It was frightening, really frightening.
My brother’s Thunderbird, the great green hulk called Thunderbird Two, was on fire and headed for base. I knew that Scott was trying to talk him in, but it seemed that Virgil was fighting a losing battle with his craft.
Father ordered us to Fire Control, situated under the Cliff House and over Thunderbird Two’s hangar door. The palms were pulled back all the way and the fire extinguishing units, filled with Brains’ concoction, dicetyline, rose like tall lamp posts on either side of the air strip. We were tense, Alan and I, but Dad was even more tense. He tried hard not to show it, but the fear of losing Virgil was very evident in his stance.
The massive cargo carrier that Virgil loved so much came screaming in towards us. She slowed, hit the runway, bounced back up, looking for all the world like a whale swimming in the deep. Finally, she skewed around and came to a stop just short of the cliff wall. The fire extinguishers did their work on the outside, and by the time Thunderbird Two stopped, she was covered in the white foam. Dad quickly sent Tin-Tin up to prepare the sick room. All three of us men, Dad, Alan, and me, figuring that if the outside was on fire the inside must be too, put on fire resistant suits with respirators, then grabbed extinguishers and sprinted as one to the smoking hulk of Thunderbird Two.
Trying to get into Thunderbird Two was difficult. There just wasn’t any easy outside entrance unless you were able to get inside the pod. And the way things looked right then, there was no way we were going to be able to lift the cockpit and engines from the cargo bay. Not from the outside anyway. What we ended up doing was bringing out a mobile scaffold unit. This got us up to the bay doors on the underside of the cockpit, the hatch through which the rescue capsule, the cable launcher, and the electromagnetic grabs emerge when in use. Dad struggled with the remote control, cursing under his breath, pressing the remote’s buttons time and time again to try and open those damned doors. But with power down inside Thunderbird Two, the remote was a wash. In the end, I was sent back into the hangar to fetch a power pry bar, like an old “Jaws of Life”, and Alan and I used it to forcibly separate the hatch doors, making room for us to enter.
Immediately, we needed those fire extinguishers. The lower cockpit level had several wiring fires going, and the smoke from them was acrid. I was glad I had my suit and respirator.
“Gordon, Alan. You two work on getting these fires put out. I’m going up to find Virgil.”
I looked over at Alan as we worked. Al’s face was pale under the hood, his expression grim. Nothing like this had ever happened to us before. The only thing remotely like it was when Scott got shot down over the desert. That was nerve-wracking because he was thousands of miles away and we had no idea what had happened or how he was doing. This was far more immediate. The burning hulk was on our front doorstep, and our brother was probably lying in the cockpit, unconscious, breathing in smoke if he were breathing at all. Neither of us knew what Dad would find when he got up there. Except we knew he would find Virgil.
I never did learn exactly what Dad found, what condition my brother was in when our father made contact. I just know that I sighed with relief when Dad’s voice in my helmet communicator told me that Virgil was alive and that we should bring up a stretcher to carry him out. Alan, level-headed for once, climbed the access ladder and hurried to the medical store room, saying he would pull a stretcher, backboard, and oxygen equipment from there and bring it on to Dad. I stayed below to finish extinguishing the fires. I noticed from the corner of my eye that the scaffolding went down, and when it came up again, Brains and Scott were on it, suited up as I was with a gurney between them. Brains went on to the rear to join Dad and Alan up top, while Scott picked up Alan’s extinguisher to give me some help.
“Any word?” Scott asked tersely.
“Yeah. He’s alive.” I replied. I could see Scott visibly relax at the news. I could only imagine how hard it was for him to follow Virgil along, coaxing him to remain conscious and guiding him in to land back here at home. I had listened to the talkback and that was tense, but being there was probably worse.
“You did great, Scott. You talked him in. You got him home,” I ventured, trying to encourage my brother.
Scott looked over at me, a tight smile behind his face plate.
“Thanks, Gordon.” was all he said.
Dad, Brains, and Alan came down with Virgil strapped tightly to a backboard and in a stretcher. He was unconscious, and soot-covered, with little holes burned into his uniform where cinders had landed. He had a cervical collar around his neck, an oxygen mask on his face, and a bandage around his head. They carried him to the scaffolding and prepared to take him out of his Thunderbird.
Dad gave Scott a squeeze on the shoulder as he passed by.
“You were great out there today, son. I’m very proud of the way you got your brother home.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Scott replied. He looked over at Virgil on the stretcher. “Is he going to be okay?”
“Y-Yes, Scott. It will take, uh, some time. B-But Virgil should make a full, uh, recovery,” Brains piped up. Scott nodded.
Dad took Alan’s end of the gurney. “There are still fires in the cockpit area to be put out, boys. You three work on them while Brains and I get Virgil up to the sick room. Let me know when you’re done here.” Dad scanned the compartment we were in, looking in particular at the ruined bay doors. “Thunderbird Two will be down for quite some time. We’ll need to work hard and fast to get her back up and running.” He looked at each of us in turn, nodded, and then disappeared as the scaffold lift took him, Brains, and our injured brother down to the air strip level.
“You heard the man,” Scott said. “I think we’re done down here. Let’s head topside and get the fires put out up there.” I blew out a breath, and picked up my extinguisher. There was still a lot to be done, but the hardest part, the rescue of our brother, was a mission completed.