“This is Eagle Five calling Eagle Three. Do you read me?”
There was no response.
Seated in the starboard chair of the command module, Paul Morrow shot Alan Carter a look of concern, “They’re now four hours overdue. We should have heard something by now.”
Alan, focused on the distant speck of the planet ahead, nodded in response, “Yeah. I don’t like it one bit. It’s an experienced team. If something had gone wrong, they would have got out of there fast – if they’d been able to.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Alan.”
“Nothing we can do at the moment. Best thing is to wait until we’re closer and try calling again. If their comms system is damaged, their reception range could be next to nothing.”
“I know, you’re right. But Sandra’s down there…What if-?”
“None of that talk, y’hear me? Sandra’s one of the best, Paul. She’ll be alright. You’ll both be back in Main Mission before you know it.”
Paul forced a smile, “Sure. Well meanwhile I’m going to check everything’s ready back there.”
He leapt up from his control chair and proceeded aft into the pod, which had been configured for rescue and recovery. He spent some time checking all the pieces of emergency equipment were prepped and ready in the event they were needed.
Davis, Allen and McKinney were readying their medical kits and preparing stretchers.
“All set?” Paul asked.
“Just about,” Davis answered, “but I hope we won’t need any of this stuff.” he added as he gestured around the pod.
“Better to be prepared.”
Alan’s voice sounded over the address system, “Paul, we’ll be going into orbit any minute.”
Briskly he turned and strode back through the double set of hatches into the command module.
“Still no signal from Eagle Three, but I’ve picked up a trace of metallic alloys and materials down there in that rocky region. It’s got to be them.”
“Take us down.”
Expertly, Alan adjusted the controls, putting Eagle Five into a controlled re-entry descent. Paul hardly felt the usual buffeting accompanying the process. His eyes were focused on the surface of the planet, unblinking even through the fiery glare outside.
Then they were through it and streaking across the clear blue sky towards the grey rocky surface. Paul could see some vegetation in the distance, a small forest or woodland perhaps. He imagined that the reconnaissance team would probably have detected it too and tried to make for that area.
Sure enough, a few miles ahead, he could see the rough metallic features of a survey Eagle wedged at the head of a long furrow cut into the surface of the planet.
“Blimey!” Alan exclaimed, “That looks like one hell of a landing! Better get ready Paul, I’m taking her down as fast as I dare.”
Paul didn’t need to be told twice. Before Alan had even finished speaking he had bolted through the doors to the pod.
Eagle Five came in to land next to Eagle Three. The latter craft’s superstructure was buckled at an alarming angle, giving the impression that a giant hand had smashed it from above, causing the Eagle to bend downward in the middle and up at either end.
The nose was buried under soil and rock that must have been forced along ahead of the craft during the crash landing.
As Eagle Five’s motors began to power down, Paul opened the airlock and raced out with the others hot on his heels.
They reached Eagle Three’s airlock in moments and Paul operated the door control. It was jammed.
He tried the override frequency on his commlock. The door scraped open a few inches and then stopped.
“Give me a hand!” Paul called, motioning to Davis.
The two men began to wrench the door open, straining with every inch.
At last the door gave and slid the rest of the way, shorting out the last of the power in a series of sparks as it did so.
The rescue party raced inside.
Paul looked around the interior of the survey pod. There were nine bodies strewn around the mess of instruments and debris inside.
Then he saw Sandra. His eyes widened and he rushed to her, barely remembering to call over his shoulder to the others, “Check them all out!”
He felt for a pulse.
Yes! She was alive!
“McKinney, get a stretcher over here!”
And so, one by one, the crew of Eagle Three were offloaded on stretchers. There had been no fatalities and only a few moderate injuries. As he looked over at the group secured in Eagle Five’s pod, Paul was just starting to think that they’d been lucky.
He was making his way back to the crashed Eagle to retrieve the pilot when it happened.
The aft section suddenly sparked and burst into flame.
Without a second’s hesitation, Paul raced towards the burning craft and into the command module.
Rapidly, he bent down and unfastened the pilot’s harness, dragging him out of the control chair.
Inch by inch he got the man clear, then managed to get him over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.
The heat inside the pod was fierce and smoke was billowing out of the airlock.
Paul knew that he only had seconds to get clear. He stepped out onto the planet’s surface and began to move as swiftly as possible towards Eagle Five.
He saw McKinney and Davis running towards him with a stretcher and fire-suppression gear.
“No!” he yelled, “Get back! It’s going to-“
The deafening roar of the explosion cut him off.
A blinding flash, a surge of intense heat and then, as the echoes rolled away across the landscape, a deathly silence.
No one was quite sure how Paul hadn’t been killed outright, but his injuries and those of Eagle Three’s pilot were devastating.
In the days that followed, Dr Russell advised that Paul had slipped into a coma and that everyone should prepare for the worst.
However, the crew of Moonbase Alpha were unwilling to say farewell to their friend and colleague. Many of them visited him in the critical care unit regularly.
Sandra would sit at his bedside and talk to him, hoping that he could somehow hear her. Professor Bergman, Alan Carter and Commander Koenig were regular visitors too, with the Commander insisting that Paul be kept in the loop with Alpha’s status so that he had “less to catch up on later”.
The days became weeks. The weeks became months. The slim hope that Alpha was clinging to was diminishing rapidly.
And then one day, almost a year after the event that had almost claimed his life, Paul Morrow opened his eyes.
The new treatment that Dr Russell had recently started administering had begun to work.
Slowly at first, but then with increasing speed, Paul’s recovery began, much to the delight of everyone on Alpha.
Finally cleared as fit by Dr Russell, Paul arrived at the Command Center to report for his first duty shift in over a year.
On his arrival, Commander Koenig greeted him warmly, adding, “As you can see, things have changed a little around here.”
Paul smiled, “I don’t mind one bit, Commander. It’s good to be back!”