The Waters of Atlantea Ch. 41
Author's Notes: I realized that it's a lot later than planned in publication so I'm very sorry to all of you anxious and very kind and loyal readers. Over the holidays, we had several unexpected family issues so I didn't get anything done that I planned in my writing. But now, it's the day after Ground Hog Day in the States, and in honor of that occasion, with this chapter, I'm giving you six more weeks of suspense in this story! :)
…Outside the Lab…
While Bart's counterattack on the orcas was raging in the murky waters, several of the walrus' Movement Special Forces Team scoured the outside of the Laboratory for the suspected bombs placed there by the killer whales – certainly aptly named.
"There!" thought one of them as he discovered a dark device with a blinking red light, then barked to his colleagues dispersed across the Lab. The others paused their desperate search short for a moment, looked at what their colleague found, nodded, and now knew what to look for.
They were overwhelmed to realize that there were nearly a dozen blinking red lights placed everywhere on the Lab, and there were not enough of them to remove every mine. Desperately, each Movement special forces walrus fought to peel off the magnetic explosives. They were successful with removal of three of the deadly devices and flung them into the ocean trench bordering the Lab, where they sank harmlessly away into the deepest depths of the abyss.
Unfortunately for the Movement operatives, it was an impossible task to eliminate all the mines. One of Bart's henchmen helplessly watched the counter on device he was straining to pry off the structure less than a meter in front of him go from 2 to 1 to zero.
The powerful mine exploded in his muzzle and he couldn't even scream his mind's last thought, "Shiiiiit!"
…Bridge of the Nautilus…
Nemo and his Lab command crew boarded the Nautilus, met the sub's Captain Hiram who saluted his boss Nemo smartly at the entrance hatch, and they reestablished the Laboratory Battle Command Center on the bridge of the boat. They relieved the berthing crew members of their stationkeeping tasks, and started powering up every system on the big vessel needed for a high-speed escape.
Nemo was about to check in with Dr. Death, who was already aboard the Nautilus deep in its vast interior and was tending to the final loading of the virus from the dockside storage tanks into the bio weapon torpedoes, when the sub's outside monitors were saturated by flashes coming from all over the surface of the Laboratory.
Nemo stood on his flippers, squinting and shielding his eyes from the brightness, while staring into the main overhead display.
The huge elephant seal could only lament what all of them had guessed would happen, "Frickin' Nature, no!"
As the flashes subsided, only then could Nemo see the extent of the massive damage to his precious underwater fortress. He looked in horror to see huge sections of his sanctuary vaporized by the orca's mines, which left jagged metal holes in the structure of the Lab, hideously mixed with chunks of mammals who were spewed into the dark waters with the sudden decompression of their quarters. Pods and other structures were twisted, broken, and misshapen by the pyrotechnic power of the mines.
Nemo couldn't imagine how many Movement colleagues were sacrificed in an instant.
None of the Nautilus' crew were ready for the concussive waves from the mines that rocked the sub at its moorings. Unlike the Lab, the the massive vessel took the onslaught well, designed to absorb attacks from any of the world's self-defense naval forces who might attack the Nautilus if it was ever discovered in their coastal waters.
Recovering from the buffeting shock waves, the Movement command staff stopped to stare a moment at the devastation shown in the monitors, realizing everyone and everything that they loved was gone or soon would be, and there was nothing they could do to change the outcome.
Nemo noted his crew's shock and sorrow, but turned his back on the decimation and snapped, "Back to your stations."
Their reply was an obedient but despondent, "Aye, aye, sir…"
Remaining loyal to Nemo, the Nautilus' crew frantically continued to bring the massive submarine's defensive and offensive systems on line that had only been on 'standby' mode while the great machine was berthed. Mercifully to Nemo's nearly invisible ears, he heard the familiar hum as his sub was coming to life. With the bio-electronic defensive shields at full power, the Nautilus was now impervious to any attack from orca demolition team and their insider allies that had crippled the Lab while it was powerless. Nemo knew that even though Bart couldn't save the Lab from the orcas' surprise attack, his trustworthy walrus terrorist team would exact the Movement's revenge on the killer whales with a 'little surprise'.
He ordered his sub pen crew outside on the dock, "Prepare to cast us off on my mark."
"Aye, aye, sir. Standing by," cracked the intercom speaker.
The berthing crew resolutely understood that they were staying behind to suffer whatever fate the Lab would endure. Everyone in the Movement knew the price of defending Nemo.
"Captain Hiram, what's our status?" Nemo demanded to the sub's leader who was supervising every operation.
"All systems but the reactor are at full power sir," was the Captain's answer.
"How long, Hiram?" Nemo asked impatiently.
"Uhh…5 minutes sir," the sub's commander estimated, scanning all his reactor power gages.
"Five minutes? That's a frickin eternity!" Nemo complained and added, "When the Lab falls, it'll probably take the entire sea mount and us with it."
The bridge crew all heard 'when' – not 'if' - and grimaced silently.
The Captain explained cautiously, "That's the best we can do, sir. We're leaving even earlier than the plan you ordered, sir. We don't want to 'scram' the reactors. We'll be dead in the water, Mr. Nemo."
Nemo tapped his flipper impatiently on his command chair, knew his sub commander was right, but didn't accept his minion's reasoning, so he ordered, "Push it to the redline, Hiram. Bypass the safety procedures, and initiate emergency start up. I want to be out of here in two minutes."
"Aye, aye, sir," Hiram grudgingly responded, knowing everything that could go wrong by pushing the sub's energy source beyond its limits, including a total – and fatal – meltdown.
As the seconds ticked by excruciatingly, Nemo could see on the sub's outside cameras the skirmish between Bart and the orcas raging not too far to the Nautilus. Nemo's fears had been right - Kida had almost pressed her attack to the Nautilus until Bart intercepted them. He knew that some of the orcas could still break through Bart's defensive ploy, even if it was suicidal on the killer whales' part.
"Get them, Bart," he thought, with every confidence he would, even with his squad's numbers decimated – despite being augmented at the last minute by a few volunteer security guardsmen – by both by the battle on the beach and by the mine explosions.
…Outside the Nautilus, only seconds before…
Ambushed by Bart's forces with shockingly advanced weaponry, Kida's interdiction team fought for their lives even though they outnumbered and outweighed the walruses, dodging the unexpected energy bolts that somehow propagated through the ocean with an insulation shield that did not electrocute the Movement shooters.
For a moment, Kida and her colleagues regrouped in a tactical formation to fire off another concentrated defensive spread of homing mini-torpedoes. This time, several weapons found their marks, and the results were horrifying. Several walruses were gutted by the explosive power of the antipersonnel tinfish, and their innards and body parts spewed into the dimly lighted water. That evened the odds a little to Kida's favor. As far as she could tell, at least two of Silver Tusk's team were killed or wounded by the difficult-to-see homing anti-personnel torpedoes.
