The chaotic stream of bubbles spewing from the peak of the volcanic crater showed no sign of easing.
Troy spoke urgently into the radio transmitter, “Stingray calling Therminos control – Do you read me? This is Captain Tempest, please respond!”
The reply, mired by heavy static, was barely audible, “Stingray from Therminos. Receiving you – strength one. This is Supreme Rule Donatra. I am afraid you are too late, Captain. There is nothing you can do now, flee while you can.”
“We’re not going anywhere, Ma’am. It looks like there are a heck of a lot of people down there still in harm’s way and we’re not about to turn our backs on them! We’re standing by to assist. Where can we be of most help?”
“Thank you, Captain.” Donatra replied gratefully, “Make for the ruby beacon marker by the airlock on the eastern side of the council building, we will meet you there.”
The static increased and the transmission ended with a click.
“Right Phones, let’s get over there. Red Zero-One-Zero – rate one acceleration.”
“Rate one, aye!”
As Stingray darted from the perimeter of the city towards its centre, the volcano gave another ominous rumble – a reminder that the real danger could arrive at any second.
Phones confirmed a successful seal with the airlock tube and Troy opened the main hatch, allowing Donatra and her aides on board.
“Welcome aboard, Supreme Ruler. Stingray is at your disposal, but we must hurry!”
“Quite so, Captain Tempest. The other members of the ruling council are arranging an evacuation armada. My people will be making for the launch pens on the western perimeter of Therminos.”
Phones scanned the area while Stingray proceeded ahead, “Will they be swimming over?”
“No, we have a series of subterranean tunnels and passageways used in times of crisis. Ah, there are the main pens just ahead now.”
Troy and Phones gazed out of the forward view-port in time to see a small group of vessels departing from a large cave that had been hollowed out of a sheer undersea rockface.
Donatra pointed to the largest vessel, leading the way for the others, “That is Stravin. He had orders to get the first wave away as soon as they were ready. There will be two more waves following.”
“What can we do meanwhile?” Troy asked, itching to show that Stingray could be useful.
Donatra considered for a moment, “We will sweep the city and look for stragglers. No one must be left behind.”
“Good idea. I’ll lay in a search pattern to cover the city as quickly as possible.”
At Troy’s command, Stingray veered onto a new heading, diving low and skimming just above the rooftops of the exotic buildings dotted around below.
Phones put a hand to the speaker over his left ear, “Hydrophone clear, no one moving in this sector, everyone’s heading for the pens.”
Just then the volcano roared loudly and a great rumbling shook the surrounding area. The boiling jet of bubbles streaming from the maw had become a solid torrent.
Donatra pointed anxiously, “The council building!”
Troy followed her horrified gaze to see a series of gigantic boulders roll down the outside of the volcano and smash into the council building. The huge supporting columns buckled and the whole structure began to collapse.
“Was anyone still in there?” Troy asked urgently.
Donatra shook her head, “No! At least… I don’t think so! I gave orders for everyone to join their evacuation parties.”
“We’ll do a sweep just in case. Let’s move, Phones.”
Swinging Stingray into a tight banking sweep, Troy and Phones glided the craft past the ruins of the council building.
“Troy! I’m gettin’ a signal – very faint. Could be that someone’s in there after all!”
“Right, I’ll get my gear and go in after them. Time’s running out!”
Marina grabbed Troy’s arm, shaking her head and pointing to herself.
“No, Marina! It’s too dangerous, I’m going and that’s final!”
“Captain Tempest,” Donatra’s voice was suddenly calm, “The daughter of Aphony will go alone. She will not fail.”
Something about the tone of Donatra’s voice put paid to any idea Troy had of arguing.
“Alright… but for Pete’s sake be careful!”
Marina nodded and hurried to the airlock. In moments the others saw her glide out of the forward hatch, her long hair streaming behind her like a veil.
Phones glanced to starboard, “There goes the second wave.”
Troy and Donatra saw them go, following the now distant first wave.
“One more to go and the city will be evacuated.” Donatra added.
The radio crackled into life and a voice came through with a note of urgency.
“Attention Stingray, this is Zerus. I must speak with the Supreme Ruler immediately!”
Donatra took the offered transmitter unit from Troy, “Zerus? What is the matter?”
“We are ready to launch the final wave, but Councillor Korvus is not here!”
“What? Then where-?”
“He returned to the council chambers to retrieve the Orb of Ages!”
“What’s that?” Troy asked.
“It is the chronicle of our history – everything about our great race detailed in miniature inside a large artificial pearl.”
The volcano rumbled again and then suddenly the peak exploded, sending a stream of lava blasting towards the surface.
Troy grabbed the radio from Donatra, “Zerus, this is Captain Tempest. Get that last wave away now! We’ll bring Korvus if he’s still alive!”
“Do as Tempest says!” Donatra urged.
“Yes, Supreme Ruler! Launching now!”
With a series of swirling bubbles, the final wave of evacuation craft shot clear of Therminos.
“Phones, take the controls! I’m going after Marina. Don’t try to stop me!”
“No Troy! Look!”
Phones jabbed a finger in the direction of the ruined council building outside.
Marina was swimming towards Stingray, dragging the unconscious figure of Korvus and what looked like a large golden pearl behind her.
Troy bolted for the airlock, yelling orders to Phones as he went, “Open the hatch and be ready to execute Rate Six departure on my command!”
Troy looked through the transparent port of the airlock door as Marina made it inside with Korvus and the pearl. He flicked the switch to seal the external hatch.
“Now Phones! Now!”
With a jolt that nearly knocked Troy off his feet, Stingray surged forward.
Just as Troy reached his control chair there was a dazzling flash of light and an almighty boom that shook the vessel to its rivets.
“Activate videoscan aft, Phones.”
The image of Therminos flickered onto the small screen as they rapidly cruised away from it. Then with another flash of light and a great rush of lava, steam and debris, the city faded from view.
Troy looked back at Donatra, “I’m afraid your city is gone. I’m sorry… There was nothing we could do.”
Donatra smiled, “You’re mistaken, Captain. You have already done far more than you can know. Thanks to you and your crew, not a single life was lost today. And with the Orb of Ages safe, we can rebuild. Therminos may be gone for a while, but one day the city will return.”
Enjoyed this Stingray story? Then you’ll love Stingray: Monster from the Deep – a full cast audiobook. Also available as a collector’s hardback.