Rex Tucker fought desperately with the controls of the light aircraft. Try as he might, they barely responded. The radio had been the first thing to fail and he had been unable to send a distress call.
He was in serious trouble.
The nose of the craft dipped lower and the blazing orange-brown surface of the Nevada desert began to fill his view.
He strapped on his parachute pack and scanned the horizon, looking for any signs of civilisation or shelter from the heat of the unforgiving landscape.
Was it his imagination or was there something shimmering in the distance? A building?
He pulled the yolk back, trying to maintain his altitude.
Yes, it was! It looked like a small ranch. The source of the glinting light was an old wind turbine behind the property.
The engine of the plane spluttered, and then died.
He didn’t have a choice now, but if he could make it to the ranch he might find shelter, maybe even an old video phone with which to call for help.
He reached for the emergency hatch and pulled the lever.
The door blasted away on explosive hinges and then, with one quick movement, Rex flung himself out after it.
He spun wildly out of control for a moment while the ground seemed to be rushing up to meet him.
He tore at his chute release and the sound of the canopy billowing open above him was almost simultaneous with the boom of the explosion as Rex’s aircraft hit the desert floor and shattered into a thousand pieces.
He looked over at the flaming wreckage, but the momentary lapse in concentration came just at the wrong moment.
Not focusing on his landing, he hit the ground hard and awkwardly, pancaking down as though he had been pole-axed.
The last thing that passed through his head was that he was sure he’d broken his leg, then he fell mercifully into unconsciousness.
Several miles away, and a few minutes earlier, Gordon Tracy was enjoying a cool drink inside the ranch building.
Like his home on Tracy Island, very little of the outside facade reflected the true nature of the building’s interior. The ranch was owned and operated by the man sitting in a large easy-chair on the opposite side of the lounge.
Samuel Drake, otherwise known as International Rescue Agent 28, smiled cheerfully as he spoke.
“Sure was swell of your Pa to send you out to see me, Gordon. You’ve been a great help, I’ll bet it’d have taken me at least a couple of weeks to trace the trouble on my own.”
Gordon grinned, “Aww relax, Sam. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve come across similar technical problems with the circuits on Thunderbird Four. Dad knows when to send the best man for the job!”
“Ha!” Sam chuckled, “Guess you’ve got something there. And the pleasure is mine. You boys do some really amazing work. I rarely get the chance to go out into the field like that, even if that field is dustier than a snake’s belly.”
The sudden explosion was distant, but clear as a bell. Gordon leapt from the couch and rushed to the window.
The plume of smoke from Rex’s plane was climbing high into the cloudless blue sky.
“Sam! Look at that!”
“Light aircraft, maybe? I’ll call the emergency services!”
“FAB, I’ll get out there with the medical kit!”
With medical supplies in his large satchel and a dark-brown stetson covering his honey-coloured hair, Gordon bolted out of the ranch building and along to the stable.
Sam’s trusty steed Thunder was standing in the cool shade at the back of his stall, but moved expectantly to the front when he saw Gordon appear.
“Okay boy, hope you’re ready for some serious speed, because we’ve got to move fast!”
Quickly readying Thunder for action, Gordon threw himself up onto the saddle and with a kick of his heels, the mighty stallion took off like a brilliant flash of white light.
The horse’s hooves pounded over the cracked desert floor at a phenomenal speed.
As they approached the smoking wreckage of the plane, Gordon spotted the bright green canopy of a parachute fluttering on the ground a few hundred yards further on.
He pulled at the reins and Thunder obeyed, wheeling to the direction Gordon indicated.
Thunder came to a halt beside Rex’s unconscious form and Gordon slipped down from his back.
He felt for a pulse, “Gee, he had a pretty hard landing. He’s unconscious. And looks like he’s got a broken leg too.”
Thunder glanced at where Gordon pointed and then raised his head again.
Gordon opened the International Rescue emergency medical satchel and began to work, assembling the extending splint and preparing a pain-killing agent.
He removed the inflatable stretcher and pulled the activation pin. A small canister of compressed air inflated the whole stretcher in a few seconds and Gordon carefully moved Rex onto it, placing a shock blanket over him.
After he was done, he turned and addressed Thunder again, “We can’t wait out here, we’re too exposed. We’ve got to get him back to the ranch. It should be okay to move him if we’re careful, but we’ll have to be gentle.” He patted Thunder’s neck lightly to make his point, “Gentle. Okay?”
Thunder let out a quick snort, which Gordon took to be an affirmative.
“Atta boy!” Gordon replied with a smile.
Gordon positioned the stretcher for towing behind Thunder and attached it to the horse’s harness with a few lengths of rope.
Then, with Gordon walking beside the horse, they set off.
Progress was slow by necessity. The toughened material of the stretcher’s inflatable skin would easily withstand the rough terrain it was being dragged over, but Gordon wanted to be sure not to jolt or move the casualty if it could be avoided.
At last they reached the ranch and Gordon managed to get the stretcher inside with some help from Sam.
The man laying on it was still unconscious when the emergency helijet arrived, but according to the medics on board it looked like he would be okay after a short stay in hospital.
After the helijet left, Gordon and Sam walked out to the stable again.
Gordon patted Thunder’s neck as he spoke, “You’re a hero, y’know that? Don’t think that guy would have had a chance if we hadn’t got to him first.”
“Thunder’s never let me down yet,” Sam said with a smile, “Don’t reckon he ever will either.”
“Guess he’s earned an honourary place on the team then!” Gordon said “Just don’t tell Alan, or he’ll insist we include his alligator too…”