The battered Global Space Station drifted in its orbit like the broken toy of a space giant, the once-proud hull shattered by deadly fragments of a freak meteor shower.
Inside the small central control area, the three resident astronauts kept their eyes glued to the flickering readouts, knowing that at any moment another strike could depressurize their last safe refuge. The emergency bulkheads had saved their lives, sliding closed at the moment of the first meteor impact and sealing in precious air.
The American astronaut Ford studied the readout grimly as the station shuddered and informed her colleagues that the main solar array had been destroyed, cutting off the main power supply and forcing the backup batteries into operation. Ivanovitch, her Russian counterpart, noted with alarm that their orbit was shifting, sending the whole station on a slow and deadly reentry trajectory.
Commander Philips, the British astronaut in charge of the current assignment urged the pair to remain calm. The auto-distress beacon had been activated when the bulkheads were sealed and Earth command would investigate immediately. Inwardly, however, she knew that their chances were slim and that even the backup Halo Flight recovery mission would most likely be refused launch clearance due to the threat from the meteor storm.
As if to emphasize the thought, several smaller meteors crashed against the damaged extremities of the hull and the station shuddered in protest.
Although it seemed as if an eternity had passed, it was perhaps ten minutes later when Ford excitedly shouted that she saw something through the observation window. Philips and Ivanovitch floated over to get a better look. Through the spreading debris field, they could just make out a bright orange mass approaching slowly. The seconds ticked by and the shape came into focus. It was a rocket craft, an SSTO of some kind. Philips raised a pair of electro-lenses to her eyes and studied the gleaming hull, focusing on the markings until she could read the name Thunderbird 3.
Inside the International Rescue craft, Scott flicked the radio switch and asked the station to make contact. But all he got in reply was the ugly hiss of static that they’d been receiving for the last few minutes. Alan indicated the display in front of him, his voice grave as he scanned the structural integrity of the station. It was barely hanging together and both men knew that another meteor strike would most likely spell certain doom for the astronauts on board, if they were still alive.
Suddenly, Alan let out an exclamation as he saw a light flashing in one of the observation ports of the central node. He quickly responded using Thunderbird 3’s running lights. Then the two Tracy brothers began the tricky task of maneuvering the near-three hundred foot rocket craft towards the nearest docking port.
There were several sickening screeches as small pieces of debris from the station struck the hull, but Scott and Alan knew that Brains had built the craft to withstand worse. With infinite care, Alan lined up his craft with the airlock on the station, matching its velocity and course for transfer as Scott donned his spacesuit and made for the airlock.
With a hum that was rendered silent by the vacuum of space, the outer airlock hatch slid open and Scott touched the control of his thruster pack. The little jets burst into life and he was propelled across the gap between the spacecraft in seconds. The small retro rockets slowed his approach and he came to rest mere inches from the GSS’s airlock.
He pulled a small circular disc from an equipment pouch on his belt and with a click of the magnetic lock on its base, it adhered to the surface of the airlock. He touched the radio switch on his wrist control and spoke into his helmet microphone. The crew of the station were relieved to hear him, and they began struggling into their space suits in preparation to depart.
Then, as they floated down the corridor, Ford gave a cry as her suit snagged on a protruding section of damaged equipment. The arm of the suit was torn open, leaving all three of the astronauts staring frozen in horror. After some moments, they relayed the news to Scott. The International Rescue commander reassured them that there were spare suits on board Thunderbird 3 and that he’d return in a few moments with one for Ford.
But just as he was about to jet back to the spaceship, Alan’s voice broke in urgently. The blood froze in Scott’s veins as his younger brother tensely reported a large group of meteors was closing fast and that the estimated impact time was two minutes. There was no time to bring Ford a spare suit while also getting everyone clear, but Scott was equally sure there was no way he was leaving anyone behind.
He radioed the astronauts and instructed Philips and Ivanovitch to get into the airlock, reassuring them he had a plan to help Ford. Something in his tone got through to them and they stepped into the airlock, leaving Ford in the pressurized node behind them.
The outer airlock doors opened and the two astronauts floated out. Scott quickly sent them on their way across the short distance to Thunderbird 3’s airlock before boarding the station.
When the inner airlock door opened, he saw the look of on Ford’s face. She wasn’t afraid, but she knew it was hopeless. Alan radioed in to report impact in thirty seconds. Scott urgently told him to maintain parallel course, but start moving Thunderbird 3 clear immediately. Alan knew better than to argue, not doubting for a second that Scott had a plan.
Scott and Ford rushed into the airlock, but Scott didn’t close the inner door. He stared through the small observation porthole on the outer door, watching Thunderbird 3 moving further and further away. At that distance, the airlock on the huge orange ship looked to be the size of a postage stamp.
Scott grabbed hold of Ford and held her tightly, urging her not to hold her breath. Alan began a countdown from ten. As he said ‘eight’, Scott triggered an emergency release on the outer door.
There was a momentary loud thump as the door burst clear, but then the pair were blasted out by the explosive decompression of the main node, streaking like a missile towards the open hatch on Thunderbird 3.
Scott’s mouth was half open in a snarl of concentration, he saw Ford’s eyes start to flicker behind her visor.
Then just as it seemed the pair would smash into Thunderbird 3, Scott triggered the retro motors on his thruster pack and eased them gently into Thunderbird 3’s airlock.
The hatch slid closed and there was a whoosh of air as the small room was re-pressurized. As Scott took Ford to the medical bay, he was oblivious to the demise of the space station as the main body of the meteor storm reached it, tearing the multi billion dollar construction apart as if it had been made of paper.
If he had seen it, it would have made little difference. For Scott, like his father, knew that objects like space stations could be rebuilt. With life it was different and thanks to him and Alan, three lives had been saved. That was something that no one could put a price on. He made a final check with the other astronauts, ensuring Ford was recovering from her ordeal, then made his way to the control deck for the flight back to Earth.
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