The furious orca/walrus battle was interrupted for a moment as both sets of adversaries' eyes were drawn to numerous blinding underwater flashes - unmistakable signs of tremendous explosions concentrated on the Laboratory. like Nemo, Bart could only watch open-tusked in horror at the carnage being wrought on his underwater home.
None of the combatants were prepared for the shock waves and pressure hammer that rocked them so close and unprotected from the detonations. Cetacean and pinniped alike were tossed about like rag dolls, and they all crumpled over in pain. At least the walruses could hold their ears with their flippers to soften the impact of the concussions, but the orcas could only writhe and endure the acoustic pummeling many more times powerful in the water than terrestrial shock waves emanating from explosions. Kida screamed out in pain with the concussions. She could see blood trickle from the heads of at least two colleagues as their ear drums burst from the concentrated and relentless sonic energy, and she hoped she would not also go deaf from the acoustic damage.
"The Lab is lost!... Fricking orcas! None of them escapes," Bart thought.
His ears were ringing and his head was throbbing with an instant headache from the concussions. He frowned with greater fury than before. The clearly fatal blow to the Lab steeled his resolve to avenge Nemo by killing all the orcas. Amid the jumble of stunned pinnipeds and orcas, Bart willed his paralyzed limbs to move.
Kida recovered slightly from the acoustic assault, still struggling to move her flippers and flukes, and discovered her ears were only ringing and not truly damaged. The orca matriarch looked around quickly to assess where her teammates were, how debilitated they were, and the state of their walrus attackers.
She was especially worried where her husband Milo might be inside the rapidly deteriorating Lab, whom she knew vowed to get inside to search for their allies Nick and Judy. Kida hoped that if Milo and the Zootopia special forces team, the fox and rabbit, and any remaining hybrids were still in the Lab, that the orcan mines hadn't detonated right next to them, and somehow their allies could escape so she could reach them before she had to retreat.
If only there had been some way to confirm her husband's and friends' whereabouts in their hastily made plans to take down the Lab once and for all.
But it didn't matter now. The Lab was doomed. The deed was done. No matter what the cost had been. All of them would have to live with the consequences of the one chance that presented itself to cripple the Movement permanently.
Kida doubled her resolve to live through this Movement counterattack, but not for selfish reasons. With Dirk's and Sarah's violent deaths, probably fatal wounds to Fritz and others, she was the only other orca demolition team member with a portable air lock lashed her back and concealed under her camouflage that could transport several small land mammals safely to the surface.
She knew that time was running out to rescue Nick and Judy. And the battle with the walruses was not over.
The killer whale could see some of the attachments of the Lab sag and twist into ugly shapes, subjected to the damage of the explosives and the weight of the water the structure was not designed to hold. She heard the unearthly groans of bending, weakened metal. There was not much time left and there was no sign of their friends.
She confronted one of Bart's stunned special ops walruses that had drifted too near to her. Fighting the lingering paralysis from the blasts, she opened her huge maw and her opponent screamed in fear, staring the twin rows of razor sharp orcan teeth. She bit down hard and whipped the helpless walrus around in the water, severing his head walrus in a cloud of blood and water, then winced and spat out the remains. Kida had forgotten how much she hated gristly and fatty walrus meat. She struggled to move over to help her other comrades not as recovered as her fight the remaining walruses.
But Kida was stopped short of the next attack on another partially paralyzed walrus. She gasped involuntarily and stopped mid-swim, facing the business end of the Silver Tusk's energy weapon and others in his team who were able to move and train their weapons upon her and her comrades. Somehow her nemesis and his friends had recovered faster than she and her team did.
To emphasize that the Movement terror team had the orcas cornered, Bart and his colleagues shot energy bolts that flanked Kida and her team that instantaneously boiled and bubbled the water on either side of them, cutting off any chance of escape.
Kida and her squad knew they were trapped.
Hoping to buy time and to barter for her own ransom with Nemo, she shouted in echo speech, "We surrender!"
"Accepted!" Bart lied in his stilted version of the orcan underwater dialect, then ordered his still slightly sluggish team, "Disarm them!"
The walruses gathered the orcas' weapons. Killer whales historically were invincible while underwater against any pinniped, with their size and speed advantage over the smaller mammals. Faced with the overwhelming technological advantage of the Movement underwater energy bolt guns, Kida and her team were just overly large blubbery targets. This close to the business end of Bart's weapons, the pinnipeds would never miss their huge targets.
Bart grinned, allowed himself a moment to revel in the satisfaction of Kida's capitulation, and relished the fact that there would be no orca survivors. He wouldn't waste the perfect chance to finish off the new brash head of the Cetacean crime family and her top henchmammals. That would leave Orcandor leaderless - except for Kida's fool husband Milo - and virtually undefended for the retaliatory Movement attack by Nemo commanding the Nautilus.
Bart's team hovered in the water and leveled their weapons at the huddling orca pod to finish them off. He had heard that killer whale meat tasted pretty good. The warrior walrus knew that Nemo would be very proud of his team, if they were ever reunited, and planned to present his boss Kida's severed head as proof of their deed.
…Corridor near Michael's room. Only seconds before…
Judy worried that she would not reach and fire her megawatt taser at the deadly armed squad of pinniped guards before they were shot.
Her worry was interrupted by a blinding flash from an explosion immediately beside and slightly above the guards and ear-splitting concussion that ripped open the side of the pressurized Lab pod and corridor as easily as a can opener opens a tin can. A powerful wall of ice-cold sea water gushed through the ragged opening and upended Thomas and his team. Their weapons flew out of their flippers. Sizzling white hot shrapnel from the force of explosion on the outside of the Lab and shredded two of Thomas' comrades, splattering blood and gore all over the rest of his squad and washed the security detail survivors and the grisly remains of the victims toward the shocked fox, rabbit, and rabox at breathtaking speed. Thomas' security team took the main impact of the explosion, but flying shards of superheated metal grazed Judy's arm, burned her, and she winced. Blood seeped through her fused fur.
In a desperate effort to avoid the water hammer and flailing pinniped bodies rushing toward them, Judy, Michael, and Nick – all leaping mammals - instinctively jumped and clung desperately to overhead power and data cable racks bolted to the ceiling, keeping clear of any of severed electrical lines. The flailing pinnipeds tumbled and roared their displeasure, trying to stop themselves from being washed away, but the current was too strong, and floated underneath the forest mammal intruders. A couple of the guards managed to recover their weapons and fire a few shots wildly at their targets, but the pulses ricocheted harmlessly off the metal walls. The din of the high-pressure water streaming through the jagged opening left by the explosives outside was deafening.
Michael lamented rhetorically while clinging to another cable run beside Judy, "How many more bombs are there?"
He was answered the sounds of nearly ten more explosions ringing and echoing throughout the complex answered him, rattling and shaking them each time.
"Aren't you sorry you asked?" Nick deadpanned through clenched teeth.
