In less than forty minutes from the moment the fire alarm first blared aboard the Arcadia, International Rescue were on the scene.
Operating from the air in Thunderbird 1, Scott Tracy directed the rescue operation. Below and to starboard he saw the mighty hull of the ultraliner floating on the waves below, its propulsion system inoperative. Huge plumes of thick black smoke billowed from the port side of the vessel and Scott could see the small orange oval shapes of lifeboats bobbing some distance away.
The crew had managed to evacuate most of the passengers before the fire had spread out of control, but now there were several people trapped by the blaze with no escape route. The emergency fire bulkheads had been sealed and refused to open under manual control. The last radio call from the remaining crew advised all of the passengers were located in the main gymnasium, which was currently safe from the fire. But it was moving closer with each passing moment and the automatic extinguishers had failed to slow its progress.
Thunderbird 2 swept into view from behind the column of smoke and Scott radioed Virgil for an update. His younger brother’s voice remained professionally calm as he advised that Gordon and Alan were advancing down through the decks, forcing their way through the sealed service corridors with the oxyhydnite gas cutting gear.
Scott flicked a switch on his control arm and spoke directly to his brothers.
“Thunderbird 1 calling, what’s it like down there, Gordon?”
“Too hot for my liking, Scott. This fire’s moving mighty fast.”
“He’s right, Scott,” added Alan, “I don’t like it, there’s no way the fire should have got this out of hand.”
“Okay fellas,” Scott replied, “but take it easy. Those folks are counting on you, you’re their only hope.”
“FAB, not far now, I reckon we’re about—ARGH!”
Gordon’s transmission was suddenly cut off by a loud roaring. Scott shouted over the radio circuit, calling for Gordon and Alan to respond. There was no reply.
Virgil’s voice broke in over the radio, “Scott, I’ve lost them, what happened?!”
“I don’t know! Gordon was in mid-transmission when there was a yell, a roaring sound and then nothing. I can’t raise either of them!”
“Gee, what are we going to do?”
“What can we do, Virgil? There’s not enough room on the deck to set Thunderbird 1 down. We’ve got to wait for them to contact us.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Just pray that they do.”
The minutes ticked by. Sweat beaded on Scott’s brow as he stared down at the burning vessel. Were his brothers alright? The alternative was unthinkable. When the radio finally crackled into life, the sound broke the tension so abruptly that Scott flinched. He snatched up the handset.
“This is Scott in Thunderbird 1! Gordon? Alan? Is that you?”
Weakly, Alan’s voice came back, as if transmitting from a great distance, “Reading you Scott, strength two. Boy that was close. Guess one of the fuel cells went up. Half the corridor was blown away, nearly took Gordon with it. He’s okay, a few minor burns, but he’ll make it.”
Scott’s heart pounded with relief as some of the tension flowed out of him, “FAB, watch your backs. If the fire’s reached the fuel cells, you could be in for more unwelcome explosions very soon.”
“Understood, I think the way’s just about clear. Will be in touch.”
As quickly as they could, Gordon and Alan made their way the last fifty yards to the gymnasium. The fire wasn’t far behind them now and they worked with renewed speed cutting through the last fire door. It fell inward with a loud thud and the pair stepped inside. A group of twenty frightened faces met their gaze.
Taking charge, Gordon instructed the crew which route to take back to safety and then, with Alan bringing up the rear, Gordon led the group out and along the passageway. It was a perilous journey, but at last the passengers were on the deck, well clear of the fire on the far side of the ship.
With the crew’s help, Alan and Gordon got everyone into the remaining life rafts and launched them from the ship before boarding Thunderbird 2 once more.
Looking down at the ship, Gordon whistled in awe as flames started to spread across the surface of the deck.
Alan read his mind, “Still wondering how that could happen to a brand new ship?”
“Yeah, guess so. Doesn’t make sense.”
“Forget it, you two” Virgil said, “that’s not our problem anymore. You got everyone out and that’s what counts. If there’s a design flaw, the authorities will find it during their investigation. Now let’s get you back to base. I’m sure Grandma will have something for those burns.”
Gordon grinned painfully, “Maybe I’ll stick to sunbathing next time.”