The powerful rocket motors roared as Thunderbird 1 tore through the sky above the mirrored surface of the Indian Ocean. Inside the control cabin, John Tracy checked his instruments and made a minute course correction. As he did so the radio crackled into life and John heard the commanding voice of his eldest brother.
“Thunderbird 1 from base, come in John.”
“Base from Thunderbird 1, loud and clear Scott!”
“What’s your ETA at danger zone?”
“At present speed, I should be overflying the island in four point five minutes.”
“FAB, I’ve got Thunderbird 2 standing by if you need heavy rescue.”
“Okay Scott, I’ve got the picture, will let you know. Wowee this baby sure can move!”
“Nothing you can’t handle, just take care of her, okay?”
“Sure. Guess I’d get one heck of a bawling out from Dad when he gets back if I didn’t.”
“Not to mention from me! Anyhow, I’ll wait to hear from you.”
“FAB Scott, Thunderbird 1 out.”
The radio went dead and John focused once more on the auto-chart. A faint signal was registering directly ahead, no doubt the small island where Hector Henderson had lost contact. It had been over five hours since the explorer’s last radio call and he was a stickler for routine. To miss one call might be chalked up to carelessness or even the excitement and distraction of a new discovery.
But Henderson had missed four. That’s when the transmitter of his Albatross Amphibian aircraft had automatically sent a general distress call. Receiving the message in Thunderbird 5, Alan Tracy quickly contacted base with the details. Henderson had been exploring a previously uncharted island, one covered with thick vegetation.
The emergency details in the automatic transmission made reference to a medical condition that necessitated serum injections on a regular basis. Thankfully, Brains and Tin-Tin were able to synthesize a number of doses in the Tracy Island lab and they were currently in the equipment locker in Thunderbird 1’s cargo hold.
As the green speck of the island flashed closer, John reduced speed and deployed the wings from the silver rocket’s great fuselage. The roar of the engines lessened to a whine and as the waves below gave way to foliage, John pinpointed a landing site. Firing the underjets, John swung Thunderbird 1 around in a short arc and brought it into land a hundred yards from Henderson’s amphibious aircraft on a thin strip of land jutting out from the jungle.
After checking his gear and ensuring the doses of serum were present, John sealed the hatch and made his way to the other aircraft. A quick search confirmed the worst – no sign of Henderson and a full supply of serum laying untouched in the storage compartment. If John didn’t locate Henderson soon and administer a dose of serum, the consequences could be fatal.
Without wasting another moment, John moved off towards the dense treeline. The brilliant light of the clear afternoon sun disappeared almost completely under the high canopy of the trees. He flicked on his torch and the bright white beam stabbed into the gloom. The air was heavy with humidity and John could feel his uniform beginning to stick to him.
Glancing up at the towering branches covered with thick vines, he wondered how the small island had remained unexplored for so many years. True, it was well off the major shipping and air lanes, but still surely someone had visited it in the years before Henderson had come?
He swept the beam of the torch this way and that hoping to catch sight of the missing explorer. Any earlier hopes of being able to follow the man’s footprints had been quickly dashed by the thick carpet of roots and vines on the jungle floor. John proceeded through the most easily navigable route on the assumption that Henderson would have done the same.
The serum phials clinked in his equipment pack and the sound sent an involuntary shiver down John’s spine. He had to find Henderson soon. Even if the explorer has administered a dose of serum immediately before setting off, he wouldn’t be able to last more than another hour or two without the next.
Then John froze.
He stood stock still like a statue, his senses alert at the sudden prickle of danger. He couldn’t explain it at first, just a sudden surge of instinct that screamed “Threat!”. John trusted his instincts completely, and while he remained unaware of the exact nature of the danger, he knew with certainty that as surely as if it were another human being, death had appeared in the jungle with him…
TO BE CONTINUED