“Earthspot minus three hours, fifteen minutes.”
It was the voice of the countdown again. Dyspepsia woke up with a start. She’d slept for exactly eight hours!
She yawned and stretched. Then suddenly a thought struck her and she nearly fell out of bed. They were meant to come and wake Spookie at Earthspot minus four hours. They were late!
In precisely 15 minutes, Spookie was supposed to begin her dive.
“Spookie! Wake up—it’s late! We’ve overslept!”
There was no reply. Dyspepsia scrambled out of bed and fumbled for the light switch. She was all alone in the bedroom.
“Spookie!” she shouted. “Where are you?”
She struggled into her admiral’s uniform, putting it on over her nightie. Then she opened the bedroom door and dashed out into the corridor.
Two marines came smartly to attention and saluted. They’d been on-guard either side of her door. They were the same two marines who’d collected her from home.
“Sir! Captain Spookie was woken an hour ago by Lieutenant Blowhard. They went down to the CTB on Level 4.”
“Why didn’t they wake me too?” cried Dyspepsia.
“I don’t know, Sir.”
Dyspepsia gave a huge sigh and looked frantically up and down the corridor. Now what? Turning to face the two marines, she said, “You men—come with me!”
The three of them ran to the pit shaft. Soon they were in the cage, hurtling down to Level 4. As they dropped, they heard the metallic voice saying again, “Earthspot minus three hours five minutes.”
Only five minutes to go before the dive!
They wrenched the cage gate open at Level 4 and looked for the little yellow train.
But it wasn’t there!
Of course it wasn’t—the last people to use it would have been Spookie and Lieutenant Blowhard. Now it was parked at the other end of the line.
There was a button on a post. One of the marines pressed it and a bell rang. Dyspepsia put her foot on a rail and felt it start to tremble. The grubby little train came into view, its headlights gleaming. It was empty and driving itself. When it stopped, one marine climbed into the driving seat, the other got in behind Dyspepsia, and off they went.
At the other end they jumped out to the big heavy round door. It was locked. None of them knew the code. Dyspepsia screamed above the deafening rumble, “Do something, men! Get it open!”
Just at that moment, the rumbling began to die away, until there was silence. Dyspepsia knew what that meant. They’d turned off the waterfall to let Spookie begin her dive!
One marine unclipped a limpet mine from his belt and clamped it to the door against the lock. Then they ran back smartly towards Dyspepsia and pulled her to the ground, shielding her with their bodies.
There was a dreadful bang! that made Dyspepsia’s ears ring. It echoed to and fro along the tunnel. Bits of metal skittered past them, but didn’t hurt anybody. The two marines leapt to their feet and pulled at the door. It opened and a cloud of smoke came out. The marines sped up the steel stairway into the control room, waving their assault rifles. Dyspepsia followed close behind.
There were two officers at the console. They looked up in alarm and both made a lunge for their pistols. There was very nearly a nasty incident, until one of the officers spotted Dyspepsia.
Both officers dropped their weapons and saluted.
Dyspepsia flung herself against the thick glass window and peered through it at the gantry. She saw spotlights playing on the CTB as it was being lowered on a long chain into the boiling water.
Straightaway she shouted, “Stop the dive!”
The officers protested, but one of her guards said roughly, “You heard what the Admiral said. Get that goddam thing back in here!”
A switch was thrown on the console and an alarm began to squawk. They all ignored it. To her relief, Dyspepsia saw the CTB being winched back up to the gantry. There it was clamped and slid along to disappear just below the window. A few seconds later, a trapdoor opened in the floor and the CTB rose up until its two bulging portholes were above floor level. She could see Spookie behind one of the portholes, looking out in amazement. Their eyes met.
“I need to be inside there, with Spookie,” she shouted.
One of her marines spoke up to protest. “Sir! Then who’s going to give the order to evacuate the complex?”
“Do it now!” she yelled. “Just let me inside first.”
The marine seized the microphone from the console and shouted into it, “All hands: abandon ship!”
His voice echoed through every hall and corridor of the complex. Everywhere people stopped whatever they were doing and ran towards the exits.
The two marines jumped onto the CTB and began unscrewing the nuts holding down the hatch. They had power spanners which chattered furiously in their hands. Soon they had it open and Dyspepsia scrambled inside. The hatch clanged shut behind her and the power spanners chattered away, bolting it down once more.
…to be continued.