September 30th, a day that would go down as one of the most challenging International Rescue ever faced.
It was almost midday when John Tracy received the first emergency call. A diver had been exploring a deep reef network and had become trapped in an air-pocket with a damaged scuba tank.
John was in the midst of relaying the information to base when a second distress signal was received. There had been a mine collapse near a lake in Germany and water was seeping in, threatening to drown the miners.
Jeff Tracy began to formulate a plan to deal with both emergencies when John reported a third distress call. Space junk had damaged a two-person space capsule in the vicinity of Thunderbird 5 and their oxygen supply was running dangerously low.
Scott, Alan and Tin-Tin were ordered to proceed immediately to the capsule aboard Thunderbird 3, but before they could leave there was a fourth call for help. An experimental high-orbital transporter with a lone pilot had lost control of its rocket motors and was rapidly leaving orbit on an uncontrolled flight towards deep space.
Moments later a fifth call was received indicating that a forest ranger had been cut off by a fire during a search for a missing hiker in Yosemite National Park.
John’s video image filled the portrait in the corner of the lounge as he waited tensely for his father’s orders.
“What do we do, Dad? Which call do we answer first?”
The rest of the Tracy boys, Tin-Tin and Brains looked at Jeff expectantly.
After a few moments, he replied simply, “All of them.”
“But Father,” John began.
“No buts, John. There’s not a moment to lose! Scott, launch Thunderbird 1 and proceed to Yosemite, I’ll give you further information when you’re under way.”
“Yes Sir!” Scott called, already running for the revolving wall panel.
“Virgil, you and Brains load up the Mole and get to Germany as quickly as possible.”
“Right, father!” Virgil said as he took his position in front of the rocket portrait.
“Alan, Tin-Tin, get Thunderbird 3 launched and go after that orbital transporter. It’s got a head-start, but you should be able to catch up to it before it’s out of range.”
“Sure thing, Dad!” Alan answered.
“You can count on us, Mr Tracy.” Tin-Tin added as she and Alan made for the transit couch.
“Gordon, that reef is within Thunderbird 4’s operational range. At maximum speed you should make it in time. Get down to the pod bay and launch by emergency procedure the instant that Thunderbird 2 is clear.”
“I’m on my way!” Gordon replied earnestly, racing for the elevator to the pod bay.
“John, get your spacesuit on and use Thunderbird 5’s control rockets to get into a better position to help that damaged capsule.”
“FAB, Dad.” John said with a stoic nod.
“Alright everyone Thunderbirds are go!”
In no time at all, Thunderbirds 1, 2 and 3 were blasting clear of the island, while moments later Thunderbird 4 sped down the runway and dived into the ocean.
In space, John had donned his protective spacesuit and was delicately performing the control manoeuvres needed to bring Thunderbird 5 into closer proximity to the space capsule. He could see the stricken vessel on his scanner scope.
Moment by moment Thunderbird 5 moved closer to the capsule. Then, when John was as close as he dared go, he brought the station’s forward momentum to a halt and made for the airlock.
John never failed to thrill at the sight of the earth from orbit, but at that moment he had more pressing matters occupying his mind. He attached his safety line to the rail at the edge of the space station’s airlock and pressed the control on his wrist. A burst of compressed gas pulsed from his retro-pack, sending him floating off the edge of Thunderbird 5’s gantry and across to the capsule.
The view ports of the capsule were facing away from him and when he swung into view and waved at the pair of astronauts inside he could see the look of shock on their faces behind their visors. He gestured to the hatchway. One of the astronauts nodded and she reached forward to open the hatch.
Thunderbird 4 darted along the side of the huge reef with a high-pitched hum from its motors.
Inside, Gordon was anxiously checking his sonar readout. John had managed to narrow-down the position that the trapped diver had been transmitting from, but it wasn’t an exact fix and Gordon was having to scan the reef looking for the vital air-pocket.
It was incredibly difficult to be precise, but based on the information the diver had been able to relay, Gordon reckoned that she couldn’t have more than about fifteen minutes of air left. He forced his mind to concentrate on the sonar, willing himself to detect any variation in its monotonous, droning note.
Five minutes passed, seemingly in an instant.
Then the echo changed. Gordon brought the craft to an immediate halt and spun it 180 degrees, running the sounding again.
Yes! There it was – he’d found it!
Already in his dive-suit, Gordon swam out of the hatch and across to the reef. He twisted and turned, almost at 90 degrees in order to squeeze inside.
Thunderbird 3 was rapidly catching up with the runaway freighter.
“Hold her steady, Tin-Tin!” Alan called, “I’m about to make the transfer.”
“FAB. Good luck, Alan!”
There was no time for a standard space-walk. The freighter was flying erratically and at any moment it could roll or spin and take out Alan or Thunderbird 3 itself.
Alan fired his emergency retro-pack and shot across to the freighter’s hatchway. At the last possible second he used the deceleration jets to bring him to a halt within reach of the hatch controls. He reached out and clamped a magnetic tether to the hull, securing himself in place.
“Tin-Tin! I’m attached to the freighter. Move off and maintain a parallel course at a safe distance!”
