Number 6 paced back and forth in his 'home away from home' relentlessly, back and forth, until he felt his rug would show signs of wear and tear.
He didn't care if he was being watched by Number 2 and his obsessively-observant lackeys- he needed to release his pent-up frustrations, and this was one activity that the jailers of the Village couldn't stop him from doing. Oh, they'd comment, and question, and advise, and tut-tut it, but like a caged lion, Number 6 was becoming increasingly frustrated with his confined area.
And that wretched soft music that was piped endlessly through the strange, cordless, buttonless radio in his quarters wasn't helping his mood either.
He could take a walk in the garden, a walk along the beach- obsessively-observed, of course, or have a meal at the cafe, but he'd done all that in the strange, nameless Village. It was like being trapped on holiday at the resort from hell, surrounded by mindless automatons that went about their fake business day in day out, with their little number patches stuck to their lapels, with only the merest of distractions offered every few weeks to break up the monotony.
And Number 6 didn't exactly make alot of friends here, in the past year that he'd been incarcerated at the Village. There was no one he could trust completely, for fear that he was actually dealing with a Village agent or operative, whose sole purpose was to get close to 6, gain his confidence, and squeeze out any morsel of information from him, no matter how minuscule or irrelevant the data. They wanted to know mainly why he'd resigned from the British Secret Service, but Number 6 had fought off all attempts to learn more about him, other than what was on record at his Organization, or what other spy services (ie. the CIA, the KGB, IMF, etc.) already knew about him. He hated being cast as a distrustful, angry loner, but the Village had made him this way.
Just as they'd taken away his name and given him a number.
He'd often wondered what had happened to the original Number 6- probably some poor fool that was an agent back in the 1920's or '30's who resigned, and was one of the first occupants of the newly-built Village. He'd probably passed away shortly before he'd been kidnapped, himself, and brought here, since he'd seen people with numbers as high as 130, and he assumed that the Village controllers would just keep going higher numerically, until a lower number became 'available', and was then filled by a new arrival.
The Prisoner wasn't wrong about being watched, however...
In the dome-like Control Room, the new Number 2 watched Number 6 pace back and forth, as his bald accomplice, the Supervisor, observed the repetitive actions on the screen alongside him. This Number 2 had been in power for almost two months now, and just like all his predecessors, assigned the task of breaking Number 6. Oh, there were several other tasks and assignments throughout the Village- Number 6 wasn't the only man present that had to be cracked and examined, but none were as stubborn and difficult to work with than 6.
This Number 2 was in his early sixties, with slight bags under his eyes, and pronounced nose, and a full head of wavy white hair with the last strands of his formerly-blond coiffure, streaked here and there. His eyes held a hawkish-like intensity, with blue eyes that looked like they could see through walls, and had seen more years than his actual age implied. Dressed in the standard black blazer of Office with the ceremonial scarf, the cuffs of his shirt ended with ruffles encircling his wrists. He was also rather tall, at 6 foot 2, and seemed most comfortable with his arms crossed in front of his chest, staring down at anyone that came close to him.
"If I didn't know better I'd swear that you were showing me a recording of Number 6 from a month ago," Number 2 commented, his voice tight and melodic, like an actor with 40 years experience behind him. The Supervisor looked at his superior, barely holding back a look of indignation behind his small metal-rimmed glasses. "Just a light comment, old chap. Number 6 is positively predictable in this aspect. I wonder if he paced this much back home or on his missions?"
"The image is live, sir," the Supervisor droned, barely hiding his contempt for the questioning of his services.
"I know that. Just making a little joke- do try to lighten up, that's a good fellow. My predecessors have added a grand total of two pages of data to Number 6's file. Does this seem adequate?"
"Not in the least," the Supervisor replied, his back straightening from the insult. "Indeed, Number 6 should have broken in the first six months."
"I agree. I'm not so sure it was the failure of previous Number 2s, although our masters are treating it as such. Many should have kept their jobs, if only to see through numerous attempts to make Number 6 come around to our way of thinking. I have several ideas in mind, some of which will take time to implement and see through to the end, and I would appreciate an opportunity to achieve this goal."
"The Village is at your service, Number 2."
"Mm. I'm sure it is."
Number 2 and the Supervisor watched as Number 6 finally left his small home, and followed his progress as he walked aimlessly through the Village, barely acknowledging the existence with anyone else, as some friendly occupants gave him a pleasant 'Be seeing you!' salute, which he failed to reply to or acknowledge. Number 2 and resigned himself to a morning of voyeurism regarding the uncooperative former secret agent, until an alarm was sounded by Post 11 that drew his attention away from the viewscreen.
"Alert! Alert! Perimeter infringement detected! Post 11 reports perimeter breech!" reported an operative at a nearby control panel.
Number 2 looked to the Supervisor for clarification, which the officer stated, "Post 11 is our unmanned underwater sensor station. Apparently, an object, presumably a submarine, has crossed into Village waters."
"Object is progressing slowly along the coast line, but at an angle that is gradually bringing it closer to the shore," the operative reported, adding, "Depth; 27 meters."
"Identify immediately!" Number 2 snapped.
A nerve-grating minute later the operative reported that no positive I.D. could be made, as the vessel was unlike anything known in the American, Russian, or British navies, making them a rogue that must be dealt with immediately.
"It's not one of ours, and it could be a rescue attempt by any number of nations," Number 2 mused, rubbing the back of his neck in irritation. "Initiate immediate counter-measures to disable it."
The Supervisor tore his attention away from the sonar reading and back up to the taller man. "Should we not sink it? We have any number of weapon systems to deal with-"
"I want to know who these people are, Supervisor!" Number 2 snapped. "Nobody should be in our waters, friendly or not, without proper justification, and that submarine out there most certainly has not been given permission to come here. Better to know who they are, and how much they know, especially if they are here because they know about the Village and its purpose. Use the electromagnetic pulse to knock out their electronic systems and force them to surface. After we get a good look at their markings and make a positive identification of their country of origin- then we'll use more destruction means of eliminating them...Away from the eyes of our prisoners, of course."
Number 6 had found himself back at the beach, the most tantalizing of the possible escape routes, but as usual, frustratingly-filled with Villagers. There were few places one could go for a walk or make an attempt at escape without a busload of brainless prisoners nearby. He came across the old Admiral, still wearing the same stripped shirt and sailor's cap that he'd been wearing during the year that the two had known each other.
"Fancy a game, young man?" asked the Admiral, already setting up his chess pieces on his well-worn playing board, before 6 had even given an answer.
Number 6 gritted his teeth and kicked himself for getting too close to the old man, who seemed to spend every single day at the beach, playing chess or waiting for someone new to come along. He'd backed out of playing quite often, but recalled that earlier this week he'd made a lame promise to play with the bored, nearly-emotionless ex-sailor, so he forced a small smile to break through his grinding teeth.
"Why not? Black?"
"Fine. I'll be white again."
It wasn't as if the Admiral was a bad player to play against. In fact, whatever the Village had done to the rest of his mind, the Admiral was a superb player- he was relentless, impatient, and ruthless- perhaps unburied characteristics of his former life as a seaman, who offered no quarter or pity towards his enemies at sea. One had to play their very best game of chess against him if they wished to win or go out with at least a modicum of their ego still intact. There was probably something of a glimmer of normalcy about the Admiral, too, as virtually everyone referred to him by his rank, rather than his Village-assigned number.
They were several moves in, at which point the Prisoner noted two things; the Admiral was playing a different, but equally-ruthless strategy, and a glimmer of light across the horizon caught his eye. Looking at the small flashing, Number 6 squinted as he cast his gaze out to sea, and covered his eyes to shield out the glare of the morning light. His heart began to race at the unexpected sight, while the rising trail of smoke on the water made him rise from his chair, the chess game forgotten.
At the edge of the horizon, a long object was rising from beneath the water, with a telling conning tower forming a distinct impression upon Number 6 as to what he was seeing. A submarine! Still rather far from the shallow beach, but clear enough to see the glimmer of its metallic hide reflect the water washing off its hull, and the trail of smoke rise from its aft section. A fire aboard her? And who was 'she'? A Village courier or supply ship? An aquatic goose chase that the new Number 2 expected to pique his interest? She looked rather more technologically-advanced than any sub he'd seen on his travels as an agent, which sparked a small flame of suspicion into full-blown distrust. He'd seen examples of their nearly science fiction-level science, so this was no more impossible to believe as being a Village trick.
The Prisoner's mouth returned to a tight smirk, and he sat back down, mumbling, "Oh, very good, gentlemen, very good indeed! But I'm not buying it! Not this time!"
Unimpressed by the Village theatrics, Number 6 returned to focus on the game, taking the Admiral's rook, only to see his own knight brought into jeopardy by the Admiral's scheming. Moments later, the pleasant female voice that made regular daily announcements was heard everywhere, cheerfully informing the Village,
"It's a lovely day today, everyone, and what better way to enjoy the day than to visit the Art Gallery immediately to take in the wonderful artistic abilities of our proud senior Villagers? There will be prizes to be won for all entries, and all the strawberry-nut ice cream that you can eat! So come one, come all to the Village Art Gallery and be the first to acquire your prize tickets!"
Number 6's mouth twisted into a derisive snort, as he shook his head, keeping his thoughts to himself. Another trick! Lure the Villages to the other side of the Village with bribery, so as to not see the 'enemy submarine' in the harbour, or question its appearance? Indeed! No doubt, more elaborate scheming and twisted chicanery by his jailers, who had planned the event to the tee, creating a diversion from something he 'shouldn't see'! And like good prisoners, the beach was virtually cleared of witnesses, as everyone but the two of them left for all that ice cream and artistic endeavors.
"Check," the old Admiral warned, sitting back.
"Tell me, Admiral...ever see a submarine like that before?"
The Admiral fought to not take his eyes off of Number 6 and his possible attempt to move some players around to stop the impending check-mate move, until 6 leaned back, and nodded out towards the sea. The old man barely gave the view a cursory look, and sniffed,
"Barely see that far with these old eyes, young man. Sea's just a blue blur for me now."
