“What goes on?” Troy asked incredulously, looking around the control room, “Thousands of people don’t just disappear!”
“What about the logs, Troy?” Phones ventured, heading for the log chart at one end of the room.
“Good idea, let’s take a look.”
Troy and Marina gazed over Phones’ shoulder as he flicked through the log sheets.
“Hey!” Phones exclaimed, “The log sheet for today is gone! It’s been torn out!”
“Figures…” Troy commented sourly. He rested a hand on the back of the control chair where Atlanta usually sat and drummed his fingers for a moment, deep in thought.
Phones rubbed his chin, staring around the room looking for clues, “Could we be dreamin’? Or some kinda hallucination, maybe?”
“Doesn’t feel like any dream I’ve ever had,” Troy replied, “And brother, I’ve had some whoppers. No, this is something else. Let’s take a good look around. There must be a clue somewhere.”
They spent almost two hours travelling around Marineville, searching for anything that could give them the slightest clue, before assembling in the living room of Troy’s apartment.
“Okay, so what do we know?” Troy asked.
“That everyone seems to have disappeared, but there are no signs of panic,” Phones replied, “It’s as if everyone got up and left perfectly calmly.”
“Yeah, exactly. If Marineville had been threatened, they would have gone to battle stations. If some sort of madness had seized everyone, there’d be signs of chaos everywhere,” Troy said, beginning to pace the room.
Marina watched him, her brow furrowed, trying desperately to think of an answer to help her friends.
Troy stopped and looked at the others, “Okay. We’ll assume that, for an unknown reason, everyone left Marineville. For the moment, we’ll forget about the ‘why’. Let’s concentrate on the ‘how’. Now, what are the most common reasons anyone would have to leave Marineville, Phones?”
Phones pondered, “Well, I guess we can rule out everyone havin’ vacation leave at the same time, so the only other reason I can think of would be they were given an assignment.”
“Sure, and who has final authority on all assignments?”
Marina made a gesture that Troy recognised at once, “Right, Marina – Commander Shore. You’d both leave Marineville if the Commander told you to, right?”
Marina nodded and smiled.
“Why sure I would, Troy. He’s the Commander after all.”
Troy’s face clouded again and he shook his head, “Yeah, but that doesn’t make sense either. Sure, the Commander could ask everyone to leave. Might even order them to. But why? Why?!”
In his frustration, he crashed a fist onto the shelf on which the videophone apparatus was sitting. The sudden jolt made the screen flicker into life.
“Troy, look!” Phones gasped.
Troy glanced at the screen and saw an otherworldly face staring back at him. The purple-hued skin, scaly bald head, jet black eyes and squid-like mouth added up to something as terrifying as any science fiction alien that Troy had ever read about. But he knew from experience that he was looking at a species from the oceans of Earth, albeit one he had never encountered before.
The alien spoke with a watery, bubbling tone, “So, Captain Tempest, you have stumbled upon the truth. I was beginning to think that my grand deception had been executed flawlessly. Now I will have to take action to prevent you from disrupting my carefully laid plans…”
TO BE CONTINUED