On Tin-Tin’s acknowledgement, Alan saw Thunderbird 3 veer off and take up tracking position a few kilometres to port.
“Okay,” he said to himself, “now for the tricky part.”
Thunderbird 2 landed a short distance from the mine with a roar of its vertical jets. Before the dust had settled, Virgil and Brains were aboard the Mole and already driving the rugged machine out of the pod, heading for the drilling position that Brains had calculated.
“Think it’s going to work, Brains?” Virgil asked.
“I hope so, Virgil. The chances are good, provided that the l-lake bed doesn’t give way.”
“Yeah. Let’s hope it doesn’t. Stand by, assuming drilling attitude.”
With the flick of a switch, Virgil elevated the Mole into a steep angle as the powerful boring screw bit into the ground.
There was a rumble like thunder as the rocket booster at the rear of the machine fired, pushing the drill and cabin assembly deep underground.
“Steering on course 2-0-4 as advised, Brains.”
“R-Right, we should be through to the main mine area in a-approximately 30 seconds. Just be sure you go easy, it’s not too stable right now.”
As they approached the exit point, Virgil slowed their forward momentum and reduced the drill’s speed, easing the Mole clear of the tunnel just far enough to permit access to the mine outside.
“We’re through! Right, let’s go.”
The smoke was so dense that Scott could barely make out the canopy of the trees in the forest below. Cautiously he skirted the perimeter of the fire and used Thunderbird 1’s remote camera to scout the worst affected areas.
“International Rescue from Thunderbird 1, I’ve arrived at danger zone, but there’s no sign of the ranger or the person he was trying to find.”
“Keep looking, Scott.” Jeff’s voice sounded reassuringly from the radio, “The ranger will know that area like the back of his hand, he’ll have headed for the least dense area of the forest. Check the rivers and high ground in the vicinity.”
“You bet, Dad. Continuing aerial sweep.”
Thunderbird 1 moved off, following the search pattern that Scott had initiated. He never liked to lose hope, but seeing just how intense the blaze was made him begin to feel uneasy. He’d have felt a lot better if Virgil had been there, backing him up with the Firefly and other auxiliary equipment. Could it be that five emergency calls in one day was more than International Rescue could handle?
The repairs to the space capsule’s oxygen supply had mercifully been less complex than John had anticipated. After checking that both of the astronauts were happy to proceed back to Earth in their craft, John said his farewells and began to make the spacewalk back to Thunderbird 5.
On entering the monitoring room, the first thing that he heard was the bleep of a communication alert. He flicked the receiver switch and picked up his microphone.
“Go ahead Thunderbird 3, this is Thunderbird 5.”
Tin-Tin’s voice sounded relieved as she replied, “Oh John! It’s good to hear your voice!”
“Tin-Tin? Is everything alright?”
“Well…yes, I think so. Alan is aboard the freighter. He’s trying to evacuate the crewman. I’m keeping Thunderbird 3 on a parallel course, but the freighter’s flightpath is so erratic it’s making it difficult to keep pace.”
“Don’t worry, Tin-Tin” John said, filling his voice with confidence, “You’ve gotten to know Thunderbird 3 pretty well of late. I know you’ll do just fine. I’m sure Alan won’t be long. Just take a deep breath and focus. You’ve got this.”
“Wait!” Tin-Tin said with an excited gasp, “I can see him on the monitor! He’s at the airlock, tapping the side of his helmet. There must have been a radio fault! He’s beckoning me closer. He must be about to transfer back again!”
“Okay, just take it nice and easy.”
Tin-Tin deftly guided the rescue rocket back into its original position and then, as she saw Alan and the crewman make a great leap from the airlock, she took a deep breath.
The journey from one vessel to the other only took a few moments, but to Tin-Tin it felt like an eternity. She let out her breath with a great sigh of relief as she saw the pair safely reach Thunderbird 3’s airlock.
“He’s done it, John, Alan has saved him!”
Two down, John thought, but three to go…
The interior of the mine was dark, cold and worryingly damp. Virgil and Brains found the trapped miners almost at once, but two of them had sustained fractures that needed attention before they could be moved.
While Virgil examined the injured men, Brains guided the others into the Mole and returned with the first aid kit and a pair of folding stretchers.
“Okay fellas, we’ll soon have you out of here.” Virgil said reassuringly.
He and Brains eased both men onto the stretchers and carried the first man back to the Mole.
They had just returned for the second man when there was a distant boom, followed by a terrible howling and rushing sound.
“Virgil!” Brains cried, “The lake bed must have ruptured!”
“Back to the Mole, on the double!” Virgil shouted.
Carrying the stretcher between them, Virgil and Brains raced back towards the drilling machine.
With every second the roaring noise and rushing water came terrifyingly nearer.
They dashed inside the craft and Brains slammed the hatch closed while Virgil threw himself into the control chair and activated the reverse motors.
In seconds the Mole was racing backwards along the tunnel it had bored, just as the torrent of water smashed past the spot where it had been resting moments before.
As the craft broke the surface, Virgil spoke into the radio, “Base from Thunderbird 2, mission successfully completed, all personnel retrieved. How are the others making out, Father?”