Yes, in sight and memory, no doubt, Number 6 thought to himself. Aloud he added, "She looks like she's in a little trouble. There's a fire on board, judging from all that...'smoke'," he finished with a smile, believing the 'fire' to be nothing more than a crude theatrical stage special effect.
"They're on the surface. They'll soon brush the air clean on the inside of her," the Admiral said, indifferent. "C'mon now. I have ya in check."
The Prisoner leaned forward and made his move, but seven moves later it would be all for naught, as he was defeated once more. Truth be told, his mindset wasn't really on the board, nor was it fully out to sea. Still, he liked to offer the old seaman a victory now and then, if only to ensure real games in the future when he truly was in the mood to play. No sense in alienating the old sailor, too. Despite himself, the Prisoner watched the distant 'damaged' sub for a few more minutes, from further down the beach, until the smoke dissipated rather quickly, leaving the steel fish out to sea with little else to garner his attention.
He left the beach and avoided the Art Gallery like the plague, having no desire for the ice cream or his opinion on terrible artwork or playing any kind of game that Number 2 wanted him to play. Instead, he walked over to the courtyard and the Bandstand, where he listened with disinterested attention as the band played more marching tunes to a handful of people.
Meanwhile, the distant submarine was of great attention to his jailers...
"I've never seen anything like her," Number 2 admitted. "Surely not one of theirs?"
The Supervisor responded, "It does not conform to any design on record for any national government. Of that we're certain."
Number 2 looked back at the viewscreen and a close-up of the floating vessel. She was long and graceful, unlike the dark-hulled, angular ships of the militaristic nations. Her bow was smooth and curved on top, with rows of ballast tanks along her upper superstructure, with a chiselled conning tower and hydro-planes attached, and she ended several hundred feet from her bow with a pair of long fins. She was remarkably well advanced, and yet apparently not affiliated to any of the Super Power nations, which made her an unpredictable risk.
"How much damage did we do to her?" Number 2 asked.
"There's no way of knowing exactly what we knocked out, or how long repairs will take. Suffice it to say that she should be blind and deaf- all detection and communication systems should have been knocked out by our pulses," the Supervisor revealed.
"We certainly overloaded some of her systems, as the smoke revealed. I have a mind to..oh...dear."
The surprise on Number 2's face drew the attention of the Supervisor back to the screen, and he could see why. The occupants of the sub had men outside on her hull, and were in the process of disembarking on a raft! And there was only one place they could possibly be travelling to!
"Orange alert!" the Supervisor snapped into a handheld phone. "Repeat, Orange alert! All stations to be manned and armed for-"
"Come off it, man!" Number 2 snapped, snatching away the phone. "You go off shooting these strangers and you'll have us involved in a war we might not win! There's no telling what kind of weaponry, if any, that submarine possesses! Or who's on board her! We have to play this differently."
"The standing order is that there should be no outside contact with the Village by anyone ever!"
"And we've taken steps to nullify that contact to a mere raft of a few men. We'll play this by my rules, my dear chap. Stand-by on sniper posts and on security measures, but an outright assault is not in my plans! Do I make myself clear?"
"You do, Number 2."
"I'm delighted, Supervisor," the Village leader sneered derisively.
Standing on the back of his super-submarine, Captain Lee Crane watched as his men inflated a raft, and proceeded to load it with supplies for his excursion. Beside him, Admiral Harriman Nelson watched the activity as the sailors of the Seaview worked together to prepare for the away mission. The Seaview was an independently-manned vessel of exploration and sometimes war, operating under the guidance of the United States government and sometimes the United Nations, but she was the property of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, which was mainly devoted to oceanic science.
She was also dead in the water.
"Miles and miles of virtually uninhabited land, save for that little village on the shore," Nelson mused. "We were lucky to find any kind of civilization out here, but I can't help thinking that the magnetic pulse that shut us down and that little hamlet might be connected."
"You and me both. Although it sure looks peaceful over there," Crane agreed, observing the coastline through high-power binoculars."
The Seaview had been on a research mission below the surface, minding their own business when a powerful electromagnetic pulse ripped through the underwater craft, and knocked out all power and equipment. Fortunately, she was staffed with professionals, and after a momentary panic, Crane's men got their act together, set up emergency lighting and life support. And fortunately, thanks to Nelson's personal hand in designing the Seaview, herself, manual operation of the ballast tanks was what saved their lives, as they brought the damaged sub to the surface.
"All ready for ya, Skipper," Chief Sharkey reported, as his jump-suited men backed off from the floating raft, and held the tether line, awaiting it to be boarded.
"Care for a little walkabout, Chief?" Crane asked.
The Chief's eyes lit up for a couple seconds, his cherubic cheeks puffing up in a smile, until his shoulders sagged with defeat. "Uuhh, yes, sir, I'd like to, but I gotta lotta work here to help with repairs."
"We'll manage, Chief. In fact, you and Captain Crane might find yourselves returning to a still-paralyzed Seaview," Nelson suggested. "There are more than enough men aboard to get things back in working order. Go on- stretch your legs a bit!"
"Thank you, sir!" Sharkey smiled, and turned on his heel to bark out, "Okay you, misfits, ya heard the Admiral! I'm going ashore, but when I get back I want this fish back in perfect working order! And I won't take 'no' for an answer, any more than the Admiral would! Got it?"
Under his breath, Kowalski mumbled to his shipmate Patterson, "When the cat's away...it's a pair of eyes not burning a hole in the back of your head! Gonna enjoy this little bit of peace and quiet!"
"Kowalski! Man the oars!" Sharkey snapped.
"Ya don't think the Captain an' I are rowing all the way over there, do ya?" the tough naval officer asked, with biting condescension, and a roll of his big eyes. "You're drafted, man!" he said, with a gentle back-handed slap against Kowalski's shoulder for good measure.
Kowalski grimaced and bit his tongue as he saw Patterson hold back his chuckling and hold the tether tightly to allow the three men to descend into the raft.
The trio cautiously headed out towards the little village beyond, hopeful that the old-looking town would have some form of technology that would allow them to contact home base, and inform them of their condition and whereabouts.
"Unauthorized personnel from an unidentified craft are approaching the Village, sir, and you wish to allow them ashore?" the Supervisor asked Number 2, completely taken aback.
The older man nodded vigorously, a smile held in check behind a hand that rubbed his chin and mouth, his mind working a mile a minute.
"Think about it, old chap; Number 6 was observed to be completely disinterested in our unexpected visitors. Established personality traits would suggest that he doesn't trust them, any more than we do, and I'd dare say he thinks that submarine is one of ours, trying to trick him, lure him into a confession or distillationof information. Look at him now!" The viewscreen shifted to Number 6, who was still in the area of the Bandstand, but was now lounging on a deck chair, his eyes closed. "He's completely disinterested!"
"The crew of that submarine certainly is not disinterested, Number 2!" the Supervisor insisted.
"We shall deal with them in the appropriate time and fashion when I'm ready to do so," Number 2 told him, trying not to bark the revelation too loudly. He lowered his voice as he added, "We'll let Number 6 attain our information for us in the meantime. So long as he distrusts them, they'll be more forthcoming with their identities and purpose here."
"And when he finally does believe them?" wondered the Supervisor.
"Then, my dear chap, we eliminate them. Arrange for our charges to be removed from the beach area, and the Bandstand, so Number 6 will be the sole greeter of our visitors. Oh, and stand -by with Rover."
The trio from the Seaview came ashore cross a shallow beach which was barely two feet deep all the way out for at a hundred feet. Kowalski was out first to ascertain the depth of the water, but Crane and Sharkey soon realized that it wasn't necessary for them to remain aboard the raft for long. As they tugged the inflatable boat towards the dry areas of the beach, Crane's eagle eyes traced the shapes and features of the strangely-silent village before them, seeing little more than one or two sea gulls switching positions. The little hamlet seemed to possess no life that he could see with his naked eyes.
"Looks kinda old, Skipper," Sharkey commented, squinted his eyes in the glare on the sun. "Might even be abandoned."
"If so, then we're on our own until we make repairs, Chief. Hopefully everyone's indoors and somebody has a phone we can contact the Institute or Washington with. We're already 3 hours past our regular check-in time." To say nothing about reporting the cause of that electromagnetic pulse that's a hazard to underwater travel out there somewhere, he thought to himself.
Kowalski loaded up with a backpack, as did Sharkey, while Crane settled for a pistol and a walkie-talkie, as they crossed the sandy beach, noticed the old beached ship, and ascended rock steps into an observation level, complete with tables and an unmanned chess set.
A warm breeze passed through them like a curious ghost, poking and prodding but offering no identity. It was eerily quiet, and yet the impression all three garnered was that they were being watched.
"Call me paranoid or suspicious, Skipper, but I don't think this place is as deserted as someone's trying to make it out to be," Sharkey said, his eyes bulging a little wider than usual, thanks to his edgy nerves.
"Why do you think that, Chief?" Kowalski asked, feeling like he was just along for the ride.
"Because, ya big loaf, look at that chess board!"
"I don't know how to play chess," Kowalski grinned.
"It ain't got anything to do with that, Kowalski! Just look at the board!"
The seaman did and shrugged, so Captain Crane took him to task. "It's fully stocked with pieces, as if ready for the next game. The board is worn, but not weather-worn. If it had been sitting here for years unattended the pieces would have surely blown over or away and the board with it."
Their travels brought them along a firsthand look at the Village as they walked past the deserted Old People's Home and a grassy area with a view out to sea, and the Seaview beyond.
The silence was deafening.
They followed a cobblestone road through the empty Village, travelling north into the center of it and soon found themselves on one side of a lawn area with a life-size checkerboard, where a lone occupant resided on a lawn chair before an empty Bandstand. Crane looked to his men for a moment, then approached the unmoving occupant, who turned out to be a man, perhaps in his early forties, wearing a black blazer with white trim, grey pants and sneakers. His fingers were linked, his eyes closed, and seemed oblivious to the scuffing clip of the three pairs of feet approaching him as they tread across the cobblestones and onto the grass.
"Excuse me? Hello? Hello, sir?"
