Thunderbird Four broke the surface a little way from the floating green Pod and was quickly winched back into position inside. Gordon, still in his scuba gear, made his way to the edge of the river and climbed out onto the jetty.
Scott, Orchard and McGill raced across the rickety wooden boards towards him as he showed them the precious vial of theramine clasped in his hand.
“Like I said – not even a scratch!” he said with a grin. “Guess that’s the last time anyone will have to worry about giant alligators!”
McGill took the offered vial, relief flooding his face as he spoke, “Thank you, International Rescue! We would never have made it out of there without your help!”
“I agree!” Orchard added, “What about your friend – the one the alligator nearly got?”
“He’s got some superficial injuries, but he’ll be okay. Managed to haul himself back to our transporter craft while the vial was being recovered.”
“I’m glad to hear it! Well I’m going to call the river station and let them know that Blackmer is okay and that he’ll need a ride back. I’ll have to tell them about Culp too…”
At the mention of Culp’s name the men looked out at the spot on the river where the battered remains of the Maria bobbed in the current.
“Well, thank you again. We’re in your debt! Come on, McGill, let’s get back to the house. What little remains of it.”
The pair left, trudging back towards the skeletal frame of what until a few hours earlier had been a house.
Scott slapped Gordon on the back, “Great work, I’m amazed you were able to find anything down there!”
“Just put it down to a combination of luck, experience and a sixth sense for this kind of thing.”
“A fish sense!” Scott said with a chuckle. “Come on, let’s get back to base.”
The radio on Scott’s belt crackled into life and Virgil’s voice came through urgently, “Trouble, Scott!”
“What is it?”
“That last alligator we took down – it’s gone!”
“Gone?!” Scott and Gordon exclaimed in unison.
“Yeah, by the looks of things it’s moved off through the trees, heading away from the house!”
Gordon shook his head in annoyance, “Guess I must have only winged it with the tranquilliser…”
Scott nodded, “The specialist team won’t arrive to ship the others out for a few hours yet. We can’t have another one of those monsters waiting to ambush them when they do. Virgil, pick up the Pod and get Alan back to base. Gordon and I are going hunting.”
“Are you sure? Maybe I should stay and help?”
“No,” Scott was definite, “We’ll handle it. You won’t be able to manoeuvre as easily as Thunderbird One.”
With a roar of rocket motors, Thunderbird Two collected the Pod and in moments it was heading skywards once more, bound for the horizon.
Meanwhile, Scott and Gordon hurriedly loaded the remaining pair of hoverbikes into Thunderbird One’s small hold and blasted off, keeping low above the dense canopy of trees.
“Keep your eyes peeled,” Scott advised, “the heat-sensitive equipment won’t be much good for tracking a reptile, not even one as big as that.”
“So we follow the trail of destruction… Let’s hope it doesn’t lead us straight into a giant pair of jaws!”
The silver spearhead craft cruised forward slowly, keeping close to a trail of trees below that had been snapped like matchsticks.
Scott kept his eyes on the forward video monitor while Gordon peered out of the observation window.
“Say, Scott, it looks like there’s a break in the tree line ahead and to the right.”
“Another branch of the river, maybe? The trail seems to lead that way. Let’s take a look.”
The pitch of the engines altered as Thunderbird One banked and began moving towards the area that Gordon had indicated.
“You were right, Scott. It’s another part of the river. Looks like the water hasn’t moved in quite a while. It’s stagnant.”
“Mmm… Well there’s no giant alligator hiding under that lot. I’ll take her down to see if we can pick up the trail again.”
Skillfully Scott brought the craft down until it was only a matter of feet above the motionless water.
“It must have come out of the vegetation about… there.” Gordon said, indicating some broken tree trunks, “But where the heck did it go after that?”
Suddenly, with an ear-splitting roar, the humongous reptile launched itself out of the cover of the trees straight at Thunderbird One.
Scott’s reactions were like lightning.
With a quick throw of a lever, the craft’s motors surged and sent it soaring upwards, missing the wide lunging jaws of the alligator by a hair’s breadth. The creature splashed down into the stinking, still water and thrashed about wildly.
“That was too close!” Gordon yelled, “Nice job!”
“We’re not through just yet!” Scott replied, turning Thunderbird One to face the huge beast, “Standby, we’re going in!”
Engines howling, Thunderbird One screamed down towards the writhing alligator, closing on it with incredible speed.
Scott lined up his shot to a critical fraction of a second, then pressed the firing control.
A powerful tranquiliser round blazed from the craft’s cannon and struck the reptile’s back, delivering the full dose of sleeping agent. The alligator bellowed once in fury, then pitched over onto the riverbank and lay still.
“Bullseye!” Gordon cried, “Hopefully he’ll sleep soundly this time!”
“I hope so too.” Scott said with relief, “At least we don’t have to tell dad about the one that got away!”