The fox knew the Lab was in serious trouble. He had a terrible flashback of the Movement's Lair collapsing in front of him beneath the Zootopia riverfront port with Judy in her tethered divers suit trapped inside. The trio gripped the anchors of the metal cable rack, worried about its structural integrity, which could drop them into the surging water at any moment just as helplessly as the pinniped security guards.
Shouting over the sound of the torrent and tortured metal while trying to make progress to a less damaged part of the Lab corridor, Michael asked, "Damn… who did this?"
"Probably our friend Kida," answered Judy, inching along an elongated metal cable guide flange behind Michael.
Following Judy's lead along the flange, the rabox asked incredulously, "The orcas? How did they get this close? There's a bioelectrical shield out there designed to stop any aquatic mammal. It would kill them."
Nick speculated as he followed the lead of the others along the cable run, "It had to be the power outage – it gave them the opening."
Michael worried, "I thought that Zipporah and Regil would be able to warn your friends that we were still down here."
"It doesn't matter now; we just need to get out," Judy tried to reassure the frantic hybrid, feeling more confident moving along the ceiling much further away from the explosion site, but she also noticed that the water below them was filling up the corridor. They knew what would happen if the current rose up to them - especially if the main electrical power returned.
Michael regained some emotional control and reminded them, "No matter what, we need to get to that sub before it leaves."
Nick answered confidently despite his great concerns of everything collapsing on them, "We're here for you, cousin."
His words seemed to reassure Michael considerably and he moved with purpose through the tangle of the cable rack. Finally, the trio reached the end of the damaged pod where it joined several other structures that appeared undamaged and not flooded. The hybrid looked down at the dry pathway from his perch in the cable rack, and cautiously dropped to the floor.
He helped his cousins down from the overhead racks, directed them and pointed, "Let's go this way. This is the way out of the Lab to Nemo's sub pen."
"Assuming it's not flooded too," Nick cautioned, but his statement was not a complaint.
"It's a chance we have to take, Nick, dear," Judy encouraged to further bolster Michael – and her fox.
Not too far down the corridor they found themselves mixed in with a large herd of milling, panicked mammals of every size and species, fighting to get to the main elevator at the upper end of the Lab that would take them "topside" to the secret 44th column exit into the Institute and to safety. Because of the power outage and communications systems failures, none of them knew if the escape route was even working. The frantic inhabitants of the Lab were so worried for their own lives that no one paid any attention to the unfamiliar snouts of Nick and Judy and the fact that Xobar was free.
It was disturbing to Nick and Judy how many different species that Nemo had brainwashed to join his twisted cause against interspecies relationships. It confirmed for them that Movement operatives could be anyone anywhere at any time.
By dodging and weaving their way through the tangled jumble of mammals, side-stepping very large mammals that might crush them, and ducking under the legs of others, Michael managed to guide his cousins safely to a relatively empty place that seemed to lead outside the Laboratory. It was a very long passageway with a sweeping turn embedded with large plexiglass ocean observation ports. The structure was firmly anchored to the slopes of a towering dark sea mount. The long passage didn't seem damaged, and its interior glowed eerily with the dim emergency lighting. Portions of some sort of large lighted vessel could be seen in the far-distant end of the corridor through the observation windows.
The rabbit-fox pointed down the long hallway and ordered with a confident smile, "We're getting close now. Come on!"
The threesome scampered away from the mass of frightened mammals behind them.
…Bart's Apartment in Atlantea…
Bart's young girlfriend Tiffany was worried sick about him, having not seen her handsome walrus in days, and was especially frightened with the city in darkness with nothing working in the high-rise building. She needed him more than anything in her life. She'd broken into his apartment - worried that he was deathly ill. There, she found evidence of the real identity of Bart that horrified her, but she struggled with the conclusion that she loved him no matter what, and she vowed to save him from himself and his evil cohorts. Above all, she had to confront Bart and dare him to make a choice: be with her or be lost in this horrible "Movement" she'd just learned far too much about.
Tiffany had no idea where to find him, but she ignored the non-functional elevators, descended the emergency fire escape ladders to the ground many stories below his apartment, alighted in the alleyway, and rushed on her flippers to that pristine private beach – no matter how long it took her - where Bart had made beautiful love to her for the first time under the stars.
There she hoped to find Bart, and some answers for her breaking heart.
…Somewhere near the center of the crippled Lab…
Deciding to float with the torrent rather than fight it, Thomas and his surviving Lab security detail could no longer see the fox, rabbit, and Xobar they'd unsuccessfully cornered. The powerful current was dragging the security detail further and further away from the conspirators, but the team was simply trying to stay alive and afloat. They were helpless against the rapids that slammed them against the metal hull again and again. The pinnipeds were covered with painful bruises, abrasions, and gashes from objects and debris swept along with them in the corridor with which they could not avoid colliding. One of the team members narrowly avoided being impaled on a broken jagged pipe that protruded into the passageway. The power of the torrent prevented Thomas from even reaching his portable radio to warn Nemo of their current predicament. He knew the soaked radio was not likely to work anyway.
Thomas rationalized that it was better that Nemo didn't know what had happened during the confrontation. The elephant seal would be very upset with his security detail for having not engaged and eliminated the intruders as they were ordered. Thomas accepted that he and his team had failed miserably to protect the Lab against the seeming impossibility of sabotage within from the tiny intruders who were somehow collaborating with Xobar. What they had done to the Lab's power system undoubtedly enabled the devastation from attackers outside. Thomas also knew that Bart had failed to thwart the attack from the outside as well. He worried that his friend was even still alive.
Thomas sighed. For the moment, not being able to communicate with Nemo was blissful, and that would keep them alive a little longer from the boss' wrath.
From the deteriorating conditions all around him, the security chief could see that the Lab was doomed. He needed alternate plans for his team's survival. He guessed that the orcas had most likely attached the charges to the most easily accessible flat surfaces of the pods - far from the cramped geometry of the central core to which every habitat, equipment pod, and service module were affixed - so that the large mammals could get close, place their charges, and get away from the Lab before the mines exploded.
Thomas knew that the Nautilus had already been prepared to cast off today so that Nemo could initiate the worldwide spread of the anti-mixed species/hybrid virus, but that was before any of this destruction happened. Now, because of the crisis, the sub would launch as soon as Nemo could safely evacuate, leaving everyone else behind to fend for themselves on the dying Lab.
It wasn't mean. It was just the way things were.
Everyone in the Movement served Nemo, and in life or death situations, the only priority for everyone was to assure Nemo's survival. Thomas knew there no way for his team to get to the Nautilus to escape with Nemo – access to the sub pen was through the long corridor on the opposite side of the Lab from where they were drifting further away from every second. Any access to the sub was probably flooded or demolished anyway.
Despite Thomas' sworn loyalty to the supreme leader of the Movement, the security pinniped had to escape the short-lived Lab with his remaining security team to live another day, join up with Bart and Nemo, and plot their revenge against their attackers. He alone of his team knew there was another way out of the Lab. He knew he could take advantages of the flood that was sweeping them to the central core - filled with staircases and ladders – that would guide them to that escape path.
