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Fireball XL5: Fear Factor – A Gerry Anderson A21 News Story

Fireball XL5: Fear Factor – A Gerry Anderson A21 News Story

Continued from previous report

The smoke was still curling from the end of the stranger’s gun as Steve and Venus slowly raised their hands.

“That’s better!” the stranger snapped and stepped out of the shadows towards them.

Steve peered at the stranger and recognition dawned, “Why… It’s Major Alton!”

“The renowned space test pilot?” Venus asked.

“Cut out the chatter!” Alton said, waving his gun threateningly at the pair, “Who is this Alton you’re talking about?”

Steve flashed a puzzled look at Venus and then answered, “Well… you are, Major.”

Alton stared at Steve contemptuously, “What sort of trick are you intruders playing? Do you think I don’t know who I am? I’ll bet this Alton character is another one of your marauders trying to steal my spacecraft!”

“Marauders?” Venus asked in surprise.

“Now wait a moment,” Steve added, “We’re here because of your distress signal – you called for help, don’t you remember?”

Alton seemed to be becoming more agitated by the minute. His eyes darted nervously from Steve to Venus as he replied, “Distress signal? Why would I need help, I am in complete control of this vessel! We will soon reach our destination and I’ll have you tried for your crimes against the space lanes!”

“I’m sorry to break it to you, Major, but you’re not going anywhere,” Steve said, measuring his tone carefully, “The XK7 has been lost for almost 20 years. I don’t think it’s moved a single star-league in all that time.”

“Liar!” Alton roared as he swung the gun wildly towards Steve.

But Steve had anticipated the action. In one fluid movement, he dived forward, an outstretched hand grappling for control of Alton’s weapon.

Alton’s body quickly crumpled to the ground and it was with a sense of shock that Steve realised just how thin the Major was under his space suit.

Venus knelt beside the Major’s body and felt for a pulse, “He’s unconscious, Steve, but still alive. We need to get him back to Fireball quickly!”

“What goes on, Venus? Why did he think we were marauders? Was it a brainstorm of some kind?”

“We’ll know more when I’ve run some tests. Meanwhile, I think Matt should look over the cryo-bay, it may give us a lead.”

Steve nodded, “Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.” He activated his personal inter-comm unit, “Say Matt, we’ve got a real mystery on our hands. Venus and I are bringing Major Alton back to Fireball. He’s in bad shape. Once that’s done, can you come over here and bring your analysis kit with you?”

“Sure thing, Steve. I’ll meet you in the ejector bay.”

It was half an hour later when Matt unplugged the complicated looking portable analysis unit from the cylindrical object in the cryo-bay.

“So what’s the answer, Professor?” Steve asked.

“Near as I can tell,” Matt replied, “The ship was hit by some sort of space phenomena – an astro-wave or a space cyclone most likely. It shorted out the automatic navigational systems and left the ship stranded here.”

“And what about Alton?”

“Looks like his cryo-unit sustained some damage too. The backup power systems kept it running for years, but recently it looks as if the reserves finally depleted and he was awoken from cryo-sleep without going through the proper procedure. Venus may have more for us when we get back. The other cryo-units are still fully operational and the rest of the crews life-signs read green right across the board.”

“So Alton has been roaming the ship alone for days, maybe weeks. Maybe at first he had enough sense to send the distress call before whatever happened to him really took hold. Let’s hope whatever’s wrong with him isn’t permanent. Okay Matt, we can head back to Fireball now. I’ll attach a line so we can tow the XK7 back to Space City.”

Venus was waiting for the others at the hatchway to sickbay.

“What’s the diagnosis, Venus?”

“It’s still early, Steve, but I hope that he will make a full recovery. Being awoken from cryo-sleep in an uncontrolled manner induced a sort of paranoia, a fear factor where anything, no matter how rational or logical, appeared to be a threat. It may take some time, but with sedation and plenty of rest, the symptoms should ease and then finally disappear altogether.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as I can be. As I told you before, it’s still a relatively new scientific field. We’ll just have to wait and hope.”

Steve nodded, “Okay, well let’s keep our fingers crossed. The towing line’s secure, so I’ll go up front and get us moving again.”

The doors of the control room hissed open and Steve took his seat next to Robert the Robot.

“Set course for home, Robert.”

“On our way ‘ome. On our way ‘ome.” Robert intoned mechanically as his transparent hands adjusted the controls.

“We sure are. And with any luck there’ll be a nice welcome for Major Alton and his crew. Guess it’s way, way overdue.”

THE END

Written by
Andrew Clements

A writer, film maker and self confessed Gerry Anderson fanatic. Free to good home.

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