Ten minutes later they were again contacted by the Prince from his temporary command post at Salbarii.
“There’s a train approaching Barvinn now. Hopefully it should get clear in time.” reported the Prince. " However, there are people still trying to get to the station, who will not be there by the time the train leaves. The submarine Ocean’s Bounty is in Barvinn, and will take aboard anyone who can be crammed in before heading out to sea and submerging. It should be safe, though nobody really knows how bad things are about to get."
“However, there are two groups that cannot reach safety in time. One is from an agricultural settlement, a farming hamlet well to the south. Ironically they might have been safe if they had stayed put or headed south, but then maybe not. In any case, they are now well within the threat zone and cannot be reached by anyone except your ship: eleven people in total. Can you rescue them?”
“What about the other group?” asked Will.
“Sadly I doubt you can do anything for them” said the Prince. “A stubborn old pair, I doubt they’d agree to move. It’s a question of priorities unfortunately.”
“Fine. We’ll do what we can” said Taeva interrupting, and mouthing the words ‘Brownie Points’ to Will. Will shrugged.
From the ship they could now see an ever-increasing flow of black smoke or ash-filled gas pouring from the mountainside. Their sensors now showed massive stress in the rock , before finally going offline.
“it’s time to choose what to do, and quickly” said Will.
“We should still get clear if we pick up the larger group” suggested Jie looking at the map, but if we rescue the two holdouts we’ll be caught for sure."
“Wait!” interrupted Will, “Radar is picking up an object coming in from the north, moving at well over 300kph.”
“Hmm, It’s transponder indicates that it is a grav car with call sign Walston One – the Prince’s own personal transport. "
“Probably flying blind now given it’s location” said Jie, “Must be ash everywhere.”
A breathless, growly voice – obviously a Vargr – wass broadcasting on the emergency channel.
“Scout ship, get the big group. I’m going after mum and dad. I can get there before you can. Good luck.”
“Female” said Jie, before going red. Taeva gave a wicked smile.
Will contacted the Prince, who confirmed that his chauffeur was out picking up some refugees and had taken it into her head to try a rescue.
“Her chances are nil, but the couple are her parents I suppose.” He shrugged. "It’s just the sort of idiotic, stubborn, half-crazy stunt you’d expect… " he paused. “Anyway it solves the dilemma. If you pick up the refugees at Barvinn, there is a half-decent chance of saving everyone.”
Minutes later they approached Barvinn, which proved to be very small, just three dwelling complexes and a rail platform where trains down the single line terminated. There was also a concrete dock with a semi-underground warehouse and a small crane for unloading boats and submersibles.
The area between the dock and the station was flat and concreted over to make transfer of cargoes (mainly fish) from dock to railroad car as easy as possible.
There were two civilian ground vehicles, typical 4×4 pickups as used on the local farms, parked on the concreted area. People were rushing around in a state of shock and panic. Some were pointing at a train which was disappearing northwards, some at a fishing sub. which was just visible out in the bay. Others were trying to break into a dwelling complex while still others were calling the rest back to the cars. These people were clearly desperate and had no idea what to do for the best.
“Jie come with me” said Taeva, “And bring Black Betty.”
When the scout ship appeared, people began to run towards it, waving, which of course was interfering with the landing. The two cars on the concreted area were an additional obstacle, and landing without crushing them would be tricky.
“Attention refugees!” called Taeva over the loudspeakers. “We are now landing and you need to clear the area for us to land. We have a short window of opportunity only for a rescue. Anyone who doesn’t move out of the landing area will likely be killed. Anyone who rushes the ship after landing will be shot. That is all.”
“Take her down Will” she said deadpan. Muttering something under his breath Will shrugged and landed the ship. Refugees scattered out of the way.
As the hatch opened Taeva and Jie, fully armed stood on the loading ramp. Immediately the crowd started to surge, and one unlucky local started to rush forward, egging the others on. Taeva shot him through the head.
The crowd paused and drew back, and Jie fired several bolts of visible light into the ground for emphasis.
“We have a window of two minutes” said Taeva. “You will file in an orderly fashion now and attach yourselves to the cargo netting in the bunkrooms. Don’t give us any trouble.”
Immediately she faced a cacophony of complaints and tales of woe.
“Listen” she said. “I don’t give a fuck. You’ve lost twenty seconds. Follow the instructions or stay and die.”
Some of the refugees, their numbers now swollen somewhat from eleven, started to file aboard. Some others started to rush for vehicles to gather possessions. Jie moved back inside the ship to keep the newcomers in the bunkrooms without any opportunity to cause mischief.
“Thirty seconds” called Taeva. Clearly some people were not listening. Behind she could see a vast pyroclastic cloud of dust and ash rising in the distance. A massive lava flow would lie behind it, from what Will had said.
“Time’s up.” called Taeva. “Will, take off now.” She stepped back and closed the ramp, ignoring the wails of those still outside. She looked into the cabins as they took off.
“Hang on, shut up and don’t give us any trouble. Or else.” Terrified the refugees eagerly shook their heads. Max also shook his head, marveling at Taeva’s public relations skills.
Back on the bridge Will was picking up another distress call from the dictator’s limo. The Vargr’s voice was even more breathless and there was a roaring sound that suggested that the windshield or another window had been shattered. There was also a hideous whining sound in the background.
“It’s the lift units” interjected Grim, “It’s in serious trouble.” The content of the call was plaintive and desperate.
“Mayday…mayday, this is Walston One. The car is damaged, drives are failing… windows are cracked and I can’t see properly… I think I’m heading for the sea but we’re losing speed and altitude. I don’t think we’re going to make it. Is there anyone? Please?” The voice sounded weaker, and then suddenly cut off.
“Radar shows the limo still limping towards the coast,” said Jie, “It’s maybe a few minutes ahead of the cloud.”
“It’ll be faster” said Grim, “Till it gives out of course.”
“It’s only a minute away” said Jie.
“I’m going for it” said Will.
The ship intercepted the cars course. It suddenly dropped of the radar, but they were still able to pinpoint its transponder beacon. With only a few minutes to spare, Will set down to a sky black with falling ash.
The downed limo was in a terrible state, much of the damage having taken place before the crash, it would appear. Someone was firing flares from an emergency kit, but the radio seemed to be out.
Jie and Taeva rushed out, and helped the three Vargr aboard. The female chauffeur had been hit in the face by fragments of the windshield when it shattered and was blinded by blood coming from a great many small cuts. They raised the ramp and with little time to spare, the tiny ship once again took off.