Continued From Previous Story
“Virgil! Brains!” Scott’s voice was edged with concern as he spoke.
Again there was no response, just the hiss of static from the Mobile Control receiver.
Scott leapt to his feet, “I’ve got to get out there and help them!” he said, moving towards the main exit.
Controller Atkins put a restraining hand on his shoulder, “You can’t! That last tremor blocked the exit – you’d never make it through in time!”
“Maybe not, but I’m sure as heck not going to just sit here!” Scott replied defiantly. He glanced around the control room, “I need some volunteers to help clear the exit. That orbital correction beam’s got to be sent within the next 24 minutes if we’re to have any hope of saving the crew of the space station!”
Chen and a few of the others stood up, “How can we help?”
Scott nodded gratefully, “We’ll need anything we can use as levers to move the debris blocking our way out.”
“Best bet is the maintenance store,” Chen said decisively, “This way!”
As the group moved off, Scott’s mind flashed to Virgil and Brains, hoping against hope that they were alright.
Virgil’s eyes flickered open.
Painfully, he hauled himself into a sitting position , but very nearly collapsed again. After a moment’s disorientation, he realised where he was.
The Transmitter Truck was lying on its side about 30 feet down in a rocky fissure. Streams of dust and small debris were still trickling onto the toughened glass of the windows and door above his head. Then he heard a weak groan from somewhere behind the control console.
“Brains?” he queried, “Are you okay?”
The International Rescue scientist reached out a hand and grasped the edge of the console. He pulled himself into view. A cut ran across his forehead and blood was oozing from one end. One lens of his trademark blue-framed spectacles had been smashed in the chaos.
Seeing the worried look on Virgil’s face, Brains managed a small smile, “Don’t worry, I-I don’t feel as bad as I guess I must look.”
“Boy, what a mess!” Virgil winced as he took in the rest of the control cabin properly, “Do you think there’s anything we can do?”
“I’m n-not sure, I’ll have to examine the apparatus before I can say for certain.”
“Well, let’s get to work. If the radio’s operational, at least we’ll be able to let Scott know we’re okay.”
Back in the control building, Scott and the others were doing their best to shift the debris blocking the exit. Suddenly Virgil’s voice crackled from the Mobile Control console.
“Mobile Control from Thunderbird 2 – are you receiving me?”
Scott, filled with a sense of relief, raced over to the operator’s chair and stabbed at the transmit button, “Virgil! Yes, I hear you – are you okay?”
“We’re okay. A few bumps and bruises, but nothing serious. Brains is checking the equipment over. What’s our time-frame?”
Scott looked over at the automated display on the wall, “Just under 15 minutes.” There was a pause and he heard Virgil sigh on the other end of the line, “What’s Brains’ initial reaction?”
Brains’ voice replaced Virgil’s over the circuit, “As far as I can tell, Scott, the transmission apparatus is functional, but there’s no way to align the transmitter in our current predicament.”
For a moment there was silence.
Then Virgil spoke, “Scott, I have an idea, but it’s a long-shot.”
“I’m listening!” Scott replied, trying not to let the slim glimmer of hope overpower his sense of reason.
“If you could pull us out of the fissure with Thunderbird 2’s grabs, there might still be a chance for us to correct the station’s orbit in time.”
“We’ve got a slight problem up here, but we’re working on it,” Scott said, glancing at the team still working feverishly trying to clear the exit, “Get that transmitter ready! I’ll be in touch soon.”
“FAB!” Virgil replied and closed the channel. He turned to Brains, who was double-checking the programming tape, “What’s the verdict?”
Brains held a weary hand to the cut on his head, “Well, Virgil… If we can get out of this fissure, then our chances of projecting the correction beam are good. I only hope Scott can make it to Thunderbird 2 in time.”
“Yeah,” Virgil replied, trying to keep the deep concern from his voice, “So do I…”
In the control centre, things were not going well. Scott and the others were trying to shift a large piece of debris without success. Nearby, the automated countdown voice intoned, “Alert – 10 minutes until re-entry.”