It took Crane's third beckon for Number 6 to bother opening his eyes, so relaxed was he from the refreshing quiet of the morning. The insufferably-cheery band had finally stopped playing, and there was much less chatter around him, but now that he'd opened his eyes and blinked away his relaxation, he was suddenly aware that the occupants of the Village had abandoned him (naturally) to see what his reaction would be to the trio of newcomers (aka Village pawns).
"Mm?" the Prisoner grunted, deferring conversation with the tricksters until necessary.
"Would you mind telling us where we are?" Crane asked, surprised at the lack of politeness from the stranger.
"The Village. I should think that's obvious."
"Okay, it's a village, but what's it called?"
"'The Village' seems to suffice around here."
"Just 'The Village'? That's it?" Crane asked, becoming annoyed.
"It suits our keepers.," Number 6 sneered.
"'Keepers'?" Crane asked with a squint, his nerves suddenly on edge.
"The same ones that deigned to assign you the task of poking and prodding me mentally, the same ones that propagated this elaborate charade with a submarine in distress, complete with special effects and three, uh, 'sailors' coming ashore, devoid of any distinctive accoutrement's that would identify your country of origin."
"We're from an independent service-" Sharkey began, only to be cut off by the Prisoner.
"Of course you are!" he said with exaggerated condescension. "No doubt the branch of the Village Navy that clothes their lackeys in red jumpsuits. Quite fetching," he finished with a snide drone.
Kowalski took immediate offence, looking down at his red-hued clothing before taking a step forward, only to be held back by the Chief. "Hey, mister, we're not exactly your average sub crew! The Seaview's something spec-"
"Kowalski!" Crane snapped, shutting him up. It only served to form a smirk on Number 6's lips for a few moments.
Typical! the Prisoner thought to himself. Pretend to utter some oh-so-important data, with which to pique my interest and see how it makes me dance! Well, not this time you sons of-
Crane continued, "Look, what we really want is to make contact with the outside world. We have superiors that'll be concerned about us and we're overdue for our check-in. Do you have some place in your village-"
"It's not my personal property," Number 6 interrupted, linking his fingers again, propping them up behind his head, and closing his eyes once more. "Just my present address. But if you're so concerned about your own Masters, I should think the Village's Citizen's Advice Bureau is where you could plead your case." The three men began to back away, looking about, lost. Number 6 opened one eye then closed it as he added, "To your right and follow the road past the Green-domed building, you can't miss it. There are signs everywhere."
"Okay. Thank-you," Crane grunted with an inflection that actually meant 'Thanks-for-nothing!'.
They took only a few steps before the Prisoner added, "Or just drop by Number 2's office. I'm sure he'll want to debrief you."
The men from the Seaview looked amongst one another, each of them trying to hold back their own version of irritation and impatience. This stranger was decidedly unfriendly and annoying!
"Who is 'Number 2'?" Crane asked the black-garbed man.
"Aahh, who is Number 2 this week, is more to the point. But the better question is...who is 'Number 1'?"
Crane had had enough and he purposefully strode over to the disinterested, unhelpful man and grabbed the lapels of his blazer. He was simply concerned for the safety of his ship and men, and thought this mysterious stranger knew more than he was saying, but it was still a bad move.
As a former secret agent, the Prisoner had been in countless fights, and he didn't take kindly to being manhandled by anyone, least of all the latest batch of Village idiots, so he used Crane's own momentum to pull him off to one side, and leap up to confront the other two men, his fists raised.
Ever protective of his Captain, Kowalski took to the challenge and swung wildly at Number 6, who ducked and gave the seaman a couple hard punches to the ribs, making him stagger off to one side. Sharkey leaped for Number 6, and grabbed the man's jacket, too, only to be flipped over Six's hip onto the hard cobblestone sidewalk. Crane was back for more, grabbing Six from behind and tried to get him into a headlock, only to have his arm yanked, twisted, and bent upwards, as Six tripped him, making him fall painfully backwards onto his own arm. The Captain of the Seaview grunted in pain, as Kowalski took over, scoring two punches to the jaw, until Six head-butted the sailor in the gut, stood up, and karate-chopped Kowalski in the neck with the force of a mad man- an angry man.
Sharkey tackled Number Six from the side and finally got him down on the grass, the two of them rolling about, trying to be the one that stayed on top but without much success. Crane tried to help his officer, but got mixed up in the mishmash and found himself on the ground, too, Gasping for air and feeling like his head was half chopped off by a lumberjack, Kowalski got into the melee, and held down Six's arms, the Prisoner twisting and fighting back like a tiger. Sharkey grabbed the other arm, and the two men pulled Number 6 to his feet, who was expecting a brutal lashing and hits to the ribs by the leader of the trio, but a gasping Crane simply huffed out,
"Will you just relax, mister? We don't want to fight you! All we want is information about-"
Asking Number 6 for 'information' was the single most disastrous request that could asked of him while in the Village, as the whole town had been set up as an elaborate scheme to gain such data from its occupants, most of which were high-ranking agents or government operatives that couldn't be trusted to remain quiet, following their dismissal/resignation/retirement. Number Six mule-kicked the younger of the two men that held him, that being Kowalski, and used that momentum to give him a backwards punch in the face with the back of his fist, which allowed him enough room to twist and throw Sharkey off balance and back onto the ground at Crane's feet.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Crane shouted, as he picked up Sharkey and held him back. "Kowalski, at ease!"
"CAPT-" the dishevelled sailor began to shout back, but was overruled.
"That's an order, Kowalski! Get over here!"
Like a young boy accepting his punishment, a bruised and beaten Kowalski joined his Captain and the Chief, wiping a glob of blood from his nose onto the back of his hand, and flicking it onto the grass. With livid, wide-eyed anger, Crane kept his own voice level, but the finger-pointing gesture added to his threat.
"You stay away from my men, do ya hear? We're not here to hurt you, all we want is to help our ship! You might want to look into an anger management course some time, mister! That's a helluva big chip on your shoulder that your dealing with!"
Number 6 just stared back at Crane with murder in his eye, slowly regaining his breath. The man's words meant nothing to him, but he wondered if this was even supposed to be part of the trick. They had a three-on-one advantage, and could have sent him on a one-way trip to the hospital; no doubt Number 2 would have words with these pawns of his, and a darn good thrashing for ruining such an elaborate test or plan against him.
The trio left the way Six had told them to go...which included his comment about Number 2 residence. Were they going to report to him? Would the Village construct all this chicanery, only to give up a half hour into the plan? Number 2's home was only a part of the Village on that side, which included the Hospital and General Store. Not to mention the Arts And Crafts Building, which was where the mysterious female announcer had suggested everyone attend in their first ploy to lure the other prisoners away from the beach.
Unable to resist a good mystery, Number 6 followed Crane, Sharkey, and Kowalski at a discreet distance.
"Aahhaa!" Number 2 chuckled. "Very interesting! He thinks they're some of our operatives! Splendid! His opinion won't change too soon, not after that brawl!"
"However, they've parted company for now. And all we've learned is that the submarine is from an 'independent service'," the Supervisor reminded him, as they watched Number 6 follow the men.
"But Number 6 is still our eyes and ears. Mm..Wait a moment. One of the men, the youngest one referred to the ship by name! 'Sea View' wasn't it? Access our world-wide databanks. We can narrow down its point of origin and its owners with that."
The Supervisor left, and minutes later, with a silhouetted sonar reading of the ship on the main viewscreen that displayed a rounded bow with wide curved manta-ray-like planes at the bottom, and long angular fins at the rear on the top and the bottom, the bald man returned with the information. "The vessel is the 'Seaview', attached to the United States' Nelson Institute for Oceanic Research-"
"Rather large research vessel, wouldn't you, say, Supervisor?" Number 2 asked, sounding like he doubted the accuracy of the report.
Withholding an indignant sigh, the assistant continued, "Designed and built by a retired American admiral by the name of Harriman T. Nelson, and captained by an officer named 'Lee Crane'. I think you should know that our specialists also indicate that Nelson isn't as 'retired' as he would lead some to believe, as he, also, serves aboard his ship. The Seaview is virtually a secret weapon of the American government, used in covert operations all over the globe!" That got Number 2's attention. "They've performed documented and verified research in the past, but I think you should know Number 2...that the Seaview is armed with nuclear weapons!"
"And if they are here to 'research' us...?"
"We'll deal with them as enemies, certainly," Number 2 assured.
A bleeping hot line to Number 1 called out for Number 2's immediate attention. Apparently, Number 1 was just as aware of the presence of the Seaview as they were.
With a nagging foreboding in the back of his neck that he tried to rub away, Number 2 slowly approached the phone that was screaming for his attention.
The men from the Seaview were unaware that Number 6 was following them, and as well it should be, as in his previous profession, the agent had tailed countless targets, none of whom knew that he was following them. His eyes clenched into a squint as he watched them enter the General Store. Number 2's residence was just next door, so they weren't helping themselves by making their way back to their Masters.
A bell tinkled over their heads as Crane, Sharkey, and Kowalski entered the abundantly-stocked business. Supplies of every kind seemed to be present- food, clothing, household items, and it maintained an air of a compact village store, the kind that seemed to possess everything possible in its impossibly-limited floor space.
"Good day, gentlemen! Fine morning, isn't it?" asked a rotund man with a flat straw hat atop his head. It was an archaic kind of hat these days, something more akin to the 1920's, or the kind worn by staff members of a politician during election time. He looked over the three men, and seemed just the slightest bit wary of them, as they wore no numerical badges, let alone dressed in any manner that any Villager did.
"Hello. Can you tell us where we are?" asked Crane.
"You're in the Village, sir!" the man replied, cheerfully. "New arrivals?"
"More or less. Just...'The Village', eh?"
"Yes, yes. What can I offer you? However, as new arrivals you probably won't have any credits on you, so payment will be expected afterwards."
"'Credits'?" Sharkey asked, stepping forward. "What? Like a Mastercard or something?"
"No, sir. Standard Village currency. Here now; perhaps you might want to visit Number's residence before we make any transactions?"
"Actually, what we'd most like is to know if there's a telephone or radio here? We'd like to contact our home base to tell them-"
"No, sorry, sir, nothing of that sort in the Village. Phones are strictly local calls."