Thomas' thoughts were interrupted when one of his panicked team members inquired, "Sargeant, what are we going to do? We don't want to drown."
Thomas replied calmly, "See the ladders ahead? Grab one of those guard rails and hold on. We'll climb down from there."
"Down, Sarge? The water is going to fill up the bottom of the Lab first," queried another fretful sentry.
Thomas answered, "I know that. Trust me."
"OK Sarge," the guard answered, feeling little comfort from his leader's explanation.
Thomas' entire team thought their superior officer had gone mad, but everyone did what he ordered. Reaching the core, they grasped the ladder rails firmly before falling over the edge into the open interior of the core, dragged themselves from the torrent, regained their balance on a platform above the water, and started the descent down to the bottom of the rapidly flooding and disintegrating Lab.
…Fusion Reactor Control Room…
Balthazar and his team of Power Plant technicians picked themselves up from the floor of the control room. They wondered how long they had been unconscious. Their ears were still ringing from what seemed to be an interminable number of consecutive explosions that rippled through the metal construction. Balthazar concluded that the metal superstructure in the base of the Lab had focused and amplified the sonic transmission of the explosions above them. Before his team had all collapsed, it had sounded like the interminable detonations were going off in the middle of the control room. The reactor chief was even more worried as he heard sounds of flowing water above them.
The Steller seal tried to ignore his heart pounding in this throat and struggled to be a good leader. He got up, groaned in pain, but asked in a shakier voice than he wanted, "Is everyone all right?"
Balthazar discovered that he had just shouted. He was temporarily deaf from the focused acoustics that travelled through the metal structure. His team struggled to grip back of their chairs and anything else they could balance on and support themselves on their flippers.
"We're OK boss," the monk seal tentatively stated.
"Speak for yourself, dude," the eldest member of the team retorted, cradling a broken fore-flipper with the other. He cringed in pain.
"Something really bad happened topside, boss," stated the leopard seal technician.
Balthazar reminded them, "Maybe so, but we have to get the reactor started again guys. That's our job. Nemo has a bunch of security mammals to take care of whatever happened up there, but I'll see what's happening."
The reactor chief discovered that his portable two-way radio and intercom to Nemo's control center were both dead. He sighed, but was satisfied he'd tried to reestablish contact, so he informed his fellows, "The comms are dead… we'll try again later. Let's get back to business. Now… where were we? Oh yeah. Let's reconfirm 'Pre-start Item #64'…"
The team was interrupted while conducting the fusion reactor startup procedure by a familiar, but seldom seen, whiskered muzzle who opened the control room door. The sea lion looked relieved and angry at the same time, but he was soaked to the bone with multiple injuries.
Security chief Thomas demanded, "Balthazar? There you are! Are you guys OK? No one has heard from you. Why haven't you contacted anyone? Power is off everywhere."
Balthazar looked annoyed at the latest interruption, and was shocked at Thomas' appearance, even though they were the same species of pinniped, "We're fine. We know that the power is off. We're trying to get the reactor back on line right now. I tried to call Nemo, but all the COMMS are dead. Thomas, what the hell happened up there? What's with all the explosions?"
Thomas grimly explained, "Xobar and some unknown intruders jettisoned the hybrid Hab, the power went down, and the frickin' orcas got through the shield. They put mines all over the Lab pods and Habitats. There's nine confirmed major explosions and we're flooding everywhere. The whole Lab is going to collapse any second. Nemo is leaving on the Nautilus. Only essential personnel are staying. Everyone else has to evacuate to the surface now. Including you!"
Balthazar failed to comprehend the gravity of Thomas' explanation about the dire state of affairs above them and questioned, "But what about the reactor, Thomas? We must get it started again - if not the Lab, for the cities."
Thomas emphasized, "Didn't you hear me? Everything is lost. Screw the reactor. Screw Atlantea and Cetacea. Let Atlantea go back to burning wood and the friggin' cetaceans live off millions of air tanks."
"But…" Balthazar stammered.
Thomas stared him down and ordered, "But nothing, Balthazar. You're the only fusion reactor experts in the entire world. You have an obligation to Nemo to build another reactor wherever he goes to hide again. So, you'll go with us now."
"We need more time. We can get this thing going… 30 minutes tops. Then we can go," Balthazar resisted.
Balthazar's techs looked at him dubiously, and Thomas wasn't taking any more disagreements. He clutched his bent gun as if it would work, pointed it directly in Balthazar's muzzle and demanded, "I said: we leave now!"
As if to emphasize Thomas' point, everyone ducked instinctively, as they heard some bulkheads give way above them, and the sound of flowing water became a lot closer than ever before. A couple of metal wall seams and rivets popped and flew across the control room, embedding themselves an inch deep in dials and gages and another one lodged in the monk seal's blubbery side. A spot of blood seeped through his technician lab coat and he groaned, clutching the wound.
Thomas wasn't bluffing about the extent of the damage to the Lab.
But being a pinniped of single-minded purpose, sworn to maintain the reactor at all costs, Balthazar pondered a way he could convince Thomas that they had to stay. Before he could answer, the oldest technician, the bearded seal, put his flipper around Balthazar's shoulder, and encouraged quietly, "Let's go, boss. You always wanted to build that new reactor design anyway."
Balthazar nodded and glanced above them, as more metal bending sounds were heard. A high-pressure jet of water popped through a wall seam and sliced a metal locker full of tools in the control room in half and it collapsed. Everyone knew that could have been one of them, and they were even more worried that in seconds they could be be crushed by millions of tons of metal above them while being simultaneously drowned.
"All right… all right. We'll go," the Steller seal sighed.
As they left, Balthazar pulled the emergency power cut off circuit breaker and heard a final electronic whir down to silence. The magnetic containment field in the reactor room next door died, and all the fusion materials dissipated harmlessly into the confines of the reactor core.
The big Steller seal sighed as if losing a loved one, patted the reactor console, and wept, "Goodbye, good and faithful friend."
"Let's go, Balthazar…" Thomas urged, but a little more compassionately.
Leaving the control room, the team members, except for Balthazar, instinctively turned to climb up a ladder to the hatch that separated the Lab from the power plant.
"Uh boss? Remember? This way," urged the leopard seal.
Thomas scowled at Balthazar, and he corrected his team by stating and pointing down the ladder, "Sorry guys, we go down here."
"Down? That's just the way into the cave, boss. It's a dead end of solid rock. We'll be trapped. We have to get to the elevator just like the others," warned the bearded seal.
Balthazar corrected his team, "If it's as bad as Thomas says, we'll never get to the elevator. Everything is probably under water. Besides, it's not just a cave. It's a tunnel all the way to the surface."
They looked at Balthazar as if he had three heads and gave Thomas a questioning glance.
The security chief shrugged and answered the doubters, "Your boss is right."
