The calamitous rumbling and crashing finally died away and everything was still again.
Chief Controller Atkins gazed around the control room. In the dim glow of the emergency lights, a group of anxious looks met his own.
“Is everyone alright?” he asked.
There were nods and a few murmured affirmatives.
“That was a bad quake, but it’s over now and we need to assess the situation,” Atkins said as he collected his thoughts, “How long to go until orbital correction?”
Space tracker Chen checked the control computer, which remained intact and functional, “If uncorrected, the space station will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in less than 90 minutes.”
Atkins nodded, “Right – Get the antenna re-positioned and checked over. We need to transmit that orbital correction sequence as soon as possible.”
“Sir! Look!” one of the technicians cried, indicating the exterior monitor screen, which had just flickered back into life.
There were gasps around the control room as the terrible image greeted the assembled personnel.
“The transmitter! It’s gone!” Atkins breathed, taking in the scene relayed from the cameras outside the building. There was nothing but a jagged hole in the ground and a few twisted strips of metal where the radio transmitter dish had been located only minutes before.
Chen voiced what everyone else was thinking, “Without the dish, there’s no way to send the correction signal! The station and everyone onboard it are doomed!”
Atkins’ mind raced. Surely there must be some way the crew of the station could yet be saved? Then, as a flash of inspiration hit him, he raced to the communications console and snatched up the microphone.
“Calling International Rescue! This is the Van Allen relay base – we need your help urgently!”
It took less than five minutes from the moment John intercepted the distress call on board Thunderbird 5 for Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to be launched.
As the fantastic rescue craft tore through the cloudless sky, Scott began relaying instructions to Virgil and Brains on board the International Rescue freighter craft.
“My ETA at Danger Zone is 35 minutes, which will leave us a little over half an hour by the time you arrive to set up our equipment and broadcast the signal necessary to stabilise that station’s orbit.”
“FAB, Scott,” Virgil replied over the radio, “Brains is already at work in the Transmitter Truck. He’s configuring the transmitter according to the specifications we received from Van Allen relay team.”
“Good,” Scott replied, “Anything we can do to cut down on delays could prove to be vital.”
Almost exactly 40 minutes later, Thunderbird 1 touched down to the west of the relay base, with Scott advising Virgil to be extra cautious with his own landing as the condition of the ground outside was treacherous.
By the time Scott had moved his Mobile Control apparatus into the control room of the base, Thunderbird 2 had arrived.
Virgil raised the craft on its four sturdy hydraulic legs and then joined Brains in the Transmitter Truck. The rugged dark blue machine drove out of the Pod and crossed the difficult terrain with ease thanks to its caterpillar tracks.
“Okay Virgil, this should be the ideal position to project the orbital-correction beam,” Brains said as he studied the reference map on the screen.
“FAB!” Virgil replied, as he brought the machine to a halt.
Scott’s voice broke in over the radio, “Mobile Control to Thunderbird 2, I have Controller Atkins on the line for you.”
“Thunderbird 2 receiving. Go ahead, Controller.”
“International Rescue, we have less than 30 minutes before the space station enters the atmosphere.”
“Understood. We should be ready to transmit the beam momentarily. Stand by.” Virgil turned to Brains, “All set?”
“I b-believe so, Virgil,” Brains replied, “Transmitting orbital correction beam in Five… Four… Three… Two…”
Brains never finished his sentence.
With terrifying swiftness and a noise like thunder, the ground beneath the Transmitter Truck shuddered and cracked violently.
Virgil and Brains had no time to react as they and the Transmitter Truck fell down into the Earth.
“Virgil! Brains!” Scott bellowed through his radio microphone as he saw the calamity unfold on the video screen.
But there was no answer. No sound at all.
Somewhere in the control room an automated computer voice announced, “Alert – 25 minutes until re-entry.”
An icy chill of fear grabbed hold of Scott. Now there were two extra lives at stake.
And the time to save them all had very nearly run out.
TO BE CONTINUED…