The journey back to Marineville passed uneventfully. Once they got back onto the main patrol route, it was a course that Troy knew like the back of his hand. He could have glanced at their position and speed and then estimated their arrival time at base to within a matter of minutes.
Troy was relaxing in the aft lounge when Phones called back that they were approaching Marineville’s control zone. Troy stretched his arms and legs, then stood up and moved to the forward cabin, taking a seat in the port operators chair.
He flicked the hydrophone transmitter switch and rattled off the usual message, “Tower from Stingray, entering Marineville coastal control zone. Are we clear to enter Marineville?”
He flicked the switch back to the receive position and waited to hear Altanta or Lieutenant Fisher’s voice giving them authorisation to proceed. None came.
Troy tried his message again, “Tower from Stingray, are you receiving me? Stingray awaiting clearance to enter Marineville. Over.”
Again there was no response.
Troy turned to Phones, puzzled, “What do you make of it?”
“The equipment’s just fine, Troy,” Phones replied as he studied the bank of dials and switches in front of him, “Either there’s a fault at the Tower’s side, or they’re just not answerin’ for some reason.”
“Mmm…” Troy mused, “Okay, let’s surface and make contact with the coastal lookout station, they can pass messages to the Tower if needs be.”
“Okay, Skipper,” Phones said, preparing to blow the main tanks.
As the bubbles from the tanks floated up towards the surface, Stingray rose gracefully until it was resting on the gentle waves a mile from the sheer cliffs of the mainland.
Troy switched on the main signal lamp and flashed a standard message to the concealed watch station on the ridge of the cliff – Possible radio failure. Advise Tower. Request entry clearance. Please acknowledge.
Marina had come forward from the relaxation lounge and put a hand on Troy’s shoulder as the trio waited for a response to be flashed back.
To Troy’s dismay and mounting concern, no response came.
“Something is very wrong here, Phones,” Troy said, his mind already turning over the possibilities, “We can’t risk opening the ocean door by remote – we’ve no idea what’s happening at Marineville. Initiate Plan Baker. Head for Safe Harbour.”
Phones nodded and set course per Troy’s instructions, “Safe Harbour, aye.”
Safe Harbour was a concealed sea pen just around the headland from the main entrance to Marineville. It was seldom used, and then only in emergencies. Troy had a feeling this qualified as exactly that and as Phones piloted the craft towards what looked like a solid stone wall, Troy stabbed at a button on the control desk and a huge camouflaged steel door opened outwards to permit them entry. Once Stingray was inside the small pen, Troy sent another radio impulse to close the door behind them.
The pen’s lights and power systems were activated automatically and the cavern was illuminated by powerful electric lights as Stingray came to a halt and an access gangway extended and came to rest beside the forward hatch.
Troy gestured to his friends, “Come on folks, we’ve got to get to Marineville and find out what the heck’s happened.”
Leading the others to an elevator, Troy sent the platform racing towards the surface high above them. The elevator eased to a halt inside a small vehicle garage, where three WASP convertibles sat waiting.
Troy and the others got into the nearest and Troy started the engine. It turned over smoothly and before long the trio were speeding down the main highway towards Marineville. The WASP base was built many miles inland as a defence measure against the threat of attack from the sea.
As they neared the perimeter, Phones called above the noise of the engine, “Look, folks! We could be wrong about this whole thing. Marineville isn’t at battle stations – the buildings are all above ground!”
“Yeah,” Troy agreed, “And I don’t see any obvious signs of damage either! Say, we’re approaching the west checkpoint, better get your passes ready.”
Troy slowed the car and stopped at the security barrier that marked the entrance to Marineville. He looked expectantly at the guard’s hut, waiting for the sentry to appear and check each of their credentials. But nothing happened.
Without wasting another second, Troy jumped out of the car, raced to the door of the small hut and tore it open. The hut was empty.
“There’s no one here!” Troy exclaimed.
“But the checkpoints are always manned, Troy – Commander Shore wouldn’t have it any other way!” Phones replied incredulously.
Troy held up his hand, “Shh! You hear that?”
Phones and Marina listened intently. Marina shook her head.
“I don’t hear anything,” Phones admitted.
“Exactly!” Troy replied, “Nothing at all! Not a single voice, car or aircraft noise coming from anywhere!”
“I don’t get it,” Phones said, scratching his head, “Marineville is never this quiet! At least I’ve never known it to be.”
“Let’s get to the control tower,” Troy suggested, “Maybe Commander Shore can shed some light on the situation before we go crazy!”
He raised the barrier and jumped back behind the wheel of the car. In minutes they screeched to a halt outside the main reception of the control tower.
They hadn’t seen a soul on their short drive from the western checkpoint and by the time that the car’s wheels had stopped turning, panic was rising from the depths of Troy’s stomach.
As one, the trio burst into the main control room. And then they froze.
It was empty.
No Commander Shore. No Atlanta. No Lieutenant Fisher. Just empty.
Troy wheeled around and looked his friends straight in the eyes, “I don’t know how it happened folks, and I’m darned if I can explain it, but Marineville is deserted – everyone has vanished into thin air!”
TO BE CONTINUED…