Surprised by this new revelation, the Power Plant technicians followed orders of Thomas and Balthazar, the leopard seal, who always had a short temper, grumbled, "Why didn't anyone tell us?"
Their leader was silent and swallowed hard. His silence evoked an angry response from the bearded seal, "Balthazar, you were keeping secrets."
"Because you guys didn't need to know," Balthazar replied coldly. His tone silenced any more questions.
Outside of the control room, they traveled down the short corridor to the service exit access ladders at the base of the Lab. Their progress was slowed by flipper-deep, ice-cold water that was seeping in from the flooding above them. The flow was faster as it cascaded down the stairs and ladders. Negotiating the slippery steps was treacherous, but they cautiously descended. While the thick, highly reinforced base of the Lab imbedded in rock was relatively undamaged, they knew soon the relentless pressure and weight of the water would be too much. The Lab core would collapse upon its own base and torrent of the ocean water held back by the weakening structure would inundate the interior, drowning and crushing anyone left inside.
The small cadre of surviving guards and reactor technicians continued downward silent and alone.
Or so they thought.
As they were going down the final set of ladders that led to the locked access hatch to the cave entrance and power cable runs from the reactor, they came muzzle-to-snout with a moose in camouflage with a really big gun climbing up the same ladder, followed by some kind of horse. Both strangers wore unfamiliar camouflage fatigues that were definitely not Movement combat uniforms. The land mammals were much bigger than they thought, and some of the pinnipeds had never seen a moose or horse.
The muscular horse joked and grinned at the odd collection of pinnipeds above him, and asked with feigned sincerity and politeness, "Excuse us, guys, please move aside. We're coming through."
"Who the hell are you?" demanded Thomas, who was not amused by the equine humor.
Only a few meters separated the moose and pinniped a half-flight above him on the ladder. It was a standoff, with no one budging a centimeter.
"We were about to ask you the same question. Out of our way, Movement scum. We need to find our friends," the moose replied just as sternly, and aimed his weapon at Thomas. The military mammal was not interested in concealing which side he represented.
Infuriated, Thomas instantly knew who they were talking about and warned, "Look what your friends did to us. We left them to drown. We didn't stop them, but you'll never get through us."
Thomas and his team aimed their twisted and broken weapons at the Pony and moose. It wasn't a very good bluff.
Milo grinned and scoffed and aimed his fully operational taser rifle upward at Thomas, "Not with those. Ours work."
The whine of the cocked ZSDF taser weapons hummed at the pinnipeds and two laser dots found their marks on Thomas.
Infuriated, Thomas tossed his useless weapon aside and clenched his flippers. He pulled out his vicious-looking combat knife and threatened, "This always works. There's only two of you and six of us!"
Thomas' security team prepared for a knife fight on the ladder. They had the high ground and gravity was on their side.
Letting go of the ladder handrails, the huge pinniped leaped at the moose, his team followed, and Thomas shouted, "For Nemo!"
Despite being hoofed mammals, Milo and the Colonel deftly swung around the back of the ladder, causing Thomas to misjudge his jump. One of his back flippers got caught on a slippery ladder rung, and he tumbled snout-over-flippers. That caused a chain reaction that tripped the other pinnipeds mid-leap, and they all piled on top of Thomas in a mound of blubber at the bottom of the ladder two meters below. Thomas groaned with a sharp pain. It felt like he had a broken rib.
Milo and the Colonel swung back on the suddenly clear ladder rungs and started climbing again, leaving the Lab security squad in a painful, tangled mess below them, and they confronted the completely unarmed reactor tech team. The technicians froze.
The moose threatened, "Get out of our way - or join your friends."
Balthazar and the power plant workers averted eye contact with the moose and simply moved out of Milo and Colonel's way. They were not warriors, especially staring down the barrels of operational weapons pointed at them.
"Thanks for letting us through, guys," Milo snorted with false politeness passing by them.
With the way above open, Milo and Colonel continued unabated up the ladder.
The Movement security team was in no shape to pursue this second set of intruders and unable to recover and throw their knives. Thomas shouted angrily upward, shaking his clenched flipper at the Pony and moose, "The Lab is done for. You'll drown before you find those bastards."
The Colonel yelled back without looking, "We'll take that chance."
Further up, and still ascending the ladders and moving through hatches, getting wetter by the moment, Milo suggested to the Colonel, "Shouldn't we have arrested those guys or something?"
The Colonel explained, "No time, Milo. That's ZPD's worry. Not ours. Besides, how many Steller seals are there in the world? We'll find that guy again. Besides, if they escape into the cave, they'll run into the rest of our squad. They're no match for our buddies. Most of them were scientists or something anyway. Did you see their white coats? I don't think those lab rats will put up much of a fight with real guns pointed at their muzzles – knives or not."
"You got that right, Colonel," Milo replied, with even greater respect for the moose and his tactics than ever.
The pair continued with their dangerous task of working their way higher and further into the Lab to find Nick and Judy. There were Movement bodies everywhere, either killed by the explosions or crushed by debris or drowned. Further up the open core of Lab, they could see water pouring in harder. The duo made sure to avoid being knocked off the access ladders by the surging water, and dodged pieces of falling internal structure. Everywhere there were the frightening sounds of metal screaming with forces the structure was not designed to withstand. Huge sections of the Lab were sagging at odd angles. The Colonel and Milo needed to find Nick and Judy and their hybrid ally to escape or be trapped like the rest of the Movement.
"If I were Nick and Judy, I'd get the hell out of here already. We should too," Milo strongly suggested, more worried each second that their search would be fruitless.
"We promised Nick and Judy reinforcements. We must find them," the Colonel stated resolutely, "We're not going to lose them like we lost Sam and Mitch."
Milo resisted arguing. He knew how badly the Colonel's comrades' violent deaths hurt the big moose. Despite his strong military discipline, Milo worried the ZSDF warrior might risk their safety by doing something reckless in his grief, but before the Pony could argue, something else caught their attention.
As they passed by another set of portholes mounted in the central core, and their eyes caught a flash in the ocean outside. Both peered through the portholes carefully. Between the Lab and what was clearly a big submarine in the distance, both could see that Nemo's underlings had cornered Kida's demolition team.
It had clearly been a deadly battle between them – several orcas and pinnipeds floated dead in the water around both groups. One was Dirk, Milo's favorite Friday night poker partner. A huge dark hole was now where Dirk's stomach should have been. He choked up when he saw Sarah dead too – Kida's childhood best friend. Fritz – Milo's martial arts training partner - was mangled and writhing in pain, missing his fluke and a flipper, spewing a cloud of bright red blood into the water.
Milo did everything to control his panic at what he witnessed and shouted, "Freakin' Nature, Colonel, the Movement has Kida! They'll kill her. We have to save them now. That's my wife out there."
The moose knew there was no time to argue. The search for Nick and Judy would have to wait and he said urgently to Milo, "Then take this."
The warrior offered the Pony a cigar-shaped breather – a bigger version of what Nick and Judy had.
