The captain looked down at his plate. He arranged the knife and fork tidily together, straightened the dessert spoon, and took the remains of his iced coffee and swirled the fragments of ice round so that they tinkled. He put the glass back on the table and looked up, first at Leiter then at Bond. He said thoughtfully, “I guess what you say makes sense, Commander. We have plenty of oxygen re-breathers on board. We also have ten of the finest swimmers in the nuclear flotilla. But they'll only have knives to fight with. I'll have to ask for volunteers.'' He paused. ”Who's going to lead them?'' Bond said, "I'll do that. Skin-diving happens to be one of my hobbies. And I know what fish to look out for and which ones not to mind about. I'll brief your men about those things.''
Felix Leiter interrupted. He said obstinately, “And don't think you're going to leave me behind eating Virginia ham. I put an extra foot-flipper on this''---he held up the shining hook---”and I'll race you over half a mile any day, gammy leg and all. You'd be surprised the things one gets around to improvise when someone chews off one of your arms. Compensation it's called by the medics, in case you hadn't heard about it.''
The captain smiled. He got to his feet. "Okay, okay. I'll leave you two heroes to fight it out while I have a word to the men over the speaker system. Then we'll have to get together with the charts and see that the gear's okay and suchlike. You fellers aren't going to get any sleep after all. I'll have a ration of battle pills issued to you. You're going to need them.'' He raised a hand and went off down the mess hall.
Leiter turned to Bond. "You goddam shyster. Thought you were going to leave your old pal behind, didn't you? God, the treachery of you Limeys! Perfidious Albion is right, all right.''
Bond laughed. "How the hell was I to know you'd been in the hands of rehabilitators and therapists and so on? I never knew you took life so seriously. I suppose you've even found some way of petting with that damned meathook of yours.''
Leiter said darkly, "You'd be surprised. Get a girl round the arm with this and you'd be amazed the effect it has on their good resolutions. Now then, let's get down to cases. What sort of formation are we going to swim in? Can we get some of those knives made into lances? How are we going to recognize our side from theirs underwater, and in semi-darkness at that? We've got to make this operation pretty solid. That Pedersen's a good guy. We don't want to get some of his men killed through some damn silly mistake of ours.''
The voice of the captain sounded over the communication system. "Now hear this. This is your Captain speaking. It is possible that we may encounter hazards in the course of this operation. I will tell you how this may come about. This ship has been chosen by the Navy Department for an exercise that is tantamount to an operation of war. I will tell you the story, which will remain classified top secret until further orders. This is what has happened . . .''
Bond, asleep in one of the duty officers' bunks, was awakened by the alarm bell. The iron voice of the P.A. system said: “Diving stations. Diving stations,'' and almost at once his bunk tilted slightly and the distant whine of the engines altered pitch. Bond smiled grimly to himself. He slipped off the bunk and went along and up to the attack center. Felix Leiter was already there. The captain turned away from the plot. His face was tense. He said, ”It looks as if you were right, gentlemen. We've got her, all right. About five miles ahead and two points to starboard. She's doing around thirty knots. No other ship could be holding that speed, or would be likely to. And she's showing no lights. Here, care to have a look through the scope? She's raising quite a wake and kicking up plenty of phosphorescence. No moon yet, but you'll see the white blur when your eyes get used to the dark.''
Bond bent to the rubber eye sockets. In a minute he had her, a white scut on the horizon of the soft, feathery swell. He stood back. "What's her course?''
“Same as ours---western end of Grand Bahama. We'll go deeper now and put on a bit of speed. We've got her on the Sonar as well, so we shan't lose her. We'll get up parallel and close in a bit later. The met. report gives a light westerly breeze in the early hours. That'd be a help. Don't want it too calm when we unload the swimming party. The surface'll boil quite a bit as each man goes out. Here.'' He turned to a powerful-looking man in white ducks. ”This is Petty Officer Fallon. He's in command of the swimming party, under your and Mr. Leiter's orders, of course. All the top swimmers volunteered. He's chosen nine of them. I've taken them off all duties. Maybe you gentlemen would like to get acquainted with your team. You'll want to discuss your routines. I guess discipline'll have to be pretty tight---recognition signals and so forth. Okay? The sergeant at arms is looking after the weapons.'' He smiled. "He's rustled up a dozen flick knives. Had some difficulty persuading the men to give them up, but he's done it. He's barbed them and sharpened them down almost to needles, then fitted them into the tops of broom handles. Guess he'll make you sign an indent for the brooms or he'll have the supply officer on top of him when we get out of this. All right then. Be seeing you. Ask for anything you want.'' He turned back to the plot.
Bond and Leiter followed Petty Officer Fallon along the lower deck to the engine room and then to the engine-repair shop. On their way they passed through the reactor room. The reactor, the equivalent of a controlled atomic bomb, was an obscene knee-level bulge rising out of the thickly leaded deck. As they passed it, Leiter whispered to Bond, "Liquid sodium Submarine Intermediate Reactor Mark B.'' He grinned sourly and crossed himself.
Bond gave the thing a sideways kick with his shoe. "Steam-age stuff. Our Navy's got the Mark C.''