“Great work, Virgil. John and Alan have reported similar success, but we’re still waiting for news from Scott and Gordon.”
The air-pocket inside the reef was bigger than Gordon had expected, about the size of a large room.
Thankfully the diver, Karina, was still in good health and very relieved to see him. He quickly helped her with the replacement breathing unit and, after final checks, the pair cautiously made their exit through the narrow gap in the floor.
Thunderbird 4 was moored on a nearby outcrop a short distance away, illuminating the murky gloom of the depths with its powerful light trough. Gordon led the way towards the sub, motioning towards it and turning to reach for Karina’s hand.
Then he froze.
Karina had stopped moving. She was floating motionless in the water, her eyes wide with terror and her hand outstretched, pointing over Gordon’s shoulder.
Slowly, Gordon turned around and followed her gaze.
Then he saw it, and his stomach twisted in a hard knot of fear.
A giant squid.
It was laying almost horizontally in the water not far from where they were swimming, just visible on the extreme edge of the illuminated area.
Gordon watched in horrid fascination as a tentacle as thick as a tree trunk snaked slowly and inquisitively towards the submersible.
As gently as he dared, he motioned Karina back towards the air-pocket then turned his attention back to the terror from the deep.
It was so vast that he couldn’t see where the beast began and ended and now a second tentacle was beginning to probe towards Thunderbird 4.
Gordon gazed up at the leviathan and, in terrible awe, muttered to himself, “Now how the heck am I going to get out of this one?”
“Base from Thunderbird 1, I’ve found them! The ranger and the lost hiker! They’re on a ridge near the western perimeter, but the fire’s closing in. I’m going to see if I can buy enough time to get them out of there.”
Without waiting for a reply, Scott swung Thunderbird 1 around and sent it screaming low over the blaze. He pulled a lever and felt a slight jolt as the multi-purpose launcher slid into position beneath the nose-cone.
With great care, he selected the target area on his screen and pressed the firing control.
A volley of rockets smashed into the advancing blaze, bursting brilliantly and covering the area with flame-retardant foam.
It would buy minutes only, but it would have to be enough.
Scott fired the landing jets and set Thunderbird 1 down right in the fire’s path. In seconds he had lowered the access ladder and helped the pair aboard before racing back to his control chair.
A huge tree, fully ablaze, began to topple towards the machine, but Scott was able to blast clear at the last moment as the heavy flaming trunk thudded into the ground.
“Base from Thunderbird 1, reporting mission accomplished!”
“FAB, Scott. Well done.”
“Thanks, Dad. Any news from Gordon yet?”
“Not a whisper. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong.”
Gordon knew with absolute certainty that if the monster didn’t let go of Thunderbird 4, and soon, then he and Karina were as good as dead.
The creature had obviously been attracted by the light, so what could he use to lure it away? Then he had an idea.
Swiftly he swam along the reef, making sure that he was well away from the entrance to the air-pocket. Then he reached down to his equipment belt and drew out a flare.
“I sure hope this works…” he said quietly.
Then, with a deep breath, he ignited the flare and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hey! Fish-face! Over here!”
As though someone had flicked a switch, the creature’s tentacles dropped from Thunderbird 4 and it glided into a vertical position, moving rapidly towards the brilliant light of the flare.
“Time to make myself scarce!” Gordon exclaimed and swam rapidly for his ship.
He was only a couple of metres away when he felt a colossal grip on his legs and the shock of it made him cry out in surprise.
The giant squid had attached one of its sucker-tipped tentacles to him. He could feel the hideous round suckers through his tough aqua-suit and tried not to think about what might happen if they managed to tear through it.
Then the tentacle began to pull him in towards the beast’s body, towards the awful beak-like mouth at the centre.
Gordon’s reactions were instinctive and borne of desperation rather than rational thought.
He reached down to his belt, only just visible above the slimy, clasping tentacle, and pulled out the remaining flare.
Without pausing for breath, he ignited the flare and stabbed down into the tentacle with all his might.
The sudden release of pressure and the instant total darkness were simultaneous.
The latter was so unexpected that for a moment Gordon was sure he was either blind or dead.
He moved his hands to the visor of his mask and wiped at it dazedly.
The darkness cleared a little, and in the light still streaming from Thunderbird 4 he could clearly see a sticky black substance trailing between his fingers. Then Gordon realised what had happened.
The squid had emptied its ink sac and fled into the darkness.
Gordon couldn’t help himself. He let out a whoop of relief and made for the reef to tell Karina the coast was clear.
It had been a narrow escape and he wasn’t keen to hang around in case the squid came looking for a rematch.
Back on Tracy Island, Grandma and Kyrano had been working tirelessly to create a feast of gargantuan proportions in celebration of the day’s events.
Jeff had insisted that Alan and Tin-Tin collect John on their way back to the island, declaring that Thunderbird 5 could be left on auto-control for a few hours.
“I couldn’t be more proud of you all. Today you have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that International Rescue never gives up at any cost. Five successful missions, all at the same time, and zero casualties.” He raised his glass with a smile and added, “I think that deserves a toast! To International Rescue and Thunderbirds Day!”