Calming a little, with his hoof, Milo gently pushed the breather away but replied appreciatively, "Thanks Colonel, but I don't need this. Remember, I'm pretty good at holding my breath. It'll just slow me down."
"Oh… right…" the moose replied, and remembered what made Chincoteague Ponies special, but he remained insistent, "Take it anyway, just in case someone else out there may need it."
"Uh… thanks," Milo replied a bit surprised, and noted, "Good thinking."
The Pony jammed it in a pocket.
"Take this too," the Colonel requested.
Milo Looked at the object curiously, "Why the heck do I need a pen, Colonel?"
The moose explained, "It's a weapon, but it only works once. Just click, aim and shoot. Then… zap! You've got your own private lightning storm – a megawatt pulse. it'll tase a whole army at close range."
"Whoa – a megawatt? Will it work on those guys?" Milo asked and gestured to the pinnipeds outside.
"Yeah, but it might kill you too. It's not designed to work in water," cautioned the military mammal.
Milo gave the Colonel a serious look and stated gravely, knowing he was running out of time to save Kida's team, "Give me that thing; I'll think of something."
The moose volunteered, "I'm coming with you."
Milo nodded his thanks and both mammals ascended to what appeared to be an airlock on the next level up in the core. There, they quickly read the instructions while the moose affixed his breather to his muzzle.
"Well… this seems pretty straightforward," the Colonel commented, "But it'll take 5 minutes to get out."
Milo gave his teammate a nervous reply, "Pardon me, Colonel, but Kida doesn't have 5 minutes. The whole frickin' Lab might not have 5 minutes!"
"Then we have this," the Colonel suggested and pulled out a compact explosive charge from a uniform pocket.
Milo forced a smile and noted, "We're going to make you 'Family', yet, Colonel."
"'Not sure if the Mayor will agree with that, Milo, but thanks," the Colonel managed to snicker.
Both knew that an explosive decompression of the airlock would make maximum use of the interior air pressure to propel them rapidly to Kida much like torpedoes in a tube. The moose attached the charge to the middle of the hatch locking mechanism, armed the remote fuse, and backed up.
"Ready?" the warrior asked.
"Not quite," Milo hesitated.
The Colonel witnessed Milo hastily unsheathe his jungle knife, wrap the megawatt pen firmly to the blade's wrist strap, and gripped it tightly in his hoof.
"Are you sure that's going to work?" the Colonel gave his equine ally a dubious look.
"'You got any better ideas, soldier?" Milo asked.
"Uh… No. Good luck," the Colonel concluded, faced the firmly locked hatch with the remote trigger box in his hoof, hoping the charge was enough to completely blow it off its hinges.
Each large mammal drew themselves up into a ball and crouched low in the airlock to protect their muzzles and extremities and did so to minimize hitting anything on the way out of the hatch at very high speed.
"Fire in the hole!" the Colonel yelled through his mouthpiece and pushed the detonator button.
They saw the flash, heard the concussion, and felt the air pressure shoot them free from the Lab before the water flooded into the hatch.
Suddenly they were in the ice-cold ocean far from the Lab airlock.
The moose watched in wonder as immersion in sea water instantly activated the Chincoteague Pony's gills and webbing, realized he was witnessing for the first time the secret he was sworn to defend all those many years ago. It was a miracle of evolution as profound as the hybrids. Milo swam toward Kida's team at high speed. Moose are good swimmers, but against the naturally-evolved Chincoteague Pony's webbed legs and hooves, he quickly fell behind as they swam, but did his best. It appeared they weren't noticed.
…Suspended in the ocean water outside the Lab…
Indeed, Milo and the Colonel had not been noticed. The blown airlock hatch looked and sounded like just one more structural breech or a secondary explosion from the Lab among all the other rapidly deteriorating conditions. Bart and his team's eyes were all riveted on Kida and her raiding party. The walruses looked for 'the word' from Bart to start the executions.
"Goodbye Kida," barked Bart with a sinister smile in the orcan echolocation language. His metal tusk glinted against the continuing flashes behind them.
Looking Bart right in the eye, trying to not focus what she noticed behind her foe, Kida flashed a huge mouthful of teeth, and quipped, "Or maybe not."
Before Bart could react to her insult, a large camouflaged shape flashed by. It was Milo, swimming at breakneck speed. He broke through Bart's formation of Movement defenders, and as he did, the Pony thrust out one of his hooves, and buried his long jungle knife up to its hilt into the neck of the biggest and meanest of Bart's companions.
The injured walrus screamed and clawed at his neck but could not reach the deadly knife with his flipper, and a cloud of blood blossomed around the wound. He fainted in a cloud of exhaled bubbles before Bart could do anything.
"Whut-?" stammered Bart and the other shocked colleagues, observing the impossibly fast attacker somersault and swim away in a heartbeat.
Much further behind, but closing the distance, the Colonel saw, in the next instant, a blinding, expanding sphere of electricity more than a dozen meters in diameter completely enveloped the Movement commandos, and its edges spread into Kida's team.
Jagged tendrils of electricity more intense than any natural lightning pulsated as if they were alive, expanded in every direction, and partially engulfed Milo as he tried to escape the center of the charge. The Pony felt the electricity paralyzing him on one side, his hair stood on end even immersed in the water, and his hide crawled with what felt like a million bee stings, sending him tumbling out of control in the dark waters.
The moose kicked as hard as he could to catch up with his foundering teammate and Kida's demolition team before the walruses could recover and press their attack.
Milo managed to regain enough control of his body to see all the walruses floating randomly, separated from their weapons, but couldn't tell if they were dead or only stunned. He returned to the cluster of motionless mammals, reached for Kida and the remaining members of her team, who seemed to be less affected by the massive taser blast, and were twitching sluggishly. He reasoned that it was perhaps because of the orcas' greater natural insulation with thick blubber hides.
Kida grasped her husband with great difficultly but managed to kiss him fully on the snout.
She spoke in echo tones, but her voice was slurred with partial paralysis, "Y-y-you're… my… hero!"
Milo replied in her species' underwater tongue, "Or a complete idiot."
Recovering quickly from the shock, Kida retorted, "Right now it doesn't matter. We have a home and mammals to defend, sweetheart. Clyde's very worried."
"Let's go then," Milo urged. He was very worried about Silver Tusk and his buddies recovering just as fast as the orcas and pressing another attack.
The orca matriarch hesitated only a moment, and gestured to a team member, "But we also made a promise to Nick and Judy. Frederick, stay behind and look for the fox and rabbit. As soon as they get out of the Lab, you must save them. No matter what. Understood?"
"Yes ma'am," Frederick replied dutifully, and joked seriously, "I could use some Movement target practice."
Kida quickly removed her portable airlock and Frederick strapped it on his back. It appeared to be fully functional and leak free. Kida also offered Frederick her weapon so that he had one for each flipper. He looked like something out of a mammal commando action movie – minus the bandoliers of batteries. He looked absolutely ferocious.