"What about the nearest town? Can they help us?" asked Sharkey.
The store owner smiled tightly, and turned around to adjust some jam jars on his counter, and sighed, "As I said, sirs, Number 2's residence is where you should be now. Can't offer you much in the line of what you're asking for." He turned around once more to face them, then saluted them with a gesture that made an 'O' shape with his thumb and index finger, that he lifted his hsnd to his forehead, and threw it outwards with a cheery, "Be seeing you!"
"Now look here-1" snapped Sharkey, after a glance at the pained expression on Kowalski's face, and the dried blood below his nose.
"That's okay, Chief, it's okay!" Crane said, grabbing his officer's shoulder, and gently pulling him back towards the door. "Number 2 you say?"
"Just follow the signs. Virtually next door," the store owner said, still in his mock cheerful tone, even though he was blowing them off.
Number 6 watched behind a wall as the trio from the sub exited empty-handed, but all looking confused. He thought he heard something about 'bandages', 'the sea', and 'a way,outta here', but his suspicions ramped up once more as they approached the green-domed building that was where Number 2 lived.
Back to report to your Master...or something else? Number 2 wondered to himself.
Number 2's face had gotten somewhat whiter after his conversation with Number 1, who didn't appreciate his tactic of allowing outsiders to set foot on the Village, but the older man had assured him he knew what he was doing. Still, after watching the sailors approach his home, Number 2 left the underground control room and quickly went home to greet his guests.
Outside the building, the men from the Seaview hesitated, and decided to plan their next move.
"I don't think all three of us should go in," Crane maintained. "There's no telling who's in there, other than this 'Number 2' person."
"At least let me come with you, Skipper, while Kowalski stands guard out here!" Sharkey pleaded. "We've only met up with two guys in this place and so far one is a nasty piece of workand the other is an uncooperative country hick!"
"The Chief's right, sir. I don't think we should break off from each other. This place...this place is just plain odd!"
"You get used to it," a familiar voice commented from behind them. Crane's pistol was out in a second, but to his credit the black-jacketed man simply stood there, without the slightest flinch. Used to having weapons drawn on his person, perhaps? "Not that I intend to get used to it to the extent of everyone else that lives here."
"'Everyone else'?" Sharkey chuckled sarcastically. "Who? You and bozo in the store?"
"Wait for it..." Number 6 smirked with a light tone.
As if a great wall had been lifted, the group was inundated with sights and sounds all around them, as if by some supernatural force, dozens of people, young and old, dressed in colourful outfits, and bombastic, cheerful band music raging in the background from where they'd just came, appeared from nowhere. The trio from the Seaview jerked about with surprise, as the mischievous brute who had wrestled with them just minutes before, treated them like uneducated country bumpkins in a big city. He stepped forward, prompting Kowalski's fists to clench, ready for another fight, until they watched him enter the building without lifting a finger- the entrance simply opened by itself electronically!
Inside was a common-looking foyer of white and tastefully decorated with a few paintings, a round table in the center, a fireplace on one wall, colourful plants, with an enigmatic double door waiting for them directly ahead. A rather short man, presumably a butler, waved them mutely towards the double doors. They watched as Number 6 entered and stopped just shy of the electronic eye that would open them, and watched as he beckoned them with a crooked finger.
"Come come. I believe you 'Americans' would say, "Time's a-wasting, y'all!'. Time to pay the Piper, gentlemen, or as we all know him, the 'new' Number 2! Time to set all our cards on the table, and end this latest charade," he said, his voice rising in a vindicative, accusatory tone that seemed to mock the men of the Seaview.
"W-whatta we do, sir?" Sharkey asked over the distant conversations and rousing band music, his nerves on edge. "This place is getting loonier by the second!"
"Stick with my orders, Chief. You and Kowalski stand guard here. I'll let our...greeter...lead us to this so-called 'Number 2'."
The smirk on Number 6's mouth wasn't a friendly one as far as Captain Crane was concerned. It was more like the smirk of someone who knew what was about to happen- something not-so-nice, and would take pleasure in it. Still, nobody had tried to disarm him, which made him feel safer, so long as he kept this unidentified man in front of him. Number 6 approached the double doors, which opened automatically as well, only to reveal an iron door on the other side.
"You first," Crane growled, with a slight wave of his gun, even though Number 6 would have been just as unimpressed and unafraid had Crane waved a newspaper at him.
The Prisoner entered the inner sanctum of Number's 2's domain as he had so many times before (albeit with several different Number 2's waiting for him), passing through the double doors, and behind it a steel door that opened up for him to reveal a huge domed room beyond with subdued lighting, and steel girders criss-crossing one another as they tapered into a high ceiling. A steel ramp led the way into the strange room from the door to the floor, where huge painted circles surrounded a curved control panel, and a rising bubble-shaped chair. The chair was as black and glistening as oil, and it was only when it slowly began to turn around did Crane see that it carried an occupant within it. Suddenly a humming spotlight above him shed an incredible amount of light upon him for several seconds, then faded. Blinking back stars, Crane focused on the strange white-haired man again.
He had a kind face- the complete opposite of this nasty-looking stranger. He was middle-aged, somewhere close to 60, with a full head of wavy white hair, and piercing eyes, and wore a black blazer similar to the other man's, although his white stripes had been replaced with a scarf, a badge with an old-fashioned bicycle on it and the number '2', and an unusual umbrella with an ornate handle.
"Greetings, Captain Crane! To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit here?"
"You know me?" asked Crane, suspiciously.
"Certainly! A man of your gifts, and the submarine you command. A most impressive dossier! We have so few visitors from the outside world, that I should like to know what brings you here?"
"Information! Always...information!" Number 6 barked out irritably with a smirk.
"That's classified," Crane said.
"As it should be," Number 6 mocked. He still didn't believe anyone was who they said they were.
Crane looked at him, then around him, to the huge viewscreen and its swirling lights, the row of telephones without cords, the control panel, and growled, "You're obviously responsible for what happened to my ship. Why did you attack us?"
"Whatever do you mean?" Number 2 asked innocently.
"You know what I'm talking about! That electromagnetic pulse wiped out all power on my ship, and we had to perform an emergency surface. Coincidentally near a small village in the middle of nowhere that looks like its about 50 years old but is obviously hiding technologically-advanced equipment. Who are and what're you hiding?"
Number 6 looked to Number 2, already knowing the answer, as the leader of the Village replied, "I'm more interested in knowing who you are, Captain, and why you're even here?" Crane crossed his arms, and stared down Number 2, saying nothing, as Number 2 expected, as did Number 6. Number 2 looked down at the floor momentarily, amused by the visitor's silence. And despite his kind face, his next words made Crane on edge. "You know, Captain, we can keep you here indefinitely. So long as your submarine is susceptible to electromagnetic pulses, welll..." he trailed off, leaving little need to finish it.
Crane looked at Number 6, and didn't like his casual smirk either. "So what's your part in all this? And just who are you, anyway?"
"Around here, while I'm living here, I'm referred to as 'Number 6', the 'objet d'intérêt' of this, and several other former Number 2's of the Village. I'll give you both credit for continuing to act your parts, but past experience with your methods lays little credence to the mock emergency this man is suggesting."
"What're you talking about?" Crane asked, suspiciously.
"As I've implied before, 'Captain', the chances of a fully-manned naval craft approaching this prison as close as you did, and allowing some of its crew to come ashore, instead of blowing you out of the water is a strain on credibility, wouldn't you say, Number 2?"
The Village elder saw an opening and played Number 6's field. "Very well, Number 6...you caught us. Another ploy expertly foiled by your keen agent intellect. I should think my superiors are going to have my head for this one, considering the time and effort expended to initiate this ruse," he sighed glumly, rubbing the back of his neck in trepidation.
"What the hell are you people talking about?" Crane snapped. "I never saw either one of you before today, and I don't know what's going on here, but once my ship is repaired, we're leaving. Whatever game you're playing we want nothing of it, so you can just go on playing make-believe-"
"Really, Number 61, that'll be enough," Number 2 sighed, leaning back into his black bubble chair.
"Number-what?" Crane sneered through gritting teeth.
"Number 61, it's over. There's no convincing Number 6 of your assigned cover. Operation Subterfuge is now discontinued." He leaned forward and picked up a phone, smiling a charming, of embarrassed smile at the two men as he added, "Ah, a little play on words! Clever, don't you think?"
"Too bad the rest of the ploy wasn't as brilliant," Number 6 mocked, walking towards the steel door. Crane looked about like the two of them were inmates at an insane asylum. "Coming, Captain 61?"
"You're both nuts!" Crane growled. "But if it means I'm out of here, I'm fine with that."
Number 6 led Crane outside, unaware that he was still being observed by Number 2, this time on his personal theater-sized viewscreen that replaced the swirling lights with an image of his porch area. Number 6 continued as far as the sidewalk before turning around to tell Crane,
"I would say 'Give my regards to Broadway', seeing as you're posing as an American, however, after that lackadaisical performance, I should think you need further actor training! Be seeing you."
"Look, mister, if you think-" Crane began, but Number 6 simply walked away without a backward glance, so he didn't pursue him. He got his mind back on track, and expected to see Sharkey and Kowalski waiting for him, and approach him after doing some recon, but neither was anywhere to be seen, which was very strange for both. In the background, the band continued to play their music which could be heard throughout the Village, and people of various nationalities went about their business in their strange, colorful striped clothing. Were they aware of what this 'Number 2' person inside resided in? Did they know that things here weren't what they seemed? Or were they all a part of this mockery?
Crane checked his pistol, only to see that the weapons parts had been fused, rendering it useless! That light! Had it somehow damaged his gun? After shoving it back into his holster, he left Number 2's residence area to look for his men, and called out their names, but they had seemingly travelled rather far from the domed building, which was strangely out of character for both. It only made him worry like a parent with a pair of missing kids at a fairground. The majority of the people he asked about them were just as unhelpful as Number 6, either saying they didn't know who he was talking about, or were completely elusive, suggesting he go enjoy himself at the Art Gallery and not worry.