Chen wiped the sweat from his face and looked at Scott, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”
“There’s still time,” Scott replied, “Here, give me a hand!”
The two men grabbed hold of one of the makeshift levers and sank all their weight onto it. Suddenly, Scott felt the debris move ever so slightly, “You guys! It’s moving! Get those other levers in there – quick!”
At once the other technicians crowded around the slim gap and began wedging crowbars, poles and whatever else they could find into the opening.
Scott gritted his teeth, “Okay, all together – on three! One! Two THREE!”
As one, the group heaved with all their might. Slowly, inch by painstaking inch, the debris began to move until finally there was a gap large enough for Scott to squeeze through.
“I’ve got to get out there! See if you can brace this opening, I’ll be back soon!” Scott called as he scrambled through the narrow opening and out towards the daylight.
There it was, just as he’d seen it on the video screen – the huge fissure in the ground with Thunderbird 2 resting some distance away. He didn’t pause to look down, but raced straight towards the huge green freighter ship.
Once in the cockpit, he retracted the Pod flap and began to lower the main fuselage around the Pod itself. As the machine sank down, Scott flipped the communication switch and quickly checked his watch, “Virgil! I’m aboard Thunderbird 2. We’ve got less than six minutes to pull this off. Whatever happens, be ready to go with that correction beam!”
As Virgil acknowledged the message, Scott fired the vertical jets and Thunderbird 2 gracefully rose into the air. Then, as quickly as he dared, Scott brought the craft into a low hover over the fissure.
The touch of a button lowered the sturdy magnetic grabs into position. Now it was time for some hair-raising maneuvering.
Using all his skill, Scott dropped Thunderbird 2 a foot at a time until the grabs were in position on either side of the stricken Transmitter Truck.
“Virgil, Brains, that’s as close as I dare go – there’s no more room up here. Can you confirm that the grabs are aligned?”
Brains’ voice floated back through the ether, “Affirmative, Scott. Though you’ll be bringing us up on our side. We’ll need to be in the correct orientation once we reach the surface before we can transmit the beam.”
“FAB, one thing at a time!” Scott replied, closing the magnetic clamps against the Transmitter Truck’s frame. “Grabs attached – hold tight, Fellas!”
With a roar from the jets, Scott guided Thunderbird 2 into the air.
Inside the Transmitter Truck, Virgil and Brains were jostled as the vehicle was lifted off the surface and began to sway slightly.
Scott looked at his watch. There were only two and a half minutes left, “Come on, baby…” he whispered.
Then Virgil’s voice broke the tension, “Scott! We’re clear! Set us down!”
“FAB!” Scott called hoarsely, moving Thunderbird 2 back over level ground and descending carefully.
There was a slight thud as the Transmitter Truck touched down on its side. With infinite care, Scott disengaged the clamps on the base of the truck and left the other set attached to its roof engaged. He began to gain height again, foot by careful foot.
The Transmitter Truck started to tilt upright as the grabs that were attached to its roof were raised.
60 seconds to go!
“Scott, disengage!” Brains called urgently.
Scott detached the last two clamps and the Transmitter Truck dropped onto its caterpillar tracks once more.
“45 seconds, boys!” Scott called out, “Clearing area – good luck!”
As Thunderbird 2 moved off, Brains was working the controls like a man possessed.
“Well, Brains?” Virgil asked as a bead of perspiration ran down the bridge of his nose.
“Ready!” Brains cried, “Transmitting correction beam!” His hand stabbed down on a control and the two men held their breath.
Outside, the tip of the transmitter antenna began to pulse and glow, accompanied by a strange ethereal sound.
Up in space, the mighty orbital station shuddered as its positioning rockets fired. Slowly but surely, the huge structure began to move in its orbit, getting further and further from the danger of uncontrolled re-entry.
An alert blared from Brains’ console and he let out a little whoop of triumph, “We’ve done it, Virgil! The station is moving back into correct orbit!”
Virgil couldn’t help himself, he burst out laughing, releasing the tension that had been building up inside him, “Fantastic, Brains! Just fantastic!”. He consulted his watch, “And with a full 17 seconds to spare!”