They all turned their heads hearing groans and saw spasms from few of the walruses as they partially awakened and fought to regain control of their bodies. A couple of the pinnipeds weren't dead even after absorbing a megawatt of energy at point blank range.
"They're waking up!" Kida warned motioned with her flipper at the Colonel, an obvious ally of Milo even though they'd never met, and she invited, "Come with us, friend."
"Mrs. Kida, ma'am, thanks, but I have to stay for Nick and Judy," the Colonel refused politely through his breather, knowing some of the orca echo speech, "Besides… Frederick needs someone to check his 'six"."
Frederick appreciated the Colonel's offer and saluted him respectfully.
Kida grinned and acknowledged, "I like you Zootopians. Such loyalty. You're just like Family. Fru Fru was right about all of you."
The Colonel picked up a few of her words, and instantly knew that the two cities' dominant crime families were linked. It was an encouraging - yet chilling - thought. Not to mention he'd never seen so many huge mouths close-up with so many razor-sharp teeth.
But it was time to part company. The surviving walruses would soon be a threat.
Swimming away from Kida, Frederick smiled at the Colonel and pointed emphatically to the sea mount, "Sir, we gotta go over there and hide."
The Colonel nodded, understood, and followed the cetacean away from the mass of drifting walruses. But as they departed, he noticed one of the walruses was different. One of his tusks glinted in reflected light from the floodlights on the sub docks in the distance.
With a jolt of instant recognition of that walrus, the Colonel thought, "This battle isn't over yet, Bartholomew."
As the moose and the orca approached the cliffs of the sea mount, offered Frederick his breather and the big aquatic mammal refused, noting in the strange clicks and barks of the orca underwater speech, "I'm good for another 10 minutes sir. We've only been submerged about 10 minutes."
The moose was impressed with the orcas' breath control and that of their pinniped foes.
At the edge of the sea mount, the duo passed above a long, seemingly empty and undamaged corridor that connected the sub pen to the Lab. It was lined with big observation windows and illuminated by the emergency lighting.
The Colonel gasped as he caught motion through those windows. There were three land mammals dashing at breakneck speed all alone in the corridor toward the submarine dock.
Two were hopping.
Those land mammals were clearly a fox, a rabbit, and a mammal he had never seen before. Instantly he knew who it was, where they were going, and what they were going to do.
"Nature bless you all," the Colonel could only think as he and Frederick disappeared into the jagged rocks of the sea mount.
Kida and Milo had a different destination. The pair turned toward Orcandor with their few surviving companions close behind in a tactical formation and prepared to depart. Before the Pony and orcas could escape, they heard an earsplitting whine emanating from the submarine.
…Bridge of the Nautilus. Seconds ago…
Nemo knew the dangers of a reactor emergency start, but he also knew that the Lab would collapse into the abyss at any moment, and take the whole sea mount with it, crushing the virus bioreactors in the cliffs, the sub pen, and the Nautilus under a mountain of rock.
Watching Hiram and the bridge crew's frantic efforts to comply his two-minute departure demand, Nemo punched another communications button and asked quietly, "Baby, where are you?"
"Dear, I'm on board in the family pod," a shaky female voice replied.
Nemo asked with great trepidation, "How many made it?"
"Only half of our sister wives and pups are on board at best. So many were doing morning chores all over the Lab. We were separated when all this happened. But I did get Thomas' wife on board," Nemo's first wife answered with a very heavy heart.
"His wife? I only told you to get family here," Nemo scolded.
"She's my best friend, Nemo. I couldn't leave her behind," she snapped back.
"OK… OK…" Nemo could barely state to his spouse, not about to argue with her at this point, but instructed further, "Get everyone settled. We're about to leave. It'll be rough."
Nemo pursed his bewhiskered and blubbery snout, said nothing else, killed the connection, and fought back a rare tear, slumping in his command chair, admitting in thought, "Only half…"
Gideon, the Nautilus Defensive Systems, ELINT and COMMS Operator, hearing Nemo's voice choked with rare emotion, attempted to divert his boss' attention while the helm was working, so he suggested, "Mr. Nemo, sir. We can't move out yet, but our defenses and weapons are fully operational. We're ready for Orcandor and anything else someone throws at us."
Nemo was relieved that his DSO forced him to focus on something else, and chastised his crew, "Finally! Someone is thinking ahead. And he's the only non-pinniped among us!"
The command staff all grimaced at the rebuke and resented the beaver's resourcefulness. Nemo was ready to bark another order when the sub's exterior surveillance cameras were overwhelmed by a blinding flash outside. So intense was the brightness of the monitors that the bridge crew had to cover their eyes with their flippers.
"What now?" Nemo asked in exasperation, gripping his command chair's flipper rests hard, and ordered, "I want a full report."
The intense blue-white flash didn't come from the direction of the Lab, and it wasn't an additional mine detonation. Nemo was angrier than ever that there was yet another unexpected, unpleasant surprise from the allies of the mixed species lovers over the past few minutes that now seemed like eons.
The DSO analyzed the flash, twisting some gages and displays, and reported, "Sir, it was… uh… an electrical pulse."
"An electrical pulse? How big?" Nemo asked in disbelief, knowing full well the Movement had the upper hand over any foes with their underwater energy guns, but nothing Bart had would make that kind of flash.
The busy beaver's eyes flew open in shock as he examined the readouts, "Uh… about a megawatt, sir!"
"A megawatt?" Nemo exclaimed.
"Yes sir. Monitors are clearing, sir, we can get a sit rep soon," was the DSO's reply.
The imposing pinniped stared into the monitors, expecting to see only fried pieces of his elite special operations team. However, when the monitors cleared and could show images again, he saw that Bart's team was motionless, but mostly intact. He couldn't determine who was alive or dead and was very frustrated that not only were most of the orcas alive, but also some were moving and gathering to escape. Kida had somehow survived this unimaginably powerful pulse and had been joined by her idiot husband Milo. Nemo squinted hard to figure out what the other hoofed land mammal with him was that was wearing some kind of breathing apparatus.
It was a moose.
The elephant seal realized in an instant what had happened and who was responsible for that megawatt pulse against Bart.
Nemo pounded his command chair flipper rest and bellowed so loud it shook the bridge's foundations, "Frickin' Zootopians!"
Realizing the inept Resistance and Cetacea crime family was being aided by an entire Nation state well beyond the disguised rogue actions of the vanquished fox and rabbit policemammals, Nemo rose out of his command chair, took matters into his own flippers that his underlings seemed to be unable to do,.
He blamed them as he ordered furiously, "So I have to do what Bart and Thomas can't? If our weapons are ready, then arm torpedoes. Tune the IR sensors exactly to orca body temperature: 99 vs. 97 degrees Fahrenheit."
"Aye aye, sir," Gideon complied.