Crane then wised up and tried his walkie-talkie, knowing that both men had such a transceiver, only to get absolute silence from the device. He reached for the buttons to adjust the gain and switch channels, only to realize that the device had somehow been subjected to sabotage, just like his gun. The buttons were stuck, melded into the plastic of the unit! It rendered the communications device completely useless and inert!
It also meant he was cut off from the Seaview, as well.
Admiral Nelson was just getting used to the dingy, darkened environment of the interior of the Seaview, when a bank of controls finally lit up. The main computer, with its row upon row of flashing lights on the port side remained off and silent, but at least a few systems were bank on-line. He approached Sparks, the radio operator, but his officer responded to an unasked question as the older officer approached him.
"Sorry, sir; radio's still down."
"We're getting closer to the check-in time with Captain Crane, Sparks," Nelson growled, knowing that his man wasn't responsible for the imposed radio silence- that distinction was placed firmly at the feet of the technicians that were actually working on the equipment. Sparks was simply manning his inert station. "Guess I have no choice but to go topside and use a portable radio."
"Aye, sir. Sorry, sir."
Nelson waved off the apology, and turned around so quickly he nearly walked into the ship's Executive Officer, Chip Morton. The clean-cut blond-haired office's eyes popped open for a moment from the near-collision, until he recovered and joked, "Sorry, sir! Could use more light back here, huh?"
"Everywhere, Chip, everywhere. Report on repairs?"
"Engines almost back on-line, as is the main reactor. We're on battery power right now, so some of the less power-hungry systems are restored, including air circulation, and emergency lights. Repairs are progressing as expected, and we should be on nominal power in an hour."
"Fine. I'm going topside to check in with Lee."
Nelson grabbed a walkie-talkie from a locker near Sparks, and ascended the nearby ladder to the exit hatch on the conning tower. The daylight coming in from the four huge semi-submerged observation windows on the bow of the ship gave the impression for Morton that the ship wasn't in as bad shape as she actually was, illuminating the meeting area at the very nose of the submarine, until it tapered to dimness towards the aft of the control room and the corridor beyond. It didn't stop Seaman Patterson from bumping into Morton, however, as he entered the darkened control room.
"Patterson, watch where you're going! If I'd been Admiral Nelson he would have bitten your head off!"
"Oh, uh, sorry, sir! Kinda hard working in the dark around here!" Patterson apologized, turning a couple shades of red in the dimness.
Seagulls cried out in their seagull language nearby, perhaps begging for food, or warning him away, Nelson didn't know. What he did know was that Crane wasn't answering his calls from the land-locked village beyond. He even tried Kowalski and Sharkey, but nobody was answering his hails, which set his experienced nerves on edge. It was never a good sign when a simple shore party refused communication, but it was too early to panic.
There was one subtle difference now about the village across the shallow shore- despite the caws and squeals of the seagulls he was just barely able to hear the distinct sounds of a band playing some kind of marching song within the tiny town. Hopefully it was just too loud over there for Crane to hear his walkie-talkie, and he'd respond in a few minutes.
The racket was frustrating, but the silly smiles and casual attitudes of everyone he saw was even worse, as far as Crane was concerned. Who the hell were these people? Did they live here or were they visitors from a nut farm? They dressed in weird, ultra-60's groovy fashions with stripes, Beatle caps and straw hats, striped blazers and cloaks, as if they were living in the Roaring Twenties. And the most technologically-advanced object he'd seen so far was a motorized door-less cart labelled 'Taxi'.
He continued to call out Sharkey and Kowalski's names to no avail, until he barged into the General Store once more, interrupting the store keeper as he served an old woman in a colourful bonnet.
"Excuse me, sir, but I'm just dealing with Number-"
"I just need to ask if you've seen my two friends? The two gentlemen I came in here a while ago?"
"Which gentlemen would that be, sir?" the rotund owner asked, genuinely confused.
"Two men! You saw them with me! A younger man in a red jumpsuit and a bloody nose, and an older man, dressed like me, with short curly hair and dark eyebrows!" The shop owner just stared back at him, as if Crane had spoken to him in Japanese. "C'mon! I was just here a half hour ago! Probably less!"
"Sorry, sir. Been a busy morning here to be sure. Now, then, Number 15, you wanted, errr, yes! Here it is! A nice can of beets!"
The Captain of the Seaview already knew better then to argue with the strange inhabitants, so he swung open the door and slammed it shut behind him, hoping it rattled the glass windows as he did so. He looked up and down the walkway, eying every single man and woman suspiciously, unaccustomed to such a grandiose multi-level multi-person conspiracy. The only upside was that nobody seemed to be threatening or want to harm him- just confuse the hell out of him.
He continued to search the Village, going back he way he came until he returned to the large lawn area, when a distinct figure caught his eye. He couldn't believe what he was seeing, but a sigh of relief was gratefully exhaled by Crane as he pushed through the crowds to approach a familiar face, seemingly doing some undercover work to blend in.
"Chief! Thank God! Do you have any idea how worried I've been about you and Kowalski? And speaking of which, where's he? Pretending to be the Town Bartender?"
Sharkey stared back at him in the same unsettling way as the Shop Keeper, making Crane's nerves stand on end. It was one thing to see his Chief dressed in the same pin-striped, 1920's clothing as the rest of the occupants of this village, complete with straw hat, but the look of confusion and distinct lack of recognition on the Chief's face ramped up his concern tenfold. The Chief stopped pruning the nearby hedges with his cleavers to look Crane up and down.
"Do I...do I know you, sir?" Sharkey asked, lamely.
Crane was ready to burst, but held in his short temper to stutter, "Do you...? Chief! I'm Lee Crane, your superior officer aboard the Seaview! What the devil's the matter with you?"
"What's a... 'Sea View'?"
Crane grabbed him by the shoulders and shouted, "Sharkey! Francis! What's gotten into you? Why don't you recognize me?"
Sharkey's teeth gritted, and he jerked free of the Captain's hold to snap, "What'd you just call me? I'm Number 84! I've always been Number 84! Just like my badge says, mister! And I've never seen you or heard of this 'Sea View' thing you're talking about! Now, just leave me alone! I have a lot of work to do on my hedges!"
"Mister, I'm going to tell you this once more! I'm Number 84, and I've been a landscaper here for years! I've never met you before! Go to the Labour Exchange if you're looking for a friend, but I'm not him!"
"I'm not about to-!" Crane began angrily, until Sharkey had had enough, and began to leap forward again and again, jabbing his large and rather sharp gardening shears forwards to snap and chop at the air before him! Crane backed off quickly, as Sharkey, now devoid of his blank expression and replaced by that familiar hostile warrior look he'd seen in his previous life, kept jabbing his snapping shears at him until he was sure that Crane got the message.
Open mouthed and in shock, Crane watched as the man that looked exactly like the man he knew to be Chief Francis Sharkey continued to expertly prune stray leaves and branches from the ornately-cut hedges that he was positive hadn't been trimmed by Sharkey- there were just too many of them. Feeling lost to his shipmate and friend that had seemingly been brainwashed in mere minutes, he let the matter go, as he already knew from that behavior that the name 'Kowalski' would have as little meaning. Which meant would he find Kowalski similarly changed, or had he escaped Sharkey's fate?
Feeling lost and isolated, Crane made his way slower through the Village, aimless and unsure until he came across a cottage with a sign on the outside that read '6 (private)'. The uncooperative man he'd met earlier had referred to himself as 'Number 6', and had appeared to act differently than every single other occupant of this town. Was this where he lived? With little choice, he approached the door to knock on it and hopefully gain his help, except an electronic eye was triggered and the white door simply opened up by itself. Even from his stand point he could see Number 6 crossing from the kitchen area to his bedroom area carrying a teacup and saucer in one hand, until the unexpected guest at his door caught his attention. There was that same, irritable suspicious stare from the black-blazered man, but Crane had little choice but to follow through.
"Uh, hello, again. May I come in?"
Number 6 set his tea down onto a table, crossed his arms, and mumbled, "Suit yourself."
Crane entered Six's quarters and looked about. It was a nice place, quite homey, and stocked with all the amenities, although Crane somehow doubted everything on the tables and mantle pieces belonged to this strange man- that they'd been given to him for his own use, even though it probably wasn't appreciated.
"I just bumped into one of my men, and now he's acting like everyone else out there- doesn't even recognize me! Look, we got off on the wrong side, and I'd like to start over," Crane said, looking over his shoulder as the door closed behind him when he'd found himself in the center of the living room. Number 6 just stared at him, one side of his mouth crooked into a smirk. "I need your help."
"Number 2 tear a page out you?" Number 6 asked lightly. "Not surprised. The sheer, monumental expense of going to the trouble of hiring a submarine, releasing smoke bombs to make believe its been damaged, ol' Number 6 completely uncooperative-"
"Will you quit it?" Crane snapped, his eyes blazing, and stepping forward. "I keep telling you I have nothing to do with this place, or your Number 2! He was lying about knowing me!"
"'Lying' is an intrinsic portion of the resume for any Number 2 that wants the job. In this case, however-"
"In this case he was lying to trick you in a way that I doubt you realize! I really am the Captain of that submarine out there, and we really did experience a ship-wide power failure."
"And what is the name of this illustrious submarine of yours, hm? Something naval-sounding, no doubt. The Trident? The Poseidon? No, don't tell me. It's the Nautilus, so named in honor of the Jules Verne craft-"
"In fact it's the Seaview, and it's as real as any ship in any international navy. She's independent, however, although we have ties to the U.S. Navy."
Number 6 lost his smirk and stared hard at Crane again in a way that the Captain didn't like, his rising voice denoting a sudden interest in the subject. "'Seaview'? Designed by a retired American officer named 'Harriman T. Nelson'?"
"How do you know about Admiral Nelson?" Crane asked, crossing his arms, now the suspicious one.
"How indeed," Number 6 nodded. "An interesting choice of data from my file, to say the least. If this is all a ploy from Number 2, you might be interested to know that Nelson had once been a target of mine, in my previous life."
"Target? What previous life?" Crane asked.