The repair shop, a long low room equipped with various forms of precision machinery, presented a curious sight. At one end were grouped the nine swimmers clad only in bathing trunks, their fine bodies glowing with sunburn. At the other, two men in gray overalls, drab figures of the machine age, were working in semi-darkness with only pinpoints of bright light cast on the whirring lathes from which the knife blades threw small fountains of blue and orange sparks. Some of the swimmers already had their spears. After the introductions, Bond took one and examined it. It was a deadly weapon, the blade, sharpened to a stiletto and notched near the top into a barb, firmly wired into the top of a long stout stave. Bond thumbed the needle-sharp steel and touched the tip. Even a shark's skin would not stand up to that. But what would the enemy have? CO2 guns for a certainty. Bond looked the smiling bronzed young men over. There were going to be casualties---perhaps many. Everything must be done to effect surprise. But those golden skins and his own and Leiter's paler skins would show at twenty feet in the moonlight---all right for the guns, but well out of range of the spears. Bond turned to Petty Officer Fallon: "I suppose you don't have rubber suits on board?''
“Why sure, Commander. Have to, for escape in cold waters.'' He smiled. ”We're not always sailing among the palm trees.''
"We'll all need them. And could you get white or yellow numbers, big ones, painted on their backs? Then we'll know more or less who's who.''
“Sure, sure.'' He called to his men. ”Hey, Fonda and Johnson. Go along to the Quartermaster and draw rubber suits for the whole team. Bracken, get a pail of rubber solution paint from Stores. Paint numbers on the backs of the suits. A foot deep. From one to twelve. Get going.''
Later, with the gleaming black suits hanging like giant bat skins along the wall, Bond called the team together. “Men, we're going to have one hell of an underwater battle. There'll be casualties. Anyone care to change his mind?'' The faces grinned back at him. ”All right, then. Now, we'll be swimming at around ten feet for a quarter, perhaps half a mile. It'll be pretty light. The moon'll be up and the bottom's white sand with some seagrass. We'll take it easy and go in triangle formation with me, No. 1, leading followed by Mr. Leiter here as No. 2, and Petty Officer Fallon as No. 3. Then we broaden out behind like a wedge of geese. All you have to do is follow the number in front of you and no one'll get lost. Watch out for isolated niggerheads. As far as I can gather from the chart there's no true reef, only broken clumps. It'll be getting on for early feeding time for the fish, so watch out for anything big. But leave it alone unless it gets too inquisitive. Then three of you take it on with the spears. But don't forget that it's most unlikely any fish will attack us. Close together we'll look like one hell of a big black fish to anyone else and I guess we'll be given a wide berth. Watch out for sea eggs on the coral and mind the tips of your spears. Hold them right up near the blade. Above all, keep quiet. We must try and get surprise on our side. The enemy's got CO2 guns, range above twenty feet. But they're slow things to reload. If one's aimed at you, try and give a small target. Keep flat in the water. Don't put your feet down and give him a full-length target. As soon as he's fired, go for him like hell with your spear right out. One jab of those things in almost any part of the head or body and your man's had it. Wounded men will have to look after themselves. We can't spare stretcher bearers. If you're wounded, back out of the fight and get away to a coral clump and rest on it. Or make for the shore and shallow water. If you've got a spear in you, don't try and pull it out. Just hold it in the wound until someone gets to you. Petty Officer Fallon will have one of the ship's signal flares. He'll release that to the surface as soon as our attack begins and your captain will at once surface and put out an escape dinghy with an armed party and the ship's surgeon. Now then, any questions?''
"What do we do as soon as we get out of the sub, sir?''
"Try and not make any fuss on the surface. Get down quickly to ten feet and take your place in the formation. We're likely to get help from a light breeze, but we're bound to create turbulence on the surface. Keep it down as much as you can.''
"What about signals underwater, sir? Suppose a mask goes wrong or something.''
“Thumbs down for any kind of emergency. Arm held straight out for a big fish. Thumbs up means `I understand' or `Coming to help you.' That's all you'll need.'' Bond smiled. ”If the feet go up, that's the signal that you've had it.''
The men laughed various kinds of laugh.
There came the sudden voice of the P.A. system. "Swimming party to the escape hatch. I repeat, swimming party to the escape hatch. Don equipment, Don equipment. Commander Bond to the attack center, please.''
The whine of the engines died to a moan and then was silent. There was a slight bump as the Manta hit bottom.
Bond shot upward out of the escape hatch in a blast of compressed air. Far above him the surface of the sea was a glittering plate of quicksilver bubbling and swirling with the small waves that Bond was glad to see had materialized. The balloon of air rushed on past him and he watched it hit the silver ceiling like a small bomb. There was a sharp pain in his ears. To get decompression he fought with his fins and slowed down until he hung suspended ten feet below the surface.
Below him the long black shape of the Manta looked sinister and dangerous. He thought of the electric light blazing inside her and a hundred men going about their business. It gave him a creepy feeling. NOW there came a great explosion from the escape hatch as if the Manta was firing at Bond, and the black projectile of Leiter shot up at him through the burst of silver air bubbles. Bond moved out of his path and swam on up to the surface. Cautiously he looked above the small flurry of the waves. The Disco , still blacked out, lay stopped less than a mile away to his left. There were no signs of activity on board. A mile to the north lay the long dark outline of Grand Bahama edged with the white of sand and small waves. There were small patches of broken white on the coral and niggerheads in the intervening water. Above the island, on top of the tall rocket gantries that showed as indistinct black skeletons, the red aircraft warning lights winked on and off. Bond got his bearings and quietly jackknifed his body down below the surface. He stopped at about ten feet and, keeping his body pointed like a compass needle along the course he would have to follow, lay, paddling softly with his fins to keep position, and waited for the rest of his team.