information to yourself.â
âOf course. But why?â
Asher bounced the ball off the floor, caught it, squeezed it thoughtfully. âWe wanted a reason why nobody could leave the Facility in a hurry. A security precaution against information leaks, espionage, that sort of thing.â
âAnd all this talk of proprietary atmospherics, of a long acclimation process, and an even longer cool down, provides a nice cover story.â
Asher gave the ball another bounce, then tossed it into the corner. Any pretense of game playing had now fallen aside.
âSo those rooms I had to wait in when I first got to the Facility. Theyâre completely phony?â
âTheyâre not phony. They are functional decompression chambers. Just with their atmospheric functions turned off.â He glanced over. âYou were saying you know why you were chosen for the job.â
âYes. After seeing the readout from the hyperbaric chamber, I finally put two and two together. Itâs what I did on the USS
âIâm surprised you heard about that.â
âI didnât. The mission is still classified. But Admiral Spartan knew about it. He knew all about it. Your skill as a diagnostician, your past experience dealing withâshall we say?â
medical situations under extremely stressful circumstances are unique assets. And since for security reasons Spartan would only allow one person access to Deep Storm, you seemed the best choice.â
âThereâs that word again: security. And thatâs the one thing I havenât figured out.â
Asher threw him a questioning glance.
âWhy all the secrecy? What, exactly, is so vital about Atlantis that you need such drastic measures? And for that matter, why is the government willing to front so much money, and such expensive equipment, for an archaeological dig?â Crane waved an arm. âI mean, look at this place. Just to run something like the Facility must burn a million dollars of taxpayer money each day.â
âActually,â Asher said quietly, âthe amount is rather higher.â
âLast time I checked, the bureaucrats at the Pentagon werenât big on ancient civilizations. And agencies like NOD usually have their caps out, thankful for whatever crumbs the government will toss them. But here youâve got the most sophisticated, most secret working environment in the world.â He paused. âAnd thatâs another thing: the Facility is nuclear powered, isnât it? Iâve been on enough boomers to know. And my ID badge seems to have a radioactive marker embedded in it.â
Asher smiled, but did not reply. It was funny, Crane thought, how closemouthed the man had become in recent days.
For a minute, the squash court was filled with a tense, uncomfortable silence. Crane had one more bomb to drop, the biggest of all, and he realized there was no point delaying it any longer.
âAnyway, Iâve been thinking a lot about all this. And the only answer I can come up with is that itâs not Atlantis down there. Itâs something else.â He glanced at Asher. âAm I right?â
Asher looked at him speculatively for a moment. Then he nodded almost imperceptibly.
down there?â Crane pressed.
âIâm sorry, Peter. I canât tell you that.â
âNo? Why not?â
âBecause if I did, Iâm afraid Spartan would have to kill you.â
Hearing this clichÃ©, Crane began to laugh. But then he looked at Asher and his laughter died. Because the chief scientistâwho always laughed so easilyâwasnât even smiling.
At the uttermost frontiers of Scotlandâbeyond Skye, beyond the Hebrides, beyond even the tiny battered chain of islands known as the Seven Sistersâlies the archipelago of St. Kilda. It is the remotest part of the British Isles, rough hummocks of brown stone
Celia Kyle, Lizzie Lynn Lee