Number 6 elaborated, but just barely. "I was employed by some people that were quite worried about Nelson several years ago, with his talk of creating a super-submarine, more advanced than anything operated by any nation, including his own. The ship was just underway in drydock, her keel being laid down. Nelson got away from me just in time, thanks to his American Navy back-up, and it was probably a good thing. My orders were soon rescinded, and Britain could release a collective sigh of relief that his proposed 'Seaview' wasn't a Doomsday Weapon to be used against the rest of the world. And now you claim that that formidable weapon is what's out there?"
"And that I'm the Captain, and Nelson, himself, is aboard her. Sooner or later he's going to launch a rescue party, and things could get nasty for this little home away from home for you!"
"Certainly not any substitute home I would ever want to live in. But a home that's always watching me, testing me. You could still be just a figment of my imagination, or a covert operation based on a piece of my file..."
"Oh, for God's sake, is everyone around here insane? I'm Captain Lee Crane and my men are missing! My ship was on a research mission until we were hit by an energy pulse that knocked out all power! We had absolutely no idea we'd find a loony farm on shore in the middle of nowhere!"
Number 6 finally had to pause and use his renowned abilities of discerning the truth and body language, and despite his inherent suspicions of anything that happened in this Village he was actually beginning to believe that this man was whom he said he was. It was conceivable, that a submarine innocently ventured too close to the Village and paid the price. It was intriguing, if true, but also perplexing. Shouldn't the vessel have been destroyed, or warned off somehow? Unless...Number 2 saw an opportunity to trick him and make him think Crane was a Village operative. But then, what was the bigger plan? Surely not to just tease him and make him even more paranoid than the Village had already made him, surely?
"If I do accept you for whom you say you are, what can I do? This place is a prison. A fancy, decorative, surreal and manufactured resort, but a prison nonetheless. There are cameras and microphones everywhere, most likely even recording these words as we speak. Anything we plan together will have already been recorded and the proper counter-actions initiated."
"What am I supposed to do? Just stay here with all these nuts? My crew's going to be worried about my shore party and I very soon, and even more are going to come ashore!"
"Provided Number 2 allows it," Number 6 warned, ominously.
"What is this place, then? A prison and an armed fortress?"
"Sometimes the armament is simply cameras and microphones. But perhaps they're not so heavily armed with actual weapons, considering you and your ship are here," Number 6 mused.
"Well, trust me, the Seaview does have weaponry that can level this place and everywhere else around it for 10 miles," Crane told him, and still the other man's suspicions were enough to keep him silent. Frustrated, the sub captain snapped, "Look, do you want out of here or not? I'll guarantee you safe passage out of this madhouse if you help me! I'm sure you want to go home to your family and your old life, don't you?"
"More than you could know," Number 6 growled, even though he didn't have a 'family' back home in the sense that Crane was talking about.
"Okay, then. Do we have a deal?"" Crane asked, offering his hand.
The Prisoner hesitated, as he saw himself getting involved with this possible charade after all, just not the way Number 2 and him had planned. Still, there was something in Crane's eyes, something that he saw every single day in the mirror, when he washed his face, when he shaved, when he tended a new bruise or cut; an almost manic, animalistic hunger to get out of the cage that was the Village. He slowly extended his hand, and shook Crane's hand. The strength in the visitor's hand told him that this ship captain might just be who he said he was, if his strength was anything to go by- no actor/bureaucratic paper-pusher possessed such power.
Aboard the Seaview, the control room was at last illuminated and sounding like it should, as far as Nelson was concerned. The bleeping, echoing chirps of the computer and the rows of equipment had been restored, even though the submarine, herself, was still low on power. She could leave now, if she had to, but without word from Lee there was no way they were going to run off. Unfortunately, it meant that another shore party would be required to find out what had happened to Crane and the others, now that the small village had begun to show signs of life.
He ascended the gangway up to the conning tower and back onto the hull of the ship, watching as the same sailors dunked the second raft into the water, and loaded it with supplies...and more weapons than the first craft. First Officer Chip Morton had volunteered for the away mission, but Nelson had nixed the idea, telling him that he was more valuable aboard ship, getting the Seaview back in proper working condition, but only after assuring Morton that he, himself, wasn't about to put himself in danger.
A contingent of four men boarded the raft, led by a man called Travis, and were instructed to keep in constant contact. The raft wasn't half way to shore, Nelson and Morton watching from the metallic back of the submarine, when an unearthly roar followed the sudden appearance of a huge white ball or balloon that sprung from underneath the surface of the water.
"What the devil is that?" Nelson wondered, watching open-mouthed as the ball sped towards the raft, even though the course of the wind was flowing in the opposite direction! Seemingly nothing more than a very large inflated balloon of perhaps seven or eight feet in circumference, the object was heading straight for the confused men on the raft. "Shoot iiit! Traviiis!" Nelson shouted across the bay, cupping his mouth as he roared the order.
Travis barely heard it through a third roar, as the weird ball sped up towards him, having just enough time to release the safety catch on his rifle, aim, and fire a couple shots off before the rubber-like ball was right on top of him and his men. Two went overboard from the impact, even as Travis was aware of a strange and powerful scent, like the most powerful knock-out gas he'd ever come across from, even as the ball squashed him and Rivers onto the floor of the raft, until it was smoothing him, pressing down on him with the force of a very fat and heavy man, completely blocking his open mouth and nostrils. Panic set in for a few seconds, until he lost consciousness. He and Rivers didn't witness the other two men enveloped by the peculiar ball several yards away on the surface of the water, but Nelson and Morton did, and they were ripe with impotent rage and power. Too far to risk firing their own weapons at the ball, for fear of hitting and sinking the raft or killing an unconscious man, the two senior officers of the Seaview watched as the balloon went ashore as if it were alive and had accomplished a predetermined task, leaving two bodies floating in the water, and two unconscious (or dead) men in the aimless raft.
It would take several minutes and a couple volunteers to jump into the water to recover the raft and the two other men that the tide was forcing back to the sub, but it wasn't much of a consolation to learn that Travis and Rivers were alive, but unconscious, since the other two sailors were drowned, floating face down in the water by the time the Seaview volunteers reached them.
And the first shore party was still missing...
Number 2 clapped his hands together with pride, and nodded to the Supervisor with a cheerful smile. "Very good, Supervisor. Well done, old chap! That should give that submarine crew something to think about...and allow us extra time to play with Number 6's suspicions regarding the Captain. Switch to Number 6's cottage would you?"
The big screen showed an interior view, but they were just catching the last bit of action, catching both off guard. Number 2 hurriedly asked for an exterior view, and was surprised, and a little disappointed that 6 just wasn't playing cricket. Instead, the temperamental prisoner was physically pushing Captain Crane out of his cottage, nearly throwing him off balance and onto the ground. Sound followed the skirmish, picking up Number 6's last words before he slammed his door.
"-for the last time! I don't trust you and never will, Number 61! Keep away from me...or else!"
The Supervisor watched keenly between the viewscreen, and Number 2's reaction, but it didn't seem to put him off very much. In fact, Number 2 was still smirking.
"It's still intriguing, is it not? Number 6's golden opportunity to leave, if only his own paranoia wasn't so deeply embedded within his psyche! Then he might just realize that Captain Crane isn't even working for us! Well, at least, being paid to work for us!"
"His two shipmates have been absorbed into the Village community using the Quick-Time brainwashing, but it's been known to be temporary on certain individuals, Number 2, so shouldn't we also convert Crane? We still have to deal with the rest of his crew and his ship."
"I have carte blanche, as far as my phone call from Number 1 is concerned, Supervisor. We'll proceed as I see fit."
Crane hoped that his high school drama classes were coming in handy, and that he looked the way he was pretending to act. Number 6 felt that so long as they looked like they were working together, the lesser their chances of escape were. Going back to knocking heads, and distrusting one another (as far as Number 2's cameras were concerned) was the only way to go. Looking lost and beaten, Crane wandered about the Village, looking like he'd lost his best friend (which wasn't far from the truth, considering how Sharkey acted, but his trained eyes were actually searching the crowds for any sign of Kowalski, who may or may not also be brainwashed. For all he knew, his crewman was hiding out there in the forest, just trying to survive on his own.
Such thoughts were soon dashed as soon as Crane looked up at the band playing on the Bandstand.
Kowalski was on stage, playing trumpet, dressed in the same striped Barber Shop Quartet-type clothing, complete with straw hat and a lapel badge that identified him as Number 83.
Crane slowly walked towards the edge of the stage as people sat back and mindlessly enjoyed the rousing instrumental harmony, until he stood right below the sonar operator. He gave him a little wave, to which he clearly saw eye contact with his man, but Kowalski just kept on playing. A portion of the song didn't require him to keep blowing his horn, and during the pause Crane waved even more at him, but Kowalski's inability to recognize him was confirmed from the man's disinterest. Crane's arms dropped from frustration, as he saw his crewman pick up the song where he was supposed to.
It was the fastest, most thorough brainwashing job he'd ever seen- to completely erase memories of ones life, and the years spent together aboard ship in just a matter of minutes? Incredible! Now he knew where both men were, but despite his secret alliance with Number 6, he was still in the same predicament. Following his ally's instructions to ascend the bell tower, Crane made his way there, ducking away from a couple women as they twirled multi-colored umbrellas over their heads, hoping that 6 was doing his part.
The Prisoner was something of an actor, too, and played his role to perfection, secretly following the Captain here and there, and always in the shadows or within crowds or behind walls, his face displaying a forced angry expression to make it look like he hadn't changed his mind about the submarine officer. He even changed his expression (for the benefit of any cameras watching him) to that of confusion as Crane entered the bell tower, but he didn't follow him up the winding stairs. That would have looked too much like a secret rendezvous.
Once at the top of the tower, Crane looked about, watching as the crowds went about their business, the tiny figures below of Kowalski playing the band, and Sharkey trimming distant shrubs, just visible. Slowly reaching into his pocket for something small and rectangular, Crane kept it against his body and held no higher than his belt. With subtle movements, he hoped nobody could see him reflect the glare of the sun as he sent a coded message via a mirror Number 6 had given him.
