvestigating what did or did not happen here I owe my employer and your investorseast that muchPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

ero's opinion of him seemed to have raised fractionally, but Nick didnt reallyworry much about it He wasn't here to make friends or influence people Only to find thetruth and collewho is goigive me what I need? Will you be taking me on a personallyUnfortunately, no, Mr Pantera Even though we are not officially operatingedule precludes that much involvement, so I am going tourn this over to one of my trusted employees Angellina will help you with whatever youeed She can get in contact with me if something unsolvable arises Is this acceptableThat depends Is this Angellina woman familiar with the operations in question"She has worked for us almost since the beginning Angellina has worked in thecasino, as a greeter at the airport, and in the security operations

Currently she is assignedo our biggest, most expensive and most popular attraction, the ' Beauties of the deedisplay She is familiar with just about everything you should needI will fillything else required as it comes up His eyebrows arched upward a fraction as if toask, did you get all that, and is it acceptable?Silvero pressed a red pushbutton next to one of the monitors, and Nick heard asolenoid door click He swiveled his chair around and with a slight extra stretch, was ablepush the door open and made a come here motion to someone out of Nick's line-osight Angellina came in, and presented her hand Nicks thought processes did a staccattwo-step Dressed in a simple button-down aqua blouse and black skirt, with herbuttercup streaked hair twined up and pinned; which perfectly complemented her deepsun-induced tan and piercing, slightly slanted blue-grey eyes The stunning figure of aPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

Norse goddess threatened to escape her purposely severe outfit Nick tried, and failed, toremember a time when he had seen a woman more exotic and beautifuNick took the proffered hand while silver made formal intrexcused himself and leMr Pantera, Mr Silver askedtake yod sheThat should be fine Oh, and AngellinaCall me Nick, okay? Mr Pantera was my fatherFine, Nick

Come on and sit down, and I'lI show you the computerized systemswe have here We can access everything, and I do mean everything, in the entire placefrom here, with just a few buttons and a little typingAngellina ran Nick though several screens of information, including maps andoperational schedules, but whenever their eyes accidentally met, he found it harder andharder to concentrate ont she was sayingBreak time, I think, he stated I do believe I am going cross-eyed, or possiblynsaneHungry? I'll buy lunch, she offered"Sure you could let me It's free, she stated, then laughed, a short, tinkling laughPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea

ck found himself wishing that he could hear that laugh mfrevator is over here The cafeteria is on the third floorame out of his chair his knees cracking and followeAngellina’ s petite 52” physique into thetor She flashed him another hundred-wsmile as the doors closed then stared at the floorAfter aart of the casino on the way to the cafeteria, Nickwondered what he should really be looking for Everything seemed to be standardcorporate issue, from the gaudy machines in the casino to the antiseptic standard tablesand stainless steel accessories in the lunchroom Not much to go on, so far, *hedLunch finished, Angellina's and Nicks footfalls echoed loudly off the gleaminglished white tile flethey walkedther wing of thereminded Nick of a hospital or a research lab, the insides of both which he had seen atdifferent times in his careers

* How strangely life turns " he idly wonderedStopping at an unmarked oak wood door with a bored looking bulldog of asecurity guard posted outside, Angellina looked up questioningly at NickHow are you going to get us in? " she askede a pass,How did you get that? she asked, eyes wideniny Ive never even beeI'll telPete Anderson One if by Air, Two if by Sea