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David Taylor, 28 Jan '13

“What do you mean the instruments aren't detecting anything?” Wan asked, peering through the thick glass window of the bridge as if he could see the city glimmering in the distance.

“I dunno,” Ia shrugged, “but I'm telling you that they’re not reading any energy signatures.”

“That’s impossible,” Wan muttered, his jocular grin disappearing. He flicked the screen of the scanner irately, banging it hard on the side when his efforts had no apparent effect. “I’ll check it out, Ia. Hold our course.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ia chirped as Wan left the cramped bridge.

Wan grumbled under his breath as he stepped through into their meagre living area. It was small, with a kitchen built down the right side and a collection of sofas angled towards a television on the left. Behind the sofas was a door that led to the submarine’s bathroom and their bedrooms; four cramped chambers spaced evenly along a short corridor.

Wan took the door behind the kitchen though, taking the corrugated steel steps three at a time as descended into the cargo hold. It was packed with crates of all shapes and sizes: parcels and items mailed from the outer settlements, along with boxes of exotic foods, spices and arts. Altera paced between them, humming a tune as she casually checked the submarine’s goods against the inventory on her tablet.

“Problem?” she asked, looking up.

Wan shrugged, going over to the heavy door at the rear of the hold. “Could be – it looks like the scanners are down.”

Altera rolled her eyes. “You mean down again?”

Wan stuck out his tongue and grunted as he hefted the door open. It squealed on its hinges as it swung inwards and the rhythmical heartbeat of the turbine began to echo through the submarine. Wan walked down the turbine’s length, being careful not to get too close to its spinning blades, and meticulously studied the rows of blinking lights and flashing control panels beside him.

Finally, Wan reached the exterior bulkhead of the vessel and frowned as he examined the controls that decorated it. A myriad of blue lights shone back at him. The scanners are functioning fine.

Shaking his head, Wan strode over the intercom by the door. “Ia?”

“What’s the verdict then, Captain?” her voice replied immediately amidst a burst of static.

“Says here the scanners are fine so you got me – I dunno what’s going on. Just get us home and I’ll have someone take a look at them portside.”

“Sure thing.” Ia replied as Wan began to close the engineering room’s door. “Er, Captain, you still there?”

“Yeah, what is it?” Wan said, fumbling to activate the intercom again.

“You should come take a look at this.”

Wan finished sealing the door and climbed back up to the bridge, signalling to Altera that she should follow him.

“What is it?” Wan said as the doors to the bridge slid open with a hiss.

“Look.”

“Look at what?” Altera said. “There’s nothing there.”

“Exactly,” Ia answered, bemused. “Yet we’re through the gorge.”

Wan gasped as the realisation of what he was seeing dawned on him. The city was gone. He had expected to see twisting spires of metal and glass stretching unfathomably high from bloated buildings that glowed with a bright azure. There should have been walkways sprawling from here to there and shuttles, glowing like countless tiny fish, schooling around the nooks and crannies of the buildings as people hurried about their daily business. But it was all gone, and only bleak darkness lay before them.

“This is the private submarine X-101-4469 hailing Atlantis Command, over,” Wan said as he began broadcasting on all of the city’s frequencies.

Silence.

“Atlantis, please respond.”

“It’s gone,” Ia said. “How can a whole city just disappear?”

Wan wiped his palms on his trousers. Ia’s panic had spread to him like an unpleasant smell and he could feel his heart pounding against his ribs.

“Atlantis, please respond.”