International Rescue have mounted a massive search operation to locate and recover their heavy freighter aircraft Thunderbird 2, which disappeared en route back to the organisation’s secret base after a successful rescue mission on Thursday.
Responding to a distress call on the slopes of Mount Everest, Thunderbird 2 followed Thunderbird 1 to the danger zone, carrying a payload of low temperature search and rescue gear, an International Rescue Snow Cat and high-altitude thruster packs.
Within thirty minutes of their arrival, International Rescue had located the stricken lone climber and after a hair-raising journey down the treacherous mountain, the climber was returned to their base camp without serious injury. The two Thunderbird craft then left the area simultaneously on a Northerly course, which took them up over the Arctic Circle on their way home.
Thunderbird 1 was soon far ahead of its larger sister craft, but Scott Tracy followed standard procedure and maintained radio contact at regular intervals with his brother Virgil in Thunderbird 2. As Scott prepared Thunderbird 1 for final approach to base, an alert sounded from his radio. There was an unintelligible garbled message on Thunderbird 2’s frequency before the radio cut out, followed by a high-toned urgent bleeping.
Scott’s blood ran cold, recognizing the emergency auto-signal. It was something he had only ever heard during exercises, never on active duty. Immediately, he engaged tri-circuit contact with Thunderbird 5 and base, knowing the alert would have been received there too.
His father’s voice was tense as he requested tracking information from John in the space station. Thunderbird 2’s locator beacon was registering in the vicinity of the Arctic, but was rapidly decreasing in strength. Urgently, Jeff ordered a full log of the locator data to be transmitted to the computers on Thunderbird 1 and the main laboratory so that Brains could analyse the information.
Scott landed Thunderbird 1 and had the craft fully refuelled and ready to launch almost before Brains could join him, strapping into the rarely used passenger chair in the bay behind Scott’s own. With a roar of exploding exhaust gases, Thunderbird 1 took to the sky, on course for Thunderbird 2’s last known position.
Brains had packed Thunderbird 1’s relatively small equipment bay with as much gear as he could. At maximum speed, the hypersonic craft soon reached the area relayed by Thunderbird 5. Scott tried the radio, tuning it to Thunderbird 2’s frequency, but there was no response. Grimly, he set the controls to begin a standard search pattern, covering as much of the area in as short a time as possible.
The area below was nothing more than a great floating field of ice and sea, nothing like the continental mass of the Antarctic at the opposite pole. Scott winced as he imagined Thunderbird 2 in trouble, falling from the sky and plunging through the thin ice into the freezing waters below. He forced the thought from his mind and focused on the task at hand.
Then Brains gave an excited yell, spotting something several miles away on the ice field. Scott quickly turned the rocket craft around and skimmed low over the surface, racing towards the large dark shape in the distance. As they approached the shape became more distinct, as did the green hull and bright red booster rockets.
It was Thunderbird 2 alright, sitting in the centre of an unusually thick mass of ice. Scott wondered how the freezing mass that yielded under the weight of ships was managing to support the colossal Thunderbird 2, but he wasn’t going to worry about it at that moment.
Setting Thunderbird 1 down next to the huge green transporter, on a solid looking section of the ice, Scott cut the motors. Donning their cold-weather gear, he and Brains crunched across the ice to the hatch of Thunderbird 2, opened it and clambered inside.
Reaching the flight deck, Scott opened the door, expecting to see his brother, possibly injured. He gave a start when an empty room greeted him. There was no sign of Virgil. Just as Scott was about to voice the question that leapt into his mind, the whole craft shook and vibrated. For an awful moment, Scott thought the ice field had given way and was cracking up beneath them. Then he looked out of the forward view port. His mouth dropped open in amazement.
Thunderbird 2 was descending towards the ice, but as it passed the level of the sea, the smooth metallic walls of a large man-made shaft appeared around the craft. So that explained why Thunderbird 2 had been able to land on the ice, it wasn’t ice at all, but a massive elevator platform.
As the descent continued, Scott’s mind raced. What had happened to his brother? Where were they being taken? Who was behind it all? A lot of questions and not many answers. The only thing that Scott knew for sure is that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to set up the trap and now it had been well and truly sprung…
[TO BE CONTINUED]