Troy and Phones fought with the controls as Stingray tore relentlessly through the water. The needle on the Rate Indicator touched Six Point Seven.
Troy cuffed the sweat from his brow and addressed his crew-mates, “Looks like we’re in bad trouble. If we don’t slow Stingray somehow, and soon, we’re finished!”
Phones was desperately trying to free the jammed throttle control and tensely replied “This lever ain’t movin’ an inch, so I’m open to ideas.”
“I’ve got one, Phones, but it’s pretty crazy!”
“Heck, I’ll take crazy over nothin’ right now.”
“Well, it’s a cinch that whoever sabotaged us knew what they were doing, the worst of the trouble is probably in the Ratemaster unit itself, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Troy continued, “Right, so nothing we can do from in here is going to make much difference.”
“In here? You’re not thinking of going out there, are you skipper?” Phones sounded incredulous.
Troy looked grim as he said seriously, “It’s our only chance. If I can launch an Aquasprite, I might have a chance of disabling the turbine with a micro-torpedo”
“Sheesh! This just keeps gettin’ better! Why not just wait for Stingray to shake herself apart, it’d save you a trip!”
“I’m not so crazy about the idea myself! What about you, Marina, think it’s worth a try?”
Marina stared hard at Troy, the look in her eyes saying more than if she were able to reply. Slowly, she nodded her approval.
“Looks like I’m outvoted! Okay Troy, how do we do it? You try to launch a ‘sprite at this speed and you’re a gonner for sure.”
“I know, but I figure if we take Stingray to the surface and pull a wide turn with the hydroplanes and air-brakes on maximum, it could slow us just enough for me to get the ‘sprite away safely.”
“Pretty risky, Cap’n.”
“It’s that, or wait it out like you said.”
“Okay, better get to it then. Marina, can you give me a hand with the controls?”
Marina slid into the Captain’s chair beside Phones as Troy made his way to the starboard aquasprite bay. As he clambered into the small submersible he began to realise just how crazy his plan was. Even if Phones and Marina were able to kill Stingray’s speed by a fraction, Troy reckoned he stood about as much chance of survival as a pilot ejecting into a force ten storm. Well, it was too late to stop now. He flicked the power ignition switch and the little motor purred into life.
Setting the jet boosters to full reverse power, he called Phones over the radio, “Okay buddy, this is it. Take her up!”
Faster than ever before, Stingray climbed the fathoms until it broke the surface like a bomb. Phones and Marina threw the airbrakes and hydroplane controls to maximum and the craft lurched violently to starboard as it turned. The forward wake was crashing up over the bow and hammering the cabin windows like a waterfall.
Fighting the controls every moment, Phones and Marina watched the Rate Indicator. Six Point Five. Six Point Zero. Five Point Five. The needle stopped receding at Rate Five Point Three. Phones, with grim determination in his voice, called out Troy, “Five Point Three is the best we’re going to get Troy and we can’t hold her at that much longer!”
Troy thumped the release control and the clamps securing the aquasprite to Stingray suddenly let go.
The little craft was tossed around like paper in a gale, it spun and bucked and even under maximum power, Troy had practically no control over its course. Then, gradually, the controls answered Troy’s deathlike grip and it straightened up. But as difficult as the last few moments had been, the next few would be worse.
Stingray was circling the aquasprite in a wide arc. Troy watched in awe as the huge bow wave crashed over the conning tower. He knew that at that velocity and with those stresses, his friends had a few moments left at best. Arming one of the craft’s micro-torpedoes he took careful aim. As Stingray passed in front of the ‘sprite once more, he fired.
The tiny projectile tore through the water and suddenly a plume of flame erupted from Stingray’s aft section. The submarine rocked and bounced on the waves, but then its forward momentum slowed and it skimmed along the surface before coming to a complete stop about half a mile further on.
They had done it!
Troy set course for Stingray and as he got closer, he could see the shattered remains of the new Ratemaster turbine. He shook his head. What a mess. But he reckoned Commander Shore would be happier to lose an engine than his best crew and Stingray too. Wearily, he contacted Marineville and requested a tug to bring them back to base. Stingray wouldn’t be going anywhere by itself for a while, but after the events of that morning, Troy couldn’t say he minded.