Even with speed reduced and the Manta in two, Stingray’s journey back to Marineville seemed to pass incredibly quickly.
Once the super-sub positioned the old patrol craft in the repair pen and returned to its launch elevator platform, the crew went off duty and proceeded to the Commander’s private residence, where he greeted them cheerfully.
“Fine work bringing the Manta back in one piece, Troy!” he said with a grin, “I sure can’t wait to look her over.”
“Glad we could help, Sir!” Troy replied, “The repair team reckon she’s sea-worthy enough, but they’ll give her the once-over just to be sure. She may have been down there some long while. I wonder how it happened?”
Shore consulted a nearby printout, “Manta was presumed lost on a training cruise not long before I was asked to form the WASP. The new crew were getting to know the controls when there was a reactor warning. They abandoned her in a life raft and were airlifted to safety. When the specialists arrived to evaluate the trouble, Manta was gone. We carried out a thorough search, but never found so much as a fragment.”
Atlanta put a hand on her father’s shoulder, “I guess you’ll have trouble sleeping tonight with all this excitement.”
Shore smiled gleefully, “Ha! Maybe, honey. Seeing that ship being towed in sure brought back a lot of memories.”
Phones chimed in, “Well if everything’s ship shape, I figure you’ll want to take it for a little cruise yourself, Commander.”
“Yeah, Phones. Kinda figured that myself,” Shore nodded, “Maybe you’d like to come along? Troy and Marina can escort us in Stingray.”
Marina smiled eagerly as Troy replied, “It’ll be our pleasure, Sir!”
And so, with minor repairs completed and Manta certified for the open sea once more, the two craft proceeded out of Marineville’s launch tunnel.
“Manta from Stingray – Come in Commander Shore.”
“Stingray from Manta, receiving you.”
“How’s it feel to be back on board, Sir?”
“Just great, Troy! Feels like I’ve never been away. Funny how the years go by like that. Right, let’s take her out into open water. Acceleration rate one point five, Phones.”
“Aye aye, Commander. Rate one point five!”
As the motors of both vessels increased in pitch and they sailed off into the distance, another craft appeared, rising from a large clump of coral against which it had been camouflaged and hidden from soundings.
To the casual eye, it looked like a huge silver and red fish. In reality, it was the personal submarine of Surface Agent X-2-Zero, the evil Titan’s loyal minion.
He watched the retreating craft on his aqua-scanner and spoke aloud to himself.
“So, Commander Shore is at the controls of the Manta. That is excellent. But Stingray is escorting the craft. We will have to deal with her first before the plan can proceed.”
He pressed a control with a scaly hand.
“X-2-Zero to Mechanical Fish – Attack Stingray at once. Draw it away from the other craft. Understood?”
An aquatic gurgling from the Aquaphibian crew sounded in response.
Back in Stingray, Marina, operating the hydrophone system, was the first to spot the danger. She signalled frantically to Troy.
“Stingray to Manta – emergency! Mechanical Fish approaching! We’ll take care of it, peel off and head for cover!”
The bitterness in Shore’s curt reply was evident. However, the Commander was no fool. He knew that Manta’s old-style weapons and slower response times would be no match for a fully-armed Mechanical Fish. Stingray would have the advantage.
In a flash of bubbles, Troy spun Stingray around and in seconds it was out of sight.
“Okay Phones,” sighed the Commander, “Let’s make for that rock formation. Better arm the torpedoes, just in case. If trouble comes looking, we’re not giving up without a fight – outdated gear or not.”
“Sure thing, Commander.”
Phones flicked a control switch. Nothing happened.
“Say, Commander! I get no response from the torpedo system, it’s dead!”
Suddenly the Manta lurched wildly to port.
Shore gripped the controls, struggling against them.
“What in thunder is going on?! It’s like the craft’s got a mind of its own! Call up Troy and get Stingray back here fast!”
“No use, Sir! The radio’s out too!”
From his submersible, X-2-Zero’s fish-like eyes bulged and his voice filled with glee as he spoke aloud to himself once more.
“The remote control unit is working perfectly… By the time the accursed Tempest returns from destroying those foolish Aquaphibians, the Manta will be halfway to Titanica. Commander Shore will make the perfect gift for mighty Titan!”
TO BE CONTINUED…