Twisting the sensitivity dial on the torpedo sensors, the beaver could see the orca bodies shine brightly compared to Bart and the surrounding mostly motionless pinnipeds. The torpedo infrared homing guidance was extremely sensitive. The dead orcas and pinnipeds showed nearly black against an even blacker background of the ice-cold deep ocean.
"That's more like it," Nemo grinned and rubbed his flippers together with relish watching the targeting display repeater over his snout.
Next, the DSO adjusted the red flashing targeting reticle on the leader of the orcas, locked in her exact coordinates, smiled as the reticle turned green, and announced, "Torpedoes locked on Kida, sir."
Immediately, Nemo punched the air with his clenched fore flipper and screamed his revenge for his second oldest pup, "For Daniel! Launch!"
There was a flush of air from bow of the Nautilus as two tinfish rushed from their launch tubes into the deep waters of Atlantea. Gideon leaned back in his chair.
…Open water by Kida's team…
Kida, Milo, and the remaining members of her team saw the torpedoes turn and track directly at them. The Colonel and Frederick watched helplessly from their sea mount hiding place.
Still unable to move or respond, and with increasingly aching lungs, Bart could only helplessly watch everything going on around him and hoped the torpedoes would not home in on his squad. He sighed that the torpedoes seemed to ignore his team and chase the larger mammals.
The brace of torpedoes rapidly closed the distance to the orcas, and Kida could tell both were targeting her in particular, even though every orca was in danger. She swam at top speed, tried desperately dodge the deadly devices that matched her every maneuver at more than three times her velocity.
Fritz, an orca mortally wounded and near death, watched the seemingly certain end of Kida through a fog of fading consciousness. With every bit of his remaining strength, Fritz waited for Kida to make a turn that would bring her closer to him. He pumped the stump of his fluke and his one unsevered flipper. His efforts, coupled with his elevated body temperature from his wounds, drew one of the torpedoes toward him and the floating bodies of his already deceased companions.
"For Orcandor!" Fritz shouted and thrust himself directly in the path of the torpedo merely meters in front of him.
Kida heard her teammate's shout, glanced behind her while she fruitlessly tried to avoid the pursuit of the other torpedo, but could do nothing to help her friend.
"Sweet Nature, no!" she screamed.
It was too late. Kida shielded her eyes as Fritz took the direct impact. A huge detonation and concussion wave rocked the entire area, but Kida and her team safe were a safe distance away from the first torpedo.
She was safe – but only for a moment, as the second tinfish pursued her relentlessly.
The DSO watched as only parts of the orca who sacrificed himself blossomed on the sonar and watched the progress of the second torpedo pursue its wildly maneuvering orca target.
"Did we get her?" Nemo asked his bridge crew anxiously, not really understanding what he was seeing on the sonar. In the confusion of the fight and explosion in the dim deep water, every camouflaged orca looked like another.
The beaver reported to Nemo, "Negative sir. Torpedo #1 did make a direct hit on an orca combatant. But not Kida. Torpedo #2 is still closing on main target, sir."
"That's OK, sailor! Any dead orca is a good orca. We'll get her!" Nemo noted anxiously, trying to calm his own uncharacteristic panic in front of his minions.
"Yes sir, #2 closing on the leader. Five seconds to contact," the DSO reported.
"Good. Very good. Goodbye, Kida!" Nemo gloated, "Next, we'll get your husband and little friends, too!"
"There's only one way to shake this thing," Kida thought while her heart sank at the loss of yet another one of her elite response team and longtime friend.
She headed straight for center of the Lab's main vertical column.
Milo and the few remaining orcas lingered nearby watching for more torpedoes or more pinniped security troops to attack them, and hoped his wife knew what she was doing.
The main tower of the Lab loomed impossibly large in front of Kida and she swam underneath a couple of pods and Habs, missing them by centimeters.
The orca matriarch suddenly veered off her apparent collision course with the main tower at the last possible instant, pulling away hard and heading toward deeper waters where her Pony husband and the other few orcas hovered with worry.
"Shit!" Nemo stood up and screamed.
As maneuverable as the torpedo was, it couldn't respond as fast as Kida confined within all the Habitats and appendages of the Lab, and while trying to make a corrective turn to chase Kida, the weapon impacted the core column dead center. An unbelievably bright flash erupted, and a spherical concussion shock wave spread and enveloped every part of the Lab and propagated far into the surrounding ocean.
"Frickin' Nature!" The DSO exclaimed as the brightness of the torpedo's detonation subsided in the Nautilus' monitors.
The entire Movement command staff could see the cavernous hole in the Lab's massive base. The entire vertical core column and every structure and Hab still attached to the core had a sickening lean toward the ocean trench below. The once imposing and impenetrable Laboratory was sagging and completely misshapen.
Nemo realized that in his zeal to order the assassination of Kida in close proximity to the Lab, he had just destroyed his own creation, and everyone trapped inside.
The bridge crew knew it, but they said nothing.
Captain Hiram interrupted, trying to forget the fact that his fiancé was likely still inside the doomed Lab, "Begging your pardon Mr. Nemo, sir, the reactor's up. We're ready to depart. Heading?"
Ignoring the inquiry, Nemo snarled, "Where is Kida?"
The DSO cowered and replied, "Uh sir, the orcas have disappeared sir. All of them."
"How?" the elephant seal snapped.
The underling could only tell his boss the truth, "Sometime during the explosion sir. Every sensor was overwhelmed and broke lock. The orcas… they're just… gone… sir…"
Still in a rage that his foes had caused him to destroy his own Laboratory, he demanded of his Captain, "Hiram, I know where those bastards have gone: Orcandor! Cast off, lay in a direct course, and go to full speed. Gideon: get a spread of IR homing torpedoes ready – enough to wipe out 'the Family'. Two can play at this game."
Feeling the Nautilus drift free from its moorings, Captain Hiram gripped the helm firmly in his flippers, revved the throttle to full, and the big submersible accelerated so fast everyone had to hang on to their seats.
Nemo tried not to look back at the fatal damage to the Lab and the roaring flood rushing down the long corridor that joined the Lab to the sub pen that would engulf the dock crew and drown them in seconds.
…Above the Lab…
The last elevator from the Lab to the secret entrance inside the 44th column of the Institute, crammed to overflowing with the final pawful of Lab evacuees, witnessed everything that transpired outside as the fully transparent gondola rose above all the carnage. The occupants could only look down with horror upon the battle for survival between the Movement and the Resistance and the devastation that had been wrought. They would never forget the looks of hopelessness from the throngs of Movement comrades still trapped inside the Lab elevator shaft loading platform as the survivors sped upward to a very uncertain future.
Everyone knew Nemo had abandoned them as they watched the Nautilus sail away at high speed, and hatred began to well in them.
The mammals were shaken briefly as the transparent elevator shaft snapped off from the Lab well below them, but the rising torrent bubbling up from below the shaft would never overtake the speedy gondola.
They gasped, seeing the crippled Lab begin its final plunge into the ocean trench.