From his aerial vantage point in Thunderbird Two, Virgil saw the horror unfolding below.
“Scott! Gordon’s in trouble! I’m going in!”
Without waiting for an acknowledgement, Virgil banked the freighter ship hard to one side.
With motors screaming, he sent it hurtling towards the deadly lava flow, which had almost reached the Firefly. The touch of a button opened the main hatch below the pod.
Gordon heard the shrill tone of Thunderbird Two in its rapid descent even above the whine of the Firefly’s powerful engine.
Instinctively, his eyes flashed skyward to a point high above the glow of the deadly lava that was about to envelope his own craft.
Like a streak of green lightning, Thunderbird Two rocketed downward.
“Here goes!” Virgil cried as he pulled the release control.
A barrage of Dicetylene bombs dropped smoothly from their racks and fell into the path of the lava stream, now mere metres from the Firefly.
They exploded in a series of brilliant white clouds of specially-formulated retardant.
Scott, Virgil and John watched from their respective craft as the dense fog of Dicetylene began to disperse. Had the last-moment intervention been enough to save Gordon and the Firefly?
Then, ever so slowly it seemed, the familiar insect-like yellow hull of the fire-fighting machine became visible on the far side of the now hardened lava flow.
John let out a whoop of delight, “You did it, Virgil! Firecat calling Firefly! How are you doing in there, Gordon?”
Inside the Firefly, Gordon let out a long breath that he wasn’t aware he’d been holding.
“Still alive,” he replied in a voice devoid of its usual jovial tone, “Thanks Virgil, I owe you one.”
The relief was evident in Virgil’s reply, “Don’t mention it. Now let’s get those people out of there. I don’t think we can do much for the village itself now.”
Filled with a new sense of determination, Gordon began to shift more of the hardened lava debris out of the way, continuing to clear a route out of the village.
Meanwhile, Scott was coordinating the impending evacuation from the air. He activated the loudhailer system and spoke directly to the inhabitants sheltering below.
“A route to safety is being cleared. In a few moments I’m going to ask you to get into your vehicles and follow the Firefly in a convoy. Make sure you leave all non-essential belongings behind. Stick to the cleared route and you’ll be okay. We’ll follow you out.”
“Thunderbird One from Firefly. The way is clear, Scott!”
“Thanks, Gordon.” Scott switched on the loudhailer again, “Okay folks, time to go! Take it one car at a time and follow the vehicle in front of you. You’ll soon be out of danger.”
Scott watched as the small convoy moved off, heading towards the route cleared by the Firefly.
“Virgil, take Thunderbird Two over there and land clear of the danger zone. You can pick up Gordon and John and provide shelter for those folks until conventional support arrives. John, when the last of the convoy is through, follow behind them.”
Virgil and John acknowledged in quick succession. Scott looked down at the little village below.
Very soon there would be nothing left. The lava was spreading and they didn’t have anywhere near enough suppressant to stop it.
Scott felt a momentary pang of sadness, but then immediately chided himself for thinking it. He knew all too well that homes could be rebuilt, but lives could not. At least they had managed to evacuate the whole village.
He adjusted the throttle control and began to move off towards the spot where Thunderbird Two had set down.
As he did so, the radio crackled into life and Gordon’s anxious voice filled the control cabin, “Scott, we’ve got a problem down here! Looks like one of the villagers hasn’t been accounted for – a young boy called Thomas. He was with his family before the evacuation, but in the rush to leave, he didn’t make it out in the convoy!”
Scott’s nerves tensed, “That means he must still be somewhere in the village!”
He looked out at the cluster of buildings below. Already the houses on the edge of the settlement had begun to burst into flames as the lava engulfed them. Scott made up his mind.
“I’m going to set down and search for him!”
“John and I will come and help you!”
“No, Gordon! There might not be time for us all to get clear. Stay with Virgil and help those people!”
Gordon wanted to argue, but instead simply replied, “F.A.B.”
With a roar of descent motors, Scott expertly brought his craft down in the middle of the small square in the centre of the village.
Before the sound of the rockets had subsided, he had already opened the dorsal equipment hatch and sent the remote camera hovering into the air.
“Now if I were a scared kid in a terrifying place like this, where would I go?” Scott wondered aloud.
The electronic eye of the remote camera fell on the spire of a small church.
Scott snapped his fingers with the realisation, “I’d find some height!”
Rapidly, Scott guided the all-seeing camera closer to the building.
Sure enough, there was the boy, partially hidden by the giant brass shape of the lone bell in the hollow under the spire.
In a flash Scott slid down the access ladder from the control cabin and ran to the door of the church. He flung it open and bolted up the spiral staircase just inside, taking the stone steps two at a time.
He reached the top in less than a minute and found the boy where the remote camera had first spotted him.
“Come on son, let’s get you out of here!” Scott held out his hand towards the boy.
“Mister, I can’t! I’m scared! That’s why I ran away!”
Scott knew time was fast running out. He took a step closer to the boy.
“That’s okay,” he said in a reassuring tone, “Everyone gets scared sometimes.”
“Yup, even me. But you know what makes me feel better?”
“Knowing that my family is there for me when I need them. Now what say you come with me and I’ll get you back to yours?”
The boy hesitated, then replied, “Okay!”
Scott quickly hoisted the boy up onto his back, “Now hold tight – here we go!”
Descending the staircase as quickly as he dared, Scott was soon back to ground level. His footsteps echoed on the stone floor as he raced for the huge wooden doors ahead.
Then, suddenly, they burst into flame and a tide of slow-moving lava edged menacingly towards the pair.
Scott’s hand went to his radio.
“International Rescue from Scott Tracy. I’m in the village church and I have the boy. He’s okay, but our escape route has been cut off.”
“Scott, this is Gordon. Move away from the rear wall and take cover.”
“No time to explain, just do it!”
Scott ran for the shelter of a thick stone support column at the opposite end of the church and made sure he and Thomas were both well protected behind it.
“F.A.B! Stand by!”
There was a deafening roar and a blinding flash as an explosion tore the rear wall of the church apart.
Coughing as the dust and debris cleared, Scott looked out to see the Firefly through the jagged remains of the stonework.
“Gordon, you came back! I told you to stay with Virgil!”
“I took it as more of a suggestion. Now quit arguing and get out of there fast!”
With Thomas once more on his back, Scott dashed outside. He ran around the side of the building and saw Thunderbird One just ahead. The lava was perilously close to the landing struts.
“Oh no you don’t!” Scott yelled.
He skidded to a halt beside the access hatch and helped Thomas into the control cabin.
Triggering the vertical jets, Scott got the landing pads off the ground seconds before the lava flowed over the spot on which they’d been resting.
Applying more power to the motors, he guided the craft towards Thunderbird Two’s landing site and touched down beside it just as the Firefly made it back.
With Thomas returned to his much-relieved family and the first conventional response teams arriving, International Rescue made their preparations to leave.
Returning to Thunderbird One, Scott passed Gordon and caught him by the arm.
“Hey, I never thanked you earlier!”
“Aw relax, Scott. I wasn’t going to let you cook!”
“I know, and I’m glad you followed your gut. It’s like I said to the kid earlier, knowing that my family is there for me is a great feeling.”
“Yeah,” Gordon agreed, then he added mischievously, “Does that mean you’ll let me win our next game of checkers?”
“Not a chance!” Scott said with a chuckle, “Come on, let’s get back to base!”