As Dad wraps his arms around Theo, Theo’s eyes go wide. “Holy crap,” he mutters. “Whoa. Whoa.”
“I told you.” I can’t help laughing.
Theo hugs Dad back, fierce and hard. “Henry. I’m glad you’re all right. You don’t know—you can’t know how much.”
Dad slaps him once on the shoulder, I guess so they can both feel like the hug is all manly. “I meant what I said. You’re in serious trouble for pulling Marguerite into this. But it looks like my daughter’s a bolder traveler than I ever realized.”
I want to protest that Theo didn’t pull me into this; given what I now understand about Triad’s real agenda, and my abilities, I know I would have been involved sooner or later. Still, first things first. “Now all Theo has to do is figure out how to make another Firebird. You rebuilt the others, so you should be able to build one from scratch, right, Theo?”
“Probably. Maybe. Wow. I gotta think.” Theo’s expression looks completely dazed, like he got hit by a truck. I can’t blame him. “It’s going to be a while before I can say anything more coherent than wow.”
“Take a few moments. Catch your breath.” Dad squints at the double-reinforced window in the landing bay door. “This is shaping up to be a decent break in the storm. We’ve had reports of another couple of refugees, via ships—looks like we’ll be able to land them. Who knows? Maybe one of them is Paul. It would be nice to all be together again.” He smiles softly, and I know the happiness within Dad’s heart is a mirror of my own.
Once Dad has gone back to running the station, Theo and I are alone again. I can’t resist. “Told you.”
“You did. You did tell me. But I had to see it for myself.” He shakes his head slowly. “I can’t believe Paul—that he figured all this out.”
“Me neither. When we get home, we have to go back to the beginning with Triad.” Then I think about how ruthless Conley is, what a risk I’m asking Theo to take. “I know it’s dangerous, taking them on. I’d never want you to get hurt. You don’t have to—”
“You’re worried about me?” Theo’s voice breaks on the final word. “You just found out they’re hunting you in multiple dimensions, and you’re trying to take care of me.”
We all have to take care of each other, I want to say, but Theo has risen to his feet, and he takes me in his arms.
“Stop it, okay?” he says as he hugs me tightly. “You’re the one who needs taking care of. Don’t waste your time worrying about me.”
We break apart, and Theo smiles as if he’s embarrassed, which coming from him is practically a first. Before I can speak, though, someone else walks into the room. I don’t remember who this guy is, if I even met him yesterday, but his coverall looks a lot like my dad’s, and he acts like he has some authority. “Ms. Caine, we need you on submersible duty. Someone’s got to go out and retrieve that fallen winch.”
Mom was talking about that this morning: a winch fell off one of the high cranes last night, buffeted by the winds. Now it’s on the ocean floor, on the not-horribly-deep shelf the Salacia occupies, but the stronger currents whipped up by the storm might push it into a deeper trench nearby.
So what exactly am I supposed to be doing? Submersible duty? What does that mean?
Then my eyes widen as I realize a submersible is an underwater craft. A submarine.
I’m on submarine duty?
“It’s a two-man vessel,” the guy says to Theo. “Your bio says you’re licensed as a pilot as well. Want to go out there with her? Make yourself useful as long as you’re here?”
“Yeah,” Theo says slowly. “Sure. Yes. I’m—very good—at, uh, at piloting submarines.”
The guy kind of stares at us, but says only, “Berth four,” before walking off, which is when Theo turns to me and mouths, Oh, shit.
“We’re supposed to be piloting a submarine? No. No way.”
“I actually ran some simulations on the way out here. This dimension’s Theo had them queued up on his computer anyway . . .”
He gives me his best puppy-dog eyes—and believe me, his are really, really good—but finally says, “You’re no fun.”
“So what do we do?”
I run one hand through my wet hair. “We—we go to berth four, and—” And what? Say something is wrong with the sub? They’ll figure out that it’s fine and know we’re lying. “Then we call my father from there. He’ll send someone else down.”
We find berth four easily enough. The sub is not some huge, nuclear, Hunt for Red October sub; instead it’s tiny and curved, with bright white walls and smooth black touchscreen controls like a tPhone. Beyond the curved transparent dome in front is an endless expanse of dark blue water.
“Look at this,” Theo says as he studies the controls. “It’s just like the simulator. I mean, exactly like it.”
“Theo . . .”
He shrugs, but his face is lighting up in that wicked-boy way he has. “I played with it for hours on the way out here. It’s better than any video game ever.” Then Theo drums his hand on the back of one of the seats. “You don’t often get a chance to play a video game for real . . .”
“No. Uh-uh. No way.”