High above the Earth, Thunderbird Five hung like a silver spinning top in geosynchronous orbit thousands of kilometres above Tracy Island’s highest peak.
Inside the control room, Jeff Tracy’s youngest son Alan raced to the receiver array as the distress call indicator pulsated with a reddish glow.
The speakers crackled into life and a tense voice spoke, “Calling International Rescue! This is urgent, we need your help!”
“International Rescue, receiving your call. Go ahead.”
“This is Professor Jessica Lambden calling from New Chester, Alaska. We’ve just had a freak volcanic eruption and the lava flow has cut off the only route out of the village. Local rescue services can’t get through to evacuate us and the lava flow is moving closer all the time!”
Alan put all the reassurance he could muster into his reply, “Stay calm, help will be with you shortly. Please give me all the details you can.”
On Tracy Island, things moved very quickly indeed. Less than two minutes after Alan relayed the message to his father, Jeff had dispatched Scott in Thunderbird One, with Virgil, Gordon and John following in Thunderbird Two.
The pair of hypersonic rescue craft cut through the atmosphere at phenomenal speed and presently they were making a final approach towards the danger zone.
Inside the control cabin of Thunderbird One, Scott Tracy viewed his video monitor with a grim face.
“Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Two. It’s a real mess down there, Virgil. The village is surrounded by lava on three sides and that mountain is blocking any access on the fourth. Looks like the wind is blowing the bulk of the ash in a northerly direction, so that’ll lessen the danger to our intakes, but watch your approach vector, things could change mighty fast.
And make sure John and Gordon have got their fire-suits on, they’ll need every bit of protection they can get.”
“F.A.B, Scott. Setting down now.”
“F.A.B,” Scott shifted one of the control levers by his side, “I’m going to remain in the air and see if I can divert some of the lava on the western side of the village.”
As Thunderbird One began to move off in the direction of the western lava flow, Thunderbird Two settled down with a blast from its four powerful descent motors. In seconds, Pod One had been released and the craft began to rise up on sturdy hydraulic legs.
The massive flap at the front of the Pod folded down to form a ramp and then, from deep inside the hangar-like Pod, Gordon drove the Firefly out into the open, closely followed by John in the Firecat.
Gordon gave an awed whistle as the orange glow surrounding the village filled the Cahelium-strengthened view port in front of him, “Say, will ya take a look at that!”
The radio on the instrument panel crackled into life as John responded, “Better watch out. We could get into real trouble if we’re not careful. Come on, let’s get clear of the Pod so Virgil can lift off again.”
Revving the engines of their machines, Gordon and John proceeded towards the centre of the village where the trapped inhabitants had assembled.
Behind them, Virgil closed the flap of the Pod and settled the craft over it, before taking to the skies once again with a roar of its rocket motors.
Meanwhile, Thunderbird One had reached the western lava flow. Scott guided the spearhead craft in close to the slope of the volcano and then activated the fire-suppression control apparatus.
A hatch on the ventral side of the craft opened and a platform holding an array of rocket-shaped objects was lowered into place. Each one carried a Dicetylene suppressant charge, which Brains claimed would be effective against extreme heat and even lava. Scott hoped he was right.
At the touch of a button, a burst of Dicetylene rockets shot from the platform and burst over the lava flow in great white plumes.
When the smoke-like substance dispersed, Scott could see the brilliant orange glow of the lava had turned dull brown as a crust had formed over it.
“Virgil, I’ve bought a little time, but I don’t know how long I can keep this up. Lava’s still flowing fast from other areas and stopping each flow is going to take too long.”
“I’m going to go after the main outlet with some Dicetylene bombs, Scott. That might give Gordon and John enough chance to clear a way out of the village.”
“F.A.B. Good luck!”
The Firefly and Firecat arrived in the centre of the village. Gordon could see a group of survivors sheltering from the heat at the entrance to a nearby building. He flicked his transmitter to loud-speaker and spoke into his microphone.
“Okay folks, we’re going to get you out of here, but we need to clear a path first! For the moment you’re safe where you are. Stay there and try to keep calm. I’ll give you a signal once it’s safe to move.”
There were waves and some thumbs-up in response as they pressed themselves back against the building.
“John, follow behind me. I’m going to try to breach that flow at its narrowest point on the southern edge of the village. I’ll set up a suppressant corridor for you once I’ve started through.”
“F.A.B, Gordon. I’ve got your back. But watch your step or you’ll fry!”
“Yeah, I’d noticed. Stand by.”
Gordon engaged the drive system and the Firefly moved off with the Firecat following several metres behind.
With just a few metres to go, he lowered the huge Cahelium-steel bulldozer blade.
“Okay, John, give me an entry point.”
“You got it!”
John stopped the Firecat and aimed the high-pressure turret so it was angled just over the top of the Firefly. The flick of a switch sent a powerful stream of greenish-white suppressant over the Firefly to land on the sluggishly flowing lava ahead.
In moments the stream had begun to form a hard crust.
Gordon spoke into his microphone, “Great work! Cut the suppressant, I’m going to start clearance now.”
Easing the Firefly forward, Gordon felt the machine shudder as it reached the hardened edge of the lava flow. Increasing the power to the drive system, the Firefly began to shift the lethal flow, clearing a path ahead.
From inside the Firecat, John watched as Gordon activated the high-pressure suppressant nozzle on the Firefly’s roof. A jet of thick greenish-white foam shot vertically into the air and fell, covering the ground around and behind the machine with the heat-suppressant foam.
“Looking good from back here!” John reported.
“Thanks. It’s shifting okay so far. I reckon another minute or two and I’ll be through.”
“F.A.B, I’ll start firming up the edges of the clearing with suppressant. With any luck we’ll— Gordon! Watch out!”
Gordon turned his head and his eyes went wide with horror. To his left was a fresh wall of lava.
It was almost twice the height of the Firefly, moving towards him with terrifying swiftness.
And there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop it…
TO BE CONTINUED