Nobody, that is, of course, but the crew of the Seaview.
"Admiral to the conning tower! Admiral, please come up here!" came Chip's voice over the internal radio.
The concern in Morton's voice was such that Nelson didn't bother picking up the radio handset off to one side in the control room, and simply ascended the ladder all the way to the top, where an open pit area just forward of the periscope and radio antennae, allowed personnel to stand outside while the ship was surfaced. He found Morton staring through a pair of binoculars at the village beyond, and even without the aid of magnification, Nelson could just make out a minuscule light flashing off and on at the top of one building.
"It's Lee, sir! It must be!" Morton said excitedly, handing Nelson the binoculars. "He's using a mirror to send a signal!"
"The same signal...over and over..." Nelson mumbled.
"Should we respond, sir?"
"No! If he can't use his radio, he might be concerned that someone over there will listen in," the Admiral said, looking up and down the beach beyond. "From that angle I don't think anyone over there will be able to see his flashes. Do as Crane says, Chip! Let's get to work!"
"Aye, sir!" Morton smiled, eager to get something accomplished at last.
Crane slid the mirror back into his pocket, hoping that five minutes of sending the same coded flash-message would be enough time for someone aboard ship to read it and initiate it. He descended the towers winding stone steps and found himself on the ground level once more. He was at a loss of what to do next that would help his and Number 6's plans of escape, other than making sure that Sharkey and Kowalski were nearby. The problem was that both men were separated, in two areas of the Village. He looked out towards the Bandstand, and knowing that so long as the band played he knew where he could find Kowalski, it was up to him to bring Sharkey closer.
It wasn't something he looked forward to, since Sharkey was armed with those damned shears, but he had to do it.
Number 6 watched from behind the upper edge of the Village newspaper, the Tally Ho, that he was pretending to read, as Crane walked purposefully towards the big lawn area where Sharkey was still tending to the shrubs. They were both supposed to be waiting for the Seaview to take action and send a rescue party, but he didn't like how Crane seemed to have an idea on his own. He was supposed to play it low-key, look like a lost little boy, perhaps have a coffee at the cafe, not look like he was going to...! Number 6 cursed Crane for not thinking logically, and trusting him, instead of going off as his heart or conscience was forcing him to. After all if his crewman was hostile the first time, and Number 2 wanted to keep them separated...
Irritated, Number 6 followed Crane to the lawn, the ship captain not even looking back. Once he'd reached the edge of the lawn, with Sharkey just fifty feet away, everyone stopped moving as an unearthly roar screamed out for attention, accompanied by an alien-sounding warbling
Crane and Number 6 both looked off to the right at the same time, following the source of the sound. Again, the roar echoed out for attention, even as they watched a huge 8-foot white balloon come bouncing down from the pillared roof of a nearby courtyard building. Crane watched, fascinated, but confused as the balloon landed onto the ground, still emanating that strange, machinery-like warbling, his mind confused by the seemingly-controlled ball. Rover bounced and floated forward until it sat in between the two men from the Seaview, purposefully drawing a line to cut off Crane from Sharkey. Number 6 gritted his teeth, knowing what would happen if Crane got too close to the Village's 'guard dog', and if that happened, he could quickly discount any hope of rescue.
Lee Crane walked to the left several steps, and the balloon followed. He moved back to the right, and Rover copied him, still holding him back from Sharkey. Placing his hands on his hips, as he sized yup the peculiar obstruction, Crane stepped forward, prepared to push the ball away from him, when Number 6 shouted out,
"Crane! Stop! Don't get any closer!"
The Captain of the Seaview spun around, surprised that Number 6 had blown their cover, making his own temper rise, even though the Prisoner explained,
"This will be your only warning, Captain; stay away from your man over there. Rover's more than capable of stopping you!"
"'Rover'?" he repeated. "It's just a balloon!"
"It's more than that, and unless you enjoy suffocation, I would advise you to back up now, and not make any sudden moves towards your friend."
The look of concern on the faces of other Villagers, and Number 6's near-hostile glare was enough for Crane to do as he was told. He backed up several feet, but for its part, all Rover did was edge towards Sharkey, who was still cutting his shrubs with a calm smile on his face, oblivious to the near-tragedy that might have occurred.
"What is it, Number 6?" Crane asked. "Is it alive or man-made? Is it an alien?"
"Some day I intend to find out," Number 6 said, grimly.
Number 2 and the Supervisor were watching the event take place on the viewing screen, and neither liked what they saw.
"They're speaking to each other again," Number 2 mused. "If Number 6 distrusts Crane, why did he intervene when we sent Rover to stop the Captain?"
"Alert! Alert!" called out a Surveillance Operator along one bank of controls that circled the Observation Room. "Sonar reports a second reading!" Number 2 and the Supervisor dashed over to him, seeing the undeniable second underwater reading move gradually away from the Seaview, picking up speed as it travelled. "It simply appeared seconds ago!"
"And you never saw it approach from the sea?" Number 2 snapped.
"Negative, sir! It was simply there!' replied the Operator.
Number 2 spun around and ordered briskly,"Give me a real-time view of the submarine on the surface; remote computer-tracking in place to follow the course of the second submarine!"
A hidden camera that nobody in the Village knew about displayed its findings on the viewscreen, showing a wide angle of the sea, and the distant Seaview along the horizon. It gradually zoomed in to an area that was split into two distant sides, water on the bottom, and the sky in the other, when suddenly a glistening yellow object burst from the surface, trailed for a few seconds across the broken water, and then dashed up into the sky.
"What the blazes?" Number 2 gasped in awe.
The formerly-hidden submersible was bright yellow in color, with dark navy blue for trim, and roughly shaped like a manta ray- and it was flying! It didn't possess wings like any aircraft any of them had seen before, save for a pair of vertical stabilizers near the tail, and judging from its acrobatic rolls and maneuverability, it was a very sophisticated rocket-propelled craft that must have been launched from the Seaview herself!
"Initiate immediate counteractive measures! Stand-by on all self-defense systems! Target that flying submarine!"
Aboard her, Admiral Nelson, decked out in a leather jacket flew the incredible Flying Sub of his own design over the village, making several loops around the Village, not just to look for Crane and his men, but to also show the occupants who and what they were dealing with. The Flying Sub was just as multi-purpose as the Seaview, used for research and exploration, and sometimes like now, rescue. Also manning the submersible shuttle were Patterson and a man called Mitchell, who were there to lend aid- armed aid.
The arrival of the Flying Sub over head didn't go unnoticed by either Crane or Number 6, as the ship's jet engines roared overhead, circling about.
"Don't worry- it's the cavalry! And your ticket to freedom!" Crane assured a concerned Number 6. The Prisoner allowed a cautious smile to break his usual angry features, as a very real opportunity to escape was presenting itself. This aircraft was a match for the high-tech abilities of the Village as far as he was concerned, and it might just be his ticket to freedom. Except...
"Crane! Look!" Number 6 shouted, drawing the Captain's attention to a pair of men with machine guns that had burst from a building, and began to fire upwards at Nelson's ship. "I'll get them! Draw your ship's attention!"
"But 6, if you-!" Crane began to say, but Number 6 was already racing through he panicked villagers, even as the two security specialists from Number 2 fired wildly up at the bulletproof Flying Sub. The yellow ship banked around towards them, a lower hatch opening up, and a machine gun held by Patterson pointing downwards in response.
Number 6 tackled the armed man on the right, knocking him over a bench, grabbed his machine gun, and swung it at his head, knocking the man out, gaining the attention of the second machine gun-toting security officer. He aimed his gun at Number 6, but was jumped by the former secret agent a second later. Both lost their guns as Number 6 kicked and fought like a mule, levelling the guard with one right-cross and left uppercut after another until the man was knocked senseless and bleeding.
Crane tried to get towards Sharkey, who was now curious and watching the action, but still loitering around the shrubs. Unfortunately, every time Crane tried to approach him, Rover roared back and kept him at bay. He shouted up to the Flying Sub for cover fire, which Patterson managed, scoring several bullets into Rover's hide, but the strange ball wasn't punctured. Number 6 ran forward and offered additional fire against Rover, only to enrage the creature/thing, so that it began to bounce towards him.
"GEEEET SHARRRKEEEYY!" Crane shouted up at the Flying Sub, so Patterson lowered a harness on a cable, which Crane grabbed and ran directly towards his Chief. The confused Sharkey wasn't sure what to make of it, so he began to fight off Crane's attempts at rescue. "Chief! Stop it! Get into the harness!"
"No! No! Nooo! What're you doing? Leave me alone or I'll-" Sharkey shouted back, until a perfect right cross knocked him senseless, falling into Crane's arms. He clumsily loaded the limp figure of Chief Sharkey into the harness, gave the 'Up' signal to Patterson, and a second later the winch was lifting the barely-conscious man up into the hovering yellow manta-ray craft.
Crane ran across the grass as he saw Rover stalking Number 6, who was still firing his machine gun at the hostile object, edging towards the balcony of the nearby building there. The task of rescuing Kowalski was daunting and next on his list of things to do, and would have been even more difficult, since he was in another part of the Village, had he not appeared himself, whereas all the other Villagers had run away from the chaotic activity. The Captain was ready to give him the same knock out punch when Kowalski stopped him with a smile and raised hands.
"Skipper, wait, wait! I'm okay! I'm on your side!"
Crane looked at his man, even as more gun fire erupted between Patterson overhead and another couple of Village guards. Kowalski had dumped his straw hatch and striped jacket, but still wore the remnants of his Band costume.
"How can I trust-?" Crane began, but his sonar operator shouted back over the racket,
"I faked it! They brainwashed Sharkey first, and it was so quick! Like nothing I ever saw before! I kept my wits about me and had to fake being part of the Band if I didn't want them to drug me even worse!"
"Finefine! Get into the harness!" Crane said, as the Flying Sub hovered overhead again, taking hits off her yellow hull, while Number 6 drew the gunfire away.
"But, Captain, you're more import-"
"Do as I order, Kowalski!"
His officer complied reluctantly, happy to see a friendly face in the form of Patterson above him, and the cover fire offered by another Seaview crewman through the aft entrance.
