Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope/9
"Loose the winches a little!" ordered Captain Britten sharply. "The air-hoses are strained almost to the breaking point."
"Si," mumbled the engineer, easing off the brake a trifle.
"What's the trouble, in your opinion, Captain?" asked Tom.
"Hard to say, young fellow," came the worried reply. "What I'm afraid of is that a huge octopus or some such monster has attacked the poor divers. Whatever it is, I fear it's the end for 'em, as there's not another diver aboard and we can't haul the men up for fear of breakin' their air-lines."
"Have you another diving suit?" asked Tom rapidly. "I've had considerable experience in undersea work and can't let those boys drown without trying to help 'em!"
"Can you do it, lad? Yes, I've a brand-new outfit aboard that's of the latest type. But what'll I say to your father if anything happens to you?"
"Dad wouldn't want me to stand back at a time like this," rejoined the young inventor. "I sent these men down and it's up to me to see they get back safely!"
"But, Tom!" cried Ned. "What of the octopus? You may be trapped too, and not save Manuel and Alvarez either!"
"You forget, or maybe you didn't know, that I brought my electric rifle with me. That'll polish off any devil-fish I'm likely to meet!"
"Well, at least let me go too!"
"Isn't but one suit," said Captain Britten. "Now, Tom Swift, if you're ready, here's the suit."
"All set," said the young inventor calmly. He began to remove his outer clothing. "Ned, please bring up my rifle."
By the time the young scientist had been helped into the massively armored suit, Ned was back on deck carrying a peculiar-looking gun. Unlike other weapons, this one could discharge a bolt of electricity which would slay the largest animal or merely tickle a baby, according to the adjustment. Tom set it to its highest power.
"Good luck!" cried Ned as the heavy helmet was lowered into place.
Tom attempted to wave in reply but the gear was too weighty. Later, when he got into the depths, the buoyant effect of the water would enable him to move more freely.
Clutching his gun in his armored hand, Tom crept slowly on to the platform suspended over the sea. As it was lowered to the water he got a last glimpse of Ned Newton's face staring down at him.
The young business manager paced the deck of the barge, at every step reproaching himself for allowing his chum to undertake so hazardous a venture. As his watch told him that Tom must be nearing the bottom he seated himself by the switchboard, headphones clamped over his ears.
"Ground floor," announced Tom at last. "Pretty dark down here. I'll switch on my flash. Now--by George!"
Ned heard a muffled silence.
"Tom! Tom!" he shouted frantically. "What's happened? Are you all right?"
For nearly ten minutes Ned crouched by the instrument trying to get in touch with his friend. Just as he was giving up hope he heard a weak voice gasp:
"Not so loud, old man! You've nearly broken my ear-drums. Everything's under control!"
"Hurray!" shouted Ned. "He's found 'em, Captain Britten!"
"Easy!" protested Tom from the depths. "Don't shout like that so near the phone! Yes, the men are O.K. A big fish had 'em--don't know what it was, as I never heard of anything like it. But a couple of shots from the rifle killed it."
"Tell Captain Britten to send down some heavy chains. We've found the meteorite!"
The now jubilant crew, who had feared their companions lost, scurried about. In a few minutes the stout chain was snaking its way down through the blue-green ocean.
"Seems to me they're taking a mighty long time about it," said Ned to Captain Britten after an hour had passed with no word from the three divers.
"You're right," agreed the other. "Working at that depth it's decidedly unsafe to stay below so long. I'll warn Tom."
"Can't be done!" was that young man's decisive answer to the old salvage expert's warning. "This is a tougher job than I thought, for the bottom of the stone seems to be sinking slowly. If we can't finish our job now I'm afraid we'll lose our prize. But don't worry. We ought to be through in another twenty minutes."
The twenty minutes passed, and another like period was nearly run through before Tom announced himself and the other two ready to come to the surface.
To avoid the dreaded "bends," an affliction suffered by divers drawn to the surface too rapidly, they made their ascent as slowly as their descent. Thus it was that the great meteorite reached the top long before Tom and the two natives did.
"What in the name o' tarnation did he want with that?" demanded Captain Britten as the giant stone was lowered cautiously to the deck. Weighing many tons, it had tilted the barge far over to one side as the powerful derrick drew it up. "It looks like some old rock a man might pick up 'most any place."
"Oh, Tom Swift usually has a good reason for everything he does," smiled Ned noncommittally. "I'm no scientist, but he is, so perhaps he wants to experiment with this stone from another planet."
At last the three divers reached the surface and were hauled rapidly up to the deck of the barge. All of them appeared exhausted, but Tom's eyes expressed the greatest satisfaction when he saw the meteorite safely aboard.
At his request the tug was put under way and the "Betsy B." started back to her home port in Key West. During the trip Tom managed to cut from the meteorite a fifty-pound chunk.
"I'm very eager to see if this stone contains more X," he explained to Ned, "so I'm planning to fly straight home with this sample to analyze it. I want you to put the rest of the meteorite on a fast freight train and travel north with it."
The sun was setting when the dock at Key West was reached. Tom waited no longer than was necessary to take on a supply of gasoline for the "Winged Arrow." He paid Captain Britten a generous fee and added a bonus for the divers who had helped him. Then with a hasty good-bye the excited young inventor roared off in the gathering darkness toward his distant home.
After an uneventful flight he reached Shopton at about half-past one the following morning. The wheels of the plane had barely stopped turning when the tall figure of Koku came rushing out of the shadows of the hangar to greet his master.
"You're right on the job!" exclaimed Tom, climbing stiffly from the cabin. "How is everything?"
"All thing good!" declared the giant, grinning to see the young inventor back. "Catchum skystone?"
"We caught it, all right. You might tote this sample of it over to the lab." Tom handed his servant the segment he had chiseled from the main mass.
"Master knows 'bout secret cave under lab'tory?" questioned the giant as the two walked across the field in the moonlight.
"Cave? Oh, you mean the vault?" asked Tom, who had been thinking of other matters.
"Night you go 'way in sky-bird, Koku watch. Koku hear bell go ting-ting-ting!"
Suddenly Tom was paying strict attention.
"Great Scott! D'you mean to say someone broke into my Chest of Secrets? Tell me about it quickly!"