by A21 Reporter Andy Clems
Slowly, consciousness flooded back to Atlanta. At first she didn’t remember where she was or what had happened. She blinked, trying to clear her mind, but when she tried to move her hand and rub her eyes, she couldn’t. Her arm wouldn’t move from behind her back. Startled, a surge of alertness rushed through her as her eyes widened and she took in her surroundings.
She was lying on her back inside the cave. The phosphorescent rock glowed on the walls. Her hands were tied securely behind her. Nearby, the two undersea aliens stood with their backs to her, deep in hushed conversation. Atlanta’s mind raced. They’d shot her with some kind of anesthetic dart. She could feel the dull ache of the impact point in her back. How long had she been unconscious? The mouth of the cave was still dark, so she guessed it couldn’t have been long. When she had left Stingray to begin her investigation, dawn had been a few hours away.
Stingray! Of course, they were in terrible danger! Atlanta turned her head. Yes, there it was. The ugly, deadly looking laser weapon stood about 10 feet away, its targeting scope pointed at the ground. Atlanta knew that very soon her captors would be training the weapon on Stingray and that Troy and Phones wouldn’t stand a chance if she didn’t do something.
Carefully as she could, she began to feel around on the floor of the cave behind her for anything that might conceivably be useful. Her fingers touched on something with a thin edge, some sort of shell by the feel of it. It wasn’t exactly a knife, but it was better than nothing. Hoping to avoid being noticed, she managed to position the shell in her left hand so that the edge was resting on the rope binding her arms behind her. Then she began to work on the rope, knowing that time was not on her side.
The minutes ticked by as she continued her arduous task, but all the while half her mind was concentrating on what the aliens were saying. She could only hear snippets, but it sounded very much like they were close to carrying out their attack. Then the rope gave way.
As it did so, the taller alien turned and Atlanta shut her eyes, keeping up the charade of being unconscious. She heard both aliens move to the weapon and haul it towards the cave entrance. She risked a quick glance. They were facing away once more, busying themselves with the control panel of the machine.
She was outnumbered and in her mind the chances of success were slim. Atlanta made up her mind. She wriggled her arms free of the remains of the rope. Then, taking infinite care not to give herself away on the patches of loose stones, she began to creep towards her captors.
She was halfway there when she saw the weapon rise up and take aim at Stingray, now visible in the first light of dawn. The taller alien raised his hand, held it in the air for a moment, then dropped it while shouting the order to fire.
He couldn’t have known that as his hand was dropping, Atlanta had already launched herself across the gap between them. She crashed down on the alien, sending him flying into his subordinate. The shorter alien’s hand fell on the controls and the barrel of the weapon slewed sideways a few degrees before unleashing a brilliant burst of laser fire.
The deadly energy beam missed Stingray’s hull by the narrowest of margins, slamming into the surface of the water and causing an explosion of spray.
In the cave, Atlanta knew that Stingray was safe, at least for the moment, but her own safety was looking much less certain. The aliens, though momentarily stunned by the impact, soon recovered and the element of surprise was gone. The shorter of the pair moved towards Atlanta, hands thrust out waiting to strike, vicious claws protruding from the fingertips. Then he dived at her.
Atlanta kicked off the wall behind her, the momentum carrying her through the air just high enough to avoid the sharp claws. She threw out her arm, grabbing the alien about his neck. As she landed, she twisted her body sharply, while pulling downwards. The alien was thrown off his feet, landing on the floor with a crash that reverberated around the stone chamber. He groaned, but didn’t move to get up.
Atlanta turned to face the second alien, bracing for another bout, then she froze.
In the commotion, the other alien had turned the laser cannon around to face inward. The malevolent weapon was now pointed squarely at the young Lieutenant’s heart. No matter which way she moved, the alien couldn’t fail to miss.
For a brief moment, Atlanta thought about her father. She would never see him again. But if this truly was her last moment, she would face it just as bravely as he would expect her to. She looked the alien in the eyes, a look that conveyed dignity and defiance, but not defeat. Then she closed her eyes.
The noise of the blast echoed around the cave. But not the blast of the laser weapon, a smaller, familiar sound. Atlanta opened her eyes.
The alien lay slumped on the ground beside the machine. Behind him, framed by the light of the morning sun, stood Troy and Phones. They were clad in their dressing-gowns and stubble covered their chins. The barrel of Troy’s stun pistol was still glowing. Atlanta let out a sigh of relief and rushed to join her friends. Troy quickly explained that the blast from the laser had set off every warning alarm in the ship and it only took them moments to find her note. Atlanta laughed, thanking the pair for their quick actions.
The trio reported the situation to Marineville and secured the prisoners in Stingray’s brig, before setting off to enjoy the rest of their shore leave.