The operation seemed to be going their way when they began to hear distant explosions. Crane narrowed it down to the area of the beach, and wondered if the Admiral hadn't staged a land assault as well, until Patterson relayed horrible news from Nelson who was able to see what was taking place through the large forward windows of the Flying Sub.
"The Seaview's under attack!" Patterson shouted down at Crane, as he yanked Kowalski into the craft. "Depth charges or something! They're blowing up all around her!"
Crane knew that Chip would do what he had to do- hopefully retreat!- as this operation finished up. He ran off towards the building, running the obstacle course as he tried to get over to where Number 6 was being held at bay on the balcony of the building, until Rover roared defiantly, cutting off his escape. Without any weapons, there was little Crane could do, but run over to the other side of the building, followed cautiously by the bouncing, warbling Rover.
Machine gun fire continued to be peppered at Rover from Number 6, who had to duck again and again as counter fire from security guards kept his head down, and drew his fire towards them. The harness from the Flying Sub beckoned for him, so he grabbed it, his eyes wide and angry, as he struggled to keep it in hand during the firefight, so Number 6 could be rescued. Kowalski and Patterson were shouting down to him to get into the harness so they could escape, making Crane realize that none of them knew that he wanted to help the black-blazered man on the balcony.
"You're next, Siiiix!" Crane shouted at the man. "I'll have them maneuverrrr towards youuuu!" he shouted, cupping his mouth to be heard.
The Captain gave a thumbs-up sign, and was winched up quickly. His head was just a few feet below the hatch, bullets ringing and ricocheting off the yellow steel of the Flying Sub as he shouted to his men, "One more to rescue! The man offering cover fire in the black jacket! We have to-!"
Crane's pleas were silenced as a weird alien-sounding echo washed over everyone, making the Flying Sub tremble, and most disturbingly, the inner lights shut off! Nelson's voice was heard to cry out, "Electromagnetic pulse! We're going down!"
Kowalski slammed the hatch shut in the rocking craft behind Crane's feet, as Mitchell slammed shut the other inner door leading to the aft exit. The three men lay flat across the floor of the troubled vessel as Admiral Nelson fought for control of the paralyzed submersible, after the pulse had knocked out all controls. The Flying Sub twisted and turned as she fell, watched with shocked concern by Number 6. The craft spun around towards the sea, and seemed to fire off a manual stabilizer to direct it towards the sea.
Even more security guards appeared all around him, and outgunned, Number 6 reluctantly lowered his weapon, even as he tried to see what fate had in store for the powerless ship, but he could only see so far beyond tree cover.
The Flying Sub was piloted by the only man alive that knew how she worked, which was the only reason she was saved from destruction in what surely should have been a death crash. Nelson lowered rarely used manually-operated wing stabilizers, allowing the craft to glide back towards the sea, where she splashed down several hundred feet away from the sandy beach, skimming along the surface until she lay still and buoyant.
Charges below water continued to explode all around the Seaview, forcing her out to sea, and just visible out one side of the Flying Sub's windows. Incredibly, they saw one of their own divers swimming towards them! Could it be Morton? Whoever it was, they were glad for the assistance, and unlocked the inner hatch on the roof of the Flying Sub, after the diver had indicated that he would climb onto the roof of the Sub so he could enter it. Helped inside by Patterson and Mitchell, the diver was greeted by numerous questions from everyone, but strangely remained silent, kept his diving gear in place.
"Who're y-" Crane began, only to get a face-full of a noxious gas from a handheld weapon from the diver. Kowalski grabbed the man's arm to pull it away, but it was already too late, as the powerful gas took effect, forcing all of the men from the Seaview to collapse where they were.
And they weren't alone...
As Chip Morton gave the order to retreat from the charges that were detonating all around them, giving the helmsman directions for course and speed, he suddenly realized that he wasn't familiar with the man operating the sonar station. He smiled up at Morton, and gave him a strange salute, making a circle with his thumb and finger, and throwing his hand forward with a confusing, "Be seeing you!' comment.
Morton was about to ask what he meant, when his eyes blurred and watered, then saw double and felt the floor of the Seaview pitch and bank to the left and right and back again, even as his closing eyes saw gas float over him, and block out his view of the sonar operator who had protected himself with a gas mask.
Number 6 was escorted to Number 2's residence by a pair of burly security guards, even as the Village strangely returned to normal about him. The doors opened, and there was the usual mute butler to greet them. He parted the wooden doors to the inner sanctum, while the steel door beyond was triggered open by the presence of 6 and his guards. Inside, Number 2 was already waiting for him, looking insufferably pleased with himself.
"That'll be all, gentlemen. Without guns to help break out of here Number 6 is quite incapable to escaping."
The guards released him and ascended the metallic ramp, leaving the two of them alone. "They'll be back," Number 6 growled, completely believing it. "And when they do, I'll have my new friends aim a missile or two right back-"
"Oh? Didn't I tell you, Number 6?" Number 2 asked, innocently. "We have the situation completely under our control. You're going nowhere."
"Do you seriously think Crane's crew will simply allow his aircraft to be shot down, and run away?" Number 6 asked with a sneer.
"What aircraft? What attack?" Number 2 asked, innocently again, at which point one of his phones bleeped for his attention. He smiled down at it, and answered it, placing it on speaker-phone as he did so.
"Yes, Number 31?"
"Reporting operation successful, Number 2!" came a voice from the speaker. "The occupants of the flying ship have been rendered unconscious and had the knock out-amnesia drug administered. Number 50 has reported success with the main submarine crew,as well, using the ship's own ventilation system to spread the gas."
"Very good, old chap. Have the flying ship towed out to the main submarine and attach a line to it. Then have Number 50 set the helm controls to steer her out to see at a safe speed and a course that won't line her up with our little Village."
"Understood, Number 2!"
Number 6 was boiling mad, angry beyond belief that Number 2 had won again, and was grinning with his usual self-satisfied smugness.
Minutes later, the same man that was dressed in a divers outfit was piloting a speedboat to the side of the Seaview. Throwing a rope up to the fake sonar operator who was waiting for him, the two men left the Seaview, and raced back towards the Village.
"You should be grateful that I'm the kind of man that I am, Number 6- I could just as easily ordered both vessels sunk, killing all aboard. Fortunately, Village drugs are very, very effective. No need to cause unnecessary deaths, eh?'
"How lucky for you," Number 6 growled, slowly turning towards the exit.
"And generous...for the most part. However, I do need to be fair and rigid in my own way now and then," Number 2 told him ominously. The steel door opened and the two security guards were waiting for Number 6 on the other side. "I hope that after two weeks in solitary confinement you'll see the error of your ways, Number 6?" The Prisoner gave him a death glare, but Number 2 merely smiled back as he added, "I could hardly allow you to get off scoff free, now could I? All those bullets fired at Rover, mm? You rather hurt his feelings, after all!"
Number 6 left the presence of Number 2, preferring to be locked up on his own for the next 14 days, rather than have to look at his smug face any longer.
He knew the drugs were effective, but a part of him held out hope that Crane and the others, at least one man, would remember what happened and initiate another rescue attempt.
Lee Crane's head felt like it was stuffed with the innards of his pillow, even as his cold cheek felt the rising and falling of the floor he was lying face down on. He inhaled deeply to clear his mind and wake up, but he wasn't in his cabin, or even on the Seaview. He took a couple seconds to register that he was sprawled out on the floor of the Flying Sub, and she was drifting on the surface of the sea, if the lack of engine power and splashes of water against the view ports were any indication.
Seconds later he became aware that he wasn't alone, and as he dragged himself to his feet, he saw Admiral Nelson slumped in the pilot's seat, and the unconscious forms of Kowalski, Sharkey, Patterson, and Mitchell aboard the derelict ship. He leaped for Nelson and jostled him, and was grateful to see the older red-haired sailor groan and gradually awaken. Out the view ports, the great body of the submarine Seaview loomed before them, which explained why they occasionally heard a metal-on-metal clunking- the Flying Sub must be tethered to the Seaview, and the submarine was travelling slowly across the surface.
"Sharkey! Up and at 'em, mister!" Crane grunted, helping to pick up his officer, who was confused as hell as to not only why he was sleeping aboard the Flying Sub with everyone else, but why the hell he was stripped down to just his t-shirt, boxer shorts and shoes!- the same as Kowalski!
"Sharkey! Kowalski...what the devil are you...?" a sleepy Nelson mumbled as he beheld his men.
The shock woke up Sharkey immediately, as he explained with wide-eyed confusion, "Admiral, I-I promise you...I have no idea what's going on! My head's a mess! I feel like I've been living somebody else's life, and...who're you again, mister?"
The Captain looked between Sharkey and Nelson, and back again, replying through gritting teeth, "Your commanding officer, Lee Crane!"
"Oh, okay. Um...yea...I think that makes sense. Oh man, I'm not all here yet," Sharkey moaned, rubbing his temples.
"That goes for all of us. I feel like...and I'm not...all here," Kowalski admitted, blinking back the sleep in his eyes, as he rubbed his face to snap out of it, unaware that his mind was coping with knock out case and the Village's Quick-Time brainwashing effects.
"Admiral? Any ideas what happened to us?" Crane asked.
"Not much. Maybe Seaview can answer those questions for us. Get the Flying sub under power, Lee, while I make contact."
It would take several minutes for Chip Morton to respond, and even then, his mind and that of everyone else's in the control room were jumbled and confused. The Seaview came to a stop long enough for the Flying Sub to submerge and dock into its storage bay in the belly of the super-sub, and by then Nelson felt it was time to check-in with the Nelson Institute, since their clocks indicated over 12 hours had passed since they'd last reported in.
It would be a mystery as to what happened to them, as no records were kept of the 12-hour event, and they were now being ordered to report to Seabase Pisces, a United Nations-staffed research base 400 miles off the coast of Spain. Crane ordered a course correction to get them there by the next morning, and that night a confused Seaview crew went to sleep with no answers.
Just vague, unrealistic dreams of a nameless little village that looked like it existed in another time, decades ago, with a strange white balloon floating through it- the only memory of their voyage to the Village.