The large translucent hemisphere on the main control bank flashed red and the auto-recorder began to spool as the distress signal played over the speakers in Thunderbird Five’s control room.
John Tracy, the young fair-haired International Rescue space monitor, strolled across the anti-gravity floor plating and listened to the transmission attentively. His brow furrowed in dismay at what he heard.
Some minutes later, John called International Rescue’s island base on the secure channel and was soon speaking directly with his father. John could see Jeff Tracy’s craggy face was equally grave as he acknowledged the report.
“A Bereznik submarine in distress in disputed waters. Assignments don’t come much tougher.”
“Yeah, I know, Dad. But we’ve got the gear to help.”
“That’s not the point son” Jeff’s mouth turned down sourly as he spoke, “If the authorities get wind of aircraft or submersibles entering that area without express authorisation, it could mean a world of trouble.”
“Couldn’t we request clearance from Unity City or the Bereznik high command?”
“Sure we could, and those folks in the sub would perish by the time we got a response.” Jeff sighed, “Okay son, leave it with me, you’ve done your part. But keep monitoring that channel and advise of any further calls.”
“F.A.B, Dad. Thunderbird Five out.”
In the Tracy Island lounge, John’s video feed snapped off and was replaced by the portrait of him in his International Rescue uniform. Jeff got up from his desk and began to pace the carpet beside the balcony. Scott, Virgil and Gordon watched him, trying to anticipate his next move.
At last he came to a halt and fixed them with a steely gaze, “Boys, you know how dangerous this assignment could be. But you also know that there are lives at risk and friend or foe we’re the only ones who can help them. I can’t order you to accept this mission and nothing will be said if you decide to refuse. It’s your call.”
Scott leapt from the couch, “Heck Dad, those guys need our help. I’m raring to go!”
Virgil eagerly followed Scott’s lead, “Scott’s right, father. Remember the code of International Rescue; not to give up at any cost!”
“I’m with them, Dad!” Gordon added, “We’ve faced all kinds of danger before, and we’re not about to chicken out now!”
Jeff smiled tightly, “Okay then boys, on your way. And for Pete’s sake take care of yourselves out there. I mean it!”
And so the fantastic International Rescue apparatus swung into action. In seconds the boys were racing down the secret passageways and elevators that propelled them into their rescue craft.
Scott blasted off in Thunderbird One and sent the craft hurtling at breakneck speed towards the danger zone while Virgil and Gordon selected Pod Four and followed in Scott’s wake in the mighty Thunderbird Two.
John reported in from Thunderbird Five at regular intervals, but the situation had not changed. The submarine was in distress, trapped on the sea bed and slowly losing oxygen. The three-man crew appeared to be stable, but unable to evacuate the craft.
Thunderbird One arrived first and Scott deployed the ventral sonar array. After a few minutes of fine-tuning the receiver, Scott had pinpointed the submarine. It was laying upright on a rocky ledge near what appeared to be a sub-aquatic trench.
Scott reported to Virgil and Gordon and soon the huge green freighter craft arrived at the danger zone. Wasting no time, Virgil released the Pod and it splashed into the ocean below. The flap opened and a steel ramp extended into the waves. With a roar of its motors, Thunderbird Four shot down the ramp and plunged into the depths.
Inside the control cabin, Gordon took his course from information relayed by Scott. After angling the hydroplanes and setting the descent rate, he sat back in his chair and stared out of the wraparound view-port as the last rays of daylight disappeared and the wall of blue faded to a foreboding inky black.
Gordon’s right hand instinctively felt for his tranquiliser gun. It was secured snugly in his hip holster. He smiled grimly as he became aware of the subconscious gesture, “Aww relax, will ya?” he murmured to himself.
At last the powerful light beams stabbing out into the black void touched on a shiny metallic object not far away on the rocky ledge. Gordon moved Thunderbird Four in for a closer inspection. Slowly, the red markings and Bereznik insignia became visible on the dark-coloured hull. Gordon could make out the name BNV Great Abyss on the starboard side of the bow. He pressed the radio call button.
“Thunderbirds One and Two from Thunderbird Four. I’ve found it. It appears to be in one piece, though it’s hard to tell how bad the damage might be on the underside. I’m going to try and make contact with limpet transmitter.”
Lining up the forward equipment port, Gordon stabbed at the release control and with a hiss of escaping bubbles a small torpedo-shaped object whooshed across the gulf between the vessels and clung to the side of the Great Abyss with a metallic clang.
Gordon spoke into his radio transmitter, “Attention Great Abyss. This is Thunderbird Four of International Rescue. We understand you are in distress and require assistance. Please acknowledge.”
He released the transmit button and waited. There was no response. Gordon repeated his message and listened again. This time he was able to make out something in the static, but couldn’t understand it.
“I’m barely receiving you. Please repeat your message.”
“…..erbird Four, this is Captain Rohzar of the Bereznik Naval Vessel Great Abyss. Oxygen critical. We cannot…. Cannot…”
The transmission faded back into static. Gordon changed frequencies and put his brothers in the picture.
“Thunderbird Four to Thunderbirds One and Two. Those guys have almost had it in there! I’m firing the air drill now, let’s hope we can buy them some time!”
The long-range drill and air line snaked across from Thunderbird Four’s forward hatch and sealed itself securely to the side of the submarine’s sail. Gordon set the pressure to maximum and began pumping the precious oxygen across to the stricken vessel. He kept a watchful eye on the gauges all the while, finally shutting off the pump when the pressure reading was normal.
“That’s about it, hopefully those guys should begin to feel the effects immediately. I’ll try to get them on the radio again. Say!”
Picking up the note of alarm in his younger brother’s voice, Scott’s commanding tone crackled over Thunderbird Four’s speaker, “Gordon, what’s wrong?”
An ominous rumbling sound filled the small cabin and Gordon’s eyes widened in horror at the sight before him.
He snatched up the radio speaker urgently, “Scott, the rock shelf the sub’s resting on is starting to collapse! If it gives way, that craft is going to take a death-dive into the abyss below!”
TO BE CONTINUED…